Feminism’s Quiet Liberation of American Men

Within my mother’s lifetime, women’s choices and rights have eclipsed my grandmother’s wildest dreams. It’s difficult for a Millennial like me to imagine asking my husband to co-sign for a credit card, being excluded from serving on a jury, being denied admission to most Ivy League schools, or getting fired for being pregnant. Sexism (like racism) still endures in our institutions and culture, but the progress we’ve made over the past century is remarkable.

While women’s liberation has been largely successful on the surface, “feminist” remains a controversial word. The term is still ignored, spit on, dragged through the mud, pilloried, and burned at the stake. Part of the problem is a zero-sum mentality that assumes women gain additional rights at the expense of men and traditional families. This inaccurate framework posits that:

  • Women are taking men’s jobs and educational opportunities.
  • Women aren’t acting or dressing as women should.
  • Women don’t want to take care of children or be nurturing.

Especially among older generations of men, the abrupt shift in women’s opportunities has been startling. It’s natural that they feel confused, threatened, or left behind because there has been less public discussion of how feminism benefits men specifically. 

Just as American women’s rights have expanded over the decades, there’s been a quieter, slower expansion of men’s choices and freedoms. The vision feels less realized than women’s recent advancements, perhaps because it has been more difficult to measure. We can compare unequal salaries or health insurance premiums—areas where men have enjoyed the upper hand—but explaining the intangible constraints of traditional masculinity has proved more challenging.

For example, compared to women, American men generally are expected to suppress their emotions. From an early age, they are trained to avoid crying or making themselves vulnerable. Many boys are not allowed to play with girls’ toys, wear dresses and makeup, or perform ballet. Some who break these rules are ridiculed or even sent to gay conversion therapy, which is still legal in roughly half of U.S. states.

These gendered restrictions stem from the American debasement of women and femininity. Misogyny is at the root of homophobia and transphobia. And if traits associated with women weren’t cheapened in our society, boys would feel more at liberty to express their emotions and engage in activities that appeal to them. The work of feminists is to foster a new respect for femininity and women in our culture and institutions, an objective that benefits everyone.

By J.J. Blore (2020)

Feminism isn’t about acting like men—it’s about throwing off the shackles and expectations assigned to everyone at birth. It allows for a wider range of thoughts and behaviors, regardless of one’s sex. It’s about celebrating both the feminine and the masculine, letting individuals embrace the traits that feel most natural. It’s also about rethinking our leadership, economic system, and institutions to pay thought to feminine characteristics (collaboration, compromise, nurturing, compassion) rather than embracing almost exclusively masculine values (competitiveness, aggression, overconfidence).

When I talk about femininity and masculinity, I’m talking about traits and behaviors typically associated with these categories—qualities that are not necessarily determined by one’s biological sex. Traditional parents tend to inculcate masculine traits in boys and feminine traits in girls by treating them differently. There are also biological differences in people such as hormone levels (testosterone and estrogen) which can foster traits associated with masculinity or femininity.

In general, here are some qualities associated with masculinity that have been overemphasized in American culture:

  • Dominance
  • Exploitation of others
  • Stoicism
  • Overconfidence
  • Aggression and violence
  • Individualism

And here are some qualities associated with femininity that have been degraded and understated in American culture:

  • Compassion 
  • Cultivation of others
  • Expressive communication
  • Compromise
  • Nurturing
  • Collectivism

Americans have been living out of balance since the founding of our country. There has always been an assumed superiority of the masculine over the feminine. It shapes our language, systems of production, military build-up, and international relations. To be called a “woman” is construed as an insult to half of the population. Our deeply rooted misogyny has stifled our growth and humanity by elevating the masculine at the expense of the feminine. 

Some of the evidence for this imbalance include our country’s expensive military build-up (masculine) while our leaders refuse to properly fund education, healthcare, or parental leave (feminine). We enter into international agreements with presumed superiority (masculine) rather than equal footing, shared goals, and empathy (feminine). Many workplaces reward those who overconfidently advocate for themselves (masculine) rather than those who work diligently behind the scenes (feminine). Our country’s policies have privileged the interests of capitalism (masculine) over the protection of our environment (feminine). Our economy pays vast sums to people who work in extractive and exploitative industries (masculine) and pays pauper’s wages to those who educate and nurture our people (feminine).

Our country would be healthier and our people more prosperous if we could achieve a balance between the masculine and the feminine. Individuals would feel freer to express traits that feel most comfortable to them rather than succumbing to pressure to conform to society’s gendered spheres. 

To me, this is what it means to be a feminist: fighting to assign equal value to women and femininity that we ascribe to men and masculinity.

Nobody should be constrained by their sex or gender to behave in a certain way. Promoting respect for the feminine holds a better future for everyone.

Tiptoeing Over American Vipers

“If a pregnant woman steps over a viper, she will be sure to miscarry.”

Historia Naturalis, Pliny the Elder (77 CE)

When I was 15, I had a pregnancy scare. I was in a long-term relationship and a condom had broken. I wasn’t sure if I could secure the morning-after pill as a minor, and I hadn’t yet discovered the Laguna Beach Community Clinic near my high school where I’d later receive free birth control pills.

I panicked and began leaning over a chair, letting it jut sharply into my abdomen and womb. I hoped it would disrupt any zygotes from developing in my adolescent body, not unlike the meat pulverizers desperate women used to hammer their stomachs in the decades before Roe vs. Wade. Fortunately, I got my period a week or two later, but that experience taught me that women walk a razor’s edge when it comes to sex.

Feminist Gadsden Flag, Artist Unknown

I’d always assumed that in the United States—the so-called “Land of the Free”—we would never again force women to give birth. Our mothers, our grandmothers, and our allies had fought hard for our right to choose. They had exposed the shameful hell of pre-Roe America with its poisons, bloodied staircases, abusive maternity shelters, and suicides. Even as red states slowly curtailed access to abortion over the decades, I thought the days of enslaving women as unwilling agents of religious fundamentalism were over. I was wrong.

As always, poor women will be more adversely affected by the overturning of Roe and pressed into prenatal state servitude. Rich women always have more choices, even in the most misogynistic places.

Advances in contraception and abortion pills by mail will be helpful in the battles ahead, but the reality is sobering: the Supreme Court has the power to impose its fringe theology on all of us. This injustice is both ironic and distinctly anti-American, as many of our ancestors migrated here to escape religious persecution.

The levers of power have been hijacked by a God-fearing cabal. Six of the nine SCOTUS justices (Thomas, Roberts, Gorsuch, Sotomayor, Kavanaugh, and Barrett) went to Catholic high schools. And two of them, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, attended the same all-boys private Georgetown Preparatory School. The rightward lurch of SCOTUS is not representative of our increasingly secular country. A majority of us do not want Roe overturned and support a woman’s right to choose. 

I have a dear friend in her mid-30s who got her tubes tied a couple of years ago. I asked her what prompted such an invasive surgery. She shared that when Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court, she needed to make sure she was never handcuffed by pregnancy. She wasn’t only concerned about losing her right to have an abortion—she was afraid of losing access to any type of contraceptive. She’d always known she didn’t want kids and if the U.S. would deny her agency over her future, well fuck them.

