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Menstuff® has compiled information and books on Gay, Bi, and Transgender issues. This section is Robert N. Minor's weekly column featured daily on our homepage. Robert is the author of Scared Straight: Why It's So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It's So Hard to Be Human and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society and Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He may be reached through www.fairnessproject.org or at E-Mail.

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Tis the Season to Examine Myths


This Thanksgiving invoking the Norman Rockwell holiday - a mythological feast about pilgrims and Indians sitting down like buddies giving thanks to a version of the Christian god for a successful harvest – has past. Add the heart-warming scene of the harmonious American family, every member home for the holiday, sitting down happily together feeling blessed by their Maker for the over-eating opportunity their country has provided.

Whatever it’s real, less fanciful history, and however dysfunctional family get-togethers really are, this holiday season beginning with the American Thanksgiving is the perfect time to remind us as we count down to a major election in less than a year that nations promote many myths that sustain them.

In the field of religious studies, identifying a myth is not a comment on the historical accuracy of the story in question. History happened back then. But a myth is any story that says something meaningful to someone today.

It can be historically accurate (or not), but its power and meaning is that it informs, directs, justifies, and touches emotions about framing the present. And all countries have myths that teach from childhood what loyal citizens of the nation are supposed to believe about what it means to be American, French, Chinese, Egyptian, or whatever.

Beyond the religious myths of this season are the national myths that sanctify ideals that the powers that be want represented as part of national identity. They’re taught by schools and other institutions so incessantly that they become unquestionably so.

Whether or not George Washington ever really chopped down any cherry tree, we’re to understand that honesty is American, while those who teach it might be as dishonest as it takes for them to maintain privileged societal positions.

The power of these dominant myths can obscure any historical inaccuracy. And if so, they can teach ideas that are good for enforcing the way things are, with the current powers, prejudices, and expectations in place.

They discourage as hopeless the chances of anyone who wants to change the system and its power structure. And doubters and questioners are suspect of something like treason.

LGBTQ people, people of color, and others who’ve missed out on mainstream privileges, know the dominant myths about their communities that support prejudice. They stumble over them regularly -- running into those who’ve accepted myths about them without question and hearing them repeated in the media.

How fitting, then, when celebrating a season tied to Americana, to remember two major national myths that keep people disempowered. Myths that a deep reading of American history -- not the official history of our schools -- proves are historically false. Myths that if exploded would no longer hinder everyday people from believing that they can change things.

Myth 1: The salvation of this country is in electing great leaders who will solve our problems because presidents and other big heroes are responsible for America’s progress.

There are people who continue to expect some outsider from the business world to be some special savior. So they think that just supporting the right person would produce progress.

They didn’t want to believe that he too was already actually a part of an established system. They wanted to believe that he would be different enough in some heroic way to somehow change the old ways that transcend the two entrenched political parties, including the party in which he was skillful enough to climb to the top.

The historical reality is that this is not how populist change has ever taken place in the US no matter how much we think the solution would be the election of even another Lincoln or FDR.

It’s the social movements of the everyday people that moved our leaders. When so moved, leaders then took credit for what was accomplished as a result: “There go the people, let me get out in front of them and look like I’m leading.”

American historian Howard Zinn concludes from his exhaustive study that American mythology downplays, even omits, the importance of everyday people’s social movements and thus -- “a fundamental principle of democracy is undermined: the principle that it is the citizenry, rather than the government, that is the ultimate source of power and the locomotive that pulls the train of government in the direction of equality and justice.”

Myth 2: The wars we continually enter are forced on us by the needs of the American people but ended because of the heroics of great leaders. Yes, there might have been a few “bad” wars, but they were necessary.

Historically, it’s the exact opposite. Zinn shows that war “is manufactured by political leaders, who then must make a tremendous effort – by enticement, by propaganda, by coercion – to mobilize a normally reluctant population to go to war.”

In 1917 the government sent 75,000 lecturers around the country to give 750,000 lectures to persuade the people that it was right to enter World War I. Thousands of people were put on trial and imprisoned to suppress opposition.

FDR, as James Polk before him for the Mexican War, Lyndon Johnson after him for the Vietnam War, and George W. Bush for the Iraq War, had to lie to the American people to convince them to support entrance into World War II.

Historian Thomas Bailey, portrays this in what he thinks is a positive light: “Franklin Roosevelt repeatedly deceived the American people during the period before Pearl Harbor… like a physician who must tell the patient lies for the patient’s own good... because the masses are notoriously shortsighted and generally cannot see danger until it is at their throats.”

Wars begin for business reasons and end when the people have had enough. Everyday people and their movements force an end when they rise up, realize their power, and demand change.

The fact that these two basic national myths (there are others) are untrue is a reminder that, yes, we’re not stuck with the present. We can make change.

It’s not hopeless if we choose to act in hope. We don’t have to even wait for the right leader, Democrat or Republican, to do the right thing.

Zinn: “no pitifully small picket line, no poorly attended meeting, no tossing out of an idea to an audience or even to an individual should be scorned as insignificant.”

Before the election season is in full swing, the holidays are a good time to prepare by rereading the history beneath our national myths. How about, Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492 – Present?

Can I Have A Conversation with You Anyway?


It’s hardly news now to say that the country is polarized, that arguments with those in the personality cult of this president and those left in his party rarely hinge on facts, and that when someone cites a news source that shows presidential misconduct or worse, the automatic defense is to call it “fake news.”

Though we’d prefer to believe that facts matter to people and that a good-faith conversation with those with whom we disagree will produce something constructive, the odds of so many conversations with those who disagree with us producing agreement are slimmer than ever.

Over the years, book after book have appeared advising how to navigate difficult conversations. The most recent was published in September entitled How to Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide. It’s well worth the read if you’re committed to work with those around you.

One reality to face first is that such informed conversation attempts are unlikely to represent a two-way street. It’s going to be at the behest of the liberal in the dialogue.

Likewise, it’s likely that the people from the ideological right-wing who should read this book, won’t pick it up or see any need to do so. Their intent is often to add numbers to their entrenched position because that’s confirmation that they’re right.

Liberal people who are willing to challenge prejudice are far more interested in understanding how to have such conversations because they’re more likely to have faith that dialogue is effective and valuable. Such hope comes out of a view of human beings that doesn’t easily give up and a worldview that is open to nuanced thinking.

One of the difficulties of such conversations today, then, is how many people are not ready to engage, to learn, and to consider alternative opinions, especially if holding their current position enforces the fact that they have not been duped or couldn’t be wrong. We talk often of a moveable middle as opposed to those who will remain stuck, but even that middle has shrunk.

People who hold prejudices have built their thinking and self-definition upon them for years, decades. So the very existence of someone standing in front of them who does not agree is a major threat to the comfort of how they define their world and themselves in terms of their prejudices.

