Mayor Pete

I probably should not write this entry, but I realized that (a) repressing it is not working, and (b) if I am going to alienate my entire readership* then I might as well do it in one blow. So here goes.

In this corner of the blogosphere, there seems to be a lot of enthusiasm for presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, otherwise known as “Mayor Pete”. Many people have been posting inspirational video interviews and praising him as a hopeful candidate. People went nuts when he formally announced his presidency.

But along with the Mayor Pete wave comes the Mayor Pete backlash, and not every corner of the Internet is as enthusiastic about Buttigieg as this corner is. Another place I lurk heavily supports Elizabeth Warren, and somewhere in there I ran across a critique of Mayor Pete — in particular a critique of his character and his campaign, based upon the pre-presidential-run book he wrote. (Apparently one of the qualifications for running for President in the United States of America is authoring (or “authoring”) an inspirational autobiography.) In order to protect your innocent enthusiasm I won’t link the piece here. Instead I’ll put a link at the end of this screed, long after you have stopped reading.

I wish I could say that I stayed strong after reading this attack piece, but you know me better than that. I was swayed. The piece throws a lot of criticisms at the wall — many from a far left perspective — but some of them stick, and I have been swayed. I have suspicions now. In particular, I am wary that once again we are being manipulated, and that once again we are going to be disappointed.

I want to believe, y’know? I am tired of being cynical and hopeless about politics. I admire the faith that the system isn’t rigged, that we can somehow elect leaders who will govern with wisdom and won’t be in the pockets of our lobbyists. I read all of you celebrating and wish I could join the party. But I wish I could be Christian, too, and that isn’t happening either.

I am also upset that any time I see something hopeful, along comes a wave of criticism to sow the seeds of doubt. This is a deliberate strategy used by political opponents to foster indecision and inaction — and it totally works on me. But once you see the patterns they cannot be unseen. So here are a few words of caution about Mayor Pete. Some of these ideas are taken from the attack piece, and some of them have come to mind since.

As most of you know, I have exactly no business writing about any of this. I don’t get to choose the Democratic nominee for president any more than you do — less, even, given that I am Lurkistani, not American. However, we do not have a president in Lurkistan, so we adopt yours, and follow American politics closely. Also many of the blogs I read come from the Greatest Country on Earth ™, so I get a big dose of American politics there too. I may not have qualifications, but I have opinions.

Blowing the Filter Bubble

Why am I seeing so much about Mayor Pete? Should I believe that this is a grassroots movement that sprung up from nowhere? I am getting my Mayor Pete fix from your blogs. What are your sources? Are you searching them out yourself? Or are they being curated for you?

In this world of “personalized recommendations” I do not trust that there really is a grassroots. Somebody seeds these videos that go viral. It is in somebody’s interest to get these videos to our eyeballs. Who is engineering this? What do they have to gain from it? Are their interests in alignment with our own?

Although it does not pertain to this situation directly, there is a good (if slimy) book that illustrates how easily we are manipulated, called Trust Me I’m Lying, by Ryan Holiday. (And how did I come across this book, hrm?) The premise of the book is that news organizations are desperate for stories, so big media companies republish stories from smaller ones. But the smaller ones are also hungry, so the farther down you go the easier it is to feed the story you want to a small news source. If the story is juicy enough, it gets fed up the media chain until your friends of friends see it, who post it on their blog or Twitstream or wall, and then it hits our eyeballs.

Nobody tries to get to our eyeballs more than political campaigns. Mayor Pete seemed to come out of nowhere. According to his mythology, one day he was minding his business as the mayor of South Bend and the next he was getting booked on late night talk shows. I don’t think that is an accident. Given that he has both run for DNC chair and written the mandatory presidential autobiography, I also am disinclined to believe the mythology.

So why are we hearing about Mayor Pete? Why are we talking about him and not, say, Wayne Messam, who is also a mayor, also young, also inspirational? Why are we not talking about Juli├ín Castro, who was also a mayor, is also young, and served with Barack Obama? Is this a meritocracy — the superiority of Mayor Pete bubbling to the top of our consciousnesses? Or is something else going on here?

As a somewhat-relevant sidenote, why do we feel that Kamala Harris is scary and shrill? Why do we feel that Bernie Sanders is too old now? He certainly is not cool the way he was in 2016. Why did we feel as if we needed to hold our noses and vote for Hillary instead of supporting her enthusiastically? There are a lot of narratives floating around, and it is surprising how quickly they come to mind. Where do these impressions come from? Are we doing the research ourselves and drawing our own conclusions? Or are they being fed to us?

Comparing Candidates

I have read some people supporting Mayor Pete with statements like “all the other candidates made me feel uneasy, but Mayor Pete really speaks to me.” I am glad the rest of you have been getting comprehensive information about the Democratic nominees. I haven’t. In fact, I did not know who most of the other nominees were before researching this blog post, and I probably can’t name half of them now.

This is a real problem. In fact, it is multiple real problems. Let’s for the moment assume that there are not frontrunner candidates and also-rans, and let’s also assume it was somehow our job to identify the best candidate to support in a nomination. You don’t go about that by being fed a steady stream of media about one candidate in particular. You do that by comparing candidates, which pretty much no politician wants you to do.

