"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, October 17, 2019

When Drag Queens Come To School –Bringing The Castro To Kindergarten

It seemed like a good idea at the time – invite two well known drag queens to read to children from books celebrating LGBTQ pride and coming out just as a dorm on Michigan State University’s campus had recently done.  The Michigan event was hosted in celebration of “National Coming Out Day.”  School administrators in _____ would take a lesson from Michigan and take the fight against gender discrimination to the denominator – K-6,  where sexual stereotypes have their beginnings and where prejudice against the other-sexed is formed, confirmed, and promoted; and where nipping homophobia in the bud is a mission as important as racial civil rights. 

Children are never too young to learn about the sexual spectrum, how it has replaced the discredited notions of male-female singularity, procreative unions, and genetic imperatives.  Unless children learn that X and Y chromosomes have no bearing on sexual identity, that sex can be changed as easily as hair color, that biology is by no means destiny, and that the repressive theories of Freud, Jung, and Adler are nothing more than patriarchal relics, they will never get off square one on the path to sexual fulfillment and true self-actualization.

Image result for images drag queens

School districts in progressive states have already instituted curriculum changes designed to address the issue of sexual inclusivity and tolerance.  Aware that even in a liberal, permissive educational environment, they had to tread lightly when it came to the nuts and bolts of sexual behavior – what goes where and how – especially in the lower grades, but they were proud of their new, revised, and inclusive sex education course for seniors in high school.  For them, restructuring sexual norms meant normalizing what had always been considered aberrant behavior.  Under the new ethos, there is no such thing.  Not only is any point on the gender spectrum acceptable and right, but all sexual practices between men or women, or between any possible configuration of sexual identity in between are normal and unremarkable. The sexual options when all such identities are considered, is staggering, unheard of, and bewildering for anyone of a certain age; and the docents responsible for curriculum change rightly and reasonably demurred on any exhaustive catalog.  It would be enough, they decided, for high school seniors to get a flavor of what ‘alternative’ sexual practices were like, a glimpse of the smorgasbord.

Yet reformers understood that by the time students had reached high school, prejudices would already have been formed.  The overwhelmingly male-female sexual environment with its exclusive focus on traditional sex and sexuality would be an infertile place for the introduction of LGBTQ sexual specifics.  In fact as tolerant as older students might be about non-heterosexual sex, and as attentive as they might be in lectures, discussions, and sensitivity training sessions, their minds were only on one thing – hot, straight sex.

How to introduce ideas any more radical than gay marriage, already more conservative, faithful, and honorable than heterosexual marriages, was the issue facing educators.  In fact gay marriage was now only of passing interest in a sexually hyped environment where the most impossibly strange sexual combinations were already on television sitcoms.  It would be necessary, reformers considered, to take a bolder, more proactive approach in the lower grades.  And thus, the idea of drag queens in primary school was hatched.   If young children could see first hand variations in sexual orientation distinct from that of their mothers and fathers, they would be desensitized.  They would ipso facto be favorable to non-traditional sexual types, considerate of them, and even open to adopting them as their own personal sexual identity one day.

Image result for images gay marriage

So Gloria and Mavis were invited to the _______)School.  In their interviews with school officials who had explicitly asked them about their sexual nature, they replied that they were drag queens, purely and simply – men who played women, identified with them, and who considered themselves women in all but anatomy but were quite happy to have sex with male partners.  However sex was only one expression of their delight in femininity, the female form, and female behavior.  Women were simply much more interesting than men, and this combination of operatic costuming and female flamboyance was more than enough for them.  The sex while not incidental, was far less important than their persona. 

All well and good, but Gloria and Mavis could not hide their very masculine features, no matter how much eyeliner, blush, and lipstick they applied, nor how closely they shaved.  Gloria was strong featured, muscular, coarse in a virile way, and none of her graceful gestures were believable.  While she had made a very good living in San Francisco clubs – think La Cage Aux Folles, she said – and while her acting and dancing were quite feminine and while her masculine features beneath the feathers and make-up was a turn-on for many patrons, she might be inappropriate or even downright scary for young children. 

Image result for images movie la cage aux folles dancers

Besides, the interviewers had discussed among themselves what exactly were they trying to achieve? If the children saw that the man who through the sequins and gold earrings looked a lot like the plumber or the garage mechanic, then what would the children have learned? That this was a man who liked to play dress up which was OK even though you were an adult?  That this wasn’t really a man but a woman? Or that this really was a woman? Or neither?

