Martin Luther King: Recent Ancient History

They taught me about Martin Luther King in fifth grade. I would have been ten years old.
Funny thing is, normally they never would have mentioned Martin Luther King.  History was all old things, like Washington and Lincoln; I don’t think I heard the words “Vietnam War” in school until I was in tenth grade, minimum.  But MLK had woken a lot of people to the concepts of prejudice and equality, so they shoehorned him in.
Which was weird.  Because they talked a lot about Martin Luther King, and how he made the world safe for black people, in that reduced blend of facts and mythology we always hand out to young kids.  And they talked about how great he was, and all the work he did…
But fifth grade, for me, was 1979.
Martin Luther King got shot in 1968.
And what the teachers never made clear was that he’d been shot the year before I was born.  The echo of that shot was still ringing through our lifetime. Things hadn’t been solved.
But because MLK had been slotted in, MLK acquired the patina of all the other historical figures we talked about, like Washington and Lincoln, these ancient struggles that we won.  We won the war for American Independence, and we won the Civil War, and we won the war for equality – these distant, dusty struggles we should be grateful are now over.
Nobody made it clear that people who’d marched in the Civil Rights Movement were, in many cases, younger than my teacher.
And I wonder how much of the Black Lives Matter movement is an extension of that weird-ass historical shading.  The teachers meant well.  But they made it sound like MLK was some ancient event, not something ripped from yesterday’s headlines, and as a result they taught us the inadvertent lesson that the whole prejudice thing had been fixed.
I think a lot of white people my age today are so upset over Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement because they got taught that Martin Luther King fixed this shit.  And to them, going back and discussing it again is kind of like fighting England all over again for independence, we did it, don’t these people realize we won?
And what the teachers didn’t, perhaps couldn’t, perhaps didn’t want to say, is that MLK’s blood was still drying on the pavement while we were in class, and the ramifications were still spilling outward, ever outward, and things were never as closed as we would have liked to believe.
But we like to believe in closure. And we sure like to believe that MLK shut a door that we never have to open again.  We like to believe that a lot.

In Which I Sell The Impossible Story To Uncanny Magazine!

I have three distinct personalities as a writer: scribbly-guy, edity-guy, and marketroid. I don’t let the three talk to each other.
Scribbly-guy just writes. I don’t really know where the stories come from; I just get a weird first sentence and I roll with it.  Likewise, Edity-guy doesn’t question the submissions he’s getting: he’s got a story on his desk, and it’s time for him to make it better.
Mr. Marketroid, the part of me that actually has to go out and find a place to buy these stories, gets the final product and weeps.
And no story made him weep harder than “Rooms Formed of Neurons and Sex,” because it’s a story about a phone sex operator who falls in love with a BDSM-obsessed brain in a jar. Not only is this story extremely sexually explicit, not only do the words “brain in a jar” appear unironically and repeatedly throughout the work, but it is also 6,400 words, roughly 1,500 words more than most story markets will take.  (For the record, this whole post clocks in at a hair over 300 words.)
Yet after years of reworking, the fine editors at Uncanny Magazine just sent me back the contract, so “Rooms Formed Of Neurons And Sex” will appear in a future issue of Uncanny.  Which is awesome, because every short story writer has a couple of markets they long to be published in, and Uncanny Magazine has been knocking it out of the park lately with kick-ass stories from some of the authors I admire most.
It’s not out yet, obvs; the wheels of publishing grind slow and fine, and they’re committed with stories through February.  I’ll letcha know when this absolutely psychotic weirdie of a story will be available for your perusal.
But I sold it! And you’ll see it. In a place where I’m in great company.  And soon you’ll be able to put your eyes on Lydia and the Naughty Nurse Hotline and how she comes to fall in love with, yes, a brain in a goddamned jar.

My Book FLEX is $2.99 As Part Of B&N's "First In Series" Sale!

Looking for some awesome sci-fi and fantasy series? Well, Barnes and Noble is trying to lure you in to reading pure awesomeness – and so as part of that, they’ve discounted Flex on the Nook to $2.99 to get you started!  (And don’t forget the sequel The Flux, which is currently out, and Fix – which isn’t even up for presale, but will be arriving in September of 2016.  I’m a series, you see.)
(You can also start on some awesome series like Mirror Empire, which I’m currently reading, and Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter, which has been highly recommended to me.)
Anyway, my book’s on sale for a short time, so I’d go purchase it post-haste, were I you.

Utilizing Condom-Based Logic: Surprisingly Useful.

