Before I go any further, please have a listen to “Where Evil Grows,” a 1971 song by the Canadian musical duo The Poppy Family. Seriously, please listen first, because this song sets the tone for this post.
Yeah, there’s a lot of dark lyrics covered up in all that early ’70s bubblegum twang. I recall seeing somewhere that Kurt Cobain gained some influence in the instrumentals on this song, but it’s a safe bet that lyrics like this grabbed a hold of him.
I include this song to highlight a pretty dark news item that occurred last week (well, I think it was dark) and how it tapped into my dark side (yeah, I felt my dark side, and it wasn’t fun). The news item was the rejection by voters in Houston, Texas of an ordinance that would have banned discrimination in city services, contracts, and public accommodations, as well as city and private employment and housing based on gender identity and sexual orientation. It would have been a significant law in America’s 4th most populous city, especially since such protections not guaranteed under Texas law.
There was a lot of political wrangling in Houston over the ordinance, especially a small part of the ordinance that its opponents (the “no” side) magnified to ugly proportions: The use of public bathrooms by transgender women and men. It was the contention of the anti-ordinance side — one that was based more on blatant fear and bigotry than actual proof — that the ordinance could have allowed for sexual predators (i.e. men disguised as women) to use public restrooms. It was the unfounded fear that claim ginned up that trumped true fairness when the votes were counted.
Of course, the “no” supporters rejoiced, praised Jesus, and all that. They also did their “in your face” expressions towards supporters of the ordinance, both inside and outside of Houston. Those expressions of glee included the usual online comments and talk radio call-ins, celebrating the “triumph or religious liberty” (note how I use the air quotes there?) and the contention that not only will sexual predators not “prey upon innocent women” (more air quotes) but that those who were “born men” (more air quotes there, too) will have to use the men’s room.
It was that celebratory attitude of the “no” side that really got me, if you would please pardon my language, pissed off. And with that, I begin my descriptions of how I vented online, a personal dark turn that the lyrics to “Where Evil Grows” so hauntingly encapsulate.
I like the way you smile at me.
I felt the heat that enveloped me.
And what saw I liked to see.
I never knew where evil grew.
Okay, I thought, if the “no” side is going to feel all celebratory, I’m going to start deflating their balloon a little bit. I first let out frustrations on Twitter the morning after the vote, and while I’m generally a positive soul on Twitter, I couldn’t contain my disappointment with the outcome.
On a subsequent tweet, I borrowed a quote (found here) from Houston’s mayor, Annise Parker, an ardent supporter of the measure, who blasted the “no” side’s campaign as one of “fear mongering and deliberate lies” and believed the vote stained Houston’s reputation. I endorsed Mayor Parker’s opinion on the outcome. However, someone whose Twitter profile noted is from Houston and who favored the “no” side (and celebrated) piled on. No, the person didn’t tease or bully me personally or anything like that, but they did lay an attack on Mayor Parker, contending she was the one who was stirring up fear — and quoting my tweet favoring the ballot measure as their basis.
That’s when I really let this person have it. I blocked their Twitter profile, then muted them. For those unfamiliar with how Twitter works, my blocking them meant they couldn’t see any more of my profile or tweets, nor could they do anything further with my tweets; and since I also muted their profile permanently, that meant I didn’t have to see their asinine thoughts. (Again, please forgive my language.)
But it still left me angry. So, I temporarily unblocked and unmuted their profile and directed a tweet at them, telling them in no uncertain terms to never EVER use my support for the LGBT community as a base for their bigotry. And then I went back to blocking and muting them.
I should have steered away from you.
My friend told me to keep clear of you.
But something drew me near to you.
I never knew where evil grew.
But I couldn’t entirely avert or ignore the news or the resulting discussion. One day later, I stumbled across the public radio show On Point, which had a discussion about the outcome in Houston as well as the general status of trans rights across the U.S. I linked that On Point program just now with a bit of apprehension, because the panelists included some high-and-mighty dude from the American Patriotic Council for Being Reactionary Towards Any Significant Change, or whatever his organization was called. Said dude, when I had to listen to him, was clearly flippant of LGBT rights as a whole. “Well,” he said, “homosexual marriage was only ensured by unelected courts and the situation in Houston was voted on by the people and the majority of the people voted to preserve liberties” and blah, blah, blah.
