300 Biographies

I’ve read over 300 biographies.

The last several years of my life have been dominated by biographies, in fact, in all their forms. Some are slanted political narratives, meant to illustrate pros or cons in the life of a certain person. Some are densely researched tomes of knowledge, with 200 pages worth of sources and cited works at the end. Some are fluffy, feel-good autobiographies, written by a famous person who wants to keep their secrets, while other autobiographies are caustic tell-alls.

I hand-select many of these books, setting goals for myself to learn about key individuals from important times in history (examples: Joe McCarthy and Chairman Mao), or to learn about people who have become my personal heroes (examples: Sally Ride and Barbara Jordan), or to uncover areas of personal passion like feminism (examples: Bella Abzug and Coco Chanel) or LGBT history (examples: Freddie Mercury and Bayard Rustin). Yet other books, I choose completely at random, closing my eyes and pulling them off a library shelf. Some of these are fluffy life anecdotes by people trying to capitalize on temporary fame (examples: Bristol Palin and Caitlyn Jenner), others are forgotten tomes on former celebrities (examples: Christine Jorgensen and Richard Wright), some are fascinating historical epics from unique voices (examples: Natacha Rambova and Guglielmo Marconi), while others are slap-your-knee hilarious and leave me devouring every word (examples: Minnie Pearl and Davy Rothbart).

I could write one hundred thousand words on reading these stories. Every shade of humanity from every corner of the globe, the only thing these 300 individuals have in common is they have either taken time to write their stories or someone has been interested enough to write about them. And they, strangely, all share a commonality, whether they are an Iraqi war refugee in the present, a 1950s American movie star, a prominent Civil Rights activist, or British royalty from the 1800s: they all encompass a simple yet complex human life. No matter what their lives were or are, no matter how consequential to human history, I learn the same lessons from every book.

  1. All human lives are temporary. Every passion, problem, struggle, endeavor, and conquest is relegated to ‘something that happened’ at the end. Nelson Mandela’s decades in prison, Rock Hudson’s wrestle with AIDS, Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump, Judy Garland’s pill addictions, Gilda Radner’s battle with cancer… all things that just happened.
  2. Everyone gets older, one day at a time, until they aren’t there anymore; we all start and end somewhere. Brigham Young was a carpenter before he was a religious leader and statesman, Patty Hearst was a lonely heiress before she was kidnapped, and Gypsy Rose Lee was the forgotten child before she perfected her stripping act.
  3. We all see the world through our own eyes, and we all generally believe we are right during the time we thought it; we all usually change our minds as well. Slim Keith married Howard Hawk before she divorced him, Tig Notaro suffered through the cancer before she told jokes about it, and Gloria Steinem had to learn about women of color and their struggles through hard education.
  4. There is a lot of sad in the world, and there is a lot of happy, and this leaves me wanting to learn from the sad and to embrace the happy. I feel the heartbreak of the parents of Trayvon Martin and I celebrate the legal victories of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. I ache for the once kidnapped Elizabeth Smart and I rejoice at how hard Tina Fey can make me laugh.
  5. Our heroes tend to be those who triumph over difficult, even impossible, odds and inspire us with their stories. Greg Louganis won his Olympic medals, Charlie Chaplin made incredible films against all odds, and Sonia Sotomayor inspired a generation after being appointed to the Supreme Court.

I tend to get through about one book per week. I read when I travel, and some of my favorite books have become tied into my personal experiences. I can’t think of Kay Graham taking over the Washington Post without remembering that six hour flight with the crying baby, the execution of Joe Hill makes me think of coffee and rainy Utah days, Evelyn Nesbit’s tragic rape takes me to the sidewalks of Liberty Park, and the deportation of Emma Goldman brings back the hot sun of a Mexican beach.

I’m learning from history. I’m finding new heroes. I’m learning to be outraged at history and injustice, and I’m learning how to live in my own now and create a better life for myself. Books and stories make me want to be better, be more, to live my dream and to make a difference. I have learned to love writers and their craft, and I let them fuel my own writing and research. I love libraries. I love the pressure I feel to get through a stack of new books. I love learning about both my heroes and the unknown. I carry books with me pretty much everywhere. I read between sets at the gym, over breakfast, and before I fall asleep. I usually have a book-on-tape playing in the car. I want to absorb everything I can, lose myself in the stories of others, and I want to emerge a better person on the other side.

I want more books. I want to read them all. One at a time, as I live my life, I want to read each and every story out there.

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Period.

Growing up, I was totally grossed out by girls. It wasn’t just me, the straight boys around me were also disgusted. Even girls seemed grossed out by other girls, sometimes by themselves. That’s how it seemed to five year old me.

In kindergarten, we had to carry imaginary cans of ‘Cootie Spray’ in case a girl touched us, that way we could get rid of any invisible infections, cause Cooties were even worse than germs. Even at that age, I remember the guys in class having recess discussions about which girls were the hottest, ranking them right down to the ugliest. There were even discussions about girls’ private parts. We didn’t know much, but we knew they didn’t have a penis, and that was just weird. Boobs were cool, though. I agreed in order  to fit in.

Around the age of 7, I was curious, and took the clothes off of my sister’s Barbie doll, but there was nothing there. Barbie’s slim waist was a smooth plastic surface, lacking any definition. On the back, she had a smooth line in the center of her rounded hips, giving her a butt, but there was nothing on the front. (An inspection of the Ken Doll yielded similar results. No penis. This couldn’t be right.) So later, I called my little sister in the bathroom, in an ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours’ moment, and we showed each other. Mine dangled. But for her, there was nothing there, just a little opening of some kind. Huh. Okay. That was that.

