Donald VIII

This post was written in collaboration with Dani Alexis Ryskamp.

Watching and listening to The Donald during the first presidential debate this week, one couldn’t help but think of Henry VIII, King of England. The two men have shared points of personal history. Their fathers had advanced the family position, from immigrants to real estate moguls and from nobles to the royal family; their older brothers were heirs apparent but died before they could assume control; they both displayed great anxiety over their perceived masculinity and virility; and they both had a succession of wives. Donald is 24 years older than his youngest and current wife, Melania. Henry was a full 30 years older than his youngest and fifth wife, Catherine Howard.

“Look at my cod piece!” – Henry, probably

Continue reading Donald VIII

Once Upon a Tactic 3/3

Once Upon a Time seasons 1-5 spoilers 

Story crafting is creating a narrative woven of truths, half-truths, and lies; a story that tells the recruit their place in the world and how everyone thinks of them.  Villains in each of the above examples used this in some way. This tactic holds each of the others together. The most common cult story sounds something like this. 

“You are special and amazing. You are one of us and you belong. You’re doing important work and that makes us love you. That makes us family. Not like those other people. They only pretend to love you. They’re secretly waiting for you to fail, and what makes you think they’ve forgiven you for all you’ve done wrong? Don’t forget what a mess you were when we rescued then. No one loved you then and no one but us will ever love you again.”

This is what Ingrid tells Elsa, what Anita tells Red, what Cora tells Regina. No one else will understand you, accept you, love you. It is a devastatingly effective tactic in the real world, especially when it seems to be true. Over 400 victims of Jonestown were never claimed, making it easy to understand why they may have felt that had no one else. 


So how do you win? Well on Once, the heroes win by proving the villains wrong, by loving the unlovable. By giving guilt laden souls an opportunity for redemption. Time and again, they defeat the bad guys by showing kindness, by being understanding and accepting. By not being as cold as the villains swear they are. 

In a show that could have easily gone a black and white, heroes v villains route, the writers have instead chosen to portray gray. Heroes aren’t perfect and villains can be redeemed, but not without support. Not without love. By not giving up on people who are weird or don’t fit in or hate themselves, the heroes break the evil spell of the villain’s lies. 

This sings to the cult survivor inside of me. Cults and other abusers promise to provide worthy things humans need: love, family, purpose, acceptance. Telling people those needs are bad or wrong or weak won’t save anyone. Suggesting victims should have needed less or known better is actively damaging. The right way to defeat cult leaders and other abusers is by taking such good care of each other, no one’s needs are so unmet an abuser’s false offer of love is the only offer they have. 
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Once Upon a Tactic 2/3

Spoiler alert for Once Upon a Time seasons 1-5

Isolating is physically or socially separating the recruit from people who care about them. This can look like a remote compound with armed patrols, accountability standards that require members to report every conversation to a superior, or story crafting which we’ll get into shortly. 

Red Riding Hood’s mother Anita is a werewolf like Red. She teaches Red to embrace her wolf side, while demanding she reject her human side. Anita employs us v them thinking, casting humans as monstrous and threatening outsiders, forcing Red to choose. 

Peter Pan keeps a kidnapped Henry on the move, and deceives him into thinking no one is coming to his rescue. By physically isolating him from more reasoned opinions and healthier expressions of love, Pan is able to secure Henry’s loyalty. This holds true in reality. Many cults use retreats to convert curious recruits. A weekend is sometimes enough time. 

Complicity is making the recruit or member complicit in a legal or moral crime, in reality or perception. Cults break a variety of laws from gun laws to welfare fraud to child neglect and labor laws to assault. Members are usually not in a position to object to or change things from within and may feel they have no choice but to comply with these crimes. If you’re a cult member reading this, know that prosecutors have granted immunity to ex members in exchange for testimony before. 

Rumpelstiltskin forces a blackmailed Captain Hook to participate in a mystical murder. This creates guilt and shame in Hook, as well as fear of reprisal if his actions are discovered. Combined these factors deter him from seeking help or telling anyone of Rumpelstiltskin’s crime. 

