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    Ann Rostow: It’s All Greek to Them

    By Ann Rostow–

    It’s All Greek to Them

    Book banning is one of our themes this week, specifically books about race and gender identity presented in public schools. It’s hardly a new phenomenon, but it seems as if it’s getting worse as a Texas lawmaker demanded that school districts check their shelves for hundreds of titles and a white Virginia mother complained that her son was disturbed by having to read Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel Beloved.  

    Few of us, I’m guessing, have read the GLBT and gender books that are now creating controversy around the country. Melissa’s Story, a book about a transgender fourth grade girl, has apparently been the number one most censored book for the last three years, according to the American Library Association. The award-winning book tells the story of a “boy” named George, aka a transgender girl named Melissa, who wants to be selected as the female lead in the school play. I don’t have to read it to know that there is no sex in this book. For God’s sake, it’s a kid’s book, and its only problem is that it features a transgender middle schooler. 

    Another big hoo haw surrounds Gender Queer, a graphic memoir written for high school students by Maia Kobabe. In a Washington Post op-ed, Kobabe expressed confusion at why the book was only now generating headlines, some two-and-a-half years after publication. “One of the charges thrown against the book was that it promoted pedophilia—based on a single panel depicting an erotic ancient Greek vase,” Kobabe noted. “Others simply called it pornography, a common accusation against work with themes of queer sexuality.”

    In the op-ed, Kobabe recounts how difficult it was to come to terms with being nonbinary, only becoming comfortable in their mid-twenties. The memoir was written with struggling teenagers in mind, like the reader who wrote in to say: “My mom and I read your book. I loved it! I related to almost everything you said. I felt so understood and not alone. I think my mom understands me better and I’m more confident in confiding in her since she read your book. Thank you so much for creating your memoir!” 

    I know it’s a little Hallmark, but still. So far in Texas, several large school districts have blown off the request for a book inventory, others are considering the demand, and some are complying. A different Texas lawmaker has accused Kobabe’s book of possibly being “criminal for its representation of minors participating in sexual activities.” Consensual sex between teenagers possibly violates some law somewhere, but last I checked, tasteful writing about it does not. Otherwise, we could have arrested Agatha Christie for murder.

    Outrage

    Speaking of skool daze, I guess a class from Wilton Manors Elementary went on a field trip to the gay-owned Rosie’s bar and grill. You may remember Wilton Manors as the Florida community where, as of 2018, the mayor and the entire city commission are gay. Let’s just say, it’s a very GLBT-friendly city, just north of Miami, so the fact that a local restaurant is gay-owned is par for the course.

    At any rate, kids from the school have been visiting Rosie’s on field trips for ten years or so. There, they learn about how a restaurant operates, and order from a special kids’ menu that does not include the provocatively named regular options like: “Rhoda Cowboy,” or the “Young Ranch Hand.” The class is also escorted by local police, who help the children learn about traffic enforcement and whatever. It’s an educational day.

    This time around, when teacher and school board member Sarah Leonardi posted about chaperoning the group on Twitter, she drew several hundred responses including death threats and a barrage of anger. According to the Miami Herald, Leonardi’s friends and family have also been threatened, and the restaurant is getting hate calls from outside the area.

    “Broward School Board member takes little kids to a gay bar on a field trip, forcing them to wear masks ‘to keep them safe,’” wrote Christina Pushaw, the press secretary for Governor Ron DeSantis, mischaracterizing the restaurant. A spokesman for the Florida Department of Education said an investigator has been dispatched to the area to see if there is a “legally sufficient complaint.” What does that mean exactly? Legally sufficient for what? Criminal action? Sanctions? Against whom? 

    I’ve been covering GLBT news for some 25 years, and I’ve watched hostility against our community weaken and fade for most of that time. This year, 2021, I can see it gaining strength; part and parcel, not of the Trump era, but of the post-Trump era—an era of open resentment and backlash and frustration against everything that is not male, straight, and white. I feel suspended in time. Not in a good way.

    We Have a Smith Problem

    This is why, as I’ve said before, these days I am loathe to criticize anyone on the left, including the so-called “woke” campus activists who err on the side of fastidious political correctness. But still, there is much to criticize. 

    Over those 25 years, we as a community have rarely stopped our activism long enough to celebrate our progress and congratulate our fellow citizens on coming around. Instead, we’ve assigned ourselves a permanent victim status, and look for ways to present everything in that light. The problem then is that our audience becomes steeled to a pattern of complaint and indifferent to real harm when it appears. The first two stories in this column? That’s real harm. Book banning, accusations of pedophilia and crimes for no reason, death threats for routine actions, possible investigations over nothing. These are precursors of tyranny.

