Thought Catalog

23 Weird & Disturbing Sex Facts You Really Didn’t Need To Know

Posted: 04 Aug 2015 03:11 PM PDT


1. Old people have a LOT of sex.

How much sex, you ask? Do you really want to know? OK, since you asked, the elderly are currently experiencing the biggest spike in sexually transmitted infections among all age groups. Should I continue? All right, then—three-quarters of 70-year-old men are still able to impregnate a woman. Should I stop? No? Then you need to know that nearly a third of women over 80 still have sex with their partners. And one-third of men and one-quarter of women over 50 have performed oral sex over the past year. Hey, don’t blame me—you asked!

2. Female orgasm is designed to induce pregnancy.

The rhythmic pulsating motion of the vaginal walls during female orgasm is designed to push sperm up toward the uterus and into the cervix. And you thought the real purpose of the female orgasm was pleasure. How wrong you were!

3. The human mouth hosts over 500 types of bacteria.

Try not to think of that the next time you’re kissing someone or they’re going down on you. Visualizing 500 different types of bacteria squirming all over your junk could threaten to kill the mood.

4. Straight men comprise more than half the audience for online transgender porn.

A meta-study of one billion online searches for porn concluded that transgender porn is the fourth-most popular form of porn on Earth. And straight men are the primary consumers of it. There may actually be less transphobia out there than you think there is.

5. Left testicles tend to hang lower than right ones.

I’ll pause to allow you to visually verify this fact with all your male friends—and I won’t judge you for it!

6. Female penguins engage in a form of prostitution.

Researchers have repeatedly observed female penguins exchanging sexual favors with male penguins that aren’t their mates in exchange for pebbles they will use to build nests for their babies.

7. Two-thirds of men and women have fantasized about other people while having sex with their partner.

Tonight when you’re having sex with your partner, I want you both to fantasize that the other one is fantasizing about having sex with someone else. It’s the only way to keep some spice in your love life.

8. Ovulating women are more likely to cheat.

When that egg’s sitting their just aching to be fertilized, women tend to get a little restless. And if you can’t do the job, well, boy, you’re fired.

9. Shaving your pubes makes you more likely to spread a sexually transmitted infection.

Since pubic hair acts as a sort of sexual hockey goalie, it is assumed that shaved pubes will also make it more likely for you to receive a sexually transmitted infection. Clearly this is God’s way of showing us that it’s time for everyone to end the madness and “go natural” again.

10. Male testosterone levels and sperm counts are only a quarter of what they were a century ago.

Men aren’t what they used to be. In fact, they are literally only a quarter of what they used to be only a century ago.

11. Male fruit flies who can't find mates are more likely to drink alcohol than fruit flies who are players.

I have no idea where these fruit flies are getting alcohol—one would assume they’d at least be carded at the local bar—but fruit flies who are losers at the mating game tend to drown their misery in booze.

12. Alfred Kinsey was able to insert the bristle side of a toothbrush into his urethra.

The pioneering sex researcher and author of The Kinsey Report also had a collection of over 5,000 wasps. Why he was sticking toothbrushes up his urethra and collecting thousands of wasps is probably a problem for him and his therapist. Either way, it’s pretty freaky-deaky.

13. Sex toys are banned in Alabama and Mississippi.

Can you fucking believe they make you drive to Georgia and Arkansas for sex toys? Gas isn’t cheap, you know!

14. Women are aroused by chimpanzee porn.

That’s right, as weeeeeeeird as that is. A study showed that women who viewed footage of chimpanzee sex became sexually aroused and experienced vaginal lubrication.

15. Four popes have died while having sex.

Sure, that means that 262 popes did not die during sex, but these are popes—they’re not supposed to be having sex in the first place.

16. Adults are more likely to tell lies while in bed than they are anywhere else.

This is really hard to believe, since you’re usually naked in bed and it’s hard to exaggerate anything in that condition. But people lie more when they’re lying in bed—get it?

17. Gay men have bigger penises than straight men.

Although straight men tend to be bigger dicks.

18. The bigger his balls, the more likely he is to cheat.

If your man has huge testes, the only sane thing to do is get a GPS tracking chip implanted in his body while he’s sleeping—that way you’ll always know where he is.

19. Educated white women have more anal sex than any other group.

This presumably includes educated white gay men. Uh—way to go, white women?

20. Fat men have more sexual endurance than thin men.

Multiple studies have confirmed that it takes severely overweight men nearly three times as long to ejaculate as it does those jerky male gym rats who are always asking you to feel their six-packs. Six-packs? More like six seconds!

21. Male bicyclists risk impotence.

The pressure of the bicycle seat on the male groin can permanently damage sexual function and render the avid cyclist a poor and pathetic shell of his former sexual self. Is it really worth it? Drive a car instead and save your boners, guys!

22. Straight men search for images of penises online almost as much as they do vaginas.

It’s unclear whether they’re comparing themselves to the online penises or they simply like looking at them. If it’s the latter, it raises the question of exactly how “straight” they really are.

23. One out of every ten European babies is conceived on an IKEA bed.

Just knowing this fact will make me unable to have an erection for three days. I hate IKEA. TC mark

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An Ex-Baltimore Police Officer Discusses Racism, Police Brutality, And Why We Desperately Need Police Reform

Posted: 05 Aug 2015 03:25 PM PDT

Michael A. Wood Jr. is an ex-Baltimore police officer who became well-known throughout the country for speaking out against police brutality in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death, and the subsequent protests that ensued in Baltimore earlier this year. In the following dialogue, he discusses his thoughts and positions on institutional racism, policing, and the need for police reform. Connect with Michael on Twitter at @MichaelAWoodJr and find out more about his work at

Thought Catalog: Hi Michael, thank you so much for joining us today. I understand that you are an ex-Baltimore police officer who currently advocates for change in policing and police culture. Could you give us an understanding of your background and what exactly your advocacy is doing, and what you want to achieve?

Michael A. Wood Jr.
Michael A. Wood Jr.

Michael A. Wood Jr.: Thanks for having me Kovie, it is this very discussion that my immediate goals are to achieve. While it was years and years ago that I started advocating for police reform, I think I was largely blind to the reform being a byproduct of a societal reform that must take place. The second civil rights movement, so to say.

I am the prototype all-American kid by most definitions. I came from a poor family, in a mixed neighborhood, and fought my way up to the USMC at 17, where I was an Assaultman (bombs & rockets) in the Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team. I then joined the Baltimore Police Department in 2003, because I was always going to be a cop and let's deal with my honesty, it was fun and thrilling and powerful.

I went to tons and tons of schools, fighting and paying for everything myself, but after completing a Masters and the skills that come along with that, compounded by horrors we see on TV, I really began to critically evaluate what we are fundamentally doing in policing and what result that has. It is clear that result oppresses the most disenfranchised of our people and we just cannot do it that way. So let's talk, let's improve, and hopefully, people will force the politicians to get me or someone like me in a position to enact reform.



TC: So first things first, I wanted to revisit this year's Baltimore uprising or riot – the semantics obviously dependent on who you are, and your politics. In your opinion, what were the short-term and long-term causes of this? Indeed, Freddie Gray's death was the spark that lit the fire in many people’s eyes. But such a reaction does not exist in a vacuum. What caused this, and what do you think was the result? What will history say about it, in 20, 50 years?

MW: I go with uprising, for the record, that's what we are doing right now and that was just a part of that overall societal awakening. The short-term cause of the Baltimore uprising was complete mismanagement by the Mayor, BPD, and Maryland State government. The spark was in Mondawmin mall. In Baltimore, the kids ride public buses and there is a connecting hub at Mondawmin. Due to poor intell and management, the buses were shut down and kids were trapped there, far from home. Those kids were met by the police surrounding them as an occupying force, trapping them from home, armed, and ready for conflict.


I can't say I would not fight when someone clearly came to fight, especially as a scared kid. Long-term, we are simply boiling over with injustice in America. And really I'm surprised it has taken this long, once I started taking a deeper look. The oppression of the weakest in our society always results in eventual uprising. What is the result, so far? I don't know. Nothing? No one cared about Gilmor homes a week before Freddie Gray and no one cares about it now. It will remain a struggle to fight against this, but I really hope that in 20-50 years, this is seen as the spark to the second civil rights movement.

TC: One of the things you're quite familiar with is the drug trade, and how that affects police work and police culture overall. Now coming from a very social theory perspective, "the war on drugs," and "just say no," seemed to essentially give a reason to police the poor and the disenfranchised even more. Moreover, it seemed to burden those who have the least capabilities, into "being responsible" for the negative consequences of drug consumption – which is more a societal problem rather than solely an individual one. Could you please address that – drugs and narcotics – and the relationship between those things and how the police interact with the poor?

MW: Yes, I'm very familiar with the drug trade. I took no less than twenty training courses on narcotics, was a street narcotics enforcement detective then later, and major case narcotics detective before being promoted. What I want to address right away is that there is no reason to sugarcoat it, it does not just seem to give the police carte blanche on the disenfranchised – it absolutely does. This is incredibly easy to see in the statistics and just through observation.

Until the war on drugs, the prison population just about mirrored the general population and was then obviously largely white. Since the war on drugs and over criminalization in general, the institutionalized racism, fear of blacks, and society’s overall sentiments about the poor and minorities were given the tools to come to the surface. And we now see the prisons filled with blacks and minorities.

This is not some strange coincidence. We know that whites, and really any group of humans, use drugs at about the same rate and always have. Somehow there is now a sickening number of non-violent drug offenders, who are mainly minorities, filling the prisons of the country that imprison more of their citizens, in the land of the free, than any other country.


TC: What, if anything, do you think the public at large would be surprised about, with regard to how the police interact with the poor? But aside from that, there are some who believe – with good rationale and argument – that given the history of the police in the country, their essential function are to be the protectors of white supremacy? Do you think that's a valid argument to make? And why or why not?

MW: The public being so surprised is what surprises me most. That surprise is that I am saying that the black community has not been lying to you all of these years. Maybe I thought they were as well. But over time and seeing it first hand, these stories are true. I do not know of a single report I have made which has not already been stated by someone in a poor community.

Everything you've heard rapped about, written, and spoken that alleges police did some outrageous shit, happened somewhere in this country. Some of those offenses an uncountable amount of times. The amount of illegal searches on the black community is staggering. Neil DeGrasse Tyson even talks about how often he was approached, and really can we find a better human being on the planet? The crazy part is that for most of white America this concept is foreign, it is even incomprehensible, as the number of illegal searches cannot be calculated in relation to themselves because you cannot divide by zero.


