psychology, rants

For shame!

As Germany is about to enter yet another partial lockdown, I’ve been looking for more ways to occupy my time. I decided to hang out in a Facebook group devoted to fellow graduates of Longwood College. I specify Longwood College because that was the name of the school when I attended. It is now known as Longwood University, and it’s changed quite a lot since my day. Those of us who were Longwood students before all of the insane building projects like to hang out there and reminisce about the old days.

Things have been pretty slow in that group lately, save for the frequent posts by one guy who has managed to sell Longwood College swag. Someone complained about the frequent sales posts. She said the group wasn’t intended to be a sales site. I have to admit, she’s right. But it’s not entirely the seller’s fault, since people did want him to start selling the Longwood College branded merchandise. He supposedly went through a lengthy licensing procedure in order to get permission to sell the stuff.

Now… I don’t actually care too much about the sales postings. It’s easy for me to scroll past them. But I did agree that things in the group had gotten kind of dull. A couple of months ago, I started a thread about Erin McCay George, a woman who used to be the editor of the college’s newspaper, The Rotunda. She ended up murdering her husband for insurance money and is now in prison. She also wrote a book about what it’s like to be in prison. For several days, that was a hot thread. No one seemed to take any issue with it.

Yesterday, I started a more innocuous thread about the State Theater’s roof collapsing during the spring semester of 1994. But then I remembered another “true crime” case involving a fellow alum. The trouble was, the case was about a man who is in prison for viewing child pornography. Although no one seemed to have a problem with chatting about a female murderer who is in prison, it somehow felt potentially icky to bring up the case about the guy who’s in prison for viewing kiddie porn.

People asked me to “spill the tea” about the case, so before I posted the details, I wrote that the crime was pretty yucky. I didn’t mind sharing what I know about it, but I advised anyone who had an issue with it to say so. No one did. In fact, I got more pleas to “spill the tea”, so I did. Bear in mind that this case is over ten years old and was all over the news in Texas back in 2009, 2010, and in 2016. In fact, one can even read very interesting legal documents about the case online. They are readily available to everyone. I also wrote about the case on my old blog.

So, without naming the guy explicitly, I wrote about the case in this group. Then I provided a link to a FindLaw article about his case. Sure enough, I got a shaming comment from someone who was “disgusted” that I would open that can of worms. I wrote that was why I posted a warning as the initial post. The story of the crime was in the comments. She could have scrolled past. She chose not to.

She pressed on that I shouldn’t have shared the story and implied that I should be ashamed of myself. My response was, “Why? No one had a problem with my post about Erin George, who MURDERED someone.” At least in this case, no one died.

Then someone else joked that no one should tell me anything “personal”. And I wrote that this was a news story that was covered extensively in Texas. It wasn’t confidential information. Moreover, I didn’t even write the guy’s name, although I did share a link about the case. It would be one thing if this was something secret, rather than just taboo. But it wasn’t a secret, nor was it even new news. Some people are interested in true crime. I certainly am.

Even if this case was not about someone I knew of in college, I would have found it very interesting, mainly due to the way he got caught. Basically, he hired someone to house/dog sit and did not lock down his computer. She helped herself to the computer, claiming that she was trying to rip music from one of his CDs (which investigators later found no evidence of her doing). She found his stash of child pornography and then went to the police. Granted, this happened in 2009, but it’s still amazing to me that someone with a habit like that one wouldn’t be more careful.

Some people in the group were grateful that I shared the story, salacious as it was. The one woman who “shamed” me eventually got swept up in trading insults with one of the more vociferous posters– the one who had complained about the many sales posts. Meanwhile, I was left perplexed that she’d tried to make me feel small for sharing a story about a ten year old news item. Yes, it was a negative story about an alum, but I did take the time to warn those who didn’t want to read it. And why should the shamer feel she has the right to dictate what people post about if something is not explicitly against the group’s rules? Just like I have explained in response to complaints about my blog, I can’t know what will or won’t offend individual people. I suspect more people were interested in the story– again well reported in the news– than upset by it.

I ended up explaining once again that I knew that some might not think the story about the pedophile was an appropriate post, but if someone who only wants to read positive posts doesn’t heed an explicit warning that a topic might be icky, that’s kind of on them. Even on this blog, I post explicit warnings when I’m about to get raw, raunchy, or inappropriate. Those who were offended by the post after reading the warning need to take responsibility for themselves. Moreover, I don’t understand why it’s okay to post about a murderer, but not a pedophile. No, it’s not a happy topic, but I explained that it wouldn’t be. She had a choice to avoid the topic entirely, but instead decided to call me out.

I have a problem with “shamers”. I’ve found that, so often, people who shame other people have an agenda. They have a momentary spark of self-righteous pleasure. It makes them feel better about themselves for being “above” another person. But the problem with that mindset is that as you point fingers at someone, chances are, a few fingers are pointing right back at you.

