Thursday, April 28, 2011

Turning Sixty: A Junior-Senior is Born

Aging is something that I never thought could happen to me. At sixteen I believed I might live to twenty-two. At twenty-two following the death of my mother, the suicide of my grandmother and the death of her husband, my grandfather, three months after that, I was sure that my life would be over within the year.

But life is funny. The survival instinct is overpowering. If you just keep putting one foot in front of the other, time passes. There is always one more dinner, one more drink, one more joint, one more line, one more TV show and one more movie. So it goes. What some refer to as "substance abuse," I now think of as self-medication. It saved my life. There was my sister Lori, to care for, she hadn't yet finished high school. And my old friend Barb who I'd run into at my mother's funeral. She was living in a trailer in a campground. Having worked as a bartender, she really knew how to "entertain." She claimed her life in Ohio was going nowhere fast. So, my sister, Barb and I set off in search of a sea change in the wide open promise of California.

When I tell folks I came out here to live thirty-eight years ago, they look at me with the kind of dismissive disbelief with which I used to regard old people. Sometimes it feels as though every sentence I speak is loaded down with time. I'll say I lived in San Francisco for fourteen years, but now I've lived in the East Bay for twenty-one. These are huge numbers. The folks who are the "right age" now were born in the eighties. When I was thirty-something, I admitted to myself that when I looked over a crowd of people, I only saw the ones in my age group. That seems natural for the young. It must have to do with mate selection and sex drive. I'm sure Charles Darwin could explain it.

In two years I'll qualify for Social Security, if we still have it. I work half-time now, not completely of my own volition, but sometimes even that seems like too much. I'm still strong and healthy but my energy level is not what it used to be. I remember working full time from 8:30 to 5:30, picking up a burrito on the run and then attending a political meeting that lasted until 9:30 or so. Following that meeting, we'd often go to a bar to drink and play pool until closing.

Ah, youth, definitely wasted on the young. If you'd told me then that one day I'd be blogging about it, you could have proved the existence of a parallel universe on a time/space continuum. And, speaking of physics,  if Stephen Hawking can make peace with his limited body, I'm sure I can learn to accept mine.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Scapegoating at Work

The tanking economy has put more pressure on those workers who are left after layoffs, cut-backs and general attrition. Unfilled positions mean heavier workloads for those of us who have survived the slaughter. Our punishment is more of a slow and painful death instead of a simple beheading. Scapegoating in the workplace is not a new phenomenon. It was a problem before the recession as well. It just seems that now everyone being hammered senseless an desperately seeking a dog to kick.

The position of scapegoat is usually a rotating one. The person who holds it is perceived as powerless by others. You are not going to find a middle or upper management person being targeted. I've been actively in the workforce for 40 plus years now and have seen many scapegoats. I have also been one from time to time. In the huge majority of cases I've witnessed the person who falls out of favor is female. As women we have a lot of unwritten expectations piled on our plates. Transgression is easy. The bitch stereotype resonates with almost everybody, male and female alike. And it's a hard hole to climb out of. You can use direct confrontation tactics but that is a slippery slope. Both yelling and crying will only make it worse. Keeping your mouth closed and working hard is the only strategy I've seen work. But it's a protracted one. Don't expect results overnight.

RIght now it is happening to two people I know of at the library where I am employed. One a lesbian artist, the other a straight mom. The arguments against both of them are remarkably similar: "She is not a team player,"  She doesn't allow her work to interfere with her life," etc. are typical statements that circulate about them.

I'm not condemning my co-workers from a tower of self-righteousness. My hands are not clean on this issue either. And after having been the designated scapegoat more times than I care to remember, you'd think they would be. It's an oddly compelling feeling to dish someone in a group setting. It provides a sense of inclusion, of shared threat, of a common enemy. It can be a catharsis as well as a great relief to find that you are not the one being taken down. This thank god it's not me sensation has been a hit with viewers of reality shows for a couple of decadesJust watch Survivor for the reactions of other tribe members when someone is about to be voted off the island.

There is only one instance I recall here at the library when the scapegoat was male. He was a gay man who worked in the Children's Department and he was accused of child molestation. He was convicted by the testimony of co-workers and children and although the courts eventually threw out the charge saying it was unfounded, it was a blow that could not be survived. He is no longer among the living and although his death was due to disease, I'm sure the humiliation and ridicule he endured played a major role in shortening his life.