To put this into terms that conservative congressmen can understand: when you remove legal access to a service people need or want, it doesn’t disappear. It just gets pushed into an expensive, seedy underground. It would be much safer and less stigmatized if we could keep women’s reproductive rights out of the dangerous sewers of American society. 

Abortion has been steadily creeping back into those dark alleys. Texas banned the procedure at six weeks in May 2021 and the law went into effect in September. When the second-most populous state abridged women’s right to bodily autonomy, Roe felt doomed. 

Denying a person healthcare or imposing a condition—pregnancy—doesn’t have any corollaries among folks without uteruses. Imagine a country where the state gets to deny individuals health services or impose unwanted bodily states:

  • Should the state be able to deny fertility treatments to people with risky genetic disorders?
  • Should the state be able to impose a condition—castration—on convicted sex offenders? 
  • Should the state be able to impose gastric bypass surgery on morbidly obese people who cost Medicare/Medicaid millions of dollars annually?
  • Should the state be able to force a person to get the Covid-19 vaccine? 

These issues of bodily self-determination expose the hypocrisy of anti-choice activists. And many of these “pro-life” Americans are the same people who support capital punishment, the same people who support deadly drone strikes in the Middle East, the same people who praised teenager Kyle Rittenhouse for murdering two protesters with an AR-15. Also, many anti-choice Americans are up in arms about mask mandates in the midst of a deadly pandemic and yet they think women should be denied life-altering healthcare. 

Republican voters don’t realize that abortion has been made a contentious issue to stir up their emotions, another steaming dish in the buffet of lies the GOP uses to galvanize their political base. Contrary to their misinformation:

  • Nobody uses abortion as birth control.
  • A zygote, embryo, or fetus is not a baby. 
  • Contraception sometimes fails.
  • Men commit rape and women are typically the only ones who face the consequences.
  • Safe haven laws don’t “take care of [the obligations of motherhood that flow from pregnancy]” as suggested by Amy Coney Barrett. Pregnancy is a risky health condition—not a simple inconvenience.

The Supreme Court will issue a ruling on Dobbs vs. Jackson in June 2022, which could effectively overturn Roe by banning pre-viability abortions. The cutoff would be 15 weeks in Mississippi, but all states would be allowed to set their own parameters. It’s infuriating that this will likely happen, especially since three of the nine SCOTUS justices were appointed by a disgraced, twice-impeached president who lost the popular vote.

If Roe falls, I’m most concerned about low-income women living in red states. Please help spread the word about services such as Women Helping Women and Aid Access, which offers online consultations and abortion pills by mail, effective up to 10 weeks. The FDA recently decided that obtaining this medication by mail will be allowed regardless of a person’s state of residence.

Don’t let American women’s bodies be used as tools of the government’s religious zealots. The political party that supports citizens owning assault weapons is not the party of protecting life—it’s the party of oppressing women and limiting their choices. I hope that the women of Texas, Mississippi, Missouri, and other red states seeking to ban abortion have the ability to move somewhere that respects their dignity, humanity, and reproductive rights. 

Call-Outs Are Cathartic—But Affirmations Are Persuasive

For much of my life as a writer, I’ve been a fire-and-brimstone critic. My favorite targets these days are elected Republicans, whom I consider to be existential threats to women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, and non-Americans. It feels as if most conservatives want me to shut up, embrace God, wave my American flag, support the police, submit to my husband, and make lots of white babies

There’s a lot to fight against in those assumptions! And I’m beginning to realize that this flat, simple characterization of my political opposites may be cathartic—but it’s not persuasive or useful. 

Denunciations are black and white—affirmations are more nuanced
(Yachats, Oregon on 9/11/2021, “Statue of Liberty”)

This toxic polarization of the U.S. is an excruciating cancer within our society. We suffer a media landscape that thrives on feelings of indignation. As Facebook’s research has shown, angry clicks are the key to engaging our attention. And with so many local networks failing or being gobbled up by conglomerates such as Gannett or Sinclair, struggling outlets are left with little choice than to go for someone’s jugular. There are no repercussions for stirring Americans into a fevered frenzy on the right or the left—and if news organizations don’t get people’s attention, they’re outperformed and they die.

None of this is conducive to civil society, which is built on discourse, empathy, honesty, compromise, and non-judgment. Our collective condemnation of leftists or right-wingers stultifies the soul of our country—and I want to change that within myself. 

Here’s the thing: Every denunciation can be expressed affirmatively, painting a picture of my ideals rather than shooting down their antitheses. It’s more difficult to build a vision than it is to knock someone else’s down, but it’s much more effective.

Criticism makes folks clam up, retreat, withdraw, and prepare their defenses. Calling people out doesn’t change hearts and minds but it causes them to dig in their heels and bite back. I may think that someone’s views are reprehensible, but unless I present a positive alternative with room for discussion, we remain at a hardened impasse with mutual animosity.

The most powerful progressives throughout history have mastered this technique: Mahatma Gandhi, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama, and others have a gift for expressing the world they’re trying to create rather than simply denouncing their opponents. They have more universal appeal than figures I also admire such as Malcolm X, Gloria Steinem, and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez—folks who are known for attacking racism and misogyny head-on. 

Don’t get me wrong: I adore leaders known for their eloquent take-downs of autocrats, bigots, and liars, and I believe their statements will age well because they’re on the right side of history. But in day-to-day dealings with those with whom I disagree, embracing a firm, positive expression of my ideals is more compelling. 

As an exercise, here are some of my beliefs expressed as prickly call-outs and reframed as affirmations:

My call-out: “Elected Republicans are racists. Just look at their virulent attacks on Black Lives Matter.”

My affirmation: “The economic prosperity of the United States was built on the institution of slavery. We’re only a few generations removed from that inhumanity and we still live with the noxious effects throughout our systems and society. Harvard’s School of Public Health found that Black folks are three times as likely to be killed by police than whites. Black Lives Matter is a necessary response to these inequities and injustices. It’s not an anti-white movement—it’s anti-racism, and I support that.”

My call-out: “Elected Republicans are racists. Just look at their defense of Confederate monuments.”

My affirmation: “Many Confederate statues in the United States were built during the Jim Crow era to reassert white supremacy. We don’t need public sculptures of incendiary figures to remember their place in history. The South has many people more deserving of public monuments. For example, Robert Smalls from Beaufort, SC was born into slavery. He stole the Confederate ship CSS Planter, freeing his family and crew. He eventually founded the Republican Party of SC and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives during the Reconstruction era. He’s a hero we all should know and celebrate.”

My call-out: “Elected Republicans are cheaters. Just look at their targeted voter suppression tactics.”

My affirmation: “We need to support making voting easier because everyone’s voice is important. The International Institute of Democracy and Electoral Assistance just added the U.S. to its annual list of backsliding democracies. We need to turn that around. It’s unfair that some folks—especially in predominantly Black areas such as Union City, Georgia—have to wait in line for hours because there are too few polling places. My state Oregon has automatic voter registration at the DMV and universal vote-by-mail. As a result, we have one of the highest voter turn-outs in the nation. Implementing that model across the country would facilitate access to the ballot—a right enshrined in the American Constitution.” 

