Sunday, September 11, 2011
Reflections on the 10th anniversary of that tragic day and our duties to build bridges of understanding in a still fractious and fractured world as we near the 20th anniversary of CBD
The tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001 united us in fear but also in patriotism, a sense of civic duty, a desire to understand each other, and a need to be empathetic and compassionate. Ten years later, the fear is gone, but so are almost all those other lofty virtues, goals, and feelings. Instead, in the most recent U.S. congressional elections, American voters chose divisive, angry, intolerant, uncompromising demagogues; post-9/11, bankers and financiers undermined the national and world economies without regard to how their machinations would affect the common good (and elected officials passed no laws to prevent them from harming the nation; instead they repealed regulations that would have done so); and in the midst of progress for full gender equality including marriage and military service regardless of gender, more and more efforts are being made to block such civil liberties through constitutional amendments and state laws.
Is the above merely viewing the glass as half empty? Did that glass instead overflow and some of the liquid merely evaporate? Has more progress been made than lost? Hard to say: America elected its first mixed-race president — but then sabotaged that presidency with a divided and divisive Congress; more states allow same-gender marriage — but more laws have been asserted to ban such equality; all agree our health care system is increasingly not affordable, and a massive, comprehensive health package was passed — but rather than tweak it, new politicians increasingly are trying to repeal it without offering better alternatives; and rather than fixing the mess that led to joblessness and homelessness, America is increasingly turning its back on those who have been made destitute.
What then should be the role of bi people — who, by my way of thinking, are supposed to be among the most compassionate of souls — in helping the nation and world salve these wounds and overcome this sorry state? And how is that we are in this state of affairs post-9/11 to begin with? What happened to the “spirit of 9/11”?
The answer to the latter is perhaps that it is human nature to forget what we have learned. Perhaps we must forever battle our own worst behaviors — even be reminded of them repeatedly because we forget so easily. I can’t quite pinpoint just when we reverted to base, bad behavior, but somewhere along the line in these past 10 years, the public (through its votes and other deeds) lost some of the compassion, empathy, understanding, and tolerance that was gained that day 10 years ago, and not without some reason: Many have become embittered and disillusioned with the cynicism and betrayal of so many elected officials, businesspeople, public servants, and fellow voters, and what we are left with is a lack of common purpose and a lack of desire to work together to at least reach compromise.
Amid this discord, bi people can play a vital role as the bridge-builders we have long asserted we are. Some of us might do so as bi people—visibly, assertively, some with chips on their shoulders (though that would probably be self-destructive), others quietly and less visibly. Of course, being a hated and feared minority ourselves, it’s a tall order to get our message of love, peace, acceptance, and tolerance through to people who wish us dead. Perhaps it is irrelevant that we make this effort visibly as bi people; perhaps it is enough that our unique perspectives and ways of approaching life are sufficient to motivate us to do the right thing. And, too, that bi people often don’t live up to our own ideals is not surprising news—as humans, we’re just as prone as others to lapse into self-defeating behaviors and emotions such as anger, hostility, short memories, and other foibles and vulnerabilities. But as America enters the silly season of presidential politics, when we are again confronted with bilious vitriol that so many of us thought 9/11 had put to rest, it is our duty to remind others and ourselves, and to overcome such rancor and regression. Like coming out and overcoming, it is an everyday effort that we must continually make, especially in view of the upcoming 20th anniversary of Celebrate Bisexuality Day on Sept. 23.
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THE LATEST STUDIES
I’ve been asked several times for my opinion about the latest J. Michael Bailey-Northwestern University study on bisexual male existence and the New York Times/Dan Savage reporting of it, but I’ve deferred until now for a number of reasons: The study was funded in part (or in full) by an organization whose leaders I know, I’ve dealt with the various writers/reporters of both the most recent NYT report and the initial report from several years ago, I’m close to a number of the activists on all sides of this issue, I’m not a scientist or scholar, and as a journalist I know all about the machinations and decisionmaking efforts (or lack thereof) that go into the report, editing, and eventual publishing/broadcasting (or not) of various stories, so I can see why and where things can go awry or work out. As far as I can tell, the original study and this follow-up are flawed in numerous ways, not the least of which are its apparent suppositions about what non-visually impaired American males find visually arousing, that sexually can be reduced to visually based arousal, and that sexuality can be separated from emotion, romance, and so much more. However, as has also been pointed out, it was never intended to be an all-encompassing study, and so perhaps it is enough (at least on a political basis) that the follow-up study confirms to some doubters that indeed people such as myself really do exist and reall do have the sexuality we claim to have. I am happy for my friends who backed this study, I am happy that there is healthy skepticism on the part of others, I am satisfied to know that this study will eventually be seen as a small part of a greater scientific effort to further understand human sexuality in all its diversity, and that perhaps the studies’ flaws and virtues will prompt more studies and refinements and spur more students into the sciences.