How does one actually compare candidates? Debates can work, although debates are highly orchestrated. In municipal politics questionnaires can sometimes be useful. I spent a little bit of time looking for some presidential candidate comparisons, and ran into a New York Times questionnaire about climate change. If you have any articles left (or know how to get around the NYT article limits) then it might be worth a look. The last question of the questionnaire is about nuclear power — a contentious issue on the left. The responses to that question are especially telling, but overall one gets a clearer sense of which candidates have insights into these topics, which are willing to say whatever they think we want to hear, and which are not willing to address certain questions at all. I feel Mayor Pete’s responses to many of these questions are illuminating.

How many side-by-side comparisons of these candidates have you done? If you have not done many, are you still willing to declare fealty to a particular candidate?

Now let’s talk about frontrunners, because here in the real world there really is no point in comparing all of the 17 (or 18? or more? Wikipedia says over 200?) candidates as if they all have an equal chance of the nomination. Some of the candidates are well-entrenched and some are upstarts like Mayor Pete. For a while those candidates will be in the running and we will all support our favorites and we will fight among each other, because there is nothing more a Democrat likes more than infighting. And then somebody (hint: probably somebody with money, and with entrenched support within the Democratic Party) will win. Then what? Are you prepared to hold your nose and vote for that candidate?

Do we think that Mayor Pete could surge in popularity the way Bernie did in 2016? If so, do you think he would be the establishment-supported candidate? It looks as if superdelegates are less of a thing but I am sure that the powers that be in the Democratic Party will find other ways to ensure the party doesn’t get too democratic. I do not have an answer as to whether Mayor Pete could be the establishment candidate, and that in itself is disconcerting.

The Gay Thing

This is a blog about sexual perversion, so let’s talk about the gay thing. In particular, let’s talk about the familiar refrain, “It’s not just that Mayor Pete is gay!”

Let’s get one thing out of the way first. Mayor Pete is allowed to live his life however he sees fit. He is not obligated to be a sex radical. If he chose to wait until age 33 to come out as gay then who am I to criticize him? Maybe these tearjerking stories about how he was in denial about himself for so many years are actually true. I am not one of those who demands that Mayor Pete be more of a sex radical.

However, that does not let him off the hook and it does not let us off the hook.

When you think to yourself, “It’s not just that Mayor Pete is gay!” do you actually mean it? Pretend that Pete Buttigieg was a nice, white, cisgendered man who went to a good university, served in the military and was married to a nice woman named Chastity who had a kickass Twitter account. Look deep in your heart. Would you be as enthusiastic about Mayor Pete if he was another straight white charismatic politician like Tim Ryan? Really? Okay then.

Even though Mayor Pete’s sexuality is not biasing your perception of him in any way, consider how much he is playing it up during this campaign. Watch that video where he declares his nomination again. He gushes about his husband and about marriage equality a lot. Do you think that is an accident? Do you think his heartfelt story about coming out during a mayoral campaign because he didn’t want to be single anymore was an accident? Hint: he is cultivating an image, and he is doing so deliberately. Do you ever notice how he relates his brave story about coming out during a mayoral campaign and receiving a majority of the vote, but does not acknowledge South Bend as a university town? Sure, that university is a Catholic institution, but even Catholic university towns skew liberal — especially in 2011. Instead his narrative is being a poor gay mayor in an Indiana city that was once built on heavy industries that left town, as if he was in the Trumpiest of Trump Country. None of this is an accident.

How is a white, male, cisgendered, highly-educated, relatively wealthy politician supposed to stand out in a world where black people and even women are allowed to run for President? Would it not be convenient for the aforementioned white male to have some other characteristic that would allow him to stand out?

And isn’t it fortunate that Mayor Pete is just gay enough to make liberals feel good about themselves while being so inoffensive that he doesn’t scare away those who are more socially conservative? Again, I am not criticizing Mayor Pete’s sexual choices, but aren’t they convenient? Presumably he was completely celibate before deciding to come out as gay and look for a husband. Mayor Pete never gets edgier about his sexuality than joking about the app he used to find said husband. And is it not darling (and suspiciously heteronormative) that Chasten adopted Buttigieg’s last name? Mayor Pete really is the living embodiment of the notion that gay people are exactly like straight people except for the people they choose to love.

I do not know the extent to which Mayor Pete organized his life such that his gayness would be so picture-perfect. But I highly suspect that he has cultivated this image of being gay and inoffensive very, very carefully. And honestly, I am tired of gayness being used as political leverage.

Look. I am glad that gays are cool now. It is much better for politicians to be using their gayness as an asset, as opposed to the bad old days when Anita Bryant said we should not be allowed to teach in schools, or Mike Huckabee wondered why we were not quarantined to prevent spreading AIDS to straight people, or the Mormon and Catholic churches insisted that we were intent on destroying the institution of marriage**. It is nice that gay people are the heroes and not the villains now, but homosexuality is still being used for political ends.

Claiming that Mayor Pete is leveraging his sexual identity for political gain is not the same as claiming he should remain in the closet, or that he should never mention his sexuality, or whatever. It is possible to simultaneously be a gay politician and not make it a central part of your narrative, if you so choose.

