Spirit 2: On Divine Potential

I was raised to believe I was one of the chosen ones. I was of a chosen generation, saved to be born in these latter days to help usher the kingdom of heaven to earth in preparation for the second coming of Christ. This was the ned of human mortal history, we were taught. The dispensation of the fullness of times. The creation of the earth and every ounce of human history that preceded would be culminated in this one, when Christ came again and men would be judged.

And where much was given (i.e. being one of the chosen ones, being born into the true gospel), much was required (i.e. a full life of dedicated service to the church, ten per cent of my money, and strict obedience to all of the rules).

And like all things in the religion, this could be very simple or very complicated. God had billions of spirit children in a spirit realm that we called the pre-existence. He created the planet and had humans born so they could be tested to see if they were worthy to return to him. In the thousands of years of human history, billions of humans were born in different eras. Some humans were born with advantages and others with disadvantages, the way I was taught. I could have been born into poverty or into slavery, during the dark ages when god didn’t allow his word to be taught correctly, or in the wrong religion. But I was born American (in the country god set up to establish his church), male (the gender god allowed to hold his priesthood), and white (seemingly god’s preferred skin color). On top of all of that, I was born Mormon, because my parents were Mormon. So I already had the true religion. See how fortunate I was?

The scriptures were full of stories about choosing the right paths, sacrificing everything for god, and following the rules with exactness even when life got difficult. I was born gay, but I could change that, they said. The rest was there, there were no questions and there was no room to question. I had a hero’s quest ahead of me and it was all laid out. I had every tool I needed to succeed. Baptism, Priesthood, two-year missionary service, temple marriage to a woman, and a life of service to the church. I was one of the chosen ones. I could stand up in my white shirt and tie next to all my brethren and be proud that I had it right while everyone else had it wrong. But they could have it right, also, if they learned to be just like me.

What I never realized at the time, what I couldn’t realize, is how inherently arrogant those messages made me. By teaching me that I was chosen, that meant I was superior. Inherently better. I had something that everyone else needed, and they had to be like me to get it. They had to follow the same rules and ordinances. I had no concept of human history, of slavery, of war, of poverty, of gender discrimination, of sexual assault, of addiction. The message I had to share was just ‘turn to god and be like me so you can have what I have’. Gay men were told to make themselves straight, people with disabilities were told they could be healed, women were told to be happy with their station in life, people of different races were (for a time at least) told they could be made white. We were all god’s children, and he wanted us to look the same, one happy family of white men with women behind them, stretching on for generations.

As a missionary, I taught people these things. I sat with the elderly, with the poor, with ex-cons and addicts, with the abused and the disenfranchised, with African-Americans and Pennsylvania-Ducth and Methodists and the Amish. I was 19, and I told them how to make their lives better by being more like me. And if anyone challenged this inherent arrogance within me, well, I could just shrug and fall back on what I was taught. I wasn’t being sexist or ageist or racist or homophobic or xenophobic. I was just preaching it the way I was taught. I was chosen. And this was how god wanted it to be.

I look back on that era of my life with shame and embarrassment now. I can’t believe what I used to believe. But the truth is, I just didn’t know any better at the time. Once I knew better, everything was different. I had to change myself and the way I look at life. Once I learned about the world, I couldn’t put blinders back on and ignore it. Superiority is no longer my religion. My spirituality is now more closely associated with fairness, equality, and human potential. It is about learning from history, understanding privilege, and fighting for the underdog. It’s about celebrating diversity, embracing all of god’s children, and sharing, or even surrendering, power to those who have been disenfranchised for too long. I listen now. I hear. I inquire. I learn. I don’t spout my dogma and silence the voices of others, I instead seek my place at the table of good and ethical people who want to make the world better. I suppose that makes my spirituality a bit more socialist than capitalist, a bit more Democrat than Republican, a bit more humanitarian than industrial revolutionist, but I like it that way. I like my current ethics, the way I want to preserve this planet and improve the people on it. I’m proud of my journey now and I have no doubts about it.

