Category Archives: Personal

Skylar’s Favourite Self-Isolation Entertainment

 

It has now been more than three weeks since I left the house, and like many people around the world, I’m starting to go a little stir crazy. Rather than climb the walls, I thought I would share with you all some of the ways I’ve been entertaining myself since self-isolation began (and before).

These are a few of my favourite things. I hope you enjoy them, too!

Films and Television

If you follow me on Twitter, you know I recently subscribed to Disney+ (£5.99/$6.99 per month), and it is money well spent. Nearly every films Disney Animation Studios has made there, including some of my all-time favourites. I have already watched The Great Mouse Detective and One Hundred and One Dalmatians, both of which were childhood favourites. Hercules is my favourite Disney film of all time, and its infectuous music and beautiful, sunny animation is sure to brighten your day. I also recommend The Three Caballeros, an underrated 1944 film which features Carmen Miranda’s sister as the first human to ever interact with a cartoon character on film (she dances with Donald Duck).

If you’re looking for more adult fare, I suggest Last Holiday, a charming romantic comedy from 2006. Starring Queen Latifah as a woman who is wrongly given only weeks to live, it is funny and poignant and replete with gorgeous scenery as Latifah’s Georgia Byrd flees her mundane job at a New Orleans department store for the glitz and glamour of the opulent (and real!) Grand Hotel Pupp in a Czech spa town called Karlovy Vary.

Also guaranteed to make you laugh until you cry is Pride, a wonderful film based on a true story about a group of lesbian and gay Londoners who raise funds for striking Welsh miners during the Miners’ Strike of 1984. Showing that we all have more in common than we often think, its a little film with a lot of heart and a wonderful cast that includes Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy, and George MacKay.

If binging a television series is more your speed, my favourite comedy of all time is The Golden Girls, a sitcom about four pensioners sharing a house in 1980s Miami and starring American national treasure Betty White. It is streaming on Hulu in the United States. Another personal favourite of mine is Schitt’s Creek, the story of a wealthy family which suddenly loses it all and finds themselves exiled in a small, backwater town. Don’t let that fool you, though; it’s a laugh-out-loud hilarious show with a lot of heart. (It is streaming on Netflix in the US and UK.) Finally, one of the most underrated British comedies of all time, Hebburn is a must-watch. Set in the eponymous northern town and chock-full of Geordie accents, Hebburn is a humurous look at a working class family in modern Britain. (Not currently streaming anywhere as far as I’m aware, but you can watch some episodes on Daily Motion.)

YouTube and other Websites

Back in November, I started writing “daily recaps” for a soap opera I created. Set in a fictional college town, it revolves around the lives and loves of a group of professors, administrators, students, and donors of a private university in Kentucky. In February I started putting it on Wattpad, and it has grown from “recaps” into 5000 word “episodes” during this lockdown. Obviously I want you to read my soap opera (entitled College Heights, a reference any of my fellow Hilltoppers will get), but there’s a lot of great fanfiction and other writing on Wattpad, too. Netflix’s The Kissing Booth was based on a Wattpad story, for example. Or, maybe you’re a budding author who wants to try their hand at fiction? Wattpad is a great website to post things you don’t want to submit for publication.

Maybe nonfiction is more your jam, though. If so, I have become obsessed with This Victorian Life, a website run by Sarah A. Chrisman, a woman who – with her husband, Gabriel – lives as a full-time Victorian. She has written a number of nonfiction books about the Victorian era and has a series of historical fiction called The Tales of Chetzemoka. I read the first one and enjoyed it, but the website is what keeps me coming back. Sarah posts poetry from the Victorian era, blogs about her life, and videos she uploads to YouTube. The Chrismans have engendered some controversy (it’s not entirely clear Sarah and Gabriel believe women should have the right to vote, for example), but that doesn’t diminish how fascinating their lives are and how endearing Sarah herself is. A highlight of the website and her videos is the Victorian recipes she shares. I tried this one a couple months back!


In fact, since we’re all stuck inside now is the perfect time to try a new recipe. Simply Sara Kitchen has become my favourite cooking show on any medium. With a salt-of-the-earth sensibility and charming personality, Sara cooks all your favourite American comfort foods, from fried chicken to Johnny Marzetti casserole in an easy-to-follow format, making sure even the most novice of home chefs can enjoy delicious, down home food.

Another YouTube channel I watch religiously is Company Man. At some point we’ve all wondered about a company we use, whether it’s asking ourselves how Amazon got so big or what ever happened to Blockbuster. Company Man traces the rise and fall of all kinds of iconic companies, and with it examines the history of American capitalism over the past 150 years. Though he never reveals his face, he is an utterly affable man and his voice is incredibly soothing. The content, though, is what keeps me sticking around – it’s endlessly fascinating to see how these companies have changed, adapted, or not as the case may be. My personal favourite is a video he did on Ocean Spray (yes, the cranberry company), which has a far more interesting story than I ever realised.

Music

Imagine being quarantined without a streaming service? One silver lining to this pandemic is that it happened at a time when so much good music is at our fingertips. I use Apple Music and LiveXLive (formerly Slackr), both of which have their pros and cons. One thing I like about LiveXLive is that its stations are almost like radio. Jess, who hosts the Weekly Country Countdown, and Parker are two of my personal favourite presenters. Apple Music allows you to create playlists and buy music, though. There are a plethora of others out there if neither of these meets your needs.

As far as what I’m listening to, I have found myself coming back to three artists in particular. The first, Dame Vera Lynn, was “Forces’ Sweetheart” in the Second World War. “White Cliffs of Dover” and “There’ll Always Be an England” are two of my favourites, but I dare you to listen to “We’ll Meet Again” and not cry given the current circumstances.

Another artist I love is Alexander Rybak. The winner of Eurovision 2009, Rybak is an amazing violinist and folk singer from Norway. His songs are innovative and infectuous and never fail to leave a smile on my face. He is also an energetic and captivating live performer.

Finally, it’s an oldie but a goodie – Buzzfeed Quizzes. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent mindlessly finding out which member Jonas Brother I am going to marry or which European city I should move to. Go ahead and laugh, but I know you want to know which member of One Direction is your soulmate. (Mine’s Louis. Stay jealous.)

Books

For the past several weeks I have been slowly making my way through John M. Barry’s The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History. It’s a dense read in the best of times, but given everything that’s happening I have found I need to take several breaks from it. Still, it’s a riveting history of not only the most devestating pandemic in human history but also American medicine in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

If you’re looking for something that induces a little less existential dread, my favourite novel of all time is Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, the story of Achilles told from the perspective of his lover Patroclus. Beautifully written, excellently crafted, and achingly told, it is a masterpiece of modern fiction and won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2012. Another, more whimsical, romance is Casey McQuiston’s Red, White, and Royal Blueabout a British prince who falls in love with the son of the US President. If nonfiction is more your style, Alkarim Jivani’s It’s Not Unusual: A History of Lesbian and Gay Britain in the 20th Century has long been a personal favourite of mine. If you want something more sandalous and juicy, Ramin Setoodeh’s Ladies Who Punch dishes all the dirt on more than twenty years of The View, America’s most dramatic talk show – both on- and off-screen. If you’re looking for a good biography, Last Night at the Viper Room by Gavin Edwards tells the story of my favourite actor of all time, River Phoenix.

Apps

One of my favourite boardgames of all time is Clue, or Cluedo as it is known in the UK. There’s an iPhone app that allows you to play Cluedo against a computer with varying degrees of difficulty. It does cost £3.99/$3.99, but it’s well worth the investment.

Another great app is Redstone Games’ crossword puzzles. I do about two to three of these puzzles a day, and like Cluedo they have settings from easy to very hard (though the very hard ones still only take me about 15 – 30 minutes, depending on how distracted I am). The app is free, though you can pay to have the ads removed. (I have not and do not find the ads distracting at all.) The only drawback to this one is some of the words/clues repeat, which can take a bit of the challenge and fun away. But overall, it’s a great app.

Ever wonder what your hair would look like purple? Or blue? Or both? I’ve been using this hair color app for years to see what my hair, and even celebrities’ hair, would look like if it was dyed any colour of the rainbow – or, indeed, the rainbow. It might sound silly, but you would be surprised how much time you can end up spending just trying on different hair colours. It’s easy to use and free to download.

Everyone has been downloading Houseparty and Zoom, but I suggest trying Marco Polo. Rather than being a FaceTime/Skype substitute, Maro Polo lets you leave video messages for your friends and family which they can watch at their leisure. Even though we’re all stuck at home many of us are still leading busy lives, which means we don’t always have time for lengthy video chats. Marco Polo is an excellent substitute which still allows you to see your loved ones (and for them to see you), but on your timetable.

 

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Reading my teenage blog: Part I – “Heartbreak, You Got The Best Of Me……….”

If you follow me on Twitter you might have seen that I recently discovered my online blog from high school. Earlier this month I answered the same questions at 34 I answered at 17. That got such a fun response from people (mostly those who know me personally, but some who follow my professional writing) that I decided to go ahead and make this a series.

I’m going to do a paragraph-by-paragraph response to my blog, seeing how my views have changed over the past two decades and laughing at myself (or cringing at myself) where needed. Some entries may be edited to take out personal information or information I think others would not want revealed, and I will indicate where that happens.

We start with this entry from April 2002, in which apparently I have had my heart broken. In April 2002 I was 16-years-old, a sophomore in high school, and living in southeastern Kentucky. On the date this was written – 24 April 2002 – “Foolish” by Ashanti was the number one song in the US while “Girlfriend” by *NSync topped the British charts. The Scorpion King, starring The Rock, was the number one film in the United States. 9/11 had happened only seven months prior, George W Bush was in his first term, the iPod had only just been released the previous autumn, and I had never had a mobile phone and didn’t see the point of one. 

How things have changed. Or have they? Let’s take a look at what 16-year-old Skylar thought.

Heartbreak, You Got The Best Of Me………. 4/24/2002
If something seems to good to be true, it probably is. How true is that line? OMG its just…..read about my day.

I always had a flare for the dramatic. But I still agree that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

First hour my hair was all fucked up, so I ran all around school fixing it. I used lotion to get the hairspray out, then I had to run to Sherri’s locker (down the MATH WING!) to get the fucking hairspray and I used spit to fix it. Then my spit fell on the desk. We watched some movie over Jews so it was easy.

