A friend of mine, someone I know only through our mutual blog posts and a handful of emails, the exchanges of notebooks and weaving… lives in a deeply red community of a deeply red southern state, the one blue dot in a red sea. She has found herself in situations where people say what seem such outrageous things that she is too flabbergasted to respond and in situations where she knows she is being deliberately baited. Walking around blue becomes an act of courage.
I get that.
This is probably not the best way to come back from a month of silence. I meant to write about wood carving and jam jars and a train ride, our bivalent booster and books. I’ve started that post. Instead…
I am a blue dot in a very Blue state, and even so… I recently spent several incredible days with a trio of women wood carvers, one very very rich, one from Arkansas, and a third who was quiet—all three notably generous and kind to me… Most of my husband’s siblings are completely… Well, what can you say about your husband’s relatives? I avoid them. Gary tries to make them laugh over the phone. Neither of us want to be in the same room with people who believe “Nazi Jews have created the war in Ukraine” or who believe Paul McCartney has been dead for decades, or any number of other ridiculous, offensive conspiracy theories.
As I say, my husband tries to avoid that talk and instead to make his siblings laugh when he is on the phone with them. He is the oldest living, and after these conversations he drinks a beer to calm himself.
I don’t know what the answer is. Our own sons are generally reasonable and left-leaning, but even they have fallen for an absurd theory from time to time. I feel I failed as a parent when this happens.
When I was on Facebook, I spent time every single day vetting and correcting posts, “putting out fires.” A psychiatrist friend of mine got into arguments on my page with my schizophrenic brother-in-law. Twice. Each time P became rude and sarcastic and K became hysterical and crude, and I would unfriend my brother-in-law. And then I would email my psychiatrist friend to explain (again) who she was arguing with and have to make peace (again) with an ill family member.
At that time, I had nearly 1500 “friends” on Facebook, so misunderstandings were inevitable. Most of them were former students but also childhood friends, neighbors, schoolmates and artists and authors. I tried to maintain certain standards of courtesy and reason. I would delete a comment that included objectionable language, for example, and then message the person to explain what I’d done and why. It was a daily task of vetting my page. Jokes were taken literally. Misunderstandings. A poet decided I was being deliberately offensive for pointing out that Alison Bechdel is a writer, and he unfriended and blocked me. My sister-in-law complained that I supported abortion rights out loud to her and her sister when they were teenagers. I was a teenager then too. Cruel and inaccurate memes. All of this madness on Facebook and nearly always on my own page. It’s why I left.
Most recently, I read the essay JK Rowling wrote in 2020 about her understanding and support of trans rights, her support of trans people, and, as a woman and abuse survivor, being triggered by the decision to allow men who claimed they “identified” as women into women’s space even when they had done nothing (and intended to do nothing) to pursue transition. People have called her names I cannot even say out loud, burned her books, and threatened her life. Though I am not one of her die-hard fans, I completely understood her position, respect her position, and even support her position.
She counters several claims, including the insistence that teenagers cannot be convinced to change their sexual or gender orientation. Well, yes, of course they can be pressured to conform. How else to explain the coming out of adults who pretended to be straight (to family and friends) for years or decades in response to pressure to conform? I have taught students willing to come out to me and others who did not come out even to themselves.
A friend recently expressed surprise, even shock (or horror?) that Gary and I know people who supported and still support Trump’s lies. People who would deny women control of their own bodies, who would marginalize anyone unlike themselves. But there you are. We are sometimes a gullible and deluded species.
I am not a scientist, but, literally, some of my closest friends were out even when I was in high school. It was probably not common in the late 1960s for people to come out to their peers, but my supportive junior-year clan included both gays and lesbians. Bigotry against people for their race or sexual orientation never made sense to me but it exists and even thrives today. (The later HIV and AIDS crisis killed many people we knew, people we liked and cared about. Gary waited until I completed and mailed the last yearbook pages one June before revealing that D had died three days before.)
All this to say, I am not unaware. Of my oldest school friends, C grew into an entitled bigot, D became an affluent Republican, CM and S and R vanished from my life, B and TM died, but T from junior high and R and M from high school are around and in contact. My friends have been various races, ethnicities, religions, social class, and sexual orientation. Good people all (except maybe C), though D felt personally responsible for Eve bringing death into the world. (Does no one remember that Adam also eats the forbidden fruit? “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.”) C felt she was treated badly in high school but seems not to recall what a beast she was to others—even I recall this and I still called her a friend.
I am a passionate researcher, and a rational skeptic rather than a paranoid one. I read the news each morning. Just now I find The Guardian and BBC more helpful for some US news than some other sources, but I check out reliable NPR and also The Washington Post and TNYT. I review the headlines in surveys of news stories and read Letters from an American. I send money to Heather Cox Richardson and Wikipedia. Next month we will renew membership in the ACLU and at least two other charities we have supported for decades.
All of this—every detail I have written here today—is offensive or even horrifying to some neighbors, friends, and family. None of them, or at most only a few of them, read my blog.
I should be grateful for this opportunity to vent.
Gary and I at the beginning of our long walk south to the end of the next beach a couple of weeks ago.