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
By Gary B. North
(Copyright 2004-5 by Gary B. North, all rights reserved. The views expressed are strictly those of the writer and not necessarily those of BiNet USA or any of its other officers. Besides, the phraseology and grammar suck...)
Current rant (posted July 13, 2005):
Dear Fellow Non-existent Beings:
As you've no doubt noted, the credibility-challenged NYTimes (see also Jayson Blair, buildup to the war in Iraq, etc., but which to its credit is fighting to protect journalists' ability to shield sources that help it uncover scandal such as hypocrisy and corruption) has reported (with the equally ethics-challeged headline "Straight, Gay or Lying?") that a small study found a few self-identified bi men don't exist because their weenies don't rise when watching female-on-female sex films.
This strikes me as queer.
This strikes me as absurd. Peruse our website at www.binetusa.org and elsewhere on the web (or in the streets perhaps) of the activist bi world, and you'll find the study's and NYT's credulity are roundly and rightly derided. But as numerous bi activists have pointed out, this biphobia is nothing new; what's jaw-droppingly odd is that after 20 years of struggle to counter such nonsense, it comes up again in what is arguably the most prestigious of daily U.S. newspapers.
If you're on our binetusa.org email list or logged on to NGLTF's community forum or even the NYTimes' letters to the editor, you'll have seen how the article and study are analytically castigated for everything from the headline to the lack of countering quotes to the burying of such things as a statement noting one can't jump to conclusions based on the small sampling in the study -- which of course the study (apparently) and the article (or at least headline writer) seem to do as well -- sorta sideways, but still.
Is this a problem of semantics? Is bisexuality more than erotic arousal? Is the study's methodology flawed (as it appears to be)? Yes to all. I'll let more scholarly folk duke this one out elsewhere and on our site. But once again it reminds us that our enemies and doubters (one and the same?) are always out there and we need to be forever vigilant. That's why I encourage you to join (or rejoin) our rapid-response spokespersons bureau: to speak out at a moment's notice as a resource person -- speaking on behalf of yourself, not necessarily others nor on behalf of BiNet USA per se -- so journalists and others have a chance to hear from "the other side." And we as a community need to be more proactive -- which is why I encourage you to patronize the recent books and seminars that are out there now or coming out soon.
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The Dismantling of America?Or: What to do now?
So, what to make of the recent election ... let us count the ways: Civil rights erosion. Irrational (but rationalized) war. Privacy invasion. Environmental destruction. The ruin of the economy. The respect of other countries. Renewed fascism...
OK, I'm ranting; maybe only some of this has happened, with the rest in the offing. Given the victory of gay hatred (11 out of 11 gay-marriage bans were approved -- I'm still stunned), the totally blinkered voting of more than half the country against their own self-interests, and the nearly complete contempt and marginalizing by the administration and Congress of the 49% that voted the other way, what can bi people expect in the near future?
"Compassionate" lip service at best; outright hostility and more at worst.
Will we eventually see a Kristallnacht and pogrom in gay and Muslim communities? Will there be a "final solution" to same-sex romance? Will state-sanctioned terrorism take a new tact and attack the most hated members of society through benign neglect or implicitly condoned violence, a la the torture-not-called-torture being sanctioned-but-not-sanctioned in Iraq and Guantanamo? After all, bi people can be seen as "subversive", right?: We subvert narrow-mindedness by trying to get people to think for themselves, right? And "subversiveness" can be equated to "terrorism", right? And so peace-loving bi people could -- in twisted logic -- be seen by paranoid bigots as a threat to "national security" because we cause conformists to feel terrified: We make them question and think!
Or maybe I'm just a ranting curmudgeon.
I'm no prognosticator, either (I assumed job-challenged Ohio would look at the facts and vote the other way), but my guess is that these bad things listed above will happen.
The irony is that I believe in love and compassion, compromise and idealism, understanding and consensus, and I preach peaceful conflict resolution. But when the country's leadership rejects all of that and shuns nearly half the population (or more), and when the majority of those voting vote against their own interests just because they hate same-sex relations, it gets my bi bile boiling. Of course, that's probably not the only reason why the votes went the way they did, but it seems to be.
So what to do, what to do? The Democrats took their relatively best shot, raised more money than they ever have, and got more of their voters to the polls than ever before, and that STILL wasn't enough, even in the face of a pointless, deceptively executive, unpopular war (I guess not as unpopular as I thought), a totally mortgaged economy, the outsourcing of jobs to other lands, the reduction in the value of the dollar, the destruction of the environment, the diminution of civil rights, including same-sex unions ... oh, don't get me started. (It didn't help that the Demo candidate shunned the idea of gay marriage, too, but given that he did so in a halfhearted way and given the political realities he faced, I guess he had no choice. I guess...)
