Sunday, October 26, 2008
The Parallel Worlds Of Modern America
As I was up in Boston for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Gala protest last week (thus my silence on the blog lately). After the event, I went home with Ethan St. Pierre and his wife Karen and chatted on a number of things, straying from the topic of GLBT politics.
My friends Ethan and Karen expressed how fondly they recalled the economy of the 1980's. They both noted their union jobs, Karen making $55K per year, Ethan making $65K per year -- and even living at home with his mom (well before either of their transitions, meaning Ethan was doing this as a born female). Ethan noted his fully covered health insurance and his $5.97 a month union dues!
The stark disparity for Ethan and Karen from twenty plus years ago to today is enormous.
However, to say I was personally astonished with their story would be understatement of the year! In Texas and throughout the south, only those fortunate enough to be roughnecks on the oil rigs made that level of money, unless they were in an executive or professional position. And even with that, once the Oil Bust occurred in late 1985, even oil jobs evaporated, with degreed geologists even being a dime-a-dozen. As a computer operator at that same time, I was making $5.91 an hour with limited health benefits, never cracking the $20K threshold until 1990 and even today never coming close to even Karen's income levels, much less Ethan's!
The 80's were economically brutal, and not just for the gulf coast (or the chemical coast as it was tagged). Texas saw waves of "black tag" migrants, named for the most predominant state -- Michigan -- whose license plates black with white lettering. It was inaccurately affixed to Michigan alone, though. We saw waves of folks from Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and throughout the region, living out of cars or in tent cities under freeway underpasses just outside of the metro areas in Texas, or if fortunate enough, living in flophouse-styled boarding houses like the Animal House where I happened to stay during a period in 1982 as Reaganomics was bludgeoning Texas as well.
Every state in the Midwest, in rural America and throughout the south enjoyed double digit unemployment. In Texas, foreclosures created near ghost towns in some of the newer subdivisions and apartment-laden areas during the initial bust and subsequent Savings & Loan meltdown. I always wondered how Pres. Ronald Reagan had the gall to speak to the nation about the "greatest economy" and "lowest unemployment" the nation had ever seen! We all presumed there were pockets of America somewhere things were going well, obviously so. Yet we had no idea where they were. It was more remote or legendary rather than real.
Clearly we were parallel worlds, unaware (or barely aware) of the others' existence. It intrigued me that we could have these parallels with so little knowledge of what was on the other side. And certainly the parallels are applicable throughout other aspects of society.
It was fitting symbolism for what we had just finished protesting: an HRC Banquet populated by economically-superior beings, with little more than a passing awareness of us outside -- the transgendered, the radical faeries, the ethnic minority and disenfranchised portions of gays and lesbians, the youth. Certainly on the trans level, with not only the economic challenges but also the attendant medical necessities, they are virtually clueless. What few trans people they will choose for us as our leaders have none of the sense of urgency, desperation, or perpetual fear from either a physical or financial sense. We're aware of each other, but exist in separate, parallel universes where the experiential twains never meet.
Even the HRC logo fits this parallel culture: an equal sign, with one line above, one below, the twain never meeting. I wonder if there was any thought of how classic of an icon they would create for themselves, communicating both an equal sign and a classist separation in the same symbol? It's strategically brilliant marketing.
The HRC Equal icon is the perfect symbol of an entitlement, and indeed they seek out those segments of society almost exclusively. Typically the only non-elite they bring in are those whose personal stories are good enough to be fundraised upon. It's this structure that completely freezes out the majority of their own community, as well as all of the ancillary subcultures they market themselves as supporting.
While we're each only externally able to appraise each other, I'm sure we of the excluded class only partially are aware of the lifestyle and opportunities of those who've attained personal equality. Conversely there's been no desire or need to know, much less get a concrete sense of the experience of those of us in society's perpetual underclass.
While we can communicate, there is a net negative for those who've "made it" to experience or address disparity as it involves either reducing their stand, or lifting the unfortunate. The elite won't give up what they've already got. Elite is by definition, the few, the special, something more exclusive based upon their ability to succeed. But keep in mind that success is more than simply ability. It is more relevantly opportunity as well; and the two should not be conflated. Some have abundant opportunity with lesser ability and can still be successful – to wit: George W. Bush. Others have abundant ability, but none of the opportunity.
It's the absence of opportunity that will keep a wall between the haves and have-nots, the HRC's of the world and the protesting "tranny trash" for quite likely generations to come. Thus you will see the protests and battles for many years to come. We're happy for the gay community, that they've attained success and happiness for theirs. Absent that same opportunity or hope, transgenders will never be content for ourselves.
We live in different, parallel worlds. And so it goes ....
"Hope will never be silent." — Harvey Milk