Open Letter To Alec Satin

In response to Alec Satin’s open letter to Ravelry denouncing their choice to display a rainbow flag in the wake of the Orlando massacre

I’m one of millions of users of Ravelry, a web site launched in 2007 to serve the broader fiber arts community of knitters, crocheters, spinners, weavers, and folks generally interested in yarnish pursuits. So is Alec Satin, who I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered personally in my time on the site.

I know nothing whatsoever about Alec Satin except what’s in this open letter and the equally public and open responses to it. I have no idea what his presence on Ravelry even looks like.

Mine mostly looks like year after year of lengthy replies to questions about making yarn by hand, smattered with the omnipresent online slapfights that arise so readily if, for instance, someone says openly that they prefer one type of tool to another.

I’ll wager few people outside the online yarn community realize exactly how nasty these engagements can get. Standing up and saying something publicly, especially when you think it could be unpopular, is a pretty major act of courage in the fiber arts world. So I commend Alec for that act of courage. Seriously, dude, it takes some chutzpah to put yourself out there in front of the potential mob dynamics that happen in the yarnosphere, and sincerely, props for that.

But, if your hope is not to be divisive, I’m afraid you missed the mark. Your words are anything but a call for unity and respect. I can imagine you may believe that’s what they are. But one thing about words — and I learned a lot of this in the course of almost 27,000 posts on Ravelry — is that they are nowhere near as concrete and absolute of meaning as we’d like them to be. There is always room for interpretation subject to the reader’s own personal experience.

It is my intent to leave you, and every reader, absolutely no doubt with respect to my interpretation of, and response to, your open letter.

I vehemently disagree with you, and by all measure I can apply, I find your perspectives to be unethical, amoral, inhuman, irrational, reprehensible, and as close to “evil” as I believe exists in the hearts of humankind.

If you do not wish to experience the full breadth of my written expression of this disagreement, this is where you should get off this ride.

If you find that reading on makes your blood boil, remember that you were warned.

I was not warned before I read your open letter. Neither was I warned before I read the two other posts on your blog which led me to conclude that you are, as I say, engaging in speech which I would characterize as evil.

I like to start by defining my terms. It’s one of the things we educated people of reason do.

Like I say, I want to leave no doubt about what I’m saying. I regard your words as profoundly immoral and malevolent. I also understand that you probably don’t think they are. I do not, however, understand the method by which anyone purporting to be a follower of Jesus Christ can reach this conclusion if, in fact, that person has read so much as one gospel of the New Testament.

It is possible that I am mystified in this manner because I have read not only the Old Testament, New Testament, many sect-specific texts, and more treatises about those than I really care to admit. While I myself no longer participate in organized religion, a portion of my education included religious school, and many in my family are deeply faithful. My friends also include priests, theologians, and all manner of scholars of things like antiquity, the human condition, and history.

So I want to come right out and say that I get, and respect, that you’re not a Christian in the sense that most people understand the word; I respect your right to your beliefs as well as your right to express them. I also appreciate that the Internet gives you a platform where you can do so — every bit as much as I appreciate it giving me a platform from which to respond.

Source: alecsatin.com
Dear Ravelry. Thank you for creating and maintaining such a wonderful forum for the sharing of information. You have advanced the field of knitting in many ways by bringing skilled craftspeople together in ways that have never before been possible.

There are a lot of tells in this screenshot — tells that you’re a radicalized, fringe believer participating in the disturbing and dangerous co-option of the Christian message — but if I were to go too far down why I hesitated to click on “Culling the herd” in between Loyola’s counter-reformation and Newspeak under the heading of “Diabolical schemes,” we’d be here even longer than we’re already going to be.

Your words do not exist in a vacuum, absent the context of the site where you chose to publish them. The neutral tone for which you aimed? It rings obviously false because of this.

Ravelry is also special in that the platform itself is about the craft rather than politics.

Huh?

Does Ravelry thus distinguish itself from some swath of other websites purporting to be about yarn while actually being about politics? Have I been missing out this entire miserable election cycle, in that I could have been reading my news through a lens that began by discussing whether or not anyone had a pattern for a candidate’s sweater, or where the interviews focused on the serious questions like whether the candidates put a warp on a loom from front to back or from back to front?

