Fighting Back: LGBT Rallies and Academic Freedom

1-fun-home-alison-bechdel-coverIn late February, South Carolina Representative Garry Smith punished the College of Charleston for its choice of College Reads! book, which was Alison Bechdel’s tragi-comic Fun Home. Although the state’s funds did not actually fund the College Reads! Program, the state legislature chose to cut $52,000 in funding to the College. This caused quite the kerfluffle among CofC students, including myself, who began a series of protests against the legislature’s decisions. This coincided also with the appointment of Glenn McConnell as College president after a politically dubious search process. On Monday, we held another protest, as Fun Home the Musical came to Charleston. Having watched the show myself, I hope it great success and also hope that the play helps spread the message of how homophobia can destroy people’s lives.




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I read the following poems at last Friday’s protests:

Several writers across the country have also spoken up about academic freedom, information for which you can find here:

Find media on the protests and controversy here:


Must You Experience Something To Write About It?


J.K. Rowling never attended a school for wizards and witches, or at least that is the common theory. Surely, if wizards did exist, might they be outraged that a simple Muggle speaks for their struggles, their experience? What is an experience, or rather “the experience” of any certain group? Maybe Rowling need not fear backlash from wand-wielding cloak-wearers, but what about writers who write outside of their experience?

Not every crime writer started out as a detective or cop or anything more than a college graduate. Beyond the need for clearly explaining the real world aspects of jobs writers may not have, they may approach a lifestyle they have never approached. Generally, when I pick up a book by Toni Morrison or Maya Angelou, I can expect their depictions of growing up black and female in America to be accurate. Of course, those experiences do not encompass everyone’s experience, but they make a good representative example.

But what about when I write about being a black female in America? Could my words be taken just as solidly as theirs? After all, it would merely be a representative experience, right? The problem arises that I don’t know what it’s like to be black or female, and although I could research “what it’s like” and read endless books, I may never really know. That’s okay: I’ll write about it anyways.

Because no one can put their feet in everyone’s shoes. We can do only what we can, right? If I only wrote about bookish middle-class white males from Aiken, South Carolina, I might as well write a memoir. All that Write What You Know tripe, it rings true to a certain extent, but it can seriously mangle creativity. And if you never attempt to replace your eyes with the eyes of another, you’ll never learn their perspective.

I thought about this dilemma while outlining a new story about gay homeless teens in New York. I’m not gay, and I’m not homeless. I’ve never even been to New York, but I still think I can write the story. Of course I’ll do research, just like I did research when Is tarted my newest novel about boxing. I did not know anything about boxing culture or rules or even dress, but I learned. You read and read and talk to people who know what it’s like to be whoever you’re writing. Often, I base my stories off of real-life events or ideas or groups, but I don’t pretend to be an expert in any of them.

Surely, Thomas Harris never ate a single human being before penning Silence of the Lambs.

When I began In Lickskillet, one of the characters seemed to be half-black, half-white. There was no reason for it, but that’s how he looked in my mind, and I didn’t shy away from addressing his perspective. Maybe I was wrong, and maybe I assumed many egregious things, but I tried.

There is no gay experience or black experience, only the stereotypical ideas about such experiences. Either there is only one experience (the human experience) that we can all understand, or there are infinite experiences (meaning none of us will ever fully understand one another). My job as a writer is to try to understand, even though I know I can’t.

What do you think? Should authors tackle difficult subjects they’ve never encountered firsthand or act more like journalists?

Jonathan S. Foer: Vegetarianism

“I am a hypocrite,” he announced, explaining why he wasn’t a vegan as well, but being a hypocrite was fine, as long as he did something good. It would easier, he stated, to live without opinions, but then you’d be taking the easy way out. You would simply not care. He acknowledges right off that no, everyone can’t be vegetarians. It would be an insurmountable challenge to convert the world. Then what is there to do?

Every person cares about animals—there is no one who thinks it is outright okay to kick a dog. But not everyone is willing to stop eating meat. And that’s the problem, Foer says, that there seems to be only one choice. Either you are a moral vegetarian who cares or an omnivore who does not. Eating vegetarian seems to apply an absolutist policy. He also touched on some friends who had sworn vegetarianism only to have “one bad night” and quit.

