Stories for boys

7 10 2014

Why is gay marriage gaining and abortion rights losing?

Paul Constant at the Stranger suggests its down to men: they don’t get abortions, so they can fill their own minds with their own views of the slutty whores who irresponsibly seek to evade responsibility for their whorish slutty irresponsible sex.

Gays and lesbians, on the other hand, have fought and marched and partied and litigated (and, unfortunately, died) their way into public consciousness as human beings deserving of the same rights as all other human beings.

There’s something to this. ‘Coming out’ is not just a personal affirmation, but a political statement, as is the chant we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it. Visibility matters in politics, especially visibility without compromise: as Arendt and Biko and Malcolm X noted, the oppressed must demand recognition as they are—Jewish or black or queer—and not merely ask to be allowed to assimilate.

We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.

That attitude underlay even the most anodyne of marriage equality ads, the ones featuring couples who’d been together for decades, who are raising children and puppies, who want only to love and care for their beloveds, til death do they part.  These ads were oft-accompanied by gentle music and soft focus, but the insistence remained: we are human beings who want to be treated as human beings.

That’s a tough message for the anti-same-sex-marriage folks to counter, which they themselves knew. It’s not enough to talk about stories or the nice couple next door, they said, we have to talk about principles! and preserving marriage! and the children! don’t forget the children! and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

The fear of gay marriage worked only so long as homosexuality was a threat; once straight people got to know actual homosexual people, however, the abstraction couldn’t hold. The human story won.

Abortion rights don’t lend themselves so easily to such humanizing stories, however, and don’t end in thrown bouquets and candlelit dances. There are plenty of abortion stories to tell, which are being told, but they don’t follow the same arc as that toward marriage-equality.

There are all kinds of reasons for that difference, but a big one involves sex: marriage-equality folks rightly focused on love and commitment and fairness, on romance and weddings and families, and most definitely not on same-sex sex.

(Again, this is completely understandable: queer folk, especially queer men, have long sought to be seen as more than just sex machines, and as folks who just want what everyone else has. It thus made sense to omit from the ads & campaign speeches that a big thing most everyone has is sex.)

But ain’t no way to talk about abortion without talking about sex, and, unlike marriage, abortion isn’t seen as containing or domesticating sex, but the opposite; it is often seen, even among some who call themselves pro-choice, as enabling irresponsible sex.

By women, I mean. Of course, it is women who have irresponsible sex.

And so abortion gets caught up in all of our weirdness about women and sex and what counts as responsible and what should be the consequences and who should be the judge and wouldn’t you know it, none of that is as happy as the story of Caroline and Anita getting married after 50 years together or Jamal and Keith’s five kids dancing at their wedding.

I get what Constant is saying about the necessity of stories, but on abortion, I gotta side with the SSM opponents: “putting a face on the issue” isn’t enough.

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Letting the days go by

10 09 2011

I wasn’t there.

But I still have a story, so here it is:

I was in Montreal, and many mornings I rode my bike up Mont Royal before showering at the nearby medical building and heading to my office on Peel Street. The Biomedical Ethics Unit was still in the old red mansion on the west side of the street, and my office was on the ground floor, separated from the main office on the third floor. I had just walked in, maybe turned the computer on, when the phone rang.

I heard my mom, not recognizing me, asking to speak to me. She and my dad were scheduled to leave for their first-ever trip to Europe (I had long pestered them to go), so I wondered if something had happened with their plans.

The trip was cancelled, she said. All the trips are cancelled. What? I said, why? Are you rescheduling?

I don’t remember exactly what she said next, but something about planes, multiple planes crashing in New York, in DC, no one knows what’s going on, we might be at war, haven’t you heard?

Haven’t you heard?

I do remember standing in my office, one hand on my forehead, not comprehending what was being told to me. Not comprehending at all.

Then D., my fellow post-doc, filled my door-frame. Did you hear, he might have said. Something about planes, multiple planes, crashing in the US, A. has the t.v. on up in the office.

At some point I got off the phone and headed up. There it was. I don’t know how long I stayed, watching, before heading over to the Shatner (the student union) for coffee. The t.v. was on there. Students were crying. People were crying. I don’t know if they were Canadian or American. I don’t remember if I cried.