It takes an openness and fellow-human-feeling of compassion to hear, weigh, and be open to the truth of a challenging position. These discussions, then, aren’t about facts, differing opinions, and philosophical options, but about self-definition and self-worth.

They’re about the willingness to change without fear of losing oneself. And especially arguments that invoke religious justifications are about those very things – who am I, what does the Divine think of me, what must I sacrifice of my worldview to change?

If someone believes they are a better person because of the position they hold, it’s difficult to go on. “Morality binds and blinds.” And that’s what religion enforces.

"If you’re engaged in a moral conversation,” the authors remind us, “your discussion is always—whether overtly or covertly—about identity issues. When you’re talking to an ideologue (or anyone else), it might appear that the conversation is about facts and ideas, but you’re inevitably having a discussion about morality, and that, in turn, is inevitably a discussion about what it means to be a good or bad person. Decoding this connection is vital."

If we are interested in discussion with someone in that “moveable middle” as opposed to someone the authors call extreme, we enter an ambiguous place because that very “middle” maintains a spectrum of beliefs with differing possibilities for change.

What might begin as a helpful dialogue with someone using the techniques that the authors’ recommend can reach am impasse that means it’s time to end the conversation.

As the authors point out, for example: “If someone’s reasoning makes no sense, there’s a good chance they reason that way to justify a (moral) belief that cannot otherwise be justified.”

Any such attempt at dialogue must first of all mean we are clear about our goals. These vary as to whether we are talking with someone who is a relative or friend who will be in our lives even in disagreement. We’ll have to ask how much the relationship means.

It will also depend upon the time and energy we are willing and able to put into the conversation in front of us. Does it distract from encouraging those who are already in the choir who need to be encouraged to sing? Or does the time it involves affect how much is left for others who need our support.

Remember that no conversation is the one that societal change depends upon. Often it’s best to walk away without guilt.

But just being there as a living, breathing human being who is clear about the beliefs we hold firm in contrast is the best challenge we can make for those who think everyone must surely agree with them. And then, it’s important that the person know that we disagree without apology for the disagreement.

Above all, being a model of how a human being should be is important. This not only means common moral decency and reasonable reactions, but taking personal responsibility for our own positions and expecting others to do the same.

We expect people to believe what they believe after thinking about the facts of a matter, but when their reasoning is based on a prior-ideology which claims that it came from God, the Bible, tradition, an institution, or some leader’s opinion, belief in that gets blamed on that other and their responsibility for its acceptance is forgone.

No longer are they in a responsible conversation with you. They are pushing the discussion into something not discussable. They are no longer moveable by discussion.

There is no argument. In fact, getting into an argument is likely to enforce the opposing position.

So our sole responsibility becomes to say merely: “I want to be clear that you and I disagree about that.” And repeat as needed.

These Trump Years Expose a Class of the Psychopathic Rich and The Game They Play


One of the stark revelations of these years of the Trump presidency is that he’s a member of an uber-rich class of psychopaths and sociopaths. Whether they’re his lawyers, his billionaire buddies, CEOs who benefit from his cruelty, or those whom he has appointed to his administration, they believe in a ruthless definition of success that is out of touch with the morality of everyday Americans.

These are the people who’ve been admired by Capitalism for playing a rough and tumble game of high-stakes poker that takes no prisoners, leaves other players devastated, and cares nothing about any collateral damage (human or otherwise) that’s left in its wake.

Progressives don’t play the game well because they’re not into amoral war games. They want authenticity, community, honesty, and shared wealth instead, and don’t even want to believe anyone would play so cold-bloodedly.

But it is ruthless -- a “man’s” game. Those who won’t play it must be prepared to have their masculinity questioned.

It’s a game of the good ole’ rich white boys club. It lays down race, gender, class, and power cards.

And it’s been shown that those who play it best are psychopaths. “Troubling research indicates that in the ranks of senior management, psychopathic behavior may be more common than we think – more prevalent in fact than the amount such seriously aberrant behavior occurs in the general population.”

Or as Jon Ronson, author of The Psychopathic Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry summarizes: “I think my book offers really good evidence that the way that capitalism is structured really is a physical manifestation of the brain anomaly known as psychopathy.”

It’s a game that those working class people who admire such manliness aspire to play. They’ll cheer and vote for its winners in spite of losses these admirers have already suffered.

It’s played in boardrooms and stock exchanges, a game that admires CEOs who personally win when their companies lose. It’s a game of wheelers and dealers who outsmart, outplay, and out-power.

It’s a game that values rogues like playboy, frat boy, sowed-his-wild-oats, strutting George W. Bush and braggart Donald Trump.

Its players are womanizers who know how to play, and treat women the way good ole’ boys do. Women must play their game. So pointing out how they use women actually furthers their hero status in the locker-room stories of the other boys.

Think of Bret Maverick, the gambler of the 1957-1962 TV series of that name. He never settled down, knew how to take other men for their holdings, flimflammed adversaries, charmed women and left ‘em.

Think of Tom Cruise in Top Gun, who’s handle was Maverick because he was a “hot shot.” He knew how to be a player, valued the play over the consequences, and was admired not for his integrity or compassion but as a “man’s man.”

These are the good ole’ boys’ the game crowns its winner. They lie, cheat, and even steal as if there is nothing wrong with any of it as long as they come out on top.

What would bring a guilty conscience and even overwhelming feelings of disgrace to others is considered business ethics to them. As Ronson says, these are “dangerous predators who lack the behavioral controls and tender feelings the rest of us take for granted.”

These players admire the man who makes a killing in the stock market while others suffer, works the system to come out on top, lets the rest eat his dust, wins while others lose.

Usually others lose so that he can win the whole pot. Their destruction makes it all the sweeter.

They admire the man who knows what the game is, knows it’s a game, and gets his kicks by playing. He keeps a poker face. He lets people know only what he wants them to know, not what they need to know.

He knows “when to hold em” and “when to fold em.” He’s good at reading other people’s faces -- not to empathize with them and their plight, but to use their weaknesses, misplays, fears, and insecurities for his own victory.

And they like women who know what the rules of the game played by good ole’ boys are; women who are willing to take a woman’s place at the table. When the maverick finally settles down, it’s with a “looker,” not just any woman: like a beauty pageant contestant who knows how to play by, not question, the rules.

She is more than just a trophy. She fits the motherhood images, fusing the old right-wing idealism of a mom who appears to put husband and family first, but not the reality most right-wing families face – the mother juggling this ideal with work outside the home to make it financially.

The good ole’ boys are proud of the way as real men they can protect “their woman” while still reminding us they they’re just women. They discovered a new word to bandy about at every criticism of her: “sexism.”

They know how all of this gamesmanship can appeal to those white working class voters who aspire to be a Maverick, or Cruise’s flyboy. That version of the American dream was applied to politics by Karl Rove and his disciples since.

