Into the Woods, My Children…Life in the Distopian Kingdom

 

Where to start…

 

Perhaps with a song…

 

Here are some of the lyrics from Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods:

 

Mother cannot guide you.

Now you’re on your own.

Only me beside you.

Still, you’re not alone.

No one is alone. Truly.

No one is alone.

Sometimes people leave you

Halfway through the wood.

Others may deceive you.

You decide what’s good.

You decide alone.

But no one is alone.

 

I am… fearful. I don’t mean to be melodramatic. And I think a lot of people would paint me as melodramatic. I think a lot of people are painting a lot of progressive democrats as melodramatic. Well…everyone has to decide for themselves what is melodramatic and what is frightening. Everyone decides alone. You decide alone…

 

But no one is alone. And we are not wandering in solitude in a magical forest. We are in the villages and in the towns; we are in the rural sticks among the endless fields of cow corn; we dwell among the great dwindling copses of forest that twist space-time under their light-filtered canopies; we reside in the great cities and metropolises mesmerized by concrete and steel and glass and trinket baubles…and we are told that we have to work collaboratively and collectively together. As distasteful as it might be for some…

 

And here I’ve come to the very point, I think I wanted to make. So many pundits have switched their tune quite audaciously and curiously (I see you Harry Smith). “Well,” they muse, “sometimes the outcome isn’t what we hoped for…but now there aren’t any Democrats or Republicans; now there are only Americans. And we can work together for the greater good. It’s the American way. We give the benefit of the doubt to our former rivals and we put our heads down and get to work. We might even commit to ‘crossing the aisle’ to get things done. The checks and balances set forth by our forefathers will always make things right… The elected surely wants to be a president for everyone; he wants to bring the nation together…”

 

So they say.

 

 

There’s this necessity for calming the boiling blood after the bloodbath. And I get it. Life has to go on. It feels a little trite, though…as if the nation’s elite—the same ones who didn’t believe that such an outcome to the presidential election could happen—feel obligated to throw the wet towel down upon the masses to try to smother the rage and distress. It’s so noble, isn’t it? First we replace the swords and maces of the battlefield with debates and rallies; we attack and vilify; we mock and degrade; we threaten to imprison our opponents…and after a single harrowing night of surprise electoral vote-counting, we suddenly admire our opponents for the courageous fight that they either lost or won; the peasant soldiers are left to trudge back to their lowly hovels and thatched huts, battle-bruised and gobsmacked and no more enlightened nor rewarded for the waged battle they were conscripted into for already rich kings.

 

Here are a couple more examples of wet blankets that I’ve come across… First, a poem by Gary Margolis of Cornwall, Vermont that was in a local alternative weekly paper:

 

ACROSS THE AISLE

 

My aisle’s a walk across the road I have

to walk. My neighbor’s stripping

his bumper-peeling decal off.

We’ve had little to say

 

to each other these past twelve months.

Guessing where each other stands,

by the flags we wave. But now we’ve had

 

enough of this, our barely talking,

We have to get back to the work of

neighboring. Our poet on the mountain

 

is likely to have said. By noon something

written on the frost is gone. Who won, who

lost. Every four years we come to this

 

and cross the road again. Not looking

for a hand-out or ways to spend

what we don’t have. Not wanting

 

to fuel another war in our deer-hunting,

book-reading neighborhood.

Thanksgiving’s a few weeks away.

 

So we can wave the way we’ve usually

done. Not have to care what a bumper

sticker said. Say if that deer

 

has enough points at all, to

be taken down. If one of us is here to let it

run away, back into its winning woods.

 

Don’t get me wrong—I like this poem. It expresses very much a Vermont-type philosophy…along the lines of Frost’s “good fences make [for] good neighbors.” But you notice the title of the poem, right? And the whole piece is about moving beyond the antipathies and resentments that are forced upon us by our nationalist obsession with choosing a side. What is that all about anyway? This super bowl of political elections…where it’s dishonorable and unpatriotic to not choose a side. Frankly, that was half of the problem this election cycle—nobody liked either candidate, but it’s blasphemy if you don’t pick a side and vote. Vote for what? Vote for misogyny, xenophobia, bullying, ignorance, and plutocracy? Or vote for dynasty, non-transparency, and more plutocracy? Great choices.

