The Politics of Silence
Facebook Comment Rabbit Hole
I woke this Saturday morning doing the same destructive behavior I have done for years now—grab my phone and scroll through mundane media and social media websites, undoubtedly see something upsetting, and post a truth in the comments section. The website where this took place—Facebook, of course. The topic, Robert Kraft, the Billionaire owner of the New England Patriots who was recently caught with his pants down, on video, at a suspected sex trafficking rub and tug in Jupiter, Florida.
Let me be crystal clear before we go any further. There is nothing wrong with sex work by choice. There is everything wrong with sex trafficking and forcing people into being raped, which is what happens when you force someone to engage in sex acts, as allegedly was being done at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa, where Kraft allegedly went to twice during the time that the sex prison was under surveillance by law enforcement.
The Facebook page I was on specifically—that of a family member. My family are Pats fans. After all, we’re from Massachusetts. To be anything other would be like a priest who isn’t suspected of raping kids in the Boston Diocese, or anywhere, for that matter. I personally could give a shit.
Though I like watching certain elements about sports once in a blue moon, like the balletic quality of a basketball player jumping to slam dunk or the way hockey players scream past people pushing that little puck with their stick, or the intensity of Serena Williams when she smashes the ball with her racket, I’ve always found the idea of professional sports peculiar.
Why is it so interesting to watch rich people beat each other at something that has nothing to do with my life? Why do people in the barber shop, at work, on the street talk ad nauseum about this or that athlete or team? To me, it’s one mass metaphor—a distraction really—about the fighting factions of our world. It teaches us nothing about how different ‘teams’ can come together towards better ends for all.
Let me be crystal clear again. There is symbolic value in what we are seeing in sports and communities these days, that being the kneeling of people during the National Anthem to raise awareness about police violence against People of Color. Like sports, I also don’t understand why people think a song written by a racist and about war and destruction is something to honor with standing in the first place. So to kneel or otherwise protest the anthem or injustice at any time is fantastic.
Back to my family being Pats fans. The Super Bowl in my family was second to Christmas as the most important holiday on our annual Evangelical calendar. As any good Evangelical must, my mother and stepfather would say Easter was the most important. To me, Easter was just a day when we hunted for colored eggs around the house. One Easter morning my sister found an old Huster magazine hidden in a recess above the kitchen cabinets. She screamed as she whipped it out and threw it to the floor. It swirled around.
Giant white woman breasts came into view as the magazine came to a hault right in front of me. It was never determined if the magazine was my stepfather's or mother's, but chances are it was not. It was at least ten years old and covered in dust. Easter was also when we went to church in our new Sunday best pastels (which I loved getting to wear) and learned about some guy getting murdered and magically coming back to life.
My parent's behavior never showed me that Easter was top dog. Christmas was when my mother would get excited to bursting about giving my sister and me gifts, perhaps to relive her impoverished childhood through our wonder-filled eyes. Every year when the holiday came around I would be over the moon. I got free shit for doing nothing! Sounds like the false narrative the radical right has about socialized programs like healthcare, education, and sidewalks. Oh, wait. What’s that? The radical right isn’t clamoring about how sidewalks aren’t something we should all be responsible to fund?
Super Bowl XX
1986. This was the first year the Patriots were in the Super Bowl. They played against the Chicago Bears, or as that whole season people in Mass would say, “dAh bayrs.” It was the first year the Bears were in the event, too. The New England pride and hope couldn’t be overstated. Who was going to win? Spoiler: Chicago.
My family and I went to a Super Bowl watch party at the house of one of the other members of the piece of shit Evangelical church we went to in Ashland, MA at the time. This was where my family and I went to each week for Bible Study, or as I like to call it, Intimate Bullshit Session—IBS for short. Of course, Bible Study’s initials are BS, so perhaps the Evangelicals got something right. I remember sitting in front of the TV watching the event not understanding why we were all so excited. In retrospect, sounds a lot like every moment I spent in the Evangelical environment.
From early childhood until I could escape home for college, I was taught to believe that the Evangelical worldview was right and all others wrong. It was classic black and white thinking found in the depths of any addiction, of which Evangelicalism is a form.
The other Super Bowl memory I have is from when I was a year or two older. The Patriots weren’t playing this time. They didn’t go again to the Super Bowl until 1997. Again, I could have given a shit. I remember being at my stepgrandparent's house. I gorged myself on chicken wings and subsequently threw up. I don’t remember anything to do with the sport being celebrated that evening.