I am not sure that there is a sound argument to the protection of white supremacy as intentional. What I really think is that everything is that way. Everything is structure by the whites who stole this land, imported slaves, and limited rights of minorities, into the very fabric of our functioning of a society. I don't think many individuals are consciously aware of that now, they are largely carrying out what they have been taught to. We are largely taught what to think, not how to think. Once you critically evaluate how we function in this country, the racism invades everything.

TC: Okay – with regard to the argument of how the history of the police affects the culture today. One of the duties of police during slavery was to catch slaves. So I think it isn't lost in the American imagination that black bodies represent something that is traditionally criminalized. That is to say, the history extends far beyond the war on drugs.

Now given that context and given that we can barely go a news cycle without some sinister incident where the police and a Black body is pronounced dead or something of the sort, are Black and Brown and poor communities – and how those communities intersect – justified in saying that the police are more bad than good? Are they justified in believing that "good cops" are few and far between, and oftentimes if there are any, they probably leave the job?

MW: I think it is completely a part of the fabric of American society to fear the black person, especially the black man. Where I waver a little is that people fear everything they do not understand. That leads me to question the motivations, maybe the ignorance is the underlying problem. By ignorance, this also carries over into the policy, laws, training, et cetera of law enforcement.

Even in academia, criminal justice is embarrassingly led by ideology and not facts or reproducible science. That ideology at the root of the creation of the criminal justice system, is the ideology of ignorant people who feared what they did not understand, what they saw as others, as an inferior species. We know that this is not true – race is just a set of genetic variables. We know that the foundation of criminal justice thinking is flawed, but nothing is being done about it.

To address the second half of that question, I do not have definitive evidence, but I am confident in saying that if I were black, in a poor community, I would be more afraid of the cops than probably anyone else. The lack of accountability may be the largest determiner there, though. The "good" cops are an anomaly.

I was embarrassed and ashamed of myself once I finally started to realize that. The "good" cops, like Joe Crystal, who report things and see them right away, do not last very long – they either quit or get railroaded. There were twelve bad cops in McKinney, not one. And while my record is impeccable, my resume ideal, I was not a "good" cop when I was in. I had to stand outside of the blue wall before I saw its immensity, much like how many other members of LEAP explain it as well.


TC: Let's talk a little bit more about LEAP because I think people have a general understanding of what it is – if they know it. But for those who aren't familiar with it, tell us a little bit more. When did it start, what are its aims, etc.?

MW: LEAP is Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and they are comprised of former cops, prosecutors, judges, professors, and more who see the evil of drug prohibition. I have to give the company line, so to say, because I don't have enough experience within the organization to speak authoritatively. They came to me after hearing me speak out, so they are obviously paying attention to what is going on. The company line is at but from my experience with the leaders, LEAP was primarily focused on ending the drug war and ending the criminalization of consensual adult agreements, in general.

With the need for complete police reform surfacing, LEAP is looking to expand and I hope to be a large part of that. They were looking for a youth infusion to help guide real reform, and I am trying to fulfill that role. Confidential police reporting of corruption, outside use of force investigations, policy reform, training reform, public speaking, and more are expanding concepts for LEAP. The outside investigations are something I think is critical and that really needs to be pushed.

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

TC: That's very good to know. Now, in your opinion, what should ordinary citizens be doing? Sometimes it honestly comes across as there are multiple Americas, and there are a whole lot of people – notably White and oftentimes middle-class – who completely come off as willfully ignorant to the plight of poor communities of Color especially.

In the first place, it seems almost daunting and discouraging to believe that people aren't aware of what's going on. Or rather, what has always been going but is now more heightened because of social media – which has broken down some of the gatekeeping of traditional media. So why should ordinary, white, middle-class Americans care about this? It's sad I have to ask the question but it seems like it's a question worth asking.

MW: It is a perfect question, as it is also where I struggle the most. We have a run of great science communicators which have helped society understand the importance of science. The previously mentioned, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, probably the greatest since Carl Sagan. We need to find a way to be effective communicators of racism and police reform. How do we do that? I am trying desperately to do that. The fine line is what I fear.

When I go with my heart and get ultra-liberal, I'm going to lose those who may have listened because of my physical appearance and service. Conversely, I also need the black community to trust me, to push for me or someone like me to get the power in politics for actual reform. One misspeak and understandably, I could lose that delicate trust.

The ordinary citizen needs to keep this discussion going. I am not saying I am some authority, but listen to what we are saying in the movement. Just give us a minute and I think it becomes very clear for anyone other than those who are just holding onto the bigotry, and sometimes that behavior needs to be treated with ridicule to end. This ignorance you speak of should be ridiculed. And in my opinion, it is completely unacceptable, as the only way to not have empathy for the black community is to be willfully ignorant. I cannot tell you how many family and friends I have lost because of this, but those people are not family or friends.

We should all care about this movement because it is a movement about equality. It is a movement about strengthening the fabric of our society. It is about making less poor people, less problems. It is about becoming one and using empathy and science to make changes which will improve the safety of everyone in America.

Does white America want to go to Baltimore, watch the fireworks, and not be scared of what can happen? Okay then, lets talk about how to do that and do what actually works, even if that means giving up a little bit of white power and white privilege. Even for a racist white who has that fear of some random black man raping their daughter, that won't happen if he is in college and signing your paycheck.

Flickr / Fibonacci Blue
Flickr / Fibonacci Blue

TC: I guess that's the reality of being in social justice – you'll lose some friends along the way. But I've also always believed that any cause that doesn't cost you something, is probably not worth fight for.

Lastly Michael, what is your vision for the kind of police reform you seek? And perhaps even more than that, how will this vision affect the kind of America you want to live in? And is there really hope or are we just caught in a cycle of power where we trade one power holder for another? Can the brutal police culture of this country be transformed and what will it take?

MW: Being in social justice is something I never thought I would be doing. I was really enjoying my quiet life of school, work, and family. But in this household we all agree that it is worth fighting for. So my vision of perfect policing is decentralized, monitored by the public (yes, I mean with complete access), and problem oriented. That's largely tentative we need to study the issue without being clouded by ideology. I really think that this can be accomplished and it would be really easy if the federal government would make a few painful changes.

The absolute most important issue is ending drug prohibition and over criminalization. Most of the names that we call out, Freddie Gray, Tyrone West, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, and more can be immediately prevented by taking away some of the policies which enable police to express their own biases and prejudices and then cover them in a veil of legality. The vast majority of police violence and participation in the school to prison pipeline is rooted in drug prohibition.

I have estimated that 90% of my police work was drug-related. The vast majority of “black on black” crime is rooted in the drug trade, just like how so much violence was white on white, during alcohol prohibition. So what about black on black crime? End the drug war. If you care about black on black crime, poverty, oppression, abuse, fatherless homes, et cetera, end the damn war we have on our citizens. That won't end institutionalized racism, but it will take away the biggest facilitator of it.

In order to change the drug policy, we need the people to speak and the only way I can see that occurring is through a constitutional amendment to take the money out of politics. This is being done at WolfPac and they desperately need your support. The politicians do not serve your interest, I do not care what they tell you, they serve the interest of donors and do you really think the donors care about the oppression of minorities? Step 1: Return the power of the people via WolfPac. Step 2: End drug prohibition. Step 3: Policy Reform.

The reason I am pessimistic about change without those things is because it will depend upon the individual politicians making changes. That may work sporadically, but has no longevity. We need a constitutional amendment to lock in the changes this generation will achieve. TC mark

My Girlfriend Only Wants To Have Kids While We’re Having Sex

Posted: 05 Aug 2015 03:39 AM PDT

Flickr Amy Moss
Flickr Amy Moss

I want to have kids someday. My girlfriend does, too—but only when we’re having sex. When we’re not having sex, she says she hates kids and never wanted them.

But every time we fuck, she begs me to cum inside her and give her a baby. Then, five minutes after I’ve cum inside her, she’s frantically getting dressed and heading out to Walgreens to buy a morning-after pill. This same pattern plays out every time—cum, rinse, repeat.

When we’re in bed together, it’s always the same script:

Oh, Daddy, please cum in me! Please! Please! Fill me up with your cum and give me a baby!

“Are you sure?”

Yes, Daddy, I want your baby. Please, give me your baby.

“OK, then…”

And then it’s back off to Walgreens or CVS for another egg-killing pill.

If she’s merely playing some kind of little head game, she puts her body through hell just for the privilege of playing it. Those morning-after pills rip her insides to shreds for at least three days. There are all sorts of discharges and clots and mystery fluids and ejected tissues and vicious, borderline-violent mood swings. So there’s something going on here that’s much deeper than role-playing.

She’s a beautiful girl. She’s also horrible in bed. She’s the only girl I’ve ever been with who cannot have an orgasm with another person. Ever. She’s only able to get herself off with her hand while she’s entirely alone. And she tells me there are two fantasies that take her over the top—one is of me impregnating her, the other is of me humiliating her by fucking other girls.

That’s right—she can’t have an orgasm by having sex with me, but fantasizing about me crushing her soul by being with other girls works like a charm every time.

But that’s only when she’s not fantasizing about me impregnating her.

When we were first flirting on Facebook, she wanted to see selfies—but not of my face or my junk. She wanted to see my cum. So I shot a big load on a glass desktop and sent her a picture of it. She begged for more.

We visited some friends of mine a little while back, and my buddy’s girlfriend asked her if she ever wanted kids. She quickly shook her head “No” and gave her an “Are you crazy?” kind of look.

As we were driving back home, I said, “Why did you tell Sally that you never wanted kids?”

Because I don’t.

“But that’s not what you say when we’re having sex.”

I don’t want to talk about this anymore.

“Fine, then. But do me a favor—don’t talk about it EVER AGAIN when we’re having sex, either, because this is really really fucked-up.”

OK, I won’t.

Then, sure enough, next time we’re doing it, she’s begging me to fill her up like she’s a sports car and I’m a gas-pump nozzle.

She says she doesn’t want kids because she’d be a horrible mom—I agree with that entirely—and because she wants to focus on her career.

But when we’re having sex, a deeper and more primal part of her emerges, some long-buried maternal instinct that only reveals itself when we’re both naked and capable of creating another life together.

I’m a bit older than she is, so I don’t know how much the “Daddy” thing is part of her damage. She’s never said anything bad about her father—not a word about him molesting or abusing her. It was her mom who was the monster. So this might have nothing to do with her parents and everything to do with conflicting instincts that are warring inside her.

Are there two people inside her body? The person that the world sees is a self-consciously empowered, career-oriented modern woman. The one that I see in bed is a vulnerable little girl with a burning maternal instinct who only unmasks herself when she’s naked and able to conceive.