All through adolescence, my peers continued talking about boobs and hot girls, but the conversation topics somehow shifted into virginity, and how one might lose it. I didn’t know what that meant until 15 or so, except that it meant inserting the penis into the vagina, but we never talked about the vagina, and guys always seemed a bit grossed out by it. Guys also constantly cracked jokes about PMS, about how if a girl was upset, annoyed, moody, or angry, she must be on her period, that mysterious time of month when girls had to use tampons to mitigate blood flow, and during when they could get lots of headaches, stomach cramps, and mood swings. PMS jokes were rampant, though I don’t remember a single girl ever laughing at one of those jokes ever.

I don’t recall ever speaking to my mother about vaginas, or periods, or PMS, or menopause. But I was the sixth of seven children, with five sisters, and settled in between two sisters in the birth order, one that was 3.5 years older than me, and one that was 3.5 years younger. I saw the feminine hygiene products in the cupboard, and I remember discussions about periods being irregular, and voiced reluctance for either sister to see a ‘lady doctor’, the phrase used to avoid using the word ‘gynecologist’. I didn’t know the difference between a tampon and a maxi-pad, I just knew there was blood, and I knew that everyone thought it was gross.

In my third year of college, in a Human Behavior in the Social Environment class, the teacher made time for one of the students, Shanna, to perform for the class. She had been rehearsing a piece from the Vagina Monologues. She boldly stood before the class, sharing the story of a woman who had grown up thinking her vagina was disgusting and how she eventually learned to love it. I remember sitting in the back of the class, in my Mormon mindset, and feeling disgusted that she felt the need to talk about the vagina at all, which I thought of as some sort of sacred lady part that should only be discussed by wives with their husbands, or maybe with their ‘lady doctors.’ After class, I told her good job, but secretly I was grossed out.

It wasn’t until many years later, when I started becoming more aware of feminism and female issues, that I realized the shame with which American society treats female bodies. This opens all sorts of wider discussions on abortion, genital mutilation, rape culture, diet culture, and a myriad of other issues, but at its very basis, I’m realizing that I grew up in a world where we were taught to be embarrassed about vaginas,  reproductive cycles, gynecology, and periods. When those discussions did happen, they were with derision, disgust, shame, or belittling. And that is entirely unacceptable.

During the brutal election last year, Donald Trump was at odds with newswoman Megyn Kelly. In an interview about her, he stated, “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever. In my opinion, she was off base” A presidential candidate, one notorious for his marriages, divorces, and affairs, tried to shame a professional woman because, he hinted, she might be on her period. It was vagina-shaming, period-shaming, at a national level. I remember experiencing disgust and revulsion at his comments, at a bully of a man who was shaming a woman simply for being a woman. And I remember being repulsed that he was finding support from Americans who defended his comments.

As a gay man with two sons, I am not a good advocate for women’s rights. But I am an ally. We shouldn’t be laughing at, feeling disgusted by, or body-shaming our mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, and friends for being women, for having vaginas, or for having natural, biological, healthy functions like periods. Health care for their own bodies should be in their control. And we should be able to have grown-up conversations about it.

And that’s all there is to say.

Period.

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Good-Looking Murderers

A few days ago, it was reported that Aaron Hernandez committed suicide in jail. Hernandez, a famous sports star, rocketed into super-stardom when he was convicted of a brutal murder, and it came to light that he had been suspected in other murders. The reports on his death were grisly and left many questions.

When I checked my Facebook feed, a friend had posted an article about the death of Hernandez. I read the comments that followed the posted article. One, written by a gay man that I know, read, “He was hot! I wish he’d murder me!”

Hernandez

As I processed through that statement and all that it implied about humanity, human consciousness, and social media, I scrolled farther down, where another friend had posted a meme about Hernandez committing suicide, a meme that also included Robin Williams, Kurt Cobain, and others, with a horribly unfunny joke about suicide. The friend had just written one thing about it. “What, too soon?”

I closed my computer and stepped away for a moment. As a professional, I have worked with the loved ones of those who have committed suicide many times over, and I have seen the emptiness, the pain, the shock, and the horror on their faces after the news comes in and in the days and weeks that have followed. I have also, to a lesser extent, worked with the families and loved ones of both those who have committed murder and those who have lost someone to murder. Going through something like that changes a person forever, irrevocably haunting them for the rest of their lives.

My mind flashed back to a few years ago, when I was running an LGBT history channel on YouTube, doing daily posts on events related to LGBT people and history. One day, I had done a post on Jeffrey Dahmer, a gay man who had committed dozens of horrific murders that defy explanation or understanding. Dahmer, now a legendary and, dare I say, celebrated serial killer was later violently killed while incarcerated by another inmate. The research I had done into his life and crimes had haunted me for days. I posted the video on social media, and someone in seconds had committed, “Mmm, look at him. Getting killed by him would have been worth it.”

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These thoughts stuck with me for a few days, disturbing, hanging out in the back of my brain. These people I knew were sexualizing murderers. Passive comments, for sure, and given without much thought. But an errant joke about suicide isn’t that funny if you’ve lost someone to suicide, and an errant joke about murder–well, frankly, neither one of them are funny at all. The killers and the victims were fathers, brothers, sons. They were humans who had lives and potentials. And when they were taken, gone, their pasts were all that were left. All of their potential, all of the paths they would have walked, all of the children they may have brought into the world, all gone with them.

