I don’t understand what a bunch of hysterics find so scary about some rural 17-year-old kid who says that yea, mom and dad, I think guys are pretty hot.

I mean, *I’ve* been a rural, 17-year-old-kid who was like, “Yea, mom and dad, I think guys are pretty hot (and that chick in speech class isn’t bad either).”

And you know, I don’t consider myself very scary.

Certainly not scary enough to warrant this sort of behavior from Westboro Baptist minister Fred Phelps and his hysterical flock. This guy rallied up and shipped out some good Christian folks and sent them to picket this kid Michael’s home town – and his local church – to tell him he was a demon freak and all of the people around him who hadn’t stoned him to death were evil sinners and going to hell.

What happened to “Jesus loves everybody” and “Don’t judge lest ye be judged” and “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”?

Are these people Christians, or hate-mongers?

The town’s response to this is telling – you can’t bring in “foreigners” to a small town and have them try and alienate the town and one of their own because they accept somebody the way he is… well, no, his town doesn’t really accept him the way he is. They keep hoping he’ll change, which is why they keep letting him back into church. But let’s ignore that for a minute, and just say that you can’t get a bunch of people riled up and send them out after a small-town kid, cause you’ll get a backlash. You’ll get locals saying stuff like, “Stay away from our homos.”

He’s ours. Not yours. Fuck off.

It’s a starting point, I guess.

In truth, the best part of this article for me, and the part that I really connected with, was when The Human Rights Campaign offered to fly Michael into DC to attend their national dinner. Michael went with his sister Shelly, after getting his mother’s very hesitant permission to go. And, in DC:

The next day there was a luncheon and sightseeing of the monuments. A lesbian couple with a 3-year-old daughter took Michael and Shelly to dinner in Dupont Circle. Walking around the gay neighborhood, Michael was in awe. “It was like being around family,” he said. “Seeing all those successful people, that could be me.”

As somebody who’s from a small town, it was this bit of the article that really struck me. That realization:

There are other ways to live. Things can be really different.

This isn’t all there is. Everybody doesn’t marry the guy they dated in high school, have a miserable or lackluster marriage of obligation, and spend their lives raising kids that they may not really want but feel are expected to have.

You can know these things on a rational level, but until you actually see it at work, it remains about as tangible a reality as the North Pole. Sure, you know it’s there, but you can’t see a way to get there, or how it being there would affect you. Except insofar as it affects the weather, and magnetism, and the tilt of the earth, and…

The first time I walked into a gay-friendly neighborhood, I was twenty years old and attending Clarion West in Seattle.

My realization happened quite suddenly. I was walking around, mapping out the local neighborhood, looking for the grocery store, the pharmacy – and then this odd thing happened. I looked up and realized I was walking down the street next to same-sex couples holding hands.

And no one was jeering at them.

Nobody looked furtive or harassed. Happy couples ate out at the sidewalk cafes. Groups of women in practical clothing ordered real food and laughed and talked in big voices. Men held long conversations with each other about personal relationships and clothing.

Now, I’m one of those illusion-of-heterosexuality types who identifies as hetero, but is probably a 3-3.5 on the sliding scale of human sexuality. That is, I mostly go crazy about boys, and I identify as straight, but I’ve been known to goggle at the occasional girl. So really, as a self-identified “straight” person, I shouldn’t have felt this huge relief I felt when I was walking around. I should have just been like, “Wow. That’s cool.”

Instead, I felt, for the first time, like I could totally relax. It was a bit like going to a science fiction convention (bear with me here), where everybody’s a fat dork, and has these really fascinating sexual relationships or lack thereof, and it’s all OK.

As I grew up, I stumbled into the “fat girl” stereotype, and the “fat dork” label that I draped over my head and started to internalize. I recognized that I was bigger and taller than most women. I didn’t wear makeup. I didn’t know how to flirt. I had the braces/glasses/headgear thing going on. I lived on books. People were always making fun of me. They were stealing things from me. They were throwing stuff at me on the bus.

Like most people, I got rid of most of my dorkly attire as I got older, lost weight and got even taller, but I still had this feeling, this feeling like, “This isn’t the right world for me. What other people want isn’t what I want. I don’t want what I’m supposed to want.”

I didn’t want to get married. I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of having kids. I wanted to run around the world with a backpack. I wanted to live in a little cabin in the woods and write books. I wanted to ride motorcycles in Rome. I was a lot more crazy about hopping into bed with people than women were supposed to be. I was still too big and too tall, to be a woman. That’s what the media told me. That’s what seeing all these hetero couples and their screaming children told me. I was wrong to not want these things.

