Confession

[Trigger Warning for Survivors of Sexual Assault]

 

I am twelve or thirteen. There are five of us and one of her. She hasn’t lived in the neighborhood long. The others hold her down, laughing. One pries her legs open. I know what’s happening is wrong, but I don’t say anything. I grope her breast, the first one I have ever touched. I stand up and back away. Thankfully, it’s enough, and we let her up. I never tell anyone.

I am eighteen. I’ve gone out on a couple of dates with a girl whose friend just broke up with me. We’ve made out once or twice. One night in the middle of the night I go over to her house. The door is unlocked, and I sneak into her room. We have sex. After, I ask if we can do it again, and she says no. I leave. It’s not until a few years later I realize I probably raped her. I don’t tell anyone til I’m in my forties.

I am twenty-one. I’m having consensual sex. She freezes up, asks me to stop. I finish. I never tell anyone.

This list of my transgressions is hardly exhaustive. I can only hope it’s the worst I have done. In two of three cases, I’ve never told anyone until now. I didn’t want people to know. More than that, I didn’t want those things to have happened.

But they did happen. I did those things. And if it’s taken this long for me to human up and acknowledge them, well, that’s on me, too.

I could make excuses. I was young, dumb, and full of cum. I didn’t know any better. I came of age in the ’80s, when rape culture was just culture. Men were supposed to want sex, and anything shy of actual or threatened violence was on the table for getting it, be it deception, cajoling, or just getting her drunk enough to let you take her panties off and do what you wanted. I was a product of my environment.

Those excuses are bullshit. Basic human decency isn’t hard to grasp once you admit to yourself that other people are people.

I am sorry for the things I did. I apologize to the people I did them to. But I don’t presume to ask forgiveness. Some stains can’t be washed out. Just like some wounds never heal.

The idea of hitting publish scares the absolute shit out of me. People I don’t know are going to judge me. Worse, people I do know will, too.

But after reading as much of this as I could stomach, my conscience compels me to come clean and own up to the things I have done. Somebody has to go first.

I may not be a good person. But I can at least try and do the right thing. If we, as men, are going to do something about rape culture, we’ve got to look inside as well as out. You can’t fight something you’re not willing to face.

 

Let’s Call Donald Trump What He Really Is: The Candidate – and Literal Embodiment – of Straight White Male Privilege

trump-smirk
“I have never been wrong about anything.”

You know, for a guy as demonstrably and reliably dishonest as Donald Trump is, he’s been pretty open about what kind of man he is, and what we’ll get if he wins the Presidency.

What kind of man is he? Well, yes, he’s straight (the straightest!), white (okay, he’s actually orange), and male (“There’s no problems. I guarantee it.”). But above all, before anything else, he is privileged.

It’s been said of both George Bushes, ‘He was born on third and thought he hit a triple.’ Trump was born on third and he’s mad because he’s sure he hit a home run. He must have, because everything he does, says, or thinks is awesome, and the only reason he can’t have literally everything he wants whenever he wants it is because the world is conspiring against him. Probably because everything he does, says, or thinks is awesome, and they’re jealous, or fat, or ugly, or sad!

It’s almost hard to fault him for it, because the notion he is entitled to do whatever the fuck he wants, whenever the fuck he wants, to whomever the fuck he wants has been drummed into him his whole life. It’s the air he breathes, the fabric of his space-time continuum, of which he is the absolute center around which all else revolves.

Okay, it’s not that hard to fault him.

But just as it’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it, it’s damn near impossible to get a man to understand something when his privilege depends on his not understanding it. Continue reading “Let’s Call Donald Trump What He Really Is: The Candidate – and Literal Embodiment – of Straight White Male Privilege”

A Strategy of Containment in Oregon

So a bunch of domestic terrorists have seized a wildlife refuge in rural Oregon. They say they’re peaceful but armed (and willing to kill and die), have provisions enough to last a couple of years, and they’ve invited like-minded “patriots” from across the country to join them. They are, by any sane definition, engaged in sedition, and attempting to undermine the political and philosophical underpinnings that make the United States of America possible.

So what do we as a political commonwealth do about that?

It’s very tempting, even from where I sit, to say “Well, if a fight’s what they want, we should give them one. They got away with it last time, and now they’re doing it again. If we don’t slap them down now, they’ll just keep doing it.” After all, the notion that a company-sized force of irregulars could hold their own against a determined assault by the Oregon National Guard or pretty much any branch of the US military is laughable on its face. And while I’m sure the soi-disant patriots involved genuinely believe in their hearts that their long guns and the Second Amendment guarantee their liberty, it’s actually the social compact and the tenets of our political commonwealth that do that, as they would no doubt discover to their brief but lifelong chagrin should it come to any sort of violent confrontation.

The problem is that that’s what their leaders probably want. They want to be martyrs, like the Branch Davidians before them, the spark that will ignite the revolution of long oppressed yet heavily armed Christian White Men who’re frightened to death of long-term demographic trends that will undermine their assumed and inherited hegemony of the US of A. Should the National Guard or the BATFE or any federal agency whatsoever engage, they’ll win the battle decisively and quickly, and start a war that’ll last lifetimes.

