Iranian Women Deserve Our Utmost Solidarity

The women protesting oppression in Iran and in other countries are nothing less than courageous. And what has been most inspiring is that these are people from all classes and walks of life. There are women who choose to wear the hijab and they are linking arms with women who do not choose to wear it. They understand this is not about Islam, but about repressive systems.

And this is far broader than the Muslim world. If anyone hasn’t noticed, there is a war being waged against women happening in various countries, including in the West. And the implications are deep for all of us in whatever community we identify with.

Unfortunately, there is a familiar chorus of naysayers who claim to be on the left who are saying all of these protests are orchestrated by the American intelligence agencies or their client states to undermine foreign governments they despise. Such is the state of things when people opt for listening to theorists who sit comfortably in their homes pontificating on the evils of imperialism or who take the word of state entities instead of taking the time to actually listen to the voices of the oppressed.

No one on the left denies the US uses its power to coopt movements for its own aims. No one on the left denies that the US has been instrumental in toppling democratically elected governments. No one on the left denies this is being done now as it was in movements like the Arab Spring.

But if you deny fellow human beings the agency to defy the boot stomping on their necks, you aren’t on the left. You have sold yourself wholesale to a cynical brand of misanthropy that lost sight of what matters in this world. Human beings matter, not their government, nor ours.

Iranian women and all people who suffer brutal oppression do not need military intervention or covert ops. But they don’t need cynical obfuscation of their oppression either. They don’t need mealy-mouthed equivocation. They need our solidarity. And I will be damned if I ever sit on the sidelines eating popcorn and theorizing on how the US is meddling in something, while ignoring the flesh and blood human beings rising up against their oppressor.

Kenn Orphan, September 2022

The Fifth Horseman

“And those who expected lightning and thunder, are disappointed. And those who expected signs and archangel’s trumps do not believe it is happening now. As long as the sun and the moon are above, as long as the bumblebee visits a rose, as long as rosy infants are born, no one believes it is happening now…” – from A Song at the End of the World, Czesalw Milosz, Warsaw 1944

By all accounts, it was a raucous and tumultuous summer few will forget: from a pandemic that, despite massive denial, is still raging, especially in the Global South, to Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, which stands poised to descend into a nuclear nightmare no one can even begin to fathom and is causing major disruptions in fuel and food, to biblical floods that have inundated a third of the entire country of Pakistan, to the unprecedented drying up of several major rivers around the world. The unfolding catastrophes around us have made me think often of the Christian myth of the apocalypse.

When the Christian writer, known as John, scribbled his dreams down in a cave on the island of Patmos centuries ago, after likely being banished there by Roman authorities, he could not have known how the world around him would change over the years, nor how it might end. But his visions, coherent or not, would become a cultural touchstone for many people, believers and non alike.

There are many interpretations of these dreams, but the most common one identifies the first horseman on a white horse as bringing about plague. The second, on a red horse, brought war. The third on a black horse brought famine and the last, riding a pale horse, was the harbinger of death. It isn’t difficult to understand how this imagery resonates with many people today. But I’ve been thinking that there appears to be a fifth horseman on the horizon, and he is far more terrifying than all other four put together.

With the convergence of all of these ecological and geopolitical catastrophes, the window on the viability of democratic institutions is rapidly closing. How can democracy survive a constant deluge of biosphere-wide disasters? If we are to go with the allegory penned by John of Patmos, then I think this “fifth horseman” is fascism. And his resurgence is growing more apparent by the day.

Viktor Orbán has proven that fascism is an international movement. The Hungarian dictator, who has been vicious in his campaign against women’s rights, immigrants, Muslims and the LGBTQ+ community and who recently condemned the “race mixing of Europeans with non-Europeans,” was celebrated in August at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Texas, as the opening speaker. In fact, he is looked at as a model leader by proto-fascists and their sycophants worldwide. Tucker Carlson, the white supremacist pundit from Fox News, even broadcast a week’s worth of episodes of his daily show in Budapest, featuring a fawning interview of his beloved despot.

The international nature of fascism’s rise can be seen in their alliances. Orbán is praised by Trump’s henchman Steve Bannon, who was himself instrumental in the resurgence of fascism in Italy. Giorgia Meloni, a woman who has unabashedly praised the historic genocidaire Mussolini, just become Italy’s first female prime minister. She, too, has espoused similar racist and paranoid ideas, such as the “Great Displacement Theory.” All of her political ideals are rooted in xenophobia, misogyny and homophobia, and seeming to stem from a conspiratorial mindset that appears endemic to fascism. Unsurprisingly, her historic win in Italy has been praised by Le Pen in France, as well as QAnon lunatics who hold office in the US, such as Majorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert.

