Leaving Cuba

We’re in the Havana airport catching our plane to Mexico, but it’s three minutes until the plane leaves and the airport hasn’t posted which gate to go to, or any other information whatsoever. But this seems to be normal. I wander around the airport asking at various (also unmarked) gates where people are headed. At one point, an American pilot advises a crowd of people headed to Atlanta: “I think the gate is actually over there, because that’s where the plane is. That’s where I’m going.”

I find the correct gate, and apparently we’re delayed, just because there’s nobody boarding. We don’t board for another hour, and then, suddenly, the doors open and the attendants begin scanning tickets, no first class, no pre-boarding, no warning at all.

We arrive to Cancun hours later than we expected, and meet up with Ailsa, whose flight from Boston was also delayed. Once we’re in Mexico, we can get our backlog of messages, including the one that Liathan, Collin’s youngest daughter, is also delayed, and will be arriving around midnight. We pick up our rental car and drive towards Cancun to find some dinner. Both Collin and I remark upon how weird it is that all the cars are new, that the roads are new and totally straight, that the strip of box stores and shining lights and gleaming chrome looks as if it’s been transplanted from California. Cancun, I think, is LA for douches; a colony of US amenities washed up on foreign shores to capitalize on the tourists who flock to gaudy resorts with night watchmen.

“I miss Cuba,” Collin says.

We eat dinner and wait for Liathan to land, accompanied by Ailsa’s boyfriend Ben, whom Ailsa has convinced everyone else to allow on the family vacation. As it turns out, it’s a good move, because we discover after dinner that their flight has been postponed yet again. After boarding they were un-boarded, which means now they’re supposed to get in at 4 or 5 am. They’re not sure precisely when because their plane is being fixed. By this time it’s nearly midnight, and we decide to check in to the Cancun airport Marriott in order to be close by; the night watchman at the gate, however, speaks no English, and keeps asking for our reservation. I repeat a couple of words I’ve seen advertised on the casas in Cuba: habitación, disponible: nosotros no tenemos un reservacion pero, uhhh, uhh, un habitación por la noche? Esta disponible? The night watchman nods and writes down our license and we drive through. We then attempt to sleep in between getting tearful phone calls from Liathan and more stoic messages from Ben, who is apparently passing the time by Facebooking minute-by-minute updates to one of Ailsa’s friends from school:

1:15 am — I just got on a second broken plane so that’s how my day is going.

1:20 — I bought pizza and then an hour later they gave it to the rest of the people on my flight for free.

1:23 — Aila’s sister is currently sleeping next to me.

1:28 — I scored blankets from first class.

1:33 — Liathan wakes from her slumber after being roused by a rude elderly woman.

1:36 — I’m now exiting the plane because we can’t get the flight done in a “legal” amount of time so peace out and bye world. If you need me I’ll be in the Minneapolis airport slowly rotting in a corner.

The second time they’re de-boarded, and subsequently told that the flight is cancelled, Ben makes a beeline for the help desk and tells Liathan they are not moving until they get the first flight out. They manage to get the first flight out, and arrive, after staying for a few more hours in the airport, at noon the next day. We drive to Tulum, check into our Air BnB, and take some serious naps.

To Trinidad

We’re taking a taxi collectivo to Trinidad. We start out eight passengers crammed into a three-row taxi, me squashed in the back next to a large man at the driver’s request. The driver keeps texting someone as we hurtle down the mostly-empty highway, and I study the sticker he has plastered above his rearview mirror: A Calvin-knockoff comic-book boy flashing the bird and grabbing a tall girl wearing nothing but a thong, with the caption ALANTE NO MONTO VIEJAS. I fake-translate this in my head as “No old women allowed on board,” although I discover later after looking the words up that it would be more accurately “No old women allowed to ride in the front seat.” Either way, it’s charming. I suppose this is why Castro hated pop culture.