And, truth be told, that is something I couldn’t say before.

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Trump vs. Hillary: the Feminist Election

In Profile: 100 Years In US Presidential Races

It’s 2016, and we are facing a historical election. It’s Hillary versus Trump, and in many more ways, it is Woman versus Man.

Disagree?

In my small world in Salt Lake City, Utah, I know very few people who will actually say out loud that they are voting for Donald Trump. Instead what they are saying is that they don’t know who they will vote for. They agree, in some sense, that Trump would be a very frightening president, but they like he ‘tells it like it is’. Hillary, they say, they just don’t trust because Benghazi and corporate funding and the Email scandal.

I took time to question a friend recently about this thought pattern. I was, admittedly, passionate and a bit angry in my words and phrasing.

“How could you even consider not voting for Hillary? I understand that you don’t ‘like’ her or consider her trustworthy. I get that, completely, given the many scandals that have surrounded her name.

“But on the other side of things, look at the sheer list of offenses on Trump’s part that are not mere allegations, but are direct quotes delivered to the public directly in speeches or over social media. He has called Mexicans rapists. He has said that he is the only man who can ‘save’ our country or make it ‘great’ again. He has encouraged violence toward those who disagree with him and offered to pay the legal fees of anyone arrested. He has threatened to ban an entire religion from the country’s borders. He has referred to the size of his genitals to the public. He has sent out unflattering photos of his opponent’s wives and implied that his wife is hotter. He has referenced that a female reporter was being unreasonable due to her menstrual cycle. After 50 men and women in a gay club were shot down, he Tweeted out that ‘he was right’ rather than expressing concern and love toward the victims and their families. He has shamed the parents of a fallen soldier. And, most shockingly, he has hinted that men who wield guns should take matters into their own hands in a veiled encouragement of political assassination.

“And those are just moments from the recent presidential run. Trump’s life prior to this was fraught with marital affairs, alleged abuse, failed business dealings, and alleged financial crimes. Hillary has been in politics for decades as a first lady, a governor’s wife, a senator, and a secretary of state, and she has run a presidential campaign prior to this. Before that, she was an attorney with a successful practice, with a long marriage. Trump has been a bizarre real estate mogul who is the very epitome of the rich white man, the one per cent that Bernie Sanders was so passionate about, who has plastered his face on board games, books, and T-shirts, and is most famous for hosting a reality TV show, and who has been married multiple times… to super-models.

“In the past, entire presidential campaigns have been decimated over singular offenses, like Mitt Romney being accused of flip-flopping. And when Bill Clinton had a marital affair and lied about it, the country sought to impeach him. Trump’s offenses are far more excessive in number and in pure extremism on every level, and you are telling me that he calls it like it is and that is why you like him? What does that say about you?”

Because this conversation was with a trusted friend, it ended okay, but she let me know that my feelings on the matter were very apparent, and very passionate.

And I’m completely okay with that. Because when I reflect on this topic a bit more deeply, I realize that this is very much about America’s feelings on women. Historically, our country has treated women abysmally. As property, as targets of rape and violence, as pretty objects that should be devoted to their men and children and belong in the home. The laws have changed, somewhat, but the attitudes have not. I could recite a long list of statistics to back this up, but it can all boil down to a few simple facts, that women are mistreated in business and health care and politics, that they represent a majority of the population and a minority of leadership positions, and that the United States has still never passed a equal rights for women law. In fact, while we require other countries to pass laws regarding protections for women in order to receive our aid, we refuse to pass the same protections for women in our own country. We even refuse to sign the mandates from the United Nations that have been put in place in nearly every country around the world. The law is called CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination  of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and it has been in place since 1979, and has been signed by nearly every U.N.-affiliated country. The only U.N.-affiliated countries that have NOT signed the treaty? There are six: Palau, Somalia, Tonga, Sudan, Iran… and the United States. That means it has been signed by every other one, including China, Afghanistan, and even Iraq.