NOT THE MATH WING! There’s so much happening in this paragraph. First of all, Sherri, I’m sorry but I don’t remember you. Thanks for letting me use your hairspray… and spit? Maybe I used my own spit. God I hope I used my own spit. If I used Sherri’s spit I really should remember her. Anyway, I’m not sure why I used lotion to get hairpsray out of my hair. Is that a trick I’ve forgotten over the years? Does anybody know?

I’m really fucking disappointed in how blase I was about “some movie over Jews.” That just reads as incredibly offensive to me as a 34-year-old man. I’m sure I didn’t mean it offensively, but fucking hell boy, word choice matters.

Second hour we rehearsed and I joked around with Amanda Jo. I have to go get a costume really soon. I’m so nervous about being in front of the whole school. I’ve been acting my entire life, but not in front of people who know me and my entire life story. AND NOT IN FRONT OF [RYAN – a psuedonym to be used here on out]!

I changed the name of the boy because I want to respect his privacy. Some of my high school friends will probably figure out from context who it is. Just leave it, I ask. It’s been 18 years – let’s let sleeping dogs lie.

Amanda Jo! We had such fun together. I miss her. (If you’re reading this, hi Amanda Jo!) What were we rehearsing? 2002… must have been Alice in Wonderland. I plaid the White Rabbit. I had a line during a croquet match that went “my ball, my ball, I can’t play without my ball!” but slipped up in a performance and said “I can’t play without my balls!” It was humiliating, but also hilarious. 

Third hour I hung out with Sally, Samantha, Teddy Bear, and some other seniors in the library. We talked about Prom and looking for Prom parties. SO far no luck.

Sally I remember. Teddy Bear I remember his face, though not his name (Josh, maybe?). Samantha… sorry, love, no idea. Why is “Prom” capitalised. It’s not a proper noun you fool. We found a prom party in the end and it is one of the most memorable nights of my life. It was a big night in my life, as prom nights often are. Yes, I’m being coy. I’m much less brazen at 34 than I was at 16.

Fourth hour I forgot my work for Koog and so I get a 0 on that. It sucks because I had it all finished, too! I feel like such the dumbass! And so yah. The major thing of fourth period was when Sally told me that [Ryan] had had a girlfriend way back in sixth grade [name redacted]! OMG one of my best friends dated him and failed to tell me this! And he does have a crush on [name redacted] (so he says-we’re not sure if we believe this). That scares me, because I’m starting to think [he] may be straight. If he is straight I’d be happy for him, but I know that I’ll die inside. I swear I need him. I wrote him a letter about being an ass to me fourth hour, too.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. You deserved that 0. As it stands I still end up going out of the house and forgetting half of what I meant to bring. I guess that’s less a youthful folly than it is a character flaw.

I really hate how goddamn needy and frankly obsessive I am in this paragraph. It’s bad. It was also the start of a pattern in my life, one in which I routinely fall for men who don’t seem interested in me or are unwilling to commit and who say they’re straight but actually aren’t straight at all. Ryan was the prototype for so many heartbreaks through my twenties. I didn’t die inside, though. That happened about 9 years later.

 I wonder if I ever gave Ryan that letter? I don’t think I did, because I remember “Ryan” well and I think I’d remember something like that (it was a weird time in my life). I hope to God I didn’t, anyway, not just because it would be mortifying to me but because Ryan clearly set boundaries that I was ignoring. This is not romantic, baby Skylar, it’s abusive. Stop it. (I did stop it – and I was 16, so, you know, I’m cutting myself a little slack here.

[REDACTED PARAGRAPH – Personal information about another individual]

This was my fear when I decided to do this, and one entry in I’m already redacting quite a bit. This person would not want this information revealed though, I am 100% certain about that. Rather than risk anyone finding out, I’m just going to redact it. The point of this is to have fun, but it’s also to look at how much our world and I have changed since the early 2000s. I don’t think this really adds anything of interest in that context, so I’m okay leaving it out.

Fifth hour we watched “To Kill A Mockingbird” and that was that. Me, Lee, and Bridget started the “Broken Hearts Club,” which now has Sally as a member too. Lee says we should get the rest of the cheerleaders in it. I’m thinking about getting Becka in it too.

I’m still a member of this club. Also – does every American high school student read “To Kill a Mockingbird?” I think they do.

Snacks. Oh lord Sally told me [RYAN] said no to the picture (okay, I didn’t really care-HONESTLY LoL shocked me too). SHe told him he needs to start saying “hi” to me or something and he just sadly shook his head no. She said when he said he didn’t want to take that picture (I’m guessing thats what she meant) his eyes said he was lying. She said she thinks the boy is 100% gay [redacted few words]. I dunno…..I hope she’s right.

Take the fucking hint and leave the lad alone, baby Skylar. Honestly Ryan had the patience of Job and I am not liking how relentless I was here. Again, 16, so… cutting myself some slack. But yikes. Anyway, I do remember this actually. I wanted a picture of us together, and he said no. We did eventually take some pictures together, but I burnt them a year later after watching “The Craft” and thinking that maybe sorcery could work. It didn’t, but I still have hope it might.

Sixth hour I worked and thought of [RYAN]. Thats about it. We took Sara home today and then rode around ’till about 4:00 when Sal brought me home and I got online!

Imagine a time where “getting online” was a cause for excitement. In 2002 we made a point of being online, but in 2020 we make a point of disconnecting. A Twitter friend of mine just went offline until June as part of her Lenten sacrifice and social media detox – something that would have baffled people in the early 00s, when the internet was not a ubiquitous part of our lives. Did we know how it would come to take over our world? I don’t think I did. I never could have imagined smart phones or social media, though of course neither was a big step from Palm Pilots or AOL Chat Rooms/websites like LiveJournal. In hindsight it was all quite a logical progression, but at the time it would have seemed impossible if I had thought it.

GOSSIP TIME! LoL well lets see…..Peter Pan and Whitney are happy together. How, I don’t know, but hey, good for them-even though Bridgets heart is breaking. Lee’s crush is still acting like a fucker to her. Becka and Will may be broken up-Becka doesn’t know. She said something to me like “he needs to see what hes got.” I agree-Becka’s a great catch. [NAME REDACTED] wants to go back out with [NAME REDACTED] (they dated from 4-7 grade), but shes afraid all he wants is sex. And he won’t make the first move.

This was one paragraph (together with the next section), but I’m splitting it into two. I have no idea who Peter Pan was, and only a vague idea who Whitney was. OH WAIT – Bridget liked him. Yes, I do remebmer who Peter Pan is. He was a dick to me. (Bridget, I hope you found a better man.) I don’t remember Becka dating a Will, but I guess she did. She is a great catch though, that much is still true.

THEY DATED FROM 4 – 7 GRADE. I read that and howled. Imagine thinking that mattered. That’s like ages 10 – 13. What do you even do when you “date” someone that young? Hold hands and pretend to argue over money and how much “juice” he drinks because that’s what your parents do so that must be how marriage works? Silly kids. Silly, silly kids.

[Me] and [RYAN] may not hook up like everybody thought, because [RYAN] is being a prick (we also found out that [RYAN] and [REDACTED] dated in sixth grade). People are pulling for [me] though. Angela found out about [my] crush on [RYAN] by Stephanie, who decided to open her big mouth-but [I am] not to be mad at Stephanie (oh, God forbid!).

Get the fuck over yourself, baby Skylar. This boy is not worth it, and he clearly isn’t interested in you. Look at your life, look at your choices. Also, Stephanie and I recently followed one another on Twitter so there’s every chance she reads this and I just want to say that I forgive you for telling Angela about my crush our sophomore year of high school which was apparently a big deal at the time but honestly I don’t even remember. Thank you for still having me in your wedding despite this snarky post. Hope you’re well.

Tim and Amanda are back together, which breaks Sally’s heart. One of her old boyfriends (I don’t know his name) wants back together with her.

No idea who Tim and Amanda are, unless they’re the couple that Sally and I went to see 8 Mile with. Don’t feel too bad for Sally, though; she’s been married since 2003 and has a beautiful family, so it all worked out.

[REDACTED TWO SENTENCES – PERSONAL INFORMATION ABOUT ANOTHER PERSON]

[I] cried over [Ryan] today in the library at lunch, and chased Sammie Jo off. [I’m] becoming a cruel, heartless bitch.

You’re becoming an annoying little prick, but I don’t know about a cruel, heartless bitch. I think you just need to chill out, leave the “straight” boys alone, and wait until college when you can really let your hair down. (Spoilers: you won’t, and the next two years will be even more dramatic than this – a long-lost mother, a love triangle, a murder. Huh, my high school career kind of sounds like an episode of Riverdale.

Peace out.

Deuces

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

On Phillip Schofield and remembering my own coming out

 

In a very moving statement released on Twitter this morning, and in an equally moving segment on This Morning, Phillip Schofield came out as gay. Married for 27 years to his wife Stephanie, they have two daughters. By Schofield’s own account his wife and children have been nothing but supportive. This can’t have been easy for the 57-year-old ITV presenter, who has worked in British media for over 30 years, but he has handled it with grace, humility, aplomb.

I am always curious about gay men’s journeys to self-acceptance and, in many cases, self-awareness. I think I always knew I was gay. One of my earliest memories is, aged five or six, getting butterflies when the boy next door grabbed my hand. Of course I didn’t know what that meant or have a name for it, but I knew I felt differently about him than about my other friends.

Later in childhood, I had what I can only retroactively identify as a major crush on my best friend Kyle. He spent summers with his dad, who lived down the street, and I would count down the days until he arrived from Arkansas. My other friends would get jealous and angry as, all summer long, I neglected them for Kyle (an unfortunate pattern that would, shamefully, continue into early adulthood). He and I would spend hours playing with other children, but often alone as well. It was all very chaste and innocent—we couldn’t have been older than ten—but when he would “rescue” me as we played Power Rangers I always felt a tingling, sinking feeling in my chest and stomach which (again, only later in life) could I identify as “puppy love.”

