My friend and I were chatting last week about our eco-liberal West Coast metropolis. Although she grew up locally while I moved here as an adult, we found a parallel experience: at first, the city looked like utopia. Rainbow flags everywhere, functional mass transit, a high minimum wage — hell, we even have carbon-neutral electricity and municipal compost.

But as we’d each deepened our involvement in the extreme left, the love affair with the city ended sharply. This wasn’t utopia. This was a settler-colonial police state that hated the poor. The smug liberal hypocrisy was just there to mock us…


Marching in a large protest is like dancing at a rave or feeling a god descend onto an ecstatic ritual: you transcend your ordinary self.

You get a feel for collective energy — your mood syncs up with the crowd’s, shifting together, sometimes literally second by second. Decisions are made without you choosing to make them (and the crowd’s choices only sometimes align with the organizers attempting to direct things. I’ve been in marches that spontaneously changed direction and ended up halfway across the city from the intended destination as the initial leaders pleaded on their megaphones, getting desperate, begging…


When I was young, I needed to know where you stood.

I had to know your political ideology, which (marginalized and privileged) identities you carried, and what you called your philosophy of life and/or religion. I convinced myself that labeling — granular, unambiguous, broken down into an endlessly-precise fractal — was the method of understanding the world. It would let me get a handle on what was happening, force it to make some sense. …


“In the eyes of God we’re all equally guilty,” I said. My Sunday school teacher answered, “That’s absolutely right.”

I was raised in a moderate church, but in Texas, even the mild end of Christianity tends to be pretty strong medicine. I was taught to believe in original sin and I believed in it — the steep, thorny path to Heaven and the wide and easy one to Hell. Adam and Eve ate the apple. We’d all inherited a share of their guilt. …

Frances Willard, feminist and Prohibitionist, of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union — a forerunner of both today’s activist left and religious right

Membership in the trans community has roughly the same half-life as Thorium-228: within about two years, most people leave.

That’s not because they detransition. Although not unheard-of (and certainly extensively discussed by journalists), detransitioners form only a minute percentage of people who’ve ever identified as trans (and an even smaller share of those who pursued transition long enough to receive any medical interventions). But most trans people, despite being happy with the choice to transition, still end up dropping out of the organized trans community.

They stop attending support groups and social events, step away from activist commitments, and go…


There’s a weird advice-columnist habit.

Go to any hip, forward-thinking online publication and look over their advice columns. It’s mostly what you’d expect: etiquette, “self-care,” and injunctions to stop keeping secrets from your spouse. Run-of-the-mill agony-aunt fare, not so different from “Dear Abby” or “Miss Manners.”

But if someone writes in with a serious problem, they get two answers instead of one. The columnist makes their suggestion, but also says, “You should talk to a therapist about this.” The psychotherapist has the real answers. …


Back when I practiced it, we didn’t call it “cancel culture.”

More than a decade ago, it wasn’t even “call-out culture” yet. My friends and I just called it “being an intersectional feminist.” We ran on moral outrage — our morality versus both the Christian Right and its moderate-liberal enablers. More than anything else, it was the other side’s hypocrisy that rankled us. How dare they call themselves “values voters” and “believers in traditional morality” when they were thrilled to get to mistreat immigrants, gays, women, and the poor? Where did they get off, claiming to represent a universal tradition…


I don’t remember the first time I learned about Hell.

Maybe it was at Sunday school. Maybe it was at home, when my parents read out loud from the book of Bible stories for children, with illustrations by children (“just like you!” the cover promised). The Devil, red and angular, drawn in crayon by a six-year-old just like me, was a living presence in my world. He lived in Hell — a physical place, a region of the universe just like the neighbor kids’ backyard or my classroom at school or the asteroid belt out in space.

Hell terrified me…


I transitioned back in the Aughts. Most of the cisgender people in my life were baffled. I remember a good friend, a cis man who always expressed support for my choice and never said a hateful word, still admitting it really made no sense to him. He simply could not grasp the impulse. But that wasn’t an issue between us. After all, I was the one transitioning, not him. Wherever my need to do so came from, it wasn’t any threat to him. We remained friends because we had a baseline of trust. He knew I wasn’t bothered by his…


Last night, I was listening to an ex-Evangelical friend talk about her upbringing. She explained how she used to believe that earth was such a horrible and unpleasant place. She wanted so badly for the world to end. She couldn’t wait to die, because what was there for her here?

Now, as an adult, she doesn’t think her younger self was precisely wrong — at least not in the factual sense. After all, she can still see famines, wars, diseases, and poverty. She still recognizes that the amount of suffering in the world is immense, and that plenty of that…

Sophia Burns

Pagan theology & virtue ethics. Patreon: Old writing:

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