We ride two hours and then get shuffled into another “taxi” with eight more people. The driver tries to tell me to get into the back row with four other women because I’m skinny, but I refuse. I’m tired of being squeezed into corners. I take a super-plush hard plastic seat next to the equally small hard plastic seat my boyfriend is sitting in. We quickly discover that the van has no suspension, no vent system, no insulation: $40 per person to rattle down the highway with baggage stuffed underfoot, for the remaining four-plus hours of the trip. Halfway there, we stop for a break and a German girl decides she’s also tired of being squeezed into corners. She takes a French guy’s seat, which offends the French guy. He and his wife begin discussing this highly abnormal and horrific turn of events, in French, while the German girl berates the driver in English: “Everybody needs a seat! There’s not enough seats for everyone! You must arrange something else!” A Portuguese girl translates this into Spanish for the driver, and then translates back his response: “He says it was arranged by the guys in Viñales, and he can’t do anything. He’s just the middle man.”

The German girl hunkers down into her book and her insisted-upon seat. “Assholes,” she mutters in response. Her boyfriend saves the day by making a seat out of a backpack and sitting on it himself.

Six hours into the ride, teeth clattering, Collin announces: “I’m dirty, I’m hot, I’m sweaty, I’m tired, I’m starving, and I have no shoes,” and I laugh, because the fact that he’s devoid of all footwear is really the icing on the cake of this misadventure.

When we arrive at our casa, it’s too late to buy shoes in Trinidad. I tell our host, an endearing old woman who chatters at me in Spanish like I can understand her, of Collin’s predicament. I have researched and memorized a couple of phrases for this occasion. The woman, who thinks Collin’s name is hilarious just to begin with, finds this wildly amusing, and enlists several neighbors to find a pair of flip-flops that he can borrow. Collin is fastidious about most things, but he has apparently come to terms with the realities of being barefoot in Cuba and is genuinely ecstatic to have a pair of too-big, well-worn secondhand sandals. We go to find dinner. We pass one place that I say looks nice, and Collin says it looks too fancy. But I convince him. It is not too fancy, it’s Trinidad, where everything is fancy, in stark opposition to the day’s ordeals. We sit on a rooftop terrace, just the two of us, with the full moon overhead, and eat three courses and drink pina coladas and some local honey-infused cocktail, all for less than $30. “This town is awesome,” we toast, standing up, because the hard plastic seats imprinted on us and there’s no way we can sit down more than is absolutely necessary.

The hiking tour

We decide to take the National Forest tour someone told us about, and tell our host. Specifically, I tell our host a bunch of strung-together words and he calls a taxi, which drops us off in a field with a sad and mangy horse surrounded by three men in cowboy hats and rubber mud boots. This is unexpected but not entirely out of character for Cuba, so we roll with it and say we want the walking tour, not the riding tour. One of the men slaps the fattest among them on the stomach and grins. The rotund guide grunts despondently and sets out, the two of us following in our sporty Earth Runner sandals. I ask if he can speak English, since our host assured us the tour would be in English. “A leetle,” he says, and then immediately switches back to Spanish. I decide that this is OK and it just means we get some language lessons in-context.

Our guide says his name is Joel, and begins pointing out plants and views, all in Spanish; mango, sugarcane, sweet potato, guava, avacado. He leads us to a tobacco farm, to a coffee-rum-and-honey farm, and to a cave. This takes three or four hours. I had been under the impression that this tour of the National Park meant we’d be hiking in some kind of jungle, but apparently no. Apparently, instead, I smoke a hand-rolled cigar dipped in honey, chew some sugar cane, and try to learn a bunch of new Spanish words, most of which I immediately forget. Collin’s Earth Runners break in the mud on the way back. “Dang,” he says “that’s my only pair of shoes.” He walks through the mud barefoot the rest of the way, rides in the taxi back barefoot with his broken sandals tucked into his waistband. I tell our guide that it’s fine and that at home, he hikes barefoot all the time.

We try to find him another pair of shoes in Viñales, to no avail. It’s Sunday, which means the shops that exist are closed, and even the open-air tourist markets aren’t selling shoes. So tonight, Collin will have to dine barefoot, and tomorrow, he will have to travel cross-country barefoot. “First world problems,” I say. “but actually, it’s more of a third-world problem, I guess.”


We take a two-hour taxi to Viñales with a couple from New Zealand. We talk about politics nearly the whole time. Not necessarily by choice, but because when you’re an American traveling abroad and your country has just elected a guy that the rest of the world considers to be a dangerous lunatic, specifically the kind of dangerous lunatic that might plunge them into war with China, they want answers. We compare our tax rates and they demand why ours are so high given that we get so much less from what we pay. For what we pay, they get health care and a host of other social services. “But oh, yeah, war,” they remember “war is expensive.”