I have one more thing to say about homosexuality and politics: it is our responsibility as gay people to avoid giving politicians a free pass because they are gay. Just because a politician is gay does not mean that said politician will be effective. Debra recently elected a leader who is rumoured to be gay, but that does not imply that I agree with anything that leader stands for or does. Although not a politician directly, lawyer Roy Cohn was a gay political figure who was heavily involved in the McCarthy anti-communist witch hunts. Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was openly gay and openly anti-Muslim. All too often those of us (gay and straight) who think of ourselves as enlightened are willing to give politicians a pass based on their homosexuality, and I do not feel this is justified.

Anti-qualifications

What is up with our fixation on electing people who have special stories? Why are we so opposed to nominees for President of the United States having relevant qualifications for the job?

I am not diminishing the importance of city mayors. For the most part, I feel that running a city (even a relatively small city like South Bend) is a complicated matter, and I think many mayors do an admirable job. However, municipal politics is different than state or federal politics, and for some reason we think it is okay that Mayor Pete has no legislative experience at the federal level.

I mean, President of the United States seems like a pretty difficult job too, but I think it is difficult in different ways than being mayor of a small city. Should we not have some expectations that the presidential nominees have some knowledge of how federal (or at least state) politics work?

Buttigieg is not, of course, alone in this. We all know what happened in 2016, and the qualifications for office that presidential nominee possessed. But (and here’s where I lose the rest of my readership, if I have any left) it is not as if Barack Obama was well-qualified to be president either. His legislative experience consisted of half a term as a Senator, which is something but not a lot. Frankly, I feel that Obama’s lack of experience as a federal politician showed, and that it hurt him.

I am not claiming that one needs to be Vice-President of the United States in order to be qualified for President (sorry, Joe Biden). I am not claiming you need to be in your 60s or 70s. But is it so unreasonable to expect a term or two in the Senate or House of Representatives? Being a state governor also seems like a good qualification. Is serving in Afghanistan and then becoming mayor of a small city for eight years enough? Even if you want to smash/reform the system, surely you should understand how the system works?

Trump

Speaking of Trump, why are we all so certain he is going to lose in 2020? Most of you are too young to remember this, but way back in 2004 we had an unpopular president named George W. Bush, and a decently qualified candidate in John Kerry. There was no way that Kerry could have lost the election against such an unpopular incumbent, right?.

The End

There is no chance you read this far. I didn’t read this far. I furiously unsubscribed from this blog several sections ago.

Look. I hope you’re right. It would be fantastic if Mayor Pete was the real deal, and won the nomination, and somehow beat Trump in 2020, and was the smart, well-spoken president who is going to solve all our problems. Oh wait. Where have we heard that before? One of the reasons we all fell in love with Obama was because he was a blank slate. We all projected our hopes and wishes for the presidency onto him, and — surprise! — he turned out not to meet those expectations. In a similar way, I feel we are projecting our hopes onto Mayor Pete. I worry we are being fooled again. So hate me if you want (yes, I know you already do), and hold on to your enthusiasm and hope, but also do your homework. Please don’t be fooled again?

If after reading these 3000 words you want to read thousands more, here is a link to that attack piece that I mentioned at the top: https://www.currentaffairs.org/2019/03/all-about-pete.

  • I guess JP is British, so would not be as repulsed by this entry as the rest of you. But if I throw in some grudging respect for the Extinction Rebellion movement then he should be covered too. I’ll alienate Kato by forgetting that Australia exists.

** I’m still working on that last one.

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Gay Voice Followup

In the comments of the last post, Kato (the dear!) brought up a good point: the “gay acccent” in her city was not that different from the inner city accent. I have noticed this too: often young men (not all metrosexual) seem to adopt vocal mannerisms from the gay accent, to the point where it is difficult to distinguish the gays from the straights. Maybe the accent really is culturally developed, and not intrinsic. But then where did I pick it up? Reruns of Three’s Company?

Certainly mainstream accents have drifted over the years. Listen to newscasts from the 1970s or 1950s and you can clearly tell that our vocal inflections have drifted.

Deedles (the dear!) also brought up a good point: the perception that there is a “black accent.” Ever the maladroit, I countered that I did believe there was a mainstream black accent, and that furthermore I was adept at distinguishing it. Then I listend to this podcast and realized that I am just racist.

Conveniently Forgotten

Three years ago yesterday a fellow member of our blogosphere killed himself. That ought to be enough of a trigger warning, but it gets worse. You have been warned. (I am just full of uplifting blog posts these days, aren’t I?)

Three years is too soon to be writing about this. I should have waited five years at least, and ten or twenty years would be safer still. But this death has been on my mind since it popped up on my reminders last Friday, and chances are bad that this blog will survive another two years, or that I will survive another seven or seventeen. So let’s reopen the wound and see what happens.

For maximum imprudence, I’ll refer to this blogger as J. Those of you who remember him will know exactly to whom I am referring, and (I hope) those of you who don’t will have no clue. I think his blog is offline now, which is just as well, as I would feel uncomfortable linking to it.