She has an uncontrollable compulsion to create another life and then instantly kill it. She keeps making the same wish and then snuffing it out the minute it comes true. And it’s tearing me, her, and us apart.  TC mark

11 Things You Need To Know About Australia’s Backpacker Serial Killers

Posted: 05 Aug 2015 04:43 PM PDT

Wolf Creek 2
Wolf Creek 2

1. The movie Wolf Creek drew international attention to Australia’s backpacker serial killer problem. The film claimed to be “based on true events.” While the story in the plot is completely fictional, there is a history of murders and disappearances among young people who traveled the outback.

2. Specifically, Wolf Creek took inspiration from the crimes committed against travelers Peter Falconio and his girlfriend Joanne Lees:

Falconio and Lees were travelling at night along the Stuart Highway near Barrow Creek (between Alice Springs and Tennant Creek) in the Northern Territory on 14 July 2001, when a man (later identified to be Bradley Murdoch) in another vehicle flagged them down, and told them that he had noticed that their Kombi had engine trouble. After Falconio went to the rear of the vehicle with the man to investigate, Lees heard a shot fired. The man then threatened Lees with a gun, tied her up and covered her head, but she escaped while he was distracted (apparently while moving Falconio’s body). She hid for five hours in nearby bushes before running out onto the road and flagging down a truck driver who removed her cable ties and took her to safety. Falconio’s body has never been found.

At the committal hearing in December 2004, Lees told the court that her assailant tied her wrists together behind her, put a sack over her head and forced her into his ute (pick-up truck). She also stated that the person forced her between the seats of his vehicle and into the rear of his vehicle. She said she escaped from his ute and fled into the dark, hiding under bushes, while he tried to find her with a torch. Expert Aboriginal trackers, called from a nearby settlement, could find no sign of tracks other than Lees’ in the vicinity. Tracker Teddy Egan stated, “I see tracks where she run and fall down beneath tree. She lie there, hiding”.

Darwin Police Department
Darwin Police Department

3. Bradley Murdoch, Peter and Joanne’s assailant, is believed to be innocent by some. There were no tracks searing for Joanne in the bushes, and despite a large investigation, Peter’s body was never found. Some people also claim to have seen Peter at a gas station after he was supposed to have disappeared. Peter is officially presumed dead and Murdoch is serving a life sentence in prison.

High Risk Management Unit, New South Wales, Australia
High Risk Management Unit, New South Wales, Australia

4. A second backpacker killer, Ivan Milat, was convicted of murdering 7 young backpackers. This is how the murders were tied together:

There were similar aspects to all the murders. Each of the bodies had been deliberately posed face-down with their hands behind their backs, covered by a pyramidal frame of sticks and ferns. Forensic study determined that each had suffered multiple stab wounds to the torso. The killer had evidently spent considerable time with the victims both during and after the murders, as campsites were discovered close to the location of each body and shell casings of the same calibre were also identified at each site. Joanne Walters and Simone Schmidl had been stabbed, whereas Caroline Clarke had been shot numerous times in the head and stabbed post-mortem. Anja Habschied had been decapitated and other victims showed signs of strangulation and severe beatings. Speculation arose that the crimes were the work of several killers, at least two, and later, after the killer was identified, Ivan Milat’s sworn statement had suggested anywhere up to seven people were involved.

5. The police were tipped off to the face that the killer might be Ivan Milat by a hitchhiker who had once been picked up by Milat. Milat threatened him with a gun but the hitchhiker successfully ran away.

6. In prison, Milat severed his pinkie finger with a plastic knife. Later, he went on a hunger strike, demanding a PlayStation.

7. Milat’s great-nephew Matthew Milat performed a copy-cat murder at the park his uncle buried his victim’s bodies at. There, he struck David Auchterlonie in the head with an axe on the victim’s 17th birthday.

From an Australian news story about Matthew’s sentencing:

During the sentencing, Acting Justice Jane Mathews described how Milat chased Auchterlonie around a car which was parked in the state forest, after accusing him of spreading stories about him.

She said the sound of the axe striking the victim on the head was captured on the mobile phone recording.

Justice Mathews said Milat later gloated about the murder, saying: “That’s what the Milats do.”

8. Ivan Milat kept hundreds of “trophies” from his victims. The Daily Mail did a photo post of them here.

9. There was going to be a $150 per person “extreme terror tour” of Milat’s campgrounds (where he buried his victims). It was cancelled due to mass public outrage.

10. Another killer, Andy Albury, confessed to killing 14, most of them young travelers making their way along Australia’s Flinders Highway. He was only convicted of one murder.

11. Here is a Redditor’s true account of backpacking in Australia:

This happened a couple years ago when I was backpacking in Australia.

I traveled around driving a van, like many backpackers there do, as it saves a lot of money with accomodation. I usually slept in rest areas, gas stations or wherever I could park.

This one night, I’ve been driving for a few hours and started to feel sleepy. I decided then to stop in the next rest area, in the middle of nowhere. Parking in that location during day time could be a great idea, but at night it seemed like a horror movie location.

There were no cars parked there (I know, I should park where there were more people around, but I was really drowsy) and no lights whatsoever. I turned off the engine and closed the curtains of the van.

It was not long before dawn that I heard some heavy knocking on the side of the van: “Open up, it’s the police!” Nothing wakes you up faster than that. My heart was racing. I was just adjusting to the adrenaline rush in my system when they repeated the heavy knocking, saying it was the police.

My first thought is that I parked somewhere I shouldn’t, but then again, it was the middle of nowhere and it was a rest area.

Before opening up, with my mind telling me that that situation was weird as fuck, I decide to go slowly to one of the windows and look through the gap in one of the curtains.

I could clearly see the shape/shawdow of a guy standing beside the van. His car wasn’t too far, but it didn’t have any lights or flashing lights on. This guy was definitely not a cop.

Bringing up the courage I had left I just shouted: “Get the fuck away! I have a gun and I’m calling the cops on the radio!” I didn’t have a radio or a gun, but that seemed to faze him. I saw him getting back on his car, and – to add to the creepiness – someone came out of the bushes and also got in the car.

They left and a few minutes after that, I turned on my van and drove in the opposite direction they went to.

Safe to say that I never slept in another rest area that didn’t have at least a couple other cars parked. I don’t know what those people wanted, but with Australia’s history of backpacker’s serial killers, I’m very happy to be here today! TC mark

7 People Share Their Stories On The Most F*cked Up Thing They Ever Said In Bed

Posted: 04 Aug 2015 03:34 PM PDT


1. She probably won’t be making salads around him anytime soon.

I was pretty drunk and I admitted to my girlfriend I’ve always been turned on by women masturbating with dick shaped vegetables. You know, like cucumbers or whatever…carrots. It’s something I never shared with her before and…yeah…the reception wasn’t great. – Alex, 29

2. 50 Shades of Grey is not the best place to get sex advice.

At the time 50 Shades was popular because the movie had just come out and my girlfriend said she loved it. So, since she seemed to be so into it, when she was giving me head one night I said, “Yeah, you like that? Your very own meat flavored popsicle?” I don’t know what I was thinking! I just remembered that one line from the movie…something about popsicles? I don’t know. Anyway. She started laughing hysterically and I lost my boner. – Tim, 27

3. That’s an easy way to get dumped.

I had been flirting pretty heavily at work with one of the new staffers. I never planned on actually doing anything with her but I’ll admit, I fantasized about what it would be like. One night I was having sex with my girlfriend doggy-style and said, “Love that ass, Rebecca.” My girlfriend’s name is not Rebecca. Of course, she got pissed, and even though I swore to her I wasn’t doing anything with Rebecca she just didn’t trust me after that. – Brian, 32

4. Well, he did ask…

After we had sex one night this guy I had been dating started asking about my fantasies. I admitted I was into some weird shit and he probably wouldn’t be into it. He kept pressing and kept pressing until I finally said, “Okay. I want to dominate you and stomp on your nuts and make you beg.” He laughed about it and rolled over and went to sleep. We hung out a few more times but he stopped calling shortly after. – Megan, 31 

5. No lessons on feminism. Got it.

I was drunk and got overly excited about my girlfriend giving me a blowjob. I said something like, “Yeah, suck my dick harder, slut!” She immediately stopped and then we had to have a big conversation later about using the word slut and that she’s not a slut just because she’s going down on me. I didn’t want a lesson on feminism, it was just something I said in the heat of the moment. I don’t actually think she’s a slut. – Brad, 33

6. Some guys just aren’t into that.

I told him I wanted to watch him with another girl. He thought it was a trick or something and told me to never bring it up again. – Lane, 26

7. That’s a pretty big thing to drop.

I told my boyfriend I slept with my highschool English teacher as he was getting ready to go down on me. I know it’s awful but we had just had a talk about how we needed to be honest about everything in life and…I don’t know…I just blurted it out. – Kailie, 23 TC mark

Overcoming Infidelity: 5 Ways In Which People Who Have Been Cheated On Date Differently

Posted: 05 Aug 2015 09:20 AM PDT

Diana Nguyen
Diana Nguyen

There is no way to properly describe the pain of being cheated on. When a relationship ends in infidelity, it makes you question not only your ex-partner but yourself – all of your strengths, your weaknesses and your inadequacies.

It’s easy to bring the baggage of a past relationship into a new one – but it’s not the only option available. When you take the time to properly heal after being cheated on, it can strengthen the way you relate to yourself and to new romantic partners. You experienced through the worst kind of betrayal imaginable and came out the other side – that strength shouldn’t go unacknowledged. And in the right relationship, it won’t.

No matter how broken you felt after being cheated on, you eventually move on from the pain. And once you do, you may find that the way you approach love has changed in ways you didn’t expect. Here are a few things that those of us who’ve been cheated on do differently while dating.

1. Honesty is our number one value.

We don't want the white lies or sugar coated sentiments. We want cold, hard truth because we don't want to find ourselves blind sighted later on. If there's a problem in the relationship, we're always going to want to address it directly. We know that trust gets built as a team – and we want to build it on a foundation of honesty and open communication.

2. We know how to trust.

It's easy to assume that anyone who's been cheated on must have trust issues with all future partners – but this is often the opposite of the truth. We've seen firsthand how quickly a lack of trust can deteriorate a relationship – and we don't want to go down that road again. If we're with you, it's because something about you made us feel secure enough to place our trust in you. And we aren't interested in second-guessing that trust unnecessarily.

3. We're invested in the health of the relationship.

There's never a good excuse for cheating – but we do understand that when emotional distance develops between two partners, things tend to go downhill quickly. We make a conscious effort to ensure that we're on the same page with new partners and that the relationship is a healthy and happy one for all parties involved. If the end is going to come, we want it to come honestly and amicably – not through betrayal or a bitter disintegration of love.

