What It’s Like to Have Celebrity Politicians Representing You

Since I’ve lived here, my governor (who doesn’t in theory represent me, but as we’ll see has begun starting to) has been Gavin Newsom. My U.S. representative is Nancy Pelosi. My senator, for a smidgen of years after Barbara Boxer (who once starred in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm) stepped out was Kamala Harris. Likely you’ve not only heard of these people, but you can pick their faces out of a lineup.

I don’t think I could pick out the faces of Florida’s or Texas’s governor if there was a prize involved.

Anyway, it blows.

*

I’ve been thinking about representative democracy a lot this weekend, after reading first this L.A. Times article on my governor going on Twitter to tell another governor his fans that they should debate. ‘[C]learly you’re struggling, distracted, and busy playing politics with people’s lives. Since you have only one overriding need — attention — let’s take this up & debate,’ Newsom wrote, a pot calling the kettle smutty (as Montaigne called it).

People in different parts of the country tell me they like my governor. Why don’t I? And why I don’t I like my representative in Congress? When I try to think clearly about it, I run again into my lifelong contrarianism, my distrust of quickly beloved people and things. I spent ten years in Nebraska and Alabama feeling not once represented by the officials my fellow citizens elected. Why can’t I just let myself be happy now?

Let’s table those questions and look at the other thing I read: Adam Gopnik’s review of some recent books on democracy in the New Yorker—headline: ‘Can’t We Come Up With Something Better Than Liberal Democracy?’ (Short answer: not really.) Gopnik is unmoved by the belief these authors hold that we can have a better republic once we improve our democracy’s workings. Here, for me, was the operative ¶ (mind the wacky Oz analogy, which refers to points made earlier):

The perennial temptation of leftist politics is to suppose that opposition to its policies among the rank and file must be rooted in plutocratic manipulation, and therefore curable by the reassertion of the popular will. The evidence suggests, alas, that very often what looks like plutocratic manipulation really is the popular will. Many Munchkins like the witch, or at least work for the witch out of dislike for some other ascendant group of Munchkins…. The awkward truth is that Thatcher and Reagan were free to give the plutocrats what they wanted because they were giving the people what they wanted: in one case, release from what had come to seem a stifling, union-heavy statist system; in the other, a spirit of national, call it tribal, self-affirmation. One can deplore these positions, but to deny that they were popular is to pretend that a two-decade Tory reign, in many ways not yet completed, and a forty-nine-state sweep in 1984 were mass delusions. Although pro-witch Munchkins may be called collaborators after their liberation, they persist in their ways, and resent their liberators quite as much as they ever feared the witch. ‘Of course, I never liked all those scary messages she wrote in the sky with her broom,’ they whisper among themselves. ‘But at least she got things done. Look at this place now. The bricks are all turning yellow.’

I’m a leftist tempted perennially by this line of thinking. I Know In My Heart that we can have a better world if social media was outlawed and everyone in this country got a quality education in how to think critically. It took a while after November 2016 for me to accept that D. Trump had won the election fair and square (well, as fairly and squarely as anyone wins elections post–Citizens United). Even if the majority of voters didn’t vote for him, there were 62 million people who heard what he said and saw what he did and said, Yes. Please be our leader. And in 2020, there were 74 million people who wanted to keep going.

D. Trump is a fascist the way I’m a native Virginian. It’s in everything he says and does. I know this because I’ve read about fascism, and I also know that no fascist government has ever taken power by force. Fascists get voted in. They give people what they want. It boggles my mind how many people—and how many different kinds of people—deeply and passionately want authoritarian men to rule discompassionately.

But they’re my fellow Americans. Gopnik’s conclusion is that human variation will always make democracy a mess, and it’s the function of politics to manage the stresses of living in a mess without the bridge between us crumbling to bits.

I like messes. I find myself most content when I accept and even enjoy that life is chaos, and as I’ve written about before, I distrust any thinker pundit who claims to ‘make order from the chaos’:

[I]f you can’t handle chaos you can’t handle the everyday mess of life on a globe of difference. And if you look for leaders, charismatic or otherwise, who promise to lead you away from this discomfort, they’re going to need to make that messy world smaller, and more sterile. They’re going to point you to a future where that seems possible. And the only way that’s truly possible is by controlling people until they make sense, or eradicating those who don’t from the face of the planet until the planet makes sense.