If Gloria was not believable as a woman, Mavis was scary. Even the most aware child, prepared at home by expansively tolerant parents; and even the most woke adult would find her unsettling. Perhaps because she wore satin and frills, lots of embroidery and lace, and was in manner and attitude a woman, but could never disguise her maleness, she was disconcerting.   She was to anyone but the most persuaded, a longshoreman in women’s finery.  Her head was large and imposing, her shoulders broad, her legs strong and well-defined, and her voice was deep and harsh.  Nothing belonged together and the dissonance was scary.

It was getting late in the semester, however, not far from Thanksgiving; and the administrators would have no time to expand their search to find more feminine men; men more appropriate to the task, which if no better defined than when Gloria and Mavis walked into the principal’s office, would have to do.  A little operatic excess couldn’t do any harm.  They decided to use the theme ‘Be what you want to be’ for the event, and stay away from the thorny, unresolved sexual issues before them.  The drag queens would read from a children’s book called ‘Gilbert, the Hero’, a story about a little boy who liked to play with dolls, who was teased and laughed at on the playground, but who became a beautiful actress on the Broadway stage.  No need to go into the more ticklish issues of men and women acting in unfamiliar ways and the reasons why, just a fairly tale with a special twist.

The school administrators might have been successful in their performance had they been more thoughtful about age groups.  Had they aimed a bit lower, the youngest children would have accepted the fairy tale without question.  Had they aimed higher, they would have hit the woke, liberally-brought-up pre-adolescents of the higher grades.  As it turned out, they hit the middle – children who were still learning about what’s what, not shy about speaking their mind, and hard to be fooled.
“What exactly are you?”, Amanda Peters asked Gloria after she had finished reading the book about Gilbert.  “A man or a woman”, and surprisingly for a little girl of only 10, “Or both?”.

Gloria was nonplussed and not a little embarrassed by the question.  She was used to the usual homophobic remarks from passersby and closet queens, but not from children.  This was supposed to be an easy ride in a non-confrontational gathering, children whose eyes and ears were supposed to be open, and who were non-judgmental and fair.

Image result for images grade school children listening to a story

Gloria, flummoxed, and unsettled, hemmed and hawed, exaggerated her gestures, hoping through a bit of theatrics she might win over the crowd.

“And why are you wearing a dress?”, asked Billy Parsons.

It was as funny as a fart, and no one could stop giggling. Gloria had lost her audience, her chance, and her opportunity.  “Now, children”, said Mr. Phillips, the principal. “Miss Gloria came all the way from the capital to talk to us”; but the damage had been done, and now the children could only see the ridiculousness of the entire affair – a silly man looking like Amos the bus driver dressed up like Miss Hayes, the tarty art teacher who made eyes at Mr. Loucks.

The administrators had ignored a cardinal rule. You can pull the wool over adults’ eyes and get them to believe any cockamamie idea, but not children.  Their bullshit quotient is too high.

So the school went back to a more temperate, gentle introduction of sexuality; and stuck to ‘Jennifer Has Two Mommies’ and nostrums about tolerance and getting along.  Despite the pressure put upon them by the more progressive members of the school board, they demurred.  Unless the authorities figured out exactly what they wanted to say and why – no teacher was going to bring the Castro to kindergarten.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Chaucer, Shakespeare, The Treachery of Women, And Modern Man – What If Anything Has Changed?

Chaucer may not have been the first to write about the duplicity and treachery of women, but he was the first to write about it so eloquently.  In The Wife of Bath’s Tale, he is quite explicit.
Lo, here plainly of woman may you find
That woman was the ruin of mankind.
Then read he out how Samson lost his hairs
When sleeping, his mistress cut them with her shears;
And through this treason lost he either eye.
And nothing escaped him of the pain and woe
That Socrates had with his spouses two;”
“Of Clytemnestra, for her lechery,
Who caused her husband’s death by treachery,
He read all thus with greatest zest, I vow.
“Of Livia and Lucia told he me,
For both of them their husbands killed, you see,
The one for love, the other killed for hate;
Then did he tell how one Latumius
Complained unto his comrade Arrius
That in his garden grew a baleful tree
Whereon, he said, his wives, and they were three,
Had hanged themselves for wretchedness and woe.
‘Dear brother,’ Arrius said, ‘and did they so?
Image result for images chaucer

Of course women acted like this.  In the face of patriarchy, male supremacy, chauvinism, and a social system designed to keep women in their place, what other recourse did they have?  The idea that there is something inherently treacherous in female nature is ridiculous; and only an expression of persistent, puerile male fantasies.

