On Being Fat, And Why I Think Fat-Acceptance Is Bullshit

I’m 27 years old. I am 5 feet and 10 inches tall. I weigh 260 pounds.

It’s difficult to explain what 260 pounds is like. And I know that I’m certainly not the most overweight person in the world, and there are people who have it much worse than me. But here’s the point: I am a card-carrying fat person. I am genuinely, actually, literally overweight. I am not an ordinary-sized person who is dealing with self-esteem issues and saying that I’m fat when I’m not.

I am fat.

It’s important for me to admit this because for me, it’s a positive thing. It’s a positive thing because you can’t begin to work on a problem until you’ve admitted it. It’s like when people stand up in AA meetings and begin by saying, “I am an alcoholic.” It’s liberating to admit it, to know that there’s a problem. Because without admitting that there’s an issue you can’t begin to work on it.

Being a relatively young person living in America in 2018, I’ve heard a lot of opinions about what it is to be fat, and the way people should think and feel about it. I have a lot of friends who are overweight. I have, on a few occassions, asked for encouragement from friends when it comes to losing weight, eating healthy, and working out. Almost always, the response is something along these lines: “You should accept yourself the way you are. You’re already beautiful, and instead of conforming to society’s idea of beauty, you should love your size and be proud of it.”

This… has always disturbed me, in a really profound way.

Let me back up for a minute. I was a skinny kid. So skinny that my family sometimes made comments that I ought to eat more and try to put on some weight. My mom and dad were both pretty thin when they were young, and when they had me. My brother had a different father than me but he’s been skinny his whole life and has one of those six-pack-without-even-trying bodies, the kind of guy who can eat absolutely everything and never gain any weight or body fat from it. My sister is more in the same boat with me: naturally skinny but capable of getting chubby if she isn’t careful.

Now, as for me personally, the first time I started to gain weight was when I was about 11 years old. I remember that it was summertime, and my whole life I’ve enjoyed sitting inside on a sunny day and playing video games or watching movies. I still played outside plenty, but I started to spend more time inside, and what’s more important is that I started to eat a lot more. I suppose I was on the onset of puberty so it isn’t surprising that I suddenly developed an enormous appetite (teenage boys in particular are known for having the appetite of a black hole).

I remember sitting in my bed until late at night, going through bags of chips, trail mix, Chex, Cheese-Its, peanut butter on a spoon, crackers, any kind of chocolate or candy. I would drink an entire 2-liter of soda in a day and then drink a pitcher of tea. I didn’t drink water at all. My mom used to buy big bags of mixed Hershey’s chocolates, and I would sit up and watch movies and eat the entire bag, and when I was done I would find a box of Chex Mix that had pretzels and M&Ms and eat the whole bag until I couldn’t eat any more, and then wash it all down with whatever there was to drink: soda, tea, milk, shakes. I’d make a bowl of ice cream and then another bowl of ice cream and then another, and I’d pour chocolate syrup on top of it. I would put ranch dressing on a plate and eat it with my fingers. I would bake frozen biscuits that were in the freezer, then put all of the biscuits onto a plate and sit and eat the whole thing.

By the time I was 13 I was overweight. But not CRAZY overweight. I was still active, I still had plenty of energy. I just also these little man-boobs and a tummy that hung over my pants, and my mom shopped in the husky section for my jeans. I remember one time on the school bus, a little girl walked over to me who I did not know and just point blank said: “Why are you so fat?” Despite this, I didn’t actually get picked on at school for being fat. Most people just considered my odd and unusual, and I was. I didn’t have many friends and I was constantly reading instead of talking. The thing that most people disliked about me was that I was gay, I was overly verbose and too intelligent to have anything in common with kids my age, and the few people I did associate with were ALSO freaks who nobody talked to. As such, I had no social life to speak of.

The majority of my time was spent alone, although I wasn’t really upset about that. I liked playing video games, writing on my computer, surfing the internet (this was in 2003, when you actually did surf the internet because you had no idea where you were going to end up and there was no central nexus to find anything), and of course, eating everything around me while doing all of this. When I turned 15, I started to grow taller, and this evened out my weight to the point that for a while, from the ages of 16 to 18, I was actually relatively normal-sized. I didn’t THINK I was, because I still had very small breasts poking out, but the truth is I was a totally average size.

When I was 18, around Christmas time, I met a guy, and I got into my first serious relationship. It was never a healthy one, and he was constantly making nasty little comments when I gained a few pounds, saying that I wasn’t skinny and cute like I was when he met me, and this of course caused me to eat more. This is when I started to REALLY gain weight. By the time I was 21 I was about 200 pounds. After that relationship ended and I moved with my family to Georgia, I met a new guy (this time the relationship was slightly healthier than the one before), but unfortunately we were living with his family and we were very poor, so the two of us both lost of weight essentially due to having nothing to eat. When we DID get jobs and our own place to stay, we were used to eating cheap, so we were constantly eating Taco Bell and Pizza Hut for every meal. By the time I was 24 I had grown to about 240 pounds. When this boyfriend and I broke up, I went into a severe depression and during this time, I went to Little Caesar’s almost every night and brought home a pizza, then ate the whole thing while drinking copious amounts of soda.

