Who’s afraid of a goblin’s butt?

If you can believe it, a tiny part of a tiny part of me actually admires Moms for Liberty for censoring naked pictures, which it finds truly terrifying. This week, some plural reflections on the grown-up effects of childhood fears.

On being naked

The Lord God called out to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden; I was afraid and hid from you, because I was naked.”

“Who told you that you were naked?” God asked.

— Genesis 3:9–11 GNT

One of things I like best about Jason, my new body’s trusty mechanic, is that he does not inspect my private parts. In fact, I get to keep my shorts and undershirt on the whole time I am on the warm table getting my new surface interface poked. (This past week’s visit was all about kidney buttons. Jason confirmed that my invading windy influence was already in retreat, beaten back by steady doses of the emollient flowers he’d prescribed. To press our advantage, he said, we were coaxing more yin, which repels such winds, from the organs this body uses to produce it. “I guess you can’t spell ‘kidneys’ without yin,” is what I should have said at the time, but didn’t. I just thought of it now.)

This new kind of body-service is infinitely less stressful than the occasional physical examinations that I made my poor old patient-body endure, naked and ashamed, at the chilly gloved hands of physicians. I was technically in charge in all those interactions, paying a fancy expert a pretty penny to perform a service, which I would be implored to evaluate on an elaborate satisfaction questionnaire. But zero parts of who I am experienced anything like the confidence of a “healthcare consumer” with a white-suited professional peering expressionlessly at my naked patient-body under cold fluorescent lights. Instead:

  • My patient’s body itself, which identified as a sickly coward (it/it), trembled in anticipation of cold instruments, needles, scalpels, and pointy fingers that hurt.
  • The parts of me who are invested in my dignity — the Professor, Johnny and Tony — experienced medical nudity as a sort of ritual abasement, the kind of locker-room humiliation they remember keenly from junior high.
  • The little Badger dreaded the scolding that would inevitably arrive when the doctor found some telltale evidence of bodily negligence in my swimsuit area, like a little boy who’s shattered some costly grown-up thing and clumsily hidden the broken shards under the sofa.

In recent years, once we all established open lines of internal communication, I could easily sympathize with such concerns and keep the parts of me who had them relatively calm through the whole ordeal. Other parts of me, however, were not so easily comforted at the doctor’s office:

  • Digby, the guardian of my undercarriage, was extremely concerned that the doctor’s prodding would trigger an accidental boner, the obscene impropriety of which would trigger some nightmarish horror-sequence of sexual humiliations, punishments, or crimes. This has never happened, not even a little; but Digby is vigilant. He sometimes seems to think our body is a savage man’s body, powerless to control its violent urges.
  • The brave Mouse, the smallest part of me but by far the most valiant, is utterly undone by the sight of naked human bodies, our own above all. He believes they are evil by nature, radiant with harm.

These parts of me come by their worries honestly. Like lots and lots of other ordinary people — at least one in every ten grown-ups, by one recent estimate — I first learned about sex from being abused when I was little, which made the very idea of nudity all kinds of troublesome ever after. For us as for old Adam, it was sin that told us we were naked. Even the word “naked,” as I type it now, gives me the kind of phobic jolt you might feel leaning over the railing of a skyscraper or seeing a menacing spider.

(Cpl. “Radar” O’Reilly, with whom the Mouse feels a spiritual kinship, seemed to feel the same way. In one episode of MASH, which I will never forget, the poor corporal was so mortified by the actual words that he coined the less scary terms nakedidity and nudeness, which the Mouse prefers to this day.)

That intense fear of nakedness belongs properly to Digby and the Mouse, who courageously intend to protect the rest of my inner world from it. But alas, owing to our shared nervous system, we all feel their terror when it happens — a feeling Jason the acupuncturist never ever causes. He lets me me keep my shorts on; he makes my parts feel safe.

The concerns of a mother in Florida

I wasn’t conscious of my gratitude for not being naked when I left the acupuncture studio last week; I was admiring my new nostrils’ dewy receptivity to ambient outdoor fragrances, intensified by this recent winter heatwave. But the next day, I read a news story that brought all my complicated feelings about nudity vividly to mind.