We get to Viñales and wander the streets, taking photos of farmers with teams of horses and oxen, and later, the view of the valley. It is a good place for photos if you’re into that kind of thing.

Arrival in Havana

We arrive in Havana slowly, lines moving through the exit metal detectors at a humid pace, lines at the currency exchange languid as well. We go to find a taxi to take us to the casa particulare Collin has managed to book in advance using Paypal and Air BnB. I brandish the address I’ve written on a scrap of paper. The lady at the information desk does not speak English, but she does know a guy who can take us to our destination — specifically that guy right there. That guy right there is muy simpatico, and we roll out of the airport in his vintage Russian car with an agreed-upon price between us, past a billboard with photos of Castro through the ages, blazoned with the slogan Fidel Entre Nosotros. I wonder if this has been put up in the two weeks since his death, or if it’s older than that.

The streets are full of vintage cars and diesel fumes, windows rolled down for breeze, me leaning forward to try to communicate with the driver. My pretend-Spanish is only about as good as the French and English cognates he says, which means that I say “si” every few seconds to the things he helpfully points out, like the Plaza de la Revolución, the statue of Che, a photo of his daughter on his phone, the fact that Donald Trump is horrible. I pretend-translate between the driver and Collin when Collin realizes he can’t see any street signs. “No existo de nombres de … via?” and I point out the window. “Si, si,” the driver agrees, “Es Cuba!” and he waves the need for them away. He yells out the window to a random guy: “oy, chico!” and gets directions. We continue down an alleyway teeming with people, bicycles, construction, trim and beautiful girls in pristine school uniforms.

I’ve never seen Collin look so much like a child: eyes as round as saucers, somewhere between terror and delight. We come to a pile of construction rubble in the narrow alley and the driver stops, turns, speaks to me. “What’d he say?” Collin asks, and I say, authoritatively, although I’m not remotely convinced it’s true: “He said he’d leave the car and walk with us to the address.” As it turns out, I guessed accurately. The driver locks up his taxi, shoulders my bag, and marches us through la Plaza Vieja a few blocks to our destination. He rings the bell for us. No answer, or at least none that we can hear, because a quad of youth on the balcony of a nearby crumbling building are blasting Iggy Azalea and reggaeton so loud that nobody can hear anything. The driver yells upwards to the casa’s cleaning lady until she buzzes us in; he doesn’t leave until he’s sure we’re going inside. We tip him well.

The nephew of our host greets us wearing a Bluetooth earpiece and a bike-shorts-and-spandex-top ensemble that’s just loose enough to indicate that it’s a fashion statement. He speaks no English. We wait for our host, sipping water and listening to the deafening syncopation of Iggy Azalea.

Collin, still a bit dazed, says he is nervous about getting around Cuba given that neither of us speaks Spanish. “Nah,” I say “we got here fine. I do this all the time. It’s easier in Spanish than in Thai or Japanese. Way easier. Aren’t you impressed with my fake Spanish?”

Our host arrives, and he speaks English. He tells us where we can find dinner, and says not to worry, the streets may be loud, and dark at night, but they are safe, safer than anywhere else in South America. He yells out the window for the youth to turn the music down.

We explore Havana for the next day and a half, mostly just walking and taking pictures. We quickly get the lay of Old Havana, where there are street signs after all. We drink agua con gas, listening to tour guides tell us about buried Spanish treasure and pirates. Havana is beautiful, and frenetic, and also laid-back; ruined and restored; underrated and yet full of tourists and people wanting us to tip them, from the unwanted table magician to the postal worker.

How liberals lost the working class

“Uneducated white males.” That’s a phrase I heard from pundits leading up to the election and after it; that’s the base that elected Trump more than any other demographic.

The phrase itself illustrates the main reason Trump won.

It’s true that Trump drew racists and alt-right supporters; that he drew people afraid of what would happen if Hillary became president — including people who believed and re-tweeted the fake stories accusing her and her staff of literal witchcraft. But he also drew a significant segment of the regular-guy population sick of being labeled “uneducated” by politicians; he galvanized the working class by promising to shake up an establishment that treated them with contempt. He promised to bring their jobs back. He promised to resist the tide of globalization sending work overseas. Regardless of the fact that he’d sent his own manufacturing overseas; regardless of rising economics favoring microchips over human workers, they took a chance that he, a big businessman, could help their own bottom line.

