The White Cringe

Being white in America is charged and complicated. The word doesn’t sit well on my tongue—it’s a thunderbolt. 

“White” is an insurrection, a poison river, a noose strung up on a tree branch, a MAGA bumper sticker. It’s a badge with its knee choking the life out of another person. It’s a firehose aimed at peaceful demonstrators. It’s a gun pointing at someone on the wrong lawn.

No evolved person takes pride in being “white.” It is a label without a motherland, language, community, or rituals. The defining characteristic of being white in America is unjustly denying other groups the freedom of movement and freedom from harm. It’s the color of hate and exclusion, of apartheid, Nazism, and Native American genocide. It is the mark of colonizers and oppression—the cruel norm against which other people are compared or excluded. 

As a writer and editor, I refuse to capitalize “white” because it is an invalid culture of modern invention. The only time I bring up my race is to admit ignorance of something: how it feels to be followed around a department store, asked where I’m originally from, or fatally misunderstood by law enforcement. I didn’t earn or ask for the privileges stemming from our bloody legacy of slavery, but I recognize that being white in the U.S. has shaped my opportunities. 

People are surprised to learn that the definition of white has been fluid in American history.  Italian, Irish, Polish, and other folks now considered “white” didn’t used to be. The category has been shaped by immigration trends, wars, and political and cultural shifts. These days, there’s even a growing number of American Latinos embracing white supremacy—what some might darkly consider to be the ultimate act of assimilation in the United States.

One group, of course, has never been invited into the ranks of white, and that is folks of African descent whom white Americans have dehumanized to justify slavery and assuage their own shame. 

Historian and first prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Eric Williams, famously remarked, “Slavery was not born of racism: rather, racism was the consequence of slavery.” You can’t subjugate a group of people you respect—you must fabricate reasons for your inhumanity to resolve the cognitive dissonance.

These days, race is used most directly in American surveys and studies. For example, we’re aware of the generational wealth gap and disproportionate arrests within the Black community because we’ve tracked it. This information is important to measure groups’ relative quality of life and expose evidence of discrimination. France and Germany, which don’t collect demographic data on race and ethnicity, are rethinking their policies which obscure the toxic effects of racism within their countries. 

Although this data is currently crucial to show how different groups are treated in an unjust society, I look forward to a future when one’s racial category is of no more consequence than the color of one’s eyes. Ideally, it might even strike future generations as strange that we categorized folks by skin color or that white Americans could simultaneously worship Black culture and denigrate its people. 

Race is an evolving power dynamic used to justify the mistreatment of groups. Take pride in accomplishments and kindness, but don’t celebrate being “white.” To do so is perverse and pathetic. 

American Social Conservatism Always Loses in the End

Some traditions and values should not be held sacred, no matter how long they’ve been practiced. For example, there’s no need for public duels over insults to honor, the burning of heretics at the stake, or hanging bloody sheets outside one’s house after the consummation of a marriage. Fortunately, we’ve outgrown these practices, but it’s worth asking: what are examples of contemporary values and customs that will be spurned by future generations? And who safeguards these soon-to-be-old ways of thinking?

Social conservatives strive to lock in the status quo, and they have littered history with their failures and cruelty. I’m not talking about pious, family-oriented folks who hold their values and customs within their churches and homes where it’s appropriate. I’m talking about reactionary activists who seek to impose dead ways of thinking on everyone else. 

Social conservatism is an ideology that supports “traditional” social organization, institutions, and power structures. In this country, this has meant the elevation of men above women, whites above minorities, Christianity above other religions, straight folks above the LGBTQIA+ community, and the United States above other countries. Overall, it seeks to protect a rigid social order rather than embracing change.

While its specific values and objectives have shifted with the times, American social conservatism is always a losing philosophy. The evidence is in the vast progress made in this country since its founding. 

Trump’s Inauguration Day, Washington DC (2017)

Here’s a thought experiment: what would the United States look like if social conservatism had always won the day? 

  • Women wouldn’t be able to work, vote, or own property because Christianity dictates that we should be raising children and obeying our husbands. Some social conservatives still hold (or recently held) these views. John Gibbs, a Republican running for a House seat in Michigan, founded a “think tank” at Stanford called the Society for the Critique of Feminism. In 2000, he wrote, “Some argue that in a democratic society, it is hypocritical or unjust for women, who are 50% of the population, not to have the vote. This is obviously not true, since the founding fathers, who understood liberty and democracy better than anyone, did not believe so.” 
  • Slavery would still exist because “traditional” American power structures held that Black folks were inferior and could be considered property. Some are surprised to learn that the Bible was used to justify slavery. It’s also no coincidence that today’s most socially conservative, religious states are those which owned slaves. 
  • Non-Christians, somewhat ironically, would have to flee American religious persecution. (Apparently, there are still 7 states that bar atheists from holding public office, although a 1961 Supreme Court decision makes these bans impossible to enforce.)
  • Gays, lesbians, and trans folks would live in constant fear and be sent to reeducation camps because they are not accepted under God’s “traditional” order. Considering the recent surge of anti-gay legislation and book banning across the country, overcoming these cruel, ignorant beliefs is clearly a work in progress.

The vestiges of this racism, misogyny, and homophobia—the greasy residue of social conservatism—still haunt our institutions and culture. Some of the lasting prejudice is insidious (e.g., Americans tend to dislike female politicians), and some is obvious and legally enshrined (e.g., “Don’t Say Gay” laws in Florida). 

That is the legacy of social conservatism.

