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. 

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.

Huh

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

Just 

Never 

Needed 

To 

Stop

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.

How I’m Going to Die (If I’m Lucky)

With every passing year, my mortality creeps steadily more into my thoughts. 

A throbbing ache in one leg—a blood clot? 

Cramping in my intestines—stomach cancer?

A rush of pain to my temples—an aneurysm? 

These discomforts eventually pass and my morbid imagination abates until the next ailment starts the cycle anew.

At 37, I don’t know how I’m going to die. But if I’m lucky, someday, I want to end my own life. 

Don’t get me wrong: I’m far from suicidal. I’m healthy and active. I’m grateful to have an abundance of friends and a wonderful family. I just believe that euthanasia is a human right. I find peace in the idea that I can someday choose to end my life when the suffering becomes too great with no prospect of improvement.

Brittany Diaz (formerly Maynard) was a friend of mine at Berkeley. After being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, she became an internationally famous activist for the Death With Dignity Movement. She had moved with her husband to Oregon—one of nine states with legalized (and highly regulated) euthanasia. She had recently gotten married and earned a graduate degree, but the disease gave her debilitating pain and seizures. She tried surgery and other medical interventions to no avail. Shortly before her 30th birthday, on November 1, 2014, she ended her own life surrounded by those she loved. 

Brittany (second from right) in 2009, San Francisco

Brittany’s decision to use her tragic diagnosis to educate the world took immense courage, strength, and love. Under the same circumstances, many would despair or withdraw. In her last message to me on October 8, she wrote, “DWD is a healthcare right for the terminally ill that warrants education, advocacy, and discussion.“ I fully agree.

Brittany educated the world about the Death with Dignity Movement (October 2014, The Week Magazine)

I don’t take my support for assisted suicide lightly. I know how it impacts loved ones firsthand. My grandfather killed himself when I was in college. It was a shock because he was relatively healthy and had recently lost a lot of weight. Like many folks left in death’s wake, I asked myself why I didn’t call, write, or visit more—as if there was something I could have done to change his mind. Although I felt undone in those years following his decision, I began to see his actions differently: he chose that day. It was the same day at the same age his father had died. He had been planning his death, and who was I to deny him that right?

I used to believe that taking one’s own life was a supremely selfish act, but is it? Why shouldn’t people of sound minds have control over when they make their Grand Exits? And why do we insist on dragging out people’s lives as long as possible? 

Doctors witness firsthand how excruciating (and expensive) lifesaving interventions can be. It’s not surprising that they are more likely than the general public to request DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) orders in their personal medical care. One’s quality of life can be severely compromised after aggressive end-of-life treatments. Like a majority of physicians, I would opt for a DNR. (That said, those who want to undergo any and all medical treatments should be free to do so. I’m 100 percent in support of bodily autonomy.)

There’s a beauty in choosing when and how to let go. Like abortion, when Death with Dignity is denied to people, suicide doesn’t go away—it just gets pushed into a lonelier, darker underground. Many Americans are surprised to learn, for example, that the leading cause of gun deaths in the U.S. isn’t homicide. It’s suicide

But what if those people had other options? What if they didn’t feel the need to end their lives in the shadows? What if they could speak with counselors and doctors about their feelings? And if they decided to go through with it, what if choosing death were treated differently? 

Dying is inevitable, and having as much control as possible over one’s death is a fundamental human right. I want to embrace death as Brittany did: with open eyes, grace, courage, and love. I want it to be a party. I want to be listening to Nina Simone, Bill Withers, and Allen Toussaint. I want a belly full of Thai food. Perhaps I’ll have someone to assist my transition—a death doula if I can find the right person. 

If it were up to me, my Grand Exit would be 100 years from now. Maybe it will be. My second choice would follow one of my favorite Irish toasts: “May you die warm in your bed at 95, shot by a jealous spouse.” A close third would be at age 107, falling into a volcano while taking a selfie for my mistress. 