I first met J as a mutual commenter on a third blog. I do not remember how or when, but at some point I started following his blog too. I felt some concordance when I learned he was a techie, doing some techie thing for an educational institution. At the time I was also working as a techie, and sometimes I recognised some of the tools he was using. J seemed to be a big, friendly guy who (like many of us) struggled with his weight, but who also gave back to his community in many ways. He was an amateur ham radio enthusiast, and helped organize conventions in the area. He also was involved with a support group for LBGTQ+ youth, which I thought was particularly admirable given he lived in a regressive Southern state. (Apologies to those who live in regressive Southern states.)

J met other bloggers from time to time. His online reputation as a friendly, generous guy seemed to carry through to his offline life.

Then, all of a sudden, things unravelled very fast. J posted an ominous blog post, and then a story about a car accident, and then a suicide note. He talked about being accused of a crime, and about his charges being posted in the local media, and how it was the kind of crime one can’t fight against. And then he committed suicide.

It wasn’t difficult to read between the lines, and snooping online for the news story confirmed my suspicions. The police had raided J’s home and confiscated his computer as evidence for an investigation involving internet crimes against children. His work put him on “administrative leave”. J lasted a few days in despair, and then killed himself.

It is important to note that J was not charged with anything. The police had confiscated his computer for an investigation, but J himself had not been directly accused of anything. But from reading his final blog posts, it was clear that the stigma of being guilty by association loomed large in his mind.

I don’t know the details. The polite thing to do would be to refrain from speculation, but I am not polite. I think it is plausible that J may have had incriminating pornography on his computer. For my own cognitive dissonance, I hope that at worst J had been consuming incriminating pornography and not producing it, but I do not know one way or the other. It could also have been that this confiscation was a total mistake, but in my heart I doubt this.

I do know that J found young men attractive, but I have no sense of how young. J blogged a fair amount about a young man who was also gay and also into ham radio. He repeatedly insisted that nothing sexual was happening between them, but I suspected that J was besotted. The two did a lot of extra-curricular activities together, and J felt lonely when the young man was not around.

If J got himself into trouble, I am angry that J got himself into trouble. If J committed acts that hurt children or adolescents or anybody else, then I am even more angry about that. I take a strong stance against exploitation and abuse, although probably not as strong as those who are parents. But there are other things I am not angry at J about.

In some ways I see J as my mirror image. It is well documented (via Shocking Disclosure 3) that my predilections tend towards middle-aged men and women. J’s predilections tended the other way. Both predilections squick most people out, although I am fortunate in that my predilection (while disgusting) is not illegal. Although I am upset with the possible consequences of J’s predilection, I am not angry that he possessed the attractions he did. Simple statistical variance means that if people are allowed to vary in their predilections at all, some will have predilections above the mean and some will have predilections below.

Let’s face it: there are a lot of gay men attracted to those who appear young. This should come as no surprise; although we frown upon it sociologically, biologically human bodies produce the healthiest babies soon after adolescence, which means that being attracted to 14-17 year olds is evolutionarily advantageous. Maybe gay men ought not to be attracted to reproductive suitability the way their straight counterparts are, but I bet they are. Meanwhile, we classify anybody under 18 as a minor and — for good sociological reasons! — prohibit them from being the targets of sexual attraction. Instead we skirt the line by obsessing over twinks, who might be 18 or 20 or 22 years old, but look younger. But few of us are willing to say this out loud, because we do not want to reinforce the slur that conflates homosexuality with pedophilia, the third rail of homosexuality.

If you are a person who is attracted to children — maybe teenagers, maybe those younger — what the hell are you supposed to do? All the treatments I know of (chemical castration! just don’t think about sex! convert yourself to someone attracted to acceptable people!) sound spectacularly ineffective in exactly the same way those treatments didn’t cure gay men of homosexuality in the 1950s and 1960s. Some lucky people find sexual partners who are “of age” but look much younger (hooray for twinks!). That can be a good solution, but it does not work for everybody.

We have no answers, and we would much prefer that these people did not exist. In light of the circumstances surrounding his death, it is so easy to paint everything J was and did in a monstrous light. He worked for an educational institution! He volunteered for LBGTQ+ youth organizations! He harboured a close friendship with a young gay man! He was big and jovial and smiled a lot — just like a child molester! Never mind the nuances of his actions (for example, that he worked as a techie who likely did not have daily interactions with students), or whether he committed any improprieties while engaging in them. As he wrote in his suicide note, the accusation is enough.

I did not know J well, if at all. I do not feel he was a monster, and I think it is a mistake to pretend he was not a part of our community. I have also done monstrous things (although not of the same nature). I have definitely let my sexual predilections influence my actions one way against another, just as you have probably gone out of your way to be helpful to particularly attractive people. That does not mean that we were grooming victims, or that our intentions in doing these things was solely to find bed partners. We all come with mixed motivations, and even when our motivations are impure we can still do good in the world. I sincerely hope J did not harm people. But even if he did, I am reasonably confident that he did not only harm people. It is possible to do bad things and still be a kind and generous person.

