Posts Tagged ‘glbt’

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Our Worst Selves (or as I Like to Call Them, Our Selves)

2016.April.13

[I started drafting this before my recent travels, about which I have 1,001 things to say, so in the spirit of Imperfectionism I’m going to do quick edits and schedule to post so I can move on. The ideas here may be deeper and more complicated than my meandering draft captured, so don’t be surprised if I revisit this topic again in the future. As always, constructive criticism is highly encouraged!]

Two questions you hear a LOT on the internet that I see as strongly related:

“How could this happen?”
“How can you be friends with that person?”

I don’t believe the first needs much elaboration: we’re mostly all shocked (SHOCKED, I SAY!) at the thoughts and actions of people we don’t really notice until they burn their way onto the front page in fire and/or blood. No one ever foretells disaster and tensions flare up randomly; this space rock humanity calls home is basically one big laboratory for random events being communicated at high speeds and necessitating an ever-broader range of emoji and inflections for the word “tragedy” (except not in the classical theatrical sense, because a tragic hero must have a tragic flaw that foretells his — it’s always a he — tragic downfall).

The second statement, I fear, will seem equally random. For as long as I’ve tried to live an open life (which coincides roughly with as long as I’ve had a social media presence), people have taken issue with my broad selection of friends:

“How do you hang out with them?”
“I had to hide her on my feed, she’s just too negative.”
“That’s when I blocked him.”
“They are all just idiots; I don’t see why you bother.”
“Where’s your loyalty?”

But I’m increasingly of the opinion that they are two sides of the same awkward coin: inattention.

I don’t know why I can absorb a lot of information without it weighing me down, but I can, and I choose to do so. I’ve been saying for years that my “superpower” is perspective (thanks to a life lived along the fringes, between identities — some of my advantages helped offset otherwise confining societal expectations), so I don’t necessarily expect anyone else to approach either news or social media with my sense of openness and possibility. As is my habit, I’ve attempted to apply my personal privileges and skill sets to exploring possibilities and, hopefully, expanding them for others along the way.

But perspective is not just spotting silver linings for every dark cloud — it’s about balance. It’s also finding the dark clouds for every silver lining, and recognizing how light can play tricks on you.

For better or worse, I didn’t begin to curate my Face-friend list for length until it approached 500 (and such curation remained minimal; I didn’t excise the profoundly hard/negative until I was knee-deep in caregiver isolation and felt ill-equipped to find balance with the, what, three people I ended up de-friending?). I didn’t turn away people who were contentious, different of opinion, or generally negative, because perspective has shown me that people don’t behave in such a pattern without a reason. Although I’m sure I came off at times as a collector, someone who wanted only digital notches on my social headboard, I saw every single person I added as a friend or potential friend. I could have accumulated twice as many Face-friends if I’d wanted, but it wasn’t about the number to me, it was about the (potential for) connections, however narrow the range of commonality. My “Aquaintence” and “Restricted” lists were the mere dozen or so people whom I might hug in person but couldn’t hand off information without having a sit-down conversation about how they might receive it.

As for the rest, perhaps people thought I couldn’t see how contentious and negative “those people” were (note: “those people” were not consistently the same people; sometimes they would even talk about each other). But I saw the negativity. I could further see the pain and isolation of individuals from one another, and I would notice the way some folks insulated themselves with cynicism, skepticism, or misanthropy. I continually see the hard topics that drive wedges between us. And I don’t have to agree with someone else’s perspective to interpret and understand it; experience has shown me the humanity in people who don’t agree with me (even in people who are hateful toward me), so I endeavor to seek out the humanity always. Not because everyone can, but because I can.

And because I now habitually see the gray coexistence and subjective lighting of stormy clouds and silver linings (or is that silver clouds and stormy linings?), I look at the agitated, inflamed, overwhelming dis-ease of opinions on the Internet and I can see something of a familiar trajectory. I’ve learned to look past tone and education and shared experience, to squint and turn my head and check my eyes when I look at strong opinions, to see behind them people who have rare experiences and who are struggling to be seen and heard. And I believe the Internet is *giving everyone the opportunity* to do the same.

Okay, too silver, let me fix that…

I believe the Internet is *forcing us all* to do the same.

Awkwardly.

(But hasn’t the Internet shown us that awkward can be okay?)

The thing about Internet hate is that it isn’t Internet hate. There’s a lot of data out there that says humans so rarely change our minds about anything, it’s hard to blame anything for anyone’s opinion. The internet hasn’t transformed anyone who wouldn’t have been just as transformed if exposed to the right radio programs, scientific journals, newspapers, governmental edicts, wrapping paper, cheesecloth or parchment scrolls of yore. The challenge of our time isn’t new hate, new ideas, or new resistance to progress — it’s that old hate has found a stronger, louder voice on the Internet. This has been documented since the days of AOL chatrooms, and BBS systems before that. People just let it all out there, in part because we feel less accountable but also because we assume we’re in like-minded company. The small, self-selected spaces in which we participate online allow us to see in others much more of of ourselves than might actually be there. This is the macro level of what my favorite book on communication calls “The Usual Error”. You might tell yourself that the 200 members in your Facebook Fandom group aren’t all on the same page as you, but you are way more likely to assume you’re in the same book than with 200 random strangers driving on the highway or waiting with you at the DMV.