I’m far off my train of thought now, so let me steer us back. I’m talking about accepting two things: chaos and the (to me awful) desires of the right. I’m not talking about centrism, about ‘meeting those people halfway.’ I’m talking about recognizing sameness across differences while holding on to our differences.

Let’s go back to the Gopnik ¶. Typing it out, it hits me what a shame it is that these good ideas are so inaccessible to the people who may need them—i.e., who may not already agree with them. I’ve complained about activist language before, but I feel I’m in need of activist language that crisply and forcefully demands greater nuance in our thinking.

THINK FROM YOURSELF might be the sign I’d most like to hang in my street-facing window.

If I can be allowed to simplify Gopnik’s somewhat brainy language, I start to see something interesting come through his ideas. Something instructive:

Leftists believe time and again that the reason their ideas aren’t more widely popular is that rich people keep lying about them. The solution: remind the public that we outnumber the rich, and remove those liars from power. Except: history has shown, time and again, that the public often wants exactly what rich people want.

Okay, so I’ve removed some of the nuances to the ideas, but not to the main argument. What I like about looking at it this way is that when you swap ‘Trumpists’ for ‘leftists’ and ‘politicians’ for ‘rich people’ you get the ideology behind Drain the Swamp.

That Gopnik’s idea applies, through transformation, to a different voting bloc helps me see how much I have in common with them, and how my political imagination—though aimed at different ends—is made up of much similar stuff than I’d otherwise like to admit.

This sounds like Trumpist ‘both sides’ rhetoric, but it’s not. Both-sides centrism reduces or denies difference between groups—even when done in a positive light, as with the current president’s message of UNITY. UNITY is such a shitty message because it implies that one group ought to conform to another, or that we ‘need to set aside our differences’ to come together as one, an impossible proposition that’s never once occurred in the history of this country.

The better slogan, though it would look worse on a placard, is basically this post’s whole thesis: PLURALITY. Or the weird phrase on all our money: E pluribus unum. The ‘one’ that we are as a nation is ‘out of the many.’

I feel like a happier person, and a more contented U.S. citizen, whenever I try to fathom the manyness of that many.

*

When I tailgate somebody going 10 miles less than the speed limit (not everybody on the road can play defense), three things happen: they speed up, or they move out of my lane, or they do nothing. Maybe they don’t notice me, or maybe they don’t care to correct their behavior.

But sometimes a fourth thing happens: they slow down even more.

It’s a power move, wielded in a moment I imagine the person in the car in front of me feels that power has been taken away from them. It baffles me. I’m just trying to get off the road as quickly as possible. But it’s this drive, fully nonpartisan, that I’m getting at: I don’t like what that person is doing, I don’t share their values, so they’re values are wrong to me, and so I’ll either hurt them in this small way, or feel better when I see they’ve been hurt.

Why it blows to be represented by celebrities is that they too often play to this desire, having as they do more fans than constituents. What benefit is it to California for our governor to debate another one? And rather than tell me how she plans to serve the needs of San Franciscans in the next congress, what does it say that the Pelosi’s campaign website offers me this sticker to buy:

I’m likely in the minority by feeling ashamed or embarrassed when my representatives dunk on conservatives. I wish this wasn’t as much a drive on the left as it seems to be on the right. As I argued in my previous post, letting politicians go on TV to ‘debate’ each other benefits nobody except the people on TV, because they’ve been given more time to be, again, on TV. Nobody’s debating anything about policy. They can’t afford to take that much time away from their image.

*

Back in Pittsburgh, when I was young and online so much that I felt very connected to this 2-sides, dunk-on-the-GOP mentality, I remember loving Michael Moore—not so much for his films but for his position. They’ve got awful Rush Limbaugh, and he’s our version of that, I remember telling a friend.

‘But why do we want our version of awful?’ he asked.