Shakespeare was eloquent when it came to strong women.  His Volumnia, Dionyza, Tamora, Lady Macbeth, Goneril, and Regan not only outdid men at every turn but neutered them.  These women were not content with acceding to the throne (e.g. the wives of Henry II, Richard II, and Henry VI, and Cleopatra) but unmanning them.  One can either read Shakespeare’s plays as hymns to strong women, or thinly-veiled expressions of male mistrust of them. 

Image result for images lady macbeth sargent

Volumnia could have both promoted her son, Coriolanus, and achieved her ambitious ends without sending him to his death and claiming all credit and honor for herself.  Tamora, Queen of the Amazons, needed not to provoke her sons to the rape and dismemberment of Titus Andronicus’s daughter to regain his favor.  Dionyza need not have plotted to murder Marina, daughter of Pericles. 

Lady Macbeth was a succubus, intent on engineering the murder of the king, challenging her weak husband to show what little manhood he had. Goneril and Regan were ambitious harridans who would do anything for power, wealth, and empire.  Cleopatra toyed with Antony, had little respect for him, led him to humiliating defeat at the Battle of Actium, and never thought twice about him when pleading her case before Augustus.

The women of the Comedies are less brutal but no less dismissive of men.  Rosalind, Viola, Portia and others toy with their suitors, unhappy with all of them, consigned to live with the best of a bad lot.  The scenes in The Merchant of Venice where Portia discusses the ridiculousness of the men courting her with her servants is as catty and dismissive as Cleopatra with Mardin.

Image result for images liz taylor cleopatra

More than half of Shakespeare’s Sonnets are written to ‘the lady in black’, another devouring vixen who challenges the young man’s sexuality, manhood, and desire.

Ibsen and Strindberg created strong female characters – Hedda Gabler, Rebekka West, Hilda Wangel, Laura, and Miss Julie – but their strength was at the expense of men.  Perhaps the best example of such misandry was that of Laura, wife of the Captain in Strindberg’s The Father.  To gain full control of her daughter in patriarchal Swedish Victorian society, she uses women’s most potent weapon – doubt of paternity.  The Captain, infected by her innuendoes and suggestions that their daughter is not his, goes mad and institutionalized, thus granting her full rights over their daughter.

Image result for images strindberg the father play

Were these playwrights champions of women in a highly repressive Victorian age, acknowledging treachery as an armament of sexual war? Or were they convinced of women’s castrating nature?
Shakespeare seemed to leave no doubt when he created Othello who, at the end of the play, having been convicted of the murder of Desdemona, says that he did a service for his prosecutors and indeed for all men, ridding life of a lying, deceitful, treacherous woman.

Image result for images othello and desdemona death scene

Flaubert was equally eloquent about women’s treachery when he created Emma Bovary, a woman, like others of her age, bound by male patriarchy but who angrily and determinedly refused to subject herself to it.  Emma, however, despite her understandable frustration, is not an admirable woman.  She is just as treacherous, duplicitous, and destructive as the heroines of Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Strindberg.

The unmanning, dominant, woman has been a staple of popular culture well into the 20th century.  Double Indemnity, Body Heat, and a hundred other noir films show women at their treacherous worst – using their sex, allure, charm, and intelligence to not only get what they want but to destroy men while getting it.  The Kathleen Turner character in Body Heat kills the one person who can expose her and sends the other to life imprisonment while she leaves the country with her murdered husband’s millions.

Men would probably have not kept women in such bondage if they did not fear their sexual power.  In the old days the concern was paternity – confirmed fatherhood was not only a matter of pride but economics. Why would a Medieval peasant or royal courtier agree to work and risk his life for a son which might not be his? So bondage, imprisonment, and enslavement of women were not surprising. 
The Saudis are a visible example of the inescapable suspicion on women’s fertility.

Can this doubt have persisted to this day and is it responsible for men’s continuing suspicion of women? Of course.  Whether a K Street lawyer or a member of the court of Louis XIV, paternity is always an issue; and as long as only women can know the paternity of their children, they will continue to rule.

Despite ‘inclusivity’, multicultural tolerance, feminism, and the woke culture of today, the paternity of children still does matter.  Paternity, heritage, heredity, social sanction, and position have not disappeared with love and compassion.