Online, we each express ourselves a little more boldly than we do in person (aggregated together in one place, most any viewpoint can garner attention — isn’t that the point of movement-building?). Advocates of peace and love as policy can be just as intense, just as intimidating, just as prone to cherry-pick data and memes (especially in the eyes of their opponents) as their opponents. The more significant difference is that, thanks to social media algorithms, a worldwide archive of material that can never quite be deleted, and the way sensational tweets can become ratings gold for what’s left of earlier forms of media, we now actually KNOW what is being said and thought by people who don’t agree with us. It shocks us. But only because we haven’t been paying attention.

And by “we”, I mostly mean white people, men, cis-persons, and/or those with better-than-average academic credentials. Practically everyone else grew up knowing about the deep tensions and the daily acts of unreported violence; they were a fact of life you only got through by doing what you were told, moving away, or perhaps fighting them with whatever means you had available (hint: these means did not include most governmental channels until fairly recently in American history — there’s a reason why unions and affinity groups were so important for the first half of the Twentieth Century and why they were so effectively undermined in the second half). So today’s viable ideologues are not representative of some mass hysteria, stupidity, willful ignorance, or swell of hate and misunderstanding (although sometimes the media and/or machinations will feed these aspects — sometimes deliberately, often tangentially to other goals — in their own interests). These patterns in voting are a reflection of viewpoints that have remained largely entrenched for generations in pockets that didn’t quite have the stage they now have. But just because you didn’t know this view of the world to persist while you or your parents sang “Kumbaya”, doesn’t mean they didn’t exist.

There never was a center, a normal, a mainstream. There was only the polite effort to minimize our differences until they absolutely necessitated response. That the myth of a mainstream “truth” lasted this long was a function of wishful thinking: that our incendiary melting pot was actually chill and balanced, that all those awful ideas that presaged the culture wars of the 60s were resolved and not surrendered to least-common-denominator banalities (like how much voting mattered and how so OVER racism we were as a country), that legislating anything from moral high ground and simple majorities (as opposed to, I don’t know, consensus and really fucking hard national conversations) wouldn’t invite generations of political resentment.

People fear what they do not understand, no matter how popular or moral it is (or seems). and the more polarized our leaders seem, the harder it gets for them to build common ground. Just as many conservatives are bewildered that not everyone arms up every time they hear the word “socialism”, so it is that liberals are bewildered that some people still like guns more than they like broad political inclusivity.

For one, maybe two generations, everyone got roughly the same inoffensive news coverage from roughly the same handful of inoffensive news outlets because it was so convenient (and the lack of an apparent agenda — which is not the same thing as a lack of agenda — was better for ratings and readership). Subtle, even unconscious biases convinced most of us that we were all equal under the law and that meant all old grudges were to be forgotten and America was, at long last, the only and best home to opportunity. With a handful of notable yet unspoken ground rules (religion and cops are generally on the right side; respectability of tone reflected respectability of argument; the majority and the customer were right unless the Supreme Court or the Board of Directors say otherwise), coverage allowed people to believe whatever we wanted, and the need to keep peace between disparate groups invited a lot of talk about unity, tolerance, and acceptance until every bigot, xenophobe, and extremist could answer accusations with, “I know you are, but what am I?” It wasn’t the absence of opposition that existed all this time; it was the absence of its mention.

Internet hate is not hate born on the internet; it is the same old hate externalized like never before. The startle here shouldn’t be what we now know they’re thinking; it’s how long we hid our heads in the sand and could believe otherwise before the Internet!

The “mainstream media” as we think of it, operating with a broad audience in mind and some attempt at objectivity in presentation, is less than a hundred years old; before World War II it was standard practice for not only editorial boards but all sections of any newspaper to coordinate around a specific political slant and to use its circulation to promote the political agenda of its publisher. To some extent, this practice only became subtler as television news emerged to carve out a middle ground and newspapers had to adapt; as news institutions fall or get bought out in waves, we may not be seeing the death of journalism so much as the end of its golden age of neutrality and a return to its polarized roots.

I would not wish harmful outcomes on any community, but they may just be the proverbial chickens coming home to roost. With every Trump victory, the good white liberals of America have to confront the fact that people of color have been right all along and we never really did lick that whole racism problem and laissez-faire capitalists (when they’re not lobbying for favorable laws and gargantuan tax breaks) have to begrudgingly consider that their economic gospel is especially bullish for loud, media-savvy blowhards. With every gruesome, unarmed death at the hands of a police officer, more civilians are forced to pay attention to how police are empowered, trained, and galvanized with fear that is too often nonspecific and/or coded to reinforce and entrench officers’ every prejudice. With every poisoned American city and collapsed bridge, activists are forced to recognize that polarized, single-issue elections fill government with ideologues who can only rehash the same battles over and over for inching social change, while miles of infrastructure and mundane policy age gracelessly until people (far more often than not, the very people our leaders swore they’d include in their big tents every four years for the last forty) die committing such innocent acts as drinking water and driving to work.

These are not shocking, spontaneous disasters; they are the fourth act of America, and they can be directly traced to incomplete victories of one and two generations ago, when short-term solutions made long-term problems look solved (if you didn’t look too long, which we’ve totally turned into an American value) so the victors wouldn’t have to look any harder, any deeper, at themselves, and no one would have to look at the losers at all. (I suspect there are parallels to Reconstruction after the Civil War, but it would take someone more familiar with that era than myself to draw clear connections.)

