The GOP Talks Like an Idiot: A Rant by a Writerly-type Person

Thanks to @RaeBeta on Twitter for the illustration. (© Marvel)

The following is a cranky, somewhat pompous rant about language written by someone who is overly invested in the principles of clarity, usage, and style. You have been warned.

As pretty much everyone who knows me offline knows, I am a professional wordsmith. I work in publishing, which means that I’m around words every single day. I’m a sometimes freelance copyeditor, which means that I’m particular about how sentences are constructed and how words are used. I work with poets, which means that I am hyper-conscious about the meanings of words and the sounds of words and the connotations of words and how important each word is in crafting a meaningful, memorable statement. My bookshelf includes titles such as The Wordy Shipmates, A Brief History of the Printed Word, The Oxford Companion to the English Language, Verbivore’s Feast, and of course, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition.

I’m finicky about language is what I’m saying.

Which is why I am continuously irritated by the rhetoric of the Republican Party.

I’m not talking about their platform, believe it or not, although I’m not terribly fond of that either. No, I’m talking about their rhetoric (n.): the art of speaking or writing effectively.

It has been said of the new president that he has a fourth-grade vocabulary and that he talks like a clown. It has also been said that he is a master of classical rhetoric, i.e. appealing to an audience through emotional language over rational discourse, which is true, unfortunately, but I’m not going to get into that here, because I’m not actually talking about him (for once).

No, this is a rant about a different Republican spokesperson. It’s about a sentence that is so looping, so repetitive, so poorly constructed that it irritated me enough to write a 1700-word rant about it on Facebook and then copy it to my personal blog.

Again: you have been warned.

Just look at this stupid sentence:

“I think he knows that he’s got very thin ice he’s standing on legally,” said Susan Hutchinson, chairman of the Washington State Republican Party. “I’m not a lawyer but I have talked to lawyers today and they have all said this is a very thin argument legally.”

Just look at it! Let it seep into your brain. Let it smother your brain cells with it’s idiocy and strangle them of their oxygen. Let it ooze through your pores and burst through your skin like a bad case of acne. Let it wash over you. Consume you. Make your teeth itch.

“I think he knows that he’s got very thin ice he’s standing on legally. I’m not a lawyer but I have talked to lawyers today and they have all said this is a very thin argument legally.”


Dumb dumb dumb!

Now, before I go any further, I should give you the context of what she’s talking about. This is a quote from a Seattle Times article on U.S. District Judge James Robart’s ruling in favor of Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who sued to invalidate key provisions of Trump’s executive order on immigration and refugees traveling to the U.S. from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Hutchinson is accusing Ferguson of suing for political motives.

But that’s not the point. The point is that her sentence is stupid.

Let’s look at it one word at a time:

1. “I think”—weak writing. To quote another editor, phrases like “I think” and “In my opinion” a) delay the writer’s message, b) demonstrate insecurity, and c) tell the reader what she already knows. Better to start with “He knows…”

2. “he knows that…”—interpretation of motive. Unless she has spoken with the judge, there’s no way she could know what he “knows”—which itself is a poor word choice, but I’ll let it go for now. Better: “He’s got…”

3. “got”—nonstandard usage. “Got” is the past participle of “get” which means “to obtain.” Better: “He is on very…”

4. “very”—imprecise qualifier. To quote William Allen White: “Never use the word, ‘very.’ It is the weakest word in the English language; doesn’t mean anything. If you feel the urge of ‘very’ coming on, just write the word, ‘damn,’ in the place of ‘very.’ The editor will strike out the word, ‘damn,’ and you will have a good sentence.” Better: “He is on thin ice”

5. “thin ice”—dead metaphor. It’s a cliché phrase that has lost its meaning due to overuse. It’s also imprecise. Better: “He has [note shift of verb] poor standing legally.”

6. “legally”—technically correct, but the adverb placement is slightly unclear. Better: “He has poor legal standing.”

7. “I’m not a lawyer”—disqualification of authority. If you’re not a lawyer, then why should we believe what you say? Better: “He has poor legal standing. I have talked to lawyers…”

8. “I have talked to lawyers”—imprecise. Which lawyers? What branch of law do they practice? Constitutional lawyers? Divorce lawyers? Finance lawyers? Better: “I have spoken with several experts on constitutional law, including [name of lawyer], [name of lawyer], and [name of lawyer]…”

9. “and they have all said”—paraphrase. Better to give an exact quote. Since there is no quote provided, it’s better to cut the phrase.

10. “it”—ambiguous pronoun. What “it” is she referring to? The ruling? Trump’s executive order? Ferguson’s lawsuit? Be precise. Better: “I have spoken with several experts on constitutional law who agreed that Ferguson’s lawsuit…”

11. “a very thin argument”—see points 2 and 3.

