Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Moment of Silence

The Internet is merciless. In recent years, it has forced nearly every industry, every organization, to adapt or die. It is a digital natural selection, killing off whatever can’t keep up. (Remember Blockbuster?)

Yesterday, the Internet claimed another victim: Playboy.

The magazine will continue, but it will no longer feature nude photos. What had been one of the first stepping stones to manhood for so many boys over the past 62 years has admitted defeat and will soon officially cede that role to the Internet. (In reality, of course, that fight was lost long ago.)

This is sad news, but it’s not surprising.

I was born in 1987, and men of my age were probably the last who saw their first boob on a piece of paper. I remember mine fondly. I was about seven years old. In stereotypical fashion, my friend had managed to sneak away with a Playboy from his dad’s stash. To keep from getting busted, we climbed a tree. When he opened to the centerfold, I almost fell out of it.

A few years later, I managed to get a hold of my own. It featured the Barbi twins. That magazine held a special place in my heart and under my bed for a long time.

And then came the Internet. Suddenly, I and countless other prepubescent boys around the world had access to more porn than even the most deranged addict knew what to do with. It was the beginning of the end for print porn.

It was a good run, Playboy. The ink may fade, but those centerfolds will live on in our minds forever.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Why You Should Stop Crying About Your Student-Loan Debt

With student-loan debt being featured in the media so prominently lately, I know that you’ve all been dying to hear my perspective. So here it is: quit bitching.

And lest you assume that I’m some spoiled brat who had mommy and daddy pay for school, keep in mind that I finished college with over $110,000 in student-loan debt. That costs me $600 a month, and it would cost me more if I weren’t on the income-based repayment plan. One more thing before we go any further: none of this applies to victims of predatory lending practices.

So why aren’t I the poster child for the student-loan crisis? (And it is a crisis.) Because I took on that debt of my own free will. I wasn’t forced to go to a school that cost $40,000 a year, nor was I tricked into borrowing the money to pay for it. And while I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into regarding repayment, I was certainly capable of finding out.

Is college too expensive? Yes. But we’re free to go to a less expensive school or to forgo college entirely. Once I realized that I had made a mistake in choosing St. Joe’s, I transferred to a much less expensive school. A school I could have attended from the beginning but chose not to.

Is it hard to find a good job without a degree? Yes (depending on what you want to do), but you still had a choice: borrow money to earn a degree that qualifies you for a certain career, or settle for a different career. “But I don’t want to settle for a job I don’t love.” Life ain’t fair, my friend. As my man Ben Franklin said, the only guarantees in life are death and taxes; he didn’t say anything about finding a fulfilling career.

I’m not happy with the choice I made regarding college. But I can’t blame anyone else for that choice. I wanted to further my education, and that was the trade-off.

All that being said, I’ll be first in line for loan forgiveness as soon as I’m eligible. I’m not opposed to lightening the burden of student-loan debt, but I’m not going to cry about that burden when I willingly put it on my own shoulders.

Monday, July 6, 2015

If I Die Before I Wake, at Least in Heaven I Can Skate

Ten years ago today, one of my closest friends died. He was a few months shy of 17. I have a fair amount of vivid dreams, and I’ve had a lot about Pierce since then. But one dream has stuck with me more than any other.

In the dream, it had recently snowed, and the sun had set. I was excited to go out; I love the snow. So, as on countless other days, I stepped outside and walked up my street, a steep three-block hill lined with row houses. At the top was the school my friends and I hung out at. You’d see us there almost every day, some of us just sitting around, others skateboarding. In my dream, Pierce had passed away, as in real life. But there he was. Everyone was acting like nothing had happened. It’s hard to describe how I felt when I saw him. Confused, shocked, elated.

I asked a friend what was going on. He told me that Pierce had been allowed to come back for one day. I didn’t think to ask how or why. I didn’t ask Pierce what the afterlife was like.

I had one thought: I want to have just one more snowball fight with my friend.

With tears blurring my vision and a smile spread wide across my face, I scooped up a handful of snow, pressed it into a ball, and threw it at Pierce. Then I woke up.

The dream saddened me, but there was something comforting about it, too. I’ve often said that dreams are almost like memories of real events. While you’re dreaming, it feels real. And in vivid dreams, you truly feel the emotions, the state of mind you’re in. So yes, the dream still makes me sad. It brings back the pain of losing him. Of seeing him lying in the hospital bed. Of serving as one of his pall bearers, lowering him into his final resting place while fighting back the tears, trying to stay strong like a pall bearer is supposed to. This pain isn’t as fresh, but it’s still deep.

But the dream also gave me this memory of getting the chance to throw just one more snowball at my best friend. A friend I’ll never get to see again.

Real or not, I’ll take it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Transracial...Is that a Thing?

Spoiler alert: No.

I’m not writing about Dolezal; I want to discuss whether transracial is a legitimate concept.

(Disclaimer: I understand that transracial has long been used to describe children adopted by parents of another race. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to use the term to refer to the idea of self-identifying with another race.)

This train of thought got started when I saw a Facebook post that said something like, “Ugh…transracial? Really?” My first reaction was to agree. But then I thought of two things. First was Caitlyn Jenner. She self-identifies as a woman; can't a white person self-identify as a black person? Second was a recent conversation I had about race as a purely social (as opposed to biological) construct.

Those thoughts led me to wonder whether I dismissed transracialism too quickly. I’m no sociologist, but I did take an introductory sociology course as a college freshman, so I’m pretty much a sociologist. As such, I understand the idea that neither race nor gender is based on genetics. Both are social constructs. Ethnicity and sex, however, are not purely social constructs.

Race and Gender—Social Constructs

As I understand it, African American is an ethnicity that refers to Americans of largely African descent. Some may narrow the definition to only those descended from slaves. “Black” refers broadly to a culture shared by African Americans who are fully assimilated into a particular subset of American culture.

