Redemption, Rape, and Other R Words

ImageI started out writing a post for this blog today. It was about Steubenville and rape culture and the sorts of other things that, if you’ve found your way here, you’ve probably read plenty about already. Lots of people have said what I was going to say, and have said it better.

What I wrote ended up being about a baseball player, so I moved it over to my baseball blog. It’s not a baseball story, though, it’s a story about the rape culture and (tangentially) Steubenville and all that stuff, from a different angle. You can go read it here.

The background, if you’re not familiar with the charming character pictured, is this: in 2008, when Josh Lueke was a 23-year-old minor-league relief pitching prospect, a very drunk woman who had been seen out partying with Lueke and other players at various bars, and kissing some of the players, made her way back to Lueke’s and another player’s apartment. She remembered vomiting into his toilet while someone masturbated on her, then waking up on his couch with her pants down. Lueke’s…DNA was found on her clothing and in an “anal swab.” So…yeah.

Ultimately, Lueke pleaded no contest to a lesser charge (false imprisonment with violence) and served all of 42 days in prison. He’s pitched in three different organizations since (and mostly pitched poorly) with no other public incidents.

A post from about a week ago on a Tampa Bay Rays blog I’d never heard of — which has since been taken down — said in essence that Lueke had a chance to put his “checkered past” behind him by continuing to pitch as well as he has this spring. Which is exactly what was wrong with the Steubenville coverage and so many similar (if smaller) stories — this idea that being good at sports, being a good teammate, or getting good grades are somehow valid measures of a person’s value that can be put on a level with, on the other side of the scale, “totally raped somebody.”

So I…took exception to that, and wrote about it. Hope you’ll check it out. I’ll think of something new and non-basebally (and hopefully non-depressing) to put up here soon.

Thoughts on Celebrating an Age that Isn’t Anything

290_559677120416_9770_n (2)For a while, every birthday really feels like it means something. It’s not just the ones that mark a new decade or phase, or the ones on the fives, or the ones that make some adult activity legal (though there are so many of those for a while there): I’d say 14 feels markedly different than 13, for instance, and 17 a weirdly big step up from 16 (plus, R-rated movies!). When you turn 23, you’re out of college, or no longer college-aged. At 26, you’re entering your “late twenties,” so that’s something.

I’d respect an argument that 27 is the first age that just isn’t really anything, though it’s debatable (baseball nerds know that that’s the accepted “peak age” for your average ballplayer, so it’s a bit of an interesting reflection point for us definitively-not-athletes). Thirty-one certainly isn’t much. At 32, you’re no longer thirty-ish, so that feels like something. Thirty-three…I don’t know, there’s something cool about 33. I guess it’s the symmetry. It’s also the age at which Jesus is believed to have been martyred, so there’s that.

My point is this: 34, which is the age I am for the first time today, just isn’t a thing. It’s definitively, inarguably not anything, as a human age. Now: it’s the uniform number of my childhood hero. It’s the atomic number of selenium, which is used primarily to produce glass. As an age, though, what’s 34? Nothing happens at 34. It’s one of the first ages one becomes without really feeling anything’s changed. You can say you’ve made it longer than Jesus, I suppose, but he redeemed mankind and healed lepers and everything and what have you done, really, up against all that?

So without any milestones to lean on, you’ve kind of just got to look at your actual life, without the crutches of those artificial filters and measuring sticks and what-have-you. And that can be pretty scary. Or just pretty boring. Or both, or (a) because (b), or…it can be lots of things.

But, I mean: there’s a lot of good coming. Thirty-four is the year during which my first-born starts kindergarten and my second gets out of diapers. It’s the year of a new, probably more or less permanent home and the first full year of a much healthier lifestyle than the one I’d become accustomed to, and early indications suggest it might be the year in which I start to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

The nice thing is that all those false milestones and artificial measuring sticks and whatever else are, you know, false — our bodies and lives don’t operate in sets of 365 days, or in groups of five or ten or 21 or 30 or 50 of them. Every year is worth reflecting on and celebrating, just because 365 days is a fucking lot of days, and every now and then, after a fucking lot of days have passed, it’s nice to kind of stop and take a look back and forward; given that, absent any more logical or less arbitrary option, you might as well do it on the day you were born.

With that bit of rousing inspiration in mind, here are, let’s say, the five most important things I’ve learned during the year that’s passed since my 33rd birthday:

  1. Complacency is for the dead and dying. There should always be a Next Thing, or a Plan B. Always. If nothing else, even if you think life is perfect and secure forever, a little daydreaming can’t hurt.
  2. My wife can do anything. Seriously. She’s amazing, and can adapt to any awful situation. I think it’s a thing women have, but she’s clearly the best in the world at it. Sorry, quite literally everyone else on the planet.
  3. The universe can survive my “coming out” as a lefty to my wonderful but quite conservative dad. It happened by accident right at the height of election season. There were some arguments. Now we mostly talk about basketball instead.
  4. Rest makes a difference, now and then. I’ve learned that three baseball deadlines a week that keep me up until 1 a.m. and a day job that gets me up at 5ish make for a not entirely productive and often a very cranky lefty. It’s tempting to chalk it up to age and not being in college anymore and all that, but no, I’m pretty sure that that sort of thing never worked, and that the difference is never having the option anymore to just sleep ’til like noon or so.
  5. Not much beats having a friend who listens to all your shit and more or less “gets it.” I knew that once before, but I’d kind of forgotten it until recently, and that was dumb of me.

