Help me, I live in a rogue state (revisited)

The following is an essay I wrote 14 years ago during George W. Bush’s tenure as POTUS as he was prepping the country to go to war in Iraq to find non-existent WMD’s. I’ve been thinking a lot about how the pendulum swings in American politics and, in particular, what might happen after Donald Trump is no longer acting President. GW took office following Bill Clinton, whose progressive views helped revamp the economy after a double-header of Ronald Reagan and Bush Sr. created a devastating recession. They followed an incredibly liberal Jimmy Carter who is generally regarded in history as a poor President and lost his re-election campaign. GW was accused of “stealing” the election (remember “dangling chads”?) in 2000, and also lost the popular vote. It’s important to revisit where we’ve been in order to potentially see where we’re going. As America hunkers down in another wave of isolationism, the bright light at the end of the tunnel is the idea that this too shall pass, and maybe what comes after can be something truly amazing.

As you read the words below, replace “George W. Bush” with “Donald Trump” and you’ll be surprised (or maybe not so much) at how many parallels there are.


HELP ME, I LIVE IN A ROGUE STATE!

This is for all the patriots who disagree with our President. This is for all the people around the world who disagree with our President. This is an apology.

I don’t believe in George W. Bush. I didn’t vote for him. I don’t think that makes my opinion invalid.

I oppose what he’s doing in Iraq and to the world not only because it’s unjust and unjustified, but also because I didn’t vote for him, and neither did half of the American population who voted. Have we forgotten that? The only reason he’s in office is because of the rules of the electoral college, he lost the popular vote. And in an age in which only 30% of americans vote, period (and that’s a generous estimate), whose President is George W. Bush, other than George W. Bush’s? He’s certainly not the American President. In a democracy, the person chosen to lead the country is selected by a majority. That does not mean a majority of those who turn their ballots in, that means a majority of the country. Our country has become so alienated and disenchanted by the American government, that we don’t feel like what we say, think, or do matters to our local representatives, senators, President. And it probably doesn’t. Why should we be surprised that America is going to war despite the fact that most of the world opposes us, the United Nations oppose us, and a huge number of Americans oppose the war, too? Did we expect anything better from a man who didn’t even win the American people’s vote?

Several months ago, there was talk about Iraq being a “rogue state”. What does that mean? That Saddam Hussein is a tyrant, winning his people over through fear, propaganda, and force? How is that different from our President? Who are we to say who is a rogue, who is an outlaw, and who isn’t? Aren’t we the outlaws of the world? With so many Americans lining the streets protesting against this war, how can our President say “i respectfully disagree”? Isn’t it his job to do that which reflects the voice of his people?

I live in a rogue state. I live in a country where my leader was not democratically elected, whose decisions do not represent the opinions of his people, who uses the media and advertising to terrorize and terrify his own people into believing that there is no other choice but to follow him. George Bush may not have planned the events of September 11th, but he’s certainly capitalizing off of them. I live in a country where if I’m not with President Bush, I’m with the terrorists. I guess that means I’m with the terrorists.

I live in a rogue state.

Just because we disagree with the President does not mean we are treasonous. Democracy means people have opposing views. We are patriots because we care about our country and care what happens to it, and we care about the world, and the effects of what our country is doing to it. We are patriots because we disagree. that is our right, our privilege as Americans.

Sex !== Gender

Feeling confessional and my Twitter rant this morning and the bathroom bill thing has gotten me riled up so I’m going to tell a story.

I wrote a paper while in college (16 years ago) for an independent study I did on gender. (You can still read it, if you like.) My independent study was a result of a personal exploration about gender and it was primarily through the lens of transpeople, because that’s where the real exploration and discovery of gender and what that means is happening. Cisgendered people (individuals who identify with the gender they were given at birth) don’t think about these things because, for the most part, it doesn’t apply to them, and to those people, gender is an easy binary thing.

Gender is not an easy binary thing.

But here’s the thing that I really wanted to highlight and the thing that I feel needs to be reiterated, particularly to the cisgendered people who obviously are responsible for the so-called “bathroom bills” that will put a legal impediment between transpeople entering the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity, is that gender is completely unrelated to sex and sexuality.

The nightmare scenario that organizations like the one described in the Mashable article in my rant portray is this: Transperson is secretly hiding in the bathroom of a gender that is other than the one on their birth certificate for the purpose of taking advantage of the cisgendered individuals visiting said bathroom. This scenario assumes two things, both of which are incorrect:

  1. That being transgendered is a choice, something that can be turned on and off. It isn’t.
  2. That being transgendered is equivalent to some form of “sexual deviancy”.