 

Our great American narrative has said that this land is great and we’re all great because we were born here and that’s all you need to be empowered to win, so all those losers of unfinished business and unvoiced resentment, the unequal equals who know they’ve been lied to their whole lives but not always about what and why, well they all think they’re winners, too, and they’re wondering when you’re going to start treating them as such. This is one thing the advocates of #BlackLivesMatter and Trump voters actually have in common: they have no more buy-in to American culture than they had before upper-class white folks declared racism was wrong but it was over now anyway and we should all go home and get some sleep because everyone’s got to go to work in the morning. Until such folks find authentic involvement and representation in their own lives, they’re going to keep raising a lot of fuss on the Internet.

There was a time when “community” was perceived largely around geography/proximity: your neighborhood, your town, your coworkers, the family who lived nearby… You and your community were in roughly in the same “place” at roughly the same time. The roots of this phenomenon touch on immigration, urbanization, and no small amount of housing discrimination, but it wasn’t hard to see the commonalities because you actually had a LOT in common. Areas were settled, resettled, sold, rented, blighted, gentrified in waves as people with a lot in common followed one another from one destination to the next. Before there was an internet, even the most urbane American was unlikely to encounter THAT many types of people, and it made it easier to hold beliefs and unchecked assumptions about everyone else.

The internet gave people the chance to reconnect in ideological “communities” after suburban sprawl and myths of normalcy made it hard to tell whether your next door neighbor was actually just like you or completely different, and in doing so it is pulling off the band-aid of American tolerance to show we’re still deeply scarred.

Call-out culture, when it is authentic (and not just white people looking to score brownie points by talking over others rather than engaging in an actual dialogue in a relatively safe space — although this is STILL not what activists mean when they say we need more jobs for communities of color!), is not a genesis of whining and/or entitlement; it is the culmination of generations of lived experiences not being taken seriously, of people with privilege being taught that their privilege doesn’t exist and/or could be overcome with good intentions alone (okay, maybe also a token black and/or gay friend), of well-meaning idealists declaring victory too soon after small achievements and failing to evaluate their success with the rigor of, say, a pedantic capitalist.

It’s not too late to find common ground, but we’re going to have to let go of those reflexive block buttons and actually talk with our ideological opponents once in a while. Find out what makes them tick. Share a link that didn’t come from an inflammatory Op-Ed, but includes relevant storytelling and enough research to ground that story without hitting someone over the head. Note: I’m again talking mostly to people with a lot of privilege here; self-care is revolutionary for people who already face daily oppression, and they should be judicious with their boundaries; but, for example, white people defriending other white people over racist microaggressions will only show that we want to avoid the problem of perspective, not that we want to engage or discuss our ideas or challenge ourselvses.

At our worst, Americans are lazy, and our oversights always have a way of coming back to haunt us.

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Dear Boy Scouts:

2013.February.1

My name is Jeffrey Lawson and from 1987-1992, I wore the uniforms of a Scout, from Bobcat to Tenderfoot (I even completed my requirements for Second Class, but after I stopped attending). I am writing to request that you do what is honorable, helpful, and morally straight: reverse the BSA’s policies barring gay and atheist members. This sort of exclusion hurts boys and it hurts Scouting.

I would like to be able to say I am a good man because of Scouting, but the truth is I never fit in very well there. I was more of a bookish, indoor kid; without Scouting, I could have avoided learning how to swing a hammer, fold a flag, or make something with my own hands. I wasn’t really into all the father-son stuff, either (since I never knew my own father and my stepdad and I were never close); without scouting, I might never have seen what healthy fatherly relationships could look like. I grew up in a house of apathists and never had much use for Christianity; because of Scouts, I had to learn how to sit quietly and respectfully when other people prayed and recognize how important faith could be to others.

And since I’m being honest with you, I’ll tell you that the prospect of gays in our troop created a pretty uncomfortable setting. In fact, it made me quite uncomfortable, because some of the other kids thought I was gay; while I was never Mr. Popular at school, I got teased, called “faggot” or “gaywad”, and otherwise harrassed more in the Boy Scouts than anywhere else in my life. I also got into two of my only three fights ever (outside of those with my brother, of course) at Scout meetings. As a Scout, I learned about stealing and lying, I learned to run from my mistakes, and I learned to do what was popular over what was right because that’s what my peers were teaching.

It seems strange to me now that I don’t have more positive things to say about Scouting after it was such a big part of my life, but then it was all I had for a while. My mom was a workaholic, especially in those years. The Troop 12 Scout Hut was only three blocks from our house, and it was the only activity my parents could afford (and only barely… I dreamed of how $100 at the Scout Store in Arlington could make me a better camper). One to three nights a week (and one weekend a month) were reserved for Scouting because it was what I did.

The most positive thing I can say about Scouting was that it showed me a wider range of people than I would otherwise have known: cheesy over-active dads who were friendly to all, older men with low voices who could command our attention with their story cadence, older scouts who wanted everyone to participate proudly, kids with more than us who could earn a swimming merit badge in their own back yards, kids with less who dropped out before they ever bought uniforms. None were perfect, but none were all bad either. It was a place where bullying ran rampant, yet I still had to work alongside those bullies and they alongside me. We got along, sometimes even well, so I always felt like an unpopular Scout was still a Scout.

