Saturday, March 27, 2010

What Hath God Wrought?

Easter is coming. And in the wake of the Easter Bunny (it's a rabbit that lays eggs - does no one find this disturbing?) are the decidedly creepy and arguably malevolent peeps.

A Peep Is Born

Peeps are not created. They are born. They are born of sugar, marshmallow, gelatin, and carnauba wax. Once the alchemy needed to fuse these ingredients into just the right proportions has been completed, the inanimate peeps are sent to a sealed vault where shadowy figures in dark robes incant what is necessary to breathe life into these little spawns. 
Carnauba wax, incidentally, is also found in Turtle Wax, cosmetics and shoe polish. It's refined from a plant native to northern Brazil - I often wonder who decided to apply the compound to sugar, marshmallow and gelatin. Did they have a clue as to what they were unleashing?

A Wolf In Peep's Clothing

What we feed our children is an increasingly debated topic - and rightly so. We seem deaf and blind, almost willingly, to public knowledge of hormones, pesticides and other carcinogens that lace factory food. That a thing tastes good is no longer a good enough argument for its consumption. That these "foods" such as fast food with mass-produced,carelessly butchered meat, and hormone-laden, long-shipped produce are more inexpensive than fresh produce and organic proteins is the tragedy. Parents are practically cornered into providing unhealthy sustenance filled with such nefarious and addictive compounds as high fructose corn syrup and MSG. 

Peeps, with their demonic friendly smiling faces, bright colors and cheerful packaging beckon the children to beg Mommy or Daddy to invite these ghastly menaces into their homes. They invade quietly. They sit in the cupboard, and they wait to be dispensed as a treat. The little Trojan horses can lie in wait for decades before showing any outward signs of aging. This beings me to my next point:

Peeps Are Forever

I've read that peeps are practically indestructible. Given my fear of hatred for these little harbingers of sugar and destruction, I had no issues with spending $1.56 of my hard-earned cash to test out a few methods of dispensing of the terror-chicks, and while doing so possibly find their Achilles beaks.

It turns out they come in three-packs of rows of five peeps fused together, looking as if they're about to march into battle. I took out my first row of victims and placed them on the counter. 

They look innocent, don't they? Don't be fooled. They were designed that way.  I pried the first one loose and decided my first test would be the microwave. What happens when you microwave a peep? I've heard it does nothing, but surely something must happen. 

There he was. I named this one Duke (after the arcade game Duke Nukem) and waved goodbye as I closed the microwave door and pressed 30 seconds. 
It began to grow after two seconds. Evading the possibility of a mutant peep on my hand, (or a really difficult mess in the microwave), I opened the door and removed it. The thing began to shrink back to its original size. Very little evidence was left to show its ordeal, though there were a few cracks that I'm sure, given time, would heal. 

Next I decided to test solubility. I prepared three spice dishes with water, acetone, and rubbing alcohol. I placed a peep in each dish. (I made Duke watch).

Guess what happened? Nothing, apparently. So I turned them upside down to review the damage to their undersides. There was none.
I turned them back up and they all seemed to be staring at me, taunting me. Then I thought - chlorine!
Again, nothing. Peeps, it turns out, are adept swimmers. 

So acetone, chlorine and alcohol have no discernible effects on peeps. Does anyone believe stomach acid or intestinal bacteria would have an effect? These harsh chemicals cannot dissolve these beasts - your body can't either. 

How To Stop Them

I cannot think of a way to stop these malicious marshmallows other than to tear them apart, bury them and salt the earth. 
Like so many items that line our grocers' shelves and calls us from the side of the road with happy colors and clowns, peeps are not food. I don't want to take the joy out of food, and understand parents often need food that is fast, easy and inexpensive. Let's just not fool ourselves (mega food manufacturers do that pretty well without our help) into thinking we are consuming food. General rule of thumb: if it comes wrapped in plastic and requires happy, fun, warm-fuzzy marketing, it should be little more than a rare treat. 

As human beings we are programmed to like food. We are programmed to know what's good and what isn't. If it takes chemicals to induce the right flavor, texture and aroma to entice us, or inviting plastic to catch our attention, then our bodies don't really want it. 