So what to do, what to do? I don't want to sound like Chicken Little, I prefer to be constructive. So I've put on my "bi beanie" and thought thought thought: What can bi people (and others) do to make everything right -- er, better? How can we at least be heard and not hated? Can we remake the world into a loving and kind place -- without getting angry ourselves?
Sigh ... I think we can't ... but we still have to try. I think we're fated for a very rough two to four years, at the least. Americans usually don't react unless something hits home broadly (like a widespread economic depression or an attack on the World Trade Center -- hey, I'm not in denial that there really ARE people out to get ALL of us!) or war (yet thousands have been killed -- or, well, I guess they don't count because most haven't been Americans, and besides they're taking the hits so we don't get hit at home, right? So they're doing us a favor, right?...).
OK, I'm bitter -- no, not bitter, just stunned. Jaw-droppingly stunned. Can so many people be so ignorant and blind? Then again, how did Nazi Germany and Rwanda happen? Or the leisure suit? ... But I digress.
Meanwhile, it's interesting to reflect that "1984" was a good guess, just off by 20 years: "Compassionate conservatism" seems to be Big Brother double-speak for uncompassionate reactionary lip service; the Patriot Act hardly is patriotic as it dismantles privacy, free speech and the right to assemble and associate; and "pre-emptive" war -- in the name of national security when even the Security Council hasn't authorized it and the facts don't support it -- is irrational rationalization run amok.
On the one hand.
On the other hand, we can assume that the rest of America is ignoring us bi people cuz we just don't count and just aren't vocal enough, and so we will do what we've always done: build bridges, create and nurture our own subculture of peace and loving in our own world within the greater world -- and hope others will see, listen and consider the possibilities. The America I have known seems to have been taken over by some other thought process, some Martian-like way of seeing things that distorts every bit of logic and emotion (sorry to any Martians out there, I'm not against Martians personally, don't really know how they think, frankly...). So, just like the Jews of pre-Nazi Germany, we will live our own lives separate from and yet within that "other" America -- I just pray the end results are quite different.
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By the way, I don't mean to assume in the above that most bi people are Democrats, but logic and history tend to suggest it. At the same time, your ol' Bi Curmudgeon notes this interesting -- or curious or just plain weird -- news item: Log Cabin GOP sues over don't-ask/don't-tell policy. Now, I used to think there was something obscenely ridiculous, oxymoronic and counterintuitive about the concept of there even being such a thing as a "gay Republican", but now I'm thinking: Hey, it's better than a Trojan horse and yet still gets the camel's nose under the tent (or is that one too many analogies?). By being open and aboveboard, they have a seat at the table (too many analogies again, huh? I mean about gay GOPpers at the table, not the camels or Trojan horses...), and they continue to fight the good fight from inside (the fringe of) the Republican Party. That's a good thing, right? (Er, middle?).
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Oh, I rant a lot about where America is headed, but I do so BECAUSE I love this country: freedom of speech, freedom to love, freedom of everything. Well, sorta. (We'll ignore for now the slave trade and lynchings and extermination of the first-nations peoples...) And because I love this country, I rarely stop to think about whether there SHOULD be a country. Bear with me, I'm not suggesting that there SHOULDN'T be an America, but given our history, should we be so domineering and at the same time so hostile to many of our own people (like bi people)?
And before Carnivore (or whatever the government's email scrounger is called) eats up this essay and puts me on yet another infamous list (I figure I'm on one just for being bi), let me assure you I want this country to continue and thrive. But from a historical perspective, it does seem odd: I don't like to think of us as an expansionist, colonial or imperial nation; at worst, I like to think that if we ever were so, it's all in the distant past: manifest destiny, the Louisiana Purchase, Seward's Folly, the movement west, the genocide of "the Indians", the swarming of the land from sea to shining sea (with Europeans), etc. So I'm usually dismissive about criticism from abroad that America is seeking global domination and empire. After all, if we had wanted that, we would have taken over Germany, Japan and so forth after WWII, right?. We didn't; we just wanted to be left alone -- well, so goes the legend and, yes, as far as I can tell, the general mindset of Americans for generations: We DIDN'T want to be the police of the world, we WANTED splendid isolation, we were (as per George Washington) Cincinnatus-minded. Oh, here and there, there might have been some rogue politicians etc. who wanted to be kings of the world, but the vast majority of Americans sure didn't.
... And then we invaded Iraq, in the name of the U.N., even though the U.N. hadn't sanctioned the invasion. And the rationale for the invasion appears to have been predicated on false information, quite possibly purposefully and nefariously misleading and at the least disingenuous. In any case, the stated rationale has changed so many times now that it's enough to make one wonder if perhaps those in charge of the government (or Halliburton) in fact truly ARE seeking empire, the stated reason for war be damned. Or maybe they just can't decide what they want. ... Hey, wait a minute, isn't that what BI people are always accused of??? ... Hey, you don't suppose that our leadership is ... hmmmm ..... Me thoughts the Republicans protesteth too much ......