I don't have the energy to come up with something to say every time the land of the free has another mass shooting. If I posted about every mass shooting in the United States of America, not just the biggest ones that get everybody's attention, I'd literally never have time to post about anything else. All I can say is that a lot of people in positions of influence need to burn in hell for allowing this to happen again and again and again and again and again. So I'm just going to leave this here.
And also this.
And also this.
This Memorial Day weekend, Americans should, but for the most part won't, think long and hard about all the children who have died for their gun fetish.
Stop Lying About Sex and Gender
My English 2010 students this past semester had to write argumentative essays for their final assignment, in which they researched a current issue and took a stand on it. I told them multiple times that while they would probably start out with an opinion on their topic, they should keep an open mind and be willing to change it if the research led them in a different direction, instead of trying to make it conform with what they already believed.
I don't know how many took that advice in practice. But I had a student who started with the opinion that transgender athletes should be banned because of their unfair physical advantages, and then after he did the research he changed his mind. He found that there's a lot of misinformation on this topic. He found that when people complained about transgender high school wrestler Mack Beggs dominating girls' wrestling, they wrongly claimed or implied that Beggs' transition was male-to-female instead of the opposite and left out the part where he wanted to wrestle with boys and was denied by Texas law. He found that transgender women are not dominating women's sports to anywhere near the extent that people (specifically Republicans) claim they are. He found that their physical advantage is severely curtailed by the hormone treatments they're required to take, and that various cisgender athletes also have unfair physical advantages for the simple reason that people's bodies are different. Perfect parity in sports is impossible to achieve, but in his view (which I share, though I have less credibility since I don't really give a crap about sports), it's best served by letting the small number of transgender athletes participate with the gender they identify as, provided they meet the same physical requirements as everyone else. I'm so proud of his open-mindedness, and his essay was one of my favorites.
I'm not an expert on this topic by a long shot, but I noticed quite a while ago that people who deny the validity of intersex, transgender, and non-binary people's experiences are the ones who invariably end up looking stupid in online arguments, because they just repeat "There are only two genders" while their opponents cite scientific research. These people insist that they're the ones on the side of biology and common sense, yet their understanding of sex and gender remains at the elementary-school level of "penis equals male and vagina equals female." And at this point their ignorance is a deliberate choice. Lots of information is out there for anyone who cares to look at it, but they choose to pretend otherwise, obviously to protect themselves from the cognitive dissonance that the actual complexity of sex and gender causes with their beliefs. In my book this qualifies as lying. And it leads them to something that should cause even more cognitive dissonance with their beliefs - bearing false witness against their neighbors. This year I've been disgusted by members of my church and other so-called Christians lying about Lia Thomas' athletic record and lying that transgender athletes are overrunning women's sports and we should all be very afraid of them. I'm disgusted by the Utah Legislature's recent passage of an all-out ban to address the nonexistent problems not being caused by Utah's four transgender high school athletes. (But I'm proud of Governor Spencer Cox for jeopardizing his reelection by vetoing the bill on principle even though he couldn't stop it.)
My favorite lie about this topic is that gender dysphoria is caused by Satan's lies. Apparently Satan can just whisper in a girl's ear that she's a boy and that explains everything. This kind of thinking is about on par with diagnosing epilepsy as witchcraft. My second favorite lie is that all sex and gender anomalies can be lumped together and dismissed as "mental illness," not because these liars have one iota of love or compassion for people with mental illness, but because they don't. Anyway, the other day someone in the church's Newsroom group on Facebook mentioned transgender people and said "We need to show them love, and also have the courage to steer them in the right direction with a good loving advice led by the Holy Ghost." I saw an opportunity to speak up, but because I wanted to actually make a positive impact on people and not start an argument (I do switch things up once in a while), I limited my remarks to something so basic that no one seriously attempting to follow Christ could have a problem with it.
Given that posts in this group about how Covid exists or how we shouldn't be racist are regularly overrun by triggered right-wing snowflakes who make me want nothing to do with the church, I was pleasantly surprised by my comment's positive reception. Only one person argued with me, in fact, and she was very polite and capable of writing mostly coherent sentences. But she obviously misunderstood me because she went on about chastity and how we can call people to repentance without being unkind, when all I said was that telling a transgender person they're not the gender they think they are doesn't magically make them stop feeling like the gender you say they aren't. And she also brought gay marriage into it for some reason. So at that point I did bring up the fact that sex and gender are demonstrably far more complicated than the church tries to make them, and that unless you've examined a person inside and out and down to the cellular level (which would be gross), you don't know how much they biologically lean one way or the other, let alone what eternal gender their spirit is supposed to be, and should mind your own business. I linked to this article for more details - all of them physical, tangible realities of people's bodies, not even touching on the touchier subject of gender identity. As one would expect, she doubled down and responded to the details by not responding to them at all. Her non-response was the inspiration for this post.
