Porn Addiction in Utah

“What is it with men and porn in Utah?” A friend from out of state asked me that question in a recent online exchange. “I grew up Mormon but not in Utah, and porn is a big deal here, but it seems to be even bigger there. Like is porn addiction a thing? And is it the same as sex addiction? And is it really as big a deal there as they say? And does it have anything to do with women and depression there and how they have the highest rate of anti-depressant usage?”

I responded with a “Whoa, hang on! That’s a lot of questions!” And then we went on to talk for two hours about Utah and its complexities. I’ll summarize a lot of these thoughts here. Keep in mind, reader, that while I am a mental health expert, I fully admit this is not a topic I’ve done personal research on. The thoughts presented here come from my own perspectives, as an ex-Mormon gay father and therapist who has some years of experience behind him. I fully admit my own bias, but there is a lot of truth to my words for many as well.

First of all, since it’s inception, Utah has treated women as a commodity. Mormon men, from the leaders on down, competed for women as an acquisition. There are love stories, sure, but there are also stories of conquest, of older wives being forgotten and set aside as younger wives were obtained. Young virgin girls were hot market items, married off to men two or four or six decades their senior. Men’s names were to be blessed in their righteousness as they fathered children and established lineages on Earth that would follow them into Heaven. And while times have changed, well, a lot of these cultural trends remain the same.

Mormon marriage now is ideally young returned missionary and young out-of-high school girl, both virgins, who marry quickly. She’s promised happiness and motherhood in exchange for her modesty, virtue, and dedication to her husband. She is destined to be a queen and priestess, reigning forever at the side of her husband. It’s church first, then husband and kids, then herself last. Except by age 25, there are 3 or 4 kids and they are screaming and her husband is gone a lot and she doesn’t know what to do. And there is depression. And then one day she finds out that her husband has been secretly watching porn in the basement, and what does that mean. It feels like slaps to the face, an abject betrayal. This isn’t how here life was supposed to go! Why would he do this to her! Isn’t she lovely enough, sexy enough, good enough, isn’t she enough for him? Why would God let this happen? And so she keeps her pain quiet and focuses on the kids and pops anti-depressants and hopes things will work out.

And for him? The Priesthood holder? The one who is burning the candle at both ends, with a full-time job, and debt, and church callings, and the kids, and the wife, the one who is always needed and is expected to be pure and righteous? He is meant to be a king and priest in Heaven, to have his own kingdom, his own planet one day. It’s church first, then wife and kids, then work, then him last. But he can barely seem to keep his energy and morale up for the things happening around him in his busy household. It’s all too much. And porn, well, it’s an easy escape. It’s indulgent. It’s secret. It’s not hurting anybody. It’s contained to a laptop screen. He can look up what he wants, pleasure himself. And if that gets boring, he can always jump online, into chatrooms, maybe exchange some photos or jump on a webcam, so long as he doesn’t show his face. It’s private and exciting. He gets attention from women (or at least men pretending to be women) that aren’t his wife. And so it becomes a habit. He stays up late multiple times per week. 15 minutes easily turns into 2 or 3 hours. He’s not addicted, he tells himself, he just enjoys it, so long as no one finds out, and he can keep the reality of it all in a different box, one that isn’t connected to his faithfulness or his Priesthood at all.

Except then he gets caught. He stammers lies about how often he does it, how much there has been, how far he has gone. He lies, and then makes excuses, and then blames others. There is shame and penitence. He has been told hundreds of times from his Priesthood leaders about the evils of pornography, about how it burns images permanently into your brain. Just one second, one image, that is all it takes and you are forever unclean. And now his wife is furious, and there is even less sex. He’s sent to the bishop. He vows to never do it again. She’s crying constantly, feeling lied to, betrayed. She was faithful and it isn’t supposed to be like this. It’s wrong, and he’s bad, and he’s unworthy. And if he relapses and gets caught again, well, he needs to go to therapy, to sex addiction recovery, where he can sort out what is wrong with him and make himself a better son of God, a more worthy Priesthood holder.

There are pornography and sex addiction recovery clinics all over Utah. They specialize in helping men move past the desires of the flesh and be better. Pornography is evil, vile, wrong. In fact, just a few years ago, the Mormon governor declared pornography a health epidemic. On a governmental level. (Seriously.) And so the man either gets better, or he finds more discreet ways of meeting this dark need. Or maybe he starts cheating. Utah does have a thriving prostitution industry, after all.

(And if you feel like this characterization is unfair or dramatic, take a moment to assess the people you know in Utah, even your own friends and families. Chances are, this describes more than a few of those men, women, or couples, if not now, than a few years back. This represents nearly every Mormon family I know, honestly).