I’ve never understood why the BSA doesn’t share this experience with every child in America. There is a need for exercise and hands-on, intergenerational learning. There is a need for thoughtful values and outdoor exploration. There is a need for storytelling and camaraderie (even if it is sometimes forced). There is a need for everything that the Boy Scouts stand for, but it will not take root beyond Scouting if it cannot first get a better hold within Scouting. The weaknesses that existed when I was a Scout are even worse now because the Scouts have taken sides with bullies instead of letting every boy find his own way.

Twenty years on, I prefer the romantic company of women to men (well, I could say more, but I doubt you’re ready for the gender & sexual fluidity merit badge quite yet) and I still shake my head at some of the things my peers got away with back then. I wish I could tell you that everything I experienced as a Scout was a positive, nurturing experience, but a Scout is honest and the truth is less simple. I have come to see Scouting is an opportunity, not a guarantee. Scouting opens doors that are otherwise unavailable to new experiences and new people, but it is up to the individual Scout to embrace the opportunity. Sometimes they go well, sometimes they do not, but at least Scouts get the chance. Now the BSA needs to embrace the opportunity to practice their inclusive, patient, collaborative ideals a little bit better and stop looking for excuses to exclude people. I’m pretty sure I served with some gay Scouts, and they were not the ones who hurt me. I’m pretty sure I served with some atheist Scouts, and they never tried to recruit me. We all tried to live and let live; once in a while, we even succeeded, and those were very good days.

Scouting deserves more good days, don’t you think?

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Ranty McRantenstein

2010.August.23

[Contributor Post by johncleonard]

Politics has been particularly upsetting lately. It’s gotten to the point that I don’t really want to write about it. Well, nothing particularly useful, anyway. So, in that vein…

I’ve had it with social conservatives. If they don’t appreciate what freedom of religion in this country gives them and they can’t share with everyone else, the motherfuckers can all try and practice their religion in Iran. It’ll be cheaper for the rest of us to evict them and pay for their relocation than it will be to continue to fight their senseless wars. And Hell, even the Supreme Court of MEXICO has upheld same-sex marriage as a right. Fucking MEXICO, people! One of the most Catholic nations on the planet understands separation of church and state better than Americans do.

I’m sick of Libertarians, too. The Market is not some magical force that can fix everything. In fact, left to their own devices, markets have been responsible for and/or supported some of the worst things that people do to one another (let’s start with slavery and go from there). Also, you stupid motherfucking twats, just because you were born with enough privilege to pull yourselves up from nothing (And your idea of “nothing”? Not even close.) doesn’t mean that everyone else in this country is. On paper the opportunities may be equal, but it’s far past time to take off your blinders and see what things look like in practice.

I’m sick of the Republican party pandering to the social conservatives and other various nutjobs (yes, I’m looking at you, Teabaggers). How the fuck hard is it for you to grasp the idea that you’re supposed to be helping the country, not wanking over bikini/rifle pictures of Sarah Palin?  Keep trying to hold back progress and progress is going to squash you like the insects you are.

I’m sick of the Democrats and other liberals being such cowards. Why is the US (supposedly the greatest nation on Earth) always the last to take care of its own people? Where’s our version of universal health care? Where are you on getting all of us equal rights and privileges? Quit cock-gobbling the lobbyists and do what’s right for the people for a change. Oh. That’s right. That won’t get you re-elected. I just have to ask, “If it’s the right thing, who the FUCK cares?” If you can’t grasp the gravity of that, go simper somewhere else. Like Nevada. Prostitution is legal there, so you should have no trouble at all earning a living.

Oh, and all this illegal immigration crap is beyond disgusting. It’s a bunch of white people trying to protect their privileged status as the majority. You know what? Every last person who thinks that illegal immigration is the problem should be doused in napalm and set on fire.  It’s not the problem, you puss-dripping cocks, it’s a symptom. It’s a symptom of the economy in Mexico (and other places) being even  shittier than ours. It’s a symptom of businesses who think they’re above minimum wage and worker safety law.  It’s also a symptom of a legal immigration path that can take in excess of 20 years to process a simple application. We could build Fortress America, and people would still figure out how to get in if the problems that lead to the symptom of illegal immigration aren’t fixed.

You know what else pisses me off? Our schools. Yeah. Exactly what this country needs is more mindless automatons. This is one of the many things that’s led to our economy being crap, our government being dysfunctional (at best), and has supported the gradual loss of individual liberty. But they’re doing their job right now, I’ll give ’em that. We’ve got a huge workforce of complacent and compliant workers.  So many we don’t know what the fuck to do with them all.  It’s our just deserts for not encouraging innovation and imagination and for allowing politics to determine curriculum.

But wait! There’s more!

The whole WTC/Mosque flap is another great big steaming pile of racism. Something like 84% [editor’s note: Gallup polled 68% nationwide] of the population oppose the location. Well, you shining nuggets of shit, the site is a full two NYC-sized blocks from the (16-square-block) WTC complex. It’s being built on private property with private funds. It’s not just a Mosque, but also a community center. Some of the higher-ups involved with the project have even openly cooperated with the FBI’s counter-terrorism efforts. Yep. Let’s demonize and dehumanize the enemy and then pretend we didn’t know better when average people start taking matters into their own hands.

