Last week I went to a haunted house attraction for the first time. I went in with a larger than average group and they warned us that it would be better with smaller groups, but none of us wanted to split up. So maybe that's why I didn't find it very scary, but I don't think the concept itself is scary anyway. When you go to a place like this, your whole intention is for people in costumes to jump out at you in the dark and yell. You know they're going to do it, you know they're not even allowed to touch you, and you know the chainsaw isn't real because that would be a million dollar lawsuit waiting to happen. (The sawdust smell was a nice touch, though.) Some mystery remains as to the precise moments when the people in costumes will jump out at you in the dark and yell, and I did get startled a couple of times, but most of the element of surprise is gone. So I don't know why people find it scary enough to yell back. It's like in the remake of "When a Stranger Calls" (I haven't seen the original) when the protagonist finds the maid's body in the fish pond and you're supposed to be shocked even though you guessed it forty-five minutes ago.
Mind you, that's just my thought on the concept and not a criticism of this particular establishment, which had fascinating costumes and decor and atmosphere and was fun regardless. But then I'm not sure why humans go to a place to get scared for fun either. I'm not sure why activating the primal instinct that tells us we're going to die if we don't get the hell out of here is a source of pleasure. I've heard that it's cathartic to exercise this primal instinct in a controlled environment where we know we're not in real danger, and I guess that tracks. But I can imagine every other species on the planet, all the generations of our pre-industrial ancestors, and otherwise objective alien xenopologists looking at this behavior, throwing up their hands and tentacles and other appendages in consternation, and yelling at us in their various languages, "What the ----ing ---- is wrong with you?" And then when the alien xenopologists learned that a lot of humans also find pain sexually arousing, they'd blow up the Earth to save the rest of the universe.
I was in a group with five people I knew from the local YSA LDS ward - I still attend their weekday activities because I like most of them - but then somehow some girl I've never seen before ended up in our group, and she was real nice and I would have thought she was flirting if I hadn't learned from harsh experience that apparent flirting is nothing of the sort and true flirting is only discernible with years of hindsight. While we were still in line - so before the scary part, although some people found the clowns walking around with obviously fake tasers scary - she touched me on the arm. I thought about the sexual misconduct prevention trainings I had to take as both a student and a faculty member at Utah State University. As I recall, they straight-up said not to touch people at all without permission, and I rolled my eyes because we all know that isn't how neurotypical people live their lives. They don't touch me nearly as often as I'd like given that touch is one of my love languages (I have a three-way tie, which makes me thrice as needy as a normal person), but when they do, they just do it. And I never touch them in return because I don't know when it's okay and even if I did, the action would be scripted and awkward and not a spontaneous show of platonic affection like theirs are.
Some time after I had taken those trainings, no less a figure than university president Noelle Cockett touched me without permission. It was at an event where people were supposed to eat bagels and talk to her, and I think some aide signed her up for it and forgot to tell her, because she showed up late and confused. I was the first person in line who actually had to talk to her before getting bagels. So with an awkward look on her face she asked about my major and stuff, and she touched me on the arm while she talked, and that's setting a really bad example for the student body, don't you think? (Note: I'm not serious. Please don't anybody complain about her.) I don't remember where I was going with this. Happy Halloween. Anyone interested is invited to check out this post from a couple years ago on "Some of My Favorite Halloween Carols," which is hard to top, but also here's an underrated eighties song that really has nothing to do with Halloween but has zombies in the title and has been in my head lately.