Regina’s mother Cora waits until she’s at her lowest point to frame her daughter for murder. Cora points to everyone falling for her frame up as proof no one else can ever love or accept Regina like she can. Once she has Regina convinced of this lie, her attentions turn to seeking more power, not loving or comforting her daughter. 

Elsa’s aunt Ingrid uses a nearly identical tactic, framing Elsa for her spell so that others would reject her, and she could be all Elsa had left. Going further, she cursed the whole town to only see the worst in each other, so that no one but her and her chosen followers would have love, and no one else would love them. 

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Once Upon a Tactic 1/3

The following post examines cult leader tactics as shown by the villains on Once Upon a Time. Plots and characters up through the conclusion of season five are included so consider this your spoiler warning. 

Cults are a form of abusive relationship. Like intimate partner abusers, cult leaders really on many deceptive and isolating tactics to better control and abuse their victim. There is growing public awareness about the signs of an abusive romance, but other exploitative relationships are not as discussed. Once Upon a Time showcases many cult leader tactics in the actions of their villains, in a variety of non romantic relationships. 

Four tactics I want to examine today are love bombing, isolation, complicity, and story crafting. 

Love bombing is bombarding a potential recruit with positive attention. This may be done by several people or just one. The recruit is told how wonderful they are, how glad the group is to have them, and how they matter. It’s a high like no other to be at the center of love bombing. For that brief shining moment, you matter the most. 

But it’s all a bait and switch. Once your love is secured in neurochemical response to this experience, the cult and leader need you to feel not very special at all. Validation becomes your addiction, and your dealer leader gets stingier on the supply and keeps upping the price. 

Prince James and Jacqueline “Jack” use love bombing on the giant Anton. They promise him he belongs in their kingdom, that his happiness is all they desire, and that they are his friends. But it’s all a ruse to steal his treasure, and they betray his kindness with violence and theft. Cults do exactly this, and it’s just as cruel in the real world.

Peter Pan uses this tactic when recruiting his Lost Boys. He enchants a pipe so that only children who feel lost and unloved can be lured by its siren song. Dancing together as he plays, they feel joy and belonging. Once he brings them to Neverland, he makes them do his bidding and prevents them from ever leaving. 

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All Moms Are Working Moms 

I’ve been a mother for eleven years. Over that time I’ve been a nanny, a maid, and an executive. I’ve tutored GED students and proctored MCATs. I’ve also spent a majority of those years physically disabled and unemployed. I have always worked though. 

Parenting is a verb, an action, work. It is effort, mental, physical, emotional effort. It calls for endless patience and compassion in the face of bold lies and someone else’s excrement. A parent is a nurse, a teacher, a drill seargant and judge, and must choose the right hat for each moment as they come. 

There’s a strong cultural habit of bifurcating the realities of employed and unemployed custodial mothers as either working or not working.  This erasure of motherhood as work is damaging for all mothers, and for caretaking fathers as well. Parenting is work. Parents who are not paid for their labor are still working. They’re just not paid. 

This false dichotomy allows the culture to exploit women; if unemployed mothers are “not working” what on earth should they be paid for? That the majority of housekeeping and childcare falls to women even when both parents are employed is no accident. It’s unpaid work, therefore not called work, therefore it’s women’s work. (Things are generally more equitable in same gender partnerships, although there is much less data to compare. To my knowledge no one is studying non binary people and gendered work.)

Parenting is work. Maintaining a clean home in defiance of a toddler is work. Meeting the constant physical, emotional, and educational needs of children is hard work. Carrying an infant, carrier, and diaper bag while running errands is hard work. None of it’s easy, and hiring help isn’t cheap. In fact, childcare has gotten so expensive it carries a heftier price tag than college in most American major cities.

There are more mothers unpaid now than there have been since the 1960s, as the prohibitive costs of childcare keep many unable to afford returning to the paid workforce. Hundreds of thousands or even millions of parents (overwhelmingly mothers) are barred from paid work, and unpaid for the work they do. This is a major problem that will mean sexist ideas are preserved for the next generation. 

Stay at home moms ARE working moms. All moms are. Mothering is work. It should be paid. 

