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The Free Market is not Omnibenevolent

I know it’s considered heresy among libertarians and anarchists, but I feel it’s important to remind people that “The Free Market” isn’t always an acceptable answer. Says the anarcho-capitalist, right–what many would rightly call a “free market anarchist,” in fact, given  the history of the word “capitalism” and whether the market as advocated by anarcho-capitalists actually is “capitalism,” but it’s not important. I’ve written loads praising the free market, and now that we are seeing widespread cheering for the firing of white nationalists, I’m going to write something condemning the free market as the solution.

But let me explain, before you get all worked up and say that I’m abandoning the market now that it’s targeting Nazis, because, in fact, I’m not, and I’ve written this exact thing before targeting traditional values“” and other Nazi-style aphorisms. So, you see, rather than contradicting myself, I’m actually staying true to what I’ve said before, and am now applying the same logic and principles now that the shoe is on the other foot. In this article praising the virtues of personal relationships as the destroyers of bigotry (by all accounts, a positive thing), I said:

There are only three ways that liberty can work: homogeneity, diversity, and individualism.

I also said this on Facebook, drawing attention to the inherent absurdity of attempting to use homogeneity to achieve liberty–we would recognize this as a direct attack on paleo-libertarianism, a weird and twisted school of libertarian philosophy that, in essence, argues that liberty is only for white people:

Homogeneity is obviously broken as an idea–it’s simply impossible. There will always be differences between people, and those differences will always be highlighted. Hitler wanted to basically produce an all-white society, and what happened? The differences among white people were immediately targeted as points of divide: those with blond hair and blue eyes were considered superior to someone who had brown hair and brown eyes. By definition, a society can never be truly homogeneous. Even if Hitler had succeeded in eliminating everyone but white people with blond hair and blue eyes, the divisiveness wouldn’t have ended; instead, it would have become “tall people are superior to short people” or something else. I’d venture the statement that the more homogeneous a society is, the more petty are its points of division.

The idea that any group of people can be truly homogeneous is laughable. If that divisive mentality is there, then it is there regardless of the characteristics of the people in the group. With the divisive mentality in place, paleo-libertarians, the alt-right, and Neo-Nazis think that all non-white people are the problem. Let’s presume for a moment that they somehow manage to get rid of all the non-white, non-straight, non-cisgender people. Do they suddenly stop hating people? No. They merely redirect their hatred to some other minority. Redheads become the target of their hatred, or people who are under 5 feet, 6 inches tall, because the core of their hatred–that there are differences within their group that cannot be tolerated–remains. As long as that idea remains, they will identify any and every difference and pinpoint it as the problem, and will continue on until only one person remains standing and everyone else is dead.

The point I’ve been driving at since I began thinking and writing about this subject a month or so ago is that neither homogeneity nor heterogeneity can deliver on the free market promises of “ultimate equality,” despite its ups and downs. The market, as any market advocate will tell you, swings like a pendulum, and it isn’t always fair or just. It does, however, tend to come to a point of equilibrium, one that is based on the dominant positions and ideologies about what constitutes “justice” and “equality.” If a market comes to rest indefinitely* on inequality, then it is merely a reflection that the majority of people in that society do not value equality.

As written in Fight Club, “on a long enough timeline, the survival rate of everyone drops to zero.”

Just as that is true, so is it true that “on a long enough timeline, the values embraced by a free market are reflective of the people who support that market.” This is why it’s so damning to see that so much child and sweatshop labor continues to go into much of the gimmicky, cheap bullshit bought by people at Wal-Mart; that these things have not vanished in the last few decades since we learned of the child and sweatshop labor is a tacit endorsement of child and sweatshop labor. We know that Indonesian children are making our Nikes. We just don’t care. We know that diamonds are steeped in blood. We just don’t care. We know that the cobalt that goes into our phone and laptop batteries, and soon into our Tesla electric cars, is stepped in blood and horrific child labor. We just don’t care.

With this enormous preamble out of the way, let me get to the point.

People are cheering the firing of Neo-Nazis and white supremacists. I’m actually inclined to view this as a Pandora’s Box–one that we painstakingly managed to close in the 60s and 70s, and one that we should not, under any circumstances, open again. It was arduous, difficult, and unjust for black Americans, Asian Americans, women, homosexuals, transsexuals (ongoing), and all of these others to have to fight an uphill battle to take back their jobs, to not be fired for these things. Thirty years ago, we all (those of sound mind and reasonable ideas–I didn’t even exist then) condemned the idea of firing a man because he was a drag queen two Fridays out of the month, because he and his wife were swingers, because his wife was black, because he was living with his girlfriend and they weren’t married, or because he was gay. How far have we truly come, if we now revisit these ideas, but simply reverse the power structures so that, instead of the white supremacists firing the transsexual black swinging Satanist homosexual for being a transsexual black swinging Satanist homosexual, the transsexual black swinging Satanist homosexual fires the white supremacist for being white supremacist?

I’d argue that we haven’t changed anything. We simply turned the table around.

It’s important to remember that swords like this cut both ways, which we should damned well know from the history of American injustices against black people, LGBT people, Hispanic people, women, Asians, and everyone else. We know how this shit feels when it’s done to us, and we know that it can be done to us. As it stands, “we” have the cultural power–there is no doubt of that. We are currently the ones holding the reins of power, freely able to bend society to our will in whatever ways we want, with very few exceptions. We will not always be the ones holding the power. Less than a century ago, we were not the ones holding the power.

It so perfectly mirrors the growth of the executive branch that it’s staggering. For years, Republicans gave their approval to the growth of the executive branch, apparently never considering the possibility that it could end up in the hands of someone they didn’t like. Then Democrats did the same. Now we have Trump in power, and people are like, “You know? Maybe we shouldn’t have created this power structure that is now ripe for abuse against us instead of in favor of whatever we happen to want at that particular moment.”

More bizarrely, we’ve already been through this. We’ve already been on the receiving end of discrimination, and it’s still the case that there are tons and tons of “non-protected groups” with whom we are allies to some extent, and who are free to be fired by their employees for upsetting someone’s personal moral sensibilities.

Drag queens aren’t protected.

Swingers aren’t protected.

Interracial couples aren’t protected.

Women who have had abortions aren’t protected.

Former partiers, musicians, rappers, and the like are not protected. In fact, we see this already with colleges and employers searching through people’s histories and firing them for getting a little too wild at a party 6 years before.

Polyamorous people aren’t protected.

In fact, if we look at things rationally and objectively, we’ll find that not a whole lot are protected from anti-discrimination laws. And while I don’t think we need anti-discrimination laws at all, and certainly not more of them, the overall sentiment appears to be that “It’s okay if we discriminate against them, because the law prevents them from doing the same to us,” and this simply isn’t true.

There is no protection for contractors, of course. You could wreck my entire life by finding out who my clients are and informing them that I’m transsexual. This was actually my biggest concern with forming the Libertarian Party in my county. Even if I was an employee, and not a contractor, there is still very little protection for transgender and transsexual people, legally or socially, and none at all in the state of Mississippi.

Do you think that the white supremacists and traditional valuists in positions of authority will not retaliate? Do you think that secret KKK member Bob Greenwich, head of the marketing department in some firm, won’t suddenly begin finding reasons to fire his black employees?

Unlike many people who seem to be talking these days, I reject both. I fully recognize the right of an employer to fire anyone that they want for any reason that they want. This does not mean, however, that having the right to do something makes it the right thing to do. I have the right to fire someone for being gay, for being a white supremacist, or for being lazy. But this doesn’t mean it’s right, just, or moral to fire someone for being gay, or for being a white supremacist. The only factors that should go into employment are the person’s capabilities to do that job. I said this exact thing two weeks ago when arguing against Trump’s proposed trans military ban, and people applauded. I say it now, and I’m called a Nazi sympathizer.

On July 27, I said this:

Banning trans people from a job is dumb.

As an employer, you shouldn’t be interested in what characteristics a person has; you should be interested in their ability and skills to do the job. If you hire them according to any other criteria, you won’t be hiring the best unless it’s by complete accident.

This applies to every job.

If you want the best military in the world, then you have to hire the people who are the best. If you hire the people who are second-best or third-best because they have whatever characteristics you prefer, then your military will be second-best, third-best, or worse.

People are looking at this thing all wrong. Perhaps, on average, the extra medical and psychological needs make trans people inferior to other potential employees. But then you have people like me, whose only “need” is to be left the hell alone by people with more free time than common sense. “Can this individual do the job? Is this individual the best person for the job?” The hardships and struggles of the collective are fictitious. We are dealing with individuals.

I don’t give a damn if I hire a guy who seduced his dog, if he’s the best damn tech in the area. The “best” are usually pretty quirky, to put it kindly.

No one disagreed. No one took issue with it. It was common sense, and I was obviously right. Earlier today, I said this:

People are cheering the firing of Neo-Nazis and white supremacists. I’m actually inclined to view this as a Pandora’s Box–one that we painstakingly managed to close in the 60s and 70s, and one that we should not, under any circumstances, open again. It was arduous, difficult, and unjust for black Americans, Asian Americans, women, homosexuals, transsexuals (ongoing), and all of these others to have to fight an uphill battle to take back their jobs, to not be fired for these things. Thirty years ago, we all (those of sound mind and reasonable ideas–I didn’t even exist then) condemned the idea of firing a man because he was a drag queen two Fridays out of the month, because he and his wife were swingers, because his wife was black, because he was living with his girlfriend and they weren’t married, or because he was gay. How far have we truly come, if we now revisit these ideas, but simply reverse the power structures so that, instead of the white supremacists firing the transsexual black swinging Satanist homosexual for being a transsexual black swinging Satanist homosexual, the transsexual black swinging Satanist homosexual fires the white supremacist for being white supremacist?

I’d argue that we haven’t changed anything. We simply turned the table around.

… which you’ll find written above. I do that often, where I write something in an article and preview it on Facebook. Anyway, I was immediately accused of being against freedom of association. That’s quite remarkable, considering that I have a long ass history of arguing in favor of freedom of association.

On an individual basis.

I wholly reject as immoral, reckless, stupid, and irresponsible the idea of disassociating from an entire group of people because of the actions of some, the words of some, ostensible similarities among its members, or whatever-fucking-else is proposed. If someone wants to fire the racist asshat Bob because he treats black customers like crap, I have absolutely no issue with that. But if someone wants to fire the racist asshat Bob because he’s a KKK member even though he’s never displayed any tendency for treating black customers differently, I have to take issue with that. Sure, they have the right to do it, but that doesn’t make it the right thing to do.

And it’s really just a back-handed, passive aggressive forceful coercion, when it comes down to it, especially in these hypothetical numbers I gave above, where 99.99% discriminates against the 0.01%. As someone pointed out, “Then the 0.01% of people who are racists need to change their minds.” Yes, and that’s a moral hazard. “If the 0.01% don’t want to die, then they need to get on board with my ideas and stop disagreeing with me.” I’m not saying that it violates the NAP. Nor does it violate the NAP if 99.99% of people are cisgender and insist, “Then the 0.01% need to stop being transgender if they want to work.”

I’m kinda surprised that I’m saying this, but the NAP isn’t the ultimate standard on what is and isn’t moral. It’s only the standard of what must be tolerated and what must not be tolerated. It’s not a moral guide. It’s a minimal level of acceptable behavior guide. One’s morality is something for one to work out themselves, and I have many thoughts on morality–many of which would you would disagree with. I’m not saying that my moral proclamations that collectivist discrimination is morally wrong is objectively correct. I’m saying that it’s subjectively correct, and here I’ve outlined the subjective criteria for making that assertion.

It has also been stated that the 0.01% are more than welcome to form their own little society, despite that I’ve pointed out that, even in the United States, this would produce a society of only 30,000 people–nowhere near enough for a self-sufficient society in any modern terms. Besides which, the nature of leaving a society where food is bought from stores to form one where there are no stores from which to buy groceries, and where food would have to be raised and farmed, is effectively a death sentence without outside help–do we need to be reminded that the only reason the Puritan settlers survived the first winter in the New World was the benevolence of Native Americans? There’s a rather large gap there between “leaving society” and “growing one’s own food” that results in rather a lot of death.

Now I’ve got someone who says he’s closer to anarcho-communism than anarcho-capitalism suggesting market solutions, while I’m pointing out that a free market, in order to achieve liberty, requires either pure heterogeneity (practically impossible), pure homogeneity (theoretically impossible), or individualism. You know–the same thing I said a month ago, when another group–*cough* trans people *cough*–were being treated as a collective instead of as individuals with their own merits regardless of these characteristics and behaviors that had absolutely nothing to do with their ability to do a job and function within the confines of a free market.

And though I was right a month ago… Now, I’m wrong. In fact, one of the people who liked my status about this very subject when I wrote it about trans people in the military is not arguing with me, because I’ve had the audacity to say the same damned thing about individuals who, regardless of their ability to do the task they are required to do, are also white supremacists. And, in so doing, this person–who alleges to fall closer to AnComs than AnCaps–is suggesting market solutions.

I will be debating this person–presumably–on the 25th, where we will use Lincoln-Douglas format to discuss “The nature and scope of self-defense.” Honestly, I don’t think the debate is going to happen. I’ve not heard anything about it since I challenged and Matt accepted. This isn’t the way I do things, you know? I iron out the details beforehand, and I still don’t know the venue where we are having this debate. But, as soon as I have that info, I’ll share it.

I made that crappy thing. Someone is, again presumably, making a better one. Since they’re doing it for free out of kindness, I’m not badgering them about it, but it doesn’t seem to have been made, and that further makes me wonder whether this debate is actually going to happen.

* Markets never rest indefinitely, but that’s not the point.

A Psychopath’s Responsibility

I’ve been asked repeatedly my thoughts on the girl who cajoled her boyfriend into killing himself, and I’ve been hesitant to really say much on the subject, but I’ve given the matter enough thought now. So strap in–we’re going to cover many different angles very quickly.

Prison?

Whether the girl is guilty of murder or not, prison is not the answer, because two wrongs don’t make a right. Whatever the girl may or may not be guilty of, prison is not the answer. So it goes without saying that, whatever my thoughts on what the girl did, I am not saying that she should be kidnapped and imprisoned against her will by the state.

With That Said…

I’m frankly stunned by the number of libertarians I’m seeing who express the sentiment that the girl bears absolutely no responsibility for the guy’s death, and, without being overly generalizing, I suspect that most of these people have never witnessed nor experienced psychological abuse. It should go without saying, though, that psychological abuse… is abuse. Not only is psychological abuse abuse, but it’s a critical tool in the psychopath’s toolbox, if not the most important tool at their disposal. It is, after all, psychological abuse that prevents men and women in violent relationships from leaving. It is what causes one to continually go back to the abuser, no matter how flagrant the abuses are. I’ve written about this before, having gone through it with a psychopath, and won’t spend a lot of time on it here.

I’ll say, however, that only someone who is ignorant of the damage that a psychopath can do to a person’s mind could allow someone to absolve psychopaths of the consequences of their psychological abuse. It is psychological abuse that causes teens to kill themselves. It is psychological abuse that causes transgender and gay teens to kill themselves. Psychological abuse, while not as obviously a violation of the NAP as punching someone yourself, clearly is a form of violence. I would argue that it’s a more horrific form of violence than physical abuse, because it is the psychological abuse that causes victims of violence to return to their abuser, and that causes kids in abusive homes to believe they are wicked and filled with demons, even if they have done nothing wrong, which may manifest in the person’s mind for decades to come, longer after the scars of any physical violence have healed.

It was long-term psychological abuse that caused me to be in the third grade and begging a devout Christian friend to stand before me and say, “Get thee behind me, Satan” to exorcise the demons from me–demons that I firmly believed possessed me because of the desires and needs that I had to repress. It was that same psychological abuse that caused me to be in my late 20s before I was able to come to terms with something that had been true at least since I was three years old and hiding my underwear so that I had an excuse to wear my sister’s. More than two decades of self-loathing, doubt, confusion, strife, and suicide attempts followed before I was able to come to terms with everything, and the psychological, religiously-motivated abuse is the reason why–a fact to which the scars on my wrists will testify.

I was in the fifth grade, I think, the first time I attempted to hang myself. Young and inexperienced, I used a braided leather belt. It snapped. For the next several years, I cut myself regularly. They were not suicide attempts by any means, but neither were they cries for attention; I did everything that I could to hide them. I wouldn’t be able to explain why I did it, but I did. My body is marked with scars from razor blades. My wrists, my upper arms, my chest, my legs… And, of course, there were the sincere attempts, the hospitalization in a behavioral ward, and all that fun stuff.

Testaments to the tremendous damage that extended psychological abuse can cause.

If you don’t think that the girl who texted her boyfriend and stayed on the phone with him as he cried out and choked to death bears any responsibility for that, then you don’t have any ground to stand on to lament what my father and grandmother did to me, because they are two manifestations of the same thing: psychological abuse.