This in spite of the fact that worker’s rights have traditionally been championed by the left — the hard-core left and the progressive movement, which plucked turn-of-the-century manufacturing out of the hands of children and instituted the 40-hour workweek, sick leave, child labor laws. The move towards worker’s rights ran contrary to monopolies and top-down capitalism. It was not an easy fight — and in some cases resulted in actual bloodshed.

This in spite of the fact that even in recent years, Republicans have voted against workers’ rights. According to a New York Times breakdown on labor policies, “conservative Republicans supported the right of employers to take money [in this case, tips] that workers had earned. This disregard for the earnings of workers is only an extreme manifestation of a more common phenomenon among Republican legislators: their indifference to the problem of wage theft.”

The left lost the votes of the working class when it began patronizing them, becoming, as many working-class people accused them of, “the liberal elite.” The pontificating college professor, the yuppie stay-at-home mom with nothing better to do than manufacture outrage about a “culturally appropriated” textile pattern or two. The left got out of touch with the working class because it saw “uneducated white males” as the problem, the root of racial tensions, sexual “micro-aggressions” and climate change denial. It tried to educate the “uneducated” with graphs and pats on the head — with accusations and not-so-patient sighs. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t work well. And along came a guy who appealed to the visceral rather than the intellectual, along came a guy who spoke in short sentences and said he was on their side. That he would make their country great again. That he’d mop the floor with the people who looked down on them. And they voted for him.

If the left wants the working class back — and they should, for the sake of the working class itself — they’ve got to stop playing it so safe and calculated and intellectual. They’ve got to stop being patronizing. They’ve got to stand for something rather than merely against something.

They’ve got to find their heart and soul again, and they’ve got to be comfortable with callouses on their hands and dirt under their fingernails.



The morning after

I lay awake last night wondering why I felt so afraid. An aging orange caricature, a would-be media star screaming dissonant sound bites and superlatives, has launched himself to the highest political office in the world. What could possibly go wrong?

I’m afraid for myself, for the wandering hands of every man emboldened by this self-styled pussy-grabber. In crowded spaces, women know the lingering touch of the males who feel entitled to run their hands wherever they fall: the faux-polite “I’m behind you” sweep across the lower back or shoulders, the “accidental” ass-grab, the “you’re just so pretty” ass-grab, the “don’t worry about it, you’re wearing leggings” ass-grab, the “you can’t be offended because I’m a little buzzed” ass-grab. I’m afraid for my friends, for my nieces, for the young girls growing up in this world. I’m afraid because in those situations, I turn around, angry, ready to punch someone in the face, and I meet a crowd — no single person to chastise, only the crowd of men who might have done it. And how can you fight a crowd? How can you fight a nation of men who gleefully emulate the guy at the top crowing that his position, his wealth, his status, allow him to do whatever he wants to whichever woman he chooses?

I’m afraid for the land, the bones of the country, for the seams holding us together and giving us clean water, clean air. I’m worried that our public lands will be handed over the highest bidder, our national forests razed, our waters polluted, our earth mined for oil and ore until houses collapse and the air grows unbreathable. I walked through the quiet Austin neighborhoods this morning and leaned into a domesticated oak, and my heart ached. What would we be without our wilderness, without the trees pumping water inland to our fields, to our herds and the wild animals of the forest? Where would we be without clean water to drink? And will the powers that be realize the dangers before we’ve killed our tenuous ecosystems, killed the plants, the animals, and finally ourselves?

I’m afraid for my brothers and sisters of different ethnic backgrounds, especially those fighting on the forefront of keeping their land from being harmed. I’m afraid to see them unarmed in the face of armorment, see them go up against a system where they cannot win. Peaceful protest will land them in jail, and armed revolt would be worse.

I’m afraid for what this means for international diplomacy. For trade and maintaining the peace. My job hinges on international and cultural understanding; the market-driven rather than political kind. The market is always affected by politics, however. Nationalism is bad for the economy, and I’m worried now to see the Dow plunge, the markets panic. To see nations begin to shut themselves off, suspicious of a people who would elect such a uniquely unqualified candidate.