I say it again - bury the peeps. Bury them, and salt the earth! 

Happy Spring everyone.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Alan Schafer's Ghost Spotted In Charleston Harbor

In the 1950's, con artist visionary Alan Schafer opened a beer stand just south of the North Carolina/South Carolina border. As Schafer's customer base grew and he added more and more attractions to his shop, the rest stop metastasized into what is now the campy, casually racist roadside attraction that is South of the Border.

Signs on I-95 touting South of the Border begin about a hundred miles in each direction. The signs pun "you never sausage a place" and read with what has likely become the cause of many a headache, "keep yelling kids, they'll stop!" Because of this annoying clever marketing and word of mouth, South of the Border is depressingly enough the first thing so many from the Northeast encounter as they enter South Carolina.

The attraction's mascot, Pedro, a physical monument to tasteless sterotypes, sports an oversized sombrero - he's the first thing you see as you enter the complex of adult entertainment shops, greasy spoons, and kitschy souvenir outlets. There is also a rusty roller coaster and an observation tower that allows you to climb up into the sombrero and see the beautiful countryside. It's a shame those who live in that countryside can't enjoy such a lovely view - at least not without the company of Pedro.

So shame on me for not paying closer attention to local news, but when a co-worker the other day mentioned the possibility of a male Statue of Liberty in Charleston Harbor, I thought he was joking. Sadly no. There is a proposal out there, (that thankfully appears to be sinking faster than the Naval vessels of Patriot's Point) to place a male version of the Statue of Liberty to welcome visitors to Charleston Harbor. The idea is to bring needed income to Patriot's Point (I wasn't kidding about the sinking vessels) and to sully become a companion to the original Lady Liberty.

And what's wrong with this? Well - everything. Charleston Habor's natural beauty and rich history already provide an enticing welcome to visitors arriving to Charleston by sea. It would do nothing short of destroy the landscape, in order to create another roadside attraction.

Lady Liberty was a gift to the US from France. She stands for everything on which this country was founded. She has welcomed visitors and immigrants since her construction. Her beauty is unmatched. Charleston Harbor has seen disease, disaster, and siege - and it remains, peaceful as ever. The idea of a contrived, plastic (in every sense perhaps except the literal) piece of South of the Border kitsch polluting our skyline is a slap in the face to both entities.

I'm grateful beyond belief that Mount Pleasant does not appear to be pursuing this outrage. The amount of money it would take the build the statue, (appx $150 million - and that's before it goes predictably over-budget) could be used to more effectively market Patriot's Point, effectively plan events on the USS Yorktown, or perhaps build a roadside attraction further into Mount Pleasant - where the only people who have to see it every day are those who choose to live East of the Cooper.

Lady Liberty does not need a husband, and South Carolina does not need another South of the Border.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

My Sister - I Think I'll Keep Her

My sister recently posted an entry about me on her blog.

Had you known the two of us fifteen years ago, you would never believe we could be friends, let alone post entries about each other on our blogs - nice ones, anyway.

Early memories of Mandy and me are mostly positive. If there was a storm outside I'd go to her room, knock on the door (if I didn't knock I'd get yelled at), wait for the reluctant "what" and crack the door. I would ask if I could sleep in her room, if that was okay. As a five year-old, (maybe I was four - not sure - we were living in Edenwood, which means I was no more than six) thunder and lightning gave me the jitters. I also remember at that age being afraid that an earthquake, tornado or atomic bomb (a babysitter once let me watch the Day After) would come and wipe us out at any time. My sister's room was a safe haven under a quilt and someone nearby who while couldn't really protect me from anything, made me feel better by their presence.

Reluctantly Mandy would let me sleep on the floor by her bed. Around age six I realized that sucked and stopped asking. Plus, she snored. And I was beginning to think that while I loved her - she was my sister after all - sometimes I couldn't stand her. This was the beginning of our troubled friendship.

There are so many stories, so many ups and downs of our relationship that I couldn't begin to tackle it all here. We had our struggles, and we had times of real friendship. Here are a few highlights.

