The Liberal in the Red Hat

As a life-long liberal, I am concerned about liberals. I often hear how we strive to be tolerant and inclusive, but I am not witnessing this. If I had to evaluate liberalism, I would replace it with a series of disjointed boxes. Their only connection would be with their artificial alignment. They appear unified, but each focuses only on its own box.

Not long ago, I was present at a faculty meeting, and the topic was hate speech. One professor argued that if a person showed up with a Trump MAGA hat, they would not allow him to wear that cap. The professor said the hat would disrupt the class and make students feel uncomfortable. It would be a macroaggression.

Political office is a mess, from current events in Virginia to the toxic partisanship in D.C., yet I strongly disagreed. Our students and our faculty have protections under the First Amendment. It would be illegal to remove someone from a public college classroom because of what they are wearing, I argued. Unless he is privately chanting “build that wall, build that wall” or making a Nazi statement, he has just as much right to wear that shirt as a gay person can wear a rainbow shirt, or an African American can wear a “Black Lives Matter” shirt.

That scared me. As one that often writes on disturbing and inappropriate content, I know what it is like to get censured. I wrote a poem that addressed my past trauma through a speaker. I lost a childhood friend in a horrible school bus accident. Its purpose was to hold a mirror up to society and show all of us what we seldom do. That poem was banned by a social media platform that champions free speech for violating “community standards.” I wrote them back and said, “I hope you never experience what it’s like to have your tongue ripped out of your mouth.” That banning felt like assault to me. I am the liberal in the red hat.

I was being vulnerable. I was admitting to the darker more conflicting aspects of myself, but I also was a survivor of repeated trauma. I felt that because I was a man, my boyhood abuse did not matter. That is the message men get.  

 I then realized that we have no art in the United States when any form of art is censured. Art is not meant to be politically correct. Now, I was the enemy. Yet, I knew, as a professor in literature, that my readers needed a lesson in how to read literature. They were reactive, the possible catalysts for fake news. They became the self-righteous moral “social justice” crusaders with little regard to the poem’s true meaning.

What all of us have in common is that we are connected. I grew up so poor that I lived on hot dogs and fries for two years, often with no running water, and, at times, had no central heat in rural Western New York. I understand the anger the Trump voter feels. I try to understand what it’s like for my African American student to be a minority in America, whose cousin dies in her arms from a gunshot wound, and after 20 years of feminist study, even as an editor of a collection on women, what it means to be female in America. It’s hard for all of them, and if we listen to their stories, we will connect.

People care about what they care about. By nature, we don’t care about people unlike us, so if we mock the differences in us: a hat, skin color, gender, sex, or our struggles, demons, and mental illnesses. We are running from ourselves. We will make the others enemies. There is the saying I’ve heard, When good conquers evil, good becomes evil. We all suffer, but we suffer differently. The very heart of fundamentalism relies on the devaluation of human beings. If the United States is anything, at present, it is a bi-polar fundamentalist state.  For liberals, controlling speech will make us all better and happier. I see it as an assault on a democracy. In truth, free speech is the only pathway to continued democracy. As my conservative friend once put it, “Sometimes you have to put up with a little crap on your glasses.”

Illegal Nuances

Politicon 2018 - Day 1
The resemblance is terrifying …

He was a large man with a hedonistic love for food rather than of fellow mercy. As he bent over the table glaring at me, I felt a mere fly; and he a giant chameleon-like spider that despised what he was about to consume.

“We have all of them,” he said, tapping his sausage-like finger on the desk near my folded hands.

Trying to convince him I was human, I sat upright and composed my shaking self, “What, well, what do you mean?”

Don’t play innocent with me. You love them don’t you?”

Not waiting for a response, he continued spinning his web.

“Yes, yes, I get it. Who would not like someone so soft, gentle, innocent and cute?”

“No, no, it’s not like that! It’s just a hobby … a kind of research I was doing … I mean I really love …”

“Love!” He chuckled back at me in all his Chris Christie-ness. “You love them? Really?”

“Well, not love, I mean I like them …”

“Ha, ha, really? So twelve-hundred images equates ‘like?’”

He carassed his cheeks with his hands.

“Okay, I cut you off, please continue. Let’s hear about this research.”

He sat down, paying no attention to the squealing chair beneath him and crossed his giant arms peering at me attentively?

