Showing posts with label Gender. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gender. Show all posts

Monday, February 19, 2024

The White Stag

In high school, my very favorite person was named Paige.  She had joined our tight-knit little class pretty late along the way but fit in really quickly.  We took biology from a man named Dan, and we sat at one of the lab tables in the back.  Paige would hold my hand and press her knee against mine under the table.   

Another girl was calling me every night at home and talking to me about how her family was coming apart, so I never pursued Paige, who would have been a fantastic girlfriend, but the other girl might have felt betrayed at a time when the world was turning against her, so Paige and I reminded just friends, no matter how much time we spent together or how much time I studied the way her eyes moved or tried to copy the shape of her lips in the margins of my notebook.

One day, Paige said, "Look at that!" and she pointed to a person in one of the classes under ours.  They were a little shorter than Paige, unnaturally thin, dressed in baggy khaki pants, a short-sleeve collar shirt with buttons, and a wide, striped tie, not our school tie, which we didn't have to wear to class anymore, but a regular men's tie, but not a new one.  It was almost as if they'd gotten the tie from Goodwill or snuck it out of their grandfather's closet.  Their hair was cut shorter than mine and parted to the side with some sort of pomade to help keep its shape and an Alfalfa cowlick sticking up in the back.

"That's a woman, but she wants to be a man!" Paige said with a girlish laugh.  "Isn't that funny?" She said.  There wasn't a thread of hate or fear in her voice.  She was delighted to be so near something as unique as a girl who wanted to be a boy, and she wanted me to share in that delight, almost as if we'd seen a shooting star or a white stag together.  

"Go introduce yourself." She said, nudging me almost hard enough to push me off the bench in the quad building at school.  I'm not big on introducing myself, even now.  I especially wasn't then.  With my stutter, an attempt to not only introduce myself to a new person but a new kind of person would have probably meant that no words came out at all, or if they did they wouldn't make much sense.

I'd heard of a tennis player who went somewhere in Europe to get a "sex-change" operation, but that was a few years before and quite a way away from St. Andrews Episcopal Day School.  The idea that such a person was at my school seemed impossible, but thanks to Paige, it also now seemed magical and something I could learn from.

Paige wanted me to introduce myself to this person so that she could talk to them as well, and then they wouldn't be as lonely as they appeared.  I wish I'd done it.  It's bothered me quite a bit through the years that I didn't.  There were a lot of times when Paige knew the right thing to do, and I didn't.

Once I knew who this person was, I watched them intently in their odyssey through school life.  Some of my teammates said very cruel things about them, but even though these boys had a reputation as bullies, they never bullied this person, my white stag; he was too alien, even for them.

People who struggle with verbalization learn to read emotions from people's faces.  What I learned from watching the White Stag was that they were never very happy, lived in constant fear of being judged, and were in a constant state of readiness to defend their existence.  From what I could tell, they had no friends and no one to talk to.  They ate lunch alone, which is the ultimate sign of isolation in high school.  

I'd read so many stories about creatures who were the only ones of their kind and how unhappy they were.  Often, they were described as monsters, even the ones with no destructive powers like Quasimodo, who was named a monster by the world, even though he was purer of heart than anyone else in the book.  Although we had some classmates who acted like monsters, the only people in the entire school who were treated like monsters were the White Stag and a girl named Laurie, who had pronounced autism.  

After high school, I didn't see the White Stag for many years until one day, I went to my wife's church, and as we were sitting on a bench talking, the White Stag came out of a car and walked into the sanctuary.  "That's a woman who wants to be a man," she whispered in my ear while holding my hand.  It haunted me how, twenty years later, these words came up again and again from my favorite and most trusted person.   In all those years, our White Stag still walked alone, without a smile, with a look on their face letting you know they were ready to defend their existence.

Transgender high school students have become a political hot topic.  I have absolutely no education on the subject.  I'm not a doctor or a psychologist.  I'm also not a parent to a transgender child.  With that in mind, I don't really have an opinion on the best way to handle this situation, except I feel pretty strongly that it should be up to the doctors, psychologists, and families involved, not politicians.  If it were your child, that's what you would want.

