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Stupid Sexy Ned Flanders

When I was a kid, there was this summer camp at one of the elementary schools in my school district. It was a sports camp for kids. Honest to God I cannot fathom why I would have expressed interest in going because I was terrible at sports, but off I went to 3 weeks of my 10-or-11-year-old summer in hot temperatures outside and freezing temperatures in the gym. It was a typical kid’s camp setup: kids under the age of 14 as the campers, high schoolers as counselors, two or three adults there trying to avoid injury lawsuits by pretending to pay attention. Every day of camp, the head of the camp would kick things off in the morning with an exciting speech, and at the end of the day he’d finish things off with some inspirational words of wisdom from his probably-30 year old brain (as someone who’s nearing 30 I now laugh so hard that anyone would have looked up to him because anyone who looks up to me is a fool. I don’t even do my dishes on time. I JUST started making doctor’s appointments). He also sometimes gave special mention or awards. Something like an MVP or player of the day or whatever sports award name was given to it, to notable people who’d shown exceptional effort or did something cool.


Before I continue, I want to describe the head of the camp to really drive home the points I’m going to make here. The head of the camp was kind of a local legend. He was some sports hero at the high school when he went there. He was overly muscly in his calves and his biceps, and his neck was way too wide; it looked like he didn’t have a neck it was so wide (Edit: I went back and googled his name and he was a wrestler in high school and college, so I'm glad to have my memory validated about his neck size). He was a conventionally attractive white man with cropped brown hair and an already semi-receding hairline (Edit 2: He is now balding on the crown of his head). He made annual mission trips to Africa. Over the years he adopted African children and brought them home to the states, in true White Savior fashion. He hunts. He fishes. He basically looks like Captain America with a terrible head of hair. He now has a very nice blond wife. He is a devout non-denominational Christian. He’s a pastor now, but at the time he was just a lowly Straight, Cis, White Christian Man in Small Town Washington. He’s basically Ned Flanders. He insisted all of the kids call him by his first name which my dad absolutely hated and insisted we never do and call him Mr. Sexy Flanders instead of the very casual Sexy Ned Flanders.


This guy except no mustache and a worse hair style.


The camp covered a lot of different sports. Soccer, Football, Baseball for the boys and softball for the girls (yes, really), basketball, general aerobics, and at the end of the camp you got to decide if you wanted to wrestle with the boys or do a cheerleading routine with the girls. I distinctly remember this because none of the boys wanted to do cheerleading because it would be gay but there was one girl who did wrestling because she was a tomboy who was constantly getting praise for doing what the boys were doing.


On the day we were playing basketball, we were running drills. During one, we were paired up and bounce-passing the ball to each other (if there’s a term for this, please don’t tell me). Due to the combination my unfortunate genetics being wired for softball, ADHD, and being too gay to function when it comes to succeeding at sports, on one of the passes, the ball collided with my hand in such a way that my thumb was dislocated. I immediately froze to assess my injury and pain level, and try to figure out if I needed to do anything to fix my body and make it completely operational. I also started crying because that shit hurt. Once I realized I couldn’t move my thumb properly, I popped it back into place, which caused it to hurt more, which caused me to cry more. A couple of camp counselors came over and noticed I was holding onto my hand weird. They quickly ushered me off court and I said “my hand got hit and it really hurts” through choked back tears. One of them, a girl who couldn’t have been older than 17, looked at me and said “Do you want me to kick you in the leg? That’ll probably hurt more and you’ll forget about your hand. That’s what my dad always says”. I silently stood still for a moment, looked at her, and said “no.” while still sniffling. Realizing she’d failed, she asked if I wanted to get back to the game. I said no, and she looked disappointed, and directed me off court to sit by myself and get no medical attention of any kind (including ice or water or a fucking tissue). I sat there until it felt slightly better and then half-assed my way through the rest of camp wanting nothing more than to leave this place and never return.



That’s Charlie. They’re almost too gay to function.


At the end of the day during the inspirational words from the coach, he told a story about a man who died after he got locked in refrigerator (or some kind of cold space) overnight. This man wrote a note full of goodbyes and notes to his family that he wished he could deliver in person but alas, could not, because he would be frozen to death by morning. In the morning, he was found by two people. One expressed shock that he had managed to lock himself in a space where he’d freeze to death. Then the other said “It was only 40º in here last night”. The moral of the story was that if you give up and believe you’ll die, you will. But if you believe hard enough, you can make it through anything, and overcome any circumstance in life. (Sounds about white on that one.) Then he made special mention of a girl who full on sprained her wrist during basketball, got bandaged up, and went back out there. Didn’t cry, didn’t quit, and powered through pain. MVP of the day. Truly an aspiration for us all.