Two years ago, when I was 25, my weight had risen to about 250 pounds, and I had a blood test at my doctor’s office. The office couldn’t get hold of my results, so I went to the hospital myself and got them. When my roommate, who was a lab scientist, took a look at them, he pointed out my glucose looked really high, and suggested that I let my doctor know. I called the doctor’s office and told the nurse over the phone that my glucose was really high (I don’t remember the numbers), and her response was “Oh yeah, you’re definitely diabetic, you need to come in and see the doctor.”

Until this point, the idea that I had diabetes hadn’t really occurred to me. I knew that was a risk of being overweight but I didn’t think I had that issue. It turns out that I did, in fact, have Type 2 Diabetes. My doctor was not particularly helpful (in that he seemed to have no idea what the hell he was doing or talking about), but once I started taking Metformin and I cut out sugar, I very quickly lost ten pounds. This was a big deal for me, I thought whoa, I’m finally losing weight, this is easier than I thought! It turns out that when it comes to dieting and losing weight, you kind of get the first ten pounds for free, and the rest you have to work for. My weight has fluctutated ever since, but I’ve hovered around the same 250 pounds.

I have not known what it feels like to be “normal” since I was about 16. I have not put on a tight t-shirt or worn a pair of skinny jeans or even bought a cute pair of underwear since I was 21. I have spent the majority of my life being overweight. What I have needed, all this time, was discipline. Sure, some of it wasn’t my fault. I can’t help that depression and anxiety run in my family, and that these contribute greatly to eating disorders. I can’t help that the antidepressants I’ve been prescribed slow metabolism and cause weight gain. I can’t even help that I’m naturally at a higher risk for diabetes because other people in my family have had it.

But at the end of the day, the reason I am fat is because of my choices. I chose to drink a 2-liter of Coke every day. I chose to eat three bowls of ice cream at a time, or three sandwiches at a time, or to get a footlong sub and three cookies and a soda for a meal. I chose to eat Little Caesar’s every night for months on end, I chose to stay inside when I could have been outside walking. The reason I am fat is because of choices that I have made.

The thing that bothers me the most about all of this is the way that our culture responds to obesity. American has a serious problem with obesity. We’re the fattest country in the world. We eat like pigs, we eat processed food, we put poison into our bodies constantly. But the BIGGER issue in our culture is “fat-shaming.”

I don’t need to define what fat-shaming is or give you examples, you’ve heard of this, and you’ve no doubt seen the countless blog posts, articles, news stories, and scathing commentary by body-positivity advocates who think we should stop “shaming” people for being fat. But what a lot of these advocates consider “shaming” is just pointing out that someone is fat. Just NOTICING that someone is overweight, or even expressing concern for them, is NOT fat-shaming. And if it is, then I don’t personally have a problem with it.

I would consider fat-shaming to be outright abuse, picking on someone for their weight. Calling someone a fat-cow, telling them to put down the hamburgers, telling someone they’re ugly and unlovable because they’re fat. That’s cruel, that’s callous, and that’s wrong. But just POINTING OUT that someone is overweight, I don’t know that that’s the same thing. And on the few occassions I’ve posted on social media asking for support about losing weight, people tell me that I am being ignorant, that I should love my body the way it is. WHY? Why would I love my body the way it is? My body is SICK. My body is hurting. My skin is stretched, my blood is full of too much sugar, I don’t have the energy to make it through the day without taking a rest. I can’t stand up for long periods of time because my thighs rub together and create painful blisters that get worse the longer I walk. I sweat easily, I lose my breath, and if I go too long without food I become so weak that I shake and I can’t even stand up. I’m NOT HEALTHY. So why are people telling me to love my size? They’re essentially telling me to accept that I’m unehalthy and do nothing to change it.

How is it “body positivity” to tell fat people not to change their diet, not to lose weight? We know that obesity leads to heart attacks, to disease, to dying young. How are you possibly being “positive” or helping people by indulging in a delusion that they’re NOT unhealthy?

And then there’s the whole thing about beauty.

The number-one thing I hear when it comes to obesity is people saying “You’re beautiful. No matter what size you are, you’re still beautiful. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not beautiful because you’re fat.”

But… that’s not what we’re talking about. You can be beautiful and still be fat. Fat and beautiful are not two mutually-exclusive things. People are beautiful because they’re people. The reason you’re beautiful is not because your body is fat or skinny, what makes you beautiful is that you’re a human being who other people will find attractive. You’re beautiful because of your personality, your features, your attitude, your statements, your actions. You can be beautiful and be fat. So why are people setting up this false dichotomy? People always say “You’re not fat, you’re beautiful!” as though they’re two opposite things. They have nothing to do with one another.

I know, we as a culture have a history of telling fat people they’re ugly. I get that. I understand that. Believe me, I’m a gay guy in 2018, I know better than anyone what it’s like to be ignored by an entire community of people because I’m fat. I send out messages on Grindr and never get responses. The only people who say hello to me are old guys, creeps, and other fat people. Just for fun I played around on my best friend’s Grindr account, and he gets messages flying in every two minutes. I know from personal experience that I am considered ugly and unattractive because I’m fat, especially in the gay community, which is known for being very shallow and obsessed with bodily perfection.