Many of the largest countries in the world have had female leaders by now, including England, India, Germany, Liberia, Central African Republic, Senegal, South Korea, Haiti, South Africa, Mozambique, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. The United States is not on this list either.

And yet here in America, we have a candidate in Hillary Clinton, who was named by Barack Obama as the most qualified presidential candidate in United States history, running against Donald Trump, who has been described as the least qualified candidate in presidential history, and who has zero political experience. The most qualified? A woman. The least qualified? A man.

And if you still aren’t sure who you want to vote for, or if you are considering not voting at all, we can go extreme, and you have to ask yourself who you want with their finger on the button of the nuclear codes.

I understand if you don’t like or even trust Hillary Clinton, I get it, intellectually and emotionally. But if you can stack that up against every piece of the puzzle that makes up Donald Trump and still be not sure who you are voting for, I’m not sure I can call you anything but sexist. Take time to examine your biases and feelings about women in power, and your ability to excuse Trump and hold Hillary accountable.

And if you disagree with that, well, I suggest you do a bit more self-exploration. The fate of the country is at stake.

 

Righteous Indignation

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“There had better be righteous indignation,” my ex-wife told me, a mix of humor and outrage in her voice.

I laughed. “Okay, I think I can manage a bit of that. Let me have it.”

I heard her clear her throat over the phone and then take in a long breath. “Okay, you remember how I wanted to change my last name back to my maiden name?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, if you remember, when we got married, we had to get the wedding license and then it only cost like $15 to change my last name to yours. I filled out a form and then just informed the companies. I had to get all my identifications changed over, like my driver’s license. It was a hassle, but relatively easy.”

“Yeah, I remember.”

“Okay, so I went in the other day to see if I could change my name back. I was informed that if I had wanted to do this at the time of our divorce, it would have been a simple process. I request the name change, I pay the $15, and the name is changed back. But now… now since it has been a few years since the divorce, I have to go through this whole process. Apparently it costs around $450! And, get this, I have to have your permission to change it back! We’ve been divorced for years!”

“Wait, what?”

“Yes! She told me that you have to give a letter of consent to change it back.”

“If you were getting married again and wanted to change your name, what then?”

“$15. No hassle. But if I, as a single independent woman, want to change it, it’s several hundred dollars and permission from my ex-husband.”

I sat back and absorbed all of this for a moment, trying to make rational sense of it, turning on the analytical part of my brain. “Okay, part of this doesn’t surprise me. We live in Utah, obviously. There was a mandatory 3 month waiting period before the divorce was granted, and they made us take that divorce class where the presenter basically kept asking, ‘are you sure you want to get divorced? really really sure?’ Plus, Mormon men can marry a woman in the temple, get divorced, marry another woman in the temple and still be considered married to the first woman. Women get married in the temple, get divorced, and if they want to get married in the temple a second time, they have to get permission from their ex-husband to have a temple divorce first. Clearly, this policy stems from the culture.”

“Yes, but that doesn’t make it any less outrageous!”

I thought for a split second before deciding to make a joke of the whole thing, knowing her sense of humor. “Well, if you wanted special privileges in Utah, maybe you should have just been born with a penis.”

I could almost hear her rolling her eyes over the phone. “Ha-ha,” she responded without humor.

“It really is horrible, Meg. Truly. I don’t know what to say.”

“Men!” She answered, half-joking and half-serious. “Seriously, this whole system is set up for men. And here I am talking to a white man!” We both laughed, then she added, “Except you’re gay, so that makes you just slightly more tolerable.”