I understand that this is an unpopular opinion. I strongly suspect that there are other bloggers who (when they think of J at all) are very angry with him and wanted him to face the consequences of his actions. There are other bloggers who have suffered childhood sexual abuse, and may feel very strongly about the circumstances surrounding J’s death. But I stand by my position. Online or off, we are surrounded by broken, complicated people, and demonizing people when they go beyond the bounds of acceptability (or, in J’s case, are accused of doing so) denies that people who do terrible things are people who are much more similar to us than they are different.

Should J have killed himself? As a nihilist who is also fairly likely to die of suicide, I am the wrong person to ask. I don’t blame J for killing himself. His career at his educational institution was over regardless of the outcome. If he had been charged and arrested, he would have spent time in jail at the bottom of the prison pecking order. If he was charged and found guilty of his accusations, he would likely have ended up on sex offender registries and become unemployable. If he was innocent then things might have been worse, because he would still suffer in custody, and then have the stigma of his accusations follow him around for the rest of his life. If I was facing J’s situation I might well make the same choice.

I understand that others do not share the same view. They view suicide as the coward’s way out. They want to see offenders punished for the sake of vengeance. To me that is irrelevant. If I was accused of crimes and there were victims to whom I could offer restitution or with whom I could engage in restorative justice, then maybe there would be some reason to live. Otherwise? Why bother?

What I do feel is that J’s suicide was awfully convenient for the rest of us. Maybe some of J’s close friends and families still grieve his death, but I am confident nearly all of the blogosphere has moved on. I doubt we bloggers think about J anymore; if his death had not popped up in my reminders I would not have either. If J had lived he might well have been charged with something, and then he might have gone to trial, and we as a community of bloggers might have had to face the possibility that one of our own had come to grief by his own actions. That would have been uncomfortable. Although we in the blogosphere read about many sad things, rarely do they carry the stigma that this accusation would have, and because J took his own life we could forget he ever existed, that he was at one time part of our community, or that he brought with him some difficult issues that we don’t know what to do with. As it was, we were sad for a bit, then read the next blog post and moved on.

None of that is to say that I wished J ill, in the past or now. I am grateful for J’s presence and his blog. I hope he did not hurt others, and if he did I hope those others will heal. I am sorry that things ended badly and that he suffered emotional pain.

Opioid Users and Homosexuals

Another podcast, another blog entry. This time I was listening to interviews of people involved in the opioid crisis. One interview in particular stood out. An advocate/activist named Garth Mullins was talking about how many people around him have died due to overdose. He said he stopped counting at fifty.

He talked about these deaths being a public policy issue. He talked about the stigma of drug use, and and advocated medical-grade heroin as a first step at reducing the number of deaths. He called for a more true representation of opioid users, as opposed to the stereotypes portrayed in the media.

If this reminds you of the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s, this is no accident. Mullins was active in the 1990s and remembers the toll that AIDS took on the population of drug users. He said that the current crisis is worse. He also praised ACT-UP as an effective organization for advocating around the AIDS crisis, and wished that drug users could organize as effectively.

Reflecting on the opioid crisis as compared to the HIV crisis among homosexuals stirred up a lot of ugly thoughts within me. Through my previous job, I have had some contact with those addicted to drugs. My former co-workers were all saints and treated addicts with dignity and respect even as they were smashing things up and stealing things. But I am a monster, and my tolerance for addict shenanigans has diminished over the years.

Intellectually I understand that addicts are people like the rest of us, that many of them got into drugs as a form of self-medication, that an astonishing number of them have suffered adverse childhood experiences that have scarred them for life. Intellectually I understand that addicts resort to desperate measures to feed their addictions, and that they would not be smashing things up and engaging in petty theft if they had better alternatives. Furthermore, I suffer from a number of embarrassing and damaging compulsive behaviours myself, so I ought to be the first person in line to offer compassion to others struggling with their addictions. But I don’t, and maybe the reason I don’t is as simple as the ways I see myself reflected in the bad life choices so many addicts make.

My experiences with addicts have not been positive. In particular crystal meth has been incredibly irritating to deal with. I do not like associating with addicts and I am not willing to share accomodations with them. I am a bigot, and when statistics about death tolls come out I sometimes find myself reacting callously instead of with concern and sympathy.

I think you can see where I am going here. I have heard and read many, many heartbreaking stories about the stigma of being gay during the HIV crisis. The callousness with which “regular people” ignored the crisis and did not care one bit about the toll this disease took on the gay population provokes outrage these days. Among many, Ronald Reagan is a villanous figure because of how he dragged his feet on action around AIDS. Many gay men felt that the rest of the world hated them and were utterly indifferent whether they lived or died, because perceptions of reckless, compulsive behaviour amongst homosexuals was seen as the cause of the AIDS crisis. Many members of my tiny readership experienced this stigma firsthand. Thinking about the way gay men were stigmatized in the 1980s makes many people in the mainstream really angry today.

But all of the same arguments I offer for disliking addicts were used against homosexuals as well. The analogy is not perfect, and maybe it is tone-deaf to make the analogy at all. But I see direct connections between the way society treated gay men during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, and the way we (in particular me) treat the drug user population during the opioid crisis now. We can quibble about the details, but in my mind there is little difference.

Then I look at my hard-hearted, uncaring stance on the issue, and I realize that I probably held that same stance during the 1980s. I am part of the problem, and I am very likely on the wrong side of history. But that does not reduce my antipathy towards dealing or living with drug addicts. I do not know what to do about that.

