Parsing What Comes Between the Thanks and the Giving


by Roxanne Tellier

Americans celebrated their Thanksgiving this past week. Many families endured long journeys, traveling across the country, to spend time with the people they love. The lucky ones gathered around tables that groaned with heaps of delicious, fresh, and sometimes even healthy, food.

Norman Rockwell; Freedom from Want

Following in the tradition of the giving of thanks, families and friends joined hands and expressed their gratitude for those they love, for all that they have, and for all they hoped to amass during the capitalistic human centipede orgy known as Black Friday shopping.

Amen.

For the fortunate, it was a warm, loving, pre-holiday feast. Some families went to bed feeling loved, with full bellies, and visions of the sugar plums they’d enjoy next month.

Other families – not so much. Beyond worrying about how to pay for that groaning board, they had to deal with the ‘difficult’ relative – the aunt, or uncle, or son or daughter or in-law who, instead of bringing a sweet potato and marshmallow pie, brought their anger, fear, and their disdain for the political party that the rest of the gathering espoused.

All In the Family; Archie, Edith, Michael and Gloria

And that could be to either party. While I have my own bias, I’m well aware that a family that has an altar to trump is gonna have trouble with the family member who is a ‘never trumper’ – and vice versa. Think Archie Bunker, wrangling with son in law Michael Stivic, while Edith and Gloria tried to calm the troubled waters. Oh yes, it was ever thus. As then, so today, but oh my living lights and liver! It’s so much worse now.

Tell me,  how’d we ever get this way.

Not everyone experiences these unpleasant interactions. Maybe you are blessed with a Hallmark card family that never disagrees. And many people use social media sparingly, as a place to connect with loved ones, and to enjoy funny gifs and Youtube videos. That’s a perfectly valid – probably the most sensible! – way to enjoy the internet. What I’m talking about here is those of us who compulsively follow the news, with a fetish for politics. That’s a whole other experience. For us ….

” These are the days of miracle and wonder. This is the long distance call. The way the camera follows us in slo-mo. The way we look to us all, oh yeah”

Paul Simon – The Boy in the Bubble

Maybe we can blame it on social media, on our ability to reach out and touch every other person on the planet who enthusiastically agrees with our theories and preferences, but the truth is, a huge segment of society has somehow devolved into something primal and tribal. It’s no longer a disagreement or a difference in opinion; it’s outright war against anyone who doesn’t toe exactly the same political lines we hold dear.

And no matter how ridiculous. 

The level of insanity exhibited by the Mad King installed in the White House is only matched by his sycophantic court, who gladly traipse along behind him, carrying his water, and informing the people that his most insane pronouncements are only misunderstood by his subjects because the hoi polloi can never dream of attaining the level of ‘genius’ trump was born with. Sigh.

You know – the way North Koreans are taught from birth that their holy family in the Kim Dynasty are beyond human understanding, and must be worshipped as gods. Like that. 

The sad truth is that the rules of modern civilized engagement have been fundamentally changed, and many people have decided that they prefer these new rules. Why tell the truth, when the president, all of his administration, and apparently almost all those of wealth and power, no longer feel the need to do so? What kind of sucker tells the truth and takes accountability for their misdeeds, when there’s dirty money to be made, and a seemingly infinite number of lawyers prepared to argue that your fake truth is just as valid as someone else’s declaration?

The people in charge are making it up as they go. Reality is now whatever the 1% say it is, and the rest of you better ‘get over it.’

75% of Americans don’t trust their government and politicians, while 64% don’t even trust each other. And the response from their governmental spokesperson?

“This is the way it works. Get over it.”

Nick Mulvaney, Acting White House Chief of Staff, October 17, 2019

And why bother being civil to each other, when accusations, personal sniping, and the flinging of links to sites that trumpet your truth, is the new way to communicate? The loudest voice seems to rule the day, as those with softer voices and gentle demeanours fall by the wayside.  Even many of those that we may think of as friends and colleagues seem unable to stop themselves from snapping at our heels, unmoored from a frontal cortex that might stop their lips from voicing what might, in better times, have never been uttered, like so many stroke victims who have lost their verbal filters. 