 

Here is part of another mollifying article that was in my local newspaper by a young woman in Berlin, Vermont trying to come to grips with the blow of loss and anger she felt with the results of the presidential election…

 

“…But wait. Why is anger always the body’s first emotional reaction? Anger and sadness, though anger cuts deeper and goes further. The only answer I can find is, it’s easy. It’s easy to rest in anger. It distances ‘the other’—what we don’t know, what we fear, what we hate. Anger lets us stay back, laugh at the loser and continue on a single-minded, narrow path.

“What’s hard is listening. It takes more courage and strength to ask the person next to you, ‘Why do you feel this way?’ instead of ignoring him out of anger. I don’t want to be angry with you, America. I don’t want to be embarrassed. I am the person I am today because I’ve been afforded wonderful opportunities provided for me by my country. I want to understand. We get more answers asking questions than yelling in anger.

“It doesn’t matter how we got here. What matters is that we put down the clubs and pitchforks and emotionally enter the 21st century. Stop being afraid of asking what makes us, the citizens united under one flag, so different? Stop being afraid of what you are not. Ask questions, and when someone ask[s] you one, take time to think before you speak. If anger is your first response, be braver and try to understand.

“Personally I always loved the color purple.”

 

Awww… Doesn’t that wrap things up in a neat tidy package? She loves the color purple…get it?…because red and blue make… well, yeah, you get it.

 

But here’s the thing, young lady…I’m not angry. I’m frightened. And, well, yes, I’m angry that I’m frightened. Because no one should have to live in fear.

 

This is one of the things I am often dumbfounded about…Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a State of the Union address in 1941, a defining speech, that has since been dubbed “The Four Freedoms.” The Four Freedoms are: freedom of speech; the freedom of worship; freedom from want; and, freedom from fear. I dunno; maybe these freedoms are illogical. Does one supersede the others? Are they graduated? In other words, does the freedom of speech supersede the freedom of worship, and the freedom of worship supersede the freedom from want? Does the freedom from want supersede the freedom from fear? Of course not. Do we get to choose our freedoms in priority? It seems Americans might think so, and this is a conflict in our American independence. Those who prioritize freedom of worship somehow feel like they have the right to deny others their freedoms from want or fear. Why should Donald Trump’s freedom of speech (and incitement of a misogynistic paradigm) infringe on a woman’s fear of being accosted or violated? Why should someone’s freedom of worship and religion (and religious excuse for denying LGBT people services, housing, healthcare, etc.) infringe on gay or lesbian people’s freedom from want? Why should a second amendment supporter’s freedom of want (to own as many guns as possible) infringe on someone else’s freedom from fear (of dying at the hands of gun violence?

 

The opinion article author says poignantly, “What’s hard is listening. It takes more courage and strength to ask the person next to you, ‘Why do you feel this way?’ instead of ignoring him out of anger.”

 

Well, I’ll tell you. I’m not sure you’re going to get a straight answer. For one thing, the president elect did not win the election because of the economy. You can blow wind as much as you want telling me that people in the rust belt have seen manufacturing jobs evaporate. You can exhaust yourself as much as you want telling me that the Affordable Care Act is going to bankrupt the nation. No. Just no. It is empirically provable that the economy ameliorated and made gains during President Obama’s presidency. Yes, the Affordable Care Act needs some upgrades, but at no time have more people been covered by health insurance and had more rights to health services than since the passage of “Obamacare.”

 

The reason the president-elect won the election was because of hate-isms, plain and simple. Here are the new four freedoms demanded by America’s finest citizens: freedom of Racism. freedom of Misogyny. freedom of Xenophobia. freedom of Homophobia.

 

 

Not only do citizens of the United States not respect Roosevelt’s freedoms for their fellow citizens and neighbors any longer, a huge percentage of the American populace somehow believes that it is a freedom—a right—to express blatant racism and discrimination. Trump’s language, as evidenced at any of his political rallies prior to the election—enabled and advocated the basest of prejudices: misogyny, racism, xenophobia, anti-gay vilification.

 

The Brexit vote in the United Kingdom enabled the same baser indulgences. Hate crime rose an astonishing 41 percent 57 percent* immediately following the vote to break away from the European Union. That vote, also, cannot be seen as anything other than a vote about white privilege and xenophobia, considering the vast benefits that European agreements and treaties afforded English citizens. The American presidential election evoked the same xenophobia and racism. If you doubt this fact, check online and see just how much hate crimes have risen already since November 9th.