This is why editors are a thing, by the way. One of the things that’s hard about writing screeds — ask me how I know — is that there aren’t that many great editors for that type of writing. So you have to be your own. You did a great job in making your piece short and easy to read. The Flesch-Kincaid score for your piece suggests it should be readable by a typical seventh grader. Your punctuation, spelling, and grammar are not remedial and you demonstrate native fluency in English.

However, you did not effectively make your case for why it would be special to be “about the craft rather than politics,” you don’t explain what that means, and you don’t reach me emotionally either. I suspect there is a subtext I’m missing — one that would be filled in by your target audience based on their assumptions. Such subtext bounces off me since I don’t share those assumptions, but I bet for the people who have whatever button your phrasing should push, this is a functional call-in of some sort.

I was saddened to see that the Ravelry logo has been changed to include the divisive and controversial “rainbow flag”.

To make your case compelling, you should also have included some background supporting your contention that this flag is “divisive and controversial.” In assuming your reader knows the background of any controversy and where divisions of opinion may lie, you probably hope to appeal to those who you know for certain would not support your objectives if they were clear. This tactic is consistent with your previous appeal to the subtext of “about the craft rather than politics.”

As it is widely known that anything deemed political can be divisive, what you’re doing here is pushing people’s buttons regarding their own fear of conflict. Were the hours in the day without limit, and did I imagine my own readers’ tolerance for tangent similar to my own, I’d say a lot more on this subject: there’s also a gender dynamic in play here, and I’ll be as brief as I can about it.

I doubt “saddened” is an honest description of your emotional response. I believe you were not “saddened,” but rather “angered.” However, you are aware that appearing “angry” will be button-pushing in a largely-female community, and so, you’re striving for a voice which will read as more conventionally feminine. I deem it unlikely you would strike the same tone if writing for an audience you did not expect to be largely female.

It makes no difference what side you or I may personally be on.

Oh, I beg to differ. It matters very, very much what side I am on.

I am on the side that was a sixteen-year-old girl when one of my closest friends’ parents was shot for being a lesbian, and the newspapers ran headlines reading “Mountain man testifies women teased him.”

You are on the side that believes the headline. You are on the side that believes that guy was right in 1988. You are on the side that bred that killer, that raised him, that trained him, and that caused him to take his murderous and evil action.

That your side exists at all can never, ever fail to matter.

It makes a very large difference what side you and I are personally on.

The fact is that it is a side. That means winners and losers.

Oh, it does. It does indeed mean winners and losers. So this sentence, indeed, can only make the one right before it ring false.

Let’s recap. You’re angry because — in solidarity with a community whose members have just suffered a staggering death toll — a web site that you have used for free has displayed a symbol of that community.

Dude, fuck you.

And I say that personally. Not politically. There’s nothing political about me thinking you’re an evil piece of shit. That is one hundred percent personal.

Is this really the spirit you want to enter into Ravelry?

Which spirit? The one you’re bringing? Absolutely not. I’m not going to tiptoe around that. I consider your outlook — that there is anything whatsoever sinful about family structures not condoned by your particular doctrine of choice — to be an evil outlook, and I believe that its presence in the world is dangerous, and that people who espouse it are actively putting evil forth into the world.

The spirit which finds compassion and empathy for a community’s unspeakably tragic loss? Yeah, I want that in Ravelry. I want it there big time. I want that everywhere I’m going to invest any time or energy. And amazingly enough, so do vast numbers of people who you profess to speak for in your open letter. How many did you consult before mustering up your crusade?

Let’s just be joined together to advance each other in our skills and craft.

As long as we all do it your way, though, right? As long as none of us make you nervous or uncomfortable? As long as we never dispute the rightness of your personal beliefs by the simple act of not sharing them?

Here’s the thing. You make me uncomfortable. Actually, you outright scare me. I’d never heard of you before this morning, but now I’ve read your blog. I’ve read your manifesto. And as a well-read and intellectually-engaged citizen of the world, I find it incredibly challenging not to commence large-scale efforts to denounce you and your beliefs at large. I’d rather envision six-year-olds watching hardcore gay porn than envision them being at risk of lending credence to a moral statement from you.

