Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Take Me for a Ride

I took time out of my busy schedule of undermining heterosexual marriages and recruiting young people into my lifestyle the other night. Hey, even we gays need time to ourselves.

While relaxing at home, a man that I had gone out with a few times this past summer phoned me. We didn’t get to know each other well. I had always intended to try to reconnect with him, but timing was against us. Unfortunately, when we first met, I was deep into the Never Ending Research Project of Doom. Later, the semester started and I became bogged down in classes. I meant to phone him when things stablized, but I had to travel for some conferences. Then, of course, there was the Project Runway finale. When all was said and done, I just never found the right time.

When he called the other night, he let me know that he had been laid-off by his company in Decaying Midwestern Urban Center. As a result, he was leaving the Midwest region and wanted to say goodbye.

I was struck by his disappointment at having to move. He was a Mexican national who had come to the U.S. Midwest because he wanted a place radically different from his home surroundings. For him, life in the Midwest was an adventure even after several years. He was one of the few people that I have met here who talked about this state with enthusiasm.

With his company hemorrhaging money, though, they cut his position. Unable to find any other work around here, he was forced to take a job in Texas, a state that he hated passionately (We had so much in common! I should have tried harder to make that relationship work).

Such is the story of the U.S. Midwest. The economy has become so crippled that even people who would like to stay simply can’t. The mass exodus from the Midwest has meant that people have relocated to places which are environmental disasters. I am looking at you, Phoenix. The Midwest actually has water. Arizona does not.

For decades, this part of the country has been in decline while the rest of the nation simply ignored it. I am willing to wager that the conditions in Detroit are comparable to pre-Katrina New Orleans, probably even post-Katrina.

Most times, the media pretends like the Midwest doesn’t exist at all. Take, for instance, election night coverage. I was astounded by the number of pundits who claimed that the Democrats, before 2008, were only a “coastal party." Well, yes, as long as you count the shores of the great lakes as “coasts.”

Today there is a question about whether the U.S.-based automotive industry will survive. The corrupt leadership in Detroit has come to the U.S. government looking for a handout. To my mind, it’s the same as giving your druggie cousin $500 for tuition money that he promises will turn his life around. Oh, sure, the auto execs made us all sorts of assurances that they will put the money to good use and become upstanding citizens. A week after they get it, though, you just know that we are going to stumble upon GM sprawled out in an alley somewhere with a needle full of petroleum up its arm. We’ll confront them, but they’ll tell us that we don’t understand what it is like when you start jonesing for the high-premium.

Much to my surprise, it is the Republicans who are now calling for these industries to fail. Their arguments can be persuasive (except for the part where they blame those audacious unions for demanding a living wage (If only American companies could simply enslave people again! Then we would show you an automobile worth driving!). Of course, many of the Republican critics are in states with foreign-owned auto factories. So, are we, as a people, conceding that we are unable to build decent vehicles anymore?

As a nation, we will now produce what exactly? Some argue that we are a "knowledge economy" or a "technology economy." To them I ask, Have you tried using Microsoft Vista? If that's our niche in the global market, we are screwed.

The sad reality is that the collapse of the automotive industry will be the death knell of several major states. Longtime readers know that this is not my first time in the Midwest. My graduate university was located in a town that once produced a major car brand that ceased to exist somewhere in the middle of last century. What replaced that industry in town? Nothing. Do I mean several smaller industries? No, I mean nothing. Do I mean that the town became oriented to service or information technology? No, I mean nothing. The abandoned factory, some sixty years vacant, still stood in the middle of the town (which was too broke to even have it torn down).

Even my current residence, Midwestern Funky Town (which is largely considered one of the garden spots of the region), is clearly feeling the economic collapse. Some of our roads have gone so long without repair that I am thinking of calling NASA for a moon-buggy to navigate the potholes.

The problems of the Midwest are the problems of the nation. I don’t mean that in some idealized “fields of amber grain” or “apple pie” sort of way. Instead, I mean that the nation’s worst impulses has resulted in the near total destruction of this part of the country. Unless we seriously reevaluate our priorities and relationships, it will happen to the rest of the U.S. Greed, petty self-interest, and unchecked corporate growth have now given us its fruits. And let me tell you, it’s going to be some nasty-ass lemonade that we are going to end up making.

I am uncertain and torn about what is best. On the one hand, I am furious by the greedy idiots who ran the companies that churned out gas-guzzling Ford F150s or Hummers. I am also furious at the people who bought gas-guzzling Ford F150s or Hummers.