I was liking Moore the way many people outside California like Newsom and Pelosi, the way many gays I imagine bought this terrible hat. I wanted a version of This Conservative Thing Getting Lots Of Attention that affirmed my values, forgetting, as Audre Lorde reminds us, that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.

The high road, if it ever existed, was bulldozed decades ago. Another myth I’m tempted perennially to believe in.

How to Not Be a Conservative

I’m going to start by making two lists. 1: Things that were better in the past than they are in the present. And 2: Things I’m passionately and proudly conservative about. I’m doing this against the old adage[1] that everyone gets more conservative as they get older.

Things That Were Better In The Past

  • To get the obvious ones out of the way: air travel, MTV, public funding of schools, being middle class, union membership, the social safety net in general, access to fetal abortion procedures
  • Food ones: Coke before high fructose corn syrup; Honeycomb cereal, which used to made from oats and now, of course, it’s mostly corn; and McDonald’s pies, which used to be fried (like their French fries) in beef tallow, but after the fat/cholesterol scare of the early 90s the fries are fried in vegetable oil (arguably not better for you) and the pies are now um … baked.
  • Terrestrial radio
  • The rate of people having sex in their teen years
  • Ziploc Food Packaging: Have you noticed that food packaging now places its ziploc opening not at the top of the bag, making it perfect for pouring, but the front of it? Like this? [JPG] And they no longer go all the way across, so now whatever you try to pour out inevitably gets partially caught by the top of the bag, and good luck emptying it when you’re done.

Things I’m Passionately Conservative About

  • Chex-Mix recipes: leave your onion powders and bagel chips in the pantry
  • Cocktail recipes: no fun ‘martinis’ please
  • Neighborhood development / new construction: I’m no NIMBY, but I am anxious about the Castro Theater
  • News media: we should all perma-subscribe to home delivery of local print newspapers written and edited by well paid journalists
  • The ‘FA’ in the MFA degree: that is, I’ve only by demand, and reluctantly, brought more and more practical / professional matters into my artsy-fartsy teaching
  • Slang and idioms: always happy to say ‘that’s awesome’ over ‘that slaps’ or whatever, and don’t get me started on the phrase ‘hits different‘.

*

It’s hard to see the news every day and not feel that things are getting worse. I want to remain honest and vigilant about what’s happening in this country to the rights of people, and to democracy in general, but I also acknowledge that Things were better before is one of the seeds of fascism. The trick is figuring out (a) whether that’s true (or whether it’s being used to justify hate / genocide toward the disenfranchised), and (b) what steps to take to make things better in the future.

That seems to be the urgent drive: if things are getting worse, how do we stop the worse from getting even worse? Here’s Lauren Berlant:

[T]he present moment increasingly imposes itself on consciousness as a moment in extended crisis, with one happening piling on another. The genre of crisis is itself a heightening interpretive genre, rhetorically turning an ongoing condition into an intensified situation in which extensive threats to survival are said to dominate the reproduction of life.

Key phrase = ‘ongoing condition’. The nonlinear movements of progress and decline are part of our permanent history. For Berlant, the crisis of the moment is a matter of perspective, and the narratives we choose to interpret our moment in history. To see this in example, let me tell you a quick story from college.

On any random night in the apartment I shared with friends, my pal Mark asked me and Casey one of those What ifs: If you could have grown up during any decade in the 20th century, which would you choose? I don’t recall what Casey said, but having recently watched The Ice Storm I likely said the 1970s, enchanted by a country fully disillusioned by the corruption of a GOP president.

Mark said the 1950s. His reasons are lost to memory, but we had a nice friendly bickering about it. Everything was so white bread and awful! (Had I recently watched Pleasantville?) I didn’t see it at the time, but in looking back on this memory, I accept that the 1950s could have been a perfectly blissful decade—for a certain demographic.

The 1950s were a nightmare for queers. It was a time when abortions were illegal and women, when allowed into the workplace, were treated mostly as furniture. Jim Crow laws were solidly on the books. Straight white men probably had a lovely time.