So is there such thing as porn addiction? Absolutely. Food can be addictive. As can bad relationships, or gambling, or work. When you engage in something in one area of your life that is hurting the other areas; when you spend hours and hours on it; when you are keeping major secrets and justifying bad behavior; when you are telling lies and making excuses; all of these things contribute to addiction. But it is very important to understand that porn is not an addiction for everyone. In fact, studies show that porn is mostly addictive in heavily religious cultures and communities, ones that treat sex with shame, one with rigorous standards of what it means to be worthy.

Utah is well-known for having a poor sex education system in place. Safe sex isn’t discussed so much as abstinence. Sex is equated with shame, revulsion, and sin. Every human teenager has a sexual development taking place, it comes along with the hormones and the genitals. They experience attractions and desires. Those who have pre-marital sex are considered dirty, or damaged goods. And what extends with that is a culture of secret keeping. Let’s not talk about sex, let’s keep our sins secret, and let’s ignore the sexual things happening all around us. Looks bury our desires, never talk about them, never masturbate, never learn, and instead save ourselves for marriage. And then let’s marry our young sons and daughters and see what happens.

And what happens? Depression and addictions to pornography. Men and women grow up into adults while never allowing their sexual sides, which are just as prominent as their spiritual sides, to develop. Those sides stay stuck in adolescence. They seek expression. They cry out for release. And it’s even rougher on gay men and women, who have the added burden of growing up of being ashamed for WHO they are attracted to, leaving more psychological and emotional needs unmet.

I could likely prepare an entire two-hour conference on this, but I’ll wrap it up here. After a robust discussion, my friend asked me how I help people through all of this.

As a man, I struggled with pornography and masturbation during my Mormon years, when I was both married and single. Both resulted in major depression and anxiety problems for me, as well as physical issues. I had nausea, major stress, and sometimes vomiting or diarrhea issues after indulging in pornography or masturbation, and those conditions extended to when I would even notice an attractive man on the street. “I experienced an attraction! Oh no! I’m evil, God hates me, what have I done!” as my stomach churned. Now I live as an out, proud gay man. I’m sexually active, and I occasionally view porn. Masturbation is a pleasurable activity on occasion as well. And I experience zero shame in relation to any of it. I accept my sexual identity as very much a part of my overall person. I’m not a sinner or an addict. I’m just a healthy human 40-year old man.

Over the years, I’ve had a number of clients come to me with goals of reducing masturbation or to work on their pornography addictions. I take these concerns seriously. I listen. I reflect. I’m kind and calm andpatient. But I have to help the clients recognize that the shame they feel around sex is the primary cause of their emotional struggles. I have to help them learn to accept and love themselves, all parts of themselves, and then make decisions from there. I have to help them measure out their motivations. If their goal remains to watch pornography less, or to masturbate less, listen to the difference between these motivations.

“My goal is to masturbate less because when I do it, I am dirty and wrong. I’m breaking my covenants and making God disappointed in me. I’m sinning and permanently damaging myself. It’s going to take me years to earn back the trust of my wife, and I’m no longer worthy to go to the temple. Help me!”

Or: “My goal is to masturbate less because I want to live up to my covenants. I accept and embrace myself as a human person who has sexual desires. I was created that way and I’m not ashamed of that. Sexual desire is normal and natural, but I want to be a stalwart husband and father, and to live the teachings of my religion, so I want to make some changes to that behavior.”

Those are very different places to begin from. As for me? I don’t see anything wrong with a bit of porn, masturbation, or sexual activity, so long as it is from within the ethics and guidelines of the person’s overall life plan. Those things don’t fit in certain relationships or religions. Consent and ethics and all of that applies here, of course. And that’s where an individual has to measure out his or her own value system, because hurting the people you love isn’t the desired result here. Addictions or dependencies in any form, to food or alcohol or porn, are damaging and need to be worked on. But being a porn addict doesn’t make you a sex addict. Take accountability of yourself and be ethical and make your life decisions around that. Because shame is going to ruin you otherwise.

Embrace all of the parts of you, and learn how to be healthy. The rest will fall into place.

(And for those of you not in Utah, well, I love it here, really. It’s super charming. But oh my stars is it strange. And one way to emphasize that: there is a whole genre of porn under the category of ‘Mormon’. Both gay and straight. Seriously. It’s like a thriving industry. Fascinating, I tell you.)

 

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Cat-calls and hate speak

At 9 am on Saturday morning, Mike and I were holding hands as we walked down the sidewalk. It was our third day in New Orleans, and we had grown relatively familiar with the city streets around where we were staying.

We walked past a few hotels, one so decked out in Christmas decorations that it looked like Santa had vomited all over it. Girls in fancy dresses walked on the sidewalk with their rich parents, on their way to something called ‘Teddy Bear Tea’. A high school team for some sport or another took up space, all of them on their phones as they stood there idly. And, as you find in any big city, we saw a few people asking for cash and handouts mixed among them.

