Rick Shory

Offering a little something you might not otherwise have

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The gay bully

My cousin sent me a link to this. I started reading. I was about to click away with a yawn before I noticed the writer was Armistead Maupin.

How things change. I first saw Maupin’s “Tales of the City” series in the late 1980s. Each book, I couldn’t put it down! I was living on a boat, scraping by. I lived aboard friend’s small craft, parked in the marina. Rent was free, in exchange for keeping an eye on things. The tiny cabin wasn’t even big enough to stand up, so night after night, I sat long hours on the mooring slips, reading those books under the dock lights.

The couldn’t-put-it-down wasn’t from adventure, but from the steady subtext, “Gay life can be normal!” Here were these functional gay characters, in richly integrated lives. The message to me, trying to figure out this new weird gay thing, was, “You, too, can have a fun, normal life!”

The past several months, I have been leisurely going through the same series again, as audiobooks. They are delightful in how they bring back that time and place. But after all these decades, I now have my own richly integrated gay life. Literature is no longer so riveting.

I was about to click away from the current excerpt because it came across as the same-old gay story. That we are gay because of a clinging mother and a distant father. If that were true, the whole boomer generation would be gay.

That’s oversimplified. Here’s the theme in broader terms: The feminine energy is friendly, accommodating, understanding. The females themselves may be sisters, aunties, grandmothers, schoolmates; not just mothers. They are angels. The male energy is bluff, brutal, rigid. At best, it finds us baffling. The male figures, in addition to fathers, may be coaches, jocks, and especially bullies. They are demons. In its million variations, this is the sissy-victim gay story.

So, what’s this? Armistead Maupin squashing his early life into the trope of sissy-victim? It’s hard to swallow. He didn’t have it nearly bad enough. He was famous in San Francisco by his early thirties, and his work is so wonderful because it tells stories other than sissy-victim.

My personal story didn’t fit either. Both my parents were distant, my dad from his career, and my mom from four kids born within five years. I was a middle child, low expectations from the get-go.

When I was maybe 3 for 4, I got to stay up late while my mom iced my birthday cake for the next day. She looked down, tousled my head, and remarked how thick my hair was getting to be. I said no, I saw one of my hairs, and it was very thin.

From this, I might have built a whole narrative of maternal closeness. But really, besides injury-care, that is the only incident of personal attention I can remember. In adult life, my dad and I did develop a fond relationship. But from mom, as she faded into deafness and senility, that was never there.

In school, sure I was picked on, but what kid wasn’t? I had it easy. I was tallest in my class, always at the end of the picture line. When I was in first grade, there was a triad of third-graders who tormented me. Only years later did I realize. What?! One kid, age six, holding his own against three nine-year-olds? All they could ever manage was shove me, and tug at my clothes. Not much to complain about.

I was precocious. The standardized test scores are there to prove it, though it didn’t make my life a dream. It’s obvious now. The picking-on in my case was from those who always want to pull things down.

In maybe 3rd or 4th grade, a teacher took me aside and told me to stop bullying. I was taken aback. From my perspective now, I can see. I big boy, with a touch of Asperger’s. His intense, nerdy interests don’t attract many friends. He’s not much good at social cues, so it does not even occur to him he might be scaring the other kids. And, a little bit, he’s starting to like the boys. The way other boys may start pulling the girls’ pigtails.

I was shocked when the teacher scolded me. I took myself in hand and I don’t think I did it much any more. But there’s your window into the opposite gay archetype, the gay bully.

The gay bully shows up in the shadows of gay tales. He’s there as Maupin’s mean trigonometry teacher. He’s there as the thundering, in-denial, anti-gay preacher. He’s there as the snooty klatch of high-society A-gays. He’s there all too often as sissy-victim’s first sexual encounter. In the tales, he usually gets his come-uppance with poetic justice, mostly offstage. But he seldom gets a literary voice.

The gay bully is in real life. Say, J. Edgar Hoover. What kind of come-uppance is it, if he gets away with it for his whole lifetime? The usual dismissal is an arch tut-tut. But that’s like forgiving Hitler as a frustrated art student. To keep Hitler from happening again, you’ve got to understand Hitler. There’s a book in this, maybe a genre.

It reminds me of a theme from the vampire literature, something like “The law of the masquerade”. Vampires have survived by convincing general society that there is no such thing as vampires. Gay survival has had a lot do with letting general society believe that gays are all wimpy poofs, no threat. A man who wants men, and learns how to manipulate power, can stay invisible. Compared to other down trodden minorities, it’s easy. An angry young black man is obviously black, an outsider. A gay bully can stay an insider.

