Rock Beaches and Historic Graveyards: Ireland in June

An edited version of this post was also published on https://featheringmyemptynest.com/ireland-rock-beaches-and-atmospheric-graveyards/#.WXUbOdMrJo4

Several weeks ago my mother, publisher of the home decor and lifestyle blog, Feathering My Empty Nest, asked me to write her a guest post about my junior year study abroad trip to Ireland. I imagine she now regrets providing a platform for the rantings of a madman, but what’s done is done. What follows is a slightly modified version of what I ended up with. The photos also serve as proof that I was once brave enough not only to leave the house, but to travel internationally, and physically fit enough to do some serious hiking. 

My story begins JFK airport where our group of students met for our flight to Limerick. Our flight left around 7:30PM and those of us who find it difficult to sleep in a sardine tin held aloft by some sort of black magic (particularly now that my long-held suspicions about the violent tendencies of United flight attendants have been confirmed) would end up being awake for over forty-eight hours due to the grueling fast-paced agenda set by our faculty chaperone. This would turn out to be an excellent method for avoiding jetlag—but I’m still not sure I’d recommend it to a friend.

blarney castle

Blarney Castle

Our first stop after getting off the plane was at Blarney Castle. This was where we saw the advantage of travelling in January as opposed to a time when the weather might be more pleasant—one of the biggest tourist traps in the whole country was totally deserted. Blarney Castle is a wonderful, fantastic deathtrap complete with a poison garden and something called a “murder hole” (Google it, it’s delightful). Before you ask, I did not in fact kiss the famous Blarney stone. Kissing the stone is a remarkably stupid thing to do for a number of reasons. For one thing, the stone is not conveniently located for kissing. In order to reach it you have to lie on your back on the roof of the castle, grab a metal bar behind you, and let some greasy Irish teenager push you a little bit over the edge. For another thing, the stone is not a place you want to put your mouth. I have been told that locals like to sneak up to the top of Blarney castle to piss on the stone. Finally, it is a common misconception that kissing the stone will bring you luck. The actual legend is that kissing the stone will give you the “gift of gab” and frankly, I already talk too much so I think I’m good on that front.

Limerick isn’t much to write home about unless, like me, you fell in love with Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes and have an interest in visiting South’s Pub, the bar where little Frankie’s father got blackout drunk every night. We only spent a day in Limerick before heading off to Galway followed by Sligo, Derry, Belfast, and ending up Dublin. I highly recommend staying in Galway if you visit southern Ireland, it’s a neat town with some fabulous pubs (and also, I’ve been told, some great live Irish music if you like that sort of thing, which I do not).

CLIFFS

The Cliffs of Moher

My day at the Cliffs of Moher was one of my favorites. The cliffs are gorgeous, and, you might be interested to know if you are a big nerd like me, they happen to be the sight of the cave scene from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The cliffs, like Blarney Castle, are usually totally overcrowded but were almost totally deserted in early January. However, be aware, the weather can be totally unpredictable, and the second we reached the top of the cliffs we were pelted by hail and I nearly died…kind of.

DUNLUCE.jpg

Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle (also known as Cair Paravel from The Chronicles of Narnia) is absolutely worth a visit. It is also a good idea to hike down into the valley to have a look at the “mermaid cove,” it’s a pretty vista with no actual mermaids as far as I could see—thank god because from what I’ve heard about mermaids, they are a bunch of terrifying mean girls.

giants causeway

Our chaperone looking majestic and unknowable at the Giants Causeway

I’m not sure my picture of the Giant’s Causeway really does it justice. Trust me when I say that it’s just really cool. Ireland is full of “beaches” that are actually just piles of rocks near the ocean, but this one is special. You can actually see Wales from there too, even if you can’t see Russia from your house. A couple of pro-tips should you choose to visit: ask every Irish person you meet to tell you the story of the Causeway, they will all have slightly different versions and insist whoever else you talked to was a dirty liar. Also, bring some change with you. The hike from the parking to the Causeway is long and steep—the way down is easy enough and you can take in some lovely views, but by the time you are ready to head back up you will be more than will to shell out a couple of euros.