My brain dredged up to similar comments I had heard over the years. When Dylan Roof killed 8 black worshippers in a church, I read a comment about ‘at least he killed old people’ on social media. In high school, when stories about Mary Kay Letourneau hit the media telling of how she had had sex with a much younger student, I remember some of the guys in my high school saying how lucky the student was, how much they wish they had had a teacher like that.

I wondered to myself the kind of world that we live in, where we as a culture are more focused on how hot or how young someone is, how desensitized to the news we are that we search for the horrific and titillating details, details which ultimately have little impact on us. This is a world where a woman makes a post on social media in support of Planned Parenthood, and a stranger comments on her feed that she deserves to be raped.

As I prepared my thoughts on this particular blog entry, I took a break and clicked on the news button on my iPhone. Four featured stories popped up, as they usually did. Something horrible about Donald Trump as usual, and then a detailed report about hundreds being killed in Syria in a brutal attack. Beneath that were two more stories, one about a celebrity divorce and a fourth about a celebrity’s plastic surgery mishaps.

A cold calm came over me as I realized the programming here, the way we view the news itself, the way we are indoctrinated into seeing the world. Hundreds of Syrian deaths mean nothing to those who aren’t Syrian, but the celebrity divorce gets clicked on because we have seen these people in a few movies. And the advertisers pay more for the stories that are clicked on. How quickly we cultivate an inability to feel horrible when we read something horrible. How swiftly we devolve into unsympathetic creatures when we scan the photos of murderers and victims and we focus solely on how attractive they were. We consider the mass deaths of strangers as shrug-worthy, and the tragic deaths of the young and beautiful a true tragedy.

And we are surrounded by men and women who feel no grief at the loss of life, yet they find value in the looks of the killers.

Wrong Sides of History

I believe in the fundamental goodness of people. I believe that even when people act in a sense of self-preservation for self or family, that they believe they are doing the right thing. I also know that there are individuals and organizations in the world that are fundamentally evil, that are willing to exploit, corrupt, steal, and murder to gain power. I recognize that all individuals are not part of these organizations, yet that these organizations, at times in history, influence public opinion in such dangerous and terrible ways.

As an American citizen in 2016, I sit with a sense of panic about the days ahead. This week, Donald Trump was officially put in place as the President Elect by the Electoral College of the United States. I am not the only person to be outraged and saddened by an election. I am not the first person to see progress seemingly stunted or halted temporarily. I look backwards at some of my heroes, like Gloria Steinem, who fought for the perfectly reasonable Equal Rights Amendment, tirelessly and for years, only to see it ultimately fail. (It still hasn’t passed). Abraham Lincoln had to take the country to war to end slavery, costing hundreds of thousands of lives, yet racism still exists in many forms. Malala Yousafzai only recently became an icon after being shot in the head for being a Muslim girl who wanted the right to learn, yet many Middle Eastern girls are still denied access to education.

Ultimately, we only dwell in the present. In the present moment, we experience and feel, looking backward to the past, while fearing and hoping for the future. And in the present, we justify our actions, our votes, our decisions with our present reality, and can only look back later with hindsight.

We sometimes throw around the phrase “the wrong side of history”. What that fundamentally means is there are a lot of people, looking backwards, who made decisions in their present realities, things that with a slight amount of historical perspective can no longer be understood.

Overlooking for a moment the corrupt organizations referenced above, let’s look at the individuals along the way who have been fundamentally good, who were only dwelling in their present and wanting to do so with as much ease and grace as possible, but who ended up on the wrong side of history.

Look at the bus driver who told Rosa Parks to give up her seat at the back of the bus to a white person, and called the police when she refused to.

Look at the first President of our country, George Washington, who made sure to move his group of slaves South every so often, to make sure they didn’t qualify for freedom by staying the North for too long.

Look at the county clerk in Kentucky who simply refused to give a marriage license to a gay couple, choosing jail over compromising her personal principles.

Look at the German family who turned in their neighbors for harboring a Jewish couple in their basement, afraid for their own lives if they didn’t speak up and were thus held as complicit.

Look at the young black female who turned in her older brother to the plantation owner after hearing her brother’s plans to run away, knowing that her brother would be punished, but not wanting the rest of her family to be punished after he fled.

Look at the early American settler who believed it was more humane to sterilize the Native American population, to force them to become Christians, in an attempt to save them from their own savagery.

Look at the house wife who scoffed at the Suffragettes for fighting for female equality, chanting that these women should know men were better suited for the work outside the home, that women should know their proper place.

Look at the judge who found the young man innocent of savagely stabbing a gay man who had flirted with him, believing that the gay man should have known better and not wanting to ruin a young man’s life for one moment of insane and violent passion.

Look at the woman who served lemonade to her friends and neighbors, smiling and laughing at jokes while the tree branches strained to hold the bodies of two lynched black men above them.

Look at the schoolteacher who told her students to never shake hands with a gay man or they would get AIDS, the disease God sent to punish sinners on Earth.

Look at the father who dropped his pregnant teenage daughter off at the nunnery, crying as he hugged her goodbye forever, unable to forgive her for the unpardonable sin of premarital sex.

Look at the nurse who performed her twentieth clitorectomy of the day on a five year old African child, mutilating her genitals, knowing the girl would heal and develop scar tissue and then save herself for her husband, never enjoying sex as the custom dictated, the same procedure the nurse had undergone as a child.

Look at the young small town man who stood guard at the gates of the internment camp, making sure no Japanese American citizen could escape as they might be a spy and could forever endanger American lives.