We ended the call shortly after that, and I sat reflecting on the state of the world, where such needless barriers were put in place. I pictured myself bringing this example up in one of my old social justice classes that I taught in college, using this as an example of oppression. One of the white male, Mormon students in the back would have raised his hand and given an argument like “I’m a white male, and I like women, so I’m not sexist. And I don’t think the law is either. If it was a man who had changed his name to his wife’s last name and he wanted to change his name back, he would have to go through the same process.” And then I would have quipped with a speech about the societal pressure and value that is placed on couples to marry young and for the woman to take on the man’s last name. We would have gone back and forth for a time, two white men arguing about women’s rights.

I sat down on the couch, a bit exhausted with all of it, and wondered how different the world might be if at least 50 per cent of the elected leaders were women; truly, more than that is what is needed, because how long have men been at it, and how much more fair might the world be if women took the lead.

Two White Guys Talking About Privilege

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Hey, professor, you wanted to see me?

Yeah, Mark, close the door, let’s talk for a bit. Have a seat.

What’s up?

During class today, when we were talking about privilege, you got quiet.

That’s because I didn’t have anything to say.

I think that is unlikely. You are usually very talkative and insightful during class. And you were more than just quiet, you were uncomfortable and closed off.

Nah, I’m good.

Mark, look, you aren’t being graded on this. You showed up to class and got your work done. Grade already recorded. This is just a discussion and a check-in. What happened today?

Look, I–I just learned early on in this program that when it comes to topics like this, no one wants to know what I have to say.

And why do you feel that way?

I’m a white guy. I’m the minority here and no matter what I say is going to be wrong. And when I have tried to share things in this program, I’ve been attacked.

Okay, let’s look at the big picture here. You are working on getting a Masters degree in Social Work. You are in a cohort of primarily women, in fact about 80 per cent of the students are women, and it is safe to say that all of them are feminists.

That’s fine. I’m a feminist too.

So am I. Now why do you feel like you are attacked when you share your opinion on the topic of privilege?

I don’t feel attacked, I am attacked.

Why do you feel attacked?

Okay, okay. Look, a couple of weeks back, I tried sharing my opinion on gay marriage in a class where the topic came up. I don’t have a problem with gay people, I really don’t. I have gay friends, I believe in gay rights. I know you’re gay. And I’m not Mormon like most of the people here, but I am Christian, and it’s not so easy, you know? I see gay people at my internship and I was talking to my pastor about that once and he told me that any time I choose to provide service to gay people, then I am choosing them over God. And so I shared that in class, that I felt divided, and a bunch of the students interrupted me and got angry and told me that if I wanted to be a social worker, I would have to quit my church, and no one would listen. They attacked me for being a Christian white guy. So now I just don’t share my opinion any more.

Okay, to start, you have heard me talk about the ‘yes, and’ principle in class before. Two realities can co-exist at the same time. The sun can warm me, and it can burn me. Food can nourish me and make me gain weight. My mom can have two gay kids that she loves and supports and still not know where she stands on gay marriage. And you can be a Christian white social worker whose religious beliefs and professional beliefs don’t always line up. There is room for contradictions in all of us.

Yeah, I get that.

So I’m going to be tough on you before I am supportive. Is that okay?

Yes, I trust you and your intentions.

There is an absolute irony about you feeling attacked.

An irony? How so?

Be fair, be strengths-focused. Why do you think your comments upset the people around you?

Because they are women with strong opinions, and anything but the answer they want is the wrong answer.

I don’t think that is the case at all. Try again, why do you think they are upset.

I honestly don’t know. Help me out here.

You understand the concept of privilege, right?

Sure, those in the majority have inherent privileges in their day to day living that those in minorities don’t have to deal with.

Give me a few examples.

As a man, I can be hired and expect a fair wage, where women often get harassed and paid way less than men for doing the same job. As a white guy, I see my majority represented everywhere in American leadership, I have better access to scholarships, jobs, pay, legal representation, college opportunities, etc.