 

I don’t think a person can “courageously ask the person next to you ‘Why do you feel this way?’” …Not in today’s America. Because no one is going to admit to you that they are racist. And if you happen to be a minority…maybe you don’t want to know.

 

Here’s the crux, which I finally get to in my overly verbose way… This election and its consequences are different for minorities than they are for white, heterosexist Americans.

 

 

So sorry to have taken a break from posting here, but I needed to take stock of things. I was so full of anxiety before the election that I wanted to wait until after November 8th so that I might’ve had the opportunity to turn to the norms of existence…might’ve had the opportunity to turn the mood of subjects more positive and optimistic in tone…as in, “Well, at least our American nightmare is over and we can let go of all this stress and vituperative hyperbole, we can reëstablish decorum and reäffirm racism and xenophobia as deplorable and unsatisfactory traits in society”… as in, “At least Hillary Clinton won the election and I don’t have to start fearing for my well-being or a revival of legally-sanctioned discrimination again…”

 

…Except that here we are in whatever warped space-time-altered dimension this is, and…I. can’t. even…Donald Trump was just elected president of the United States of America (that has a terrible mouth-feel to it)…with all the repercussions that such a thing entails.

 

And…I don’t know what to do.

 

I had…I have no idea how to face this day and the days going forward. I know some people think that is a melodramatic thing to say. But for some of us…you just have no idea…it’s not melodramatic at all. If you don’t understand, it’s because you never noticed in the first place, in your heterosexist-paradigm privilege, that things are more drama-filled for minorities than non-minorities.

 

Because suddenly the 2016 Republican Convention platform that was voted on and adopted—containing the most vicious, inflammatory, and retro-active anti-LGBT initiatives ever—are to be implemented by the party that won the presidency and both houses of Congress… So glad I can be society’s scapegoat again…

 

Suddenly there’s going to be a wall—socially advocated if not physically raised.

 

Suddenly bullying is acceptable because there’s precedent—the president-elect of the United States practices it himself without retribution and is mandated by the vote.

 

Suddenly I will never see universal healthcare in my lifetime.

 

Suddenly misogyny is in vogue—again precedented and mandated—and women are reverted to second-class objects.

 

Suddenly anxiety about war and nuclear proliferation and terrorism are part of the American psyche again.

 

Suddenly Newt-fucking-Gingrich is part of the political landscape again (as if he didn’t do a devastating-enough job his first round…).

 

Suddenly it’s mortifying to travel abroad, show one’s passport, and have to admit you’re American. (I mean, congratulations if you’re proud of it or something, but, whatever…)

 

Suddenly there is no hope of ever overturning Citizens United, and corporations get to keep calling themselves “people.”

 

Suddenly Dodd-Frank legislation—the thing that is supposed to save us from banks getting us into recessions like the one we just came out of—that legislation is in jeopardy, and corporations and banks and hedge-fund managers will continue to have free license to pilfer the underclasses (the underclass, which percentage-wise and in all likelihood, is a group of which you are a member).

 

Suddenly the Supreme Court…well…I don’t anticipate or expect that the Supreme Court will ever protect my rights again during my lifetime.

 

Suddenly hate crimes will increase dramatically by some unfathomable percentage—just as they did after the Brexit vote—because people feel enabled to express their prejudices…again precedent and mandate.

 

These are only the most immediate horrors that flood my mind…of a dystopia that I’m not sure I can cope with or survive. Sorry to be such a drama queen…but am I?

 

 

The current president of the United States seems to think I’m being a bit melodramatic…

 

“Societies and cultures are really complicated. … This is not mathematics; this is biology and chemistry. These are living organisms, and it’s messy. And your job as a citizen and as a decent human being is to constantly affirm and lift up and fight for treating people with kindness and respect and understanding.

“And you should anticipate that at any given moment there’s going to be flare-ups of bigotry that you may have to confront, or may be inside you and you have to vanquish. And it doesn’t stop. … You don’t get into a fetal position about it. You don’t start worrying about apocalypse. You say, O.K., where are the places where I can push to keep it moving forward.”

“Obama Reckons with a Trump Presidency,” an interview of President Barack Obama

by David Remnick in the New Yorker, November 28, 2016 issue.