It’s the second thing that, I believe, is most harmful, but both are pretty terrible. So, let’s talk about that.

The idea that transgender is in any way related to sexual deviancy is predicated on the idea that gender is tied to sex and sexuality. Like sexuality, gender is a spectrum, not a binary, but that’s where the relationship ends. I think it’s safe to say that we have gotten to the point where most people are pretty aware of and to one degree or another can at least acknowledge the fact that who you have sex with is unrelated to your specific anatomy. But we still correlate the two, particularly when discussing the “sex” of a baby or person. It would be comical (and probably inappropriate) to respond to a official form you were filling out when asked “Sex:” to fill in “yes please” or to check the box of the gender with whom you have sex. It’s assumed that “sex” in this context means “gender”. And that’s where the relationship between the two can be confusing and why, in most cases I’m aware of, the question has been reworded from “Sex” to “Gender” which is more accurate.

Let me be clear: a man dressed as a woman to gain access to a women’s restroom for the purpose of attacking women is absolutely something that everyone should be concerned with. But anyone being attacked in any bathroom (or anywhere) for any reason is something that everyone should be concerned with. Women being attacked, sexually or otherwise, by men is something that everyone should be concerned with. Attacks on people of color is something that everyone should be concerned about. Attacks on queer people is something everyone should be concerned about. Attacks on transpeople is something everyone should be concerned about. The thing that’s different here is the idea that someone “snuck in” to some place they were not welcome and in all other contexts are not allowed. And the reason it’s such a hot topic is because bathrooms, in particular, are places where we make ourselves more vulnerable. But the case that Just Want Privacy is using to prove their point, doesn’t actually prove anything — it wasn’t a person who was transgendered attacking a cisgendered woman, it was a cisgendered man in a women’s bathroom attacking a cisgendered woman. Your argument is invalid.

Let’s back up a bit and look at the root of the problem which is the idea that gender is binary. Because that’s the crux of the bathroom issue. There are two bathrooms, one with an image depicting what’s assumed to be a man, but really just looks like a non-specific human, and one with an image depicting what’s assumed to be a woman — identified with the triangular shape that is intended to represent a skirt or a dress. Here’s a fun fact: men wear dresses and skirts. Women wear pants and leggings. And then there’s a whole host of people in between that are not accurately depicted by these two minimalist representations of humanity that we somehow have to shove ourselves into every time we enter a public restroom.

I went to a pretty liberal program at a university in Southern California — one that was afforded a fair bit of leniency in self-governance and independence from the rest of the university. And before I walked on campus, I was told that the bathrooms were non-gender-specific. And sure, at first, I thought that was kind of sexy. You know what’s not sexy? Going to the bathroom. And that’s what a gender neutral bathroom was. Just a bunch of people using the bathroom. Yes, there were showers in there. Yes, people of both genders used them. Never, in the three years I spent there, was there ever a problem with non-gendered bathrooms. It was just a thing that existed and everyone was fine with it (possibly after a little initial time getting used to it). So, I’m acutely aware that the real solution to this problem is not to check what’s under the skirt, but to remove the binary and normalize the idea that gender isn’t one.

My independent study on gender was the result of going through a period of gender dysphoria which largely came down to not accepting or identifying with the typical expectations our society has for what it means to be “male”. “Men” are supposed to be strong, fearless, courageous. They are the protector and the breadwinner. They are dominant and assertive. They can also be violent and angry. They can be abusers and assailants. They are predominantly responsible for the depressing statistics around the number of women who have been sexually assaulted some time in their lifetime. “If there’s a choice, and I have one, I don’t want to be associated with that” went the thinking.

The same year, I went to a conference at Occidental College with the on-campus GLBSU (Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Straight Union). One of the things that remains with me from that experience is a workshop/session/discussion about bisexuality, in which everyone in the room was asked to stand in a line, and place themselves on that line with where they put themselves in terms of attraction to members of the opposite gender — the idea being that sexuality is not binary, there is a spectrum and all of it is okay. We were then asked where we would have put ourselves a couple years ago. And where we think we might put ourselves in a couple years. Where you place yourself in that spectrum changes over time.

From my independent study, the thing that was reinforced over and over (besides that gender is not the same as sexuality) is that gender is also a spectrum. I’ve come to the point where I no longer believe in binaries unless I’m dealing with software. People don’t work in binaries. Nature doesn’t work in binaries. We talk about being “on the spectrum” when we’re talking about Autism — the idea that there’s no single, all-encompassing definition of Autism, it’s a range of different things in different intensities, and each individual experience is unique.