Look at the proud father who refused to share his wife’s bed after she had given birth to a third female child, forever shaming him in the eyes of the community around him, now seeking a new and worthier wife who would deign to give him a son.

Look at the teenage girl who carefully watched her classmates for signs they might be a Communist, looking over the checklist of signs given out by her school, scared that one of them might be among her.

 

My politics are not the politics of all good and decent people, I know this. Nor are my morals, my values, my ethics, my beliefs. I will not vilify someone for not wanting change, for wanting peace and security for their family, for voting for someone who stands against the things I hold dear.

But I will dwell in my present and stand firm. I will look backwards at those who sought the easy way for themselves and their families and who ended up being on the wrong side of history. I will learn from them as I view the world around me.

And I will look forward with hope, knowing that the future has yet to be written.

history

“Give him a chance!”

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Since the historic and painful election of Donald Trump, I keep hearing from leaders who disavowed him, everyone from Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney to Barack Obama himself, that we should give him a chance. The thing is, I don’t know if I can. I certainly don’t want to. It’s a survival skill to deny people who have shown they are willing to hurt me the opportunity to hurt me again.

I haven’t had great experiences with men in my life. My father was emotionally distant for years before he left the house, and he had little to do with me after that. And my stepfather was violent, with words and fists, just as he had been in two marriages prior to the one toward my mother. And I grew up in a church led by white men that told me being gay was a sin.

It was early on when I became aware of the patriarchal society that we live in, where we see entire systems that favor men, give them power, and then make excuses for their bad behavior and weakness. Religious institutions that give solely men the ability to act in God’s name, a country whose government only recognized white men as voting bodies and citizens for the first few hundred years of rule and have made it extremely difficult for anyone else who wants a place at the table, and employment systems that favor men in salary and position, after they grew up in schools that gave men better access to educational opportunities and resources. Men receive favoritism on almost every front of their lives, and white straight Christian men get the most handed to them.

Look at that basic system and history and tie that in to irrefutable statistics. Men almost universally are the perpetrators of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault and molestation (towards both men and women), and violent crimes, including murder and gun crimes. Men have driven our world to war. Men have enslaved races. Men cast laws that vilify and punish those that aren’t like them. And men toss aside anyone who tries to refute or reduce their power or ideals, generally in the name of a male god. (And when I say “almost universally”, I’m referencing statistics that are in excess of 95 per cent out of 100).

Not all men fall into these categories by any means. I’m a man who is a loving father of two sons. I know many men who are honorable, kind, and strong. But I have been hurt by many men, and not by any women. I learned long ago to keep clear boundaries around someone who has shown they are willing to hurt me. I will not, will never make excuses for someone who uses fists and violent words to hurt me. I will not give them another chance to do so. Forgive, never forget.

And so, I’m angry about being told to “give him a chance.” I accept the world that I live in is one that favors men, that says “boys will be boys” when a man commits a rape, and then blames the girl for the rape with “she should have said no more loudly” or “she shouldn’t have been drinking”; a society that says batterers were merely “pushed too hard” while blaming the woman for staying; religions that say that men have God-given potentials to lead others to salvation while women are merely meant to be wives and mothers and to serve the men they belong to.

I’m angry about a campaign that excused Donald Trump at every turn while vilifying Hillary Clinton; that shrugged off his sexual assault talk as “locker room talk” or “a long time ago” while lambasting her for calling some Americans deplorable; that excuses his failure to show tax returns and overlooks several pending criminal charges against him while constantly calling her a criminal for perceived offenses for which she is solely responsible. And I’m furious that we set up a patriarchal set of rules for Hillary to play by, saying this was the only way for a woman to become president, and then we tore her apart and blamed her for operating within the system that was set up.

I can’t keep making excuses for Trump. I won’t sympathize with him for being under pressure, I won’t explain away his terrible comments and statements about entire populations of people, I won’t shrug off his history of misogyny. He can put on a suit and speak to the people, but I will hear him describing walking in on teenage girls of beauty pageants so he can see them change because no one would stop him. I can watch him shake hands with foreign leaders, but I will remember him lauding Putin as a leader while threatening to register and ban an entire religion. I can see him shrug that gay people and black people and women are okay and they don’t bother him, but I will recall his endorsements by white supremacists, his governmental appointments of people who demonstrate hate toward those not like them, and the dozen women who have accused him of sexual assault.

Conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, it is long past time we let women have an equal, if not majority, position in leading our country, in any and all elected positions. There has been a lot of horrible and horrific things that have happened in our world’s history, and nearly all of it can be directly tied to a system that prefers men and places them in charge. We do not need men to merely honor and respect women, we need men to acknowledge and recognize that there are some things that women are better at, and on that list is leading.

I can only imagine how ugly things are about to get in a country that is willing to give men like Donald Trump a chance. I fear we are in for Richard Nixon, Joseph McCarthy, and J. Edgar Hoover levels of pain and shame in the few years ahead. And when someone strikes my cheek, I refuse to turn it so he can strike the other.

 

 

 

Political Outrage: an Internet story

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“Validate me!” she screamed with her fingertips after taking a sip of her triple-shot Americano with just a splash of vanilla in it.

“Why don’t you validate me!” he screamed back, his fingers moving slowly and carefully on his old trusty personal computer. A glass of untouched milk, fresh from the cow, sat next to the keyboard.