I’m afraid as a journalist. This man’s supporters have issued death threats to journalists; the man himself has threatened the entire First Amendment of our Constitution. I’m afraid for anyone who does not think exactly like this man, whose creed, color or language sets them apart. And I’m afraid for those who are exactly like him. This is perhaps the most dangerous position: the position of complacency and safety — even of victory — where so many others are threatened.

And perhaps these fears will not come to pass. Perhaps the people of the United States will rise above the man they’ve chosen to lead them. Perhaps his words will not define us. Perhaps his narcissism will be curbed and directed by more seasoned individuals. But you will forgive me for my sleepless night, for pressing my cheek into the oak this morning and wanting to cry.


Elevate the Vote Austin

I arrived in Austin, Texas, two days ago. Yesterday I attended an Erinn Lewis class at Sukha Yoga; I stumbled into one of her classes last year and decided she had to be the best yoga teacher I’d ever found. So I made sure to go back, listening to her tell stories interwoven with the intricate vinyasa flow, relaxing into her maternal exuberance. At the end of class she announced that she was leading a free yoga session on the State Capitol lawn on election day, a counterpoint to the frenetic anxiety of the news cycle and the polarizing candidates. So I went. It was beautiful. It was probably the most hippie thing I’ve ever done, but it felt healing to sit in a flash mob community, to be silent, to pray, meditate and laugh with people I didn’t know.



Do what feels good

“If it feels good, do it” ranked among the top most blasphemous phrases of my homeschooled youth. You were not supposed to do what felt good. Because obviously, what felt good was probably a sin. Like drugs. Or fornication. Or maybe just smiling to yourself about how you were really, really excellent at math.

“If it feels good, do it,” was supposedly a catchphrase then, how everyone out there lived their lives. At the same time, it became apparent that even out there in carnal society, women were fighting against what felt good in order to look good: short-term pain, long-term gain; feel the burn; don’t eat that cake. They were pitting themselves against their bodies, caving for a guilty indulgence of half a pie, then punishing themselves on the treadmill for their trespasses. The cult of self-flagellation, the deity of looking svelte in spandex.

When I moved to France to study abroad and live with a woman who spoke no English, I had sworn off cheese because I was convinced it was making me fat. I said I didn’t like it, which was only semi-true. Thankfully, that didn’t last. I was plunged headlong into the tradition of French dinner, French food, French cheese, bread, wine, duck, beef, l’apéretif, l’entrée, le plat principal. I ate the best food I’d ever tasted, regularly. I did not get fatter.

I watched French commercials for food, all about le plaisir: the idea that pleasure is your birthright, that food and life are made for enjoyment. Pleasure was practically a dirty word in English, fraught with images of forbidden horrors, cocaine-fueled orgies in rivers of whipped cream and lobster tail. But it was intrinsically part of the language in France. You couldn’t even say please without referring to it. S’il vous plaît, if it gives you pleasure. And nobody blushed.

The verb to pleasure is a raunchy-sounding euphemism in English. It’s sexual, overtly and gratuitously. The corresponding verb plaire has none of these connotations; il me plaît, he pleases me, meaning I enjoy him as a person. But enjoy isn’t quite right, because joy is different than pleasure. Pleasure is pure sensation, pure response. The taste of food, the feel of the wind, the flutter of what is good down into your fingertips. There is not even a shred of intellectualism or higher calling in pleasure, the way there is in joy. Joy is considered a virtue in nouveau puritan circles and the homeschooling community: you deliberately are joyful because that is what is required of you. JOY, some of us were told, stood for Jesus first, Others second, and You last. Joy, therefore, as self-denial and self-sacrifice, was the antithesis of pleasure. Joy was also the only truly acceptable state of emotionality there was.

screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-4-30-35-pmProbably, if you were miserable, you were on the right track. As long as you were miserable and dealing with it well. Being miserable meant bearing your cross daily, learning sanctification like a true Protestant, with all the Calvinist hatred of indulgence.

That first time in France, none of this really sank in. I decided I liked French food a lot, but that was about it. The second time I moved to France, I rediscovered what I’d been missing in the intervening years — time around the table with shared rituals and the shared understanding of an entire country intent on eating the best food possible. France’s relationship with food got into my psyche a little more, and I didn’t feel all that guilty when I marched across town and got pain au chocolate on the left side of the river, and then my favorite flan on the right side. Not that guilty, but maybe overdone on sugar.

