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August 23-29, 2006

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Ask Sydney

This advice column is penned by a Sonoma County resident and our new weekly sage. Go ahead! Ask her anything.

Dear Sydney, recently I picked up a conservative Christian paper by mistake, thinking, without really looking, that I was grabbing the Bohemian. What a mistake! As a lesbian, I naturally do not gravitate toward the viewpoints of the Christian Right. How could I? To do so, I would have to be full of self-hatred. And though I certainly dislike myself at times, it's never because of my sexual orientation. Still, I try to be open-minded, and when I noted that the newspaper was showcasing articles on marriage--specifically gay marriage--I decided to take a browse through the mind of the enemy. What another mistake!

The article was, as you can imagine, entirely offensive to me, but the real clincher came when the author stated that gay people have the same rights as everyone else. They can get married if they want, just like anyone else, he said, they just can't marry someone of the same sex. Just because pedophiles, the incestuous, polygamists and gays may want to change the laws of marriage, the author continued, doesn't make it acceptable. I was horrified all over again. That gays could be lumped with the polygamists wasn't so bad, but in the same sentence as pedophiles?

As a parent, I felt a stab of fear at this sort of rhetoric and was overwhelmed with the desire to grab the entire stack of papers and throw them in the trash. After wrestling with my conscience, I finally opted to leave the newspapers where they were. Still, I walked away feeling unsure of whether or not I did the right thing. Was it my duty to rid the streets of Sebastopol of such blatant crap, or my duty to protect freedom of speech of others--even George Bush's flunkies?--Horrified in Sebastopol

Dear Horrified: A good friend once told me that one of the most difficult things about having an alternative sexual identity is not learning to shield yourself from the disdain of others, but to learn to overcome your own innate shame in yourself. It's not so hard in western Sonoma County, where enough people of varied sexual orientations reside that it's possible to accept oneself without giving too much thought to personal safety or acceptance, where it's not necessary to hold your lack of shame out in front as if to say, "Fuck you! I am not ashamed!"

Even so, as you have just proven, the hatred can still infiltrate. I understand your impulse to want to rid the streets of such crap, and I also realize that using the old argument--throwing them out would be as bad as a Christian extremist throwing out all copies of the We the People--is a crock of shit. We the People may represent folks with alternative sexual preferences, but they do not, as far as I have ever seen, suggest that the Christian Right and pedophiles should be sent to live on the same island. In other words, they concern themselves with well-being and freedom, not the bashing and destruction of those they may not like.

Just the same, I highly doubt that anyone with an open mind is going to pick up some Christian rag, read about gays and pedophiles not being allowed to marry, and think, "Wow, I see their point." The only people who will read it and agree already agree anyway, so throwing the papers out doesn't change anything. Besides, let's face it, such an act of anger only proves that you let them get under your skin. Best to shake your head and be glad you are not living in a world so small and full of fear, and let it be a reminder to you, and all of us, that as long as we hate each other, nothing will ever truly change.

Dear Sydney, re the column where you asked Would I feel better if I got up an hour early and meditated every morning?" (Aug. 9). This sounds a lot like, "Would I feel better if I exercised every so often and ate the occasional vegetable? Sure I would. But as a free-thinking rebel, I love smoking my cigs and eating nothing but Sugar Pops. See what an individual I am!" The part that says "I'm sure it would be good for me, but I'm never going to do it" is really insisting that what's "good" for me is also unpleasant. The surprising revelation is that once you seriously experiment with what's good for you, you may find that you like it, you prefer it and that the coffee-breakfast addiction was a pretty pathetic excuse for individuality and rebellion.

So here's my small question: Have you ever tried that "totally boring" meditation enough to know what it is (and by that I mean more than a weekend of fidgeting), or are you just talking from hipper-than-thou stereotypes? Yeah, it sounds totally boring, but people are finding themselves in need of bigger and stranger stimulation to keep from being "bored," when quieting down is what can make life vibrant and fascinating again.--Ellen

Dear Ellen: When I referred to not meditating, I also mentioned that I was making a sacrifice of my own well-being by not doing so. I understand that meditation, like literature, can help me to recognize the fascinating vibrancy of life. I was merely using my own personal failings as a way to better illustrate that the pursuit of total perfection is a difficult one, often undermined by oneself, and that sometimes by accepting that we are less-than-perfect beings, we can also come to accept that we may have to endure less-than-perfect relationships, and that just because they are not perfect does not mean that we should be afraid to engage in them. I should have been clear, and I apologize if my tendency toward cynicism came across as an affectation. I think meditating is great. I should do it more often.

No question too big, too small or too off-the-wall. Ask Sydney.