I came out to myself around 14, and to the rest of the world—including my family—at 15. This was in 2001, when teenagers coming out was still a rarity and depictions of LGBT people in popular culture even rarer. Yet there was very little angst around my decision. Once I realized I was gay there was no self-torture, no self-hate. It was almost as though realizing, for the first time and to some mild surprise but no great consequence, that I had a freckle on my leg. “Oh, never noticed that before. Wonder when that happened. Oh shit, it’s almost time for Dawson’s Creek, don’t want to miss that!”

Coming out to my family was not easy—I don’t think it’s every an easy process—but as I would learn from LGBT people in later years much easier than most comings out, especially as a teen and especially in the early 00s. I was out at school, which meant my brother (who was in the same year as I) was the first to know. He shrugged it off and, actually, never brought it up until I finally did about a year after he found out.

The decision to tell my parents was a weighty one. We had gone to an amusement park the Saturday before. My mom and my little sister commented on the attractive boys they saw, while my dad and my brother talked about girls. Realizing I could never have a conversation like that with either, and feeling like I was missing out, I decided to tell them. I went to school that Monday, discussed it with my friends and, plucking up the courage from them, told my parents that evening. They took it well—as well as two working-class Midwestern parents could take such news in 2001—and that, save for a few further conversations over the next few weeks—really was that. (As a bit of trivia, it was Monday, 10 September 2001 – the day before 9/11. There’s a personal narrative to be written about that week in my life, I’m sure.)

At the time, it took a lot of courage. I was trembling as I sat them down. No matter who you are, coming out is never easy. In the back of your mind is always a fear of rejection and hate. Looking back on it now, though, after nearly two decades and hundreds of conversations with other LGBT people who have come out, I see that it was a relatively painless process for me. Over the years, I have wondered why my coming out was so easy compared to so many others. There were no other gay people in my family, at least not that we knew of. My family wasn’t particularly leftwing. My parents didn’t have gay friends—though they liked Ellen DeGeneres, and I always suspect she helped a lot. So what made the difference here? I have a few ideas:

  1. I was raised to be self-assured and independent: my parents and grandparents instilled a confidence in me that has served me well through life. They always encouraged me to do what I want, to take risks, to not be afraid of the consequences (within reason), and to make my own way.
  2. I was deeply introspective, even as a child: I’ve always lived in my head, even as a kid. I had friends, but the bulk of my time was spent playing alone. When you spend so much time with yourself, you can’t help but to get to know yourself on a deep and intimate level. I once knew a man who, at 23, only just realized he was gay. He saw a sex therapist because he couldn’t perform in the bedroom with women and even entertained that he might be asexual. That he was attracted to other guys never crossed his mind. I couldn’t imagine not knowing such a basic truth about yourself, but for many gay men same-sex attraction is so buried in their subconscious they don’t recognize it until years later. (It’s important to note that I’m not saying this is Phillip Schofield’s story. I don’t know what his story is, though I’d love to one day hear it.)
  3. I knew other LGBT kids: The autumn of 2001 was a tumultuous time in my life – among other things, I came out, 9/11 happened, and I moved from Ohio to Kentucky – but when I came out I was still living with my parents in Dayton. I was not the first student to come out at Walter E. Stebbins High School. My freshman year there was some drama when, if I remember correctly, a bisexual senior girl left her girlfriend for a football player. There was a sophomore who wore nail polish and lipstick and was openly gay. There were others, too, who blazed the trail for me. And then of course, there was the internet. AOL chat rooms, TeenOpenDiary, message boards—they all helped me find community with other gay people, some of whom were just coming out like me and others who had been out for years. I knew that coming out wasn’t the end of the world, but the beginning of living authentically, because I had others who lived that truth.
  4. We weren’t a religious family: We believed in God, I think, but we were not devout Christians. The one time I remember my parents talking about God was when, one December, my mom got mad at me and my siblings for not wanting to watch a program about God. It was about God promising to come for Christmas, then never showing up, except that He did three times in the form of three different needy people. I didn’t want to watch not because it was about God but because the thought of God showing up on my doorstep terrified me. We never went to church as a family, though my sister and I did go to church with friends, but being raised outside a faith tradition meant that I had little fear that my parents were going to beat me with a Bible or send me to a conversion camp or throw me out. I didn’t have the anxiety of grappling with my “mortal sin” because I was never taught that being gay was a mortal sin.
  5. My family believes in fairness and kindness: I think this might be the most important. Despite all the teenage “ugh I hate my parents” temper tantrums, I knew they were ultimately kind and decent people. I mentioned Ellen earlier. My mom and I used to watch her sitcom together. When she came out, I was upset because the character had never been gay before. Later I made a homophobic joke about her name, calling her “Ellen Degenerate” – a word I didn’t know what it meant but must have learned from some bigot on the television or radio (I don’t know who, but I’ve always blamed Rush Limbaugh), because I knew it wasn’t good and had to do with her sexuality. My mom snapped at me “don’t call her that,” the message being “gay people aren’t degenerates.” That stuck.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I was relentlessly bullied in my Kentucky high school. My father worried I would get AIDS. My mother said “obviously we are disappointed” when I came out (though she has since apologized profusely for the hurt those words caused and doesn’t herself remember saying them). There were stumbling blocks and learning curves for all of us. But we got there quicker than most.

Every LGBT person’s journey is different. Mine is but one of millions, and this short essay is far from the entire story. Some people had a much harder time of things than I did. Some probably had it easier. Certainly, the cultural circumstances in which we come out matter a great deal, and I benefited from coming out at the beginning of what was to be a rapid shift in public opinion on gay rights which began with Ellen and Matthew Shepherd and continues right up to today with Pete Buttigieg and now Phillip Schofield.

Ultimately, the only point of this is to share a little of my own story, which I’ve been thinking about since Schofield’s announcement. My life got a lot better after I came out. I hope Phillip Schofield’s does too.

Answering the same questions at 34 I answered at 17

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know I recently rediscovered the online diary I kept as a teen. While I don’t have access to all the entries I wrote (the Internet Archive didn’t archive most of them), some of them I do.

One of those old diary entries – this was before the term “blog” was popularised – included this “survey” that I took in the summer of 2003. I was 17, had just finished my junior year of high school, and was living seven miles outside the small town of Hyden, Kentucky. Suffice to say, my life has changed a lot since then. As I stare down the barrell of 34 (my birthday is later this month), I thought it would be fun to answer the same questions I did as a teenager. Let’s see if 17 years has changed anything.

1.How many times have you had pizza delivered to your house?
2003: That’s like asking me to count a google.
2020: That’s like asking me to count a google.

2. How do you like your toast?
2003: Toasted.
2020: Pretty crispy.

3. What kind of milk, if any, do you drink?
2003: I’m not a big milk fan, unless it’s chocolate!
2020: I will not drink milk, even if it’s chocolate.

4. What do your dishes look like?
2003: Aww hell, I dunno. Flowers and white and stuff methinks.
2020: So my dishes are black and red, but they’re in storage. Those “flowers and white and stuff” dishes? My grandmother still has them.

5. What utensil do you eat mac ‘n cheese with?
2003: A fork.
2020: A fork.

6. Do you know what anti-aliasing is?
2003: No, but the girl I stole this survey from sure did. It has something to do with taking away the jagged edges of circles on a video game.
2020: Not a fucking clue

7. Have you ever been in an airplane?
2003: Yes.
2020: Oh God, more times than I can count. For a while it felt like I lived in the air.

8. Have you ever played a full game of golf?
2003: Uh, no.
2020: Still no.

9. Describe your feelings toward Microsoft Windows:
2003: I’m impartial. Don’t like the monopoly bit, but…yeah.
2020: At this point I wouldn’t want to use anything else. It’s the only OS I’ve used for 25 years. But that monopoly bit still bothers me

10. Do you usually remember your dreams?
2003: Yeah, I do.
2020: I’ve noticed that as I get older I remember them less frequently and in less detail, and that when I do remember them it isn’t for as long.

2003

The author in the summer of 2003, aged 17. Photo: Kathy Jordan

 

11. How big is your bed?
2003: Twin size, because I like it small and cozy.
2020: You lying bastard, it was not because you liked it small and cozy, it was because that’s the bed your grandparents gave you and it was sleep in that or on the floor. The bed I have now is a full sized bed. Largest I’ve ever had was queen sized. One day I’ll get that California king

12. What’s the coolest thing on the surface of your workspace?
2003: My fiberoptic lamp and pictures.
2020: My workspace is wherever I want it to be. Right now it’s my bed, and the coolest thing on my bed is probably my John Lewis duvet cover

13. Describe your current hair style:
2003: The Federico! lmao
2020: Long, shaggy, pushed back

Federico_Martone

Federico Martone, a contestant on Big Brother 4 (UK). Apparently I once had his haircut.

14. Where is your computer?
2003: The living room.
2020: This is one of the biggest changes over the past 17 years. Laptops weren’t unheard of in 2003, but at least where I lived, they weren’t the norm. I got my first laptop in 2004, when I began university. Right now my computer is in my bedroom, but it can be literally anywhere I want it to be. And if you count my phone, I always have a computer on me.

15. Are you an avid gambler?
2003: To an extent. A few bucks every now and then.
2020: I never gamble, save the occassional lottery ticket.

16. Quick! Say a fantasy of yours!
2003: To be in [Ryan’s] arms tonight…more than you’ll ever know. ::sigh::
2020: To publish my debut novel. Of course, I wouldn’t kick Leonardo DiCaprio out of bed.

17. What web site(s) do you visit on a normal basis?
2003: TOD, channel4.com/bigbrother, yahoo.com, beliefnet.com, jimverraros.us, FOD, Google (I love to play with the image search!)
2020: Wow, remember when Google image search was a novelty? Anyway, now it’s Twitter (hands down the biggest waste of time I’ve ever found), the Independent (natch), Washington Post, Digital Spy (I read their EastEnders coverage obsessively), and Instagram

esq060119cover004-1558471471

Daddy. (Photo: Alexi Lumbomirski/Esquire)


18. Who’s your daddy?

2003: Steve?
2020: I’m actually kind of relieved that I didn’t understand this question at 17. It shows I still had some innocence left. Anyway, I wouldn’t kick Leonardo DiCaprio out of bed.

