Hope and Politics in the Aftermath of Orlando

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.

Advertisements

Alarming Bodies: the TSA still has work to do when it comes to trans issues

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

A Short History of American Political Parties

The modern day Republican party bears no resemblance to the Republican party of the 19th century abolitionists. There was a shift from the 1880s to the 1970s, beginning with the 1876 court case US vs Cruikshanks, which set the precedent that mob violence aimed at intimidating voters was a matter for local law enforcement rather than the federal government. This allowed the KKK to systemically terrorize black voters and Republican whites to the point where the Republican Party ceased to exist in the South, leaving only varying degrees of Jacksonian Democrat. Meanwhile, cities in the North saw an influx of immigrants who tended to ally themselves with the Democrats due to the party’s populist overtones and lack of support for Prohibition, another Republican morality reform. Thus, the northern Democrats began moving left. Republican president Herbert Hoover’s failure to prevent the 1929 economic crash and timid attempts to relieve the suffering of the Great Depression that followed soured many progressives and liberals against the Republican party, and the success of FDR’s New Deal programs firmly cemented the Democrats as the party of labour unions, urban politics, minorities, and the working poor. However it also angered many southern Democrats, who saw themselves as betrayed by their party. This group deserted en masse after the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and joined the now-obsolete Republican religious reformers who saw themselves as bastions of American morality. The process was completed in the aftermath of Roe vs Wade, when the anti-abortion evangelicals jumped onboard, drawing off much of the southern vote.

The Magna Carta On Tour

Your angry friend visited the New York Historical Society today, something he had been meaning to do for a while now. My reason for choosing now, while I should still be recovering from my final week at Renfaire and preparing for What Comes Next, is because one of the four surviving copies of the 1217 version of the Magna Carta is on display. I had to see it in person.

As an item, the Magna Carta is not particularly impressive. It is a very old sheet of parchment densely hand-written in brown ink, a bit larger than standard printer paper. The Articuli super Cartas displayed next to it (containing instructions for local officials on how the document was to be enforced) is even less impressive– about the size of an index card. Both are written in medieval Latin, and between this and the hand-writing I was therefore unable to read any of it.

As a document, however, the Magna Carta’s importance is monumental. It was to form the basis of the concept of constitutional monarchy in Europe, and was the first attempt at the chipping away of the divine right of kingship. The idea of all people being entitled to fair treatment that was to form the basis of English law and give rise to the English claim of being the first free country had its origin in the Magna Carta, a document signed by a king at the behest of his subjects, in order to limit his powers and guarantee their rights. Five centuries later, another group of Englishmen were to air their grievances with another king, in a document we now refer to as the Declaration of Independence.

Ideologically, the American Revolution was inherently English. Most of the Founding Fathers were of English descent, steeped in English law and customs. Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet Common Sense was to spark the country into organized military opposition, was a recently arrived English immigrant to the colonies. In this way, the American patriots were more English than the Loyalists, who were willing to waive their Magna Carta-given rights as Englishmen in order to show their loyalty to the king and his Parliament.

Change and the Lack Thereof in 1920s Gender Politics

The 1920s are commonly assumed to have been a time of great social change in sexual norms and gender politics in celebration of women’s equality upon gaining the right to vote. As usual with common assumptions about history, the truth is far more complicated. The right to vote was not a cure-all to sexual inequality, and the gender politics of the 1920s were not as significant a departure from the previous age as is commonly supposed. There was, however, a significant increase in the visibility of women’s sexual behavior, and a corresponding normalizing of women’s sexuality in regards to men. It is more accurate therefore to say that while there was a sexual revolution in the 1920s, men were the primary beneficiaries, and it was part of a larger shift toward youth culture and consumerism. Continue reading

A Brief History of Intersectional Feminism and Other 19th Century Reform Movements

When women’s liberation arises, it does so as a companion to industrialization, urbanization, and the rise of the nuclear family, all aspects present in the United States in the period after the War of 1812. It is a response to the increasing requirement that women act as autonomous individuals, while remaining legally and socially dependent on and subordinate to men in accordance with the traditional culture.1 However it cannot simply happen automatically; it requires a precedent. Continue reading