A small group of teenage girls walked out of the hotel in front of us and turned the same corner we did. They must have been between 17 and 20 years old, and they were dressed in comfortable clothes, shorts and t-shirts, perhaps heading out on a quick coffee run. As we approached the corner, I noticed two men sitting on some steps in front of an entrance to an apartment walk-up. Both were African-American, one probably sixty years old, the other around forty. They were engaged in an animated conversation, then they looked up at the girls walking by.

“Ooooooh, girls girls girls!” The younger man said, cocking his head, making a few small whistling sounds as his friend cooed. “Girls!”

The older man turned his full body toward them, his hands on his legs. “My-my-my look at that!” His voice was full of enthusiasm. “What’s your hurry, young girls?”

My brow furrowed in disgust as I witnessed this. I whispered to Mike, “Good God, is this what girls deal with?”

Mike muttered, “Apparently.”

The last of the girls walked by, and the younger man gave another happy moan sound. “Look at that, a tall one! She must play volleyball! Girl, I’d like to spike you!” He spoke loudly and I saw the girl wince. The sixty year old gave his friend a high-five, and my eyes must have flashed fury as I walked by. I briefly considered something, but realized it wasn’t worth it in this context. I simply whispered a ‘Gross’ loud enough for Mike to hear.

The light was red at the end of the block, and we had to wait to cross the street. I was watching the girls, wondering if I should say something to them, when I heard the voice from behind me.

“Faggots!”

I craned my head back in shock, and the younger man looked at me with challenge in his eyes. My jaw dropped slightly. “What the fuck?” I said, loud enough for him to hear me, then the light turned green and Mike tugged on my hand as we walked across the street.

My heart was still thudding three blocks later. “I’ve never been called a faggot before!” I said. “Wait, that’s not true. Like, back in high school, guys would tease other guys and called them faggots. My step-dad called me names, but it was never ‘faggot’. I can’t believe that just happened!”

Ironically, the day before, Mike and I had had a small argument just a few blocks away. We’d seen a group of elderly Asian women with microphones standing on a busy street corner, all chanting out about how Jesus saves, demanding that everyone turn from sin. I’d wanted to hold his hand tightly, to show courage and bravery, and he’d felt nervous, not wanting any sort of uncomfortable confrontations. We’d made up quickly. And yet, here we were being called ‘faggots’ the very next day.

I usually feel safe in big cities. I stopped worrying a long time ago about holding hands with my boyfriend in Salt Lake City; the few ugly looks we got didn’t bother me at all. Most big cities have gay areas of town, kind of like “Chinatown” or “Little Italy”, districts where there were gay clubs and gay friendly businesses. In New Orleans, we were staying near the French Quarter, which was full of loud music, shops, and drunk people, and it was very gay friendly. I counted no less than eight (yes eight) gay clubs within a mile radius of where we were staying. It was the little towns, in places like Wyoming or central Utah, where I get nervous holding hands, or, in other words, being openly gay.

After being called a faggot, I wondered if I should perhaps be more worried, more careful. I’ve been assaulted and mugged on big city streets, not for begin gay, but still. I’ve talked about this in other blogs, but holding hands with a man while walking the streets kind of puts me on an autopilot of defensiveness. It makes me feel like everyone notices. People sometimes notice and then try to act like they didn’t, some act with derision or looks of disgust, and many go the opposite way and go out of their way to be friendly or complimentary. It felt rare to feel, well, not noticed.

The past few days in New Orleans, we’d had a lot of the third kind of experience, the cute looks, the friendly faces, people working hard to make us feel welcome or, perhaps, they are just genuinely happy to see a bit of diversity in their neighborhoods. One woman told us, “Ya’ll are cute!” when we walked by. A heavyset black woman practically stopped us on the street one morning, yelling us down. “Hey! Hey! I wanna hold ya’ll’s hands, too! I’ll go right in the center! Ya’ll need some chocolate in the middle of all that white!” Mike and I had both laughed heartily. And then perhaps the most delightful encounter, when we’d passed a group of college kids on the street, and a tall nerdy white guy with glasses, who was holding hands with his girlfriend, pointed at us as we walked by. “You guys. Whatever this is, I’m into it, I respect it, and I like it very much.”

We kept holding hands as we walked. No one else called us ‘faggots’, that day or any other. Perhaps those men didn’t realize the power of that word or what it represented. Perhaps they didn’t know how we were bullied growing up, forced to play a role in a closet so that we wouldn’t make those around us uncomfortable. Perhaps they didn’t know that during this trip, we visited the memorial of a mass murder right here in New Orleans, where forty years before dozens of gay men had been burned alive in a gay club in one of the country’s worst hate crimes ever. Perhaps he was just showing off for his friend. Maybe he didn’t know what it was like to be gay and holding hands on the street.

