Don’t Normalize Hate Speech

This morning, as I was looking through the list of quotations that I have gathered over the years for this day, I consciously removed two, both of them lovely and thoughtful sentiments, both of them by writers who have also said and done some things I find inappropriate. One was by Garrison Keillor, the other by J. K. Rowling.

I don’t know what I think about Keillor. The stories make me cringe; they make me angry. As much as I loved the humor of his voice, I have also usually rolled my eyes a bit at his curmudgeonly persona. With the stain on his reputation, I don’t feel like I need his words as part of my holy morning reflections.

I don’t always throw out the writings when I find out that the writer is objectionable. Humans are fallible, and even brilliant thinkers have their blind sides. Some blindnesses are too difficult to ignore, however. When I read Neruda’s piece about the woman he raped, how he didn’t even seem to understand that what he had done was to commit rape, how he described her with the same tender pen he used for the love poetry that made me swoon, I knew I would never return to his words. I no longer read or share his poetry. There’s rot at the heart of that. The same is true for others, for Marion Zimmer Bradley, for Orson Scott Card. On the other hand, I still love, and teach, Shakespeare despite some of his truly objectionable elements.

The one that is bothering me–a lot– right now, is J. K. Rowling. I think it is important to look with a clear eye at her recent tweets about trans people and name the speech what it is: hate speech. It’s couched in lots of attempts to sound open and conciliatory, but she cannot hide her transphobia. Even without any other red flags, this sentence in one of her tweets to try to explain herself is a real kicker: “I know and love trans people, but. . .” Yeah, nothing good ever comes after the “but” in such a sentence. She goes on to defend transphobic restroom laws. She has liked tweets that refer to trans women as “men in dresses.” It feels like I am building a case against her, doesn’t it? It’s just that I don’t want to excuse bigotry or normalize hate speech, and that is a sentence I have stolen from Rowling herself.

Yesterday, I listened to some of the recording of Daniel Radcliffe reading the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I was caught up again in the way she develops the Dursleys in the first few pages of her tale as people who are terrified of difference. She sets up a scenario in which the reader, from the very first moment, feels like this tale is going to be about celebrating the weird people in the cloaks who stand out because they live who they are instead of who a constricting and unimaginative muggle society tells them they should be. That’s the liberating beauty I have found in the Harry Potter books, the deep truth that anyone who has ever felt marginalized for living their truth can hold onto.

As I try to be part of the movement to create a society in which my trans beloveds are not marginalized but are safe and welcome and embraced, I have sought out stories like this. And now it turns out that the author herself is doubling and tripling down on her anti-trans language. Not just flinchy and cringey, but hateful.

Here is the Rowling quote I took out of today’s quote line-up: “We stand together. We stick up for the vulnerable. We challenge bigots. We don’t let hate speech become normalized. We hold the line.” So. I’m holding the line, Ms. Rowling. I will not tolerate your hate speech toward the beloved children of the Universe who are trans and gender fluid. I don’t know what I will do with your books or your movies. Meanwhile, I’m going to seek out other constructed worlds that offer their readers hope and vision for just and loving societies where everyone is safe and welcome and encouraged to live their truth, worlds created by authors who won’t exclude anyone for who they are.

I’m not asking you to give up the HP world. But, if you’re looking for some alternatives to Rowling, try Nnedi Okorafor, N. K. Jemisin, Octavia Butler, Charlie Jane Anders, Ursula K. LeGuin, Starhawk, Madeleine L’Engle, Tamora Pierce. Listen to LeVar Burton reads–he has an absolute treasure trove of authors who question the boxes a dull-witted and authoritarian society wants to place people in. Who else do you suggest?

Gratitude List:
1. Friends who bear with me and help me stumble along as I figure things out.
2. The way good literature offers visions of what we can be.
3. Finishing a project! I’m going to wrap up the prayer shawl today.
4. Oriole still sings in the sycamore every morning, but his call has changed. I think he must be feeding young ones now.
5. I’ve been seeing this sign in images of the BLM protests: “Sorry I’m late. I had some learning to do.” We can change and grow. I can change. You can change. Keep listening. Keep learning!

May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!

“You just need to be a flea against injustice. Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable and transform even the biggest nation.” ―Marian Wright Edelman

“Being considerate of others will take your children further in life than any college degree.” ―Marian Wright Edelman

“It’s still a world with plums in it, my loves, & chamomile & lipstick & cellos. It’s still a world with us in it. Find a hand & hold on.” —Elena Rose

“The real work of planet-saving will be small, humble, and humbling, and (insofar as it involves love) pleasing and rewarding. Its jobs will be too many to count, too many to report, too many to be publicly noticed or rewarded, too small to make anyone rich or famous.” ―Wendell Berry

”So many of us feel an agonizing longing to contribute something meaningful to the deficits of our time. But years can disappear in the doing of duties, in the never-reaching of rising expectations, in the always-falling-short of proving of one’s enoughness.

“The truth is that if we really want to make an eloquent offering of our lives, we have to step out of that ‘call and response’ relationship with the external world and locate our source of guidance within.