Take, for instance, last year, when a certain person sent me a private message “begging” me not to drag a mutual acquaintance through the mud on the Internet. She tried to appeal to my sense of shame in an attempt to silence me, even though Bill and I were victimized by the person she was protecting. The “certain person” who tried to shame me was very vocal about her desire to be “private” in her own life, yet she disclosed to me that she was sharing, and probably gleefully discussing, my personal business with the person she didn’t want me to “trash”. She’d write “supportive” comments to me on my blog, deleting them after she knew I’d seen them, although she didn’t delete all of them, and yes, they were used as evidence against the person whose honor she was defending. All the while, they were sitting around having a fine time reading my blog. Granted, it was a public blog, but I think she knew perfectly well that she was stirring the shit pot and being massively hypocritical. I think she was hoping that Bill and I would take the heat for shit she did and never took any responsibility for doing. And yet I’M the one who should be ashamed? I don’t think so.

In the back of my head, I knew what she was doing. But when she actually came right out and admitted it, and then tried to make ME out to be the asshole, that was just too much disrespect. I’m definitely not the one who should be ashamed about what happened. All I did was write the truth. It wasn’t a flattering look, sure, but abusive behavior rarely is. The person who was being protected tried to take advantage of us and ripped us off. We suspect she’s done it to other people who didn’t hold her accountable. We took legal action and prevailed, and we’re about to put the last nail in the coffin. Shit’s going to get even more real, as well it should. It would be a bigger shame not to address what happened and do our part to protect other people from someone else’s abusive, predatory behaviors.

Should I be ashamed for pointing out that things aren’t always rosy? Should I suffer in silence when someone treats me badly? Asking someone to be silent when they’re being abused is in itself abusive behavior. Shaming someone for being open and honest is shady behavior. I’ve had enough of that kind of treatment. I’m not going to take it anymore, especially from liars and cheats.

As for the woman in the alumni group, I have no idea what motivated her to try to shame me. She probably should know that I have no shame. I’m the same woman who made up a song called “Big Pink Dildo” to the tune of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”. I’m not sure what her goal was… did she expect me to delete the thread? Apologize? I explicitly gave her warning. She could have practiced some self-control and accountability. Not everyone is a docile, genteel, “class act” like she is. What gives her the right to try to dictate what other people say and do? What gives her the right to speak for others when she chastises people for communicating things she thinks are “inappropriate”? She’s one of over 1860 people in that group. She should only speak for herself.

As for the “certain person” who tried to shame me into being silent and has stalked my blogs for years, KINDLY GO FUCK YOURSELF. Your efforts at advocacy for our mutual acquaintance made things a hell of a lot worse than they needed to be. If you had simply minded your own business and not done your level best to try to help your “friend” screw us, your “friend” would probably not be in the situation she’s in. Moreover, your intel gathering skills need lots of work. You obviously misjudged us.

Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes it is appropriate to call people out. But nine times out of ten, shaming is not about righting a wrong. It’s about one person temporarily feeling better about themselves for humiliating another person. Was the woman who called me out really upset with me for posting about a pedophile? Would she defend the pedophile’s actions? My guess is that I actually have more empathy for him than she does. The fact is, as awesome as Longwood is, there have been some pretty bad and, dare I say, fucked up things that have happened there over the years. I have never seen anyone have a problem with those topics– Erin George the murderer, the fire at Dr. Sprague’s house that killed her, the murder of Dr. Debra Kelley, her estranged husband, their daughter and her friend, and the murder of a local antiques dealer, just to name a few. We’ve discussed these things at length with no shaming. Why is a pedophile different?


My new mantra…

Yesterday morning, as my eyes cracked open to a windy new day, I spotted a Yahoo! news article about a pregnant black woman who’s being shamed because she’s about to have her fifth child. I was pretty dismayed to read the story, although I give the woman, Leslie Lewis, big props for basically telling her detractors to fuck off.

Okay… so she didn’t tell them that. What she did say was this:

Seriously… where do people get their nerve?

Reminding her critics that she’s a married adult and that she and her husband work very hard, Leslie Lewis took people to task for making offensive comments about her family planning choices. She claims that this is a “people of color” issue. Lewis brings up how TLC makes millions of dollars portraying huge white families in a positive way, yet when black families have a lot of kids, there’s the assumption that the home is broken or that the family is somehow on the public dole. She even got nasty private messages from a woman who assumed she and her family were on welfare and that she should be on birth control. Lewis notes that there aren’t any reality shows about large black families.

