It Gets Better

29 09 2010

This is a terrific idea—and one you probably already know about:

Dan Savage, profane sex columnist (is there any other kind?), author, and alternatingly-amusing-and-irritating pundit, had heard one too many stories about queer kids who killed themselves, and decided to do what he could to buck up all of the rest of those kids who aren’t supported in schools or loved at home: he set up the It Gets Better project on YouTube, posted a video (with his husband, Terry) of his experiences, and invited queer adults to add their own stories—all as a way of reaching out and hanging on to those kids who might just let go.

It’s a wonderful idea, and it’s wonderful that so many adults have contributed to this project.

(I won’t be making a video because my bisexuality only emerged in the past couple of years; whatever difficulties I had in high school could not be traced to my sexual orientation.)

I do, however, have one observation: Some of these videos—the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus vid, for example—include exhortations to the kids that they should just be who they are, that in a few years they can get out and find a place where people will love them for themselves.

A beautiful thought; alas, it is not enough.

This is in no way a critique of the project: no one project can do everything, and, as Dan pointed out in his column, there are other resources that adults should support and kids should turn to. To remind this particular adolescent community that it’s okay to be queer, that the problem is with the bullies and the hateful and not with them, is exactly what so many of them need to hear.

But some of them won’t hear this. For the kid who feels that who he is is awful, for the teen who believes that her real self is bad—to tell those kids that they just need to hang on to their real selves and everything will get better is to miss the fact that them, their sense of their real selves is the problem.

They hate themselves because they are queer, or because their inherent badness made them queer, and thus they might believe that they deserve to be bullied: the problem isn’t that the bullies don’t know who they are, but that they do.

Maybe these videos will help a gay kid to reconsider himself, to question her belief that to be a lesbian is to be bad, and to help those kids find a way out of their self-hatred.

It would be wonderful if that would happen.

But it’s not enough to tell those kids that they can survive the bullies when they can’t survive themselves.

It Gets Better is a start. It tells so many gay, lesbian, bi-, and trans teens that there is so much more in life for them, and that they can make it through these tough high school years to liberate themselves into that life.

But we also  need a way to reach those self-hating kids, to tell them that not only can they live a better life, but that each and every one of them deserves that better life.





Incompetence as credential

28 09 2010

You’ve heard the old line: Even the mediocre deserve representation.

A version of this was offered by Senator Roman Hruska of Nebraska, in defense of Richard Nixon’s nomination of Judge G. Harrold Carswell to fill a vacancy on the US Supreme Court, and a man many considered manifestly unqualified:

Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.

Ha ha, right?

Okay, but how about this: Christine O’Donnell, Senate candidate in Delaware, argues that her financial difficulties (being sued 5 times by her college for not paying bills, threatened foreclosure on her home, a declared income in March 2009-July2010 of under 6 grand) not only do not disqualify her from office, but that “I think the fact that I have struggled financially is what makes me so sympathetic.”

Or consider Michael Caputo, campaign manager for New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, who had a lien placed against his assets by the IRS: “Most people I know have had problems paying their taxes,” he said. “I am just like everybody else.”

And then, of course, there is the half-guv, who winked her way into political celebrity and decided that the problem with not knowing answers to basic questions was with the questions, not the not-knowing.

My expectations for political actors isn’t high, and no, I don’t think past problems ought automatically to disqualify someone from political participation. That Sarah Palin mucked about a couple of different colleges before she settled on one which worked for her, well, hell, so what: she was a college student, fer cryin’ out loud.

And financial and job difficulties, yeah, a lot of people have gone through them, and that doesn’t mean they ought to be banished from public life.

The problem isn’t with the difficulties, the problem is that these difficulties are brandished as a badge of honor: Whoo-hoo! I fucked up! Vote for me!

Hey, guess what, I’ve fucked up, too! Does that mean I should be a senator or vice president? Whoo-hoo!

Yes, I am in my bones a democrat (and civic republican—but that’s another post), but to state that the people ought to be involved in their governance is not to say that a people proud of their pig ignorance will govern well.

And no, you don’t need an Ivy League education (Go Big Ten!) or a Ph.D. in political science or even a college degree to govern well. But you need to pay some goddamned attention, and to do the goddamned work necessary to make yourself able to govern.