The Psychopath’s Toolkit

The psychopath is an expert at manipulation. David Karesh, the Church of Scientology, and countless other cults around the world are experts at manipulation, but there are also those whose ambitions are smaller, and bloodlust more controlled. They seek out damaged people and then destroy them. They know exactly how to worm their way into your mind, and how to bend you to their will.

If you think you’re immune to it, you’re not.

The only thing a person can do to arm themselves against it is to gain knowledge in the psychopath’s tactics, to learn the manipulation techniques, to stay alert of them. However, in learning those techniques, a person will find out exactly how much damage a psychopath can do to a person’s mind, and I find it hard to believe, to be completely honest, that anyone aware of the manner in which a psychopath can manipulate a person’s mind and destroy their agency would go on to deny that the psychopath has responsibility for what this destroyed person does.

Where shall we draw the line?

Is it morally wrong to type out “kys” in World of Warcraft’s Trade Chat? Should a person be considered guilty of murder if, having typed that out to someone, that person then kills themselves?

Why do we have to draw a line?

“One size fits all” justice is fundamentally flawed, because the circumstances of actions matter, infinitely more than the actions themselves.

If I push someone down, and they break their arm, then I am guilty of assault.

However, if I push someone down and out of the way of an oncoming train, and they break their arm, then I am a hero.

What’s the difference? There isn’t one. In both scenarios, I pushed the person, they fell, and they broke their arm. The only thing that’s different are the circumstances. Since the circumstances are different, the hypothetical result if I had done nothing have changed. If I had done nothing in the first example, the person would have continued on through their day without a broken arm–a superior consequence than what came about when I pushed them. If I did nothing in the second example, though, the person would have died–an inferior consequence than what came about when I pushed them. We are comparing hypotheticals here, and we’re making our assessment of morality based around that. That is always how we assign our moral values.

The alternative, had this girl not taken her actions, are that the guy would still be alive. Because of her actions, he is dead.

I see no way of escaping the conclusion that she is responsible for that. We’re not talking about someone who opted not to run into a burning house to try to rescue someone else. We’re not talking about hateful children who laughed as they watched someone drowned, and who couldn’t have saved the drowning victim anyway*. We’re talking about a girl who explicitly told her psychologically vulnerable and long-term victim of psychological abuse boyfriend to get back in the vehicle and finish dying. I am stunned that so many people are arguing that she did nothing wrong simply because she didn’t physically hold the door shut.

Group Responsibility?

While discussing this with someone on Facebook, someone said that only the individual is responsible for their actions. I pointed out that, by this reasoning, Hitler was not responsible for the Holocaust, and Stalin was not responsible for the murder of twenty-five million Christian farmers. To my shock, she said that was correct–the individuals who carried out those orders were responsible.

I don’t deny that the individuals who committed the actions are responsible. I’ve pointed this out in the past. However, the person who gave the command is absolutely as responsible. That’s what it literally means to have authority, to have power over someone, to have the responsibility of making decisions for someone. The psychopath takes this power slowly and with systemic psychological abuse, but they take the power all the same. Even so, the brainwashing tactics of the military are shockingly similar to those used by psychopaths: destroy their individuality and make them dependent on the command structure. That’s at least as much the point of boot camp as is physical training. The stated purpose is to break people down as individuals and build them back up as a part of a machine. This is done through psychological abuse.

No one is saying “Group responsibility.”

I am saying that all individuals who play a role in making sure that an action is undertaken bear responsibility for that action being undertaken. Quite the opposite, I’m the one arguing for individual responsibility. I’m not absolved of responsibility if I order a friend to kill someone and that friend does it. “Woah! I didn’t kill that person!” I could argue, and these NAP-advocates, evidently (the ones with whom I’ve spoken directly) would agree. I didn’t kill that person.

Even though I’m literally the one who caused it to happen…

Yes, the soldier who drops the bomb bears responsibility for that. So does the commander who ordered the bomb to be dropped, though.

“They could just disobey orders” is an inadequate answer. And it’s true that, if everyone refused to obey orders, war would cease to exist. But who is advocating group responsibility now? For the individual, refusing to obey orders results in arrest, kidnapping, and imprisonment. Through coercive means, that individual has most, if not all, responsibility for the action waived, in the same way that we American citizens bear no responsibility for what the state does with our tax money because, through coercive means, we are forced to obey and pay taxes. You can’t have it both ways, where Americans aren’t to blame for how tax dollars are used because we could just choose to not pay taxes, but other individuals are to blame for the results of actions they take under duress.

To say that only the person who personally executes a given action is responsible for that action is short-sighted and extremely narrow. It is tunnel vision on the minutae of the action. There is a lot of cause and effect that goes into every single action that a person takes, and not all of that is the person’s fault–much of it is beyond that person’s control. To suggest that only the person who personally executes the action is responsible is to say that a man who wakes one day to find a gun to his head and someone telling him, “If you don’t find and kill one person right now, I will kill you,” is the only person responsible for the action he commits, and that the person who put the gun to his head and gave him that ultimatum bears no responsibility.

“He still made the choice, though… He could have chosen to just die. He didn’t. He chose to murder someone, so that’s on him!”

It’s such a narrow way of viewing… reality. Cause and effect. Actions and consequences. Responsibility.

Suicide Isn’t a Violation of the NAP

No, it isn’t, and a person of sound mind has every right to take their own life. I’ve argued before, and will again, that suicide is not indicative of mental illness. However, this guy in question was clearly mentally ill. He was clearly unstable and incapable of making the decision to kill himself. If he was capable of making that decision alone, he wouldn’t have gotten out of the vehicle, for fuck’s sake. That he did get out of the vehicle is ipso facto proof that he did not have the agency required to soundly make the decision to kill himself.

I think a lot of the people arguing that the girl didn’t do anything “that wrong” don’t know what the girl did. They seem to think she just sent a few text messages. If only that was the extent of what she did… But it isn’t. He got out of the vehicle and called her, and she told him to get back in and finish killing himself. Then she stayed on the phone with him while he cried out in agony and died, because she wanted to ensure that he did see it through. That’s a FAR cry from typing out “kys” in a chatroom.

Through the verbal persuasion that is the gift of the psychopath, she held him in that vehicle until he died.

You can’t possibly think that a guy who got out of a vehicle, having decided that he didn’t want to go through with killing himself, called his girlfriend, and then climbed back in and stayed on the phone with her while he died was “of sound mind” to be making decisions about whether he wanted to live or die. The girl was clearly a poison to him.

If someone called you and confessed that they had been about to kill themselves, but gotten out of the vehicle, would you, under any circumstances, tell them to get back in, and then stay with them on the phone while they died? Absolutely not. Every single one of us would say, “Where are you? I’m coming to get you. Stay on the phone with me while I drive to you. Don’t get back in the vehicle.”

Because we’re not psychopaths.

No, we shouldn’t let the state set precedents in its One Size Fits All legal system that would allow it to prosecute anyone who ever said “kill yourself” in a text message, phone call, or chat room. Yet there’s an enormous gap between these things and what this girl did. And just as we should not allow the state to set precedents like that, neither should we set the precedent that psychopaths are not responsible for the consequences of their psychological abuse because it technically doesn’t include physical assault.

But abuse is abuse.

The NAP does not specify that violence has to be physical.

* Those who are not trained divers or trained lifeguards should never attempt to rescue a drowning person. Cold though it is to say, attempting it will ensure only that two people die. Drowning people thrash wildly, panicking, and are extremely likely to knock you unconscious. If you do not have a lifejacket and a rope or boat, you should never attempt to rescue a drowning person yourself, unless you’ve explicitly been trained to be a fantastic swimmer. Not only that, but if you do manage to get behind the person without being knocked unconscious, do you know how heavy another human being is when you’re pulling them through water? The average person doesn’t have the stamina to swim a hundred yards alone, much less when dragging someone else through the water.

That Summer in Arkansas

This is an excerpt from my book Dancing in Hellfire , which is a true story of my life, basically. I am posting it here because I was about to say something derivative on Facebook, but I stopped because I realized that no one would know what the hell I was talking about.

Undoubtedly, the worst four to five months of my life, bar none. There is so much ground to cover here, and it’s highly unlikely that I will get the events in the correct order, but the chronology isn’t terribly important, for the most part. In my mind, it’s all blurred together, encapsulated by the words “That Summer in Arkansas.” There’s only one such summer that I could be referring to—that one between the second and third grade. A nightmare that didn’t seem like it was ever going to end.

It began as an ordinary visit. Mom came and got Britt and me, and this was probably the first time since Easter that we had seen or talked to her, since two visits within a few months was very high frequency for her. At some point over the weekend, she announced that she was not going to take us back, and that she was just going to keep us. Legally, she was more or less within her rights to do that: the agreement that my grandmother would keep us was a largely informal one, because the courts hadn’t settled the custody issue and didn’t seem about to settle it. Even though it had been nearly three years since the separation, the court was no nearer to settling things. In fact, the courts never did rule one way or another. What happened? How come none of the people who are paid to handle such matters was handling it? The divorce finalized, but the question of custody was never settled.

Mom was in full-blown denial about her situation, as would become evident very soon, but I didn’t realize it then—of course, I didn’t know it then. I was eight years old. It was true, though: we never had any money or food, our electricity was cut off due to non-payment several times, and even our water was cut off at one point. And she seriously thought that she could raise two kids in that environment. Plus, she was being beaten pretty much every weekend by that drunk man-child.

Second grade had passed without much of significance happening. We didn’t see mom every other weekend, of course, because she never had gas or a reliable vehicle since she always bought $600 cars. She was always having flats, or some other car trouble. We would receive a letter from her telling us to be by the phone on a certain day at a certain time, and we would sit eagerly by the phone all night. She never called. A week or two later, we would receive another letter that offered up some kind of excuse why she hadn’t been able to call, and she would throw out another day that she would call, or she would announce a day that she was going to get us. Then Britt and I would sit at the front door, hanging out on the garbage can, all damned Friday night, waiting eagerly to see headlights pull into the driveway.

They almost never did.

But she finally managed to get together the whopping ten dollars needed to cover the gas to make the hour-long trip, and decided early that summer that she wasn’t going to take us back.

It was then that we met David, another one of Everett’s four kids, much older than I was but also much younger than my brother. He was a decent enough guy, I suppose, except that he never did anything about Everett’s violence, either. In some ways, I can understand—I know firsthand how hard it can be to confront your father, and Everett was prone to violence. But no one ever confronted Everett about his violence, not even my own brother, which is one of the reasons I’ve never fully been able to forgive Eric.

Mom still lived at that house in Trumann next to the elderly couple, and Everett lived there too. It was an older house, but respectable enough, and had a dilapidated shed in the back that I liked to play in. Everett had a fascination with pocketknives, he gave me a few, and then he taught me how to throw them. I spent hours playing in the battered shed, flipping my knives and throwing them into the distant wall. At the age of eight, between the second and third grades. There were many occasions when I nearly stabbed myself.

As though there was something worse than nearly stabbing myself in the eye with a rebounding throwing knife (because mom or Everett had given me a set of throwing knives they found at a pawnshop), the shed was in poor condition anyway and not stable. The rafters were low enough that I could jump and grab hold of them. So I would—I’d jump and grab the rafters, climb onto them, swing around on them, flip upside down and hang precariously while I practiced throwing knives. It was wild, dangerous stuff that no one should have been doing, but certainly not a second grader, and my mom was well aware that I was doing it. But, in a strange way, she also trusted that I knew my abilities and limits, and that I wasn’t going to hurt myself.

And you know what? I never did hurt myself.

If all that wasn’t dangerous enough, Eric built a tree house for us in an enormous walnut tree in the backyard. Being a cool brother, of course, he built the tree house very high above the ground. No matter how high he’d built the house, though, I climbed up well past it and higher, swinging freely from one branch to the next, and I was higher even than the house’s ceiling when I did this stuff—a fall that would almost certainly have killed me. A fall that did happen that summer, but not to me.

I still loved playing Nintendo, and I did so regularly, but it would be unfair to say that I never did anything else. We lived only a few minutes from two parks, I frequently walked to both, and Britt often accompanied me. One of them was pretty boring, but the other had swings and other cool things—it was further away, though. Mom let us go to these places without supervision, of course, but I only bothered going to the distant one a few times.

I’ve often wondered, when looking back, whether my mom was trying to get my sister or me killed, because she did some reckless things when it came to parenting. I say that mom trusted in me and trusted that I knew my limitations, but that’s purely speculation on my part. Because the fact is that I was in the backyard, throwing knives and swinging from the rafters of a crumbling shed, and shifting wildly among the branches of a tree well above the tree house. Mom did, at one point, tell me to stop swinging from the limbs, but she made it clear that she was only telling me so because Everett’s younger son (who I haven’t mentioned yet) looked up to me and would copy me, and he was likely to get hurt. She didn’t say, “You might slip up, and we can’t afford a hospital visit.” She said, “Charlie will imitate you, and he will slip up.”

Mom’s car stopped working, as her vehicles often did, so we walked everywhere that we needed to go. Eventually, Everett’s parents let us borrow their two-seater bikes, but we didn’t have those for a while, and so we walked.

We went to the store one day, and Britt and I opted to stay and play outside while mom went in and did her shopping. After ten or fifteen minutes, she came back out and said that she had one more store to go to, told us which one it was, and Britt and I again decided we would just stay where we were. Mom left to walk to the other store, and I got bored a few minutes later, and then I went down the street to find mom. It wasn’t hard, and I quickly found her. After she finished her shopping, we came back outside and started heading back toward the initial store, the place where Britt and I had been playing.

And Britt was nowhere in sight.

“Where is your sister?” mom demanded as we rushed toward the store.

“I don’t know!” I cried, feeding off the panic and hostility in mom’s voice. “She was right there!”

As we jogged back, I shook my head, crying, and I mumbled, “I shouldn’t have left her alone…”

“No, you shouldn’t have!” mom snapped at me.

As we neared the store, though, we had a better view of its front, and it turned out that Britt was standing back in a corner, and we simply hadn’t been able to see her from the angle we were at. Years later, I realized what a horrendously foul response that was from my mother. “No, you shouldn’t have!” she said to me.

I was eight years old.

Assuming the worst, what in the hell would it have accomplished if I had stayed with Britt and someone kidnapped her? It would have meant only that Britt and I both were kidnapped. I was freaking eight years old, and Britt was the older one, at nine. I could have no more fought off someone than Britt could have. Still, “No, you shouldn’t have!” she hissed at her eight-year-old son who was already blaming himself.

“No, I shouldn’t have!” is what she should have said. She was the adult who left her eight and nine year old kids playing outside a store.

Britt’s birthday was horrible that year, and was probably still the worst birthday of her life. I’m not sure what caused things to go so badly, but they did. Britt and mom got into a fight—they were actually fighting quite often—and the most vicious one came near the end of That Summer, when mom threw a burning cigarette butt and hit Britt in the leg. I don’t think Britt ever forgave mom for that.

That was the year that Britt got the Polly Pocket toy that she had wanted for Easter, so I’m not sure what spurred the fight. I just remember that Britt cried a lot, and that I wanted her to be happy. But she wasn’t. And though I don’t recall ever seeing anything odd, there’s no telling how deep Everett’s abuses ran, and I certainly wouldn’t put any particular abuse beyond a monster like him. I don’t believe that’s the reason that Britt and mom fought so much, but I honestly have no idea why they did, and it’s clearly too painful of a subject for my sister for me to bring it up now.

I believe it was just that Britt was as miserable there as I was. The electricity was cut off a few times, but we weren’t allowed to run the air conditioners anyway. Arkansas summers are hot, but all we could do was open the windows and use box fans. That doesn’t help very much when the temperature is in the high nineties and the humidity isn’t far behind.

Then, of course, was the fact that mom got the hell beaten out of her regularly by a drunk piece of shit. And this is why I say that Eric would not have stood idly by if he had been forced to witness the abuse as Britt and I were—there’s only so many times that you can watch and hear your mother getting the shit beaten out of her before you’re ready to take matters into your own hands, regardless of your size and regardless of your age.

It was horrible.

You’ll forgive me for not going into elaborate descriptions of what it’s like to see and hear your mother being viciously beaten by an abusive alcoholic, but it’s every bit as awful as your imagination suggests, and so much worse when you’re witnessing it at eight and nine years old.

And one night I could no longer take it.

“[My name], don’t!” Britt whispered as I got up from the couch.

I don’t blame her. We were terrified when this abuse happened. We were too scared to move, too scared to speak, and even too scared to breathe loudly. If we had to go to the bathroom, then we held it. Mom was a lot bigger than us, and she couldn’t protect herself—how could she have protected us? Everett had already thrown a pair of scissors at one of us, so we had no idea if he would hit us. All we could do, at two in the morning, as their shadows danced on the floor, spilling in from the bedroom where they fought, listening to such sickening words as—

“Everett, I can’t breathe…”

–being choked out by our mother, was cower in fear and silence.