In his book Eating Animals, Foer leaves room for people like me, omnivores. The word “vegetarian” seems too all-inclusive. Everyone has “baseline decency, a minimal goodness,” so why not apply that as well as absolutist ideas? One could simply eat vegetarian meals rather than live vegetarian. If there is something you can’t live without eating, eat that, but just because you may like sushi, don’t eat a hamburger just because.

College of Charleston promotional poster

This struck me as his strongest point: there is a spectrum of what we can do to combat factory farming. We don’t all have to convert, only consider the ugly subject in a clear and honest way. Today, it’s easier than ever to live a little more ethically. Even gas stations sell “free range” eggs.

Foer went on to talk about Charleston and its remnants of slavery. We look back at slavery as this great evil, and those who didn’t try to be a solution, they were the problem. One day, he explains, we will view factory farming in those same terms.

Many questions he received accused him of the hypocrisy he admitted to in the first minute of his speech. He has eaten meat, yes, he admits, by accident. But it’s not just one choice to stop, but a series of choices. Each time we sit down to eat, we are confronted with the choice to eat animals or not eat them. The meat industry has simply betted that people find that desire to know the truth so unappetizing, they remain ignorant on purpose.

Foer supports rational thought and direct conversation about controversy. Caring is something we should do more as we grow older, not less; we need not grow complacent with what we have done, but can continue effective change that may make us proud to look back at our lives.

The speeches and the book gave me a remarkable impression and while I don’t intend to swear off meat like so many of my Charleston comrades have done, I intend to significantly cut my meat consumption. Even if you’re adverse to something like vegetarianism, ignorance should not be your reasoning to ignore the problem; read Eating Animals if ever you get the chance.

At one point, Foer told the anecdote of eating lamb after this book was published. While eating dinner at his agent’s house, he realized too late a dish she served contained chopped up bits of lamb. Just because of that experience, he couldn’t just give up—it was really okay that one that. The point, he stresses, is not that he tries to just stop eating meat. The point is for him to not choose to eat meat. That choice matters, and everyone time he makes the choice, it matters, as it can for us.

Guest Blog: Tolerance (Or Lack of) On Social Media (Part 2)

{Yesterday, I post a blog from Will Victor (juggler, scholar, Taylor-Lautner-look-alike) on the Chik-fil-A controversy and its effects on Facebook feeds. Read Part 1 first, then commence with reading the rest. Share your thoughts below.}

Read Part 1

After having shared the said analysis of the online ideological war, you may ask me, “Will, why do you maintain your position in no mans land?”

You may tell me to listen to Danté, who once said that “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality.” So, why remain neutral? Why choose to stay in “no man’s land?”

The answer to this inquiry lies not in that I have no opinions.  I certainly have opinions on these issues. In fact, I could tell you all that I personally think about every controversial topic from abortion to the social safety net. My neutrality lies not in that I don’t have an opinion—rather it lies in accepting the reality that every one of these controversial issues has two sides, and more often than not, the reasoning used to justify supporting either side is entirely valid under the assumptions upon which the opinion was based. To give an example, I will share with you two opinions on homosexual relations. The first will support the morality of homosexual relations, and the second will debase it.

In favor of:

“Due to advances in modern psychology and research, we as humans understand that homosexuality is not abnormal. Around 5 percent of the population of humans is homosexual, and homosexuality is not a choice. It is an orientation that is determined by biological, genetic, and environmental factors. Further, to hide from one’s identity and suppress homosexual urges is psychologically harmful according to the APA. Thus, homosexuals should be supported in their decision to have relations with one another.”

In opposition to:

“On planet earth, nature has defined laws that govern itself. We call the system of morality that arises from this fact “Natural Law.” In the context of homosexual relations, natural law can conclude that homosexuality is immoral because of the following: a penis is a human body part that is meant to fertilize an egg inside of a woman. An anus is meant to expel waste from the body. These two body parts are not meant to be put together. This is quite obviously the reason why homosexual relations are immoral.”