So don’t bring me this crap about “you’re not fat, you’re beautiful.” It’s missing the point entirely. If you love your friends and you want to encourage and help them, you should be encouraging them to lose weight. You should be offering suggestions about diet, helping them stay responsible and accountable, you should be cheering them on, not encouraging them to stay sitting on their ass and just accept themselves the way they are.

Now, of course, I’m not saying you should go up to fat people and start berating them for being fat or even telling them to lose weight if they haven’t asked. Apart from anything else, that’s fucking rude. But can we please have some sense and look at things in the light of reality here? I’m 260 pounds! I have type 2 diabetes. I want to live a long life, I want to be healthy, I want to have energy and put good healthy food into my body. It does me no good if you, as a friend, tell me to accept my body the way it is and just love myself the way I am. I already love myself! I already know I’m beautiful!

But you know what I also want to be? Healthy. I don’t want to have a heart attack, and the way things are going, I very well could. I don’t want to lose a limb, and I very well could. I don’t want to lose sensation in my fingers and toes, I don’t want to end up in a motorized scooter because I can’t walk. How is it “body-positive” to tell someone to accept being fat? The positive part would be telling someone they HAVE the power to improve.

I could go on and on. The other day I saw a video someone shared of a woman reading a poem about being fat. She talked about how every time she goes to the doctor, all the doctor talks about is her blood pressure and her cholesterol, and he won’t stop asking probing, inappropriate questions. SERIOUSLY? That’s what a doctor is SUPPOSED to do! They’re there to keep track of your health! These fat-acceptance crusaders would have us believe that to even bring up the topic of your weight is a fucking hate crime.

Well no. I’m calling bullshit. I’m fat. I’m a genuine, real life, FAT PERSON. And I’m here to tell you that calling out the obesity epidemic, in and of itself, is not a hate crime. Now, the way you do it very well could be. If you’re going up to fat people, calling them names and making jokes, and putting them down, that’s wrong, and any decent person would know better than to do that. But if I post on Facebook saying that I’m working on losing weight, and your response is to tell me that I’m wrong, that I ought to be working harder on loving myself, then you’re not doing me a service as my friend, and you’re contributing to the problem. We don’t tell people that have diabetes to love themselves the way they are and don’t worry about taking that silly insulin, we tell them to take their medication because they have a disease. We don’t tell people with cancer to just think more positively about their bodies, we tell them to fight!

Remember that Youtube video that made the rounds a few years ago, “Dear Fat People,” by Nicole Arbour? Now, Nicole Arbour is crazy for a variety of reasons that we don’t have to get into, but I’m going to be honest: I found that video very motivational. I thought it was funny, but truthful. It was a little cruel, yeah, but she made a lot of good points. And she was criticized for hate speech. But when I saw that video, it really reminded me that I COULD lose weight, that I could avoid being unhealthy and dying of a heart attack in my 30’s. It didn’t offend or hurt me at all, AND I’M ACTUALLY FAT. One thing I can’t stand is a bunch of skinny people harping on another skinny person about being fat-phobic. It’s like when white people get offended on behalf of minorities instead of letting actual minorities speak for themselves.

Remember Meghan Trainor, with that song All About That Bass that you still can’t escape from in every shopping mall, grocery store, and restaurant you walk into? I was always really bothered by that song. Because it seems to be sending this message “Hey, don’t worry if you’re fat, you’re still sexy!” But again, that’s missing the point. Being sexy isn’t the issue, being healthy is. As for that “skinny bitches” line, you can take it as a joke, which I did, or as an actual put-down toward skinny people, but honestly I don’t care, what I care about is that in a culture where we have an epidemic of obesity, where school children eat slop and process food for lunch every day, we have an anthem about accepting being fat. Well I don’t accept it, and I will again remind you, I feel I have the right to say all this because I am ACTUALLY FAT.

If we spent half as much time as a society actually caring about our health as we did getting outraged because someone had the audacity to point out that hey, maybe we’re not all that healthy, we could all actually solve this problem in the first place.

By way of offering another side to this, here is a comment someone once made when I posted a similar rant about body-positivity on Facebook. The comment at the end is a reference to the fact that I happened to be an anti-Millenial kick at the time (I have since begrudgingly accepted that I am a Millenial, but that we have some serious soul-searching to do), and I made a comment that this seemed to me to be another example of millenials forcing the world around them to change to meet their standards, rather than bettering themselves to fit into the rest of society. Here’s the response:

“Dude — you’re wrong on this one.  Seriously wrong.  There is no sum-zero game when it comes to fighting prejudice. If you think it’s not a real problem, you’ve never had a doctor dismiss your health concerns because ‘you just need more exercise’ as many, many overweight women and men have. Does a fat chick really have to be killed because she’s fat, for this to matter?

The body-acceptance movement isn’t about justifying unhealthy lifestyles. It’s just another area where we’re learning to meeting people where they are, accepting them for who they are, and they have value as they are. Not asking them to be someone else, to be a different shape, or a different color, or a different orientation.   Why is acceptance of different body sizes important? Well, among other things — the shame associated with weight is unhealthy in and of itself, and makes it HARDER to make healthy lifestyle choices and changes. And I hate to break this one to you, but the weight thing? It didn’t start with Millennials.”

