Category Archives: Weird & Peculiar

An Election Day Refuge From Campaign News & Punditry

Don’t get me wrong, Friends: of course I’m following the voting day news.

But so is everybody else. And my oft-repeated opinions sound too much like those of the other pundits who are sagacious enough to agree with me. So I’ll give them a rest for now.

Not to mention that the Fair Wendy left for her fateful poll worker stint well before dawn, and will likely be there til after the full moon rises again tonight.

Speaking of which . . .

So here, today, a promise: no more election talk, until maybe sometime tonight, when there are real results to begin chewing over.

The alternatives will not all be serious, nor all frivolous. Because  there are other things to think and talk about, for at least these few hours.

For instance, it’s been way too long since I repeated my warning to the world about that burgeoning threat looming over us, namely,

The Normalization of KALE:

 

Kale hummus? They’re kidding, right?

Evidently not. I’m not sure if these are the same corporate vampires who brought us this other shocking entry . . .

 

 

. . . But I suspect so:

No, just no.

Yet there’s more:

No, really?

Yes, really. (Though I did not actually have to face this concoction with cherries IRL, but just this package made me queasy enough.)

And then there’s . . .

These babies would likely be enough to spark an international incident, what with Italy having just installed an assertive extreme rightwing  government. But at least they don’t have nukes.

I could go on. But as this investigative strip discloses, there are now kale-groomers on the loose. Where will it all end???

My Drag Confession, And An “Explainer”

NOTE/Confession: Halfway through reading the “Explainer” piece below, a suppressed memory broke through the mind fog: that of my own drag experience; and yes, bowing to the current fashion, I’m going to spill the sordid details right here.

It was  around 1990, on or about what the world calls Halloween, at a Friends meeting near — well, I won’t be more specific; they don’t need the exposure. We decided to have a party for the occasion, as an alternative to trick-or-treating; coming in costume was encouraged, and the outlandish was expected.

But I didn’t have a costume: no Luke Skywalker getup,  no skeleton mask, or whatnot, naught but a stifled middle-aged imagination; what to do??

Well, I did have three daughters, and dressups were a thing, and somewhere we found a very plus-size dress, mostly red as I remember, and a fairly billowy straw hat with a sash. So, soon I was walking in the meetinghouse door, as — yes — a bearded lady.

And a bit more: the waist of the dress was capacious (and my waist, believe it or not, was then much less so), and a pillow was somehow strapped to my middle under it, to add a certain blushingly expectant air.

The ensemble thus made me appear not only ridiculous, but also insinuated to the more observant and worldly that sometime in the recent past the character had been involved in ess-eee-echs (Of course, I met all the knowing “Oohs” and “Aahs” with demure deflection.) So I think that now makes me not only a gender bender offender, but furthermore a Boomer Bloomer proto-groomer (try to say that fast three times).

Beyond the, um, couture, I had no act, no Shtick; the guffaws were reflexive and sufficient. Certainly I was not trying to be a “drag queen”; we were Quakers, after all, and had no truck with royalty. (A Drag Clerk? That is an idea which did not occur to us.)

The evening passed in what then seemed like harmless revelry. I think some snapshots were taken, and dimly recall one of me, the hat slightly askew, my mien mimicking a maid awaiting a blessed event. If so, one hopes it has been lost in the shuffle of the decades; otherwise, when I run for president next year, some oppo researcher is sure to dredge it up for an attack ad proving me to be an acknowledged threat to civilization.

In which case, I guess I could still move to Georgia, change my name to Herschel and run for the Senate . . . .

AP News: EXPLAINER: Drag queens and how they got pulled into politics

Lately, drag has been dragged through the mud.

The art form has been cast in a false light in recent months by rightwing activists and politicians who complain about the “sexualization” or “grooming” of children. Opponents often coordinate protests at drag events that feature or cater to children, sometimes showing up with guns. Some politicians have proposed banning children from drag events and even criminally charging parents who take their kids to one.

Performers and organizers of events, such as story hours in which colorfully clad drag queens read books to children, say the protesters are the ones terrorizing and harming children and making them political pawns — just as theyve done in other campaigns around bathroom access and educational materials.