And with that, as I write this, it’s almost actually my birthday, and I’ll be finishing my glass of wine and heeding Thing Number Four. Cheers, Internet.

Should the Word “Homophobia” Stick Around?

Last week, a friend of mine on Facebook (who happens to be gay) opined that we should retire the term “homophobia.” His argument was that no one except folks who are closeted themselves actually fears homosexuals or homosexuality, as is suggested by “phobia.” Rather, he argued, people who might otherwise be labeled homophobes should be termed “heterosexual supremacists,” which more accurately identifies their position.

And I see where he’s coming from. There’s a lot of that: people who are opposed to homosexuality, but for whom “fear” is certainly the wrong term. People who feel they deserve more rights than gays do because they’re just better people. I’m with my friend there: as loaded as “heterosexual supremacists” is, it works for them. That’s just what they are.

However, there are plenty in the same-sex marriage “debate” (quotes necessary) who will tell anyone who will listen that they have nothing but love and respect for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation; that they just want this thing called “marriage” to remain the way it’s been for the last several hundred years. And I believe them, or some of them. Some of them (I know a few) have gay friends they legitimately adore, and I’m sure many have gay family members who they love and cherish (in their own ways). They’re probably basically good people, by and large, people who legitimately love all their neighbors, et cetera, but they’re just tied to their own myopic interpretation of the Bible, or their church’s, or some similar sense of tradition or morality or whatever. I don’t think these people are “supremacists” of any stripe. They don’t actually want anyone to have fewer rights than they do. They just don’t view it as a “rights” issue at all.

And that’s why I think the word “homophobia” still has its place. Because if that describes you, you’re not a heterosexual supremacist, but you sure are scared. You’re scared as hell.

The Bible has plenty to say on what foods to eat and avoid, on observing the Sabbath, on the rightful respective places of women and men and so  forth, and there are plenty of believers out there who more or less hold to them; yet, none of those believers are trying to legislate those faith-specific mores into every other U.S. citizen’s daily life. Almost every Christian would agree that adultery is sinful, but you don’t see a lot of call to (re-)criminalize unfaithfulness. The thing is, you can believe in the Bible (I do, though a different version of it than most seem to), and you can preach it, and you can do everything you can to change people’s minds with it, but you owe it to your country not to vote with it. This doesn’t get talked about much (and many believers might reflexively disagree with that statement), but in practice, that’s generally the way it works. We’re not a Christian country, and people of faith are generally incentivized to convert others through reaching their hearts andor minds, not through legal coercion. You can see it in the examples above. Even in the abortion debate, there’s a religious element to it, but at bottom the pro-life argument seems generally to come down to the basically secular idea that you’re talking about killing a baby and that that’s just not okay. Religion certainly informs people’s politics, but it’s really almost never the whole basis for them.

This — gay rights, and same-sex marriage specifically — is apparently a different thing, though, because this is just the way it’s always been, and because “marriage” is a word that happens to apply both to the government-sanctioned privilege and to a number of different religious rituals. And if you’re opposed to the idea of making the change that’d grant the right to enter into the government version to everyone, and you don’t actively hate and want to oppress homosexuals, then the only possible conclusion is that you’re scared. Scared of change, in a blanket sort of fashion. Scared that letting two people who want to bind themselves to each other and call it “marriage” just like any other two people get to will somehow lead to the downfall of our society or the end of morality as we know it. Scared that anything that appears to encourage or legitimize gayness means that your children or your spouse or you are going to Catch The Gay. Scared (despite all the evidence to the contrary) that gay marriage’s legality is going to force your church and your pastor to perform those marriages, contrary to your faith.

If you’ve ever said “they can have all their rights in civil unions, just don’t call it ‘marriage,'” you’re afraid of something. If you’ve ever made any reference to “protecting” or “defending” “traditional marriage,” as though granting equal rights and dignity to two people who love each other could possibly have any effect on your own marriage, or your hetero friends’ or your children’s or any other group of consenting adults’? You may or may not be a bigot, may or may not hate the gays, may or may not be a heterosexual supremacist. You’ve sure as hell got some fears, and they’re most certainly the kinds of manic, non-reality-based types of fears generally associated with the term “phobia.” You’re homophobic. I like that word (I mean, I hate what it represents, but it’s a fairly descriptive term). And I think we need that word, and that we will as long as those kinds of ugly, utterly baseless fears hang around.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as Minneapolis Star Tribune poll of 800 individuals suggests that my home state, which in November became one of the first four to reject an anti-gay measure by popular vote, was still not ready to accept the legalization of same-sex marriage.  It’s pretty depressing, as are the quotes in that piece (though notably, for “momentum” reasons: all the worst quotes come from individuals in their mid-sixties or older). For whatever the reason, a vote against legalizing marriage for everyone is a vote to deprive someone else of a right you have — to marry the person you love. There are no arguments against that, and no religious beliefs or moral qualms, no matter how deep they may run, that justify voting that way.

Thankfully, it’s out of the public’s hands, and in its elected officials’. The courts, and to a much smaller extent the legislatures, exist specifically for these kinds of situations (among many other things, of course): where there’s one obvious right answer benefiting a minority and the majority hasn’t come around on it yet, for whatever reason, those branches of our government have the power and the duty to make that one right answer the one upon which our laws are based. I’ve got a lot of hope that they’ll do that. It’s the way the country is going, and I don’t think it can be stopped at this point (or at least I hope it can’t, of course); it just can’t happen fast enough. Homophobia is dying (and so is hetero supremacism), but sure ain’t dead yet.