 

With all due respect, Mr. President, sir, those words indeed sound noble. I know it doesn’t stop. I’ve been pushing to keep it moving forward for a long, many years. I—we—have fought long and many hard years fighting the noble debate, the noble struggle, trying to do the noble, just, virtuous, dignified walk. And because you are who you are, I know that you know what I mean. We have suffered the slings and arrows of our detractors at the whims of their ignorance and prejudice. But it’s hard to do the noble, just, virtuous, dignified walk when your detractors refuse to debate on noble, just, virtuous, and dignified grounds. It’s hard when your detractors won’t even consider walking with you on the same side of the street.

 

I am indeed curled up in the fetal position. I am not over the election results yet…or rather, I don’t know where I am with it. I still haven’t really let things sink in…or rather, I’m procrastinating-prognosticating because I can’t bear to acknowledge the horror of that future. As stunned as everyone was, including the media and the pundits, it’s astonishing to me that on the turn of a dime—the very next day—the story could turn from abject horror, to quips like: “Well, that just happened. Guess we should give this guy a shot…”

 

WHAT???!!!?!?

 

I’m not even necessarily mad at Trump… I mean, he’s just this monster…this thing that happened to pop onto the scene and get a lot of publicity because he’s a monster. No,…what I’m really devastated about, deflated about, utterly disappointed about, horrified by…are my neighbors and fellow countrymen who have failed the country and the world…all the people who are coming out of the woodwork and justifying their vote and saying, “Just because we voted for Trump doesn’t mean that we’re racist…” and then they vocalize their reasons for supporting Trump which completely turn out to be a litany of racist, xenophobic, or homophobic babble.

 

 

The protests that have erupted in cities around the country have sort of saved my soul…it makes me feel less alone…that there is solidarity…less like the whole country just said they hate me… Do we have to start calling ourselves “the resistance” or “the rebellion” now?

 

…And of course I’ve written this whole diatribe assuming a sympathetic ear and soul is reading it (which is true folly, especially on the internet, eh?). And if your ear and soul are not sympathetic to it, I cannot apologize enough… I know deep down that this is part of the problem…that we are so divided as a two-party system (with so few options to reflect our myriad facets) that everything becomes black and white…and we cannot even fathom talking sensibly to one another, having a civil discourse, sharing stories…which is antithetical to my communal philosophy in general. No empathy, no understanding can be garnered without telling one another our stories…and empathy is the place where we can start the beginnings of change.

 

…But as a minority…I’ve literally spent my entire life in defense mode…defending my being…trying over and over to tell people my story…our story…trying to get to some point of commonality and understanding. And it’s work…WORKin the trenches work. And it’s exhausting, because for every heartfelt, gut-wrenching, too-long-detailed rendition of why minority lives matter, I’m always going to be on the lower-stair-level of this sword fight choreography; I am always going to be beleaguered by ignorant sound-bite rhetoric. For every story I tell about actual people I know who have been denied hospital access to an ailing same-sex partner…I’m always going to be defeated by someone who claims that gay marriage has “defiled” her heterosexual union (even if it’s her third or fourth)… For every time I can name someone who lost a job due to his or her sexual orientation…I’m always going to be defeated by someone who claims “religious freedom” for denying to sell flowers to a gay couple.

 

And this election makes me feel like sound bites and memes have won…like they have greater import to everyone than stories…that the stories and personal experiences I’ve exhaustively been sharing for the last twenty years in order to build bridges and build empathy…that none of it mattered or touched anyone or made a difference at all. This election made me feel like I was tolerated, but that the collective “Id” has just admitted that they don’t feel like being nice anymore, and that they’d rather that bullying and discrimination be the emblem of American identity.

 

Drama queen…I know…but that’s how it feels…

 

 

So…stories…

 

I once worked for a small family business that was bought-out by a larger corporation when the owners decided to retire. The thing is, the new corporation decided to change the company policy handbook…by removing the category of sexual orientation as a protected classification against discrimination. I noticed the change and made a comment, making my opinion known that I didn’t feel removing a category of discrimination was prudent. The CEO noted that the company’s lawyers had determined to remove the category because the company’s expansion plans included states where sexual orientation wasn’t protected…so they decided they might as well give themselves the full legal leeway of being able to eliminate undesirable employees. When I objected, not only did I have to do extensive city ordinance and statutory law analytical research on my own in order to provide the company’s legal team with just cause for retaining the category, but in retaliation the company subsequently found other reasons for eliminating several positions in order to quiet employee “interference.” Fortunately, I found other work before I could be officially “let go.” Other LGBT employees at the company refused to join my protest for fear of being outed and let go themselves.