Who knows how I’ll go, but I hope more people consider the importance of Death with Dignity. 

What Do Oprah, Leonardo da Vinci, and Jesus Christ Have in Common?

A few months before the pandemic, I published one of my most shared and controversial pieces titled “I’d Rather Be a Dad.” I explained why I was still on the fence about having kids after getting married at 34. After re-reading it, however, it’s pretty clear that I wasn’t fence-sitting at all. The truth is that I’m happily childfree.

What are the stereotypes associated with childfree women?

Becoming a mother—specifically an American mother—seems like an irrational proposition. Aliens might observe that U.S. women trade their bodies, time, money, and identities for a thankless job kept only mildly tolerable by mind-warping hormones. Keep in mind that this was before the Covid-19 pandemic, before the schools and daycares closed, before women (especially mothers) across the country started drinking more heavily than ever. 

Not only are there few institutional and legal support systems in place for U.S. parents compared to other developed countries, but mothers here simply don’t get the credit they deserve. They do most of the work and yet even half-involved dads are likely to receive greater praise and respect.

There’s even evidence that men benefit financially by becoming fathers while women are punished by becoming mothers. On average, men’s wages increased more than 6 percent if they had children, while women’s earnings decreased 4 percent for each child they had. Even more shockingly, childfree married women earned 96 cents for every dollar a man earns, while married mothers were paid 76 cents on the dollar. Women stretch and tear their organs for each new generation and are paid in macaroni portraits. 

Readers who are parents are shaking their heads, thinking, “Jocelyn, you just don’t get it! You can never understand what it feels like to experience pure joy until you have your own child.” 

That’s valid, but if parents are so enamored with rearing their young children, why is childcare typically outsourced by wealthy families? Why do the rich and powerful choose to spend relatively little time with their families? Are they too busy to engage in “the most important job in the world,” or do they simply want to do other things with their time?

Sure, there are some working folks who would prefer to spend more time with their babies, but I suspect that many others recognize how grueling parenting can be. Like cleaning one’s house or doing one’s taxes, those who have the money are inclined to hire a professional to help carry the load. 

When I was 16, I was a full-time nanny for a summer, working for an MTV executive. She was amazing, but her toddler daughter and the two other little ones were all-consuming. Taking care of young kids all day was both challenging and extremely boring, watching fat fingers sort shapes and reading the same books. Observing an entire bookshelf get emptied and putting it back together over and over. The constant stickiness. There were baffling breaches in conduct that even the most cherubic faces couldn’t exculpate. The only children whose company I actually enjoy are the most adult-like ones: those who are mature and intelligent.

Most parents, of course, would insist that their children are much smarter and better behaved than other people’s kids. This mass delusion is propped up by brains drugged by parenting that keep (most) people from murdering the little shits while they sleep.

I’m self-conscious even writing about this because as a woman, I feel social pressure to both have and like children. My partner—a man—is actually much better with kids than I am. He relishes in playing make-believe games and being silly (even if he’s never changed a diaper). 

Being real about my maternal ambivalence makes me uneasy because becoming a mother is presented as part of a complete life. My dear friend (who is also childfree) shared this cringe-worthy quote a therapist posted to social media:  “The value of marriage is not that adults produce children but that children produce adults.” 

I understand the spirit of this sentiment—that parents (in theory) must outgrow childish tendencies to raise kids successfully—but it is irritating on many levels:

  • What about childfree marriages? Are those folks not fully realized adults because they didn’t breed? 
  • Is producing children the only function of (or value in) a marriage?
  • What about parents who aren’t married? Are they not adults because they didn’t register as a couple with the state?
  • And what about shitty parents, who regardless of getting married and having children, continue to be childish people?

I resent that having kids is assumed to be THE way that women fulfill their capacity for love. When I published “I’d Rather Be a Dad,” one of my friends commented: “I know you will do whatever is best for you and Jon, whether it is having kids or growing old together while traveling and sleeping in and doing whatever the fuck you want without anyone else to answer to.” 