Excellent. We had a conversation about privilege on the first day of class. The more majority statuses you fall into, the greater your privilege opportunities. White, Christian, male, young, fit or thin, able-bodied, gender-defined, straight, healthy, middle class or above.

Yeah, I remember. We talk about it in all of our classes a little bit.

Since your legs work, you don’t have to worry about whether or not a wheelchair ramp is available to your second floor classes. Since you were born male, and you define as male, you get to use the men’s room without having to worry about what people think because you are transgender. Since you are young and not elderly, you can drive a car without everyone around you assuming you are slow or lacking purpose, everyone being impatient around you.

Right, I get all that.

You get it in the head, not sure you get it totally in the heart. They don’t always line up.

Okay, what does that have to do with all this.

You are in a graduate program in a field that advocates for social justice. This is one of the few programs that actually has a lot of material on privilege and its implications, one of the few programs that has a majority of women. This program actually gets you to think about and confront difficult ideas on these topics.

So what makes my experience here ironic?

Mark, when it comes to big conversations like this in the public, who do you think has the most to say? Who do you think gets the final say?

The majority. Men. White men.

Absolutely. And who feels silenced?

Women. Gay people. Everyone that falls into those non-majority categories.

Absolutely. But it is about more than feeling silenced. It’s different on almost every level. Let me give you an example. You are married, right?

Yeah.

Okay, when you go out in public, do you hold your wife’s hand?

Yeah, sure. All the time.

And do you feel watched, criticized, discriminated against?

No, why would I?

I’m a 36 year old man. I am dating a guy. A few Sundays ago, we are out walking, and we are holding hands, nothing else. Just walking, talking, and holding hands. And I hadn’t done that in a while. But everyone we walk by, I feel a nervousness creep up in my chest. I’m watching them to see if they notice us holding hands, every person we pass. And I’m expecting them to say things like ‘gross’ or ‘fags’ or ‘disgusting.’ I’m expecting someone to just look up and say ‘we don’t care what you do in your home, but do you have to do that out here?’ And I’m walking around and I’m nervous, even though I’m trying to relax.

Look, I–

Wait, I’m not done. So this guy and I, we see this couple sitting on the concrete stairs in front of us. An older white guy with a beard, and an older black woman, and both of them are in dirty clothes and look like they have probably been using drugs recently. As as we get closer, they both sit up and I’m waiting for one of them to say something rude to us. The lady, she says loudly, ‘Hey!’ and I take a step back, nervous, not sure if she is going to ask for money or say something rude to us. And I say ‘yeah?’ and she says ‘I just wanted to say, I think you two are cute.’ And I say ‘thank you’ and the guy I’m holding hands with and I both smile and laugh about this.

Okay, but–

Just a minute, I’m almost done. So I’m walking away, and I’m thinking about how terrible it is that in 2015, I have to be nervous about something as simple as holding hands with a guy that I like, and how straight people never have to think about it. And that’s privilege. And then I realize that because I’m in the middle class and I have an apartment and a bank account, I see this couple and I automatically assume they want to ask for money, and they probably think that every person who walks by them thinks they are going to ask for money. People avoid eye contact, treat them rudely, get scared when they say ‘hey’ because they assume these things about them. And they have to live with that. And this woman, she’s not only poor, she’s a woman, and she’s black, and she has all these other things in her mind. I’m worried about what people will say because I’m gay. She’s worried about sexual assault and judgments and where she is going to sleep tonight. And that is privilege. And it sucks that we live in a world based around it.

I… okay. Yeah. That sucks.

So here is the irony. You are feeling marginalized in one class by a few people who didn’t like what you had to say. You felt attacked by some students in your cohort in a program that is all about social justice.

What makes that ironic?

Well, simply put: that feeling you felt in class? Feeling silenced, disrespected, like no one around you wanted to hear what you had to say?

Yeah?

That’s how I felt all the time as a gay kid growing up. Every day. That is how many of the women in your class feel in this patriarchal world of men. That is how everyone who doesn’t fall in the majority feels all the time.