4. We make family and friends a priority.

We love you and we want to spend time with you – but we're not the type to throw family and friends out the window as soon as we get into a new relationship. When our last relationship fell apart, they were the people who picked us up off the floor and helped us get back on our feet. They were the ones who reminded us what trust and love truly looks like – and we are eternally grateful to them. No matter how deep into a relationship we are, family and friends will never cease to be our top priorities.

5. We know our true strength.

We've been through the worst kind of breakup imaginable – one that made us question not only our ex-partner but our own self-image. Getting cheated on messes with your mind, but it ultimately teaches you an incredible form of self-reliance. You learn to separate your self-concept from your need for validation and you come out the other side an infinitely stronger person. One who relies on themselves first and foremost – and one who knows how much strength they truly have, regardless of their relationship status. TC mark

22 Indisputable Reasons Pittsburgh Is The Perfect City For Writers

Posted: 05 Aug 2015 12:39 PM PDT

Pixabay / brandnewday
Pixabay / brandnewday

1. If you're a writer, you need to go where the stories are, and Pittsburgh is a story.

My mother attended the University of Pittsburgh during the late 1960s when the steel mills were in full swing, and the air quality was so poor that students had to cover their noses and mouths with bandanas. If you hung laundry on a clothesline, it turned black. But after the steel industry collapsed, Pittsburgh became its own comeback story through its universities, technology, and a fair share of local ingenuity.

Every story needs good characters, and we have plenty: there's Vanessa German, a self-taught artist who came to the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh by way of Los Angeles and creates sculptures from found objects that challenge Homewood's reputation as "One of America's Most Violent Neighborhoods."

Many recovering cities become copycats or downplay their own history to attract businesses, but giddy WQED producer Rick Sebak helps preserve local history and lore with documentaries such as Right Beside the River, A History of Pittsburgh in 17 Objects, and Things That Aren't There Anymore.

Our mayor Bill Peduto gambled big with the city's reputation when he appeared on Undercover Boss. After all, reality TV isn't always gentle or fair, but Peduto opened up and managed to charm viewers. In one segment, he donned the worst disguise ever to infiltrate a Public Works crew, mishandled a chainsaw, and got outed almost immediately. Aside from being a classic UB moment, the mayor was willing to sacrifice his dignity and privacy to showcase the city. Also, some of his decisions, such as insisting on filming during the fall instead of the bleak Pittsburgh winter, helped stack the deck in the city's favor. In other words, if Pittsburgh is a story, the characters here are making smart choices and getting things done.

2.The Pittsburgh comeback story is as complex as the city itself.

In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays a Pittsburgh weatherman who is forced to relive the same day over and over. In the movie Internet Connection, everyone in Pittsburgh gets to relive the city being "discovered" every other week. It happens every home Steelers game, when we're treated once again to aerial footage of the rivers merging or a line cook piling French fries on top of a kielbasa sandwich. We were named “Most Liveable City” in 2005, 2009, 2010, and 2014. In 2012, Forbes declared us a "Comeback City," in celebration of our so-called Third Renaissance.

Apparently, America is constantly forgetting it's impressed by us. It's nice to be labeled as a plucky underdog, the "Comeback City," or other well-intentioned-but-kinda-condescending variations of the "Little Burgh that Could," although it is nice to be noticed.

Even before the outside validation, we were pretty confident in our identity. My favorite Pittsburgh moment came in 2002 during the flashmob craze, when some jagoff in NYC declared a national "No Pants Bus Ride Day." Three people in Pittsburgh participated, and when they realized that no one else was joining in—and that no one was filming them, since everyone had better things to do—they quickly pulled their pants back up in shame. Bottom line: we don't feel the need to do something just because it's trending in Manhattan. Occupy Pittsburgh consisted of about 10 people armed with bongos and drums, and it was just as effective as Occupy NYC. With all due respect, we're not interested in being the next Portland or Brooklyn because, well, those cities already exist. If you're an artist, it's nice to live in a place with a deep sense of history and pride and self-assuredness.

Just don't make fun of us in a comic strip, refer to us as "Shitsburgh" whilst filming a movie here, or beat us in a playoff game, or we'll turn into a shrieking, maniacally defensive horde. It's strange: somehow, we have something to prove, but we don't really care what you think of us. The thing is, both people and places are full of contradictions—that's what makes them interesting. Maybe we got a weird complex on the way from the blast furnace to Undercover Boss, but being part of a complicated, nuanced comeback story makes living here even more interesting.

3. Beer, pizza, and debauchery everywhere (but especially in the South Side).

"It’s a classic pairing — beer and pizza. And Pittsburgh has both in abundance. In fact, the Steel City leads the country in cities with the most bars per person at 12 per 10,000 residents."
"When it comes to pizza — by the pie, slice or cone in the case of Pizza Cono in Squirrel Hill — Pittsburgh trails only Orlando, Fla., for the number of restaurants per resident at 10 per 10,000."- Stephanie Ritenbaugh, "In The Lead: Pittsburgh leads with the most bars per person," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2014

While most cities have a decent bar scene, Pittsburgh has the South Side. Because of the steel industry, probably, the South Side has the most bars per block in the nation. Much like a frontier mining town, it's an interesting place to witness the fine line between civilization and savagery, and it's interesting to watch all forms of human pretense, politeness, and inhibitions fall away as the night wears on. The South Side is the place where you can watch men stumble down the sidewalk, sing, and urinate all at the same time.

One time in college, just before last call, I stumbled into a bar near the end of Carson Street. After finding a stool, I managed to lift my head enough to read a sign that said "Absolutely no motorcycle colors." Then, as if on cue, a group of bikers wearing colors walked in. Then a different group of bikers wearing different colors walked in. I would have fled, except I was so overserved that I was afraid to stand up. So I just kind of slumped down and hoped that when the riot broke out and I got stabbed, the blades wouldn't hit any major organs.

Another time, back when I was an awful human being, there was a bar in the South Side where, on a Wednesday or Saturday night, if someone paid the bartender $20, a little person who worked there would walk along the bar and pour shots into all the patron's mouths. Seriously, all the customers would line up at the bar like baby birds waiting to be fed. If you timed it right, you could get a shot when he started pouring, then run down to the other end of the bar to get another shot.

However, if you visit the South Side during the week, or during the day, it's an entirely different world. Carson Street has a number of great shops and restaurants, and the SouthSide Works is a decidedly family-friendly outdoor mall. In college, when I was trying to be less of an awful human being, I participated in StepTrek, which offers guided tours through the South Side Slopes, a steep residential neighborhood connected by hundreds of pedestrian stairways. Some stairways went right past back porches and through tight alleys, which afforded me a real up-close view of others' lives. It was one of my first authentic Pittsburgh experiences; I learned that there were entire places and cultures in my own backyard that I knew nothing about, and that long Escher-like journey did a lot to expand my world beyond its narrow scope of coursework, dive bars, and debauchery.

“I would always reserve a special place in my heart for Pittsburgh.”- Willie Stargell

4. Literary heavyweights were inspired by Pittsburgh.

So many great writers were inspired by Pittsburgh. Did you know Gertrude Stein was born here? Annie Dillard grew up here and wrote about it in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book An American Childhood. Also from here: Pulitzer-winner David McCullough, Jan Beatty (who also hosts the wonderful literary radio program Prosody on 90.5 WESA), and renowned playwright August Wilson. Stewart O'Nan, Celeste Ng, John Edgar Wideman, Philip Beard, and Albert French grew up here. Novelist Thomas Bell was born and raised in Braddock.

A number of visitors and transplants were inspired here: the late great Hilary Masters, who arrived here from Kansas City and settled in the Mexican War Streets. Chuck Kinder moved here via West Virginia and stayed to teach and eventually direct the Writing Program at Pitt. Also Sharon G. Flake, Kathleen George, National Book Award-winner Terrance Hayes, Carl Kurlander (who regularly brings Hollywood screenwriters and producers to town as part of the Steeltown Entertainment project), Ellen Litman, and countless others.

"Pittsburgh was even more vital, more creative, more hungry for culture than New York. Pittsburgh was the birthplace of my writing."–Willa Cather, whose famous short story "Paul's Case" is set in the city's Oakland neighborhood.

5. Libraries funded by Andrew Carnegie's blood money.

I'm not sure how the subject came up, but I remember Stewart O'Nan saying that the Carnegie Library system, with its 19 branches, is one reason the city has produced so many great writers. You could just see him transported back to his childhood when he reminisced about the bookmobile. For what it's worth, it's easy to view Pittsburghers as rabid, over-the-top fans. And they are, but the truth is that Pittsburghers voted against using public money to build Heinz Field—Heinz Field!—and voted to increase their own property taxes to fund the city's libraries. When state lawmakers tried to defund the libraries, a number of signs popped up around the city and its suburbs. Here is what they said:

Sign and photo by Mary Tremonte
Sign and photo by Mary Tremonte

6. Universities with strong writing programs that are the perfect incubators for talent.

Li Young-Lee and Michael Chabon started writing at Pitt under the guidance of Gerald Stern and Chuck Kinder, respectively.

Because they're dedicated to expanding worldviews, the universities also act as accelerators for broader change: Toi Derricotte co-founded Cave Canem at Pitt, and Lee Gutkind started the nation's first Creative Nonfiction program there. Terrance Hayes taught for several years at Carnegie Mellon University before he was appointed to President Obama's National Student Poets Program. At Carlow University, Jan Beatty runs Madwomen in the Attic, which invites students from the university and women from the community to its intensive writing workshops. Chatham University's groundbreaking Words Without Walls program teaches writing to hundreds of people annually at the Allegheny County Jail and the Sojourner House, a residential drug and alcohol treatment center for mothers and their children.

The cover of Caketrain issue 11, featuring artwork by Muxxi
The cover of Caketrain issue 11, featuring artwork by Muxxi

7. There are a lot of opportunities in publishing (Literary Journal edition).

One of the easiest ways to gain experience in the publishing industry is to find an entry-level position as a reader or assistant editor, and Pittsburgh is home to several literary journals which are often looking for new staffers. There's Weave Magazine (which is supported by The Sprout Fund, a Pittsburgh grant-giving nonprofit); The Fourth River, which features place-based writing; the groundbreaking Creative Nonfiction magazine; the beautiful and mind-bending journal Caketrain (founded by Pitt and Chatham alums); and Pitt's own Hot Metal Bridge. In addition, most universities here have at least one undergraduate journal students can work at. Pitt has four.