The recent headlines about disruptions of drag events and their portrayal as sexual and harmful to children can obscure the art form and its rich history.

WHAT IS DRAG?

Drag is the art of dressing and acting exaggeratedly as another gender, usually for entertainment such as comedy, singing, dancing, lipsyncing or all of the above.

Drag may trace its roots to the age of William Shakespeare, when female roles were performed by men. The origin of the term is debated, but one possibility is that it was coined after someone noticed the dresses or petticoats that male actors wore onstage would drag along the floor. Another casts it as an acronym — an unproven notion that notes in scripts would use “DRAG” to indicate the actor should “dress as a girl.”

Drag performances could later be seen on the vaudeville circuit and during the Harlem Renaissance. They became a mainstay at gay bars throughout the 20th century, and remain so.

RuPaul took things a step further with his realitycompetition show “RuPauls Drag Race, which became an awardwinning hit and allowed drag to explode in popularity — and into the mainstream.

IS DRAG SEXUAL?

Many drag opponents cite nudity in their objections. Every performer makes different choices, but drag queens often wear more, not less, clothing than you’d see on a typical American woman of the 21st century, at a public beach or on network TV.

Their costumes tend toward extravagant, sometimes floorlength gowns. Drag queens may use false breasts, wear sheer costumes, and use makeup or other means to show cleavage and appear exaggeratedly feminine.

Drag performer Emma Lavin, in red, talking with anti-drag protesters in Eugene Oregon, October 2022.

The difference, performers note, is that opponents of drag see sexual deviance in the crossdressing aspect.

Drag does not typically involve nudity or stripping, which are more common in burlesque, a separate form of entertainment. Explicitly sexual and profane language is common in performances meant for adult audiences. Such routines can consist of standup comedy that may be raunchy — or may pale in comparison with some mainstream comedians.

SHOULD CHILDREN SEE OR DRESS IN DRAG?

Its up to parents and guardians to decide that, just as they decide whether their children should be exposed to or participate in certain music, television, movies, beauty pageants, concerts or other forms of entertainment, parenting experts say.

Performances in nightclubs and brunches meant for adults may not be suitable for children, while other events, such as drag story hours, are tailored for children and therefore contain milder language and dress.

Drag performers and the venues that book them generally either don’t allow children if a performance has risque content, or else require children to be accompanied by a parent or guardian — basically, how Rrated movies are handled by theaters.

Drag story hours, in which performers read to children in libraries, bookstores or other venues, have become popular in recent years. The events use a captivating character to get their childs attention — any parent whose kid cant take their eyes off Elsa from “Frozen” gets the idea. The difference here is that the goal is to get kids interested in reading.

Some children have performed drag at ageappropriate events. One 11yearold who dons a princess dress and tiara was scheduled recently to perform at a story and singing event at an Oregon pub — but was downgraded to “guest of honor” after protests outside broke out into fighting.

“Part of keeping our children safe is allowing them to be children, to be playful, to take risks, and to be silly, without it necessarily meaning anything deeper or more permanent, says Amber Trueblood, a family therapist. Many parents are OK with children dressing as assassins, evil villains or grim reapers, yet they seldom take the costume choice to mean anything more than playful and fun.”

THREATS AND ‘GROOMING’

Opponents of drag story hours and other drag events for audiences of children often claim they “groom” children, implying attempts to sexually abuse them or somehow influence their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The term “grooming” in a sexual sense describes how child molesters entrap and abuse their victims. Its use by opponents of drag, as well as by protesters in other realms of LGBTQ opposition, seeks to falsely equate it with pedophilia and other forms of child abuse.

Perpetrators of the false rhetoric can then cast themselves as saviors of children and try to frame anyone who disagrees — a political opponent, for example — as taking the side of child abusers.

The objections are often religious in nature, with some opponents citing the devil at work. Threats to drag events, and story hours in particular, have increased along with the rhetoric. In addition to the protest in Oregon that failed to suppress one such event, organizers of a recent one in Florida did cancel theirs after what they said were threats from hate groups.