It’s tied to a ruthless, kill-or-be-killed image of manhood that feminists of all genders have questioned.

It’s hard to believe that a class of people like this exist, but now we have seen it played out as they’re exposed as ruthless, cruel, misogynists and pedophiles for whom the only measure of goodness is getting what they want.

Certainly now we should recognize this game, face the fact (against all our liberal fantasies) that it’s real, ruthless and heartless, notice how it destroys the vulnerable around us, never miss an opportunity to expose it, and, most importantly, stay on task by speaking from the real values we hold in contrast, values we take too seriously to play games about.

Are These the Deep, Dark Secrets of Those Who Can’t Quit a Cruel President?


“Poisonous pedagogy” is what the late, world-renowned Swiss psychotherapist Alice Miller called dominant Western methods of child-rearing. That label has always been hard to swallow.

We’d rather deny it. We’re assuming it’s getting better. But Miller was deadly serious.

But are the extremes of this pedagogy what lie beneath the cult of a cruel president?

Miller’s writings were extensive and important, including For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence (1990), Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society’s Betrayal of the Child (1998), and The Truth Will Set You Free: Overcoming Emotional Blindness and Finding Your True Adult Self (2001).

In each she challenged what was considered “normal” parenting in past generations.

Miller called for a total revision of the methods we use and how we view children. She described how parents, who haven’t dealt with the effects of the poisonous pedagogy of their own parents, project their ideas, feelings, and dreams on their children.

Children then learn that to survive they must honor and obey their parents while repressing memories, feelings, and attempts to be themselves. They must learn to conform, suppress their curiosity and emotions, and become intolerant, even afraid, of deviations from what they’ve learned.

This parenting, we sincerely believed, is “for their own good.” In order not to face the pains, humiliations, disappointments, tragedies, and abuses of our own up-bringing, we won’t look deeply at the issue, but refuse to take our own childhood feelings and experiences seriously.

As a result, we become unaware of what really happened. We’re convinced that anything we went through was good for us, character-building, or necessary training to get along in the real world.

“My childhood wasn’t that bad.” “I turned out okay,” we respond, even if our childhood was frankly abusive.

Our culture still tends to teach children to blame themselves as if adults are innocent and children born guilty. And as the magnitude of child abuse in our culture continues to come to the surface, we prefer to deny it.

We learned to defend our parents and blame ourselves for any negative things they have done and our inabilities to rise above them.We want to protect parents, to let them off the hook.

We want to say they were well-meaning, even if they were screwed-up. We want to tell adult children that they must forgive their parents.

And the worst Commandment - used to support the illusion that parenting is just fine and children need to get over it - Miller adds, is “Honor your father and your mother.”

So, as adults we deal with depression, surprising amounts of anger, self-defeating internal messages, low self-esteem, and patterns of actions through which we constantly attempt to prove we’re really not stupid, insignificant, abandoned, or worthless.

We’re still not supposed to add to “Well my parents did the best they could (given their own upbringing),” the realization that actually they might have been incapable of giving us all we needed as children.

Parents so needed their children to fulfill their own unmet childhood needs that they couldn’t love them unconditionally, couldn’t let them grow in their own ways, couldn’t always fully be there, couldn’t take children’s feelings seriously, or couldn’t affirm, respect, and believe their children.

And when children learn to suppress their feelings, they learn not to feel what’s really going on around them. They often become violent.

Let’s not blame violence on TV. Children who have really been loved and protected, Miller asserts, are uninterested in violent movies and video games!

The child who was hurt and humiliated, maybe not by parents but at school, will seek an object to hate and on which to take revenge. The abuser was always abused. Violent people were brought up violently.

And often they were also taught to deny their histories. These memories are unbearably painful and one way not to feel the pain of childhood is to hurt or kill innocent people.

This is not to blame parents. They don’t get much help either.

Much of the mainstream thinks this is the way it should be as long as parents don’t go to extremes. It doesn’t take alternative ideas seriously.

It just doesn’t want to face the hurts many of us felt as children. Parents are left to pass along the methods of their parents, though they often improve them somewhat. And fixing this through permissiveness will not be the answer either.

Parents are given little support. They’re taught to rely on an inadequate consumer-driven nuclear family model that’s guaranteed to exhaust them. They’re told to discipline children by hitting, yelling at, and humiliating them.

But Miller is blunt. Research, she said, proves conclusively that no one learns anything positive from punishment. They only learn how to avoid more punishment through lies, pretense, and diversion. They also learn how to punish a child later.

Little children are naturally tolerant. They think it’s wrong to be hurt. It makes sense to them that people who are hurting or left out should be helped.

They have a sense of fairness. They don’t object to showing affection to others of either sex.

They expect human beings to cry out when they’re in need. They look intently at others until they’re told not to stare.

They expect the best of other humans until they’re taught not to trust. They laugh more, cry more, observe more, and dream more.

They do things that are inefficient, unproductive, and outside of box defined by our Capitalist society. The world is theirs for exploring and loving.

Children aren’t naturally homophobic either. They don’t naturally think that sexuality is dirty.

They aren’t naturally racist. They have to be taught this.

Childishness, of course, ends. We call it growing up.

And it continues to end sooner than ever as we push younger and younger children to be like us adults -- the adults who seek to buy fulfillment, use addictive coping mechanisms, are unhappy with their looks, and read books to improve their self-esteem and the many things they don’t like about themselves.

When children enforce on each other the prejudices and inadequacies they were taught by grown-ups, we call it peer pressure.

Not surprisingly, this poisonous pedagogy installs and enforces homophobia and prejudice against LGBTQ people. As generation after generation moves away from its methods, we’re slowly also moving away from the search for others to blame for society’s problems.

Still, we’re seeing those who won’t face the deep personal hurts of their parenting. They couldn’t bear to tell the truth about their parents.

They might be right-wingers, ultra-conservative evangelists and politicians, anti-gay leaders, or others who prefer to blame LGBTQ people. They say, “I was hit, hurt, etc. and I turned out okay.” Anti-LGBTQ efforts are less painful to them than feeling the pains of their childhood.

There’s probably no anti-LGBTQ person who has fully faced their own up-bringing. One way to avoid doing so is to focus hate, prejudice, arrogance, and disgust on LGBTQ people.

So, I’ll bet, that’s what their problem is. It’s not LGBTQ people or the others they scapegoat.

It’s their inability to face their childhoods. They really need therapy.

These are Uniquely Perilous Times for Equality. So What Now?


When it comes to human rights, we’re in a very different time than ever before. LGBTQ people had made much headway, improved their positives in public polling, and convinced an increasing number that they deserve to be considered as full American citizens.

But this time is dangerous because anti-LGBTQ remains a major factor in the playbook of Republican politics as conservative politicians continue to court the extreme religious right-wing; because the Party as a result has put “the convinced” in the legislature and judiciary who actually do believe that LGBTQ people deserve a second-class status at most; and because it’s tempting to let things slide by with some false hope of future security.