I want you to feel uncomfortable expressing your viewpoints. I want you to be amply aware that not only I, but many others, find your viewpoints anathema. I want you to think twice about whether or not it is comfortable for you to put those viewpoints forth. I want you nervous about whether or not you will be reviled for speaking your mind. I want you challenged, with every public step you take down this hateful, foul road you are on. I want kind and moral people to stand shoulder to shoulder and stare you down until the evil in you withers and can find no purchase. I want you to have no option but to ponder, and take ownership of, the consequence of your words.

I do not want you to walk through the vast world we share with billions, never shaken or doubting your ethos. I want you constantly subject to self-examination, wondering whether you are truly being the finest version of yourself you can be.

This is what I ask of myself, by the way. And what’s really interesting is that I was first exposed to this general principle as a little kid, when my grandmother, the daughter of missionaries, told me a story about a mote of dust in someone’s eye. My grandmother asked me to ponder how I could be sure that I did not have something large blocking my own vision.

The short answer is that I can’t. I can’t be sure there is no beam in my own eye. So how then can I objectively know that I’m behaving in a manner which should be judged good and moral? What one check exists to deal with this problem?

Amazingly enough, my grandmother had one for me, and it was totally in the same book she was always reading, which was chock full of complex stories to ponder and discuss. The general thrust was something to do with treating people how I’d want them to treat me.

Can I get an amen on that one, perhaps?

Hey, if not, do feel free to trot out that ol’ chestnut about the devil and quoting scripture. I’ll be waiting to repeat my friend Roz’s observation that “Satin” is just one letter away from “Satan.”

Anyway, I still think you belong in the same public sphere I occupy. You’ve still got a place and a right to speak your mind. But you’ve got to recognize that speaking your mind can come with consequences. Even when what you’re trying to say is “Dudes, could we just not be assholes?” I mean, a couple thousand years back they nailed this guy to a torture rack and let him die slowly on public display over a span of days for saying exactly that kind of thing. Over the years, more than a few people have explained that guy did it for me. A lot of people believe that really fervently.

Anyway, you’re not facing anything like that kind of consequence. You’re just facing people calling you an asshole.

I’m hoping that this was an oversight,

What? Come on. Did you keep a straight face typing that?

or something which was done without thinking about how hurtful and offensive it would be to the many Jewish, Muslim and Christian people who participate in Ravelry.

As with earlier assertions, you don’t support this one. If you want your readers to believe as you believe, you have to take them on a journey of self-discovery by which they will reach the conclusion themselves. You give no basis for this assertion. Your hope is probably that people will react to this by subconsciously thinking, “Ah, since this is stated as fact, it must be fact.”

I, however, am a person possessed of some critical thinking ability. Thus, your assertion causes me first to inquire “Why would the rainbow flag be hurtful or offensive to Jews, Muslims, or Christians?”

So I googled that. I didn’t just rely on my personal friendships with Jews, Muslims, and Christians who themselves fly the rainbow flag, I checked to see what people I neither know nor agree with were saying.

“Why is the rainbow flag offensive to Jews” mostly turned up links to news site commenters whose prose would outright fail any readability test you care to name, producing epic word salad sprinkled full of antisemitic key phrases. And a few “why do people hate Jews” links. It does not appear, however, that anybody’s got a mitzvah to eradicate the rainbow flag.

“Why is the rainbow flag offensive to Muslims” did turn up one link from a site in .il (that’s Israel, for those of you who haven’t spoken top-level domains reflexively for decades) talking about a group of Muslims burning rainbow flags in Texas. But I didn’t find any conclusive evidence of a jihad against the rainbow flag.

“Why is the rainbow flag offensive to Christians,” on the other hand, was kind of a gold mine of bizarre crusades against the rainbow flag. You should check it yourself, dear reader, as your search results will of course be tuned to you and your cookies, but suffice it to say it’s clear the rainbow flag IS offensive to a population of English speakers occupying US-based internet space and loudly self-identifying as Christian.