If she wasn't saying that gender dysphoria is a sin, then she had literally no reason to start arguing with me. I hadn't said anything related to chastity or anything about sex reassignment surgery (or same-sex attraction for that matter). I hope this comment's lack of substance is self-evident enough that I don't need to analyze every sentence here. If this is the best argument you can come up with to defend your viewpoint when presented with substantial inconvenient evidence, then your viewpoint almost certainly doesn't deserve to be defended. In this case I mean the infantile and demonstrably wrong viewpoint of sex and gender, not the entire gospel, which I believe can stand on its own without lying about science - but if this argument represents the level of intellectual and spiritual rigor that God expects of me in defending the gospel, then count me out.
I will just say that accusing LGBTQ+ people of promoting division in this nation, as opposed to, oh I don't know, the straight cisgender people who have persecuted them for centuries, is really ignorant. Most of this comment is really ignorant, but I just felt compelled to point out that this particular part, like most of the parts, is really ignorant. It's like blaming racial minorities for the racial unrest in this nation. Oh wait, conservatives do that too. Anyway, "the Pride narrative" literally only exists because LGBTQ+ people have had to assert their right to be accepted as human beings and not hate themselves for the way God made them. Pride is the opposite of shame. Also, of all the things the Bible is good for, a science textbook is not one of them. Also, the Bible says God created day and night, but I don't see anyone complaining that scientists worship Satan because they've determined that various stages of twilight exist.
But again, in fairness, only this one person argued with me. A few others pushed back against her. People like this guy are the future of the church, unless they all leave because it's a toxic environment for them.
Ah yes, the laugh reaction (which came from someone else who didn't participate in the discussion) is also a standard fallback for people who can't refute facts and are allergic to empathy for anyone different than them. Dallin H. Oaks did state in late 2019 that "the intended meaning of gender in the family proclamation and as used in Church statements and publications since that time is biological sex at birth." But that was a few months before the church updated its handbook to acknowledge for the first time in its history that intersex people exist - albeit only one very limited kind of intersex people - so maybe it's different now. Or does President Oaks really mean to imply (in keeping with the family proclamation's vague statement) that people who are biologically intersex at birth were created with intersex spirits and will continue to be intersex for eternity? Somehow that doesn't seem like an idea he would accept. I apologize for the snark, but intersex people have been known to exist for the entirety of human history, so I feel just a little impatient.
On a related note, a few months ago BYU administrators directed the Department of Communication Disorders to cease providing gender-affirming speech therapy for three transgender students. This is a violation of both the HIPAA Privacy Rule and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Code of Ethics, and consequently BYU is under investigation (again) and its speech-language pathology Masters program will most likely lose accreditation if it doesn't reverse course. I won't lose a moment of sleep over BYU getting what it deserves, but I will feel awful for the faculty who, according to rumors that I have no reason to doubt, are not in agreement with this decision, and for the students who will be royally screwed over when the degrees they invested their time and money in turn out to be even more worthless than most college degrees. And then BYU administrators and church leaders will probably spin the incident 180 degrees backwards and portray themselves as the ones being persecuted.
A Quick Thought on Pandemic Trauma
I got accepted into graduate school and accepted the graduate instructor position in February 2020, so I had no idea my first year of teaching would be entirely over Zoom and Canvas. Prior to that, I think it was some time during the orientation week when we met virtually with high-ranking people in the English department and they assured us that they were all here to support us and Brian McCuskey said something to the effect of, "This is hard. We know this is really hard." At graduation last week, one of the speakers talked about the pandemic and how it had made us resilient and hopefully able to handle whatever happens to us in the future. And I thought to myself, Yeah, I guess the pandemic has left a lifelong scar on my psyche.
In some ways it didn't seem that hard for me. I didn't have much of a social life to begin with; in February, I was already so lonely that I played stupid and let an MLM scammer talk to me. I didn't lose anyone close to me from the pandemic; my grandmother died during that time, but for unrelated reasons. I didn't have children, I didn't own a business, I was only unemployed for a month, I had reliable internet access, and I had access to the vaccine as soon as I was authorized to get it. The worst part, I think, was living in a state full of robots who wouldn't stop repeating "99.9% survival rate" as if everyone who didn't die was just fine, throwing temper tantrums about perceived violations of their God-given right to breathe on strangers, and doing absolutely pathetic mental gymnastics to lie to themselves and others that their prophet didn't ask them in plain English to get vaccinated. Of course I suffered, but not as much as billions of other people did, so why should I imagine that anyone is interested in hearing about it? The only thing is, it went on for so damn long. The trauma was not immediate and obvious like the trauma from being threatened and yelled at by officer Hayden Nelson in January 2020, but day after week after month after year it accumulated until this graduation speaker made me take notice of it.