This person makes a good point. Putting someone down for their weight DOES make it harder for that person to have the confidence to make healthy choices. But I don’t think we’re doing anyone any favors by pretending that being overweight isn’t a problem. It is. Being overweight is a problem. A problem that can result in actually dying. And I’m not going to stick my head in the sand, I’m going to acknowledge the problem and then do my best to fight it.

I’ll end here by repeating some of the remarks I made to that commenter back then.

“I gained over fifty pounds and got type 2 diabetes because of my own shitty choices. Did my anxiety, depression, fun variety of mental health issues, and genetic predisposition all play a role in it? Yes. But ultimately I got diabetes because of my own choices. I chose to down soda and pizza and ice cream, and to give myself no limitation, and now I’m drastically overweight and I’m literally ill from it.

Whenever I’ve asked for encouragement about weight loss, time and again people keep telling me that weight loss doesn’t matter. That I should love my body just the way it is. But I don’t want to live my body just the way it is, I want to FIX what’s WRONG with it. If I were shot and bleeding to death, the appropriate response would be to treat the wound, not accept my bloody body and do nothing to cover the wound.

Sure, there are legitimate reasons why some people can’t help their weight. Usually those people are unable to walk because of severe life altering medical conditions. But suddenly, in the year [2018], when America just happens to be at its most obese, eating poison, and our health is all rapidly declining, I’m expected to believe that SUDDENLY everyone who is overweight is a victim of circumstance and no one is responsible personally for the fact that they’re overweight? And moreover, that no one has any responsibility to themselves to FIX that issue? That everyone who is unnecessarily fat should just die 20 years earlier and get heart problems and diabetes because… because why? Because we’re too afraid we might hurt someone’s feelings to tell them they’ve stretched their body beyond the capacity it’s supposed to be according to our own biology?

There’s a clear difference between realizing that being overweight is a serious health risk and obesity is an epidemic in America, and the other extreme of pointing at all overweight people shouting “fat pig you should kill yourself!” But the trend in liberal culture now is to never tell anyone that anything is wrong with them in any way: we must accept all people exactly as they are, and that includes when they’re harming themselves and causing themselves problems that we need to ignore that. This kind of slippery slope logic is like saying that when I go to the doctor he should just tell me “Well, you’ve got cancer, diabetes, and HIV, but you know what? That’s who you are! We don’t need to change those things because that would be disrespecting who you are as a person!”

My doctor didn’t dismiss my health concerns because I need more exercise, he pointed out that my health concern IS THE FACT that I need mote exercise. Is there NOT a happy medium where we accept that one on end of the spectrum, being horrendously underweight like a runway model is terribly unhealthy and on the other end of the spectrum, being obese is ALSO terribly unhealthy? You don’t see people in the body acceptance movement posting pictures of people with anorexia saying “She’s beautiful just how she is! So what if she’s anorexic, that’s who she is and you don’t have the right to judge her!” No, that isn’t what’s happening at all, the fat-acceptance movement is happy to criticize anorexic people but still get offended if you imply that someone who is obese might be better suited losing weight.

I don’t think people need to look like models and fitness coaches to be healthy, and in fact I don’t really care if other people are healthy or not. What I care about is a culture that tells me that being unhealthy is fine, that to question it is wrong, and that I’m a bigot for saying that obese people, myself included, should work on losing weight rather than accepting obesity and the diseases that come along with it, and the possibility of dying young because of it.”

Nothing I’m saying here is a personal attack on anyone. If you’re overweight for reasons beyond your control, then I’m sorry. But I don’t think that justifies telling people who CAN beat obesity that they shouldn’t, just because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. How much are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of not hurting people’s feelings? If it hurts people’s feelings for me to talk about how being overweight is bad for me, and bad for others, than I’m willing to hurt people’s feelings, because sometimes the truth is difficult.

Being fat, it’s hard. It sucks. Looking down when I’m naked and seeing my tummy poking out before I see my dick, that’s painful. Looking in the mirror and seeing the pouch of fat underneath my chin, that’s painful. Seeing stretch marks all across my sides and my arms and my ass is painful. Putting on an outfit and then looking in the mirror to see that it looks all wrong, that I don’t fit into my clothes, that’s painful. And the most painful thing of all is losing my breath walking around the mall, or having to sit down after half my shift at work because I’m unable to keep standing.

I’m struggling, as I always have. But the only way I can beat this is by looking forward to a future where I’m healthy, where I’m eating right, where I’m getting exercise, and where I have the energy to make my dreams come true. And I hope that I can do that. And I hope that anyone else who is in the same boat with me can find the confidence to do it too. I know that some of what I’ve said hear is a bit mean, but I don’t know of any other way to say it when it’s the hard truth. Being fat can kill you. And I don’t want to die.

So I’m fighting it. And I hope anyone else who’s obese will fight it too. Because I think that the rewards of losing weight and being healthy are much better than the rewards of just accepting being unhealthy when you have the means to change it.

On Stephen King and Storm Drains

I have a weird history with Stephen King and his fiction.

