Friends, I wrote an essay called, “The Creepy Politics of Lesbian Sex in Romance” over at Frolic (@onfrolic). It’s about how creepy the politics are around lesbian sex in romance. You’ll see.
This word’s been taken up and proliferated in conservative speech lately (I picture those mucous/germ droplets spraying from the mouth of a sneezer in slo-mo in one of those cautionary TLC documentaries on germs). So let’s talk about the meaning.
Because far be it from me, a left-wing ivory tower academic, to let language just happen without some navel-gazing and whining.
So here goes. It’s going to be a bumpy night.
“Libtard” is a portmanteau (a blended word) of “liberal” and, I assume, “retard,” which seems to be correctly pronounced with emphasis on the first syllable, like “fascist” or “racist” or “homophobe.” If you zoom in and look at the actual definitions of the words (liberal: adherent to a political/moral philosophy based on the ideals of equality and freedom; retard: to slow down or delay), it’s not quite clear what’s meant here. Someone who slows down or stops to think about the equality and freedom of others?
If, however, you look at the vernacular use of the word “reee-tard,” it’s very clearly meant as an offense, meant both to suggest that the person in question has slowed-down or delayed mental processing and/or development, and to suggest that the person is therefore not as worthy or important (or perceptive) as the speaker. Anyway, it’s gross.
I should also point out the obvious: that by calling someone a “reeetard,” I am assuring everyone (including myself) that I am NOT one. It’s the very transparent aim of creating an “in-group”–by doing so, you create an out-group (that was a large part of the fascination with freak shows). An “us” means a “not-us,” which means you have someone to demonize and fight against and probably bomb “back to the stone age.”
It’s like the “libtard” speakers (and implying the word counts just as much as saying it, so Donald Trump is included here) are little kids, desperately trying to cast attention elsewhere when someone asks who got suntan lotion all over the nice couch. (OK, God, that was me at three years old, but I was trying something.)
My mother used to say that whenever you point a finger at someone, you have three fingers pointing back at yourself. Mom, sit down, because I’m finally about to agree with you. It reminds me of the Trumphabit (now a word in my book) of accusing someone of the very thing of which he’s guilty (look at the timing and history of his accusations, friends, most notably the accusation that Clinton or the Democrats or some other such Evil Libtard Entity rigged the election… but certainly not with Russia, don’t look at Russia). I’m not ugly, you’re ugly!
(And may I just add that if anyone’s development has been slowed down, it’s the pampered white man who holds the highest office in the country bragging that he gets more ice cream than his guests.)
My point is that, other than producing quite a bit of irony and some suspicion about your motives when you call someone a “libtard,” you are showing yourself to be an ignorant, senseless twit who has no interest in affording anyone else their humanity.
Please, please, you conboobs, talk gooder.
REVIEW: The Navigator’s Touch by Julia Ember (September 13, 2018); Interlude Press/Duet Books, 256 pages. Available from Interlude Press here.
The Navigator’s Touch is the continuation of the story begun in The Seafarer’s Kiss; although you can read this one all on its own without reading the first book, why would you? I mean, more books, amIright? You can read my review of TSK here if you’d like—for brevity, I won’t sum that up now. Instead, I’ll tell you that while the first novel is told from the mermaid Ersel’s point of view, this novel is told from her human lover Ragna’s point of view. Ragna is a fierce warrior on a quest to find Ersel, the mermaid/Kracken (a punishment by Loki) who rescued Ragna when…
Let me back up. I’m going to be brief, because the novel itself contains enough of the backstory for you to understand what’s happening (and, even better, you can read the first book, The Seafarer’s Kiss, which is a new telling of the original Norse myth which Disney’s The Little Mermaid bastardized). Ragna is fierce. She’s also got a very special gift (she’s “gods-touched”): her arm contains a tattoo-like map that changes as she moves or as she wills it. In other words, she can find her own way from or to anywhere in the world, and she can even use the map to locate towns, people, things of value. She’s not the only one with this gift, and in an effort to kidnap the children who might possess it, a warlord burned her village and killed the adults (including Ragna’s family). Ragna’s own cousin is among the kidnapped, and part of Ragna’s quest in this novel is to find her.
Along the way, she falls in love with a mermaid, becomes captain of a sea vessel (and its disloyal crew) stolen from her captor, outsmarts the trickster god Loki, and does it all one-handed (she’s got a hook to replace a severed hand). It reminds me of that old saw about Ginger Rogers, who did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels. Ragna does everything the other sea captains do, but as a woman and with one hand. I’m pretty sure she wears boots, though.
Before I address the story itself, let me quickly address how it’s told: it’s a page-turner. The narrative voice melts into the story, and Ragna is such a smart, powerful character, one can’t help but want to hear her speak more and more. Neither overly dry nor too flowery, the prose just whistles through the adventure.
This strikes me as a particularly feminist novel. Not simply because it stars a woman in charge (though that certainly helps), but because it’s the story of Ragna figuring out how to be in charge without being oppressive, how to wield power without dumbly blunt force.