My call-out: “Elected Republicans are misogynists. Just look at their anti-abortion views.”

My affirmation: “Forcing a woman to be pregnant against her will is an assault on her rights. We should all be able to determine our individual reproductive and medical choices without the intervention of any government, court, or church. Bodily autonomy is the foundation of liberty. ”

My call-out: “Elected Republicans are anti-science morons. Just look at their refusal to support any climate change legislation.”

My affirmation: “Reducing the consumption of fossil fuels will benefit our people and planet. Just as Nixon’s EPA helped to clear the smog from America’s skies and litter from her streets in the 70s, we can lay the foundation for a healthier global future. It also presents a unique economic opportunity as we transition to more sustainable forms of energy, such as wind, solar, and nuclear.”

You get the picture. It’s always easier to say “Fuck those guys,” but in talking to folks about any issue, it’s more convincing to give an impartial assessment, planting seeds in people’s minds about how to create another way. Drawing a vibrant picture of how we can improve upon the society and institutions we inherited is the way forward. 

Also, we must leave the door open for folks to evolve, giving a clear path to redemption for those who have strayed. Rage hardens conflicts and polarizes opponents—dialogue helps to bridge divides and chart the best path for the future.

I’m going to do my best at softening my criticisms and sharpening my affirmations. The clearer I can express my ideals without judging others, the more persuasive I can be.

Reno, Nevada (2021). Artist unknown.

Creative Expression or Cultural Appropriation?

Even the most dedicated liberals have an issue that reveals to them the limits of their progressive views. For me, that issue is cultural appropriation, especially with my clothes, jewelry, and art.

Some folks believe that everyone should be free to wear what they’d like. They think that white women can wear box braids or large feathered headdresses at Coachella. Others believe that people should be more considerate with their style, especially when wearing items from cultures decimated by white colonizers, slaveholders, industrialists, and gentrifying yuppies. I’m in the second camp, but I still struggle to define what’s appropriate and what’s inappropriate in practice.

The problem is that white Americans are the apex predators in the hierarchy of capitalism. White culture vultures have gobbled up and commercialized every element of other traditions while actively killing or excluding those who don’t speak like them or look like them. Even as I decry those injustices, however, sometimes I get into trouble for my fashion.

A few months ago, I was wearing my favorite jacket when a white woman approached me in downtown Eugene. She asked if the garment was Pendleton and then proceeded to berate me because the designs had been “stolen from Native Americans.” (Pendleton actually employs Native artists and supports those communities through various funds and initiatives, although it’s true the company isn’t owned by Indigenous folks and has profited immensely off of their designs.) 

My beloved and notorious Pendleton garment

Even though it’s my favorite jacket, I haven’t worn it as much recently. It feels tarnished by that woman’s judgment and a reminder of this country’s ruthless persecution of non-whites. 

Then again, there’s something odd about this dynamic: I’ve noticed that the most ardent gatekeepers of what’s cultural appropriation often are woke whites. I appreciate that woman’s intentions, but I consider her criticism a catharsis of her own guilt. It’s easier to perform a disparaging call-out on a stranger than it is to examine what constitutes respectful creative expression. Or, you know, to actually do something that helps marginalized folks.

The United States is unique in that we are people from all across the globe. We have different levels of remove from our ancestral lands and cultures. We’re all immigrants (or their descendants) on a long enough timeline. That aspect of our country makes me proud—at our best, we’re a microcosm of the world.

Of course, this kumbaya sentiment doesn’t make defining cultural appropriation any easier. Dr. Kelly Chong, a University of Kansas professor, was quoted in Bustle with the most succinct explanation I’ve found:“[Cultural appropriation] is the adoption, often unacknowledged or inappropriate, of the ideas, practices, customs, and cultural identity markers of one society or group by members of another group or society that typically has greater privilege or power.”

But what is the “unacknowledged” or “inappropriate” use of another culture? Sometimes it’s obvious. For example, if a behavior is reinforcing stereotypes or turning a profit for a non-member of that group, that’s inappropriate. So if a white woman travels to Mexico City to learn traditional dishes and then publishes a book of recipes, many would consider that an inappropriate use. 

What if she had lived in CDMX for 15 years? Or 20? Or what about if a Filipino man did the same thing? Or a Black woman? Would it be different since they’re also members of oppressed groups? And what happens when the folks in CDMX  have varying opinions about what constitutes respectful use? Who gets to be the arbiter? 

There are other more cut-and-dry situations that are patently absurd. Anecdotally, I’ve heard of white women with curly or kinky hair being accused of cultural appropriation because they go to Black salons or use Black hair products. Where are they supposed to turn when white stylists don’t know how to deal with their hair or when certain products aren’t up to task? Abusing the term “cultural appropriation” in cases like this is divisive and counterproductive.

And sometimes, art gets swallowed by the flames of these disagreements. Here in Eugene, that’s what happened to the Ritz Story Pole at the Oregon Country Fair. 

Here’s some background: OCF is a 52-year-old annual festival with food stalls, art installations, costumes, music, and other performances. It’s held along “the 8”—a forested infinity path in Veneta, Oregon. It’s colorful, playful, nature-inspired, and mostly a celebration of the Pacific Northwest.

The Ritz Sauna & Showers are where you can bathe nude, enjoying live music next to a large bonfire and vibrant wood carvings. Recently, they hired Pattrick Price, a Tlingit Native from Alaska, to create art for the main space. And every year, the  Ritz “Flamingo Clan” builds and runs the day-and-night spa that keeps OCF folks clean and happy throughout the sweaty, dusty weekend.

Photo Credit: Pattrick Price

In 2012, Ritz director George Braddock and artist Brad Bolton were talking about how to tell the long history of the Ritz through art. Bolton had been practicing formline art for 25 years—a style created by North Coast Indigenous groups.

It took three years of back and forth, but the Ritz finally got the First Nations and the Canadian Provincial Government of British Columbia to select and ship an 8,000-lb. Alaskan Yellow Cedar log to the OCF for carving. The Ritz got the log (and approval) from our northern neighbors because the Haida—the Natives from whom the Story Pole tradition comes—are based off the northern coast of British Columbia. And for several years, hundreds (perhaps thousands) of Fairgoers assisted in the carving of the Ritz Story Pole.

Before approving the raising of the Pole, Oregon Country Fair reached out to several local tribal governments (including the Grand Ronde) but did not receive position statements from any of them. 

The Pole was first mentioned in an OCF Board meeting in July 2012. There was no further mention (according to the publicly available minutes) until September 2014 when logistics were discussed. For several months, the comments about the Pole were unremarkable, apart from an archeological survey that redirected the planned location away from a “sensitive” area.

In December 2015, the OCF Diversity Task Force contacted two local tribe members about the Story Pole project: David Lewis, a cultural anthropologist and member of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, and Esther Stutzman, a storyteller and member of the Kalapuya and Coos. Their main criticism was that the placement of the Haida-style Pole was not only cultural appropriation but it was especially offensive to place it on ancestral Kalapuya lands.

