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    Ann Rostow: Caution Children at Work

    By Ann Rostow–

    Caution: Children at Work

    The “deep state,” as I understand it, refers to career civil servants, deeply embedded in the D.C. bureaucracy, who bolster American values and prop up the institutions of government behind the scenes. Operating in patriotic anonymity through leaks and tweaks, these agents are protecting us from the worst offenses of the Trump administration. We thank them!

    But what of the “shallow state?” These are the mid-level Trump appointees, maybe in Justice, maybe in HHS, who scuttle around below the radar revising policies and deleting protocols. They don’t make news unless you happen upon some lengthy feature in the Atlantic or the New Yorker that explains (let’s say) how some recent college graduate just managed to sell the breeding grounds of the endangered dingle mouse to an asphalt storage company. Oh, and in case you’d like to do something about it, it’s too late. There’s a photo of the industrial backhoes at work accompanying the article, along with a really sweet archival shot of dingle mice at play. 

    (Did I mention the storage company is owned by the kid’s uncle?)

    I bring this up to warn you that Obama-era language protecting transgender Americans against discrimination in health care is in the process of being rewritten by some evil minion as you read this. While Obama and company treated trans discrimination as a form of sex discrimination, the Trump gang is methodically disconnecting the two, leaving sex discrimination illegal but restoring transgender bias to an unrestricted limbo where employers or hospitals have every right to turn their backs on trans workers or patients. 

    We saw this in education last year, when Trump appointees withdrew Obama-era guidance warning public schools that discrimination against transgender students was a form of sex discrimination illegal under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Although we have yet to see a new policy, the fact that the friendly Obama stance was retracted sends a pretty clear green light to schools that might want to keep trans-kids out of the lockers or send trans-boys to the girls’ bathroom.

    And the worst part is that no one cares. Why? Because everyone is too busy caring about the insane developments that are right there in the middle of the radar screen. Beep beep beep beep.

    “Hey Jim, does that look to you like Qantas 9234 is heading on an intercept course for that Korean Air jet? Isn’t it supposed to be at 35,000 feet?”

    “Yeah, well, Kathy was in charge of that one and I think she left us last week after Sandy told Riley that she called the boss a turnip … .”

    “Wha?”

    “ … and Ivanka overheard it … .”

    “Qantas 9234, this is the White House. Please descend to 35,000 feet immediately, do you copy? Over.”

    “White House, this is Qantas 9234. Confirm you are overriding Kathy’s directive. Over.”

    Berlin Daze

    The U.S. Senate has finally confirmed Ric Grenell, a fifty-something gay conservative, to be Ambassador to Germany. I suppose that twenty or thirty years ago, I would have been so thrilled with the notion of a gay ambassador that any criticism would feel churlish. Now, however, in the post-gay age recently bemoaned by Frank Bruni (more later), I am free to point out that the guy’s a misogynist par excellence, known for catty comments he’s made about everyone from Hillary Clinton to Madeleine Albright to Callista Gingrich to Rachel Maddow. 

    If you’ll pardon the stereotype, he sounds like a certain type of gay man from my (baby boom) generation who exclusively prefers the company of other males and finds women at once ridiculous and repellent. Conservative gays were often of this ilk, and although Grenell is Gen X, it seems the insecurities that permeated my cohort have leached under his skin. He likes dogs, so that’s good. 

    Hey, find the book by Erik Larson, In the Garden of Beasts, about the experience of the Ambassador to Germany, William Dodd, and his family in 1933. It’s a stunning snapshot of Hitler’s rise to power, insidious because of the many people who did not take Hitler seriously or think he’d last. 

    I grew up assuming that were I alive in Germany during Hitler’s reign, I’d fight and join the underground and hide Jews in the attic and so forth and so forth. I am coming to recognize that I probably wouldn’t take him seriously, would dismiss him as an aberration, and meanwhile I’d read trashy novels, drink wine and go out to eat. Then, after a few years, I’d look in the mirror and what would I see? Flawed human being? Nazi sympathizer? Mindless lemming? That’s the question.

    Scared New World

    Moving along, I just spent too much time checking out Etta Ng, an 18-year-old girl who seems to be having an affair with a 30-year-old Canadian “social media influencer” named Andi Autumn. Being an aforementioned baby boomer, my initial tendency is to dismiss the category of “social media influencer” as self-indulgent piffle. However, I also understand that anyone who has a serious impact on a large audience in any medium has created a profit center for themselves. The key is whether or not the person is actually influencing social media, or simply trying and failing.

    Setting this aside, Etta Ng is the love child of Jackie Chan, although in previous posts and videos she has dismissed him and said she wants nothing to do with him. He, in turn, has never had a role in her life. Chan and Ng’s mother had a fling while Chan was married to someone else.

    Last fall, Etta made a grand coming out announcement as teenagers are wont to do, and also announced that she was in love, quitting school and moving in with Andi Autumn.  

    “People all over the world have been rooting us on as Hong Kong media continues to mock,” she wrote on Instagram. “I’ve grown up in a world of negativity and closed-mindedness but I am at that point where I realize that I can use my experience to tell my truths and help others just like me.”

