Boys of the Empire

I’m sickened by what is playing out in the confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh.  When I entered Princeton in 1983, I was forced to navigate among classmates who came from his world and places like it.  But, I had no preparation for it.  I did not attend a prep school, so when I was suddenly surrounded by people who did (including Georgetown Prep) I was overwhelmed.  I learned much too quickly that the environment of guilt-free indulgence could enable me to be as ghastly, boorish and presumptive as any other male bodied person.  And as a young gay person I was also a target of it.  I was disgusted by what I saw and who I had become, so in my Junior year, with great difficulty, I extracted myself from those circles as best I could.  I even considered dropping out (thankfully I did not).  For a long time after graduating, I wouldn’t talk about where I went to college, who I knew there or what I did.  What I saw and experienced in college during that era (1983 – 1987) I may never ever recover from but I use the knowledge every day.  Understanding this as trauma, is part of what underlines my work in ministry, particularly around embodiment.

My experience also lets me say without a doubt that, regardless of the outcome of all this, Dr. Ford is telling the absolute truth. #BelieveHer

Boys of the Empire

Privilege comes at a cost.
The price is swimming in the filth
That oils “the machine”,
Learning that there is no such thing as purity,
Seeing first hand that there is no truth,
Knowing all this, not from afar,
But every time you look in the mirror.
And there, reflected back at you,
draped around your neck
Cocked on your head
Winking in your own eyes
Grinning through gritted teeth
Confirming that you belong
Not just in diploma but in deed,
Is the inevitable Veritas: you too are Empire.

But Empire was not born by passing an AP level class.
Empire was ejaculated into the masturbating hand
Of a teenage male youth
Desperate to belong, to prove
He could be hero, be savior…God.
He’s graded on how well he takes who or what he wants for stimulation
Down from the shelf of disposable diversions
(bonus points for navigating straps, waistbands and pesky personal agency.)
The Empire gives him high marks
When he wipes the mess on other people’s memories
Leaving everyone but him to clean up and spend the rest of their lives wondering why.
While he walks away casually adjusting his trousers,
Entitlement and birthrights intact.

This is “boys will be boys…”
And where no one tells the boys
Who are boys among boys
What to do when boys need to become men.
No one gives rules
Because they are boys.
No one instructs how to unblur the lines
Because they will be men.
They will be just fine.
And they will take (or fake)
The straight and narrow…Someday,
Put on a good show…Eventually,
Push what happened after hours, in the dark out of mind.
Keep calm and carry on.

The desperate search
For validation and confirmation of place
That plays out
In gropes and grabs
In closets, carrels and quads
Culminating with trips to the shore
Where an ocean of beer
Washes up as vomit on the floors.
Whose next-day stink wafts among silent shaming glances
In corridors, and classes
On nauseous car rides and staggered walks back home
Blank spaces…memory gaps…unaware
Unspoken…until it is all most emphatically denied
…all of that becomes the norm.
Boys will be boys.

Privilege comes at a cost
That the boys being boys of the Empire
Are never taught to pay.

Male Illness not Mental Illness

A better ImageAnother unarmed man shot for being black and having something in his hands.  Again, police feeling threatened and ending a life with no proof or cause.

#StephonClark #SayHisName

The problem is guns. It’s not about good guys or bad guys.  It’s not about “rights”.  It’s not about safety.  It’s not even completely about race. Human beings cannot be trusted with the power over life and death.  We don’t understand what we’re doing.  Yet we have this power.  We have the power through mechanical means to end each other’s lives in an instant and we have the power through biological means to begin life.  At both ends of this spectrum, we literally and figuratively f**k it up.

But the problem with guns is that they are the phalluses of the American mentality and frankly, no one (including many women) wants to give up their dick.  The more I have to process the issues of life and death as a religious professional in the United States, the more I’m convinced that the problem is and will always be male identity and the way men are socialized to believe that we are somehow the ones responsible for who lives and who dies.  The core of the sickness of toxic masculinity is the confusion we (primarily male cisgender beings) are taught about our power based on our physical strength and our sexual anatomy and potency.  We are taught by socialization and by the history we are shown, that it is desirable to be the “winner” at all costs; we must be dominant or project dominance in some way or we have lost.  Our history books are overwhelmingly about war and conflict (physical, geographical, political, financial and now technological) and those wars are usually named for the winners.  What is more shocking is that we are taught that unhindered access to sexual pleasure (including rape) is a natural consequence or “prize” of war. Sick.

If you “win” on Wall Street, you can pay for and pay off any sexual partner you desire.  If you “win” in terms of land ownership or turf conquest, you get all the sex partners that come with it.  If you “win” in technology, you can “get the girl” even though you are a complete nerd.  The president of the United States even said this in the Access Hollywood tape “when you’re a star [a winner] they let you do it. You can do anything*.”  And he “won” our election. 

*In truth, they don’t let you do anything, he just learned to ignore them resisting in horror and disgust.

Guns are the physical symbol of this brutal masculinity.  In our current equation, having a gun says that the person with that gun has more power because they can end your life.  So everyone should have a gun and by reasonable assessment, if everyone has a gun, no one will want to use it right?  Wrong. The playground rules of male identity say that everyone having a gun means that when one person in the toxic equation sees that yours is even a little bigger or more powerful or can shoot farther than theirs, they are probably going to try to get rid of you first so they can “win”.  “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” turns into our current reality of endless school shootings, relentless fatal drug related and gang violence, domestic abuse that belies any civilized society and Stephon Clark being shot dead in his grandmother’s yard by police because they felt threatened by a cellphone.  In the most twisted way, everyone is trying to come out on top in their mind.  If you wonder why so many of the mass shooters are young white men, if you wonder why the violent drug trade in this country is overwhelmingly male dominated, if you wonder why there can even be a Martin Shkreli or a Brock Turner or a Donald Trump for that matter, don’t interrogate their “mental illness” interrogate their male illness first.

The problem is guns, and the problem is guns because they represent weaponized masculinity. God help us that we learn a different way to embody maleness because we will not fix our gun problem until we fix our guy problem first.