DERRY

Self-explanatory

Only a few years ago, taking the trip to Northern Ireland would have been too dangerous, and in Derry I would still be a bit cautious (the university actually shelled out money for our meals at the hotel so we wouldn’t go out at night, if that tells you anything). However, Derry was one of my favorite towns. The city has seen so much violence and is still recovering, even today there are still people living there who remember Bloody Sunday (the 1972 shooting of peaceful protesters). Both the Free Derry Museum and a tour of the walls are well worth the trip. It is important to remember that Northern Ireland, unlike Southern Ireland, still uses the British pound, and you’ll need different money. Or you can pay with a card in restaurants and enjoy the shock on waiters’ face when you tell them that in the States we actually let them take our cards away from the table, where they could be doing anything with them in order to pay for a meal. That is always a fun time. Speaking of restaurants, Northern Ireland was the only place I was able to get a hot beverage that was actually hot. I don’t know why.

st patricks cathedral .jpg

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

We ended our trip in Dublin, which is a super-cool city living inside of a cloud of cigarette smoke. In Dublin I saw a George Bernard-Shaw comedy at the historic Abbey Theatre, visited the Dublin Writer’s Museum, and lit a candle at St. Patrick’s Cathedral (not technically a saint, and really more of a museum than a cathedral, but still a good time). All things I would recommend. I would also highly recommend a trip to Trinity College to see the Long Room of the library. It’s the prettiest place in the world and someday I will live in it.

trinity long hall library

A bunch of blurry people trespassing in my future home

The whole group was dragged on a trip to the football stadium in Dublin, Croke Park, for an afternoon. I was super bitter about having to go because soccer is a boring sport (fight me Europe) but I was pleasantly surprised. Croke Park actually has a rather interesting history and our tour guide was a born storyteller so there is something for everyone.

croke park 1

Croke Park

So, this has been an abridged list of some of my favorite spots in Ireland, some spots that were not included but that are still worth mentioning include: Inis Mor, Newgrange, The Leprechaun Museum (go during the day if you have small children, if not, go at night for the Nightland tour if you are eighteen or older), and Kylemore Abbey (the Abbey itself is ok, but the drive through Connemara is spectacular).

I’m not sure if I did this whole blogging thing right, but if you’ve gotten this far I thank you, and I would like to share with you one of my favorite Irish toasts: may your glass be ever full. May the roof over your head always be strong. And may you be in heaven a full half hour before the devil knows your dead.

 

Today’s Writing Prompt: redo a writing assignment from your middle school years

NPR did the middle school English teachers of the world (they now call it “language arts” which I actually prefer because to me it connotes dark magic) a huge favor when they began accepting submissions for their “This I Believe” series. This I Believe was a collection of essays in which diverse everyday people wrote about, you guessed it, something they believe in. This provided a perfect, bland prompt for a 7th grade unit on the personal essay. What did my seventh grade class believe in? I’m fairly certain 90% of the essays were about believing in yourself– we were all watching a lot of Disney Channel Original Movies in those days. I’m pretty sure my essay was some kind of angry rant about hating bicycles (a view I maintain in adulthood). Today, I thought I would give the assignment another shot, hoping to get a little more out of it– and also hoping Ms. Brown will think this one is worth more than a B+. 

I believe in allowing yourself to be made uncomfortable. I am not advocating wearing clothes that are too tight because you don’t want to admit you’ve gone up a size, saying nothing when your mother’s new boyfriend puts his hand on your knee, or letting Todd from Purchasing mansplain to you for twenty minutes at the company Christmas party. In my philosophy, you shouldn’t have to feel wrong in your own skin, unsafe, or disrespected.

Instead, I’m talking about my father, a mild-mannered fifty-four year-old finance guy genuinely trying to understand what “genderqueer” means. I’m talking about me, an angry liberal trans man with an alternative lifestyle haircut, watching blonde, skinny-armed, constitutional conservative Tomi Lahren sharing her views on the presidency on Fox News.