19. What’s your favorite Jackass segment?
2003: I still crack up about the part in the movie where the guy shoved the car up his ass.
2020: I haven’t thought of this show in years, and I’m mortified that I once admitted to enjoying it. I don’t actually remember watching Jackass very often. The only thing I remember is that Johnny Knoxville got papercuts on the webs of his toes once. I’ll go with that.

20. Do you watch sports on TV?
2003: The horse races, but that’s about it. Sometimes I’ll order a Chelsea or Manchester United game on Pay-Per-View, too.
2020: No. I did watch the Super Bowl, and I like the Olympics. So I guess sometimes.

21. When was the last time you were sick?
2003: During the Louisville trip with FBLA last month.
2020: Last winter. I didn’t get a sinus infection this fall, which I usually do. Touch wood, I’ll stay well.

22. Describe the jewelry you are currently wearing:
2003: Class ring, shell neclace, watch, St. Sebastian neclace.
2020: No jewelry. I haven’t worn jewelry in years. I lost my class ring in 2004 (somewhere in my Dad’s house, but we never did find it). I lost that St. Sebastian necklace the night of my senior prom. Dustin Sizemore and I were in a car accident after prom, and I had to go to the hospital. I lost it somewhere between the accident seen and the emergency room. I’ve always assumed St. Sebastian stayed with me just as long as I need him and then went to help someone else. (As an aside, Dustin himself passed away in 2011.)

23. Do you like 80s music?
2003: OMG Yes!
2020: OMG Yes! Except now I have a deeper appreciation of it and how pivotal an era it was in the development of modern music and popular culture.

24. If you drive, how often do you speed?
2003: I don’t drive; that’s part of my problem.
2020: I drive, but I don’t speed. Two speeding tickets in college cured me of that.

25. Are holiday lights seasonal?
2003: Oh my gosh you’ve hit on the biggest pet peeve I have! I can’t stand it when people leave their Christmas lights up past 1 January! I mean, it bugs me so much! I flip out on them and I don’t know why! It’s just so tacky. I love Christmas, but to leave lights up all year is just WRONG. I mean, if they’re white lights inside, that’s okay. Cute, even. But outside or in a living room or something? Nope, it’s tacky. And it kills me. It absolutly kills me.
2020: I have remained remarkably consistent on this. I’ll allow your holiday lights to stay up maybe until Epiphany, but after that, you need to take them down. It’s tacky.

26. How often do you floss?
2003: Floss? I do that sometimes…I guess.
2020: Floss? I do that sometimes… I guess… okay not really. I don’t floss. There. I’ve said it. Don’t @ me.

27. Do you spill often?
2003: Not nearly often enough. 😉
2020: Gross, teenage Skylar. Fucking gross. God, teenage boys are awful. But no, I am not a toddler, I don’t spill things very often.

28. How many windows are in your bedroom?
2003: One
2020: One

29. What’s the most disgusting food you have ever eaten?
2003: escargo or however you spell it. Screw it…snails.
2003: Still escargot. #NeverAgain

30. Does you breath smell?
2003: Yeah, I just drank a Pepsi.
2020: Yes, I just smoked a cigarette

31. In a perfect world, we would have no:
2003: religion. I know that sounds horrible, but religion has caused more problems for humanity than anything else. In a perfect world, we’d all worship the diety (for I feel the diety is the same for all religions) in an unoranized fasion, in our own way, on our own accords. No organized religion.
2020: …racism or misogyny. This one has actually changed a lot. I still think religion has caused a lot of problems for humanity, but I also think it’s one of our greatest gifts. At university I found the Episcopal Church – and thank God I did – and, through it, religion. I find peace in reading the Bible and comfort in prayer. I think religion, even organised religion, can be a force for good. It can also be a force for bad, but I wouldn’t want to eliminate it from the world.

32. What’s your favorite shoe color/material?
2003: I like brown leather sandals.
2020: I still like brown leather sandals. Also Sperrys.

33. When do you usually eat lunch?
2003: Depends on when I wake up…
2020: I frequently skip lunch.

34. Do you have a cellular telephone?
2003: Nope, and I don’t care for one either (who in the hell would call me?)
2020: WOW. No answer could more represent just how different our world is now than this one. In 2003 I didn’t have a mobile phone and it didn’t bother me. In 2020 I can’t imagine 1) not having a mobile and 2) someone calling me on it. I just bought a new iPhone 11, and it is always on my person. Wow.

That’s it. What memories do you have of 2003, or of being 17? Do you think you would answer these questions the same, or has your perspective shifted as an adult? Let me know in the comments below!

Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics for more than a decade. His work as appeared at The Independent, Salon, Huff Post UK, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter or become a supporter by contributing to his Patreon account.

Skylar reads… Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

“Skylar reads…” is a new series of book reviews by writer Skylar Baker-Jordan.

By now, most people will be at least passingly familiar with André Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name. The story of two young men who fall in love on the Italian Riviera, it was turned into an Oscar-winning film in 2017. The novel, like its setting along the northwestern Italian coast, is lush and beautiful and inspiring. Bittersweet like an overripe peach, Call Me By Your Name is part romance novel, part bildungsroman, and—like the passion between protagonist Elio and his beloved Oliver—all-consuming. I enjoyed being transported from a dreary winter in Tennessee to the scalding hot summers of 1980s Italy almost as much as I enjoyed reliving what it feels like to be young and in love.

Indeed, I want to talk about that, partly because (as I said earlier) the novel has been out for so long that any review I provide here is unlikely to add anything new to the cultural conversation. One could write entire essays on the symbolism of the peach and the poo (if you don’t know, read the novel) or of the frequent references to feet and the tactile language Aciman uses to evoke the electricity even the slightest touch can spark between two young people in love. I’ll leave it to the literature scholars and critics to do that, though. I’m more interested in what feelings this novel evoked in me, not because I’m a narcissist but because I suspect they’re universal.

If you’ve ever loved and lost, especially if you loved and lost at a young age, prepare to have those old scars heedlessly cut open. Aciman’s novel takes place in the mid-80s, but Elio tells the story from, doing the math, the mid-00s (which makes sense; the novel came out in 2007). The distance of decades allows him to tell the story of his adolescence with the perspective of an adult, replete with the hindsight, wisdom, and nostalgia that invariably entails.

All of us, at one point or another, have looked back on our teenage years with a sort of longing tinged with regret—whether it’s for a life choice we’d like to change, a lover we might not have even realized we miss, the general loss of innocence, or some combination thereof. Younger readers (say, anyone under 25) might not fully appreciate the wistfulness that thinking about your deep past can evoke, but older readers certainly can. Aciman captures the languor of lifelong regret in a way few authors have.

For me, this meant harkening back to a time ten years ago when I met the man who would become the love of my life. Like Elio and Oliver, we had a tortured will-they-or-won’t-they relationship which culminated in a passionate love affair and ended far too soon because he wasn’t ready to accept his same-sex attraction. Like Elio and Oliver, there was a not insignificant, but not unreasonable age difference between us (I was 24 when we met, the same age as Oliver; he was 18, a year older than Elio). Like Elio and Oliver, I suspect that age difference was insurmountable, though; six years might not matter at 34, but it matters a lot at 24.

We were the inverse of Elio and Oliver, though. I was the one who fell head over heels in love and he was the one who saw us for what we really were—two lonely people who found one another at precisely the right time, but who would never work outside the bubble in which we then lived. He had his demons, to be sure. He wouldn’t come out publicly until seven years after we broke up, and he’d have a child along that journey to self-acceptance. But, looking back now, I suspect that he was always more levelheaded about us than I was. I think he always knew that the life I said I wanted with him would never be enough—little things he said, like “don’t you want to move to London?” or “what about your writing? Why don’t you write more?”—and that he was in no position to give me what I craved, at least not for more than a few months.

Indeed, it was only a few months—the most confusing and logical, the most agonizing and joyous, the most tender and most callous, the most I’ve ever been loved and been loved and the most I’ve ever loathed and been loathed few months—but it still haunts me to this day. I can’t see an orange crewneck or a zip-up hoodie without thinking of him, and the one I used to steal from him and wear around because it was warm and comfortable, but mostly because it smelled like him, his musk and his cologne. To this day the scent of Old Spice reminds me of those nights spent lying in his arms.

Whenever I fall and scrape myself, I think of that first night we met, sitting outside his dorm room while I bled (having fallen, drunk, as we walked) and he insisted on getting a first aid kit. The symbolism of this is not lost on me now. I had no idea how much I would hurt myself for this boy.

We sat up all night talking about life, about books, about music, about art. As the sun rose, we walked to Waffle House—another thing he took from me. I walked home, across the entire desolate length of campus and down College Street to my apartment at about 8:00 AM; by noon he was at my place. We were inseparable from then until we weren’t anymore.

Reading Aciman’s novel made me long to be in Europe, to walk down Roman alleys and sun myself on Monet’s berm. More than that, though, it made me want to go back to my own past, back to Bowling Green, Kentucky. It made me want to walk the length of campus again, as I had that sunny, late summer morning, like a pilgrim walks where Jesus walked. It made me want to go back to the yard where we first met, back to steps where we first kissed, back to the picnic table where he, a student, and I, an alumnus finally said our goodbyes. It made me wonder where he is, what he’s doing, who he’s dating, and if he’s happy.

It also made me consider the passing of time and the wisdom of age. I recently found my high school diary. One entry was about the boy I had a crush on at the time. “He smiled at me. Twice!” I exclaimed. The innocence of youth. The boy who wrote that is a stranger to the man I am today, yet we are inexplicably one and the same. I don’t think I’d get so excited over a smile today, and I certainly wouldn’t take it as irrefutable proof that the object of my affections reciprocated. I wish I could be that naive again.

I remember that boy fondly too. He was a nice boy. It’s been even longer since I’ve seen him, to the point I don’t even remember what his voice sounds like. There were others before my Oliver, who was also my Elio as I was both to him as well. There have been a few since. None have compared to him. None hold a candle.

I don’t suspect he feels the same about me. I imagine plenty followed me, more than one more beloved than I ever was. I hope he thinks about me, though. Undoubtedly, he does; I was his first. You always remember your first. I hope it’s with kind thoughts, though, or at least not all regrets.

How is it that one person can change your life so completely, and that even after a decade leave your heart in tatters by simply coming to memory? A question for the philosophers. He was that to me. Is that to me. No one as ever compared, and as I approach my 34th birthday, I suspect no one ever will.