One of the most egregious recent examples has been the overturning of Roe v Wade, which allows the government to force women to give birth. This happened because Catholic conservatives hijacked the Supreme Court, using a thrice-married vulgarian to nominate three judges vetted by the Federalist Society. 

Roe was the white whale of social conservatism because it returns women to the home with forced motherhood. In states such as Texas, rapists can, in effect, choose the mothers of their children—unless women have the resources to leave the state, they must carry their rapists’ babies to term. Some conservative legislators perversely believe rape is actually a blessing by God and an “opportunity” to “help that life be a productive human being.” 

Here’s something I don’t understand: how do social conservatives rationalize the abuses and bigotry of their tribe throughout history? Doesn’t Clarance Thomas realize that in his grandfather’s time, he could have been lynched by fellow social conservatives for looking at a white woman, let alone marrying one? Doesn’t Amy Coney Barrett see that in her grandmother’s time, she could have been accused of having a difficult temperament due to her high intelligence and institutionalized for hysteria or some such nonsense? 

There’s a throughline from violent racism and misogyny to the Right’s anti-LGBTQIA+ crusade today. It wasn’t the progressives of their day who wanted to maintain slavery or lock up “difficult women”—those abuses were propagated by social conservatives. They are (and continue to be) the guardians of savagery.

But, as with all backlashes to progress, social conservatism is doomed to lose this fight. The Dobbs ruling was deeply unpopular among Americans because our country has outgrown the idea that the state should force women to give birth. 

Although reactionary leaders may occasionally get elected or achieve court victories, free democratic societies are never dominated by socially conservative values. This is because power is not inherent in one’s gender, race, or religion—it is constructed and protected by the society in which it occurs. 

For example, in a fundamentalist Christian house, the man is assumed to be the head and the wife must obey. But the privileges of being a Christian man are imaginary—they are only made real by the people who uphold those values. To those who don’t adhere to this interpretation of the Bible, this power is unearned, unjust, and antithetical to meritocracy.

Overall, social conservatism is doomed to fail because it runs counter to advancement. Like the forward march of science and technology, human thought and values can’t be locked into their medieval forms. 

Imagine that instead of using a modern washing machine, you decided to wash your clothes by boiling water, soaking them, and scrubbing them against rocks with lye or animal tallow. Sure, at one time in history, this was the best way to get our clothes clean, but we’ve evolved. By adhering to old, dead values, social conservatives are still beating their dirty clothes against the rocks. 

 If a country’s policies and culture fail to adapt to natural changes, those left out of power become restless and the revolution is seeded. Especially these days, knowledge is too widespread for disenfranchised folks to remain powerless forever. This is the story of women, people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, non-Christians, and the working class. It’s only a matter of time before those unfairly denied social mobility will rebel. 

GDP: The Global Pissing Contest

I don’t remember the first time I questioned how my conventional success fits within the larger scheme of the United States economy. I was valedictorian of my high school and went to a top university. Getting good grades took precedence over becoming a knowledgeable, curious, and helpful person. I hardly read any books for pleasure until my twenties.

Grades and test scores are clear (albeit flawed) measures of a person’s competence in a given area. In general, a person who is high-achieving by these metrics can get into a better university or get a better job. And for any country, having more of these “successful” people can increase its competitiveness relative to the rest of the world.

But what is success? Is it having high marks in school and, later, a high salary at work? These strivings establish a hierarchy, but what do they actually measure? 

There are zero interesting images to represent GDP, so here’s my shot of the king tides in Cape Perpetua

Similar to grades, the way we size ourselves up against other countries is flawed. On the global stage, the United States considers its economic growth to be imperative. And we define growth as an increase in the production of goods and services, which is typically measured by gross domestic product or GDP (per capita).

The GDP is widely accepted as a proxy measure for our advancement as a nation. It doesn’t matter what the growth actually represents—weapons manufacturing, trashy entertainment, energy-intensive cryptocurrency, junk food—as long as the United States’ production of goods and services continues to swell. 

But trying to achieve the highest GDP among nations is an interminable pissing contest. Beyond the point where our basic needs are covered—shelter, food, healthcare, education, services—the growth of an economy for growth’s sake isn’t beneficial, particularly when those who most need the goods and services don’t have the money to purchase them. 

Our relentless focus on GDP and American economic interests also has soured our relationships with other countries. We’ve helped overthrow many democratically elected leaders to advance businesses (or promote anti-communism), including Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran, Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala, Patrice Lumumba in the Republic of the Congo, and Salvador Allende in Chile. During the past two decades, we’ve killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghani civilians in our violent thirst for oil. And I surmise that driving the current swell of anti-Chinese sentiment is our jealousy of their economic growth—the Chinese will soon supplant the U.S. in having the largest economy in the world, and Americans are livid. 

These represent only a fraction of the atrocities (and missed opportunities for international collaboration) committed in the name of “American interests.” This is the grisly reality behind our economic dominance: we’re publicly focused on the wrong metrics of success. 

Within our borders, people fare very poorly compared to other developed nations. We have soaring rates of homelessness, drug overdoses, child poverty, debt, and maternal mortality. Most of our elected leaders on both sides of the aisle are beholden to wealthy companies and individuals.

This is a system driven by ruthless greed and one-upmanship. There’s no trust in fellow citizens or in our institutions, only a nagging fear that most of us are one medical emergency away from personal bankruptcy. 

