God did it! Prayers Answered in Mississippi

People believe some crazy shit in the name of religion.  Whether or not you think magic underwear is more crazy than talking donkeys, dragons, or the sin of mixed material fabrics is largely a matter of cultural indoctrination.  We all have family legends and local superstitions that probably look nuts to outsiders, but that’s ok.  We should all be able to get along even if the particulars of our irrational belief systems don’t always match.  As long as these beliefs don’t become a matter of public policy.

Here in Mississippi, it’s always a matter of public policy.  The South is known for being particularly religious, to be sure, but I’m not sure that means Southerners are more pious, that their faith goes deeper.  It seems to mean, instead, that they make more appearances at church, and they simply refuse to acknowledge the separation of church and state.

Principal Lowanda Tyler-Jones crossed a line when she anointed desks, pencils, doorways, and students’ heads with holy water as she prayed for them before a standardized test.  Maybe this is acceptable behavior in Clarksdale, but it is a clear violation of students’ rights not to be anointed with holy water by a batshit crazy person. Somebody call the ACLU!  The ACLU Is very busy here, by the way, and is being helped out a lot by the Appignani Humanist Association which handles the regular lawsuits against my kids’ school for locking children into revival meetings in the middle of the school day.  You know it’s only the lawyers that win in these situations.  I feel marginally ok about this because I get invited to their pool parties.

But wait!  You will never guess what happened!  Her prayers were answered! The test scores were great!  Maybe the holy water is the key ingredient you’re missing if your prayers are going unanswered.  Can  you can get it on Amazon?

I wish she had been more careful in what she had asked for, though, because the students did not become more academically proficient in the long term. They performed very poorly the following year when they aged up to a different school.  Also God did not give them the right answers up front.  According to an almost $250,000 investigation by an independent company paid for by your tax dollars, God had to erase a lot of wrong test answers.  You’d think God might understand that Tyler-Jones meant she wanted the kids to KNOW the right answers not just GET the right answers.  God must be a literalist. Or possibly an ass.

Further investigation revealed that Ms. Tyler-Jones instructed teachers to coach students and change their wrong answers.  God helps those who help themselves. The principal is in plenty of hot water over this, and it doesn’t look like her prayers are going to keep her out of jail, but what I want to know is why didn’t someone say something when she was running around sprinkling scantron sheets with the blessings of the pope?  Did no one think this might be a warning sign?  Is this woman even Catholic? It’s more of a Southern Baptist kind of place.  If she is Catholic, is she more justified in using this tactic?  Catholics please weigh in.

We shouldn’t be surprised if people think that they can justify their own behavior as long as they invoke the name of God. Not if that’s what’s being taught from the pulpit. This is the same state where the Mayor of the Capital City has publicly admitted he believes praying for our potholes to go away is an actual solution to our infrastructure problem.  I keep thinking that must be taken out of context, or he meant it sarcastically as in, “People, we only have so much money, so all I can do is pray until y’all cough up a tax base I can work with,” but it turns out, no, he does really mean it.  After all, he said, “Moses prayed and a sea opened.”

I’m not going to weigh in on the theological implications of prayer or even on the psychological effects.  I would appreciate it however, if officials refrained from praying instead of doing their jobs.  That’d be great. Thanks.



An Open Letter on Dating While Fat

Dear Fat Girls:

I just ran across another one of those Dating while Fat articles on Salon.  You’ve read them, right?  Usually written by body-positive feminist bloggers.  It’s an important topic that we don’t talk about enough.  I’m not really that comfortable talking about it myself, but I’m going to.  Not because these articles reflect my experience, but because they don’t.  I do not want you to expect to be treated like dirt because of your size.  You should not expect it.  You should not tolerate it.

I am not immune to the negatives of skinny culture.  Sometimes I look at myself in the mirror, and I don’t like what I see.  Sometimes I see a picture of myself that makes me feel ugly.  Sometimes I get out of the shower and sit on my bed in a towel and look at myself below the knees and think how lovely my calves are because I don’t carry extra weight there. These are real things.  I do not let them define me.

What I want you to know is that pretty much everyone has pictures they want to burn, mirrors they want to break, and some physical features they like better than others.  This will probably happen to you. And to your skinny classmate.   You can both choose not to dwell on your own flaws.  Seriously, find something else to do.

This article, like others I’ve read, talks about how difficult it is to date when you are fat.  She’s not lying.  What I want you to know is dating is difficult.  For everyone. She says that men reject her because she’s fat.  What I want you to know is men will reject you for all kinds of reasons, and you will reject them.  It’s part of the dating game.