It's left a scar on my entire nation and the entire world too. I wouldn't want to overstate its severity, since we went through a much worse pandemic a hundred years ago and a huge economic depression and a couple of world wars and we turned out f- er, we managed, but its impact will be felt for a long time. Trauma doesn't go away; one just grows around it. And it's not evenly distributed by a long shot. A lot of inequities were laid bare by the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic on certain countries and on certain groups within this country, as was the political right wing's contempt for scientists, doctors, teachers, and expendable old people. But I think many of the long-term effects will be positive. We've become more adaptable and learned more efficient ways to do things with technology. Donald Trump lost re-election in large part thanks to his mishandling of the pandemic, which cost God knows how many preventable deaths. The movements against systemic racism and police brutality got an astronomical boost from all the people who were bored and stuck at home and couldn't ignore the latest story of a police officer murdering a black person. Also, I used to not remember the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic, but I'll never have that problem again.
It will be interesting to see what happens when the young children who have fallen behind in education and social development come of age. Again, there are huge socioeconomic and racial disparities in the severity of these problems, but if they've all fallen behind to an extent, I can hope that they won't be penalized in the long run for being unable to reach an entirely artificial educational standard and that they won't bully or shun each other for being socially awkward. Like the speaker said, I think they and all of us have become more resilient for whatever fresh hells await us in the future - and await us they do, because if I've learned one thing from studying history, it's that the "good old days" are BS and this world has always been a dumpster fire.
On Wednesday evening before graduation, there was an optional event for graduates to be toasted by their thesis chairs. Charles recounted how I didn't talk much for the first few weeks of his undergraduate class, and then I turned in my first story and he was blown away first by the grammatical correctness of the sentences, and then how funny they were, and how thoughtful and so on. He recounted how for my thesis I'd wanted to write satire about the pandemic and race and war, and he'd said that it could turn out to be a highly offensive disaster but if so, it would still be a learning experience, and then my stories were great and not offensive. He called me the next Douglas Adams. Of course he knew that was the highest praise he could give me after what I said about Douglas Adams in my thesis.
After that endorsement, the husband of one of my colleagues asked her, "Why haven't you had me hanging out with him this whole time?" And then when all the toasts were done and I was snacking again, Charles asked whether I planned to get a PhD and briefly made me more interested in that possibility than I had been a moment ago. He's the one who convinced me to do graduate school too. Maybe I'm just too wishy-washy.
Some of the toasted graduates after the toast:
The main graduation ceremony took place the next morning, early enough that only one of my classmates bothered to participate and I shouldn't have. I rested in the grass afterward because I'd gotten three hours of sleep for no reason other than God hates me. A nice lady offered to photograph me. It was much appreciated, because scheduling conflicts prevented any of my family members from being there to photograph me.
In between that and my college's luncheon, I noticed that I had gotten some emails from the library about my thesis. It was my fault that I hadn't reached out to them before, but it wasn't my fault that the university inexplicably misplaced all of the digital forms I filled out weeks in advance and didn't have my folder put together until absolutely the last minute after the graduate program coordinator emailed me late Monday afternoon asking me to fill out the forms that I'd already filled out as soon as possible. So that got put together on Wednesday, and then on Thursday the library was like "You need to schedule an appointment to drop off a printed copy of your thesis by 5 p.m. today or you can't graduate." The story of getting that straightened out is not interesting enough to justify the effort of typing it out, but I got it straightened out and I lost my tassel in the library. I got it back the next day, and now I hope someone will be kind enough to photoshop it into all the subsequent pictures.
Here I am with classmates waiting in the Wayne Estes Center prior to walking over to the Spectrum for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Commencement Ceremony. I didn't get to participate in this ceremony as an undergraduate because of my sister's wedding, and some of my classmates didn't get to because of the you-know-what.
Here we are waiting in the tunnel for twenty minutes to enter the Spectrum proper.
At the mouth of the tunnel one of my least favorite non-murdering cops, the one who sent the Logan City cops to abuse me and give me PTSD and then never spoke to me again even though he was in my bishopric, stood guard. As I walked past Brad, he took a very large and obvious step forward like he thought he might need to grab me. Not for the first time, I discreetly flipped him off. On stage a while later I had another opportunity to make eye contact, which I knew from experience would make him visibly uncomfortable, but I wasn't going to waste my special moment on him.
The thing I'm carrying is just for show and doesn't contain an actual diploma. There's always the theoretical possibility of going through all this pomp and circumstance and then not actually being allowed to graduate. Awkward. So anyway, of course I experienced a mix of emotions on this day and graduate school was amazing and it just zipped by unbelievably fast and I love my classmates and my professors and my students so much and I'm so grateful to have had this experience. I'd do it all over again. So maybe convincing me to get a PhD won't be all that hard.