But then I remembered that he was black, and his experience being a black man in white racist America, while different than mine, must elicit some of the same reactions. I also remembered the way he talked to those young women. This was a man who didn’t care how others felt, who didn’t look outside of his own experiences. The world was full of wonderful people, but it was also full of bullies. And, I remembered, it only takes one man to hurt another.

And these realizations made me clutch Mike’s hand all the tighter.

A Fine Time to Leave Me, Lucille

sawdust

The floor was thick with sawdust, on purpose. The signs hanging on the busy walls (those filled with animal heads, kitsch, and signatures in black marker) described how the Red Dog bar in Juneau had been built in 1912, to entertain the gold rushers here. I pictured the classic Wild West setup, with girls named Kitty in scandalous clothing, men in hats playing loud poker at the tables, and swinging saloon doors. They’d done a beautiful job making this space feel just like that. Crowded walls, greasy food, cheap beer, and a man who looked like an old-timey prospector playing the guitar on the small stage up front.

He sang a melancholy Johnny Cash song while I ordered a rum and Coke, casually observing the other patrons. The employees were dressed in period costumes. I pictured them here every day, making drinks, fries, and oyster shots for the thousands of cruise passengers who docked in the city in for mere hours. The tourists hit this gem of a town like a plague of locusts, buzzing in and out, consuming everything, until they flew back to their buffets, drinks, and pools aboard the ship. Two or three ships every day, clogging the streets, then leaving the place quiet in the evenings, for just the locals and the more long-term tourists, the ones more like me.

Four white couples sat all around me, and at least three of them were shit-faced drunk. At 8 pm on a Sunday night. The other couple, they never looked up from their phones, and I never saw them sip their beers. I casually listened to the stutters of conversation I could hear around me, but I tuned them out and instead focused on the singer. His leathered skin, his twisting white mustache, the oak barrel country twang in his voice, it was all just delicious. I sipped my drink as he sang.

“This next song is a favorite of mine,” the singer announced. “It’s by my old friend, Kenny Rogers. He told me about this woman, the one named Lucille, personally. He wrote a song about her! Sing along with the chorus if you know it.” He clearly didn’t actually know Kenny Rogers, but it somehow added to the authenticity of the experience.

And in his beautiful register, he began “Lucille.” This song automatically conjured up a bitter and happy nostalgia within me. How many times had I heard this classic country song in my teenage years, when my stepfather was in one of his good moods, filling the house with joy, love, and consistency. But those periods always followed an incident of extreme violence. Someone struck with an open hand, or grounded for weeks for with no cause, or called names until they cried, and then on came the happy music. Into the room came “Lucille.” Had I even heard this song in the two decades of my life since my stepfather had been gone? It felt strange to hear it now.

He sang, using Rogers’ words, of the bar in Toledo where a lonely and overwhelmed Lucille walked in and sat on a nearby stool, pounding back a few drinks. You don’t learn until later in the song that Lucille is trapped in a bad marriage with four hungry children and an overworked farmer for a husband. But in the second line of the song, you learn how she takes off her wedding ring, and she shortly announces that she’s looking for a good time.

But the singer changed things, trying to get a laugh. He sang, “On a barstool, she took off her clothes.” He stopped playing, then said, “Oh, did I say clothes? I of course meant ring!” He cackled, then kept laughing as the drunk crowd just talked over his music. The words tell of the singer moving down next to Lucille, seeing an opportunity with a willing woman, but immediately the singer saw the woman’s husband enter, a mountain of a man with calloused hands. The first chorus echoed that man’s words to his wife, and I sang along loudly.

“‘You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille, with four hungry children and a crop in the field. I’ve had some bad times, lived through some sad times, but this time the hurtin’ won’t heal. You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille.'”

After the chorus, the singer stopped, explaining that that wasn’t the way it really happened. In the real story, as Rogers had told it to him, he said, Lucille’s husband had come in and let Lucille just how he felt. He’d walked in yelling, telling Lucille exactly what she was.

“The real chorus goes like this. It’s almost the same, but just sing it like this,” he said. “‘You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille.‘ Then you just call out what her husband called her in that bar. ‘You bitch! You whore! You slut!’ Those are the actual words used in the real story! See, just try it with me. ‘You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille.’ You bitch! You whore! You slut!’ Hey, you did great! Doesn’t that feel good! Let’s try the chorus all together now! ‘You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille.’ You bitch! You whore! You slut! ‘With four hungry children, and a crop in the field!'” 