When I think about things that were better before, I try to ask (a) if it was better for everyone, all demographics, and (b) if its being better required the exclusion of one or more of those demographics. Airline travel used to be luxurious, yes, but also way too expensive for most people. College used to be cheaper, and while much of the criminal costs of college have come from a bloat of overpaid administrators, those positions have also been created by demand. The demographics of college campuses have become far more diverse than they were in the 70s and 80s, especially now that the U.S. has decided every ‘good’ job requires a college degree, which has created a need for psychological services, disability services, career placement centers, study skills training, campus life coordinators, and any other number of associate vice provosts trained in these things faculty—who used to run colleges—aren’t.

If colleges mostly served prep school graduates and other already-well-off students, they’d be smaller and cheaper. It can’t be what we want to conserve.

*

Somewhere recently, I came across the feed of something called ‘The Cultural Tutor’, which had some viral tweets about the death of detail and color in contemporary design:

The examples provided make a convincing case that ‘we’ have given up, or lost something that used to make our world better, or at least more interesting to look at. The nostalgist in me was quickly won over by the argument, if The Cultural Tutor had an argument (they didn’t exactly have a cause, or a narrative on what has happened over time). Then I got to this part:

Consider some reframings:

‘Default minimalist desig[n] strips all identity away from things.’ >>> ‘Default minimalist design maximizes the identities that can engage with it.’

‘Somebody might not like a detail (read: character) so there can be no details.’ >>> ‘Somebody’s use of an object might be impaired by a detail (read: aestheticism) so details should come under scrutiny for utility.’

To be fair, not all of the examples in the thread involve civic spaces or public utilities (and to be sure, it’s hard to see how ornament on a bollard threatens ADA accessibility needs), but I was struck by this comment to the thread:

There’s a not very good story by Vonnegut titled ‘Harrison Bergeron’[2], which presents a dystopia where every form of excellence in humans beyond the norm is forcedly hindered by the state. So like folks who are fast runners get, like, weights on their ankles or something. I forget the specifics, but even as a teenager I recall realizing this was some Ayn Rand–style alarmist bullshit.

It’s a partisanly conservative complaint that any work we might do to make this world more accessible to others, or to generally benefit more of us, will lead only to the death of innovation and crushed human spirits or whatever. Or, as Colleen has it above, nothing will be unique or exceptional if we try to give everyone equal treatment.

How to not be a conservative? Avoid seeing the less equal as a necessary sacrifice to your understanding of greatness.[3]

*

But how to not be a piner for the past, is what I mostly wanted to write about here. Another college story, set in the same apartment: A group of us was trying to figure out what to do on a weeknight, and someone suggested we go see a movie. Me, the film major, was up for it, and in trying to figure out what we might go see, I asked the group, ‘Is there anything new and good?’—something recently released that was getting good reviews, I meant.

Somebody—let’s call him Andy, because maybe that was his name, but he was a friend of a friend—repeated what I said with a laugh. Then at some point over the next week I saw an email he’d sent around, and he’d changed the quote in his signature: ‘Is there anything new and good? –Dave Madden’

In middle age now, I’m if anything being pushed farther left by the growing injustices of my time, but I’m trying to avoid becoming that guy I became when quoted out of context. In my 20s, I loved the new specifically for its sake of being new. I was also far less comfortable in my skin and had far less of an understanding of who I was separate from others, so as much as I felt like a nonconformist I happily adopted the forms of nonconformity my friends were taking on. Because that was what community meant.

Now I’m older man who readily dismisses Taylor Swift and trap music and TikTok. And when I do that, I feel at a remove from ‘most people’, given the wild popularity of the above. Hating on the new, pining after the past, puts me in a form of isolation—it’s the negative inflection of the feeling of being self-aware, or -satisfied, or -sufficient.[4]

The difference, it seems, is community. How not to become a conservative as you get older seems vitally to involve staying part of as diverse a community as possible. It’s less about conforming to the Swifties you might find among you, it’s about having people in your life whose differing tastes you respect and allow.

Translate that to the political stage and we might stop pining for this long past of dunking on each other.



Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Which maybe only applied to the Boomer generation.
  2. Which I first learned of by watching the movie of the same name starring 100%-in-his-prime Sean Astin.
  3. Which reminds me of a better sci-fi story from Ursula K. Le Guin, ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’, which posits that all prosperity and wealth requires someone else’s suffering.
  4. A colleague recently told me that I’m a Leo rising.

I Woke Up in Santa Monica Feeling Depressed

I woke up in Santa Monica feeing depressed because I read that my fellow San Franciscans elected to recall progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin, after millions of dollars from fearful white conservatives told them to do so. Those of you who don’t live in the Bay Area who are reading this, when you hear a conservative lament ‘liberal San Francisco’ or however my city gets used to scare the base, they are trolling you.[*] San Francisco is to our conservative country what Mardi Gras is to shoring up the Catholic Church’s authority: a sanctioned, boundaried exception that proves the rule.[†]

Readers of this blog will likely be tired now of my complaints against recall elections. Twice this year, ultra-wealthy people bought recalls to remove progressive public officials the people of San Francisco elected. And twice now they’ve won. I fear a field day is going to commence; the same 60 percent of voters who recalled Boudin also refused to pass Proposition C, which would make undemocratic recall elections more difficult in the future.

San Francisco might be America’s brokenest city, and in true American fashion, most of us have been led to believe that the free market will fix things. And any time we try to vote in a progressive, the money will come storming in to remove them as swiftly as possible.

*

I’m now drinking my coffee and trying glad to be out of there. I don’t know how well Santa Monica works as a city. My assumption is that plenty of people who need to work here can’t also live here. Of the top 15 cities with a greatest income inequality gaps, California holds 7, which indicates we need to have broader conversations about the extent to which my state is a progressive one. We have some pretty good laws, mostly that protect liberties, but given the enormous numbers of rich people in this state, we’ve got a ton of laws that protect property and wealth. California can’t pass statewide rent control. We can’t pass single-payer healthcare. We struggle to maintain a ban on assault rifles. I’m proud that we openly present ourselves as a sanctuary—to migrants and refugees, to women in terrorism states seeking safe abortions—but what kind of haven can we offer such people once they’ve come here?

At any rate, I’m here for 3 weeks, and then for the Fourth I fly to Omaha (like its Rust Belt/Midwest neighbors, one of the least unequal cities in America), and between then and now I have a chapter of my book to finish. In a whole book that fills me with shame at every page, this chapter might be my shamefulest. It’s a time that calls for something of a retreat from the world, from the disappointments of my fellow voters, and from the (imagined, I know) chorus of judgemental, right-thinking upright literary citizens who will be disgusted and dismissive of this memoir I’m compelled to write. (Or worse: silent and uncaring.)

Today I put them all away. If you’re reading this blog, I imagine you might want to read another book from me, and I know you’re real and out there. This month, I’m writing to you, and I thank you for being there for me.



Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Kinda. San Francisco is as neo-liberal as they come, given the priority put on money, not taxing corporations, and maintaining the status quo. And let’s not forget this city is represented—still, for God’s sake still—by Nancy Pelosi.
  2. This idea is Lewis Hyde’s, from Trickster Makes This World: ‘The stock anthropological and literary understanding is that carnival celebrations, despite their actual bawdiness and filth, are profoundly conservative…. Mocking but not changing the order of things, ritual dirt-work [i.e. Folsom, ‘In This House’ signs, anti-Trump candidates, etc.] operates as a kind of safety valve, allowing internal conflicts and nagging anomalies to be expressed without serious consequence. If everyone secretly knows the Pope is not perfect the secret can harmlessly endure if once a year, for a limited time only, the people make a fool of the Pope.’ Whereas Mardi Gras is a temporal carnival, San Francisco is a spatial/cultural one that helps mask the country’s deep conservatism. Las Vegas (‘What happens there stays there’) does similar work on the notion of everyday greed and gluttony.