The comments of that guest got under my skin as well, and that night I added my voice to the several hundred comments (both pro and con) on the episode. I’m not one to go online and add a tart retort to the burning issues of the day, but this was a time when I really felt I needed to have my say. I noticed that the top of the On Point link featured an old, white guy with a big beer gut and untucked shirt holding and wearing “Vote No” paraphernalia. I pointed out that photo and basically said that he was the only type of person who was celebrating the Houston vote’s outcome: People who are older, white, fat, firm holders of their bigoted beliefs, and misguided believers of any contention that was long since proven false but continued to be upheld by those who are just as bigoted as them.
Yeah, that’s what I pretty much said. But no sooner had I figuratively dropped my mic and walked away than the online comment system used on the On Point website e-mailed me, alerting me that someone replied to my comment. *UGH* The automated e-mail included a text of the reply which basically said this: “Oh yeah?! Well what about the people in this photo? They’re not old or white, and they look happy.”
Needless to say, that reply was from someone who, like the person who misconstrued my earlier tweet, was happy about the vote in Houston. And though that person might have had a salient point, I felt truly disgusted by the overall tone of the discussion. I had had my say, I threw down the mic afterwards (and let everyone hear the amplified THUD), and I walked away, washing my hands of the discussion. I was done with the whole thing, so I replied to the automated e-mail “UNSUBSCRIBE.” Yes, I was sure I wanted to unsubscribe. No, I didn’t want to get into the mire any further. No, I’m not sorry about unsubscribing or what I said, at all.
If I could build a wall around you
I could control the thing that you do.
But I couldn’t kill the will within you
And it never shows
The place where evil grows.
That verse from “Where Evil Grows” is a perfect summation, in my personal opinion, of how people behave online when discussion a hot topic. You may agree with them, or you may disagree even more so. But if they want to wallow in the muck and the mire that is turning online conversations into repulsive diatribes, you can’t help but build walls around them just to feel like you’re controlling what they say.
The truth is, however, that while you think you’re shutting them out for good and controlling their behavior, they there still out there, reveling in their own little corner of the internet that looks more like a pig sty. They will rant, they will rave, they will attract those who share the same ugly thoughts as them… and they will freely and gleefully provoke those who don’t share their opinions into a verbal fight. They may be civilized and well behaved in the real world (and maybe on other parts of the internet), but they do have beliefs and behaviors that come from the dark corners of their souls where evil grows.
It’s clear from how I reacted and how I showed my frustration and anger and even ridicule, I was dragged into that evil place. But then, how did I let myself get dragged into this mud in the first place? I tend to think that all of us may have a dark place in our soul that leads us or at least tempts us to ridicule, bully, and shout down those who either are not like us or don’t agree with us… like, say, those in Houston who voted against valid trans rights this past week while under the influence of utterly vile claims.
Now more than ever, it’s so easy to get provoked and get angry. The news channels? The internet? Talk radio? Sure, those are easy ways to
foster clean conversations show one’s ire. But it’s our failure to prevent turning into the classroom bully or The Incredible Hulk that creates the ill will. Thankfully, just as there are those who believe trans equality will eventually prevail in Houston (and I’m confident it eventually will, even if the victory is delayed), there are multitudes more people who are on their best behavior when it comes to interacting with those who are not exactly like them when it comes to cultural traits or public opinions.
Maybe one day science will be able to reproduce, bottle, and distribute in mass quantities whatever it is that the good people of civilization and the internet take that keeps their bad behavior in check and lets the good side shine through. When that day comes, I’ll be rushing to the grocery store to buy that stuff by the caseload. Until that day, though, I and everyone else will need positivity to keep our negative online emotions in check. We need to use positivity to allow our good sides to shine. And we really need to use positivity in continuing the fight for full rights already gained (marriage equality) and yet to be achieved (transgender rights). Because there are still people who, with the darkness in their hearts easily provoked, dismiss those who are not exactly like them.
Please, never let our evil sides overtake us, nor let the evil of others creep into us as well. Let the refrain from “Where Evil Grows” serve as a reminder:
Evil grows in the dark
Where the sun, it never shines.
Evil grows in cracks and holes
And lives in people’s minds.
Evil grew, it’s part of you.
And now it seems to be,
That every time I look at you
Evil grows in me.