Whoa.

Yeah. And you felt it once. And so now you aren’t talking any more.

I–yeah–that–wow. Okay. So that’s what it feels like to not be privileged.

Exactly.

Okay.

Now let me give you credit. You have a good brain. An intuitive mind. You care about people. You advocate for others. You are a good student and a good social worker. And this is a ‘yes, and’ thing again. You are privileged. You are going to have to learn how to listen to others. How to feel marginalized and be okay with it. How to share your experiences and conflicts with others, and listen when they don’t agree with you, and ask questions, and learn how others feel, not just with your head but with your heart. You don’t get to shut down. You get to be uncomfortable and learn. Because…

Because that is how others feel all the time.

Exactly. So next time the conversation starts, I want you to join in, because we need your voice. It’s a good one.

Thank you, professor. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

Thank you for being willing to think about it. See you next week, Mark.

Yeah, see you next week.

Lesbians and grossed out gays

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“What are you reading?”

I looked over from my book to the man on the treadmill next to me. The gym was crowded and smelled like sweat and machines, a familiar smell in the winter months in Utah. Air pollution was particularly bad today, given the inversion, and I had come inside to shake my headache and get my blood flowing and heart pumping.

While doing a warm-up on the treadmill, stretching my joints out along with each muscle and tendon, I had set my current biography up on the stand, a book I was loving.

“Oh, it’s a book about Sally Ride.”

“Who the hell is Sally Ride?”

The man had his ball cap turned slightly to the side. I wondered if he was trying to flirt in some brash way.

“She was the first American woman in space, back in the 80s. She was pretty amazing. A real revolutionary.”

“Sounds boring as all hell.” He looked at me as if trying to challenge my enthusiasm for the book.

“She was also a lesbian, though that wasn’t revealed publicly until after her death. She was with her partner for 30 years.”

“So how is that supposed to make her special.” He said it like a statement not a question.

“Well, I’ve been researching a lot of LGBT history lately. It’s kind of hidden in our society. Like I had heard of Sally Ride, but never knew she was lesbian. I heard of Alan Turing, but never knew he was gay. I think Ride was pretty incredible.”

The guy finally looked away, pushing some button on his treadmill to slow his speed. “I think lesbians are pretty disgusting.”

I gave him a disconsolate look. “What, why? What makes lesbians disgusting?”

He lowered the incline on his treadmill as well as I kept going. “I like dudes. Masculine dudes. Lesbians are gross. Vaginas are gross.”

I sighed and gave a half-laugh. I pictured all of the gay dating profiles I had seen over the years that said things like Man seeking masculine men. Masc for masc, no fems. I thought about informing this man that he didn’t have to be sexually attracted to women in order to respect and understand them. The hyper-masculinity of male culture drives me nuts, whether in the straight world or in the gay one.

I thought about my sister Sheri and her wife Heather, and wondered how often they faced this kind of attitude from gay men, men who were supposed to be their allies in the fight for equality. I knew the shaming words against transgender people from gay men was even worse. Lesbians are hyper-sexualized by straight men and shunned by gay men. The whole thing just reeks of patriarchy.

“I love lesbians.” I looked away as he stared at me in shock.

“Bull. How could you possibly love lesbians? You’re gay.”

“I know a lot of lesbians, dozens and dozens of them. And I genuinely like every one of them that I know. They are good people, smart, dedicated, talented, genuinely nice people. I could say the same thing about every transgender person I know, literally every one. But I can name a whole lot of straight people and gay guys I don’t like. So I love lesbians.”

He stopped his treadmill. “Whatever, man. Enjoy your boring book.”

I turned back to Sally Ride, eager to learn more about this fascinating woman. Guess I wasn’t masculine enough for that guy.

 

 

 

Why-oh-Wyoming

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“Now remember, just because he has a mustache, it doesn’t mean he’s 21. Make sure to card before selling alcohol. The risks are just too big.”

