Sunday, February 15, 2009

America Loves Illusion: Let Us Buy Your Lie

“If you’re going to lie, lie big. If you are consistent about it and never admit, you win. It’s part of the culture up here (Washington). You learn to expect it.”

“So … it’s ‘lie famously and be rewarded famously’?” I responded.

“You’re not in Houston anymore…” Toto.

Other than the “Toto” part, that was the back-and-forth of a darkly sardonic conversation I had with a friend of mine who works up on the Hill – and no, it was not Diego Sanchez or anyone else GLBT. The subject was the discussion of what happened in the last session regarding ENDA, the damage control messaging the involved parties were plying in the fallout, and then comparing it to the general culture in conservative circles of brazen actions followed by browbeating critics back with nary a challenge.

“I came into this world as a reject.
Look into these eyes
Then you'll see the size of these flames….
Everyone that burns has to learn from the pain.” — Nookie, Limp Bizkit

This all came to play out yet again during the presentation given by Mara Keisling at the IFGE conference. Lisa Gilinger and I sat together, pointing out the equivocations in her speech – sometimes even coming in the same sentence! It was notable to pick out how legalistically deft she was at playing both sides of the issues in order to cover either side, regardless of what was to fall out down the road.

Prior to the ditching of trans people in ENDA in 2007, she was good at playing a wide swath within the pro-HRC camp, and had ridiculed and “damage controlled” NTAC, even preemptively, for any criticism of the ‘great and powerful’ HRC. Of course, that was before our being ditched.

Fast forward to October, 2007 and suddenly Mara realized her raison d’etre – being the trans person who would work collaboratively and collegially with HRC – was going to cut her off from the constituency she purported to represent. Reinvention time!: she suddenly became the HRC-slammer too, even more overtly than NTAC had ever been in press. When her board chair embarrassed her by claiming they would never “work with HRC in the foreseeable future” and referring to it as a movement for “rich, gay white males,” Mara began backing off of her own rhetoric and distancing herself from some of her board’s emotions.

“Autobots, transform! Transform, phase two!” — from the cartoon The Transformers

As usual everyone applauded Mara’s program, no one really noting anything out of order. By late 2008, I was already hearing all the rumors of Mara attempting to get back in good graces with the very same folks she herself called “immoral” and “liar.” It wasn’t any surprise to me, I’d predicted this back in my blog in Nov. 25, 2007 “Whither Now NCTE?” Sure enough, Damon Hoenlein, a Field Op with HRC noted he was “working with Mara on their lobby day, helping make phone calls” ….

I guess “work with” is different than “working with” if you really want to get technical. When you have to parse statements out to an infinite degree and legalistically challenge when it’s uncomfortably pinpointed, you begin to realize communication these days just isn’t what it used to be. It’s more about creating the marketing equivalent of a poison bonbon: it tastes great going down, very enjoyable until you realize too late that it wasn’t the treat you thought it was after all.

“Lie famously ….”

Of course Mara’s not the only offender at this. Washington is crawling with similarly glib types who are quite amusing folks … but don’t turn your back! While Barney Frank has been more candid on trans support than most over the years (especially when he was saying he didn’t support us), in more recent times his feigned support, then failed inclusivity was always pushed off on the likes of ex-Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) and more recently Rep. George Miller (D-CA).

No doubt everyone believed that explanation and walked away satisfied they knew where the monkey wrench in the works was … except for those who actually visited those offices and heard the contrary! Nevertheless, I’m sure Ol’ Barn’ will continue on and never admit a thing. Why should he? Everyone who doesn’t check believes it because he sells it well! It doesn’t have to be right or true – it just has to sound relatively plausible and attractive enough to buy!

HRC, and specifically JoeSo, have had their own time on the hot seat thanks to board votes “supporting only inclusive” legislation, and of course JoeSo’s now-infamous promise made at Atlanta’s Southern Comfort Conference in 2007 ( now beaten into everyone GLBT’s collective conscience, and of course his conversation there a year later where he noted to the local Atlanta leaders that he misspoke the previous year. He smoothed a number of ruffled feathers with that.