It is easy to see how these two pieces of evidence are based off of different assumptions. The former implies that what is moral should be defined by what is deemed “normal, and healthy” by scientific research in human psychology, while the latter defines moral as determined by “natural law.” This leads us to conclude that the argument that is occurring is not just about gay marriage, it is rather about some difference in each person’s concept of the source of morality.

It is quite easy to see in the example above that two arguments can be simultaneously valid because each one is based off of a different assumption. This is why I maintain my neutrality in these issues. I’m tired of people acting like the other side is completely crazy. Many fail to recognize that the opposition is using a different set of assumptions to create their argument.

Maybe, if we better understood this, we would stop throwing ideological grenades at one another. And when everyone noticed that the mortars stopped exploding they would poke their heads out of the trenches, and approach one another peaceably. Maybe then people would start to explain their respective worldviews and either agree to disagree, or search for real compromise.

It is my hope that the armistice will come soon because I genuinely dislike watching the sentimental Facebook Christmas stories be eaten up by the bombs of ideological warfare on my mini-feed.

Guest Blog: Tolerance (Or Lack of) On Social Media (Part 1)

{The following post was authored by Aiken High School’s valedictorian and my good friend Will Victor. He will attending Duke University next year to study Math and Computer Science. He is a juggling enthusiast, teenage philosopher, and all-around good guy. This post reflects his views on several recent topics, but mostly of the recent backlash of the topics.}

When I sign on to my Facebook, I feel as if I have stepped in to a time machine. The room rumbles, and the walls crumble. My computer disappears, and I am standing in a place I wish I would never be—“no man’s land.” Yes, I’m standing in that horrible land of barbed wire and detonated mines situated directly between the trenches of opposing armies in the onslaught of the great World Wars of the Twentieth century.

Above me fly missiles of menacing memes, and to my left fiery flowcharts flash facts as if to say, “Back-off! I’m right—you’re wrong!” I begin to ask myself, “Why am I here? All I wanted was a bit of compromise…”

I feel that this has become the territory of the modern moderate. While the left and the right retreat farther into their respective war trenches, secretly developing new weapons of cyber assertion (such as memes, flowcharts, and videos), the middle of the road becomes ever more a place of “no man’s land.”

The territory of compromise and peaceful discourse that is located exactly halfway between the right and the left has turned into a burning, exploding warzone filled with barbed-wire extremism.

Over the past six months, my Facebook mini-feed has changed drastically. What used to be stories of my friends’ families home for Christmas has been replaced by bands of liberals berating Chick-fil-a for its stance on gay marriage, and conversely, millions of requests from conservatives pestering me to “go to Chick-fil-a on August 1st to support a godly business.”

Indeed, I feel that almost every post on my Facebook has to do with someone arguing that he or she is right, and that the other group of people is certifiably insane for thinking otherwise. If one is opposed to gay marriage, then he or she is a bigotrous homophobe, and if one supports gay marriage, then he or she is a moral relativist heathen.

The thing that I find interesting in the whole situation is that no one uses facebook to actually change their views on an issue. No one compromises. No one humbles themselves. In fact, I would argue that on the overwhelming whole, the information that is shared through social media is so biased that most of it just polarizes people even further. The trenches keep getting deeper, the left moves farther left, the right farther right, and the abyss which separates the two gets so clouded with smoke from exploded word bombs that those of us who are left in the middle can’t see far enough to decide which side is winning.

{For part 2, tune in tomorrow and in the mean time, share your thoughts below.}

Sample: Anti-Chik-fil-A ad



The Joy Of Vulgarity

Perhaps because I am wholesomely uncultured and brilliantly wicked, I get a kick out of using the F-word. Even the phrase “the F-word” makes puritanical parents tremble, shriek, and cry, “Think about the children!” But this sometimes only comes through while I’m writing fiction. While working on any journalistic piece, I subscribe to standards: I strive to be unbiased, to offend no one, to please and please and please.