As the public service announcement ended and more country music came back on the radio, I looked across the vast stretching snow-swept plains that extended in every direction, rolling black and brown peaks in the distance, a few rocky outcroppings stretching into the sky. The sun was just coming up over the peaks and I could finally see the terrain, after a few hours of driving in the early morning darkness. Gusts of wind blew light drifts of snow across the road.

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I pulled into Rock Springs, Wyoming a brief time later, here for a work shift for a few days. As I stepped out of the car, the wind cascaded across me, biting and much colder than I had anticipated. January in Wyoming was a bitch, clearly.

I shivered and pulled my scarf tighter around my neck, nestling into my coat, and stepped into the nearby gas station, a local place with the god-awful name of the Loaf ‘n Jug, it’s sister station the Cum n’ Go right across the road. Yes, spelled just like that.

Half of the gas station/convenience store was devoted to the sale of liquor. I looked around, hearing more country twang from the loudspeakers, and saw several shelves full of booze. Hey, the locals needed something to keep them warm. Several dead animal heads hung on the walls over the shelves, deer and elk and a mountain goat or two. My eyes fell on one of the bottles of liquor, a cinnamon red of Fireball Whiskey, with a handwritten sign over it that said “Buy two bottles of Fireball, get a free fishing lure! Inquire at the desk!”

As I munched on my trail mix and sipped on my hot, and terrible, gas station coffee in the car, I realized I had thirty minutes before my shift began. I grabbed my phone and Googled Rock Springs, Wyoming, figuring I may as well learn about the city I was in.

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I read about how, in 1885, the Union Pacific Coal Department was able to hire Chinese workers at a lower wage than White workers, so they, of course, hired more Chinese. The White workers rioted in an explosion of racial tension, burned down 75 homes, and killed dozens of Chinese. I didn’t see a single report of a White person killed. I read how the local newspapers at the time had sympathized with the White man’s plight, and how 16 men had been arrested for the murders, but all were acquitted one month later, met by the cheers of their loved ones for their heroic actions. It was with a pit in my stomach that I thought of recent anti-Muslim, anti-Jew, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic content in the media, in the current presidential campaign, and I wonder, for the one millionth time in my life, if we have evolved as a species at all.

I read about local industries and businesses and politics, about forms of entertainment (shooting ranges and the rodeo), about the long history of the state. And before long, it’s time to step outside the car, back into the biting wind, and to prepare for another day of work, this time in a strange and faraway place.

Later, I check into my hotel, and the kindly front desk attendant informs me that I’m just in time for happy hour. I shrug. It’s a week night, and only 5 pm, “But the drinks are free!” she exclaims. “One hour only!”

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And so 30 minutes later, a grandmotherly bartender mixes me a rather strong Rum and Coke. I take a few sips and make eye contact with the severed moose head hanging on the wall in front of me.

“He’s a beauty, ain’t he?”

I look over and see a woman behind me that I hadn’t noticed before. She looks as though she just woke up, her hair disheveled and in her nightgown, a large pink muumuu that drowns her. She takes a large handful of Lays potato chips from a bag she is holding and somehow fits the entire handful of chips in her mouth, cramming them in and not missing a crumb. She has no teeth, so she makes large gumming noises as she munches down on them loudly.

“Um, the moose?” I look back at his marble eyes. “Yup, a real beauty.”

The woman finishes gumming her bite and takes a swallow of the pink alcoholic mixture from the cup in front of her. “I bet he’s been dead fifty years.”

I look at her as she takes another handful, and realize I have nothing to say except, “Yup.”

And this is my life right now, I think. Me and this woman and a moose head at 5 on a week night, drinking free alcohol in a hotel bar in frozen Wyoming.

I give myself a little mental toast and take another sip.

 

The Misogynistic Merry Widow

merry-widow

The colors were astounding.