Gore Vidal wrote a remarkable novel “The City and the Pillar”. The first remarkable thing about it was it treated gay reality — clear back in the 1940s! The next remarkable thing was, even that far back, it broke right out of the sissy-victim party line. The sissy-victims are there, but in the corners, rather than the spotlight.

The spotlight is on Jim. In high school, he has sex with his best friend Bob, just before Bob ships out for the Merchant Marine. They are normal, masculine guys. Jim is in love, though he doesn’t quite understand it. He isn’t weepy about it, more like dogged. As his life opens up he pursues things that might lead him again to Bob. The military. Sports. When he finally does get with Bob again years later, and Bob resists him, Jim takes Bob. In the original, murder. In the 1960s revision, rape. The gay bully prevailed.

I’m not for rape and murder, but these stories need to be told. For all the gloss of gays being wan and ineffectual, and above all “sensitive”, we manage to abuse each other worse than anybody. It’s not going to stop until it gets talked about.

I want to hear more from the gay bully. We’ve heard enough from sissy-victim. The two have a lot of parallels. Sissy-victim doesn’t see himself as actively being a sissy-victim, he just feels like he is the way he is, but the world is so mean. The gay bully doesn’t see himself as bullying. He just is the way he is, and circumstances fall into place before him. For sissy-victim, his personal growth is to see how he’s being complicit with his abuse, and choose to stop it. The gay bully needs to grow out of his bullying, with temperance and enlightenment. Sissy-victim is not, of course, supposed to switch and become a bully. Equally ludicrous would the bully breaking down and “getting in touch with his true sissy feminine side”.

I know all too many gay men who seem satisfied to live their entire lives in the vortex of sissy-victim. On the other hand, I don’t know that I know any gay bullies. Are there really just the few? The public figures we see when they fall? Or are there lots of them, invisible, in plain sight?

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Conquer fava bean weevils by freezing

Fava beans (Vicia faba) are a great crop for the Pacific Northwest because they grow during the wet season, so you never have to water them. Unfortunately, a weevil (Bruchus rufimanus) gets into the beans. I found that freezing the bean seeds, just after they dry down in early summer, will break the weevil life cycle.

Fava beans are also called faba beans, horse beans, and broad beans. I learned about them as soon as I came to the Northwest in the 1970s. I assumed every Northwest gardener knew about fava beans, but lately I have been surprised that even some hardcore permaculture types have never heard of them. So I will talk about their general culture and use before we get into the weevils.

Here in the Northwest, fava beans are a natural for permaculture. Typical commercial beans are genus Phaseolus. These include pinto beans, black beans, and the like. They need hot summer weather to grow well, which can be in short supply in the Pacific Northwest. They need plenty of water all summer, our driest time of year. Just about when you are hoping for Phaseolus beans to dry down for harvest and storage, the rains return. You have to carefully dry the beans to prevent rot.

Fava beans, on the other hand, are winter annuals. They germinate in the fall, grow through the winter, and finish in early summer, just as the weather naturally turns dry. This means you never have to water them, and they ripen at the best time of year for curing.

fava bean seedlings

Fava beans coming up in January

You can plant them leisurely, any time from, say, November, on. You could even plant them earlier. Any beans you missed harvesting, that dropped to the ground, start poking up after the first rains of late summer. In exceptionally cold winter weather, the plants may get nipped, but will usually re-sprout from the base. February, or even March, is not too late to plant them. They germinate fine in cold, wet soil.

There are small-seeded fava beans, sold as a cover crop. These are comparable in size to a pinto bean, but more blocky in shape. The main advantage is you can plant them by just scattering them on the ground. The main disadvantage is they are much more tedious to prepare as food. Fava beans, as dry beans, have a tough skin, so after you soak them you have to peel each one. The bigger the bean, the less tedious. The ones usually grown for food have seeds about an inch wide, up to the size of a quarter (coin). These are the kind I grow.

fava beans next to a quarter coin

Beans can be as big as a quarter.

I always end up with way more beans than we could ever eat, so I use the extras for a winter cover crop. I plant them everywhere there’s anything like bare ground, going into the winter. They grow, and hold the soil, and keep nutrients from leaching in the rain. Since they are a legume, they also add nitrogen. To plant, I poke them in the ground, a few inches deep, in a grid pattern several inches apart from each other. In the spring, when I’m ready to plant something else, I just pull up the fava bean plants, maybe chop them a bit with pruning shears, and drop them on top of the ground. They gradually dry up and compost, acting as nitrogen-rich mulch for whatever I plant next.

white fava bean flowers

Fava bean plants in bloom.