So just last weekend at their Gala in New York, Solmonese felt emboldened enough by his silver tongue during an interview with Gay City News for the following (

In talking about ENDA, Solmonese delicately made the case that success on a version of the bill that includes protections for transgendered Americans was possible because HRC was willing to compromise in accepting a non-inclusive version when it passed the House in late 2007. After voicing his confidence that a stronger version of the measure would be enacted, he said, “Why? Because we had the guts and the will to start this fight and we more than any other organization have devoted the resources and the ground troops to finish it, and we will do that this year.”
We’re believing it. Believe me! Yeah. Right. (I know, not a very good sales job … eh.)

Maybe using the term “lie” is a bit rough. In other parlance, a better term would be chutzpah. That fits well! Brazenness. Prevarication. Deftly ambiguous. There’s any number of euphemisms that more politely describe speaking with the intent to give one impression while delivering the opposite. As long as you have the sales skills to get the target audience to buy, you’re golden.

“Why did I wait so long,
To figure it out? But I did it.
And I'm the only one underneath the sun who didn't get it.
I can’t believe that I can be deceived….” — Nookie, Limp Bizkit

When I was seven, I was caught in a lie. I got my ass beat royally over that one, and my dad left no misunderstanding that this was not tolerable behavior. Immediately I amended my patterns – pain and fear will make you do that post-haste! So things like that didn’t enter my mind, and I just started blurting things out. Of course, in time, I found out I had to be a bit more discreet and not just say what came to mind as it would be considered rude or hurtful (honesty aside) and would also result in punishment.

Once I hit junior high, things on my dad’s side changed. Maybe the drinking, maybe not. Most likely ego. But for whatever reason, even if I was in the right, he would demand that I acquiesce and agree I was wrong. I refused! And I got punished! After a number of these incidents, I actually became resentful about it and pointed up the fact that he was the one who brought it on by beating honesty into me in the first place. That drew even more punishment. My mom would try to intervene with me, pleading with me to just say he was right to keep the peace. I’d refuse on principle, but I learned that silence would end the beatings. Standoff.

It built my tenacity out of the double standard, gave me a healthy dislike of duplicity and a strong dose of wanting what was fair, just and equitable. And expectations of likely retribution as it comes with a price.

“…be rewarded famously.”

In America we love the illusion: magic shows, Hollywood, Disney World, get-rich-quick schemes. We’ll pay to hear those things that we want to hear, not the real world stuff that can be rather mundane or downright depressing. We dream big, and reward those who can sell us the dream. It’s what many people did these past eight years with the sub-prime mortgages – believed in the fantastical reality of buying a $500,000 home while earning only $40,000 a year, and thinking they could actually pay it off with an affordable payment. It worked for a while, until the payments went up and the bills came due.

Herb Sandler ran World Savings in California for many years, a well respected bank. In an exposé on CBS 60 Minutes, he responded to an inquiry that, “it is categorically false to suggest that we trained or permitted employees to falsify a borrowers’ income,” even though 38% of their loans were considered sub-prime in 2005. Possibly Sandler’s statement was technically true. But it sidesteps one fact their former chief loan officer Paul Bishop noted: they’d used outside brokers to bring in 60% of their new business. Outside brokers aren’t theirs to train or permit – clean hands!

Mr. & Mrs. Sandler sold their savings bank to Wachovia a couple months before the bank collapse, and reaped a nifty $2.6 billion for their work. Paul Bishop was fired when he threatened to tell Wachovia the truth. And of course, Wachovia went belly up later, purchased by Wells-Fargo with the Bush Bailout (yeah, all of us!). Bob Simpson from I-mark, a firm who investigates failed institutions said many tried to get the truth out on what was happening with banks like World Savings for years and were ignored, he said, because, “There’s no money in common sense.”

It happens throughout corporate America: take the rest of the Wall Street banks. Think any of those executives leading them were punished? How about all the Halliburton no-bid contracts that still went way over budget and were found to have overcharged the government for goods and services in Iraq that was never done or delivered. Think they were punished? Bernie Madoff, the most highly-regarded investment fund wizard on Wall Street ran, essentially, a Ponzi scheme for decades and never had oversight from the SEC. And he even managed to scam on some of the best – a master at his craft! He did get punished … with house arrest at his luxurious Park Avenue penthouse in upper Manhattan.