These feelings of financial anxiety also feed our misogyny, racism, and xenophobia. The most powerful and wealthy people within this country benefit from our infighting: when the republicans channel their rage at immigrants or the democrats channel their rage at straight white men, there’s less energy left over to organize labor movements, break up monopolies, close tax loopholes that favor the wealthy, hold our leaders accountable, or focus on the threat of global warming.

The future of all nations is too interconnected to engage in this petty global competition. The ruthless, zero-sum mindset is medieval: with the world’s collective technological progress, we have a unique opportunity to improve the lives of a broader swath of folks without further polluting our planet. 

But this coordination will take a complete overhaul of the capitalist me-first, scarcity-fearing mentality: it will require true generosity on the part of individuals, companies, and nations. 

It may be convenient to capture a country’s well-being in a single figure like the GDP, but it’s inaccurate. So let’s consider a better gauge of human progress for the contemporary world. 

A more adequate measure would consider:

  • The lifespan and standard of living of the people 
  • Access to high-quality, affordable education
  • Universal housing and healthcare
  • The health of the ecosystem and stewardship of the land
  • The vibrancy of communities
  • Adoption of renewable energy 
  • Our ability to be generous (e.g., helping struggling countries with their basic sanitation and infrastructure) 

These areas are harder to measure than the GDP, but focusing on what really matters is an important first step to digging out the selfish rot at the heart of our culture. 

Many point to Bhutan’s gross national happiness as an alternative. It gauges its country’s well-being in nine domains

1. Psychological well-being

2. Material well-being/standard of living

3. Good governance

4. Health

5. Education

6. Community vitality

7. Cultural diversity and resilience

8. Balanced time use

9. Ecological diversity

Measuring each of these and capturing them into one GDH figure are challenges, but they reflect nobler goals than the GDP.

Other GDP alternatives exist: 

  • The relatively simple human development index measures the capabilities and potential of people, focusing on longevity, education, and income. 
  • The sustainable development index considers a human development score (i.e., life expectancy, education, and income) and divides it by their ecological overshoot (i.e., “the extent to which consumption-based CO2 emissions and material footprint exceed fair shares of planetary boundaries”).
  • Finally, the New Zealand living standards framework has three broad measures: individual and collective well-being, the functioning of institutions and government, and the “wealth” of the country (including human capability and environmental considerations). 

As long as the United States—one of the most aggressive polluters in the world—does not teach its students or citizens about GDP alternatives, we’ll continue to strive toward the wrong goals. 

Reaching for international economic dominance is wasteful, cruel, antiquated, and childish. The bottom line is this: being a generous, environmentally conscious person or country is more difficult to measure or implement, but it’s the right thing to do for posterity. 

“Shit the Fuck Yeah!” Welcome to Oregon Country Fair

Paddling a canoe through a flooded forest path, you come upon a half-submerged dragon sculpture. Its wooded scales crawl the length of a school bus through the lush vines and moss. Winter has quietly reclaimed Dragon Plaza, but the structures vibrate with the phantom joys of my favorite annual festival. Welcome to Oregon Country Fair in the off-season.

There’s no easy way to describe this 54-year-old event to the uninitiated. Sure, it’s a multiday festival of music, vaudeville, parades, art, and costumes—a midsummer celebration of tens of thousands of Pacific Northwest hippies (among others) set in a forest in Veneta, Oregon. 

But to the elders, crews, camps, and Fair Families (by choice and by blood), OCF is a cherished ritual, a holiday, a reunion, an annual shaking of the dust off of one’s soul. Some folks rarely see their campmates or crew members outside of these hallowed grounds but come together year after year to set the pieces in motion.

Yes, Yes, Yes!

Oregon Country Fair feels more like a living organism than a festival, both in how it’s run and its centrality in the lives of many. An all-volunteer community of various crews ensures the land is free from winter debris, the signage is clear, the proper wristbands are distributed, the Honey Buckets are tended, the Ritz Sauna & Showers are ready to receive dusty Fairgoers, the stages have passed their soundchecks, the sculptures and other art installations are erected, the artisan and vendor booths are arranged, the event security is gentle (yet authoritative), and world-class medical professionals are on-hand 24/7 at the White Bird Medical Clinic.

At the event in July 2022, two miracles tested just how well the beautiful, diffuse all-volunteer chaos at Oregon Country Fair actually works. 

On the Thursday night preceding the three-day festival, we were watching our friends perform on the Ritz Sauna & Showers stage. The Ritz is one of the most unique experiences at Fair. There are few opportunities in prudish America to gallivant around naked with fellow humans underneath gorgeous Haida-style carvings and the stars, listening to live music, where performers are often nude, too. 

Jon had just finished a stint in the sauna when he had an intense urge to lie down. He knew it would be inappropriate to pass out among the multi-tiered, chanting, and swaying masses, so he exited the sauna and attempted to make it to the bench where I was seated with a friend enjoying the concert.

Suddenly, we heard a loud crack, and someone screamed, “He’s down!” The music stopped, and there was a lifeless body on the ground behind me. Our friend Jody shouted, “It’s Jon!” I rushed to his side, and there began the longest 20 seconds of my life. He was completely unconscious, bleeding profusely from a deep wound gushing blood above his left eye where his head had hit the bench. I thought he was dead. People regularly slip in the shower and lose their lives. I felt panicked and nauseous from all of the blood.

Naked Fairgoers stood around us when one man (Dr. Jeff) rushed over and began administering triage. 

Jon’s eyelids began to flutter, and he awoke to Dr. Jeff holding a towel against the gash, me, and our friend Jody holding his hand. The Ritz immediately contacted the nearby White Bird Clinic. Within minutes, they had a team of medical professionals there to help transport him to the on-site clinic for evaluation.