The subtext is that childfree adults are selfish—just as Pope Francis recently said. We non-breeders just do “whatever the fuck [we] want without anyone else to answer to.” That also presupposes that the only people in our lives who require our love and attention are our unborn children—to say nothing of our aging parents, family, friends, or other people in need. 

The notion of non-breeders as “selfish” is what really chaps my hide. Perhaps for me, it’s personal. After all, I was an only child and some of the stereotypes ring true within me: I desire a lot of alone time and I like to have things my way. I also have problems sharing my food with my ravenous spouse. Even if being raised by a single mom schoolteacher was largely absent the coddling, I have to acknowledge that my only-child selfishness may be part of my non-maternal nature.

I would counter, however, that not having kids actually enables me to devote my love and time to a broader circle. The demands of early childrearing leave little time for parents to devote to anyone outside of their homes, whether it’s volunteer work or spending time with friends. If I need to call someone in an emergency, I’m not going to call one of my friends with kids who I assume is too busy with their families.

With a growing share of Americans choosing not to have kids, I’d like folks to reconsider their assumptions about being childfree: 

  • We aren’t being deprived of an essential life experience. 
  • We aren’t lesser adults or worse people because we didn’t procreate.
  • We aren’t selfish or unloving.
  • We aren’t jeopardizing the future of our species.

Humanity’s success actually depends on some people choosing to be childfree, especially in Western countries. Without us, the world’s resources would be more rapidly depleted and global warming would be worse than it is. One of the best things a person can do for the environment in a developed economy is to decide not to have children (or have fewer of them). This graphic from The Guardian shows how much CO2 can be saved annually by common solutions to the climate crisis:

The alarmist articles about declining birth rates in Western countries often ignore one simple solution: increase immigration. There are still plenty of babies being born all over the world—many of them into countries lacking economic opportunities. Those who complain that “native-born babies” are more desirable for population growth are being racist. If we’re so concerned about a lopsided age demographic or the collapse of Social Security, admit more young families into our country. Problem solved.

Overall, let everyone decide for themselves their reproductive futures and spare childfree folks the moralizing. For my part, I’ll continue to fight for increasing education budgets, as well as for better legal and institutional protections for parents. It is a tough job and deserves much better from a country as wealthy as ours. 

Just stop assuming that breeding makes a person better or complete. Betty White, Copernicus, Oprah, Louis Armstrong, Jane Austen, Francis Bacon, Simone de Beauvoir, Bob Barker, Coco Chanel, Leonardo da Vinci, Julia Child, Rene Descartes, Virginia Woolf, Benjamin Disraeli, Amelia Earhart, Francis Drake, Katherine Hepburn, Immanuel Kant, Mother Teresa, Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel), Grace Hopper, Nikola Tesla, Dolly Parton, Jesus Christ, and many, many other childfree folks serve as evidence to the contrary.

Five Silver Linings of Two Batshit Years

Two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, what seemed important in the Before Times has faded into a swirling tide of cancellations, closures, and numbing intoxication. The simple pleasures we took for granted—dining at a restaurant, seeing a movie, attending a concert—are now infused with the constant thrum of low-grade anxiety. We all await the end of this Great Pause on Life As We Knew It. (Except for Floridians and anti-maskers, of course, who never really accepted the gravity of our situation.)

Is this the explosive grand finale, or are there more deadly mutations around the corner? Will the novel coronavirus dissolve into endemicity like the flu, or will some regions require masks for decades? How will the threat of the disease linger in international relationships? And how will that fear be abused by corrupt or racist governments?

We’re drowning in a high tide of uncertainty and a lack of leadership. It’s a difficult time to be kind to strangers or extend ourselves beyond our own maintenance, as even our best tools, masking and vaccination, seem tenuous amidst the Omicron surge. 

Since early 2020, we’ve been bumbling through a dark cave without light. It’s been a supremely shitty era for everyone. Even the most stubborn optimists have thrown up their hands in surrender in the face of so much death, poverty, instability, injustice, and discord. 