Admittedly, I probably haven’t read his best books. The first Stephen King book I read was one that was given to me by a friend who assured me I would love it. I did not. It was called The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and I was surprised both by how boring it was and particularly by how not-scary it was. I mean, I had heard my whole life that Stephen King was a master of horror whose books were chilling and disturbing, and honestly the book was kind of meandering and had a creepy atmosphere, but in general it was pretty underwhelming.

I thought that Stephen King deserved another chance, however, and at the time I was working my first job and had absolutely no bills to pay, and I was nineteen, so of course I had no compunction spending way too much money on a super special deluxe edition of what was at the time his newest work: Under the Dome. It was a good concept, a story about a small town that’s trapped under an invisible dome that cannot be moved by any means, and how quickly society breaks down. Apparently the original title was an unfinished story called The Cannibals, and honestly that sounds much more interesting than what the book turned out to be.

I spent something like fifty dollars on a special edition of the book that came with some cards that had illustrations on them, really high quality paper and binding, and a weird cover that had the title in a flimsy ribbon rather than actually printing it on the book. Except for that ribbon thing, I was pretty impressed by the design of the book itself, and I was thirsty to read what waited within.

Under the Dome was about a thousand pages of wandering, meandering storytelling, introducing dozens of characters only to kill them off a few chapters later. I also wasn’t crazy about all the massive buildup to the incredibly underwhelming ending (SPOILER): oh right it was aliens all along. Not much explanation beyond that. Also the dome disappears and sends tons of polluted air that is killing everyone inside flying off to the rest of the state, and surely that’s going to have some bad effects but it isn’t really addressed. And there’s no epilogue at all, you get all that buildup just for the dome to disappear and the book to end on the next page.

At any rate, it was while reading this book that I began to notice the things about Stephen King’s writing that I really don’t like: everyone, be they man, woman, or child, all kind of have this jaded outlook on life and speak like truckers. I don’t mean profanity, because I don’t mind profanity. There’s just something weirdly scatological about the way everyone speaks. Everything comes down to metaphors about farts and shit and piss, or weird sayings that might sound natural coming out of a grizzled truck-driver at a 2AM pit-stop but just sound bewildering coming out of the mouth of a nine-year-old. And everyone is secretly some kind of monster. Everyone is secretly a murderer or a pedophile or a rapist, there doesn’t seem to be anyone immune from this.

Now, I get why that’s interesting in and of itself. Everyone does have the capacity to do horrible things under the right circumstances. But the character in King’s books are automatically portrayed as hiding a dark secret. The other thing that really stuck out to me was the catch phrases. I don’t remember if Under the Dome had many, but right about this time I was dating a guy who loved horror movies, who decided we were going to watch every horror movie ever adapted from Stephen King’s work. I have to say that a lot of them were great: there’s no denying Stephen King comes up with brilliant ideas. The Mist was a particular favorite, and I both loved and hated the bittersweet ending.

Carrie was a great movie, and as the weeks went on, my boyfriend and I worked our way through both versions of the Shining, through the two-part miniseries of It, Rose Red, Pet Semetary, Dreamcatcher, Misery, 1408, Secret Window, Storm of the Century, The Stand, the second version of Carrie, and probably a few more that I’ve forgotten. I still missed some classics: we didn’t watch Firestarter, Children of the Corn, The Green Mile or the Shawshank Redemption. But it’s fair to say I got a pretty good taste of what Stephen King’s ficiton is like.

A lot of those films dealt with similar themes: childhood, everyone secretly being some kind of monster, loads of catchphrases and incredibly corny moments, and even though these were adaptations and not the books themselves, I knew from reading some of King’s work that these aspects were probably present in his books too. Another thing about Stephen King books is that I just find myself feeling really uncomfortable reading them. I get that when you have a horror novel, you want to feel unnerved, but I just kind of felt anxiety, like I was trapped in a windowless room and running out of oxygen. That isn’t fun for me. I love fantasy. So it may be that I’m just the kind of person who is automatically diametrically opposed to Stephen King’s work.

I gave him another shot and read through several shorts stories from Everything’s Eventual, none of which particularly caught my interest. I had heard a lot of good things about the Dark Tower, and since it was a fantasy series and I love fantasy, I thought maybe I’d finally found the right fit. I read the Gunslinger in one day, I think about five hours, and that’s the only book in my life I’ve ever read in one sitting. Unfortunately it wasn’t because I was so enraptured by it or anything, I just wanted to get to the end. I remember bits and pieces of it. I’ve always hated westerns, cowboys, and deserts, so obviously that whole aesthetic was wasted on me. I really hated Roland for the choice he makes at the end of the book. I won’t spoil what happens but he does something very shitty and is eaten up with guilt for doing it, and I think that as a reader I’m supposed to empathize with him and this incredibly difficult choice he had to make, but mostly I just felt like Roland was kind of a dick.

I still want to give some of his other books a try. I want to read Carrie, Salem’s Lot, and maybe a couple of others. His most recent collaboration Sleeping Beauties has a very interesting concept. I’ve heard people rave about his memoir, On Writing, and I’ve read the first chapter or so and thought it was alright. Funnily enough, the only thing in Stephen King’s books that I REALLY enjoyed reading were the forewards and afterwards. I loved hearing his perspective on being a writer, on being famous, and how humble he is. It seems to me that King himself is convinced that a lot of his fame has to do with the fact that his first few books were successful, so everyone automatically loves everything written afterward. I applaud him for being so honest and self-reflective. I do notice that he has a tendency to write, um, a LOT of books about writers who live in Maine being haunted by monsters, and obviously that’s no accident I’m sure. I don’t really like his short fiction but in fairness to him I probably didn’t choose his greatest works to sample.

