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    Ann Rostow: Just Breathe, College Students

    1-Ann RostowBy Ann Rostow

    Just Breathe, College Students

    I have little patience for older adults who pine for simpler days or reflexively critique their juniors. We all come of age in a particular time and place and context. Technology evolves with each generation. Complaining about smart phones and social media is the baby boomer’s version of the cook at Downton Abbey wringing her hands over the electric mixer. Ditto for the stereotype of the senior citizen bemoaning the antics of “young people these days.”

    And there’s nothing worse than the man or woman who came out of the closet in the 70s or 80s who feels compelled to remind today’s teens and twenty-somethings of how hard it was to be gay or lesbian back in the day.

    That said, let me express my disgust for a certain breed of today’s college student. The LGBT kids at a Colorado college who feel injured by a showing of the movie Stonewall because it focuses on a white homeless Midwestern guy. The Missouri protesters who screamed hatefully at a student journalist, insisting they “had the right” not to be photographed in broad daylight in the middle of campus. The childish whiners at Silliman, my own residential college at Yale, who demand that the college master resign because his wife wrote a long, thoughtful letter basically suggesting that everyone lighten up about politically correct Halloween costumes.

    In a video from the Missouri protest, a young professor called for “muscle” to help remove the journalist from the protest space. At Yale, students jeered and spat on people leaving a conference on free speech. At colleges everywhere, we are reading about trigger warnings that protect delicate souls against disturbing topics in history and literature. We read about the need for safe spaces on privileged campuses where theoretically we are trying to help young men and women cross the threshold to adulthood, not retreat to the nursery. We read about “micro-aggressions,” and watch them greeted by macro tantrums, mob mentality and full-throated outrage.

    So here it is: We handled macro aggressions. We had few safe spaces, and further, we lived through dangerous times. We protested Cruising, a movie that depicted a dark gay underworld, and later on, we targeted Basic Instinct, with its lesbian ice-pick killer. We would have been pleased as punch with Stonewall. So there, younger generation!

    In addition to our superior oppression quotient, by virtue of age, baby boomers now realize that life is interesting and complex. You can be civil even to those who actively oppose you, let alone those who accidentally trigger a micro insult. To become a kind and decent individual is a worthy and difficult goal. When you yell and spit on people for being intolerant, well, do I have to spell it out?

    Et Tu Houston?

    Moving along, I confess I didn’t write much about the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) in the run up to last week’s election. What was there to say about it, really? A civil rights ordinance, enacted a year or so ago by city leaders, was up for review by the voters. There was a nasty campaign being waged by the other side, so what else is new? I didn’t have poll numbers, so I left it alone.

    I expected HERO to survive because Houston is a progressive city in many ways as witnessed by the fact that they have elected and reelected a lesbian mayor. That said, I would not have been surprised if HERO lost a close one, only because we are still dealing with the “religious freedom” backlash from the High Court’s marriage decision.

    But Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States, slammed the ordinance by a 61 to 39 percent margin. We got creamed. As a Texan myself, living just a couple hours west of the scene of the crime, I felt sucker punched. If this can happen in Houston, we must all recognize the truth in the seemingly trite notion that “the fight isn’t over” just because we won marriage equality.

    Wednesday morning quarterbacks blamed the loss on the absurd bathroom scare. Like many campaigns involving trans rights (HERO protected gays, trans, pregnant women, veterans and others), opponents focused on the threat of “men dressed as women” running into women’s bathrooms and molesting little girls. And although it’s often a mistake to single out one factor in a complex election loss, it seems clear that the bathroom nightmare had a significant impact on the result.

    Setting aside the fact that transgendered men and women are not pedophiles, ignoring the fact that few women really want to share a sink with a bearded trans guy and few men want Caitlyn Jenner looking over their shoulders while they pee, and forgetting the fact that child molesters pay no attention to laws or ordinances to begin with (they’re child molesters, for God’s sake!), the bathroom campaigns do work.

    Unlike the gay and lesbian stereotypes we laboriously undermined through years of education, the public confusion surrounding transgender men and women remains strong. It freaks people out! Gay and lesbian couples spent a couple of decades raising families, living in the suburbs and becoming butchers, bakers and candlestick makers before America realized we were not a bunch of deviants skulking around the back alleys. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) So how long will it take before the much smaller trans community can be seen as neighbors and coworkers, rather than oddball cross dressers?

    More importantly, how can we help? I was initially disturbed by an online petition calling on our community to “drop the T,” and narrow our focus on sexual orientation. After all, the change.org petitioners said, sexual orientation has nothing to do with gender identity. Meanwhile, the Ts are bringing us down. Witness Houston. And plus, they’re constantly accusing us of being politically incorrect! Who needs that?