The idea that groups like Just Want Privacy want you to believe — that a transgendered woman is really just a sexually deviant man in a dress — is preposterous. And it’s extremely harmful. It’s harmful to those who identify as transgendered on an emotional level, but it’s also harmful in a very real, physical level, by playing on people’s fears, by positing the idea that they are “wrong” and can and should be “fixed” it fosters fear and hatred toward transgendered individuals. Bills like this create a culture a fear which cultivates violence towards those deemed socially unacceptable.

Transgendered women are women. Transgendered men are men. As long as gendered bathrooms still exist, you wouldn’t ask a woman to enter a men’s bathroom and you wouldn’t ask a man to enter a women’s bathroom. So please, stop doing it.

What we can learn from Canada and Vash the Stampede

This is how you make your country great:

For that matter, replace “country” with any word that represents a community. Because the way you make any kind of community better is with love, not hate.

Fighting hate with hate only creates more hate. The way you fight hate is with love and acceptance. With understanding and empathy. You can’t fight hate with bigotry, isolationism, divisiveness, that only fosters more hate, more bigotry, isolationism. More divisiveness.

Looking at pictures of Justin Trudeau welcoming refugees from Syria and his “Welcome to Canada” response the other day to Donald Trump’s Muslim ban and watching him tear up when speaking with a Syrian refugee’s experience entering Canada just makes me think about how that’s what we should be doing. This is what freedom looks like.

Because it’s not about keeping all the good stuff to ourselves and a few of our friends, it’s about welcoming strangers in and letting them share in that good stuff, too. Justin Trudeau gets that. Barack Obama gets that. This country used to get that, too. That’s one of the fundamental principles it was founded upon.

I recently rewatched Trigun with my partner and here’s why Trigun is a topical anime series for what’s going on right now that if you’re unfamiliar with it, you should watch it, like, today. You can find the entire series on YouTube (English dubbed) on Funimation’s channel, but it’s worth owning.

Trigun takes place in a dystopian future that resembles the wild west. Civilization has fallen apart, and people are struggling for survival in a harsh, desert landscape with little access to water or resources and there’s no real law or government. The story centers around a gunslinger, Vash the Stampede, who refuses to take anyone’s life, at great personal risk. He frequently sacrifices himself, both physically but also emotionally, at times publicly humiliating himself if it means saving the lives of others.

Throughout the series, he’s constantly told “I don’t understand you, why do you do these things?” His mantra seems contradictory for a legendary gunman: “love and peace.” He uses his skills as a gunslinger to change the trajectory of bullets, to knock a rival gunman’s weapon just off course, he uses his incredible speed to usher people out of harm’s way. He does this because he believes that no one should have to suffer, even those who cause harm and terrorize others. His love is indiscriminate.

There’s so much television that is about hate and fear. But what is television but an escape, a way to give your brain a break from what’s happening in the real world? Why escape the hate and fear outside your door with more hate and fear? Why not fill your head with the fanciful notion that everyone is an inherently good person if you let them?

I struggle with the idea of “love and peace.” I sometimes think that, at a certain point, you need to fight back, right? There are a lot of things I have yet to learn from Vash, but being more Vash-like is definitely something I aspire to. It’s important, now more than ever, to remember Vash when we are being faced with adversity and fear and terror and hate. When we are being told to fear these people over here because they are too dangerous to enter our country, it’s important to remember that we are those people. Our histories are not separate, they are the same. We are each and every one of them. We are the ones causing terror and the ones being terrorized. The sooner we open our doors and welcome everyone in, regardless of whatever, the sooner we can show others that there is something better and worth more than fighting.

Love and peace.

Historic

Tomorrow is Solstice — during which we won’t be using electricity (at least as much as possible) — and then we’re driving up to Washington. Before I go offline for the next couple days, I wanted to take a minute to acknowledge a historic event that happened today in Utah.

A Federal Supreme Court Judge ruled that a Utah ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional — that it violated the basic human rights granted in the Constitution of the United States.

This is effing huge. Not just because Utah is a big fat red state but because it’s establishing the fact…well…we won. Everybody is — as they should be — fucking equal. And should be treated with equal respect and given equal rights. Sure, it takes a quorum of assholes to write up a law stating that (marriage == man + woman) for that to get overruled in a Federal court but it doesn’t matter. Right now, there are people who are in love and have been waiting for this for years, lining up to finally — finally — have that recognized. In Utah.

I may not be a native Utahn. And I hate much of the politics of this state. But dammit if this doesn’t make me proud to live here.

From HuffPo: Utah Gay Marriage Ban Struck Down As Unconstitutional
From Q Salt Lake: Breaking: Utah’s Amendment 3 unconstitutional