The threats are likely an attempt to scare parents into not taking their children to such events, leading them to fizzle out and push drag back into the closet, observers say. Some organizers, parents and performers have dug in their heels, insisting they wont cave.

In another tactic to discourage attendance, drag opponents have been known to attend performances, take and post a video that lacks context, and then troll or “dox” the performer or venue.

One such video clip showed a profane drag act in front of a young child and framed it as abuse — though the child was with adults and the venue had advised attendees about coarse content, suggested parental discretion and required any children to be accompanied by parents.

Other undermining efforts include a false claim that a performer flashed children at a Minnesota library and another false claim that the head of the Drag Queen Story Hour organization was arrested for child pornography.

Despite some opponents claims, drag cannot “turn” a child gay or transgender, although its playful use of gender may be reassuring to kids who are already questioning their identity. That way, therapist Joe Kort wrote in a blog post in Psychology Today, gendernonconforming kids can have “other templates as they begin to sort out their feelings about who they authentically are.”

Why No Plural “You” in English? Blame It On Quakers?? John McWhorter Says No, Y’all . . .

NOTE: Besides being a columnist for the New York Times, John McWhorter is also a professor of linguistics, and a survivor of some years in a Friends school. He also publishes an online “newsletter,” in which these observations appeared for thy edification.

Fish don’t know they’re wet, and we English speakers don’t know we’re weird. Have you ever thought about how odd it is that English uses the same word for “you” in the singular and the plural?
Possibly not, because to speak English lifelong is to sense this as normal. But try to think of another language where there is only one word for “you.” Imagine if in Spanish one used “usted” to mean both one person and several, or if in French there were no “tu” and “vous” was the only word ever used to mean “you.” As often as not, languages do even more than just distinguish the singular and plural in the second person, marking distinctions of politeness as well. In Hindi there is the informal singular “tū,” the more formal “tum,” and then “āp” for addressing elders and others to whom one is meant to show respect.
And in cases where English serves as the foundation for brand-new languages, one of the first things people do is fill in the “you” hole. When the British first arrived in Australia, one of the ways they initially communicated with Indigenous people was through a pidgin English with a limited vocabulary. That pidgin was later used throughout the South Seas area, and ultimately flowered into actual languages. One of them is now the lingua franca of Papua New Guinea. In that language, Tok Pisin, no one puts up with this business of using “you” for all numbers of people. Rather, they get even more fine-grained than most others: They address two people as “yutupela” — you two fellows — and three as “yutripela.”
In creoles such as Jamaican patois and Gullah, which stem from a creole English created by slaves from Africa on plantations in the United States, right away a plural “you” pronoun was borrowed from the Nigerian language Igbo: “unu.” In Gullah this comes out as “hunnuh.” For example, in the 1990s, Lawry’s Seasoned Salt ran an ad in Essence magazine, presumably in response to the film “Daughters of the Dust,” which featured Gullah dialect, with the Gullah translation for “We think great-great-great-grandma would’ve loved Lawry’s” as “Oona gal tink we’s nana beena lub de Lawry’s Seasnin’.” Why Igbo was used for creating a plural “you” is impossible to know. But the mystery itself seems almost to suggest a kind of urgency, as if the creators wanted to fix a problem so eagerly that they went with the first thing someone happened to seize on.
. . . Plus, To All and to Sundry, They Said, “Thee” and “Thou” . . .
And of course, way back when, English itself had “thou” for the singular and “you” for the plural — or actually “ye,” as in “Hear ye” — the form “you” was used as an object, as “thee” was in the singular. This was all like a normal language. But after a while standard English booted “thou” entirely, despite how noble and quaint it sounds in the Bible. Today it holds on in many rural dialects in Britain, often as “tha” — recall the gamekeeper in “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” saying to the protagonist, “Tha mun come ter th’ cottage one time.” But seemingly everywhere else in Europe today, even in standard language, one toggles between “tu” and “voi” (or “lei”) (Italian) or “ty” and “vy” (Russian) or “du” and “ihr” (or “Sie”) (German). What happened with English?