Likewise, many leaders who became heroes in the right-wing religious movements by gaining their notoriety with anti-LGBTQ rhetoric know that an anti-LGBTQ position is the only thing that will continue to keep them in the spotlight. To give it up is to lose attention and likely the sheep who adoringly follow them.

Though rational responses have been repeated for almost a half of a century countering all those arguments that the right-wing uses to keep anti-LGBTQ bigotry going, those same tired anti-LGBTQ arguments continue to be regurgitated because they enforce a prejudice that feels familiarly comfortable in those who are used to them and reject changing their minds. Changing ones mind means admitting one was wrong and even that ones wrong view hurt many human beings.

In 2015, back before the radical reversal attempts of the Trump-led Republican Party, Michelangelo Signorile warned activists in a book that still is must reading, that even with wins such as marriage equality the fact is that It’s Not Over. The narrative that LGBTQ people have produced, he said, a “victory blindness” that seduced many to pull back as if equality has really been attained, is dangerously shortsighted.

The reality he documented is that in the midst all those victories, forces ramped up their strategies to roll back gains and prevent full equality. And the answer is not to sit on our laurels or accept mere tolerance.

“In fact, it’s time for us to be intolerant – intolerant of all forms of homophobia, transphobia, and bigotry against LGBT people,” he warned. “It’s time that all of us who support LGBT equality no longer agree to disagree on full civil rights for LGBT people. Anything less than full acceptance and full civil rights must be defined as an expression of bias, whether implicit or not.”

With the current administration’s active, relentless, and hateful rolling back of any gains, much less its prevention of any further wins, with the current administration’s population of the federal judicial system with those who’ve been outspokenly against LGBTQ equality, we can’t just sit around and wait for new generations to take over. We need a strategy for these times before all that the right-wing has on its agenda is firmly reestablished.

Recognize the affect of the rise of power of the religious and nationalist right-wings.

Power has always been their goal. By empowering them and modeling their bigotry, this administration has brought them into the open so that they can act to hurt others with a righteous feeling that they’re on a government-approved and Divine cause.

Hate crimes are rising across the board. LGBTQ people are just one of the scapegoats for their anger. And doing nothing means hate crimes will continue to increase even in locations we thought were safe. Real human beings will continue to be destroyed.

Everyone needs to realize what is now being chipped away and that it can eventually be virtually gone.

Nothing is as settled as we thought it was. The forces working to undo rights are on a well-funded and militant crusade. Corporations that wave rainbow flags to get our money are still funding those who hate LGBTQ peoples.

Their model is how they’ve been eating away at Roe v Wade. It would be nice to rest on our laurels, but we don’t have that luxury today.

Silence now is not only consent, but an act of privilege.

Not acting, advocating, and demanding action from our politicians contributes to the hurting other people. Playing down who we are or ignoring what is happening to others will eventually come around to bite us.

Those who’ve forgotten, or never known, what it took to get LGBTQ people to the place they are now, need to be educated. And that needs to take place by example, not shaming.

There are generations now who don’t realize what it took to get here and what it will take to keep us here.

“We need to galvanize people in a way that makes them invested in changing our schools,” Signorile wrote, “and making sure that LGBT history and culture are taught in an age-appropriate way as part of the curriculum from kindergarten through twelfth grade.’

Now is not the time to disable the institutions that we have put in place as if they’re no longer needed.

We need organizations like PFLAG, local community centers, and national advocates like the NLGBQ Task Force more than ever even if we’re privileged enough to feel we personally are above discrimination.

Working with other movements should be the standard by now.

That all oppressions are related can only be denied by people who don’t see the inter-connectedness of all discrimination and bigotry. Not only do we need allies when our issues are at stake, but we need to see how fighting racism, anti-immigrant policies, sexism, transphobia, able-bodiedism, classism, and even environmental degradation benefits the LGBTQ community.

The academic word is “intersectionality.” Defined by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw it “is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects. It’s not simply that there’s a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there. Many times that framework erases what happens to people who are subject to all of these things.”

The reality is that these are uniquely dangerous times. Denial, settling, and crossing ones fingers won’t do.

The Religious Right-Wing’s Sexual Sickness Destroys Their Lives But Remains Central to Their Religion Addiction


A new book by University of Oklahoma sociology of religion professor Samuel L. Perry entitled Addicted to Lust: Pornography in the Lives of Conservative Protestants goes beyond the usual unsurprising studies that show that anti-porn red states use more porn than blue ones. It explores how pornography messes up the lives of those caught up in right-wing Christian ideology.

Without making any moral claims about pornography in general, Perry concludes that pornographic use “seems to be uniquely harmful to conservative Protestants’ mental health, their sense of self, their own identities—certainly their intimate relationships—in ways that don’t tend to be as harmful for people who don’t have that kind of moral problem with it.”

Can we say cognitive/emotional/religious dissonance? And the problem isn’t in the pornography itself. It becomes manifest in conservative Christians’ hypocrisy which is rooted in the poor self images its ideology thrives upon.

Perry: “What I’m able to show is that a lot of that negative association between your porn use and your relationship quality hinges on whether or not you think it’s morally wrong. Or whether you think the Bible is the word of God. Or how often you attend church.”

Right-wing Christian ideology, remember, begins with the lowest of what therapists might call low self-images. You, because you’re a human being are thoroughly sinful and lost – you’re so inherently bad that the model of righteousness and love in the universe (not surprisingly a Heavenly Father) thinks you deserve unimaginable and eternal punishment.

As a reliably common activity, sexual actions are easily used to preach that this is true. Canonized sexual obsession goes as far back as the so-called father of Christian theology, Saint Augustine, who basically recommended repression.

This repression and demonization of sexual activity is a major reason why what many call sexual addiction, or at least the inability to be comfortable with one’s sexuality beyond denial and suppression, is tied to people trying to substitute another addictive activity – religion - to cover over any resulting issues.

The fact that this is just not healthy, and the belief that it evidences how bad one is, lead to obsession with it under the cover of divinely required moral purity. No wonder why those who are most critical of other people’s sexual lives are often exposed as overly-obsessed themselves with the very sex they condemn.

And hypocrisy that condemns others so as not to face the inner demons that plague much of the right-wing is well-known. Harvard Business School’s Benjamin Edelman spoke of this in a 2009 study of pornography users: “Some of the people who are most outraged turn out to be consumers of the very things they claimed to be outraged by.”

The surprise would be that anyone is surprised by that.

His study looked at credit card data from 2006-2007 that indicated online purchases of pornography. Thus, it measured not merely those who consume porn online but those who actually subscribe to it, the more dedicated users

Eight of the top ten pornography subscribing states voted for the Republican presidential candidate. Six of the lowest ten voted for the Democrat. Residents of Mormon-dominated Utah were the largest per capita subscribers to porn.