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History of Everyday Things

History fascinates me because of the way things interact and connect. History is not a linear thread moving steadily through time. It’s a woven tapestry with threads for war and famine, social progress and new inventions. I like learning the history of everyday things, and thinking of all the missteps along the way. Every day I use an alarm clock, indoor plumbing, and soap before drinking my coffee. But where did these things come from and when did these become standard among the United States lower classes? 

My day starts with an alarm. Striking clocks, which hit a bell or chime at a set time, were invented by Chinese Buddhist monk Yi Xing in the early 700s. Various forms of mechanical striking clock have existed since, and were widely available in 1500s Europe. The United States experienced a serious alarm clock shortage in WW2 as factories that had made them were devoted to the war effort. Alarm clock production was approved to resume before the end of the war to address widespread chronic lateness. 

Once I’m up I use the bathroom. The first pull-chain flush toilet was described in a book by Sir John Harrington in 1596, but the infrastructure of sewage systems was not in place. Early toilets were safety hazards, as they allowed noxious gases to enter the home. In 1775 Scottish mechanic Alexander Cumming invented the S trap, which keeps water over the exit, preventing the rise of gas. This and similar modified trap designs are still in use today.  Indoor flush toilets became widely available to Britons starting in the mid 1800s but would not reach that popularity in the US before the 1890s. 

After that I wash my hands with soap, which humans have been making since at least 2800 BC in ancient Babylon and has been commercially sold in the US on an industrial scale since the 1880s when the Levar Brothers started manufacturing bars of hand washing soap. Their company is today called Unilever, and owns Dove, Axe, and several other brands. The world’s first large scale manufacturing of soap was in the twelfth century Islamic world. Damascus and Aleppo were leading producers. 

My morning then brings me to coffee, an Ethiopian plant recorded in the eleventh century. The earliest coffee drinkers brewed the leaves of the plant as a tea. Ottoman officials began the practice of roasting and grinding the beans to brew rather than the leaves. Coffeehouses proliferated, and became important social sites for intellectual debates, reading poetry, and sharing music in Ottoman (later Turkish) culture. While coffee has a centuries old tradition in Africa and the Middle East, tea was the preferred caffeine of American colonists. High tarrifs on tea imports and the Tea Party protest of 1773 made coffee the choice of American patriots. Tea has remained a second choice since. 

Every day is an opportunity to learn about history, and how interconnected the world is. My day starts with a Chinese Buddhist clock, a British and Scottish invented toilet, a Babylonian and Islamic wash solution, and an Ethiopian and Turkish beverage. Every day, my life is better than it otherwise could be because of countless unknown artisans and inventors. I may be an American who’s never left my country, but I can recognize the positive impact other cultures have had on mine. 

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Guest Post: Homophobia and Closets 2/2

Today’s post was written by Dirty Nerdy.

Even with the current state of research surrounding the phenomenon of homophobic men harboring latent homosexual feelings (aka: teh secret gayz), the research is still far away from suggesting all homophobes are secretly gay. And is very far away from any indication that homophobia can be used as a reliable indicator of a person’s possible homosexual tendencies. The one study that sort of vaguely supports this notion had only 64 test subjects, 35 of which made up the homophobic group, while 29 made up the non-homophobic group. If we’re going to make sweeping claims about the causes of homophobia, then I suggest we at least do so on the basis of more than 35 people who may or may not have shown a sexual response to gay porn. As far as I can tell, the incidence of closeted queer people is probably about the same regardless of their expressed queerphobia.

I’ve discussed why the research doesn’t support these claims. Now I’ll talk about the harm this idea causes.

Most of the time I don’t explicitly hear someone say “all homophobes are secretly gay”. Instead what I see is someone say “this particular homophobe is probably gay” on almost every article detailing the words and actions of bigots. You don’t have to explicitly say “all” if this claim comes up for every single bigot. If this suggestion gets trotted out every time a homophobe is mentioned, then it’s safe to say that there is an implication that the argument is “homophobes are secretly gay” –especially if it is always the same person bringing up the possibility.

There’s another layer to this. When somebody says “this homophobe is actually gay” every single time, it gives the impression that they are blaming gay people for our own oppression. After all, if the most virulently anti-gay people are all secretly gay, then clearly it’s us gay people who have a problem. To me, it’s as ridiculous a claim as saying that the Grand Wizard of the KKK must be secretly black. This is wrong on multiple levels as it is a form of victim blaming people who are already marginalized.