She couldn’t believe what she was seeing, and her eyes scanned the coffee shop patrons to see if anyone else could sense her outrage. “I saw you share that post from Fox News that said Donald Trump might turn out to be a good president. You shared the post, which must mean you voted for him, which must mean you are a racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, misogynist who has no understanding of history. Japanese internment camps, the Suffragettes, slavery, the Nazis! Why don’t you just unfriend me if you can’t even stand up for basic human decency!”

He almost choked on the hairs of his moustache that he had been chewing between his teeth. “And I saw that you shared that post from CNN that exonerated Hillary Clinton from Benghazi and her Email scandals! You shared the post, which must mean you voted for her, which must mean you are so focused on political correctness that you are automatically discrediting our President-Elect and an entire political party for not agreeing with you! And I understand history just fine. I’m seeing it repeat itself in my own community! The Great Depression, the Recession, the National Deficit rising due to illegal immigrants, the welfare system, and Obamacare! Why don’t you just unfriend me if you can’t even realize hard-working families like mine are suffering!”

She pounded a fist down on the table when she saw his reply. She had just finished checking the likes on her newest Instagram selfie and had snickered during the newest released jokes from Samantha Bee on Full Frontal. She took a moment to collect herself before replying. “For your information, I work just as hard as you, if not harder. I go to school and I’m getting As, and I work full time. I consider myself educated and empowered and I’m dedicated to the causes of social justice! You don’t get to cast generalizations of me based on your own ethnocentrism!”

He took a long clean drink of milk and grinded his teeth for a moment, then looked up at a picture of his wife on the wall to steady himself before answering. He checked the clock to make sure he wouldn’t miss Sean Hannity’s radio show in an hour. “For your information, I am a 52 year old man. I run my own farm and my wife drives truck just to make ends meet. I have to pay four employees, and I’m putting both of my daughters through school. Don’t you dare assume that because my family comes first, I am some sort of backwoods hood-wearing gun-toting uneducated misfit because I don’t share your opinions!”

She felt an empty pit in the base of her stomach as she tightened her braid. “Don’t you understand that Hillary represented change! She supported gay rights! Women’s right to choose! She didn’t want to deport millions of Americans and build a wall to keep out more! She didn’t want to register immigrants! She would have worked for the rights of others without trying to change your rights! Plus she won the majority vote!”

He felt that familiar thud in his chest, all defensiveness and anger. He cracked his neck with a quick twist before replying. “And don’t you see that for the rest of us, Trump represents change! The system isn’t working! I can’t feed my family! I don’t agree with Trump on everything, but a man that can run a business that employs thousands, use a corrupt system in his own favor, and who isn’t afraid to just speak his mind, well, that is a man I can support! And he won the electoral vote, which is the law of the land!”

It took a few days for her to reply because her heart was broken. This time, she sent a private message instead of a public post. “Look, I just can’t stay in contact with a man who so clearly doesn’t understand me. I’m blocking you from my Facebook, but I’m sure I’ll see soon enough.”

He took a week to write back, his jaw tense with pride and hurt. “Your mother tells me you’re doing well at school. I’ll see you come Christmas time. We may disagree, but you’ll always be my daughter.”

a message to white people who are tired of talking about hard things

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This election matters to me. For many reasons.

Candidate one: a woman. A woman who is respected in many countries all over the world as a powerful and effective and respectful leader. A woman who has been called the most qualified candidate in American history. A woman who is a strategist, with a multi-ethnic team at her side, who runs on causes of social justice. And a woman who is being torn to shreds by her home country’s media (on one side) over scandals and lies and secret plots, all things that have been willfully overlooked in nearly every other presidential candidate across time.

And Candidate two: a man. A narcissistic, egomaniacal billionaire who avoids paying taxes, who marries super models and then cheats on them, and who refuses to pay people for the work they do for him. An overweight 70 year old man who has insulted basically anyone who is not rich and white and what he considers pretty: the handicapped, the overweight, women, veterans, the elderly, the mentally ill, the refugee, LGBT people, Muslims, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and nearly every other ethnic group. A man described as the least qualified candidate in American history.

I mean, look at their very campaign slogans. Her: Stronger Together. An invitation for everyone to work together, share, invest, and build, celebrating everyone. His: Make America Great Again. An invitation to forget the progress of recent years and go back to a time when white men could go back to being comfortable as white men, and where everyone else knew their places.

From even some of my closest loved ones, I keep hearing these bizarre arguments and frustrations about the election. Things like “I just want it to be over. I’m tired of them hearing about these things. I’m tired of people being mean to each other.” And “I get that Donald Trump is gross but I don’t trust Hillary. She is so dishonest.” And “I’m not voting. It doesn’t matter what the outcome of this election is. It doesn’t have any impact on my life.” And “I wish we could go back 50 years when things were easier and happier.”

These comments aggravate me to no end for many reasons, and they tie directly in to why the election matters so much to me in the first place. Every one of my personal values is on the national stage. Rape culture and gender equality. Systemic racism and its impact on minority groups. LGBT rights and teen suicides. Christian privilege and the hate speak about other religions or belief structures. Gun violence without sanction.

People in privilege have a habit of being faced with unpleasant topics, and then getting tired of hearing about them. “Okay, okay, I get it, women get raped. Let’s teach women how not to get raped. Now can we please stop talking about it?” “All right, I understand, prisons are disproportionately full of black people. But black people commit more crimes, so they should stop doing that. Let’s move on.” “I got it, another gay kid killed himself. But suicide isn’t just about sexuality, he must have been mentally ill. Did you see the Voice last night?”