New Years Resolutions

I guess I should get around to making some New Year’s resolutions, huh? Maybe some unrealistically ambitious goals will cleanse our collective palates.

No doubt this set of resolutions is not very comprehensive. I hope I do not cause too much harm by missing some.

Probably I will forget these resolutions by February, and I will go back to my miserable ways.

Health

This past year has been a bad one for health concerns. These resolutions address a few of them:

  • That Shawn and his symbiote Fearsome get some relief from their shoulder troubles. They try to put on an optimistic face on it, but I get the sense that they are in bad chronic pain.

  • That Blobby heals well from screwing up his thumb.

  • That RTG get some relief from his arthritis (and the other medical ailments he faces).

  • That the new medications work, and Dr. Spo gets his blood pressure under control.

Relationships

The heart is a lonely hunter. Here are some of my resolutions around relationships:

  • That people who are looking for nice boyfriends find them. Steven from sooo-this-is-me, RJ, Walter and CB come to mind, but I am sure there are others as well.

  • That Michael54 settle into his new life post-divorce and discover himself.

Other things

  • That JP and Guido get through their renovations of the new cafe, and that Guido manages to juggle both cafes well.

Lesbians

Intrepid readers may recall my misadventures on Craigslist and how as a result I ran away screaming from the idea of ever having a sex partner ever. It is pretty clear that homosexuality is not doing much for me, so I decided to become an ex-gay. So far it is working out pretty decent. I have not had sex with a man even one time since making this decision.

Admittedly, it may be premature for me to assume this label. I have not gotten around to filling out the paperwork, and I have not made it out to any meetings (which is a shame — I hear the guys there have nice personalities, and that many of them are cute). But I am hoping that once I work through the process and engage in a few sessions of therapy I will be cured.

Unfortunately, becoming ex-gay will only address half the problem. The other half is lesbians. My batting average when it comes to women is not good. Probably half of the women I find attractive turn out to be lesbians, and the rest tend to have lesbionic tendencies. It isn’t that I seek out lesbians explicitly; it is just that certain types of people press my sexual buttons, and lesbians are in that set. (What a Shocking Disclosure. This would be #7, I think.)

Sometimes I worry that this is some kind of subliminated attraction to masculininity, and that I am consciously or unconsciously attracted to “mannish” ladies. This may be true, but I do not think it explains the whole story, and on a physical level I don’t find the super-butchy types do much for me.

Most of the women I find attractive tend to be strong and independent. They are the type of people who have their own interests and hobbies, and who do not depend on having a man around to complete their identities. I think these are the qualities that I find attractive in women. Sadly, there appears to be a relatively high correlation between being strong and independent and being lesbian.

This, of course, is an issue, because lesbians want nothing to do with me, and it appears that for the most part strong independent women don’t either. That reduces the dating pool significantly. Given that I am an abusive controlling monster who should never be in a relationship, I suppose that is for the best, but it still hurts. Furthermore it is gauche to make passes at people who clearly want nothing to do with you.

This does not stop me from trying, of course. As previously documented, I frequently substitute relationships with suspicious friendships and frequently these friendships are with strong, independent women who want nothing to do with me sexually.

I tend to come off as a creep around lesbians. I tend to explore ideas and debate concepts in a very male way, and almost all women (lesbian or not) have no patience for that. To the extent that I attempt to be humourous, I often get into trouble for making the wrong kinds of comments at the wrong times. These are not always chauvinistic pig comments, either. Quite frankly I am surprised that strong independent women are willing to associate with me at all.

From what I have been reading of the ex-gay literature, it seems that finding a woman and getting married seems to be part of the narrative. I hope that is not mandatory. Maybe after I am finished with the ex-gay process I can find an ex-straight group to finish the job.

Activism Failure

Lately I have made the mistake of reading several books written by members of the queer radical left (News flash: lesbian separatists are still around. And they write books. Who knew?).

Although I spent many of my formative years associating with those in the radical left, their arguments and tactics irritate and often enrage me. Their “analysis” usually boils down to “we hate successful people”. True to form, those on the queer radical left long for the good old days when homosexuality was despised. They feel contempt for white queers (especially white male queers) striving for social acceptance. They lament “straight privilege”. They go out of their way to disrupt and disgust mainstream society. So it is no surprise that they despise gay marriage. They hate all marriage because marriage is a patriarchial institution, and they especially hate gay marriage because it affords some queers a bunch of privilege and acceptance that are denied to other groups (transpeople, people of colour, and poor people).

Man, I don’t know what to think. I have said before and will repeat ad-nauseum: I try not to judge other people’s kinks, and I am genuinely happy for those blogger-buddies who find meaning and support in the patriarchial oppressive institution of marriage. But a bunch of the queer radical left arguments against middle-class gays and against gay marriage ring true to me.

Back when we were fighting for gay marriage, Dan Savage related sob story after sob story of loving partners who were denied basic courtesies because they were not married. Partners could not visit their loved ones in hospital. They could not jointly adopt bio-children. They would lose their houses when a partner (in whose name the title was signed) died, and the evil biofamily would automatically inherit the assets. It was very Stone Butch Blues. Dan Savage and his army argued that granting full marriage rights to gay couples would right these injustices.