But I could cower no more. I had been pushed to the brink. I had seen this too many times; I had heard this too many times. This had been going on for too long, had been happening too often, and my mind snapped. For too long, I’d listened to my mother choking and rasping that she couldn’t breathe. For too long, I’d heard her being slammed into a wall, pushed through a window, punched in the stomach and face, jerked around and slapped. I knew only that I had to act, that something had to be done, and that I was going to do it because no one else was going to.

Someone had to put a stop to this, and there was no one stepping up to do it. And that meant it fell to me. It didn’t register to me that I was eight years old and about to step up to a grown man with a long history of violence. I didn’t care, because I was going to do what no one else was stepping up to do. It didn’t occur to me that I was eight years old, or that it wasn’t fair that I was way too young to be faced with the situation that I was faced with. Besides, no one ever said that life was fair.

No police were coming. My dad wasn’t coming. My brother wasn’t coming. My mom couldn’t handle it. And that meant it was on me, and only me.

I pulled two sharp knives from the kitchen drawer.

“Mom, I’ve got a knife!” I screamed.

Silence fell for a moment, and I was ignored as the horrific abuse continued. I immediately fell into tears, sobbing uncontrollably and whispering, “I’m sorry, mom. I’m sorry.”

I was sorry because I didn’t have it in me. I was sorry because I didn’t have the courage, the strength, or the age to do anything about it. I was sorry because I could do nothing to help her. I went back to the couch that was adjacent to the loveseat that my sister was sleeping on, and I continued crying until long after the violence stopped, because there was nothing else that I could do.

No one was coming, and I couldn’t stop it.

 

Hell Continues

Everett’s other two kids came that July to stay with us, and they were about mine and Britt’s ages, though Anne was slightly older than Britt was, and Charlie was slightly younger than I was. The first Power Rangers movie also hit the theaters, and I badly wanted to go. Mom suggested that I go around picking up cans so that I could earn the money, and I didn’t object at all to that. So that’s what I spent a lot of that summer doing: walking around with Charlie, picking up empty cans so that I could pay my way into the movie, because mom didn’t have the $5 to spare for the admission.

Charlie had some weird issues, though. Mom forced me to put up my Nintendo while he was there, and I was told that it was because he had a history of destroying them. He also burned down a house when he was much younger, by putting a sheet of paper onto a gas stove, or something like that. I never knew the details, but none of the adults ever disputed his claim about it, so it seems that it was true. And Charlie was, of course, proud that he’d burned a house down.

It simply made the summer worse than it already was. I didn’t spend all my time playing video games, obviously, but I did play them a lot, and then I suddenly wasn’t allowed to at all, for an entire month. One morning before Charlie woke up, mom let me connect and play it. I played Mega Man 4, one of my favorite games, but I was only allowed a few minutes before Charlie woke up. He walked through, rubbed his eyes, and mumbled, “There’s a Nintendo?” He kept walking to the kitchen, though. I furiously unhooked it and put it away, and we never discussed it again.

One day I was left home alone, and a man from the water department came by and did something outside. Keeping in mind that I was eight years old, I merely ensured that the door was locked and then watched him from the window. When mom returned, she learned that we didn’t have any water, and I told her about the man who came by.

“Why didn’t you stop him?” she yelled at me, as though her eight-year-old child was really supposed to have been able to handle a responsibility of that magnitude—or even understand something of that magnitude. I’m sure the city would also have been quite interested to learn that she had left an eight year old at home alone, and I sincerely doubt that I’d have been able to accomplish anything if I had talked to the man.

But, as usual, something had gone wrong, and I was just the convenient target to blame it on. Did she really expect her eight-year-old child to go and meet a stranger who had come into the yard? “Are one of your parents home?” the man would have immediately asked, a question that I would obviously have answered honestly. And this was a stranger to me. I had no understanding that this was a city or government employee—it was just some stranger, some strange, grown man in the yard. When I saw him, I verified that the door was locked; I definitely wasn’t about to open it.

Thank goodness, I had more sense than my mom did.

So there in the middle of June—because this actually happened before Charlie and Ashely arrived—we had no water at all. Each morning, Britt and I walked up the street to a nearby gas station, and filled up a five-gallon bucket with water from their faucet behind the building. We were only able to do this a few times, though, because the clerks found out and came out yelling at us, chasing us off, and telling us that we weren’t allowed to do that.

It goes without saying that it was awful, to not have water or air conditioning in the Arkansas summer, but it was even worse than that, because we never had anything to eat, either. Anne remarked once that I ate the equivalent of two biscuits a week, and she wasn’t wrong—I rarely ate anything. Because on top of having nothing to eat, my nerves were absolutely fried. I was always nauseated and on the edge of vomiting, and mom’s “solution” to this was to take me to the doctor for my “anxiety”—something that never happened anyway. Of course, the real solution would have been to get us out of that nightmare where we had no food, no water, and no cooling, and where my early morning wasn’t interrupted by the sounds of horrific violence.

Biscuits are also an apt comparison because I ate a lot of biscuits—there was never much else to eat, and biscuits were the primary staple. We would cook biscuits, then everyone would get two, and we’d dip them in this horrible concoction of peanut butter and maple syrup.

Then there was Treet Meat. It’s essentially a generic version of Spam, and it was the only meat that I ate through that summer. And, sadly, that name was also appropriate—it was a treat to have, because it was actual food. We didn’t even get it that often, because we couldn’t; we were poor as dirt. We didn’t even have water. Our food situation was no better. Throw on top of that the alcoholism and abuse, and it was an absolute nightmare, a true living hell. That, it seems, was what mom considered best for her kids, since she undoubtedly “only wanted what was best” for her kids.

And, unbelievably, it actually got worse.

Because as though all that wasn’t bad enough, the property owners tasked us with tearing down the shed, which we did. We then lit a bonfire with the wood from it in the backyard, and all that was fine. A few days later, however, we also lit a bonfire in the front yard. And from then on, we were under attack by fleas—fully under attack. Mom said that the fire in the backyard chased them into the front, and then the fire in the front yard chased them into the house. That seems likely, because we had a total infestation. Fleas were everywhere. No matter where we went or what we did, fleas where all over us, biting away.

Mom’s solution to this was some flea powder and anti-itch lotion, but that was woefully inadequate to deal with an infestation of that scale. Bug bombs wouldn’t have been enough. Only an exterminator would really have been sufficient, and it would likely have taken multiple visits from an exterminator.

The situation was beyond terrible, and it’s hard to imagine it being any worse and still leaving the victims alive and sane. How much more could my sanity have taken? How much more could my sister have taken? Hunger, thirst, miserable heat, domestic violence, and constantly being bitten by fleas. These are the reasons why it will always be “That Summer in Arkansas” to me, and why it will (hopefully) always be regarded as the worst summer of my life.

During the day, Charlie, David, and I went through the neighborhoods and picked up cans from the side of the road. That was probably the only bit of good parenting that my mother ever did—if I wanted to go to the movie, then I needed to earn the money. I would say that she might have been pushing it a bit, since I was only eight years old, but it’s also true that it was the only way I could have gone anyway.

Then the glorious day came that we called the person to come and buy the cans from me. It was a little over three dollars, and to my horror, he handed half of it to me, and the other half to Charlie. I threw a fit. And, looking back, I was right to throw a fit, because I was the one collecting the cans and had been from the beginning. I wasn’t being a brat when I said that Charlie didn’t help, because he really hadn’t—he simply came along because there was nothing else to do, and because that’s what I was going to do whether he came or not. I carried the garbage bags, I asked people for their cans, and I picked them up from the side of the road. Undoubtedly, Charlie picked up a few, but he wasn’t asked to, and he certainly hadn’t picked up half of them. I can understand, I guess, why the man presumed it was best to split the money between Charlie and me, but it still seems it would have been better for him to give it to my mother for her to handle. I worked all through that summer doing it, and three dollars was already not enough to go to the movie, but a dollar and fifty cents was nowhere near enough.

I was eventually given all the money—which, as I say, is good since I was the one doing it—but obviously still was not enough to pay for the movie. In another display of surprisingly good parenting, however, mom gave me the other two dollars that I needed, and I was able to buy the ticket and watch the movie. I didn’t get popcorn, a drink, or anything else; I just watched the movie, and it was great, because I’d spent the entire summer working to pay my way into it. I wasn’t entirely successful, but no one could say that I didn’t try.

One afternoon as we played in the tree… I don’t recall exactly what we were doing, but Charlie was swinging around in the branches as I did before my mom asked me to stop. And Charlie made a mistake. He fell almost in slow motion, and the three of us could only watch in shock as he fell, slamming into branches as he plummeted. We screamed as he screamed, and then there was a loud and sickening thud as he slammed against the ground.

Mom and Everett got him inside and called an ambulance. Charlie was able to move and able to stand, and the paramedics asked about taking him to the hospital to check if he had a concussion. To me, it seemed obvious. Dude fell out of a tree. His back was lacerated from the branches that had whipped against his flesh as he fell, and he had pounded against the ground. Why were people discussing whether to take him to the hospital? The ambulance was already there, after all—get the boy some medical attention.

But they didn’t. Because it would have been too expensive.

Charlie swooned at the door and nearly fainted, but caught himself on the jamb. Mom and Everett agreed to keep an eye on him for signs of a concussion, but he still didn’t go to the hospital, and none of us climbed the tree again.

Charlie proved more or less okay, though, and he and I stood in the front yard one day as I prepared to show the whole world once more what a jackass I was. A small, purple truck came through as I hoisted up a very tiny pebble—very tiny. Smaller than a piece of cat food, and very light—far too light to cause any damage. As the truck drove past, in full view of everyone and everything, I pulled back my arm and released, hitting the truck with that pebble.

Brakes screeched. Charlie and I bolted inside.

The man driving the truck, understandably pissed off, said that it was the short one who threw it, and that meant Charlie. Mom and Everett yelled for Charlie as the man left, evidently content to let them handle it, and I stayed hidden in the back, fully prepared to let Charlie take the fall for it. Because I was terrified, too. Charlie wouldn’t have that, though, which is good, and he told them that it was I. When asked directly, I did not deny it. There was a reason, after all, that I was hiding in the back.

That I was going to let Charlie take the blame just pissed Everett off more, but it’s not like there was ever much chance for that to happen. The dude mistakenly told them “the short one,” they called for Charlie, and Charlie told them it was me. But Everett was furious, and I suspect he had been waiting for such an opportunity all summer. He wanted to beat me.

Mom wouldn’t allow that, though, which is good. Because, honestly, if Everett had laid a hand on me, my dad would have killed him. As I said earlier, I never held the delusion that my dad was a superhero, as so many young kids do, but my dad wouldn’t have needed to be a superhero to take on Everett, or to kill him—and there is no doubt: my dad would have done both. Everett was the kind of man who hit women; the last thing he needed was to fight someone who was, at the very least, a real man. And my dad would have been so enraged that there probably wouldn’t have been a fight; he probably would have just shot the asshole.

Or stabbed him, as I had once been ready to do.

Mom took me into the bathroom, and I was crying hysterically, because I knew I’d done something wrong, and I didn’t typically do things like that. I really didn’t. I was just showing off in front of Charlie, and mom knew it, too. She also knew that there was no chance that I was going to do it again—it was all over my teary face. She had already promised Everett that she would whip me, though, and I’m sure that she intended to, until she got me in the bathroom with the doors shut.

Mom knew me better than that, though. She surely understood exactly why I had done it, and she and Everett were both aware that the thing I’d thrown was tiny—far too tiny to do any damage at all. And the guy checked his truck extensively, but there was no damage to it whatsoever. The tiny little pebble almost certainly hit one of his hubcaps, in fact, given the distance involved and the very low mass of the pebble. What I did was wrong, I knew that, and my mother knew that I knew that— and she knew that I had known it at the time that I threw it.

But there was also the fact that no damage was done, and that I undoubtedly would never have thrown something that would have broken a window or caused a dent. What I did simply caused a noise. There was no damage, and she knew that was not by accident. She made it clear to me that I wasn’t to do something like that again, but there was no chance that I was going to anyway, and she told me that Everett wanted to get at me.

In hindsight, I somewhat wish that he would have. Oh, sure, it would have hurt then, but when my dad found out, he would have beat the ever-loving hell out of Everett, and if there’s anyone who deserves to be beaten fifteen-sixteenths to death, it’s Everett Barber. And if Everett had ever laid a finger on me, my dad would have torn him to pieces. Everett did later say, “You’re lucky you ain’t my son, or that hide would be tanned and you would be able to talk for a week!”

Instead, mom spanked the toilet, and we both pretended that she’d spanked me. In fact, she lightly tapped me with the belt, but she grinned when she did it—that way we weren’t lying. That was the way that my mom and I handled things—she respected me, and I respected her. She didn’t have to roar and command me to stop swinging high in the tree; she asked me, explained her reasoning, and I respected her enough to obey. And she had been correct. Charlie had gotten hurt doing it, but it wasn’t because he wanted to do what I was doing.

Of course, Charlie didn’t believe that she’d spanked me, being a little snitch who was double-checking for Everett, and he asked me repeatedly. I consistently answered that she had, and she said the same. But she didn’t, because she was my mother, and she knew me better than that. I was no longer a rebellious kindergartener forced to adjust to a separation and trying to cling to the only normalcy that I had by eschewing school and staying with my mother. I was the kid who had just spent an entire summer collecting cans to pay his own way into a movie.

But no, Everett Barber. Violence is not the way that my mother communicated with me. Weak, ignorant people like you communicate with violence.

There is never a reason to spank a child. Talking to a child and reasoning with the child will earn the child’s respect, and will give the child a reason to respect and trust the adult as an authority figure. Resorting to violence will not earn the child’s respect; it will only earn the child’s fear. But I never again came close to throwing a rock or pebble at a vehicle, and violence wasn’t necessary to make that happen—simply talking to me was. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that an asshole like Everett immediately jumped to violence as the solution to misbehavior.

Everett was a violent asshole, and it’s proof that the universe doesn’t care, that he lives on while my mother has been dead for nearly two decades. This man directly responsible for untold amounts of pain and suffering, and who inflicted violence upon numerous people. Obviously, he doesn’t deserve to die by any means, and my mother was no saint, but, between the two, one of them deserves to be alive a lot more than the other.

Eric forgave Everett. I imagine that was easy, since Eric never witnessed the horrors that Britt and I did.

I nearly saw Everett again, that first weekend we spent with Eric after reconnecting with him, and I told Eric that it would be a very, very bad idea for Everett to come anywhere near me. Eric offered a weak excuse about how Everett is the grandfather of his son, and that they have to be civil, but I did not and do not care about that. This man relentlessly beat my mother in fits of alcohol-induced rage because he couldn’t face his own failures and inadequacies, and he never apologized to my sister or me. Eric said that Everett is clean now, and that he went through Alcoholics Anonymous. That may be, but he missed a step. He missed a few people that he was supposed to apologize to for some of his wrongdoings. My sister and I should have been pretty close to the top of the list.

With dysfunction of that scale, it certainly wasn’t only during the day that they fought. They fought almost constantly, and one of the many lessons I learned from mom is always have my car keys attached to a belt loop on my jeans. She did so, and it was extremely handy one day when they got into a fight. We planned to leave—probably to go to Aunt Diane’s—but she forgot something inside. By the time she turned around to go back in, Everett had already locked the door.

I will never forget that asshole’s stupid, childish grin as he parted the blinds and gave my mom the finger.

Britt and I stayed in the car for the next few hours as they fought inside, because there was no chance that we were going in there while that was happening. One walks on eggshells when there’s a lot of domestic violence, regardless of whom it is targeted at, because one is constantly afraid that something is going to set that violent son of a bitch off, and no one wants to be the person who causes it.

Charlie and Anne soon left with their mom to go back to Oklahoma, and that sucked, because I did enjoy hanging out with Charlie. I was happy to have my video games back, of course, but it wasn’t fun that a friend was leaving. I would never see him again, either—or Anne, for that matter.

It was soon time to register for school, and that was totally weird. I’d already changed schools several times. I started in South Pontotoc Elementary, but spent a few days in the city school—that was an awkward and unpleasant experience. I wasn’t there long enough to make friends, and the vibe in that school was strangely different from the county school. There was a lot of snobbery, and the playground sucked. Then I went to East Tate, and suddenly I was transferring to a school in Arkansas.

Dad and grandma came, to try to get us, before school started, and they weren’t trying to work within the legal system, mostly because we all knew by that point that the case was a total joke to the state. But mom was served with some kind of papers—it wasn’t a summon, and it seemed to be something that grandma paid a lawyer to write up and make it look official and scary. It was also filled with lies. For one, it asserted that we lived in a mobile home, that mom and Everett were doing crack and other things like that, none of which was true, but I understand in hindsight where they were coming from. But I refused to lose my mom again.