The love story between Ragna and Ersel, too, seems feminist: they are each independent beings who love each other, but that love does not cancel out all other duties or desires. There is longing, and there is cleaving (both to and from), and there is desire and beauty, but this is not a story in which everything is put aside for the romance, in which romantic love conquers all. It’s a story in which love helps the heroine conquer all, but it’s not just romantic love. There’s self-love, familial love, loyalty, friendship, intelligence (that is a way of loving the world, you know)… all of it drives Ragna, and all of it helps her get where she winds up.
I’ve read numerous reviews of this book that exclaim over its violence and, yes, there’s some intense violence described, but really, how do you read a book about pillaging pirates and war and not see the violence coming? It would be disingenuous if there were none, I think. When I think back on some of the “classics” I had to read in junior high and high school, I have to laugh at the statement that young folks should not read anything violent because that’s not how we did it in the 1980s. I also remember lots of repression, lots of denial on the part of adults who told me that the violence I experienced in real life (as a daughter, as a young woman in the world) was not fit to be discussed, or did not happen, or was not a worthy social concern. Denying the violence is a big lie, and it sets young women (in particular) up to fail when they inevitably meet it. How much better, then, to give them the gripping story of strong heroes like Ragna who meet, survive, and even triumph over that violence?
I have now seen three indignant online responses to articles about social protest (two about Kapernick kneeling—one from my own beloved niece—and one about a kid who refused to stand for the pledge of allegiance in school as a protest and whose teacher hit him in response), and I’ve gotten to the full-to-boiling point, which means I’m going to write something. (I was taught to use my words and not to hit people with whom I disagree).
Each of these indignant responses wails about a lack of RESPECT (every time in all caps like that, because type-shouting is certainly a clear sign of respect) on the part of the person kneeling or sitting. There’s something going around among a certain segment of Rumpers about disagreement equaling disrespect, a kind of “sit down and shut up” attitude that makes my skin crawl even as it makes me laugh.
First, I would like to respectfully ask these folks where their respect was during the previous presidency. Where is the respect in (falsely) accusing—publicly, in the press–a person of lying about where they were born and demanding to see their birth certificate as proof of citizenship? Where is the respect in interrupting a political candidate while she speaks (“Wrong!”), or in looming behind her like a ghoul during her time to speak in a debate?
Where is the respect, I ask respectfully taking a respectful tone as a result of the utmost respect, in accusing trans folks—children, even—of wanting to sexually molest people simply because they’d like to use an appropriate bathroom (especially when straight men—not queers or trans folk—are by far the most frequent sexual abusers, even of boys)? Where is the respect in denying large segments of our population their human rights? Where is the respect in bombing a women’s health clinic because they perform abortions? Where is the respect in violently separating children from their families, putting them in cages and allowing several of them to die or be severely wounded in custody? Where is the respect when you condone your own police force beating and killing men of color because… wait, why, again? I missed that part.
Respectfully submitted: where is the respect in allowing the frequent beating and murder of trans women? Where is the respect in the Resident of the United States accepting the support of white supremacist groups (and then pouting because he’s been asked to stay away from a famous Black singer’s memorial)? Where is the respect in voting into office a person of whom there is ample evidence (including his own bragging) of the sexual assault of and unbridled disdain for women? Where is the respect in supporting someone who publicly mocks a disabled reporter and then does his best to take away medical care for disabled folks like me? Where is the respect in paying people wages according to their gender, ethnicity, or sexuality, or refusing to hire them entirely, even when a law tells you that you can’t? Where is the respect in gleefully creating, backing or voting for policies which will deprive people of human rights or safety?
Oh, golly, I could go on, quite respectfully, but I won’t. I’ll simply respectfully ask: where is the respect for those of us—POC, women of all colors, disabled folks, LGBTQ+ folks, immigrants and non-citizens, the list is longer than I can probably properly reproduce—with whom you disagree, or who dare to disagree with you? For those of us whose humanity you feel so comfortable to deny, whose cakes you refuse to bake, whose children you refuse to care about, whose human rights you refuse to recognize?
I respectfully think there is a fundamental misunderstanding of “respect” and social protest. Social protest that is respectful in everyone’s eyes is not social protest. Please look at the history. Social protest is meant to disturb the social scene, to call attention and to resist. What is the point of showing respect for a system against which you are protesting because it denies your humanity? The point of social protest is to disrespect the dangerous inhumanity of a system.
Respectfully, I’d like to say that when people refuse to “show respect” during the national anthem, they are not only doing their civic duty (please RESPECT American history, since that kind of lack of RESPECT is what founded this country), but they are protesting in the most civil, RESPECTful, peaceful, quiet way possible. Sometimes fighting in other ways is certainly the right choice, especially when lives are on the line. But sometimes, one chooses to do what one can in the space one has been given: kneeling, sitting, refusing to participate, even symbolically.
That choice deserves your respect. No, wait, I’ll write it so it makes sense in online vernacular: that choice deserves your RESPECT.