I was astounded. The audience all around me screamed the words out enthusiastically, eager to slut-shame Lucille as much as possible, or perhaps just thrilled to get to shout those words in public. The girl in front of me, the whitest white girl of all, shouted the words extra loud and with enthusiasm, her middle fingers raised up for effect. “You bitch! You whore! You slut!” she repeated, before taking a swig of her beer, drunk laughing, then leaning over to her husband and whispering a secret. “That’s hilarious, that slut!”

The song went on, into the third voice. The singer ordered whiskey and took Lucille back to his hotel room, but was unable to go through with it, because he couldn’t stop thinking about what the husband said. Cue the second chorus, and the audience happily called Lucille a whore and a bitch one more time.

The singer took his hand off the guitar and leaned into the microphone. “Now, on the radio, that was the end of the song. Kenny Rogers couldn’t get away with publishing the fourth verse, the censors wouldn’t allow it. But he told it to me. Ladies and gentlemen, right here, in the Red Dog, you can hear the real ending of the classic song, Lucille, are you ready?” The crowd cheered. I felt a little nervous. This man was not treating Lucille well, and I just knew it was about to get worse.

In the secret fourth verse, he sang about how Lucille had left the hotel room, and so the singer had returned to the bar, where he had met two sisters. He took both sisters back to his hotel room, took of their clothes, and was about to fool around with both of them, when Lucille came back into the hotel room, still wanting to be with him, apparently. And to get her to go away, now that he had better prospects, the singer had repeated the husband’s words in a third chorus.

“‘You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille.’ You bitch! You whore! You slut!'”

I walked out of Red Dog, my mind spinning with the whole experience. I felt disgusted. I felt strangely protective of Lucille, though she was fictional. She had once represented happy times in my home. I didn’t like how the crowd had slut-shamed her, blaming her for seeking an escape from her tortured marriage. I didn’t like the man in the song and how he’d shamed Lucille while he himself was trying to sleep with two sisters. I knew it was all supposed to be a joke, that people there had been laughing, but I kept hearing the crowd chanting bitch, slut, and whore, and I kept seeing that woman with her raised middle fingers. They shamed Lucille for sexualized behavior while screaming with enthusiasm for Kenny Rogers and his supposed debauchery. It was gross. Lucille didn’t deserve that, I decided. And then I remembered the venue, the atmosphere of the people there.

The floor was thick with sawdust, on purpose.

Fragile Mormon Ego

In a college class I taught a few years ago, right in the heart of Salt Lake City, what many locals might call the “Mormon Bubble”, during which we discussed the way Utah is viewed by the rest of the world. (In fact, I think I even blogged about this. It can be hard to remember). We talked about all of the times that Utah has hit the international media circuits over the past few years.

The actively LDS students in the room had hoped that stories about Utah would be related to charity work, to missionary work, and to Christian examples. But universally every story that we found was, well, negative. Maybe even a little bit embarrassing.

We found stories on CNN, Fox News, and other sites that were related to how Mormons make policies against gay people and fight gay marriage, about how gay teens are committing suicide, and about young women coming forward at BYU and in churches who were told to keep their sexual assaults quiet by church leaders (or worse, they were blamed for their own assaults). There were stories about tithing dollars being used to build a mall, about how BYU was being considered for a list of institutions that were known to hate gay people, and how Utah was leading the nation in gender discrimination in the workplace statistics. We made lists of these headlines, and they were hard to face up to.

One student in the classroom, a lovely LDS girl who worked hard to love everyone, raised her hand and wondered aloud why people saw the church she and her family loved so much with so much hatred and vitriol, why they laughed at things that were sacred to her. We had a discussion about reputation, and about how things can look different from the inside than from the outside. She was receptive to feedback, and ultimately it was a strong and openminded lesson for all involved. (She is my favorite kind of Mormon. She loves her church, and she is open to the ideas of others around her).

Well, yesterday, Utah hit the national headlines again, this time for a bizarre poster that was printed up on BYU campus. A small organization that is part of the school’s math department, called Women in Math, created an event in which four of the school’s beloved math professors would speak to those in attendance. The young woman who created the poster placed four photos of the teachers across the top, then the name of the organization underneath them. So it resulted in… four white guys over a heading that read ‘Women in Math’. And then, in the most Mormon way possible, the poster finished with “There will be treats. All levels of math welcome.”

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I copied this to my own Facebook wall with a roll of my eyes, and the tagline “Mormons gotta Morm. Oh BYU, what have you done now?”

Swiftly, like all things on Facebook, some of the comments became politicized. Some decried that all Mormons are misogynistic. (I argued that while the organization and belief system is misogynistic, that doesn’t mean the individual members are). Others, actively Mormon, felt their religion was being attacked and began writing out lists of facts in defense of their beliefs. This lead to some back and forths, some private messages, and, well, a few Facebook unfriendings before it was all finished.