The international far right has made no real effort to obscure its renewed love affair with fascist authoritarianism. Its proponents in the US, Italy, the UK, Sweden, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Israel, India, Russia and beyond are using the same textbook examples for its implementation. We can only expect more fear mongering and violence against foreigners, who will be painted as “infiltrators” or “illegal aliens”. Against women who demand reproductive freedom, LGBTQ+ people who demand equal rights, those who challenge patriarchal norms, and anyone who defies or dissents from their authoritarian narrative.

This fifth horseman’s ascent didn’t come to us in a vacuum. We arrived at this perilous point in our times thanks to the convergence of both catastrophe and complacency. The catastrophes we are now witnessing have been written on the walls for decades. And scientists and environmental activists have been screeching at the top of their lungs that we are headed toward the edge of a cliff. Toward ecological annihilation. And that there would likely be no recovery after we reached a certain tipping point of no return. Now, we are at that point.

For all its bluster and self-importance, the wealthiest and most powerful governments and economic entities have no real plan to stop the free fall we are headed for, or even cushion our landing. In fact, most of them are pushing ahead at full speed for the sake of profit. With the exception of Vanuatu and some other small, besieged states, no government is doing what is needed to address our very real and very existential predicament. In this milieu, it is understandable why fascism would ascend to fill the void of leadership and inspire such fervor in different nations.

Fascism thrives on fear. And there is a cadre of ghouls who have become experts at exploiting that fear in the masses. They understand that there will be an endless supply of otherized “monsters” for them to cast their shadows upon. Endless others to blame. Ecological devastation, economic hardship, social upheaval, everything will be conveniently blamed on those in society who are easiest to marginalize, silence and disappear. Instead of galvanizing the public to radically upend the power arrangement that is killing us and the biosphere on which everything relies, these snake oil salesmen will peddle baseless conspiracies that demonize segments of society. And they will continue to court the acceleration of our collective quietus through distraction, romanticism of a fictitious past and magical thinking, all while giving a green light to the most destructive industries on the planet, including the military sector.

As the Polish American poet Czesalw Milosz warned, most of them will not see the signs of impending disaster. If we do not oppose the madness beginning to engulf so much of the world, its end will not arrive with an announcement of archangels or supernatural men on horseback. It will come by the invitation of a boisterous crowd praising a despot, waving national flags, singing anthems, cheering on war and the round up of all those they deem responsible for whatever they think is wrong in the world. It is this fifth horseman, therefore, that presents the greatest threat of all.

Kenn Orphan, September 2022

*Title piece: Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov, 1887

It’s okay to feel conflicted about the death of the Queen

I’m just gonna throw this out there for those who need to read it: it’s okay to feel conflicted about the death of the Queen. Don’t let anyone shame you for that. We live in a complicated era of messaging. And the social media ecosphere only compounds this. But we also are living through an unprecedented era of collective grief. And it will manifest in ways we cannot begin to imagine.

I think some people are feeling a sense of grief over the Queen because, consciously or not, they identify her as an archetype. Whether one sees this as accurate or flawed, to them this archetype represented dignity, fortitude, tradition and stability. Since our earliest ancestors climbed down from the trees, we have understood our universe as an interplay of various unseen actors of the psyche or soul. The archetype serves as a place to seek refuge in a world that may feel threatening, is rapidly changing, or that might even seem to be unraveling.

For others, the Queen might have reminded them of their own mother or grandmother. This might seem trite or even infantile to some, but it is a common experience for many people and not just related to the death of someone famous. People who work in nursing facilities often feel this for elderly people they do not know personally. Although mass media amplifies these notions, there is nothing inherently wrong with having these feelings. But it is important to understand where they may be stemming from.

Others, however, are rejoicing because they saw the Queen as a major symbol of centuries old colonialist brutality, especially in the Global South. A symbolic leader of the dictatorship of money that the world continues to languish under. A vestige of feudalism which peddled the elitist myth that some bloodlines are purer or more important than others. And they are glad that at least a part of this era has ended.