Mother Jones is instructive here: Sit down and read. Educate yourself for the coming conflict.

That’s just smart—and that, of course, is the problem.

h/t: Robert S McElvaine, HuffPo; Ginger Gibson (story pasted to anti-O’Donnell site); Michael Barbero, NY Times;





Love me, love me, say that you love me

26 09 2010

Love isn’t really my thing.

I don’t have anything against it, and it’s not that I don’t believe that it exists (whatever that means), but love and I don’t have much to do with each other.

I’m thinking about this because I referred to love in the comments to my last post, asking if someone were told that her belief was hated but that she was loved, would she, in fact, feel loved?

It was not so much the definition of love I was after so much as the question of being, but, nonetheless, it felt a bit. . . odd to use the term.

People have told me they loved me. My parents. My friend M. (who knows how it discomfits me). And I would guess that at least some of my friends would say, if not to me then at least about me, that they love me.

I don’t disbelieve them: if they say they love me, then okay. But I don’t feel it.

And I don’t feel badly about it. A little bad, insofar as I don’t say it back—this is one lie I can’t quite manage—but I don’t feel this great gaping and gasping pain of the absence of it in my life. Perhaps I can say that I feel the absence, but it is simply absence, something I register, and nothing more.

Have I ever felt love? I don’t know. I remember as a child telling my parents I loved them, and I think I would have said that I loved people (I certainly loved my pets) and meant it, but I also remember feeling that there was something obligatory in the saying: It was always tied, always. . . crimped or stapled into some line of duty.

I don’t remember it ever having been—although it must have been, once, it must have been—free.

And because it wasn’t free, because there was always that stitch in the side of any profession of love, it felt like a lie, a compulsion in order to reassure those around me that. . . oh, christ, I don’t know what. That I belonged? I can’t remember this, either, can’t remember why I felt guilty for saying it, only that I did, that I questioned whether I meant it.

This isn’t about conditional versus unconditional love: conditional doesn’t equal coerced. But I did feel compelled, for whatever reason, felt that there were certain things I must feel about certain people, and that I had to rank these people in a particular order—family before friends, parents before all others—and that to break ranks was a kind of betrayal.

And I betrayed.

Again, I don’t know where these feelings came from. Parents are the usual suspects, but they did (do) love us, and they did (do) try to be good parents. Perhaps it was a matter of their uncertainties and my sensitivities colliding in a way no one intended, but leaving us all damaged, nonetheless.

Damaged, hm. No, I’m not pained, but I do recognize that this absence is, indeed, an absence. And I wonder what its presence is like, and whether I, so long used to living without it, could even ever know what love is.

I don’t know what I’m missing, which makes me wonder what I’m missing.





Question of the day: hate and love

25 09 2010

Consider the relatively ubiquitous phrase, oft deployed by religious folk to describe their approach to queer folk and their sexuality:

‘Hate the sin, love the sinner.’

Yeah, it grits in my teeth, and not just for those who deploy it who clearly don’t mean it, but even for those who are sincere, it misses the point.

Consider: ‘Hate the belief, love the believer.’

Again, a variation of this is offered with regard to Christian outreach to/evangelization of Muslims and other heretics, apostates, and unbelievers. Again, too glib.

How would those who (sincerely) use this sentiment react if such a sentiment were deployed against expressed to them?

Seriously, I’m askin’.





No comment: a roundup

25 09 2010

The Texas State Board of Education adopted a resolution Friday that seeks to curtail references to Islam in Texas textbooks, as social conservative board members warned of what they describe as a creeping Middle Eastern influence in the nation’s publishing industry.

Huffington Post

***

“Thai women are a lot like women in America were 50 years ago,” said Mr. Davis, before they discovered their rights and became “strong-headed and opinionated.”

“The women now know they are equal,” said Mr. Davis, a retired Naval officer who has been divorced twice, “so the situation is not as relaxed and peaceful as it is between an American and a Thai lady.”

New York Times

***

The Obama administration urged a federal judge early Saturday to dismiss a lawsuit over its targeting of a U.S. citizen for killing overseas, saying that the case would reveal state secrets.

The U.S.-born citizen, Anwar al-Aulaqi, is a cleric now believed to be in Yemen. Federal authorities allege that he is leading a branch of al-Qaeda there.