Why him? I ask myself that whenever he comes to mind. He was cute, but he wasn’t hot. He was nice, but he wasn’t always kind. He wasn’t dumb, but he was no great intellect. His opinions were pedestrian and shallow—a product of his age, perhaps, and an intellectual immaturity which doubtless four years of college could have solved. I only knew him for one.

So why him? He made me feel safe. Whenever he was around, I felt like I could conquer the world. He made me feel valued. There was no shame in working in a coffeeshop, all writers do, he’d say. Your value isn’t measured by your bank account, Skylar, shut up this ramen is fine. He made me feel attractive at a time I was painfully insecure. He made me feel needed a time I felt useless. He made me feel hopeful at a time I felt despairing.

He made me feel loved. He loved me. He told me, but more than that, he showed me. In the little ways—bringing me a slice of pizza when he came over, because he correctly guessed I hadn’t eaten; showing up at the coffeeshop and sitting for my entire shift so I’d have someone to talk to; playing a song twice in a row because he knew I liked it. In the big ways, too, supporting me as I had to institutionalize one of my best friends and never leaving my side when another old friend passed away.

He’s the only man I can say that about. For as little as we knew one another, it’s remarkable what all happened. Six months. I met him in August 2010. We broke up in February 2011. Six months I knew him. A lifetime I’ve loved him.

Unlike the film, Call Me By Your Name ends with a reunion 15 years after the main events of the novel. Then it flashes to five years after that, back in Italy, our two protagonists still longing for one another but unable or unwilling to bridge the time that has now come between them.

I haven’t seen him in nine years. I suppose that means I only have to wait another six.

★ ★ ★ ★☆

Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics for more than a decade. His work as appeared at The Independent, Salon, Huff Post UK, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter or become a supporter by contributing to his Patreon account.

Pete Buttigieg, Hillary Clinton, and who gets to show emotion in American politics

Last night the New York Times editorial board endorsed Senator Amy Klobuchar and/or Senator Elizabeth Warren for the Democratic nomination. Leaving aside the arguments for and against each of these candidates as well as the arguments over whether endorsing two candidates makes sense (I think it does), I want to—quelle surprise—talk about Pete Buttigieg. Chiefly, I want to talk about Mayor Pete, emotiveness, and who gets to be expressive in American politics and culture.

First, let’s get something out of the way. I am supporting Pete Buttigieg for president. I think the New York Times’ interview was at times very unfair to him, especially Binyamin Appelbaum’s outright lies about his time as a consultant for McKinsey. I am not happy with the Times’ endorsement, though I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Mayor Pete was the fourth-place pick of the editorial board (behind Warren, Klobuchar, and erstwhile candidate Senator Cory Booker).

With that said, there was an exchange that I think is worth discussing in a bit more detail than I’ve seen discussed elsewhere. In response to Appelbaum asking whether he feels the same anger a lot of young people feel about the state of the country, Mayor Pete answered that “while I may not be as emotive sometimes about my sense of anger or frustration or injustice – and I would argue that some people are given more room to be emotive than others – I would not be doing any of this if I were not propelled by a level of passion.” While debating the pros and cons of each candidate (as shown on The Weekly), Michelle Cottle complained that “Pete talking about how he doesn’t emote as much as some, that’s a real problem. I mean voters love that ‘I feel your pain’ stuff,” prompting Lauren Kelley to rightly point out “he also almost surely would be painted in some unfair way if the gay man on the trail was overly emotional, right? I mean, it’s a bind.”

Indeed, it is a bind – one in which many gay men have found themselves. I don’t know if Pete Buttigieg meant to imply that others have more leeway to be emotive because he’s gay or not (he never expressly says), and I understand the point Cottle was making. Voters really do love a passionate, emotive candidate – think Bill Clinton, think Bernie Sanders, think Donald Trump – though Barack Obama showed that sometimes cool-as-a-cucumber works, too.  But Kelley raises a point that I think is important to make, if not about Mayor Pete specifically, about politics and business in general. Who gets to be emotive, and who gets dismissed when they’re emotive, is something worth discussing.

Gay men have long been portrayed as flamboyant and dramatic, from Nathan Lane’s character in The Birdcage to Jack McFarlane in Will and Grace right on up to Cam on Modern Family. There’s nothing wrong with being flamboyant and dramatic—lots of gay men (myself included, frankly) are, just as lots of all sorts of people are. For a long time, though, the stock character of the gay “drama queen” was the predominant depiction of gay men in pop culture, and that image has become a stereotype of gay men in general. The problem arises not because some gay men are dramatic, emotional, emotive, or flamboyant, but because the straight world assumes that when a gay man is dramatic, emotional, emotive, or flamboyant it is because he is gay and that is, inherently, a bad thing.

As I said above, I’m an expressive and sometimes flamboyant gay man. I’ve never felt any shame in this. One of my nicknames among my friends in high school—given in good nature— was “Bitchy Diva Queen.” (The other was “Zazu,” because I always knew the gossip.) The nickname itself didn’t bother me. The way my emotions were often dismissed because of it, though, did. I developed a thick skin back then—you had to as an openly gay boy in a southeastern Kentucky high school in the early 00s—but when something really did upset me, such as sophomore year, when a group of bullies apparently planned to attack me, my genuine fear, anger, or hurt was dismissed as being “overly dramatic” by my friends, my classmates, and even the administration.

This attitude followed me into adulthood. I was heavily involved in student government during college. During one contentious meeting at a retreat, frustrated, I got up to go smoke (a filthy habit, I know). This was allowed considering how long the meeting was going; people were taking breaks as needed. I walked quickly and with purpose (as I always do, a product of trying to make it from one class to the next without getting attacked in high school), hurrying outside to light a cigarette. The next thing I know the student body president—my boss, as her chief of staff— is outside chastising me for “storming out.” When I tried to explain that I simply needed a cigarette, she wouldn’t hear it, dressing me down for being so dramatic.

Even into the professional world, even in a big blue dot like Chicago, this attitude has prevailed. When I was in meetings with management at the corporate headquarters of a large American mortgage company, I often felt dismissed if I showed even a hint of emotion. One well-meaning boss, who herself could often be heard cussing and screaming from her desk, suggested that I “tone it down” a bit. Another not well-meaning—and to no one’s surprise, male—boss told me to “stop being a diva and stop complaining,” even though I was one of several employees—though the only gay man—raising concerns that day.

Learning to keep cool is an important skill for anyone of any background, because sometimes you can’t just fly off the handle—and sometimes you won’t want to. I’ll be the first to admit there have been times that I have let my emotions get the better of me, when people had every right to pull me aside and tell me to chill out. I think that’s happened to most of us. For many years, this was compounded by an undiagnosed anxiety disorder which I only discovered I had in my late twenties. But time and again, people have somehow linked my emotiveness with my sexuality, othering me in the process.

This is why it matters who gets to be emotive and who does not. Hillary Clinton famously had a similar problem in 2008, when she was first accused of being cold and unfeeling. When she did show emotion at a campaign stop in New Hampshire, she was pilloried for it. “ A common first instinct was to treat the episode as a ploy, a calculated effort to ‘humanize’ the candidate—an interpretation that depended heavily on its having been somehow staged or faked,” Hendrik Hertzberg wrote at the time in The New Yorker, “but the authenticity of Clinton’s emotion was apparent to anyone who took the time to study the many replays with an open mind…”

Hillary Clinton herself has addressed this double standard several times. In 2016, she told the viral photography project Humans of New York she “had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions. And that’s a hard path to walk. Because you need to protect yourself, you need to keep steady, but at the same time you don’t want to seem ‘walled off.” In her 2017 memoir What Happened, she rightly called this “another variant on the impossible balancing act” women must perform in order to show enough emotion to be quote-unquote likable while not showing so much that they’re thought of as quote-unquote shrill or overwrought. “If we’re too composed, we’re cold or fake. But if we say what we think without caution, we get slammed for it,” she writes. “Can you blame us for feeling like we can’t win, no matter what we do?”

I suspect the similar double standard experienced by Hillary Clinton and—it must be said, to a lesser degree—Pete Buttigieg is rooted in the same patriarchal, misogynist notions about how women and gay men behave. It’s why when a straight man gets angry, he’s “passionate,” when a gay man gets angry, he’s “dramatic,” and when a woman gets angry, she’s “hysterical.” This is further compounded by race, with tropes such as the “angry black woman” making it even more difficult for Black women specifically, and women of colour more generally, to be allowed space to have and show emotions without ridicule or prejudice. Black men, too, are often viewed as angry or violet where white men aren’t, as a 2017 American Psychological Association study reveals.

Homophobic, sexist, and racist double standards influence how we perceive people’s emotions and emotiveness. Mayor Pete never says why he can’t be as emotive as others, nor does he say who gets to be more emotive than he does. Zooming out from him and looking at the culture more broadly, though, it’s clear that in America, not everyone is equally free to express themselves. So long as stereotypes and double standards continue to affect who gets to show emotion and how that emotion is perceived, we should all remember that sometimes a candidate is guarded not because they aren’t passionate, but because they aren’t allowed to be.

Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics for more than a decade. His work as appeared at The Independent, Salon, Huff Post UK, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter or become a supporter by contributing to his Patreon account.

Harry and Meghan quit their shitty job, and you should too

Harry and Meghan are quitting the royal family, and I couldn’t be happier for them. In a statement released earlier today, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced plans to “step back” from royal duties this year, splitting time between the UK and North America while working “to become financially independent.” In other words, they’re peacing out.

It’s hard to blame them given the torrent of abuse – a lot of it racist and misogynistic – the couple has received since marrying in 2018. Everything from their travel arrangements to the way Meghan holds her baby has been criticized by the tabloids and the Twitterati. The pressure of being constantly—and often unfairly—scrutinized was bound to take a toll. The Sussexes had to weigh whether that toll was worth it and, in the end, decided it wasn’t.

Well done, them. In deciding that the unrealistic expectations set by those around them—from the press to “the firm” (as the Crown is known within Buckingham Palace) to trolls on social media—was not worth the hassle, Meghan and Harry have set an example for people around the world who are fed up with their miserable, high-pressure, low-reward jobs.