At some point I heard the borders were closed. Closed! I was locked out! I knew, not forever, but I started to know I was on the outside.

Later I was at lunch with the director of my unit (a dual citizen), a colleague, and that colleague’s girlfriend. The girlfriend got into it, I don’t remember over exactly what, but probably over the question of war. I do remember that I took an immediate stance against any immediate action. Let’s wait, let’s not make things worse. Something like that, probably something like that.

Oh, and probably something about how this probably connected to something the US had done. Yes, this was terrorism, and no, the people killed didn’t deserve it, but given how the US acts in the world, it shouldn’t be a surprise when the world reacts. Something like that, probably something like that, is probably what set off the girlfriend. Or something the girlfriend said set this off in me. I don’t remember the specifics, “who started it”, just that we got into it.

Later, not much time later, the director said to me, quietly, that perhaps it was too soon. And I thought, even if I didn’t say it (tho’ I might have said it), that we have to speak now, before everything hardens, and further thought isn’t possible.

Later, maybe later that day, maybe the next day, I rode back up Mont Royal, stood at the terrace near the top and looked toward what I guessed was New York. Could I see the smoke? Could it reach Montreal? Were we all now breathing in the dead?

Melodramatic, I knew, even as I thought it. Besides, everyone would breathe the dead, they would soar around the world and we’d all breathe in everyone’s dead, the way we always had, the way we never thought we had.

A week later I was at the border, a black strip of fabric hanging from my rearview mirror, on my way to see M. & E. in Vermont. I thought it might take hours; it took minutes. No problems, no problems at all.

M. was still working, so E. and I tooled around, running errands, before picking her up (or maybe we ran the errands after we picked her up; I don’t remember). We had to stop at a store E. hated, thought was terrible. “I wish a plane had crashed into that store,” he muttered, and then we both sputtered with laughter. We were terrible, laughing at a terrible joke about a terrible event.

Later, over a year later, hundreds of thousands of us marched down St. Catherine and Rene Levesque; millions around the world marched against the march to war. For naught. I watched the CBC in disbelief as the President led the Congress, and the nation, into war in Iraq. I couldn’t believe it: it was all so transparently false, so obviously wrong, they couldn’t actually pull this off, could they? Yes. And no.

There’s more, of course; ten years, after all. And while I’m in New York now, having not been then, my memories are of the outsider, still.

Which is why I told my story today; let tomorrow be the day for the stories of those who were there.





That’s not my name

26 03 2011

Ima gonna start another blog. I think.

Yes, I already have two others—one for teaching and one for freelancing—but I’d like to set one up for my writing, one which is tied to my name. Although I’m still waffling on what to do with my writing, it probably wouldn’t kill me to have some kind of publicity page; print or electronic, writers gotta hustle.

I could use this blog, but I like the semi-anonymity of this joint. It’s not as if I’ve gone to great lengths to protect my identity*—I’ve eased waaaay up on that—but I don’t necessarily want this blog to be the first thing that pops up if someone runs a search on my name. I don’t think my students are all that interested in me and I doubt that any of my family members run searches on me, but I prefer the discretion afforded by pseudonymity, nonetheless.

So, the issue is: What to call the new blog? My given name is already taken, and first-initial-last-name has been reserved (I don’t think by me). I use a shortened version of my name for one of my e-mail addresses, so that’s a possibility.

Or I could go with something completely different. Oh, my name would be somewhere on the blog, but maybe I’d call it something completely different. One of my good poems is titled “Catching witches”; I considered that as a name.

I don’t know. The url can’t be too complicated, and should probably be SEO-friendly. And, what the hell, the title of the blog can be anything: I could register under shortened-version and call it something else.

Huh. I probably shouldn’t be thinking of this after 1:30 in the morning, and certainly not while I’m still hip-deep in this freelancing project. But, well, some shit’s happening with CUNY (namely, budget cuts) so I gotta get movin’ on other plans. I don’t really expect to make money slinging my own words, but, you know, if the stories are already cooked, why not serve ’em? I write to be read, after all.

Still: it’s after 1:30 in the morning.

I welcome your suggestions, whatever the time you read this.

*And chances are I would link the two blogs. Again, just that bit of distance between me and this moniker is all I want.