When he was ready, Jon stood up with our assistance and was able to walk with the team. Dr. Andy, normally an ER doctor, was wearing a pink tutu, and another medical professional named Sarah accompanied us into a decent-looking surgical room. The team got to work quickly, giving Jon a complex, multilayered web of stitches that made him look nearly normal.

Since the gash was down to his cranium, I thought for sure we’d have to take an ambulance and our Fair would be over, but this all-volunteer team masterfully sewed up his face and gave us instructions for the subsequent days and weeks. Jon’s eye was swollen shut the following morning and black as a starless sky, but he could still work his security shift the next day and all days afterward. He was even in good spirits.

What was remarkable about this experience was not only the technical skill of the Fair Family volunteers but their attitudes: they expressed that they loved offering their professional gifts for free in this environment, removed from the normal hassles of billing and administration. They could practice the purest form of medicine absent these real-world constraints—they were there to take care of people. 

And as a result, we received exceptional medical care in the middle of the forest at no cost. In a way, there was no better place Jon could have cracked his head open. Miracle number one.

The Iconic Chromatic Cat (2022)

The following day, I’d barely caught my breath from the night’s excitement, when another disaster struck: I bought cookies for some stilt-walking Fairgoers and dropped my wallet in the swirling dreamlike chaos of “The 8”—the infinity path along which Fair takes place. 

I had $250 in cash, all of my cards, and ID—a real issue since I was leaving for Alaska the following week. I took a breath and decided not to let this misfortune ruin my Fair. Instead, I spent the next 36 hours wandering the 8, running into friends, letting my ears and eyes be drawn to parades and performances, spontaneous and scheduled. 

Although Fair attracts tens of thousands of people, I remained confident that the grounds transport folks into another world where our better natures shine. In this realm beyond the mundane realities of the stock market and Twitter and taxes and wars, the loving essence of humanity reigns supreme. I treated this incident as if I’d lost my wallet in my own house. I had no doubt that it would eventually be returned to the Odyssey, the central lost-and-found station at the heart of the 8. 

After a couple of days, my faith in the goodness of Fairgoers paid off: my wallet did turn up at the Odyssey, all of my cash and cards intact. Our second Fair miracle!  

When I first camped at Fair in 2018, it was clear that the first weeks of every subsequent July would be dedicated to this annual event. There’s nowhere I’d rather be that time of year, probably for the rest of my life. 

The joy of Fair is that for a few days, the masks come off, and a primordial joy erupts. This lush forest full of unique villages taps into parts of myself that are otherwise dormant. Xavanadu and Chela Mela vibrate with colorful art installations and themed parades. Energy Park educates us about renewable resources and the importance of conservation. The Ritz Sauna & Showers taps into our awareness that without our clothes, we’re all just animals of the same species, enjoying the pleasure of bathing after long dusty days wandering the 8. 

Fairgoing Flaneurs (2022)

The labyrinthine paths connecting camps each carry their own magic. The spontaneity of connections, meeting eyes with strangers, lighting their smiles with my own, and knowing that we’re all in this moment together. I have the desire to be everywhere across the grounds all at once. The Fair spirit embodies free expression, creativity, acceptance, and love, but these words ring hollow next to the magic of walking the grounds in the thrumming hive of joyful performance. Sorrows feel drowned in an ocean of music, art, and elaborate costumes. The absence of rigid social constraints makes folks blossom, and the heaviness of worries is lifted. The ability to live in the present moment is restored, and overall, the magic of Fair is its humanity.

For me, these elements drastically outweigh many of Fair’s challenges: the messy logistics, generational politics, the ethical considerations of hosting the event on native Kalapuya lands, scattered accusations of colonialism and cultural appropriation, the overindulgence in drugs (mainly psychedelics), and the aggressive mosquitoes. 

In reflection, OCF amplifies the core spirit that made Jon and I want to move to Eugene: the vibrant colors, experimental style, kindness, environmentalism, the low barrier to participation, the humble artists producing world-class work, the roughness around the edges like a beloved hardback book, the witchy and pagan vibe, and the radically inclusive community of the Pacific rainforest. 

Our first Fair, embracing the whimsy (2018)

I lost my wallet in a crowd of thousands, and my partner got 7 stitches above his left eye—and it was still one of the best weeks of our lives. In the immortal exultation of one of my Fair friends: “Shit the fuck yeah!”

My Favorite Porn Star is a Philanthropist

What is it about erotic film actor Tyler Nixon that keeps me coming (back)? 

I’ve watched a good amount of porn in my life for a straight-ish woman. In high school, I was the “cool girl” who watched spit roasting, DP, and various fetish videos on a big screen with a group of dudes. At Berkeley, I was an unofficial member of the fraternity Zete. I knew the door code and would spend tons of time with the men, watching everything that young men watch.  

In those days, I didn’t think too hard about what was on the screen. Most porn performances seemed contrived, and I quickly realized that the bulk of the sexual positions and scenarios were far removed from my own fantasies. Why did the women melt into ecstasy when the men ejaculated into their faces? The unhappily acquainted know that a hot load to the eye is worse than lemon juice! What was available in the pre-internet days, of course, was mainly geared to a straight male audience—and is partially to blame for why so many men are terrible at sex. 

But it wasn’t just the erotic film selection that almost exclusively catered to men: sex education classes in the 1990s were downright patriarchal and puritan, centering on men seeking pleasure and women seeking to preserve their virtue. In other words, when it came to sexuality, men were taught that their urges were natural but should be controlled; women were taught to fear men’s urges and feel shame if they succumbed. We never learned that it’s natural to experience lust or what the clitoris was, let alone the idea that sex could be safe and fun for all involved. 

