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us and them

May 6, 2010

I’m listening to this Melissa Etheridge song, “What Happens Tomorrow”, and it has this one line that’s got me thinking: “And good people of the earth now can tell/There is no us and them”. The song is very political and is referencing the Bush era breakdown of the world into America+allies vs. evil-doers. I was thinking about why that breakdown always bothers me.

Yes, there are people in the world that want to kill me because I’m American. There do exist fundamentalist Muslims who would gladly strap on a bomb and blow me up. There are countries where the official line, believed by many or most, is that America is evil. Makes it seem easy to draw a line in the sand.

It’s not that easy from where I stand, though. Splitting the world into “people who love America” and “people who hate America” does not split the world into “people who love me” and “people who hate me”.

1 in 6 American women is raped in her lifetime. Flip that around and you get that, on average, 1 in 6 American men is a rapist. I can’t trust that every man I meet is a man who will respect me and my body. I have to be aware that many of them have the potential to really harm me.

(Edited because I was being an ass.) When I travel to rural areas I usually have to take stock of my wardrobe. I have a lot of left-leaning political t-shirts, and I usually try not to wear them in the boondocks, because I don’t want to end up in trouble. I’m very aware that I can be shouted at, harassed, attacked, or killed, because of my sexual orientation and gender presentation. For me, it’s not safe to wander alone in a conservative area wearing my favorite queer shirt, because I don’t know who I’m going to encounter. For that matter, I also have to be careful advertising that I’m agnostic, a feminist, or very liberal. They are less likely to get me physically harmed, but there are places where I do my best not to let those facts out.
I am very aware of the likelihood of being attacked for being read as queer. A friend of a friend was attacked and needed re-constructive facial surgery last December for being gay. A man on the Chicago subway escaped his attackers by claiming to be hiv positive last month. Just last week a transman was attacked at CSU-LB and had the word “it” carved into his chest. I know same sex couples afraid to hold hands in public. I have the amazing privilege of dating a man right now and being read as straight, but I’m aware that when I wear certain clothes or have certain conversations in public that I could get in trouble. I tend to tone it down in unfamiliar places, especially conservative areas and bars, because I worry more about what might happen, and who would be around to defend me. There exist people, a surprising number of them, who would harass or hurt me for my orientation, and I do worry about meeting them alone.

This list gets longer when I take into account my friends. My Hispanic friends, who have never had an easy time in southern border states and now are probably all considering if they really want to travel to Arizona. My foreign born friends, who have to face American immigration every time they want to travel back home to visit their families. My friends of various colors who have to face the internalized racism of the country, couple with the very blunt racism of a small percentage of people.

There are certainly people in Islamic countries who want to kill me for who I am. But there’s a lot of people here in America who would hurt me and those I care about, given the chance. From where I stand, America has flaws, and there is no simple line I can draw to distinguish good from evil. That’s why I don’t like breaking the world into Us vs. Them. The line that gets drawn doesn’t seem to apply to me.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Amanda permalink
    May 6, 2010 2:00 pm

    So normally I read your blog and laugh while saying oh that Marie is so liberal but she makes a good point about being careful with your words. But I think perhaps you should look at the huge overarching statement you just made about rural areas. I quite literally come from a one stoplight town. Where my pastor preached about accepting gay people, we had a lesbian chiropractor that everyone loved and went to. (I only use this as an example because no homophobe would allow a lesbian to touch/massage all the parts that chiropractors do) The only thing everyone joked about the most prominently gay guy at our high school was “dammit the hottest guy here doesn’t like girls”. And being bi was like the “cool thing” for girls to do in high school/college. Most people in my area are conservative christians. I’m sure most of them would vote against same-sex marriage, but if a bill came through giving same sex couples every single right that married men and women had it would pass because we all know and love some person who isn’t straight. No one would even notice that you don’t conform to gender roles. After all rural farm girls are the epitome of not conforming to gender roles. They just do it because boy clothes are more comfy, easier to work in, because well that’s what their brothers wear or because they like it. We went out and hunted bugs alongside the boys, we ATV/fish/hunt and many other things that are “boy things”. We had girls go to prom in tuxes because they hated dresses. Sure its not done to make a political statement but instead thats just who they are. One or two towns that make the news does not equal what the thoughts of all or even most rural areas are, just as gay people should not be judged by the actions of a few people in the gay community and muslims should not be judged by the jihad extremist groups.

    I’m sorry this is so long- Its just that while you and I disagree on nearly everything politically wise, this is just the first time I’ve heard you say something so completely and totally offensive and against an entire group of people.

  2. May 6, 2010 5:57 pm

    I apologize for the way I worded that section. It was never my intention to say that all rural people are a certain way. Knowing the hate crime statistics has made me aware that any time I leave the bubble that is the university I need to be careful. Keeping track of hate crimes has made me aware that I can be attacked on a train in Chicago or very nearby at CSU-LB. I do know where I’m more likely to find an ally, but I shouldn’t have made it sound like there are no (or even very few) allies in rural areas. I was wrong to say what I said; thanks for calling me out on it. I’ll go edit the post accordingly.

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