Sunday, October 30, 2011
Masks have always intrigued me. Fascinated, terrified, and intrigued me.
As a child, clowns scared me. They still do. There is something evil and scary about clown make-up to me; it is a very obvious statement that what you “see” before you is not what is “really” underneath. Something is being prettified, or changed, or hidden; something awful is being presented as if it’s funny and joyful. I don’t like them.
I was drawn into the 1998 film, “The Man in the Iron Mask,” which itself was based on the Alexandre Dumas novel of an actual man imprisoned in the Bastille. In the movie, it is proposed that the prisoner was the twin brother of King Louis XIV - but he was kept hidden from view behind locked prison doors, his face encased in a locked iron mask so no one would recognize him as an heir to the throne. Had his true self been revealed, it would upset the established social and political order, and so the King insisted that no one be permitted to see him.
As a gay man living a closeted existence for several decades, I could identify with that.
Just as I can identify with the Phantom.
Of course, in the Phantom’s case, no one forces him to wear his mask. Rather, it is his fear of rejection, and the public's revulsion at his "differentness," his disfigured face, that causes him to hide. He voluntarily wears the mask to obscure his true identity, and lives in the shadows of the Opera House’s basement. There he can continue his life's musical work without fear of rejection. I can identify with the Phantom even more than with the Man in the Iron Mask.
I recall a heated discussion I had six years ago about the Phantom. I was admittedly sympathetic to him, understanding his perspective. The woman with whom I was speaking was outraged. “He is a monster! He’s a liar! He manipulates and uses people! How can you defend him?!” I suspected that she was seeing this from her very personal perspective, just as I was seeing from mine.
Which brings me to the main point of this blog post: the scrambling by Republican presidential candidates to shove masks back on our faces.
Here in New Hampshire, we go through the every-four-year sideshow of Presidential-wannabes traipsing through the state seeking a First-in-The-Nation Primary win. And as Primary day gets closer, each candidate tries to outflank the next in securing votes. This week, they tried to outdo each other on the issue of Marriage [In]Equality.
In August, Rick Perry had signed a pledge to support a Constitutional Amendment banning Marriage Equality nation-wide. This past Friday, at a dinner hosted by the extreme right-wing “Cornerstone Action,” Perry shored up his credentials, adding,
"As conservatives…We believe in the sanctity of traditional marriage, and I applaud those legislators in New Hampshire who are working to defend marriage as an institution between one man and one woman, realizing that children need to be raised in a loving home by a mother and a father."
Perry was referring to the current effort by the NH House to repeal the 2009 NH Marriage Equality bill.
Mitt Romney, despite pledging his personal support as an advocate of GLBT rights to the Log Cabin Republicans in 1994, turned around and signed the pledge calling for a federal amendment defining marriage as one-man and one-woman. Rick Santorum has stated that there is “no right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution” (50 years of Court decisions say otherwise), and called gay rights to the equivalent of another 9-11 terrorist attack in the Morning Call. This actually sounds like a remix of Michelle Bachmann’s letter in which she declared that legislators who oppose a federal Marriage Amendment to be like “soldiers who missed the Pearl Harbor warning signs.”
Speaking (or should I say ”pandering?”) to the Christian Broadcasting Network, Last week possible front-runner Herman Cain said,
“I think marriage should be protected at the federal level also…I used to believe that it could be just handled by the states but there’s a movement going on to basically take the teeth out of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and that could cause an unraveling, so we do need some protection at the federal level because of that and so yes I would support legislation that would say that it’s between a man and a woman.”
Make no mistake: Theocratic political action groups such as the National Organization for Marriage and Cornerstone Action are scrambling to find ways to lock iron masks on gay men and women, lest the world see us for who we are: neighbors, teachers, firefighters, sons, daughters, architects, sports figures, secretaries, construction workers, accountants, warehousemen, drivers, and nurses.
If we can’t be seen, or acknoweldged, or recognized, they hope, we will be forgotten, as if locked in the Bastille.
As they attempt to re-introduce a climate of fear and loathing, they work on our psyche much as the crowds worked on the Phantom’s psyche: by convincing him that he was ugly, that he was different, that he would be attacked by ‘normal’ people...and just as he chose to live his life behind a mask so no one could see, so, still, do many gay and lesbian citizens.
After all, NH Rep. Ralph Boehm, the vice chairman of the House Education Committee, tried to gut the states new anti-bullying law, saying that
"Students need to be prepared for life...bullying is part of it.”
You see? We should hide...because otherwise we will be attacked. It's just "part of life."
But living behind a mask has repercussions worse than these theocrats understand.
In a 2008 poll of 260 openly gay men in New England, fully one half stated they used to me married to a woman…which, of course, ended in divorce.
They did not ‘change’ their orientation half-way through their lives. Rather, they tried to live behind a mask, where no one could see their ‘real face,’ or their ‘differences,’ and hope it would work.
And for those who claim to be on the side of “marriage,” they do themselves – and society – no favor by forcing men to live in ways they can’t.
Harvey Milk pleaded with us to drop the masks:
“…Gay brothers and sisters,... You must come out. Come out... to your parents... I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives... come out to your friends... if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors... to your fellow workers... to the people who work where you eat and shop... come out only to the people you know, and who know you… But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters who are becoming scared by the votes from Dade to Eugene…”
No More Closets…No More Bastille Prison Doors…No More Iron Masks…No More Phantoms.