Photos courtesy of City of Asylum
Photos courtesy of City of Asylum

8. Places like the City of Asylum provide a cultural spark.

This organization located in the North Side, is an organization whose mission is to "provide sanctuary to endangered literary writers," many of whom teach classes and give talks about culture and literature around town. Huang Xiang, an exiled poet, even used his residency space as a canvas when he created his "House Poem." Now that's something you won't see in Cleveland. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

Kristofer Collins emceeing at the Hemingway's Poetry Series
Kristofer Collins emceeing at the Hemingway's Poetry Series

9. You can hear or share work at dozens of citywide reading series.

"When I first moved to Pittsburgh in 1998 I’m not sure I thought it was a good city for writers. It took me a while to get the city’s point, which is (I think): in Pittsburgh you can start things; you don’t need to be​ a​ follower. So, in 2001 I ​co-founded the monthly Gist Street Reading Series in order to try and find my people. It worked. Ideally, my people are not strictly writers but a mix of artists and musicians and creative thinkers and they all came together for these readings and then became my friends and collaborators and supporters over the years. It’s easy here to try out something new—to take a risk—because it’s cheap to live here and the creative culture itself is unpretentious, not quick to judge but curious to see what’s going on. Now that I’ve lived here for 17 years, one of my goals is try and link up people who might not know each other in order to keep that eclectic community thriving."- Sherrie Flick, Co-director of the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival & author of the novel Reconsidering Happiness & the forthcoming story collection Whiskey, Etc.

After the Gist Street Reading series ended in 2010, several unique reading series sprung up around town. There's Acquired Taste, which features readings centered around a food-related theme and is held in a different venue each time. Want to hear poetry at a whiskey distillery in the Strip District? Stop by Wigle's Happy Hour series. Most local universities have at least one reading series, often with a unique theme and focus.

And, of course, Gist Street wasn't the only game in town: I recently stopped by an event at the Hemingway's Poetry Series, which has been going strong for 40 years now. The community there is lively, and I was impressed by the booze-soaked, college-pub atmosphere, along with the variety of readers.

Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures has brought Jesmyn Ward, Jodi Picoult, Amy Tan, and Ian Frazier to town in the past few years. This year, they're bringing Pulitzer Prize-winner Anthony Doerr and Emily St. John Mendel, among others.

Daniel Patrick McCloskey and Sarah LaPonte of Cyberpunk Apocalypse readying their original puppet show for the Lovelace Puppet Festival
Daniel Patrick McCloskey and Sarah LaPonte of Cyberpunk Apocalypse readying their original puppet show for the Lovelace Puppet Festival

10. Experience life in a post-Cyberpunk apocalypse age.

In addition to City of Asylum's international flair and all the reading series that bring new voices to the mix, I'd be remiss not to mention Cyberpunk Apocalypse, an organization that features the nation's only zine residency, and whose goal is to put "zinesters, novelists, and comic artists on equal footing."

11. Some more opportunities in publishing (indie publisher edition).

Rounding out the scene are Pittsburgh's local publishing houses: Autumn House Press, Low Ghost Press (founded by Kristofer Collins, a Pitt alum who works in a rare and used bookstore near the universities and reviews books for Pittsburgh Magazine in his spare time), Six Galleries Press, Braddock Avenue Books, and Caketrain Press.

12. And even more job opportunities in publishing (University Press and contest prestige edition).

There are also the University Presses: Carnegie Mellon University Press and the University of Pittsburgh Press, which hosts the prestigious Drue Heinz Prize for a story collection. Many of these presses hold annual contests—the Drue Heinz Prize in particular is a great indicator of potential: past winners include Stewart O'Nan in 1993, Edith Pearlman in 1996, and Tina May Hall in 2010. The judges were Tobias Wolff, Rosellen Brown, and Renata Adler, respectively.

Blue flame, red flame: the Edgar Thompson Plant in Braddock, PA
Blue flame, red flame: the Edgar Thompson Plant in Braddock, PA

13. Pittsburgh's landscape is strange and varied: You don't need to travel far to find inspiration.

This is mostly due to its geography and industrial heritage. To give you an idea of what nearby Braddock looks like, location scouts for The Road decided it was the perfect setting for the film's godless, corpse-strewn wasteland. Drive there during the day and you might catch a glimpse of the mayor, who has the city's zip code prominently tattooed on his forearm. At night, you can see a working steel mill shooting plumes of orange and blue flames into the sky.

In Forest Hills, the Westinghouse Atom Smasher was a historical oddity that inspired at least one published short story. The building was torn down in January, sadly, but it will always remain part of the landscape in many Pittsburghers' minds, where it continues to inspire curiosity and wonder.

Harsh winters, heavy trucks, and blithering idiocy make the roads in Pennsylvania notoriously terrible, but the roads in Pittsburgh are a special breed. There's a color-coded beltway system no one understands, and the urban planning is so bizarre in places that all traffic laws are rendered void and you just hope for the best. I used to live in the Bloomfield, which boasts some intersections Dr. Seuss would be proud of. And don't get me started on the Squirrel Hill tunnels or the downtown on-ramps. To be a writer means dealing with detours and finding yourself in unexpected places, and Pittsburgh's roads basically guarantee that.

I'm always intrigued by the different ways people alter their landscapes, and due to a sudden population decrease after the steel mills closed down, Pittsburgh is full of interesting adaptations. The most noteworthy, especially to outsiders, is what we've done with our old churches. Many of them were repurposed with more worldly interests: you can visit the Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville, or the Altar Bar in the Strip District, which was formerly a night club called Sanctuary.

When I lived in South Oakland, I watched a beautiful abandoned brick church down the street transform into several different shabby coffeehouses and restaurants before finally becoming a shabby Hookah bar. The history of the building itself is pretty interesting: apparently, the church itself was abandoned in 1917 and then a Byzantine Catholic congregation moved in and remodeled it before outgrowing the space and building their own church down the street.

A big scene in my novel takes place in the Phipps Conservatory, which is a giant Victorian-style greenhouse near the universities. It's difficult to describe the exterior (and interior), so I spent a lot of time there taking notes. Inside the greenhouse, there are stone walkways that lead through exhibit rooms, each filled with different trees and plants. One day, a man brushed past me while I was taking notes. When I looked up a second later, he'd vanished. I finally spotted him on the dirt hill—he'd hopped the little stone wall and was walking among the trees. This guy was completely normal-looking (khakis and wire-rimmed glasses), and he was traipsing through the exhibits, plucking various fruit from the trees and eating them. At first, I thought maybe he worked there, but then I saw him skulking through the Desert Room, on the lookout for staff members and new cactus fruit to sample. In the end, the joke's on him: I can't imagine what a mix of starfruit, bayberries, unripe plantains, and unprocessed vanilla beans does to one's intestinal system. Shine on, you crazy diamond.

I've said before that universities and tech companies helped Pittsburgh recover after the steel industry collapsed. Down the street from my office, there's a DARPA lab where scientists, funded by the military, are trying to regrow soldiers' limbs. Somewhere in the city, Google technicians are competing with other organizations to create a practical self-driving car, and Carnegie Mellon University's robot soccer team continues to dominate.

Years ago, before I had a car, I found myself stranded in Hazelwood, which is famously depicted in the music video for Wiz Khalifa's "Black and Yellow." I was trying to walk home and found myself in a large field strewn with plastic bags and gravel. In the middle was a large chain link fence and a sign that read, simply: ROBOT CITY ROUNDHOUSE. Curious, I scaled the fence and as I hopped down, I rolled my ankle. I walked gingerly down a hill towards a large dilapidated warehouse. It looked like part of an old steel mill complex—and maybe it was. I was too injured and frightened to check it out in person, but sometimes that sign will flash in my head and I'll wonder what I missed. How many stories are being manufactured and stored in that building?

Pittsburgh is home to a mysterious underground river. Also, the steepest street in the U.S. If you drive around the North Shore or the Hill District, the city's hilly terrain makes it easy to find an unexpected, breathtaking view of the city. Also, the Hill District has the city's largest number of abandoned synagogues, and if you care to look, you can see the ruins of an old incline that once carried people downtown. The city's geography may help keep its secrets, but there is so much inspiration for someone willing to search for it.

14. There’s a deep-rooted sense of art and culture.

Andy Warhola was born and raised in Pittsburgh before he shed the "a" and moved to NYC. We have a lovely museum on the North Shore dedicated to the man himself, along with like-minded artists. The Carnegie art and history museums and the Science Center are wonderful and seemingly endless labyrinths that educate and amaze countless children and parents, and the First Fridays gallery crawls bring an eclectic mix of people downtown every month. We also have the Toonseum, which is exactly what you hope it is.

15. Planes, trains, PAT buses, inclines, and trolleys bring folks together.

I grew up in a small town where everything was at least a 15-minute drive away. If you didn't have a car, you became a hermit. While it's easy to complain about Pittsburgh's public transit (and we do), I've learned through experience that buses and trains in many other cities are so sparse and unpredictable that they're basically useless. I lived without a car in Pittsburgh for eleven years, and I got around just fine. This summer, I've been teaching a course through OSHER for students 55 and older. Some are in their 70s or 80s. Many are retired professors who have so much to offer, and I've been impressed by their ambition and dedication—many of them take two or three buses, or a train to a bus, every week. It might sound obvious, but without reliable public transportation, people wouldn't be able to meaningfully connect with others to build a strong literary community.

Photos by Sherrie Flick and John Burroughs
Photos by Sherrie Flick and John Burroughs

16. Our bookstores are much more than just bookstores.

Speaking of interacting, we have a number of bookstores. When the Barnes & Noble in Squirrel Hill closed, two independent bookstores sprung up to replace it. Shout-out to Dan Iddings, who worked as a librarian for a decade before opening Classic Lines Bookstore, which is twice as beloved as the B&N ever was. Amazing books, true to its name, is the other.

Shout-out to Lesley Rains, who started the East End Book Exchange as a pop-up store and has been growing the Bloomfield-based location ever since. The EEBX has been an invaluable gathering space for countless book-lovers, reading series and get-togethers over the years, and it's so wonderful to see Lesley out and about at literary events all over the city.

New Dimensions Comics in the CIII Mall. Photo by Chip Grossman. I tried to take a photo here on a Wednesday, but it was so crowded you couldn't see the shelves.
New Dimensions Comics in the CIII Mall. Photo by Chip Grossman. I tried to take a photo here on a Wednesday, but it was so crowded you couldn't see the shelves.

While they didn't make the list I linked to in the previous paragraph, Phantom in the Attic is a great comic book specialty store near the universities, and New Dimensions Comics in the Century III mall is hands-down the best comic store in the U.S. It's not just the massive selection (only a fraction is depicted in the photo above), but also the way the store manages to appeal to the hardcore faithful as well as newbie or casual readers.