But walking down that street in Seattle, in that neighborhood, with all those comfortable people, it occurred to me that I had found a safe place. Nobody would likely ask me why I wasn’t married. Nobody would say that since I wasn’t dating I must be a lesbian (and if they did, they wouldn’t say it like it was a *bad* thing). Nobody would call me a fatty or say I read too much or ate too much or sneer at me for talking about feminism. Why not? – cause I believed that most of these people knew *exactly* what it was like to be hated for something about yourself that made you comfortable and happy.

Oh, sure, nobody’s a saint – there are lots of people, no matter their sexuality or skin color or nationality or religion or whatever, who have a deep fear and resentment for stuff like fat and dorkdom – but again, no matter what the rational part of my brain was saying, the rest of my body was comfortable, relaxed, and yes, relieved. I could just walk. Nobody here would hurt me. That’s what my body told me.

I get that same feeling browsing at the Women and Children First Bookstore in Andersonville, and dining next to four women on a double-date at Andie’s. It’s that thought, like:

I can say liberal things, and talk about female revolutionaries, and sit here looking the way I look, and nobody’s going to pat me on the head and say I’m a silly girl, or the wrong kind of girl, or tell me I’m going to hell cause I’m not married.

I’m OK here.

This is what I don’t understand about people who hate. People who seek to attack others who have done them no harm, who are not thinking to do them harm, and then start screaming at them and throwing stones – the way I felt screamed at in a town that always felt too small for me.

I like to think of myself as being really accepting of people, because I know what it’s like to feel suffocated by a world that doesn’t seem right for you. But I can’t understand the need to hate. I can’t understand standing on a sidewalk and screaming that some 17-year-old should die and his whole congregation is going to hell cause they “let” him into church, and love him for being a person.

Yes. A person. You know, like everybody else.

All I can figure is that these are very, very, terrified people who believe that if others exist who are different than they are, then those people threaten their own belief about the lives they’ve chosen. After all, if there are people in the world who your version of the Bible says shouldn’t exist, how can you be so absolute in your faith? If there really are places where you don’t have to grow up and get married and kow-tow to a physically superior husband who makes more money than you do, then you might have to question why *you’re* doing it.

There are a lot of men and women who are very happy with the cozy nuclear family lifestyle – though not nearly so many as the cultural illusion would have you think. I respect stay-at-home mothers more than I respect many people, because I have an understanding of just what an incredible undertaking it is to bear and raise children. But there’s a fear that came true for a lot of conservatives in an explosive and very public way in the 70s: there’s a fear that if women, especially, are given another way of living, that they’ll take it. That they’ll jump ship, and start making up lives of their own.

Wouldn’t that be terrible?

These rebel women would threaten your way of life with their very existence, because god wouldn’t strike them down, their children wouldn’t all be deformed, they wouldn’t get into some disfiguring accident, and no, Massachusetts wouldn’t sink into the sea…

And then…

And then…

Who’s left to hate? Who do you blame for your own unhappiness? Who do you blame for your own dissastisfaction? Who’s carrying all the sin in the world?

Back in the day, little communities started the new year by transferring all of their sins to a goat. The goat was then sacrificed to god or the gods, purging the town of it’s yearly sins and feelings of ill-will.

And you know what? I don’t wanna be anybody’s fucking goat. And my friends and neighbors ain’t goats either.

I think that all of us dangerous women and rebel men hold up a mirror – I think it scares the shit out of people.

I think we should do more of it.

There are other ways to live. We’re making them, and we’re living them.

And yes, I do believe that other people need to hear about them.

Because my heart bleeds for all these 17-year-old kids in these little towns, the ones who don’t know that there’s another way to live, and so stay home raising goats.

There?s another way to live.

Things can be really different.

And yes, that’s an OK thing. The world will not explode. Nobody’s going to abolish happy hetero twosomes. Nobody’s going to take away your Bible. Another person’s happiness doesn’t threaten yours.

What I want out of my life doesn’t affect the lives of Phelps’s hysterics – unless some of those hysterics see my life and realize they don’t much like their own lives. Unless seeing me and my buddies living as single (or unmarried-partnered/married-open relationship/poly/same-sex partnered), successful, strong women who can lift 120lbs and knock somebody out with a right cross means that they start to question Phelps.

I suppose I can understand, then, what a shepherd like Phelps finds so terrifying.

He’s afraid his sheep will turn into people. He’s afraid they’ll start thinking like people.

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