Look. You’re telling me Google’s developing self-driving cars, but condoms remain mired in old-school technology?  We all know that condoms are a) necessary and b) suck; shouldn’t someone have created a better, more pleasurable, condom by now?
As it turns out, people are trying. And the government’s insane standards of safety are making it more difficult.
That article I linked to is one of the most educational I’ve ever read – it debunks some of the “lambskin condoms are unsafe!” discussions I’ve had in the kink community.  (Short version: the government mandates a label that says, “Not to be used for prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). To help reduce the risk of catching or spreading many STDs, use only latex condoms.” And that label is based on outmoded tests created when we were most ignorant on how HIV was transmitted.)
Yet here’s the thing about condoms:  is it better to have a condom with a 99% protection record that people only use 70% of the time, or is it better to have a condom with a 97% protection record that people use 99% of the time?
Because that’s an ugly truth about condoms: so many people hate ’em, they refuse to use ’em.  (Even though, yes, they should.)  And if we’re judging safety by real-world standards, it’s a very legitimate concern to say, “Yes, latex condoms are very safe, but also uncomfortable enough that maaaaaybe it’s better to develop a slightly riskier condom that people will use more consistently.”
It’s a weird math there.  But it adds up.
And I used that math the other day, because one of the lasting effects of my triple-bypass emergency heart surgery is that I have to take a medication called Welchol. It comes in a packet, and it’s this gritty sand with a saccharine lemony aftertaste that is just awful to drink. But the doctor says it’s the best.
After months of not taking Welchol on the road because it’ll make you retch to drink it with straight water and it’ll ruin any cup you put it in, I thought:
Is it better to have a less effective medication that I take every day, or a better medication that I struggle to take four days out of seven?
I called the doctor and we changed my prescription to a pill.
And now that I’m aware of it, I use that condom-logic a lot: yeah, it’d be better if I worked out for forty-five minutes at a shot – but if I commit to that, then I get around to it maybe once a week. Whereas if I commit to a twenty-minute workout, I can do that three or four times a week.
With condom logic, I take my own foibles into account and stop asking, “What would be best in a vacuum?” and instead ask, “What would I be more realistically likely to do on a regular basis?”  And if there’s a less effective alternative that you know you’d use more often, then stop trying to hold yourself to this gold standard that you’ve proven you’re unable to achieve consistently, and go for the bronze standard you can hit all the time.
Because here’s the weird thing about bronze standards: Used to be that I worked out three times a week for fifteen minutes.  Now, on average, I’m working out four times a week for twenty.  You make that stuff a regular part of your habits, and there’s a good chance they stick and grow.
Which, of course, is not to say that you should excuse the non-usage of condoms, or missing heart medications, or couch-based exercise programs.  But something’s almost always better than nothing.  And you see that in New Years’ Resolutions, which at this stage of the year are often crumbling away because people vowed “I WILL LOSE FIFTY POUNDS!1!1!!1!” after years of vowing to lose fifty pounds and never keeping it off – instead of vowing something more reasonable, like “I’ll stop buying Frappuccinos from Starbucks on the way home.”
Look. It’d be nice if you lost fifty pounds and slid into your teenaged swimsuit and then went to the high school reunion to swan your figure around. But maybe losing fifteen pounds and getting a little more jogging in is what you’re capable of.  And doing the condom logic won’t make your life as good as, yes, the gold standard would, but if you have yet to win the gold after years of trying maybe you should see what you can realistically accomplish to less fanfare.
But seriously, kids. Use condoms.