As I got older Mandy became aware that I could fetch things: iced tea, cheese puffs, the television remote. And of course if I didn't she said would never speak to me again. I didn't really believe this to be true, but I also wanted to avoid a fight. I had very few friends at one stage, and I didn't care to be fighting with anyone at home. However, it was during that time that I overheard my sister standing up for me one day. It was all the reassurance I needed, for a while.

Of course, there was the time - never mind. I'm not going to mention the heat stroke and concrete stairs incident - (note to our Twitter friends - ask her about it). And there was the time I was ten and she was twisting my arm - it popped, and scared the bejesus out of her. She was on the verge of tears, unsure if she had broken my arm, bent it out of its socket, or what - but she was begging me not to tell Mom and frantically asking me if my arm was okay. It's amazing to me Mandy never noticed that I have a noisy body. It snaps, crackles and pops like a bowl of Rice Crispies whenever I do so much as walk. It always has. So when my arm popped, likely more to do with the fact that I was - you know, MOVING, than anything she did, and she panicked, I milked it for every ounce it was worth.

And then I started getting older, and maybe a little angrier. I realized I was pretty strong, and would hit back from time to time. But mostly she and I just avoided each other. She was the A-student, the athlete, the popular one, the normal one. I was the freak with green hair and piercings. She was the sweet one, the outgoing one. I was shy and never sure if I hated people, or was afraid of them. Secretly I was jealous of Mandy, and annoyed by her at the same time. Why was she so normal?

Our fights were fewer and farther between, but worse when they happened. It culminated in my throwing a brick in her direction (she claims I was aiming at her, but it has never been my intention to hurt anyone that badly, not even my sister). But, I think it kind of scared her, because there was a marked distance between us for a while.

But there were other times as well. As Mandy put, whenever we were really in trouble, or one of us needed the other, we were there. We knew we loved each other, and not just out of moral obligation. We shared secrets others don't know to this day. We're often the first person the other calls when a major event happens in our lives. (Although sometimes it's just because Mom's phone is busy or we can't reach her). That said, Mandy recently trusted me with something she had told no one else. It was that trust that made me realize how far we had come in our relationship.

Around the time I returned from England ten years ago, I realized Mandy and I had grown more alike than apart. We still have our differences, but are alike enough to know how to at least try and see things from the others' perspective. Over the past few years I've been able to say without a shred of doubt in my mind, that woman is my best friend.

See the thing about friends that makes them different from siblings is that you choose them. You forge the bond yourselves, of your own volition, and actively choose to be that friend. Siblings are stuck siblings. They are born that way.

Mandy and I were born siblings. But we chose to be friends. The fact that we were once so distant proves it. We each made an effort, because we share similarities that balance out the differences. We would never have seen those had we not proactively become friends.

Among other things, Mandy is strong-willed, intelligent, insightful, intuitive, and ever-evolving. She's creative and open-minded, at once a Southern girl who likes Country Music and NASCAR, and a party girl who manages to say things on Twitter that make me close my eyes, stick fingers in my ears and shout "lalalalala." (And I am no prude).

Mandy and I have so much to learn from each other, that maybe that's the strongest bond between us - we're evolving, and our shared history - as different as it may have been - does nothing but strengthen that bond.

After all we've both been through over the past 18 months, neither would have made it through it without the other.

Thank you sis. You've made it bearable. We'll always come through it unscathed, because we've always had each others' back. I think we always did.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tell Me Again Why I Can't Have Kids

Queer, Part 3

About 80,000 foster children go each year without being adopted. Many of these children float from foster home to foster home, never knowing if they're going to encounter a loving, supportive, (if temporary) home, or if they're going to find themselves a tax shelter and a source of state income for an abusive household.

The red tape one has to cut through to offer a child a loving home is a hurdle that can often prove who is and who is not willing to devote the time and energy necessary to become a parent. If that kind of proof were necessary before having a child naturally, we would be in a far safer - if far more bureaucratic - society. But then we would have the constant moral dilemma of deciding who will ultimately make good parents, and who should remain childless. But then - we're already doing that.