 

When I entered the human rights workforce over twenty years ago, the LGBT organization I worked for did not publicly print the names of board members or associates, and we never traded mailing lists, and employees were bound by office policy to deny acknowledgement of members’ names over the phone…because at that time people could still be denied housing, could be fired from a job, or could be denied health care based on one’s sexual orientation. It was legal to discriminate based on sexual orientation (and still is in several places around the country).

 

When I started working at that LGBT non-profit, the organization was in the midst of “rebuilding” itself after losing two-thirds of its members to the AIDS health crisis. At the height of the crisis, survivors recount going to multiple funerals and memorials every week as they watched their friends wither away and die. Today we can point a finger at President Ronald Reagan for ignoring the health crisis as “taboo,” and refusing to supplement research and emergency funds towards a solution. His procrastination and “etiquette” on the matter cost the lives of millions of citizens in the United States and globally. To this day, conservative lawmakers do all they can to attempt to block relief funds and education programs from being sent to countries where HIV and AIDS still cause dire mortality rates…because they would rather let it be known that the HIV virus—God’s plague—should rightly extinguish deviant sexual minorities.

 

Currently LGBT people have outranked the previous contender—Jewish people—as the group most likely to be the targets of hate crimes out of all other minority groups, as reported by the New York Times based on Federal Bureau of Investigation data. The recent article notes, “As the country becomes more accepting, some [detractors] become more radical [in their violent backlash].” This unbridled radicalism and violence extends to targets even for their perceived orientation, thus this form of hate crime affects the greater population, not solely the LGBT community.

 

 

The biggest story here is that my experiences are tepid compared to the violent stories and experiences that other LGBT individuals have had to endure…

 

 

I want to return to that young woman’s opinion piece from my local newspaper, in which she stated:

 

“I don’t want to be angry with you, America. I don’t want to be embarrassed. I am the person I am today because I’ve been afforded wonderful opportunities provided for me by my country. I want to understand. We get more answers asking questions than yelling in anger.”

 

See, the thing is, I haven’t been afforded the same wonderful opportunities by my country that this young, presumably heterosexual woman has experienced. During my lifetime I wasn’t allowed to serve my country by joining the military. Until last summer, I wasn’t allowed to think about creating a spousal relationship with whomever I chose. And if I did, I wasn’t allowed to take the guarantees of a legal marriage relationship across all of America’s state lines. I can still be fired from a job in a great swath of states across our nation…

 

I don’t want to be angry with you, America…but I am.

 

I don’t want to be embarrassed by you, America…but I am.

 

I am the person I am today because I have NOT been afforded the same opportunities as my fellow countrymen.

 

I want to understand…but I’ve been asking questions all my life …

 

And in response to my imploring, my fellow countrymen answer…with Donald Trump.

 

Thanks, homeland.

 

In the days following the presidential election, there was a weather system that came through Vermont, a wind storm and cold rain that blew all the remaining vibrant autumn leaves off of the trees, leaving barren, brown arbors everywhere…the beginning of what is known as “stick season” around these parts. The roiling grey skies and dead and dismal landscape made me think of those old fairy tales where the impotent king has usurped the throne and the kingdom, and the reflecting kingdom becomes a shadow of itself—decimated, dark, and bleak.

 

We, the persecuted, will retreat to under the dark canopies, our forgotten forests—into the woods—waiting for a just and rightful leader—our metaphorical king—to return to the over-wintered, beleaguered land and bring light and beauty back to the kingdom. We’ll wait the way we’ve always waited…with noble rebellion in our hearts, keeping hope protected like a hidden jar of magic beans… But we’ll show no fealty to the false monarch sitting on the throne…none whatsoever.

 

 

* Time, unfortunately, is on the side of revealing more and more instances of violence against minorities and those at risk of hatred, including immigrants, people of color, lesbian, gay, and transgender individuals. See https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jun/27/sadiq-khan-muslim-council-britain-warning-of-post-brexit-racism (last access 24th November 2016).

 

 

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