I’ve been thinking a lot about Florida’s Stand Your Ground law not just with regard to George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin but also how that law could be made to work generally, how it is used practically, and how it is different from self-defense laws in other states.
Last point first. In most other states, you do have the right to kill someone in self-defense but if you are able to flee, you must flee. Some states have taken a bolder position and hold that there is no duty to flee in your own home. Florida takes it further and lets people strike preemptively, which creates a lot of leeway.
Obviously the present case with George Zimmerman involves a man stalking a teenager who weighed over 100 lbs less than he did and who never went near him, which strains even the most sympathetic construction of self-defense. I seriously doubt Zimmerman would be out walking around if he had shot a seventeen year old white girl, no matter what she was up to.
Since the law here gives such a broad definition for self-defense, I started thinking about situations where defending yourself with deadly force when someone had merely shown up in your general vicinity, and I had a hard time getting my mind around this at first until I realized I should think about the dangers of Florida:
The Klan. If the Klan showed up at your house in their little matching outfits, I think you might reasonably interpret this as a threat to your life.
Florida anti-abortion terrorists. Anti-choice terrorists have murdered four doctors since about 1993, two of them, Dr. David Gunn and Dr. John Britton, in Florida, as well as various clinic staff, other attempts on people’s lives including both clinic staff and family members, clinic bombings, threats and other scares. While most people who think that god has called them to harass women on the sidewalk are merely annoying idiots, enough of them have been dangerous that I think Florida’s Stand Your Ground law could reasonably describe this as a self-defense situation, especially with the number of websites up for the purposes of stalking and intimidating clinic employees as well as the Wanted posters Operation Rescue is known for.
And then I thought a little more about dangers that were unfortunately more universal, like better protections for people in abusive situations, domestic abuse victims or kids whose parents are abusive, people being sexually harassed or bullied at work or at school.
I also thought more abstractly about whether it would be self-defense to kill a politician who was implementing policy that was directly harmful to you, such as cutting medicaid when you had no other way to afford medication that you need to stay alive.
Then I considered who in these situations is more likely to have and carry a gun, and to be able to get the police and the courts on their side, and I could only conclude that this law is not about self-defense for the general public but about the rights of people with relative privilege to dominate the public sphere.
I keep hearing over and over on the internet that women who respect themselves shouldn’t vote republican given all of the misogynistic get back in the kitchen and have babies until you die legislation that various republican officials and candidates are proposing.
Women who respect themselves shouldn’t vote republican, the internet says, and I keep waiting for the next clause:
and neither should their allies
and somehow the internet is silent.
I am not going to go on a big rant about democrats versus republicans since mostly they both suck. However, I don’t think I am going out on a limb here when I say that there is a problem with expecting only women to support women’s rights, and with not expecting men to be good allies to women. It’s not okay to criticize women for voting republican because of misogynist republican policy and then turn around and give men a pass on it unless you think it’s cool for men to totally dismiss women’s issues as not important enough for them to care about.
Men who respect women, don’t vote for a misogynist.
From Ms. Magazine, At 11th Hour, Georgia Passes “Women as Livestock” Bill.
What is notable about this is not that it is yet another stunning piece of misogynistic legislation aimed to reduce the roles of women in our society to that of mere fetus-containers, but the way Rep. Terry England articulated this idea:
“Life gives us many experiences…I’ve had the experience of delivering calves, dead and alive. Delivering pigs, dead or alive. It breaks our hearts to see those animals not make it.”
Wow, Rep. England. It’s totally heartbreaking to see those animals not make it, which is just how we all feel about women! It’s so sad when women or other livestock go through a pregnancy and then have to deliver a dead or nonviable fetus, it’s really terrible for the men and farmers who take care of them! It wouldn’t be sad for women or cows or pigs though, they’re just dumb animals whose purpose in life is turning their bodies into factories for someone else’s interests.
The agency and autonomy are the farmer’s, the pain is the farmer’s, the tragedy is the farmer’s, and not because of his pain at seeing her suffering but because she has not produced what he set her to make. The woman or other female animal has no feelings, no desires, no health to consider, no sense of self, no career or occupation other than to endure pregnancy.
I was unsurprised a few days ago when Rush Limbaugh called a woman who uses birth control a slut, as this is hardly a new thing for him to harp on about. The response, while certainly appropriate to his comments, has been striking precisely because it is a new response to what had at first appeared to me to be the same old misogyny. Limbaugh called a woman who uses birth control a slut and suddenly everyone is paying attention, unlike all the other times he’s vilified women who want to control their reproductive lives.
The difference this time is that Limbaugh called a white professional woman a slut. Normally he restricts his comments to either insulting women in general or making it clear that the women he hates on are also marginalized along race and class lines. You know, those other women who use birth control. The bad ones. The ones that his listener base want to define themselves in opposition to, rather than the ones they want their daughters to identify with.
As much as I am delighted to see advertisers pulling away and networks dropping him, it’s very sad to me that this is not because Limbaugh hates women but because he has finally made clear to his audience that he includes white professional women in with all the other women that he hates.
I have recently been asked by a few different people about how parents can increase awesomeness around LGBT issues and be good allies to kids.
I know frankly zilch about parenting so my ideas are:
1) School board elections are really important, and calling your school board members all the time doesn’t hurt. The Anoka-Hennepin suicides might have been preventable with a better school board. These are tiny elections that not a lot of people pay attention to, so it’s relatively easy to affect the outcome.
2) Demand inclusive curriculum and comprehensive sex ed.
3) Letting your kids interact positively with a lot of different people is cool, and it’s probably for the best if you live in an integrated, diverse neighborhood.
5) Be aware that it may not be your kid who is having the issue and that it may be a kid whose parents are not supportive of them. This will still impact your child’s learning experience and it’s still okay to speak out. If you think something weird is going on, keep a record.
6) While it’s appropriate to help kids learn about formal versus informal events and dressing appropriately in general, the gender socialization that generally goes with this can be oppressive for kids who don’t have typical gender identities – your daughter may want pants, your son may want a dress or just something pretty. Kids may want to experiment with their hair or makeup. This may be passing or it may be long term, but either way, they’re just clothes. Focus on dressing appropriately for the weather, activities, and formal occasions.
7) There is lots of media out there, for adults and children. I know zilch about children’s books other than the legendary Heather Has Two Mommies, but I am sure the internet or your local independent bookseller can help you. For adults, I recommend the French movie La Vie En Rose.
8) Don’t be afraid to tell other people off, especially if they’re espousing views that are likely to result in more dead kids. People who like dead kids are creepy and you don’t need them to like you. This goes double for anyone who is an authority figure in your child’s life. Figure out who to complain to and complain like mad.
If you have other thoughts, please leave a comment. This is in no way meant to be an exhaustive list but more a place to start.
I appreciate the sentiments behind the It Gets Better project, but feel that in general it falls so short of what queer kids actually need as to be essentially irrelevant to their experience. As a queer teen, I did not need to hear that things would improve eventually if I stuck it out. I was thinking about whether tomorrow was going to be the day I got my ass kicked in school. I was thinking about how bad the verbal harassment was going to get. I was thinking about what was going to happen to my friends who were still in the closet in that technical way where everyone knew they were a couple but they couldn’t come out because of their parents so they got harassed worse than I did, because being out at least gave me the space to say “fuck you” instead of “no I’m not.” I was thinking about my friend who had to drop out of school because other kids wouldn’t tolerate how femme he was. I was thinking about whether my parents were going to scream at me again and whether they’d change their minds about not kicking me out. I was thinking about what my homeless friends were doing to get by or sometimes I was trying not to think about that or I was thinking about whether there was something I could do that I wasn’t doing. I was thinking about my friends who were getting hit on by men twice their age and how messed up it was that community stuff was still organized out of the bars but we couldn’t go in. I was thinking about how bored I was sitting through sex ed for the sixth time and learning yet again about straight people and pregnancy. I was thinking about AIDS and how fucking judgmental people get over other people getting sick and dying. I was thinking about the next town over passing legislation against queer rights.
I wasn’t thinking about my future career or my future life as a yuppie or whether my future girlfriend would be upset that she couldn’t have a church wedding or whether things would magically improve at some vague point that wasn’t even on my horizon.
I was thinking about how my teachers never did anything about the harassment they knew I was taking. I was thinking about how my parents didn’t want me to tell anyone because they didn’t want to be embarrassed by me and maybe this was just some terrible phase because the attention I was getting was so enjoyable or something. I was thinking it would be nice to know more queer people than I could name in 30 seconds. I was thinking how great it would be if my girlfriend would hold my hand in public instead of pulling away from me for fear that we’d get killed.
If some adult had told me it would get better if I just stuck it out for another few years, I would have written them off as yet another patronizing dumbass who didn’t have any idea of what I was going through. I would have wanted to ask exactly when it got better, and how to speed that up. All these videos full of bland panacea about how it will get better if I’m a good little girl who waits patiently sound like the demand that we fulfill our roles as punching bags, silent and obedient, until the magic day when things change.
I wanted an adult to actually say that the shit I was taking over who I was was bullshit and had to stop right now. I wanted a teacher to tell off one of the kids who harassed me, just one time. I would have wanted to have an adult in my life I could actually talk to, but imagining this was beyond me at that point. I just wanted some space to breathe.
I was lucky enough to live in a place where coming out young didn’t get me killed or make me homeless, and I took it as an opportunity to fight back. It doesn’t get better unless you stand up and make it better, and most of the It Gets Better videos are great for visibility but the content is sad and creepy in that way where it feels like they’re made by people who felt powerless in high school and think that can’t change, and they aren’t really involved in any kind of activism to change things now, just waiting quietly for the law to catch up to them, passively upset about not having the same privileges as their coworkers. Even for me now, 20 years later with a professional job, this makes me tune out in an instant.
Here are the two videos I like, the two I’ve found that I think succeed.
First, Kate Bornstein, who understands about how bad it can get.
Second, Hal Duncan, who understands the need to fight back.
Overall, I think for me the amazing thing about the It Gets Better project is not the message but the call to visibility. I would have loved this part of it as a queer teen and I love it now as a queer adult. However, without a more substantial message like Hal and Kate have, it’s hard for me to see the larger project as more than that.
Our assimilation into the violence of the system is now complete: the San Francisco Police Department has made an It Gets Better video.
I am encountering a lot of people who think this is sweet and charming, but to me this is creepy. The traditional relationship between the cops and the larger gay community is anything but warm and fuzzy (to say nothing of how trans folks are typically treated). This is true in San Francisco as in other places. I do not expect an It Gets Better video to address the actions of the SFPD around the trial of Dan White after he murdered Harvey Milk and George Moscone, but to completely elide the long history of anti-gay police harassment and violence especially for young queer kids who may be facing homelessness seems disingenuous to the point of danger.
In my lifetime it has become much safer for gays to interact with cops, but this has occurred along predictable lines of race, gender, and class privilege. White gay men who are typically masculine and own property are much more likely to have positive interactions with police officers than homeless teens, teens of color or anyone who is gender nonconforming. Kids are often seen as delinquent if they don’t want to go home to their parents, no matter what the parents are like.
If the police really want us to believe that they have our best interests at heart, perhaps they should recognize the complexity of our situations and begin dialogue about the ways that law enforcement fails to serve queer youth and especially queer youth who are also marginalized in other ways.