And that is the very essence of privilege! You get to stop talking about it! Because it isn’t staring you in the face every day! If YOU were getting raped, if YOUR paycheck was less than your coworkers, if YOUR loved ones were being attacked by police, if YOUR son was pushed toward suicide, if YOUR family were being called rapists because of their last name… if it was you, and everyone around you just shrugged and told you to stop bringing it up, would you stand for that?

The very fact that it is 2016 and we are still having arguments about whether or not racism exists, that people are still learning what rape culture is, that children are putting guns to their heads because churches and families say they don’t fit in, and that a country that was founded on freedom of religion is debating entire religions from crossing the borders… I just can’t wrap my brain around it. It infuriates me.

Also, fifty years ago, things were not that great! That was the middle of the Civil Rights movement, with the country still coming out of the segregation era! Gay people were being sent in for shock treatments, and women were expected to housewives!

And if you are longing for the politicians of previous eras, well, stop white-washing your history. First of all, ALL of them have been white men. And NONE of them are beyond corruption. John Kennedy colluded with the mafia. Ronald Reagan ignored the AIDS crisis. Bill Clinton lied to the public about his affairs. And George Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Life was only better back then because you didn’t have to talk about hard things, not until you were forced to, and then you started to pay attention. Years later. (Have you ever heard of Selma? Stonewall? The Suffragettes?)

Our government has long been dominated by white men who shrug off things that don’t bother them directly. I remember legislation in Idaho years back, when a group petitioned that the locally named Squaw Canyon should be renamed because ‘squaw’ is an incredibly offensive words to Native Americans. The local white government officials shrugged off the legislation, saying it would be inconvenient and that it didn’t bother enough people. These are the attitudes that exist in every corner of American government, in every state and county and city. The simply cannot be the basis for our government decisions any longer.

It is long past time we had a representative government, filled equally with men and women, black and white and Latino and Native and Asian, Christian and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight and transgender. Our government should reflect every shade of human diversity.

And for those of you who are sick of seeing difficult things talked about, and shrug it off with an annoyed muttering about ‘political correctness’, well, you may have the luxury of not being impacted by the topics you seek to avoid. But you don’t get to avoid them just because they make you uncomfortable.

Because for the rest of us, it’s part of our daily lives. And our primary problem? It isn’t so much the sexism and racism and homophobia and Islamophobia, etc, that you get tired of hearing about. Our primary problem is your unwillingness to do anything about it because it makes you uncomfortable.

And for every topic you have grown tired of, there are a dozen more that haven’t yet hit the media at those levels: limited treatment options for the mentally ill, the violent murders of transgender women of color, Native American land rights, human trafficking, the real truth about poverty and homelessness, and on and on.

So woman up, open your ears, listen, and do the right thing. Then maybe we’ll quiet down a bit. Maybe.

the first Mrs. Trump

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Donald Trump has been in the spotlight for years. He likes it there. He likes the attention and the controversy. He likes being found charming and important. He pushes for it, and when he pushes too hard, well, then, he shrugs and changes the subject. And when people get critical of him, disapprove of him, or question him, well, he gets revenge. He’s gotten very good at that over the years.

I’ve found myself curious about the origins of Trump lately, about this man who I found obnoxious and entertaining as the host of the Apprentice, and who I find megalomaniacal and insane as a presidential candidate; where did he come from? Though I’m an avid devourer of biographies, his name hasn’t come up in a single book I’ve ever read, and I read a lot. I spent some time last night watching old footage from the 80s and 90s about Trump and his career and life before he became a reality television star.

Trump was the middle child of five in a very wealthy real estate family, and with a father who was frequently in court for various reasons. The footage I saw showed Donald as a poorly behaved child who frequently taunted teachers and his siblings, a kid who made frequent demands until his parents sent him to military school at 13, where Donald learned discipline in academics, how to be popular with the guys (apparently he loved baseball), and how to enjoy beautiful women. According to him, he was quite the ladies’ man back then. Trump stated that he learned business and real estate from his father, by just listening while growing up, and he quickly took big risks in investing in properties and turning them around for profit.

Then on a trip to Canada for the Olympics, he met an athlete and a super model, Ivana Zelnickova, who was born in Czechoslovakia. She grew up an Olympic-level skier and worked as a model for fur companies in Canada, where she moved after a failed marriage, and then she met and married a young Donald Trump. Ivana was a partner in many of his first, and most famous, business dealings, including the Taj Mahal Casino and the Grand Hyatt Hotel. Between the years 1977 and 1984, she and Donald had three children: Donald Jr, Ivanka, and Eric, and many argue that she raised the children pretty much solely on her own; she is now an involved grandmother of 8. Ivana continued running parts of the business and managing properties.

Rumors of Donald having affairs must have plagued her for years, but one stood out more than the others: a long-term affair with beauty queen Marla Maples. Ivana confronted Marla and got the proof she needed. Ivana filed for divorce and it got very ugly for a time as the two battled it out in the courts and the tabloids. There were rumors of more affairs, a disputed prenuptial agreement, rumors of domestic violence, accusations of assault and rape against Donald, and the death of Ivana’s father during the process before things finally settled, and Ivana walked away with several million dollars. Things stayed tense as Ivana’s third marriage fell apart two years later, and more lawsuits and rumors flashed through the headlines. (There was a fourth marriage with subsequent struggles years later). Ivana’s divorce from Donald alleged a marital rape, and “cruel and inhuman treatment” by Donald toward her.

