On Underage Marriage and Sexual Ethics

Preface: Earlier this week I posted a rant to my private Facebook page about a retreat in Kansas for Christian parents to arrange marriages for their underage children. This retreat was being hosted by Let Them Marry, an organization that promotes teen marriages and describes “youths” (people under 20) as being ready for marriage when they’ve developed “all forms of full secondary sexual characteristics”. I encourage you to click the links in this paragraph and evaluate Let Them Marry’s beliefs in their own words for yourself.

The next day, I found out the conference had been canceled because the Wichita branch of the Salvation Army withdrew the use of their facility. What follows is a slightly edited version of a note I posted to my private Facebook page about why I think this is a good thing even though I’m against laws that allow discrimination against same-sex marriage.

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Ah don’t understand ze patriarchy…

Continue reading “On Underage Marriage and Sexual Ethics”

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The March Family Letters: Little 21st Century Women

Click to go to the official website

I was eight years old the first time I read Little Women. I fell in love with the Marches and identified with all four sisters in different ways. I was a writer and loved adventure and couldn’t manage to do what was expected of me like Jo. I was the oldest and could be too cautious and practical for my own good like Meg. I was quiet and withdrawn and loved music like Beth. I was artistic and used words people didn’t understand and was never taken as seriously as I took myself and totally had a thing for Laurie like Amy.

I’d go on to revisit Little Women  and its sequels throughout the years. I learned more about the historical context of the book. The Alcott family’s involvement in Transcendentalist, bohemian circles. Louisa May Alcott’s first-wave feminism. All of this just made the book more fascinating to me. Age and distance have made some of the book’s imperfections more noticeable, but it’s one of those childhood loves that will always have a special place in my heart.

Despite all this, somehow the existence of The March Family Letters escaped my knowledge until this month. To be honest, I was more apprehensive about this one than any of the literary webseries I’ve watched. There are so many ways a modern Little Women could go horribly wrong. Would Jo be a straw feminist or a misogynist? Would Meg be an unsympathetic killjoy in the tradition of grouchy sitcom wives? Would Beth be a Purity Sue, canonized by virtue of disability? Would Amy exist to remind the audience that being a girly girl makes you a terrible person, or at least a really shallow one?

Don’t worry, my inner voice whispered as she wrapped me in a blanket and brought me some hot chocolate. It’s being distributed by Pemberley Digital. Click the playlist.

OMG I CAN’T EVEN TELL YOU HOW OBSESSED I AM WITH THIS SHOW. Continue reading “The March Family Letters: Little 21st Century Women”

My Top 10 Posts of 2014

Welcome to my obligatory year-in-review post! As of the precise moment in time that I’m writing this post, these were my 10 most-viewed posts of 2014. A couple of these, including #1, weren’t even written this year. It’s encouraging to know that my posts have staying power, considering I usually write about pop culture and internet culture, which can be particularly fickle. Continue reading “My Top 10 Posts of 2014”

How I Met Your Avatar: The Legend of Korra Series Finale

SPOILER Warning: This blog post is all about the Legend of Korra series finale and is full of SPOILERS. Don’t read this post if you don’t want SPOILERS. Here’s something else you can read – my fangirly post that I wrote in anticipation of Season 3.

“Korra” by deviantART user taratjah

Okay, so. If you’ve been anywhere near Tumblr this weekend, you know that the infamous Korra/Mako/Asami triangle was resolved with Korra being on friendly terms with her ex-boyfriend Mako and…going off on a romantic vacation with his ex-girlfriend, Asami. #Korrasami is canon. The Legend of Korra ended the same way as The Last Airbender – the Avatar gets the girl. Or the girl gets the Avatar. Or something. However you want to put it, The Legend of Korra began with teenage Korra in love with a boy and ended with adult Korra in love with a woman.