Hell, we just finished with the three kings of them all – our own President George W. Bush and his cohorts in crime, VP Dick Cheney, and Karl ‘Turdblossom’ Rove! On any number of things we could’ve called them on their wanton and willful manipulation of facts and obfuscation of truth. In a realistic world, we would’ve frogmarched them out the doors in a perp walk of shame before they flew away, scot free. So how did it all come to pass?

Man, them folks can sell that illusion!

Lie famously and be rewarded famously … I’ll keep a hold of that thought.

In retrospect, I should’ve learned many years before that I was on a loser’s path for a place like Washington. At seven I learned the right lesson which was wrong, and at 14 I didn’t learn the wrong lesson which would’ve been right. Who knows? President Barack Obama seems different, seems very much an open book and appears to value others who are forthright as well. Maybe he can be the change we need away from this current era. … Or maybe the culture there will change him instead. … Or maybe Obama was never the way I was thinking he was, and he’s the greatest salesman of them all! Time will tell....

And the folks who tell the truth up there, they all lay low and demand to remain confidential. Small wonder! I’ve seen the truncated careers of those in DC who were candid.

The truth hurts. Indeed.

You can use your illusion, let it take you where it may.
We live and learn and then sometimes it's best to walk away.
Me? I'm just here hangin' on. It's my only place to stay –
At least for now anyway.
I've worked too hard for my illusions just to throw them all away.” — Locomotive, Guns ‘N’ Roses

During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.
— author, George Orwell


Anonymous said...


I know you disagreed with my take on Obama on my post at QueerToday, and I suspect you wouldn't like my acutal blog either.

But I happen to LOVE yours. I really admire the way you call HRC et al on their transphobic nonsense. You have an amazing bullshit detector when it comes to the homotocracy, those self-appointed LGB (and T when they are shamed into adding it) leaders. You have a voice that NEEDS to be heard.

I was wondering if I could have your permission to add your blog to my blogroll. I don't have a massive following by any means although I have been slammed pretty hard on Bilerico since they posted my rant about Join the Impact yesterday. I am apparently an elitist for criticizing JTI and HRC et al for, among many other things,their treatment of transgendered people.

The reason I ask is because my blog is ardently anti-Obama and very anarchist-leaning in its politics. I don't want to your opponents to have anything to use against you, nor do I want to cause offense by in essence giving you and "endorsement" you would rather not have.

At any rate, keep up the good work at holding the HRC's feet to the fire. You are absolutely right...the mainstream LBG movement will likely never accept transgendered people into the fold in our lifetimes, and you are doing people a favor by trying to shatter their illusions that the "mainstream" organizations have their interests at heart. I think the gay community is probably more transphobic than the straight world in many ways (which is why I prefer to identify as queer).

If and when transgendered people finally get what you are trying to say and abandon all hope for the HRC et al, THEN the work for real change can begin in earnest.



Vanessa E. Foster said...

Hi Elian,

Yes I've read yours as well and admire your similar propensity for calling bullshit as it is! Painting turds any color in the rainbow doesn't change the fact it's still a turd. I know we disagree on Obama (I was resolute I wasn't allowing "inevitable" incrementalist Hillary to election, much less the addlepated McCain!) Again, I'm giving the benefit of the doubt before I start calling him down -- Rick Warren was cynical but strategic, just as the "meetings" with GOP leaders these past weeks. Now that Obama's extended the olive branch, taken the first efforts to "reach across the aisle," he no longer has to waste much time going over there -- GOP cries be damned, esp. if it produces virtually zero! One thing I'm encouraged by is his executive order stated non discrimination will not be tolerated for sexual orientation or (for the first time!) gender identity! He's living up to the promise there.

Regardless, while we don't agree on an issue is immaterial. I don't try to shut out anyone else's divergent opinion any more than I'd want mine blocked. The world isn't supposed to work that way. We do share a lot of common ground (another good reason not to shut out anyone based on an opinion!) Feel free to place me on your blogroll. I can adequately explain my position to both those who disagree with mine, or who disagree with me being endorsed by yours which disagrees with mine.

And actually, you were right on the last point -- which was something I found out accidentally: I have found more support from the straight community, ironically. They don't have the historical baggage (which nowadays, unfortunately, is becoming more a mutual thing as years go by.)

Power to the People!