Washington Post

***

Mr. Dooley said the F.B.I. broke down Mr. Kelly’s door around 7 a.m. and gave a search warrant to his companion. The warrant said agents were gathering evidence related to people “providing, attempting and conspiring to provide material support” to terrorist organizations, and listed Hezbollah, the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

The warrant also authorized the agents to look for information connected to the Freedom Road Socialist Organization and to unnamed “co-conspirators” and allowed them to seize items including electronics, photographs, address books and letters.

Mr. Kelly is known in Minnesota as a prominent organizer of the Anti-War Committee, a group that has protested United States military aid to Colombia and called for the removal of American soldiers from Afghanistan.

During the Republican gathering in 2008 he was a primary organizer of a march that drew thousands of participants.

Mr. Kelly was also served with a summons to appear before a grand jury on Oct. 19 in Chicago. The order directed him to bring along pictures or videos related to any trip to Colombia, Jordan, Syria, the Palestinian territories or Israel, as well as correspondence with anyone in those places.

New York Times





Just who is the five o-clock hero?

21 09 2010

I lost out on a job; I am so relieved.

I shouldn’t be: I should be freaking out. Yes, I’m still teaching, but that covers rent, nothing more. And I do have a bit of money in the bank, but not enough for me to be relieved instead of freaking out.

So why aren’t I freaking out?

One obvious reason is that I didn’t want the job. It’s at the same place I’ve been working, so I know people there, I like the organization well enough, and it’s an easy commute. Oh, and the job would have been fine, too.

I just didn’t want it. The pay would have been okay, and the work conditions not-onerous, and there are parts of the job I think I would have enjoyed. But I was worried—worried—that I’d be offered the position, and stuck in a sideways corporate position which was more comfortable than challenging. Yes, I could have paid for things besides rent with this job—no small thing, and why I would have felt I had to take it, had it been offered to me—but jesusmaryandjoseph did I move to New York City for. . . this?

Okay, so that’s over the top, and completely unfair to the job itself. But I did take risks to move here (some of which I’m still trying to pay off in the not-rent portion of my financial obligations), and at some point it seems a waste of that risk to settle for something merely because it’s safe.

Easy for me to say, I know: I don’t have a partner or kids or a mortgage, and safety and settling matter when there are people relying upon you. Risk calculation changes when you’re responsible for someone else.

I am responsible for no one else. Whether that’s good or bad matters less than the bare fact of it itself, which means if I am to take responsibility for myself, then I need to pay attention not just to my bank account, but to the whole of my life.

Truth be told, I’m not very good at that, and too often anxiety and fear cloud my sensibilities and make me uneasy to try—to risk—what I may actually be able to do.

This 9-5 job would have been a respectable reason for me to hold off on those risks, on those efforts, and I have no good faith that those efforts will pay off.

But Christ, all that it took to bring me here: isn’t it time to take a deep breath and go?

***

And on that point: listen to and enjoy Poi!





The expulsion from the Garden of Eden is the beginning of life as I know it

19 09 2010

I’m a little fuzzy on the whole sin thing.

Yes, something about disobeying God, with apples, snakes, naked people, banishment, knowledge. . . really, if I were religious, I’d surely find this all fascinating, but as I’m not, well, it just seems curious to me.

But one thing I do like about the insistence on the sinfulness of humans is that those propounding on this corruption tend to see it as all-inclusive: Everyone is a sinner, everyone needs grace.

Handy to remember that.

I’d circled this issue in the last two posts, in terms of Christians and TeePers behaving badly, but one of the things I was too angry (!) to deal with in the Wars-of-Religion post and too politically-minded to deal with in confronting Howard Beale is my basic belief that almost all of us carry almost all of the possible characteristics any human being can demonstrate. The proportions may vary, sure, but outside of the exceptional few, I think we’re all capable of the same basic range of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

This doesn’t make us all the same: there are clearly differences in the mix, as well as what each of us brings to that mix in terms of conscious effort and habituation.

Oh, crap, I’m getting too windy.