These days, it takes a lot to get me fired up. I use a life motto, a Jewel song lyric that I refer back to often: “No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from.” As such, I am careful with who I allow into my life, who I choose to engage with. I keep a far distance from all things Mormon in my day-to-day life, but it still hits me regularly because of my family, my community, my friends, and my clients. It’s hard to stay far from. And when you’ve lost a few friends to suicide, it is very difficult not to get very passionate about.

In a few of those private chats, one friend abjectly refused to admit that the Mormon religion is homophobic, racist, and misogynistic, and they felt that my stating such was a direct attack on their beliefs and family. “How would you feel if I said terrible things like this about gays?” they said, to which I responded, “Many gays are absolutely misogynistic, racist, and even homophobic, but not inherently. And there is a huge difference between a sexual orientation, which is not chosen, and a religious belief system, which is chosen.” Despite this, they refused to bend.

Now here is the thing, I remember how fragile my ego as a Mormon used to be. The slightest criticism of the prophets, the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, or the Church led me to defensively dig in my heels and refuse that there could be any flaws. But even when I dug in, I knew I had doubts about polygamy, about the way the church treats women, blacks, and gays, and about its weird mystical/esoteric history. (God lives on another planet, remember. It’s all very Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.)

But even the most rational person can admit that the Mormon church (as well as the wider society around it) is abjectly homophobic, racist, and misogynistic. It denied blacks the Priesthood and taught that they were cursed with blackness by God! It currently calls gay marriage apostate and doesn’t allow children of gay couples to be baptized! Women bow their heads in temple ceremonies and promise to subject themselves to their husbands… with their faces veiled!

If you are Mormon, I understand you. I empathize with you. And I probably like you. But if your ego is so fragile that you can’t admit basic facts, well, I have very little room for you in my life ultimately.

But back to that Women in Math poster, come on, that is hilarious. And if you can’t laugh with me, well there is probably not much room for you either.

“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.

 

 

 

Raping Evelyn

Florence Evelyn Nesbit was a petite girl, with thin hips and a small frame. She was a bit androgynous, with a boyishness about her that photographers found irresistible. Her lush brown hair draped over her shoulders in some photographs, or was piled upon her head in the more adult style in others. When she started modelling as a young teen in the late 1890s, her popularity quickly mounted. She posed for paintings, for classic photographs, for stained glass windows, for magazine ads. Her likeness was placed on postcards and hanged in museums. Evelyn enjoyed the attention, and what teenage girl wouldn’t. She was carving a life for herself away from her controlling mother and sickly brother even while supporting them financially; her father was dead. Soon her work took her to New York, where she could model and pose, sing and dance. She was absolutely lovely.
When millionaire architect Stanford White, who had built famous parts of New York City, took notice, Evelyn was flattered. She was only 15 and he in his 40s. He was portly, with a thick moustache, and married, but he paid special attention to just her, spending months flattering her, entertaining her, and taking her to private dinners, where he would smile and coo at her across the table. He bought her gifts, gave her mother and brother money, and pushed Evelyn on a red velvet swing he kept in a room of his private quarters. He even had Evelyn’s teeth fixed at the dentist, taking away her only flaw in his eyes. And so Evelyn thought little of it the night he drugged her champagne and she woke up naked in his bed, her virginity stolen. He explained that no one could know, that her reputation would be ruined if she spoke a word and that no one would ever want her again, so she mustn’t even tell her mother. Evelyn was 16. Evelyn was far from his only victim.

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But Stanny wasn’t the only millionaire to take notice. Harry Thaw had a sizable monthly income of $8000, drawn from his family’s railroad and coal fortunes, so vast that he didn’t need to work. Harry’s mother kept the family history of insanity quiet from the public, and she overlooked Harry’s habit of luring young women and young men up to his room, where he would force them to get naked, beat them with a riding crop, and sexually assault them. If the victims complained, Harry and his mother could just pay them off to keep them quiet.
Thaw courted Evelyn from afar for several weeks, sending her notes and gifts before introducing himself. Also much older, he worked to convince her that she should be with him, and began sending money to her family so he could Evelyn alone more often. With her mother’s permission, Thaw took Evelyn for weeks to Europe, and he proposed to her multiple times before she finally told him of the loss of her virtue to Stanford White, a man Thaw hated beyond measure. After weeks of violently and obsessively questioning Evelyn about every aspect of the events with White, he finally locked her in a room in a Bavarian castle and beat and raped her over the next few weeks. Evelyn was 17. Thaw would later marry her, after he had her followed, trained her how to act, and made her aware of his consistent demands and the consequences if she did not meet them. He then required her to get her dental work undone.