The atmosphere seems to favour the conceit that we are the most important and most knowledgeable person in the room, while simultaneously being the biggest, and most ignored victim, in history. Schrödinger’s Narcissist, demanding to be heard, no matter how inane and mundane our input may be. The shining lead in a reality show in which it truly is all about us, and the ‘little people’ are on their own.   

The trouble is, when everyone’s the boss, when everyone is too important to be of help, things get really dicey when you actually need help yourself. And we’re all so short of time. When we want something, we want it now, and the not getting of something we want the minute we want it leads to tantrums and tears over stuff that we might have brushed away as no big deal, just a few years ago.

Maybe our narcissism and self-focus is a by-product of the things we cannot control or change. Spending our time on self-soothing leaves little time for thinking about how the rest of the world lives. While we complain about how hard it is to get rid of stuff so that we can buy more stuff, there are millions of Canadians and Americans who are homeless. In truth, the average person is just two or three pay cheques away from being in the same boat. Maybe even just one.

” Millions of middle-class Americans are just one missed paycheck away from poverty, with 4 of 10 considered “liquid-asset poor,” or without enough money socked away to cope with even a sudden disruption in income. “

Despite the lowest unemployment rate in decades and solid economic growth, many Americans are on thin financial ice, Prosperity Now found. Minority households are particularly lagging on key measures such as income and wealth, the study found. Across the board, more than 1 in 10 American households fell behind in their bills in the last year, a signal that many are struggling with rising costs and stagnant incomes.  “ cbsnews.com

While blowhards rant about how ‘welfare queens’ pump out more mouths for taxpayers to feed, and claim with no evidence that the poor use their food stamps for steak and booze, the sad truth is that America can be a harsh and unforgiving place for those born to anything less than middle class. Many resent giving the poor and vulnerable ‘hand outs,’ but have no solutions as to how we should go about helping those less fortunate than themselves.  

This epidemic of poverty and homelessness is not new; society was ever thus. What is so startling about today’s wave of needy citizens is the glaring contrast between the haves and the have nots.

Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has 10 yachts, 12 private jets, 4 helicopters, a government job replete with perks and benefits, and pays no taxes.  She also has 24/7 security, at a cost to the taxpayers of $20 million to date, because she ‘fears for her life’ due to some teacher-led protests.

At 10:30 a.m., this Black Friday, I walked along Yonge Street near Bloor, picking my way through the hands held out for change, while avoiding the prone bodies in sleeping bags that hugged the curb. Across the street, the glittering shops of Yorkville were swamped with fur coated shoppers proffering their black AmEx credit cards to take advantage of sales.

Toronto‘s libraries don’t talk about it much, but they are often the only place able to provide a safe haven for those with no homes, and nowhere to go during the day. On any given day, it’s not unusual to see a bundle buggy heaped high with all of a person’s worldly possessions parked in a library foyer or washroom. And while it may be tempting to sniff that you are opposed to paying for this with your tax dollars, the question then must be what you are prepared to do to help with the situation instead. And that takes a great deal more money, courage and empathy, than kicking in a few pennies per year in your taxes.

Looking beyond our cities and nations, people all around the globe are dying by the millions, from war and neglect. In Yemen, 85,000 children under the age of five have died from starvation, along with countless adult civilians. In Syria, the Kurdish people, who just a month ago were American allies, are being slaughtered as the Turkish militia go door to door in search of ex-fighters. Russia illegally annexed Crimea, and is at war with the Ukraine.

Southwest Bangladesh

The nation of Bangladesh is frantically trying to bail out the waters that are threatening to sink this South Asian country, due to climate change. And it is not even an island nation. It’s population of over 163 million will soon need somewhere to live. Like the other countries facing imminent disaster, they will become climate refugees, searching for new homes, along with Comoros, Tonga, the Seychelles, Palau, Nauru, Kirbati, the Federated States of Micronesia, Tuvalu, and the Maldives.

Last week, koalas became functionally extinct, joining the more than nearly 500 species that have gone extinct in the last century due to continued human degradation and destruction of natural habitats.. Your grandchildren may never see a koala, polar bear, rhinoceros, lion or tiger other than in a picture book.

And yet .. and yet .. and yet ….

