Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Tiny Beautiful Things: Letter #3

OH MY GOD, it's like every chapter is worse than the last.  I've been dreading this one for a couple days now.  I can't even believe that I'm going to have to deal with this question.  I really thought about going straight to Letter #4, but I know that dozens of you are now reading this pile of crap book along with me just to see what I'll say and you'd never let me get away with skipping it (I love getting your emails, but please stop telling me these things).  Goddamn this stupid book.  Also, goddamn you people for spending money on it just so you can follow along.  What are you thinking?  At least I know I'll never be sued for doing this.  I'm actually making Cheryl Strayed richer with every post. 

PSA:  Libraries.  They exist.  You can borrow books for free.  It's a thing.

Let's get started.  Remember, words in bold type are actual quotes from the "person seeking advice."  (You know why I put quotations around that.  We all know who wrote this letter.)

Letter #3

Dear Sugar,

I'm a twenty-one-year-old guy.  I'm in college right now.  Though I work full-time to pay for some of my bills, I'm still dependent on my parents for room and board.  I also use their car.  I also can't write very well.  Look at these sentences.  I have no problem living with my parents-- at least I wouldn't if I wasn't gay.  I should have used the word "weren't" right there, but I didn't because college isn't doing much for me; I probably won't get my college degree because I'll fail to write a 5-page paper.  My parents are fundamentalist Christians.  They believe that being a homosexual is a "sin" that someone struggles with similar to alcoholism or drug addiction and that gays should repent and see Jesus and this confuses me because I'm a dude and Jesus is a dude and "seeing him" sounds sort of gay.  Should I buy him a promise ring?

My parents know I'm gay but they don't acknowledge it.  They believe I've repented and found Jesus.  When I was seventeen, my mom threatened to kick me out of the house because she didn't want my "diseased behavior under her roof."  In order to avoid getting kicked out, I had to go to Christian counseling to de-gay myself, sort of like that camp from "But I'm a Cheerleader," but it totally didn't work because I couldn't find my Root.  I don't hate my parents, but I strongly dislike them for their treatment of me.  They think I'm straight, but they don't trust me.  Please don't notice that the first sentence of this paragraph was, "My parents know I'm gay but they don't acknowledge it," because that completely contradicts what I just said there.  My mom constantly checks on me, often barging into my room seemingly in hopes of catching me doing something, and I'm like, "MOM.  Wouldn't you rather watch Dad masturbate?  You're being creepy."  If I go out, I have to tell my parents exactly who I'm with or I won't be able to use their car.  They refuse to leave the Internet connected if I'm at home alone, and they hide the modem when they go to bed because they are afraid that I'll look at "sinful" material that will pull me back into the "gay lifestyle" because apparently I wrote this letter like twelve years ago and I'm just now getting around to sending it.  From my smart phone.  Which requires no modem.

Though I act straight around my parents and sister, I am out to friends and co-workers and also to my brother (who accepts me unconditionally).  It's a huge strain to live a double life.  I've had two gay relationships.  My parents know my current boyfriend is gay and they treat him like he's going to reinfect me with his gay-ness.  Wait, what the fuck did I just write?  "My parents know my current boyfriend is gay."  I'm so confused.  Nothing I'm saying makes sense.

I could move out like a normal fucking adult, but even though I have this full-time job, I can't afford to do so.  One option that has arisen recently is that a good friend asked if I wanted to move to the Pacific Northwest with her-- I live on the East Coast-- and I'm seriously considering it, especially because I know that YOU, Sugar, live in the Pacific Northwest and isn't this terribly convenient.  The thing is, I don't want to run away from my problems and I really like the guy I'm in a relationship with, but right now I feel like I'm stuck in a situation that is hopeless.  I feel suffocated by the expectations of those on both sides of my double life.  One side would damn me to hell if they found out I was gay.  The other side wants me to cut myself off from my family.

Is there any advice you could offer that could help?

Cheryl Strayed  Some Gay Dude

Motherfucker.  Are you kidding me with this question.

Let's get this over with.  This time, instead of my own advice, I'll answer with what Bad Cheryl should have written:

Dear Some Gay Dude,

No.  I don't really have any advice that could help.  I'm an asshole.


I don't even.  I mean, this clearly is not a real person asking for real advice.  This is Bad Cheryl writing a letter in the way she thinks a troubled gay person would write a letter, and she does it so she can respond in a way that will make her seem BRAVE and then say SUPER SUPPORTIVE THINGS to make herself seem PROFOUNDLY ACCEPTING and WORTHY OF OUR WORSHIP.  You know what?  It's 2015.  If you support gay rights, congratulations on being a normal, decent person.  I'm not gonna fall to my knees and weep with gratitude over the fact that you're not an asshole.  Frankly, if you still have a problem with gay people at this point in time, go fuck yourself.

This letter makes no sense.  NO SENSE.

You know what?  I'm gonna turn the tables just this once and go Full Cheryl.  Yeah.  I'm gonna do it.

If you've been following along from the start, you already know that I'm gay.  For those of you just joining, SURPRISE!  I'M GAY!  I came out to my family when I was 13 and came out to the rest of the world when I was 15.  In the early Nineties.  In Ohio.  Before Ellen, before 'Will and Grace,' before 'Queer as Folk', before anything-- before it was the norm. 

I was a very active volunteer in the Gay Community as a teenager.  I did a lot of public speaking: I went to different high schools in the area and talked about being a gay youth as a guest speaker in health classes; I was a speaker at the Cleveland Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.  I was a speaker at the Cleveland Clinic for a regional conference for doctors and guidance counselors.  I worked on a crisis hotline for suicidal gay youth.  I was also openly gay in high school and went well outside my comfort zone -- not to confront, per se-- but to talk to people who felt the need to shout out offensive things at me.  Instead of ignoring it all and walking by, I would stop, pull up a chair and say something like, "Look.  You probably think you don't know anyone who is gay, and that's why you feel comfortable insulting me the way you just did.  I'm assuming you don't like gay people because you don't understand what gay people are all about, and ignorance of something justifies fear and hatred.  I'm sitting here, now.  Ask me anything.  I will answer as truthfully as I can."  Geeeeeez, the pair of lady-balls I had on me.  But you know what?  It worked.  They'd sit there for a moment, stunned, and then they would open up.  I would always let them ask their questions and I would always answer as honestly as I could.  Without fail, I would walk away from those conversations with a handful of new friends.  By the time I graduated, not a single person in school gave me a problem about my homosexuality (with the exception of the school board).

In the 20+ years I have been openly gay, I have been spit upon, verbally assaulted, physically assaulted, sexually assaulted, threatened with death, refused service at a restaurant, denied a scholarship and almost fired-- JUST FOR BEING GAY.  Over and over, I have had to watch laws being put into effect to prevent me from marrying the person I love.  I have had to come home from work, just to turn on the news and see that EVERYBODY IS GOING TO CHICK-FIL-A TO PUT ME IN MY GODDAMNED PLACE.  I am strong.  I am resilient.  I fight through it and I try my best to shrug it off.  But that's the thing-- it's a fight.  I wish I could tell you that there haven't been times when I've gotten so angry and frustrated and just plain hurt that I spent evenings fighting back angry tears after watching the news.

I get it.  I understand.  Cheryl Strayed does not.  Cheryl Strayed is going to use her own made-up question to make us all worship her brilliance, and after every real thing I've ever had to survive, I'm disgusted with her need to use gay rights as a means to make herself seem awesome.  Not okay.

My apologies.  I know that this blog is supposed to be funny.  Let's put an end to my Full Cheryledness and get back to the job at hand.

This time around, I'm not going to give my own advice because I don't believe for one second that this was a real question, and I'm offended even by the premise.  I'm going to skip right to Bad Cheryl's response, and I'm probably going to sum it up very quickly because I'm not cool with any of this.

Good job, Bad Cheryl.  For everything you're about to say--

You know what?  I can't.  I can't do this.  I can't go sentence by painful sentence.  Not this time.  Let's just cover the highlights.

"It's miserable that your parents are ill-informed bigots.  I'm sorry they've made you suffer so, sweet pea."

"Your lunatic parents are going to figure out you're gay whether you tell them or not.  In fact, they know already.  They aren't banishing you from the Internet so you won't watch Scooby Doo, doll."

She then writes a load of bullshit that makes me want to throttle her and follows it up with,

"I know I'm being a bit glib about it, but only because if I look at it stone cold serious it smashes my heart into smithereens."


Oh my god.  I haven't told you.  Guess who was the editor of this book.  Go ahead.  Guess.

Thanks again, Robin Desser.  Bang up job.  I thought for sure you had killed yourself while editing "Wild," but apparently you survived long enough to improperly edit something else.

Bad Cheryl goes on to say some things that genuinely harm my soul-- even though it's possible that she meant well-- but, for personal reasons, I can't deal with any of it.  Just know that she's totally the GLAAD Person of the Century because she attends Pride Parades.

She ends the whole disaster with,

"...it always strikes me as sacred, all those people going by.  People who decided simply to live their truth, even when doing so wasn't simple.  Each and every one of them had the courage to say, This is who I am even if you'll crucify me for it.
Just like Jesus did." 