As with all challenging times, however, there are some lessons, practices, and full cultural movements worth carrying into the future.

See those silver linings? (Yachats, Oregon in December 2021)

Here are my embers of optimism still burning through these fucked up years: 

1) American labor has reasserted its power. Customer service and factory jobs in particular, with their low wages and high risk of infection, are changing. Fewer people are tolerating the dodgy conditions, strikes have been widespread, and unions are finally confronting our country’s largest companies such as Amazon and Starbucks. 

Before now, labor has never been powerful within my lifetime—from the early 80s on, the deck was stacked heavily in favor of the wealthy, both within our government’s policies and our culture. There was only a negligible distrust of the country’s tycoons; the overwhelming majority of Americans idolized and envied the rich and powerful. This has changed, especially among young people in a trend that likely started around the Great Recession. 

Part of this movement is recognizing appalling American wealth inequality.  Mass economic need creates the conditions for political conflagrations. Folks on the left and the right can (and must) realize their real quarrel is not with each other, but rather with those at the top who have profited exorbitantly through the pandemic, those who have paid for their elected leaders to loosen regulations and enact tax cuts in their favor. Billionaires such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk paid 0.98 and 3.27 percent income tax rates between 2014 and 2018. Nobody cares how much they’re investing in the interest of their own tax deductions—when the wealthiest folks pay less taxes to our government than teachers or truck drivers, there’s something deeply wrong with our system.

If a broader swath of Americans had policies that helped them as handsomely as the billionaires, there would be less fuel for the squabbles between the left and right. The resurgent labor movement is evidence that Americans are waking up to economic inequality and realizing their own power.

2) We’re reconsidering the centrality of a job in our individual identities. One peculiar American habit is how important one’s career is in shaping our self-concept and place in society. One of our first questions in meeting new people is “What do you do?” In many other countries, this would be unusual as it’s assumed that there is more to a person than where they work. 

With folks questioning the importance of employment in their self-concepts, we’re outgrowing the old constraints of who we can be. People are much more than their job titles or educational attainment, especially since our economy simply isn’t set up for everyone to align their occupations with their dreams. 

3) We’re focusing our time and energy on our most valuable relationships and activities. Before the pandemic, It was easy to spread ourselves thin among mediocre acquaintances, pastimes, and expectations. Covid-19 has brought into focus the most significant parts of our lives.

I didn’t realize how much time I wasted maintaining dispensable branches of my existence. The Great Pause, with all of its associated risks and constant reminders of mortality, has helped me reevaluate what’s deserving of my precious time.

4) We’ve learned how much we rely on educators, healthcare workers, and caretakers. In the midst of a crisis, it’s not the overpaid stockbrokers or business consultants who matter—it’s the largely female workers whom our country underpays and takes for granted: teachers, home health aides, nurses, and others. The significance of these workers and how much we depend on them is now top of mind for many Americans. 

I’m hoping that these fields continue to assert their power through strikes, demonstrations, and salary negotiations. They deserve more respect and better pay. And by increasing the wages within these essential fields, they will be able to attract even more talent. I’d prefer to live in a country with the smartest people attracted to education and healthcare rather than banking.

5) The pandemic has sweetened what used to be considered mundane. I’ll never forget the first performance I attended in the middle of the pandemic: an October 2020 drag and burlesque show at a cocktail bar called Golden Era in Nevada City. In the presence of my friends and convivial strangers, my dopamine and serotonin receptors were firing on all cylinders. It was one of my most memorable evenings in a decade. The evening still sticks out like an erection in my life’s timeline after many months of solitude and restrictions. 

Since then, every maskless dinner we host at our house and every weekend trip with friends are imbued with more substance and magnitude than they used to be. 

There they are: my diamonds from our era’s mound of infected batshit. 

I’m weary. I’m baffled. I’m disgusted. I’m despondent. 

But I’m still optimistic. Time might render me a Pangloss, but it sure as hell beats moping around.

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