But sometimes, in fictional worlds, authors can afford to be offensive. We can say things that offend others because we hide behind characters who can tout those controversial beliefs with the pride and assurance any self-respecting American would never wear unless he or she were a member of the Westboro Baptist Church.

While being a professional at work or pretending to be a functioning adult, we would never use such vulgar words or talk so casually about sex and drugs and crime. But when we write, even the primmest of the proper may indulge in the vulgar. We relish the dirty grit of life because we do not always live it. To live in such a way, we may experience extreme trauma, ultimate failure. To write about such things, however, offers us no true consequences. We can throw rotten eggs at retirees, burn down buildings, live in squalor– all from the safety of books.

With the advent of the e-book, without so many people in public able to see what we’re actively reading, we may venture into newer


territory. We are comfortable reading books with strange names, strange titles– things we have not considered reading because of fear of public ridicule. Remove that? Suddenly, every middle-aged woman reads 50 Shades of Grey. Erotica, stories of gruesome crime, books about drug addiction– we are allowed to indulge in these interests in complete secret. All of our darkest fantasies open for opportunity.

Not long ago, I posted this about a similar subject. We read what we cannot experience. Therefore, we write what we cannot experience. At the moment, I enjoy writing about murder, drugs, and mayhem. Do I regularly butcher people and snort cocaine? Of course not, but boy is it fun to write about.

Maybe that makes me a terrible person to put characters through a vulgar gauntlet, but if that offends you, well you don’t have to read my stories. In fact, when I first began this blog, I thought it would edgy, cutting-edge. I would post fiction and poems that pushed boundaries. I read the likes of Craig Clevinger and Chuck Palahniuk. I loved whatever offended people, but now I only do so passively.

That teenage urge died out. I care now only about telling good stories, not garnering attention through offense. But do I still think vulgarity makes for good subject matter? Yes. Yes, I do. Besides, I write about teenagers. I could easily skip around profanity and discussions about sex that would make E. L. James turn read, but I don’t want to.

It’s simply not as much fun.


Harry Potter: And the Satanic Controversy

Harry Potter is a widely accepted allegory, right up there with fantasy books such as Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. Harry Potter, however, is also known to encourage children who read the books to worship Satan and get tattoos and pierce their nipples and whatever else Satan-worshippers apparently do.

It is strange to believe that a book written for children might spark controversy, but then again, any really good book aimed at the young ignites new fires: The Catcher in the Rye, Huckleberry Finn, and nearly any
by Judy Bloom,
for example.

Harry Potter smells of Satanism, say some conservative Christians. Others claim it is a harmless children’s story at heart, with Christian morals in fact. See what’s so satanic about Harry Potter here:

Now, I could argue in defense of a book beloved by myself and many others, but maybe we can take a different route. Instead of analyzing what is Christian and moral and awesome about Harry Potter (namely, Harry dying to save everyone else), let’s explore the occult.

Harry Potter practices magic, a form of power usually associated with the Devil. In Divination, students strive to learn how to foresee the future, though Harry mostly just slacks off or passes out in the middle of class. With ghosts and crystal balls and objects that you can store your soul in, what isn’t a bit occult in Harry Potter?

What about Inferi, which are reanimated bodies- inspired into motion by dark magic? Or the idea of a chamber where a huge Basalisk with killer eyes lives?

My point is, if someone says that Harry Potter has traces of the occult, they’re actually right. I’m sure reading these books won’t turn kids toward witchcraft, but I must say that I did really want to become a wizard while reading them. In the fifth grade, I printed up a fake acceptance letter on parchment paper and showed it to all of my friends. No, I wouldn’t be joining them at pathetic middle school, but instead be learning how to “put a stopper in death” in Potions class. Snape sure seems nicer than some of my past teachers.

If you’d like to see what all the Demon-related fuss is about, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 premieres July 15th.

I for one have been dragged down into the desires of wanting to become a wizard, and I shall don my Hogwarts robe tonight to wait outside a crowded cinema for the final adventure to begin. I hope you’ll join me.