The grief here may not be evident for some, but it is there. And I share it. It is a grieving for genocide, cruelty, theft and the misery that accumulated from centuries of murderous plunder in the name of imperialism. And, even though its expression is sometimes crude or even vulgar, it is valid and should not be dismissed or discounted.

Both camps have elements that wish to castigate the other. To shame or mock the sensibilities of those whom they see as either meanspirited brutes with no sense of human decency or shameless sycophants and apologists for murderous imperialism. But, whether or not either side wishes to accept this, it is possible to hold a universe (or multiverse, to be more accurate) of all of these feelings and more within oneself. It is possible to see the points of each camp and hold those points, however uneasily, within ones mind. To grapple with the open wounds and legacy of generational colonial trauma, the banal racism of bloodlines and inherited power, seeing the human being behind the role they play, and parsing through the archetypes we all need and employ to make sense of our world.

As I have made clear multiple times, I am a republican (small “r”). I am against the very notion of monarchy or the injustice of inherited power or ill-gotten wealth. I’ve also written, at length, about the evil of imperialism and colonial plunder. I can also understand, however, the enormous and often hidden power of imagery. I cannot dismiss the influence of archetypes on our lives and interactions. Understanding, or attempting to, is not an endorsement for any particular one.

But I have been thinking about grief, especially our collective grief as a species, for a long time now. And I cannot help but see this latest public event as a significant marker for where we are, especially in relation to the dying and death of old institutions, failing democracy, growing economic disparity and looming ecocide. While the mainstream media is amplifying a specific narrative surrounding this public death, collective grief is a psychic experience. And when I say psychic I am referring to the psyche.

The psyche isn’t some binary, black and white blueprint. It is fluid and infinite in its depth and reach. It is the source of both our internal map and our moral compass. A repository for our dreams, fears, desires, hatreds, longings and love to coalesce. It is also the place where conflicted feelings can be held without prejudice. Only those who are jaded, deeply wounded, or utterly devoid of an imagination would deny this for themselves and others. And I think they, for the sake of ones emotional, mental and spiritual health, should be avoided at all costs. Our psyches are reacting to what is happening to our world and the mass media and culture are a part of this process, even if they are not aware of it.

Whether we like it or not, we have entered into era of mass grieving. None of us have a choice about this. Around the world the societal institutions and structures many of us have relied upon are now seeming to turn against us. The framework of democracy is fraying in ways few thought possible. Economic disparity, which has been codified as a given in late capitalism, is robbing more and more of us of our homes, health, education, vocation and a viable future. Human rights are being stripped away at the most basic of levels. Wars are raging, with even more saber rattling becoming a daily ritual. And our biosphere is under siege from rapacious greed, the result being drought to flood to heatwave to colossal storm, repeating in a cycle no one can quite anticipate or fathom.

We have no choice about any of the above, but we do have a choice about how we would like to proceed through this treacherous landscape of grief that lies before us all. Either by opening ourselves up to solidarity through the hard work of empathy, or biting and tearing at each other, hoping to draw blood and rip apart flesh as we go. There will be many who choose the latter path, either consciously or not. But none of this is about demanding perfection in anyone. Not by a long shot. Collective grief is not linear nor will it manifest in all the ways we want it to manifest. But this is about beginning to see ourselves in the other. And simply realizing it is far better to link arms with one another before the encroaching darkness and feel empathy for each others anger, suffering and fear, rather than go through it alone and enraged.

Kenn Orphan, September 2022

The Queen has Peacefully Passed Away, so to Should the Era of Monarchy

Although I am not a royalist in any way, shape or form, I had nothing personal against Queen Elizabeth II. In fact, apart from Diana, I thought she had many admirable traits and was the most likeable of them all.

Now, before any fellow leftie attempts to shame me, let me say that it should be obvious that I detest feudalism and the very notion of the “divine right of kings.” I am a republican (American friends, note the small “r”. I am NOT a supporter of the loathsome, ever-fascist US GOP/Republican Party, I simply believe that the republic is the best form of government).

But I have royalist friends and family and I understand and respect their feelings. I have no interest or desire to mock them, especially now. And I can relate to some of them because I have some fond memories, like waking up with my mom at 4am when I was a little boy just to watch the royal wedding of Diana and Charles on live broadcast. So, I get the sentimentality and glam of it all. What queer boy wouldn’t? And I also think it is an enormous waste of time attempting to shame or ridicule people for liking something like this.