There are enough bloggers talking about what a great thing this is for bi representation. All I’ll say on that is ZOMG THIS IS AWESOME FOR BI REPRESENTATION!!!! But beyond that, what really struck me about the way The Legend of Korra ended is that it gave us the story that How I Met Your Mother promised and didn’t deliver. Korra finds True Love, loses True Love for completely legitimate reasons, regains a genuine friendship with her ex-True Love, and finds True Love again in the end. Like I said in my review of the How I Met Your Mother finale, you almost never see this in television. Either the first love turns out to not really be love, or the first love is the only possible TRUE love and you can never really get over them or be as in love with someone else.

Image via SpoilersGuide.com

The Legend of Korra didn’t go either of these predictable routes. Korra was undeniably in love with Mako in the first season. In her own words, she felt like they were meant for each other. And, because I dearly love Korra and want her to have everything she wants, I was completely on-board the Good Ship Makorra. (Seriously, after the Season 2 finale, I was playing “Set Fire To The Rain” on a loop.)

Then Season 3 started. Cue post-breakup awkwardness with Mako. But through the awkwardness, it never went into “I never want to see you again” territory on one hand or “I’m secretly trying to get back together with you because I could never possibly love anyone else” territory on the other. And meanwhile, here’s Asami displaying no lingering feelings for Mako whatsoever and flirting up a storm with Korra, and Korra seeming remarkably okay with that. Season 3 ended with all three points of this forgotten triangle totally single and in no hurry (or condition, in Korra’s case) to change that.

Season 4 revealed that Korra, Mako, and Asami had all been single for the three years between seasons. Mako and Korra affirm to other people that, by the end of Season 3, they’d come to think of each other as friends. In the finale, they affirm this to each other. They share a beautiful scene near the end as two people who sincerely respect and care for each other. But neither one moves toward making their relationship more than that, and I, a die-hard Makorra shipper for the first two seasons, didn’t sense regret on either side.

Then, in a scene mirroring Avatar Aang’s happy ending with his future wife Katara, Avatar Korra gets her happy ending taking the hands and gazing into the eyes of her second True Love. Balance has been restored. A children’s show has given us one of the most mature, adult romantic storylines in modern television. That beauteous rarity known as an emotionally satisfying series finale has been achieved. All is right with the world.

In my opinion, The Legend of Korra succeeded where How I Met Your Mother failed because Korra‘s showrunners could acknowledge that their characters had evolved beyond their original vision. The first season of The Legend of Korra was supposed to be a stand-alone miniseries, so obviously Korra and Mako were originally meant to be together. But, like Ted and Robin, Korra and Mako evolved. Barney Stinson and Asami Sato evolved, too (man, I never thought I would name those characters in the same sentence). I applaud the Avatar creators for letting Korra’s new relationship with Asami follow this path. Seeing these two walk off into the sunset together was, in Korra’s words, “perfect.”

“They did the thing!” by deviantART user KrystalSerenity

But, hey, who the hell is Su Jin Beifong’s father?

So, I finally binge-watched Carmilla

This was supposed to be my Halloween post. I’ve actually gotten a few requests to review this literary vlog series. I kept putting it off because I knew once I got started, I’d want to watch the whole thing in one sitting. I was right. First, a little background on the source material.

Funeral, illustration by Michael Fitzgerald for Carmilla in The Dark Blue, January 1872. Image via Wikipedia.

Carmilla is a vampire novella by J. Sheridan Le Fanu that predates Dracula by twenty-six years. Aside from its place in the history of the horror literary genre, it’s noteworthy in that it features a tragic romance between the eponymous female vampire and the human female narrator. This isn’t subtext speculation or revisionist history. It’s right there in the 1871 text.

She used to place her pretty arms about my neck, draw me to her, and laying her cheek to mine, murmur with her lips near my ear, “Dearest, your little heart is wounded; think me not cruel because I obey the irresistible law of my strength and weakness; if your dear heart is wounded, my wild heart bleeds with yours. In the rapture of my enormous humiliation I live in your warm life, and you shall die–die, sweetly die–into mine. I cannot help it; as I draw near to you, you, in your turn, will draw near to others, and learn the rapture of that cruelty, which yet is love; so, for a while, seek to know no more of me and mine, but trust me with all your loving spirit.” And when she had spoken such a rhapsody, she would press me more closely in her trembling embrace, and her lips in soft kisses gently glow upon my cheek. – Carmilla, Chapter IV

