Accession number 1998-162-51a,b at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a pair of women’s stays in an unlikely size. Laced shut, they measure forty-six inches at the chest and forty-three inches at the waist, with a back length of eleven and three quarters of an inch. Even with no other information, we can deduce that they were worn by someone wider than average, and as they measure ten to fifteen inches wider than most other extant stays, they provide a unique example of how fashionable styles were adapted to fit less than fashionable bodies.
This week began in violence. Many people find it impossible to believe that a modern, first world, civilized city could possibly be the setting for such brutality; that it must be the result of foreign incursion. That now that same sex marriage is legal, LGBT Americans enjoy the same rights and safety as those who are straight and cisgendered.
I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but this is a lie. America has a long history of hating and devaluing those who are different. Each successive wave of immigrants has had to go through a period of abuse and distrust, some longer than others, some more violent than others. Native Americans have been treated as foreigners in their own land, their languages and cultures outlawed and communities broken. Black Americans are still grappling with the cultural trauma of being denied ownership of their own bodies. But human nature is resilient, and even through violence and fear, we’ve survived. Newcomers and people of colour helped shape America from foundation to eaves, from the earliest days to the present, and their descendants are still with us. So to with LGBT Americans. Every age and culture has had women for whom skirts were unnatural, and men who could not truthfully be termed men. Love and sexual attraction are far more complicated and beautiful than simple reproduction. America has its flaws, but from its earliest beginnings it has symbolized the promise of something better. Every wave of newcomers has built on those who came before, with the intent of making a better life for those who followed. We’ve often disagreed on what that should look like, but the intent is there. I don’t want to live in an America where people don’t feel like they are able to build a better life for themselves and those who come after them, and I don’t think anyone else does, either.
I write this several thousand feet in the air, in a machine conceived by Americans, looking out in wonder at the grand vastness of the nation my great-grandparents came to because it was better than what they’d left, and through fear and uncertainty were able to leave their mark and make things a little bit better for a little while. It’s generations of people like them making things a little bit better for a little while who made America great, and will continue to make it great. America is a miracle, a shining light, a reminder that people can make a difference in a world that is often random and cruel.
Like other minority groups, the queer community has been targeted by violence before. We learn young that we’ll be targeted simply for existing, and it could come any time, anywhere, from anyone we meet. I count myself lucky in that I made it to sixteen before I had to physically defend myself against someone who had a problem with who I was. I am lucky to be strong and able-bodied with good reflexes, and I was lucky that I had a place to go home to afterward. This week’s tragedy was the largest mass shooting in American history outside of a declared warzone, but the sentiment behind it is something we’ve all experienced at one point or another. We’ll be okay, like we have before. We keep on, we don’t let fear win. We mourn the dead, we celebrate the living, we stay loud and keep each other safe. June is Pride Month for a reason and we’re going to be okay. But what doesn’t kill you makes you weird, and I worry about what this means for America. Already I’ve seen people seizing on the fact that the shooter was of immigrant stock to lay the blame upon newcomers who don’t fit an older American cultural narrative. This is grossly unfair, and not only does it put innocent lives at risk, it does a disservice to those who were killed or wounded, most of whom were of immigrant stock, some the same stock as the killer. Make no mistake, this was an American crime, with an American perpetrator and American victims.
We have an election coming up, and America is in danger. The world is not safe, and people are scared. America needs to change if its foundational concepts of freedom and hope are to survive. There are broken systems that need to be fixed, wrongs to right, tragedies to prevent. But change must not be made at the expense of the American people. A Trump presidency would be change, but it would be change from uncertainty to blood. Based on my historical knowledge and understanding of human nature, I can only infer that a president Trump would spend half his time inciting violence, and the other half paralyzing the workings of government with childish tantrums over what the president can and can’t do. Wrongs will go unrighted, and Americans will die, in America, at the hands of other Americans. We cannot let that happen. Now, more than ever, we need to have each other’s backs.
Though the full force of the labour movement was not to become a political force until after the Civil War, American workers were organizing and advocating for themselves since before the Revolution. Continue reading
The War of 1812 was, in many respects, something of a disaster. Throughout the United States there was a general resentment and frustration over issues of trade that had been improperly settled after the Revolution, and many areas were openly looking for an excuse to go to war with the British again. There was a distinct geographical split seen both in Congress and public opinion. The southern and western sections were largely in favour, seeing it as an excuse to expand westward and gain international respect. Continue reading
The New Deal changed the way Americans perceived the presidency and social safety nets. Churches and private charities were unable to cope with the scale of hardship in a nation with a 25% unemployment rate, and an increasing number of people were unable to reconcile American values and social duty with the laissez-faire Social Darwinism that decreed that the destitute deserved their fate.1 Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s election campaign was to realign the Democratic and Republican parties, bringing progressives and reformers firmly onboard with the Democrats, and cementing Gilded Age conservatives on the Republican side.2 Continue reading
The Vietnam War was the first war that the US could not possibly claim to have won. It was the culmination and rebuttal of the Cold War domino theory, and created a lasting distrust of government among Americans, which may have contributed to increasing conservatism and voter apathy. Continue reading
As some people are doubtless aware, the Transportation Security Administration has been using imaging technology body scans as a security measure in place of and in addition to metal detectors. As of this week, it may impossible to opt out of a body scan in favour of other methods. The idea is that the scan will expose weapons, drugs, and other contraband even if it is hidden under clothing and not made of metal. The machines have two buttons– male and female, to account for differences in anatomy. The TSA agent operating the machine picks a button for each passenger based on how they present, according to the TSA website. This seems fine. After all, they are very sure that their screening is “conducted without regard to a person’s race, color, sex, gender identity, national origin, religion or disability.” Well, maybe. Continue reading