Residents of twenty-seven states that had gay marriage bans back then had 11% more pornography subscribers than those that didn’t. States where the majority of residents agreed with the statement: “I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage” were higher subscribers than those where the majority disagreed.

Edelman tied the results to previous studies of attitudes toward religion. It was almost humorous to hear that “church-goers” bought less online porn on Sundays whereas their expenditures on other days of the week were in line with everyone else.

It’s not hard to find explanations for the hypocrisy displayed in these and other more recent studies, such as those surveying which states have the highest divorce rates.

Edelman speculated: “One natural hypothesis is something like repression: if you’re told you can’t have this, then you want it more.”

Bingo! As addiction specialists know: “repression leads to obsession.”

In the middle of a culture that’s sick about sexual activity, and a dominant right-wing religious message that sex is dirty (So: “Save it for the one you love.”), there’s much more involved.

Railing against sex is popular. It’s proven religiously lucrative as a result. The cultural sexual anxiety fomented by the right-wing also provides the guilt and shame it needs to recruit its victims.

Religious addiction leads the right-wing to fantasize against all evidence, including their sexual experiences, that abstinence-only education promotes their sectarian values and discourages sex.

Then again, projection of one’s sexual insecurities and shame on others is a time-tested way to suppress ones own issues. Note the simultaneous fundamentalist condemnation of and obsession with same-sex sexual activity.

Religious addiction is also a standard way to repress (not heal) sexual anxiety, guilt, shame, and addiction. Then it labels the sexual activity of those without sexual anxieties sick and sinful.

Amanda Marcotte, in her witty classic It’s a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments, underlined another issue - the main selling-point of straight porn is its basis in gender stereotyping.

It’s geared toward men, not women, and the right-wing’s own worldview tells men to marry a “good girl.” You know she’s “good” because she’s not enthused about sex, especially sexual experimentation.

But males, the gender stereotype continues, are obsessed with sex and experimental sexual behaviors. You can’t do that with your “good” wife. So, you’ve got to turn to the “bad” women online.

For some it goes further, Marcottte notes, with the appeal of porn that shows men insulting, spitting upon, raping, or coercing women. A sexually liberated, feminist culture, she argues, would have less need for huge amounts of porn.

Before that happens, what we’ll continue to see and, I hope, be non-enabling enough to call out, is the scapegoating of everyone else for the sexual sickness of the right-wing. The more miserable they are, the more their denial must, and will, produce lies and hypocrisy.

Now we know that to confront them as an intervention, rather than be enablers, would be the best thing we could do for the right-wing’s own health.

How to Win the Next Election By Not Feeding the Mainstream Media What It Wants


When confronted by members of the national corporate media, people seem to be flattered by the fact that someone is asking them for their opinions. There’s an element of ego-stroking, even for the most upper-level politicians, when a well-known reporter or commentator considers them important enough to ask them a question.

What this means is that some people feel they must answer questions in a media world that’s looking for fifteen-second sound bites, a 24/7 corporate cable-news driven media that is looking for controversy, especially anything that will fit their current meme: “the Democrats are in disarray.”

(I’m not talking about the thoughtful, dedicated, low-paid, usually local reporters that work hard to get their stories right and with some nuance.)

What surprises me is how some of the top national Democratic personalities fall for this and cooperatively stir the pot. I’m not sure why leaders do this so regularly, but am convinced that in doing so they’re isolating many who would otherwise work for, and get out to vote for, Democrats, splitting the vote further, and making it easier for the current presidential office holder to win a second term.

There must be some highly-paid and highly regarded, old-boy consultants encouraging Democrats to do this in spite of the fact that it hasn’t brought the kind of consistent success in presidential elections that a party with the best middle-class policies should have. And in 2016 it brought us the current mess.

We can’t change the minds or win over the 20-30% who are authoritative personalities and religious addicts. They need an egotistic dictator for president no matter how those media pundits continue to act wise by repeating that Democrats must appeal to them. Trying to do that turns off a base that is more likely to vote if enthused.

So, not that anyone listens to me – I am refusing to get into the destructive online candidate criticism game at this point -, here are just some principles that will control the national media and ultimately bring out the wide spectrum of people that make up potential Democratic voters.

Ominously, from what I’m reading, this is already counter to what Democratic leaders, and some of the rest of us, are doing.

Don’t answer questions about what you’re going to do unless you’re a presidential candidate talking about policy proposals you plan to implement when you’re in office.

Whether it’s impeachment or investigations, keep the opposing party and the media guessing. They don’t need to know, but answering these questions diverts the discussion to where the media loves it - the debate itself and the disagreements, rather than focusing on the crimes and offenses of a current administration.

All questions should be answered with “Everything is on the table.” Message discipline is important here.

This can be repeated without explanation. And, actually, it should be the truth because the issues are complex so we don’t know what will develop.

Never put down another member or a branch of your party publicly.

Ronald Reagan popularized an “Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican. It's a rule I followed during that campaign and have ever since.”

It’s good advice today as well. As a Party leader, don’t publicly make any statements that put down the leftists or centrists in the Party.

Every elected official has a constituency. By criticizing that person, you’re dissing all who voted for them and probably losing influence over them forever.

This means don’t give advice to the Party that it’s going too far to the left. That’s not taken as constructive or valuable just because one of the Party bigwigs says it. To believe that you saying it is going to change those others is hubris.

Such putting down others is instead taken as something meant to stifle free thinking, something that tries to get everyone to fall in line behind some great leader. It only impresses those who already agree as well as those who are authoritative personalities – most of whom are stuck in the other Party.

Refer instead to the “exciting variety of opinions in the big tent of Democrats who encourage free and creative thinking.” Talk about the “wide field of talent” available for the primaries while the other Party is moribund and stuck.

Allow the primary process to go forward. To try to manipulate it with putdowns manifests fear that the majority doesn’t actually agree with you. That’s playing the Republicans own shameful game of voter intimidation and disenfranchisement.

Speak as if you believe in what you’re doing and as if you can do it.

Everyone knows that things come up that mean our plans must be adjusted. But in this day and age, people want forceful leadership not ifs, ands, and buts.

Impress us with bold ideas that express your values. Talk as if you really believe in them.

That’s what will convince us that you do believe in them.

Everyone remembers the phrase “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” but few can recite an equivalent from the other side. Was it because liberal ideas were so loaded with qualifications?

Or was “Hate Is Not a Family Value” scared out of us because some right-winger responded: “Are you accusing me of hate?” And we couldn’t take someone disliking us?

Sometimes doing things incrementally will have to be done, but don’t let us think that your incremental change is all you’ve got. If you really mean it to be incremental, let us know where you go after that.

Assume that what you hear online and in social media is meant to divide potential Democratic voters - even if the story is true.

We know that foreign influences are not only spreading falsehoods and interpreted stories to targeted folks on social media but that they’re also targeting Democrats with reputable stories to affect those demographics of social media.

Spreading these stories, even if true, might feel just and righteous, but doing so aids in their divide and conquer strategies and separates us from those we want to influence. Few candidates’ followers are going to be changed, especially if they already know whom we support.

Promote your own candidate or candidates, if you have made a decision, but remember that the goal of the other party and its foreign bots is for us to pass along negative stories about the others. Analyses have shown that negative campaigning does not gain support for your candidate but only discourages others from voting at all.

And sometimes all of us (even our leaders) need to remember: the best thing to say is nothing.

Dialogue with Right-Wingers? Wouldn’t It Be Nice?


“Bipartisanship,” conservative anti-tax activist Grover Norquist once said, “is another name for date rape.” His analogy fits comfortably with radical right-wing views, now called conservative. If they were to try to work with liberals, these conservatives continue to preach, it would be corrupting.

That must be disheartening to “moderates” who really want to believe that sitting down in discussion with those who disagree is one of the few hopes for civilization. And liberals have bent over backwards to work along side right-wing exteremists and struggled to bring conservatives into discussions.

Some take any conservative consideration of more moderate positions as a sign of legitimacy. And they work really hard to see that right-wing views are included.

This desire to believe in the power of dialogue, conversation, and working together is a desperate one. Should moderates have to face the idea that times changed back in the Newt Gingrich era so that putting all ones eggs into the dialogue basket is futile, they’d probably fall into depression, denial, and hopelessness.

The times, however, have changed whether we like it or not. As Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning playwright, Tony Kushner observed: "What used to be called liberal is now called radical, what used to be called radical is now called insane, what used to be called reactionary is now called moderate, and what used to be called insane is now called solid conservative thinking."

Right-wing leaders have become a stubbornly immovable force. Since Gingrich, they’re politically so uninterested in collegiality and compromise that they turned Congress into a hostile club uninterested in dissenting viewpoints. Any hint of resistance through filibusters were countered with threats of a "nuclear option" and accusations of treason and collusion with terrorism.

They’re used to right-wing religious leaders sanctifying the existence of polarity and partisanship in God’s name. The Dobsons, Robertsons, Grahams and Falwells paint anyone who disagrees as satanic, evil, intentionally destructive enemies whose only hope would be full embrace, without compromise, of their sectarian religious standards.

Merely making room for consideration of disagreement is evidence that one is on the side of the enemies of Truth. Right-wing Focus on the Family boss James Dobson, for example, back in a 1996 condemned “tolerance” as: “kind of a watchword of those who reject the concepts of right and wrong…. It’s kind of a desensitization to evil of all varieties.”

Their followers range from those who have too much at stake in these uncompromisingly either/or, us/them fortresses to consider change, to those who aren’t sure whether there’s even a place for other viewpoints. Conservative media continualluy reinforces for them that all thinking is in black and white.

Waking up to the fact that in many cases we’re no longer ready for dialogue means that moderates and liberals have things that need to be done before dialogue can take place. Yet doing what it will take to prepare for dialogue often seems not to be in liberal genes.

It’s not that there isn’t a moveable middle for whom dialogue could seem sensible. That middle is probably the largest group of people in the US.

It’s just that the middle must still to be convinced that there’s a real dialogue to be had. The right-wing perfected the technique of bombarding people with the idea that there’s only one sane position.

“Liberals,” “leftists,” “socialists,” and even moderates have nothing worthwhile to say. Their positions, the right-wing teaches, are not worth considering.

Those who think dialogue alone will save us sstill haven’t faced the fact that they first need to gain a hearing for their own beliefs. They’re still surprised when right-wing debaters don’t respect them enough to give them a chance.

Right-wing representatives shut them out, shout them down, fabricate data, butt in, name-call, and do everything else that to liberals doesn’t seem like the actions of nice ladies and gentlemen.

There was a day when such bullying tactics were seen for what they are – absence of evidence, logic, or credibility in the user. They turned off outside observers as actions of someone who just isn’t nice enough to be respected.

Today, however, these uncivil techniques are seen -- outside aghast liberals --as proof that the right-winger has conviction. In a nation where many are on the verge of exploding with deep-seated, poorly-focused anger, even angry outbursts gain respect. They touch the emotions.

Polite, deferent, unemotional liberals, in contrast, appear too caught up in their manners (“civility”) to care about the issue at hand. They come across as so privileged that they can look down upon anyone for whom these issues matter on a gut level.

That means a desperation to compromise and find common ground are no longer first options in the broader debate. Dialogue, trialogue, or other give-and-take processes can only take place effectively once the view one holds has established itself in people’s minds as worthy of consideration, as a valued option, as something to even notice.

Convincing people that there are other passionately held positions doesn’t require repetition of the offensive tactics of the right-wing. It calls for assertiveness and, at least, the appearance of sustained conviction and passion.

It means, actually, that we must not appear too quick to compromise.

It means that we must first learn to argue effectively for what we believe. It requires actions that convince others we really do believe in what we believe and that we are passionately convinced that what we believe is true and effective.

It means the end of looking wishy-washy in any way.

People need to see evidence of conviction. They want to know that we believe as much as what we believe.

They need time to be convinced that progressive views are respectable again. They need to sit for awhile with the sense that what progressives believe is uncompromising and that we passionately disagree with the right-wing.

Then they’ll be ready to become a working part of a gathering of people who want representatives of all viable views to sit down around the table and work something out for the sake of the community. They’ll see that there is an advantage to consideration of more than one viewpoint.

We Must Be Able to Understand A Human Being Unlike Us?


“You can’t understand me because you haven’t had my experience.”

“I’m ___________ , you’re not, so how can you know what being my group experiences?”

These words surely remind us that we should hesitate to speak for another and that no two human beings have the exact same life stories. They should evoke humility when conversing with and responding to another human being.

They can be spoken from the depths of the systemic oppressions that are a part of the warp and woof of our culture. One of the characteristics of any of the privileged statuses that remain endemic to society is the feeling that the privileged group is the one that’s entitled to define those without that privilege and to interpret their experiences – what is and is not really privilege, oppression, offensive, normal, and significant enough is taken more seriously when described by the privileged group.

LGBT people know the feeling. People of color know it. Women know it. The physically challenged know it. The poor know it.

Taken to the extreme, though, these words also prevent progress in the healing of the various isms that separate us. They can divide us more, promote isolation, and keep us from being allies while they cement almost impenetrably the actual oppression in our minds.

They neglect what we do have in common as human beings – we’ll call it whatever we mean by our common humanity. And they render hopeless any attempts to understand another.

In its extreme this leaves us in the pickle that no one can understand anyone else. It means the oppressed can’t really understand the oppressor either and thus can’t knowingly talk about what oppressors think or feel.

It means there’s nothing to be said on either side – a straight man, for example, can’t understand a gay man, but the gay man can’t understand what’s going on with the straight man either. It means that since no two experiences even in our group are alike, we can’t even generalize our experience to anyone else in our category or speak for the category and know someone outside it can’t understand.

It means that the claim itself - that someone in another category of humanity can’t understand me - is invalidated by the fact that the very criticism falsely claims to somehow understand that there’s a misunderstanding in what’s going on in the mind of the person not in one’s category.

It’s a vicious, even absurd, circle of isolation encouraging a downward spiral for humanity. Yet, the idea has become widespread for a number of reasons.

Modern pop psychology has pushed the thought that each human being is unfathomably unique, even a “miracle.” It has proclaimed that no two human experiences are exactly alike to the neglect of any similarities. So no one else can “understand” me.

The discriminations and oppressions in our society have also caused a backlash to a dominant group claiming to speak for a non-dominant group. Rightly so, the members of non-dominant groups have often become fed up and interpret their identities as more basic than what we all might have in common.

Who can blame people who’ve continually been hurt by a society for acting out of their hurts? It takes a long time to heal enough from hurts around someone’s self-identity to allow oneself to focus on what humans have in common beyond those identities.

But if there’s going to be any chance for us to heal from the interwoven oppressions of a society that is full of division and hate, a culture based on fear, those of us in the struggle must think clearly about this issue. We must have some commitment to the idea that there is a common humanity that should enable all of us to be touched deeply by the realities of the struggles of those around us.

We recognize that there are those on all sides of oppressions that have been so abused and hurt that they aren’t in touch with their human nature and therefore unable to identify with it in others. At this point, it looks as if we have a U.S. President who is a glaring example of such a destructive, out-of-touch-with-his-humanity sociopathy.

Our task is not to think of “understanding” dualistically as if one either can or can’t understand someone who isn’t in a category we apply to ourselves. Such a dualistic idea arises out of unhealed hurt and pain because it provides a protection from being hurt further.

Healing our society means a commitment in the healer/activist to the idea that there are levels of understanding and depths of comprehension. Understanding is possible and achievable if we realize that even though we might never understand another fully, we can relate to and even identify with some of their struggles, feelings, hurt, pain, and victories.

This isn’t to downplay differences such as claiming when confronted by racism that we are “colorblind.” Unless one is optically impaired, we will always see innumerable differences in shades of human skin, but in so doing will we also see that, like ours, that surface is still very human skin?

And as someone who is light-enough to be called a White man, I will never know the full hurts of those who have lived for generations as targets of White racism. But I will be able to know a bit about how, as a fellow human being, that hurt can affect ones outlook on life, and become a barrier to being in touch with anyone’s whole and complete humanity.

To do the work we must do to make the culture a place of justice, love, and acceptance, requires the regular reminder of what it’s like to be a human being even in circumstances so much more challenging and destructive than we have ever experienced.

It calls us to do whatever internal journey work we must to make sure we ourselves are in touch with what we can call our common humanity. It means getting beneath our own hurts from the past, our own ignorance, and all else that prevents us from feeling with the lives of others who don’t look like us, act like us, love like us, live where we live, or have the privileges we have.

And it requires us to move beyond the idea that no one else can have any understanding of me and my life. That idea will isolate allies and kill our movements for equality, fairness, and acceptance.

A Reminder About Our Reactions to the Religion Addiction That Got Us Here


Take right-wing religion’s teaching that people are basically so evil and lost that they deserve eternal, abusive punishment. Add its effectiveness at convincing people of their innate evil because they’re prepared for it through child-rearing methods that punish inherently bad children.

Enforce such messages with political leaders whose solution to problems is more punishment. The result: adults’ desperate need for a fix to provide relief from self-denigrating, self-abusive feelings.

That’s what makes the high of being righteous so addictive. And with the past (and present) political success of the right-wing and the enabling of FOX news, people who use religion as an addiction can’t give up their fix: the high of winning politically that proves they’re righteousness.

The religion addicted can’t give it up even in the face of the blatant hypocrisy and con-like pandering of a president* who in his personal life embodies everything right-wingers have spent decades criticizing in others.

Back before the rise of their political aspirations with the Moral Majority, Marches for Life, and politicized televangelists, huddling together in congregations seemed enough for the addicted. In their meetings and services they could be with those who felt the same misery and heard that there were no works they could do to be “saved.”

These meetings weren’t recovery groups, providing support to overcome the addiction. They were more like opium dens and highly orchestrated sales meetings.

Their preachers dealt the high. They did nothing to make people feel as if they were, or could in themselves become, worthwhile. In fact, they convinced them that they were so evil that they shouldn’t trust their own intuitions, thoughts, and positive feelings about themselves. Trusting onedself was put down as “New Age.”

Their preachers and theologians told them they could only be acceptable because another Being really, really, really would accept them in spite of their inborn evil. If people bet on that notion, it became okay to feel joy.

They could also feel as if the “lost” people out there, were the ones with problems, not them. They’d lap up “prophecy,” which would assure them that they’d come out winners in the end and that those who didn’t participate in their addiction would be proven wrong by being “Left Behind.”

As they became more addicted, the fix became more desperate. Services were the gathering together of addicts for another drink, another line. But addictions are progressive, so where would they get even heavier doses?

The movement of the religious right-wing into politics, which most previously had rejected as too involved with “the world,” was a new drug, a stronger drink. Righteous political wins for their religious position became the new blessed relief from facing the painful notion that they are, as their hymns reminded them, “wretches,” “worms,” “without [even] one plea,” and “deeply stained within.”

Logically, one would think that believing they’re so evil would cause them to be less judgmental, more sympathetic with others. After all, one can actually find that notion in their Bible. So, in the midst of their righteous wins, they do sometimes talk sympathetically, saying to LGBTQ people: “We’re all sinners.”

But addictions are not logical, and looking for the logic in them, Al-Anon members know, is a waste of time. What drives this need for winning is the high: taking political victories as the proof of their righteousness.

They can’t face what they believe about their rotten selves too long or they just couldn’t handle it – it’s bad enough to probably require anti-depressants and hospitalization, but taking them would be seen as a righteousness failure.

When they win government and electoral approval for their doctrines, then, those aren’t acts of faith at all. Their trust is not in their Higher Power.

It’s in government and the electorate. It’s in the feeling that they have approval of a majority of voters. None of that has to do with “What Would Jesus Do?”

The fix of these wins has thus become an obsession. And threats to that poltical fix make them even more desperate because past wins meant to them they’re right and okay.

And a “high” can never last. They’d fall back into their feelings of fear and loathing.

The need for a cause to win is still the seeking of approval by projecting their evil onto the other. It’s never the addict’s fault.

Addictions remove the sense of responsibility. Feminists, “activist judges,” LGBTQ people, liberals, atheists, wiccans, whomever, must be understood as the real causes of the addict’s problems.

Addicts must be convinced they’re right.

Sadly, many addicts never come to until they’ve hit bottom and destroyed their lives and the lives of their families and acquaintances. Some go into recovery - there, after all, have even been groups such as Fundamentalists Anonymous.

Now, it’s going to take a while for addictive religion to hit bottom. It’s still on its drug with user activities such as protests and angry confrontations, and it has mainstream approval.

Remember, then, that dealing with addictions requires saving oneself first, not the addict. It often involves the sadness of watching the addict crash and burn.

But we the enablers? Are we still making excuses for the addict?

Are we still trying to find the logic in what they do? Are we wasting time trying to understand their “real” motives and intentions? Are we covering up for the addict?

Are we emotionally unable or unwilling to speak truth to the addict, saying the addiction is wrong, sick, and destructive? Are we unable to separate from the addiction?

Are we unwilling to envision the equivalent of support groups like Al-Anon or to form Mothers Against Abusive Religion?

Do we ourselves have a positive enough self-image to refuse to be abused by others who won’t face the addiction -- such as politicians who treat us like crazy but rich relatives they come to for support but hide out of the way in the closet when people want to know who those relatives are?

Are we willing to face the fact that we’ll still be affected by the addiction and, therefore, have to live our lives in the light of that fact, that we have to protect ourselves and our safety? Are we able to affirm that they, not we, are the problem?

Once we’ve named an addiction, it’s our choice how we live with an addict. It’s our choice about whether we seek an addict’s love and support.

And it’s our choice, knowing that addictions can be hard to overcome, whether of not we’re in it for the long haul because, in the end, we want to stop addictions from hurting everyone.

The Ubiquity of that Imposter Syndrome: “It Doesn’t Go Away”


When Michelle Obama was asked on her recent tour for her new book, Becoming, how it felt to be seen as a "symbol of hope," she told a room of students: "I still have a little impostor syndrome….It doesn't go away, that feeling that you shouldn't take me that seriously. What do I know?”

By openly raising the issue in her book and on tour, she’s again unmasking the common, nagging, dogged sense of doubt felt by anyone who was raised as member of a non-dominant, victimized group in a stratified society that raises its ugly head when that member rises “above” the limits that a culture teaches are inherent in their group. Though they thereby should be an example of the fact that those limits are artificially constructed and down-right discriminatory, the culturally-taught role lingers within.

Two psychologists labeled this phenomenon “imposter syndrome” in a 1978 paper that identified it in women who are expected to take on a victim role in a male-dominant culture but who instead break through glass ceilings to enter levels historically dominated by men.

"Despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the imposter phenomenon persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise," the psychologists wrote. "Numerous achievements, which one might expect to provide ample objective evidence of superior intellectual functioning, do not appear to affect the impostor belief."

There are many who can’t be as open about the syndrome as Michelle Obama. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t there in the depths not just of women but of anyone who was taught by their culture that their race, sexual orientation, gender, economic status, able-bodiedness, etc. is somehow lesser and not the “norm” of a culture that has thrived on oppression.

It’s installed in anyone who has experienced, or watched others of their group experience, being a victim of overt and covert discrimination on devluation on the basis of something inherent or crucial to them.

In a culture where a variety of oppressions exist and overlap, it’s not surprising then that researchers observed in a 2013 paper that as much as 70 percent of the population experiences what these psychologists call “The Imposter Phenomenon” - “intense feelings that their achievements are undeserved and worry that they are likely to be exposed as a fraud” – at some time in their lives.

No matter how much one has accomplished, how many books they’ve written, how high they’ve moved up on the economic ladder, how they’ve entered the board rooms of America, how much they’ve fought for justice, how they have achieved rights such as marriage equality, how many people look up to them or tell them, or how accomplished they are, there remains in their depths the sense that at some time, somewhere, somehow, someone will unmask them as not legitimately belonging to the privileged group.

Of course, these internalized messages are false and irrational. And that’s nice to know, given the misinformation everyone receives as part of the cultural conditioning regarding groups of people from the day they were born into our culture.

But the conditioning that installs these messages as a part of our culture’s intersection of oppressions, defining some groups as more worthy than others, isn’t installed intellectually. Its effectiveness and persistence are due to the emotional basis of conditioning, especially the feeling of fear that not to go along is to experience negative consequences.

In Scared Straight this is analyzed frankly, using classic oppression dynamics, as crucial to a “victim role” that those who are not in the dominant group of an oppression are expected to internalize and perform to keep the overall cultural hierarchies going. Those conditioned into any victim role are conditioned by the fearful means analyzed in the book to believe at a deep, emotional level that:

1.“the dominant role is the ideal that is preferred, natural, human, moral, healthy, pro-society, pro-human, pro-God;

2.people who live this dominant role are the ones who correctly define, and are most qualified to define: a) the oppressor and victim roles, b) what oppression and prejudice really are regarding the roles, and c) what values go with the roles;

3.those who are not a part of the dominant group should live to emulate that dominant role as closely as possible, no matter how difficult doing so might be for these outsiders;

4.there is something inferior about members of the non-dominant group that will make it impossible for them to actually succeed at the dominant role;

5.this inferiority consists of everything that makes members of the non-dominant group ‘inherently’ different from members of the dominant group who can easily act out their ‘inherent,’ better characteristics;

6.anything in the non-dominant group that does not match the dominant role should be hidden or “corrected” if possible because it is inferior, shameful, unnatural, immoral, inhuman, dirty, unhealthy, uncivilized, destructive of society, and anti-God;

7.the successful embracing of this victim role means that members of the non-dominant group should enforce the victim role on each other.”

None of this is inherent in the members of any group of human beings. It’s taught.

And what’s taught can be untaught. But that doesn’t mean that this phenomenon or “syndrome” won’t raise its irrational head at the most irrational times.

Those who experience it must then remind themselves with Michelle Obama of its untruth. But we must be clear that it’s not just an individual emotional problem (as if it's just something wrong with you that can be fixed by reading the right self-help book) but inherent in a hierarchical system.

They must think, act, and decide in the light of its falsity no matter how that might feel as if doing so is rejecting values of a the larger culture. Because the truth is that they are, and that they’re choosing courageously to thereby reject any lingering “imposter phenomenon.”

Michelle Obama told those young women who might feel as if they don’t really belong to "start by getting those demons out of your head." The reality of those in the dominant group, she said is different than how we might feel:

"I have been at probably every powerful table that you can think of, I have worked at non-profits, I have been at foundations, I have worked in corporations, served on corporate boards, I have been at G-summits, I have sat in at the U.N.; they are not that smart.”

© 2019 Robert N. Minor

Other Issues, Books, Resources

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Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction; Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to Be Human; and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org

 



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