So, yeah. Basically Carmilla was Twilight for Victorian girls if Edward was a woman and died at the end. It’s one of my favorite classical guilty pleasures. Laura’s intense attraction to Carmilla coupled with her fear and frustration at having these feelings in the first place is written as effectively as any Austen heroine’s. Although Carmilla meets the tragic end that all monsters must in classic Gothic horror, she’s a remarkably sympathetic character. One easily gets the impression that, contrary to Proto Van Helsing’s slander, her feelings for Laura become true love, not the inhuman lust she’s accused of. The end leaves it nearly certain that, despite Laura’s participation in Carmilla’s death, Carmilla’s forbidden love was returned:

It was long before the terror of recent events subsided; and to this hour the image of Carmilla returns to memory with ambiguous alternations–sometimes the playful, languid, beautiful girl; sometimes the writhing fiend I saw in the ruined church; and often from a reverie I have started, fancying I heard the light step of Carmilla at the drawing room door. – Carmilla, Chapter XVI

Carmilla the webseries replaces the Gothic castle of the original with a modern-day college campus. If you think “lesbian coed vampires” sounds like a great premise for a porno, you’re going to be disappointed. If you think it’s a great premise for a modern update that keeps all the elements that made the original novella awesome while updating the elements that have thankfully changed with the times, you’re going to love this webseries as much as I do.

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Natasha Negovanlis as Carmilla, and Elise Bauman as Laura.

My first question about this update was how they’d handle the lesbian stuff. The answer is “Very well.” Although the mostly-female cast is certainly good-looking, the show obviously wasn’t shot or staged for the male gaze. The writing makes you care more about whether Laura and Carmilla will fall in love than whether they’ll make out. Laura’s queerness is taken for granted, not played for angst or drama. The same goes for the other queer characters. I say “queer” because the writing doesn’t specify whether any of these young women are lesbian or bi. No one in-universe seems to care. Nor does anyone find it shocking or incredulous that platonic friendships exist between queer women, or between queer and straight women. (Actually, I’m not sure any of these women are straight. But there are definitely women who are close to each other and don’t seem like they’re ready to make out the second you turn your back, something plenty of shows with supposedly all-hetero casts can’t get right.)

My second question was how they handle the vampire stuff. (SPOILERS AHEAD.) This Carmilla is indeed an actual vampire. Her backstory is nearly the same in this series as in the original novella. And, like any good postmodern monster, she can and does choose whether to use her curse for good or evil. In this incarnation, she’s covertly helping the young women she’s supposed to lure to her dark mistress. Which was always my theory about the original. Think Snape as a double agent for the Death Eaters. Now that I think of it, that’s a pretty good way to sum up this Carmilla. She’s FemSnape.

My third and most important question was whether Carmilla and Laura would live (or un-die) happily ever after in this version. I don’t have a definitive answer for that yet since the series is still running, with updates every Tuesday and Thursday. But the way the first 31 episodes have gone, I’ll be surprised and heartbroken if they don’t.

Want to check it out for yourself? Click here to go to the YouTube page, or watch the complete playlist embedded below. Click here to read the full text of the original novella on Gutenberg, available in-browser or as a free e-reader download.

Buy An Ebook, Help a Disabled Kid

Quick version: The royalties for all Thalia’s Musings ebooks sold between 3/1/14 and 4/1/14 will be donated to World Vision’s Child and Family Health Fund. Want to know why? Keep reading.

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Click to shop

UPDATE: World Vision has reversed its new hiring policy because of pressure from their financial supporters. I’m still making this donation because (1) everything I said about World Vision’s work and why I admire it is true, and (2) I’m bigger than the people who effectively turned the children helped by World Vision into hostages in a culture war that we’re all sick to death of fighting. If you’re as upset by this turn of events as I am, please don’t take it out on World Vision. In all likelihood, they only reversed the decision because it was the only way to keep helping the people they were helping. Also, as far as I know, they still stand by their repudiation of Uganda’s discriminatory laws.