Despite these objections, the Story Pole was formally approved by the OCF Board in April 2016. One of the conditions of its future installation was the following: “An informational display addressing the issues concerning the ‘Story Pole’ as Culturally Inspired Art or Cultural Appropriation shall be developed and placed by Fair Operations in the vicinity of the ‘Story Pole’…This display shall have a component whereby people may give feedback concerning the issues pertaining to the ‘Story Pole.’” 

Fairgoers Carving the Ritz Story Pole

The communal carving continued at OCF 2016, but about a year later, the public reception of the Pole had soured. In May 2017, several local Indigenous members had spoken up against the project and the Board hastily rescinded its approval. I recommend reading all of the minutes from that Board meeting, but the following statements illustrate the diverging sentiments on the matter:

Statements in support of the Story Pole:

  • Paul: “When does art not challenge some culture?…This Pole has stainless steel and lights on it. If we are going to respect cultural purity in art, then no Native American or any other culture should have art sold at the Oregon Country Fair.”
  • George Braddock (Ritz Director): “I truly apologize that people were offended by the art we have made for the last 27 years. We celebrate it for its beauty, strength, and its story…The Haida carvers of the Pacific Northwest are without question the best. Why would you not want to learn from the best carvers? Why would you not want to emulate and celebrate the art?”
  • Brad Bolton (Main Story Pole Artist): “I’ve been studying the formline style for the last 27 years. Both Natives and Anglos alike have said they like the art. I have [meant] no disrespect by these carvings. It tells the story of the sauna. We are not claiming we are Natives…The Fair is of the ‘60s and it was about cultural sharing. We reached across lines of race and culture and became brothers and sisters. To see this divisiveness makes me really sad.”

Statements against the Story Pole:

  • Erika: “I am an Indigenous woman from South America…what we see is that the Board and the family at the Fair need an emergency cultural competency class. There is the need to understand white privilege. It is not our job to come and teach you.”
  • NisaJo: “[White supremacy] is an institutional view that white people have by their birth some kind of privilege and rights, and experience the law differently than others. . .This time, this place, we stand on the side of our Indigenous brothers and sisters.”
  • Ada (Siletz Member): “I want to say thank you so much for listening to your Indigenous community members who drew a boundary and were firm about the distinction [between] creative expression and cultural appropriation.” 

This story highlights the tension inherent in the space between culturally inspired art and cultural appropriation. Both sides have legitimate positions. On the one hand, the Ritz should have done more due diligence before the project had been nearly completed—especially by enlisting at least one Haida carver to lead the work. 

Then again, even this wouldn’t have solved the main contention of the Pole’s local Indigenous opponents: they argued that it was an abomination to have Haida-inspired art on ancestral Kalapuya lands. 

This is a difficult standard, and perhaps reveals to my readers the limits of my progressive views. Here’s the thing: there are also gas stations, shopping malls, grocery chains, sex shops, and McDonald’s on these lands. Why would the presence of other Indigenous art be a particular insult? It is important to preserve the heritage of local groups, but excluding other forms of expression isn’t a realistic requirement when the land has already been privatized and irrevocably transformed.

These are uncomfortable questions for me. Like most progressives, I want to do right by those crushed under history’s yokes of slavery, genocide, and colonialism. I also want to do the difficult work of listening and reckoning with the shame, pain, and injustices of the past. And one important part of shaping a more just future is understanding cultural appropriation. What’s the best way for us to acknowledge and celebrate another culture when we want to share in their art or customs? 

Where these lines are drawn is far from a settled issue. If we try to appease the most sensitive extremists—those who believe white people can’t respectfully engage with any elements of non-white cultures—everything is subject to criticism, artistic expression becomes siloed by race, and nothing is shared. And if we take a free-market approach where folks choose and use the cultures of others, then disrespect, theft, and exploitation are inevitable. 

The Pole could have served as an opportunity to explore this thorny issue, but instead, it sits in storage collecting dust and nobody is satisfied. 

I’m hoping others can share their thoughts. Thanks for reading.

Embracing Our Differences For Prosperity and Peace

When I traveled to Oaxaca last year, I met man named Armando. Like me, he was visiting Puerto Escondido and dining alone at Almoraduz, one of the best restaurants in town. He’d been working in Humboldt County on a farm for several years, was a photographer, and was very in touch with the earth. 

Photo by Armando, Playa Carrizalillo in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca (March 2020)

Armando and I hit it off immediately. He asked me a question I’ll never forget: How would the world have developed differently if colonialists had embraced the knowledge of the natives rather than seizing their land, pillaging their communities, and slaughtering them? What wisdom and cultures have been lost to greed throughout history? And how would the world look today if our ancestors had all worked together?

This question is especially haunting for an American. Our thriving economy—perhaps more than any other—was built on the backs of slaves who were stolen from their ancestral lands and brought here by force. Without the theft of people from Africa, the theft of land from Native Americans, and the theft of resources from all over the world (usually under the guise of “development” or “protection”), the United States wouldn’t exist.

I think about Armando’s question often and I have a related one: How would the U.S. be improved if we all embraced and respected differences rather than fearing or suppressing them? 

To me, this is the root of so much violence and injustice. Whether it’s different skin colors, cultures, religions, genders, abilities, political leanings, or sexual proclivities, the knee-jerk reaction is fear. If everyone could develop a healthy curiosity for difference rather than seeking to establish a hierarchy, we’d all be better off.

I’ve heard the tired argument that countries with strong social safety nets  (e.g., Sweden) only succeed because of their homogenous populations. Why would trivial cultural or phenotypical differences be more impactful than the common desires of humanity? The desire for connection, for love, for acceptance, for dignity, for meaning and purpose? 

Just like our genetics, we share so much more than what differentiates us. Arguments to the contrary are deployed to dehumanize other groups and justify cruel or selfish behavior.

The need to dominate, discriminate, and oppress is childish. Stealing land and resources, opposing feminism and LGBTQIA+ rights, banning Muslims, and so many other modern American realities are the work of inordinately powerful man-babies, not informed citizens. There’s no justification for any of this. It’s rooted in ignorance—and there’s a better way.

The United States is special because you can look into the face of any person here and see the face of the world: the full gamut of humanity’s features are here in our mixed society, and that’s something to cherish. There’s no reason to fear or suppress those differences.

If dumb cruel schoolchildren ran the country, it would look a lot like the modern Republican Party’s leadership: exclusionary, dishonest, conniving, change-averse, and terrified. The biggest man-baby of them all, Donald Trump, is still the most powerful GOP leader and holds the party’s nuts within his tiny fist!

There’s nothing natural about a fear of difference. In fact, the nice kids—the ones who haven’t yet learned their prejudices—approach novelty with curiosity and kindness. Why can’t the most powerful Americans be this way: benevolent, inquisitive, and non-judgmental?

One large problem is the misuse of American Christian doctrines. I know there are some good Christians out there, but so many sham justifications for hate and exclusion are rooted in this belief system, especially these days with white supremacist groups, the anti-trans movement, and even American imperialism. Many of these fringe ideologies misuse Christian tenets to justify their hateful beliefs. 