I’m talking about you, right now, listening to me talk about the necessity of relinquishing white/male/straight/cis/upper-class privilege—all I need to do now is throw out a word like “trigger-warning” or “micro-aggression” and I will have officially become that obnoxious millennial stereotype that one uncle of yours was railing against at the dinner table last Thanksgiving. I’m not looking to be that person. All I’m saying is that there is value in letting someone with different experiences than you make you feel weird for a while.

From my perspective, these awkward moments are a little like having a fever in the sense that they feel terrible, but they also serve a purpose—they draw your attention to a metaphorical infection. Interactions that make you uncomfortable help you to realize that there are whole communities out there that you can’t be a part of, groups that you know nothing about, and perhaps that you are the beneficiary of a system that excludes them. By embracing these moments you begin to carve out spaces for marginalized people in the mainstream and move towards a more inclusive society. I will acknowledge that, historically, this has not been the way that social justice movements have operated. Assimilation on the part of minorities—the whole “Gays: They’re Just Like Us Routine,” for example—has been a very successful strategy in the past: I’m half convinced that we have Anderson Cooper and his Clark Kent glasses to thank for marriage equality in this country.

 

But here’s the thing

 

Imagine if you had to feel uncomfortable most of the time. Imagine if from the time you were a little kid, it felt like none of the toys, none of the TV shows, none of the clothes were made with you in mind. If the way you look, the way you talk, or the way you feel instantly othered you in the vast majority of spaces.

When I was a child, they didn’t even have those slightly chubby Barbies yet—the “alternative” doll was the one with brown hair. I have always been uncomfortable, even reading this now feels embarrassing, and really, I have to put up with only a fraction of the socially constructed minority discomfort we have to go around. Fatter dolls, black Disney princesses, gay dads in Cheerios commercials—these are significant milestones, but I don’t think they address the larger issues. It isn’t fair of us to keep spending decades getting used to the idea that different people exist, we have to jump right in, even if its disorienting.

I believe that genuine social equality is going to have to begin with a series of uncomfortable conversations.

Let’s all embrace the discomfort. I believe in us, fam

 

Response to Trump’s Latest Nonsense (as of Wednesday)

How I Got Here– American History and How Progress Happens

Vague as my premise for this blog may have been, it was not necessarily my intention to get super political. One of the problems with the current administration is that the president judges himself not as a politician but as a reality television star. I mean this in the sense that while Trump seems to crave slobbering adoration and unwavering loyalty of the Chris Christie variety, good TV can’t be made without drama. If bizarre, one-sided Twitter wars get media attention that will fuel a deluded sense of persecution, then Trump will continue to wage them. Today’s journalists and social commentators face a challenge of wanting to do their duty as government watchdogs without inadvertently feeding the beast that is this administration.

I think back to an essay I wrote in late 2016 just before the election, entitled The American Dream and Other Clichés I Still Believe In. In that piece I spoke about my perspective on current events as a big history buff. I called out hysterics who claim that present-day America is the worst it has ever been and yearn for a bygone era when civil discourse and basic human decency ruled the day. I took a ‘‘twas ever thus’ kind of perspective, reminding those people that American discourse has flirted with the cruel and the bizarre since the earliest days of our nation. A cabal of politicians and military personnel spread rumors that George Washington was weak and ineffective and conspired unsuccessfully to remove him from his post as general during the Revolutionary War. Thomas Jefferson started a rumor in the press that John Adams was a hermaphrodite during the Election of 1800. LBJ was known for his obsession with his own penis, reportedly whipping it out on occasion to intimidate staffers with its size. Ronald Reagan, in addition to refusing to acknowledge the massive public health crisis that was the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, once co-starred with a chimp in a film called Bedtime for Bonzo! And of course the whole of American history is littered with horrifying examples of the racism, sexism, and homophobia that persist in some form or another to this day. I do not believe that an era of dignity and high ideals ever existed—history is messy. What I do believe in, even still post-election, are the basic principles on which our government was founded.

History swag.jpg

My lil’ George Washington and Alexander Hamilton standing among my history geek swag (shirt from Monticello, sweatshirt from Mount Vernon, George Pawshington greeting card, Montpelier key chain, collection of historical biographies, and replica of the Declaration of Independence).

I will be the first to say that the systems by which we operate are riddled with problems, but I really do believe that the principles of democracy, separation of church and state, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and the notion that “all men are created equal” which make up our founding documents are the bedrock of something worthwhile. It is true that we have set lofty standards for ourselves, and we have never completely met them, but our system—which includes government officials, the courts, journalists, activists, and everyday Americans working together— is predicated on the idea that we will constantly be working towards those goals. That, more than anything else, is what makes this country great. However, love of country and confidence in our shared principles aren’t enough. The system runs on civic engagement and progress only happens when we come together, use our voices, and work to bring about better days. And that, finally, brings me to why I have decided to brave the fraught world of online political discourse with this post.

vote bitch

Step one for making positive change happen: get your ass to the polls

What Happened and Why You Should Care

I am 22 years old and this past election was the first I was old enough to vote in and I did so with a comic degree of excitement. I researched all the candidates for both federal and local office, I marked the dates for early voting for both the primaries and the general on my calendar, and I proudly informed the volunteers at my local polling place that this was my first time (a kindly and bemused elderly woman responded to this by letting me take not one, but three “I Voted” stickers—be jealous). When the presidential election did not turn out the way I hoped I admit I was pretty devastated for a number of reasons. For one thing, I was terrified for the millions of immigrants, Muslims, people of color, women, and people living below the poverty line who would be threatened by the views that this president’s election validated and by the policies he might advocate for. Since then I have been calling, writing, and generally making a pest of myself in the offices of my senators and representatives in the hopes that they will remember that they have a responsibility to protect those people when casting their votes. I did this not only because it is the right thing to do, and because many people I love fall into those categories, but also because you never know whom Trump and his cronies might go after next, one day it could be people like me—see below the text of the famous Martin Niemoller poem, “First They Came:”

 

First they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists

And I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists

And I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews

And I did not speak out because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me

And there was no one left

To speak out for me.

 

 

That day was Wednesday. Some groups and public figures like Caitlyn Jenner and the Republican LGBT group Deplorable Pride were encouraged when during the campaign Trump was one of the first republican candidates ever to declare himself an ally of the LGBTQIA+ community. Given Donald Trump’s propensity for flip-flopping and pandering to the alt-right, I was fairly certain that particular claim would turn out to be a lie and I am sad to say that I was right. On July 26th, starting at 8:55AM, the president issued a series of tweets that read, “After consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept of allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you” (Hennigan 2017).

disappointed soldier

This stock model-soldier is disappointed at how we’ve treated LGBTQIA+ servicemen and women

There is a lot I could say about this bizarre decree, a lot of facts I could throw out about how difficult this will be to implement, or about what percentage of the military budget is spent on transgender healthcare relative to things like Viagra, about who exactly was or wasn’t “consulted” on this decision, about the service record of transgender individuals and their relationships with their fellow servicemen and women, or about Trump’s own history with the military prior to his becoming the president. This information is certainly out there and I can provide some links for those who are interested in learning more at the bottom of this post. I have decided not to detail it here for a couple of reasons. First, I will not go into the logistics of how this seemingly random twitter ejaculation will be difficult to put into action and ultimately destabilizing to our troops because, quite frankly, I’m not sure it will actually happen. There is a distinct possibility that by the time anybody reads this blog the ban on trans people in the military will have been bogged down by its own impracticality and quietly reversed, only to be replaced by the next disaster. Second, I do not feel compelled to defend the service of the heroic trans men and women who are fighting/have fought for our country in part because their records speak for themselves and in part because the capability of trans people to fight for our country is not really a question here. This is not about the military, it is not about the budget, and it is not about defeating ISIS. It is about prejudice and hate.

