Some time back I was attacked on another website. As many of you know, I’m quite used to that, but this time it felt different. After pondering the “criticism,” and doing a little research, I’m ready to respond. For privacy concerns, I’m using the name “Prof. Debra Smith” to protect her identity, and have scrupulously avoided any personally identifiable details.
I will be moderating comments on this post as usual.
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Dear Professor Smith,
I want you to know that I did take note of your criticisms and characterizations in your posts. My initial feelings were mixed. I sat in a kind of stunned silence–stunned by your seemingly clever ridicule, your easily refuted mischaracterization of my blog’s content, your baseless personal characterizations, etc. Several times I have sat, silently wondering how an intelligent academic could compose what I was reading. I did some basic research and found out how.
It would be an understatement to say that you have had a hard life. You’ve worked diligently to elevate yourself above your humble origins. I know a little bit about that myself, having grown up in public housing, an isolated white kid in the East Oakland ghetto. But that’s probably a bit more exotic than growing up in an isolated, semi-arid region like you did. Like me, the recognition I received in elementary school set me on an academic trajectory. Similar to me, you developed an appetite for more academic success, which a handful of caring mentors nurtured at key moments. Your perseverence eventually paid off in the form of a Ph.D. and secure academic tenure, for which I congratulate you.
Unfortunately, domestic life has not been as kind. When I read about the abuse you suffered in your first marriage, I was appalled. It made me much more inclined to cut you some slack regarding your attacks on me. Early on, after only re-reading your criticisms a few times, I suspected that I might be standing in for something other than myself as an individual. This was confirmed by your comments about marriage in a patriarchal society.
Likewise, the fact of your debilitating health condition, and the initial misdiagnosis that brought it about, made me realize that you live with chronic pain. After my one-month bout with shingles, I know how debilitating chronic pain can be. And all of your incompetent doctors were males. The occasional difficulty in finding acceptable restaurants reinforced again how complicated and painful your life is on a daily basis.
Initially I was stunned at the language you used with a woman who was apparently coming on to your current husband. I wondered what your students and colleagues would think if the knew the kind of junior high ranting you did. “Fat, stupid whore,” “b*tch,” “moron,” and the rest left me shaking my head, as did your several threats. I wondered where you’d heard those words before. It was painful.
The emotional and rhetorical outpouring became much more understandable to me when I realized that this woman’s apparent interest in your husband became known to you only a couple of weeks after your marriage. That sucks big time, especially considering how many times your high school sweetheart has been married. Anyone would be alert to potential threats in your situation. And after your previous marriages, I can see how much you really need this one to succeed.
I’m impressed by the height, depth, and breadth of your rhetorical expression. Your academic work is, from all appearances, great, and your combat rhetoric compares favorably to Glenn Beck, who moves from ridicule to ad hominem to “reasoned” critique so seamlessly. Also, you carefully adjust your tone depending on your persona relative to your audience. Your interactions with people involved with the terminally ill and with individuals struggling with marital challenges demonstrate compassion and insight. This is congruent with your deep, genuine concern for the well-being of your students, who are in return sympathetic to you and what they daily see of your depression.
On the other hand, when you’re dealing with an academic audience you are sharp and to the point. You don’t mince words. And of course with “false teachers” like myself, it’s more important for your actual “tribal audience” for you to be rhetorically effective than to deal with the niceties of accuracy, careful exegesis, or something more than a superficial glance. It’s important not to confuse people–what with their five-second attention spans and all. You delight in the sound of a biting, devastating remark. Ridicule and satire are, after all, effective weapons, as demonstrated by Limbaugh, Savage, and Beck, and more subtly by Woody Allen, Richard O’Brien, and Terry Gilliam.
Professor Smith, you take great pride in your accomplishments, and vigorously defend yourself against anyone who threatens what you have achieved, whether it’s “the other woman,” or someone who cheapens the academic system through fraud or lack of adequate credentials. I suspect you developed your balls for assertiveness in the ordeal of ending your first marriage. My impression is that few things energize you quite like a good fight, a trait with which I certainly identify.
Debra, one of the concepts most significant for you seems to be “chaos.” Chaos is a theme in much of your writing, and apparently in your life. Whether we’re looking at your scholarly writing, at your defense of academic integrity, or at the pathetic, fat, ugly, desperate POS “whore” stalking your husband, your world is filled with chaos. Your academic interest in the capacity of women for self-organization in face of chaos in their personal relationships suggests to me that fending off the chaos in your life is a real and ongoing struggle.