This really should leave me torn in principle. It absolutely should. I should, right now, be saying to myself, “C’mon, Abby, if you’re really being the kindest, best version of yourself, would you want to knowingly upset people?”

A while ago I’d have said no — particularly in the sphere where I earn my living. Leave it alone, I’d have said. Don’t be too polarizing or divisive. Don’t risk alienating hard line fundamentalists or religious extremists.

Then I got to the point where I was standing in my classroom, discussing some 34,000 year old yarn. A murmur arose in one corner and I turned to look, prepared to answer whatever question was burbling to the surface. There was none. Instead, when I turned back, I heard a stage whisper: “except the world isn’t that old, so disappointing.”

I should have been done then and there. That should have been the limit of my tolerance. I regret that it was not. But my tolerance does indeed have bounds, and I will no longer be silenced by social conservatives claiming offense while being themselves utterly unwilling to even consider modifying behaviors of theirs which have staggering consequences such as mass murder.

Here’s the thing, Alec. You and I agree that there are sides in this, and that there are winners and losers.

When your side wins, people die.

When my side wins, a subset of people — whose actions and beliefs I find evil — may potentially be offended.

These things are not of the same scope.

Sometimes the kindest, best version of myself is the one who stands up for myself, my family, and my friends when evil comes around.

So, Alec, I decided that in this case, you lose. Because when you lose, the only thing that happens is you get your panties in a wad. When people who fly the rainbow flag lose, I reiterate, people die.

Nor should Ravelry be a place where LGBT or other people are singled out.

Unless you’re singling queer folk out to claim it makes you sad when they have support?

The rainbow flag is not a symbol of acceptance or equality.

Really? It’s not? I didn’t know that! And I’d be willing to consider that you might have a point if — like I keep saying — you made even the simplest of efforts to lead me down that path. What am I supposed to do here, believe you just because you said so? Since when is that a thing that happens on Ravelry?

It is a symbol of hate.

For whom? Because why? I gave that a good faith googlin’, like I say. And what I found appalled me. If the rainbow flag symbolizes hatred for, and offends those who look up to and cite eugenicists, war criminals, genocidal and suicidal psychopaths, just to start, well hey, that’s sounding like a symbol I want to see a whole lot more.

Let’s not make Ravelry political, please.

But seriously, is there something in your eye?

Did you actually think you were going to pull this off? Did you seriously think people would not view your blandishments as the overt political posturing they are?

You, and every single human being who takes issue with love, life, and family outside the narrow confines of your own preferred doctrine, have blood on your hands.

And not because you’re suddenly and inexplicably bleeding from your palms.

Symbols are a big deal. You’re absolutely right. Let me show you one with a bloody and terrifying history.

Did you forget what this represents? Has it gotten too close? Stuck in your eye, perhaps? I’m not going to tell you what it should mean to you. That’s your own journey. But what it represents is another story.

Once upon a time, they used to nail people to these things. They were torture implements used to punish people. There was this one guy, this one time, and the way I hear the story from most corners, when his got put together it was offsite somewhere and then he had to carry it through the streets to where it would be set up, and that’s before they even nailed him to it.

So once upon a time, a tenet of believing in that guy was kind of like “don’t say shit you aren’t willing to get nailed to a cross for saying.” And people who believed in that guy were like, “Hey man, here’s my cross. Here’s what I’m willing to carry and display in solidarity with the dead guy I relate to. Did you know he was tortured to death? I’ll tell you all about it. At length.” And it’s literally, in many variants, a direct depiction of a guy being tortured to death.

You probably don’t think your open letter is political. You probably can’t see it at all. You know, because of the enormous plank in your eye — which just happens to be shaped like a cross. But dude, your existence is political, because you make it so when you insist the world conform to your desires. There is no reason save human politics which asks you to engage in a crusade (a word which literally means “being crossed”) against the rainbow flag. And so your open letter is nothing more than the worst form of bald-faced hypocrisy — the bullying, brutal kind which cannot be washed clean of the blood spilled in its support.

I am deeply and forever grateful to the Ravelry community for its ongoing refusal to be cowed and intimidated by the evil forces of hate in the world.

Sincerely,

Abby Franquemont (abbysyarns on Ravelry)