Ivana is now 67 years old, and she in many ways mirrors the journey of Trump himself; honestly, the two seem like relatively kindred spirits. She has stayed in the public headlines with her own reality shows, she has launched clothing lines and written books, and she offers semi-frequent media interviews. While she has remained largely silent during Trump’s campaign for presidency, she occasionally offers quips to the media, commenting on Melania’s speech abilities or on how Donald didn’t help her raise the kids but she has remained strangely silent about the recent womanizing allegations.

Ivana does, however, believe Trump should be president, that he would be great at it, and that he was always meant to be a politician. In one interview, she blamed the Marla Maples scandal for disrupting Trump’s political plans, because the world hated Trump at the time of the divorce.

Although, even after researching, I still don’t know about the woman who defined Donald Trump’s early life, understanding her helps me better understand him.

And it doesn’t make me any less scared of a Trump presidency.

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Billy: the Other White Bush

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I remember Billy Bush.

In my early college years, he would show up on various clips on television, talking about the latest celebrity gossip news and the newest movies. I never gave him much thought. I remember thinking that he was a lot like Ryan Seacrest, a very white guy, moderately good-looking, middle-aged, well-groomed, with a good radio voice, the perfect white guy host for white guy Hollywood.

I remember wondering if he was connected to the Bush family of presidents, and turns out he is, George H.W. Bush is his uncle, and George W. his cousin. Which also means he grew up with a lot of money and privilege. In fact, a quick Google search of his father, Jonathan Bush, shows him to be a prominent and wealthy banker who has had a number of financial scandals over the years, including potential ties to money laundering and illicit Saudi investments. (Jonathan is still alive. He’s 85. And, weirdly, he sounds a little like Donald Trump. Daddy issues?)

Well, suddenly, with that fact, Billy’s kid brother relationship to Donald Trump makes a lot more sense.

A few days ago, a tape from 2005 surfaced. At the time, Billy was in his early 30s, with a career in radio and television established for him. His radio show was called, and I kid you not, Billy Bush and the Bush League Morning Show. After a few co-hosting gigs, Bush moved himself to Los Angeles and got an ongoing gig with Access Hollywood. As a co-anchor, he started raking in the money, and his name became very well known. And on the side, he hosted reality shows and competitions, kept a radio show going, and showed up at various events for reporting, like the Oscars and the Olympics.

Billy married his wife Sydney Davis, in the late 1990s, and they had three daughters. I have no doubt Billy is a loving husband and father, and he has very lovely things to say about his family being in priority in multiple interviews.

Yet somewhere along the way, Billy got connected to his twisted older-brother-father-figure, Donald Trump, a billionaire who often declared bankruptcy, and a man two decades older than Bush. I’m unsure of the true nature of their friendship, but it is clear the two were more than just professional acquaintances. Billy traveled around with Trump, interviewed him on various shows, and he began hosting Donald’s Miss Universe pageants, a job that I’m eerily sure Donald Trump hand-selected him for. And that’s all kinds of creepy. Trump has stated, for example, that he would walk in on his changing contestants to do inspections, and that they couldn’t keep him out because he was the boss; where was Bush with all of this? Participating? Watching from the shadows with that eerie laugh of his? I’m sure there is much more to this story.

Anyway, in 2016, Billy Bush got the ultimate break in his career, when he was upgraded to a host of Today with a nice salary boost. And then, a few months later, his world caved in.

The released 2005 video footage from last weekend, in which Bush and Trump are on a bus with their microphones on, show Donald Trump talking about trying to coerce Billy’s co-host, Nancy O’Dell, into having sex, despite the fact that he was married. He then shames O’Dell’s new look, “fake tits” and all. Billy sits by, laughing consistently and encouraging Donald on, somehow temporarily forgetting his wife and daughters at home. (Donald was also newly married, with a pregnant super-model wife, and was the father of two daughters).

The bus then pulls up to the soap opera set where they are working, and Billy comments on Arianne Zucker, the actress waiting to greet them, and Bush tells Trump that she is “hot as shit”, adding “Yes, the Donald has scored!” Donald grabs some Tic-Tacs in case he wants to forcibly kiss the woman, as Billy keeps laughing, and Donald says how he just starts kissing women, against their will, and even grabs their genitalia, and they let him do it because he’s a star. Billy just keeps laughing, commenting on Zucker’s legs with impeccable English. “That’s good legs.”

They get off the bus, and Billy pushes Zucker into giving Trump a hug. “How about a little hug for the Donald? He just got off the bus.” (Because getting off a bus is such hard work for men, and they clearly deserve a reward. Note: Donald had a hard time opening the bus door). Bush then asks for one himself, “How about a little hug for the Bushy? I just got off the bus.” (Again, hard work, he deserves his reward, right?) Zucker appears uncomfortable, having originally greeted the men professionally, with a handshake, but complies with the hug, cameras rolling the entire time. 

Also, he affectionately calls himself “the Bushy”. This is clearly not the first time he has used this nickname, and I can only presume that he not only thinks it works well for him, but that it has elicited positive results for him with women before and after this, each woman grating with disgust as they moved in for the “Bushy hug” with fake smiles plastered on their faces.

Since this has gone down, Billy has been called names and repeatedly shamed over Twitter by critics who say he is repugnant and disgusting. He has been suspended from his Today show job, and he has offered public apologies, saying he is ashamed. And some feel that this is unfair, that he wasn’t the primary instigator, and that the comments are over a decade old. Many are dismissing them, as Donald keeps saying in presidential addresses, as “locker room talk”.

I’ve been in locker rooms, as a teenager, as a college student, and as a grown-up. I’ve heard men refer to women with lewd statements in such settings. It’s inexcusable, and I have never participated, and when I’m uncomfortable I say something or walk away. For some, talk like this is an every day occurrence. Teenage boys and college frat guys sit around dissing on women and objectifying them.