The wealthiest people on earth increased their combined personal fortunes by about $1 trillion dollars last year. The poorest person on Forbes Richest People List, at number 20, is Jack Ma, who has a personal net worth of over $41 billion dollars. Mr Ma, alone, if he wished, could end world hunger. 

I know that it is difficult to cope mentally with all of these issues, of climate change, man’s inhumanity to man and animals, wars, populist politicians, societal division, a lack of civility and decency, inequality, and the disparity of income and the ill treatment of our most vulnerable that we see around us. How do you justify these things, when so many of these problems could potentially be ameliorated by the very people who compound the issues in their quest to amass and hoard more wealth than most of us can envision?

If you allowed yourself to really feel the despair of all of those who are afraid, hungry, cold, or in pain – how would you be able to get up every morning and go to school, or work? How do you keep the wheels of the world turning, if you are grieving for people you don’t know, and are unlikely to ever encounter?

I don’t see a lot of happy people these days, on the streets, in the stores, in their vehicles or on transit. I see a lot of angry people, a lot of frustrated faces, and people rushing to be somewhere that doesn’t seem like a place they want to be. I see beggars on the streets of a wealthy city.

“How can you tell me that you’re lonely? And say for you that the sun don’t shine.”

Ralph McTell, Streets of London

Maybe we need to re-examine how we engage with each other. These days I hear so many more raised voices, and so much less laughter. Maybe it’s time to encourage and reward civility and good humour, rather than making heroes and celebrities of those who delight in disrespecting and brutalizing their fellow human beings.

And with the holiday season nearly here, and the cold of winter encroaching, maybe we can all just take a minute to be truly grateful for what we have, and to help those in need. Not a single one of us can save the earth – but all of us together could make a start.

What’s That In Your Pants?


If anyone had said to me, even a couple of months ago, that in July of 2017 the President of the United States would suddenly decree, apropos of nothing, and via Twitter no less! to “please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military”  … I’d have snorted like an outraged donkey.trump trans tweet

What the lemon scented fart? If any further proof was needed that the POTUS is not only ignorant of the Constitution, civil rights and the year, his homophobic proclamation sealed the deal.

I get it. He’s 71, and possibly – no, make that probably – suffering from senile dementia and/or Alzheimer’s, and was never the hippest dude on the block even during his heyday, but this ridiculous knee-jerk revealed the ignorant, paranoid and prejudiced clod that somehow managed to fool enough of America to hit his Peter Principle pinnacle; the American paper fortune tellierPresident has reached the extreme tippity top limit of his competence, and is sliding into total incompetence and irrelevance, while clutching America’s nuclear codes like a paper fortune teller.

The news cycle went into overdrive after his tweet. Possible reasons for this cruel verdict included the reveal that a congressional fight over gender reassignment surgery, which threatened funding for his controversial wall with Mexico, was at least partly to blame. This despite studies that clearly showed that the highest possible cost estimates of hormone therapy or gender reassignment surgery would range from $2.4 million to $8.4 million, (equivalent to two or three Trump weekend getaways to Mar A Lago.) Costs overall would represent an “exceedingly small proportion” of total health care.

The militarsarah huckabee sandersy spends much more on Viagra. The Department of Defence spends $49.3 billion each year on health care.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the President was concerned about the policy. “This is a very expensive and disruptive policy and, based on consultation that he’s had with his national security team, he came to the conclusion that is erodes military readiness and unit cohesion and made the decision based on that,” she said.

I’m gonna guess that consultation involved less of the security team and more of his little, green, G.I. Joe figurines.toys for boys and girls

Tarah Demant, Amnesty International USA’s director of Gender, Sexuality, and Identity program said Mr Trump’s decision violated the human rights of all transgender Americans, adding: “It lays bare the president’s prejudice and underlines the fact that creating policy based on bigotry is becoming a dangerous and cruel pattern for President Trump.”

In other words, his own prejudice about how he personally would feel about serving alongside transgender military personnel was to supersede the many surveys and studies done within the actual military community that concluded that letting transgender people serve openly would have a “minimal impact” on readiness and health care costs, largely because there are so few (between 1,320 and 6,630) in the military’s 1.3 million-member force. Awful big talk from the Bone Spur Kingtrump bone spurs

Beyond any real or imaginary financial or morale implications, Trump’s words were a dog whistle to his base, those who agree with his fearful and intolerant ravings. Thankfully, there are less and less of them.

