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This place matters

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A new hope

Sometimes we find hope in really unexpected places. Today I'm finding it on Lip Sync Battle.
This is Tom Holland, the newest Spider Man, putting a new spin on Rihanna's Umbrella. And I feel like not too many years ago, such a gender-bending performance might have really undermined the perceived masculinity of a fledgling action star. Might have been career suicide even. A couple of years ago, he might have gotten away with it if it was played for a joke, but it isn't a joke here - when he steps out in this very feminine costume, the audience doesn't laugh, they cheer - wildly. And he's not mocking or goofing, he's dead damn serious. 
Because here's the funny thing about clothes: this getup is feminine now, but back in the Victorian era, it would have been scandalous or even blasphemous for a woman to wear clothes like that - even under her nine layers of shifts and petticoats and skirts. It was utterly unacceptable for a woman to wear any sort of bifurcated undergarment then - might have turned her manly - might even have turned her wanton. Queen Victoria herself wore crotchless underwear. 
The outward trappings of gender in our society are as nonsensical as they are arbitrary as they are mercurial. A man can't be a man if he wears a skirt, unless it's a kilt, in which case it's okay, but only if he's Scottish. But Scots have been wearing kilts a lot less long than Braveheart would have you believe. The knee length pleated skirt we associate with Scotsmen today only became acceptable in the 18th century; before that, a kilt was a full length garment. But that garment dates only back to the 16th century - before that, men wore pants.
Today many, if not most Americans see makeup as a thing women should wear, and a thing men should not. But women in America didn't really start wearing makeup until the 1920s. In the early 20th century, the only place a person could buy makeup would be a theatrical costume store. In Europe from the Renaissance on, men often wore makeup to appear more aristocratic - pasty skin was a status symbol because it showed that a guy had so much money he didn't need to work outdoors. Men and women have been wearing makeup for 6,000 years, and only in the last century did makeup become associated with women and women only. 
I always find it funny when people use religion to justify a hatred of cross-dressing. Sure, the Bible condemns men who dress like women, but when the Bible was written, dudes wore dresses. If you want to dress like a man dressed back in ancient Israel, you've got to dress like a lady. According to Deuteronomy, God detests dudes who don't wear dresses. And what's absolutely bonkers is that here in the 21st century, people are murdering trans women by the thousands all over the world just for failing to wear articles of clothing that didn't even exist when their holy book of choice was written.
What I'm getting at is that rules about how women and men are supposed to look on the outside are arbitrary, mutable, and utterly pointless. But the good news is that we don't have to conform to these pointless rules. And the more young male action stars who say "fuck it, I'm wearing the bustier," the easier it gets for all of us. For trans men, and gender queer people, gender non-conformists and women who can't stand pantyhose and little boys who like the way their nails look when they're painted. For people who just want to look on the outside like what they feel on the inside. 
I dunno, maybe I don't know what I'm talking about. I just know my life got a lot better, my self-esteem got a lot higher, when I realized I was under no obligation to try to look "like a girl." And I really value celebrities who are willing to refuse to conform. From Alicia Keys refusing to wear makeup to Alexander Skarsgard dressing in drag to Diane Keaton and her four decade love affair with men's suits. To say nothing of heroes like Laverne Cox to Lana and Lilly Wachowski to the late Alexis Arquette who have chosen to be their true selves with the judging eyes of the world on them.   

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Should I be planning for my parents' retirement?



Ever since the orange nightmare took office I've had this niggling worry at the back of my mind. The kind of worry like when you're on vacation and you suddenly realize you aren't sure you didn't leave the iron on. I've been worried my parents will get sick and we won't have enough money to make them well. 
The House Cut Poor People's Noses Off to Spite Their Faces Act has an uphill battle in the Senate, with senators on both sides indicating they plan to rewrite it completely. Which is a temporary relief - a literal stay of execution for many. Maybe the Senate bill won't be the cruel, spiteful nonsense the House shat out. But honestly, the fact that my parents' health now relies upon this Senate doesn't have me sleeping much easier.
Oh, my parents have savings. My dad worked and paid taxes for nigh on sixty years before very reluctantly retiring at 77. Mom did the same, though she took a few years off to stay home with my sister and me - and by "took a few years off" I mean "ran a daycare out of our home so she could bring in income while being a stay-at-home-mom." But a life savings eked out one clipped coupon, one untaken vacation day at a time amounts to little in the face of the illnesses my parents could face as they get older.
My dad was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis forty or so years ago. He was in debilitating agony for most of my childhood until the disease somewhat miraculously went into remission. And yet he literally never missed a day of work. Daily he walked to the bus stop on aching legs to a job he hated, and nightly he came home shrouded in pain and exhaustion. 
When he got let go from the Plain Dealer, it seemed like the end of the world. But he got a job as an advocate for people with physical and developmental disabilities, and there he stayed. He kept vigil at the bedsides of clients who were dying, he broke bones, he got chunks bitten out of his flesh. It paid terribly - the hardest work always seems to - and he loved it. And after all that, he deserves to be able to get sick without going broke. He has paid for it in tax dollars and in volunteer hours and in care he gave to the sick and vulnerable. His country owes him that.
My mom loved her work too. She taught kindergarten in some of the poorest, most dangerous neighborhoods in Cleveland. Teachers came from all over the city to see the way she ran her classroom - the innovative math curriculum she adopted of her own volition, the teaching methods ahead of their time. Her salary probably amounted to less than minimum wage, especially considering the fact she volunteered to run the before school program, so that parents who were shift workers could drop their kids off at school before dawn. I can't count the number of times I've been at a restaurant, or out shopping with my mom and seen some grown adult come up to her and throw their arms around her, former students who just have to tell her what an amazing teacher she was. And she deserves to not have to wonder whether she'll always be able to afford the expensive medications and treatments for her chronic health conditions. She has paid for that medication in tax dollars too, and in giving a world class education to the poorest and most vulnerable kids - kids who have grown up and gone on to be successful, productive, tax-paying members of society. 
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Legislators and ACA opponents keep talking about how they shouldn't have to pay for the health care of the poor and the lazy. But the Affordable Care Act doesn't give free health care to the poor and the unemployed - that's what Medicaid's for. The ACA extends medical benefits to people who work, but don't make enough to pay for insurance on their own. In fact, the ACA can help keep those folks healthy and in the workforce, rather than sick and on disability. 
For people like my folks, the ACA is about having the coverage they paid for in literal blood, sweat, and tears. For folks like me the ACA means being able to afford the psych meds that keep me sane and employable. The ACA is for small business owners and freelancers. It's for single moms and helpless kids and poor people and middle class people, and even well-off people who are, as it turns out, one cancer diagnosis from broke. The ACA is for people who work and pay taxes and deserve to be able to remain healthy enough to do so. 
Edit: if I earlier made it seem as if I don't believe that the poor and vulnerable are not also deserving of adequate health care, that is not what I think. We are the richest country on the planet, we have a moral imperative to protect our most vulnerable. No one deserves to suffer and die in A nation as wealthy as ours. "Christian "Republicans ought to under stand that.

Jackdaws at Stonehenge
They're holding chunks of wool they stole from sheep in a pasture nearby

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