Who cares if someone identifies as another gender than the one on their birth certificate? Who cares what color a person’s skin is? Who cares whether a person likes men, women, both, or neither? What bearing does any of this have on another person’s life? How much violence stems from our intolerance? And what energy is lost fighting differences?  How could all of this energy be better spent? 

Although we’ll never know how the world would look if colonialists hadn’t felt the need to steal, dominate, and kill, we can choose to make our country and our modern global society better than that of our ancestors.

Let people be themselves. Approach differences with openness rather than aversion. Audre Lorde, a brilliant social theorist, poet, and Black lesbian, put it this way: “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences…In our work and in our living, we must recognize that difference is a reason for celebration and growth, rather than a reason for destruction.”

I’m so damn proud to be an American because we have people and cultures from all over the planet. This diversity of beliefs, religions, languages, and ethnic backgrounds comprise our unique strength—and once we realize that, we’ll not only be in prosperity, but also at peace.

A 4/20 PSA From a Stoner Valedictorian

Hey you! Yes, you: the one holding the bong. And especially you there smoking that blunt in the South. 

I see you. 

I get you. 

And I reckon there are folks in your life who have no clue you enjoy a little cannabis. 

Keeping it quiet from your employer is one thing (at least until it becomes federally legal), but what about your friends and family? Are you open with those closest to you? How many among your kith and kin would be surprised that you smoke weed? Or disappointed? Or delighted?

Part of destigmatizing marijuana-use is becoming aware of how widespread its enthusiasts are. You know lots of stoners. And if you are one, I want you to think about from whom you’re hiding it—and come out to them this 4/20. 

Mural by Rachel Wolfe-Goldsmith (Eugene, OR)

Although recreational use laws are changing attitudes in progressive states such as Oregon, Washington, and California, there are others lagging far behind in their inevitable embrace of the devil’s lettuce.

Texas and Lousiana, for example, seem very comfortable with booze consumption but have proven hostile ground for the legalization of the righteous bush! (Hey, ya’ll: how about altering your mood and mind without the liver disease, car wrecks, cancer, and domestic violence?)

In fact, this liquor alternative can have positive health effects. While funding for U.S. studies has been limited, the sticky icky has been used to treat a wide range of conditions such as: 

And we’re just scratching the surface of the benefits of a plant that’s been used for thousands of years. The racist War on Drugs has been an abject failure, expensive and devastating for communities. The American government’s anti-kush stance has needlessly filled our prisons and courtrooms, disproportionately with people of color. And that puritan attitude has also robbed us of a valuable medicine that should be available over the counter to adults. 

We’re sandwiched between two countries where the green goddess is more-or-less legal for recreational use: Canada has already legalized ganja, and Mexico is poised to do so this month.

As a recreational user, I can tell you what I love about Aunt Mary: in the right dose during my leisure time, she makes me feel like the best version of myself. If I have 2.5 mg of THC (a microdose, even for a newbie), I get motivated to paint, ride my bike, read, write, eat, clean the house, socialize, attend concerts, etc. I end up enjoying all of those activities more and feel much more present while participating. 

A microdose of THC helps to calm my inner chatter—what I call “my internal achievement dictator.” Normally, it’s easy for my brain to be three steps ahead of where I am: 

Jocelyn, double-check the expiration date on that Alaska Airlines certificate. 

Jocelyn, put “Detransition, Baby” on hold at the library. 

Jocelyn, clean those nasty baseboards, NOW. 

I’m a planner and a doer, always trying to maximize my daily output—it’s tough for me to turn this voice off even when I want to chill, but I’ve found that a left-handed cigarette shuts up this internal achievement dictator and lets me marinate in the moment. It’s nice, and I daresay it’s healthy for me.

I realize there are skeptics out there. Among them is (unfortunately) President Biden, who recently dismissed five White House staffers for past use of the whacky tabacky. (Come on, man! Your former boss was the leader of the Choom Gang!)

The bottom line is this: If alcohol use doesn’t compromise someone’s ability to get the federal government’s highest security clearance, then homegrown shouldn’t either. And let’s face it: the myth of the lazy stoner—even if taken at face value—is still better than the violent alcoholic. Cannabis should absolutely be legal at the federal level, and we’re getting there. 

And it starts with being honest with people closest to us. Need some famous names to to convince your family that smoking a doob isn’t unusual or demotivating? Here’s a list of high-achieving stoners—folks who currently attend (or have attended) the Holy Church of Reverend Green:

  • Carl Sagan
  • Lady Gaga
  • Morgan Freeman
  • Barack Obama
  • Brad Pitt
  • Bill Gates
  • Whoopi Goldberg
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  • Bill Clinton
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • The Beatles
  • Jennifer Lawrence
  • Al Gore
  • Stephen King
  • Martha Stewart
  • Steve Jobs
  • Ben and Jerry
  • Rihanna
  • Michael Phelps

If it’s good enough for entrepreneurs, astronomers, musicians, writers, athletes, and former presidents, it’s good enough to be available to Americans 21 and older. 

Floating on Tenas Lake, OR

So let’s embrace the medical, social, and economic benefits, as well as the much-needed criminal justice reform, that will result from the legalization of cannabis.

Want to help speed this up? Come out to your friends and family this 4/20. 

Elected Republicans Are Wasting Our Time With Imaginary Problems

What do voter suppression measures, anti-trans bills, repealing mask mandates, and tax cuts for the wealthy have in common? They’re among the top GOP priorities—and they’re all sham solutions for imaginary problems:

  • Voter fraud is rare to non-existent.
  • Trans folks are not transitioning to infiltrate girls’ bathrooms or sports.
  • Masks are still necessary to fight this pandemic.
  • And rich Americans, for fuck’s sake, don’t need any more goddamn money.

Why aren’t more GOP voters angry about this? Why aren’t they upset that their legislators are wasting our time and tax dollars on empty objectives? And what does the modern GOP even stand for? 

Red demon fighting blue dragon (Aomori, Japan)

Like most Americans, I’ve nearly lost the plot of Republican machinations. Their platform used to be real: small government, fiscal conservatism, strong national defense, support for small businesses, and traditional family values. But these days, most elected Republicans have abandoned their principles, lied to their constituents, and erected a golden Trump idol at the heart of their party.

I get it: there’s a serious charisma gap in the GOP and they haven’t found someone to fill that Trump-sized hole in their presidential prospects. But promoting the lie that the 2020 election was stolen is disgusting—and it will cost the party dearly when conservative voters demand more of their leaders. Dr. Seuss, Potato Head, and other “cancel culture” spectacles are there to distract folks from the GOP’s negligence of important priorities.

Just this week, Senate Democrats passed a Covid-19 relief bill without a single Republican vote—this is despite its widespread support among a majority of voters. A Morning Consult poll found that 53 to 59 percent of Republicans supported the $1.9 trillion bill (depending on how the question was worded). And 71 to 77 percent of voters supported it overall. 

