Potty Room Politics

I used to live in Texas, and every so often my politicians would say or do something so bad that I didn’t know whether to laugh or move out of state. Often it was Texas representative Louie Gohmert, who managed such classics as his assertion that having gays serve openly in the military would make the U.S. more vulnerable to terrorism because gay soldiers would act like the ancient Greeks and bring their lovers to the front lines to “give them massages before they go into battle.” Yes, he really said that.

I eventually moved here, though not because of Congressman Louie. When I got here, North Carolina was a far less embarrassing state, or so I thought. But not long after, we became known as the state of the infamous bathroom bill, HB2. Great. Friends from around the country started to forward me the jokes.

Surely you have heard of this law. It was passed about a year ago, and it requires all humans in NC to use the public restroom designated for the gender of their birth. The claim, which few people really believed, was that HB2 was an attempt to protect women from assault. Now, assaulting women in public bathrooms has always been both wrong and illegal, in North Carolina and everywhere else. Men dressing up like women and going into the woman’s powder room to do so, however, has not been a problem, in North Carolina or anywhere else.

According to a CNN affiliate website

CNN reached out to 20 law enforcement agencies in states with anti-discrimination policies covering gender identity. None who answered reported any bathroom assaults after the policies took effect.

Then there is the sheer ludicrousness of expecting everyone to walk around with a copy of their birth certificate, which they can then show to who? Some hall monitor guarding every restroom door in the state? Everyone admits that the enforcement part of HB2 always was a little tricky.

So what is it’s purpose?

Well, the humans who were born male and now identify as female and wish to use the female restroom are transgender humans, either somewhere in the process of transitioning to female, or already female. Either way, they are quite uncomfortable and conspicuous in the men’s room, and also at some risk. They just want to be able to pee without any kind of an incident. I’ve heard that many hold back on drinking water and other liquids so they won’t have to go the bathroom and face this problem. Humans born female and who now identify as a male face a similar problem in using the women’s restroom.

And pretty much everyone in North Carolina knows this.

The infamous HB2 was designed to make life more difficult for transgender people because some lawmakers in North Carolina are uncomfortable with them, as are some of their constituents. As an added bonus, the law contains others parts which also make it legal to discriminate in other ways against members of the LGBT community.

The intent of the law was so obvious that is has resulted in several boycotts that have cost North Carolina both money and prestige; the most notable has been from the NCAA regarding its much loved tournament games in a state that reveres college basketball. Today’s attempt by House Minority Leader Darren Jackson to get HB2 repealed coincided what many believe is the deadline for the NCAA’s decision of where to award championship events through 2022.

But do our legislators reflect the wishes of the people? According to a Reuters report of a Public Religion Research Institute poll, America is as fiercely divided on this topic as it is on so many others, with a slight majority (53%) favoring tolerance, a large minority (39%) fighting to go back to a less tolerant time, and a small swath (10%) who either don’t know or don’t care. A poll taken by WRAL News of just North Carolinians shows virtually the same results. (50%, 38%, 12%)

I’m still trying to figure out how you have no opinion on this subject.

What I do understand is that a state in which more people want to repeal HB2 than want to keep it, our legislators voted 74-44 to not talk about it, in spite of the potential losses to our state.

Do you know who your state representative is? How about your state senator? Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t know of either of mine. It turns our that they probably live near you. You may do your grocery shopping at the same place. They certainly have a local staffer who will take phone calls from you and note down your opinion.

Internet search engines provide countless ways to find out who these folks are, but I think one of the easiest to use is at the Common Cause website. Typing in your address will yield the names, phone numbers and websites of every elected official who votes on your behalf.

Did you think that the stuff they work on doesn’t really matter to you? I used to think that, too.

It’s an angry world in some places.

I do have fantasies of running away. I want to leave behind my chores, my email, and my sense of obligation to be nice. And more than anything right now, I want to get away from American politics.