I know that I seem chaotic and contradictory to people. Some people are actually a little afraid of me because I’m “unpredictable.” That unpredictability has numerous causes. Part of it stems from deliberately cultivating of a degree of eccentricity, which started as far back as high school. Part of it stems from sheer intellectual curiosity and a pleasure in being stretched to the point of discomfort. Like you, I suspect, I relish holding contradictory ideas and interests together within myself. The tension of intense contradictions generates its own energy.
And of course I’ve been diagnosed with diabetes and bipolar disorder, both of which manifest themselves emotionally and behaviorally. Bipolar disorder defnitely makes for a checkered employment history and sometimes troubled organizational relationships. People have a long memory.
Debra, there is a difference between you and me. I have always had loving people in my life, especially my wife. I haven’t always appreciated her, and we are temperamentally quite different. We married young, we’ve had our rough patches, but she really, really loves me. Her love is (almost) unconditional, and I am (basically) a nice guy. We’re not what you’d call soul mates, but I owe her everything. I don’t know where I’d be without her–probably sleeping on a piece of cardboard behind a dumpster.
You, in contrast, have had to tough it out with men who didn’t seem to have a clue about what marital love and commitment are about. They were with you as long as it was convenient, sucked you dry, and tossed you away. I can only begin to imagine how difficult that has been.
I need to get to the criticisms, “attacks,” if you will, that prompted this letter. I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t engage with all your provocative comments. Each one seemed designed to invite a response, and I don’t need to defend myself, my scholarship, or my family against you.
You believe that American society is marked by confusion, anger, and chaos. You believe that laissez faire tolerance, especially in sexual matters, threatens to dissolve traditional institutions, bulwarks of our society and culture, like the family and the academy. Regarding the family, you believe that prostitution and homosexuality will hasten the dissolution of the nuclear family.
I’d unquestionably say that prostitution threatens marriage relationships. Any form of marital unfaithfulness is damaging and hurtful. But since it is generally men who hire the services of sex workers, we’re actually talking more about men’s sexual attitudes and habits than about women who, sometimes willingly and sometimes against their wills, provide those services. Various sayings are applied to situations similar to this, like “Bad money drives out good,” and one that talks about getting the milk for free, but libertarians have a pragmatic, if amoral, handle on this issue.
I disagree, however, that “homosexuality” threatens the nuclear family. It is simply wrong to issue a blanket condemnation of gays and lesbians because of gay men who have made the unfortunate decision to marry straight women. All of us make unfortunate decisions, decisions that cause pain and grief. What some people blame on God or their bad choices, I generally blame on hard-wired processes in the brain, on culture, and on our instincts for territory, status, our nests, our tribes, survival, etc.
Many people share your belief that homosexuality threatens the fabric of the family. What is seldom articulated is what this notion is based on. Aside from the notorious “gay agenda” you mentioned, I believe the real reason is something else you mentioned, the fact that when a straight woman unknowingly marries a gay man, unhappiness is inevitable. A woman can live for years, wondering why her husband doesn’t seem to really love her, why he doesn’t feel the passion or seem to enjoy making love. She blames herself, wondering, “What’s the matter with me?”
The gay husband is not necessarily culpable or guilty of deceit. These gay men are generally older, and married straight women for two reasons. First, they genuinely hoped that by marrying a woman they would “become straight.” This is often the advice they get from pastors and others. “Find yourself a nice girl, get married, and this will all sort itself out.” Nope. It doesn’t work that way. Second, and related, are gay men who are either in denial about their sexual orientation or who, because of social stigma, ostracism, and physical danger, marry as a cover. This is becoming less frequent, but in certain regions of the country and in some denominations undoubtedly remains a tragic recipe for continued unhappiness, divorces, and common bitterness.
I understand how marital infidelity might fuel your concern for the nuclear family, but I don’t see how acceptance of gays and lesbians threatens marriages in general, unless a woman happens to have unknowingly married a gay man, or a man unknowingly married a lesbian, which happens as well.
I would think that your own experience of pain and rejection, of struggling with the non-rational drives and passions of both yourself and your spouses, would give you more compassion and sympathy for gays and lesbians with similar passions. I don’t doubt that you have insight and understanding regarding the anguish, torture, and suicidal ideations of such young people. Unfortunately you choose to lend your weight to religious communities whose more outrageous spokespeople would round ’em all up and execute ’em. But there are political and social factors that encourage our tribal solidarities.