With more than 526,000 Covid-19 deaths, a stagnant economy, a looming eviction crisis, and a dispirited nation craving government relief, you’d think that the GOP would step up. But most of these Republican “leaders” are focused on anti-democratic priorities, especially maintaining their power by passing voter suppression bills.

On March 2, 2021, GOP lawyer Michael Carvin revealed his party’s intentions in his arguments to the Supreme Court. Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked him, “What’s the interest of the Arizona RNC here in keeping, say, the out-of-precinct ballot disqualification rules on the books?” 

He responded, “Because it puts [Republicans] at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats.”

That is the predominant focus of today’s GOP leadership: to suppress as many votes as possible. Not fighting the pandemic, not affordable healthcare and education, not infrastructure, and certainly not increasing the prosperity of the American people. 

The Democratic vs. Republican Redistribution of Wealth (Sources: Crooked Media / Tax Policy Center, March 2021)

Of course, voter suppression isn’t a new Republican tactic. Restricting voting—especially among people of color—has been a long-time pet project of the GOP. In 1980, conservative activist Paul Weyrich told evangelical leaders, “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

How do Republican voters feel about this? Doesn’t it feel anti-American that the less popular of two parties continually suppresses the vote? Do the ends (tax cuts for the wealthy) justify the means (cheating in elections)? Are they proud of their leaders? 

We see this playing out in state legislatures all over the country. There have been over 250 bills proposed in 43 states just this year to restrict our access to the ballot. 

Consider this: Trump’s pathetic lickspittle, Mike Pence, just published an op-ed in The Daily Signal, a 7-years-old, right-wing propaganda outlet. (Google it. I’m not linking to that garbage.) 

You’d think that the former Vice President might be welcomed into more respectable conservative publications such as The Wall Street Journal or The National Review, but the liability of publishing his bullshit outweighed the prestige of his former office.

Pence’s article contained gems of American unity such as, “Leftists not only want you powerless at the ballot box, they want to silence and censor anyone who would dare to criticize their unconstitutional power grab.” Those are strange words from someone who was almost murdered by a Trumpist mob on January 6—all based on the lie of election fraud. 

Pence, like many Republicans, is terrified by the passage of the “For the People Act” (HR 1). The bill aims to expand voting rights, facilitate voter registration, limit gerrymandering, and strengthen campaign finance laws. Rather than embracing this bill—which is supported by 67 percent of likely voters, including a majority of Republicans—GOP leaders have lied about HR 1’s contents and tried to stoke fear with their favorite fairytale: election fraud.

So I ask again: What is the GOP leadership’s current guiding philosophy? Why did the party of status quo and conservatism allow Trump to launch its base into the fringe of crazy town? And why do they seem intent on staying there?

Most elected Republican leaders have given up or doubled-down on the lies their constituents believe: QAnon, climate change denialism, xenophobia, an anti-socialist “blue scare,” and election theft all play prominent roles in their arsenal of horseshit. 

Author Timothy Snyder wrote, “A patriot has universal values, standards by which he judges his nation, always wishing it well—and wishing it would do better.” GOP leaders have no universal values. Most are playing obedient civil servants to Trump, a rapist and inveterate liar. 

Republican voters should be furious that their party’s leadership has been hollowed out by a grifter and charlatan. Those within the GOP who double-down on these imaginary problems aren’t team players—they’re dishonorable and complicit. But those who champion a return to the GOP standing for something—anything real—should be applauded.

Dispatches From the Gulf Coast of Flovid

Since moving to Oregon five years ago, I’ve hit a wall every mid-February. The glow of the holidays carries me through most of the dreary winter, but after weeks of unabated rain, I flee the Pacific Northwest to soak up precious vitamin D to get me across the early spring finish line. 

In 2020, I went to Oaxaca for a month, barely making it out as the pandemic was upending international travel. This year, I confess that in my desperation for sunlight, I flew straight into the heart of Covid country. Yes, folks: I visited my old stomping grounds on the Gulf Coast of Florida.

Playing it safe on the Venice Fishing Pier, Florida

I knew that the Covid protocols in Governor Kate Brown’s Oregon and Ron DeSantis’s Florida would be vastly different. (I once got yelled at in Eugene for walking along an empty residential sidewalk in the rain without a mask on.) But just as these areas occupy opposite poles of our country’s landmass, so too have their citizens’ responses to this pandemic.

In Oregon, indoor dining has been banned or severely limited since the pandemic began. The Governor has assigned risk levels by county according to case numbers and local businesses comply. At least in Eugene, everyone wears masks indoors and most people wear them outdoors, too. Oregon has been among the top five states in containing the pandemic and keeping the death toll low.

In Florida, indoor dining is at full capacity, bars are open, and hardly anyone wears masks. When going indoors, some Floridians simply pulled their shirts over their noses. Many people, including service workers, had masks dangling around their chins or with their noses exposed. Life in Clearwater, Treasure Island, Venice, and Nokomis seemed pre-pandemic, as if nobody had changed their lifestyle at all. 

These two different approaches are reflected in our state outcomes  (CDC 3/4/21):

  • Cases per 100,000 in Oregon (since 1/20/20): 3,700
  • Deaths per 100,000: 52
  • Cases per 100,000 in Florida (since 1/20/20): 8,767
  • Deaths per 100,000: 144
Deaths per 100,000 people (CDC 1/20/20-3/4/21)

Coming from progressive Eugene, Florida felt like absolute chaos. It took me a few days to shake my low-key anxiety. I imagined the stew of Covid particles swirling around the mouths of tanned senior citizens. They guzzled their cocktails and threw their heads back in laughter, spewing viral clouds to their wrinkled neighbors. Why didn’t anyone in the Sunshine State seem to care—especially those who would be most vulnerable to the disease?

I wanted to ask Floridians if they’d known anyone who had died of the disease, or if they even thought about it at all. It was an alarming contrast to my home state. Covid has consumed the lives of most people I know in California and Oregon. My friends and family have stayed home, worn masks, canceled plans, put off travel, socially distanced, quarantined after short trips, and signed up for grocery delivery services. It felt deeply unfair that Floridians were being so cavalier while Oregonians had made countless sacrifices. I haven’t seen most of my family and friends in over a year at the recommendation of Dr. Fauci and my governor, but here I realized that some parts of the country have hardly adjusted their lives at all.

Nokomis Beach Biweekly Drum Circle (2/24/21)

Florida has lost more people per capita than roughly half of all states. That doesn’t seem too bad—especially given their large elderly population—but consider one major caveat: there’s strong evidence that Florida’s Covid-19 numbers could be an undercount. Rebekah Jones, a former state data scientist and whistleblower from Tallahassee, claims that her supervisors pressured her to change the state’s infection data. She launched her own data dashboard (Florida COVID Action) and her home was raided by armed police on December 7. They seized her equipment and terrified her children. (As of March 4, 2021, her dashboard indicates that the state death and case counts are underreported by a few thousand and tens of thousands, respectively.)

Assuming the truth falls somewhere within that range, Florida’s cases should be much lower given the state’s significant sunshine advantage. Sunlight has been shown to rapidly denature the Covid-19 virus on surfaces. Humidity has also been shown to potentially slow the spread.