Pittsburgh is ranked as among the most literate cities in the US, and its strong independent bookstores are a testament to the city's dedication to knowledge and community.

"THERE are three cities readily accessible to the tourist, which are peculiar, — Quebec, New Orleans, and Pittsburg—and of these, Pittsburg is the most interesting by far….Was there ever such a dismal lookout anywhere else in this world? [….] The town lies low, as at the bottom of an excavation, just visible through the mingled smoke and mist, and every object in it is black. Smoke, smoke, smoke,—everywhere smoke! Smoke, with the noise of the steamhammer, and the spouting flame of tall chimneys, — that is all we perceive of Pittsburg."–James Parton, "Pittsburg," The Atlantic Monthly, 1868. This is the same essay in which Parton later refers to the city as "hell with the lid taken off."

"Fresh controversies over Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s gift-giving appearance on the reality TV show “Undercover Boss” have him questioning critics’ motives and disputing reports that the gifts are under investigation. I think it’s the first time any politician has ever been accused for lining someone else’s pockets,” Peduto said Friday. Peduto is disputing a report he’s under investigation for asking VisitPittsburgh to use its public funding for promoting the city to help cover the cost of gifts he gave to city employees during his appearance on 'Undercover Boss.' "Peduto pledged to give $155,000 to four needy city employees during his appearance on the show last month. The mayor insists the gifts are legal. “There is a sublime ridiculousness to politics sometimes, and many times, the daggers come out,” Peduto said. “I do think there’s those from a political standpoint that want to turn something good into something bad. Some people want to use this as an opportunity as a battering ram.'” –"DA: Inquiries made about Pittsburgh ‘Undercover Boss’ money, but no investigation," WTAE, January 2015

"We’re like Joe Chiodo, the legendary Homestead barkeep and longtime Steelers fan who, just days before the AFC Championship, told the New York Freaking Times he hoped the Steelers lost. Why? Because his seats in Heinz Field weren’t as good as the seats he had in Three Rivers. That, my friends, is Pittsburgh. We don’t really care who you are, or what you’ve done. The minute you try doing it to us, we’re going to tear you from the pedestal we put you on. I’m sure it would be a lot easier to run an offense, or a city, if that wasn’t so. But that wouldn’t be Pittsburgh. It might not even be football. I like to think that attitude helped make Pittsburgh what it is today. If we suffered in silence or were easily impressed by millionaires, we never would have stood up to Carnegie in Homestead. We might still be tending open-hearths on 24-hour shifts."–Chris Potter, "Irony City," Pittsburgh City Paper, 2005

"Fiction is about one thing only: trouble."- Chuck Kinder

17. A sports history so vast it could fill a library.

A metric ton of books could be written (and have) about Pittsburgh's rich sports history. The immaculate reception. The Steelers' uphill slog to win 3 playoff games on the road, and then the Super Bowl. That gadget play where Randle El threw for a touchdown. Roberto Clemente. Satchel Paige. Garett Jones' home run that almost took out a cyclist near the river. Garett Jones is the first in Pirates history to hit the ball directly into the river. Hockey things. We have a women's football team (The Pittsburgh Passion), a defunct arena football team, a hockey team, college sports out the wazoo, and a professional soccer team—if that's not enough, Hollywood's graced us with fictional teams: Pittsburgh Pythons and Gotham Knights, anyone?

With all this activity and competition, there's passion constantly in the air. You'd have to try mighty hard not to tap into and be carried along by all the energy.

"And so we came into town through the Fort Pitt tunnel, at night. I don’t need to tell you what a dazzling sight that is. It was an evening in early summer, and the Pirates were at home, and there, beyond the blazing city and the glinting rivers, lay that great bowl of light, dusted as if with stars by a million illuminated gnats hovering over it. The stadium where Sanguillen grinned, and my lost hero Clemente had once crashed into the walls, chasing down impossible pop flies. No, my first sight of Pittsburgh did not disappoint. Until then, I had been intrigued, fascinated, even charmed by the Pittsburgh in my mind, a city that continues to exist, somewhere deep down in there underneath everything that came after. But when our car burst out of the tunnel that night, I began to fall in love."–Michael Chabon, "My Report to the Carnegie Institute," 2001

Pixabay / muellers
Pixabay / muellers

18. Strange architecture to match the landscape.

Pittsburgh has an exotic landscape, but its varied architecture also keeps things interesting. Each building was designed to make a statement, and each building tells a story, as you can see in this article, which only covers one of the city's 90 neighborhoods.

19. Necessity Pittsburgh is the Mother of Invention.

I've talked about high culture, literature, and architecture, but did I mention that 1968's Night of the Living Dead made Pittsburgh the birthplace of the modern cinematic zombie? Also, the Ferris Wheel, the Big Mac, and the Mr. Yuk sticker were invented here, and there's a not-so-subtle connection between the three. Maybe there's something in the water, or maybe close proximity to all this industry naturally inspires innovation. Now that Google and TechShop have established themselves in Bakery Square, who knows what new inventions are on their way?

Also, there's literally something in the water. I'm not sure what the industrial revolution did to our rivers, but I can tell you from firsthand experience that if you swim in the rivers, you'll stink for days and open cuts will bloom with interesting infections. My buddy Justin used to live in Lawrenceville, and sometimes we'd fish on the banks of the Allegheny. One afternoon, a middle-aged fellow set up a camp chair next to us and told us the secret to catching fish any time of day: dough balls the size of a marble rolled in crushed Frosted Flakes and soaked in Cherikee Red. And he was right: while we cast and recast without a bite, he caught half a dozen weird-looking fish and stashed them in a cooler. I've never seen fish that color. Maybe the bait attracted them. As the sun started to set, he packed up his stuff, grabbed the cooler, and started walking up the hill, whistling.

"You're not seriously going to eat those," we said.

"Sure," he said. "Why not? I eat all sorts of things out of this river."

I wanted him to elaborate but was afraid to ask. The moral of the story: this man is patient zero for the next zombie pandemic. He was wearing a red baseball cap with his fishing license clipped to the top, and torn Birkenstocks. If you see him lurching your way, it's already too late.

Pixabay / tpsdave
Pixabay / tpsdave

20. Concrete, ice, and smokestacks: No place for crybabies.

Writing is hard, and while writers might not be the loudest whiners out there, we're probably the most articulate (myself included). But when your neighbors tell you about working in the steel mills, where floors got so hot that people strapped on wooden clogs that smoked throughout their shift, it gets harder to complain. And with industrial smokestacks and billboards from shuttered businesses clearly visible on the skylines, it's easy to realize others' sacrifice and your own good fortune before getting back to work. The truth is, people who don't know better like to glamorize blue collar work, and they like to glamorize writing. But writing isn't a glamorous job. In the end, it's just you and your wits versus fear and the blank page.

In addition to all the teachers, writers, organizers, publishers, and zombies out there, I need to acknowledge the reporters and book reviewers who help keep the flame alive. Reviewing a book is time-consuming and the pay is miniscule, but that didn't stop Bob Hoover from reviewing countless books for the Post-Gazette since 1987. Bill O'Driscoll is always on top of the literary scene with his editorial position at the City Paper, and Fred Shaw's at the top of his book review game right now. In a world where most newspapers and magazines shy away from literature, Rege Behe regularly profiles Pittsburgh writers in addition to reviewing books for the Tribune-Review. Anthony Moore, Pitt's News and Information Specialist, is another key connector in the literary scene.

"Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever." – from Billy Wilder's screenwriting tips

21. It’s the most affordable city.

"Cost of living is definitely the factor that keeps me in Pittsburgh—not worrying too much about money frees me up to work on my writing. But more than that, there are just so many writers in Pittsburgh. I've learned that most in my post-MFA years, as I've met writers who have come here at all different points in their careers, writing in all manner of genres. Having so many successful writers around makes the whole venture seem possible. We all know—from lifetimes of askance raised-eyebrow looks about our literary ambitions—that the mere idea of possibility is invaluable. And of course the support of the literary community makes it all the more possible. Other things too: Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures’ Literary Evenings, Pitt's Contemporary Writers Series, all things East End Book Exchange. Constant events keep the community strong and active. And the way everyone wants to tell you about the history of any given detail of the city, down to Pittsburgh closets and Pittsburgh toilets. I love the constantly circulating lore, with all its revisions and embellishments. It is, itself, a literary tradition. And even this: the strange and unexpected lilt of the Pittsburgh accent, the first time you say Car-NAY-gie correctly, call the ice "slippy," or experience the unique satisfaction of calling someone a jagoff—there's nothing like the consistent surprise of words."- Katie Booth, a freelance nonfiction writer who arrived in Pittsburgh via Massachusetts

Pixabay / skeeze
(#TBT) Pixabay / skeeze

22. Pittsburgh is concentrated greatness, period.

Pittsburgh is special, and I'm not just saying that because I chose to spend the last 14 years here. Maybe it's because the city's weird geography and 446 bridges can make neighborhoods a little insular, but this city often has a small-town feel to it, in the best possible kind of way.

When I was in graduate school, I was heading to a party at Chuck Kinder's house in Squirrel Hill. I'd printed out directions from, and I was still lost. A bearded fellow in a yarmulke stopped and asked me if I needed help, and when I told him where I was heading, he pulled over and jotted down better directions for me. Back when I was a poor nobody driving a shitty car that broke down every other week, I lost count of the times complete strangers stopped to help. During that car's first and last winter in the city, several neighbors I'd never met helped me push the car up the slick, icy brick road I lived on.

Pittsburghers know their own history and lean towards having a genuine respect for it, which is refreshing. This is a place many young people never want to leave, and a place many older people return to after they retire, or to help aging parents.

It's funny: as someone who's lived here long enough to call it my home, I don't just want to advocate for Pittsburgh as just a great place for writers—it's a great place to live, period. At the same time, every article (such as this one) that helps to spread the word might bring more people here, and in that crowd are the inevitable soulless greed-puppets who are frothing to build plastic McCondos on every corner until only the richest, blandest people can afford to live here. Even now, property rates are soaring and the change in some neighborhoods is downright shocking. I suppose I share the same dream, and the same conflict, of urban artists all over the country: I don't want this city to change, even as I know that's impossible. How does anyone handle this contradiction? Me, I'm going to keep faith in my city, hold on, and enjoy the ride for as long as possible.

If you're interested, I've compiled a list of my sources and notes here.

If you know of another reason Pittsburgh is a great city for writers (or a great city in general), please feel free to sound off in the comments. TC mark

I wrote a novel. Sixty percent (the best sixty percent!) takes place in Pittsburgh. The novel's called Eighty Days of Sunlight because that's how many days of sunlight we get here.