It seems that Jessica Pippin, a concerned mother in Florida — you know the type — recently demanded the removal of several picture-books from an elementary-school library, on the grounds that they contained “pornographic” illustrations “harmful to children.” The books included Maurice Sendak’s The Night Kitchen, the article said, and other

books with drawings of figures without clothes, including Unicorns Are the Worst, a book about a goblin complaining about how much people like unicorns. … Another book Pippin sought to remove was Draw Me a Star by Eric Carle, … . Pippin was concerned about this image of “two adults that were naked.” She said that her concerns were addressed when the district librarians drew “board shorts on the man” and “put the girl in a bikini.”
An illustration of a tree and a naked black-haired man and woman.
The two adults.

I told my husband about it over dinner Friday night.

“So there’s this mom in Florida who objects to a picture-book in the elementary-school library because it has a goblin’s bare bottom in it,” I said. “And another one because there’s a nak— a little boy without clothes in it.”

He shook his head in amazement. “Bonkers. Moms for Liberty, right?”

“Bonkers is right,” I said. But then I went on. “I mean, bonkers, but it was kind of funny and sweet, the way it happened. The lady’s only request was that they put a little overalls on the goblin, and briefs on the little boy. Oh, and in another book, she wanted them to put a bikini and board shorts on what looks like Adam and Eve. For some reason she specified the clothes, ‘bikini and board shorts.’ That was all she wanted, just to cover up the private parts. So I guess the board had the librarian scotch-tape clothes on all the naked cartoon bodies in the books, and they went right back into the library.”

He furrowed his brow and asked, politely, in what way creeping fascism was “funny and sweet.”

I found myself bristling. “Maybe she just wanted to protect kids from learning about sex too soon,” I replied, too loudly. “I mean, who knows? Maybe she was sexually abused as a kid, the way I was. And maybe she just wanted to spare other kids from the kind of sexual trauma she went through herself, and there are parts of her who honestly believe seeing a goblin’s butt would be enough to traumatize a kid. You don’t know her motives aren’t good. You didn’t even read the article!” I was suddenly conscious of huffing and puffing, so I busied myself with my noodles.

My husband is a gentle and soft-spoken man, which is fortunate because he is also very burly and strong — but at this line of argument he almost raised his voice. “I’ve read enough articles about Moms for Liberty,” he said forcefully, “to know this woman doesn’t give a shit about protecting kids. Those people are perfectly happy when trans kids kill themselves. They want gay kids to stay closeted forever. They call you and me ‘groomers’ and ‘pedophiles.’ This woman is a cynical political actor with an openly fascist agenda.”

Like a wise and skillful spouse, I replied anxiously, “Are you mad at me?”

My husband set his fork down. “I am one hundred percent not mad at you,” he said. “I think you’re just giving these people way too much credit for good intentions.”

“You seem pretty mad at me, though,” mumbled the Badger, with my mouth.

“Sweetheart,” he said, picking up his fork again. :You are talking about something that matters a lot in our culture right now. People have strong opinions about this book-banning stuff. Including me.” He looked thoughtful for a second. “Might make a good topic for your newsletter, actually.”

“And make everybody mad at me?” I scoffed. “For heaven’s sake.”

Why part of me loves Mrs. Pippin

Mere seconds of research proved my husband entirely correct. This Jessica Pippin character, bless her heart, turns out to be a cartoonishly provocative hard-right political bomb-thrower. Her earlier efforts to “protect children’s innocence” have included protesting an illustrated version of the diary of Anne Frank, then appearing on an infamous antisemite’s podcast to crow about it. (That made international news.) And Moms for Liberty, the Proud-Boys-adjacent SPLC-designated hate-group of which she is a leading member, is plainly a force of moustache-twirling wickedness in American social life. This latest campaign, to clothe the naked goblin’s butt and put Eve in a bikini, is nothing less than a cartoonish little pratfall further down the slippery slope to fascism. You do not, under any circumstances, “have to hand it to them.”

I take all of this very personally, too — for heaven’s sake, I was literally groomed by pedophiles as a child, like lots and lots of other people. The books that might have taught me to protect myself are the very books they want to ban — and today, if Jessica Pippin met me, I imagine she wouldn’t hesitate to call me a groomer and a pedophile to my face. She and her movement are leaving children vulnerable to abuse — most of all the very little ones whose unconventional bodies and minds make them extra-abusable to start with. This enrages almost every fiber of my being.


In this Year of Living Plurally — which turns out to be kind of uncomfortable sometimes, you guys! — I can’t very well dismiss the diversity of opinion about Moms for Liberty that exists inside myself.

Every grown-up part of me, and the teenagers too, is outraged, disgusted, and horrified. So too is the young Badger, who remembers exactly what elementary school was like for a queer little boy in the eighties. (He is baring his sharp little teeth right now. “That lady,” he growls, “is not a responsible adult.” He’s right.) Digby, whose daring jiu-jitsu skills and helpful shamelessness have transformed sex from a secret shame to a source of joy in my life, is perhaps the wisest of us on this score. “I can see the hurt in people like that, my dudes,” he says sorrowfully, with a shake of his silver beard. “The young parts of them are so scared of kids getting hurt that they grown-up parts of them can’t see the kids they’re actually hurting. It’s a fucked-up bummer, man.”

All that is true; the consensus is overwhelming. And yet a little part of the Mouse — a tiny part of a tiny part of me, a partiño if you will — believes Mrs. Pippin is doing precisely what she says she is: protecting little children from the awful sight of naked bodies. He whispers in my mind’s ear, so quietly I can barely hear it: “If Mrs. Pippin had been your mother, she would have protected you.”

He is whispering, but I hear him. After years of practice listening to each other, every part of my inner family hears him.

When oppression feels like safety

The repression of childhood pain influences not only the life of an individual but also the taboos of the whole society. — Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child

Years ago, when I was still a lonely singleton, I would not have known where that whisper came from — the Mouse, if you can believe it, only crept tentatively into our awareness earlier this year. And because that whisper of childish love for a protective mom so utterly defied the overwhelming consensus of my rational brain, I would have violently suppressed it as “childish” or “irrational” or “crypto-fascist, you sick fuck! What the hell is wrong with you?”

I think it is precisely that internal maneuver — the scornful rejection of our deepest, longest-lasting childhood hopes and fears — that sets people up to harm children in the present. Perhaps a Mom for Liberty, deep in her heart of hearts, is doing her level best to protect the frightened little girl she used to be.

A practice for comforting a fearful young part of yourself

Perhaps a good way to inoculate ourselves against fascism in the present is to take extra care of the youngest parts of us, who still feel the deepest fears of the past.

I’ve gone on far too long this week, and I have to take the bus to acupuncture in, like, five minutes. (After my visit with Jason, I am going to try floating my new body in the sensory-deprivation tank. I’ll report back.) So by way of #PluralPractices this week, I am just going to tell you what we did when a little part of the little Mouse confessed his love for Mrs. Pippin.

  • The Badger picked the Mouse up gently — they are fast friends — and settled him into the soft breast pocket of his paisley dressing-gown.
  • Good old Digby sat down in a rocking chair by the fire, and the Badger clambered right up into his lap.
  • Once they were settled, the Mouse poked his head up out of the pocket and looked curiously around the room with his bright eyes.
  • Johnny, thoughtful lad, popped back from the kitchen with little snack for the kiddos (miniature Lance Toast-Chee crackers, a current favorite, and lukewarm tea).

We did’t need to say it out loud, but we were proving an important point. The Mouse doesn’t need Mrs. Pippin to protect him after all. He’s got all of me.

If you have thoughts about goblin-butts or Moms for Liberty or nudity or deep dark fears, I want to hear them.

Talk to you next week! I’ll tell you about the float-tank thing. It contains eight hundred pounds of Epsom salts, they tell me. What!

All our best to all of you,

🔗 Linkies

  • Judd Legum, a dogged independent journalist, was the one who broke the goblin-butt story in his newsletter Popular Information and then in Mother Jones.
  • David Gilbert’s 2023 reporting on Moms for Liberty in Vice is harrowing. Be warned, this story begins with a gay child’s suicide attempt.
  • Good news, though: just this week, CNN reports that “Moms for Liberty’s burgeoning influence in Republican national politics may be faltering.”
  • Katie LaCelle, the colleague I mentioned, has a fascinating practice that uses IFS principles to help folks “befriend their bodies,” as she puts it. You can visit her here.