Most of all, I am frustrated by the continued myth that corporations are the key to the nation’s salvation. Corporations have created many of our problems because they have sought wealth for the few at the expense of the many. I am disheartened that Democrats seem to cling to long defunct notions of “trickle down economics.” We are to believe that rescuing banks, automakers, and Goddess-knows-what-else will ultimately make its way down to help the working class. This has not proved to be true. Meanwhile, they have totally ruled out helping individual citizens in debt up to their earlobes.

Throughout this economic crisis, we have often heard that certain banks/companies are “too big to let fail.” Well, isn’t that the problem in the first place? Why did we allow any company to become that big? Mergers that were against the interests of consumers and workers have been granted for well over the past two decades. How many of you, my dear readers, heeded my Cassandra-like advice and wrote to your government leaders to oppose the merger of Northwest Airlines and Delta? Think of me in my star-spangled panties telling you “I told you so” when you try to book that ticket home to see grandma for Thanksgiving.

Alas, I can’t disagree that the region needs the auto makers for the time being. If the U.S. government does bail out these industries, however, they should adhere to GayProf’s demands:

    * First, there should be a clean-sweep of all executives in the company. They ran it into the ground, they should be shown the exit.

    * Second, let’s break up “the big three” into the “mid-size ten” or the “small twenty.” Why do we need three giant corporations? If we are capitalists, aren’t we supposed to believe that competition will make better products?

    * No matter what, the government should own part of the companies and have a direct hand in their operations. If we are paying for it, we should have title to it.

    * Fourth, profits from GM’s overseas Asian operations should also be funneled directly into their U.S. branch.

    * Lastly, GayProf should receive a brand new Dodge Challenger as payment for this advice. Hey, no matter what, it still is a hot car.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Happiness and Gravitas

Here we are, kiddies, living through a profound moment in history. Not only did Barack Obama win, he won by a massive landslide. He will take office as the first African-American U.S. President thanks to the hard work of a multi-racial coalition. All it took to achieve this victory was 232 years of constant political struggle and the near-total collapse of the nation and global economy.

Only the most cynical would argue that Obama’s victory lacks significance in terms of race in this nation. In many ways, his win will also up the ante in the global fight against racism (and it is global). Canada, Australia, and the European nations will have to reconsider their own presumptions about leadership and race. Many of those nations have deflected attention from racism within their own borders and government through the argument, “Well, at least we aren’t the U.S.” That has currency for undeniable reasons, but they are going to be hard pressed to explain why their leadership does not reflect the realities of their populations or the majority populations of the globe (Newsflash: the majority of the earth’s population is not white).

Only the most na├»ve, likewise, would argue that the Obama victory has meant the end of racism in this nation or that we are entering a “post-racial” moment of U.S. history. Those individuals might be surprised to learn that people of color don’t imagine an Obama presidency as the conclusion of the fight against racism. Rather, they see it as an opportunity to renew discussions about how race continues to impact our nation’s economic and social relations. Expect some difficult moments of national soul searching ahead for both the political right and the left.

What is most on my mind these days, however, is the related issue of sexuality. Like many of my queer brothers and sisters, my happiness from the Obama victory could not overcome my frustration and hurt created by voters in California, Arizona, Florida, and Arkansas. In those states (Two “Red,” Two “Blue”), the majority of heterosexuals declared that queers are less valuable citizens who have no guarantees to their basic civil rights. Arizona, which had previously turned down a similar measure in 2006, disappointingly defined marriage as only possible if penis-vaginal sex occurs. Shockingly, the citizens of Arkansas declared that children are better left unloved than placed with gay and/or single parents. Read here for a critical reaction to that state. Perhaps most disappointing for many queers and their loved ones, though, was that California’s Proposition 8 enshrined homophobia into the state constitution, thus taking away a right that had already been won.

Longtime readers of CoG know that I was never particularly thrilled that marriage had become the centerpiece of GLBT rights activism. To my mind, there were (and are) more important and pressing issues that needed our attention first. I also think that the institution of marriage needs to be reevaluated for everybody (heteros and homos alike) as to whether it really serves our needs and expectations. It has become too easily presumed to be positive and “natural” in a way that I think actually limits people’s options and imaginations.

Nonetheless, the radical right has made it our priority because they see it as the touchstone for defining our place in this society. Currently, marriage enshrines a number of basic rights that gays (outside of my beloved Massachusetts or Connecticut) are denied. We have no guarantees to inheritance, tax breaks, immigration, health insurance, pensions, social security, parenting/adoption, and numerous other forms of cash and prizes. Being denied the right to marry, in other words, has real consequences in real people’s lives.