This is why I say this is an example of the Trump administration “coming for me” as a trans man even though I have not ever served in the military and have no current plans to do so. There is no evidence of trans soldiers being a “disruption” to victory in the same way there is no evidence of trans people (or cis people impersonating trans people) molesting people in public bathrooms or locker rooms. Whenever anybody comes out against trans people or trans rights, no matter what their stated reason is, their real problem is that they simply don’t like us. And frankly, this is simply not how policy works. Just because trans people don’t gel with your world view/offend your religious beliefs/just make you feel oogie doesn’t mean you get to expel us from polite society. Freedom and equality don’t just extend to people you like. I think that alt-right fear-mongers like Steve Bannon and Alex Jones are morally repugnant but I will defend their right to vote, to serve in the military, the spew their toxic vitriol on the radio, and to use whatever damn bathroom matches their identity as long as I’m alive. While I don’t have any expectation that they will defend me in the same way, as Americans, I feel it is their responsibility to leave my rights the hell alone.

 

mount vernon tableau

Photo I took of a model at Mount Vernon depicting George Washington’s inauguration as President in 1789

Who We Are and Where We Go From Here

Earlier in this essay I painted a pretty dark image of the leaders of the past and so as I start to wrap up I would like to share one of my favorite stories about George Washington (if you haven’t noticed, I’m kind of a GW fanboy). In 1790, a leader of the Jewish community wrote George Washington a letter asking him if the new American government would be “tolerant” of Jews? Washington wrote back,

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no factions, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support (Vowell 197).

If this doesn’t solidify Washington as a swoon-worthy American icon in your mind, nothing will. I include this because sometimes I think the ultra-conservative get the idea that they own old-fashioned patriotism and that they would have the constitutional framers on their side. I would question the idea that the specific social beliefs of powerful white men from 300 years ago should have any bearing on today’s society. However, I do believe that in a more general sense it is important to note that since the very beginning of this country it has been our goal to progress towards something more than “tolerance,” more than “I don’t care what you do, just don’t shove it in my face.” We were always meant to be the nation of true equality for everyone.

I think I can be safe in assuming that if you have read this far in this post that you already knew you agreed with me before reading this, or perhaps you are skimming to the end so that you can write mean things in the comments section (shout-out to the trolls!). Honestly, when it comes to the transphobes (and the homophobes, racists, xenophobes. islamophobes, etc.) I’m not sure how to go about changing minds. I know that it can be a slow, difficult process. One thing I know is that oppressed people and those that would stand with us can never let the world forget that we exist and we will not just disappear quietly. I would like to encourage anyone reading this to keep speaking up—write your congressman and call their offices (it doesn’t matter if you are not great with words, even if you were your rep is unlikely to read their mail or listen to their voice messages personally, this is a numbers game more than anything else), if you can, give money to worthy causes or participate in marches—whatever you can do to engage with this administration on behalf of the people it would like to forget or discriminate against has value.

edited trump cartoon

Pencil sketch I made of Trump– unsurprisingly easy to cartoonify

Links to reports surrounding the trans military ban

https://www.bustle.com/p/donald-trumps-vietnam-draft-documents-are-going-viral-in-light-of-his-transgender-military-ban-72718

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-40741785

http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/trumps-tweeted-transgender-ban-is-not-a-law

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/26/us/politics/trump-transgender-military.html?mcubz=0

Link to a directory for the Senate and other federal agencies so you can find out who your reps are and how to contact them:

https://www.senate.gov/reference/reference_index_subjects/Directories_vrd.htm

Websites for a sampling of the many organizations that support human rights and members of marginalized groups in the US with info and opportunities to volunteer time and/or money if you can:

http://www.thetrevorproject.org/

http://www.borderangels.org/

https://ing.org/

https://www.plannedparenthood.org/

http://www.naacp.org/

Works Cited

Hennigan, W.J. “Trump bars transgender people from serving ‘in any capacity’ in the U.S. military.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 26 July 2017. Web. 27 July 2017.

 

Martin, Niemoller. “First They Came.” Holocaust Memorial Day Trust , n.d. Web. 27 July 2017.

 

Vowell, Sarah. Lafayette In The Somewhat United States. New York: Riverhead , an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2016. Print.