This motherfucker. Are you fucking kidding me. Are. You. Kidding. ME.


Now. Before we get into the meat and potatoes, I just want to point out that if this man was in an air sealed space, he could have suffocated to death. He could have had an underlying medical condition like a heart problem that led him to having a heart attack he died from. I just love how this positively drips with contention and guilt that this man killed himself because he quit on life. But I digress. Maybe his lack of belief really killed him and all those pesky cancer patients just need to believe harder and they’ll survive (please know I am being sarcastic as all get out, I find that kind of thinking to be absolutely ridiculous). I remember sitting there slowly having it dawn on me that I may be being singled out, and in true Catholic fashion instantly followed that thought up by reprimanding myself for thinking I’m important enough for this man to go out of his way to silently reprimand. But the truth is, it didn’t even matter if he was calling me out in a completely unsubtle way. What he said was entirely fucked up enough on its own that if I was a silent spectator and hadn’t just dislocated my thumb and not gotten medical attention from 17 year old children, his praise for this girl who’s very proficient at sports playing through an injury and not showing weakness like tears, and not sitting out, is just so fucking bonkers on so many levels. This white adult man just gave a child kudos for exposing herself to activity that could have worsened her injury.


A room full of young kids just heard a muscly Ned Flanders telling them it’s not ok to listen to their bodies and take a break when they need it because if they do, they’ll be quitters, and quitters never get praised for anything. No, no, instead, they need to listen to unqualified 17 year old children telling them to ignore their injuries and get back out there. Toughen up. Don’t be a gIrL about it. Ned Flanders, whether he meant to or not, just humiliated a child (me), and potentially anyone else in my shoes that day, for listening to their body and taking time for an injury to feel less miserable, reinforcing this idea that you don’t know what’s best for your body. A muscly white man who’s good at sports and has local notoriety knows better. The pillars of our community know what’s best for us because other adults have decided they know what they’re doing, so they must know you better than you know yourself.


In an immediate way, by telling kids other people know better than them about their bodily experiences, you may be telling a kid in an abusive home that the physical, mental, emotional, or sexual abuse they’re facing isn’t something they should speak out against. Why would they? You’ve just told them they don’t know better than an adult what their body can handle, so speaking out against your abuser because your body is telling you what you’re going through feels bad wouldn’t be the right thing to do. In a much more distant sense of consequences, kids grow up into adults. You know who directly benefits in the long term from kids who are told they don’t know their bodies and shouldn’t listen when they think something is wrong? Workplaces that don’t want to give PTO or Sick time to employees who are sick and need time off to recover. There’s been a lot of talk lately about The Great Resignation, and nobody wanting to work anymore and which companies have good benefits and sick pay and let you work remote and workplace culture and on and on and on. There’s been a lot more talk about companies who don’t have patience for employees needing the time to give their bodies a break, and punish those employees if they absolutely deem their hemorrhaging stab wound to require a doctor to look at it and say “Yep. That sure is bleeding. Want me to kick you in the leg? It’ll take away from the stab wound hurt”. What seems to be talked about less is the origins of where this mentality even came from.


Kids who aren’t taught they have bodily autonomy grow into adults who don’t have the courage to speak up and put their needs first when something is wrong. They’re less likely to really notice or care if an employer has a culture problem with letting employees take sick time to get better, because nobody enforced the idea that you know your body better than anyone else, and if something is wrong, it is ok to take a time out until you’re better, or just not return to the activity if it’s causing you to be ill or distressed on a macro level. It breeds a culture of silence and internal pain in people when we shame them and brand them as "selfish" if they give themselves the care they need. We make too much room for community pillars to potentially get away with horrendous crimes against children by giving their opinion more weight than the children at their hands, and we let companies get away with working their employees to the point of death by injury in the workplace, or suicide caused by depression from not being able to get necessary time off.


If we want to change the way we culturally talk about, and allow people to take, sick leave, we need to give kids their own bodily autonomy. Stop making them hug grandma; she smells weird and is mean. Stop making little boys hug and kiss little girls when they both don’t want to. Stop making them show you physical affection to validate they love you because you’re insecure. Let kids tell you what’s going on in their bodies and be a safe space they know will help care for them, and soon enough we’ll be flooded with a world of caring and empathetic people who want to care for others because they were cared for, even if Stupid Sexy Ned Flanders doesn't agree with that.



Stupid Flanders.


Salute, Mi Familia.

-Charlie




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