Based on my personal experience, I would say one of the most important things about legal gay marriage would be legal gay divorce. Obviously this is not something that most supporters of gay marriage want to bring up (Much of their strategy has depended upon the image of durable, life-long same-sex unions that only stop when death does them part. I am sad to report that gays, as much as heteros, are likely to make a bad selection from the spouse shelf). Still, we shouldn’t discount why divorce is also an important “right” that gays are deprived.

Several years ago, an eight-year relationship that I was in ended quite badly. When my Liar Ex (Who Told Many Lies) decided that he no longer loved me, he also decided that I warranted as much consideration as a used Kleenex in a wastebin. Though certainly imperfect, legal mechanisms exist for heteros to divorce in ways that provide mediation and balance to an otherwise emotionally impossible event. I did not have access to any of that legal recourse.

Therefore, I was left to either battle it out with the Liar Ex on my own (something that I was too hurt and tired to do) or to bow to his decisions and whims. He saw nothing unfair in the fact that I struggled to pay both rent for my own place and also half the mortgage in the house where he lived (and where I didn’t reside for over 1.5 years). On the contrary, he astoundingly imagined that he was the real victim in that situation. Isn’t it interesting that, no matter how outlandish and hurtful our actions, we never can see ourselves as the villain in the story of our own lives? When it came to the division of our meager positions, his notion of “fair” was that anything I owned before we met was “mine” and anything that we bought after we met was “his” (unless he clearly didn’t want it). We won’t even get into the question of ownership of debt. Had the state recognized our relationship in the ways that it recognizes equivalent hetero relationships, institutional structures would have existed that would have protected me from a truly callous and self-centered ex.

I don't bring this story up for pity -- anymore. Rather, I hope that it points to my basic humanness. Like everybody, I make mistakes, sometimes have bad relationships, and usually try to make my life better. It's that humanness that the majority of voters don't wish to acknowledge.

Since Obama’s victory, I have been more than a little obsessed with the President-elect. Like many people in the nation, I hungrily await news about his cabinet posts (Bill Richardson really should be Secretary of State). I even took time to watch his first press conference this past Friday. What a sea change in terms of leadership! Bushie was basically unwatchable in press conferences as he always looked like a school-boy who knew that he hadn’t studied for the test that day. Obama, meanwhile, is confident and thoughtful in his answers, always delivering a measured response.

One of my great fears about the future, though, is that Obama will follow in the steps of Bill Clinton, tossing aside gays and lesbians as “too hot to handle.” Obama has already publicly stated that he does not support gay marriage (opting instead for “separate, but equal” civil unions). He did reject Prop 8, but rarely discussed it.

Conservatives are already mobilizing the anti-gay successes in California and elsewhere as a means to argue that Obama can’t govern “too left,” despite his sweeping victory. It seems entirely likely that they will use gays as a means to threaten the new president. How will he respond? Will he see us as too small a minority to affect his next election? Are we therefore expendable to him? Will he imagine us as a political liability? Will we be the sacrificial lambs to achieve his “greater good?”

The problem with all of those scenarios is that I, as an individual, don’t imagine me or my rights as either “expendable” or a “liability” to the nation. As a citizen, I am not out to hurt anybody or to dictate how others should live their lives. All I want is to go along and build relationships with men who interest me without the threat of social, legal, or economic penalties. Because there are so few of us gays, we need a leader who will defend us against a clearly mean-spirited majority. Given the tremendous pressures that he already faces, we have no guarantee that Obama will be that leader. It is for this reason that none of us should imagine Obama’s inauguration as the end of our work. Quite the contrary, we are going to have to fight even more resolutely.

It will require the queer community to consider why the majority of whites, Latinos, and African Americans voted in such a hateful manner. We will also have to think about the ways that race and class are being deployed/upheld in fights over queer rights. Like ProfBW, I have been deeply concerned by the ways that some of the follow-up analysis of California’s Prop 8 has subtly placed the blame for its victory on people of color. Newspapers and others have focused attention on the fact that a simple majority of Latino voters and 70 percent of African-American voters decided to take the rights away from GLBT people while also voting for Obama.

The implicit (and sometimes explicit) argument is that it was people of color’s “fault” that the measure passed. This fits within a long-standing discursive strategy that makes Latino and African American communities appear dysfunctional and “out of step” with modernity (I told you that discussions of race weren’t over yet). Claiming that Latinos and African Americans are “more homophobic” or slaves to their religious institutions displaces homophobia onto those populations and avoids considering how it pervades all elements of this nation. It also ignores that the majority of white voters, 53 percent, also hate gays so much that they were willing to deprive them of their rights. It was, after all, predominantly white institutions, like the Mormon Church, that provided the majority of funding for the measure. Yet, unlike the debates about Latinos and African Americans, few news organizations have pondered how the white community could be so “dysfunctional.”