Yes, it has happened to me.  I do a lot of on-line dating which makes Dating while Fat especially tricky.  I’ve never had a man tell me straight out he did not want to be with me because I’m fat, but I’ve had two dates in particular (one of which involved me driving to Arkansas) where this horrible awkwardness started as soon as he saw me, and so I think that is what it was.  But I didn’t ask, so I don’t know for sure.  These were unpleasant experiences.  But what I want you to know is that there have also been times (more than twice) where I have gently rejected a man because I was not attracted to him.  I can’t point to one physical feature that turned me off.  It wasn’t because he was too short or too hairy or too bald, and these are things men worry about.  (I’m waiting for the Dating while Hirsute article.)  I’m not sure why I wasn’t attracted to them, really, but I don’t think that the fact I don’t know makes me a better person.  What I want you to know is that mutual physical attraction is really important.  And it can be tricky.  It may be trickier for you than for some.  Don’t let it stop you.

After the Arkansas fiasco, I’ve learned to be more upfront about my size with men I would like to meet.  Yes, this is an awkward conversation.  What I want you to know is what men like is women who are confident in their own bodies.  If you are not, fake it until you make it. Most of them do not expect your body to be perfect. They don’t even know what thigh gap is.  I don’t say, “I’m fat. Is that ok?”  I say, “I’m a DDD, and the rest of me matches.”  I have yet to have a man back down after I’ve said that.  It’s all in the presentation.

Dating while Fat articles often caution you against men who have a preference for larger women.  They say these men are perverts, fetishists, broken somehow.  This has not been my experience at all.  I will tell you the details when you are older, but my experiences with men who prefer larger women have been overwhelmingly positive, and they were otherwise normal men with all the flaws and strengths of other men.  I want you to know that a man who prefers bigger women, who treats you with respect, who makes your palms tingle, may be a great partner for you.  I also want you to know that there are other men who really don’t care one way or the other, and they can be great, too.

There are men who do care, I suppose.  Who do not want to date a larger woman.  Do not worry about these men.  No matter how cute he is, a boy who is not attracted to you is not someone you want.  It is ok to stay home and watch Netflix or read a book or play dress up with your cat rather than give a man like that one minute of your time. Even if he is an otherwise nice guy.

A man who is not attracted to you is not quite the same as a man who is ashamed of you.  This article talks about that, too.  And I’ve heard this story from other women-about the man who likes your body but will not be seen in public with you, the man who will take you to bed, but not to Denny’s.  The man who will be rude to you in front of his friends but thinks you look just fine naked.  This has never happened to me.  Never.  And every time I hear this story, I’m just horrified.  What kind of man would do that?  Not one you want.

If this ever happens to you, I am so  sorry. But what I want you to know is, and if I could make you believe one thing, it would be this: anyone who treats you like shit for any reason is not worth a single tear.  A man who would treat a woman this way has bigger problems than your fat will ever be.  If a man is ever unkind to you, and there will probably be a time when one is, it will be everything about him and nothing about you.

What I want you to know is that you are just as beautiful as you think you are, and that dating can be a wonderful and frustrating journey.  And you should expect to be treated like the strong, interesting, intelligent woman you are.  Any man who believes differently is dirt beneath your feet.  Treat him accordingly.



Crime Against Humanity: Blood on Your Hands

In the movie Blade Runner (and also in the Philip K. Dick novel on which it was based), professional replicant hunter, Rick Deckard, administers a test called the Voight-Kampff.  The Voight-Kampff is a machine that measures minute changes in the pupil in response to various hypothetical situations. To fail this test is to be declared less than human, merely a replicant of a human.

This machine, it turns out, did actually exist at one time.  Only instead of determining if you were a replicant, it was designed (and not very well) to determine your sexual orientation.  It was called, I kid you not, the Fruit Machine, and was used during the McCarthy-era Lavender Scare.

Like a replicant, the fruit machine has been retired.  It is no longer an acceptable practice to strap people to chairs and show them sexually explicit pictures like in Clockwork Orange.  Maybe it is not surprising that over 90% of LGBTQ adults in a Pew Research study say society has become more accepting of them in the past decade and they anticipate it will continue to become more so.

Do not congratulate yourself.

In this same study, nearly 40% of respondents reported being rejected by a close friend or family member because of their sexual orientation.  These families are more likely to be Southern, and they’re more likely to be religious, and their children are more likely to commit suicide.