When I discovered that It was being adapted as a film, I was happy to hear it and thought it would probably be good. I did watch the TV miniseries back during my ex-boyfriends Stephen King movie run, and I was surprised at how terribly it’s held up over time. It wasn’t scary at all, it was incredibly campy and silly and ridiculous. As a child, I was vaguely aware of the existence of It and I remember finding it to be a terrifying concept, so seeing it as an adult it was kind of funny how incredibly not-scary it was.

Honestly, I don’t think Stephen King is really classified properly as a horror writer. Like I said, I haven’t read his classics, but a lot of his work has a very optimistic feel to it, it’s about normal people overcoming incredible darkness. It is no different, it’s about a group of childhood friends who triumph with the power of their will and their bonds with one another. It comes out to the same love-wins-over-evil trope that is a trope for a reason, because it’s a good concept. It is a little exasperating when everything ends the same way, but it’s still a good enough way to write a story.

I actually didn’t remember that the original film adaptation of It was a miniseries, I thought it was a movie. And I actually didn’t remember anything at all about the second part when the kids fight It as an adult, so either I didn’t pay attention, didn’t watch it, or just didn’t care. I do remember getting very bored, though.

So at my job we sell a few books, and one of them was the first Dark Tower novel, so I grabbed it while I was bored and flipped through the first few pages, thinking maybe I’d give that series another try. Although full disclosure, I did spoil the ending for myself a long time ago, but that’s beside the point. Despite trying, I still found the first chapter of the Gunslinger very boring. Then I saw a magazine called the ultimate guide to Stephen King or something, and I actually read through pretty much the whole thing, and I found the details about the upcoming It film to be really interesting. So when the movie was finally released I thought about going to see it in theaters, which would be a big deal for me because I’m typically very nervous about horror movies and I certainly don’t go to see them in theaters.

Last weekend I did something even more out of the usual for me, I went to see It in theaters all by myself. I was very nervous at first and did spend a little time messaging friends for comfort so I didn’t feel so alone. I had expected the movie to be good and I’d heard all the rave reviews about it, and they were right.

The movie begins with rain, which is automatically going to get my attention because I love rain. Apparently the word for that is pluviophile. What I love even more than rain is the sound of rain mixed with piano, and the movie begins with just that, so I was automatically hooked. The opening scene is pretty familiar by this point: a little boy in a yellow raincoat named Georgie takes out a homemade sailbot and runs alongside it as it sails down the rainy streets, disappears into a storm drain, and there he meets It, calling itself Pennywise, and is enticed to reach his hand in. In the book, Pennywise bites off his arm and leaves him to bleed out. In the miniseries, Pennywise grabs him and pulls him down into the sewer. The film combines these two by having Pennywise bite of Georgie’s arms in a pretty terrifying display where his mouth pulls back to reveal several rows of teeth, and a very painful scene where the actor who plays Georgie squirms helplessly in the rain in front of the storm drain.

I was really blown away by the beautiful cinematography of this particular shot. It’s hard to find a good screenshot to show you because the film hasn’t been released on home video yet, but after Pennywise bites off Georgie’s arm, he struggles to crawl away from the storm drain, screaming in agony. The actor’s performance is heart-wrenching, it’s hard not to feel incredibly sad at this very sweet kid being so mercilessly murdered. But even more than that, I loved the framing of the shot just before Pennywise reaches out of the storm drain to drag Georgie down into the sewer. It’s shown from above, with Georgie in his yellow raincoat crawling away from the drain, and rain pouring down hard on the whole scene. As he crawls, the blood from his arm fills up the water around him and the water begins to turn red. It’s just a really beautiful shot. Then Georgie is pulled down the drain and the movie’s prologue is done and the movie proper begins.

I won’t really go into too many more details about the film, except that there is one scene in particular that I have to mention because of how incredibly effective it was in the theater. There’s a scene where all of the kids gather in the main character Bill’s garage and look at slides on a projector of various incidents throughout the history of their town, Derry, and figure out It’s involvement with them. The projector starts working on it’s own and begins showing slides of Bill’s family, with Georgie in the photos, and the slides get faster and faster until they become a silent film. It’s interesting to note that Bill and Georgie’s mother is never shown directly in the movie, she is seen from the side playing piano at the very beginning of the film and mentioned by Bill’s father (who is shown), but is never explicitly shown and has no lines.

In the photos shown on the slides, Bill’s mother’s face is obscured by her hair blowing in the wind, and as her hair parts her face is revealed to be a smiling Pennywise.

Then the lights go out and the music stops, and real life movie theater is completely dark for a moment.

Then Pennywise leaps out of the projector screen at the children.