From my young perspective, if I chose to have sex, I was giving something up—my male peers were gaining something. With all of this misogynist dishonesty about the role sexuality can play in a person’s life, no wonder it takes American women so much longer to achieve climax. And in that department, most porn does not help me because it was not filmed with my desires in mind.

In my 20s, I started with Porn Hub, and eventually graduated to Bellesa, which is female-owned and caters more to the woman’s perspective. There are fewer degrading, violent, and downright absurd relations, and a better selection of categories. 

That’s where I discovered the awe-inspiring work of Tyler Nixon. The first thing I noticed about him was the way he carried himself. He’s light-hearted, full of good vibes, and genuinely interested in his partner’s pleasure. He feels approachable, sexy, and charming. Too many male porn stars come across as selfish, creepy, and dedicated to conquest—these are men whose eye contact I would judiciously avoid in a bar.

Tyler Nixon is not that guy. It helps that he’s blessed with classic So Cal good looks: tan skin, brown eyes, and a face that would turn heads on the street. He has a large tattoo of a cross on his left abdomen, just above his hip. I’m not religious—and apparently, neither is he—but something about that sacrilege really floods my garage.

Tyler Nixon is dreaming up creative ways to please women

Tyler looks like someone I’d swipe right on, someone I’d love to pick up on an exotic vacation. He’s charismatic, not predatory; confident without being entitled or domineering; sensitive without being needy; hard-bodied without seeming like a gym addict. 

Most of the Tyler Nixon films I’ve seen open with a long, lovely cunnilingus scene—and he knows what he’s doing. He generally uses his tongue to pay homage to the goddess Clitoris, one hand to stimulate the partner’s G-spot (palm up, fingers beckoning in that come hither motion), and his other hand to playfully pinch a nipple or stroke other parts of his partner’s body. There are undoubtedly scores of male disciples who have learned how to go down on women from Tyler’s talents. For this, he’s a national treasure.

Most films move to a blow job scene that is generally shorter in duration than his voracious oral congress with the puss. While he seems grateful when a woman takes him into her mouth, he always looks totally stoked to get to the lovemaking! And I’m usually twice satisfied before I even get to the engulfment of his generous cock. 

This is important because it’s rare for me to lose myself in the polished pantomime of porn. I’ll start thinking about how some young girl didn’t do very well in school when she’s getting drilled by a sweaty mess of a toad-man. I’ll wonder if she gets paid extra to engage in increasingly humiliating scenarios or what she likes to do in her free time. I’ll muse on what her dreams are, and hope that she’s able to achieve them. By then, I’ve totally lost my libido.

Perhaps I’m able to get sucked into a Tyler Nixon fantasy because I’ve never seen a video where he does a degrading gang-bang or a facial—those films might be out there, but it also feels against his surfer-boy-next-door brand. 

He’s an erotic actor who actually caters to heterosexual female desires, centering his partner’s pleasure and the woman’s gaze. His kink is rather innocent, actually—threesomes, orgies, and some playful, consensual choking seem to be where his public repertoire finds its boundary. 

Another striking thing about Tyler Nixon is that he’ll typically interrupt intercourse with yet another generous bout of oral sex for his partner! I hardly make it to the end of his videos, shutting my laptop after the third or fourth orgasm—yes, that’s one nice thing about being a woman—but the endings I have seen are all very sweet. There’s cuddling and some light conversation. Call me old-fashioned, but this is how sex should end. It feels non-exploitative and pleasurable for all involved. 

Erotic stars like Tyler have the power to improve all of our sex lives. Consuming too much porn that puts women in degrading or violent positions does society a disservice. I don’t want to be thinking about how a young woman can turn her life around when she’s sucking off a circle of 7 football players. No kink-shaming if that’s your thing, but I’d rather bask in a woman’s post-coital glow. Tyler Nixon’s partner got hers—and good for her. 

In sum, the dudes are gonna get off anyway, so we may as well devote a greater share of sexual media to helping women get over the finish line. At least for hetero porn, films that center women’s gaze can undo the harm of our sexual miseducation. I’ll take this point even further: if more straight men were turned on by women’s pleasure rather than feminine reluctance—were made randy by the prospect of mutual benefit rather than conquest—we’d have a healthier, more egalitarian society. 

Tyler Nixon, thank you for your service.

Teflon Don & American Impunity

“Teflon Don” describes our ex-president perfectly: he’s artificial, toxic to our system, and despite the best efforts of our prosecutors, incredibly slippery to convict. 

Why has Donald Trump been able to avoid serious legal trouble for decades? His lies and crimes seem palm-to-forehead obvious to most Americans: 

  • The self-described pussy-grabber has been accused of sexual assault by two dozen women. 
  • He publicly asked Russia to hack Hillary’s computer in July 2016, soliciting the help of a foreign government to win an election
  • He’s screwed over countless contractors in his business dealings.
  • He defrauded his own charity.
  • He asked Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes”—one of many targeted attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
  • He inflated the value of the Trump Organization’s assets to secure a loan, and deflated it when calculating his tax liability.
  • He incited an insurrection against the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 based on his Big Lie.
  • He stole top secret documents from the White House, including intelligence secrets and nuclear information, which he refused several times to return.

And many, many more.