Continue reading Why No Plural “You” in English? Blame It On Quakers?? John McWhorter Says No, Y’all . . .

Recovered Memories, Forgotten Lessons, and Cloudy Skies

If you’re a certain age, and a New York Times reader, this piece may (or ought to have) caught your attention:

New York Times — September 27, 2022

The Forgotten Lessons of the Recovered Memory Movement

Mr. Watters is a journalist and author whose work focuses on psychiatry and social psychology

Most students in psychology and psychiatry programs today are too young to have any firsthand memory of the moral panic engendered by the recovered memory movement in the 1980s and early 1990s. This was a time when therapists proudly advertised their ability to help clients unearth supposedly repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse; the accusations that followed shattered families and communities across the country.

The belief that such memories could be repressed and then recovered through special techniques was widespread among mental health professionals for well over a decade. In books and on television, therapists portrayed themselves as the first generation of healers to understand both these mechanisms of repression and how to unlock them without contaminating the story that emerged.

The results were dramatic: Patients often recovered abuse memories that began in infancy and lasted for decades. Some came to believe not only that they had repressed memories but also that their minds had fractured into many personalities to manage the pain and betrayal.

With a few decades’ perspective, it’s clear this level of confidence led to disastrous results. In 2005 a Harvard psychology professor, Richard McNally, called the recovered memory movement “the worst catastrophe to befall the mental health field since the lobotomy era.”

The effects of this “catastrophe” spread far beyond the mental health field. Many innocent people had their careers and lives ruined. Further, the moral panic planted and spread conspiracy theories, especially in fundamentalist and evangelical church groups, about vast networks of satanic cults kidnapping, breeding, torturing and murdering tens of thousands of children, and doing so, under the noses but somehow beyond the reach (or even protected by) police, the FBI/CIA, or liberal Democrats. As Watters recounts:

Stories of satanic cults have arisen in different times and places for over a millennium, but “Michelle Remembers” gets credit for kicking off the particular hysteria that struck the 1980s. The book describes the treatment of Michelle Smith, who recovered memories of being held captive in cages filled with snakes and witnessing the butchering of kittens and stillborn babies.

Oprah: she was a believer.

The popularity of “Michelle Remembers” was a precursor to hundreds of stories that began popping up across the country about day cares and preschools suspected of harboring Satan-worshiping child abusers. In a parallel development, patients in recovered memory therapy began to “recover” stories of satanic abuse from their childhoods. These types of memories were far from uncommon: One survey of clinicians taken in 1994 revealed that 13 percent reported seeing at least one case of a patient remembering ritualistic abuse. Thousands of patients described truly incredible scenes of ritual murders, cannibalization, gang rapes and forced pregnancies.

For quite a long time, there was a broad consensus in popular opinion that memories recovered in therapy — including the outlandish satanic cult tales — were true. Nearly a decade after the publication of “Michelle Remembers,” Ms. Smith appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s daytime talk show. Her stories of torture and human sacrifice were portrayed by the host as if they were indisputable facts.

Other prominent believers in the validity of recovered memories and satanic ritual abuse ranged from the feminist icon Gloria Steinem to the evangelical preacher Pat Robertson to the talk show host Geraldo Rivera. In 1993, Ms. magazine published a cover story with the warning “Believe it! Cult ritual abuse exists.” These prominent and well-respected public figures were seemingly convinced that an international cult of satanic child abusers would soon be fully exposed.

Fortunately, what was eventually exposed was that, while child abuse was real enough, a vast satanic conspiracy was not behind it, and “recovered memories” were mainly coerced compliance with credulous adult fantasies masquerading as therapy or religion. Michelle Remembers , among other accounts, was extensively and effectively critiqued.

However, while the “moral panic” it produced soon subsided, like a latent virus, the notion of cult child kidnappers and cannibals never entirely disappeared. Abetted by social media, a new version of it, called Pizzagate, emerged in 2016 from the toxic mix of dark internet channels, social media, and rightwing conspiracy broadcasts such as Infowars. This time many allegations named Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as the center of a murderous child sex trafficking ring, which supposedly had a torture chamber hidden in the basement of an obscure Washington DC pizza parlor.