12. “legally.”—repetition. You’ve said “legally” and “lawyer,” both of which are variations on “law,” four times. This is an effective rhetorical device for a speech (people remember repetitions), but it’s dishonest here. It’s also distracting. Better to cut the repetition.

To wit: “Ferguson’s lawsuit has poor legal standing. I have spoken with experts on constitutional law who agree that this suit is unconstitutional.”

This may sound silly and pedantic, but guess what? She’s making a statement about lawyers! Lawyers are some of the most pedantic people on the planet. They know that words matter and that every word in a ruling, a contract, or a statement must be precise. If it’s not precise, then another pedantic lawyer could easily find a loophole. That’s why the Terms of Services on your Facebook account (for example) are written in legalese: because Facebook does not want to be sued, and if they are sued, they want to win the case.

The legal field, like most career fields, uses language in a specific manner—jargon, you could say. (“Jargon” here referring to its second, more precise definition in Merriam-Websters, i.e. “the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group”). In other words, lawyers speak their own language. If you cannot speak their language, they will destroy your argument in the courtroom.

This doesn’t apply to just lawyers, by the way: farmers, engineers, manufacturers, academics, healthcare workers, bankers, stock brokers—every single career field has their own technical terms and their own way of speaking.

Now, I will be the first to admit that I do not always speak in the most refined manner. I tend to use colloquialisms and everyday vernacular both because it’s easier to articulate and because it’s easier to understand. Spoken language is, was, and always will have different rules than written English.

(English, by the way, is sometimes described as “a language with few rules and many exceptions.” Which is accurate. Which is how I justify writing in sentence fragments. Like this one. In short: I’m not making an argument that “she broke the rules.” I’m making an argument about style.)

I will also admit—readily—that I am guilty of many of the same “word crimes” as Hutchinson. I very much have a bad habit of overusing the word “very” and falling back on clichés (i.e. dead metaphors).

I also trend more toward descriptivism over prescriptivism these days, but again, that’s neither here nor there.

My point is that Hutchinson’s sentence is stupid. It’s also symptomatic of a larger problem: the dumbing down of our public language.

Compare her sentence to the words of Abraham Lincoln’s—another Republican, albeit one from a bygone era—Second Inaugural Address:

Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

Beautiful. I get chills every time I read that sentence. It’s elegant, it’s simple, it’s easy to understand (save perhaps for the word “deprecated,” which might send some folks to a dictionary, but since when has looking up an unfamiliar word been a bad thing?), and that last clause! “…and the war came.” The understatement to end all understatements!

I could also compare her statement to, oh, nearly anything spoken in a public address by President Obama, but that would be overkill. Grabbing the low-hanging fruit. Shooting fish in a barrel. Et cetra.

Note the clichés in the last paragraph. Note the sentence fragments. Note that it’s possible to write colloquially without tripping over oneself and repeating the same words over and over and over again.

And if I do repeat words (or start a sentence with a conjunction or commit some other bugaboo), I do so for emphasis—not because I’m too flustered to think of a better word.

Yeah, it’s the repetition that bugs me the most.

“he’s got very thin ice he’s standing on legally.”

“I’m not a lawyer but I have talked to lawyers today and they have all said this is a very thin argument legally.”


In short: words matter, language matters, and public language should aim for a higher standard. Either the GOP is intentionally talking down to the public because they assume we’re all dumber than a fifth grader, or they are legitimately too simple-minded to construct a decent sentence. Either way, as someone who works with language for a living, my eardrums are being ripped from my skull, grated with a lemon zester, and sprinkled over year-old gazpacho.

Now that is how you construct a colorful metaphor.

And to the entire Republican Party I say: Buy a goddamn copy of Shrunk and White, you hacks.

Note: the author does not endorse Shrunk and White as the final authority on style and usage in the English language. It is just as biased and outdated as any style manual written by writerly-type persons. It is, however, a good place to start if one wants to learn the principles of good writing. See also: the works of Stephen Pinker.


Inauguration – January 20, 2017

Today I sent poetry books to reviewers across the continent. I gave thanks that I’ve finally found a home in the world of nonprofit literary publishing. I felt honored to serve our poets and readers—to be the loom that holds the warp and the woof of our community together. Today I took comfort in words of power, wisdom, and joy.

Today I threw back a shot of whiskey with the bearded, beefy bartender at a gay bar. He’d spent his whole life in this city, while I am still a stranger, yet he welcomed me with a drink and a hand of friendship. Today I took pride in my brotherhood of mutants and weirdos.

Today I ate a cupcake named after the Devil, which I bought for the sole purpose of pissing off the Vice President. In another place, in another time, it would have been called a “red velvet,” yet here and now, it has been renamed to take ownership of our grievous faults. Today I feel no guilt for this delicious, red-velvety goodness.