As Lolo, Dodo, Jou-jou, Clo-clo, Margot, and Frou-frou exposed their ankles, lifted their frilly skirts, shook their bosoms, and danced gaily around the stage, I was most astounded by the colors of the set. At the evening performance of the Merry Widow, an opera with a full symphony, I sat in the center balcony absorbing the music and color, the very spectacle of the impressive show.

I tend to rate productions in multiple categories, my internal critic going down the checklist. It makes it easier for me to sort it out. A movie, for example, may be brilliantly filmed yet have terrible actors, or may have beautiful imagery and a terrible story.

I surveyed the Merry Widow carefully. The costumes and sets were stunning. The actors were top notch, selling their characters with full commitment, silliness and seriousness, lust and love, and I had laughed out loud many times. The vocal performances and the symphony took my breath and raised gooseflesh on my arms and neck; a few of the soft high notes in the operatic solos left me gasping, my hand on my heart in pure fulfillment. And the show itself, written over a hundred years ago, was, frankly, hilarious and relevant, for the most part. This was a top-notch production, and I was having a blast.

I sat next to my colleague and friend, Kara, and we made comments throughout the show, poking fun at the roles of the women in the show. It was written in a different time, when women were seen as acquisitions, annoyances, or trophies. So when Valencienne sings about being a virtuous wife even as she cheats on her husband, it’s easy to smile and laugh. And when the dancing girls strut about the stage, singing of how they can woo married men away from their wives, it was easy to laugh.

But I had to grimace in discomfort when a group of male characters sang about women in politics, and how men generously gave them the right to vote yet women still grew discontent and had opinions. I still laughed, but I grew a bit more uncomfortable.

And then came the song about women directly. A group of male characters (all hilarious) step on the stage to discuss the problem of women in their lives.

“It’s a problem how to manage willful women when the bloom of youth is gone”, one sings. Then, in song, the men pontificate on all of the different ways women can be impossible. One likes fashion too much, another is too focused on romance, another is too moody and inconsistent, another frigid and opinionated. After they finish classifying the women in derogatory categories, the men decide, as a group, that they can never do enough to possibly satisfy a woman, but that women have enough assets to be worth the aggravation.

The production ends when (warning: 100 year old spoilers!) the wealthy widow, Hanna Glawari, who has an untold fortune left to her by her deceased husband, finds true love with Danilo Danilovitsch, a whiny drunkard statesman who has spent the entire production espousing his philosophy of making love to many, proposing to some, but marrying none. And although Danilo likes Lolo, Dodo, Jou-jou, Clo-clo, Margot, and Frou-frou all very much, he decides to marry the widow. But wait! The dead husband’s will states Margot loses her entire fortune if she marries another. Oh well, they will marry anyway, because she needs to be with a man more than she needs riches.

Kara turned to me, shock on her face. “Wait. Why couldn’t they have just lived together and shared the money?”

We shared a good laugh as we walked out of the show, delighted with the production and yet disgusted with the utter patriarchy of it all. “Wow, that was awfully… misogynistic.” I said. My mind raced to early Disney movie productions, where each princess finds love in the arms of a man before her destiny is fulfilled and happy ending written. More modern Disney productions feature women a bit more liberated and complex.

Then I thought of watching the old 1950s musical movie, Gigi, with friends a few weeks ago, when Maurice Chevalier, then an older man with a cane, walks around a promenade looking at little girls and singing about how they will all grow up to be beautiful and complicated women.

I wonder how many songs have been written over the years about how aggravating, impossible, and difficult women are, only to decide in the end that they are beautiful enough to be worth it. There must be dozens.

Kara and I had a good laugh, then headed our respective ways. Later, I told a friend about the production.

“How did you like it?” he asked.

I smiled, the music still playing in my head. “It was fantastic, but perhaps slightly mistitled. Maybe they should call it the Misogynistic Merry Widow.