I ‘didn’t say gay’ when I came out to my parents: Some thoughts after Florida on calling queers by their name

You better believe I practiced the speech, to be delivered in their hotel room on their first visit to me in Nebraska, four months after I came out to myself. It started like this: ‘I wanted to tell you guys that [pause for a sec] I came out to BJ last spring.’ BJ was my oldest friend, my ‘brother from another mother’ as our mothers had often put it. So there was a familiar friend amid what I assumed would be, for them, overall bad news.

But also there was the past action, the fact (L. facere: ‘a thing done’). I made sure to deliver them the fact of what I’d done in lieu of the fact of what I am. ‘I’m gay’ sounded in my newbie ears like an explosion, a slap in the face with the hand of my difference, which would highlight what might feel like a sudden departure from the family mold.

Mine is a history of acting not for or from myself, so much as acting to minimize others’ disapproval I imagine being always at the ready. When I told my parents, ‘I came out last spring,’ that was for them.

What I needed to say, for me, was something like, ‘I’ve always been gay. I’m only now strong enough to say it.’

*

The Parental Rights in Education bill Florida’s governor signed into law yesterday has a number of provisions to uphold ‘the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children,’ but the big one is this: ‘Classroom instruction … on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3.’

A recent Politico poll showed that 51 percent of Americans are in favor of this bill, or at least of what it prohibits.[1] The rest of us have nicknamed this the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, because, I imagine, we’ve read George Orwell and know the work it takes to cut through the lies of political language. You score many points in the game of amassing political power when you affirm ‘parental rights’—witness the racist SF school board recall and Terry McAuliffe losing the Virginia governor race after stating what sounds to me a basic truth of how education works to develop a child into a free-thinking adult: ‘I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.’

52 percent of Virginia voters believed that parents should have ‘a lot’ of influence over how school teach children. I can’t find stats on what percentage of parents talk to their children about sexualities and gender identities, but it’s safe to assume the number is scary low. And ‘scary’ meaning dangerous: ask anyone working with sex education, pregnancy/STI prevention, queer/trans youth etc., and they will all agree that talking less about sex and sexuality creates more suicide, more unwanted pregnancy, more date rape.

You can’t pass a bill that aims to hurt more children—queer or otherwise—but you can very easily pass a bill that gives parents more power, because people love power. (The Parental Rights in Education bill even lets parents sue schools, with state-refunded attorney’s fees, when they feel taboo topics have been addressed.)

To be clearer: Florida’s bait-and-switch has been to tell parents they deserve more control over their own children, and that schools are trying to take that control away from them. In whipping up this frenzy, they’ve found another way to long-term fuck up the lives of queers and trans folks they fear getting political power.

Three things I knew when I was in 2nd grade: (1) what my dick was for, other than peeing, (2) what I wanted to do with the dicks and butts of other boys, (3) 1 and 2 were disgusting and I should hate myself for them and keep it all a deep, deep secret. This is what parental control over my education got me. No teacher ever said ‘gay’ in all the health/sex ed classes I took.

I survived, but barely. If you want to talk about the longterm damage of never being told my sexuality was okay, buy my forthcoming memoir (please).

*

Some counterarguments, to keep thinking about this. Florida hasn’t prevented sexuality or gender being taught, just being taught ‘in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate’. Setting aside the obvious problem that no queers or trans folk are being given the power to define ‘age appropriate’, it seems we have in this country a fundamental unwillingness to accept that children are sexualized at birth. Gov. DeSantis expressed this as clearly as anyone after he signed the bill: ‘As the parent of three kids that are age 5 and under, thank you for letting me and my wife be able to send our kids to kindergarten without them being sexualized.’

No school has ever ‘sexualized’ a kid. It’s not how sex works. It’s not how normative sexual development in children works. Like most heteros, DeSantis hears ‘sexuality’ and thinks about intercourse, because he’s another undereducated American. Nobody working in comprehensive sexuality education mentions sex practices to kindergartners. Instead, younger children (the Netherlands starts sexuality education at age 4, and fewer Dutch teens regret their age at first intercourse than do U.S. teens) talk about crushes, and they learn about bodies and difference, and they learn about boundaries and good-touch/bad-touch distinctions.