What I do know is what I felt very strongly every time I encountered The White Stag.  No one should be forced to live in isolation like a monster.  Everyone deserves friends; everyone deserves a seat at the lunch table and someone to talk to.  Nothing led me to believe the White Stag chose to be the way they were.  Even though they didn't choose it, they still had to live with it, and it's up to people of faith to make that life as full and as loved as they can make it.  

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

And She Hit Me

In the years since I realized she was being silly, maybe even neurotic.  It had me plenty worried at the time, though.  In the summer between high school and college, I was nearly beaten to death by a woman who was upset that I didn't close my eyes during a moment of physical intimacy.  That's an exaggeration, of course.  I wasn't ever in any danger, but getting hit by somebody who wasn't supposed to try and hurt me went against many things I assumed were true.  

That summer, I was less than two years from the peak of my physical strength and development, and her tiny fists beating on my meaty flesh weren't much of a mortal threat, but it was a great surprise.  I wasn't even aware that I was supposed to keep my eyes closed or that not keeping them closed was some sort of rude crossing of the lines of polite exchange.  Without meaning to, I offended her to the point where she felt violence, ineffective as it was, was necessary to correct my behavior.  She also cried, which hurt me considerably more than her fists.

All boys are taught that they should never lay hands on a girl.  Boys my size are especially reminded of that rule.  There were two times when I broke that rule without meaning to.  One was a day in the fifth grade when, during the physical education period, we boys were playing and practicing moves we'd seen on MidSouth Wrestling on TV, mixed with a few Godzilla movies.  Since I was the biggest, I got to be the bad guy, and everybody tried their best to take me down as elaborately.  Being boys, we were playing pretty rough.  Young bodies are more resilient than older ones, so nobody gets hurt.  

Our games excluded girls.  Pretty much everything we did in the fifth grade excluded girls.  I never really considered that might be an offense, as they never showed much interest in playing our games.  Unaware as I was, at least some of the girls were watching, and wanting to be included.  

Among my many attackers, I felt someone smaller jump on my back.  Although I didn't know who it was, I assumed it was one of the boys who always played these games with me.  That was a mistake.  Without looking, I grabbed the arms grappling around my neck and threw my assailant over my shoulder.  They performed that sort of move on TV wrestling all the time.  I'd done it in the gym like we were then and on the grassy yards outside.  I expected whoever I threw to jump back up and come at me again.  That was the point of the game.  This time, once thrown, my playmate didn't move.  They lay in a lump on the gym floor, all arms and legs and gym clothes--girl's gym clothes.  I'd made a terrible mistake.

Her name was Tiffany.  Weeks before I admitted to some other boys, I thought she was pretty.  This started an argument about which girls were pretty and who we thought was prettiest.  She lay on the ground, frozen in shock and crying.  A teacher rushed to her and made sure nothing was broken.  Nothing was.  She wasn't injured, but nobody could believe what I'd done.  I was sent to the office.  

I tried to argue that it was an accident, that I thought it was a boy who jumped on me, that it all happened so fast I didn't know what I was doing.  The grownups tried very hard to make sure I felt guilty.  They didn't need to.  I felt unredeemable.  Playing rough with boys was one thing.  That was expected.  Playing rough with girls was just alien, a violation of the code kids lived by.  It was difficult enough just to talk to girls; they weren't for wrestling.

Later that year, I tripped someone, without looking, that I thought was another boy, my friend, but it turned out to be a girl who had run ahead of him.  After getting in trouble again for the same thing, my days of wrestling with anyone, boy or girl, were over.  Clearly, I couldn't be trusted to do it safely.  

Disciplining a child like me couldn't have been easy because, knowing I was wrong, I became frightened about what made me do these things.  I worried that it must look like I wanted to hurt people, which I thought wasn't true, but since I did hurt people, what really was true?  I tried to explain that I hadn't meant to hurt anyone, but that wasn't good enough.

These incidents were enough to change my behavior without ever really doing much damage to one of my classmates.  After that, I spent most of my life afraid to ever raise a hand in anger to anyone or lose my temper.  

That summer between high school and college, whatever events shaped my behavior hadn't shaped the woman who was angry at me.  Yelling at me, even hitting me, were permissible in her rules of engagement, even though I maintained that I didn't know I was supposed to keep my eyes closed.  I didn't know what I did was wrong.

It didn't matter that she wasn't physically hurting me; she was making me feel very guilty of a transgression, even though I didn't know it was a transgression.  In the moment, it seemed like my ignorance of the transgression was yet another transgression.  I should have known better.  