Before Trump became a politician, he was relatively shielded from legal consequences by his wealth, which could buy the most ruthless lawyers. Now, it’s even harder to pin down Teflon Don for another reason: indicting a former president would hurt our national pride.

When Richard Nixon was forced to resign for the adorable crime of orchestrating a break-in on the DNC Headquarters, he was pardoned immediately. It was unconscionable for the most powerful man in our country to face legal repercussions. Also, American presidents are generally reluctant or unwilling to admit errors. (President Obama was an exception, and he was excoriated by right-wingers for “humiliating a superpower” with his apologies.) 

It’s assumed that taking basic accountability will make the United States appear weak or unstable in the eyes of the world. In other words, we are crippled by our own arrogance and self-righteousness. Similarly, has Trump ever sincerely apologized for anything

In this vein, there’s a less-discussed undercurrent of fear in prosecuting Trump. Bringing this former president to justice would expose the darkest parts of our national consciousness. He embodies the worst of the American character: unfettered greed, entitlement, dishonesty masked with a smile, toxic ambition, aggression, racism, hubris. If we arrest him, it would be an indictment of our country’s ugliest tendencies and dealings with the world. 

Here’s the thing:

  • Like Trump’s ruthless attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, the United States has helped overthrow democratically elected leaders in Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Brazil (1964), Chile (1973), Venezuela (2002), Haiti (2004), Egypt (2013), and others to consolidate its own power and interests.
  • Like Trump and his father’s racist refusal to rent their properties to Black tenants in the 1960s and beyond, the United States has a long history of segregation and redlining baked into its land usage.
  • Like Trump’s repeated insistence that “executive privilege” shields him from any legal consequences, the United States assumes that its “exceptionalism” allows it to get away with actions other countries can’t.

Are we strong enough to turn that scrutiny inward? To admit that winning at all costs isn’t a healthy inclination? To acknowledge that like Trump, the United States has screwed over a lot of people?

Trump’s bullshit has weakened our country (artist unknown, San Francisco, 2017)

There are varied reasons why some Americans are against indicting Trump. One argument is that not all crimes are prosecuted in the interest of “preserving domestic tranquility and institutional integrity.” Another states that prosecuting Trump would set a dangerous precedent, where the non-ruling party would target their opponents relentlessly in the White House. (I’d argue that this already happens.) Still others say prosecuting Trump will make him into a martyr and “there will be riots in the streets!”

These are all valid concerns but taken together, they don’t outweigh the importance of preserving our legal system’s integrity—letting a powerful person get away with so many obvious crimes sets a dangerous precedent.

Many of Trump’s own cronies have been indicted or imprisoned for acting on his behalf: Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, Elliott Broidy, George Papadopoulos, Steve Bannon, and Allen Weisselberg, not to mention the growing tally of Trump superfans who are now in prison for the January 6 Insurrection. 

Is it just a coincidence that Trump pals around with so many accused and convicted criminals?

The United States needs to swallow its pride and do what’s right: bringing a powerful criminal to justice takes more strength than cowing to threats of violence and division. The rest of the world is watching, and they will cheer in the streets when Trump faces the consequences of his crimes. 

Let’s show them that we’ve grown and matured, that we are worthy of being the international stewards and role models we have always imagined ourselves to be.

The World’s Richest Man Has the World’s Dumbest Concern

The Covid-19 pandemic, 1,000-year floods and droughts, widespread homelessness and poverty, mass shootings, the erosion of democracy. 

You’d think that the world’s richest man might take aim at one of humanity’s real problems. With so many resources at his disposal and Tesla’s commitment to transforming our energy storage and use, I was shocked that Elon Musk’s top concern is so trifling.

So what is his number-one worry? What issue keeps this wealthy entrepreneur tossing and turning in bed at night?

Population collapse. That’s right: population collapse.


Musk tweeted in August that population collapse is a “much bigger risk to civilization than global warming.” It certainly helps explain why he’s fathered 10 children with 3 different women—a fact he’s cheekily pointed out on social media. But for a guy who presumably reads reports and analyzes data, his baffling obsession with birthrates is out of touch with the numbers. 

Baby Blore, 1985: “Population collapse is not a serious concern for the future of civilization.”

In July 2022, the UN stated that the global population is expected to swell to 8.5 billion in the 2030s and 10.4 billion in the 2080s. This hardly seems like an imminent crisis, especially when “experts” were concerned about overpopulation and the depletion of the world’s resources a few decades ago. 

Paul R. Ehrlich, a biologist from Stanford University, published a book called The Population Bomb in the late 60s that stoked fears of having too many people across the planet. Even recently, Ehrlich told Retro Report that allowing women to have many babies is like letting everyone “throw as much of their garbage in their neighbor’s backyard as they [want].” 

So which is it: is humanity on the brink of collapse because we have too many people or too few people? I suspect that the world’s population growth isn’t actually the problem. Perhaps the real crisis is powerful men’s desire to scrutinize and control women’s reproduction.

In every era, male leaders present strong opinions about whether too many or too few babies are born. Regardless of the actual birthrate, it’s treated as a cataclysm.

From 1980 to 2016, China’s sexist one-child policy was implemented to control the country’s population growth. During the same period, American conservatives decried falling birthrates and made outlawing abortion their top issue. 

We all share the same world: why would there be such diametrically opposed opinions and policies about birthrates? 

What’s implicit in Musk’s concern is that the “right types” of babies are not being born. The birthrate is declining in many industrialized nations, even as the world’s population is continuing to grow overall. 

In fact, the UN anticipates that roughly half of the global population growth up to 2050 will be concentrated in just eight countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, and the United Republic of Tanzania.