When you pit yourself against your body, you learn to ignore signals like “this is too much glucose” or “your tendon does not appreciate this.” Also, to some extent, “this pious guy is lying to you” and “you will regret this tomorrow.”

When I started doing what felt good, I ate less sugar, fewer processed carbs. Not because I wanted to deny myself, but because I had the luxury of not eating what would make me feel foggy and hyper. It was a nice luxury. It wasn’t “short term pain, long term gain,” it was “I can do whatever I want, so why would I do that?”

Also “it’s Ok to spend money on things that make me feel good long-term instead of buying the cheapest, quickest option, or gorging myself on these free cookies.”

In general, the crowd that preaches against the temptations of pleasure decry hedonism, excess. They guard against sin. They assume that if you can do whatever you want, you’ll do the worst things, and thus destroy yourself.

But being able to do whatever you want often means the opposite. It means you’re careful with your choices, and intentional about them. If you truly believe you can eat whatever you want, and you’re not hung over from years of not believing this, then you choose wisely. You have a limited stomach, after all. Limited time. Limited insulin. Of course you choose wisely if you want the best.

So the next time you spiral into I-want-this-but-I-can’t-have-it, consider that you can do whatever you want. It’s not a shift that happens overnight. It requires that you listen carefully to your body, treat it like a friend, like an ally who is there to protect you and keep you safe. Your body is made for the best life has to offer. It knows things you may not know intellectually.

It knows what the best thing is; it contains conscience, intuition, sensitivity. It has its own wisdom, its own story to tell. Don’t be afraid of it.

Her body in marriage

I’ve been in the process of moving, which means downsizing, sorting through old boxes, and (in what I considered a stroke of genius) setting up a roomful of stuff to give away and hosting a party to minimize what I haul to Goodwill. If I give my friends enough wine, undoubtedly they will be persuaded to appreciate my junk.

It was in unpacking a box of books that has sat around for years that I came across my old copy of Her Hand in Marriage by Doug Wilson. I remember reading it maybe a decade ago or more and not being totally repulsed by it, in spite of the fact that I quietly disagreed with statements like “Sons are trained for independence, whereas daughters are trained to pass from one state of dependence to another.”

Actually, I remember being heartened by a couple of passages. So I skimmed through the book to find them, and there they were. Doug’s assertion that according to Mosaic law, the price of immorality falls on the man rather than the woman. I remember thinking ten years ago, huh, that’s an interesting take on things.

But the context of this assertion is appalling on closer reading, and something clicked. It all made sense. Many people have asked the question, as I have: why does Doug keep harping on the supposed (and fictional) “secret courtship” in the Jamin Wight abuse case? Why does he consider this relevant to modern law on consent? Why does he put so much emphasis on, you know, forgiving the poor sinning bastard and making sure that he isn’t punished too much?

The answer: because, first of all, he’s basing his teachings on modern courtship on laws in which women are stoned on their father’s doorsteps for not being virgins. The burden of maintaining the woman’s virginity lay on the father, says Doug. And it still does.

Because, second of all, Doug is teaching sexual mores from an ancient law requiring women to marry their rapists. Because Doug is somehow claiming that this law means “in a biblical society, the price of immorality was high, on fell on the man.”

On page 54 of the book, Doug quotes Deut. 22:28-29, the law saying that raped women have to marry their rapists, and that the rapists need to pay for them like they’re virgins. Doug doesn’t interpret this passage inaccurately and try to argue away the rape: he says in cases of “seduction and rape, such a bride-price is mandatory.” He points out that a woman’s virginity was valuable, monetarily speaking, and that if a virgin got raped in Old Testament times, then her rapist had to pay her bride-price, and a pretty good one at that. In fact, maybe a higher one than he would have had to pay in other circumstances! This is what Doug Wilson is referring to when he says that the burden of “immorality” is on men. There are two wildly bizarre twists of logic in this statement. First, that rape = “immorality,” (a word used to describe consensual fornication) and second, that paying a generous dowry (with or without marrying the woman you rape) is somehow a higher price than, you know, being raped and then being forced to marry your rapist.

