Don't let your schooling interfere with your education.
~ Pete Seeger

Monday, January 4, 2010

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Gay Candidates and Causes

The recent success of Annise Parker, the gay candidate for mayor in Houston, Texas, has got me thinking.

More and more, gay candidates are viable contenders. People vote for them regardless of their orientation, judging instead by their abilities and views. Here in Oregon, where we not long ago soundly rejected marriage equality for lesbians and gays with Measure 36, Kate Brown was elected Secretary of State. California instituted Harvey Milk Day. It seems that individuals have crossed a tipping point, and the majority of Americans, even in conservative areas, are willing to judge gay people by criteria other than their sexual orientation.

Compare that to gay causes, however, and there is a shift. Nowhere has a public election instituted gay marriage, or failed to prohibit it. DOMA and Don't Ask Don't Tell appear to be in no particular danger, even with a Democratic president and majorities in both houses of Congress. Some gains have been made, with Hate Crimes legislation adding sexual orientation, but even the domestic partnership law in Washington passed with an alarmingly narrow margin.

Comparing these phenomena, I come to an interesting conclusion: the motives of voters in rejecting gay causes are not personal, but instead are meant to either protect society, or resist demands and express autonomy, or both. I think there has been a cultural shift away from fear or disgust of gay individuals and homosexuality in general, which bodes well for the future. But why the difference?

Nearly every day, I receive at least one email from a liberal organization, such as the Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood, or Equality California, which centers around the statement, "Demand that your legislators (or whoever) (fill in the blank)." Frankly, it reminds me a lot of my kids when they were two-year-olds. They demand this or that, and throw a tantrum if they don't get it. And I notice that when my kids demand something of me, I tend to resist it – even if it's something I'd be willing to do if it was requested.

I think people have sincere needs for autonomy that are not met when organizations or individuals "demand" something – and I also think that making those demands, in that tone of tantrum, sounds immature. I've noticed that I even feel resistant to joining in these "demands," not only because I don't care for the language, but because they feel like demands on me!

I wonder if the response to those demands would be different if that word were simply changed to "request?"

I don't know. But I do believe there is a more mature way to approach these issues that are so important to the lives of individuals. A way that recognizes that everyone's needs are legitimate and real. A way that leaves options open for different solutions, which may meet all those needs. For instance, same-sex marriage meets a need for gay people to have their families recognized and to be treated equally in taxes, inheritance, and so forth. What other strategies might meet those needs?

And how might those who reject gay causes react, if they thought their needs mattered to gay people, too? Would they be open to recommending new solutions that meet everyone's needs?

Maybe it's worth a try.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Tribalism and the Rose Bowl

Well, after a great season, the Oregon Ducks lost the Rose Bowl. Both teams played hard, and Oregon had its chances, but Ohio State put up an excellent game on both sides of the ball and there's no doubt they earned their victory. The boys and I watched the game at our neighbors' house, along with two other families from up the street. Every one of us was a Duck fan, and, as you can imagine, there were some long faces at the end of the game.

I shared that disappointment, of course, but mostly I just enjoyed watching the game. There are a number of sports I enjoy – basketball, soccer, horse racing – but most of all I love football. I love the pacing, because you always have a chance to talk with friends or watch replays between plays. I love the choreography, as each team moves in highly practiced ways to either move the ball down the field or prevent the other team from doing it. I love watching the power, grace, speed, and skill of the athletes. I love the strategy. I love to take sides, and see my chosen team win. I even love the violence – there is something primitively satisfying in seeing a hard tackle, or watching Jeremiah Masoli run over another safety. I just wish that women's football teams (go Pride!)were more popular, and we had more chances to watch them.

I have a friend who doesn't like football at all. He hates the violence. He's got a point. A lot of people get injured playing football, and I don't enjoy that, either. He hates the competition, which he calls tribalism, and the way that fans can get aggressive and obnoxious. Wouldn't it be better to recognize the unity we all share as humans on this planet, and focus on the real problems that so beg for solutions, and which are continually ignored? He points to it as a means to pacify the masses, and distract them from the way our leaders are corrupting our political and economic systems and destroying our planet. Again, he's got a point. I see the resources continually dedicated to sports teams that really contribute nothing to solving those serious problems, but rather take potential resources away, delaying the solutions.

I also agree that it is tribalism, on a very primitive scale. Football – and other sports, for that matter – is a highly stylized form of warfare, which sets one community apart from and against another. The athletes are warriors, holding the prestige of the entire community (in a limited sense) in their hands. Fans will meet them at the airport, whether they've won or lost, and celebrate their victories, mourn their defeats, with them.

However, I question whether that tribalism is necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps resources can be better allocated, but there is a beauty to the system. First, it is certainly better to participate in this stylized competition than in genuine warfare. Sports teams also do much to contribute to the identities of their communities, to define them. Perhaps it is this that gives me the sense that sports tribalism isn't a bad thing – I've had to fight to discover and define my own identity, and so see the importance that identity carries, even for communities, for states, for nations. On a larger scale, the Olympics does the same thing. At its best, affiliation with sports teams provides an outlet for what may well be the tribalism of human nature in a way that supports peace and inter-community or international connection and understanding.

I'm not saying my friend is wrong for his view. Every part of it is legitimate, and real. For my own part, though, I think I'll claim that tribalism for my own, celebrate it, and take my place in Duck Nation proudly. I'd like to be at the airport to greet our football heroes, too.

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
~Helen Keller

Reading List for Information about Transpeople

  • Becoming a Visible Man, by Jamison Green
  • Conundrum, by Jan Morris
  • Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein
  • My Husband Betty, by Helen Boyd
  • Right Side Out, by Annah Moore
  • She's Not There, by Jennifer Boylan
  • The Riddle of Gender, by Deborah Rudacille
  • Trans Liberation, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transgender Emergence, by Arlene Istar Lev
  • Transgender Warriors, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transition and Beyond, by Reid Vanderburgh
  • True Selves, by Mildred Brown
  • What Becomes You, by Aaron Link Raz and Hilda Raz
  • Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men's hands even at the height
of their arc of anger
because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His - the Christ's, our