World Vision is an international charity that supports children in need and their communities around the world. They’re most well-known for their child sponsorship program. As Rachel Held Evans explains in this post, the money from the sponsorships is pooled to support things like schools, housing, and clean drinking water for the whole community. World Vision makes a point of employing local people in the communities it serves. Their business model is designed to stay in a community for only 15 or 20 years, with the goal of training local people to take over their work entirely when that period ends. Although World Vision is a Christian organization, they do not require the people they help to be professing Christians or to take part in proselytizing activity of any kind. They’re just trying to fulfill the Bible’s commands to care for those in need, especially widows and orphans.

So, why has this awesome organization lost over 2,000 sponsors since Monday?

Because the director of their USA branch announced that they would employ Christians in same-sex marriages.

Christianity Today’s coverage of that announcement is at my Tumblr, including my initial reaction to the news:

This is a huge deal. Personally, I’m not a fan of employers requiring anything of their employees beyond “Show up on time and fulfill your job description,” and I wouldn’t work for anyone who wanted to regulate my sex life. But this is a big deal because World Vision is acknowledging that the morality of a sexual relationship is not determined by the genders of the people in it. They’re holding queer employees to the same standard as straight employees: you can only have sex with the person you’re married to. They’re acknowledging that a same-sex marriage is as valid as an opposite-sex marriage. While I don’t agree with World Vision’s definition of what qualifies as a moral sexual relationship, I completely agree that the genders of the people involved is irrelevant to the issue.

Oh, and World Vision Uganda issued a statement condemning Uganda’s anti-gay laws. You know, the ones that say you can be imprisoned or executed for being gay? The kind of laws even Glenn Beck calls “heterofascism”?

Now, as to why I’m donating book royalties instead of just quietly making a donation myself…I’m broke. That’s it. That’s also the reason I’m (full disclosure) not currently sponsoring a child myself, although I really wish I could. I don’t have the funds and this is the best way I can think of to raise them. But this really is just about supporting an organization whose work I believe in, not drumming up book sales. If you aren’t interested in buying Thalia’s Musings ebooks, or if you’ve already bought them both in the past, or if you don’t trust third parties to make charitable donations for you, please consider donating the price of one of my books ($4.99) directly to World Vision’s Child and Family Health Fund or any of their other projects. I picked the Child and Family Health Fund because, as someone who’s dealt with chronic medical conditions since childhood, this is an issue close to my heart. Maybe there’s another issue close to yours, like education or supporting small businesses in the developing world or fighting human trafficking.

If you’re as broke as I am and can’t even spare $4.99, then please at least go to World Vision USA’s Facebook page and leave them a nice message and a 5-star rating. Or send a friendly tweet to @WorldVisionUSA and the #WorldVision hashtag. However you’re able to help, I want to see this incredible Christian charity rewarded, not penalized, for actually practicing Christian charity.

You Are Better Than Fred Phelps (and that’s why he was so dangerous)

Image via Wikipedia.

I’ve been around some pretty extreme religious types in my life. You know those rhetorical arguments about modern Christians not really taking the Bible literally because they don’t see a cotton/poly blend as a sin? I’ve known Christians who believed wearing a cotton/poly blend is a sin. Yet, not once in my life have I heard anyone say, “I approve of the Westboro Baptist Church’s work.” I have never personally encountered a Christian-identifying person who said “God hates fags.”