 If the declining birthrate in the US were really the issue, surely Musk and American conservatives would welcome families from south of the border. Musk himself—in contradiction with his own population collapse concerns—has bemoaned the lack of media attention about the increased immigration into Eagle Pass, TX from our southern neighbors. 

Wealthier countries should expand their efforts to help struggling countries with their basic infrastructure, sanitation, healthcare, and education, allowing children everywhere to thrive. Those are real issues. Also, Europe, Japan, and the US can increase their immigration caps and have no need to fret about smaller tax bases supporting aging populations. 

There are plenty of births occurring worldwide, but US conservatives see things differently. White nationalist and former congressman Steve King tweeted in March 2017, “We can’t restore our civilization with someone else’s babies.” This echoes the racism at the heart of Musk’s concern: will the world’s richest man be able to overcome his fear of a decline in the “right types” of babies? 

Blore, 1988: “Have kids if you want them, but don’t be pressured either way by men’s sensationalist claims of overpopulation or a population collapse.”

Learning How to Walk Again

Imagine waking up tomorrow morning, stretching your legs against your sheets, and feeling a sharp pain deep in the ball of your right foot. You sit up in a slight panic and find yourself unable to stand. Your second toe looks twice its normal size and the bottom of your foot is hot with blood. You hop on your good foot to the bathroom and look at yourself in the mirror. 

Who would you rely on to do your shopping and cook your meals?

What summer trips would you have to cancel?

Would you be able to go to work?

What parts of your life would be on hold until you could walk again?

This happened to me nearly six weeks ago—and I’m still not better. In fact, I’m writing this from bed, my right foot elevated, where I’ve done most of my work since early May. I’ve missed most of my favorite late-spring weather in Oregon. Normally, I’d be hiking every day, watching the wildflowers transition from trilliums to orchids to bright red columbine. 

Some might welcome a couple of months of books, TV, and bed rest, but this period has been devastating for me.

Hiking is my life, my mental health outlet. I was sure-footed, quick, and able to walk without stopping, even on the most rigorous hikes. Last year in Glacier National Park, I hiked 53 challenging miles over three solo days and was barely sore. On a backpacking trip through the Enchantments, a doctor friend said that I was the most physically fit person—man or woman—that he’d ever seen. 

Glacier National Park, August 2021






Until now…

Folks ask what happened when they see me limping or wearing a surgical boot. What started as a mild pain in the ball of my foot bloomed into a debilitating, slow-healing injury. 

I have capsulitis—the inflammation of the ligaments beneath my second toe. Even after weeks of icing, elevation, metatarsal pads, expensive orthotics, doctor appointments, prescription-strength anti-inflammatory drugs, meditation, and canceling plans, I still don’t know when I’ll be able to walk again. 

For several weeks, I was depressed and crying, helpless to do anything for my unruly ligaments. I felt cheated and robbed. How could this happen when I’m such a healthy, active person who never wears high heels?

I have a theory, although it’s tough to confirm. My favorite pair of boots—tan Riekers with red laces—are the likely culprit. For years, I bought the same ones over and over, walking five miles or more in them daily.

Two friends of mine bought the same boots. They shared recently that they don’t provide the best support and often hurt their feet after a while. I’d worn them non-stop, never suffering in the moment, but I suspect that my ligaments steadily strained from the lack of cushioning and pressure on the ball of my foot over many miles walked. 

It all snuck up on me. I would have preferred to take this hiatus during the winter months, but we can’t choose when injuries present themselves. In my 20s, I’d even been proud of completing long hikes in ballet flats, traveling through Southeast Asia in flip flops, or traversing 212 kilometers through the Himalayas in cheap sneakers. 

I now regret every step I’ve taken in non-supportive footwear, probably tens of thousands of steps at this point. Being in peak physical shape, I’d assumed I was invincible—and now I begin again.

It’s been easy for me to feel sorry for myself as the sun shines and I’m stuck inside. I am grateful that I’m not a doctor, a server, a teacher, or any other profession that would require me to be on my feet. Working from my bed is a privilege. 

This is also a life stage where I have the financial means to buy six new pairs of shoes, fancy orthotics, and pay the podiatrist $250 to tell me what I already knew from WebMD. If this hit me while I was traveling the world solo on a shoestring budget, I would have had to move back home to recover. 

I have to resist the temptation to assume I will never heal—that life will just be like this moving forward. Those self-destructive thoughts remind me of the hopelessness many of us felt in the middle of 2020 when we weren’t sure how our lives would resume. The Covid-19 total shutdown didn’t last forever—and neither will this injury. 

I get to choose what to take from this difficult experience. Most importantly, I will feel much more empathy for those with mobility issues. Walking is such an integral part of life that most of us take it for granted. Slow walkers used to frustrate me as if they were wasting my time. I see now how selfish my point of view was. 

I’m also hoping that this experience helps me maintain proper perspective with future life challenges, both my own and for those closest to me. I have to be patient and compassionate with myself and others. Anger, irritability, restlessness, self-pity, and distress aren’t the path. 

If you have a moment, please send a healing thought for my busted stomper and be kind to someone today. You never know what they’re going through and how much small affections matter.

America’s New Political Parties: The Martyrs vs. The Denialists

In this divided era, I’ve noticed two general camps among my fellow Americans. These groups aren’t simply “conservatives” and “progressives”—these categories actually transcend political affiliation, counting members of both the Left and the Right in their ranks. The difference I’ve observed is related to how people are processing this era of uncertainty, turbulence, anger, and violence.