Today I sent messages of love and support to my loved ones near and far. Our bonds are stronger than the miles between us; our friendship deeper than those who would revile us. We are young; we are not as young as we once were. We are financially secure; we are barely scraping by. We are male; we are female; we do not believe in binaries. We are people of all faiths and unfaiths. We are immigrants and emigrants. Today I reaffirmed that we all belong here.

Today I made breakfast and took out the trash. I did the dishes and balanced my budget. I scheduled an eye doctor appointment and responded to emails. I checked the mailbox and swept the floor. I brushed my teeth and added items to my grocery list. I drank more than two cups of tea. I continued to do what needed to be done.

Today I sought out new communities and ways to get involved. I beefed up my cyber-security and brushed up on my Constitution. I read up on ACT UP! and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. I reminded myself that patriotism means never settling for an imperfect union, and that justice is not justice until it serves all.

Today I read a powerful theological statement by #DecolonizeLuheranism, written in the tradition of the 95 Theses, defending my faith from those who would sell out Christianity to a false doctrine of hatred. I reminded myself that the Gospel’s message is Love and service and Light for all people, and that anyone who preaches different does not know Christ.

Today I gave thanks for the earth that provides for us, for the arts that feed our soul, for the journalists who keep us informed, for the teachers who keep us thinking for ourselves, for the doctors who keep us healthy, for the soldiers who have sworn to keep us safe, for the officers who protect our communities, and for the protesters who hold them accountable. Today I gave thanks for all the blessings and joys in my life.

And I will do all of these things again in four years. No matter what happens, no matter how the winds may blow, I promise myself here and now that on January 20, 2021, I will have as boring and mundane a day as I did today. I will not let history destroy the seeds I am planting today.

My life in four years will not look the same as it did today: no two moments can ever be the same. But I will continue to love and create, to share and pray, to lift up and fight back, and above all give thanks.

“Everyone has their own pain—their own suffering to bear”

For a month now, I’ve followed news of every shooting, every bombing, every massacre since Orlando. In total, hundreds of people are dead. Hundreds more have been injured. People are dying all over the world.

I don’t have any answers. I don’t have any grand insights. I can’t wave a magic wand and make all of this go away.

This week, I’ve been rereading Tokyo Babylon by the Japanese mangaka (a group of writers and artists who create Japanese comic) CLAMP. It’s a series that found me at just the right age of adolescence, and it’s shaped me in more ways than I’d care to admit.

At the heart of this story is the idea that no one can ever truly understand another person’s pain: that every single one of us is human, that to be human is to have our hearts broken, and that each of us experiences the world—and our pain—in our own way. Even if our circumstances are similar, our pain is our own.

And yet…

And yet because we each carry our own pain, we can share empathy with others. We can support them in their struggles and offer comfort in their pain. We may never truly understand how they feel, but we can hold them in loving-kindness.

As usual, words fail me. If I were one for slogans, I’d offer a string of hashtags like “queer lives matter,” “trans lives matter,” “Latinx lives matter,” “Arab/Syrian/Iraqi/Turkish/Indian/Kashmiri/South Sudanese lives matter,” and of course, Black Lives Matter. All of these slogans are true.

And I guess why I can’t share my friends’ outrage at the phrase “all lives matter” is that, while I agree it misses the point (my favorite takedown of this is the meme that says, “Yes, all lives matter, but we’re focused on the black ones right now, OK? Because it is very apparent that our justice system doesn’t know that.” [I won’t pull statistics here, but the raw data does back up that statement]), I can understand—and empathize with—the desire to scream “All lives matter! Human lives matter! Too many people have died.”

Especially this summer.

Because a lot of people are hurting right now.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus says to the crowd gathered at the mount: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Now, Jesus was speaking to a particular context, but the point stands: no one is perfect. We’ve all fallen short at one time or another. We all have our own shortcomings, our own regrets, our own shame. We all have our own pain to bear.

Even if you’re not religious or if you’re religious but not Christian, there is wisdom here. Who are you to judge someone else? Who are you to condemn them for their pain? Who are you to say that your pain is deeper and that they should just get over it? For that way lies the Oppression Olympics: the endless competition to garner the most pity for oneself or one’s group. And that’s a game that no one can win.

I guess what I’m getting at is that a lot of people are hurting right now. A lot of people are looking for answers. Or justice. Or change. Or hope. And there just aren’t very many clear answers out there right now. There aren’t ways to heal the world overnight.

And it’s not just minority groups or victims of violence: every single person on this planet has felt loss or sadness or fear or depression or anxiety or grief or injury (or if they haven’t yet, they will). We all have our own scars. We all feel our own pain.

So if you take nothing else from this post, if you take nothing else from the endless march of bad news this summer, let it be this: treat your neighbors with kindness. Treat strangers with kindness. Treat even the people who oppose you with kindness.