Some states maintain that unmarried people cannot adopt a child, while it is perfectly legal to raise a natural-born child as a single parent. These laws serve as thinly-veiled gay adoption bans. Only Florida has legislation specifically mandating that homosexuals cannot adopt - out homosexuals, that is. It's not a far-fetched idea that many have remained in the closet so that they may legally raise a child. And why wouldn't they? To many, the desire to raise a child is stronger than any other ideology they might possess. I can completely relate to this need, and while I would never base the beginning of my son or daughter's life with me on a lie, I would be lying if I said I didn't understand their actions.

In researching online, (yes, beyond Wiki), I've found four arguments to be the most common against gay and lesbian couples becoming parents.

The first argument states that gay parents may raise gay children. Well, they might, And they might raise straight children. I'm not going to waste my time or yours arguing why this doesn't make sense. Trust me that is doesn't. Blond parents do not adopt red-headed children who become blond by nature of their environment.

The second argument I ran into repeatedly is the religious argument. Assuming there is a religious argument against rearing a young person in a same-sex environment, I'm going to throw it out the window anyway. I'm not going to waste my time or yours on this one - if you would like to discuss this further, I'd be happy to in another post, because this is a posting (or series) in itself. Just ask.

The next argument is that children perform better later in life when growing up with both a male and female role model. Some studies have shown some evidence to back this up, but I would argue that out same-sex parents have not been around long enough to warrant a valid conclusion. Additionally, I find it hard to believe that these children would have no role models of the sex opposite their parents'. No family is completely insular - there will be friends, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters. Unless they live in a completely isolated environment and have no close relationships outside the "nuclear" family, then those children will have exposure to both sexes.

The fourth argument, which is perhaps the most common, and the only of the three to which I would grant some validity, is the argument of social isolation. These children would be picked on at school, looked down upon by the community, and on some level or another shunned. This is at least somewhat true, depending on where you live. But is this not a self-perpetuating cycle? The less exposure children and their families have to same-sex couples raising children, the more likely their suspicions are to take over their logic. No, I don't believe children should be raised as political statements, sacrificial lambs to social change - but I do believe that if we based all our major life decisions on the whims of the average bigot, social change would never happen.

Same sex couples may choose a more accepting community, or they may choose to keep the truth of their household a closely-guarded secret. Or, they may choose to live openly and freely, and in so doing teach their children by that example. And if they do turn out to be gay? They're not nearly as likely to despair over it.

Gay parents have a wonderful opportunity to raise children who are open-minded, accepting of change, embracing of diversity, simply way way of their environment. And if a gay couple is willing to overcome the stigma, red tape, scowls and growls that line the gauntlet they have to traverse? I believe these people have proven their devotion to raising a happy, healthy child.

And to those who would try to make these children and their parents miserable because of their own fears and misplaced anger - I say fuck 'em. Rise above it. So many of us have spent too long in the dark to subject future generations to that same darkness. It's time to learn from our mistakes. It's time to raise a generation prepared for the diverse country into which we're evolving. It's time to look back on the self-imposed dark ages of fear and intolerance, and rise above.

So ends part three. I may approach the subject again, but only when I find it relevant. After all, after everything I've written on the past three entries, that remains the largest goal of all - let's not place gays and lesbians on a pedestal, let's not further the debate. Let's make the debate irrelevant. Let's rise above it.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

In Defense of Marriage

Queer, Part 2

Should members of the same sex be allowed to marry?

Let's examine that question. Exactly who is doing the allowing? Who decides this for all of us? What a weighty decision that's on your shoulders, a lofty post on which you've decided to stand, when you make it your decision to make.

It's amusing to me when I hear questions such as "are we not opening the door for incestuous marriage and beastiality?" Those questions are at once laughable and hateful. This is all I'm going to say on that subject.

Why don't we begin with the word "marriage." What does it mean to you? Who gave you that meaning? Did it come from your church? In many cases it did, since marriage is largely a religious institution, at least in its origins. So shouldn't it be between you and your church whether you are allowed to wed in the eyes of your religion or denomination therein?

Then of course there's the argument that the government should not step in and decide for the church and the individual states - and everyone for that matter, that homosexuals be allowed to marry. I find it ironic that these same people appear to deem it okay for the government to tell us all, to tell every church what they're NOT allowed to do. The latter seems far more intrusive. Are these not the same conservatives who believe government should remain out of our personal lives?