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In 1906, at Madison Square Garden, Stanford White sat watching a play among a crowd of hundreds, including Evelyn and Harry. As the performers sang the song, “I Could Love a Million Girls”, Harry Thaw walked forward in his tuxedo, drew a gun, and shot White three times, killing him instantly for “ruining” his wife. Thaw was put on trial for murder a few times over the next few years and, declaring temporary insanity, was placed into a mental institution. Despite violent episodes and an escape requiring recapture, he was set free just a few years later, but was soon re-confined after committing more rapes and assaults.
Evelyn herself struggled the rest of her life with mental illness, alcohol and drug addiction, and suicide attempts. She had multiple careers, including, most famously, a touring show where she sang and danced about her husband killing her lover. She lived into her 80s after becoming a grandmother.

The Nesbit-Thaw-White story dominated the newspaper and gossip circuits for years, and reporters called it “The Crime of the Century.” Who could resist a story about a super-model and two millionaires, with all of the sordid details of murder and sex and rape and violence thrown in? The public couldn’t get enough.

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Although this story is well over 100 years old, it is easy to recognize the parallels of money, privilege, abuse, rape culture, misogyny, corrupt justice, exploitation of women and their bodies, internalized homophobia, insanity, and media sensationalism that are alive and well today. Reading this history, in conjunction with the results of the election of Donald Trump as president in 2016, has left me feeling how far we have come as a society at all. Many who abuse and exploit women use the same tactics of grooming, isolation, persistence, excuse-making, blaming, violence, shaming, and threats to get away with their crimes, and the media seems to only pick up on the stories about the millionaires.

America just elected a man who has been accused of sexual assault multiple times, and who has paid off people to drop lawsuits (and yes, I’m aware, Bill Clinton did the same thing). A man who has been heard on a public recording to brag about being rich and able to do what he wants with women, who excuses his actions and words as “locker room talk”, and who regularly rates women on their appearance. A man who buys women gifts hoping to lead them to the bedroom. A man who has publicly bragged about entering the locker rooms of teenage girls and seeing them change. A man who has cheated on his spouses.

I know a great number of people who are in shock right now. Among them are women who have been assaulted, groped, groomed, coerced, silenced, pressured, and abused, who now feel that their government is loudly saying that what has happened to them doesn’t matter and hasn’t mattered. Men have been using these tactics for far too long, and far too many have ended up hurt.

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.

8 deplorable responses to Trump’s misogyny

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Last night, the universe was set on fire when footage was leaked of a 2005 video that involved Donald Trump making deplorable statements about women that alluded to sexual assault. I won’t quote the statements here (they are easy to find, and very offensive). Since then, there have been seemingly millions of Tweets, Comments, and Posts about the events, expressing all kinds of opinions. Many of these responses are utterly deplorable. Here are the eight worst categories of response that I came across.

8. Blame Hillary.

Many on the Internet seem to be blaming Hillary Clinton for all of this, basically stating that Donald Trump and Billy Bush are innocent men who were just minding their own business when Hillary master-minded the release of this video to get people to stop talking about their Emails. Completely overlooking the disgusting words to further vilify Hillary… it just blows my mind. Even if she were behind the ‘leak’, it’s a presidential campaign, and it would be a brilliant strategy move.

7. Saying Hillary is still worse.

Many are arguing that even though Trump is a terrible choice for president, he is still a better choice than Hillary Clinton, and thus his words should be excused. I get that people don’t trust Hillary, that they think she is dishonest, and at times even a criminal (I do not share these opinions), but a willingness to excuse misogyny… that is truly terrifying.

6. Saying it’s expected in Hollywood.

Many are excusing Trump because he was in Hollywood, running reality shows and making guest appearances on talk shows and soap operas, and that is just how it is in Hollywood. Trump certainly carved out a little empire in Tinseltown for a number of years, but expecting terrible treatment of women as part of an entire industry and excusing it, even for one person, is despicable.

5. Saying Bill is worse.

There is no doubt that there are many men out there who objectify women and who cheat on their wives, but a lot of people are offering comparisons, saying that what Trump said was bad, but it doesn’t compare to what Bill has done and how Hillary has helped him do it. Trump offered this comparison in his own initial “apology”. While Bill’s infidelity (and yes he also has assault accusations) are inexcusable, that doesn’t mean Trump’s are not.

4. Boys will be boys.

I see many Trump supporters coming out in favor of him, saying Trump is just a typical guy, that this is how men talk, it’s no big deal. Trump himself called this just ‘locker room talk’. He, and they, may very well be correct, but it is the very essence of rape culture, and these words do not belong to a presidential candidate.

3. It was a long time ago.

There are posts excusing Trump because the statements were made ten years ago. Three responses I have to that: 1. Every presidential candidate is subject to fine-tooth-comb searches of their history that are then used to determine their fitness to be president. 2. The fact that it happened ten years ago doesn’t make it any less vile. Trump had just married his super-model wife, his third marriage, the same year. 3. This is hardly the only negative statement Trump has made about women; the statements are consistent, 30, 20, 10, 5, and 2 years ago, and they are consistent now.