Because you can never truly understand the pain they may feel.

(Image © CLAMP, TOKYOPOP, Dark Horse, and whichever Japanese publisher holds the rights to Tokyo Babylon. Read panels right to left)



A Prayer for Summer

O God, life-giver, pain bearer, river from whom all things flow . . .

Forgive us for our grievous sins. For all that we have done. For all that we have left undone. Have mercy on us.

I pray for the loved ones of those who have died. For the families, friends, and partners of the victims in Orlando, in Istanbul, in Dhaka, in Baghdad, in Medina, in Syria, in Fallujah, and in all communities torn apart by bloodshed. Grant them peace. Grant them love. Grant them strength to go on.

I pray for the families of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, and for all victims of racial injustice. Give us courage to accept our faults as an imperfect union. Give us wisdom to listen to those who are hurting and to learn from their suffering. Give us strength to mend our broken systems. Help us to heal the brokenness in our communities and to learn to love each other as your beloved community.

I pray for Michael Volz, Goddess Diamond, Amos Beede, Mercedes Successful, and for all transgender folk who have suffered violence, sexual violence, and murder because of who they are. Help us to acknowledge that you work in ways that we can never understand. Help us to see your light in the eyes of our siblings who do not conform to our gender norms. I pray that all efforts to legally discriminate against our transgender kin fail, that unjust laws be overturned, and that the fear of what we do not understand may evaporate like the mist in the mid-July sun.

I pray for the poor. For the homeless in Seattle, San Francisco, New York, and everywhere.  For the unemployed. For the underemployed. For those who have little and those who have nothing. Help us to see these people in our midst. Help us learn to recognize your spirit within them. Teach us, O God, to help them. Just as you yourself once taught us to care for the hungry, the poor, and the outcast.

O God, I pray for my queer and trans kinfolk who suffered anxiety, anger, fear, and despair in these weeks following Orlando. I pray for queer and trans folks of color—especially those who are Latinx, black, and Muslim—who face violence and injustice every day. I pray for the folks who came out because of Orlando and for those who suffered because they were true to themselves. Help us to heal and to find strength through each other. Help us nurture a stronger, more inclusive, intersectional community. May our pain carry us forward and reignite our fires of righteous activism. May we learn from our forefathers and mothers who rose up at Stonewall and acted up to fight AIDS. May we continue their struggle until all of us—until all people everywhere—live in a world free from discrimination, hatred, and bigotry.

O God, you have taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves. To love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us.

Help me to love my enemies.

Help me to pray for those who have persecuted my kindred.

God, I pray for Omar Mateen and for those he left behind. I pray for his family, for his father, for his wife, for his son. Take my anger. Take my sadness. Grant me the strength and the courage to forgive this man for his sins.

God, I pray for police forces everywhere. I pray that they may unlearn their biases and relearn how to nurture goodwill within the communities that they have sworn to protect. Give us the patience to work with those in power, the strength to carry out reforms throughout the criminal justice system, and the compassion to nurture relationships between those who serve us, between our neighbors, and between ourselves.

God, I pray for the followers of ISIS. I do not understand them. I do not forgive them. (God, help me to forgive them.) I do not know how to stop them—that is, I do not know how to protect their victims from further harm. This war is beyond me, O God: I do not know how to counter their worldview. All I can ask is that you forgive them. That you guide us. And that somehow, someday, this fissure between us may be healed.

God, I pray for the straight folks who let us suffer in silence after the shooting in Orlando. I pray for the politicians who co-opted this massacre to further their own agendas. I pray for the friends who did not comfort us and the media that did not acknowledge us. I pray for all those who silenced us: by their actions, by their denials, by their inaction, through their silence. Help us to forgive them. Help them to learn from this: to unlearn their bigotry and their callousness. Help them to recognize all that they take for granted. Help them to see your light in our eyes.

O God, I pray for all who live in fear or anger or hatred or bigotry. I pray for those who cry out for vengeance and those who cry out to be heard. I pray for all of us whose hearts are broken. I pray for all who are suffering—for all of us are wounded. Help us to see the brokenness within each others’ hearts.

And for myself, I pray for compassion. I pray for strength. I pray for wisdom. O God, this summer has seen more than its fair share of bloodshed. My heart breaks and breaks only to be broken once again the next day.

Yet let it not be my will, but thy will that is done.

Photo © the author

“Suffering and tragedy and folly will not disappear in a purified world. They are part of humanity. That is why. Even in a world of suffering, there can be joy and shining light.” -Hayao Miyazaki, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

God, I pray that my heart keeps on breaking—again and again and again.

Because if my heart did not break each time their was pain in this world, then this life would not be worth living.



Seattle Pride (Orlando, Part II)

[Originally published on Facebook. Names have been removed to protect my friends’ privacy.]