I’m traveling abroad and the little news that I’ve gotten this week confirms my worst fears about my country’s current regime change. Identities of incoming cabinet members make it clear that the angry non-professional whites are not going to get a better deal any time soon, and that possibility was the only silver lining to this mess that I saw. No, they will only get poorer as the very rich use their new cabinet positions to find ways to siphon ever more money away from the working class, making them angrier and more disagreeable. Not something to look forward to.

img_3287At the moment, I recognize that I have anger issues of my own. I cannot seem to stop seething at those who made the stupid decision to vote for this man, no matter what their reasoning. I don’t use the word stupid lightly. If I hear one more person make the uninformed claim that “she was just as bad” I fear I may loose my remaining respect for my fellow citizens. Please stop chanting “lock her up” and look what she actually did and did not do, folks. Read the results of unbiased fact checkers about who lied most of the time and who didn’t. Listen carefully to the things your candidate said. And then show some remorse for what you’ve brought on this great nation.

Okay, I admit it, I’m not in a forgiving, let’s all come together kind of mood and it looks like I’m not going to get there for awhile. It is probably a good thing that I got to run away for a week, and that it was all the way to Morocco.

This is an ancient land, but one in transition as well. The internet is everywhere, with satellite dishes decorating the top of most of the roofs inside the Medina, the oldest, walled parts of the city. Leaders have worked hard here to eliminate terrorists from their midst, knowing well that it is the peace loving citizenry of a country that suffer the most from its own radicalism.

img_3318Two of my fellow travelers are gay men, and they are aware that homosexual acts are illegal in this country. As in many other places, no one they encounter goes out of their way to learn more about their relationship. In the city, they share a room and a bed, and the housekeeper drapes it with roses just as, I assume, she does for every other couple.

After a few days we leave the noisy mesmerizing city of Marrakesh for the countryside. Morocco is largely rural, with the kind of conservative beliefs that that remind me of my own roots in Western Kansas. Yes, I know, we were Catholic and they are Muslim, but below that surface is the same innate code that people should dress modestly, talk nicely, and behave well. My travel companions are given a room with twin beds, of course. No one would think they wanted otherwise.

img_3399Then we are on to the desolate Atlantic coast in the southern part of the country, where beer is sold and limbs are shown as people from a whole mix of ethnic origins and beliefs come together to enjoy the sea and the waves. Lodging and food are even less expensive and there is a feel somewhere between hippie and surfer. Our hostel beds are several to a room, and no one cares at all who sleeps where, with who or why.

The writer in me is wide awake, her head full of stories begging to be told. Traveling without my computer for the first time in years has meant writing first drafts by hand, something I have not done for decades. At first it felt awkward as I scratched out words and used circles and arrows to move blocks of text round, but by now it has become fun as I rediscover the joy of making a fancy arrow or giving an extra flourish a the base of a “y”. Writing is once again a visual experience as well as an intellectual one, encouraged by the sight of the beautiful Arabic alphabet that surrounds me here.

Part of me wants to stay on this beach forever, or at least for a few more months. I’ve found Moroccans to be friendly on the whole, and as a woman who made part of this trip alone I’ve had no more problems than I would have expected anywhere. And oh the stories I could write here. But I don’t belong in this place. I have a home, one where I and a whole lot of other people are very angry.

It’s time to board my plane. I linger as everyone else climbs up the steps into the aircraft, thinking how I’m glad that Morocco does not have so many angry people. I appreciate that no one has tried to make trouble for me or my fellow travelers. I wish this country ongoing peace as it makes its way along in a modern world. I vow to take some of that peace with me, as I prepare to head home to deal with all the angry people in my own nation, including myself.

(For more about my trip to Morocco see Happy International Day of Peace Lahcen and NajetI See Ghosts, My Way, and That’s Why you Make the Trip on my other blogs.)

Four Reasons I Love It When “Love Wins”

Reason number one: Love makes us happy, and happiness is wonderful.