Many people use the abundance of anecdotes to make their point. I can’t tell you how many times I heard people say “of course Ted Haggard was secretly gay” back when that ‘scandal’ broke. Not only is this, again, blaming gay people for our own oppression, but it’s also a form of bi/pan/polysexual erasure. How do they know Haggard is gay? Because he had sex with men? Well he also clearly had sex with his wife. For all we know he could be bisexual, pansexual or polysexual. Immediately jumping to say that any queerphobic bigot who gets caught with their pants down is secretly gay is just another way to erase all other queer identities.

And of course, the idea that all homophobes are gay is another way for straight people to wash their hands of any responsibility they have for holding up or contributing to queer oppression. This rests on the false notion that there are non-homophobic straight people. Go back to the first problem I had with the 1996 study: you cannot simply categorize straight people as “homophobic” and “non-homophobic.” Straight people like to pretend that as long as they’re supporting gay marriage and not using slurs against us, then they must not be homophobic/queerphobic/transphobic/etc. Oppression is not that simple though. All straight people harbor a certain amount of homophobia and, intentionally or not, contribute to the oppression of queer people due to the fact that homophobia/queerphobia/transphobia is systemic.

Since this argument is often used to mock or taunt the homophobic person assumed to be closeted, it perpetuates the notion that it is okay to mock someone for being gay. This is especially rich when coming from supposed allies. They want to express support for queer people by shaming some people for being queer? Sorry straight people, you don’t get to do that. If you actually suspect somebody is closeted and they are dealing with their internalized bigotry in harmful ways, the best thing you can do is show them compassion and let them know that you are a safe person to talk to about their possibly latent queerness. Mocking or taunting them for being closeted is not going to help them. (If a homophobic closeted person needs to be mocked or taunted or otherwise angered at, we queer people can do it. It’s not the job of straight people to mock or taunt suspected queer people.)

It hurts and undermines the experiences of those of us (myself included) who struggled for years with internalized queerphobia and had to maintain a homophobic appearance as a survival mechanism. I grew up in a very queerphobic household. I was taught that being gay was a choice. I didn’t even know that other kinds of queer people existed until I was in college. Imagine poor bisexual gaybie me realizing at the age of 11 or 12 that I seemed to crush on people regardless of their gender. It was confusing and painful and the only messages I got from home and church and school was that being gay was a choice. I admit I did lash out once against a table of queer girls in 7th grade, but it was quite literally for my own survival. This was the year I was relentlessly taunted for being a d*ke. I was horrified one morning to sit down at a table with girls I didn’t know and find out they were all gay together. I didn’t want my bullies to see me with them because the verbal, physical and sexual assaults would only get worse. I made a big show of leaving the table and threw a couple slurs at them. I’m not proud of that moment. If I could find those girls now and apologize, I would.

Other than that one experience, most of my queerphobia was directed inward. I engaged in various forms of self harm that were not readily noticeable, such as practicing (I played marimba) for hours on end until my fingers bled. Staying up for days at a time and not letting myself sleep because I didn’t want to havethose dreams. Several attempts at suicide by overdose. And, of course, I kept a running monologue in my head of how disgusting I was.

This is why I urge straight allies who think they know someone who is closeted and simply lashing out to use compassion rather than mockery. They need to know they have a safe place and safe people to go to. If I had never found safe people, I probably never would have come out or embraced my queerness. It took years for me to be able to be open and happy about who I am. Your one off “haha i bet theyre gay” comment on a news article is NOT helpful.

Even those of us who were closeted homophobes form only a very small part of the massive system of oppression that queer people have to endure. We may have caused harm and contributed in small ways to the system, but that is merely a symptom, not the cause of queer oppression. Think about it. Why would someone be so afraid of coming out that they feel the need to lash out against other queer people? It’s because they live in a world that is so hostile to who they are that they would rather pretend to be part of that world than attempt to come out and take on that hostility. Queer people do not have the strength of numbers, capital or privilege to create an entire social system bent on oppressing us. We didn’t build this. You did. Own that, show compassion, and stop blaming queer people for the system that hurts us.
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