Even when paternity, Victorian oppression, and systemic male supremacy are put aside, there is still the question of genetic gender difference.  No matter how many trucks are given to little girls in the playground, they still prefer dolls; and no matter how stringently non-violence is enforced on the playground, boys will still shoot each other with carrots and sticks.   Men are, by nature, genes, and conditioning the pursuers of women who, in turn, must choose mates and prospective fathers to assure genetic superiority.  That natural diffidence, selectivity, and standoff-ness, so necessary for the future of the species, is also a potent weapon in the gender wars.  Except for the most confident, alpha males, most men put up with classic female opera - women who look like and act like divas to attract as many men as possible, then dismiss all but the most promising.  Darwin was accurate and prescient for the entire animal kingdom.

D.H. Lawrence wrote persuasively about sexual dynamics.  He understood that regardless of Victorian social mores, the fundamental attraction and antagonism between men and women would ensure conflict; but that such conflict was not a bad thing, for out of it could come epiphany – a sexual union with implications far beyond simple satisfaction or ‘love’.  He took for granted the differences between male and female, wrote that such differences would never be resolved, but that parity of wills – a balance of dominance and submission – would be liberating and final.

Image result for images lady chatterley's lover

In other words, sexual nature – male and female – does have its inevitability; but such polarity can lead to epiphany.  There is no problem with female ambition, duplicity, or even treachery; nor with male aggressiveness and desire for control – if sexual parity, sexual equilibrium, can be achieved.

Edward Albee understood this when he wrote Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, perhaps the most explicit work about sexual dynamics since Lawrence.  George and Martha 'flay each other to the bone’ to rid themselves of duplicity, lies, and pretension and to return to a more complementary and stable marriage; but their marriage has been nothing bu duplicity and resentment.  It has been the classic, universal, perennial marriage of sexual wills; and nothing in the play suggests that the future will be otherwise.  We are hardwired, said Albee, destined to play out our sexual destiny in a discouraging repetitiveness. No epiphanies in Albee.

Image result for images who afraid virginia woolf

The war between the sexes – or to put it more objectively, the solution to Lawrence’s and Albee’s quadratic sexual equation – shows no sign of truce; and if they are to be believed, nor should it.  Only out of sexual dissension and resolution comes sexual resolution.

Easier said than done. Men continue to cheat on their wives; wives continue to take their pound of flesh from unrepentant husbands; and  the battle of sexual wills continues in bathrooms, bedrooms, and playgrounds.  No signs of truce, accommodation, or compromise. 

The progressive solution – the creation of a gender spectrum where male-female sexuality gives way to sexual fluidity – is fanciful at best.  Millennia of human society have confirmed sexual bi-polarity.  Old and New Testaments, the Koran, the Ramayana, and the Tao have been expansive in their confirmation of it.  If Lawrence, Albee, Shakespeare, the Kama Sutra, the Song of Solomon, and common sense are right, such hopeful philosophical meanderings are temporary distractions at best.

So, Albee rules – fight until we get past the bone to the marrow.  Accept sexual predicates.  Given in to Darwin, Lawrence, and inevitability.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Efficiency Of Memory–Why We Never Remember Insignificant People

A colleague at the World Bank tells the story of how one day he was called by a woman who wondered if they might have lunch. “It has been so long”, she said, “and it would be lovely to catch up”.  My colleague could not place the woman’s name or voice, but assumed that since she obviously knew him well, once they met, she, their relationship, and their experiences would all come back to him.

On the day of their lunch, he waited for her in the lobby of the main building, not knowing whom to look for, but assuming that she would quickly recognize him and the puzzle would be solved.  A few minutes after noon, an attractive woman – early forties, informal but stylishly dressed, tall, blonde, and smiling – came over to him, gave him a big hug, and told him warmly that she had been looking forward to the lunch since their call.

He, however, felt that he had never seen her before.  There was nothing  about her face, her figure, or her manner that was in the least familiar or recognizable.  It was clear from her warmth and eagerness that they in fact had met and perhaps much more; and embarrassed by his ignorance, he said nothing, certain that after a few minutes’ conversation, he would remember everything.  She put her arm through his and they walked out into the October sunshine.