So, what can we all do to try to make our lives more tolerable in the new depression workplace where jobs are fraught with insecurity, low pay and meager benefits? I could quote Joe Hill on this one with "Don't Mourn--Organize." But if you just need to indulge in some serious trashing remember, that's what Management is there for.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

DOMA, The Civil War, Scott Walker and Kathy Nickoulaus

The GOP is paying $520.00 per hour to Republican Solicitor General Paul Clement to defend the blatantly unconstitutional DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act). Aren't you glad your taxpayer dollars are going to good use?

This year is the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and according to a recent CNN poll 42% of Americans and 54% of T-yranny Party fanatics believe that slavery was not the main cause of that war. They've misconstrued it to be some kind of a states' rights thing. Speaking of the Civil War, why didn't we let the south secede? Is it too late to reconsider?

Sly Scott Walker is now not only taking away paid sick days from workers, he is trying to pass legislation similar to what Michigan governor Rick Snyder has bamboozled. He wants the power to take over districts and replace elected officials should the "budgetary need" arise. Of course, he would be the one to determine that need as well as the appropriate replacement for those officials.

In Michigan this financial martial law has taken over Benton Harbor Michigan a poor (average income $10,235 a year) predominantly African-American (85.5%) town to build a new golf course on what once was their lake-front park. Membership in this exclusive club will cost $5,000 per year.

Magician Kathy
And there is a supposedly non-partisan committee now looking into the Kathy Nickolaus sleight of hand shell game with the Wisconsin election results. Not only does she have a 13 year history of working for in the Republican Caucus for David Prosser ( the candidate she uncovered 7,000 new votes for to change the outcome of the election), her track record of screwing with vote counts in previous elections is absolutely astounding. A true magician, she can make votes appear out of nowhere. It's time for a serious challenge to this level of hanky-panky.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Fear of a Queer Cousin

As the world continues to fall apart, I have taken a quick breather, a stint, with my partner showing the San Francisco Bay Area her cousin,  my cousin-in-law, Cindy. Now before I lay out the problem, I must say that Cindy is a sweet, open-hearted person. She just happens to share some of the same old prejudices of the rest of society. Coming from a university town in New England gives her a lot of experience dealing with queer folks, especially lesbians of every stripe. In spite of her immersion, she worries about issues like her hair length, afraid she might be mistaken for a disciple from our side.

We all attended a party for an LGBT organization in which I volunteer. No problem, Cindy was eager to go. At the gathering she socialized quite a bit. When she held forth in small groups she was certain to mention an ex-boyfriend within the first 60 seconds of the conversation. Many heterosexuals feel a need to do this. I start my watch when speaking to married women. Almost unfailingly within two minutes, hubby has reared his slightly balding head. It's a strange phenomenon, perhaps intricately linked to the hyper-sexualization of the queer, or maybe just plain out-and-out fear of being subjected to the kinds of prejudice and discrimination to which we have become accustomed. In this specific circumstance I  think that Cindy was a bit concerned that someone would come on to her. As a long-time dyke this fear both annoys and amazes me. I want to shake the folks who display it and ask,"Do you know how hard it is to actually pick up another woman?" The push-me, pull-you dance of lesbian dating is a courtship more nuanced and stylized than the mating dance of the flamingo.

Life for queers is definitely improving, although sometimes it feels like two steps forward, one step back. In my early days of political activity, when a heterosexual person dared to defend the rights of a non-heterosexual one, he or she would invariably begin the sentence with the phrase, I'm straight but...

I would have liked to respond, " I don't give a flying crap about your straight butt," there is a greater moral imperative here!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Medical Care for the Masses: A Traveling Circus

Oakland Free Clinic at the Coliseum
The Oakland Coliseum has been hosting a "free clinic" operation sponsored by Remote Area Medical Corps, a volunteer group that travels throughout the third world, the American south and now financially depressed cities such as Oakland California to provide basic medical care and services. Uninsured folks line up, often waiting through the night, to get free dental care, eyeglasses, cancer screenings, all types of care that is economically out of reach for people without health insurance for the price of one long, cold, sleepless night.