This wasn't the last time I suffered physical violence from a woman I was involved with.  We tend not to talk about this very much since it's less dangerous when it's a woman hitting a man.  It also makes the man look weak.  Women tend to be less inclined to violence, so it happens a lot less often than when the man is the aggressor, but It does happen, though.  Anyone can be abused.

People who suffer from any sort of abuse often feel like they did something to cause it, that they deserved it.  I certainly did.  Since she wasn't causing any physical injury, I usually just let it happen.  All I could think of was to take it quietly and just not call on her again.

Human interaction is terribly complicated.  We have all these expectations of how people should interact with us, and often, they don't meet those expectations, which can lead to frustration and anger.  It's not healthy to assume you're in the wrong like I did, but it kept me from acting back in anger, so it wasn't a bad trade.  Healthy interactions with others are required for life, even though they're sometimes challenging.  I was lucky that I was able to absorb an awful lot of abuse before it became a problem.  That's not ideal, but it helped prevent hurting anyone by mistake ever again.  

Monday, July 31, 2023

I know Victoria's Secret Too

 In her song “I Know Victoria’s Secret,” singer Jax reveals that Victoria’s secret is that she was made up by an old man living in Ohio.  She’s right, but there’s more to it than that.  

Victoria’s Secret was invented by a man named Roy Raymond, who tried shopping for foundation garments at stores like Sears and found the experience inadequate.  Underwear for both men and women was produced by the same companies that produced them for the troops in WWII and sold them in packs of three, mostly in white, but sometimes prints or pastels for women.  Raymond was aware that the most successful clothing mail-order catalog that wasn’t Sears was Fredrick’s of Hollywood.  He had the idea to do the same thing, but less trashy and in a better location than West Hollywood.  Not knowing much about California, he picked Palo Alto for his first store and produced his first catalog with two sigs (16 pages) and a cover, which immediately sold out.

In the late 1970s, Les Wexner studied the growing patterns of young women shopping in the new phenomenon of suburban malls.  He combined that with the fashion sense he gleaned from the more popular women’s fashion magazines and found low-cost producers to make similar items priced for middle-class young women, with the result being The Limited, which by 1980 was almost entirely located in suburban malls.

Wexner was much better with money than Raymond, and in 1982, offered to buy out a bankrupt Raymond and add Victoria’s Secret to Limited Brands.  With the deal completed, Wexner was the unchallenged “King of Malls” and remained so until total sales in malls started falling off in the new century.

Jax’s song suggests Wexner might have been creepy.  He might have been, but not in an Aqualung sort of way as the song suggests, but in more of a Merchant of Venice sort of way.  He’s not eyeing little girls with bad intent, but he is making an awful lot of money.  

I’ve heard people read the long “I am a jew” speech from Shylock, suggesting that Shylock might have been a sympathetic character, and Shakespeare might have been sympathetic to Jews.  He was not.  Like a lot of Shakespeare’s work, you really need to read the whole play.

Wexner was responsible for a lot of things.  Among them are the move to women sexualizing their bodies at a much younger age, even younger than the “flapper” movement in the 20s.  He promoted an unrealistic body image that lead to an epidemic of eating disorders.  Between the fast food business and the fashion business, Americans have whiplash with regard to how they should feel about food.  

Wexler was also one of the first to move most of his production to Asian sweatshops with lax or no rules regarding child labor, so you ended up with a situation where pacific islander twelve-year-olds were manufacturing clothes sold to American sixteen-year-olds, who had to hide them from her father and change clothes in the car before going out to meet her friends.  

He did all this to make money, and he did make money—lots of it.  I think it’s important to do what Jax does and reveal how these things happen, so you don’t end up with young people who all they really know about the people marketing to them that “it’s cool” or not.  It’s an awful lot more complicated than just cool or not, and maybe songs like this are the best way to get the message to teenagers who really don’t have much time for us.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Writing for my Love

It’s been about a year since I started letting the world read my daily journals or significant parts of them.  I began writing them forty-five years ago, or more, then one day, when I was still too weak to sit up in bed, I thought, “I really should let people know I”m alive,” and started posting extensive excerpts from my journal on Facebook.  