It’s a timely lesson in priorities and self-care. A 2018 Gallup poll found that more Americans are unhappy at work than at any time on record. Younger people, especially, are dissatisfied with their jobs. More than 70% of Millennials report they are not engaged at their jobs due to factors ranging from unrealistic expectations set by management to a lack of new opportunities and career advancement.

The stresses of being expected to be able to finish multiple complicated projects quickly and proficiently will eventually catch up with you. This is especially true when you’re making less than what their parents made at similar jobs and, thanks to smartphones, are expected to be reachable at all hours of the day.  When you an never escape the pressure, the pressure can become unbearable.

It’s a phenomenon which Buzzfeed called “Millennial burnout,” and it’s one I’m all too familiar with. I spent eight years working in the mortgage industry, in a job CNN once included in list of “stressful jobs that pay badly.” The job often involved long hours, intense pressure, and frankly very poor compensation. After the company I was working for decided to up the stakes by enforcing an unreasonable turnaround time, I decided enough was enough and quit.

That was in September of last year. Four months later, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I’m building a career as a freelance writer while working on my first novel. I’ve lost 20 pounds in two months because I’m not eating crap at my desk and drinking to calm the anxiety of being expected to close a loan in fifteen days. I’m not having anxiety attacks now that I’m done with borrowers who can’t or won’t provide the necessary documents, loan officers with unrealistic expectations, and underwriters and managers who expected me to do my job as well as theirs. I’m happier than I have ever been in my professional life because I dared to step away from a role that was making me miserable.

Which brings me back to Harry and Meghan. A lot of people are already criticizing them for putting their health and happiness above “royal duty.” Piers Morgan is, predictably, already crying that Meghan “broke up” the Royal Family. The rest of the Royals are said to be “hurt” and “disappointed” because they weren’t consulted. But why should they have been? A little heads up on the decision might have been nice, but at the end of the day, Harry’s and Meghan’s personal and professional happiness are no one’s business but their own.

It takes a lot of courage to admit that something everybody thinks should make you happy doesn’t. I left a job with a corner office, gave up my own apartment, and moved 500 miles to live with my grandparents while I write my first novel and freelance. Most people have been supportive—just as most on social media appear to be supporting Harry and Meghan—but a few have side-eyed me, asking why on earth I’d make such a drastic decision. It wasn’t an easy one, I admit, but the panic attack I had in my office helped make it for me.

All the lofty titles and all the money in the world can’t buy you happiness. There is no shame in trying something and deciding that it isn’t a fit for you, whether it takes you one year, two years, or a lifetime to decide. Harry and Meghan looked at their life, with the trappings of wealth and privilege, and saw a gilded cage. Rather than choosing a stoic suffering, they chose freedom and joy.

Making such a drastic change is never easy, and it is never without consequence. It is, however, sometimes the only sensible thing one can do. Life is too short to be miserable, whether you work in a cubicle or a castle. May we all take a lead from the Meghan and Harry and choose happiness in 2020.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer with a decade of experience covering US and UK politics, culture, and media. His work has appeared at The Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. 

On Pete Buttigieg, my Independent column, and whether I hate myself for being gay (spoiler: I do not)

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The author, centre, participating in a gay rights march in Lakeview, Chicago, in 2013. Photo: Brittany Sowacke/Redeye

On Friday, the Independent published an think piece I wrote entitled “If one more polyamorous coastal ‘queer’ tells me Pete Buttigieg isn’t gay enough, I’ll scream. He is – and so am I.” This article was in response to a few different “Pete’s the wrong kind of gay” articles I’ve seen over the past year, but the one that I used as my news hook was the most recent, by Buzzfeed’s Shannon Keating. I took issue with her views on Mayor Pete being an insufficient representation of the “queer” community, implying that “orgy attending, polyamorous Brooklyn bottom queens” (her words) are somehow more radical or more appropriate representations of the LGBT people than a boring old cis gay man like Mayor Pete.

The response has been largely positive. There are a lot of people out there who were clearly hungry for someone to state the obvious—that there is no right or wrong way to be gay, that being a “queer” doesn’t make you better than someone who just identifies as “gay,” and that Mayor Pete is and always has been gay enough.

Others disagreed. Some did so in good faith, and I had some respectful debates and constructive conversations both publicly on social media and in DMs. Others were cruel, telling me to throw myself off a freeway overpass or hoping I choke to death. Somewhere in between there lies the people I’m going to address in this blog—the people who decided that because I’m sick and tired of a certain subset of the LGBT community deciding who is and isn’t sufficiently “queer” I must be a self-loathing gay man with oodles of internalised homophobia.

Before we get to that, though, I want to make explicit what this blog isn’t going to address. I am not going to discuss Pete Buttigieg’s politics or policies. They are worth debating, but another day. I am not going to offer a treatise on the word “queer” and my thoughts on it. Again, that’s worth discussing, but this is not the time. And I am not going to call anyone out by name, as that would serve no real purpose.

I do want to briefly discuss a few points—and when I say briefly, I do mean briefly, because it is Sunday and I have zero desire to litigate these ad nauseum again—which have been brought up over the past 48 hours.

  • Am I a self-hating queer with internalised homophobia? To begin with, I don’t identify as queer, I identify as gay. That is important to me, because I have spent most of my life fighting to live openly and proudly and without fear as a gay man. I came out at 15, in 2001, which means I have spent more of my life out of the closet than in the closet. I experienced a crucible of homophobia every single day of high school, being called “faggot,” “fudgepacker,” “homo,” and, yes, “queer.” Far from internalising that homophobia, I rejected it and toxic masculinity to became even more unabashedly myself.
  • You criticised people for being too gay. No one can be “too gay,” because the only requirement for being gay is same-sex attraction. But if we’re talking about being camp, well, I have long worn makeup, had long hair—I went through an unfortunate phase where I thought teasing it was a good idea (“higher the hair, the closer to God”)—and have even been known to squeeze my ass into some women’s capris or baby tees because why the fuck not, they’re cute. I will rock out to some Cheryl or Kelly Clarkson or Steps. I have no problem living my authentic self and camping it up.
  • You hate queer culture. Do I enjoy all aspects of “queer culture?” No. I’m not a big fan of nightclubs in general, and no, I have never been in an orgy (though I’m not sure that is really a unique part of queer culture as straights can do this too). I don’t watch RuPaul’s Drag Race (though I have, and I enjoyed it) and I’ve not seen the reboot of Queer Eye. I prefer country to techno. I am at best a casual fan of Carly Rae Jepsen. These are all superficial markers of what it means to be gay, though, and if this is what the people who have said I hate “queer culture” means, well, I don’t hate it, but it’s not my cup of tea. I’m still hella gay, because I sleep with men. That’s it. That’s the only reason.
  • You used homophobic language. I didn’t. I was riffing off Shannon Keating’s own language, specifically the part where she refers to “typical orgy-attending, polyamorous Brooklyn bottom queens.” It is interesting that no one took exception to a woman (I assume a “queer” woman, but I don’t know that) using this language, but when a gay man snarkily uses nearly similar language to counter the notion that these people are somehow the moral or political arbiters of gayness—no one is, not them, not me, not even Sir Ian McKellan—I am pilloried. I find many (not all, and maybe not even most) people who made this comment read my article in bad faith and used it to make a political point or discredit me without engaging in my broader point, which is that no one gets to decide who is and isn’t doing homosexuality right.
  • You are insulting anyone who isn’t gay like you. That was not my intention, and I’m sorry if it came across that way. I could have made clearer I was sarcastically using Keating’s own language in my article. I accept that point. But let me make it clear that no one should judge anyone for their lifestyle, presuming they’re not hurting anyone else. Identify how you want, live how you want, sleep with who you want, and snort what you want. I don’t care. Just don’t think any of those things make you a better gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender person who doesn’t.
  • You don’t represent queer politics. This is true. I do not represent queer politics. I do not wish to represent queer politics. I think if you asked 30 different people what queer politics are, you’d get at least 15 different answers. I represent me, and my body of work speaks for itself. You are more than welcome to read it here at this website or at Muckrack, where my portfolio goes back several years.
  • You’re not radical enough. I’m a socialist. I want nationalised healthcare free at the point of access (not just “Medicare for All”). I want open borders. I want to nationalise utilities and end the fossil fuel industry. I want every American woman to be able to get an abortion if they want. I want to completely restructure the racist institution of policing if not abolish it and start from scratch. I have been championing these issues for years now. I also want to get married, maybe have kids, and live a quiet life with my family and my writing. I don’t think these things are mutually exclusive. If you do, that’s your problem, not mine.

This is by no means an exhaustive or all-encapsulating list, nor is it everything I want to say on the subject or think about certain issues. But it’s enough for now. I will start referring anyone who calls me self-loathing, or accuses me of having internalized homophobia, to this blog. Because here’s the thing, folks—by assuming that I’m self-hating because I wrote one piece in which I told you to stop telling people they’re not gay enough, you’re proving my point. Not every gay man likes the same things you do. That doesn’t mean they’re not properly gay.

Thoughts from an empty office

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The author, on the day he was hired for his first mortgage job

I am sitting in my office right now. My desk is bare, only my laptop, my monitors, my phone, and a pineapple coffee mug full of ink pens left. I’ve taken most of my decorations down. Pictures of friends and family have been taken home. The mug my best friend’s daughter bought me for Christmas is packed away. Posters and prints and a Charlie Brown Christmas tree lean against a wall—the last remaining indication that this corner office in this old bank-cum-office-building was once occupied by Skylar Baker-Jordan.

I only worked here for just over a year. I started in June 2018. I will leave in September 2019. It’s the first time I’ve had my own office since I was Student Body Vice President in college. When I had that office—a small, cinderblock cell with fluorescent lights and cheap tile on top of concrete, I thought having an office like I have now—spacious, possibly the biggest in the building—would be a sure sign that I had made it. That I was successful.

I never imagined having an office like this would make me feel trapped.

As most of you know already, I am leaving North Carolina, a state I’ve only called home for 18 months. I put in my resignation at work two days ago after calling my grandparents and confirming that yes, as we discussed, I can move in with them in Tennessee. I’m going to apply for graduate school, try to make some money writing, and cross my fingers that I can figure out a way to find a career that brings me more joy than grief, which is a lot more than I can say for the mortgage industry.