That’s why the Bundy brothers’ father Cliven got away with it last time. And thank whatever divinity you pray to we have a President whose prudence outweighs his pride for that.

No, it’s not really an option to storm the gates, satisfying though it would be in the short run, and easily as it might be accomplished. In that sense, they’re like Daesh: fighting them on their own terms only strengthens them.

So what’s to be done?

My answer is there in the title of this post. Let them have their occupied visitors’ center. Let anyone who wants to come join them in their white Libertarian Patriot Paradise do so. Let them prove the workability of their social model and survive as they can off the land. Let 100+ men share a single bathroom (ok, two, since I’m guessing they aren’t going to need to set one aside for ladies), and eat canned beans everyday for a year or two. Let them show us how the land can sustain them, all by itself, without a social compact or government to allocate its fruits.

Just don’t let any of them back out. Not until they’ve learned their lesson, and voluntarily surrender.

I’m betting that it won’t take more than a couple of months before a stint in federal prison starts to look right appealing in comparison.

Put an Asterisk Next to His Accomplishments: Why It’s So Difficult to Get a White Man to See, Much Less Admit, His Own Privilege

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his [privilege] depends on his not understanding it.”

-Upton Sinclair, paraphrased

Very few people see the world as it truly is. It’s not our fault; that’s just how human brains work. For the most part, we only see what we’re looking for, what our worldview and training prepare and allow us to see. And it’s useful, even necessary: imagine what your life might be like if you were conscious of everything, every quantum of sense-data, every implication and nuance of every thought and decision. Without reasonable filters, you’d be overwhelmed, unable to sift through the reams and mountains of input in order to make enough sense to act or even just understand.

The flipside of the coin is that those filters can and often do filter out useful, even necessary information, salient facts and inconvenient truths that clash with our worldview and training. Cognitive dissonance ensues, and we find ourselves in the position of the robot caught in a logic trap, saying ‘Does not compute, does not compute’ over and over until our mainframe overheats and seizes up in a cloud of smoke, shutting us down.

Of course when that happens to people, we don’t generally seize up and shut down. Not literally, anyway. Mostly we just get angry and deny whatever information slipped through the filter to dissonate our cognizance. And who can blame us? It’s a lot easier than recalibrating (or replacing) our much-beloved and ever-so-useful filters.

In The Question Concerning Technology, the philosopher Martin Heidegger characterized our modern way of knowing with the word enframing, that is, by capturing what we sense and experience and placing it within a set of bounds by which we can render it meaningful. That sense of meaning is important, because it defines the grammar by which we interpret the narrative of our lives.

Its important to note that that grammar is both positive and negative, in that it allows certain formulations while disallowing others. This is why it’s so hard to get people to see their own privilege, especially cisgendered white men, who are most privileged of all.

Not that most of them will admit it.

Why won’t they? After all, to those outside the frame of cisgendered white male privilege, it’s plain as the nose on your face. The whole system, our whole society is set up with us at the top of the pecking order. In earlier times such was taken as both just and true, a sign of some inherent superiority or God’s will.

As Roland Barthes said in his book Mythologies, myth is what turns history into nature.

These mythologies are more contentious nowadays, and rightly so. But they are insidious, both in the macro-level social environment and in its micro-level reprise in our minds. They are at odds with new, and to my mind better, notions of egalitarianism and a level playing field, a world where, to paraphrase Dr. King, a person is situated by the content of their character and not by qualities outside their ability to determine.

Which is why even straight white guys (like me) who are allies and progressives can have real difficulties recognizing and admitting their own privilege.

In the end, I think it has mostly to do with our self-assessment. Our place in the narratives we tell ourselves about our lives. To recognize our privilege requires us not only to endure but embrace the cognitive dissonance that comes from admitting truths that undermine our view of the world and our place in it, which by itself is painful enough. But difficult as that is, that’s not the bit that really undermines our sense of self. What undermines our sense of self is the asterisk it requires us to put next to all our accomplishments. That’s the bit that sticks in the craw, because part of those insidious received mythologies that make up our personal narrative grammars is that a man stands on his own two feet and wins his advantage from the world through his own blood, sweat, tears, and toil. Admitting to a privileged spot in the hierarchy and the advantages that go with it undermines that sense of accomplishment, that sense that a man has earned what he has, and therefore deserves it. Take that away, even put an asterisk next to it, and that man feels like less of a person.

It takes a lot of heart to admit something like that.

Look, the thing is, most privileged people don’t feel privileged. And compared to the rockstars and oligarchs at the top of our social pecking order, they aren’t. Even with the advantages of cisgendered white masculinity, being accomplished enough to self-assess positively on your own merits takes more effort and sacrifice than most people can muster. To admit that folks without those advantages have a harder time of things can require a fundamental re-evaluation of the mythologies by which we live our lives and structure our society. That the work is necessary makes it no less difficult.