Oh, I’ve heard people say that acceptance of homosexuality would bring God’s judgment upon our nation. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I’ve heard people say they aren’t required to show love to people the Bible clearly calls an abomination. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I’ve heard people say they need laws that allow them to refuse jobs and housing to “homosexuals” to protect their sincerely-held beliefs. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I’ve heard people insist on using the word “homosexual” to refer to all LGBTQ people, because calling gays and lesbians “gays and lesbians” allows them to normalize their perverted lifestyle, and because bi and transgender people don’t really exist anyway. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I’ve heard people say, “We’re losing our country,” not knowing they were speaking to one of the people to whom they’re supposedly losing it. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I’ve heard people say we should love homosexuals the same way we should love addicts, adulterers, and pedophiles, with the obvious implication that these are all on the same moral/psychiatric plain, and that the end goal of that love is saving these people from their dysfunction and perversion. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I’ve heard people say homosexual desire is a temptation like any other, and that it’s no sin if you never act on it – that is, if you choose a life alone, a life with a spouse you can never fully love, or a life of the impossible task of shutting down half of your sexuality while keeping the other half alive enough for functional relationships. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I’ve heard people say homosexual love can never be real love, only broken, shallow, selfish, insatiable lust. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I’ve heard people compare my first love, which wouldn’t have been considered inappropriate in any way if it had been with a boy, to bestiality. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I’ve heard people say that we can’t grant homosexuals the right to marriage and families because we have to protect the institutions of marriage and family. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I’ve heard people say that, while they believe in reaching out to unsaved homosexuals, they couldn’t continue to fellowship with unrepentant homosexual Christians as believers. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I’ve heard people go out of their way to find something, anything, in someone’s past to which they can attribute the “brokenness” of same-sex attraction, to explain away as dysfunction something they’d see as beautiful and healthy if it were between two people of the opposite sex. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I could go on for a hundred pages. If you think I’m saying that all these people are really no better than Fred Phelps, you’ve completely missed the point. These people are better than Fred Phelps. These are nice people. These are people who don’t want to hurt anyone. These are people who sincerely want the best for their neighbors, for their nation, for the poor broken homosexuals. These people feel sincerely torn over how to discriminate in the kindest way possible. They might be you. They have been me. You, most likely, are better than Fred Phelps. I was and continue to be better than Fred Phelps. And that’s his true danger. Fred Phelps and others like him let us believe that being better than them is good enough.

Fred Phelps is dead. Let the scapegoating die with him. Let us all resolve that we can do better than “better than Fred Phelps.”

So, Yeah, I’ve Been Watching the Olympics All Week

OMG I freakin’ love the Winter Olympics!

Image via Olga Lagunova

Seriously. I like the Summer Olympics, but I love the Winter Olympics. I have a long-standing crush on Apolo Anton Ohno, who isn’t really even my type aside from being an Olympian named Apolo. Jamie Sale and David Pelletier’s medal controversy is the first thing that comes to mind when I recall the winter of 2002 even though there was a lot more going on in my life at the time. And, and, and, there’s curling, and ski jumping, and ski racing and snowboarding, and a thing where you ski and shoot stuff, and and and, it’s the Winter Freakin’ Olympics!!!!

In should-be-entirely-unrelated news, I read one of my Christmas books while recovering from surgery. It was one that I’d been wanting to read for ages, but hadn’t had the chance. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. It’s called Ender’s Game. There was a movie based on it a few months ago. I would’ve seen that movie, because it sounded interesting to me, but I was only able to get to one movie around that time. I picked Thor: The Dark World because I’d seen Thor and hadn’t read Ender’s Game yet. Anyway, I loved Ender’s Game, I’m glad I read it, and I look forward to seeing the movie and reading the sequels. In fact, I spent all day Friday tweeting quotes by and about Valentine Wiggin to celebrate what I now assume is a holiday in her honor.

Most decent human beings can agree that oppression is bad and that we should fight it. There are few easy answers about how to do that. For some people, the answer is to be careful about what their entertainment choices are funding. Like corrupt dictatorships or draconican activist groups with hilarious acronyms. I respect this, and I support these people in following their consciences. For me, though, fighting oppression sometimes means not letting my would-be oppressors like Putin or Card stop me from doing something that brings happiness to my life. Like reading a fun sci fi book with thought-provoking themes of love, tolerance, and understanding of The Other. Or spending two weeks glued to the TV to experience yet another Winter Olympics.

USA! USA! USA!

Open Letter to my Future Spouse

Dear ____________,

I don’t know your name yet. I don’t know anything about you. I don’t even know if you identify as a woman, a man, or both, or neither. I don’t know if I’ll be the first bisexual person you date. I don’t know if, at this point in time, dating a bi woman is something you’ve ever considered. And I don’t know if you watch Glee.