For the sake of argument let's say this is a religious contradiction to you, the allowance of two men or two women to get married. Let's say that for some outlandish and far-flung reason this somehow threatens your marriage, or the institution as a whole. I'll pretend for a moment that this is a remotely logical argument. Okay, so what if we don't call it marriage? I for one, don't care what you call it so long as I may enjoy the same rights, and am not denied thus because of who I am, or because you have decreed who I am to be unacceptable in your world. So let's not use the word marriage. Let's call it a civil union.

And people still protest these unions, they still believe that it is their moral obligation to keep these rights from those who are not like them.

How does it threaten anyone? How has it become such a black or white argument? Do you believe more gay marriages will fail? I would argue that years from now the percentage of gay marriages that have worked where they are legal, will be similar to those of heterosexuals. A marriage is a marriage - the same rules apply. Are you still under the impression that this is some lifestyle choice? See my previous post on that one.

So why? Why is it so important for some to deny others the rights they enjoy? This is a civil rights issue as much as it is a religious one. As far as the law is concerned, religion should not be a factor. That in itself is unconstitutional. The factor that remains, large and looming, is fear.

All I can say to this, is get over it. I realize that social change takes time, that it's a lengthy, sometimes (needlessly) painful process. I'm just having a hard time remaining patient with that process, waiting and watching quietly while the debate goes on as to whether or not my basic human rights are valid. The hurtful undertone to these debates is that until the majority can be convinced that I am not a threat to the institution of marriage by my very existence and desire to marry, my rights will rest in the hands of the vocal minority.

And once I'm "allowed" to marry in my state? I want children. More on this to follow.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Part One: My Lifestyle

I've danced around this topic numerous times, and while I don't want this blog go the way of the Ellen sitcom, (as I mentioned in a previous entry), I think it's time I tackle this one head on, and then be done with it. I was inspired by a fellow blogger I follow. You should really pay him a visit, his blog is both interesting and entertaining, as well as insightful and well-written. I intend this to be my part of a conversation I would like to start with him.

To some, and especially to those who don't know me, this might sound like a pity-party, a woe-is-me, my-life-is-harder-than-yours sorrow piece. It's not. I had a hard time growing up, but many children have had far harder. I experienced pain, but I also had a loving family who tried to help. Not everyone has that much. I also know be grateful for running water, heat, air conditioning, and a roof over my head. I didn't want for much, so I'm not looking for anybody to feel sorry for me. I sure has hell don't. So as I write about whatever struggles I may have had, please know that I realize how much better I had it than the majority of the world.

I'm not doing this to prove a point, but rather to disprove a few. I'm probably not going to say anything you haven't heard before, but maybe I will. I hope just to say it from the perspective of someone who grew up gay, and who spent the majority of his adult life convincing himself that it was not an affliction, not a curse, and not a thing over which I should feel guilty.

I'm going to write this in three parts. This first entry is about the notion that homosexuality is a lifestyle - or worse, a lifestyle choice. In my second part I'll discuss my thoughts on gay marriage, and lastly I'll discuss my stance on homosexuals raising children. I feel that each of these topics lends itself to the next. I intend to point out how in the desires to live a productive life, get married, and finally to pass on one's knowledge and experience on to offspring are not desires that exist solely within those who find the opposite sex attractive. To think otherwise is nothing short of dehumanizing.

With that said, let's begin with this lifestyle I've chosen.

Let's begin with the assumption this was my choice, my decision to make. I was a male growing up in the South, who spent two years in a Southern Baptist school, and heard derogatory gay jokes from my closest family and friends on a regular basis. What would my reaction be? Logically, I would chose a gay lifestyle, right? Surely this wouldn't affect (or cause me to fear an effect on) my relationships with everyone I love. No, of course not - I could expect this thing happening to me that doesn't appear to be happening to anyone else around me to be understood and accepted immediately and universally. Why not chose this? It's fun to be different!