Dad promised us that he had gifts for us in the backseat of the car, and all that we had to do was climb in and get them. He held the door open, and it was all too easy for us to see that there was nothing in the backseat. The elderly couple next door knew enough of what was happening that they wanted to ensure things didn’t get out of control, so they came out and sat on their porch whenever dad was there and pulling his stunts. Britt and I weren’t stupid, though, and we told them that they could hand us the gifts, because we weren’t climbing in to get them.

They were trying to kidnap us, in effect, and I have to wonder what legal grounds they had to do so. What would have happened, if they had shoved us into the backseat and drove off? Someone would have called the police, and there would likely have been a roadblock—then what? Clearly, mom wasn’t in violation of any legal order, or they wouldn’t have had such a difficult time trying to go the legal route.

On one of these several “visits,” I stood near mom and Britt on the porch, as dad and grandma stood by their car at the road, shouting back and forth with mom because they had been firmly told to get off her property. “Does this look like a mobile home to you?” I shouted, because I was furious that they were again trying to take us away from our mom, and Britt evidently preferred to stay, too.

Life was borderline unbearable there in Arkansas, but it’s curious to think about what implications that would have had for me being transgender. I wouldn’t have had to struggle with it nearly as much, because my mom would have gladly accepted me. Everett would have gotten out of the picture at some point (he was removed from the picture later), and he would have certainly made it impossible for me to be transgender—more so than grandma and dad did, really. But Everett’s days with our mom were numbered, even if I didn’t know it then.

Mom is the only family member who I know wouldn’t have taken issue with it, because she was bisexual herself, and out of all the things I can question about my mother, I have never doubted that she loved me. Being transgender would have meant nothing to her, and she would have accepted and supported me. That she is not a part of my life is all the more tragic because of that: she is the only family member who would have accepted and supported me. Maybe back then, my sister would have as well, but with the way it went down, even my sister, with whom I went through all this bullshit, refused to accept my transgenderism.

In the grand scheme of things, though, it was certainly for the best that I did end up back with my grandmother, because I would have ended up dropping out as a teenager. I would never have been exposed to fantasy and would never have started writing; I probably would never have picked up a guitar and become an accomplished musician. My life has certainly not been great, but it would have been worse if mom had won that war.

“Dad, I hate you!” I shouted.

For just a brief moment, silence fell. Then my dad narrowed his eyes and pointed at my mother, and then he said in a low voice filled with icy anger, “Pat, if you ever tell him to say that again, I will kill you.”

So there, at the age of eight, I watched my dad threaten to kill my mother.

Obviously, they left quickly after that, because the elderly couple next door had certainly heard that little line, and it’s illegal to stand just on the edge of someone’s property, point at them, and threaten to kill them. For a while, I was in shock over that; it’s unusual to hear your dad threaten to kill your mom, and to mean it, and mom hadn’t told me to say anything. I spoke of my own accord, because I did hate him at that moment. He was once more a force of disruption, but also the only person who could save us—I just didn’t realize then how badly we needed to be saved.

And I was willing, I think, to endure all of those nightmarish things because they were the price of being there with my mother.

I didn’t understand mom’s laughter later that evening, when she bragged to Everett about what I had said. I was unable to understand that she liked how it hurt my dad to hear, and that she was happy that I stood against him—that I stood firmly with her. She didn’t tell me not to hate him, or even not to say it, as any good mother would have. She encouraged it, because she thought it was great.

For the first time, Britt and I suddenly went to different schools. We were two grades apart anyway, so it’s not like it made much of a difference, but… it did make a difference, and I didn’t like it. I don’t remember much about that school, except that people concluded that I was a talented artist, because I was able to draw something that was on the cover of a book. I did get into Gifted Art during the fourth grade, qualifying by drawing a boot. I have no idea why I made it in, because I saw the boots I drew years later, and they were awful.

They had GT at that school, which stood for Gifted and Talented, but only one person in our class was in it. Again, at East Tate I was allowed into TAGS halfway through the third grade (Talented and Gifted Students), but I was too depressed to have qualified for it there in Arkansas. I didn’t make any friends there. I didn’t want to make any friends there. The teachers would also frequently ask me what was wrong, too…

How was I supposed to answer that? Fucking everything was wrong. Between being hungry through the entire summer, sweating and burning up through the entire summer, not even having water through a substantial chunk of it, being blamed for my mom’s mistakes, watching and listening to my mom being beaten once every other week (on average), what in the hell wasn’t wrong? Oh, and I was having to lie to cover up for my mom, because she was shooting up—of course she was shooting up. Since everyone trusted me for some reason, she had me insist that it was for her headaches, when obviously it wasn’t.

“You know the shots I take for my headaches, right?” she asked me one morning.

“I don’t know,” I answered honestly. She didn’t make it a habit of shooting up in front of me, and I didn’t recall then her ever doing so—not since Pontotoc, at least.

“Sure you do,” she cajoled. “The shots that I take for my headaches.”

“Oh,” I convinced myself. “Yeah.”

“You know they’re for my headaches, right?” she pressed, and I nodded. “Good. Everett might ask you, and just be sure to tell him that you know they’re for my headaches…”

“You’re going to have to participate,” the teachers told me. “You can’t just sit there and mope all the time,” they said.

Then there was walking to and from school every day, at a time when I constantly felt nauseated and was always on the verge of throwing up, because we didn’t have a car and because Everett’s parents were weird about their bikes. We were there for about four months, possibly five, and they were by leaps and bounds the worst four months of my life, and I’ve actually been homeless before. But nothing else I’ve experienced comes close to That Summer in Arkansas.

It was worse than ever one night—so bad that the elderly couple told mom that they would call the police if they heard it again. And, as usual, mom told them that it wouldn’t happen again, the same thing that she told Britt and me. Of course, this left my nerves more frazzled than ever, to the point that I wouldn’t even eat, and mom knew that she had to do something, and her solution was to take me to the doctor. Britt also needed to go to a dentist, so mom scheduled both things for the upcoming Thursday.

On that day, since we would be in the city, mom also planned to stop by and see an attorney who wanted a two thousand dollar retainer “to even look at the case.” Mom seemed to think that implied he was a terrific lawyer, and that may have been true, but she was never going to come up with that kind of money, and she must have known that, deep down inside. Just a few weeks prior, she’d received and unexpected check from the government, which she used to buy a $600 car that broke down almost immediately.

Britt and I were playing at the closest park when I looked across the street and saw, to my horror and dismay, dad standing and talking on the payphone while grandma stood beside him. Dad happened to see me, as well, and I told Britt that we had to go home, and that dad was there. We immediately ran home, since we weren’t far in the first place. We told mom what we’d seen, but she wasn’t overly worried about it.

A few minutes later, dad and grandma pulled in front of the house, but they were not alone. They had the police with them, and they had some legal document signed by a judge that gave grandma legal guardianship of us. They accomplished this through some creative distribution of money (bribes, one might say). Dad never denied this, and it’s certainly strange that they managed to get a judge to sign something so major without a hearing actually taking place. So someone’s pockets surely got a little heavier.

It was heartbreaking, and we were conflicted about it. This was our mother, and we loved her and didn’t want to leave her. But, at the same time, the situation was terrible, and no child should have been anywhere near that mess. Britt and mom fought nearly as often as did mom and Everett—I loved my sister and didn’t want her to be unhappy, and she wasn’t any happier than I was. And while I know now that it was for the best, that didn’t make it any easier then.

It all ended as suddenly and inexplicably as it began. Just as we didn’t expect mom to randomly declare that she was going to keep us, neither were we expecting dad and grandma to show up that day with the law on their side. The police oversaw everything as we packed our stuff, coldly standing by and grilling mom, as Britt, mom, and I cried and said our goodbyes, because there was no telling when we were going to see each other again. Mom’s visitation rights had been revoked, which meant that… legally, we weren’t allowed to see her anymore.

There was no turning around that time, though, even as we answered their questions honestly about what had been going on. Dad repeatedly said that we were going to simply forget what I said to him—as though we could do anything else, or as though punishing me for it had been a consideration. I’d just gone through hell for months with my sister. What could he possibly have done to punish me?

Suicide is Not For the Coward

So the lead singer of alternative rock band Linkin Park is in the news, because he killed himself by hanging. While I haven’t liked Linkin Park since their first album, and since I was in the 9th grade, a lot of people are coming forward to call Chester a coward for committing suicide, primarily because it means he left six children behind.

Regardless of whether you approve of his choice, it is stupid, and a horrific misrepresentation of the situation, to call someone a coward because they killed themselves.

Suffering is Relative

First, it must be pointed out that suffering is relative, and none of us has any insight into the inner turmoil within anyone else, and so none of us have the authority or information to accurately assess whether the person chose the “easy” route of suicide and was wrong to do so. We simply don’t know–because we can’t know–how a person feels, unless they tell us, and Chester did come pretty close to that, through his lyrics. These lyrics, incidentally, were those that angst-filled teens adored and identified with, because their own internal suffering was reflected back to them. But that isn’t really important.

Courage & Cowardice

I know many people who have “attempted” suicide. I’m among them, and the scars on my wrist bear it out. I was hospitalized in a behavioral ward several years ago because of it. Even after extensive research, I still didn’t cut deeply enough to hit the veins–no, seriously, the veins in your wrist are much deeper than you’re thinking–and I didn’t have any guns at the time. Today, I know a scary amount of information about suicide. Because of this, I’m well aware that the recent old Republican who “killed himself” with helium actually did commit suicide, and that there couldn’t possibly have been any foulplay. I know that, because I once owned a helium tank for exactly that purpose.

But I never did it.

Why not?

Because, as a method of suicide, it’s almost instantaneous. There is no time for second thoughts. Once you exhale and lower that bag over your head, that’s it. You pass out, and about half an hour later, you die, unconscious. I’m simply not struggling with depression badly enough to pursue that en sincera. I don’t want to die.

With very few exceptions, that is the same thing that nearly everyone who “attempts suicide” decides. There’s a reason that successful suicide rates are low. It’s not an easy thing to do. Substantial biological programming and the desire to survive outweigh most forms of depression, and, even when the depression is heavier, the person must face head-on their fear of death.

Anyone who has ever sat there with the barrel of a gun in their mouth, the blade of a razor against their wrists, a noose around their neck, or any other such situation and who still lives faced their fear of death head-on.

And they buckled.

They can make all the excuses they want. They can say that they realized that they were loved. They can say that they realized their problems would pass. They can say any-damned-thing that they want. But I know it, and they know it: the reason they live is that they are cowards. They stood on the precipice of oblivion and feared to jump, and so they backed away from the cliff. Some of these people are now calling Chester a coward because he didn’t back down from the precipice of oblivion.

Are you kidding me?

An Animal’s Instincts of Self-Preservation

There is tremendous resistance to death. Anyone who has seen wild animals chew off their own limbs (or humans saw off their own limbs) to escape from deadly situations knows that there is a powerful Will to Live inside every organism. Humans and non-humans are capable of incredible things in the interest of self-preservation, something that modern “horror” movies love exploiting for shock value. Put two people in a room together and tell them that one of them must kill the other, and then the survivor will be free, and they will almost immediately attempt to kill each other (Fun note: this is what Nietzsche described as Middle Class Morality). Saw off their own leg? No problem, once they have pursued other options.

Here’s a cold, hard fact for you: almost everyone out there–at least 99.999% of people–would cry and beg profusely as someone else lowered a noose around their neck. They would do anything, say anything, and promise anything to be spared. Disgusting amounts of tears and snot would run down their faces as they panicked, prayed to every god they could think of, and begged everyone nearby to “Please, I’ll do anything…” These are the same people calling Chester a coward because he lowered the noose around his own neck.

It would be funny, if it wasn’t true that, evidently, that’s how they see it.

There is an enormous difference between “thinking very hard about suicide” and gathering the means to do it, and actually proceeding with it. Even if the attempt is a failure, there is such an enormous gap between “thinking about suicide” and “legitimately trying to kill oneself” that most people can’t even fathom the divide.

It’s the same divide that exists between people who imagine how brave they would be if they faced down a criminal with a gun, and the people who have been there, and who gladly handed over their wallets and were terrified. Fear, after all, is what keeps people alive. It’s what kept human beings out of the darkness where there were lions, wild dogs, and hippos. That same exact fear keeps people from putting the gun in their mouth and pulling the trigger. It’s easy to say “I could have. I would have. I just changed my mind.”

In fact, it reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Kramer says he’s going to build “levels” in his apartment, and Jerry bets him that it will never happen. In the end, Kramer renegs on the bet, and says that Jerry didn’t win, because, “I could have done it. I just didn’t want to.” Jerry vainly attempts to remind him, “That’s the bet! The bet is that you wouldn’t do it.” Kramer again reiterates, “But I could have.” Frustrated, Jerry says, “The bet wasn’t that you couldn’t. The bet was that you wouldn’t,” but it’s to no avail.

This is what people are saying when they say that they could have committed suicide, and they would have–if they hadn’t considered the loved ones they were leaving behind. The loved ones that they remembered were the panicked product of innate biological tendencies within an animal to preserve itself because it was afraid. It doesn’t matter what their reason for changing their mind is–why were they considering such things in the first place? By that point, they are already second-guessing whether they want to commit suicide. What propelled that? What caused them to stop and think about anything instead of just taking the gun, putting it in their mouths, and pulling the trigger? Why weren’t they just thinking about that?

Because their brain was desperately afraid and trying to stop to them using the last tool it had at its disposal. Compelling one to stop and think about all the loved ones being left behind is how it does that.

Anyone who ever attempted suicide–or “thought about” attempting suicide–and who still lives is a coward. They stood on the edge of the precipice, and they backed down. They can offer up any excuse they want, but, at the end of the day, what stopped them was fear. There’s no other reason why they’d have stopped to consider loved ones in the first place. That’s the brain’s last defense mechanism against self-destruction.

Consider this: the person who is about to commit suicide and stops because they think of the pain and suffering it will bring the loved ones left behind are aware, at least in some ways, that the fact that they even care about the pain and suffering they’ll leave behind will vanish the moment they’re dead. Sure, “If I commit suicide, I’ll leave behind so much pain and suffering.” Yet, also sure, “But I’ll be dead, so… there won’t be even a single solitary second of my existence where I feel the pain of having left people behind by killing myself, because I’ll have killed myself.” They didn’t think about that, though. I’d bet that thought didn’t occur to the overwhelming majority of people who attempted/thought about suicide. And why not? Because their brain was looking for ways to talk them out of it, not looking for ways to talk them into it.

Thoughts & Control

We tend to think of “our thoughts” as something we control, and our brains as something that is fully at our mercy, and that’s simply not true. Sentience is a curious thing, but your brain absolutely does things to try to convince “you” of things. The human brain is countless parts communicating with one another, not some collective unit that the “I” controls. You’re breathing right now–you are not in control of that. Your heart is beating right now. You can no more make your heart stop beating than (and this is important) you can make yourself stop thinking. You don’t control your thoughts. A thought comes when it wants to, not when “you” want it to. When some part of your brain decides to generate it, that’s when the thought occurs. You can no more create that thought than you can stop it. It’s coming. The only choice you have is how “you” deal with that thought. Whatever you are thinking about when the clock strikes noon after reading this, you won’t have any power to prevent.

The “I” takes these thoughts coming in from various parts of the brain, and assembles them into some form it can process, and then makes a decision. Maybe the “I” can control the decision that it makes, and maybe it can’t, because the decision itself is merely a product of the information sent to it by thoughts that it cannot dictate–it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the “I” doesn’t control what thoughts come, or when those thoughts come. Even extensive training by Buddhist monks cannot allow one to indefinitely take control of what thoughts come, or when those thoughts come. However focused the Buddhist monk is, and however in control of their thoughts they are, the moment they have to get back to life, they surrender control back to other parts of their brain. What will they think about while they slice potatoes in the monastery? While they till the ground?

You can do it, too. Think about an elephant, and try to keep thinking about an elephant. How long does it take you to realize that you’re not longer thinking about an elephant? Your thoughts will stray–a conga line of random thoughts perhaps not even related, until finally you’re thinking about John McCain’s brain cancer and realize, after forty seconds, “Oh, shit, I was supposed to be thinking about an elephant!” and direct your thoughts back to a pachyderm. Try to keep that elephant in your mind all day, as you go about work, as you eat lunch. You can’t do it. No one can. It requires exhaustive energy and focus to control one’s thoughts, and it simply cannot be done for any substantial period of time. You may think about the elephant several times an hour throughout the day, but through those instances, you’ll think about colleagues, food, friends, family, driving, money, and countless other things that you can’t control.

Those thoughts of loved ones that the person contemplating suicide has… They can’t control those thoughts, either. The question we have to ask is why the brain generated those thoughts. Why did some part of one’s brain conjure up an image of a son or nephew, and say, “But look how sad he’ll be…” and create vivid imaginings of the future of that child, raised without his father or mother? We can find the answer easily, by asking “What did the conjuration of those thoughts achieve?”