Why would Doug largely ignore modern laws on consent when he talks about Jamin Wight’s abuse? Why would he write a letter to the judge blaming Natalie’s parents for not somehow preventing this? Why would he talk as if seducing/raping a 14-year-old is akin to a romantic relationship? It’s all in his book on courtship. In Mosaic law, which is what Doug’s book on courtship focuses on, consent didn’t factor in to sex-related punishments except in one case: if the girl was betrothed or married and someone heard her scream for help and then made this known, then she didn’t get executed for adultery.

The punishment for a single girl having a roll in the hay with her boyfriend: her dad could require they get married and that the guy pay her bride-price.

The punishment for rape, if it’s a single girl getting raped: her dad could require they get married and that the guy pay her bride-price.

What’s at play here? The girl’s value, aka her virginity. Her being forced or not forced is not a factor in the punishment. This was pretty consistent with other bronze-age ideas about women, maintaining a clear line of progeny and so on, which is why other religious texts adopted similar laws that are still in effect.

Doug has the gall to assert that according to these bronze-age laws, men and women are treated equally: that men are expected to remain physically as pure as women are. However, this is not remotely true and Doug doesn’t even try to make a case for it. There’s no equivalent law to the one he cites where if a woman marries a man and thinks he’s not a virgin like he said he was, she gets to call his parents to task and demand that they prove he’d never had sex before. “Bring out the journals where you did a room check every night! Give me the sworn affidavits from all the village girls and the visiting prostitutes! Where’s the doctor’s note saying he’s free of VD?” And if they can’t prove this, that he gets stones hurled at him on his dad’s doorstep until he dies. Men’s virginity comes up as an issue in Mosaic law exactly never. It’s not even mentioned. Do men get capital punishment for adultery? Yes, if the adultery is that they’re sleeping with a married or betrothed woman (see Deut. 22: 22-24). Do men get killed for adultery if the woman is single and it’s the dude who’s married? It’s not even addressed, so no. Adultery for married-men-only didn’t exist, because in the event of extramarital sex with a single girl, the already-married man potentially got to marry again regardless of whether or not he forced her. Polygamy to the rescue.

So, again: what’s at play here? The girl’s value, based entirely on her virginity.

What’s at play in Doug’s hissy fits over the Greenfields “not protecting” Natalie? her value, based on her virginity. It had nothing to do with her trauma, since Doug has never acknowledged there was any. It used to be said in Christ Church circles back in the day that the Greenfields were a constellation of shining stars: all beautiful, statuesque, admired. Ben Greenfield had ambitions towards national fame; some of the others did as well. There were a few families like that, and it was well-known who they were.

Having virtuous, beautiful women in his congregation is a major way Doug Wilson measures his pastoral acumen — you can tell by how often he mentions that submissive women under godly authority are beautiful, by how he brags about what the women in his congregation look like — and conversely, how ugly all the “small-breasted-biddies” and “lumberjack dykes” out there in non-Christian society are. You can tell by how he claims that non-Christ Church people favorably compare the women in his congregation to other women elsewhere.

When Jamin Wight abused Natalie, Natalie was whispered about in Christ Church — I know because I heard the whispers. She’d had sex. She was not a good girl. She was no longer a star in the Christ Church constellation. She was no longer a face and a body that Doug Wilson could comfortably pad his congregation with, could wallpaper the background with when visiting dignitaries paid him court.

Her value was in her virginity. Her consent or non-consent was of secondary, if any, importance. That’s why Doug responded the way he did to Jamin’s crimes. His theology of sexual ethics, drug straight from Deuteronomy 22 and explained over the course of 100 pages.

Doug asks his readers to consider the painful outcomes of not espousing the model he sets up in this book — presumably, divorce, maybe single motherhood or something like that. But let’s consider the painful price to the many, many people who have tried to follow his teachings and have gotten a raw deal instead. Even some of the ones who don’t think they have — I keep hearing about some women (though certainly not all of them) in his denomination who literally say of married sex, “women don’t like it, just lie there and pray for it to be over quickly.” I keep reading smothered evidence of abuse on CREC fronts that have yet to become public; I keep reading essays and comments from people who have been deeply wounded by Doug’s teachings.

Doug Wilson’s fruit is not how many beautiful, talented, chaste women he has sitting in the Logos Fieldhouse on any given Sunday. It’s what they say about him when they’re no longer bound by family, job, community or the threat of hell.

It’s what he does to the least of these.