All I can do is shake my head and clench my fists.



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I am so glad that I met you, Erin. It hits me that I wouldn't have, if it weren't for Bad Cheryl and that stupid Wild book. What I said on FB about "keep writing" and writing about hiking & backpacking...I am adding: write about everything you think of in your beautiful and intelligent mind (please).

    As to the "some gay dude" letter: yes, Bad Cheryl wrote it, no doubts about that. I'm now going to reread what you wrote, if only for the beauty of the words. Thank you, Erin.

  3. I love this...it is so compassionate, understanding, sincere, articulate, forgiving etc etc

    Just so well said.

    "Instead of ignoring it all and walking by, I would stop, pull up a chair and say something like, "Look. You probably think you don't know anyone who is gay, and that's why you feel comfortable insulting me the way you just did. I'm assuming you don't like gay people because you don't understand what gay people are all about, and ignorance of something justifies fear and hatred. I'm sitting here, now. Ask me anything. I will answer as truthfully as I can."

  4. I can't believe that after four months of being a complete and total douchebag on this blog, the two of you are complimenting me the way you are.

    Thank you.

    And Horus-- I still don't understand why you deleted your comment (yes, I got to read it, but you removed it before I could respond).

    1. Hmmm... Not sure what happened. I must have pocket-deleted or butt-deleted it?

      In short - this I just said that it was this letter that caused me to delete the book from my Kindle and get a refund from Amazon. It just felt too grotesquely staged for the sake of CS proving what an amazing friend she is of the gays because... (she goes to pride parades?) With several gay family and friends, it's a trigger for me whenever I see people try to capitalize on other people's traumas by making them their own.

      Though, on second thought, that reply would have simply illustrated my own human failure in not pausing to recognize the real point of this post and to give thanks to you, Cali, for being a real public servant without asking for thanks. Well done - thank you.


  6. I'm gonna have to stop writing serious things; you guys are getting me a little choked up. Thank you.

  7. You're crushing my heart Erin. Crushing it.

    Your words are so true and honest and raw and so full of your experience which you so graciously and eloquently share with us.

    Thank you.

    I will not destroy the power of your words by mentioning her.


  8. Here is my question that I lost to the internet when I posted it several days ago...cross your fingers I don't lose it again.

    So is Robin entirely to blame for poor editing in this case?

  9. Dang I hate commenting. Now it appears if I try to go back and change or add words the comments stop letting my iPad type. Not sure if this is an iPad thing or a blogger thing. I had to send the last comment before I was done.

    So if these are a collection of advice columns that have been previously published...how much can an editor edit? Spelling? Grammar? Suggest that you leave things out of a particular answer? How could you if the original is out there.

    Like if Paul Harvey did a book on the collection of monologues from a particular year...um how could an editor change the grammar of the monologue? Or substance of it? It is what it was when it was published or broadcast the first time.

    1. In that case, what's the point of having an editor *at all* for this kind of book, Penelope?

    2. Exactly my point.

      Other than editing connecting material, introduction and ending. And discussing what to include and exclude...how to organize and order the letters

    3. Once again I tried to add a word in the middle of my post and that left me unable to type at all....sorry I am unable to edit my own work here. My general method of writing is to dump all my thoughts quickly then go back and correct run on sentences, grammar, unclear thoughts, etc. but mean old blogger won't let me. So I hear by declare myself exempt.

  10. Well, I was thinking about checking this book out from the library so you wouldn't be alone in your misery, but now I will FOR SURE never pay a cent for this piece of crap...

    I am so impressed with your incredible maturity as a teenager. Very moving story of how you succeeded in changing hearts and minds with your honesty and compassion.

  11. "Sweet pea," and "doll." Gagging. How condescending that would be, if it were real. She probably would have patted his well-manicured hand and called him "girlfriend," too

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  14. I have read this book for an assignment in my 9th grade LA class. After reading, I realized, this book was a pile of shit. Honestly, I wrote an entire script for a fictonal interview with her, and essentialy did the same thing this blog did. When I had to present this to my class, they were rolling on the floor. My group, who also had to suffer within this audacious book, especially loved the book. My teacher called it a bit insensitive, which I'll admit, I wasn't exactly kind, but this lady is insane. Cheryl "Strayed" Is the worst guru ever, and her "Self help recovery """"""Book""""" made me physically sick. I urge everyone reading this no not read this book. After discovering this blog, I showed my group, and we are your biggest fans. We all, truly hate, Cheryl Strayed.