Perhaps Leslie Lewis is right about this attitude being a significant person of color issue. As a childless white woman myself, I don’t know from personal experience. What I do know is that people are far too concerned about what women, in general, do with their bodies. I have gotten inquisitive questions and rude comments because I don’t have children. One of my friends, who has just one daughter, commented that she got a lot of crap about not giving her child a sibling. And if you’ve read this blog for any time, you already know how I feel about the abortion issue and how people stick their noses into women’s uteri. It’s definitely rude, but it’s also kind of sick. Why is another person’s family planning choices anyone else’s concern? Especially when so many people who are pro-life also think that any social welfare safety nets should be abolished.

I decided to read the comments on the Yahoo! article. I don’t do that very often on Yahoo! articles anymore, mostly because there was a time when I read them regularly and the comments would make me feel horrible about the human race. So many ignorant trolls comment on Yahoo! But this time, I was somewhat pleasantly surprised… until I came to this comment.

No problem with large families if you can support them . . . However the minute you start asking for additional benefits and funds to help feed, educate or support them I’m out . . .pay your own way!”

Not to say that I think people who can’t afford children should have them, but life is full of surprises. Sometimes bad things happen. What does this person say when someone who had a good job and five or six kids suddenly gets laid off or very sick and needs assistance? Most people with this attitude think people who need help should turn to charities, particularly the religious based. But what if you’re not a religious person and you need help? Should you be forced to sit through a church service to get food or help paying the rent? Working people pay into the welfare system. It’s there for a reason. Anyone who has paid taxes has the right to ask for assistance if they need it. Plenty of people who need help also work and pay taxes. And if you really care about children– particularly if you think women should be forced to give birth– you should want children to get what they need to thrive, so they can grow up to be healthy and productive members of society. People need to stop judging others, especially when they don’t have all the facts about someone’s personal situation.

Birth control is expensive, requires a prescription (which means a doctor’s visit), and until recently was often not covered by health insurance. The Affordable Care Act now forces insurers to pay for at least one type of FDA approved coverage. However, our “pro-life” orange fuckwad “president” is currently trying to get this vital provision overturned. So, all of the conservatives out there who would shame a person for being pregnant and tell her she should be on birth control should probably do some thinking about what they care more about– money or their pro-life ethics. It costs a lot more to force women to birth children than it does to cover their birth control. I know… I know… poor people shouldn’t have sex, nor should they be eating cookies, steak, or shrimp… or otherwise finding any joy in their lives… /sarcasm… not until they’ve pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, right? Bullshit. Poor people deserve to enjoy life, too. Mind your own shopping buggy and your own bedroom.

Another person had this to say:

Unfortunately 49 percent of folks in this country do not even have an extra 1000. 00 in case of an emergency. My personal opinion is to have fewer children and be able to give them more, i.e. braces, good education, college fund, etc. People with large family’s [sic] do not seem concerned for the future nearly as much. They will assume family, church, or the government will come to their aid. To me this is selfish and not responsible. This applies to all races and ethnicities.

Okay, so you think it’s “selfish”. Sounds like a personal problem. What exactly do you expect to accomplish by sharing this opinion with someone who is already pregnant? Do you think that by telling her this, she’ll think of your opinion the next time she has sex and take appropriate precautions? Personally, I think it’s wise to have smaller families in these trying times. I always expected to have children, but now I’m glad I don’t have them. That doesn’t mean I feel the need to tell other people how large their families should be. It’s none of my business. It’s none of yours, either. As a matter of fact, I come from a large family myself, but one of my sisters and a lot of my cousins are childless. Quite a few aren’t even married, and some are even older than I am. But I have one cousin who has five beautiful kids. I’m happy for her, as it’s her choice.

Anyway, it’s clear that Leslie Lewis isn’t poor, nor does she have a bunch of “baby daddies”. She’s happy to be having her fifth child, and the baby is going to a great home with involved, hardworking parents. It looks like Ms. Lewis has a healthy family, and she and her husband are doing just fine. There’s no need for anyone to open their mouths or type a screed about their reproductive choices. In fact, just as it’s the case for anyone else, it’s no one else’s business how many children they have.

Which now brings me to the title of today’s piece, inspired by this clever BBC clip my friend Rebecca shared with me…

Fuck off. Stop judging women for their family planning decisions or questioning them about how many children they do or don’t have. It’s none of your business.


Reposted: Don’t ask, don’t tell…

This is a rerun post. It appeared on my original blog on June 4, 2014. I’m sharing it again because I just updated some travel posts from that time period and this post is related to them. Enjoy!

No, I’m not writing about the now defunct rule against gays in the military. I’m writing about people who ask very personal questions that they probably would rather not know the answer to. This subject comes up today after I read this very interesting blog post about a guy explaining why he doesn’t want to be a father. I happen to relate to this man’s experiences because, as a childless woman, I’ve heard a lot of the comments he’s gotten in retort. As a woman with no children, I’m sure the pressure for me to explain why I don’t have any kids is even more intense than it is for him.