American turmoil and chaos (JMW Turner, The Snow Storm)

First, some people feel intensely aggrieved about marginalization, a group I’m calling the Martyrs. These folks may feel persecuted by the “mainstream media” and don’t feel adequately protected in an era of social change. They may fear the dissolution of the traditional family, the persecution of men at the hands of the #MeToo Movement, or the declining influence of white Christians. 

Alternatively, Martyrs may feel outraged by pervasive racism, sexism, and homophobia, seeing everything through the lens of various oppressed groups. Demographic characteristics and identity are always at the top of mind for these folks, regardless their political affiliation.   

 The second group comprises those who want to move beyond divisions based on race, gender, sexuality, and culture. I’m calling them the Denialists. In this group, folks may claim to not see race, gender, or sexuality. They may contend that “Generation Wuss” has hijacked the narrative and the persecution Olympics are futile. They may be disgusted by the constant self-victimization of individuals based on immutable attributes and bemoan the chipping away of First Amendment rights by the PC enforcers.

On the other hand, people in this camp may have grown weary of the constant categorization, division, and outrage. They may want to turn down the heat of the social justice rhetoric and authoritarian tendencies on both sides of the political aisle. And ideally, in “denying” differences between individuals, they may be seeking unity and mutual respect among various groups.

It’s wild how Americans with radically different political positions may end up in the same camp. 

The Martyrs see difference and persecution everywhere. Their political beliefs guide the categories they consider to be most oppressed. On the Left, these groups may include BLM activists, feminists, and queer progressives. On the Right, these groups may include MAGA enthusiasts, gun-loving crusaders, and anti-choice religious zealots.

The Denialists, by contrast, do not see difference and persecution everywhere. They may be blind to historical inequalities and bigoted, or they simply may have grown frustrated with the constant maelstrom of demographic dissection and identity politics. They may consider themselves beyond the separation between individuals in a philosophical sense. These folks range from wealthy business owners who find politics bad for business to libertarians to pagan spiritualists who see the unity of all people and things.

I find myself wavering between these two camps. I recognize that the Martyr position is exhausting, divisive, and unsustainable. I’ve also observed that the most rabid supporters of various causes often don’t even belong to the oppressed group in question. For example, why did predominantly white Portland, Oregon become ground zero for the BLM Movement? Or why are so many anti-choice legislators men who will never be forced into pregnancy?

The Denialist position, on the other hand, is ripe for abuse. By choosing to deemphasize the differences among people, folks might forget to consider personal, social, and institutional biases. There is a history of injustice against women, People of Color, those with disabilities, and LGBTQIA+ folks baked into every aspect of our lives. That does not go away when we don’t talk about it.

Can these deep-rooted problems be best addressed by Martyrs screaming about them or by Denialists ignoring them? The answer, for me at least, lies in the middle of these present extremes. 

Jesus Doesn’t Like Your AR-15

When an American myth fed to our kids collapses, what sound does it make? 

Is it the wail of an immigrant child, separated from her parents in a detention center? Is it the explosion of a U.S. drone strike on an Afghani wedding party? Is it George Floyd’s last breath with a cop’s knee on his neck? Is it the mechanical hum of minimum-wage workers packing goods into Amazon boxes? Is it the gurgled pour of white wine into an exhausted mother’s coffee cup? Is it the roar of a hurricane made invincible by global warming? Is it an exasperated chant behind a sign reading “My Body, My Choice”? Is it a gunshot ripping through a supermarket, movie theater, or classroom full of children?

Oaxaca City, Artist Unknown (2020)

I’ve slowly shed my childish delusions about what it means to be an American.

We aren’t the world’s greatest country. We’re constrained by the greed of our corporate and government leaders.

We aren’t the most free country. We’re plagued with a bloated prison system, virulent racism, and a perverse love of guns.

We don’t have a fair, meritocratic society. Wealth inequality, stagnant wages, and other factors have made upward mobility much harder than it used to be. 

We aren’t governed by democracy for the people. We live in an oligarchy, where most of our leaders are handpicked by the wealthiest among us.

We aren’t a land of religious freedom. Non-Christians are treated with suspicion and presidential candidates compete to see who has the biggest Bible. 

The patriotism of my public school education now strikes me as manipulative. The best way to produce U.S. workers, soldiers, and parents is to get little girls and boys super pumped about being born here. I was a proud member of the “America, Fuck Yeah” contingent until I realized how American Power considers me: to our government and economy, I am a simple tool to bring glory, competitiveness, and (ideally) babies to our miserable country.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t hate America. In fact, with all of the collapsed myths of my early education, I’m reminded of James Baldwin’s words: “I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

 I just want our country and culture to evolve with integrity, liberty, peace, reason, acceptance of differences, and love. I’m not a Christian, but Jesus Christ would agree with me on this. 

WWJD? He would support the love and marriage of LGBTQ+ folks. He would advocate for women’s bodily autonomy. He would welcome immigrant children rather than putting them in border cages. He would want affordable housing, education, and healthcare. He would champion a wider distribution of wealth and tax policies that don’t favor the obscenely rich. He would want to protect the environment. He would condemn American drone strikes. And he damn sure wouldn’t have a hard-on for AR-15s. 

I wish he were here to steer some of his followers back in the right direction. His name is being invoked to prop up many American myths that perpetuate hate, oppression, and violence. And until our culture outgrows its arrogance, intolerance, and anti-science stupidity, we’ll continue to have the leaders we deserve: folks who do nothing when a classroom full of children is massacred.

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