Seattle Pride’s theme this year was “the future of pride.” I didn’t give this much thought at the time, honestly, but now that it’s over, I’m thinking back on my impressions from this weekend and how the threads of the theme are weaving together.

I remember the beautiful trans women, the queer folks holding hands, and the woman in the rainbow gear and a Black Lives Matter t-shirt on Capitol Hill. I remember the booths for homeless shelters for LGBT teens. I remember the sacred space of the interfaith Pride service. I remember feeling elated at the Seattle Public Library’s display of LGBT Children’s and YA books.

I remember the really cute older gay couple eating ice cream in the Seattle Center and the always delightful older lesbian couples walking hand-in-hand down the sidewalk. I remember spending time with my friends—both queer and straight. I remember trying to cheer up a straight man from Spokane who’d been ditched by his buddy. I remember a mix of straight and queer men teaching me how to follow in blues dancing.

And I remember feeling out of place in a bar filled with somewhat older gay men who were overwhelmingly white. I remember feeling unsure if I would be welcome at Saturday’s Dyke March. I remember a trans friend’s frustration at the folks who wouldn’t listen to their stories of violence against the trans community. I remember being told that Capitol Hill Pride was “Pride for queer folks” and that Sunday’s Pride parade was “Pride for everyone else.”

I remember resenting the straight folks holding hands with their partners this weekend and flashing back to a year ago when my ex and I were accosted for doing the same. I remember feeling anxious walking around wearing a rainbow on my t-shirt, even though it was Pride weekend, even though Seattle is (supposedly) this great city of tolerance, even though I am statistically way less likely to be attacked than a trans woman or a queer person of color.

I didn’t remember Orlando—I would have to forget before I could remember. But the stories of what happened that night were always at the back of my mind. I just wish I’d had the space to talk with folks about it—like we used to in my college’s queer student groups.

I remember a heck of a lot of rainbows. Seriously, so many rainbows. Just…all of them. Rainbows everywhere.

All of these pieces seem so disconnected: the good times, the not so good times, the brief moments of activism amidst a sea of celebration, the isolated communities. We all have so much in common, and yet even during this weekend of celebration, we carved out our own spaces. We had separate events. We went to separate bars. We didn’t seem to be listening to each other (again, sorry for generalizing; I’m just reporting my observations).

That’s what I’s like to see in the future of Pride: a more interconnected, intersectional community that doesn’t stop fighting after marriage equality. I want to see a beloved community of queer and trans folks of all colors, faiths, income levels, and genders supporting each other in all of our struggles. I want to see our straight allies respecting our sacred spaces and acknowledging our experiences, not brushing us aside with a pithy statement like “love is love” or “love wins.” I want to see us work together until we all have equal rights, equal dignity, equal safety, and equal opportunity for a better tomorrow.

There is still work to be done. Keep fighting. Keep loving. Keep celebrating. Keep grieving. Keep hoping. Keep listening. Keep supporting. Keep being.

For the future of Pride.



At this point I am resigned to spending my entire vacation watching horrible things happen around the world and reading analyses of Revolutionary Girl Utena.

And when THAT show is your source of hope in a messed up world, it’s pretty sad.

Don’t get me wrong: I love me some Utena, and I do think its message is ultimately hopeful. But it’s not exactly a series of sunshine and lollipops.

Let me start over.

Revolutionary Girl Utena is one of my all-time favorite stories. It’s an allegorical shoujo anime fairy tale about a nonconforming young woman who decides to become a prince.

The series has it all: roses, fencing, surrealism, comedy, drama, deconstruction, lesbians, literary allusions, visual references to traditional Japanese theater and Western Art History, miracles, shiny things, witches, false memories, storming the castle, smashing the patriarchy…

So it’s pretty much the catalyst of some of my all-time favorite storytelling tropes.

But there are a LOT of content warnings in Revolutionary Girl Utena. Like, a lot. Like, an awful lot.

I’m not going to give a full plot summary, because a) this isn’t a formal essay, b) the series is almost twenty years old, and c) this is the Internet: you can find a summary online easily enough.

But I am gonna be spoiling the heck out of this series—and Episode 39 in particular. There’s also gonna be some general description of physical and sexual abuse (nothing graphic), because it’s kind of impossible to talk about the series as a whole without touching on that part of the story. You’ve been warned.

For anyone who wants a more in-depth description of the series, I’ll give you a minute to go read the Wikipedia page. Got it? Good.

Throughout the series, the characters of Revolutionary Girl Utena speak of the world revolution. For some, the revolution means power; for others, it means a return to innocence. The implication from the opening credits is that, when the revolution comes, it will be in an earth-shattering moment: after a great battle, the castle in the sky will crumble to the ground, and the old world will pass away.