When I think about this, I go right to regret and ager. I think about all the years of needless pain I put myself and others through because of what I had been taught—directly and indirectly—about what I was. There is never an instance in which less education is the answer. America needs more education—on everything, including sex, which fewer U.S. students get now than they did in the early 2000s. (Abstinence-only education is not education, it’s lies.)

*

Another use for the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ nickname is how it connects this bill to Russia’s 2013 bill ‘for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values’, which forbids—anywhere in the country, not just in schools—talking or acting in any way that might argue that homosexuality is normal. Neal and I were very much aware of this bill when we visited St. Petersburg in 2019, as foreigners who broke the law (by, say, our holding hands in public) could be arrested and detained for up to 15 days.

More and more it seems the GOP’s dream is to enact a future as authoritarian and ‘tough’ as Russia’s. Their hate is relentless. The laws they pass—against race education, against medicine for trans kids, against women’s autonomy over their own bodies—are fascist by simple definition: they lie about a culture in decline, point to an Other as the cause of that decline, and promote authoritarian rule as the solution.

We have little reason to believe the work of radically restoring justice will take less time than the long history of white men[2] in power denying equal treatment under the law to others. It’ll be a long, slow, difficult struggle to upend the structures we older folks grew up inside and felt that we survived without much stress. I get it, straight parents: you didn’t need anybody telling you about sex when you were 7. This isn’t because sex isn’t a part of a 7-year-old’s imagination. It’s because every day, in everything you saw and heard, your sexuality was already being told to you, in positive terms. Every day you got this message: You are normal. You are okay.

It often seems like silence is neutral, that nothing good or bad is being said. But children fill any silence with whatever they have at hand—usually it’s other children, who’ve heard in silences the untruths of other children, on and on like a dangerous game of Telephone. All I know from my own experience is that lack of affirmation didn’t feel that different from being called a faggot, and worrying about what the other boys saw in me, and what I’d somehow become.

Imagine every day learning the opposite of what straight and cisgender kids learn. You are wrong. You are not okay. You are a problem. When you’re mad about change, or about losing some form of control—or when faced with a poll or ballot—try to put yourself in that mindset before you find your voice, the voice you’ve always been allowed to have.



Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. ABC News found that 62 percent of Americans opposed measures that would prohibit sex education in elementary school, and it’s worth pointing out that this isn’t exactly what Florida has banned. You can teach sex and gender in 4th grade, just not 3rd.
  2. And women. A woman wrote Russia’s anti-gay bill, after all. As Hilton Als put it in a recent Instagram post on Ginni Thomas, ‘I’ve sat across from some version of this woman my entire professional life. And had to pretend I didn’t feel her rage at my being in the room. She hasn’t always been white. But she has always believed in one source of power: His. And I don’t mean Jesus.’

Stories of Pedophiles Again – Epilogue

The title for this series of posts (read Part I here) was taken from Bill Fay’s song “Pictures of Adolf Again”:

In the papers, on the TV screens
Pictures of Adolf again
As sure as I sit here there will appear
Pictures of Adolf again

You're wrong, you're wrong
Throw down your cards
You're wrong, you're wrong
If you say Adolf he won't come

OK deny representation
By leaders of all nations
But have you got, have you really got
Anyone to replace them?

You're wrong, you're wrong
Throw down your cards
You're wrong, you're wrong
OK then who's gonna come?

Christ or Hitler? Christ or Vorster
Christ or all the Caesars to come?

That's the choice, that's the choice
Sooner or later
That's the choice, that's the choice
You're gonna have to make

Fay is singing, on an album filled with second-coming hopes, about the perils of placing politicians in the role of heroes and even anti-heroes. He’s asking us to think about what happens when we idolize men whose chief aim is power, even when we believe they’ll use that power for good.

Fay’s choice is Christ, whose aim always is to eschew power, give everything away, love all equally. Our answer need not be so Christian, but I’m trying to ask similar questions about what happens when we perpetuate images of men we loathe, and we continually tell stories about how these men we’ve caught are predators. We likely don’t look closely enough at those predation dynamics—who is hunting whom, who is in the strong position and who is in the weak—because we may soon find that the evil one, the predator we both hate and fear, is us.