Moon-Worshipping Witch Slaughters A Woman And Her Two Sons

Posted: 05 Aug 2015 12:34 PM PDT

Youtube / Sizzling Hot News
Youtube / Sizzling Hot News

When one of her sons didn’t show up for work, his employer asked that the police check up on him. The son was living with his mother — 77-year-old Voncile Smith — and what the inspecting officer found at her house was a scene of ghastly murder.

Youtube / Sizzling Hot News
Youtube / Sizzling Hot News

Voncile Smith — and one of her sons John, 47 — were killed by blunt force trauma. Richard, 49 was shot through the ear — probably as he entered the home. After being stabbed repeatedly with a claw hammer, and having each of their throats slit, their bodies were arranged in a seemingly ritualistic manner on the living room floor.

The horrific killings are made all the more confusing because there were absolutely no signs of forced entry into the premises. There was also nothing stolen from the residence. This evidence points toward this murder being a sacrificial killing.

Police believe that the killing served as a tribute to the rare “blue moon” that would occur only days later.

Flickr / godserv
Flickr / godserv

The local sheriff told the press that, without a doubt, something extremely sinister is afoot in this case:

"It's witchcraft, I'll say that right now."

People (and the press) are now are labeling the killer as a “Wiccan”, but many practicing Wiccans have objected to giving him this label, claiming that their faith does not promote ritual killing in any way.

Mainstream Wicca does indeed seem to promote peace through its commands to “minimize harm” and a promise that all actions performed by an individual will come back upon them “three-fold,” in a concept very similar to “karma.” Wicca does, however, have many fringe denominations and sects that may interpret these laws differently.

Those who live near the murder-site say they are more than a little terrified.

“It’s frightening to think about. Especially when you have small children. To find out that it was this weird, satanic cult, witchcraft whatever, is just really unsettling,” neighbor Ken Lester told local news WECT.

Wiccan or not, this guy is still out there. Police have a suspect in this case, but he sill remains at-large. The investigation is ongoing. TC mark

What I, A Zimbabwean, Think Of Cecil The Lion

Posted: 05 Aug 2015 12:06 PM PDT

Flickr / Bluemoonstars
Flickr / Bluemoonstars

Dear World,

Cecil the lion is trending on social media and in international media. Not since Simba, of The Lion King, has a lion captured the world's imagination in this way. His killing has outraged all decent people around the world. The perpetrator, an American dentist called Walter Palmer, has been the subject of much criticism on social media and elsewhere.

People are upset and angry at his cruel and sordid act. I understand it. I love animals. When I was a small boy herding cattle with my friends back in the village, we fought boys from another village when we found them killing defenceless little birds. I hate cruelty to wild creatures.

But there are a few things that need to be said. As a Zimbabwean, I usually say we don't write our stories often enough. We leave them to be written by others and when we read, we complain that our stories are not being told properly. So, I thought, let me wear my hat of home and write a bit about this story – express my own version of events.


For one thing, Cecil's tragedy has put us in the news, only this time the big villain is an American dentist, not the usual characters. But when I read about a famous and much-loved lion called Cecil, and saw the wide coverage on the international news networks, I was a bit surprised because I did not know Cecil or that he was our most famous lion.

I remembered Maswerasei, a lion that caused terror in Hurungwe, a rural area in the late 80s. Myths were built around Maswerasei, whose name owed to the story that he only appeared towards sunset, the time when people traditionally ask "Maswerasei?" (How has your day been?) when they meet. Maswerasei was the notorious lion that I knew. Cecil was new to me.

So I did a quick check around my circle of friends and family in Zimbabwe – which is a fairly big circle. None of them knew Cecil. His fame had not reached them, too. They did not know that he was, as one British paper said, "a symbol of Zimbabwe".

On social media, there was mixed reaction reflecting similar conflicting sentiments. Many were outraged, but many weren't sure too, about the representations of the story in the international media. The country is going through serious economic challenges, and quite understandably, most people have pressing needs on their minds, such as food, shelter and jobs.

Carrie Cizauskas
Carrie Cizauskas

Thousands have been laid off work since a recent Supreme Court judgment a couple of weeks ago. A democracy activist called Itai Dzamara has been missing for more than four months and some people worry that the story of this human being has not received as much international attention. So forgive them, if their attention is not as much focused on Cecil's sad demise. It's not that they don't get it, or that they don't care for animals, no.

In fact, I don't know if there is any other culture, as that among Zimbabweans, whereby humans identify themselves with wild animals. Our clan names, Shumba (Lion), Hove (Fish), Mhofu (Eland), Soko/Mukanya (Monkey/Baboon) are all references to animals, with which clans are identified. I, for example, am of the Hove (fish) totem – the price that I must pay, alongside my clan members, is that I do not eat fish.

It is the same with other totems. You don't eat or kill the animal with which you are associated because in effect, you would be killing or eating your own flesh and blood. Our ancestors knew the value of animals. This was one system of preserving them. Society rationed who ate what from the wild in order to avoid over-exploitation. So, we have always valued wild animals.


The point here is not to dismiss or trivialise Cecil's tragedy, no. It is to say that, in fact, the manner in which the story has been presented by international media seems somewhat far removed from the lived realities of most of the local people. The reason for this also lies in the skewed economics around tourism and hunting in Zimbabwe. It is mired in elitism and beyond the reach of many ordinary Zimbabweans. Local tourism is very weak. The economy is stagnant and only a privileged few have disposable income.

Apart from a few, Zimbabweans generally don't go on holiday to a tourist facility such as a national park for wild animals. If they do, it's probably an organised school trip for kids or their company has a chalet or lodge, where senior employees book to spend a few days during the year. The other facility is if a non-governmental organisation organises a workshop at one of the wildlife resorts and as part of "refreshment," participants are taken on a game-drive around the resort.

Those are the few ways by which a lot of Zimbabweans have got to see lions, elephants, giraffe and other wild animals. Our holidays, traditionally, consist of going down to the rural village, to spend time with the old folks and escape the routine of city life, if only for a few days. Contrary to some perceptions of Africa, people don't actually live with wild animals. Most Zimbabweans have actually never seen a lion apart from pictures in a book or Simba from The Lion King. For those who live near wildlife parks, there are really no good and bad lions as in The Lion King, though – lions eat their livestock and locals will generally run for safety if they see one.

But this is not to say Cecil was not famous, no. He probably was, but only to a segment of society, a privileged segment – both local and international, that have a stake, either as vendors or as consumers, in the very lucrative tourist industry and another related, but lesser-known industry, called the hunting industry. And it is this that has actually prompted me to write this piece – because the hunting industry is one of the last big secrets in the Zimbabwean economy and it looks hideous and corrupt as the story of Cecil indicates.

It's a shame that some sad American dentist has killed (some have gone so far as to say "murdered") Cecil who, we now know, was much-loved but the truth is hundreds, if not thousands, of animals are killed every day during the hunting season. Yes, there is actually a hunting season!

The point is, there is a hunting industry out there and it is very lucrative. I suspect it operates like a cartel and there is a Mafioso element to it. Professional hunters are quite simply glorified poachers. The difference is professional hunters are licenced while poachers are unlicenced. Wealthy professional hunters are like a well-drilled army whereas poachers are like a rag-tag army of bandits. But their end result is the same – they kill wild animals.


This authorisation regime explains why the sad American dentist sees nothing wrong with what he did. To be fair, he probably went through all the motions, legal and extra-legal, in order to satisfy his vile passion. But he is not alone. And this wouldn't be the first time that he did it. There are many like him out there. They are not your average Brit from a council flat in Peckham, no.

These are wealthy fellows, with million-dollar pads in Kensington, who are probably also lobbying the British Government to bring back fox-hunting. They enjoy blood sports. They love killing. And there is an industry that feeds their passion. When they meet at their Gentlemen's clubs, they probably show off their trophies – which is why they are happy enough to be photographed next to their big kill, grinning like idiots. The hunting industry would probably not survive if they didn't exist.

In Zimbabwe, hunting is a regulated industry but there is very little scrutiny. There is a racial and class element to it as well which explains the fight between black politicians and white farmers over wildlife conservancies. These are places where wild animals have the liberty to live under protection from poaching but unlike national parks, they are private property.

David Brossard
David Brossard

When the black politicians took over commercial farms and exhausted them, they realised, there was another, perhaps more lucrative area which was still occupied almost exclusively by the whites. So the black politicians decided they also wanted a share of it – by hook or crook.

One big fight was over a big and rich conservancy in Masvingo called the Save Conservancy. I am not sure what has happened there – they probably reached a mutually beneficial settlement, so that everybody is "eating," as sharing loot is called in the streets of Harare. The point is, the majority of ordinary Zimbabweans are oblivious of this rich economy around wildlife and when things happen to animals, they are quite distant.

But there is also a lot of corruption around hunting. A professional hunter or glorified poacher doesn't just go out and hunt, no. He has to get a licence. That licence is issued by Government authorities. There is a Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management which is in charge of these matters. We are blessed with lots of wild animals in Zimbabwe and while we preserve them, it is also important to ensure there is a balance with communities around where they live.

If animals threaten human communities, the communities get angry and they kill them. So a win-win situation is needed. This is why the authorities do a regular census of animals and cull them if they exceed the carrying capacity. It is in this context that hunting is supposed to take place. Indeed, this is the basis upon which the hunting industry is justified.

The authorities issue permits to professional hunters – local and international. They identify the game that can be hunted and set the quotas. It costs a lot of money to get these permits and only a few can afford. I suspect a foreign hunter is required to work with a local one. They pay huge fees. The meat is shared or sold on the local market. I recall one image that did the rounds a few years ago, of a whole community stampeding over the carcass of a slain elephant.

International media carried those images but on that occasion it was to feed the story that poor Zimbabweans were starving to the extent that they were devouring dead elephants. One local professional hunter I met at a Harare pub a few years ago offered buffalo meat but I wasn't keen. The skins and other parts that can be preserved are also sold mostly on the international market.

All this means there are many rent-seeking opportunities in this industry. Those who issue licences, those who provide guidance and assistance to foreign hunters, those who provide transport and logistics, etc. Everyone from top to bottom has an opportunity to extract rents from the other. Those who are into it make a lot of money.

There is a huge amount of corruption and skulduggery that goes on in that industry. This is probably why not much will happen to the American dentist. Or to the big people behind what happened. The small people will probably be sacrificed and will pay the price. But there will be more Palmers and more Cecils in future.


PFlickr / Ryan Kilpatrick
PFlickr / Ryan Kilpatrick

All this, of course, is fed by a wealthy international market. There are huge international conferences and fairs in places like Las Vegas – on hunting. Big people in Zimbabwe are involved in this lucrative hunting industry – Government Ministers, their relatives and their friends. These government people might shout and scream during the day about white people, Europeans, and Americans. But during the night, they are their hunting partners. This is an industry of a few people – fuelled by the passion of glorified poachers, also called professional hunters, from Europe, America and Asia and the voracious appetite for wealth by the powerful local lords.

So while the world mourns Cecil the lion, do remember that Cecil is just but one victim in a horrible blood industry that unites friends and foes alike – across countries and continents but within the confined lines of wealth and power. A challenge to journalists – local and international – is to expose the anatomy of the hunting industry – in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya or elsewhere, complete with its international dimensions. Now that would make a really good story and would expose the rot that goes on in that industry.

You might be reading this from a hotel lobby or office or lounge whose walls are adorned with heads of stuffed animals. Or you might have seen them before and remarked at how lovely they looked. What you may never have asked is where they came from and how they got to be there. Point is, there are many Cecils out there – both past and present and unless you deal with the ills of the industry, there will certainly be many more in future.

And while we are at it, I should also put in a word for a friend. He is of the Makoni clan. For years he has moaned about the grisly killing of his great ancestor – Chief Chingaira, whose head he says was chopped by the settler army and given, ironically, to Cecil John Rhodes, the “founder” of present-day Zimbabwe, as a war trophy sometime in the late 19th century. He insists the head, which he believes is in some British museum, must be returned home to its people. TC mark

This post originally appeared at Alex Magaisa.

This Is What It’s Like To Be ‘Gay Like Me’

Posted: 04 Aug 2015 07:33 AM PDT


If I could choose to be a straight man, I would. At least, this is what I tell myself sometimes. As you can imagine, it doesn't really help me sleep at night. If anything, it's only made me more perturbed by the well of conflicting emotions swirling inside of me. I did not choose to be persecuted. I should not have to justify my existence to corrupt lawmakers who, notepads out, prescribe me with injections of Leviticus the way a licensed medical professional would treat a bout of flu with antibiotics.

My "affliction" was declassified as a mental disorder by the World Health Organization in 1990. It's unnerving, then, to still feel the knife in my gut when I read about yet another young teenager, or a college student, pushed to suicide. It's disturbing still, to read about homosexuals thrown off buildings to their deaths by ISIS, to discuss public stonings, hangings—even beheadings, over my morning coffee. If I were a straight male, the blows over these indictments and punishments would be, I think, rather lost on me. But I would fail at being a straight male; as convenient as simply hitting the “off” switch on my sexual orientation would be, it's just not an option.

As a gay male, I don't have the right to male privilege. Male privilege is straight male privilege. It's an aspiration, however unattainable, among many of my ilk. Just ask the “straight acting” gay men who take pride in their trips to the gym, their football games and their asides to the bath houses while their wives are away. Whatever enjoyment they may get out of being a star athlete is overridden by their survival instinct. They have created a status and within it, there is protection, not to mention power. They're positively riled if you even insinuate that you know they're gay. These are the men who will charm you with their looks, yet bring you instantly to heel at their prejudice. They're superior to me, because they're “on the downlow.” They're masc. They can avoid the plague of human rights violations in our country while reaping the benefits of their meticulously cultivated “straight” persona.

I was still homeless just a few short months ago and one night, I was tired and I was lonely. I cruised around the Bronx, eventually finding myself in the neighborhood of Kingsbridge. I met a rather intelligent guy: tall, intriguing, just shy of thirty. He'd just moved to New York from South Carolina after finishing his Masters in Psychology. When I found myself in his apartment, he shut off all the lights and indicated for me to park myself on his bed, legs up in the air. "How tender of you," I remember quipping sardonically. My situation being rather dire at this point in time, I honestly didn't care about love or tenderness. I had very little compassion to give to anyone, let alone myself. And yet. His reply struck a chord.

"What do you want from me?" he tells me. "I don't suck dick. That's gay."

I sat up then and looked him right in the eyes. "What are you going on about? You are gay."

He shook his head. "I'm not gay like you."

His rebuttals made no logical sense to me. I go to the gym, he said. I don't swish. I don't make waves. Almost immediately after that, I put my clothes back on and left.

I wondered then what it meant to be gay like me and it got me thinking of the phrase black like me, as coined by John Howard Griffin in his book of the same name. He managed to pass himself off as a white man much to the pleasure (and ignorance) of racist white folk. But the picture is thus: Griffin isn't rallying his brothers and sisters to be black like him. Black is still black, after all, especially in the pre-Bloody Sunday era South. He's pointing out that to be truly free, one has to be white like them, which is an impossibility. Conversely, no gay male, if they truly want to be taken seriously, can be gay like me.

To be straight like them is the way to be. You'll be rid of the feeling that you live in a climate of perpetual injustice, you'll be able to toss out your strawberry daiquiris quicker than a huntsman will yell “Tally ho!” upon catching sight of his quarry; you'll be one of the guys, people will actually listen to you, you'll be normal. Is it any surprise that horrors such as aversion therapy even exist? Is it bewildering, then, that the straight ideal has contributed to a sort of makeshift caste system among an already vulnerable, even disillusioned minority? Our identity isn't even our own.

So straight men explain it to me. Even some straight women, too. Well, they've tried. It boggles the mind that one group could be so ignorant to the full extent of their privilege and the catastrophic effects of so many years of sexual entitlement and misogyny built up into one rather grand, even brilliant, ripple effect. Society has, for years, embarked on a campaign against our gay men for being too feminine and our lesbians for not being feminine enough. It's a philosophy filtered down from Capitol Hill to armchairs across America.

There's talk, oh there's talk, about the threat to marriage, which is simply another way of saying the threat to heterosexual identity, namely straight male identities, who are fearful of no longer being able to call it their own, their elated positions as providers polluted by a notably inferior identity. (Marriage has only been the heteronormative fashion of choice for a short time in our history, but that's another discussion for another day and to be frank, there are many other voices out there who have stated these points and have continued to reiterate these points far better than I; suffice it to say that if straight men decided feather boas were prime examples of masculine superiority and fortitude, a few thousand more rewrites of history would render it as such.) This identity already exists in conjunction with the subjugation of the female experience, which carried over and mutated into the monster which has been heavily at work consuming the homosexual one.

In equating gay men and women to the so-called “weaker sex,” the process of dehumanization is complete, as is the relentless contribution to the rise in LGBT depression and suicide rates. This is the world we live in, a world where Sean Hayes can be castigated by a theatre critic for not being straight enough and where even Michael Sam, as broad and as abrasive on the field, I reckon, as any American football player would have to be, can't kiss his own boyfriend without confessing to outlandish, socially constructed perceptions of weakness (this “weakness” is directly related to why straight men are intimidated by the very notion of being peeked at in the locker rooms—they don't want to give a homo the opportunity to treat them the same way they treat women). The world we live in sees to it that homosexual role models are snuffed out.

Working at a bookstore, I've found myself exposed once again to authors I know and love, but the real magic on the job lies in discovering (or perhaps re-discovering) authors you may or may not have heard of. Rebecca Solnit and her essay collection, Men Explain Things to Me, were in this latter camp, though I distinctly remember her original essay making the rounds in 2008. It's hard, as homosexuals, not to relate to, or even see a lot of ourselves, in the plight of the fairer sex. It's difficult for me not to nod my head in silent agreement when I hear women so fervently and astutely challenge the patriarchy for its diminutiveness towards their experiences, when so many of my own straight male role models have let me down, directing me to accept my own subjugation, my excision from a “normal” family unit, telling me, not imploring me, to silently regress within myself and adhere to my status as a second-class citizen, never mind however implicit or explicit the discrimination!

You take this too seriously, I've been told. You live in the best and brightest country in the world and You live in the best city in the world are other mantras I've been hearing. Well, let me explain this to you: I am a gay man living in (allegedly) the most civilized country on the planet and even that's not civilized enough. I live in a country where gay men and women can be fired in 29 states simply for being who they are. I live in a country where same-sex couples can be denied hospital visitation, family health coverage, and even their role as parents and carers to their children; where gay men and women commit suicide to avoid emotional and physical retribution from their family members, peers, colleagues and even total strangers. I live in a country where I was ridiculed by the police after escaping an abusive relationship because I “could have, you know, been a man.”

He then explained how this could have been achieved and refused to take my statement.

And I'm tired of it. I'm tired of it because none of it should have happened. I should not have had to be homeless and cast out by society, the very institutions I pay my taxes into and many of the people in my life because I did not meet anyone's preconceived notions and expectations of how a man should or shouldn't act. It's impossible for me not to take umbrage with the idea that domestic violence is a female problem, for while it is true that the majority of cases which are reported involve heterosexual couplings, the stance serves to simultaneously shame the victim and subjugate them to the level which women are so commonly subjugated.

We all know that women are history's favourite scapegoat. They are scapegoats because straight male privilege has dictated that the easiest way to do this, if they can't be, at least in our country, raped, beaten, flogged, circumcised, stoned, drowned in wells or burnt at the stake, then they can, at the very least, be mocked, chastised, forced to live up to unrealistic beauty standards and have their experiences completely and utterly invalidated.

Let me leave you with a little story:

There once was a woman who had two children. Boys. With two different men. She worked tirelessly raising them to be gentlemen. She did this alone. She juggled single-parenthood without complaint. She dated women. Some relationships lasted longer than others, but the children weathered the storms as they came. The mother endured the silent treatment from some of her relatives, quietly bracing herself for each biting recrimination. Her children were never raised to believe that their home was anything but normal. Childhood was a happy time, though they lived, for the most part, in obliviousness to any familial rifts which may have come about as a result of their mother's sexual preference. It was easier that way. Then, when the elder son, who had endured endless streams of teasing and bullying for many years, who had secretly fostered a drinking problem, embarked on his first serious relationship and decided to come out of the closet, the mother was not happy. She expressed her misgivings and berated him. If only you'd been straight, she said. You'd have been spared. I wouldn't have to worry so much.

The woman in the story is my mother. For the longest time, I had the utmost difficulty with reconciling those feelings. I have had to make sense of her struggles in an attempt to comprehend, even mitigate, my own.

As of this writing, I'm still not straight. I don't really see that changing, do you? I have also come to understand my mother's seemingly disappointed response to my coming out and have been able to make sense of her feelings. They come from a place which is outside of myself, a place which is greater than the both of us. It is not, however, a place that is beyond me, though it might be beyond the limits, perhaps even absurd, to some and, even still, inconceivable to some others.

It is merely the space I live in, that we live in, explained to the best of my ability. TC mark