Naya Rivera and Demi Lovato (source: After Ellen)
This is called a Dantana

If you’re a straight cisgender man, my obsession with Glee in its early seasons is probably something you’ll laugh at me about. If you’re anything else, you’ll probably laugh about it with me. And rage with me. And cry with me. But whether or not you were watching Glee in its fifth season and saw the episode “Tina in the Sky with Diamonds,” you’ve probably been exposed to this biphobic stereotype in one way or another: that you will never be everything a bi woman could possibly need and want, because she’s capable of being attracted to something opposite of you. And I want to tell you right now that this pervasive, bigoted, malignant stereotype is…correct.

You are NOT everything I could possibly need and want.

No individual human being CAN be everything another individual human being could possibly need and want.

Maybe you’re white. I’ll still be attracted to Adriana Lima and Enrique Iglesias. Maybe you’re short and slender. I’ll still be attracted to Liv Tyler and Chris Hemsworth. Going beyond looks, maybe you hate my favorite tv show. I’ll still want to talk about it with a friend who does like it. Maybe you hate sewing or crafting or knitting or equestrian sports or fashion or makeup. I’ll still want to keep those hobbies/interests and share them with people who do like them. People who aren’t you. People to whom I’m theoretically capable of developing an attraction.

Whatever your best qualities are, whatever made me fall in love with you, someone else in the world has those qualities, only better. And someone else has the opposite qualities, which may also be attractive to me. You’re not the only person in the world that I could’ve happily married. No matter how compatible we are, I will, at some point in our relationship, have a problem you can’t solve and an emotional need you can’t fulfill. I’ll like things you hate and hate things you like. I’ll want to try something in bed (or elsewhere) that you won’t, and I’ll veto something you want to try.

But I will always choose you. Out of all the women and men and everything in between that I could’ve had, you are the one I’ll decide to spend my life with. You are the one I’ll want to be the mother/father/parent of my children. And I’ll make that choice for the simple, inexplicable, irrational reason that you are you and no one else is, and I’ll have fallen in love with you.

Whether you’re gay, straight, bi, or actively label-free, I’m trusting that you’ll choose me for the same reason. And that even though I can’t fulfill your every need and desire any more than you can fulfill mine, you will always choose me. Because I am me and no one else is, and you’ll have fallen in love with me.

Until then,

Amethyst

Not All Like That: A Follow-Up

Last December, I wrote a response to gay rights activist Dan Savage’s challenge for LGBTQ-affirming Christians to stop telling him “We’re Not All Like That” and start telling other Christians. Since then, progressive Christian blogger and author John Shore has partnered with Savage to launch The NALT Christians project.

I feel like Savage has addressed the parts of his original challenge that I found most problematic. He specifically acknowledged the existence of LGBTQ Christians in his introductory video (embedded above), and the project partners with Truth Wins Out, a gay-led Christian organization. I’m fully in favor of this project. I’d love to see it become as big as It Gets Better.

But, going back to my original reservations, I’d like to add a challenge of my own.

To Christian LGBTQ allies: Don’t play into the LGBTQ/Christian false dichotomy. When you “reach out” to the LGBTQ community, please recognize that you don’t have to reach as far as you think. 

We’re not The Other. We’re not broken. We’re not washed and waiting. We’re not lost souls out there in The World that you need to bring to Christ. We’re not The Unsaved or The Unchurched. You want to reach out to us? Look in the pew you’re sitting in. There we are. There I am.

I am the little girl in Sunday School who’s always the first to raise her hand. I am the girl who gets the lead solo in the Christmas pageant every year. I am the teenager who plays piano for the worship service every fourth Sunday. I am the lady who hosts a small group in her home. I am the teacher in your kids’ Children’s Church. I am the Facebook friend who posts Rachel Held Evans‘ articles on your news feed all the time.  I am the friend who prays for you and with you every time you ask. I am Mary Lambert. I am Jason Collins. I am a Christian, and I am not an LGBTQ ally. I AM queer, and I am here.

And a lot of us are like that.