That’s not what happens.

Because in the end, the revolution means something different.

Revolutionary Girl Utena is the story of two women: Utena Tenjou, the girl who decided to become a prince, and Anthy Himemiya, the girl fated to live as the Rose Bride. The story goes that a prince must rescue the damsel in distress, and the Rose Bride shall be his reward.

At first, Utena sees Anthy as a damsel in distress: passive, helpless, in need of protection. Anthy is Utena’s chance to prove herself as a prince. But as the series goes on, the viewer realizes that it’s not that simple.

Because a prince is an ideal that can never be real.

And the Rose Bride was never a prize to be won.

Remember those content warnings I mentioned? Those are important. In fact, they’re kind of the whole point of the show.

By the time the series enters its final arc, we learn that Anthy has been suffering countless centuries of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her brother. Anthy’s brother was once a prince, yet she saw that this one man alone was not strong enough to protect all the damsels of the world. So she sacrificed herself. She became the Rose Bride to protect her brother from harm.

Yet he resented Anthy for her sacrifice, and thus he fell from grace. He became a fallen angel. He controlled Anthy through coercion and force. And the two of them used her powers to manipulate the world according to his will.

Despite all the pain her brother’s schemes cause, despite all the abuse he inflicts upon her, Anthy stays with him. It’s the only life she knows.

Utena understands none of this.

When Utena was a young girl, a man on a white horse came to her in a time of sorrow. She was so impressed by this man, so the story goes, that she decided to become a prince herself. Yet even as she vows to protect the Rose Bride from danger and encourages Anthy to stand up for herself, Utena clings to her memory of the prince.

Utena pushes Anthy to step out of her shell, to make friends, to be social. She pushes Anthy well beyond her friend’s comfort level, and she never stops to ask if she’s going too far.

Eventually, Utena realizes how her efforts to shield and protect Anthy have hurt them both. Utena tried to rescue Anthy without ever knowing the truth about Anthy’s situation or trying to understand Anthy’s pain. And Anthy, for her part, has lashed out at Utena through lies, manipulation, and passive aggression. They’ve both made choices they regret, and they’ve done so because they were part of a broken system: one that strips people of their agency and forces them into impossible categories.

The prince who must rescue every damsel without regard for his own life.

The princess who must become a prize, lest she be branded a witch.

Anthy and Utena learn to accept each other exactly as they are. They reject the categories society has chosen for them, and they forgive themselves for their mistakes. In the climax of the final episode, Utena reaches for Anthy’s hand—not in an effort to rescue Anthy but to help her, to support her, to show her compassion and love.

And in the final moments of the series, Anthy Himemiya—the Rose Bride, the prize to be won;  the girl who survived countless centuries of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her brother; the girl who lashed out and lied and manipulated others so that the broken system could continue—makes a choice. She gathers her things. She dons her best outfit. She says farewell to her brother, her abuser, the man she once gave her life to protect.

And she walks away.

Because, you see, the power to revolutionize the world isn’t a grand, forceful thing. It’s much, much smaller than that.

It’s the courage to leave an abusive relationship. It’s the willingness to accept other people for their flaws. It’s accepting yourself as you are and forgiving yourself for the deeds you’ve done. It’s extending that grace to the people around you.

It’s reaching out to support someone in pain, not trying to be the hero who rides in on a white horse to save them. And it’s treating others with genuine compassion.

So if that’s what folks mean by “love wins,” then I guess I can’t fault them for that. I still say you need to go a step further—love the person, flaws and all, not the ideal of the person nor the abstract concept of love.

This week has been rough. I don’t think I need to say why. But just in case, here’s a link to an NPR story.

It’s been rough for me because I’m a gay, cis, white, male, college-educated, Lutheran social justice advocate (and I know I’m gonna get some flack for using the words “social justice” and “advocate” on the Internet, but whatever) with a firm conviction for human rights, diversity, interdependence, and compassion.

It’s been rough because over fifty of my LGBT brothers and sisters—most of them people of color and Latinx folks at that—were murdered or injured on Sunday. It’s been rough because this was a targeted attack: the shooting happened at a gay nightclub on Latin night. This isn’t an Area Homosexual Saves Four From Fire headline, where the adjective is irrelevant and ridiculous; this time it matters.

Here are the victims’ names and stories again.

It’s been a rough week for me because I haven’t seen those stories make headlines. It’s been rough because those stories have been lost in the ongoing clamor about the shooter’s motives and the need for gun control.

It’s been a rough week for me because I was still in shock on Monday when I saw a certain horrible man who is running for president do exactly what I was afraid he would do: turn the blame on “radical Islam” and call for the closing of America’s borders. What’s worse: he did it in the name of the LGBT community.

He cried out for hate, and he did so in my name.