It’s been a fascinating process.  The response has been truly overwhelming.  Having kept all this hidden for so long, I had no idea I could get anyone to read me unless I wrote about big things like dinosaurs and spaceships, like some of my idols.  

Earlier today, the question arose about what the women in my life thought of my writing.  The answer is pretty simple: they didn’t know anything about it.  Some knew I was doing it, but since I said it was my journal, and none of them knew how to find things on my computer, none were ever read.  

I’d only ever planned for there to be one woman in my life.  Instead, there were like twelve.  I think part of the problem was that I was never very honest with them, not nearly as honest as I am with the people who read my blogs.  I think that was a vital mistake.  Even if being more honest wouldn’t have kept any of them in my life, it was still the moral thing to do.  

I always tried to project that I was a counter to whatever challenges were in their life. No matter how storm-ravaged their existence, I was indomitable and immutable, and I could form an impenetrable barrier between them and whatever was hurting them. That’s a lie, of course. I could keep it up for a while, but not forever, and let’s be honest, once the storm passed, it made me obsolete.  Maybe, if I’d shown them the things I write in the hours when the sun struggles over the horizon, it would have opened up a new era of understanding.  Maybe I would have proved more valuable in the long run.

There was one woman; her name means “honey” in an ancient tongue.  She was the only woman I ever courted who knew me from work.  Not from Missco or the ABoyd Company, but from my real work, in this instance, theater and painting.  We played chess and drank coffee and discussed many things.  I don’t know that giving her access to my journals would have changed the trajectory of our lives, but I would have deeply valued her perspective on what I wrote.  I’m really a bit angry with myself, now that I think of it.  

She had the voice of an angel.  Her hands were tender, and her eyes shown brighter than the moon, but I missed having such a brilliant critic and soundboard available before the ink dried on my copy.  We were so horribly star-crossed, I don’t think anything could have made us end up together, but imagine what a difference learning that other people wanted to read my words would have made if I had trusted her to read them.

There’s another woman.  I write about her often.  She had a gigantic smile and bushels of blonde hair, and the world would have thought she was the most cheerful person in it while she was flaying the skin from her own bones in secret and doing whatever she could to numb the pain from it.

That was almost forty years ago, but even now, I feel genuine pangs of guilt for not clearing a path out of the tangled morass of rose thorns she surrounded herself in.  Saving her wasn’t my job, but it was the only thing I wanted to do, and it’s still the one thing I wish I had accomplished that I didn’t.  People tell me all the time that this wasn’t my responsibility and what happened to her wasn’t my fault, but no, that’s a scar that I’ll carry on my back until the day they close my eyes for good.

My plan was to show her that I was stronger than anything that happened to her, stronger than anything she might do to herself, and all she had to do was be calm and let me pull her out of the cutting weeds that grew around her.  That failed. It failed utterly.  

Maybe, if I’d shown her my words, maybe if I’d let her see that I saw and felt the same darkness, the same cold and isolation that she felt, that maybe we could have made a connection there, and maybe somehow knowing she wasn’t alone in what she was feeling might have made her hold on to herself long enough to climb out of the hole she was in.  

I’m aware that I’m describing a scenario where I might have found a way to succeed at something I failed at, and not a scenario where someone from my past would have wanted to stick around and be someone in my present, but it’s really hard to twist my mind to thoughts of what I need.  I don’t think that’s going to change.  At least, in this one instance, the world would have been just a little better if I’d won this battle I fought for somebody other than myself.  

Although I’ve had all these other people playing that role in my life, there’s just the one woman I ever really loved.  We met as children, young enough that we got to see each other’s body change and grow tall.  

Her hands were slender and strong.  Her eyes were the deepest brown, like staring into your coffee and seeing the world reflected in it.  She took my arm many times and escorted me whenever there was a fine thing I had to attend, but I never once tried to express to her how special she was to me.   Asking her might mean she’d reject me, and as long as I didn’t ask, I could always tell myself, “It might have.”  Fifty years later, “it might have” means nothing to anyone but me.

The funny thing is, she studied literature.  While it’s not what she ended up doing for a living, it’s something that was dear to her and important to her.  Imagine what might have happened if I had said, “Hi, these are my words.  I’d really like to know what you think of them.”  Imagine the impact of arranging a meeting between the thing I loved the most and the girl I loved the most.  It was impossible, of course.  I wasn’t willing to show my words to those who didn’t matter; showing them to someone who did matter would have been such a huge risk.  I would have fainted from the anticipation.  