Some Complex Thoughts On David Bowie And Consent

I was never a David Bowie fan – but one of the strange pleasures of a great man dying is that you get introduced to him again all over.  My Twitter-feed lit up with all of the wonderful things David Bowie did, from performing at the Berlin Wall to calling MTV out on not playing black artists to pointing out his best music to me…
…and to having sex with a fifteen-year-old girl in what’s undeniably a case of statutory rape.
Now, it’s been widely reported that the girl in question was thirteen when Bowie had sex with her – a claim my friend Bart Calendar, a former rock journalist, has thoroughly debunked.  (Short version: Lori Maddox was American and born in November of 1958 and had sex with Bowie on his second tour in America in September 1974.  The age of thirteen may have been given by Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, who is not necessarily a treasure trove of accurate information.)
(EDIT: The dates I gave initially were incorrect, and have been explained in greater depth here.)
If you believe those facts are wrong, I encourage you to go over to Bart’s journal and argue with him; I admit I’m not familiar with Bowie.  But Bart’s been unerringly correct on rock and roll trivia for the decade I’ve known him, so I have no reason to dispute his version of events here.  If you want to discuss that, go argue with the man who could change my mind, not me.
Still, “She was fifteen” isn’t much of a defense.  That’s still three years under the legal age limit where the sex act took place, and in any case a man in his mid-twenties having sex with a teenager is at best kinda skeezy. It’s illegal, and it’s creeptastic.
So given that I’m notably big on consent, you’d think that I’d be calling in SJW airstrikes on Bowie’s legacy right now – as, in fact, many people are doing.  Bowie undeniably violated consent by having sex with someone too young to legally give consent.
Yet years later, in her mid-fifties, as a fully grown woman, she’s still happy with the decision.
And I think of the first time I ever made out with a girl.  I was blackout drunk – the only reason I had vague memories of the act the next day was because she left my neck ringed with hickies.  I know I didn’t initiate, because back then it wouldn’t have even occurred to me that a girl would like me.
That girl did sexual things with me when I was legally and morally unable to give consent.
Yet when I woke to discover those murky hangover dreams I’d had were real, I pumped the fist.  We dated that whole summer.  She took my virginity.  I still think of her fondly.
Now, that starts to seem like a fond argument for date rape – “Why, I had this wonderful experience while I was blackout drunk, so initiating sex with unconscious people is a good thing!” And I’m not gonna let people go down that path.  So let me be very clear here:
Having sex with people who are unable to give consent is bad, and you should never do it.  Much of “having people unable to give consent” is illegal – as was the case with David Bowie and his fifteen-year-old lover.  And when it’s not flat-out illegal, making the move on someone who’s too drunk to move, as I was, is skeezetastic.
The reason for that is because bad outcomes happen frequently when someone breaks someone else’s consent.  Yes, I am happy that I was taken advantage of by my first girlfriend – but there’s a lot of date-raped people, both men and women, who were traumatized by being fucked when they had little choice in the matter.  A lot of fifteen-year-old girls were pressured into unwanted sex by predators who’d honed their act simply because they knew teenagers were easier prey.
Consent matters, and for a good reason.
Yet in the rush to perpetuate the (very good) idea of consent, I think people often come to fetishize consent – coming to believe that breaking consent automatically equals horrific outcomes.  If David Bowie broke consent, then he must be an Evil Man.  If my girlfriend gave me highly visible hickies when I was all but passed out, she must be an Evil Woman.
Yet what we forget is that the ultimate judgment of consent has to be, “Was the person happy with what happened?”  And Lorrie Maddox, who still loves Bowie after all these years, clearly is.  And while I disagree with some of Bart’s post, this statement stood out strongly:
“If we want to create a society where women are given the benefit of the doubt and believe them when they say they are raped, the flip side of that is giving them the benefit of the doubt and believing them when they say they were not raped.”
The fact is, “consent” is merely a best practices, and not a guarantee of good results.  As someone who goes to kink conventions where consent-friendly BDSM is firmly in effect, I have seen very intense scenes where consent was practiced as thoroughly as possible every step of the way and yet the participants still wound up traumatized.  I’ve also seen, like me, people who’ve made sexual decisions while blind drunk that they were super-happy with.
Good consent does not guarantee good outcome.  Bad consent does not guarantee bad outcome.
Which is why ultimately, the gold standard of consent has to be “People were satisfied.”  And life’s frequently messy, and it’s not fun to say “This was executed hazardously, and could have hurt people, but things turned out well,” but…
It happens.
And if someone’s happy with the outcome, years later, when they’ve had literally a lifetime to consider it, we should respect that.
Which isn’t to say these acts of breaking consent shouldn’t be illegal, or roundly criticized. They should be. Sure, maybe someone drove home drunk without killing anyone, but that doesn’t make drunk driving an awesome thing to do.  Drunk driving is illegal not because every drunk driver kills a person, but because their risk of hurting someone goes way up. It’s too dangerous to chance.
And I think that life is, also, too messy to label people Good or Evil.  David Bowie clearly lucked out with this one woman, but who knows what else he did?  Maybe new allegations will surface in the wake of his death.  Maybe we’ll find out he did some pretty scummy things.  Then again, I think every celebrity did scummy things because every human does scummy things, and I think it’s very rare that one evil act obliterates all the good they did in their life, just as I think it’s very rare that one good act obliterates all the evil they did.
(Your mileage may vary. I acknowledge that. I allow for it.)
David Bowie’s not my hero, as mentioned.  But I think in this one widely-touted case, he made a mistake that turned out all right.  And it’s okay to live with that unsettling paradox that he did a bad thing warring with but it turned out all right without having to justify the act as something we should laud.
Every hero has a few sins. And while I suspect David Bowie fucked a lot of underaged girls on his tours, I also suspect most of them were okay with the decision – as opposed to, say, Bill Cosby, whose victims were clearly unhappy with the outcome.
In the end, I think it’s good to promote models of consent.  And it’s good to call out people who violate models of consent.  But if we get so caught up on the model that we actively ignore people saying, “No, wait, this was actually a positive event in my life” after they’ve had literally decades to ponder its effect, then I think we’ve abandoned some essential principle of humanity in the pursuit of an ideal.
Life’s messy.  Sometimes things go okay when they shouldn’t have.
We should be able to sit quietly with those moments without abandoning the pursuit of a better world.