    Fast forward a few months to late April, and you can watch Etta and Andi’s latest YouTube video, a bizarre claim that they are destitute, have nowhere to stay, and can’t get any help due to their homophobic parents. Reading from something they wrote down on paper, the two insist that they can’t go to shelters because they’d be separated. They’ve asked at the police station and the hospital, but no one will help. Ng’s mother says they should get a job, and their friends recommend shelters or hostels. 

    Oh, and after wanting nothing to do with her famous father, the video starts out with Etta announcing, “I am Jackie Chan’s daughter.”

    “I don’t even understand,” Ng says in a plaintiff voice. “We’ve gone to the police, we’ve gone to the hospital, the food banks, LGBTQ community shelters and all of them just don’t give a s—. Two people in love that share love are trying not to get split apart and they’re trying to f— us over just because—I don’t understand it … .”

    “At this point, we have nowhere to go because the friend of Andi’s that is helping, can no longer house us. We understand people who are busy but this is a bit much.”

    Call me cold, but there’s something wrong here. The teenager is one thing, but the 30-year-old woman cannot make us believe that she is incapable of finding a job that can support them both because of “homophobia.” Nor can they seriously expect us to swallow the notion that they needed to write down their YouTube script because of “PTSD.” 

    I mean really! Soldiers are killing themselves in record numbers because of PTSD from the battlefield. People with mental illness and disabilities are homeless through no fault of their own. Working families living on the edge survive through food banks. So, watching these confused people wringing their hands at the harshness of the world without a hint of irony makes me wonder if I missed something over the last couple years. Perhaps I have not spent enough time on social media. 

    The Party’s Over

    So, as I indicated, Frank Bruni wrote a lengthy essay in The New York Times about the demise of gay culture, the end of the bars, the parties, the codes, the fashions, the secrets, the fun. You know what I mean. Lesbians have their own lost history; stories of special knocks, an evening at the “bridge club,” the Duchess, Orient Point. Towards the turn of the century as the AIDS crisis ebbed, the culture took on what seems in retrospect almost a magical cast. As the legal and political barriers to entry into American society began to buckle and fall away, the pride parades turned glorious, the parties got wilder, the music grew louder—and suddenly, it was sort of over.

    The bookstores closed. The bars emptied out. Parade committees grew fractious. Without the surrounding sea of hostility, the notion of secret safe places lost meaning. Still, the older generation would not exchange the acceptance we now enjoy for a few more nights at the bar. And nor would Frank Bruni. 

    But younger generations sometimes cry about it. Even in my generation, a group that had to stay closeted until our 20s or 30s or forever, we only felt the back end of the pervasive hatred that was taken for granted for decades. Gen X got the tail end, and Millennials got some remnants of it or saw it in their rearview mirror. Take it from me, kids. It wasn’t worth it.

    As for the post-Millennial gang, they seem a promising generation indeed, notwithstanding Etta Ng and maybe a few others who project sexual orientation discrimination on the generic and surmountable difficulties that everyone faces in life.

    Taking the Cake 

    Don’t make the mistake of conflating the gay marriage cake case in the United Kingdom with our own Supreme Court Masterpiece Cakeshop litigation. The British case, which is being heard and judged in early May in Belfast, concerns a Christian baker who refused to make a cake that said “support gay marriage.” I’m not versed on U.K. speech laws, but I see that this baker has lost in two lower courts. In the U.S., this baker might possibly win, because the customer is possibly forcing speech on the unwilling baker. 

    I said possibly.

    The important point is that the American case does not really involve speech at all. Denver baker Jack Phillips flatly refused to do any business with two gay men, not even allowing them to select a ready-made cake. His action arguably violated the Colorado civil rights law that bans sexual orientation discrimination in public accommodations—unless you think that selling even a crumb to two gay men constitutes forced participation in their wedding.

    The Supreme Court has about 40 more opinions to release in the next two months, including this one.

    Gals and Dolls

    Finally, Mel and I avoided the news for an entire week, spending an idyllic five days in Acapulco with some wild girlz we know. On our last evening, one friend, let’s call her NM as we would have done back in the bad old days, told us about Joe Carstairs, an eccentric lesbian race car driver who spent some of her oil fortune by buying an island in the Caribbean.

    Born in 1900, Carstairs dressed as a man, drove ambulances in World War I, and had affairs with (or hung out with) Marlene Dietrich, Tallulah Bankhead and Greta Garbo. At some point, one of her many girlfriends gave her a one-foot tall Steiff-made male doll. Carstairs named him Lord Tod Wadley and had suits and outfits tailor sewn for him on Saville Row. She carried him everywhere until she died and called him her best friend. 

    At one point, she commissioned a photo book featuring Lord Wadley pursuing activities like picnicking and sailing. She had several companion dolls for Wadley, and her estate included Wadley’s Cartier calling cards, stationery, and a miniature cigarette case and lighter. When she died in 1993, Wadley was cremated with her. 

    Oh, and I read that once, some tourists landed on her island and she and her guests put on pirate gear, tied them up and left them overnight in a lighthouse, letting them go the next day. 

    Say what!? Makes you feel a bit humdrum, don’t you think?

    arostow@aol.com