Then again, maybe we should just start rounding up all the Muslims and Mexicans and putting them into camps like we did with the Japanese immigrants in WWII. Oh. Wait. We already tried that (with the Muslims, anyway). Shrub/Chimpy (the guy who spent 8 years with Cheney’s arm up his ass running him like a puppet) didn’t get all that far on that one, did he? Maybe there’s still some hope for the masses, after all…

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Obama, DADT, and Lobbying the Radical Moderate

2010.May.18

Point of clarification: it’s all a Democrat’s fault.

Bill Clinton himself has admitted that his naive rush to “allow” gays in the military by instituting Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was a bad decision, resulting in an awkward bit of protocol that no one (including Clinton himself) expected to last this long. For all the anti-gay posturing of Republicans before and since, it was not Reagan or Bush I but Clinton and his bicameral Democratic majority who took a military directive and turned it into federal law.

But we all know it’s up to a Democrat to fix the mess; alas, our big hope is an old school president elected in new school times. Oh sure, Obama’s “diverse” and technologically inclined, but he approaches politics like a man born in another time: he skips the rhetoric and chides his opponents to do the same; then he makes a proposal, expects his opponents to suggest a reasonable compromise… and after a bit of teeth-gritting back-and-forth, a moderate policy is achieved and the greater good is achieved. This is called consensus-building, and it is pretty much antithetical to anything you will find on cable TV opinion programming.

Alas, these are new school times (or at least times from another side of the political cycle), where most of Obama’s opponents (and many of his allies) would just as soon shove rhetoric down America’s throats, stonewall without compromise, and go on cable opinion shows to blame everything on the opposition (even when it was your idea to begin with) than hash out nuanced compromise over a round table discussion.

The juxtaposition makes Obama’s slow-even-for-old-school approach to ending DADT stand out all the more. When the political atmosphere is overly charged, overly vitriolic, and overly partisan, being moderate seems radical; I contend that this is why Obama was elected–it’s certainly why I voted for him. However, many of those voting for a radically moderate policy may not have been expecting that it would be accompanied by radically moderate action, and some of Obama’s strongest supporters are getting tired of waiting for that “radical” part to kick in. DADT would seem like the perfect opportunity to implement major cultural progress that would reduce costs, require little Congressional crossfire, and avoid overhauling any further cornerstones to our economy.

Yet, Obama waited, and with good reason from his perspective. Ending two wars, averting financial collapse, and planting the roots of systemic change in healthcare seemed more important because they affected everyone. While social justice ideals may tell us that “an injustice somewhere is an injustice everywhere”, the fact of the matter is that most Americans (even the majority who support some advancement of LGBT rights) would have seen gay rights as a need of the few in the face of the needs of the many. Sadly, politics is perception, and jumping into such a decision could have endangered every other dream placed in Obama, radical or moderate.

Keep in mind, the nation is so primed right now that if Obama can reach the end of a single term without being assassinated or converting our nation over to rampant socialism, without rewriting the constitution to praise Allah or seizing property from Whites to give it to Blacks, without abandoning Iraq and Afghanistan or invading small town America, it will be a great victory for radical moderation over the dangerous forces of overblown rhetoric (though, without a separate figurehead, one unlikely to be claimed and, therefor, noticed).

There were small opportunities; perhaps Obama’s first weeks in office, or that dizzying week after health insurance reform passed: points in time when Obama was riding on high waves and an executive order suspending DADT could easily have been buried amid a thousand other headlines. But Obama’s approach of moderate action prevented such a stealthy move; what on a national level seems to be a simple transition will still have a direct impact on soldiers who are already psychologically stretched and physically drained. So he has called for a year-long analysis (such a study panel is the kind of moment when even I will mutter “liberal” under my breath with a snarl) to research how best to end DADT.

Will it take a full year to strategize the implementation of a DADT repeal? I seriously doubt it. Could measures further than those recently put in place have been taken to slow the impact of DADT? Of course. However, during that time, soldiers and officers who oppose the repeal will have a lot more time to consider their opinion and prepare for the change (Hell, we may even be out of Iraq by then, which should make anything easier for our military). Knowing it is coming should, I hope, make it easier to accept when the time has come. Even once it is legally possible for LGBT soldiers to serve openly, it will not be easy, and some soldiers will remain closeted for years, if not decades; the social adjustment could easily take a generation, but a gradual implementation (or period of warning) will go a long way into smoothing the rough waters of change.

There are more cynical advantages for Obama to delay, of course. He is keeping his options open, for one; should the November election see the Dems blown out of the water (which I doubt, but six months is an eternity in politics), he will move toward 2012 with one fewer bulletpoint against him from social conservatives. Or make that three, because while Obama supports gay adoption and “civil unions”, the sooner DADT passes, the sooner activists on both side will move on to fighting over even more controversial steps toward equality. And while few of the Black American voters who supported Obama 19-to-1 in 2008 have noticed how little his agenda has thus far helped non-whites and poor communities, you can expect that some of the 64% who find “homosexual behavior” to be “morally wrong” would notice if they saw LGBT equality placed as a higher priority.

(None of these items is as straightforward as presented here, though it is perceived to be by many. Sadly, this comparison–which is not original to me–is just another symptom of us-and-them thinking, where even constituents of progressive values focus on their own communities and do not recognize the commonality with other maligned groups.)