That said, although it was extraordinary that the Queen lived and reigned over the UK for as long as she did, I sincerely hope it is time to put this era far behind us. King Charles, as he will be known, is a poor shadow of his mother. And he will be reigning over a kingdom that is fraught with enormous economic inequity, social strife and ecological catastrophe thanks to climate change. In fact, the UK is likely in the worst shape it has been since the days following the second world war and the dark Thatcherite era. Truss is a foreshadowing of this.

As a Canadian and, by default, subject of HM, I would like to suggest that this is the perfect time to mothball this tradition. It is one that spawned the murderous age of imperialism, which decimated Indigenous cultures and societies, thrived on the slave trade, and sparked too many wars to count. And it continues to this day. Its inherent racism has caused enormous pain, misery and horror through colonialism and ethnic cleansing. And most of it was at the behest or blessing of royalty, the so-called “bluebloods,” or the elite ruling classes.

I would say that they can keep some of the jewels and even a couple of the grand houses. I would even say a few of them can retain some of their titles so long as they have no real political power. But the feudal era is one of the darkest blots on human history. As the Queen has peacefully closed her eyes forever, that chapter of history should be peacefully closed too.

Kenn Orphan, September 2022

A Musing from a “Pathetic Empire Simp”

That is what I am, apparently. A “pathetic empire simp.” At least according to Australian writer Caitlin Johnstone.

This insult came on Twitter after I criticized her analysis of the Russian war against Ukraine by correctly pointing out that she has never been antiwar, only anti-American-war. Other wars carried out by despotic, authoritarian or imperialistic governments never get criticized in any way by Johnstone except, perhaps, occasionally in what amounts to mealy mouthed mental gymnastics, which generally end up impugning the victims of war crimes as “head-chopping jihadists” or neo-Nazis, while absolving the criminals. This isn’t a lie. A simple check into her exhaustive Twitter feed or “daily writings” demonstrates this.

Johnstone’s observations aren’t in a vacuum. Real flesh and blood human beings are in harms way thanks to Russia’s bombing campaign and invasion of Ukraine. Europe’s largest nuclear power plant is in the crosshairs. Thousands of Russian antiwar activists have been sent to prison for protesting the war, which is not be called a war but a “military intervention” under threat of prosecution of the Russian Federation.

Johnstone and her ilk represent a particular cynical strain within the erstwhile left, primarily in the US. It is the result of decades of betrayal by American institutions and the ruling, capitalist establishment. Decades of duplicity, corruption, wars of domination, toppling democratic governments, militaristic cruelty, racism, misogyny, classism, exploitation, ecocide and horrendous crimes against humanity.

But this terrible legacy of tyrannical and brutal state power didn’t appear to galvanize this set to do the hard work of international solidarity with ordinary people. What it did appear to do was cause them to think in strictly binary terms when it comes to geopolitics. Thus, solidarity was to be built with the leaders of states who had been declared enemies of the American Empire.

This solidarity does not extend, however, to the people of those states. On the contrary, these people are faceless and without agency. All of their aspirations for democracy, whether it is in Syria, Egypt or Ukraine, have been painted as pseudo “colour revolutions,” entirely constructed and implemented by the American intelligence sector. The ordinary people who gathered in squares and marched peacefully down streets were, apparently, “pathetic empire simps” for demanding an end to the tyranny of their own governments. Puppets of the American Empire who should have been grateful to their murderous leaders simply because they were the enemies of the most powerful imperial force on the planet.

This horrendous “logic” is how so many of them were able to run defense for Assad in Syria as he, with the help of Putin, bombed hospitals, schools, mosques and entire neighbourhoods to rubble using the same lie the US used to carry out war crimes: the bogus “war on terror.” When Saudi Arabia bombs Yemen or Israel commits crimes against the Palestinians, which it does on a daily basis, the erstwhile left rightly condemns it. Yet this same set jumped through hoops to deny any crime Assad committed against Palestinians in Syria. And the fact that Assad was instrumental in running CIA black sites during the Iraq War gets completely deleted from their data banks. This same defense has been extended to the CCP’s treatment of Uighurs.