I’m much more comfortable at home with the high levels of social trust and mask-wearing, but with Florida’s retirees partying like it’s 1999—and not seeming to suffer—what has this all been for? Is it better to protect as many people as possible—at any cost and to the detriment of businesses and people’s mental health? Or would a more balanced approach be appropriate?

I felt a swelling mix of resentment and envy toward the careless hedonism of Floridians. My selfishness told me that even if I did catch Covid, I’d likely have a mild case or even be asymptomatic because I’m young and healthy. My pro-social side reminded me that I wear masks and make personal sacrifices not for my own well-being, but because I don’t want to be the person who unknowingly transmits a deadly disease to someone else.

Last April, I wrote a piece titled “America’s Other Disease,” which proved to be prescient. Back then, we’d only had 213,000 confirmed cases across the country. (As of March 4, we’ve suffered 28.51 million confirmed cases.) I suggested that our country’s individualism would prove an impediment to mask-wearing. In Americans’ twisted sense of personal freedom, covering one’s face to prevent the spread of disease is too much of an inconvenience for many. If only Covid-19 could be traced to male impotence, for example, we’d likely eradicate the disease in a month.

As vaccinations become more widely available, the daily threat and anxiety surrounding Covid should begin to abate. I do wonder about the long-term psychological impact on Oregonians and folks from more cautious states. How many people will fear the presence of strangers in the post-pandemic era? How many will continue to feel depressed and become shut-ins? How many relationships will suffer from the stress of long-term confinement? Will these effects be justified by our relatively low death-count? 

Anyone who has lost a friend or a member of their family would say yes. I’m proud of Oregon’s response to the disease and recognize how many more people we would have lost given Governor Ron DeSantis’ approach. 

And just this week, Governors Greg Abbott (TX) and Tate Reeves (MS) have lifted their mask mandates and business restrictions. We’ll see how these “leaders’” commitments to toxic individualism play out. Is it really so difficult for folks to wear masks? Half-a-million dead Americans and their families certainly don’t think so.

America’s Sacred Cows Make Delicious Hamburgers

There has always been great tension between America’s founding principles and our reality. 

We’re the land of opportunity in which wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few. We’re the land of equality in which our Black citizens, whose ancestors were brought here in chains, are routinely denied the vote and killed by the police. We’re the land of the free in which the bulk of the world’s prisoners reside, many for nonviolent offenses. We’re the land of the brave in which white fear is manipulated to win elections. And we’re the land of religious freedom in which Muslims are banned.

Our religious freedom myth, in particular, has always bothered me. Can you imagine a U.S. president who was a Buddhist, Muslim, or Atheist? In order to qualify for the highest office in our country, there’s an assumption that one must embrace religion—specifically, Christianity.  Even those who never attend church are forced into a faith pantomime, saying “God bless” this, that, and the other. 

The most pious states even fight for creationism to be taught side-by-side with the theory of evolution in public schools. And abortion—rather than being accepted as a medical procedure as it is in other developed countries—has been warped into an all-consuming political tool to ossify that timeless dialectic: the Christian conservatives on one side and the Godless progressives on the other. 

Sure, there are some churches who eschew the divisive rhetoric and preach love, acceptance, and charity. But from where I stand, American Christian values have done much harm.

Christianity has been used: 

  • To justify slavery. It was argued that the Black sons of Ham were predestined to serve white America.
  • To suppress women. In many Christian sects, wives must submit to their husbands.
  • To persecute our LGBTQ+ community. How many “Christians” have kicked out their gay children or sent them to abusive conversion therapy camps?
  • To justify the theft of land. The baseless theory of “manifest destiny” devastated ancient Native American cultures and populations.

James Baldwin said it best in The Fire Next Time: “It is not too much to say that whoever wishes to become a truly moral human being…must first divorce himself from all the prohibitions, crimes, and hypocrisies of the Christian church. If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, it is time we got rid of Him.”

On the whole, the American Christian God has not made us “larger, freer, or more loving.” And our stubborn Puritan roots have been used to restrain normal human pleasures. To paraphrase Abbie Hoffman: this sacred cow of exclusion, pleasure-denial, and hate will make the most delicious of hamburgers. 

Consider this: American adults tend to be dishonest about the delights of sex and drugs when talking to their children. You still with me? It’s as if telling kids the truth will lead them to lives of sin. 

But what if I told you that the U.S. has so many teenage pregnancies and substance abuse problems precisely because of its overcritical attitude toward sex and drugs? That our Puritan values have backfired? That we’d actually be better off if we were more honest with young inquisitive minds? 

A portrait of my teenage American excess

With sex work and drug use, for example, there’s abundant evidence that pulling these modern realities out of the shadows leads to better outcomes. Decriminalizing prostitution and substance use could help remove the stigma surrounding both and reduce the non-violent prison population.

Stifling or ignoring parts of human existence leads to their more dangerous expression. It’s the difference between a legal brothel with regular STD testing and an unregulated operation where sex workers have no recourse for abuse. It’s the difference between injecting drugs in a safe space with a clean needle and shooting up in the corner of a decaying tenement. I argue that it’s also the difference between a teenage girl who isn’t ashamed about the pleasure of sex and a middle-aged woman who still hasn’t had an orgasm. 

When we bake our American religious shame into normal human pleasures, we deny ourselves growth and experience. 

The same goes for non-vices such as gender identity. If we had more evolved attitudes toward gender—recognizing it not as a binary but as a spectrum—our transgender citizens would have better life outcomes. 

That’s the type of Christian God we need: one who makes our citizens feel freer and more loved.

These are the facts: 

The U.S. has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the developed world—with most of those unplanned pregnancies occurring in the more religious Southern and Midwestern states

We also have the highest rate of alcohol, drug abuse, and substance-related disorders in the developed world. 

D.A.R.E. preached abstinence-only with the fervor of a religious organization. There was no room in the narrative for gray area or any explanation as to why our parents drank or smoked. And suppressing our healthy curiosity actually had the opposite effect: without knowledge of alcohol and drugs’ effects, we American kids tended to overdo it.

I’ve noticed that other countries handle adult pleasures differently than Americans do, with less Puritan scrutiny and more education. In France, Spain, Italy, for example, drinking wine with meals is common, even among adolescents. People from those countries are also less likely to become alcoholics compared to Americans. 

In Holland, it’s not uncommon for high schoolers to have their partners over for sleepovers. Is it a coincidence that they have one of the lowest rates of teenage pregnancy? That culture recognizes that kids have sex and they may as well be safe and educated about it. 

There’s also the issue of psychological reactance. When people—especially individualistic Americans, I suspect—are told to do something, it can be perceived as a threat to one’s freedom. As a result, they may “[demonstrate] an increased preference for the behavior that is restrained, and may perform the behavior opposite to that desired.” This is one reason why an abstinence-only approach to sexuality and substance use fails so spectacularly within the United States. 

In other words, by pulling sex and drugs out of the shadows of American scripture, we can make life safer and more enjoyable. 