“I didn’t do anything wrong. I like pictures, okay? I don’t know what it is about them, but they are so appealing, cute, and … well, impulsive. I never hurt anyone in real life. They have a kind of iridescence in their faces, a kind of youth along with an uninhibited action that is really appealing. I wanted to know if others felt this way.”

“By downloading pictures?”

“Yes,” I shot back trying to gain momentum and confidence. You say fifteen-hundred images, but how many are illegal?”

The political prosecutor ignored by request for a moment.

“You joined a fetish site? Did the folks at Peachy Fur Tails help you with your research?”

I knew he was weaving this web around me. I knew I should not talk to him without an attorney, but the whole thing was so humiliating. My personal life, what I do in private, spread to everyone.

There he was, a hungry giant, sifting through every stale, rotten morsel hoping to find just a little something to eat. His men, the police, kicking my door down, in SWAT gear, with automatic weapons, as if I was the North American leader of ISIS.

I was now a middle-aged patient getting a forced colonoscopy by a doctor whose meticulous expertise was how to do so by causing as much pain and discomfort as possible.

They were only pictures, I told myself. How bad could it be? The funny thing is that I hardly looked at them, almost all of them. My love of them, it’s funny in a way, but maybe, just maybe that love made me squirrel away their lovely, erotic images in hopes of savoring them for another day.

He could lie. He could exaggerate. He could twist and turn the narrative so that the paranoid reader would eat it up. The media would do the same, replace this with that for effect, no cares if my “escape away from life” costs me my life.

I could tell the truth, but at what cost?

“Don’t we all like nice, firm tails?” I said to him.

He was not amused and wittingly shot back, “You left out one important detail.”

He then pulled out a manila envelope and dropped it on the table.

“How do you explain these?”

We both paused.

“Go ahead look at it. We’ve got all day,” he said checking to see if he had leftover food between his fingernails.

“My hands were shaking as I pulled out the photographs.”

“Two counts,” he said … and a video.”

“Two counts? Of what? A video?”

I looked at the pictures and was stunned. I remember seeing them. ”

But they were not pictures I like!” I blurted out.

“Tell me why they were on your computer?”

“I am not sure. It must have been a moment thing. You know how one can get worked up looking at things online, especially us guys. We end up saving images we don’t really like at the moment. We lose our senses, don’t judge well. Are these illegal? I don’t get it.”

The big man grinned at the spilled confession, and said, “Why let’s describe what the Statement of Charges will detail. In Exhibit One, Subject A is devouring the other subject, Subject B’s nuts. The next picture, Exhibit Two, Subject A is going at Subject B’s ‘fussy little tail.’ Subject B is grimacing with nut residue on its face. These are not adult.”

I was barely able to speak but tried, “but the video?”

“It’s good you asked. I am beginning to like you. The video is ‘too horrible show.’ All of them are. That is what we will tell the court and the media. These are too horrible to show. That you had nearly fifteen hundred images of these cute … fuzzy little tails?”

“I don’t understand. Out of all these pictures, I just have three that are crossing a line. Don’t so many of these prove that I have no intent?”

“No, the fact is that no one cares about you. What matters is that you have two counts, and we can add the third if you don’t confess. The federal maximums are 5 years per image and ten years per video. You could serve a maximum of 20 years.”

The giant paused with great satisfaction and leaned forward.

“That’s what I think you should get. And then there is the registry, so even if you get out earlier, you will be on there for the rest of your life. Good luck getting a job, finding a house, or having a life.”

“20 years! I did not hurt anyone. These are artifacts of a subject, not the subject. They happened once … You cannot lock people up for being curious, for clicking. I am not going out and hurting people!”
“Preaching is not going to help you. As far as people are concerned, you are a monster. They want you humiliated and murdered. Everyone in the court system hates you.  If you take this to court, then I will show the video and all the evidence, everything. The jury will hang you.”

He grinned, biting his nails, while leaned back again, as if rocking in slow motion.

“Let’s be fair, we put the dumbest asses on the planet on juries. They hate you before the trial begins.”

He stopped for a moment and looked compassionate.

“Look, I can help you if you admit guilt now. If you take it to trial it does not look good for you.”

His merciful façade made me break down.  I started to cry.

“Look, you are a sick, sick man. My advice is to plead on the two counts, get your ass in therapy before the trial, and maybe you won’t do 20 years.”

I finally understood that I had to lose my nuts to gain my life: