Thursday, October 18, 2007

127. LIVE AS IF YOUR HAIR IS ON FIRE

From the Archives

(July 2005) Just went out in 99° weather to get my yard mowed so I can leave at 4 AM to attend my uncle’s funeral. He was only 52 and in great physical condition (we thought) before he dropped dead of a brain aneurism.

Sobering.

The service is at my grandparents’ rabidly primitive Baptist church in a tiny southern farming community and I am uncomfortable going there because the place is so blatantly homophobic. They’re southern first, though, so I know they’ll be distant but civil to me (unless I’m alone on some dark road when the judgmental rough boys come out to punish difference).

Have been pondering the picaresque poet and co-blogger Demiurgicgpoet's experience showing up queer at her southern family's church for a funeral and boy is her story familiar. It’s so odd to be around people who insist that you are condemned because you actually choose to—to paraphrase Mary Oliver—let the soft animal of your warm body love whom it loves.

But what else can you do and still remain true to your self?

The Baptist compulsion to silence differing worldviews, to cast people with ideologies that disagree with theirs as evil is familiar to me. And Baptist women just confound me. (Well, as do Muslim women. Or Catholic women, for that matter. Or any women who embrace a tradition that places them in a subordinate position and choose to participate in retrograde religious traditions that insist that they “submit graciously” to men.)

These traditions confine women to marginal positions, then the men in their lives point to this marginalization as evidence of the women’s presumed inferiority.

This is the legacy I inherited and I still ponder what it is that keeps women who have other options in such a confining space.

I’ve never been able to explain the whole Southern notion of family honor to nonSoutherners either, but reading about Arab culture is familiar too.

Honor, in this culture, "requires that women give up their individuality in order to maintain the reputation and prospects of the men in their lives. This turns women into communal property, so that their lives don’t actually belong to them but to their families, their tribes, and sometimes even their nations." (That’s by gorgeous best-selling dyke author Irshad Manji, from The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith.)

I learned early on that I’d have to either put myself out of my misery or find the wherewithall to break the damn silence and talk about how oppressive it is to grow up rabidly Baptist (or rabidly anything that minimizes our whole beautiful selves)—and this probably explains why I tend to create fictional characters who yearn to escape their oppression.

So yeah, I know what it will be like to return to Baptist Town USA as a queer who publicly rejected the Baptist sledgehammer that so many of the people who will be at the funeral used to try to pound me into a particular shape ...

... and don’t even get me started on this Supreme Court nominee who has a record of seeking to weaken the separation between church and state. This guy can tip the scales, people, and that scares the living crap out of me and makes me want to mail copies of The Handmaid’s Tale to every thinking citizen of this country.



No big surprise, but I have been thinking about death and relationships today.

Buddhist philosophy recognizes samsara, or the endless cycle of suffering. All gain ends in loss according to this principle, yet we continue to compete and fabricate a chain of desire that keeps us in samsara. That which we gather, we will lose. Our pleasure will eventually lead to pain. Or “Gain and loss are meaningless preoccupations that we use to foster the illusion of a permanent self.”

Sigh.

Buddhists advise that, after becoming familiar with the truth of our impermanence, we should practice sitting and living as if our hair were on fire.

LISTENING TO: ani defranco croon fuck you and your untouchable face. Fuck you for existing in the first place. (yeah)

READING: J-14 Style Summer Special. This is a sad, sad magazine aimed at fourteen-year-old suburban girls and one day soon I will quote from select articles.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link to the story. I read the Independent when I was a student at Duke and admire the paper's politics.

Thanks for your posts too. Insightful anarchy at it's homo best, but when will we move to the present tense?
-Mab

Carol Guess said...

I feel really, really lucky that many members of my Southern family have evolved into progressive Democrats. Nonetheless I haven't forgotten spending family holidays taking long walks to escape the racist, sexist, homophobic clatter. It's hard to hang onto history without losing your present identity.

At the same time (I don't know if you feel this way), I get frustrated when my students describe the American South as backwards, redneck, etc etc. I feel protective of the good, strong, loving people--the activists, the peace makers, the honest friends--who live there. I feel protective of my family, and frustrated that my students see "the South" as a racist monolith, but don't see racism here in the Pacific Northwest at all (as if we are exempt from it here!).

On a tangential note, check out the blog Slaves Of Academe
www.slavesofacademe.blogspot.com

I suspect you'll like it.

MEDEA poetica said...

Dear Mab and Carol,
Thanks so much for writing.

Mab, if you're the Mab of Mama's Dead Squirrel and Memoir of a Race Traitor fame, then nice to hear from you again. It's been a while and I sincerely hope that you and Barb are adjusting well to your new (and colder) landscape.

Carol, your comment really captures the struggle of progressive folks who grew up in the Southland. I feel protective of my southern relatives too and know that the South is also populated by many insightful, progressive people who defy the national stereotype. Thanks too for this wonderful link. It brightened my entire day!
-Medea