Without getting into all of the macho silliness and obvious fear of sexual inadequacy 45 has displayed throughout his life, you’d still think that he’d, by the age of seventy-one, at least be over his fear that the gay might get on him.

Because at the heart of it, an awful lot of people, especially older men like Trump, fear that their sexuality is a delicate thing. Masculinity, defined by male genitalia, is apparently so fragile that even a chance encounter with another male’s naughty bits will break it. Those kids in school who feared getting the gay cooties, who thought the queer might rub off on them if they even spoke to a transgendered kid, or who yelled out “fag” at anyone who broke fashion ranks with the ‘boys’ are more scared of their fragile grasp on their own sexuality than their victims are of their tormentors.

Even the word “homophobia” is a misnomer. A phobia is defined as an “irrational fear or hate,” something you might feel about heights, or spiders. If anything, the term would more appropriately be “homoism” since the range of negative attitudes and feelings towards those whose sexual taste differs from one’s own is more akin to words like racism, sexism, or ageism.

(Homophobia) has been defined as contempt, prejudice, aversion, hatred or antipathy, may be based on irrational fear, and is often related to religious beliefs.” (wikipedia)

Those emotions are a lot more definitive and deep seated than any you’d bring to bear on that poor spider who just happened to wander into your shower.

No, this whole ridiculous and overt terror that some ostensibly macho men exhibit is their fear that contact of any kind with homosexuals or the transgendered might change their “All Boy” identity into one that is “not-normal“.

It’s also that they’re afraid that a man will hit on them the way they hit on women.

It’s so irrational that it even out-irrationalizes racism; a bigot may hate people of a different colour, but he’s really not too worried that he might wake up one morning and find his skin tone has changed to black. No, that would be silly!

i woke up like this. jpgBut a homophobe does have a secret fear that they could wake up one fine morning and find that they suddenly crave the touch and scent and feel of someone who’s got all the same plumbing as they themselves are concealing in their boxers.

Several studies have linked homophobia to latent homosexual arousal. Maybe. After all, it’s not uncommon for those entering puberty to wonder about their own sex’s sexy bits, as well as the opposite’s. Most young people are worried that the acting out of their desires will disqualify them from fitting in with their peers. Closet homosexuals, therefore, have the most to fear; namely, that they’ll be found out, and socially ostracized.

henry rollins gay marriageIt’s crazy and irrational, and that’s why civilized society had to take a stand, and let the grownups decide that the establishment of civil rights made it a federal crime to “by force or by threat of force, injure, intimidate, or interfere with anyone. ” And that means ALL people, regardless of race, color, religion, or national origin, and, since 1974, gender.

Which didn’t stop a small group of people, all puffed up with religious arrogance, from deciding that their own Holy Book‘s preachings gave them the right to ignore that legislation, and discriminate against legal same sex marriage.

By late 2014, same-sex marriage had become legal in states that contained more than 70% of the United States population. More than 70% of Americans lived in a jurisdiction where same-sex couples could legally marry. .. On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage, legalized it in all fifty states, and required states to honor out-of-state same-sex marriage licenses” (wiki)

Those who morally disagreed with this decision pushed back. Some, putting the lie to that old saying, “If I knew you were coming, I’d have baked a cake,” refused to bake wedding cakes for gay marriages. So sue me, they said. And the newlyweds did …

What makes people fear the gay and gay marriage? It’s because you’re giving these people equality. And that’s the biggest fear that people with power have: that you’ll get some too.

“I don’t want to be married. But if two people are crazy enough to be that in love with each other, damn, that’s a great thing. Give them a break. Life’s really short.

If you don’t want a gay marriage, then don’t have one.”

Henry Rollins on Big Think

Trump’s declaration of war upon those who protect their fellow citizens during times of both war and peace is unsavory, ill-advised, homophobic, and unconstitutional. It’s also very ill timed, since it was just last June 30, 2016, that then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that transgender people would be able to serve openly in the military in a memorandum directing the completion of such inclusion by June 30, 2017.