Several times now I’ve posted about a report on which countries have the happiest people. I’m intrigued that six attributes account for most of this variation, and I summed them up as health, wealth, freedom, love, fairness and kindness. I’ve already written about the first three and today I’m thinking about love.

life lessons6Now, the people doing this survey were not asking questions about romantic love, wonderful as is it. They used a broader definition, by asking something more like “do you have people in your life that you care about and can depend on?” This careful wording included family members and close friends along with intimate partners, and as far as I’m concerned it covered every type of love inclined to bring one happiness. (Unrequited love for someone who does not know you exist doesn’t exactly bring a lot of smiles. A spirited discussion could be had as to whether it is love at all, but that is outside the scope of this post.) Suffice to say, if you have people, or a person, you care about and who care enough about you back that you feel you can count on them, then you have love. Lucky you.

love wins2. “Love Wins” has become associated with the LGBTQ community’s struggles for marriage equality and other rights. I’m a heterosexual woman with a 34-year traditional marriage, and an avid supporter of equality in every sense for my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Zane, the main character in y1, is gay, and I did my best to present his love affair with Afi as a beautiful thing to be cheered on by anyone with a heart. In the real world, friends, relatives and co-workers of mine are LGBTQ, and every time “Love Wins” it makes me smile too. Love is funny that way. It likes to see more love.

SPLC3. Love wins every time that hate does not. I’m also an avid supported of the fine work that is done by the SPCL (Southern Poverty Law Center) even though donating to them means that I get a lot of letters from them asking me for more money. It’s okay. I glance through them all and give when I can. Recently I got one such letter that moved me more than usual. It discussed the nine people killed a year ago in the white supremacist attack at Mother Emanuel church in Charleston, and noted that “Hate won’t win” were the brave words Alana Simmons spoke to her grandfather’s killer in Charleston.

Yes,“Hate won’t win” are brave words coming from someone who has been grievously wronged, and the words brought a tear to my eye. I know that love wins every time that hate does not.

cosmic conduit 24. The last reason has to do with music. I’m fixing up the music pages on each of my blogs, and today I was expanding my post about David Guetta and Estelle’s One Love.  As the lyrics to One Love say …. “if we stand together than we’ll be okay.” You know, more love wins kind of stuff… and it’s what got me started on this post.

Think of how many great songs there are about love. Luckily, far more than those about fear, hate and hopelessness, although I will concede that there are a few great songs about those emotions too. Yet in the grand overview of musical topics, love wins and I’m glad.

I’d forgotten about exactly how I’d referred to the song in the book, and when I found the excerpt it made me smile.

Joy felt like she was living two lives at once. In one life, she taught Samoan third graders by day, dressed demurely in lightweight long-sleeved tops and loose colorful skirts to her ankles, and pretended to be Afi’s wife by night. Given the vast number of options open to humanity in 2010, it wasn’t a bad life. She wasn’t hungry, she wasn’t hurting, she had a friend nearby, and she was doing useful work. Life came a lot worse.

In her other life, she sailed the ocean, barefoot in a tank top and gym trunks. Her hair blew free while her body moved softly with the thunk of the boat hitting the waves and with the rhythm of her latest favorite song. For the past few weeks David Guetta and Estelle’s One Love had been about every third selection on her MP3 player, and when she wasn’t listening to it she was generally singing the song in her head while she imagined Toby’s hand on her thigh as he sat at the helm of Miss Demeanor. She would see his hint of a smile as his fingers started to rise higher up her leg and then each time he would turn to her, with his soft brown eyes asking her a question. As the song picked up tempo she felt herself smiling her answer back to him and then he always set the sails and they went below deck where the song was playing loudly and life was very, very good.

Of course, that other life existed only in her mind. But anyone who had ever been in love would know that it was the more important of her two lives.

Ah, yes, that romantic love stuff does bring us joy, even when it is just in our imagination.