“To hear the rhythm of your indigenous song, to fall in step with the poetry of your unfolding, first there must be a clearing away: a ‘temenos’ of simplicity in which to dwell.

“Strike a holy grove of silence where you can listen as you long to be heard, see as you long to be seen, acknowledge where you long to be relevant, needed and necessary in the ‘family of things’.” ―Dreamwork with Toko-pa

“One is not born into the world to do everything but to do something.”
―Henry David Thoreau

Rumi: “Ours is no caravan of despair.”

“I profess the religion of love wherever its caravan turns along the way; that is the belief, the faith I keep.” ―Asma Kaftaro, UN Women Advisory Board

“Human rights are not things that are put on the table for people to enjoy. These are things you fight for and then you protect.”
―Wangari Maathai

Bloom (by a friend)

“Mt. Everest” by Katie Hutchison College

Yesterday, my friend Katie Hutchison College wrote a very moving piece about living in these times. I was so moved by her words that I asked her permission to post it on my blog. She graciously said I could. I used her image of “Mt. Everest” as my photo of the day.

Today’s bloom: anemone ‘Mt. Everest’. She hasn’t opened yet (perhaps later today). But this stage is beautiful, just perched on the edge.

At the end of the fourth Harry Potter movie, when it’s now clear that Voldemort is back, there’s a moment I love: the main characters are standing on a bridge, and Hermione, always able to see further ahead than the others, stops cold and says ‘Everything is going to be different now, isn’t it?’

To which, after a slight pause, Harry answers ‘yes. Yes, it is.’

The actors nail it. She isn’t fearful. Just…..wistful. Taking a moment to acknowledge what has changed. Taking a moment to think of the changes that are ahead.

He isn’t dismissive. There’s more a tone of quiet determination in his response.

It’s a remarkable moment precisely because the director had to streamline the book so much, and so many details were left out. I’m glad this small bit was included. The series is about, among other things, transitioning to adulthood, and this exchange says it all.

This sucks, and it will never be the same again, but we’re going to do it anyway.

Most thinking people understand now that this isn’t simply a weird, inconvenient two week holiday. The ramifications of this, economically and socially, are massive. And, of course, the ‘two weeks’ is long gone.

Did you ever, having messed up something or other in your life, wish for a do-it-over button? Did you ever read a story about someone who vanished and created a whole new life, and you took a moment to think hmm, yes, what would I change if there weren’t already all these pre-conceived ideas of who I am, if everyone surrounding me hadn’t frozen me into a mold? Who would I be, if I could be anything? I’m talking about the inside person, not the outside

Did you ever think “I’m trying so hard, now, not to be (insert character flaw of your choice here) but it’s impossible, because everyone’s already decided that I’m (repeat previous). And when I try to act in a new way it’s impossible, because they treat me like I’m still the old way, or they’re suspicious of my motives.”

Well! This is our moment!

People are different post-trauma. Things are different. Rules are different. Patterns are different.

While we grapple with what these changes mean for us, let’s not forget this: we can be different, too. But unlike all those other changes over which we haven’t much control, we DO get a say in our own upcoming, inevitable changes.

You have a blank sheet of paper in front of you and a nice sharp pencil with a perfect eraser.

If you know that you have always come across as cold and unable to show affection, but you don’t want to be that way – this is a once in a lifetime mulligan. Because nobody, but nobody, is going to question your sea change.

Been irresponsible? It’s a good time to shift gears. A crisis will do that to you. Haven’t been focused enough on the kids, other than micromanaging schedules? It’s perfectly understandable that this would shift your priorities. No one will give you crap for dropping out of some activities after this.

It’s a crisis, it’s a game changer, and Hermione nailed it: everything is going to be different now.

But not all of the changes will be bad.

We have all been imprisoned by some burden that can now be lifted, because in a very real way we’ve just been handed a Get Out of Jail Free card.

Go. Bloom.

Gratitude List:
1. The great and tender wisdom of my friends
2. I slept very deeply last night. I always feel, after a bout of insomnia, that I need to re-train my body to sleep.
3. Friday
4. Dogwoods in bloom
5. Yeast. We couldn’t find it in the big grocery store or in the little local shop in town, so I am capturing my own flock. It will take a few days, but I’m glad there are options. I’ve done this before, so I’m excited to try again. During times of quarantine, so people get a new puppy to tend and train. I wrangle wild yeast.

May we walk in Beauty!

“First is the fall. Then we recover from the fall. Both are the mercy of God.” —Julian of Norwich

“Nothing is more beautiful than the uniqueness that God has created. You don’t have to create the beauty—you’ve already got the beauty. You don’t have to create the freedom—you’ve got it. You don’t have to create the image of God in you—you have it. You don’t have to win over God’s love—you have more than you know what to do with.” — Father Thomas Keating

“An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.” —Henry David Thoreau

“Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” ―St. Francis of Assisi

“I believe in kindness. Also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed.” ― Mary Oliver

“Wherever they might be they always remember that the past was a lie, that memory has no return, that every spring gone by could never be recovered, and that the wildest and most tenacious love was an ephemeral truth in the end.” ―Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.” ―Ursula K. Le Guin

“True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.” ―Franklin D. Roosevelt

“Equality is not a concept. It’s not something we should be striving for. It’s a necessity. Equality is like gravity. We need it to stand on this earth as men and women, and the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance, and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who’s confronted with it. We need equality. Kinda now.” ―Joss Whedon

“The world is remade through the power of fierce women performing outrageous acts of creative rebellion.” —Louise M. Pare

Stories Will Save Us

These days, I am immersed in several pieces of literature, three of which have uncanny connections to the current socio-political atmosphere.