Some of my former dance partners read my words here. Sometimes they ask questions and clarifications of a point. I haven’t yet gotten into trouble for revealing something I shouldn’t have. I try to be sensitive.  I have been scolded for not saying this or that twenty years ago.  That’s to be expected.  I do choose my words differently, knowing someone might read them.  That’s also to be expected, but I try to retain the candor I had when I was writing for myself.  

If I could tell a younger version of me something, I’d tell him to be honest. Trust that people want to see the truth. You can’t be strong enough to heal the world. Its enemies are stronger than your arms, no matter how strong you make them.   You hide this precious thing every day, thinking the world has no interest in it.  You’re wrong; your words are what the world made you for.  

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Rainbow Babies

My friends are very bright.  They teach me things all the time.  I learned a new word the other day.  A “Rainbow Baby” is a child born after a miscarriage.  I’ve been called many things, but it turns out I’m a Rainbow Baby.

After my brother was born, my Mother conceived again.  This pregnancy didn’t last; in the second term, she miscarried.  Sad but undaunted, she tried again six months later.  That time she conceived twins.  They gave every indication of being healthy.  We’re they boys; she would name them John and Allen, after my uncles.  Were they girls, she would call them Joreine and Evelyn, after my aunts.  

The pregnancy was strong and healthy.  Soon Mother’s little family would double in size.  One night, barely into the third trimester, she woke up at our tiny home on Northside Drive with terrible cramps.  Expecting one of the many stomach ailments that come with pregnancy, she ran to the bathroom, where, after a few painful moments, she miscarried the twins into the toilet.  She saw them just long enough to know they were boys.  

Heartbroken, Mother resolved herself to a life with only two children.  My father, and her Mother, tried to console her, but little would.  My father’s job became much more complicated and busier with my Uncle, the paterfamilias, very ill and probably dying.  

As sometimes happens with couples, as my father became distracted and my Mother nurtured the emotional wounds from losing three children in two pregnancies, intimacy between them became rare.  There were pretty emotional severe wounds that had to heal.

Spending a few days at the Broadwater Beach Hotel in Biloxi for the National School Supply and Equipment Association convention hosted by my Uncle’s company, my father’s job became much more visible, as my Uncle died the February before.  

A young couple with recent new responsibilities, they drove to Biloxi with news of Russian missiles in Cuba pointed at us on the radio.  Mississippi was well within striking distance of one of these missiles.  The president said not to be afraid, but everyone was.  It would be another week before he resolved the crisis.  With imminent death in the air, one night after the NSSEA awards dinner, I was conceived in a Broadwater Beach bungalow in the salty air of Biloxi.  I suppose not knowing how many tomorrows there would be brought them together for the first time since the twins died.   

After Christmas, my Mother told my father that she was pregnant again.  Understandably gun shy after two miscarriages, she spent double the usual time at the doctor.  As the young Jim Campbell moved into his new position as the new paterfamilias, the family held their breath, hoping the new baby would be healthy.

Into the first trimester, the doctor reported a solid and healthy pregnancy.  If I were a girl, they’d name me Martha, after my Mother.  If I were a boy, they’d call me John-Allen, after my uncles, a combination of what was to be the twins’ names.  Besides my Uncle’s death, there wasn’t much in life to worry about.  Kennedy averted the Russian missiles.  There was agitation among the Africans in the South, but it had yet to come to a full boil.  Things were good.  By the Spring, Mother decided that if the new baby were a boy, she’d name it Alexander Boyd, after my late Uncle.

On into the second trimester, the doctor expected to hear a fetal heartbeat but couldn’t always.  Some days there would be a heartbeat, and some days there wouldn’t be.  This was long before anything like an ultrasound.  Fetal heartbeats were detected by putting a cold stethoscope on the Mother’s belly.  He said not to worry about it.  I was probably in a position where it was difficult to detect.

Into the third trimester, a heartbeat was detectable but still not reliable.  The doctor could hear it; but some days, he couldn’t.  My parents, especially my Mother, feared the worst.  

Starting the third trimester,  my Mother began finding blood spots in her pants.  Uncertain about what was causing the spots, her doctor prescribed absolute bed rest. 