I shouldn’t have to say this, but just for the record, that horrible man does not speak for me. For anyone reading this who has been attacked by the words of that horrible man, regardless of where you come from or what your background is, you are welcome here. I will stand by you as best I can.

It’s been a rough week for me because I was still angry and scared and hurting on Tuesday when I saw the conversation shift entirely to gun control, which was not unexpected, but the bluntness of the shift surprised me. Some of my friends posted memes on Facebook that called for an immediate ban on assault rifles, ammo sales, handguns—all of it. Others posted comments about how responsible gun owners shouldn’t have their rights taken away.

I felt caught in the middle.

In general, I am pro-compromise, pro-negotiation, pro-finding a third way if possible between two extremes. So my normal response would be to say, “Hey, folks, what’s really at stake here? What are we really fighting about? What is each side willing to give up so that we can reach the greatest benefit for the maximum number of people?”

But I am way too fucking tired this week to have that conversation.

I’m tired of watching politicians condemn the crime without acknowledging the victims’ lives. I’m tired of ideologues on both sides use their deaths to push an agenda. It’s not that their deaths are being politicized that bothers me; it’s the fact that the policies being pushed this week do not get to the heart of the issue.

Because we live with this fear every day.

And disarmament, while an admirable goal in itself, won’t end suffering. It won’t end the suffering of queer folk or trans folks or Muslims or people of color or folks who are all of the above. It won’t stop the suffering of folks in Syria and the Middle East. It won’t stop the suffering of folks who choose to lash out at others.

It won’t bring the world revolution.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that gun control alone won’t heal our wounds.

(Though I do think there’s room for compromise on gun control: one that gets to the heart of the issue, one that listens to the concerns of both sides, one that keeps people safe from harm while preserving the intent of the 2nd Amendment.)

(Though I may get some flak for speaking of compromise instead of rallying behind one side or the other—but again: whatever. I’ll deal.)

(And truth be told, at this point, I am so fucking tired of grieving that if it would prevent another mass murder, I would gladly throw my support behind gun control.)

(As long as the victims’ stories—their names, their lives, the people they loved—are not lost in the process.)

I’m also saying that pithy statements like “love is love” and “love wins” just aren’t good enough.

Jay Rachel Edidin’s Twitter/Tumblr essay from earlier this week makes the point better than I can: “love” isn’t in danger here—people are.

“Don’t buy into the HRC love-looks-the-same-for-everyone gentrified queerness. It doesn’t. It shouldn’t have to.”

Queer folks of color, immigrants, Muslims, trans folks, and especially gender nonconforming trans women of color…

That’s what’s at stake here. Not “love”—lives.

Here are some depressing statistics about violence against the transgender community. Pay attention to the paragraph about transgender women of color.

THAT’S why Orlando is so terrifying to me and to so many of my queer friends. That’s why we’ve been exchanging quiet, sometimes private gestures of love and support all week long.

We live every day with the knowledge that we could be targeted. It’s not something I dwell on, personally, and I don’t let it stand in my way, but it’s there.

I posted on Facebook on Sunday (and in a blog post from a year ago) that Brandi Carlile’s cover of the Avett Brother’s “Murder in the City” strikes a chord with me because, yeah, that’s a very real possibility. Even in liberal cities like Seattle and Portland, hate crimes happen [edit: hyperlink added 6/28/16] ESPECIALLY against queer and trans folks of color.

“If you’ve never been afraid to hold hands in public, don’t you fucking dare tell me that our love is the same.” (Edidin)

That’s why I’m pissed off that the conversation moved so quickly from the queer Latinx victims and their families to the usual overtures about gun control. That’s why I’m fucking furious at Donald Trump for blowing hot air about radical Islam—with zero regard for the queer Muslims who are suffering as a direct result of that horrible man’s ideology.

That’s why I cannot accept slogans like “love wins” and “love is enough.”

“Don’t you fucking dare tell me that our love is the same.”

Love in the abstract is never enough. Love in the abstract cannot end violence. It’s one thing to say that you “love love,” that you “love humanity,” or even that you “love the gays.”

Forgive me if I doubt your sincerity. In my experience, that’s just not how love works.

Love cannot exist as an abstract concept.

Love doesn’t work as an ideal.

Love is a picture of a puppy posted on a friend’s Facebook wall after surgery. Love is a hastily written postcard from a friend across the world. Love is an in-joke with one’s mother: reaching out to touch fingers like a chimpanzee reenacting the Sistine Chapel. Love is banding together with a community of strangers in a candlelight vigil.

To paraphrase Madeleine L’Engle: love is never abstract; it is always particular (A Circle of Quiet).

Prayers aren’t enough. Thoughts aren’t enough—even love isn’t enough. Not without concrete action. Not without the particulars.

Gestures matter. Before you get angry, before you start calling for policy change, ask yourself: “am I truly supporting the people in need here?”