But drawing action from a radical moderate will not come from thinking cynically. LGBT activists have been exasperated with Obama’s inaction since the day after inauguration, and they have only experienced one major victory during his 16 months in office. There has been organization and marching and blogging and activism galore–and this is as it should be. In a way, maybe the DADT delay has been good for the LGBT community, too. Not for the individuals, sadly (rates have slowed since Obama’s inauguration, but hundreds have still been booted through his delay), but for the organizations and the LGBT community at large. As a repeal of DADT has approached… well, become imminent… well, seemed likely… eventually… the LGBT community has had less public attention on same-sex marriage (and even activists were running the risk of outrage fatigue after Prop 8). Perhaps with this little detour toward DADT (and ENDA, which will hopefully come next), the disparate opinions within the community will have a chance to breathe and remember what they have in common.

While the goal of every activist organization should be to render itself obsolete, a motivated and unified community is easier to solicit for donations and volunteers, and I suspect there’s still a huge well of untapped hetero allies out there who haven’t given since they got that HRC sticker on their back windows. At the same time, the broader American culture continues to inch closer toward tacit, even open, acceptance of that community and the notion that, hey, gays are people too! Demonstrations help that and arrests help that, so long as they remain clear, focused, and non-violent. Signs about same-sex marriage and adoption will do well alongside those on DADT and ENDA, but don’t try to also protest the wars, corporate media corruption, and the closing down of your local library (at least not at the same event). Activists must treat every opportunity as a discussion on one specific topic and resist the urge to yell at the hetero-normative public instead of talking with them. While some minds are not likely to ever change, others will be preparing for change who wouldn’t have otherwise.

Don’t misunderstand me; Obama is a busy man with a full agenda. Reneging will come all-too-easily if LGBT activists do not keep up the pressure. Politics being the antithesis of humanization, you cannot expect any politician to treat you like a human being instead of just a vote; you must demand it. It is the right and responsibility of every supporter of LGBT equality (whoever you sleep with) to keep up the protests, keep up the letters, keep up the conversation so the President does not–cannot–forget his promise. Unless the Dems keep a strong majority in mid-term elections (which is possible, but hardly likely at this point), I doubt we will see national progress beyond DADT and ENDA during Obama’s first term; then, it will again fall to LGBT activists to help him win a second term so he can make bigger promises toward equality and we can work tirelessly another four years to hold him to them.

It isn’t fair–and promises have already been broken–but it is the way of politics. You have to fight a lot to win a little, and deserving it means you just have to work twice as hard.

Questions to ask while we wait:

How is recruitment?
Why no temporary moratorium?
What about those already discharged?
Will DADT impact mid-term elections?

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The National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change

2010.February.3

Why am I going to Creating Change?

  • To see one of my mentors from D.C., and hopefully other contacts from my time working there.
  • To get in on the first real activist development opportunity that has presented itself in the Metroplex since I left D.C.
  • To develop better awareness and skills around gender and sexuality at a time when DFW seems primed for thoughtful action.
  • To recognize that after blurring the lines for years, I have now clearly stepped outside simple heterosexuality and to own this deliberate process.
  • To celebrate sexual diversity very close to my home turf and strengthen local ties between the LGBT and poly communities.
  • To learn how to be a better ally to friends and colleagues and, in turn, to take these lessons back to other allies who don’t always know how to express their support.
  • To see some really hot activists talking about “really lascivious things, like communication“.
  • To identify lessons and opportunities on the periphery of queer activism that may be useful to my book and my campaign work.

…and because hetero people don’t generally talk about sexuality as candidly–whether it’s related to love, pleasure, or politics–and I simply need more.

What will I be doing  at Creating Change?

Wednesday
DAY-LONG INSTITUTE 1: Challenging and Transforming White Supremacy in Our Work: Our Vision, Our Roles (anti-racist workshop specifically for Whites)

Thursday
DAY-LONG INSTITUTE 2: Sexual Liberation Institute (topics of sexual freedom discussed by the afore-mentioned mentor, her partner, and Tristan Taormino, author of my favorite poly manual)
OPENING PLENARY (followed by a Poly speed-greeting)

Friday
WORKSHOP SESSION 1: Class Matters (identifying issues that cross communities, featuring story circles!) or The Art of the Schmooze (because I need it)
WORKSHOP SESSION 2: Integrating New Media into Your Organizing Strategy (to enhance my existing communications skills) or What Your Parents Never Taught You About Sex  (including discussions of demographics, risk, and practices, because I’m due for a refresher)
PLENARY
WORKSHOP SESSION 3: Strengthening the Connection: Racial Justice and LGBT Rights (presenters include Rinku Sen, a personal hero) or Storytelling for Social Change: Gathering LGBTQ Stories (because personal storytelling is pivotal to my approach to nonfiction)
WORKSHOP SESSION 4: Reaching Out to the Blogosphere (a strong need if my writing is to gain traction)
CAUCUS 1: Young and Poly (if 29 is not too old… definitions vary greatly, so I’ll be asking in advance) or Transitioning Beyond the Boxes (on expanding gender identities beyond male/female)
RECEPTIONS

Saturday:
WORKSHOP SESSION 5: You Lie! Right-Wing Race Backlash: What It Means for Queers (because anti-racist and interdisciplinary discussions make me happy)
WORKSHOP SESSION 6: Mapping Your Desire (very timely for me)
PLENARY
WORKSHOP SESSION 7: Kink, Race and Class (the presenter’s definition of kink includes multi-partner relationships, so all I can say is Hell yes!)
WORKSHOP SESSION 8: Talkin’ Bout My Generation: Intergenerational Storytelling and Dialogue (more relevant to my book) or The Future of Sexual Orientation (expanding beyond gender and gender preference, and also featuring Tristan Taormino)
CAUCUS 2: Designing Useable Research (this is also pivotal to my book) or Polyamory/Nonmonogamy Caucus (if I am, indeed, too old for the Friday Caucus)
ENTERTAINMENT
Sunday:
BRUNCH PLENARY
CONFERENCE FEEDBACK

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Who Is Savannah?