And no more two-faced, pandering, ignorant hateful Republicans as President, thank you.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
In previous posts, I have complained about young people’s lack of grasp of history, and thus, their inability to place current events and political proposals into some sort of context. As serious and problematic as that is, it’s even worse when a current Member of Congress and Presidential aspirant repeatedly displays a thorough ignorance of American history.
Many news outlets have picked up on Tea Party darling Michele Bachmann’s recent trip to New Hampshire. Speaking to the Republican Liberty Caucus in Manchester, NH, Bachmann addressed her crowd by stating,
“You’re the state where the shot was heard around the world at Lexington and Concord. And you put a marker in the ground and paid with the blood of your ancestors.”
I know that when I was in school, I learned that Lexington and Concord were in Massachusetts. That Paul Revere rode out from Boston, Massachusetts. That the early Revolutionary War skirmishes – the Tea Party, the Boston Massacre – were in Massachusetts. How does a Congressman and Presidential wannabe get this wrong?
One could be charitable and assume she misspoke – but this was the second time in two days she made that claim. Speaking a day earlier in Portsmouth, she said the same thing.
When called out on her lack of grasp of basic American history, she responded on her Facebook Page by saying,
"So I misplaced the battles Concord and Lexington by saying they were in New Hampshire. It was my mistake, Massachusetts is where they happened. New Hampshire is where they are still proud of it!"
Her cavalier dismissal of her own ignorance is disturbing…as is her unnecessary and snide insinuation that somehow Massachusetts is not proud of its heritage.
If this was a one-time occurrence, or occurred late in the campaign season when candidates are exhausted, it would be easy to write it off as a simple error. But Bachmann exhibits a scary tendency to rewrite history over and over in order to whip up passion among her base.
In a speech given to “Iowans for Tax Relief” in January of this year, Bachmann included these incredible statements:
“For 21 generations in America we have listened to Lincoln’s words…”
“We republished the Mayflower Compact in the Declaration of Independence…"
"[In our first years as a nation]…it didn’t matter the color of their skin, it didn’t matter your economic background– once you got here, we were all the same”
Is this woman serious?! Is she completely ignorant of American history, or does she simply not care what she says in order to attract the votes of the under-educated?
Since Lincoln was President in the 1860s, 150 years have passed. Squeezing 21 generations into 150 years would result in a new generation every SEVEN years. I realize that the age at which girls are becoming fertile is dropping, but even this is a little hard to grasp.
There is not a single phrase from the Mayflower Compact included in the Declaration of Independence.
And when African slaves came here, they were considered 3/5 of a person. Catholics were forbidden from holding office in New Hampshire, and non-property owners were forbidden from voting in many states. The Irish were greeted with NINA signs, and American citizens of Japanese ancestry were put into concentration camps. Native Americans in the east were marched to Oklahoma.
We were not “all the same” once we got here.
Bachmann acknowledged that slavery took place, but she countered that,
“… we also know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States”
Huh? You mean the founders who (a) owned slaves, (b) specifically voted DOWN an anti-slavery clause drafted by Jefferson in the original Declaration, and (c) who were all DEAD when the Civil War was fought?
I’ve collected a series of Bachmann quotes that establishes a pattern of ignoring or rewriting facts to fit her political goals. Below are some of the most astonishing for their shear stupidity:
“Unelected bureaucracies will decide what we can and cant get in future health insurance policy. Thats why theyre called death panels.” (They were not called death panels – that’s what Sarah Palin called them)
”And what a bizarre time we’re in, when a judge will say to little children that you can’t say the pledge of allegiance, but you must learn that homosexuality is normal and you should try it.” (No Judge has ever said a child could not say the Pledge of Allegiance, and no Judge has required that children should learn about and ‘try’ homosexuality)
”I’m very concerned about the international moves they’re making, particularly … moving the United States off the dollar and onto a global currency, like Russia and China are calling for.” (Neither Russia nor China are calling for an international currency. In fact, our current trade situation with China is difficult precisely because China tightly controls the value of its currency)
”I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out under another, then under another Democrat president, Jimmy Carter. I’m not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it’s an interesting coincidence.” Ummm….if you’re not blaming this on Democrats or Obama, why did you say that?
“The President of the United States will be taking a trip over to India that is expected to cost the taxpayers $200 million a day.” (Bachmann does not understand that the original report was expressed in Indian currency – rupees – where the exchange rate is 45:1)
And my favorite:
“I just take the Bible for what it is, I guess, and recognize that I am not a scientist, not trained to be a scientist. I’m not a deep thinker on all of this. I wish I was. I wish I was more knowledgeable, but I’m not a scientist.”
Taken together with her previous quotes, Bachmann reveals her hand: Theology, not science or facts or history, drives her program. She parrots a re-written version of American History that has been developed by a narrow fundamentalist agenda seeking to portray America as a Divine Gift to the world, and the GOP tea partiers as the righteous remnant battling the socialists, the ungodly, the blasphemous, the homosexual, and all who think ‘differently.’
If this is the new and representative face of GOP, scary times are indeed ahead.