The general way you cook with the dry beans is as a paste, rather than individual beans. You soak the beans, and peel them. Then, after a short simmering, the bean insides melt into a flavorful stew.

peeled beans in rice cooker

You can use a rice cooker.

In many cultures, fava beans are used like garbanzo beans. However, unlike garbanzos, which need long cooking, and then considerable mashing or blending, cooked fava beans turn to soup with little more than a stir.

fava bean paste

Cooked beans become a paste with little more than stirring.

You can also eat the beans as green beans, starting with the tiny pods as soon as they form.  You can keep on like this until the skins of the seeds inside the pods get too tough.

immature fava bean pods

Green fava beans.

 The flavor goes well with tahini, onion, lemon, and the like. Think felafel and hummus. But fava beans are not just for Mediterranean cuisine.  They are a traditional crop of the British Isles, and grown in Scandinavia.

In the quintessentially English children’s story “Jack and the Beanstalk”, the magic beans were fava beans. In modern illustrations, the bean stalk is usually dressed in three-leaflet Phaseolus leaves. But it’s a medieval tale, from long before Europeans were in contact with the Americas. How could they have possibly known about these new-world beans? And how could a twining vine get up to the sky?

When you see fava beans plants, it all makes sense. The stalks stand upright on their own. In springtime, when they are growing strong, it takes only a smidgen of imagined magic to vault them to the clouds. The leaves stand out on alternate sides. You can picture a little man climbing the stalk, like a ladder.

fava bean stalk

Leaves alternate on the stalk like a medieval ladder.

I lived in Colorado for ten years, where the climate is not good for fava beans, but when I moved back to the Northwest I again grew them. Imagine my dismay when I soaked a batch from my harvest, and found them peppered with little black bugs! Now, in addition to peeling the beans, was the added task of picking out all the bad spots with tweezers. That, or abandon the whole crop.

tweezers removing weevil from soaked bean

Picking out weevils.

It didn’t take much research to find out what they were: Bruchus rufimanus, the fava bean weevil.

Incidentally, there is a completely different weevil, Sitona lineatus, that nibbles the edges of fava bean leaflets. In the photos, you can see the bites taken out of leaf edges. These do little real damage, and I don’t worry about them.

At least fava bean weevils aren’t as bad as grain weevils, which complete their life cycle in stored grain, lay eggs there, and ever increase. No, these little beetles need the fava bean plant for the next generation. 

weevils and beans on millimeter scale

Fava bean weevils

When the fava bean pods are green, the female weevils lay eggs on the outside. The larvae hatch, and tunnel in to the seed. There each one takes up residence, slowly nibbling away at the internal substance of its home bean. The larvae don’t need any moisture. They do just fine even after the beans are completely dry.

In due course, each larva turns into a pupa, and then an adult. Some adults emerge, and fly off to hide in the wider world. Others stay sleeping in the bean, waiting for spring, or whatever they are waiting for. Successful pests hedge their bets, by not all doing the same thing. Once, I soaked a batch of fava beans that had been sitting dry for a couple years, and live weevils came swimming up out of the pot.

The damage is limited, at least from the fava bean’s standpoint. The beetles are so small in relation to the bean that a seed can harbor several, and still grow, evidently with no real impediment to establishing a plant. Some information sources imply that the weevils somehow avoid the vital parts of the embryo.

opened bean showing weevil holes

Weevils here missed the embryo.

I found this not to be true, In 10% to 20% of the beans, the larvae scored a direct enough hit on the incipient root or stem, so the seed could not grow. Most of a bean is made up of the cotyledons, generalized storage tissue, and there is lots extra. Just from probability, most of the larvae land there.

opened bean with larva tunnel through embryo

Weevil larva here ate the embryo; this seed can not grow.

Therefore, the great majority of seeds in each generation of fava beans remain viable, even when hosting a high population of weevils.

bean containing weevils but still germinating

Most seeds will still grow, even full of weevils.

This is not such good news for the gardener. It means the weevils do not naturally limit themselves, as would happen if they actually killed the seeds, and starved themselves of future host plants. It also means that even a few infested beans that drop to the ground unnoticed can keep the population of weevils going. Each female weevil can lay about 200 eggs.

So, what can you do to control these weevils? The literature of course lists pesticides, but I’m not interested in that. There is mention of heating the beans to kill the weevils, but the temperatures (50°C to 70°C) degrade both the bean quality and their germination. I don’t know about you, but I would have a hard time tracking exactly what high temperature I brought a batch of beans up to.

There were hints about freezing, inconclusive. But I was interested. Most everybody has a freezer.  If it worked, it would be both doable and scale-able. I decided to find out.

I thought the weevils might be tough, and need multiple cycles of freezing. After all, the adults can certainly live through winter cold. So I designed an experiment where I would freeze different seed samples one or more times.