Am I the prince on the white horse— that toxic, impossible ideal of masculinity that no man can live up to, that symbol of masculine power that casts all women as damsels, witches, or brides?

Or am I genuinely reaching out with compassion and support?

I can’t tell you what to do. I can’t tell you what will make things better. But I can offer advice based on my own experiences.

Listen to folks in the margins. Hear them. Learn from them. Walk WITH them, not FOR them.

“Love the people it’s dangerous to love.” (Edidin)

(I shouldn’t need to list all the folks in that category. If you’re reading this, odds are good you know who is marginalized.)

(And even nonmarginalized folks have their own pain. None of us are flawless. None of us are undamaged. To paraphrase CLAMP, tellers of several of my other favorite stories:  I don’t think anyone is truly free from scars. I don’t think anyone is truly alone.)

I don’t know what the world needs right now. I don’t know what will heal our wounds. All I can do is pray, ponder, and philosophize.

And I can act: I can listen, I can offer support, I can reach out my hand to those in pain.

So until things get better, I’ll keep looking for the little ways I can help support others. It’s about the only thing I can do.

“Grant us the power of world revolution.”




[Originally posted on Facebook]

I’m still struggling to find words for Orlando. More than fifty of my queer and trans brothers and sisters were killed or wounded last night. They were roughly my age. They were just out for some fun on a Saturday night. They were in a place that was supposed to be safe.

I don’t even know their names yet, and they’re gone forever. Just like that. Because one idiot hated gay people and tried to solve his problems by murdering strangers.

This feels like an attack on all of us—on all of our safe spaces. I keep thinking of all the queer and trans folk I know who could’ve been out in Orlando last night—or Seattle, or Tacoma, or Minneapolis, or wherever. I keep seeing the faces of more than fifty LGBT folks I know in my head, and I think, “It could have been them.”

It could have been anywhere. It could have been any one of us.

I feel sadness for the victims and their loved ones—for their found families as much if not more so than their blood relations (some of them could have been kicked out of their biological families’ homes for all we know).

I feel sadness, pity, and disgust for the shooter.

I feel sadness and sympathy for those living with mental illness who will once again have to deal with suspicion following a mass shooting.

I feel sadness and empathy for Muslims who will once again have to justify their religion to bigots.

I feel overwhelming love and sadness and kinship with my fellow gay men, lesbians, bisexual folk, and trans folk, especially the latter two, ’cause I know y’all tend to get lost in the clamor during moments like this.

I feel sadness and anger that some of the gay and bisexual men in Orlando couldn’t even give blood to help their friends today, because the Red Cross still has that damned ban one-year ban on men who’ve had sex with another man (and, no, I don’t feel better that at least it’s down to one year from the former lifetime ban).

I feel sad, shocked, and scared that that tiny voice at the back of my mind—the one that hears Brandi Carlile’s cover of the Avett Brothers’s “Murdered in the City” and thinks, “yeah, that’s a real possibility that we all have to live with”—was right.

And at the same time, I’m angry at how the forces of darkness will use this attack as justification for their own hatred.

Some will hear that it was a gay nightclub and think, “It serves them right: the wage of sin is death.”

Some will ignore the fact that the victims were targeted because they were gay, thus erasing the victims’ lives AND their deaths for the sake of an agenda.

Some will use this to drive a wedge between LGBT folk and Muslims, ignoring that both Muslims—and especially LGBT Muslims—have been victims of terrorism too.

A certain horrible, loathsome person running for president has already used this to congratulate himself and stir up his base.

I’m also angry at how, after more shootings than I can even count, we still cannot come to a compromise on gun control: one that will protect hunters’ rights while ensuring the safety of all citizens.

I’m disgusted and angry at the continued partisanship in America that values winning, profits,and being right over the very real lives of individuals.

I’m angry and sad that acts of violence like this happen every day—in America sometimes, in Europe others, in the Middle East, in Africa, and all over the world.

I’m angry and I’m sad and I feel helpless and I am so, so far away from all my queer friends. I’m in as safe a place as any, and I’m going to a vigil at the U of MT tonight, so I’ll be around *a* community, but it’s not *my* community.

None of my loved ones were killed or hurt. I’ve never been denied a house or a job for being who I am. I’m surrounded by people who love and support me. I’ve only experienced a small handful of harassment and scary moments, most of which I could straight up ignore or brush off with a glare and an over-the-shoulder “fuck off.” I honestly don’t feel all that persecuted or oppressed most days. I should be grateful for what I have. And yet. Here we are.

No, I’m not okay. I’m safe (as much as anyone else), I’m with a support network, and I’m physically fine. But of course I’m not okay. None of us are. What an absurd question!

This whole thing is terrible. It will not stop being terrible. And there’s nothing I can do.