2. His words are excusable because he has everything else right.

Many people feel that even though they don’t like his statements about women, he has enough else right (immigrant and Muslim banning, punishing women who have abortions, etc) that it is worth having him in the White House. Imagine the people he would staff the White House with. Imagine how he would treat female foreign leaders and their spouses. Imagine him being in charge. His words are not excusable.

1. He’s right, good for him.

A large number of Trump supporters seem to not only not be ashamed by Trump’s words, but seem to agree with him, support him, and celebrate him, believing that women ought to be objectified and subject to dominant men who take what they want. And that is simply the most disgusting response of all. And there is a lot of it.

In other news, we see a lot of people finally dropping their support of Trump after this latest debacle, and I’m left wondering how it was they kept their support for him after every other thing he has said.

With the last presidential debates, I was unexpectedly a ball of anxiety. For the one taking place tomorrow evening, I’m making popcorn.

“What a Sticky Mess.”

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“I don’t know what to do, okay!”
The voice shrieked over the noise and bustle of Pike Place Market, a woman’s voice and it sounded like she was in distress. I navigated my way through the busy crowd and down a flight of stairs, past a couple of strollers. A woman dropped her freshly purchased flowers and the bag of water they were in broke, cascading all over the floor as she swore.
A man shouted back. “Well, that’s just perfect! That’s just fucking perfect! Isn’t that just perfect!”
I looked over a ledge and down into the section of the market the breaks into the alleyway with the famous gum wall, a wall of brick that is covered in chewed pieces of gum, varying colors floor to ceiling in a polka dot design that is both beautiful and makes you want to retch all at once. I still couldn’t see them, but I heard her yell back.
“I did my best, okay! What do you want me to do! What, you gonna hurt me now!” Her questions didn’t sound like questions, but like yells.
I couldn’t hear them as I worked my way around a group of people and down a flight of stairs. When I made my way into gum alley, I finally found them in a corner near the base of the stairwell. The girl was sitting down in a heap on the ground, knees up, the skirt she was wearing bunched up around her thighs, leaving little to the imagination if you were at just the right angle. She had a frayed sweater on top, light makeup (when she uncovered her face with her hands long enough for me to see), and her hair was in dreadlocks and a red bandana. A very muscular man stood over her with strong calves, red shorts and a tanktop, and a ball cap; his arms were massive. He was bending down, elbows on knees, and shouting at her, his face level with hers. He appeared to be establishing dominance somehow, making me even more worried about her.
“I told you to watch for it! I told you I wanted it! But you wouldn’t listen and you were a total bitch and now it’s too late!”
“I said I’m sorry!” She uncovered her face again and screamed up at him, and he stood and walked around, pacing angrily in front of her, clenching and unclenching his fists.
I looked around the crowd, the usual bustling group at Pike Market, and wondered why no one seemed to be stopping to notice what was happening here. There was no concern or regard for the situation, which was clearly escalating. A mother walked by with three kids on a leash, three young girls were staring at the wall of gum and making fascinated grossed-out faces at it, a man held his wife’s hand as she held her pregnant stomach, another couple spoke French as they looked at a map in their hands. Just around the corner, an older Willie Nelson type, frayed denim shirt and jeans and a long white beard and ponytail, played the guitar and strutted around, singing in an amateur voice while hoping people would toss money into his open guitar case. His voice carried over the alleyway though I couldn’t see him, a bunch of unintelligible melodies, and the only word I could make out was ‘bastard.’
The man yelled while strutting. “It was the perfect present! What else am I gonna get for her!”
And she screamed back, tears streaming down her face. “I already told you! I was looking at the other shelf for ideas when someone else grabbed it! Back off!”
Wait, they were fighting over someone buying something that he wanted her to buy? I looked confused. There were a hundred different shops with a thousand different shelves and ten thousand different items for purchase all around them, and this is what they were fighting over? I watched closely, ready to move on but just wanted to make sure she wasn’t in any danger.
The man pulled his cell phone out of his pocket to check something, and things were silent while he texted something and the girl sat there crying. Then he put his phone away, looked coldly at the girl, and said, a bit more softly, “I should have never shared my Ecstacy with you. What a waste.”
Then the man walked away, up the stairs, and out of sight.
The woman sat stunned for a minute, then leaned back against the wall, hands dropped onto the dirty ground, and she screamed at the top of her lungs, “Great, but what about me!”
This time people took notice. A couple of the college girls walked over to comfort her, make sure she was okay.
Me, I looked over at the gum and, with the events that just happened playing in my mind, said out loud, “What a sticky mess.”