Well, it achieved causing the “I” to back out of committing suicide.

Why would a part of the brain want that?

Because it’s afraid of losing existence.

Conclusion

Maybe you don’t approve of what Chester did. Maybe you think it’s screwed up he left his family behind, and maybe you just think that suicide is immoral (I’ll save that for another day). Maybe you’re more like me, and you don’t really care one way or another, but you’d like it if there wasn’t so much confusion and misunderstanding surrounding suicide. Making the statement, though, that Chester was “wrong” to make the choice that he did is saying “He valued release from his pain more highly than he valued the pain he was leaving with others. His values are wrong, and the pain he left others is much greater than whatever pain he felt.”

I hope we can all immediately see what an asinine statement that is.

We don’t know what pain he felt, or what his personal suffering entailed. We can never know what it was like to live within his head and to feel what he felt. We can never know how deeply in That Place he was. Neither can we know how his children and wife/ex-wife will feel about it. We can guess, and we’d be right to some degree when we’d guess “They’ll be really sad,” but we can’t quantify that. We can’t even quantify our own suffering. Ask any person how much hardship and suffering they face and I’d bet wholeheartedly that you’ll see a graph identical to what we’d expect based on the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Everyone will rate their personal suffering and past hardships at 7.5, or thereabouts. I’d love to see a scientific survey done on this. In fact, I’m going to do one.

But if we cannot properly assess the value of his suffering and how bad it was, or the suffering of his family and how bad it’s going to be, how can we justify making the arrogant claim that he was wrong to make the choice that he did?

Being Audacious & Courting Disaster

You ever do something that you know, beyond almost any doubt, is going to have severely negative consequences? Because I’m about to do that. And I’m really not sure what the fallout will be, but it’s going to be an interesting ride.

First, I was successfully voted into the Audacious Caucus of the Libertarian Party. In fact, I was voted in unanimously with 18-0, and am the second prison to have been voted in with no dissent (The other was Starchild). Even Arvin Vohra isn’t likely to be voted in unanimously.

Second, speaking of Arvin, he was chosen as the first inductee into The Call to Freedom’s “Libertarian Drama Hall of Fame.” It was decided that Arvin is basically the LeBron James of Libertarian Drama, and that’s true, although the drama around him has been pretty mild lately. It’s sort of like South Park–once upon a time, people were outraged, but not it’s just like, “Well, that’s just South Park being South Park…”

That’s the trick of being audacious. If you’re audacious all the time, it becomes almost passé. It’s like the left protesting constantly and marching all the time; eventually, people stop paying attention, because it’s just expected. It’s not exciting or interesting. Arvin seems aware of this (hence his place in the Hall of Fame), because he’s generated no controversy lately, but I’m positive that he will. He’s Arvin. It’s what he does.

In other interesting news, perpetual dickbag Augustus Invictus followed in Austin Petersen’s footsteps and left the Libertarian Party to join the Republican Party. As with Petersen, actual libertarians celebrated the development.

This seems to be the beginning of the exodus of the paleo-libertarians and alt-right fascitarians from the party, including the likes of terminal idiot Jared Howe, Molyneaux, Cantwell, and others who thought the Libertarian Party meant “liberty for me, not for thee.”

And, on that note, the stupid thing I’m about to do: I’m forming an affiliate for the county I live in. The first meeting is July 29th, but I don’t expect it to generate much buzz. The second meeting is when things will begin to get interesting, because by then word will have spread.

I’ve no intention of peddling being transsexual to any sort of advantage or as any tool for getting publicity, but I’ve been a resident of Mississippi long enough to know how this is going to play out. Once that ball gets rolling, it’s going to snowball to unknown degrees, but I expect that at least half the county will be buzzing about the transsexual atheist chair of the county party. This, of course, will motivate many of those people to learn about libertarian philosophy and, especially, how a transsexual person isn’t a Democrat and actually advocates for the right of free association (and has years of history doing it).

It will surely warrant a statement at some point, to which I’m looking forward, which will allow me to change a lot of people’s minds about trans people and liberty. I’d rather the transsexual matter never be brought up, but it will be–persistently. I will be the #1 thing people bring up when they discuss the Libertarian Party of the county, because the chair of the county party is a transsexual atheist.

This will create many problems. Many of my clients are old school, and needing to earn money to not die has left me in the awkward situation of having to continue working as a male, but it’s the elephant in the room. Everyone has noticed. Dudes don’t typically dye their hair vibrant red. Some employees at various clients have even discussed it with me or my colleague; it’s not exactly hard to notice for people who only see me once every few weeks.

I think that’s going to go better than other people expect, though, because the effect of rapport cannot be denied. I discussed this recently–relationships are the destroyers of bigotry, and I’ve got existing relationships with the clients and their employees. They like me. They already know that I’m strange (everyone knows I’m weird), and they don’t mind. The revelation for some of them will just be that I’m more weird than they knew.

Yet there is at least one client for whom it will present an irreconcilable problem, because the client is managed by a couple with a gay son, whose sexuality they are in denial about, and who pulled him out of school to shelter him from the corruptive agents of mainstream society. I could be reading that entire situation wrong, but that assessment is based on my conversations with the guy and with my own experiences with oppressive guardians. So I don’t think that I am.

The remaining two members of my family whose opinions somewhat matter to me will learn the truth, but that’s just as well. I sheltered them from it, but the bell is going to ring, and it really doesn’t matter to me any longer.

There is a real risk of danger and attack. I’ve been attacked before, both for being trans and for being an atheist. A year ago, someone was trying to find out where I lived so that they could pay me a visit. Oh, well. My shotgun stays loaded.

I fully expect the message of liberty to form a bridge between me and most people, because that’s what liberty is: a truce. From there, personal relationships will pick up the slack and allow people to at least rely on cognitive dissonance to not fire me as their I.T. contractor. Or I could be wrong, and they all fire me. I could very well be digging my own grave almost literally.

But I don’t think so. As I said, most of them already know. They can only make so many comments about how I remind them of their step-daughter before it gets to the point of, “Yeah, just go ahead and say it.” Like I said, in most cases it’s the elephant in the room that no one is talking about.

Let’s have some conversations about liberty, and let’s disabuse people of some incorrect ideas.

Destroying Bigotry Through Relationships

One of the most interesting things that came about because of Porcfest 2017 is that I realized just how ignorant I am of “average” Muslim behavior. Given that I’m an atheist and have no more interest in Islam than I do Wicca or Zoroastrianism, I’m okay with that. I’m also an individualist, so I also make it a point to treat each person as an individual, not a homogenized blob because they happen to have this or that characteristic. I knew intellectually that all Muslims couldn’t fulfill “the stereotype,” but what stereotype is that? Certainly, there’s the “OMG TERRORIST” stereotype, but everyone except the most idiotic conservative knows that not all Muslims are terrorists. However, some idiotic conservatives do think that. I quote a local writer who recently gave me a copy of his book (yes, the book is trash) (and yes, the motherfucker signed it):

“There are no Peace-Loving Muslims, no Moderate Muslims, no Indifferent Muslims. No Radical Muslims. Just Muslims. A Muslim is a Muslim. Period.”

Yes, someone not only wrote that, but got it published in a book.

While most people wouldn’t go that far, it remains true that familiarity is the destroyer of stereotypes–which is the primary reason that I’m currently considering staying in Mississippi*. But before we get into that, let’s talk about paleo-libertarianism. The question of free markets and discrimination is one that a lot of people would like the answer to, because “let the free market deal with it” is not a satisfying answer when discussing people like me who could end up in situations where they can’t shop at critical stores because everyone in the area is transphobic/racist/homophobic/etc.

They have a point.

It doesn’t really make a difference that 50s era segregation was enforced by the state, because many of the business owners of that day would have carried on that policy regardless–and did so well into the 70s in some places. It’s a nice cop-out to be able to say, “There was nothing ‘free market’ about American segregation; it was legislated and enforced by the state, not the market.” Such a statement is true in a limited sense, but we can’t pretend like segregation and discrimination magically disappear if there’s a free market in place, because they don’t.

Last night I spent a while thinking about a friend of mine who immediately identified someone else as Jewish by their last name. Until this “someone else” told me so, I had no idea that he was Jewish, and even afterward it was worthy of nothing but a mental note. When I asked him how he identified the guy as Jewish, he said it was the last name, and that he knew most/all of common Jewish last names. Then I thought of the many borderline anti-semitic things this friend has said in the past. While he doesn’t deny the Holocaust happened, he does take a position closer to mine, that the truth is lost to history and that wartime propaganda twisted the story until it bears unknown  resemblance to the truth. It also occurred to me that, if asked, I would insist to people that this friend isn’t racist. Finally, I wondered whether that was true. Perhaps my own whiteness keeps me from being able to see his racism.

However, I was also repeatedly interrupted during every conversation at Porcfest a few weeks ago, and, when I mentioned this to someone, I was told that “Women traditionally didn’t have a voice at the politics table,” and that was why I was being interrupted. However, this was demonstrably false. It would have been all too easy to play the victim card and cry about sexism (it would also have been nonsense, given my voice), but instead I observed, and what I saw was everyone interrupting everyone else all the time, without regard to age, gender, or race. Seeing sexism in the interruptions would have been confirmation bias; if I went into it expecting to find that, that’s what I would have found, even though the issue is something larger and much more serious.

In fact, the idea that it was sexist struck me as odd from the start. Although hormones have certainly begun to affect my face and body, my hair still isn’t that long, and from some angles I don’t look very feminine at all. On top of that, my voice is certainly on the deeper end–an issue I haven’t yet worked out. Even wearing a dress, some people instinctively called me “he,” something else that I didn’t and don’t get worked up about (although, as I said to someone Friday night, there will come a time when calling me “he” must be intentional, but that’s after more physiological changes and, ideally, vocal surgery), and people tuning into Call to Freedom would have no idea that the person they were listening to identified as a chick. The idea behind the “They’re sexist” argument is that they’re sexist instinctively and without their conscious awareness, but that falls apart when instinctively they consider me a dude.

All that said, the entire reason my rant at Porcfest was so successful is that I’m transgender. How much power would my rant have lost if that wasn’t the case? Many people told me afterward that I broke through their stereotype of transgender people. One of the judges even said that he’d pre-judged me, and was surprised to have that prejudice shattered. I’m no stranger to stereotypes, and they aren’t really a problem; the only problem is when we cling to them and refuse to allow individuals to break them.

I’ve experienced this more than simply at Porcfest. A friend of mine has a grandmother who strongly disliked transgender people, and this friend handled it by showing her grandmother my posts on Facebook from a year ago about just wanting to live in peace. Stereotypes are built of straw people, and they very rarely apply fully, and sometimes they don’t apply at all. The reason they persist is due more to unfamiliarity than anything else. They imagine in their heads some amalgam of all the terrible things they’ve heard about this or that group, and various factors lead them to believe that their imagined person is representative of everyone in that group. It’s just human nature, and it’s not something to condemn people over.

I wouldn’t be able to fully explain my Straw Muslim. The Straw Muslim wasn’t a terrorist, but they were extremely devout–uncomfortably devout. Your Straw Southern Baptist is pretty much what my Straw Muslim looks like, and I’d go even further and suggest that your Straw Muslim also looks a lot like mine. And while the faith of the people involved with Muslims 4 Liberty cannot be doubted, they don’t fit the stereotype at all. Prior to meeting and spending a week with Will Coley et al., I had no idea how pervasive that perception of Islam was, but why else would I have been surprised by the generosity they showed during Ramadan? I’ve been equally surprised by some of the Christians I’ve met within libertarian circles, such as Thomas Knapp, and I’ve been surrounded by Christians most of my life. Prior to meeting some of these people, I probably would have said there’s no such thing as a moderate Christian. In fact, I’m sure I’ve said that in the past. And there’s no doubt: people like Thomas Knapp are entirely the reason I’ve eliminated anti-Christian rhetoric from my repertoire.

However, even as vehemently anti-Christian as I used to be (and I’m still anti-fundamentalist), I was more than willing to allow people their right to free association, and have been arguing in favor of that for years. I look back on an article I published about a year ago and badly want to remove it, because it’s so close to being anti-Muslim in its tone. And that came from myself; it came from within. There was no talk of individualism in that article. It was a lot of bullshit about social customs, integration, and assimilation. I’m positively embarrassed that I wrote that spiel, although that sentiment was present before I met people of Muslims 4 Liberty and goes back at least 7 months, to the first time I re-read the article.

Under no circumstances have I or would I ever deny service to someone because of their characteristics, it must be stated unequivocally, but most people aren’t like that. The same people who condemn Trump for his ban of Muslims also praise Canada for refusing to allow entry to members of the Westboro Baptist Church; the Westboro Baptist Church, on the other hand, would adamantly refuse to allow me into their building, and people like Steven Anderson (not with the WBC, but every bit as hateful and vile) whine and bitch when companies don’t want to do business with them, even as they explicitly refuse to do business with others.

We saw the same thing when Obama became president, and everyone who wanted to see his birth certificate was dismissed as a racist. The reality for most people, however, was something different: through their entire lives, an old white man had been in charge. Suddenly, a black, relatively young man was in charge. They were uncomfortable and afraid, not hateful. And while it’s true that fear often motivates horrific behavior, it didn’t on this occasion, and manifested primarily in cries that Obama was a Muslim or wasn’t from Kenya. It was a knee-jerk reaction to an unfamiliar situation, and one by one these people adapted and realized their world wasn’t coming to an end. Anyone still going on about Obama being a Muslim or a Kenyan is probably just racist and attempting to mask their racism with those allegations, but the birther movement died out because people adjusted and moved on, leaving behind only the racists.

It’s ultimately a matter of cognitive dissonance.

When Bob is told his entire life by his fundamentalist church that gay people are evil abominations, he’s going to experience cognitive dissonance when his best friend of 17 years, Jim, confesses to Bob that he is gay. At this point, Bob is presented with several choices for resolving the dissonance:

  1. My church is wrong. All gay people cannot be evil abominations, because Jim is gay and isn’t an evil abomination.
  2. Jim is wrong and isn’t really gay. He isn’t an evil abomination, and my church is right; ergo, Jim isn’t really gay.
  3. My church is right. All gay people are evil abominations. Therefore, Jim has managed to hide his evil from me for the last 17 years.
  4. On rarer occasions, Bob might craft a special exemption for Jim. “Jim is different… He isn’t like all the other gay people.”

Which of these Bob lands on is ultimately going to come down to trust and relationship importance. If his friendship with Jim is more important to him, then he will decide on #1. If both are equally important to him, he will decide on #2. If his relationship with his church and his religious beliefs are more important, he will go with #3. We can immediately see, then, that Jim has his work cut out for him; there aren’t many things that will be more important to Bob than his religious beliefs, because religious beliefs are “core beliefs” that form the foundation of other beliefs. Asking Bob to accept that his church/religious beliefs are wrong is a much greater thing than simply accepting that Jim is wrong, because Bob’s entire worldview stems from his religious beliefs. If we pull the foundation out from under his worldview, the entire thing collapses.

“Muslim call to prayer while hula-hoppers [sic] groove nearby.”

…And?

That’s a pretty awesome event to be at, if you ask me. People hula-hooping, people stoned, people drunk, people tripping, people dancing, people praying… Everyone getting along, everyone celebrating, and no one hating anyone else over squabbling differences… That sounds to me like a fucking utopia, not something that should be mocked or looked upon with disdain. Indeed, that’s how our entire society should be. I fail to see how anyone has a problem with “Everyone is doing their own thing, and everyone is friendly with everyone else. If they can’t get along, then they just leave each other be.”

In fact, Porcfest is proof that you can put Muslims, Jews, atheists, Christians, transgender people, straight people, gay people, black people, white people, Asian people, and all other people with various characteristics into a society together and end up with something that is really awesome. Yet this douchenozzle from CNN said this with disdain and contempt, and people who replied to the tweet made even more contemptuous remarks: “They don’t pay you enough to attend that crap.”

There are only three ways that liberty can work: homogeneity, diversity, and individualism.

Homogeneity is obviously broken as an idea–it’s simply impossible. There will always be differences between people, and those differences will always be highlighted. Hitler wanted to basically produce an all-white society, and what happened? The differences among white people were immediately targeted as points of divide: those with blond hair and blue eyes were considered superior to someone who had brown hair and brown eyes. By definition, a society can never be truly homogeneous. Even if Hitler had succeeded in eliminating everyone but white people with blond hair and blue eyes, the divisiveness wouldn’t have ended; instead, it would have become “tall people are superior to short people” or something else. I’d venture the statement that the more homogeneous a society is, the more petty are its points of division.