Still, it was challenging to detect a consistent fetal heartbeat.  The doctor told Mother not to worry, but she felt he wasn’t telling her the truth.  Carter O’Ferral told her I might be in an unusual position, but I might also have an underdeveloped heart.  This was difficult news to hear, but she appreciated the honesty.  Her Mother and a recently hired family nurse and housekeeper tended to my Mother in her bed.

Ten days before my due date, the doctor told Daddy to pack a bag, and Mother was moved into a room at Baptist Hospital.  St. Dominics and University weren’t delivering babies yet.  Most people born in Jackson in those days were born in the same ward.

While my father packed a bag to take his wife to the hospital.  Up in the delta, Bryon De la Beckwith was packing a rifle and heading to a spot in Jackson, near where my Mother was headed.  My father was hoping to bring a life into the world.  De la Beckwith was planning to take one out.

On June twelfth, with my Mother spending the last days of her pregnancy in the hospital, my father received a call that Medgar Evers, the Civil Rights worker, was killed.  Jackson was a tinderbox.  Martin Luther King Jr. was told that Mississippi was too volatile for him to speak there.  Medgar Evers lived here, but on June twelfth, he lived no more.

No one knew how Jackson would respond to the assassination.  There would be several more assassinations in the days to come, but in June 1963, Evers was the first.  Police and sheriff’s deputies from the surrounding counties moved into Jackson in case of a riot.  My brothers and my Mother’s Mother moved in with my father’s parents on St. Ann Street.  My father slept in a chair in my Mother’s hospital room.  Everyone held their breath.  While the world counted out the chances of Mississippi bursting into riots, my family counted out the chances I would be born alive.

Four days later, Mother began to show signs of contractions.  Again, no heartbeat was detected, but the baby was definitely moving.  The specter of a baby with heart problems was very real.  As the contractions weren’t very close together, the doctor said I wouldn’t be born for another day yet.  My father and Jack Flood decided to walk over to Primos and get hamburgers in a sack.  The doctor assured them nothing would happen while they were gone.

When they slapped the red hamburger meat on the griddle at Primos, Mother’s contractions suddenly started coming very close together.  Without cellphones to tell them to come back, my father had no way of knowing that; while he ate his hamburger, my head was crowning, and my Mother held her breath, hoping for a healthy baby.

Daddy and Dr. Flood returned to find my Mother exhausted in her bed while the nurses cleaned the bright red screaming baby.  A baby with a strong, steady heartbeat.  The long three years were over, and the loss of three babies before they were born ended with a healthy live birth.  

They call people like me “Rainbow Babies” because after destroying the world, God gave us the rainbow as a sign of new life and new hope, despite the destruction that came before.  My Mother was a pretty tough person, but losing three children in two pregnancies tested her resolve.  

She tried several times to explain to me what it was like when she saw the twins, my brothers, dead in the toilet, but she could never get through it.  Some images can burn your soul.  Were I not born healthy, she resolved herself that she wouldn’t try again.  Although I was born healthy, the world soon showed signs of breaking at the seams.  By November, Kennedy would be dead.  Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Kennedy went the same way in five years.  I was born healthy into a world that wasn’t.  

I’ve tried to educate myself on the things my Mother endured because she endured them for my sake.  I can’t imagine the feeling of carrying a child, not knowing if it was alive or not, and if it were alive, would its heart be strong enough to survive?  We tend to think of mothers as funny haircuts and birthday parties, but it’s so much more complicated than that.  

I was a rainbow baby.  Just by arriving, I marked the end of a very painful few years for my Mother.  I’ve known a few women who went through this.  Even though you never get to meet and know the babies that are lost, their mothers feel their loss just the same.  According to the world, there were four Campbell children.  According to my Mother, there were seven.  We never met three of them, but I was the rainbow at the storm’s end.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Pride Month

 June is pride month.  I don't like the idea that we have to assign months where people can be proud of who they are.  That should be every month.  We started assigning months and holidays to marginalized groups around thirty years ago in an effort to recognize what the larger society had put them through in the past in hopes that remembering it would keep it from happening again.  It's not actually keeping it from happening again.  It's not.  I'm not very good at fighting this.  I've tried, but obviously, it's not enough.