As many as 40% of LGBTQ youth have been reported to attempt suicide.  And the reported number is certainly low.  Let that sink in.  Four out of every 10 LGBTQ youth attempt to end their own lives.  So no, do not congratulate yourself.

Let’s be clear. The high suicide rate among LGBTQ teens is not caused by homosexuality.  The high suicide rate is caused by homophobia.   It is because our children have been harassed, physically threatened, taunted, and beaten.  It’s because they are kicked out of their homes and lose their jobs.  It’s because they face obstacles marrying their partners or adopting children.  And here in the South, it’s because this is all considered acceptable behavior in the Christian Church.

Not all Christians believe this of course.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu called homophobia a “crime against humanity.”

“We treat them” he said of gays and lesbians,   “as pariahs and push them outside our communities.  We make them doubt that they too are children of God—and this must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy.”

This is quite a contrast to those of you who consider homosexuality an abomination, considering you all claim to get your morals from the same God and the same book.  I know there are also some who try to take the middle ground, who are content to let God sort out the fags, who profess to hate the sin and love the sinner.  You would never lift a finger against a gay person and even refrain from the playground level slurs the LGBTQ community must endure every day. Then you sit in church and nod as your preacher condemns your neighbors, your friends, your children for how they were born.

That’s not good enough.  That’s not nearly good enough.

If you support a church that preaches hate, and you do not stand up in some way to object, there is blood on your hands. Period.  Every one of the more than 10,000 annual suicides by gay youth, they’re on you.  Because you have declared a human to be less than human.  I hope your God can forgive you because I will not.

If you are a young person dealing with the pressures of a non-conforming gender identity, it’s ok to ask for help.  Visit the Trevor Project or call 1-866-488-7386.

Political Protest in the Deep South: Sorry, I forgot my Bible.

Being politically active in the Bible Belt is a whole different basket of fishes and loaves. Political rallies are often led by preachers, and even if they are not, they open and often close with a prayer.  I personally am not one of those atheists that are offended by every display of faith, but I will admit to feeling a bit excluded.  I show up to support fully funding public education, and everyone assumes I’m a Christian. Well in this town, I show up to buy shoes, and everyone assumes I am a Christian, so I should not take it personally. But what really bothers me is the framing of every issue against the backdrop of guessing what it is God really wants.  Progressives and conservative alike claim the support of the same God.  I’m not sure where that leaves me.   All I can say is that if one group of people claim the Bible says that homosexuals should be treated like their straight peers and another group of people claim the Bible says homosexuals should be shamed, persecuted, and beaten, maybe the difference of opinion is not about the Bible.  Let’s quit pretending Christianity is a unifying belief system. It’s a crutch at best; at worst it is no more than a pathetic excuse for the need to hold onto white male heteronormative cisgender power. Or a ploy to push forward the gay agenda.  Take your pick.

I stand with my Mothers for Choice sign, listening  to public prayers that include not just the usual praise and requests for blessings, but pleas that the opposing side will see the light, that their hearts will be softened, that they will come to understand that they are not doing God’s will.  As I recall, this did not work on the Pharaoh any better than it does on Mississippi legislators.

So the problem is not that some people are greedy, or conservative, or misogynistic, or Republican.  The problem is that some people are not interpreting the Bible correctly.  They are bad Christians.  No. That’s not right.  That’s not what Christian Progressives call them.  They call them “not true Christians.”  It would be interesting to find out if the political right uses this same terminology when describing the left.  It wouldn’t surprise me.

Since you cannot get elected if you do not call yourself Christian in Mississippi (you can’t even legally hold office if you are an atheist), it’s pretty clear that all of our State leaders are Christians at least in name.  It even tells you which church they belong to in the official directory. Did they simply exercise free will and choose the wrong denomination? Are they lying?  Influenced by the devil?  Motivation matters here.  If Republicans are all wearing invisible demon horns, that’s a whole different fight than if they just need an education about the science of Climate Change.

What do people mean when they say that those with differing political opinions are “not true Christians?” If you are a false Christian does that not imply some intent? As if you have studied the teachings of Jesus and chosen to reject them while still professing to be a person of the faith? Have you made a Faustian deal with the Devil for political power while pledging your soul to the dark side?

That’s a pretty serious accusation, and it leaves very little room for further political negotiation.  How can we reach common ground once I have accused you of purposefully denying your own faith?    I was not prepared to fight Satan himself when I took to the steps of the Capitol on the issue of transgender rights.  I have aligned myself with a movement which creates an impasse by framing political differences as no less than a war between good and evil.  I just want to make sure everyone can pee where they want.