    Yet while that’s all going on, I read that an activist at Smith College is complaining about how there are no tampon machines in the men’s room, where it’s technically possible that one day a transman with his period might get stuck without protection. Oh my God, you guys! They’re passing laws against transgender students playing sports and banning books about gender and you’re worried about the one in a million guy who is a) trans, b) hanging out at a predominately women’s college, c) having his period, d) walking around with his period but without any pads or tampons, and e) willing to spend a quarter for a “regular” sized tampon that few people actually use but which for some reason are the only ones stocked in the tampon machines—which are always empty to begin with. 

    To put this in perspective, I have had periods every month for decades and have never had occasion to use a tampon machine. As an interesting aside, I’m happy to see that (the empty) tampon machines are increasingly free of charge, and tampons themselves no longer taxed as luxuries. Because really, did all those guys in charge of this industry up until recently think that our preference for something other than, let’s say washable rags, was self-indulgence? 

    “Dear Diary, Today I splurged on a box of chocolates and some Tampax, ‘just because!’ $15.95 but worth every penny! Hope Larry doesn’t find out!”

    Scare Tactics

    I have been ignoring a number of scary opinions about the threat to marriage equality implicit in the rise of right-wing jurists and the boldness of conservative lawmakers. Because, as implied earlier, I’m tired of the notion that everything we’ve achieved can be tossed aside in an instant if we are not vigilant. Or that despite any progress, we are still a despised minority of social misfits living in an overwhelmingly hostile society.

    One of those opinions points to a letter written by a Texas lawmaker to the state Attorney General making the case that private citizens don’t have to recognize same-sex marriage in the state. 

    In a tweet, the Lincoln Project throws gas on the fire, warning: “Legislative leaders in TX issued an opinion stating legalized gay marriage shouldn’t be permitted in the Lone Star State because they feel state law trumps the SCOTUS ruling in Obergefell v Hodges.”

    As far as its legal foundation, the letter itself is risible. But it doesn’t say marriage should not be permitted. Private citizens are regular people, who have nothing to do with “permitting” marriage rights in the state of Texas or anywhere else. No individual can be forced by law to recognize my marriage any more than civil rights laws can force racist people to change their views. The letter points out that state law still outlaws marriage, but as others noted, Texas state law still outlaws gay sex. So what? Many states retain outdated laws on the books, even though they are unenforceable.

    This is a roundabout way of saying, however, that I’m starting to be less complacent about our legal future. I have the sense that there is substance behind some of these warnings, yet there is a certain amount of work required to get to the bottom of that. Since I have a tendency to avoid work, I have yet to pursue this in depth. Maybe next week.

    Fast Money

    I actually have no problem working. That’s just part of the amusing persona I like to project as the first-person narrator of this column. In fact, I spend quite a long time researching, although much of this effort never sees the light of day. Why not? Because it is totally irrelevant to our rubric. 

    For example, I see that I spent half an hour this morning immersed in the story of the “Squid Game” cyber currency scam, in which some 40,000 “investors” were left high and dry after buying non-fungible products that turned out to be worthless. As The New York Times explained:

    “The cryptocurrency, called Squid, began trading early last week at a price of just one penny per token. In the following days, it drew attention from a number of mainstream media outlets. By early Monday, it was trading at $38 a token on a cryptocurrency exchange called Pancakeswap … . In a 10-minute span later on Monday, the token’s value grew from $628.33 to $2,856.65, according to CoinMarketCap, a crypto data tracking website. Then, five minutes later, it traded at $0.0007.”

    I put investors in quotes because someone who would spend real money on a fake cryptocurrency is not an investor, per se. I guess there’s no harm in buying tokens at one penny. But even then, the fact that these can’t be sold without using a complicated two-for-one scheme on something called “Pancakeswap,” is what we veteran investors call “a red flag.”

    I was just reading an article about how women are better investors than men, mainly because they don’t trade as often. And it seems from a glance at the reddit trading discussions that the pandemic has lured a lot of boyz into the stock market and cryptocurrencies in search of a quick buck. Good luck, fellas. I’ve got a couple of tulip bulbs I can sell you. 

    Gay Sports 

    So, I was watching Monday Night Football the other evening, and out of the blue a linebacker named Willie Gay hopped in front of a pass and gave the Chiefs a pick six to start the game. Thanks to my relentless pursuit of news about all things “gay,” I was aware that Gay had recently suffered some emotional problems and was thankful for the support of his team and fellow Chiefs. 

    That reminded me that it’s been a while since I’ve caught up with basketball star Rudy Gay, who I now see had surgery off season and is recovering from an injury to his right heel. Get better soon, Rudy. As for golfer Brian Gay, he finished 12th at the Bermuda Championship. Not bad at all, man.

    And finally, the Mexican national soccer team will play its next two World Cup qualifying games without fans after the crowd yelled antigay slurs, in violation of FIFA rules. The Mexico Football Federation was also fined about $110,000 for “discriminatory behavior by supporters.” I love this. I imagine it must be frustrating for the Mexican officials, who are not in control of the fans. But I also know it’s possible to stop this kind of mob abuse, and this is how it’s done. 

    arostow@aol.com

    Published on November 4, 2021