La Cage aux Folles was a 1973 French film about two gay men who pretend to be straight for the sake of their son.  In 1983, Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman got the rights to turn it into a Broadway musical comedy.  Harvey Fierstein was the first American playwright to come out and live as an openly gay man.  You'd think that stage people would have led the way, but it didn't happen that way.  Fierstein wrote, directed, and starred in the first gay-themed play, first off and then on Broadway, Torch Song Trilogy.

Maybe one day, we'll get to the point where we don't have to have a pride month for this or a pride month for that.  I bought a pride sanctuary pin. It's simply a rainbow with the words "SAFE WITH ME" on it. I wear it because I've known people who didn't feel safe being what they were.  A couple of them read my stuff.  I've gotten nasty looks for wearing it.  That's ok.  I'd rather somebody hate me for accepting someone else than take it out on them.  If you're going to hate somebody for what they are, then hate me too.  Might as well.  Meanwhile, I'll go to drag shows and protests and all of these things because maybe me saying "I accept you" can help make up for the people who don't.

Friday, June 2, 2023

What's In The Box?

A lot of people find things they don't understand are intimidating.  It's a natural reaction.  If you don't know what's in a box labeled "X," it could be anything.  It could be a puppy, it could be a chocolate cake, but it could also be a tiger or a diamond-back rattlesnake.  Until you open the box, you don't know.   Some people find the chance that it might be a rattlesnake much more important than the chance that it might be a chocolate cake, so they presume this box labeled "X" is a threat and act like it.

I think that may be part of what's happening with some of the hate we're seeing lately with transgenderism.  For most of us, me included, the experience of transgenderism is utterly alien and quite far from our daily experience.  We make our physical gender part of our identity, and even people who understand that identity is a construct find it very difficult to see beyond it.   

Over the last fifteen years, a lot of LGBTQ people and their allies have been operating under the presumption that if they raise the awareness of gay and trans people, it will make the larger public more accepting of them.  The idea being that if we open the box and show the contents, people will see it's not a threat.  In many cases, that's worked.  It worked on me.

Some people are so concerned about the possible threat in the box that they don't want to look, even if it's open.  Efforts to raise the awareness of LGBTQ people and normalize their presence make some people feel threatened, like this thing they're afraid of is growing and being "forced down their throat," which is exactly the opposite of the original intent to show that LGBTQ people aren't anything to be afraid of or concerned about.

It's really hard to cross the lines of culture, sexuality, and identity.  These ideas become the core of how people define themselves, and far too many people don't feel confident enough of their own place in society to be accepting of people who are different.  Anytime you see somebody with a chip on their shoulder, jealously guarding their spot in the world, it's a pretty good bet they're going to have trouble with bigotry.  

It's particularly painful to see people who themselves were once marginalized because of their culture or race, or religion participate in the hate and rejection of LGBTQ people.  You'd think they would be the first to recognize this syndrome in other people, and most are, but some become even more reactionary, almost as if their seat at the table will be taken away if they allow someone different to sit next to them.   

This is one of those situations where I don't really know the solution.  I think there's some merit to staying the course and continuing to raise the profile of differently-sexualized people and continue to try and educate people that they are not a threat in any way.  There's going to be pushback.  The slate at the last session of the Mississippi Legislature is a pretty good example of push-back.  Recent political pressure to shut down the LGBTQ clinic at the University of Mississippi Medical Center is another example.  

All I can suggest is, don't respond to hate with hate.  Be firm but understanding.  Fear of the unknown is legitimate; continuing to try and make known the unknown is still the best course.  Maybe cut back on some of these basic cable shows exploiting the lives of teenage transgender people and focus more on the experience of adults.  A lot of people are responding with near violence to the idea of trans people participating in sexed sports.  It's actually a pretty rare event, but concern over it has exploded.  Maybe there's some merit to trying to understand and cooperate with these fears, even though it's really very rare.

Reaching out to people who don't fit the larger cultural patterns isn't a hill most people want to fight on.  It makes people wonder why you can't just go along to get along.  This is something Jesus specifically shows us to do, though.  There's a reason why he made a tax collector his disciple.  There's a reason why he told the parable of the Samaritan.  It's incredibly liberating for your own mind to take these lessons to heart and make them part of your life.  Living without fear of other people is one of the greatest gifts you can I've yourself.  

Official Ted Lasso