Diversity is flawed for other reasons. A homogeneous society of 99% white people (in addition to still being divided, as the previous paragraph contends) discriminating against the 1% black population can’t be fixed by “the free market” alone. However, what if the society is 75% white and 25% black, and the white population is uniformly racist? With these numbers, it’s true that the black population could simply shop at black-owned stores and work for black-owned businesses, but at this point we aren’t dealing with one society; we’re talking about two societies that just happen to reside in geographic proximity. This is still true if we add in an 80% straight population that doesn’t want to associate with the 20% LGBT population; we aren’t “uniting” society. We’re segregating it into many different societies.

It’s similarly true that diversity fails to take hold in homogeneous societies because of social pressures and economic concerns that often conspire to make it impossible for a person to “come out.” This is a problem that never magically vanishes, and there will always be one group or another who cannot openly admit to being in that group because of the adversity they will face upon doing so. Suppose our society was 99% Christian and 1% atheist, but no atheists were even allowed to speak out without being put to death (as was the case until about 300 years ago). Atheists would not be able to band together to create their atheist stores because coming out as an atheist resulted in death. Diversity requires openness, but there will always be disenfranchised people who simply aren’t allowed to be open about who they are.

Instead we could take the approach of individualism, that a person’s characteristics shouldn’t matter, and that a person should be judged by their actions and behavior rather than being judged over what characteristics they happen to have. This is precisely how Jim breaks through Bob’s anti-gay bigotry. Instead of being lumped into that foreign group that has been painted as a bogeyman by Bob’s church, Jim has an in-road directly to Bob’s heart by being his friend–someone he personally knows. When Bob accepts that Jim isn’t an evil abomination, it is because he isn’t lumping his friend into that group and therefore isn’t applying that group’s alleged qualities to his friend.

Often, we aren’t aware of what stereotypes we harbor, and we’re capable of harboring them regardless of how individualist we are. The destroyer of those stereotypes is the individualism that allows us to have a relationship with someone regardless of their characteristics. Only then can we see how wrong we were.

* As stated elsewhere, the state arresting me and extorting me for nearly $2,500 six months ago ravaged my bank account and basically put me back at square one, albeit with $250~ or so. If I pursue this avenue, all funds contributed to that campaign will be returned, either directly or via matching donations to donors’ campaigns.

Anarchy in Action

So… I’m at Anarchist Shemale Fest, which is kinda like the Porcfest pre-party. The more radical and audacious people come to Anarchist Shemale Fest, and I’d wager the guess that nearly everyone here is an anarchist/voluntaryist. There’s no practical difference between an anarcho-capitalist and a voluntaryist, except that the AnCap recognizes that capitalism is the most efficiency and most likely method of voluntary interactions.

Anyway.

It’s Shirefest, Muslims 4 Liberty Fest, Anarchist Shemale Fest, Somalia Fest… It’s Individualism Fest.

Last night, we had a rave. A Muslim was the DJ. An anarchist shemale took videos and pics, and danced with some gay dudes and a half naked chick while her boyfriend fucked an American flag that was on the ground. There are really no rules here, and no one makes the claim that this Individualism Fest is family friendly, but there are kids running around anyway.

You can’t walk fifteen feet without smelling someone smoking weed, drinking, or doing something heavier. Obviously, there are overarching laws, since this is taking place in the United States, a nation which has about as many laws as it does people, and within New Hampshire, a state that has made phenomenal strides toward libertarianism yet still has far to go. But none of those laws really apply here. They’re not on anyone’s mind, not even distantly.

People open carry hatchets, knives, and guns. There is no theft here–any theft that’s occurred here has been the result of family members who weren’t libertarians. There is zero chance that any of the kids wandering around are going to be kidnapped or molested, and if they happen to stumble across sexual activity, someone will stop and send them away.

It’s anarchism in action.

It really goes to show the power of libertarian ideology. Individualism, and the mutual respect that is born of compassion, empathy, and peace. In the five years that Will has been coming, there’s never been a fight. The only real altercation occurred when Cantwell–general alt-right bullshit–got drunk as hell and, reportedly, tried to drive his van through a crowd of people. But Cantwell is no longer allowed on the premises.

He has been shunned from the anarchist society. He wasn’t attacked by thugs with guns for his unacceptable behavior. He was shunned, and forbidden from returning to this private property.

This is what peace, love, and liberty can do.

The whole thing is a lot like Woodstock, to be totally honest, except there’s an ideology and a central principle that guides us all: non-aggression. No one wants to be the victim of aggression, and therefore no one uses aggression to make someone else such a victim. There is also the lack of live music, and I was going to bring an acoustic guitar for exactly that purpose. I will next year. Of course, next year I’ll be here as a vendor; this year I’m getting a feel for things and meeting people.

I’ve talked with Liberty Radio Network about getting a show on there, and right now the general idea is that it would be better, since I’m trans, to have me on the two gay dudes’ show as another co-host. However, I prefer flying solo, so I’m going to keep podcasting and liaising with them now that I’ve met them and have that connection.

I should have made a bunch of those perler bead anarchy symbols, but it didn’t even occur to me. I’m currently looking into “Godless & Lawless” bumper stickers and similar things, all of which would be good merchandise for here. C’est la vie. Now I know.

Of course, there’s no sales tax on things, because taxation is theft, and no one is getting robbed here. This is an anarchist paradise that we’ve carved in the center of the fascist, overblown, military-based United States, and, at least here, we are free.

Anyone curious about how anarchy can actually work should really come to Somalia Fest next year. I’m also hoping to speak at Porcfest next year, since I’ve been building a lot of connections this year and amplifying my voice.

Most of the people here accept crypto currencies as payment.

Will is running The Cultural Appropriation Grill. In fact, Will has made it a point to say that he’s cooking and selling culturally appropriated food because he’s a dirty capitalist.

One guy is selling 3 hours of cell phone charging for $1.

If I was willing, I could change outfits and make $300, at least, by the end of the day. My cash supply is fast depleting, too. 🙁

It would have been alright, but I ended up having to pay part of two hotel rooms that I wasn’t anticipating having to pay for (The plan changed frequently, but it was never mentioned that I’d need to pay for part of any hotel room), and I was hoping for a $150 loan from a friend that didn’t pan out.

But hey! That’s why I brought hot dogs, bread, and lunch meat. The only thing I’m worried about now is being hit up for gas on the trip back to Tennessee, since we’ve already come close to the figure I was initially quoted, and that was on the drive up here… I’m not complaining, just saying. This is AnCap city. Things will work out.

I’ve derailed from my initial point–this is what an anarchist society looks like. If I want to change clothes and throw up a sign that says “Your place, $30,” no one will judge me for it. And this place is a total sausage fest. There would be plenty of takers. Just saying.

Anyway, I don’t know if there will be a podcast today. Tomorrow, Porcfest begins, so there will be plenty to discuss then.

LP Shenanigans & Live From Anarchist Shemale Fest Part 1 (Podcast)

As I mentioned previously, Will Coley (of Muslims 4 Liberty, www.lrn.fm, former Vice Presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party, and host of “Call to Freedom”) invited me with him to Somalia Fest and Porcfest this year. It took a bit of work, but I was able to wrangle up the funds to go and have the cushion for incidental problems, so expect articles to slow down through the next week.

However, I will be doing daily podcasts to pick up the slack, because I totally forgot to put together a laptop for the trip, writing articles from my phone is very slow, and I’m not entirely sure whether the laptop i grabbed at the last moment even works.

Those who know me probably know that I’m a bit anti-social, and if there was any reason I was going to back out (aside from being embarrassingly unable to afford what was basically a free vacation), it would have been that, or missing my cats. Oh, man, do I miss my cats.

Anyway, even barely knowing Will, I couldn’t pass up the chance to actually put in some work on the ground (especially since the MSLP, now that they’ve gotten money from me, has gone back to ignoring me), and it’s more or less exactly as I expected. This, of course, is Somalia Fest, considered the pre-Porcfest party, and is when most of the more audacious and anarchist types will arrive.

It does again make me wonder about the LP’s intention to, later this week, have an online meeting to discuss delegate rules and similar things, since many of the more audacious people are up here in the New Hampshire mountains, where, if you don’t have Verizon, then you don’t have service. Most people are officially off the grid.

The Audacious Caucus is actively working to stack the 2018 LNC, after all, and I’ve no doubt there are spies within the LPAC. It’s odd that, not long after we were discussing swarming the convention, the LP scheduled a meeting about delegate rules (and other things) at a time when many of the more radical and audacious types will be off the grid. I have no idea if that’s coincidental or not, but it’s highly suspicious.

There is a battle being fought for the heart of the party, with two distinct sides lining up for the fight: those who think the goal is to win elections, and those who think the goal is to use the enhanced coverage to spread the libertarian message, without much concern for actually winning or losing elections (I fall into this latter camp, obviously).

Only a few weeks ago, Larry Sharpe (who is probably fairly pissed at me presently, since I called him out for paying lip service to forgiveness, while acting more like a wife who “forgave” her husband for cheating, yet brings it up again every time there’s an argument–a claim he denied, but he failed to provide links to these discussions, and I provided links to support my assertion) insisted on “The Call to Freedom” that the purpose of the party is to win elections, and that it’s that simple.

Of course, much of this is due to the Dallas Accord and the Portland Massacre–in 2006, there were tremendous changes to the LP’s platform, and anarchists began leaving the party en masse because of the betrayal of the Dallas Accord. Even now, many moderates speak of trying to purge us from the party, or, at minimum, to change the rules of delegation selection to minimize our impact and voices.

This, of course, is how you end up with James Weeks doing a strip on stage on live television. There is much talk about purging or silencing anarchists and the audacious caucus; naturally, the harder they push, the more audacious we’ll become. I once did my work as I/E (Intellect over Emotion), and now I’m the Anarchist Shemale. And, as of about three weeks ago, have membership in the national and state parties. I’m a Libertarian. Know that, Republicans, before you swarm in and try to take over.

We’re not going to let another Bill Weld happen. I don’t think we’re going to let even another Gary Johnson happen.

That said, it’s hilarious that we are actively trying to build a compromise ticket of Sharpe/Coley, even though we don’t particularly care for Sharpe. He’s not bad; he’s alright. We can tolerate him. The question remains whether the centrists can meet us in the middle–they get Sharpe to head the ticket, and we get Coley to make sure that libertarian principles are represented.

“Compromise” is a word they love to use, but they tend to use it in its more modern liberal sense–“I get what I want, and you get to shut up and sit down, or go away if you don’t like it.” Yet, despite the ongoing hostility, we’re still willing and trying to forge a compromise.

It’s amusing, and it highlights the difference between Somalia Fest and Porcfest really well. Last night while trying to do an episode of “Call to Freedom” with Will, a fully naked chick wandered into the van from which we were doing the show. That’s Somalia Fest.

I also recorded the first of several podcasts, this one featuring Bill Paxton, Ian of Free Talk Live, Will Coley, and myself.

The Blood I Cried

Want to read the whole story? Well, now you can! For a limited time (until June 15), Dancing in Hellfire is finally available for sale, for only $3.49. You can buy it here, through this very site, using PayPal or a typical credit/debit card (payment is processed by PayPal, so I don’t see the info), after which you’ll be given access to the book as both a PDF and an ePub.

Introduction

Whether being four years old and watching one of my parents’ friends shoot up peanut butter on our couch and dying before my eyes; whether being effectively kidnapped at the age of eight by my meth-addicted mother and forced to endure a summer of being too poor to buy food, with our water turned off due to non-payment, and with mom being beaten mercilessly by a violent alcoholic; whether coming to terms with her disappearance like something out of a murder mystery show; or whether being transgender in the midst of all of this and trying desperately to come to terms with it while surrounded by a fundamentalist Christian family that forced me to not merely repress who I was but also to forget who I was, I have seen a great deal of tragedy.

It’s strangely easy to forget how devastating all of this must truly have been, even as I was the one who experienced it, because it’s easy to forget how it truly felt to lie awake, crying and listening to the sounds of shattering glass as my mother was thrown brutally through windows. It’s easy to forget how angry I have the right to be at my father and grandmother, for forcing me to oppress myself and attempting to turn me into something that I am not.

Today I am a transgender woman and resident of the state of Mississippi. This is as frustrating, difficult, and dangerous as one would expect, but I survive, and I roll with the punches. I have no choice, just as I had no choice those early mornings as I bore witness to horrific domestic violence.

So this is my story–a story of how low human depravity can sink, but also how the human spirit can stand resilient and refuse to surrender. However, I know that I am one of the lucky ones. The majority of people who endure such childhood trauma, and who are forced by religiously oppressive authorities to repress their own natures, are not so fortunate. Most of the former lose themselves in a sea of drugs that allow them to forget, while the latter often lose themselves to the blade of a razor. Yet I know, because I have lived it, that we can survive the struggles–and not merely survive, but become stronger through them.

Where to begin, in this sordid tale of devils and demons?

My family is exactly what one would expect of a north Mississippi lower middle class / upper lower class white Christian family; it was only a few years ago that I first heard the acronym WASP, but I have to admit: aside from its redundancy, there is no more apt description of my family. They are almost stereotypical in how typical they are of an ordinary white fundamentalist Christian family from the southern United States.

Everyone in Mississippi isn’t like that, however, which is a point I’ve tried to stress in the past: Mississippi does contain many people like myself. As a friend recently put it, “We grew up in an area that is run-down, poor, and stupid, over all, where most of the populace is indoctrinated by religious nonsense to the point where they can’t even recognize rational thought. We pushed through what it takes to fit in here, and we defined ourselves. That’s something to embrace and be proud of.”

My friends and I have reached the end of a long and grueling journey that was filled with adversity and people who would use any means at their disposal—terrorism, fear, violence, and coercion—to bend us to their wills, and we’ve looked back at the paths we traveled and rejoiced that we survived and stayed true to ourselves. Friends are priceless when one is transgender in a family full of fundamentalist Christians.

Both of my paternal grandparents would reject me entirely—they do not yet know, and they will be among the last to know, since I see them only a few times a year. “You don’t know how they’ll react,” I’ve had people tell me. “Give them a chance. Sometimes people surprise you.”

With all due respect, those allies and friends have no idea the type of people we’re really dealing with. My Mississippian friends know better, too; they know that there is no chance that my family will ever welcome me at Christmas dinner as a female. When my grandfather (who, for the record, is on his tenth or eleventh wife) learned that my sister was living with her boyfriend, he wrote her a lengthy letter, wherein he quoted Biblical passages and called her a whore. When my grandmother found girls’ clothes hidden between my mattresses, she wanted to send me to a foster home and asserted that she would not have that in her house. If they had thought I was gay, they would have sent me to one of those awful “pray the gay away” camps.

This isn’t to say that I’m perfect, and acknowledging my own faults and mistakes will be the most difficult part of writing this. I have made plenty of mistakes and stupid decisions that brought people around me severe difficulty and hardship, particularly regarding past relationships.

My memory is also not perfect, and I am likely to make mistakes, and, given that some of the information comes from extremely unreliable sources (like my father), some of that can’t really be helped. It doesn’t matter, though. The point of this is to show how awful parenting shaped me, and the countless lies that my dad told me are part of that. I strive for honesty, integrity, and sincerity in all things. Consider this my vow that everything within is, to the best of my knowledge, the unaltered truth, except that names have been changed.

South Pontotoc

I was born premature, thankfully, since the umbilical cord had wrapped around my throat and I was choking to death. This was surely a result of my mother’s cigarette smoking and eating painkillers while pregnant. My father insists that she didn’t do drugs while she carried us, but… Yeah, she did.

I certainly don’t remember my birth, but I do remember some things from shortly after my birth. Though my family says there is no way I could remember it, my introduction to the world came with overwhelming confusion: I was in some sort of cradle, and the back of my right hand hurt because a number of needles and tubes penetrated my flesh. The details are blurry and fuzzy, as one would expect from such early memories, but the needles burned and itched. They irritated me, and I wanted them out. I was afraid and confused, with no idea why these things penetrated my hand and no understanding of what was going on. I knew only that I was hurting and helpless to do anything about it.

Confusion—pure confusion. I didn’t even have a sense of self. I had no idea that I existed, that I was a baby in a hospital, and that I was a being. I could feel the needles in the back of my hand, and they hurt. The pain, however, was not unbearable, and wasn’t the main facet of that moment. It was confusion. I was not afraid—I didn’t have enough self-awareness for the confusion to make me scared. I simply knew nothing. I was a blank slate, onto which was being written reality in the ink of experience. I didn’t even know that I was a blank slate. I knew only that I hurt, and that I was confused. I was not in the arms of a loving mother whose warmth brought me comfort. I did not stare up and into the eyes of a nurse who was delighted to see a baby growing healthier by the hour. I was not being cooed by an older brother, or rocked in the cradle while a loving grandparent read a story. I was alone and hurting in a room bathed in fluorescent light.