But here’s where I have a very difficult time with that argument. First, we have to presume that Trump has talked like this with many other men on many other occasions, and we have to presume the same about Bush. We also have to presume that the two of them talked like this often, about co-stars and about Miss Universe contestants. But even if this was an isolated incident, even if this is the only time it ever happened between the two men, it was hardly locker room talk. It’s sexual harassment in the workplace.

What we have, in this video, is pure sexual harassment. Two men in the workplace, one in his thirties and one in his fifties, sitting around and laughing about their female coworkers, relegating them to the status of sexual objects and referring to their, and I quote, “tits” and “pussies.” Lawsuits, terminations, and criminal prosecutions have taken place on less. If their mics had been off, it would be disgusting still, but they did it with their mics on, where anyone could hear them, and with cameras rolling just off the bus. Think about that for a moment.

I will maintain my disdain for Donald Trump and his unfitness to be president. I can only imagine how embarrassed his inner circle is, particularly the women he surrounds himself with, namely  his wife, daughters, and campaign managers.

But this entry isn’t about Donald Trump, it’s about Billy Bush. And he is hardly innocent in all of this as either. Looking past the extreme irony that his last name is also a euphemism for female genitalia, the fact that this man with a decades-long career in Hollywood is being held accountable for his misogynistic and sexist words and actions is absolutely appropriate.

Being a well-meaning, hard-working professional who is also a loving husband and father, does not excuse sexual harassment, even when you shrug it off as locker room talk. Sexism is sexism, and harassment is harassment.

 

the other side of the political fence

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Every time I have a strong feeling of aversion and repulsion toward some of Donald Trump’s words, I have to take time to remember that there are those out there who, like me, are rational thinkers with clearly formed opinions, and they have similarly charged feelings against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

In preparation for tonight’s debate, I wanted to take time to explore the rational side of Trump supporters. Now, I do believe there are many of them who are in that “deplorable” category, the holders-on to old standards of white, straight, male America where everyone knew their place, wanting to maintain their privilege and power until their last breaths. But for those who are rational thinkers and recognize progress and social change, they have some clearly formed opinions as to why they only trust Donald Trump.

These supporters seem to see Trump as a brilliant businessman with an innovative brilliant brain, a man who employs thousands and gives everyone equal shots to advance within the company, a man who has no trouble holding those who err accountable. They see Trump as a man who is willing to call it like it is, regarding issues related to abortion, immigration, anti-terrorism, and many other hot-button issues. These supporters see “political correctness” as a plague to the country, as something that gets in the way of clear policy making. They see Trump as a fresh face who is willing to dig the country out of what they consider to be the worst state it has ever been in.

Now these individuals are clearly able to see the questionable aspects of Trump’s character, including his harsh statements against women, immigrants, and veterans, but they are, in large part, willing to overlook them because they consider his strengths as more important than his weaknesses.

This willingness to overlook questionable character aspects is not unique to the Republicans, it belongs to all party systems and are a focused aspect of American politics. One key case in point, for Democrats, particularly salient to this election, was the presidential election of Bill Clinton. Prior to Clinton’s first election as president, there was a large sex scandal, when Clinton was accused of not only infidelity, but assault toward women over a period of decades. There were tabloid headlines and news reports, the only thing missing was social media with constant Facebook and Twitter updates.

When Bill and Hillary Clinton were questioned directly about his infidelities, they were evasive in their answers, they wouldn’t confirm or deny the allegations, instead they would urge Americans to focus on the bigger issues that mattered to the people. And after the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the White House, both Bill and Hillary willingly and out-rightly lied to the media and the American people in statements that said the affairs never happened. (Look up Gennifer Flowers and Juanita Broaddrick as examples).

Now don’t get me wrong, Hillary Clinton absolutely has my vote. But to empathize with the other side, I have to recognize that they see Hillary as an option as undesirable as I do Donald Trump. They stack up the popular issues, like the Clinton Foundation spending, the Benghazi attacks, Whitewater, and the missing Emails scandal, and they absolutely don’t trust her.

In tonight’s debate, I’m expecting there will be a lot of rhetoric. There will be a strong push on both sides to vilify the past of the opponent. Donald Trump is going to call Hillary: crooked, a liar, an enabler to her husband’s atrocities, a bully to her husband’s victims, and he will continue to bring up the idea that she has been an ineffective and failed leader. Hillary will focus in on the issues of this past week’s headlines, related to Trump’s treatment of women, his taxes, his dealings with Russia, and his long list of embarrassing statements.

Hillary still has my vote, no question. I think she is a powerful and dynamic leader with a tremendous amount of experience; not only do we need more women in power, but she has the endorsements of the Obamas, two of my personal heroes, who describe her as the most experienced presidential candidate in American history. I want to see the incredible work Barack Obama has put in the past 8 years pushed forward ever farther. And it is worth noting that the very origins of our country’s political systems are rooted in misogyny, racism, and patriarchy; there must be some changes to these ancient and terrible power dynamics of privilege and oppression.

As a personal example of this, I recall a time as a youth when my abusive stepfather hurt my mother. Gossip spread through our community and a woman stormed up to my mother in a grocery store and whispered, “I hear women like you like getting beat.” This woman, instead of holding my stepfather accountable for his words and fists, blamed my mother for staying. And that is the image I’ll enter tonight’s debate with, the willingness to blame a woman while the man stands with blood on his hands.