Gender is a similar concept. At the risk of being accused of not giving gender its due, I’ll sum it up like this: gender refers to behaviors and attitudes that mainstream society associates with a particular sex. Boys play with trucks, girls play with dolls. Not because of genetics, but because parents buy trucks for their sons.

Simplistic (and probably flawed) definitions, but I hope that they work.

It’s a subtle distinction, but maybe this will help clear it up: I’m currently reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (great book, great author). She’s from Nigeria. If she’s granted US citizenship, she’s an African American. But she didn’t share in the experience of black Americans. The novel is about a woman who emigrates here from Nigeria and must “grapple with what it means to be black for the first time.” Her genetics didn’t change, but she wasn’t black until she got to America. It’s related to questions of Obama’s blackness. Some feel that because of his upbringing, he doesn’t truly know what it means to be black in America. He is undeniably an African American, but some question his blackness.

(Dolezal is clearly aware of the distinction. When asked by Matt Lauer whether she’s African American, she nodded her head yes and said, “I identify as black.”)

Oppression and Self-Identification

An integral part of the black experience is oppression, both historically and currently.So is it even possible for a nonblack person to truly share in, not just commiserate with, that experience?


It’s possible for a white person to get it (to an extent). But getting it is not the same as experiencing it. In America, white people simply don’t know what it’s like for society—not just individuals—to discriminate against you because of your skin color. And don't cry about affirmative action. All other things equal, you're better off in this country if you're white.

But wait. We elected Obama, so racism is dead, right? The ability to not think about race is one of the great perks of white privilege. White privilege doesn’t mean that white people get everything handed to them or that the KKK secretly controls America and keeps blacks down. But let me ask you this, white folk (courtesy of Americanah): How many times have you worried that your race would keep you from getting a loan? Have you ever worried that you’d get pulled over for being white? Do you expect to see mostly nonwhite people when you open a magazine? You can’t simply self-identify with that kind of experience. You have to, you know, experience it.

Of course, that raises the question of whether such experience is necessary for a male (sex) to self-identify as a woman (gender). Frankly, if I were a woman, I think I’d say that yes, it is. I fully support LGBT rights, but I wouldn’t hold it against a woman for believing that experiencing sexism is an essential part of womanhood. But why do we (myself included) accept the transgender concept so much more readily than that of transracial?

I think that at least part of the answer is culture. I would say that the difference in the experiences of a white man and a white woman is not as extreme as that of a black woman and a white woman.  The feminist would probably say that sexism just doesn’t get the attention it deserves, and the poor-white-people guy would say that black people just want to pull the race card, but I still think that it’s an important factor.

Oh, and that whole blackface thing always makes it pretty awkward when white people pretend to be black…

Friday, June 5, 2015

Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder

This is my first post in nearly two years. I fell off for a variety of reasons. The two most significant are probably laziness and the feeling that, given the sheer number of opinions out there, I can't come up with anything that hasn't already been said. The latter may be true, but I've decided to (try to) not care. And shout out to Keith for helping convince me to dust off my keyboard.

So. A lot's happened over the last two years. What's bothered me enough to get off my ass and complain about it? Glad you asked. Yesterday, I was asked, "Did you see the pictures of Caitlyn Jenner? She's beautiful, isn't she?" I said no. I was then asked, "Are you anti-transgender people?"

So because I, a 27-year-old,  don't find a 65-year-old transgender woman attractive, I'm prejudiced? I was pretty insulted. And frankly, I think that women and transgender people should be too. To paraphrase some article I saw, it's funny how Bruce Jenner was praised for his Olympic achievements, but Caitlyn Jenner is praised only for her looks.

Yes, a lot of people are calling her courageous, but most of the comments I've seen are related to her appearance. And though I recognize the impact on the LGBT community, I question how much courage it takes for a millionaire celebrity to do this. It takes infinitely more courage for some nobody from Alabama to make such a decision. This praise for Jenner might even be harmful. It's similar to the belief that because Obama was elected, racism and oppression no longer exist.

I was similarly bothered by all the hubbub over the "courage" Angelina Jolie showed when she decided to have her breasts removed because she was at an increased risk for breast cancer. When you can afford to have the surgery (and to have a world-class plastic surgeon give you implants), it seems like a no-brainer to me.

But I digress. I think that every human has the right to do just about whatever they want to their body, but I want to talk about the leap from my saying that Jenner's not good-looking to the assumption that I'm prejudiced against transgender people. Such logic is born of two phenomena.

The first is the crippling fear so many Americans have of being politically incorrect. (For the record, I am not one of those political-correctness-is-killing-society people.) I think that a lot of people have a subconscious fear of being labeled a bigot if they don't let everyone know how beautiful they think Jenner is. I'm reminded of a chapter from Adichie's Americanah that describes some rich Main Line woman who always refers to African women as beautiful or stunning, even when the main character, a Nigerian woman, the women simply are not attractive. Or the "big is beautiful" idea. If you're happy with the way you look, I'm happy for you. But I'm not attracted to overweight woman. (Nor am I especially attracted to super-skinny women. Thigh gaps are kinda weird.) You can't choose your sexual orientation, so why am I expected to alter my opinion on what constitutes beauty?

The second phenomenon is the fact that it makes a lot of people feel warm and fuzzy inside when they write a Facebook post about it. "See how progressive and accepting I am!" These are probably the same people who changed their profile pictures to an equal sign in support of gay marriage but couldn't be bothered to let their elected representatives (i.e., the people in a position to actually change the marriage laws) know how they feel.

I know that beauty is subjective. If you really think Jenner is beautiful, that's fine. She's just not my cup of tea. That doesn't make me a bigot.