2009.March.31

[I thought I posted this yesterday… anyway, it’s here at last!]

The pertinent reason for my Birmingham disclosure was that my traveling companion had a similar moment of self-discovery in Savannah. Without going too far into telling someone else’s story, I will share that she is another White Southerner (though from a different part of the South as me), for whom Savannah highlighted a personal conflict: ambivalence in one’s personal heritage, taking pride in some-but-not-all elements (both traditional and subversive) and shame in others.

The Savannah I saw in 2009 was very different from the one I had seen in 2005. This year, I saw little-to-no evidence of conspicuous segregation between White and Black – quite the contrary in fact. Many shops (and even our motel) were surprisingly integrated, with customers and staff inclusively White, Black, and even occasionally Latino. Only River Street, Savannah’s most densely tourist district, matched what I had seen before; the color line there was almost literal, with the waterfront populated almost entirely by Black buskers and the cityfront lapped by waves of White tourists meandering in and out of shops and restaurants. I was, as before, engrossed by the atmosphere and attitude of SCAD, even as its urban sprawl reminded me of NYU in The Village and its funky White eclecticism belied the rest of downtown’s pleasant integration. Generally, there was a lack of visible tension or ominousness like in just about any other downtown, so much so that it seemed the economic downturn had not hit Savannah very hard (yet).

Downtown Savannah seemed less mysterious than the Spanish moss might lead one to believe, but then we took the time to watch “The Movie”, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The film and its source crime narrative are largely responsible for tourism in Savannah since the 90’s. I was once told that the fascination with ghost tours and gothic statues did not really exist before The Movie’s 1997 release, but seeing the film raised a lot of questions about its prominence, especially since the film’s supernatural aspects are more ambient than relevant, and there is rarely in downtown any open reference to any of the story’s character or events.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a lightly fictionalized account of an actual murder that happened in Savannah in 1981, when a wealthy, middle-aged antiques dealer killed his gay lover in the historic home of Johnny Mercer while the victim was high and possibly threatening. The story unfolds from the perspective of a visiting magazine writer from New York City, who has befriended the dealer just before the slaying. The New Yorker is sympathetic, but suspicious; he turns his personality profile into a murder investigation, relying heavily on a mischievous transsexual performer and a sexy blond neighbor to navigate his way through the lifestyles of the Rich and Southern. Wackiness ensues, but under dark and foreboding cinematography.

The Movie was interesting, but more as a cultural phenomenon than as art or entertainment. As I said above, Savannah has wrapped a not-small segment of its tourism around this film, yet signs and solicitations never make direct reference to the movie’s subject matter. The scenery is all Savannah (that city looks like no place else!), but the story as told could have been set with different accents in just about any city in the U.S. (or many others around the world). Local celebrities living semi-closeted lives, having to explain to some out-of-stater the way things are done ’round here (and how can a writer from New York City be so naïve about drag queens anyway?), mutual suspicion and derision between the out-of-stater and his smug, amused hosts…

There seemed to be many swaths of rich material, but no hems to fit it all together; more to the point of this blog, where were the race and class issues? The accused makes a point of explaining that he is nouveau-riche, and his lover was clearly working class, but these tidbits don’t seem terribly relevant to the course of the story. Similarly, the two Black characters are vaudevillian for their entertainment value and receive much critical camera time, but neither exerts much direct impact on plot. Perhaps their roles could have been expanded, to redirect the film toward a study not of a murder investigation but of the quirky community around it – but then it would lose what little was credibly left of the Southern Gothic motif. Conversely, the superfluous parts could have been trimmed (I daresay cut) to allow for a more straightforward narrative, but then it would have lost pretty much all entertainment value (Lady Chablis, who convincingly played herself fifteen years after the actual murder, was the best part of the film). I hope The Book was better.

But even if The Book and The Movie are great works (and I’m no expert, plenty of others seem to think so), it still surprised us that Savannah has so wholly embraced them. Sure, Midnight conveyed Savannah’s haunting beauty, but what did it say about the city and its people that can be such a source of pride and draw to Savannah? Uppity and aloof people of wealth gossiping impersonally over alcohol? Nothing unusual there. Thriving but underground gay culture? Not your usual source of pride (well, not in the lower-case, non-parade variety). A place where Black Americans are not defined by their race, but by their skills as drag performers and Voodoo priestesses? Entire classes could be taught on what’s wrong with that… Was it the notion that eccentric Southerners can charm any Northerner into relocating without really trying?

Actually, let’s think about that. Because the trial, the denouement that follows… those were anticlimactic. They’re kind of benchmarks to let you know the story’s almost over. Really, they’re just props, no emotional reaction. And all those lovely, eccentric, one-and-a-half-dimensional characters who stretch the film out well past two hours… most of them are kind of props, too. The mistrust, the culture-clash, the anticipation of twists and turns that never quite materialize… these are the most powerful elements, and the film isn’t over until the narrator tells his new love interest that he’s not going back to New York. But he’s still little more than a prop. That plot I was kind of ragging on? Prop. The gay community and its thin closet, the Black characters (and lack thereof), the rich and the poor – they’re all just props.