This is a cynical and caustic strain of politic discourse which has infected nearly all levels of civic discourse in the US. From Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi to Donald Trump and liberal, millionaire know-nothings like Bill Maher. It thrives on invective, a generalized misanthropy, kneejerk reaction, and conspiratorial thinking, which explains the obsession with the so-called “deep state.” Of course, no serious political analyst would deny the existence or influence of clandestine, mendacious and malignant unelected agencies like the CIA, FBI or NSA. But the obsession with these nefarious agencies tends to occlude the power of mass movements to confront them and the larger problems looming for our species and countless others.

This little interaction proved something else that many colleagues and comrades have been saying about Ms. Johnstone for a long time. Dare to criticize her, even mildly, and she will respond with churlish insults and invective. Her entire modus operandi has been snark and vituperation and, as my friend and comrade Dan Hanrahan pointed out, “custom made for the sewer tunnels of social media.” I will admit that my criticism may have come across as harsh or sarcastic. But did I call her a name or use an ad hominem against her? And have we become that jaded that to even raise this question would invite a slurry of mocking laugh emojis? Perhaps, I fear, we have.

Unsurprisingly, many of her fans seem to enjoy this the most about her and follow that lead. Since this one small interaction I have received several hate emails from people using language that verges on threats. Now, this does not include all of her followers. I have several friends, in fact, who seem enamoured with her many of her observations. And it should be said that she is often correct.

She is right that the American Empire is the most powerful state force on the planet at the moment. And I have written about its evil at length for years. But this does not mean that other brutal, powerful imperial or colonial state entities do not exist. This is, whether consciously or not, a profound misunderstanding of this set, which tends to view the world narrowly from the lens of a 1980s geopolitical prism. The US may still be the most powerful, economically and militarily, but it is losing that power in real time on a planet whose biosphere is rapidly destabilizing and where the predations and loyalties of late capitalism are in a state of flux. No matter how many genuflections this segment of the online, erstwhile left perform, the enemy of my enemy is not my friend, it is the same enemy everywhere: the elite, capitalist, ruling class in EVERY country.

Building international solidarity requires real work. It requires more than internet searches or repeating the opposing narrative to the American imperial one as if it is absolute truth. It requires more than just settling for a “multipolar world” as if that were the only alternative to a unipolar one. It requires listening to real flesh and blood human beings who have lived under despotic regimes, even the ones that are the sworn enemies of the American Empire. It requires adhering to the principles of antiwar without equivocation. And daring to dream that a better world IS possible and that we must fight for it shoulder to shoulder with other human beings, rather than spend our time justifying the actions and machinations of the powerful. This, I fear, is a bridge too far for Ms. Johnstone and many of her followers. But it isn’t for this “pathetic simp.”

Kenn Orphan, September 2022

*A note to commenters, please refer to the Guidelines section of this website before posting a comment. If comments violate these terms they will be deleted without a response and the commenter permanently blocked.

*Title photo is of a Russian antiwar protestor. Thousands of Russian antiwar protestors have thrown in prison.

The Far-Right Crusade Against Human Sexuality

It has become impossible not to notice the trend. Whether it is banning the word “gay,” or banning books that contain topics related to human sexuality, or the Supreme Court decision to overturn a woman’s federal right to an abortion, the war on human sexuality and those who are sexually divergent is ramping up on multiple fronts. Even I’ve been a target of this war. Because of my outspoken advocacy for LGBTQ+ youth, I have been labeled a “groomer” by a few figures on the far right.

To be called a “groomer” in our society carries a specific weight. When the far right brands someone with this moniker it is intended to associate them with pedophiles and child abusers. A “groomer” in this context refers to a person who conditions and accustoms children to accept or normalize abuse or exploitation. The term comes from actual instances of child abuse, but recently it has been used against virtually anyone who is LGBTQ+ or an ally. And there has been an uptick in its use since the antigay legislation passed by far-right Florida governor Ron DeSantis. The intent is to terrify and silence those who dissent from a very narrow understanding of human sexuality. And this smear tactic has been employed against a wide spectrum of people, from teachers, to librarians, to healthcare providers, to drag queens.

Real child abuse is a serious and corrosive societal malady that needs to be addressed with empathy and well-funded structures of support and protection. Most of it occurs in the home by someone well known to the child. Much of it has been perpetrated by religious figures, such as priests or pastors. But this recent war on human sexuality has nothing to do with protecting children. In fact, thanks to conservative governance, many of the social supports for victims of abuse have been systematically cut and consistently underfunded or under-staffed. This has one reason: rigid social control.