I picked out beans with obvious “stings”, supposedly larval entry points. I will have more to say about that later.

beans showing exterior spots

“Stung” beans.

I made up 5 batches of beans, 20 beans each. I put each sample in a ziplock sandwich bag, so weevils could neither get in nor out. One batch was the control, never frozen, always kept at moderate room temperature.

two samples in packets

Two of the five experimental treatments.

I did four freeze treatments. Along with the control, they are listed below.

  • A: control, no freezing
  • B: Freeze overnight, 7-21-2017
  • C; Freeze for 1 week, 7-21-2-17 till 7-28-2017
  • D: Freeze overnight twice, 1 week apart. 7-21-2017, 7-28-2017
  • E: Freeze three times overnight, 1 week apart. 7-21-2017, 7-28-2017, 8-4-2017

Then, I left all of them for many months in the sealed bags, to let nature take its course.

When a weevil larva completes its growth, it tunnels up to the bean surface, just under the skin. It cuts a little door, nearly through the skin, a section ready to pop out. Then the larva changes into a pupa, and later an adult. The adult can easily push out the door and emerge, leaving an exit hole.

weevils next to beans with exit holes

Emerged adult weevils and exit holes.

This was the first good news. Only in the control sample, never frozen, were there any emerged weevils or exit holes.

A 8 8
B 0 0
C 0 0
D 0 0
E 0 0

In each sample, I soaked the beans and peeled them, to examine for larvae. One surprise was that not every exterior spot was a “sting”. There were many more spots than insects.

A 60 26
B 54 24
C 64 39
D 64 18
E 67 13


bean skin peeled back to show weevil sting

This skin spot marked a weevil larva, but not all spots do.

Each individual insect was evident, though not always the life stage. There was a trail of frass, ending in a body. By the time of my counting, all of them were dead. I measured the length of each insect and tabulated them by size classes. For example, the 2.5mm group include all longer than 2.5mm up to 3mm.


A 9 8   1        
B 2 3 1 3 3 4 6 2
C 5 3 2 1 8 12 4 4
D   1 1 2 5 6 2 1
E     1 1 1 6 2 2

This was the most telling data. Freezing, for even one night, killed all the insects. Their corpses ranged across the size classes, stopped in their tracks. Only in the control sample were practically all of them adult size, (The 8 emerged insects are not included in this row.)

The question naturally arises, “Does this freezing hurt germination?” The beans used in the experimental batches were too torn up by the time I’d dug out all the larvae, although a good number of them showed signs of germination after soaking.

I did a separate germination test of 20 seeds from a similar lot of beans. Seeds’ resistance to freezing can be increased by forcibly lowering their water content, so to do a fair test I used only casually air-dried beans under ambient conditions.

chart showing 80% germination

The test showed 80% germination after 5 days. This is comparable to the rate for commercial garden seed. When I plant previously frozen beans, I get a good stand of plants.

Freezing your fava bean crop won’t, of course, get rid of weevils in existing beans, but it will kill the insects so they can’t infest the next generation. Best practice is to harvest all the beans as soon as they are dry, starting in late June and going into July. Then freeze the dry beans overnight.

Mature fava bean pods can get to the size of sausages.

full size pod but still green

Pods can grow as big as sausages.

When cured, they are no longer green and shiny, but shriveled and a color from tan to velvety black.

ripe dry bean pod

Cured pods are tan to black.

You can freeze them in the pods, but you can save space by taking out only the seeds.

compare size of beans and pods

Beans take up much less space than pods.

You can shell them by hand, but fava beans are one of the easier seeds to winnow. When fully cured, the pods are brittle. You can put them on a concrete slab, like a driveway, and scuff and crush them underfoot while wearing some sort of tread-soled shoes. This is easiest if you do it near a wall, to lean on for balance.

crushed next to un-crushed pods

You can crush the pods with any tread-soled shoes.

Then, sweep up the crushed material into a vessel similar to the one shown, which is a large stainless steel bowl.

bowl of crushed pods before blowing with air

Air will blow away the crushed pods.

Direct a stream of air on it from a shop-vac style vacuum cleaner.

shop-vac style vacuum cleaner

Shop-vac can blow air as well as vacuum.

With a little finesse, you can blow away the fluffy pod material, leaving only the bean seeds.

bowl of cleaned beans

Heavy beans remain after blowing away chaff.

It’s a good idea to wear eye and ear protection, and something to keep the dust out of your nose.

ear covers, safety glasses, and bandanna

Ear, eye, and dust protection.

The pod material can serve as a nitrogen-rich mulch.