For minority communities, the queer community is implicitly figured as white in an "us" and "them" mentality. Because the queer community cuts across all racial and economic categories, though, the "them" is the "us." Indeed, many leaders within Latino and African American communities urged the defeat of Prop 8.

I have argued elsewhere in this blog that the marriage fight is really about the “wages of straightness,” to borrow a phrase from African-American scholar W. E. B. DuBois (and the more contemporary historian David Roedriger). DuBois perceptively argued that nineteenth-century white workers had willingly given up the fight to increase their real wages in favor of a “public and psychological wage” of white superiority. Rather than organizing with African Americans and other workers of color, white workers bought into the myth that their status as “white” improved their lives and set them into a higher social standing.

So too I think that the modern emphasis on the “sanctity of [heterosexual] marriage” is a means to distract the majority of citizens from the alienating and exploitive economic and social relationships that have defined this nation for the past eight years. Right-wing religious and government institutions argue that contentment (and even eternal salvation!) can be achieved by depriving gays of their rights. As long as gays are disempowered, than heteros are empowered (regardless of their actual living conditions or economic viability).

Proponents for the fight for gay marriage, however, have largely focused their message to the middle class (and I would suggest that marriage within the gay community is a middle-class issue (but that is another entry entirely)). While we can understandably be angry at their decisions to enshrine bigotry into state Constitutions, we will also need to understand why those voters wrongly imagine that doing so will improve their lives. It will require that we continue our politics of visibility, particularly in working-class communities. And it will require us to commit ourselves to fighting for social justice beyond issues of sexuality. We will need to show how equal rights for the minority will actually improve the rights of all.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Turn and Face the Change

Okay, it’s time to go out and vote, my bitches. This has been a long, exhausting couple of years (I can't believe this election cycle started when I still lived in Boston (Goddess, I miss that city)). It should come as little surprise that GayProf fully supports Barack Obama. While he was not my candidate in the primary (That was Bill Richardson), he has nonetheless won me over (starting with his speech on race). It would also be supreme foolishness to imagine that a McCain victory would do anything but push this nation further into despair and chaos.

Rather than rambling on about actual issues or platforms (which nobody seems to care about these days anyway), let me give you some unconventional reasons to vote for Obama today:

    * An Obama victory would be the first time since JFK that we had a hot president. I suppose Bill Clinton had some charm among hetero women, but, whatever. . . I want a commander in chief who is smokin’ by gay standards. We are a much better judge of male beauty.

    * Obama is just a fun word to say.

    * An Obama victory will really piss off the radical Christians in this nation. That always makes me happy.

    * Massive numbers of Democrats will finally be able to wean themselves off of the Xanax that they have been taking for the past eight years.

    * I have it on good authority that one of Obama's first executive orders will be to reunite Charlie's Angels to capture Osama bin Laden.

    * Having young children in the White House will mean that we will have the pleasure of seeing swing sets erected on the west lawn of the White House. Who could be anxious about the future of the economy when you are watching kids run and play? If Chase bank fails, maybe they will even get a pony.

    * Not having Sarah Palin hanging around the White House will mean that we won’t see the west lawn turned into a Turkey Shoot.

    * There will be a 0.000002 percent chance that Congress will actually do something productive in the next two years

    * The rest of the world will think that we might have some sanity as a nation after all.

    * Michelle Obama will join the ranks of Jacqueline Kennedy, Rosalynn Carter, and Hillary Clinton as accomplished and smart spouses of Presidents who deserve respect in their own right. Okay, I actually loathe that this nation draws in spouses as a measure for electability. Don’t even get me started about that cookie recipe bullshit, either. Besides, if ever there was any doubt that the “First Lady” position was meaningless, Laura Bush proved it by being a total void of a person. Nonetheless, I can’t help myself in fantasizing about Michelle Obama using her talents and intelligence in a new administration.

    * Even more importantly, Michelle Obama will be the new Jacqueline Kennedy in terms of style and fashion. Indeed, I have already heard colleagues and friends of mine recommending that people dress like her (and not just the drag queens, either). Personally, I would love to see her rock a pill box hat. How did that family get to be so insanely good looking?

    * We will no longer have to hear the term “maverick” thirty times a day.

    * I can keep my Obama t-shirts as mementoes of an historic campaign rather than turning them into rags to wash my car.

    * Sarah Palin’s lack of awareness about international affairs and basic news will be rejected as unacceptable. Heck, it might even mean that the rest of the nation will be required to learn about the world around them.

    * Joe Biden’s borderline Tourette syndrome will provide comedians with comic gold for the next four years.

    * It will open the door for a GayProf campaign victory in 2016.

Now stop reading this blog and vote.