Online Outlet for Offline Rage
When I commented on my family member’s Facebook post, I thought nothing of it. The angst I have towards my parents for having dragged me to Evangelical churches while growing up, their dismissal of me from the family when I came out as gay, and my public ravings about all of that on Facebook and elsewhere for the past decade is well documented.
I am not in communication with my parents. Even after coming out I tried to be patient for years, hoping against hope that one day they would understand that them believing there is something wrong with me because I am gay is all in their head. I attended family functions—holidays, weddings (straights only), hospitals for birth and death. I mixed with my parents at these events not questioning their faulty beliefs.
Then, in 2008, both of them voted against my civil rights by voting for Amendment 2 in Florida, where we had moved to the year after I threw up at my stepgrandparent’s Super Bowl party. Amendment 2 was Florida’s anti-marriage equality ballot initiative. Its passing outlawed the hope of same-sex marriage in the state. And my parents were a part of that. It was after Amendment 2 passed that I started speaking out in-person to my family.
And then I was resolved to speak out only online since the threat of me speaking out in person at the same holidays I kept silent at in the past got me uninvited by my family to these events moving forward.
Over the years since 2008, I’ve held firm that being blunt about things others choose to ignore is a valid form of resistance. That point was strengthened Saturday when I posted my comment on my family member’s Facebook post joking about Robert Kraft and his arrest and involvement in the South Florida sex trafficking ring. This family member, who I am not naming because I don’t care to do so, was not defending Kraft.
I don’t remember the exact wording of their post because it has since been removed by the family member. What I do know is how what they said triggered me to write something to the effect of:
‘Kraft is a big Trump supporter. I'm sure Evangelicals who scream about sex trafficking while doing nothing to stop it, like your brother and his wife, my mother, will find some way to excuse this disgusting behavior and how it connects to the dumpster fire they helped install into the White House.’
“Your brother and his wife, my mother…” I do remember writing that word for word. Within a few minutes, the family member private messaged me.
“Hey, I do not want to be "that guy" that deletes any ol' comment on his Timeline that others might find offensive without notifying the person that posted it first. But would you be mad if I removed your comment about X and X from that "Kraft" (joke) post that I made last night; it just seemed a bit harsh.
If you tell me to keep it there, I will; I will just blame you if X and/or X complains…”
If you tell me to keep it there, I will; I will just blame you if X and/or X complains…”
To which I replied:
“It's your feed. Those who support fascism are worse than the fascists. That's reality and I'm done with making those who cause pain comfortable. My statement is fact and I stand by it unequivocally. The proper response I would think would be, "I'm sorry I don't have the courage to stand up to hate in my own family." Food for thought.”
We went back and forth a bit:
“Nah. Saul Goode (the Jewish man of no concern) then. I doubt either X or X even reads your comment, anyway.”
“lol. My gut tells me that we will survive this pile of garbage [Trump]. I have no idea the right tactics anymore other than the whole, being a Nazi isn't the same as punching a Nazi approach. Of course, I practice non-violence so it's just using my words with force and my body in the jail that I know to do.
I also know that your brother, specifically, caused me long term harm and it's nothing that anyone in the family has truly every inquired about - just how deeply he hurt me throughout my childhood. People know broad brush strokes, but not all of the specifics. I'm not sure why I never articulated all of that. I guess writing a 400-page book about your life [a book I’m currently writing] will pull shit out that you buried or minimized. Being a gay kid growing up under his 'rule' was a horrible experience.”
“I am sorry for all of that pain in your childhood. I do look forward to reading your book when it is published, too.”
“Thanks. My hope is once Im [sic]
I'm past this book I'll finally be able to put this all behind me. I keep joking that I never want to write or talk about myself again after this process.”
“I am just wondering what your boyfriend will say when it comes out in the book that you are "Gay"...”
“Well, I've been keeping it under wraps. Last night I took his mother to a Broadway show then the three of us went out for drinks at Stonewall. I don't think he suspects ANYTHING! See, raise a kid in the ways of the Lord I was taught as a kid - lying, sneaking, not living my own truth - I'M A SUCCESS STORY!”
“You took an older woman to a Broadway show?! Yeah, no one will ever suspect that you might be a tad homosexual…”
“In all seriousness though, please understand that protecting oppression takes many forms. I don't think anymore any of us can influence those who are so far gone outside of bluntness. We are a strong resistance. But we also have to keep examining how not confronting pervasive hate directly impacts those who bear the brunt of that hate. And silence is deafening.”