Every day at the library I help people who have very few teeth, who have eyeglasses precariously taped together, who can't even think of holding a job because they can't see or their physical appearance has become socially unacceptable. Even my city of San Francisco dental insurance, paid one hundred percent of the cost of a tooth extraction but will only pay 50% of a significantly larger amount (5,000 dollars) to replace that tooth with an implant. And that coverage, which had been previously non-existent, won't kick in until July.

The USA will not pay to keep their cogs in the capitalist machinery well oiled and in working order because they consider us entirely disposable. "There are more where you came from," is their ongoing theme. Michael Moore illustrated this with painful clarity in his movie, "Capitalism: A Love Story." We have become so inured to the familiar with the naked obscenity of purchasing life and health that we hardly notice it anymore.

     "If living were a thing that money could buy, you know the rich would live and the poor would die"... (All My Trials, Song of uncertain folk origin that sums it all up).

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Healthcare and Being Queer

LGBT folks have more health problems as we age and more health problems in general. A dearth of studies have been done on our community but other studies on oppressed minorities have shown that "outsiders" have more mental and physical difficulties. Fear of rejection and lack of understanding and compassion deter LGBT folks from seeking medical care in the first place. Things as simple as the standard questions about birth control methods convey the assumption that everyone shares the same life experience. When you are ill and under a lot of stress, explaining your lifestyle  and worrying about how it will be received is the last thing you feel like doing.

Here are a couple of examples from my own experience. Nearly twenty years ago I was diagnosed with melanoma. At Clark's level four, it was a serious diagnosis where the specter of metastasis meant a life expectancy of about 18 months. I had to go to a lot of different doctors for a myriad of tests. My live-in partner accompanied me. One of the first things that we were asked was "Are you two sisters?" Based on our feelings we answered this question in different ways. Our responses are not important. What is important is that neither of us felt much like entering into a discussion about our orientation. We only wanted to deal with the situation at hand.

Another example came up more recently. I went to a follow-up appointment with my male gastroenterologist. He was a "good-looking." Berkeley guy of East Indian descent, someone who , judging by the publications in the waiting room, prided himself on his sensitivity around issue of race. He told me that in the hospital following the procedure he had explained a lot of things that I had zero memory of, due to the drug I was given. I asked him what happened in our interaction and he laughed and said, "It was really salacious."

I was floored and didn't know how to respond. Of course, in retrospect, I wish I'd said something like, "You mean that drug made me straight for a few minutes?" But unfortunately, I kept my comments to myself and left his office never to return.

The onslaught is perpetual and the real costs of being defined as an outsider are impossible to calculate. It is clear that raising consciousness among folks in the medical profession, studying the diseases of our community and our special needs and risk factors. And of course, making real healthcare available to all should be a top priority in the world we are trying to create to replace this woefully inadequate one.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Solidarity and New Attacks

Oakland Rally--April 4th 2011
Of course their was not much mainstream press coverage but some workers took to the streets yesterday, the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, to show solidarity with Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana, states where workers rights are being butchered mercilessly. King who had arrived in Memphis in 1968 to support a strike of that city's sanitation workers. We must remember that a vast swath of states across the American South call themselves "right to work" states, Brave New World doublespeak that means the same as 'freedom is slavery," they are states where it is against the law to unionize.

Yes, we are up that proverbial creek full of fecal matter but we are beginning to fight back. And speaking of fecal matter, Dairyland Dictator Scott Walker is continuing to refuse to comply with judges orders and has said he will deduct a percentage of state worker's wages, in line with his illegal bill, on their April 21st paychecks. Holding fast to a his warped yet gilded memory of Ronald Reagan and the air traffic controllers, he is steadfastly refusing to acknowledge, even the not-so-just, justice system.
Paul Ryan

Meanwhile another meadow muffin, Republican, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (Scott Walker's evil twin), is going hog wild with his proposal to transform Medicaid and Medicare into a for profit, private voucher system with the unspoken goal of ending healthcare for a large chunk of middle and working class and poor folks. His sights are also set on doing away with Social Security and other last remnants of safety nets the non-wealthy rely on.

In other news, will the government shut down on Friday? Only time will tell...