Lemme put it this way: I didn’t post the extensive quote about rampaging Christians (in response to Peretz’s claim that ‘Muslim life is cheap, especially to Muslims’) as a way of saying See! It’s not just Muslims! Christians are bad, too! Boos, all around! No, the point—which I didn’t explicitly make—is that people behaving violently in the name of religion is unsurprising, given that people are capable of behaving violently.

Yes, there are belief systems which explicitly forbid violence, but the existence of pacifist belief systems proves the point: If the adherents weren’t themselves capable of violence and aggression, there’d be little need for a system to discipline them.

Again, another capacity of humans: to restrain ourselves from doing all that we can possibly do.

But why restrain or indulge? What leads Christians in one period to slaughter one another and non-Christians and in another to tolerate and even respect them? What leads Muslims to laud or condemn conquest? What makes rightists or leftists righteously angry and what will they do with that righteousness and anger?

Ask the question instead of assuming the answer.

It’s too easy to say Christians are peaceful and Muslims aggressive (or vice versa), or rightists are patriotic and leftists traitors (or vice versa), especially when the historical evidence indicates otherwise. Nor is it enough to say that x-behavior isn’t representative of true belief, especially when—again—evidence indicates that x-behavior in another time or place was treated as the sine qua non of true belief.

Do you feel the breeze? Sorry, getting windy again.

I just don’t think we humans are better or worse than we were before, nor that we can even define better or worse outside of a particular historical context. Best simply to try to understand what we  mean by these terms, and to recognize what we are capable of.

For better and for worse.

***

Addendum: Perhaps this also the case for other creatures, and how we act towards and respond to them.





I’m not angry!

19 09 2010

I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!

Entertaining scene.

You do know, of course, that Howard Beale is a nutjob.

That doesn’t mean he makes no sense whatsoever. I happen to like the declaration I’m a human being, goddammit, and my life has value! And as a jolt to complacency (steel-belted radials. . . ) well, here’s a common quaking ground between an agitated left and agitated right.

Anger has its uses, of course, precisely in that jolting kind of way—it can get one moving out of passivity and into action—so it’s a start, a propeller, an accelerant, spark and fuel. Fine. But it’s a shitty engine.

Which is to say, it’s a shitty politics.

I’m not a fan of the Tea Party folk (surprise!), but that kind of raging rhetoric can be found all over the political spectrum. I get it, I really do—I was known in college for yelling at the news and once smeared butter all over the dorm-lounge t.v. because I didn’t like what I was witnessing—so I understand what it’s like to be electrified by what one considers to be lies, distortions, and general injustice. (And yes, I still yell at the radio, tho’ I keep the butter in the fridge.)

But that ain’t enough; even Howard Beale noted that after everyone gets angry, ‘then we’ll figure out what to do. . . .’

So what will the Tea Party do? Christine O’Donnell, TP-GOP nominee for the Delaware senate seat, said in a speech to the Value Voters Summit that whatever the disagreements among Republicans,  “we’re loud, we’re rowdy, we’re passionate.” And Sharron Angle, the Nevada TeePer senate candidate, has spoken of recourse to the 2nd Amendment if her kind don’t get their way. Is this where the anger ends?

But what if you win, what will you do? Ms. O’Donnell notes that all of her votes will be decided on the basis of the Constitution; does she know that tax increases, spending increases, unbalanced budgets, unfunded wars, and international treaties are all Constitutional? Does Ms. Angle realize that supporting the military, cutting spending, extending Bush-era tax cuts, and paying down the national debt does not compute?

This isn’t just snarking on incoherent campaign platforms—it is a campaign, after all, and as long as you reel in votes, anything goes—but noting that these two campaigns, at least, seem to be less about any policy and more about stickin’ it to The Man.

And once that Man is dead (he won’t be, of course, you remember how Network, ends, don’t you?), then what?

Once your anger is slaked, then what? Or is the point the anger, after all?





Are we not men?

