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.

Mindless entertainment? Or not?

We all need something to do to help us relax. Whether it is listening to music, knitting, or kick boxing, we need a place to go to shut out the noise around us. It’s part of leading a joyful life.

scrabbleOn Nov. 9 2016 I discovered that my little nepenthe, playing online word games through Facebook, had a major flaw. It was connected to Facebook and that meant that every angry, fearful or obnoxious thing being said by anyone I’d ever befriended floated by in the lower left corner of the screen. This clearly was not going to work, at least not for the next few weeks.

I’m not sure why I Googled solitaire, except that this game I’d seldom played struck me as the epitome of a simple, mindless activity. I ended up at a lovely place called World of Solitaire where it didn’t take long to discover that this game requires complicated strategy and a good memory, and it is fiendishly addictive.

solitaire2As I played game after game in the waning days of 2016, I realized that I had to adjust to the idea that I could not always win. I’m used to winning, and as a matter of personal philosophy I never think it is impossible. Yet the fact was that between 8.5 and 18% of the games I was playing could not be won no matter what I did. It seemed to be a timely lesson.

Then I began to realize that winning a single solitaire game doesn’t matter, it’s all about how many you games you can win in your time frame. I began to design strategies for myself, and each one sounded wise beyond the realm of cards.

  1. Don’t even start some games. If you don’t like the odds, you can move on.
  2. Don’t try to finish every game. The faster you move on from a sure loss the more games you can ultimately win.
  3. Set your priorities before you start. What is most urgent?
  4.  Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should.
  5.  Always leave yourself an out if you can.

solitaireFunny, the number of games I won more or less doubled once I got my hands around these ideas. Then, for my own pleasure I added two more.

  1. Quit when you’re exhausted.
  2. Make the playing field as pleasant as you can.  (My favorite deck and background is shown to the left.

February is more than half over and I’m still playing solitaire. I may tire of it eventually but for now it continues to calm me down. I’m also putting more energy every day into trying to shape the politics of this country, doing my best to nudge both friends and strangers towards compassion, inclusion, and an optimistic view of who we are and how far we have come. These days I contact my congress people, I sign petitions, and I’ve even marched once and probably will again.

And as I do these things I tell myself

  1. Don’t even start some games. If you don’t like the odds, you can move on.
  2. Don’t try to finish every game. The faster you move on from a sure loss the more games you can ultimately win.
  3. Set your priorities before you start. What is most urgent?
  4. Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should.
  5. Always leave yourself an out if you can.

And, just to make sure I enjoy the journey, I add

  1. Quit when you’re exhausted.
  2. Make the playing field as pleasant as you can.

(For more thoughts on Solitaire and life, see Solitaire and Nuclear War.  The rules for the version of solitaire that I play are shown below. The rules for my new found zeal for political engagement can be found all over the internet, including on Facebook, which I am once again using.)

rules

Am I capable of learning to like anything?

I conducted psyche experiments on myself when I was a child. You can’t blame me. There were things I needed to know, and I was my only cooperative subject. For instance, were all my preferences acquired tastes? This was important. If they were, then maybe I would eventually like beer, which was good because this appeared to be a necessary component to getting along as a teenager. On the other hand, it meant I might eventually wear pink polyester stretch pants like my mother, which was a horrifying concept. Either way, I had to know.

teaI also drank hot tea as adolescent, and somehow ended up with a box of Lapsang Souchong tea. If you’ve never tried it, it has a strong smoky taste and the first time I had it I gagged, then realized I had the perfect tool for my experiment. Could I change my own mind, and learn to love the taste of this tea?

I made an impressive effort, concocting strange myths about the origin of the taste relating to magic creatures in the woods drying the leaves over tiny bonfires and telling myself the burning embers imparted unknown powers to the daring humans willing to sip the strange potion. It worked. I slowly convinced myself that the taste was mysterious and intriguing, and once I began to enjoy it I could acknowledge that the myths were hogwash and it just plain tasted good to me. I still like it to this day, and story of how I came to do so makes me smile.

bonfireMy twelve-year-old brain didn’t think to take this to the next step, and I’m glad it didn’t. Lapsang Souchong tea is all well and good, but could I have forced myself to like, I don’t know, human blood, or, well, fill in any number of things for which I’m glad that I don’t have a yen. I was happy finding out that I could convince myself to like something if I worked hard enough at it. The question I didn’t ask was: could I get myself to like anything?

Or maybe the better question would have been: could I get myself to want to get myself to like anything?

I’m writing this blog on January 20, 2017, the day of inaugurating a president for whom I have no respect. In spite of my Midwestern working-class roots, I do not identify with his supporters. I consider my experiment with Lapsang Souchong tea, and wonder if I could feel differently?

I realize that there are three very different things are going on.

One, there is politics. I mean actual policy preferences. Mine are the result of a lifetime of observation and analysis and they reflect my core beliefs. I’ve agreed with some U.S. presidents more than others, and none of them completely, but I have respected that every single one of them was trying to do what he thought was best. But I don’t even know what this president believes in; he’s been conducting a reality show for over a year, not sharing his vision. I do dislike most of his choices in advisors, but I realize that is not the real source of my disrespect. I may not agree with his selections but these men (they are mostly men) are entitled to their world view. As an adult, I can hold a certain amount of understanding for the opinions of others.

barbecueThen there is style. Not his style; he acts like a flashy rich guy who is full of himself and I don’t think anyone actually likes that. I mean the style of his supporters. I don’t feel commonality with them because mostly their tastes aren’t mine. But they could be. I can teach myself to like a lot of different things and I still am. I could enjoy country music and barbecue instead of yoga and wine and I would be every bit as happy and fine a human being. That’s what Lapsang Souchong tea taught me. Taste is taste. Mine isn’t better than yours, and no one’s taste is unworthy of respect.

But it’s the third component that is the driving force behind my lack of regard, and that is trust. I don’t trust this man because he has raised saying anything he pleases to an art form. Half-truths, quarter-truths and complete falsehoods are trotted out as needed. People are insulted and belittled to serve his quest for popularity, much like in the world of an adolescent. Slights are responded to without reflection on the consequences, to him or to his country. And I don’t think you can teach yourself to like being led by, or being at the mercy of, someone you cannot trust.

Picture3Forget the politics, forget the style. The heart of the matter here is the heart. There is some inherent core decency, a certain regard for truth and a desire for kindness that I cannot define in words so much as I can feel in my heart, and no amount of effort will get me to want to embrace a lack of this. In fact, nothing would make me want to make the effort to do so.

Looks like it took a few decades for me to finish answering my own question, but I finally did.  No, I cannot get myself to like anything, and I’m glad that I can’t.