Yet, even after their walk to the restaurant, and despite her chatty inquiries about his work, his family, and his health, he remembered nothing.   He asked about her work, how she was finding it, and if she had continued to spend much time in Africa – an educated guess since he worked in the Africa Division of the Bank and had travelled to Mali, Burkina, and Senegal at least three times a year, and the probability of their meeting there was high.

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“I haven’t been there in donkey’s years”, she said, “couldn’t stand the flies in the beer.”  Asia was her beat, she went on, “Same old, same old” with no clues about her work, her profession, or her bosses.  She was not being evasive.  It was just that her breezy familiarity took a lot for granted – he knew, she assumed, what she had been doing for all these years, with whom, and where, and there was certainly no point in spoiling a delightful lunch talking business.

By the time they had finished their first course – a cold vichyssoise and a tomato bisque – he was no closer to recognizing her than when the first met in the Bank lobby; but since now he was so far into the conversation, the renewed acquaintance, and the meal, he was too embarrassed to come right out and admit his ignorance.  To do so would to say clearly that despite her interest in him, her obviously warm feelings, and apparent friendship for him, she meant nothing.

There was no ‘Aha!’ moment, not even a scintilla of recognition, not through the soup course but the bouillabaisse, profiterole, coffee, and cognac.  Thanks to the scandals in the White House and the fall of the dollar, they were no different than any other power couple on K Street.  There was no need nor time for anything more personal.   After the meal they embraced warmly, promised to meet again, this time sooner than the long years which had passed since their last meeting, and said goodbye.

Image result for images tomato bisque

For weeks after their meeting my colleague parsed every line of the conversation at Le Diplomat, explored ever nuance and every reference; but still could come up with nothing.  The fact that he had forgotten – or worse never remembered – this woman was troubling.  Was this a Freudian moment? Or simply a distraction – a meeting in difficult circumstances that at the time was incidental and unmemorable?

He never did remember who she was; and since she had never, not surprisingly, called him again, he forgot her. Forgot whom, exactly? There was as little substance in her silhouette as anyone, and he remembered only the lunch, the prickly situation, and his embarrassment.

Had the woman not called, their original meeting – he admitted that there must have been one – would have been lost in space, never saved to his memory, never recorded or filed.  It would have been as if she never existed and the meeting never happened.

One of the classic misunderstanding between older married couples is the husband’s lack of recollection.  “How could you possibly not remember that?” says the wife; but of course the husband has no recollection of her incidental stories, her rattling on about bits and pieces of family members who had drifted in and out of sight over the years without consequence, not even a blip on the radar.  It is selective, efficient memory at its best.  Without perception filtered by predisposition,  life would be a chaotic jumble of indecipherable things.

It isn’t  a question of storage.  The human brain has the capacity of a thousand supercomputers but not the computing power.  Memory is more a function of character than of function.  What we remember is conditioned by who we are.  A person attuned to, concerned about, and interested in others as a matter of genetics, is likely to remember love affairs, marriage, sickness, profession, and unhappiness in great detail.  For one who is not so sensitive, the same people only occupy space temporarily, without notice and are gone without a trace.

Memory, or the lack thereof, is not neutral – an individual affair with no consequence.  Lack of recollection – drawing a blank – is a sign of indifference.  Everyone expects one’s personal zone of being to be of interest to everyone else – s question of mattering, of validation; and without recognition, one exists less.

Memory becomes particularly important as one ages.  Alzheimer’s and dementia loom.  Nabokov, a self-described memorist, knew from childhood that remembering the past was important.  In fact the past was what defined human experience.  The present was no more than a few milliseconds of awareness, the future only possibility, but the past increasing with years, was the only real, palpable, existential element of being.  If memory of the past disappears, than one disappears.  The dementia patient who first cannot remember, then creates irrational, impossible memories, then finally forgets everything, ceases to exist.  It was as though their lives had never been led.

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Older people without dementia are also governed, by memory.  Since their lives are more and more circumscribed and limited by illness or frailty, and since the future becomes less and less relevant, it is only memory that sustains them.  Yet at the same time they are less interested in storing new memories.  They pay less attention to the lives of others and more to their own increasingly liable ones.  One dies alone, as Tolstoy wrote in The Death of Ivan Ilyich, and only one’s past – the only validation of having lived – remains.

So it was quite ordinary that my World Bank colleague had no recollection of an insignificant woman.  Most of our lives are filled with insignificant people and things.  Perhaps the most aware of us realize this, make no apologies for it, and focus on the only thing that matters – oneself and one’s final moments.