Unfortunately, no. I was years and years away from discovering that my being gay was for no one else to accept but me. The desire to fit in to society and be accepted is a basic human need. For some of us, the painful illusion is that acceptance will be denied us by everyone we hold dear. We believe our family may disown us and our friends may disappear. Sadly enough, for many it's not at all an illusion. I've known more than one gay person who has lost nearly everyone he or she has loved because they did not approve of their "lifestyle choice." For them, the unimaginably difficult, noble act of self-acceptance and honesty earned them the pain and isolation of late-onset orphanage.

I've lived with depression my entire life, and have learned to not let it interfere, not let it drag me back into those dark places I knew growing up. I've learned to stay above the water, and I've become an adept swimmer. But I wasn't born with those skills. As a teenager, I had no idea how to cope. I was learning to live with that nagging fear and doubt that seems to infest everything you do or think, that doubt that anyone who has lived with depression truly understands. I also had to struggle with the dread of one day telling my family that I would never get married, I would never have children, that I was a faggot. (While I believe marriage and children are a possibility, I didn't believe so at the time). I wondered for many years if I would simply remain single, let the truth remain unspoken, even though most would suspect. I thought that might just be easier and less painful for all involved.

At the age of 13 I was hospitalized for depression. I knew at this point that I was attracted to members of the same sex. I knew I was queer. And while wrestling with wondering why I was even put on this earth, I had the added weight of knowing that the basic animal function of reproduction was denied me. I can't fully describe here the feeling of believing you are a walking aberration, an accident, a flamboyant lispy "oops" of nature.

I was asked in the hospital if I was gay. Of course I said no. I was trying to learn to be happy, and if that meant putting this struggle on a shelf in the back of a dank closet somewhere, I was more than willing to do so.

Part of my learning to be happy was learning to embrace the inner freak. This was part of what lead me to self-acceptance later in life. I pierced my face, I dyed my hair, I sought out music that was different than everyone else's. Had I known swishing gay man during those formative years, I may have become one of the walking stereotypes I strain not to loathe. (As I know they're people too - and while I take no issue with effeminate men, if that is truly who they are, I do take issue with those who have adopted a persona in order to fit in to something - anything - while alienating others and making life more difficult for the quiet minority). I want to stress that people should be who they are, that gender and sexual preference are often mutually exclusive - but to pretend you're someone you're not helps no one - isn't that the point? I digress.

Embracing other subcultures and casting out anything top-40 or carrying the label as trendy enabled me to feel better about being different. I met other gay friends, I even helped a few come out, though I was not out to my family and lived under the flimsy but common guise of "bisexual." Bisexuality is easier to claim, because those who know you as bisexual believe that one day you may settle into a more mainstream life - marriage, with children. Through their eyes, you find comfort in that idea, you experience vicariously the possibility of normalcy. But it's just another lie.

In my late teens became a far left-wing liberal. (I'm a liberal still, but with a marked conservative streak). I embraced anything that would embrace me, and discarded anything that wouldn't. I avoided the church. I laughed at the notion of 2.3 kids and a lawn. Secretly, it was a thing that I wanted, but didn't think I could ever have, and therefore cast aside.

As I got older I was exposed to the gay clubs, drag shows and pink culture that for a while threatened to send me back into the closet with a baseball bat and an NRA membership. I once again wore the badge of "bi" as a defense mechanism. I didn't know who I was, but I was pretty sure by then I knew what I didn't want to be.

While I was in England I found a people who were far more accepting of gays and lesbians. It was simply a non-issue. It was then that I began to find peace with my - "lifestyle choice." When I came back to the U.S. I was on the road to not only accepting, but embracing who I was. No, I did not choose this. I fought it most of my life. And now I'm paying for it, in years lost and wasted in denying myself the experience of living life openly and freely. No one denied it for me but me. I wish I'd learned that when I was younger, but I was too busy wallowing in self-pity to realize I was wallowing in self-pity.

So this entry was supposed to be about my lifestyle. Why was that not the focus? Because there is no gay lifestyle. It does not exist. Just as there is no lifestyle for blonde people, or a lifestyle for people who like pork shops. There is no more gay lifetsyle than there is a single gay community or some clandestine gay agenda I keep hearing about. If there is one, I've been excluded. Maybe I should check my secret decoder ring.

We have those, you know.