There are many fronts in this war on human sexuality. Some are in the classroom, others are in the doctor’s office. Whether it is in the censoring of certain words or terms or in the legislation of transgender or women’s healthcare, the far-right is tapping into an old American angst related to ludicrous and impossible notions of purity and deviance. And the anti-porn crusade has appeared to capture that angst in an relatively easy way.

Ever since the dissemination of pornography in the modern era, there have been efforts to censor or ban it completely. Along with religious fundamentalists and evangelicals, there have also be several radical feminists, the late Andrea Dworkin being one, who sought the legal end to the production and distribution of porn. To those particular feminists, the objection was primarily due to the dehumanization and denigration of women rife within the industry. Their argument, although flawed in many ways, was understandable. Misogyny is rife in the porn industry because it is rife in society in general. But the bulk of the anti-porn crusade has been dominated by ultra-conservative evangelicals whose animus toward pornography is based solely on an extremely narrow understanding of human sexuality and its expression. And they wish to impose that worldview on everyone else in society, by any means necessary.

In a society which was founded on rigid social and religious doctrines and mores, this subject was bound to continually cause friction. And not only within religious circles. There are some who consider themselves “material realists” who reject any new understanding of our sexual diversity. But this has all too often become an excuse for bigotry, discrimination and cruelty. It is also a poor application and understanding of how science actually works. The more we discover about a certain thing, the more our understanding of what is “materially real” changes as a result. These “materialists” have often become unwitting allies to racists, anti-Semites and fascists.

A popular conspiracy theory in many white supremacist circles is that the porn industry is a Jewish plot to weaken white men and exploit white women through the normalization of interracial intercourse. The infamous white supremacist David Duke said that Jews “see pornography as a weapon of revenge for real or imagined European wrongs against Jews from the time of Romans to the modern day.” In addition to this, the anti-masturbation campaign, which is apparently a thing, is of a piece with the broader anti-porn crusade. And it, too, has links to white supremacy. In fact, sex panic among racists is no small thing. The Proud Boys, for instance, demand its members eliminate viewing porn completely and limit masturbating to once a month.

The current sex panic must be understood as a legacy of American puritanism. And the supposed protection of white women and children’s “purity” is at its core. There are many examples of how that legacy has played out over the centuries, from the Jim Crow demonization of Black men as “sexual brutes” to the persecution of homosexuals during the Red Scare. In 1977, beauty contest winner and orange juice spokesperson Anita Bryant came right out saying what it was about when she launched the “Save Our Children” campaign, which aimed at discriminating against LGBTQ+ people in housing and employment.

Today, the panic is most often reflected in chatrooms, Bible studies, camp meetings and political rallies. Many have been ensnared by the unhinged QAnon cult which elevates this all to another level of conspiratorial insanity, one where Satanic pedophile rings in the top echelons of the Democratic Party are trafficking children for abuse and to extract a “life-prolonging” chemical known as “adrenochrome.” But it has also become mainstream, with ultra-conservative pundits like Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and Candace Owens using their platforms to peddle odious and misleading tropes and stereotypes about queer people.

It cannot be understated that sexual minorities have bore the brunt of this puritanical cudgel. In connecting with other far-right fascists like Orban from Hungary, Bolsonaro from Brazil, or Putin in Russia, ultra-conservative evangelicals are hoping for wider global movement to purify and purge the world of everything and anyone they consider “sexually deviant or perverse.” It is the reason queer theory evokes such rage among them and galvanizes their animosity. And that brings me to the controversy over Maia Kobabe’s award winning book “Gender Queer.”

“Gender Queer” is an honest and intimate memoir by the author about the journey from adolescence to adulthood. It explores the complex feelings one has as they go through these often difficult periods, but from a queer perspective. Unsurprisingly, it has been cast as sexually explicit or even pornographic by ultra-conservatives because it contained some graphic imagery. It was never intended for young children, but for older teens and young adults who may be struggling with their identity and sexuality. None of this mattered. The rallying cry against the supposed “sexualization of children” has become a popular motto for censoring discussion of human sexual development. And instead of empowering young people with knowledge and agency over their own bodies, it is creating a culture of fear and repression that will undoubtedly lead to even more abuse, exploitation and self-harm.