Hayden Nelson, the officer of the Logan City Police Department who abused me on January 14, 2020 (aka the worst day of my life), is being sued along with a dozen other officers for abusing someone else more egregiously that same year, and the city of Logan for sweeping it under the rug. I learned about this lawsuit from Cache Valley Transparency, a first amendment auditing YouTube channel that LCPD has been illegally trying to squelch with bogus privacy complaints and stalking charges. I expect it will be thrown out soon thanks to the legal doctrine of qualified immunity that exists for the sole purpose of enabling cops and other government officials to violate people's constitutional rights with impunity, but I'd love to be wrong. At least it validates my perception of what happened to me. The incident described in the lawsuit is far worse than mine, yet the disgusting incompetence and maliciousness of the officers involved is identical, and the subsequent cover-up by the police department is also very familiar. I've reached out to the district court to ask if I can get involved somehow and testify about the kind of people Hayden Nelson and the department leaders are, I've reached out to the department leaders to mock them (again), and I've reached out to city attorney Craig Carlston to politely explain that these words he's quoted as saying are a load of crap:
"I know that the police department, and all the officers, take these things very seriously. My experience with the police department is they've been really diligent about complying with the constitution and state code, and they care deeply about those things."
A couple years before my experience, I had come to recognize that police brutality specifically against black men was a problem. Before then, of course I heard about the endless string of murders by law enforcement but as a card-carrying conservative I was required to believe that racism magically disappeared in the 1960s, so I had to assume that most of the victims brought it on themselves by not cooperating. However, when confronted by more information, I changed my mind, because honest adults do that sometimes. And I still didn't get mad about it. I just saw it as a terrible fact of life that I couldn't do anything about. And in fairness, it's true that my subsequent attempts to do something about it have had no discernible effect on anything except the number of my Facebook friends. But I feel guilty for not getting angry about it until it affected me personally. I guess I've just got to forgive myself and move on. I'm determined not to let the issues drop even if everyone else who jumped on the George Floyd bandwagon loses interest.
There are really two issues here with substantial overlap: police abuse, which affects all races to some degree, and systemic racism, which encompasses far more than police abuse. I want to eradicate both. I recognize the intersectionality in my own situation, that even as Hayden Nelson bullied and discriminated against me for being autistic and "weird," things almost certainly went better for me than they would have if I had darker skin. I feel a special love for Elijah McClain, one of the most Christlike individuals in the world, who was murdered by three police officers and two paramedics for "looking sketchy." (Okay, so the actual charge is manslaughter, but I can't grasp the fine legal distinction between murdering someone and merely assaulting them to death for no reason.) I made him my Facebook profile picture some time ago so people can't forget about him or the pending legal action against his murd- I mean manslaughterers. Now when I see his picture it really feels like I'm looking at myself. I hope that's not some kind of inappropriate appropriation or white savior thing. I want to live vicariously through him in some sense to keep him alive in some sense, but not in a weird way.
Today is Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery in the US, kind of. White people in the South used all kinds of legal loopholes to keep black people in conditions that were slavery in all but name. Still, it was an important day. And now thanks to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, it's a federal holiday and a state holiday in every state. Time will tell whether this is an empty symbolic gesture or whether the awareness generated by it translates into a reduction of racism in the United States. So far, it's certainly exposed a lot of racists here in Utah, and I assume elsewhere as well since these Utahans usually just parrot whatever the other Trump worshipers are saying. You might think that celebrating the end of slavery was something we could all agree on. You would be wrong. This holiday, according to them, is a fake holiday, a made-up holiday (as opposed to the naturally occuring holidays that are woven into the fabric of the universe), PC culture, and/or wokeism, or it's bad because we have too many holidays already or because we don't have a holiday for some other group that they've never cared about in their lives (and 9 times out of 10 we actually do have such a holiday), or they've never heard of it and would rather boast about their ignorance than fix it, or they don't see why black people can't just let go and stop focusing on the past and focus on the time white people declared their independence from England instead. Yeah, these people who think they're Christians are going to be really surprised when Jesus incinerates them.
I didn't know about Juneteenth until a few years ago either. But as soon as I learned, I had no objections to it because I'm not that much of a monster. I'm happy to celebrate it now. USU did some great events over the last few days that I would write about in detail if I'd gotten more sleep. As soon as I sign off here I'm headed to the final one, an interfaith devotional with the Bonner family and some other cool people.
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.
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.
"Guys. Chris's blog is the stuff of legends. If you’re ever looking for a good read, check this out!"
- Amelia Whitlock
"I don't know how well you know Christopher Randall Nicholson, but... he's trolling. You should read his blog. It's delightful."
- David Young
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.