This is a particularly brilliant effect because the audience watching this movie is watching it in a theater, and the shot is framed so that the projector screen in Bill’s garage looks just like the projector screen of the movie theater, and for a split second, even though your brain knows better, you do have the feeling that Pennywise has just jumped out of the REAL movie screen and is screaming at the audience. It shocked everyone in the theater and made me jump. I really don’t like jump scares in general and the movie was mercifully short on them, but I can forgive the movie for that one because it was so genuinely unexpected.

I mean, looking back on it, sure, it does seem like the scene is obviously setting up Pennywise leaping out of the screen at the kids, but I honestly didn’t expect it, and during the moment when Pennywise jumped out of the screen, I remember several thoughts racing through my mind: one was that I vaguely wondered if this movie were in 3D and I’d missed something, then realizing it wasn’t in 3D, then the thought that scene would lend itself very well to 3D, and then how smart it was of the director to frame that shot like a real movie theater to convey the illusion of Pennywise jumping out of the screen. It simply wouldn’t work at home on a TV or on a computer monitor.

The movie was altogether very interesting and mercifully had a moment of rest where I was able to run away and go to the bathroom (I always have to pee at least once during a movie, so I have a bit of anxiety about how much I’m drinking and the timing of when I’m going to go). The ending was pretty satisfying, it was nice to see Pennywise speaking with the kids and trying to bargain for his life. I wasn’t exactly shocked by the sudden reveal at the end when the title card of the film flashes across the screen and it says IT, followed by a newly added “Chapter One.” I already knew that the filmmakers were producing a second film, as the book is set in two different time periods that overlap one another, one in which the kids fight It as children and one when they come to defeat It as adults.

After this, I skimmed the prologue of the book itself, and then skimmed through some more interesting parts that I wanted to read. There is some interesting underlying mythology about what exactly It is, it’s relationship to the universe and the universe’s creator, a mention of a kind of godlike deity guiding the children to defeat It, and all of this is heavily connected to the Dark Tower series. I had read in the Wikipedia synopsis of the book that there is a moment when the narrative switches to It’s point of view, so I was glad to find that and read it. I also read the very ending, as well as the penultimate scene that luckily never made it into either film adaptation, in which Beverly has sex with all of the boys in the sewer in order to try and bring them together. Sex scenes like that, particularly involving innocent kids who are just on the cusp of adolescence, have a way of making me feel incredibly melancholy and this one was upsetting to read too, but I do think it was pretty effective, if a little strange. But there was an element of Beverly reclaiming her power after her father attempted to take it from her.

All in all I’m really glad I saw It, and I didn’t let my initial fear of seeing it in theaters scare me away from doing it. I may also finally give Stephen King another chance sometime, although honestly I tend to assimilate the writing style of whoever I’m reading, and I don’t want my own writing to end up seeming too much like Stephen King, so I might put it off for a rainy day.

I’ll just stay away from storm drains.

The Worship of America

Disclaimer: Controversial Opinions is a series in which I’m essentially thinking out loud. I don’t think every one of my opinions is right, and I’m open to changing my mind when shown a new perspective. If any of this starts feeling like a manifesto, I assure you my intention is just to get my thoughts out and off my chest. You’re welcome to agree or disagree, I’m doing this for myself as much as anything, but I do hope you get something out of reading this.

Even though I think religion itself, particularly Christianity, is to blame for the majority of the world’s problems throughout history, it seems to me that there is a religioun in America that often goes unnoticed: the worship of America itself. Nationalism has become an American religion. Growing up in America, I have always been very disturbed by the way Americans treat this particular country and especially it’s symbols.

As a child I was taught to stand at my desk every morning before school, place my hand over my heart, and recite a cult-like chant in which I pledge allegiance to, of all things, the American flag. Even as a child, I was struck by the Orwellian nature of this, though I didn’t know how to express it at the time. The flag is a symbol of America, but it is so revered that it is treated as a religious object, the same way certain icons are in temples and churches. If you didn’t know, there are a set of rules about what you should and should not do with a flag, which are often taught in places like the Boy Scouts. I don’t know all of them, but I have absorbed a few of them from cultural osmosis, and I do know you are never supposed to let it touch the ground and you are not supposed to wear a flag as clothing, or hang it upside down.

What’s even creepier than the fact that children are expected to essentially recite a prayer each morning to the religious icon of the American flag is the droning uninterested monotone with which an entire school does so. As I stood in class reciting the pledge of allegiance, hundreds of other students did it at the same time within my school, and within my state and country there were millions of children, all droning out the monotonous prayer at once, not really concerned with the meaning of the words. Most first graders don’t really know what the word “indivisible” means, but because we have this chant drilled into our heads from our youngest age, we are psychologically prepared to accept the words of the pledge as gospel truth when we are old enough to understand them. It doesn’t occur to use to question it because we were indoctrinated, just like we were with religion.

Indoctrination occurs everywhere. The most popular video games in America are almost entirely shooting games, specifically war games, and even more specifically a lot of those war games are set directly in the middle east, priming young people, mostly boys, to view killing middle eastern people as sport, not to regard them as human. Is it any wonder then, that non-white people and particularly middle eastern people are treated with such racism in America, or automatically assumed to be terrorists?