I was never meant to be in mortgages. I moved to Chicago in the summer of 2011 and started applying for any and every job I could find. Six weeks later, I had an interview at Guaranteed Rate, at the time billed as America’s fastest growing mortgage company. I thought it was for a position as a receptionist. I was 25, though probably as naïve as a 20-year-old, fresh from Kentucky and a very dark period in my life. I put on a tan suit jacket, pastel pink dress shirt, and teal tie—all of which I had picked up at a thrift store the week before the interview. I went over to my friend Sara’s apartment to print off my resume, which took longer than expected. Her then-boyfriend sped through the North Side so that I wouldn’t have to take the train (I couldn’t afford a cab). He dropped me off outside this giant brick warehouse which had been reclaimed as a loft-style office space.

It was cold inside, both in temperature and décor. I waited for a nice young woman—no older than me—from human resources to interview me. She explained that it wasn’t a receptionist position, but an interview to be either a sales assistant or an underwriting assistant. Which would I prefer? I had no idea what either of those things meant, but I knew I didn’t want to do anything with sales, and underwriting at least had the word writing in it, so I picked that. Later, a matronly middle-aged woman with a nasally Chicago accent interviewed me. She would later tell me she knew she would hire me the moment she saw me because of my outfit. I stood out, I was bold, and I was charming. I got the job.

That was eight years ago. This was all supposed to be temporary. But over the past eight years I have, but for one nine month exception when I actually launched my writing career, been employed in mortgages. I have risen from an underwriting assistant to a senior, seasoned processor. My loan-level knowledge is, if I do say so myself, profound. Ask me about FHA guidelines, or what Fannie will allow but Freddie won’t. I’m good.

I’m also desperately unhappy.

The only reason I stayed in mortgages as long as I did was because I lived in Chicago and didn’t want to leave. Even though Chicago itself brought me a lot of misery, I relished being in such a cultured and exciting place, and I loved my friends. But there was something else keeping me there, too—the fear of flunking out of the big city. I am a small-town boy from the hills of eastern Kentucky. There’s literally a song about how you never leave there alive. But I did. And my biggest fear was having to go back.

So I stayed in the mortgage industry so I could stay in Chicago. I didn’t want to leave. Leaving meant failure. I didn’t want to be a failure. Finding a writing job was hard, and I could never manage to save enough money to step out on faith and freelance full time. So I kept doing mortgages.

By the end of 2017, though, it became clear to me that I was not going to be happy staying in mortgages and that, at 31, the time had come to shit or get off the pot. I had a choice—try to make it as a writer, or embrace this career I had tripped into quite by accident which I loathed but which I was good and pays pretty well. It’s a choice a lot of us face: excitement or stability.

In 2011 I chose stability. I had been in college on and off for six years, finally graduating in 2010. I was working at a café, living with roommates in an apartment two doors down from my college campus, and dating a closeted fraternity boy. I was stunted. So when I left Chicago, I wanted to make it as a writer, but I also wanted to have a fucking income. My own apartment. A trip to London. A dog.

I got all but the dog. I have two cats instead. Don’t ask.

By 2017, I began to realize I had made the wrong choice. What I should have done when I left Kentucky is go to grad school, get my MFA, and figure out a plan from there. I didn’t do that. Instead I helped rich people buy their third house. For a socialist who believes property is theft, that felt like shit. For a Millennial who thinks healthcare is nice to have, it felt good.

For professional reasons I won’t go into here, by December 2017 it became clear that my job would no longer exist in six months. My boss and I sat down at an Irish pub across from our office that Christmastime and began discussing what we would both do next. He wanted to go to Guaranteed Rate, the company that had first hired but which had laid me off years before and from which I came to work for him. I wanted to be a writer. And so, we decided, that was what we would do.

And then my 16-year-old brother got hit by a bus. And he almost died. Moving to North Carolina was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made. He needed me. Our mom needed me. Suddenly, leaving Chicago didn’t feel like failure. It felt like the only right choice. And so, I moved.

I stayed first at the Ronald McDonald House while my brother was still in hospital. When he was released, I stayed with my maternal grandmother. 1 June 2018 I moved into my loft apartment in downtown Jacksonville—a drab military town a few miles inland from the Atlantic. On 4 June of that year I started at my current job, deciding to stay in mortgages because the upheaval of moving and my brother’s accident was enough change for one year. Switching careers at that time seemed not only overwhelming, but also impractical. I was living life in a new town, and I needed to make money and connections quickly. So, here I am.

But over the past year or so, I have also found myself more unhappy and, frankly, more lonely than I have ever been. Processing mortgages in Jacksonville, North Carolina is not the life I want. It is not enough for me. It is not fulfilling. This is not a criticism of anybody for whom it is enough, or who likes this town, or who likes this industry. For some people, this is exciting stuff. For others, the money makes it worth the sacrifices and stress. But not for me.

Shortly after I moved here, I began rereading my high school journal. How hopeful I was. How eager. How I thought everything would be so easy. Seeing how 17-year-old Skylar though this life would turn out compared to how it actually had made me sad, but also angry. How had I wasted so much time? What did I have to show for my twenties except debt and a string of loser ex-boyfriends?

I started to think about what I want my life to be. I’m 33. I’m unmarried. I don’t have kids. The things people usually take comfort in when they realize their childhood dreams haven’t come true are not things I have. I come home to two ungrateful cats and a bottle of Jack Daniels. That’s it.

So I knew I had to make a change, and it was at that point I decided to go to graduate school. I wasn’t ready for the fall of 2019—I didn’t know how much my brother might still need, and I wasn’t sure I had enough money in the bank. So I decided to apply for fall 2020.

My brother has made almost a full recovery. He starts college himself this fall. In talking with my friends and family, I came to the conclusion that since he’s leaving, there is no reason for me to stay here in a town I don’t like and a career I don’t want. This job is stressful—more stressful than I can articulate. And frankly, it paid well enough in Chicago, but the pay here is shit. So, the decision was made to leave.

(I’ll talk more about how that decision was made at a later date, because it’s an interesting story. But it’s not one for now.)

I’ve spent eight years in an industry I hate because I was concerned about giving up the trappings of middle-class life, about being seen as a failure, and frankly, about failing. I’m terrified I won’t get into graduate school. I’m petrified I’ll never make it as a writer. I’m nervous about giving up my immediate financial independence and moving in with my grandparents, because as generous as their offer to support me during this transition period is, it’s still a massive sacrifice for me as much as them. (Okay, maybe not as much as them, as they’re footing the bill here.) To be completely honest, I’m absolutely shitting myself right now.

My decision to resign wasn’t spur-of-the-moment, but my decision to do it when I did was. Again, a story for another time. But despite my fears and insecurities and absolute utter fucking terror, it feels right. I’m more hopeful about my future now than I have been since I was 25. That’s something, at least.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer currently based in Eastern North Carolina. His work has appeared at Salon, HuffPost UK, The Independent, and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter @skylarjordan

Milo, Laurie Penny, the Lost Boys, and Toxic Masculinity

 

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Milo Yiannopoulos lost a book deal, a plum speaking gig, and his job this week. Photo: Flickr

I’ve spent a lot of the last three months calling Trump supporters and the alt-right monsters. I did so on this blog. I did so in The Independent.

But there is something missing from my analysis, and it’s something Laurie Penny touched on in a much praised and much derided piece for the Pacific Standard. Before I get into what Penny did and didn’t say, though, let me tell you a story.

When I was 22, I met a young 18-year-old straight boy. We’ll call him Jacob. Jacob was white, blonde, heterosexual, and totally lost in this world. Beyond anything, he was impressionable. Jacob only wanted to be liked. To belong somewhere. Gangly, bumbling, and painfully awkward, Jacob and I met through student government. I took an instant liking to him. He was sweet, goofy, and though intellectually inelegant (as 18-year-olds are apt to be), clearly intelligent.

Jacob looked to me as a mentor, and I to him as a kid I could help. I nurtured him and invited him to hang out with friends and go to parties. Eventually he pledged the fraternity I always hung out with (but didn’t belong to). I didn’t think this a good idea – Jacob was too sensitive, too vulnerable, and frankly too cerebral to really fit in with this hard-drinking, fast-fucking crew. I’ve written about my own college years drinking and fucking my way up and down fraternity row, and I was afraid that blend of toxic masculinity (which at the time I got a high off of) would kill poor Jacob.

Fast forward eight or so years, and he probably disagrees. I still don’t. Jacob was relentlessly picked on, though I must stress not hazed, by the guys in the fraternity. Most of it was the good-natured banter that twenty-something men tend toward. Some of it was a lot crueller. All of it proved too much for Jacob, who began drinking heavily and was prone to becoming violent when intoxicated. It got him banned from some fraternity parties and even, for a time, my house – unless he stayed sober.

Around this time, Jacob took a women’s studies class at my behest, and even began dating a lovely feminist woman. It seemed that he would sort himself out. But a year after I moved to Chicago, I got a call from him saying they’d broken up, and that he was in a very dark place. No stranger to dark places myself, I took a Megabus to see him. He rebounded, and I left.

As friends who live hundreds of miles away from one another often do, we drifted apart. It wasn’t really until last year when I drunkenly called him to catch up that I realised the boy I’d met who entered this world of toxic masculinity grew up into a misogynistic man and Trump supporter. We’ve not talked a lot since.

I’m from Kentucky, so the fact that people I know and even considered friends voted for Donald Trump isn’t all that surprising. But reading Penny’s piece, I thought specifically of Jacob and the strange, drunken, and desperate course he travelled from a dorky college kid to a self-identified feminist to the type of guy who, had he been born a few years later, could’ve been in that car with Penny and Yiannopoulos, evacuating UC-Berkeley.

I’m going to quote at length from Laurie’s piece here, because I think she makes two important points – one clumsily and one cogently. First, this:

It is vital that we talk about who gets to be treated like a child, and what that means. All of the people on Yiannopoulos’ tour are over 18 and legally responsible for their actions. They are also young, terribly young, young in a way that only privileged young men really get to be young in America, where your race, sex, and class determine whether and if you ever get to be a stupid kid, or a kid at all. Mike Brown was also 18, the same age as the Yiannopoulos posse, when he was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014; newspaper reports described him as an adult, and insisted that the teenager was “no angel,” as if that justified what was done to him. Tamir Rice was just 12 years old when he was shot and killed in Cleveland for playing with a toy gun. The boys following Yiannopoulos are playing with a toy dictator, and they have faced no consequences as yet, even though it turns out that their plastic play-fascism is, in fact, fully loaded and ready for murder.