“I could have been a misogynist. It was Kiss Me, Kate after all. Free tix since I work for that theatre. I have to teach the show to high schoolers. Of course, I'm going to focus on how out of touch the show is- and how it reinforces sexual assaunt [sic].”
“Oooh! At least it is Classic Misogyny..”
I left the conversation there because I realized this family member had no interest in seeing a better tomorrow. They were only focused on maintaining the status quo. They were trying to talk me down from speaking the truth. They were concerned with protecting the feelings of their brother and his wife, who happens to be my mother.
See, it’s people like this family member who scare me the most. They identify as a Democrat. Yet when it comes to actually being involved in social issues, which is a huge part of the Democratic Party platform, they shy away from adding their voice to those of us who have been saying for years that the only way progressive change happens is if we the people make it so.
What this family member did is unfortunately daily practice for Americans. If you met my parents at the supermarket or bank, were driving behind them on a busy highway, saw them walking down the street, you wouldn’t think anything of it. They are average white, heterosexual, cisgender people in their 60s.
They don’t talk publicly about their differences with others. They only talk of hating sin not people. They feel they worked hard in life and deserve the piles of money they are sitting on. They believe they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps.
And like all of us, in some ways, they did do for themselves when others would not. They did survive to retirement age, after all. But never in my life did I ever witness my mother or stepfather talk about privilege and what that affords those like them over the course of a lifetime. Never did I hear from them why God would have blessed them where He had abandoned others. That is not the way of the Evangelical.
Evangelicalism is Authoritarianism
It’s all about, as my stepfather used to yell at me: "These are the rules and that's it." He yelled this when I questioned his authority to spank me starting at age ten. Or when I complained when he became a youth ‘leader’ at the church he and my mother dragged me to. He would sit behind me every Wednesday night for the teen propaganda sessions breathing down my throat like I was a prisoner to be watched at every moment.
He yelled it at me when I complained about him not allowing me to practice the trumpet in my room after school. It was more important that he sat in front of the television undisturbed as he gorged on reruns, shows that idealized the white, straight, cisgender men, like M*A*S*H* or The Three Stooges.
Evangelicalism is all about telling other people they are wrong, being selfish, considering magic over facts. The fact that my family member didn't see the real harm Evangelicalism has wreaked on us as a nation is what was truly terrifying. The fact that they were more interested in the feelings of people who follow a dogma that has no use for queer folk, women’s bodies, other religious groups, People of Color, than the aggrieved, is astounding.
Progressive vs Centrist
This reality is part of what we need to be talking about with force when we talk about the direction of our nation, especially to those who identify as Democrats.
It would surprise no one that I am an unabashed Progressive. I reject the politics of centrism, of not speaking one’s mind to hate, of thinking pragmatism is something that wins elections. The American people do not want pragmatists. We are a far more liberal nation than polls would show.
Polls often only look at likely voters. There are huge swaths of people out there who are like me, disgusted, waiting for candidates who are bold, bright, tested, and committed to the Progressive vision we know can be ours. When those candidates run, people like me pay close attention. Centrists want to call this a purity test. I call it the right thing to do.
Nothing to See Here
At some point, over the weekend my family member took down their Facebook post. In its place was a new one on one of those new old-school looking graphics backgrounds Facebook now offers:
To clarify, below the graphic, my family member wrote:
“If anyone is a-wonderin', I went and deleted-ized the "offending joke post" I had made earlier.”
This opened up a new comment thread.
“X, don’t bow to deFacebook pressure! Not everyone gets your humor! #notyourproblem”
“oh my, I wasn't offended Brian. Just had a long day chasing bad guys around the world on google earth LOL”
“No worries. I am not blaming anyone. It was starting to get a little too ugly and political for my liking.
Speaking of "ugly and political", will Hillary be running again in 2020?!”
“Yeah, I saw it leaning that way before i posted. Those kinda posts can happen to go bad. It happens, don't worry about it. Just let it go. I have to, or i'd be crying all the time.:)
LOL, I don't know about her running again, there is speculation of it. This will be interesting.”
“Is it my fault that Bob Kraft's sexual innuendos ("Love flies out the door when Bob Kraft goes innuendo... ") are not as funny as some other stuff?!”
“Yes, it is YOUR fault! LOL”
The comment thread led to the opposite of their first post on the subject, which they believed was "starting to get a little too ugly and political for my liking." It became vacuous and vapid. But 'too political' it remained. To tamp down impassioned conversation is vile. It is counterproductive. It is shameful. What else should I have expected from 'Liberal' America?