As an adolescent and teenager, I know I would have appreciated Kobabe’s book as I was traversing those confusing times, especially since I grew up in a religiously conservative environment where human sexuality was seldom discussed. And queer sexuality never addressed at all. I knew I was different from the age of 7, and I wasn’t “groomed” or abused. I had loving parents. But my growth and development would have been so much easier if I had been given access to queer-affirming literature and adults who I could have been open and honest with.

And that is another reason why the smear of “groomer” is so loathsome and infuriating. Queer kids need adults with whom they can be comfortable with, now more than ever. But the current puritanical crusade is creating an atmosphere that will only alienate vulnerable youth from a society which is lurching backward to the dark ages every day. They deserve better. They deserve a safe, affirming and supportive culture provided by queer adults and their allies. The one which I never had.

Kenn Orphan, August 2022


Here on the coastal barrens of Nova Scotia the morning fog blankets the bramble and the sun struggles to pierce its cottony thickness. It does, though not without a struggle. Heated grass and pine unleash a rush of scent. The evening light, full of spindly arms of weightless colour. Then night falls and the galaxy lays out its spiral path in the sky over my meadow.

The air, the grasses, under rocks, atop trees, everywhere life is teeming. Blue Jays shatter my morning sleep with their deafening screech. Mice scurry and snakes lace their sinewy bodies through the tall grasses. My skin reflects all this life too. Red welts dot its landscape, the surreptitious kisses of tiny, unwelcome visitors I seldom see.

August, in its rushed laziness. One might miss the minutiae of it all.

And me, I am all too reminded of the coming end. Of season’s end. Of life’s end. My melancholic genes persuade me to contemplate those things whenever I get too high or dance too close to ecstasy. It puts a halt to my reverie, and in no uncertain terms.

And I think. I think of the earth, now endlessly battered and beleaguered, deforested and commodified. Of ocean, with its calcified coral cities now draped with suffocating algae. Of humankind, in endless enmity with “the other.” Locked in ignorant-borne hatred, until their hearts transmogrify into icy granite. Of the cloaks of privilege I don each day sewn from skin, and gender, and religion, and geography. A patchwork map of luck, banality and misfortune. I think of those beloved, now gone from the sphere I inhabit. Some lost recently. Some lost long ago. Their faces bless me, haunt me, elude me. Fortunate, perhaps, to no longer be locked in this orbit of birth and destruction and rebirth and annihilation.

Then, between stinging tears and slumber, the moon lifts its bloated face above the horizon. First slow, orange and blurred. Then open, and bold, and the colour of new snow. Lifted out of that prison cell of my forgetting. Like it vanished for half a day and then was re-created of salt, and stone, and God dreaming. Another dance of celestial distance repeated, as if scripted.

And I feel this ethereal flight of mine, sucking the wind out of my lungs. Frightened to catch that breath; as if doing so might shatter all of this to pieces.

Kenn Orphan, August, original prose written in 2017.

*Photo is of the evening skies over the coastal barrens and forest and out toward the Atlantic Ocean near our home in Prospect, Nova Scotia.

Our Identity is a Dream

“We are rag dolls made out of many ages and skins, changelings who have slept in wood nests, and hissed in the uncouth guise of waddling amphibians. We have played such roles for infinitely longer ages than we have been human. Our identity is a dream. We are process, not reality.”- Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977), anthropologist, educator, philosopher, and natural science writer.

I was just reminded of this marvelous quote by Eiseley and I will try to remember it the next time I see or hear some essentialist rhetoric regarding gender or sexuality or “race” or class or any other human made identifier that is usually designed to judge us and separate us into cut and dried categories for easier elevation or subjugation, inclusion or exclusion, praise or persecution. Identity is fleeting, but the use of it is has been an effective tool of division for the ruling class for centuries.

There is more to us than what we present as right now. We are more than our appearance, or our body parts, or our biological functions, or our feelings, or knowledge, or status, or pedigree, or faults. Yes, our identities are important, but not so much as our common ancestry or our shared trajectory.

We are a staggering amalgamation of billions of iterations over billions of years, iterations that emanate from the stars themselves. Countless expressions of one thing: life.

This isn’t “woo woo”, it is the science of nature and the history of this earth. And if that isn’t the best description of the Divine within us, I don’t know what is.

Kenn Orphan, August 2022

The Church and the Charade of Contrition

The only moment that matters regarding the Pope’s visit to Canada to apologize to Indigenous people for the Church’s enormous role in the ethnic cleansing and genocide of First Nations, was an unscripted one. It was when an Indigenous woman stood up and sang the Canadian anthem in Cree, with tears streaming down her face.