In December, 2016 a North Carolina man, Edgar Maddison Welch,  invaded the pizza parlor brandishing an AR-15 assault rifle, ostensibly to rescue child captives. Welch fired the weapon, but no one was injured, and he was arrested. The pizza parlor was “revealed” as having neither a basement, any captive children, nor evidence implicating Hillary Clinton.

Yet Pizzagate soon morphed into part of the melange of conspiratorial fantasies now known as QAnon, which are now becoming a prominent feature of the burgeoning neo-fascist insurgency. Watters does not speak of this connection directly, but the links seem plentiful and obvious:

The troubled human mind appears uniquely attuned to clues from social settings, mirroring behaviors, feelings and beliefs with little or no conscious awareness. In her 2021 book “The Sleeping Beauties,” the neurologist Dr. Suzanne O’Sullivan wrote compellingly of immigrant children falling into comalike states and groups of young women experiencing seizures without organic cause. Her insights into the connection between culture and these unique symptoms of psychopathology are trenchant.

“We embody narratives,” she explained. “Some are told to us by powerful people — doctors, politicians, activists, public figures, celebrities.” She continued, “If a model for illness is vivid enough and the basis for the illness is sufficiently salient, it is easily internalized by the individual and then passed from person to person.”

The recovered memory narrative, along with multiple personality disorder, became, for a time, one of those compelling and socially contagious models for illness. Healers, politicians, activists and celebrities were all involved in making the story salient and legitimate. The cultural currents they collectively created were strong.

Sometimes . . . cultural influences on patients’ symptoms are entirely unconscious, and the vectors of the contagion are difficult to identify. But the impact of cultural beliefs on the rise of recovered memory therapy is simply impossible to ignore. The process that recovered memory therapists describe in their books was the looping effect on steroids.

Patients began with vague symptoms of distress and ended up with a compelling story of why they were unhappy — a story that was embraced and promoted in both the mental health profession and popular culture. In the end, the patients had new memories, a new designation as a survivor and altered relationships with everyone in their lives. The transformation into a new identity — a new way of being — could hardly have been more dramatic.

Or, for many of us, more familiar, or more current: every day I read or hear people lamenting the drastic change that has come over relatives, friends, associates; and I lament such changes too; and agonize about their potential social /political outcomes.

I also have memories of my own:

In 1991, I reported on a case involving some British Quakers in the print predecessor of this blog. The house of a Quaker family living quietly on the Scottish isle of Orkney was suddenly invaded at dawn by police and child protection workers, their children seized from their beds and taken away, and the parents threatened with major legal charges, based entirely on unconfirmed allegations of being part of this intercontinental satanic child-abusing conspiracy. The full article is  online here. (No paywall.

Wikipedia also has a helpful summary of the case and its  lengthy aftermath here.
Can it happen again? It already has, a year ago in January at the Capitol and itssimmering toward another boil. Watters does not offer a facile. “How-To-Prevent-A-New-Panic (or Panics)” list. He notes that the exposure and discrediting of the recovered memory infestation was largely the work of reporters and detectives outside of the mental health field, who had not, pardon the expression,  drunk the kool-aid; it took years. And his conclusion is not upbeat:

Recently, I spent an afternoon watching various TikTok channels under the hashtags #recoveredmemory and #dissociativeidentitydisorder. The ideas and themes I heard, mostly from young adults, were disturbingly familiar. Belief in memory repression and the idea that the mind can split into dozens of distinct personalities are alive and well. Across social networking sites, I also found a maelstrom of information, opinion and conversation about mental health topics . . . . The internet as we know it didn’t exist during the rise of recovered memory therapy, but it is a powerful cultural force now and may be ground zero for the creation of new symptom pools, new looping effects and new ways of being.

What takes place on social media will, no doubt, influence what develops during private therapy sessions. Effectively treating this new generation will require an understanding of how culture is once again shaping the symptoms of patients and the certainties of healers. Without that knowledge, mental health professionals will risk engendering new hysterias that they can neither control nor cure.