Meanwhile, the radical left was attacking marriage. They questioned why this set of basic privileges should be granted only to those who were married. What about triads? What about polyamourous marriages? Wnat about people who had no stable partner, but who had definite wishes about giving their chosen families — and not the biofamilies that had all too often disowned them — say in what happened to their lives and assets. When these criticisms were acknowledged at all, they were often dismissed with a “marriage first, and then we will work on nontraditional arrangements” attitude.

Now we have gay marriage, and as time passes its existence becomes less precarious. I doubt even President Trump (bless his heart) is going to overturn it now. So when are we going to make sure the same kinds of sob stores Dan Savage was relating during the gay marriage fight are not happening to people who aren’t married?

Oh right. We’re not going to work on that now, because the middle-class gays have what they want, and enthusiasm for extending these privileges to other groups has evaporated. I cannot think of a single campaign seeking to decouple the privileges of marriage from the institution of marriage. Funny how that works.

It reminds me a lot of the HIV/AIDS activism fight. When successful, white, North American gay men were dropping right and left, there was a lot of energy to pour into activism. Not everybody in ACT-UP was rich or successful or white, but I would argue that the presence of the mainstream in the movement made a big difference. Then 1996 rolled around and the antiretroviral cocktails came out. Then AIDS became less of a first world middle class gay problem and more of a poor straight third world problem. Mysteriously, our enthusiasm for activism on behalf of those groups mysteriously evaporated, leaving the heavy lifting to a handful of people like Stephen Lewis. Access to cheap retrovirals overseas has been a huge issue for decades, but without the same kind of pressure ACT-UP was able to apply in North America, governments and Big Pharma have dragged their feet, at the cost of millions of lives. That is not to say that Western gays have abandoned the fight entirely; we still show up to World AIDS Day and donate to red-ribbon charities, but we have not taken the fight overseas.

The reasoning is simple: once we get what we want, our activism drops. “Respectable” gay couples wanted gay marriage, and they got it. I am not innocent in this either, of course; I am angry that nobody is advocating for non-marrieds to get married people’s privileges because I am probably never getting married, but I still don’t want my biofamily to automatically take control of my life decisions and assets when I am incapacitated.

As much as I do not want to admit it, I think the queer radical left has been accurate in its criticisms of assimilation with respect to gay marriage. Will we ever see progress on nontraditional arrangements? Unless the poly community makes it happen I do not think it will happen, and I do not see enough social acceptance of polyamory for anything to happen for a while.

But there are other struggles which have some momentum, and for which comfortable middle-class homos could participate:

  • Societal rights and acceptance of transpeople, including non-discrimination legislation and an end to using idiotic bathroom issues to wedge voters.
  • Addressing widespread homelessness and poverty among LGBTQ communities, especially with respect to non-white communities.
  • Addressing misogyny within mainstream gay culture.
  • Breaking down class and racial barriers in LGBTQ communities and organizing.
  • Advocating for LGBTQ rights where they are being suppressed, and offering sanctuary to those affected by repressive laws.

Will we take on any of these challenges? Until/unless they affect us personally, I doubt it.

Straight Pill

From time to time I read memes with questions like “If there was a pill that could make you straight, would you take it?”

I think my answer is “no”, but probably not for the usual reasons. In a previous episode I expressed gratitude that I was not straight, because our hypersexualized culture is tough on straight men. I also expressed a wish to be asexual instead. So if the question was “would I take a pill that could make me asexual”, the answer ought to be “yes” even though in practice such pills exist and I do not take them.

That is part of the problem with this hypothetical. Pills get expensive, and Big Pharma is all about the chronic disease management over full cure model. There probably would not be a single pill to make me straight; instead I would probably have to sign up for a lifetime of prescriptions.

Maybe more importantly, I have always felt fairly adamant that I do not want to have kids, and being straight increases the risk of such an outcome considerably. (One would think that getting the snip would reduce it, but in my case I think the snip got botched.)

But in some sense, I guess I would not take such a pill because I believe that some aspects of sexuality are functions of choice, and I have not made those choices. Whatever else I am, it is pretty apparent that I am not a Kinsey 6. The only sexual experiences I have had with another person were with a woman, and the sex itself was usually pleasant enough (although there were many aspects of that relationship that were less than fine). In some parallel universe I have exactly the same sexuality I do in this universe, but I have been married off to some nice girl and dutifully had enough kids to satisfy the grandparents (although whether my parallel universe spouse and kids are happy is quite another story).

Even without a pill, I could probably live a life that is considerably straighter than I do now, but I have decided not to. Instead I read too many gay blogs and too much LBGTQ literature, and I associate too much with other deviants.

Would being straight leave an empty space in my existence that would have to be filled with something else? Possibly. Certainly I have squandered a lot of time and energy towards my homosexuality. I just wish there were guarantees that instead of sex I would fill that empty space with more worthwhile pursuits. There are a lot of other interesting pasttimes in this world.

Unchristian

Sometimes I wish I was Christian.