I confess to having a weakness for amateur videos that make me feel like I am standing right  at a concert and this simple and seldom viewed video of One Love being performed at Electric Zoo in 2011 took me in with its tag line of “right place right time last song.” I’ve had that feeling and it’s a fine one. Go ahead and sing along with the audience, and enjoy letting love win in one more way.

 

(For more posts on the subject of what makes us happy see If you want to be happy move to a cold country?, Happiness fascinates me, None of us are normal if we’re lucky, Some Kind of Kindness, The fairest of them all?, and When is it time for “More”?)

A highly sanctimonious marriage

wedding2Next week I will have been married to the same man for 34 years.  That’s a pretty significant chunk of time. Much of it has gone well, some of it has not. Am I glad I married him? Absolutely. But today, I am thinking about what has made the worst times happen.

Things that have made my marriage occasionally suck:

  1. Getting in stupid fights over things that don’t matter. (We spent a whole evening arguing over a math theorem once)
  2. Losing my temper. (I’m a curser and door slammer. He’s a sulker.)
  3. Somebody not saying “I’m sorry” soon enough (him and me both) and meaning it
  4. Somebody not responding with “it’s okay” soon enough (him and me both) and meaning it

That’s pretty much it. If we could have gotten those down a little better, it would have been an easier 34 years.

Things that have NOT made my marriage worse:

  1. The amount of money we did or did not have
  2. Who else in the world got married, didn’t get married, or wanted to get married
  3. Any government policy regarding marriage, or in fact any government policy at all
  4. How other married people behaved or didn’t behave
  5. Actually …. what anyone else in the whole world did or did not do

That’s it.

Why is that so hard for those trying to protect the sanctity of my marriage to understand?

Back to reality?

The last time I paid ongoing attention to the news was in the spring, before a cross country move and the subsequent chaos in my personal life. I was vaguely aware of various GOP politicians announcing their candidacy for president, of several more horrific shootings and deaths, and of a supreme court ruling on gay marriage that pleasantly surprised me. It was sort of a blur of happy, sad and comic, to be honest.

trumpAbout a week ago, something in my brain re-engaged.  I’ve always been a news junkie. It began with high school speaking competitions, and was strengthened as I got a journalism degree in college. I usually care about what is happening in the world, and when you follow it every day you don’t realize that your own mind fails to question the logic of what is going on. The problem with stepping away from it all for awhile is that at least some of it is hard to believe when you come back.

Donald Trump is the leading GOP candidate in the polls? Really? Followed by a distant Ben Carson? Nobody is making this up? What happened to all those other guys who seemed kind of rational?

boyI read that thousands of refuges from Syria and Iraq are desperate to get asylum in Germany but for some reason they are are stuck in Hungary because of red tape. The sad image of the washed up body of a small boy has finally inspired outrage at the situation, and has also inspired this moving sand sculpture by Indian artist Sudarsan Pattnaik.

Meanwhile the hungry, thirsty and exhausted families have banded together in a massive march to the Austrian border. Hungarian police seem to be helpless to either aid them or stop them, and so are advising them to at least wear clothing easily visible at night. It sounds surreal. Surely this story isn’t true. What went so horribly wrong here? And why to do I have to turn to the BBC for more information on this subject?

BL CoreyOh yes. The USA is busy being transfixed  by a clerk in Kentucky who has decided that her personal religious convictions allow her to refuse to do her job.  Apparently resigning isn’t an option for her, and neither is the time honored method of delegating tasks she does not believe in to her sub-ordinates. (Her deputies in Rowan County will obey the law of the land and issue marriage licenses to any two humans who want them, but this particular clerk is having none of that either).

Twitter was LIAO thanks to the witty twits of a fictitious clerk in the same Kentucky office, and while the humor flared on one end with internet memes, George4it erupted with outrage on the other as the U.S. supreme court refused to get involved and a U.S. District Judge sent the sanctimonious clerk on to jail, where she may refuse to issue marriage licenses that offend her for as long as she likes.

What is wrong with us?