The real protagonist of the story is the city of Savannah. Between dialogues, the city calls out to viewers and lures their eyes away from the foreground with beautiful townhouses and creeping Spanish Moss and says, “Look at these crazy people. Only a real city could produce a story like this. Someplace with history and beauty and tragedy behind tired eyes that you’ll never see because I am too gorgeous to let you in on the baggage. I can’t change who I am. I can’t change my history and I’m not sure I would if I could, so I’m just going to put it out there: the eccentric, the ostentatious, the best and the worst of myself, and I dare you to assume that’s all there is to me.” This city puts on a fabulous show of everything it is and everything it wants to be but can’t and celebrates that which it cannot hide with undulating flair.

Savannah is a drag queen.

But not just any drag queen; Savannah is THE drag queen of The Old South. In a good economy, you can’t even tell black from white, happy from sad, any part of any dichotomy from its opposite, because all the polarities are just jumbled up around you and inviting you to savor the blend. As the economic shifts catch up, well, we’ll see who gets invited into the next, more meager concoction, but for now Savannah bears whatever scars it must without trying to hide them, neither flaunting nor obscuring, just getting by on personality and hotness and hoping they will keep you from asking another one of those questions it’s already tired of answering.

On the drive to our next destination, we stopped at a 24-hour Starbucks near Auburn University for warm beverages and people-watching. We couldn’t decide how to feel about the strange blend of gymnasts and debutantes, hipsters and hicks; was it all too illogical or simply our own lives flashing before our eyes? At least it seemed integrated. There’s a lot to be said for how easily it comes to people my age and younger, even here in the South.

Any other day, we would have been talking about that Starbucks for hours, but Savannah had already stolen the show. We would talk about those two days for weeks to come…

Sights: Bamboo Farm and Coastal Gardens, E. Shaver, Bookseller, River Street, Savannah’s Candy Kitchen

Topics: Speculating on the political leanings of employees and clientele at E. Shaver, cheap toilet paper at expensive hotels, how great it would be to live in Savannah for a month while writing a book, gender, race, class, acceptance vs. tolerance.

Soundtrack: Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Martha Wainwright, Placebo, Simon and Garfunkel

We were a bit late heading out of town, but it was okay. There was very little to see in Montgomery.

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Who’s Not Getting It?

2008.December.15

The parents at Rowlett High School who got Rent cancelled, that’s who.

I mean, I don’t know whether the “it” is the importance of learning other perspectives (even if you disagree with them), the importance of artistic expression that pushes boundaries so their children don’t end up stale and on stronger antidepressants than they take, the fact that lines like “hating dear old mom and dad” are jokes, or – yes I’ll say it – sex. Maybe they need to get laid. Maybe those parents just need to get tied down and something stiff extracted from (or inserted into) places they’re not supposed to be.

In case you haven’t heard, I’m talking about Rowlett High School’s recent cancellation of its student production of Rent, the hit Broadway musical set in mid-90’s East Village of Manhattan (“New York City?!”“Get a rope.”).

Forget that the show’s depiction of drug use is anything but positive, or that its representation of gay lifestyles is anything but simple, or that the musical was made into a PG-13 movie just a couple years ago, or that some of the offensive material was pared down for the school version (which had already been approved by administrators who were very unlikely to be hippie liberals), what bothers me is that the kids are going to miss out on putting on a good show with a good message. Rent celebrates friendship, creativity, critical self-determination, and even monogamy and presents life as ambivalent and complicated.

Guess it’s better if the kids learn that on their own when they go away to college (not knowing how to put on a condom) or take a monotanous job down at the cubicle farm.

Honestly, I was surprised the cancellation came so slowly once the local news started to report, but the administrators were wiley. They got the theater director to cancel the production “for the good of the school” rather than cancelling it from on high. This way, not only is the director responsible for ever suggesting such a barbaric notion, it also keeps angry protesters from harassing the board and other administrators. “Well, we were taking it under serious advisement, but the theater director made the final decision before we had made up our minds.”

The theater director takes the fall, before the students or all of the parents could speak.

The noisemakers win this round.

I have an idea I would love to see happen for a reaction from the community. On the date when the play would have opened (or possibly the date of the next board meeting), gather as many local defenders of Rent and of student expression as possible outside the building and sing the soundtrack from the sidewalk, beginning to end. Show them what the play is really about: people coming together (Hell, if the musical glamorizes anything, it’s how absolutely lonely NYC can get when you haven’t found a community there, and that’s antithetical to the plot).

But I believe in grassroots starting locally. Such a protest should originate with members of the Rowlett community (preferably students and parents), and the only family I knew there moved elsewhere earlier this year (which is too bad, too, because the kids – ages 14 and 11 – know the Rent soundtrack by heart!). But if my idea happened to be picked up and promoted by a student, parent, or teacher in Rowlett or the greater Garland ISD, I would be happy to attend and invite all my friends and allies. Maybe they could tie it to Prop 8 protests… those folks are still trying to figure out what to do with all their anger.

But in the meantime, I hope a rebellious teacher will at least show the crappy film version on movie day. It’s a Christmas story, too, you know.

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