    On closer examination, the petition was initiated by a bunch of right wing gay men, and when last I checked, it seemed to be inspiring outrage rather than followers. That’s good because the last thing we need is another GLB versus T community debate, similar to the ones we’ve generated during the fight for the now-defunct Employment Nondiscrimination Act, and the rejection of trans-women by some radical feminists.

    Make no mistake. Discrimination against gay men and lesbians is founded, not on our sex lives, but on our refusal to adapt to gender norms. It is not manly to sing show tunes. And even if a guy plays football and chews tobacco, it is not manly for him to love another man. Ditto for women who don’t wear makeup or super models with girlfriends instead of boyfriends. Our social faux pas is not based on sex; it’s based on gender identity in the broadest sense. Many transgender men and women are straight. Indeed, a bisexual in an opposite-sex relationship seems straight enough. But all of us are still messing with society’s black and white sense of gender and gender roles. We’re all in it together.

    Of course there are differences among us. And yes, to be transgender or intersexed is to be very different indeed. You can see how tempting it would be for some conservative white gay men to embrace the gains they’ve made over the last 20 years and tell the weirdo “Ts” to go fight their own battles. It’s sad, but the rest of us will carry on without them. While we’re at it, we should recognize that the courage it takes to be T in today’s world is arguably much greater than that demanded of the average GLB.

    C Is For Cocktails

    I don’t know why I’m being so serious. It’s my birthday, and I’m somewhat hung-over from an evening that wandered from Campari to Calvados through a succession of liquid detours. Now, in order to sustain my trains of thought, I think it’s appropriate to resume my journey through the land of alcohol beginning with “c” via a glass of Champagne.

    Let’s see. The Mormons were nice enough last month to remind everyone that the Supreme Court has spoken on marriage and the law is the law. Now, the Saints have announced that gay couples and their children will not be allowed in the church. The children can be considered at age 18 if they renounce their parents and move out of the house. Oh, and to confuse us further, Salt Lake City seems to have elected a lesbian mayor, Jackie Biskupski. Make of it all what you will.

    And two lesbians vacationing in Hawaii from L.A. were arrested in a grocery store by a rabid off duty cop who saw them kiss. Depending on the source, the women either exchanged a peck or a passionate embrace, but hello? Is that criminal offense? One of them also said something mean to the cop, and before you could say “Sappho,” he was grabbing them, they were fighting back, and the two of them were hauled away on felony assault of an officer. Released on thousands of dollars in bail, the women remained in the Island State to see justice done. Meanwhile, the charges have been dropped, the officer is under investigation and the women are filing suit.

    Pass the Thin Mints

    As for presidential politics, I don’t think any of the Republican candidates have actually distinguished themselves in the eyes of our vibrant GLBT community, but several have sunk to particular lows. Among them, the three candidates who joined rabidly antigay preacher Kevin Swanson at a bizarre religious conference in Iowa the other day, specifically Mssrs Jindal, Cruz and Huckabee. Swanson can be seen on video ranting and spitting about homosexuals, vampires, cannibals, witches and the other ne’er do wells who increasingly threaten American society. And he has come close to backing capital punishment for gays and lesbians. This kind of lunacy did not stop our three Christian soldiers from sharing a stage with the man who called for a boycott on Girl Scout cookies because they promote lesbianism.

    Meanwhile, Marco Rubio has hired evangelical Eric Teetsel to serve as his campaign’s director of faith outreach.

    “The highest court in the land has done more than merely allow for citizens to do wrong; it has bestowed its imprimatur to homosexuality as both an identity and a way of life,” Teetsel lamented after the High Court’s marriage ruling. “A significant cultural impediment has been removed, and so sin will spread. This is regrettable because sin, of course, leads to suffering. As our LGBT neighbors continue to experience the ravages of their sin, will anyone be there to explain to them its cause?”

    As for our fearless leader, Mr. Carson, I find it odd that the media is parsing the meaning of the word “scholarship” rather than investigating the wingnut cultists that call themselves Seventh Day Adventists. Descended from the famous Millerites, who abandoned their earthly possessions as doomsday approached in the mid-1800s, these jokers still believe that the end is near, and that they themselves will face the wrath of the majority of Christians as the world begins to fall apart. Once judgment arrives, of course they’ll be saved and everyone else will roast in Hell. Or something like that. Adventists worship on Saturday, and believe that people who worship on Sunday are guided by Satan. Seriously!

    The man is “honest” enough to tell us that Joseph from the Bible built the pyramids with God’s help. Why doesn’t someone ask him about the rest of this stuff? Does he believe it, or is he some kind of reformed Seventh Day Adventist? Can you imagine the foreign policy decisions of a Commander in Chief who thinks the world is about to explode any day now?

    I feel very strange saying that Donald Trump is beginning to look like a reasonable nominee.

    arostow@aol.com