I don’t ask that question when I watch the news most nights. It all seems normal then. I think perhaps I should take a break like this more often.

The kinky of the future

I don’t know a better way to develop an open mind than to read science fiction. The very nature of creating alternate worlds has a way of making us question the assumptions of our own society. If done well, a speculative story leaves us with empathy for characters whose behavior causes no harm and yet would be offensive here and now. In short, we’re forced to question the rules we live by.

That’s not to say there is no wrong in science fiction. Villains continue to be mean, sadistic, greedy souls, and heroes still struggle to let the love in their hearts win the day. In world after world, the key points on a moral compass transcend time and space, even as authors acknowledge all the grey area in between. But as to the rest of those rules? In no arena is the arbitrariness of acceptable and perverted more apparent than in the world of science fiction sexuality.

good sign 4Creatures come in three genders in Isaac Asimov‘s 1972 Nebula award winning The God’s Themselves and regularly change gender in Ursula Le Guin‘s The Left Hand of Darkness from 1969. Hero Rydra Wong is part of a three way marriage in Samual Delany’s Babel-17, written in 1966. Decades before the LGBT movement reached the hearts of the average straight person, science fiction writers were pushing readers to question their heteronormative assumptions.

Other questions they posed still make me uncomfortable. I don’t member the name of the short story about a world in which normal healthy parents were expected to introduce their children to loving sex, but I remember how the very idea made me cringe. The story about a world which kept the strongest babies born each year and ate the rest still makes me nauseous when I think of it, but the writer’s description of the inhabitants horror at discovering that we ate animal flesh hit a nerve. I got it. I don’t have to change my own behavior or preferences, but it is worth knowing that my normal could be someone else’s disgusting.

Many clever writer’s have used the flip side of this to make their world more vivid. Once something becomes socially unacceptable, it has the ingredients for kinky sex. Of course, the more ridiculous the rule, the sillier the kinkiness becomes. The hero in Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale lives in a world where women are not allowed to read. The man who essentially owns her takes her to a secret place to do something depraved. Her worst fears are groundless. The man wants to play scrabble with her.

I’m now about a third of the way into Frederick Pohl and CM Kornbluth’s 1952 satire The Space Merchants, and I’m enjoying it very much. I just finished a scene in which a most likable character disgusts our hero with his perverse behavior. It should be said that the hero is a work in progress, an advertising executive slowly learning the ramifications of his work. The perverse act we witness? His friend likes to read alone in a library that is filled with countless books with no advertisements at all. So much space with no attempt to sell anything is considered obscene in this dystopia.

“I’m not a prude about solitary pleasures when they serve a useful purpose. But my tolerance has limits,” our hero says. Point well made.

(For more about why I think The Space Merchants is a clever and under-appreciated story, see my posts I Know Sexism When I See It?, Predicting the Future or Shaping It? and Through the Eyes of Another.)

 
 

Proud to be Irish

Dalai8My husband is 100% Irish-American, and in spite of the three generations that form a wall between him and the old country, he feels the tie. Maybe it is the 100% part — all of his family history and traditions come from the same place. Maybe it is the 16 years of catholic schooling he got along the way.  Today, he is proud of his heritage in a new way. The people he has to thank for his genes and much of his outlook surprised the world.

They didn’t hold a bitterly fought election on gay marriage in which one side managed to barely out talk the other. Instead, they voted in droves, as parties ranging from conservative to liberal stood up and said “it’s wrong to oppress people”. As a group, the Irish do know a thing or two about being oppressed. As a group, it looks like they’d as soon see less of that in this world.

The odd thing is that many in Ireland continue to hold very traditional religious views. I’ve gotten to visit the island four times, and wouldn’t particularly describe it as a hotbed of progressiveness. However, I would describe it as having a culture in which being openhearted is considered a virtue. My thoughts are that, as a group, the Irish just voted to put warmth and kindness ahead of politics or religion. You have got to love that. I plan to drink a Guinness or two tonight to celebrate. Go Ireland!