Much of the media has been reporting this moment as if she were singing as a sign of respect. This is nonsense. You can see the righteous defiance in her face and hear it in her voice. Women, after all, have been excluded in most of the official ceremonies. They have not been granted an audience with the Pope. But this woman got his attention anyway, not only defying a legacy of colonial oppression, but the patriarchy itself. “She was telling him that this (land) was a pure place – a clean place – prior to the settlements,” said Ermineskin Nation, Chief Randy Ermineskin. She basically told the Pope and his priests to go home until real, substantive reparation to Indigenous peoples is enacted.

Sometime after the Pope was finished with his apology, another unidentified woman yelled: “Repudiate the doctrine of discovery! Renounce the papal bulls!” The papal bulls were 15th-century edicts that the Catholic Church and colonial settlers used to justify the violent theft of Indigenous land and centuries of genocide. This, and the odious “Doctrine of Discovery,” have not yet been rescinded by the Church.

The Indigenous response to the Pope’s visit and apology has been mixed. Some have expressed that it has brought healing, while others have said that it merely ripped open old wounds. For more than a century, the residential school system in Canada, which was essentially run by the Church, forcibly separated more than 150,000 Indigenous children from their families. Thousands suffered unspeakable horror, from beatings to starvation to sexual abuse, at the hands of priests and nuns.

So, this one woman’s defiance is the only moment worth paying attention to in this charade of contrition. Until the Church addresses the emotional, mental and material consequences of its murderous legacy, these words will remain as hollow as the trunk of a dead tree.

Kenn Orphan, July 2022

*Photo is of this remarkably courageous woman standing up to the Pope. Source: Reuters.

A meditation on a nebula, deep time, and us.

What is it about this photograph that is so intriguing? This is the Carina Nebula taken by the James Webb Telescope (NASA). We are looking at a nursery of stars, many far bigger than our own sun. And we are also looking back in time. Deep time. Yet there’s something intimate about it, even though there aren’t any pareidolic references for us to easily latch on to.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this image. Perhaps it has such power to so many because we can imagine our souls being birthed alongside these behemoths of condensed energy in great flashes of light. And even with all that bombast in expression, the colourful gasses appear as a gossamer veil that comforts new skin. Any birth is both violent and caressing at the same time, after all. Maybe, therefore, so many of us can relate.

And I keep thinking of where I am viewing it. The living crust of a tiny world, in a tiny solar system, on the edge of a tremendously vast galaxy. A tiny world whose thin, life-giving and sustaining ribbon of air and water is imperiled by the supposed “apex species” that resides upon it. Where the sea and the atmosphere are boiling and seething ever greater with each passing year thanks to the excesses and greed of just a segment of our kind. And for what gain? Power? Status? Access to luxury? Nationalism and flags? Celebrity? Religious dominance?

I think about the video of an orangutan attempting to fend off a bulldozer from her home with only her arms. Being knocked to the forest floor, broken and bloodied. Her home to be razed to the ground likely to become a piece of disposable furniture to be sold in some big box store thousands of miles away, then to be set out on the curb a year later after the trend has run its course. Or maybe to extract palm oil to be used in some overpriced latte at a Star Bucks in LA, where rich people complain about the homeless.

And then I think about that photograph taken in 1946. The one with the military generals and the lady with the atomic bomb hat, slicing into an atomic bomb shaped cake. This was barely a year after hundreds of thousands of human beings were incinerated in two cities by similar bombs. It was celebrating the beginning of years of nuclear detonations on a once pristine atoll in the Pacific, forever polluting the waters and the people who called it home. Celebrating it all, with cake. And I remember how that chapter of madness in history did not end. That the world stands at the precipice of nuclear annihilation again.

I keep thinking of what I would tell a future generation about us on this tiny world. But I’m less and less certain there will be future generations to tell. At least, not of our kind. Perhaps, in deep time, there will be another sentient race of beings who evolve on this celestial stone to create a powerful mirror to see back in time, into the heavens, like we have. Perhaps crows or ants or hydra. Will they be in awe of it too, enough to pause the great wheel of self-destruction that is consuming us now, even just for a moment?

If a nebula can tell us of our beginning, can it tell us how we will end?

Kenn Orphan, July 2022

Image Credit: The Carina Nebula taken by the James Webb Telescope.