13 09 2010

This is cheap, I know, but Martin Peretz doesn’t deserve the cost of real thought:

On a spring day in May 1631, Count von Tilly celebrated a mass to thank God for his conquest of Magdeburg, the chief city of the Protestant Reformation, boasting that no such victory had occurred since the destruction of Jerusalem. He was only slightly exaggerating—the cathedral in which the mass was held was one of three buildings that had not been burned to the ground. His Catholic League troops had besieged the city since November, living in muddy trenches through the winter snows, enduring the daily jeers and abuse of the Protestant inhabitants of the city. Once they stormed through the gates their zeal, rapacity, and greed knew no bounds. The slaughter was unstoppable. Fires were set throughout the city, children were thrown into the flames, and women were raped before being butchered. Fifty-three women were beheaded in a church where they sought refuge. No one was spared—twenty-five thousand Protestants were massacred or incinerated, and of the five thousand survivors some few were noblemen held for ransom, but all the rest were women who had been carried off to the imperial camp to be raped and sold from soldier to soldier. News of this atrocity quickly spread throughout Europe, hardening the sectarian lines of a conflict that had begun thirteen years before and that would rage on for another seventeen

. . . The slaughter at Magdeburg, for all its horror, was not the first nor the last such event. During the Peasants’ Rebellion in the 1520s, over one hundred thousand German peasants and impoverished townspeople were slaughtered, many of them when they rushed headlong into battle against heavily armed troops, convinced by their leader Thomas Müntzer that true believers were immune to musket balls. In 1572, seventy thousand French Huguenots were slaughtered in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. The Franciscan monks who had preached that killing heretics was the surest way to salvation were pleased, but apparently not as pleased as Pope Gregory XIII, who was so delighted to receive the head of the slain Huguenot leader Coligny in a box that he had a special medal struck commemorating the event. And finally, lest anyone imagine that the barbarity was one-sided, Cromwell’s model army sacked the Irish town of Drogheda in 1649, killing virtually everyone. They burned alive all those who had taken refuge in the St. Mary’s Cathedral, butchered the women hiding in the vaults beneath it, used Irish children as human shields, hunted down and killed every priest, and sold the thirty surviving defenders into slavery. Cromwell, without the least sense of irony, thanked God for giving him the opportunity to destroy such barbarous heretics.

Michael Allen Gillespie, The Theological Origins of Modernity, pp. 129-130.





Between the pen and the paperwork

12 09 2010

I finally did it.

After clearing out the 4 boxes and separating the recorded from the unrecorded articles, I piled up all the recorded articles  until I figured out what to do with them.

All that work—years worth of work—and the one, great, broken promise that those articles collectively represented sat in my small hallway, just outside of my bedroom. For months.

Yesterday, I went through the stacked meter of them one last time, pulled out a few to offer to my bioethics students, and carried the rest to the recycling bin. Today they were gone.

I still have about another foot left; these are the articles to be entered into my database and then, like the others, taken away. And there are still the hard copies of all those Human Genome Reports, the reports from DOE and NIH and NHGRI and OTA, along with some number of articles that I couldn’t quite part with; perhaps by the time I move again I’ll have figured out how to toss these, as well.

It’s not that big of deal, I tell myself. All of this is available online, either through the CUNY library system or, if I ever remember to join the Wisconsin Alumni Association, through the UW library system. It’s all still there, not gone at all.

But it feels like waste: a waste of paper, a waste of a career. All of this work I gathered (or which was gathered for me—thanks R.!) was to have led me further into an academic life, one in which I built a political theory of bioethics, taught medical and graduate students, participated in colloquia and conferences, and secured myself inside a tenured professorship.

Didn’t happen. Obviously.

I held on to those articles, nonetheless, never quite sure of when I might—might—need them again. After all, I’m still teaching, and who knows when that Theoretical Medicine or Human Gene Therapy or Philosophical Nursing piece might be exactly what I need. I once needed them, or at least, once thought I needed them; so who knows. . . .

I know: I don’t. They’ve been a kind of heavy security blanket, boxes of files I’d carted with me from Montreal to Somerville to (storage locker to storage locker in) Brooklyn. I’m done, I said, as I refused to get rid of all that with which I was done.

So about a year ago I decided it was time. I did nothing. Then I said, Hey, I have a file of all of those articles, so it’s not like I’m losing access to everything. I did nothing. Then I disinterred them from the boxes, sorted through them, piled them a meter high in the small hallway outside of my bedroom. Where they sat. Until yesterday.

It felt good to get rid of the clutter. I have pack-ratish tendencies, but I love the relief of unburdening myself of unnecessities.

It just took awhile to admit that these thousands of pieces of paper were a part of those unnecessities.