I shared the post on Facebook and the responses were mostly positive.  There was one comment from a man, who said that he and his wife never had kids and no one ever called him to task over it.  I wrote that perhaps it’s different for men.  He responded that the author of the article is a man, to which I wrote that I knew the author was a man.  I was simply sharing my similar experience of being told that not having kids is apparently a huge mistake for which I will no doubt feel great sorrow.  

I can relate to what the blog author wrote, in spite of his gender.  When you are a woman without kids, particularly when you are a childless woman who is married to a military man, people often feel free to question why you don’t have any children.  Sometimes they’ll tell you you’ll be sorry you didn’t have them.  They’ll question who will look after you when you’re old (I think that is a really stupid reason to have kids, by the way.  It’s not right to expect your kids to take care of you when you’re old– it’s nice if they do, but I don’t think it should automatically be expected of them).  More offensive to me is when they try to tell me about adoption, as if that option has never once crossed my mind.

As an Army wife who has no children, I am definitely not within the norm.  Add in the fact that I went to college, grad school, and was a Peace Corps Volunteer, and you really have a strange duck in your midst.  I’m not saying there aren’t other military wives like me.  I’m saying I have yet to come across very many of them.

The blog that I posted about on Facebook was written by an Australian man who, no doubt, doesn’t get the stink eye as much as your typical childless military wife does (not that there is such a thing as a “typical” childless military wife).  Reading his thoughts reminded me of an incident that Bill and I ran into just days ago, while riding a train to Landstuhl, Germany.  It was the last of three trains after two flights getting us from Nice to Frankfurt.  I was tired and a bit grumpy.

A young mom and her four kids got on the train. The children’s grandmother was also in tow. They struck up a conversation, having just come from Paris after a trip to Euro Disney. The kids were as tired and as over public transportation as I was, and they were being a bit disruptive. Mom was trying to get them to settle down for their brief journey to Ramstein Air Force Base. Bill was helpfully explaining the train system to the mom and grandma while the kids busied themselves. It turned out the mom and her husband were stationed in Germany. Bill and I told her how lucky they were and I said I’d love to move back to Germany and stay for a long time.

Then Grandma pipes up with, “Yeah, but how do you do that with a family?”

I said, “Oh, it’s just us and two dogs…”

You would have thought I’d just dropped the f-bomb in front of Grandma.  She gave me a serious stink eye that seemed to say, “How could you NOT have kids?  You are selfish!”

I didn’t try to explain, though later I wished I had said something to the effect of, “Well, we don’t have kids because I used to be a man.”  Imagine the reaction!  It would have been classic!

But I was too tired to come up with something clever to say and elected not to explain to Grandma why Bill and I don’t have kids.  For one thing, it’s the kind of thing that most people would consider TMI, though I don’t have any problem telling people if they insist on knowing.  For another thing, it was really none of her goddamn business.  Moreover, I’m sure that if she knew why we don’t have kids, she’d be grateful that I kept my mouth shut.

For the life of me, I don’t understand why people think it’s okay to bring up such sensitive and personal subjects with total strangers or acquaintances.  There are any number of reasons why a couple doesn’t have kids.  It could be as simple as them not wanting to reproduce, or the reason could be complex and painful, like one or both of them had cancer that left them sterile.  In my case, Bill had a vasectomy when he was married to his ex wife.  He had it reversed eleven years later and the operation was technically successful.  We commenced trying to make a baby… and we failed.

Then he got sent to Iraq and we lost several months of time when we might try to reproduce with assistance (not that I was really all that keen to undergo a medical procedure to get pregnant). I have never been interested in adoption and have determined that the maternal instinct in me isn’t strong enough to spend the time or the money on the quest to have a child. So I am resigned to being childless and have finally come to terms with that decision. But there are people out there in the world who apparently want to second guess my decision not to be a mom.

Grandma wisely didn’t ask me why we don’t have any kids.  If she had, I might have taken the high road and said, “I’ll forgive you for asking if you’ll forgive me for not answering.”  Or, if I was feeling bold, I might have told her the truth.  Then she and her daughter would have to explain what an unsuccessful vasectomy reversal is to the kids in their care.  Or I could have said something totally outrageous like, “I don’t have kids because my husband’s dick is way too large for me and we physically can’t have sex.”  It would have been a rude thing to say, but if you think about it, it’s probably no ruder than having someone you’ve never met before judge you for not being a parent.

I’m starting to get to the age at which people will soon probably stop asking me about whether or not I have kids…  Then they’ll ask if I have any grandchildren.  I can hardly wait.

By the way, I also thought it odd that Grandma apparently doesn’t think kids can be successfully raised in Germany or elsewhere.  Frankly, if I were a mom, I’d prefer it if my kids grew up outside of the United States.  Things have gotten pretty weird around here, if you ask me.