Having just finished analyzing To Kill a Mockingbird with my English 101s, I am struck again by Lee’s portrayal of a culture on the cusp of change, of the willful ignorance of a people deeply entrenched in their own social privilege and power. I want to keep aware of the book’s faults when it comes to teaching a diverse body of students in the 2000s: Atticus as the white savior, the fact that it’s yet another white child’s coming of age story, the use of the n-word (even in the context of the story). Still, I think it’s a powerful tool for helping 14- and 15-year-olds understand not only the history of systemic racism in our country, but also the social context, of how people deliberately ignore the imbalances of privilege and power. I want them to make the connection to ourselves, to explore how systems of privilege and power still affect the ways in which we see ourselves and others today. Sometimes I feel as though I am teaching three books at once: it’s literature, it’s history, it’s social commentary.

In another class, we’re finishing up an exploration of Julius Caesar. Again, I keep feeling an uncanny connection to the politics of today–not the assassination bit, of course, but the ways in which the powerful act for their own ambition while saying they work for the good of the country, the ways in which the mob can be manipulated to do the will of those who have power.

At home, we are reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. We just read the bit about the Death Eaters who attacked and terrified and mortified a family of Muggles after the Quidditch World Cup. All I could see, as the boys and I were talking about it, was young men marching through Charlottesville with torches. It’s the same story, really, about people dehumanizing those who are not like them, drunk on their own social power, using fear and threats to intimidate. Each time I re-read her books, I am more deeply aware of how Rowling understands social systems, how she portrays systemic injustices even as she’s creating a magical world. I’ve often thought that young people ought to be required to read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The student resistance at Hogwarts resembles the European resistance movements in World War II. What do you do when your own governing structures have been infiltrated by Death Eaters? I am more aware than ever now how Rowling began setting up the complex social and political systems even in the early books.

Stories will save us, if we let them. We choose the stories we follow, like we choose the voices we listen to. Of course, stories can be misused, if we abdicate our responsibility to think and question and process because we rely on the tired plots we know, if we simply let the old stories keep telling us, if we refuse to participate in the creation of the new story. Still, stories can be dangerous to the status quo, making us question our roles, helping us to identify more clearly who we want to be in the current plot, offering us maps and possibilities so that we can take the current where it serves us.

Satuday’s Musings:

“In such ugly times, the only true protest is beauty.” —Phil Ochs
“The sense-making in poetry is about getting behind the brain. A poem is a door. Sometimes poets make sturdy, locked, exclusive club doors that you can only enter if you are one of ‘us,’ or if your can speak (or pretend to know) the password. A really good and satisfying poem is an open and inviting doorway that frames the view in a particularly compelling way. ‘Look!’ it says. ‘Stand and stare. Take a deep breath. Then tell me what you see.’

“Good poetry, I think, holds a paradoxical perspective on language itself: it acknowledges the inadequacy of words to completely map an inner geography, and it also steps with reverence and awe into the sacred space that language creates between writer and reader. Words are both inadequate and holy.” —Beth Weaver-Kreider, 2014
“Where does despair fit in? Why is our pain for the world so important? Because these responses manifest our interconnectedness. Our feelings of social and planetary distress serve as a doorway to systemic social consciousness. To use another metaphor, they are like a “shadow limb.” Just as an amputee continues to feel twinges in the severed limb, so in a sense do we experience, in anguish for homeless people or hunted whales, pain that belongs to a separated part of our body—a larger body than we thought we had, unbounded by our skin. Through the systemic currents of knowing that interweave our world, each of us can be the catalyst or “tipping point” by which new forms of behavior can spread. There are as many different ways of being responsive as there are different gifts we possess. For some of us it can be through study or conversation, for others theater or public office, for still others civil disobedience and imprisonment. But the diversities of our gifts interweave richly when we recognize the larger web within which we act. We begin in this web and, at the same time, journey toward it. We are making it conscious.” —Joanna Macy
Why Are Your Poems So Dark?
by Linda Pastan

Isn’t the moon dark too,
most of the time?
And doesn’t the white page
seem unfinished
without the dark stain
of alphabets?
When God demanded light,
he didn’t banish darkness.
Instead he invented
ebony and crows
and that small mole
on your left cheekbone.
Or did you mean to ask
“Why are you sad so often?”
Ask the moon.
Ask what it has witnessed.

Gratitude List:
1. Sunshine
2. Story
3. Sleep
4. A clean house
5. A blue true dream of sky

May we walk in Radiant Beauty!