I stopped going to Elders Quorum a while ago because of the occasional sexist comments that I didn't feel like tolerating, but I figured I should give it another chance. So of course this last week we had a lesson on marriage. I thought about walking out, but I figured God would bless me if I endured the pain. It started off with the obligatory acknowledgement that gay people exist before proceeding as if they don't. Then for most of it, the floor was open to ask questions of the stake president, the bishop, the bishop's second counselor, the Elders Quorum president, and a relatively new high councillor who's at least four decades younger than the previous one. And the first question asked was this: "How do we handle conflicts, like if my wife wants to work and I want her to stay home?" Really, of all the examples he could have chosen, he chose that one. I impulsively said "She should get a better husband" at what I hoped was the right volume for him not to hear but for the row between us to hear. I don't have a lot of patience left for this nonsense. Even before I became an angry feminist, there was never a point in my life when I would have seriously considered trying to stop my hypothetical wife from getting a job, unless the one she had in mind was prostitution or multi-level marketing. And of course I was set to walk out if I didn't like how this question got answered.
The bishop's second counselor answered first. He's very quiet, and I've never had an opinion about him until now. I wish I could remember all his exact words, because in conveying the gist of them it sounds like he was totally shutting this guy down, but he wasn't, he was just sharing his perspective. He said that his wife has a passion for working in special education, and it doesn't bring in much extra income, but it makes her happy and it makes her a better person, so why would he try to stop her? He said it's important to treat his wife like a person and make decisions together and not just be like "I want you to do this" or whatever. He said she only worked while the kids were at school, but different families have different circumstances and just saying the woman needs to stay home all the time to change diapers or wash dishes or whatever (which is pretty close to an actual Spencer W. Kimball quote) is sexist. I was very pleased with his answer and politely pretended not to notice how much it contradicted what the bishop said almost a year ago. If what the bishop taught us about gender roles in his Family Proclamation lesson is true (spoiler alert: it isn't), then the second counselor's wife needs to repent for not being completely fulfilled by motherhood and homemaking. On this occasion the bishop shared how happy his wife was with only motherhood and homemaking, but he held back on saying that God requires all women to do the same. It's a good thing his second counselor spoke up first and that the stake president I complained to after his Family Proclamation lesson was in the room.
(Pic to prove I'm not lying)
Toward the 1:09:30 mark of this video, if you are so inclined, you will see me reading an excerpt from my story "Do Robots Dream of Electric Horse Debugger?" that won second place in the Graduate Fiction category of the USU Creative Writing and Art Contest. Ironically, the excerpt I read had been cut from my contest entry to fit the length restriction, but the contest director was my thesis chair and after my defense I mentioned this and he said he loved that scene and offered to get it reinstated for publication. My story and some other stuff can be read in the latest issue of the USU English Department literary journal Sink Hollow.
Despite my terror of public speaking, it was a really great experience except that I noticed a typo in my excerpt that I, my thesis chair and Graduate Fiction Writing professor, my eight Graduate Fiction Writing classmates, and the Sink Hollow editor had all failed to notice before, and also when an acquaintance in the audience said "Great job" afterward I responded "You too." I ran into Paul Fjeldsted, a bishop I had years ago who was there to support his niece. I love that man. I won big in bishop roulette with him.
On Friday another stalker came out of the woodwork.
The catalyst for this, I believe, was a meltdown on my Facebook timeline from someone I knew growing up who used to be a phenomenal guy but now has a pathological hatred of our the church we grew up in. I have many friends who have left the church, including the majority of peers who grew up in it with me and the majority of my graduate school classmates, but I'm not accustomed to someone on my Facebook timeline going ballistic about how the Latter-day Saint pioneers were the personification of evil and deserved to be persecuted. It was most unfortunate. I didn't waste much time addressing his thoroughly un-nuanced historical sound bites (other than pointing out that the pioneers did not "introduce slavery to Utah" because the native tribes were selling each other's children to Mexicans well before then, after which he moved the goalposts on the definition of slavery) but fortunately another friend was willing to engage with him more and call out his toxic behavior until he stopped. It really just reinforced my sense of where I stand, since I've become more critical of the church lately, but I still feel defensive when it's unfairly attacked, and I criticize it because I want to make it better, not burn it to the ground. I understand that he's angry because he learned a lot of things that weren't in the paint-by-numbers version of history he learned at church. I've been angry about that too. But he's merely traded it for a different paint-by-numbers version of history, one with the colors reversed. It's most unfortunate.
Last night I felt the Spirit pretty well during a session of stake conference, helped by a 19-year-old speaker who inexplicably was even funnier than I am. I went out to eat with some people afterward and we didn't get our food until 10:30, so I was up late and too tired to feel the Spirit today, but these things happen.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.