With the deadline approaching, current Defense Secretary James ‘Mad Dog” Mattis announced that he would be delaying the policy, writing: “After consulting with the service chiefs and secretaries, I have determined that it is necessary to defer the start of accessions for six months. … We will use this additional time to evaluate more carefully the impact of such accessions on readiness and lethality.” mattis isis waswas

Mattis and Trump seem unaware of the legally sticky wicket they’re facing with this strategy. An attempt to enforce a reinstated ban against transgender persons currently serving in the military would face steep legal challenges and precedent. Under well-settled law, the courts would almost certainly hold that soldiers who came out as openly transgender in reliance on the military’s own policy could not be subsequently penalized for doing so. Current transgender soldiers, who are relying not just on a policy of de facto tolerance, but on an official policy expressly permitting open service, could and would take legal action.

More importantly, and on a human level, the conversation about transgender military service should not revolve around numbers, or deeply held, albeit illegal, prejudices. Either America respects it’s values and citizens, or it does not. The current President of all Americans has drawn a hard line demonstrating that he stands with those who lack respect for the value and rights of LGBTQ American citizens.
……………………….

And now, a musical interlude to clear your palate …

In the bad old days, the majority of LGBTQ people in the entertainment business strove to cover their sexual proclivities. But there were a few brave souls who dared to flaunt their fabulousness.

Jackie Shane YongeSt_onstageOne bright light that graced Toronto‘s stages was Jackie Shane. Born in Nashville in 1940, he cut his teeth touring with musical house mother, ‘Queen of the Blues’, Marion James, eventually becoming part of the band, The Motley Crew, which was based in Toronto.

Jackie was a soul/R&B singer who frequently performed at the Sapphire Tavern. His appearance was androgynous; he often wore makeup, and sometimes an evening gown.

His flamboyant stage act, makeup and attire so threatened the media gatekeepers that even the  CHUM radio station refused to interview him on-air, and only began playing his hit single, “Any Other Way,” after it had begun climbing the charts, finally peaking at the number two spot in Canada in 1962.

“Jackie Shane wasn’t bringing his act to Toronto so it could be better understood. Instead he was taking it out of context, to someplace where it seemed more alien and strange. Maybe he liked it better that way. By coming to Toronto he was escaping segregation and getting to perform to white people with presumably deeper pockets, who had never seen anything like him before. You could cross over in the States, but then you’d have to pull a Little Richard and turn your ‘freak’ show into a clown act, taking out the gay innuendo.” (Carl Wilson, music journalist)

Shane was the stuff of mystery and legend. Rumours swirled around him, including one that claimed Shane was cousin to Little Richard. Shane left Toronto in 1971, moving to Los Angeles, where Jackie turned down an offer to be part of the band Funkadelic.

After returning to Nashville after her mother’s death, Jackie lived as a woman. Shane had become a legend, and, like most legends, there were rumours of her death, including one claiming that she had been murdered in 1998.

She was gone – but not forgotten.

From Now Toronto‘s Michael Rancic, ” In 2010 the CBC produced a radio documentary about her life, and rare live footage of Shane was featured in Bruce McDonald’s three-part TV documentary, Yonge Street: Toronto Rock & Roll Stories, in 2011.

Noted music journalist Carl Wilson wrote his own extensive take on Shane’s enduring relevance for Hazlitt in 2013, placing Shane within a larger context of the history of queer and Black performers. The following year, Videofag hosted an exhibition for an animation by Sonya Reynolds and Lauren Hortie called Whatever Happened To Jackie Shane?

Her live album was nominated for the Polaris Heritage Prize in both 2015 and 2016, and earlier this year, The Globe And Mail published an article calling Shane a “lost transgender superstar,” and a volume of Toronto queer history, Any Other Way: How Toronto Got Queer, was published by Coach House and featured an essay by Steven Maynard.

Archival record label Numero Group is releasing the first-ever artist-approved collection of soul singer Jackie Shane’s work.

Named after her most well-known single, Any Other Way is an extensive collection of all six of Shane’s 45s, highlights from the often bootlegged 1967 live set recorded at Toronto’s famed Sapphire Tavern, as well as three never-before-heard tracks.”

Any Other Way is out October 20.