I am fortunate to live in a social bubble filled with Mennonites and Catholic Worker types. Thus my perspective on Christians tends to differ from those who feel assaulted by socially conservative evangelical types. As it turns out, many of the people I admire most are either Christian and/or grew up with strong Christian upbringings.

The Christians I admire tend to be strong in their faiths, but thoughtful and humble. Many of them treat unpleasant, uncharismatic people as people. Working with poor people at my former job probably made me more judgemental and more intolerant; in contrast, many of my coworkers were able to maintain both realism of and compassion for the people they worked with, some of whom are very unpleasant indeed.

It is also true that I have known my share of Christians who handed me interesting tracts telling me I was going to Hell. But even many of these were genuinely good people who probably believed as much in helping those around them than they did in tallying converts.

Floundering around in my midlife crisis, paralysed by anxiety and existential angst, my life savings smoldering away as I realize I am much less employable than I originally thought, I often wish I had some clarity about what (if anything) I am supposed to be doing here, and why. Christians have that clarity. I doubt I ever will.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I will ever be Christian. Not to go all Christopher Hitchens (peace be upon him) on you, but I find the central tenet of the faith abhorrent.

Think of the person in your life you look up to the most. Maybe this person is very kind, or very compassionate, or very kind. Maybe this person works tirelessly to improve the well-being of those around him or her. Maybe this person is generous to a fault. Even the most cynical, nihilist member of my readership can picture such a person.

Now I will make you a deal. I will take this worthy person and first humiliate him or her, and then torture him or her, and then kill him or her. The blood sacrifice of this person’s torture and suffering will somehow absolve you of all the bad things you have done, but only if you believe this torture and suffering was a good thing to do.

If you refuse to believe this, then you are condemned to eternal suffering. Eternal. Like, forever. To avoid this, all you have to do is agree that the person you look up to the most should be humiliated, tortured, and killed.

The analogy to Christianity is obvious. As far as I can tell, the death and resurrection of Jesus is central to Christianity. A blood sacrifice absolves us of our sins.

But what about the resurrection? What about it? The resurrection does not absolve us of our sins. The humiliation, torture and death of Jesus is what counts. Does it make it better if your worthy person is tortured and killed, only to rise later on? Does that make the humiliation and torture and death less painful?

Christians are supposed to celebrate this humiliation and torture and death. They are supposed to see it as joyous. It puts the good in Good Friday. But I see it as abhorrent. Why should others have to suffer for the bad things I have done? How is that just?

Of course, nobody says that reality has to be just. For all I know, Christianity might be true. The deal really might be that three days of death for Jesus is worth much, much more than an eternity of suffering for me. Maybe blood sacrifice really does work. Nobody says that reality is pleasant or pretty. But this is not a reality I celebrate.

That is not the worst of it. The worst of it is many of the Christians I admire, the ones who take that central tenet of Christianity seriously, are the very ones I would least expect to agree to this blood sacrifice. Not only do they seem unwilling to sacrifice worthy people for their own benefit, they go out of their way to humanize people the rest of us see as unworthy. These Christians deal with the consequences of smelly, aggressive, inarticulate, needy, agitated, annoying people every day, but instead of hardening their hearts they open their hearts to touch the insecure, traumatized, abandoned people underneath. They develop relationships with these people. They care for their well being, even though they know full well that most of them will never “get better,” that they will screw up again and again until they are dead. I cannot imagine these Christians agreeing to condemn even the most difficult of the people they work with for their own benefit.

And yet God — who is infinitely more caring than his sheep — loves us so much he is willing to let his only Son be humiliated, tortured and killed. And then (depending on what sect you believe) God loves us so much he condemns us to Hell if we refuse to acknowledge this torture as a great gift. The distance between the tenets of Christianity and the works of the Christians I admire is difficult to reconcile.

No doubt this distance is reconcilable, and I am just too proud to see it. No doubt blood sacrifice really is joyous. But I do not (or refuse to) see it, and thus when I am dead by heart attack or diabetes or suicide, I could well be looking at eternal damnation. I can’t get my head around that concept, so I pretend to be atheist and wish the dilemma away. I ought to know better, but I don’t and I doubt I will.

When Will Beards Die?

Robert (the dear!) from The Corporate Slave recently reported on the demise of the man-bun. That should come as no surprise. Fashion trends come and go. What surprises me is that beards have managed to stay fashionable for so long. From what I can tell, it has been well over 10 years since the young cubs started sporting whiskers.

I’m pretty sure nobody sported beards in the 1950s. People got shaggy in the 1960s and 1970s, but the yuppies picked up their razors in the 1980s. Even the clones sported moustaches, not beards. It seems we are overdue for a follicular crash. Year after year I expect enthusiasm for facial hair to diminish, but it hasn’t happened yet. What gives?

I doubt this trend is permanent. Homeless people and bikers will always sport beards, but sooner or later I expect mainstream society to lose its penchant for facial hair. Big Razor cannot be held at bay indefinitely. For those of us with predelictions towards facial hair, it will be a sad time. Source material for Fearsome’s “Beard of the Day” posts will dry up. Bearish types will no longer be able to pass in polite society.

We can try to resist the backlash, but the fickle forces of fashion are not to be denied.