The national anthem is equally creepy to me. I know that every country has a national anthem, but the way you are instantly ostracized for refusing to stand for the anthem or refusing to say the pledge is terrifying. I tried on a couple of occasions as a child to abstain from saying the pledge of allegiance (think about that, for a moment, the weight of that: CHILDREN RECITE A PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE. That is third world dictator type shit), and I was reprimanded by teachers and given looks of confusion by other students.

There’s also an attitude in America that we are the best country in the world. And I mean that literally. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say “America is the greatest country in the world.” But WHY is it great? If you ask most people they’ll give you some platitude about “freedom,” as though we’re the only country in the world with a bill of human rights in our constitution. The vast majority of industrialized countries in the world have the same personal freedoms Americans do, but Americans don’t consider that. As a child, I was told by my mother that in China, no one is allowed to have their own personal property, and people have to stand in line in bathrooms to receive their share of toilet paper. I was told that America is essentially a utopia where people from all over the world come to to escape persecution and share in our freedoms.

That is, of course, bullshit. America ranks incredibly low on a lot of factors that we consider to be marks of a great place to live. We have terrible education scores, we are almost single-handedly destroying the planet, we contain an incredibly small amount of the world’s population and use a larger share of it’s resources than any other country.

The thing that has always confused me about America’s place in the world is HOW it’s allowed to get away with all the things it does. With contributing to climate change, with affecting the environment, with not allowing people to have the same personal freedoms (such as marriage equality or voting equality) that other countries enjoy.

I think about it like this: imagine a house full of people, and this house represents the world, and the people represent countries. If one person in the house is sitting in the corner starting a fire that’s going to spread and burn down the rest of the house, isn’t it the responsibility of all the other people to step in and stop the fire, or stop that person from lighting a fire? Sure, he could say “this is my corner of the house, I’m allowed to do what I like here,” but he shouldn’t have the ability to do something that can endanger the safety of everyone else in the house. So why is America allowed to run rampant and unchecked like a bull in a China shop? Why do all the other countries in the world not sit down and say “Look, America, we can’t let you destroy our planet. Destroy your own country if you want to, but once you’re affecting the rest of us, we have to put a stop to it.” How is America allowed to do what it does?

I know that there is more nuance to all of these things, I do. What I’m doing here is essentially thinking out loud, I’m shouting questions into the void and hoping someone will hear them and consider them. I’ve wanted to do a series about some of my controversial opinions for a while now, and I hope to continue doing these. I know it’s essentially just me ranting, but I like ranting, and I think ranting is useful. My opinions are not set in stone, they’re open to change when new information is presented to me, and I’m open to admitting I’m wrong, but I hope that someone will see the sense in some of what I’m saying.

All Points Of View Are Not Equally Valid

Disclaimer: Controversial Opinions is a series in which I’m essentially thinking out loud. I don’t think every one of my opinions is right, and I’m open to changing my mind when shown a new perspective. If any of this starts feeling like a manifesto, I assure you my intention is just to get my thoughts out and off my chest. You’re welcome to agree or disagree, I’m doing this for myself as much as anything, but I do hope you get something out of reading this.

I’ve had enough of this notion that “liberal” and “conservative” are equally valid points of you. This is a false equivalency. They are not equally valid. In our culture, “conservative” has essentially become a code word for “racist, sexist, homophobic,” or generally just bigoted. Think about it, any time you see someone attacking the rights of gay people, black people, or attempting to impose religious rule on others, it’s ALWAYS a conservative who’s doing it for their “conservative values.”

One thing that really bothers me is when we don’t take people at their word when it comes to what they believe. We should believe what the vast majority of conservatives have to say about their values. Conservative values are the values of bigotry and religious oppression. Liberal values are the idea that people deserve equality, life, healthcare, bodily autonomy, the ability to love whoever they choose and build families in any way they see fit. In other words, liberal values are exactly the values the country was founded on, the idea of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any rose-tinted views of the American founding fathers as enlightened progressive pacifists. They did after all fight in a revolution and, no matter how progressive they may have been at the time, they were likely all abominable racists. Even the ones who didn’t have slaves didn’t consider black people equal to white people, or women equal to men. So don’t mistake me as saying that liberal values are the values of the founding fathers. People idolize the founding fathers too much and in America they are essentially worshiped as gods, but that’s another topic and we’ll get to that in a moment.

Even though making a blanket statement about all liberals or all conservatives is bound to be wrong in some instances, the fact remains that the vast majority of people who believe in equality and freedom for all races, genders, and sexual orientations, are and have always been, liberal. And the people who oppose progress, the people who chant racial slurs, the people who protest a black girl going to a white school or want to keep water fountains segregated or try to pass legislation banning transgender people from using the bathroom, are always conservative. Conservatives are always on the wrong side of history and liberals are on the right side of it.

Don’t mistake me as thinking liberals are perfect. One of the reasons I admire Bill Maher so much is that he calls out liberals on their bullshit. I think that liberals have gotten a lot of things wrong about the way we view culture and it’s appropriation, and policing the way people are allowed to express themselves, but in general, being liberal is being decent, and being conservative is being bigoted. So I’m tired of hearing people say they’re a conservative as though that’s a decent and worthwhile thing to be. When someone says they’re a conservative, it’s most likely a very nice way of saying they’re racist, or they’re homophobic, or they’re transphobic, or they’re in some way opposed to equality.