That was my first experience with the world. That was how I was introduced to the universe—in the sterilizing, emotionless light of an empty hospital room, not the gentle and soothing light of a home. I heard the beeps and sounds of monitoring equipment, not the joyous laughter of a loving family. I lie alone in a hospital contraption with the shrill, uncomfortable hospital sheets, not wrapped in a blanket and the arms of a doting mother.

And the worst part—the indisputable worst part—is that I remember this.

The first few years of my life were probably normal, about what anyone would expect from a southern, lower middle class white family that subsisted more on the successes of previous generations than the merits of its own. There were some oddities, though, and signs even then of who I really was, but it was the mid-80s. It wouldn’t really be fair to blame my parents for not recognizing and embracing that I was transgender.

Of course, I was born male, “with a penis and everything.” But whenever all of my underwear was dirty, my mother would put me in my sister’s panties; it wasn’t a punishment, to clarify. Being the clever child that I was, I began hiding all of my underwear, just so that I could tell my mom that I didn’t have any, and so that I could wear panties instead. Somewhere around three years old, I took all of my underwear and threw them into the back of a closet that no one ever opened, and then I reported to my mother that, strangely, all of my underwear was suddenly gone.

So when I say that I’ve been transgender since birth, it’s as close to “since birth” as one can get. I couldn’t have been older than three years old at that point, because my sister hadn’t begun kindergarten herself. I knew then that I preferred women to men: I loved my mother and sister, and, even at that age, I had a deep appreciation for feminine beauty. I also thought that my Aunt Diane was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, and my mother used to make fun of me for my enamorment with my aunt.

My experience with men at this point was limited to my father (who was fat and not overly pleasant to look at), my brother (who was thin, but who had nothing on my mother), my grandfather (who was also overweight, and a jerk), and my Uncle Danny (who has always been an asshole). Although it’s typical for young boys to love their mothers, I wanted to be just like mine, and I suspect that had a lot to do it with, but who can say? I was three when it began, and I simply wanted to be a girl.

I had a blanket (what most people would call a “blankie,” though I never called it that), and it was one of those cotton-threaded ones similar to fishnet. I refused to sleep without it and my pillow. The pillow actually wasn’t that important, but the pillowcase certainly was. I rubbed the pillowcase between my finger and thumbnail, sleeping on the central heating vents in the floor and driving my father crazy with all of it.

A Look at My Father

I would love to say that my father isn’t a bad man.

But he is.

That’s a difficult thing to say and accept, but I have to stress that it doesn’t really make me love him any less, and that the dominant emotion I have for my father is pity. Even so, I would be lying if I said that he was a good man who simply made some mistakes; that isn’t the case at all. He’s a bad man who has made some good decisions, not a good man who has made a few bad ones.

His own childhood was no walk in the park, damaged by my alcoholic and abusive grandfather beating the hell out of my grandmother. Though not much of that has been shared with me, I can certainly relate to what he has said, and it’s clear the recollections are as painful to him as it is for me to recall the abuse my mother endured at the hands of alcoholics.

At some point, my grandparents divorced—Go, grandma!—because my grandmother wouldn’t put up with the abuse. My grandmother is easily worthy of her own story, because she is an unsung hero of the feminist movement without even trying. In the sixties and seventies, she left her violent husband and blazed her own path in Mississippi, won the house in the divorce, and then worked at a college until she retired at the age of 67.

True to the family history, my grandmother endured her own screwed up childhood, and was even sent away by her mother to live with Uncle Bill and Aunt Edna on their farm. Evidently, Aunt Edna didn’t like my grandmother one bit, and was very unkind to her. What internal strength caused my grandmother, in what must have been the 40s, to graduate as the valedictorian of her class? What quiet resolve allowed my grandmother to learn the necessary skills to work in the administration section of a college during the 60s?

These are questions to which I would love answers, but I’ll never have them, because they are not things that my grandmother is willing to discuss. Questions about her past are met with short answers, and I can’t blame her for not wanting to talk about it.

On one particular drunken rampage, my father held a gun on my grandfather so that my grandmother could limp out of the house. While I truly hate that he had to do such a thing in the first place, I’m also jealous that he was old enough to do something about it. When my mother suffered under Everett’s hands, I was in the second grade, and too young and weak to do anything to intervene.

For years, my father insisted that he was drafted to Vietnam, and he even talked about how he was called a murderer and spit upon when he returned. Eventually my sister and I realized that there’s no way this is true. Either he was actually the oldest between him and his brother (and thus wouldn’t have been drafted), or the Vietnam War ended when he was 16. In this little alternate reality he had constructed, he had to be older than our mother was (which was blatantly false—she had always been recognized as the older one), his brother had to be lying about his own age, and almost everyone had to have falsified birth records.

He changed his story to say that he was in Vietnam during the 80s, through another offensive that we did, but I have been unable to find any military record for him. Whether he actually fought in Vietnam, he did mislead us into believing he’d fought in the Vietnam War, which is a lie of such magnitude and scope that one has to marvel at it.

He is a religious man, though it’s hard to tell by his behavior: heavy drug usage, constant lies, and steady manipulation. Although he is less religious than other family members are, his secularism is applied selectively, and he’s generally as fundamental as everyone else is. He continues to believe that President Obama is a Muslim, is more or less openly racist, and is a diehard Republican, despite that he’s effectively a ward of the state who benefits substantially from liberal policies.

I obviously don’t see eye-to-eye with him, but we do have some similar interests. It was he who introduced me to Fantasy literature and tabletop gaming, both of which almost immediately became passions for me. In turn, I exposed him to the tenth installment of a popular roleplaying video game, and I’m still happy that I was able to show him to something that he enjoyed so immensely. He must have played through it a dozen times, and he certainly discovered more of its secrets than I ever would have.

There is some kinship between us, and I do love him, despite the numerous differences, and in spite of the fact that he has done me far more harm than good. More than anything, I pity him, because his childhood evidently destroyed him; he is one those who did not escape unscathed. He was swallowed by the mentality that the world owes him something, and oblivious to the reality that the world will never give it.

The rifts between us began because I was not the son that he wanted. He hated that I loved sleeping on the heating vents—I’ve always loved heat. I wouldn’t sleep anywhere else. I had to sleep on one of the floor vents, and the heat had to be on. There in the floor, I had the pillow and pillowcase that I refused to sleep without, and the blanket that I required as I slept.

My father hated all of these things. We went to visit some relatives at one point, and I left my blanket and pillow at home. With no other way to shut me up, my parents took me to a store to get a new pillow, and there I went from one to the next, tearing open the plastic just slightly, and “testing” it until I found one that was satisfactory. When we got back to our trailer a few nights later, dad went outside and told me to bring my pillow.

As I stepped out into the night air, I saw him kneeling just outside the small stone circle beside our front steps. It had once been a flower garden—conceived during one of mom’s highs, when she was bolstered with energy from painkillers. The high wore off, but the flowers remained in that little circle of rocks—at least for a while. Then they died, shriveled, neglected, and forgotten.

Almost like a demon out of a child’s horror story, there was my dad, grinning devilishly and eagerly, urging me to throw my old pillow onto a mess of crumbled newspapers soaked in lighter fluid as he held his flaming lighter above it. “We need to burn it!” he said, but I refused. There was no need to burn it. They were already making me throw it away—they were already making me discard this pillow that I loved and had slept with every night for years. Was that not enough?

“We need to burn it!” he said again, as I ran inside and cried to mom that dad wanted to burn the pillow that I loved. It may seem strange that I had such attachment to a pillow, but I did, and both of my parents knew it. My father certainly knew very well that I loved that pillow.

That’s why he wanted to burn it. Because I loved it.

We didn’t burn random things, and I doubt that we ever burned anything there at all. He wasn’t content to force me to throw away this pillow, the symbol that I was an emotional person and not the crass son that he apparently wanted. The pillow had to be destroyed in flames because I loved it, and because “real men don’t love.” This silly, feminine weakness, this emotional attachment to an object—it had to be gotten rid of, and in the most dramatic way possible.

It was not the pillow that my dad wanted to burn.

It was my heart.

My mother intervened, though my father came inside and continued insisting that we needed to burn the pillow, because he was afraid that I would be able to talk my mother into letting me keep it. One has to wonder why it was an issue that I wanted to keep it. In the end, I placed it gingerly on top of the garbage can in the kitchen and told it goodbye. I hated to do so, and I cried, because it didn’t make sense to me.

It’s understandable that I developed such strong emotional ties to objects, as neither parent spent much time with me, and there was not much hugging in the family. Mom and dad were always high on one drug or another, lying on the couch and borderline comatose. I don’t know how Brandi handled it then, or what she did in order to get through the long and miserable days, but it was surely as awful for her as it was for me. Unlike our older brother, we didn’t have friends with whom we could go hang out. Or, at least, I didn’t. Brandi was friends with a girl who didn’t live too far from us, and I hope that my sister was happy then.

Aunt May and Kay-Kay

For a while, mom did work, as did my father. While Brandi and Eric were gone to school and my parents were at work, I was babysat by our great aunt who lived next door, a relatively kind woman who I remember as mostly humorless. My father fleeced her out of most of her money, just as he did to my great-grandmother, and just as he is currently doing to my grandmother. However, I was too young to comprehend that, and there isn’t much that I remember about Aunt May.

It was horrendously boring at Aunt May’s. There were few places worse for my pre-school self. I wasn’t allowed to take my Nintendo, which left me there alone with an eighty-year-old woman and very little to actually do, because there was no one to play with and nowhere to play at. Aunt May wasn’t unkind, but she was also not particularly joyful. I don’t blame her for that—she was a very old woman, and probably not happy to babysit a four-year-old.

I should have been outside having fun, rather than sitting in a living room with an eighty-year-old woman and playing with paper dolls that she cut out of a magazine. Of course, such things seem droll only from a modern perspective, but I was accustomed to video games and cartoons, the heightened entertainment possibilities of the late 1980s. In the 1880s, a child would have been thrilled to sit on a couch in an air-conditioned house and idle away the hours with paper dolls.

However, imagine the horrified response one would get if a modern child was asked to spend day after day in that environment, with only a very old woman as company. There would probably be allegations of child abuse, though I’m not making that claim. However, many modern parents would likely consider that to be, at the least, borderline child abuse. To me, it was simply boring, and the time passed so slowly that I probably lived more moments there at Aunt May’s house than all the moments I have lived since.

I don’t intend any of this to be disparaging to Aunt May. I have no doubt that she did the best she could, and significantly better than many people in her position would have. Still, I dreaded those days when both parents had to work, and it was routine for me to ask mom each afternoon, “Do you have to work tomorrow?”

Aunt May had a moustache, as well, but I never noticed it. It wasn’t until I was a teenager and I was shown a picture of her that I learned she had a moustache. I was pre-kindergarten when I spent time with Aunt May, so the idea that a woman didn’t have facial hair wasn’t in my head yet, so it seemed perfectly normal to me. My father had a moustache and Aunt May had a moustache. Cars had tires, and houses had walls.

One horrible day, as Aunt May sat in her recliner, concealed from view of the kitchen as I sat on the couch near the front door, there was suddenly a crash in the kitchen. The backdoor entered into the kitchen, and I will never forget the fear that fell over this old woman’s face. Someone had broken in through the back door.

She and I hid in the living room, cowering in the corner behind her chair. I don’t believe she ever called the police (she didn’t have a phone), or did anything about it, but my memory of that ordeal is vague. I recall only the noise, the unmistakable terror in her eyes that I was able to recognize even at four years old, and the hiding.

Because she was very old, it simply wasn’t possible for Aunt May to always babysit me, and I had another sitter called Kay-Kay—a hefty, middle-aged woman who seemed to be doing pretty well in life. She had a house, at least, which I recognized to mean that she was okay—we lived in a trailer, and most of the people we knew lived in a trailer. Living in a house… That was a grand thing to me. I didn’t mind that we lived in a trailer, and I was much too young to know that being the child of two fast-food workers (even if they were supervisors) who raised Confederate flags, shot up heroin, and ate Xanax made me the definitive example of “trailer trash,” but I knew that it was a great thing to have a house.

Kay-Kay was an ordinary woman, and there was much going on beneath the surface that most people never saw. As I sat in one of her bedrooms, playing a video game, there was suddenly a banging on the door and people shouting, demanding to be allowed inside and promising that, if Kay-Kay refused, they would tear the house down.

Although I was shocked and scared at first, Kay-Kay put my fears to rest by handling it expertly. She answered in an almost aloof way, as though she had no concern about it. Even as they banged and screamed, I was unafraid, because Kay-Kay didn’t appear to take it seriously. After a minute or so, the banging stopped, and then the rhythmic pounding echoed through her home, coming from somewhere in the back.

“They’re going to tear the house down!” I shouted to Kay-Kay, scared once more. In my head, I had the image of two enormous, burly, and angry men outside with huge hammers, smashing away the bricks and crashing through the walls.

“Oh, no, they’re not, sweetie,” came Kay-Kay’s reply as she dropped to a knee and hugged me. “They’re just mad. They’ll get over it and leave in a few minutes.”

Sure enough, Kay-Kay was right: they did leave shortly thereafter. In actuality, they probably just had given up on the front door and gone to try the back door. Finding it locked, they banged and shouted some more, and then left. I never learned what it was about, and Kay-Kay asked me not to mention it to my parents, which made sense: that isn’t the sort of thing a mother wants happening at the selected babysitter’s home. I didn’t stay quiet, though, and that was the last time Kay-Kay ever babysat me. It was also the last time that I saw her.

The Rise of Tumult

There was a “friend of the family” called Doc, and I liked him a lot. Everyone liked Doc—he was a friendly, charismatic person. Being my parents’ friend, he was heavily on drugs, but Doc was also in a motorcycle gang, which created a problem, because shooting up was explicitly against the gang’s laws. Just to be clear here: this is the world I grew up in. This was normal to my three-year-old self. On any given day, I was likely to see one or both of my parents shoot up heroin with a buddy who was in a motorcycle gang, smoke a joint or two, and collapse onto the couch in a stupor and droning out “Yeah…” to no one.

I watched my mother, laid out on the loveseat, look to my father on the other side of the living room. She held up, toward my father, a syringe full of some red liquid, and then she asked in a seductive voice, “John, do you want some of this?” And as she spoke, she pressed in the syringe and sent a jet stream of this stuff—whatever it was—flying across the living room. They were both out of their minds, just high as hell.

Disheveled, frantic, panicked, and terrified, Doc stopped by our trailer and wanted to sell my father a half-pound of weed for fifty bucks. My father had twenty dollars he could pay. Knowing my father, it’s amazing that he had any money, but he did, and he explained to Doc what he had.

Doc in turn explained that he had to get out of town. “Had to,” he said, and my father understood what that meant. The gang somehow learned that Doc was shooting up, so Doc had to get out of town before they found him and forced him to run “The Gauntlet.” Because, apparently, that actually happens. My father bought the weed, and Doc fled, but it was to no avail, and he was later found dead.

We frequently drove north to visit my Aunt Diane and Uncle Danny (the man who would later go to prison for murder and, in all likelihood, killed my mother, though there is no body or evidence), as well as our cousins. One of these trips proved to be one of the most traumatic experiences of my childhood.

As Brandi and I rode with dad in his yellow truck, in a secluded area where the road was surrounded by steep ditches that spelled death for anyone who lost control and went over, a truck driver decided to pass us. The trucker blew his horn a few times, and then he went for it. As he passed, he veered to the right—or dad swerved to the left. The enormous side view mirror of the rig crashed through the window beside dad and sent a spray of glass shards through the cab of our truck. Luckily, neither my sister nor I sustained any injuries.

The fault was probably my father’s (driving under the influence of one drug or another), but the reason officially given was that the highway wasn’t wide enough to pass. This excuse came much later in the day, after the trip got significantly worse.

We passed through Memphis as we traveled, and came upon an intersection. Not paying attention, I couldn’t tell you exactly how it happened, but there was shaking and noise. We rear-ended another vehicle. It’s possible that my father didn’t stop quickly enough, and it’s possible that he pressed the gas too hard and too quickly after the light turned green. Regardless, we hit the vehicle hard and sent it careening into the intersection. Reportedly, it traveled fifty feet from the impact.

The woman driving that car died on the spot with a broken neck.

Someone obviously called the police, and they arrested my father. The police placed Brandi and me in the back of the police car with him, which made us feel as though we were also being arrested, and that is terrifying when you’re four or five years old and have no comprehension of what is going on. As though we were playing out a scene in a movie, the very same trucker who had hit us earlier happened upon the accident, and presumably told the police that dad was driving erratically. The next thing I knew, the trucker was banging on the glass beside me, shouting obscenities at us—not just at our dad, but honestly at the five-year-old children, too. I was terrified, confused, and frightened out of my mind, and it didn’t help that dad, with his hands cuffed behind his back, was frothing at the mouth, rocking the police car, and demanding to be let out so that he could fight the truck driver.

My sister and I were taken to the hospital, and police, doctors, and therapists repeatedly questioned us about the accidents. We were separated from our father, but also from each other, and that made the experience more traumatic than it had to be. We were finally told that we would be going into the care of Aunt Diane and Uncle Danny briefly, and they were the ones who picked us up from the hospital. My grandmother acquired a good lawyer for my father, and he was able to go to rehabilitation rather than prison, or something to that effect.

For a long time, my nerves were absolutely shot, and it was nearly impossible to get me into a vehicle, which is probably the normal response of a four year old child after being in two accidents in a single day, one of which resulted in a death, all because the parents didn’t mind driving after eating a bunch of pills. Naturally, their solution was to shove pills down my throat, giving me what they called “nerve pills” that were probably Xanax or Klonopin. This was the only way to get me into an automobile for several months after the accidents, because otherwise I would scream and throw fits. Eventually the anxiety faded, but knocking me out with drugs was the only way to get me into a car for a while.

Things returned to what we considered normal, though that isn’t to say that either of my parents stopped doing drugs. I doubt either parent was clean for any notable period, and they continued inviting friends over. These parties, while they were more or less tame and consisted of people drinking, doing drugs, and playing spades, would not constitute “normal” for most kids.

On one such occasion, one of the people with whom they were hanging out decided that it would be a brilliant idea to inject peanut butter. Presumably, he’d heard that “The high is incredible, man!” and wasn’t much interested in maybe asking a doctor before doing something so horrendously and creatively stupid. According to my father—who is a known pathological liar, it’s worth remembering—the man died on the spot, so they took him home and left him on his couch, dead. I have no memory of this, but it allegedly happened sometime around my fifth birthday.

I started kindergarten, and I loathed it. Up until that point, my life was fantastic. I could wake up whenever I wanted, spend the entire day watching cartoons and playing videogames, snacking whenever I desired, and just doing anything I pleased. Then suddenly I couldn’t do that any longer; I had to wake up at a specific time, go spend the entire day in a boring school, and then only had a few hours afterward to do the things that I enjoyed doing. As early as kindergarten, it struck me as absurd: if the point of life is to be happy, as everyone constantly insisted to me, then why did I have to go to school?

We were poor—dirt poor, as you might expect, given the heavy drug usage. Although both parents were managers at various fast food restaurants at times, my mother eventually quit working altogether and got onto disability for her migraines. It was with tremendous excitement that we were approved for food stamps, and we waited for weeks with palpable eagerness in the air, though I had no idea what it even meant. There are two times that I distinctly recall the entire family waiting anxiously for something to happen, and the anticipation was identical on both occasions; we waited for food stamps and we waited for our cable to be activated with the same sense of impending thrill, as did I, even though I had no understanding of what either meant.

Being approved for food stamps felt like having a birthday, and so did the cable company finally coming out, after weeks of waiting, to connect our cable television. While I understood that having cable meant that we would have Nickelodeon, there was no way that I understood the concept of food stamps, so my excitement was surely nothing more than a mirror of my parents’ own eager anticipations. It was just months after this that I began school, and that mom became convinced that dad was not really working, that he was only disappearing while he was supposed to be at work.

It was a school day when it happened, because we were supposed to be in class, but mom kept us at home. My much older brother, my slightly older sister, and I were told that we were leaving dad, and I’m sure I handled that as well as any six year old child would, which is to say with naked emotion untempered by the jaded self-control we are taught to exercise in later years. I didn’t understand what was going on, but I was devastated nonetheless. First, the life I had come to know and love was wrecked by having to go to school, and then what little semblance of it remained was being irretrievably shattered by this upheaval. I spent the entire day in tears, as did my sister. Whatever was going on between our parents had nothing to do with us, and our lives were being cast into the hurricane because of it.

Too young to truly understand what was really going on, my primary concern was whether to leave my father “the good Nintendo” or the bad one. They both worked, but one of them was much more difficult to get working. Both my dad and I were big on video games, and so was my older brother, and even my mom and sister played occasionally. There were lots of family moments when we all took turns, and we even had a device that allowed four controllers to be used.

I agonized over that decision far more than a six year old should, and my mom didn’t give the situation nearly as much attention as it deserved. My entire world, prior to school, consisted almost entirely of playing video games. That I even debated which one to leave was a tremendous indicator of how much I loved my father, how much I didn’t want to leave, and, above all, how poorly equipped I was to cope with the chaos I suddenly was confronting. Mom was tearing our family apart, breaking it into two pieces, and she never sat down with my sister and me to explain what was happening, to assure us that we’d still see our dad, or to promise us that it would be okay. While to some extent that’s understandable, since she had to pack and load things up, the utter failure to remember that she was literally wrecking her youngest kids’ lives is very difficult to excuse.

To make matters worse, she was cowardly about it, too, because all of this happened while my father was at work. We lived in a trailer on my grandfather’s land, and it’s very likely that my grandfather was the one who alerted my father to the moving truck that was at his home. However, seeing as my grandfather later offered to shoot my mother for my dad, I doubt he would have showed the restraint simply to inform my dad of what was happening.

Regardless, dad pulled up while we were finishing and preparing to leave. The next little bit is a blur of anger, hostility, and shouting from which I am able to pull very few details. In a flash, dad went from anger to pleading, but mom refused to listen; her mind was made up, and she cranked the car, put it into gear, and hit the gas. Dad threw himself into the side of the car and then hit the ground, fell onto his back, and then lie there in the grass. My sister and I screamed and cried—our dad had just been run over!—and mom shouted at us to stop yelling. I gazed out of the back window at my father as we drove away, and there he was, lying unmoving in the grass, and all I could think was the horrible thought, “Dad is dead.”

There in the back of the car, crying quietly, having just watched my father die from being hit by a car, I sat at the age of six years old, being shouted at by my mom to shut up because I freaked out when I saw her kill my dad.

Want to read the whole story? Well, now you can! For a limited time (until June 15), Dancing in Hellfire is finally available for sale, for only $3.49. You can buy it here, through this very site, using PayPal or a typical credit/debit card (payment is processed by PayPal, so I don’t see the info), after which you’ll be given access to the book as both a PDF and an ePub.

Dancing in Hellfire

Last year, I wrote a book called Dancing in Hellfire. It is essentially my autobiography, except that I didn’t stop at simply relating events that had happened. Instead, I looked back on them and thought about what I learned from them, because the functional mind is always learning–any mind that refuses to learn is effectively dead. To be sure, I’ve had some really screwed up things happen in my past: both parents are/were drug addicts, my father killed a woman when I was 4, my mother was murdered when I was 12 (her body never found, so she’s still listed as a missing person), and other, generally awful things that you would rightly expect to happen in circumstances like that. Before we even factor in transgenderism, there is easily enough material to fill an 80,000 word autobiography (a bit on the heavy side for a memoir anyway), and I found myself chopping out entire recollections to make room for the transgender stuff.

Really, you’d think in today’s political environment that it would be an easy sell. That’s opportunistic of me, and I don’t deny that, but I also don’t see it as a problem. Identifying a niche in the market and targeting that niche isn’t a bad thing–in fact, it’s a smart thing to do. Only in the past six months, as my search for a literary agent has hit a dead end, has it dawned on me that I still made a mistake with the targeting. As I said, the book isn’t about “Oh, poor me, this happened and society didn’t do anything to prevent it!” Instead, it’s a book about “This happened, and this is what I learned from it.”

The critical difference is that the former marks me as a victim; the latter marks me as a beneficiary.

Without a doubt, I’d rather have my mother alive today, but there’s also no disputing that it has marked me in many ways that are very positive. Foremost among these is surely my awareness of justice as a function of forgiveness rather than vengeance. Those wounds are real, and they are painful–however, those very wounds have also made me ask the excruciating question, “How might I have closure on this?” The answer to that is not “…by seeing the murderer in prison!” The murderer has already been to prison for an unrelated murder, and it did nothing to make me feel any better. While it sucks beyond the capacity of weak words to convey how much it actually sucks to have my mother gone, absent without a trace, like an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, I can detach myself from that enough to recognize that having a mind that is more focused on forgiveness than vengeance is a positive result.

It wouldn’t be worth asking whether I’d rather have my mother alive, and to still consider vengeance and justice to be the same thing, or if I’d prefer the current state of affairs. Just because these things happened in a way that are causal doesn’t mean they’re mutually exclusive. Maybe my mother could still be alive and something else could have happened to lead me to that realization. There’s no way to know, and so the hypothetical is useless–built, as it is, on the assumption that I can’t have both simply because I don’t have both.

I’ve neglected to talk about it publicly before now, but we do live in a society that glorifies victimization, and this is no more evident than in the bizarre way that Glamour magazine named the Stanford rape victim their Woman of the Year. This perplexes me in countless ways. I’m not demeaning her fight within the system to see Brock punished for what he did, but “having been raped” doesn’t strike me as a particularly good reason to be named “Woman of the Year” any more than being trans was reason to name Caitlyn Jenner woman of the year. Why don’t we celebrate accomplishments rather than victimization? It is an absolute slap in the face to the female biochemists who lead breakthrough research, the females at CERN, and the leading female experts in countless industries, to be passed up as Woman of the Year because someone was a victim of rape and the case was very public. Again, this isn’t to say that the rape should be ignored, but it certainly shouldn’t be celebrated.

Bad Stuff Happens

… all the time.

Earlier this month, I attempted to drive ~150 miles to see A Perfect Circle live, for probably the last live tour they’re going to do, and it was an ordeal just to get tickets, much less to find someone who would go. To give you an idea of how much this meant to me, a few weeks beforehand, in an article about scalpers, I wrote:

I bought tickets to the A Perfect Circle concert next month for well over what they cost initially, and the reason was precisely because my demand exceeds other people’s. I can’t even convey with words what A Perfect Circle’s music means to me. Being able to see them again–probably for the last tour they’re ever going to do, since no one expected this one and it’s been 14 years since their last one–is one of those experiences that literally makes life worth living (no exaggeration). Because of scalpers, I was able to acquire a ticket, and I would say it’s far more important that I was able to get a ticket than Random Joe who kinda likes their music and has nothing else to do that evening. The seats aren’t even that good, and I don’t even care. It’s A Perfect Circle. It means more to me than it will anyone else in that audience.

And you know what happened? Shortly after I got onto i240, headed for i40 and the long eastward trip to Nashville, I saw that my temperature gauge was way higher than it should have been–like “about to overheat” high. I whipped over and got off the interstate, stopping on Airways. Not being an idiot, I’d left with more than an hour to spare, in the event that something weird happened. However, it took my car nearly 45 minutes to cool off enough to hold water, and we discovered that the upper radiator hose had come completely off, which is the rarest and most unlikely thing that could possibly happen with a working clamp (not to mention, of course, that the months of driving before that had no issue, so it happened at the worst possible moment). In doing so, it had brushed against the alternator belt, and had been cut open, so even after it was cool enough to travel again, it had a steady leak that meant the hose had to be replaced. This meant we had to go to an Auto Zone, buy a replacement hose, put it on, and then refill the thing with water (if you’ve ever driven a Chrysler, you know this isn’t as straightforward as with most vehicles). When we were finally heading back toward the interstate, the GPS called out, “Estimated time of arrival is 9:23 pm…” which was two hours after the concert started. That’s right. We lost nearly three hours due to that overheating.

This actually took me completely down for about ten days, as some people may have noticed, because I didn’t post anything. I didn’t have the strength. I was depressed; it’s really hard to convey how much it hurt to miss the concert over something so extraordinarily unlikely that no one would have taken the bet that it was likely to happen. Yet life goes on, I recovered, and got back to it–though I was down longer than I would have anticipated. Because I’m moving to Vegas and the state of Mississippi said “lol, fuck you” earlier this year, setting me back on that plan far more than I’d have liked, I don’t make plans to go and do things very often–spare money is better put toward moving to Vegas than going to see a concert, but this was no ordinary band–this is the band that has influenced my music more than any other. I didn’t really learn anything from that experience, because there was nothing to really learn. It was a freak accident at the worst possible time, and I’d checked my car that very morning. It’s true that I didn’t inspect the hoses, but, c’mon, no one does. That’s absurd. One might as well pull out and check each and every fuse. While I did inspect everything (on a different vehicle) before driving to Vegas in 2015, that was 1800 miles, not 180 miles.

I tend to think that I’m so anti-authoritarian because of the horrifically bad parenting of my mother and father, a point that I call attention to in Dancing in Hellfire. Through most people’s childhoods, and well into their adolescences, they have this idea that their parents are indestructible and supreme. I remember well being in the third grade and having Danny, a friend of mine, stand beside me in line at the cafeteria and put his fist to one of the cinderblocks in the wall and ask, “Do you think your dad could punch through this? My dad could!” Even then, at nine years old, it struck me as ridiculous. No, his dad could not punch through the cinderblock, but I didn’t challenge the idea with him. It did not occur to me then how odd it was that he would have this unrealistic idea of his dad, but it happened again much later, in the seventh grade, when a kid described his dad’s hand as “alligator skin,” proud of his dad being a Working Class Hero, and remarked that a puppy could chew on his fingers for hours and never draw blood.

I didn’t have any of that. When I was six years old, the state showed up with its footsoldiers to kidnap my sister and me, and our mother was powerless to do anything about it. All she could do was cry. I learned that day that my mother–who I’d been with since I was born–was ultimately not the one responsible for me, and that these other people called “the police” had usurped her authority. A brutal lesson for a six year old to learn, but one that has served me well since. My dad wasn’t ultimately the one in charge of me–my mother had trumped him by taking me in the first place, so clearly he was ranked below her in the hierarchy. My mother was also not ultimately the one in charge of me, because her impudence in the face of the state and its footsoldiers left no room to believe that.

And what of my father? Well, you lose the image of your father as the Glorious Personification of Everything Great around the time you see him faceplant into the dirt at a baseball field after eating too many Xanax and drinking too many beers. And if that doesn’t do it, then watching those very same police officers arrest him after a vehicle wreck and place him, powerless, in their police car will shatter that image. There’s absolutely no doubt: some of my earliest and most jarring experiences involved the state exerting its authority. I have very little doubt that this is what left me inclined to view the state as what it is: the slavemaster.

Would I be an anarchist now, if none of this had happened? Another useless hypothetical.

Every experience is not just an opportunity to learn; it is also a choice. No matter what happens, we never lose the power to choose how we react. We are not* mindless machines who operate on extremely complex if-then programming that dictates our responses; we are not powerless. We are not at the mercy of our reactions; our reactions are at our mercy, and nothing changes this. Just because some people choose to let their responses unfold emotionally, with no tempering or self-control, doesn’t mean that they have no choice in the matter, and we shouldn’t allow them to so easily escape the fact that their reactions to things are their reactions. We are not wild beasts braying in the field. We are human beings, and it’s time we acted like it.

If someone says “Fuck you, you’re an idiot” to me, it’s true that I have very little control at this time over my initial emotional reaction of anger and desire to retaliate. Evidence suggests, however, that extensive meditation and self-reflection can, in fact, put us in control of even that lightning-fast emotional reaction. And that’s the key: “lightning-fast.” Emotions are instantaneous. That anger lasts only a flash of a second. If left to its own devices, it would immediately die out, but more often than not we embrace it and purposely keep it going, stoking the fires. Larry Sharpe Sunday night (and today at 2pm Central at www.lrn.fm) is a clear example. After saying that he’d accepted Arvin’s apology and forgiven him, and that they were “good,” the indignation and anger in Larry’s voice were still audible–he was clearly still clinging to those emotions. I actually initially attempted to call attention that, but couldn’t formulate my thoughts quickly enough in a way that weren’t antagonistic, so I instead let it go immediately. While saying that he had let the matter go, he kept bringing it up, even after we tried to move on to other matters, and his voice was absolutely dripping with emotion. Regardless of what he said, it is clear that Larry is keeping those emotions alive rather than releasing them.

Still, that I would immediately react with anger and a desire to retaliate is still on me. It’s still my emotional reaction, and my failure to control my emotions to that degree is my failure. It’s not this person’s fault. They didn’t “make” me angry. I made me angry. They were merely the catalyst–they merely presented me with the choice of how to react, and I chose to react in anger. However, I would typically choose within a second or two to let it go and to release the anger, rather than dwelling on it. Unlike Larry Sharpe, if I forgive what I perceive as a transgression, then I’m not going to bring it up again, because forgiving someone is an internal thing–it has nothing to do with the transgressor, which the Vegas Chick made me realize when I pondered whether she could do anything that would “cause” me to forgive her–the answer was that whether I forgave her had almost nothing to do with her. Demanding contrition or restitution isn’t forgiveness, even if that restitution comes in the form of a simple apology.

Through my own failure, I have no control over the initial emotional reaction. Through much work, I have largely (though certainly not perfectly) taken control of the following moments. My own failures lead me to make the wrong choice in the first place, by reacting with anger, but the choice that immediately follows is whether to release that anger or to embrace it. Both of these are choices.

* At least, we don’t appear to be.