I have a personal example. I was lucky to grow up in a progressive town with a mother who recognized when to let go. I lost my virginity at 15—the same year I started sneaking out, drinking on weekends, and occasionally smoking pot. There was a free clinic in Laguna Beach where I would go every three months to pick up birth control. It was within walking distance of my high school. I was grateful I didn’t need a parent signature.

When I was 17, my mom finally gave up and lifted my curfew, even allowing my boyfriend (who came from a rough family) to move in with us. This was undoubtedly a radical move—especially for an American single mother—but it was also the best thing for me. I was an incorrigible teenager, but I finally had the freedom and balance I desired. I maintained straight As and even went on to become our high school’s valedictorian. 

If my mom hadn’t let go and given me room for my rebellion, I’m not sure I would have been as successful academically. My opposition was fierce and I would have spent more energy struggling for my independence than on schoolwork. So by my mother choosing to stop fighting my urge to grow up—letting me know that I could always call her for a safe ride home—I thrived.

Normal human urges and knowledge can’t be suppressed. It’s better to be an educated young adult when confronted with life’s choices. And as much as American parents try to shield their children from sex and drugs, there always comes a day when mom and dad aren’t there. Kids need to learn how to protect themselves. 

Imagine a society in which adolescent boys and girls are educated about the pleasures of sexuality. Instead of boys being framed as “predators” and girls as “prey”—a myth that has robbed many young women of taking pleasure in sex since it’s something “given up” rather than enjoyed—we can let everyone know how to engage in sexual activity safely. 

Imagine a society in which there’s age-appropriate education for alcohol and cannabis use. Instead of young folks experimenting to excess and putting themselves in uncertain situations, they would better-understand responsible consumption and be able to make wiser decisions.

Pleasure-denial—like abstinence-only education—ultimately fails. These religious rules regulating pleasure are arbitrary and end up backfiring, producing a fearful and ashamed citizenry.

So if we still have use for that American Christian God, let’s make it one who embraces knowledge instead of dusty superstition, one who preaches love instead of intolerance. Our culture’s Puritan denial of the pleasures of sex and drugs only leads to abuse, ignorance, and discrimination against non-conforming folks. 

With a more charitable view of human pleasures and with an acceptance of diversity, our citizens will be better protected and happier. 

Isn’t this what all parents want for their children?

A Report from the Trenches of Sober January 2021: Making This My Last Dry Month Ever

Every January 1, I join thousands of hungover Americans in drying out. Around the holidays, near-daily intoxication gives way to a few weeks of reflection on the role of alcohol in our lives. 

I used to get annoyed by the self-righteous sober crusaders and their unpolluted minds. There seemed to be an arrogance in sobriety—it was as if they’d cracked some code to live booze-free and float proudly above the drunken ditches where my friends and I swilled with abandon. 

Since being a non-drinker is the exception rather than the rule, it’s often assumed that teetotalers are recovering alcoholics, barely able to control themselves around the stuff. They must have had a life-changing bender where they were forced to forswear drinking forever, right? What other explanation could there be? Booze is too delicious and too fun.

That way of thinking stemmed from my own discomfort around folks who exhibited such self-control. Who cares whether or not someone else drinks? I’m sure some folks reading this right now are annoyed that I’m even writing about being sober. That’s fine. I feel you. And trust me: I’m still of the mind that, “[Wo]man, being reasonable, must get drunk. The best of life is but intoxication.” Lord Byron was onto something. 

But for now, I can examine how this dry January has changed my thinking about drinking. It’s been easier since I haven’t had much to miss: the pandemic has all but destroyed everyone’s social lives. Attending concerts, dinner parties, and bars isn’t an option when people are confined to their homes. 

But this year has also been more difficult. I wanted to drink during the Racist Republican Riot on January 6; I wanted to drink when the House voted to impeach Trump for the second time; and I wanted to drink to celebrate Biden’s inauguration. I also had a death in my family—my 25-year-old cousin was taken from us too soon. That made me want to drink more than anything else.

I love drinking beer, so I hate to admit how much more productive I am when I cut alcohol from my life. I’ve been more efficient at work; I’ve written four blog posts (and published three); I’ve nearly finished a painting; and I’m reading my seventh book. My dreams have been more vivid and I’ve reset my tolerance, so when I do reintroduce beer, I will especially enjoy it.

Some effects haven’t been as great. I eat more sugar when I abstain from alcohol, so my skin is a mess. I’ve probably gained weight, too. 

My goal this time around is this: in 2021, I want to drink in a way where I never have to stop again. I want this to be my last dry January. It’s only when drinking becomes habitual—as it has for people across the world during this pandemic—that it becomes an issue. It’s drained of its pleasure if it’s simply part of an adult routine. 

It’s also costly. In December, I could drink a few beers with barely a buzz. I am my own most expensive date.

One of my favorite things about January is that it always pushes me to find new things to do and new beverages to drink. Some years it’s a matter of replacing one bad habit with another slightly less-bad habit. One year I drank 3-4 kombuchas a day. Another year, I just got stoned every evening. Both were effective in my month-long abstinence, but this year, I feel I’ve rediscovered the joy of totally sober days. It throws the non-sober days into the realm of celebration, where they should be. The balance is everything.

In the past few years, I’ve found a couple of tricks that have helped me during dry January:

1) Have specific pleasurable activities that you can reach for instead of a drink. For me, this is reading. At the end of the day, I grab my Kindle, which I pre-loaded in December with dozens of books I’ve always wanted to read. In the first 5-10 minutes of indulging in a book, I forget about beer. I’m also a walking addict. I take long hikes through the woods or urban strolls listening to podcasts. Whatever the activity is, it needs to have a low threshold for participation. It needs to be easy to reach for and something you can do on your own.

2) Come up with tasty replacements for your beverage-of-choice. I’m an Oregonian through and through—totally obsessed with beer—and this month, I’ve finally found a non-alcoholic craft beer I enjoy. It’s from Athletic Brewing. Their golden and dark beers scratch that itch for me. This month, I’ve also made a variety of mocktails, mixing flavors of sparkling water with kombucha, lime juice, and cardamom bitters. 

3) Try cannabis. On weekends, I’m Eugene-sober. I have a vaporizer and an assortment of gummies. I typically microdose—2.5-5 mg is enough for me to feel just swell. 

4) Plan your first weekend reintroducing alcohol. Another thing that’s gotten me through this month is planning a trip to the Oregon Coast to celebrate the conclusion of dry January. I’m hoping this will help me keep alcohol in the realm of weekends and holidays rather than a part of the everyday wind-down.

5) Don’t beat yourself up if you slip. It’s better to have a dry January minus a few days than it is to give up entirely after the first illicit gulp.

I don’t think I’ll ever give up alcohol—I’ve visited 350+ breweries around the country and that’s one of my favorite activities—but like millions of people around the world, I’m eager to develop a healthier relationship with it. 

If I succeed in controlling my consumption this year, this will be my last dry January.  Drinking in a way that I never have to stop will be liberating. I don’t want to deny myself my favorite vice because life’s too short to never indulge in what we enjoy. I just need to continue seeing the role of beer in my life differently: it’s a treat and a sporadic hobby—not an expected close to my day.

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