It really does seem that, on the treatment of gays and lesbians, you are more interested in how things impinge on your system of beliefs and on your status, both marital and professional, than on thousands of gay and lesbian believers who are generally unknown to you. I hope that you will one day find your confidence, security, and worth in the love and approval of God. You are not a moron, a loser, or a worthless POS, no matter what your accusing voices say.
Please don’t use your position as an academic and your authoritative-sounding verbiage to denigrate others, while in other settings express your spirituality, compassion and kindness. This is unworthy of you, unless you’re talking back to your television set.
And considering your passion to be happily married, please support the desire of many gays and lesbians to be married, whose desire to have stable, committed, monogamous relationships is comparable to your own. There are more of them than you let on. I’ve met them, and since I live in California many of the couples are married. I’ve met many couples, gays and lesbians both, who have been together for 25 or 30 years. As they say, “that’s quite an accomplishment in this day and age.” For you, this is a simple application of the Golden Rule.
You know gay couples who have been together for a long time, yet you feel (it seems) morally superior to them. I have to agree with my wife when she said that you are in no position to say anything by way of criticism or evaluation regarding homosexuals, same-sex marriage, etc. Considering your many marriages, your derisive remarks about gay “families” destroying American society and culture are completely inappropriate and unworthy of serious consideration.
You write about homosexuals, about their so-called lifestyle choices, about their emphasis on sex and not love, about these deeply personal things–you write about them so casually, so dismissively, so authoritatively. I know you care about the individual students you’ve met, yet you side with the oppressors, those who routinely shed innocent blood.
For many years, gay and lesbian teenagers and young adults have suffered in silence, frequently succumbing to suicidal depression. Words really do count. I remember reading about mysterious teen suicides when I was young. Each story was so similar to the others.
“He was successful in academics and sports. The reason for his suicide is a mystery to everyone who knew him.”
“He seemed like a nice, well-adjusted kid. We didn’t have any idea that there was something wrong.”
Looking back, I am convinced that most of these suicides resulted from the excruciating stress of living in the closet, living a lie month after month, having no one safe in whom to confide.
Debra, you actually argue that homosexuality is worse than other sins, that it is repeatedly called an abomination, not a mere sin, and that it interferes with human reproduction, which means that it actually threatens the survival of humanity. You go on at some length about the violence of male homosexuals. I can only wonder if one of your husbands was gay, or if you are generalizing from your unfortunate experience with your violent first husband. You have fond memories of your experience in the theater, so it doesn’t seem that your intense feelings about sexual perversion could stem from that.
Without knowing more, it seems to me that you may be projecting your own sense of guilt onto homosexuals since you and your current husband are both guilty of ongoing adultery according to the words of Christ.
Being outed is a difficult process, sometimes excruciating. It can be rude, even fatal, to out someone, especially with malicious intent. But ultimately, especially for people with adequate spiritual and emotional resources, it can be freeing. For myself, we should never out someone. That decision should be made by the individuals themselves.
The ultimate healthiness of “being real” is true for all of us, not just gays and lesbians. Whether we are eclectic types who consciously draw from many spiritual resources, or true believers who think their resources are actually derived purely from the Bible, it is better that we take advantage of the occasional reality check as an opportunity to grow, instead of moving forward in what we know is a fantasy. I’m convinced that many problems and weaknesses cannot be “fixed,” only managed.
Debra, my life sometimes feels confused, even chaotic. There are things I’ve done I regret, made decisions that seemed right at the time, and I’ve sometimes wished for just a couple of do-overs. It’s no secret that I’m disappointed with my career trajectory. Experience and meds help to keep my anger in check (normally). My life isn’t a hellish cesspool, but even I recognize the need for limits on self-disclosure. And I believe that a certain degree of loneliness is universal for all of us.
I know you see yourself as a kind, compassionate, and sensitive person, and in certain situations you are. And I know that you have suffered more injustice and rejection than almost anyone could deserve. My hope for you is that, if not already true, you actually will be able to laugh at yourself and the world without having to denigrate others, which denigration is one of your favorite default modes. In addition to my hope that you will consider the roots of your anti-gay rhetoric, I truly hope that you will find the rest your soul so earnestly desires. These words will be familiar to you.
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.