This is the bit that seems to have gotten Penny the most flack, and to be fair, I get it. Writer Mikki Kendall summed it up best in a Twitter thread, in which she points out that Penny building her argument on the bodies of dead Black martyrs is callous and insensitive. I take that point. (I’m posting the first tweet in the thread below; please read and consider it.)

Still, engaging with who gets to be seen as a child, or an innocent, or have their behaviour excused because of youth is a worthwhile intellectual exercise, because in our culture not everybody gets to have youthful indiscretions. That is, in fact, almost exclusively the purview of straight cis white men.

So while perhaps Penny’s word choice was unfortunate, I don’t think her point was far from the mark. And yes, impact matters more than intent, but I have always believed that intent should be considered when thinking of how we respond, because it does still matter.

I say this not only as a defence of Penny’s own work and intentions, but because it plays right into the next very important point she makes. While, as she writes, “these are little boys playing games with the lives of others,” she also points out that Yiannopoulos

exploits vulnerable young men. Not in a sexual way. Not in an illegal way. Yiannopoulos exploits vulnerable young men in the same way that every wing-nut right-wing shock-jock from the president down has been exploiting them for years: by whipping up the fear and frustration of angry young men and boys who would rather burn down the world than learn to live in it like adults, by directing that affectless rage in service to their own fame and power. This is the sort of exploitation the entire conservative sphere is entirely comfortable with. What happens to these kids now that the game has changed?

If you think that centring white male Trump supporters is the antithesis of everything you stand for and the very thing both Penny and I have dedicated our careers to not doing, well, you’re right. So let me say before we go any further that I will absolutely side with any marginalised community over angry, privileged, adultalescent men – whether 17 or 70 – who leverage their power and privilege to harm the most vulnerable. As I’ve said many times, to many friends, and on many panels, I say now for the first time in print:

Explanations are not excuses

There is absolutely no excusing the behaviour of Yiannopoulos, his fanboys, President Trump, or any of the enablers, gatekeepers, or even voters who propelled them all to where they are today. None. But I do think the left, the resistance, and for that matter American culture generally could benefit from asking ourselves what brought them to this point.

If you read Penny’s piece, it’s clear that it wasn’t economic anxiety. If you look at the polling data on who voted for Trump, it’s clear too. But I think Penny hit the nail squarely on the head when she labelled these groupies “the lost boys.” Because I know a boy like them. I know Jacob.

Jacob graduated university in 2013 and moved to a mid-sized southern metropolis in search of the elusive American dream. He found dead end after dead end, working a sales job he didn’t like which (if I recall) he was eventually fired or laid off from. He found dating hard, impossible even. Women just didn’t seem interested in him.

At some point between 2014 and 2016 he moved back to his parents’ house in a small southern city and resumed working at the fast food restaurant he worked at while in high school. Last I talked to him, which was probably last spring, he was the manager. He was still living at home. He was still single. And he was noticeably and perhaps understandably angry about it.

It was at that time he told me that he thought, like Yiannopoulos, that feminism was a cancer on Western society. It had damaged the natural order of men on top and women subservient. All the social progress we made wasn’t working for him, so it obviously wasn’t working for anyone. Best to go back to 1956.

This is of course absurd. It is also straight up sexism.

Yet – consider one of the young men in Yiannopoulos’ posse, who told Penny that “I think a lot of people in this crew wouldn’t be part of the popular crowd without the Trump movement. I think that some of us are outcasts, some of us are kind of weird. It’s a motley crew.”

This quote gave me pause, and I reread it probably four times before going on, particularly the phrase “popular crowd,” which is one most often heard in high school cafeterias, not political discourse. That phrase in and of itself conjures up adolescence, immaturity, and a childlike longing to be recognised as part of the crème-de-la-crème of your social unit. That is not the phrase a well-adjusted adult uses unironically.

I have often times thanked God that I’m gay, because I think it saved me from going down this darkly bigoted path. Being openly gay in Kentucky from 2001 – 2011 did for me what it clearly never did for Yiannopoulos: it made me empathetic to other minorities. But if you read the essay I wrote for Salon about trying so desperately to belong to Greek life at my alma mater, you’ll see that I tried desperately to fit in with the oppressive class:

But from under them I could still obtain a certain level of social cachet. My reputation as someone who would fuck but didn’t talk grew, and with that, came a certain level of trust. “Put a cock in his mouth and he’ll shut up,” one of my buddies once joked. Suddenly, I was invited to the premier parties, not just from the fraternity I was hanging out with, but others. And I went, because it felt good. Being invited signaled acceptance, even if it was only on their terms. I might not be one of them, but I could hang with them, and that meant something.

I was a women’s studies minor. I knew better. Yet I still fell for the trappings of white heteropatriarchy, which as I said in that essay, is one helluva drug – especially to a working class gay kid who had never found any semblance of social acceptance anywhere else.

The sociologist Paul Kivel has a theory he calls the “act-like-a-man box,” which explains the pressures men feel to achieve, to provide, to dominate women, and to suppress their emotions and how these things can negatively impact not only their mental health but their politics. It’s basically a handy diagram to explain the theory of toxic masculinity, and square in the middle of it can be found Jacob and the Milo Yiannopoulos fan club.

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Paul Kivel’s “act-like-a-man box”

Yiannopoulos first came to American prominence through GamerGate, which was a sexist backlash against women playing video games masquerading as being about journalistic ethics. He built his cult following of basement dwelling, Red Bull chugging nerdy men by tearing down the women who many of them felt were invading a space where they could live out their misogynistic, violent fantasies without retribution or critique. Games were all they had, because for many of these men, they were social rejects. (I can say this with some certainty, as the gamers I know who are well-adjusted adult humans reject GamerGate, Yiannopoulos, and Trump without hesitation.)

Yet these are men who were, for a variety of reasons – whether because they were nerdy, or more effeminate, or overweight, or socially awkward – emasculated by the patriarchal norms described in the act-like-a-man box. Instead of burning the box and liberating themselves, they retreated further into it, where they found Donald Trump and Milo Yiannopoulos waiting to exploit their anxieties and insecurities for profit and for power.

Jacob wasn’t a gamer, but he was in the act-like-a-man box too, and Trump and Yiannopoulos found and converted him too. These Lost Boys, as Penny calls them, were lost because they – for whatever reason, or for many reasons – couldn’t live up to the pressures of socially constructed toxic masculinity. So they turned to people who could help redefine that.

This is probably key to why Milo Yiannopoulos so appealed to these young men. Sure, as Penny points out, they weren’t gay, but Yiannopoulos simultaneously defied the norms of masculinity – camping it up, wearing his pearls, openly talking of sucking dick – while being embraced by the patriarchy. If he could do it, they likely thought, so could they. It actually makes perfect sense that Yiannopoulos was the standard bearer of these Lost Boys. He accessed the social currency they desperately want to possess.

Of course key to all of this is how they viewed what it means to be a man. The toxicity isn’t only what it does to them, but what it does to others. That to them being a man meant dominance, violence, and sexual control of women is exactly what enables rape culture to thrive and domestic violence rates to stay abysmally high. It’s patriarchal, white supremacist bullshit that keeps women, racial minorities, LGBT people, and other marginalised groups oppressed. But – and this is a fact many leftists don’t want to grapple with – it also hurts white cis straight men who are denied agency unless they fit these narrow parameters of what it means to be a man.

It has been pointed out numerous times that Yiannopoulos was brought down not by his bigotry but the bigotry of others, whose homophobia was so triggered by what he said about the pederastic paradigm (and I do believe that’s what he was trying to say) that they exiled him from Trumpland. Whether his Lost Boys continue to follow him remains to be seen. Judging from the comments on his Facebook page, I think many will. I also think, as someone who has followed Yiannopoulos’ career since 2009 (which is around the time Penny and I first followed one another on Twitter), that we’ve not seen the last of him. His career has at least six lives left. What the next one manifests as, though, is anyone’s guess.

If Yiannopoulos can’t rehabilitate his image in the alt-right and even mainstream conservatism, someone will surely rise to take his place. As Penny’s article shows, there are plenty of Lost Boys waiting to play Peter Pan. One of them will assume the mantle in due course.

When they do, though, I hope we have a better understanding of who they are and what they’re all about. Because I think understanding the toxic masculinity – and the denial of it – that gave rise to Yiannopoulos and his cult following is important. Besides the obvious “know thy enemy” trope, if we’re ever to successfully deconstruct white heteropatriarchy, we have to know how it harms men too, and also what it can propel them towards. I chose feminism, socialism, and queer theory, opting to burn this shit to the ground. Yiannopoulos, Jacob, and others chose instead to find alternative means of accessing the power and privilege they felt they were denied. That is the more pernicious and dangerous path, one which has undoubtedly led us to where we are today – an era where the progress we’ve collectively made over the past 50 years is in its greatest peril.

We need to think about how we can reach, maybe not these men who are already lost causes, but other boys and men who could become them. And to do that, we need to grapple with toxic masculinity. We need to include it in our analyses and activism.

That doesn’t mean we stop centring women, people of colour, LGBT folks, disabled folks, immigrants, or any other marginalised group. We can’t. That work is too important – more important – and frankly more pressing. Lives are at stake. When you’re in the middle of a war you don’t ask the soldiers to think about how they’ll rehabilitate the enemy after victory. But for those of us who have the currency to spare, we should start examining these questions and considering how to raise principled and purposeful boys into feminist men.

None of this is to excuse any behaviour. “I was just following orders” wasn’t an excuse at Nuremburg, and it isn’t an excuse here. These assholes need to be held to account, full stop. And they cannot be let off the hook. Again, explanations are not excuses. But to not examine how they became who they are is to risk raising the next Milo Yiannopoulos.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a journalist and essayist based in Chicago. He writes about British and American politics and pop culture. His work has appeared at The Independent, The Huffington Post UK, The Daily Dot, and Salon. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan.