Tuesday, January 31, 2012

-Isms, -ists and cardboard boxes.

Apparently I am a feminist.  My wife informed me of this last night as I was ranting about Cosmopolitan magazine.  I have never really thought of myself as a feminist, hell, I don’t really like “ists” in general.  Always really thought of myself as something of an anti-ist, I hate labels and being labelled, and I try to avoid doing so myself.  Not because I am a non-conform”ist”, or an anarch”ist”, but because I think that labels are too narrowly applied in the majority of situations, and because labels often stick to people.  Label a kid in his formative years as a “geek” or a “jock” and you are pretty likely helping them to stick to that role for a long time.  Likewise, labels like straight and gay, while convenient when trying to date, seem too narrow and too restrictive.  One should not be defined by narrow words – those words put you in a box and leave you there.  You can spend the rest of your life trying to throw off the metaphorical shackles that you were given – often against your will. 

For example, people always ask want to ask “what were you like in high school?”  First off, why is that relevant, but secondly, how do they want the question answered?  Who we were twenty, thirty or forty years ago is rarely relevant to who we are today.  If you are in your thirties or forties and haven’t changed much since you were seventeen, I am very sorry for you, but even sorrier for those around you.

And what people really seem to want you to say is what crowd did you associate with.  Were you a metal-head, a jock, a nerd, a poser, a plastic – we all remember the labels.  The catch is though that some of us, dare I say most of us, didn’t fit that mold all that well.  I was a “nerd” because I did a noontime radio show, was in the debate club, hung around with “nerds” and liked computers.  I was a “jock” because I played football and went to the “jock” parties.  I was a “artsy” because I was in drama.  I was an “activist” because I organized a couple of rallies.  Jock, nerd, artsy, activist.  None of those define who I was or who I am.

When we get older, people ask the same questions, and make the same assumptions, but now it is based upon what you do for a living.  My work in the human rights field automatically paints me as a “bleeding heart lefty liberal.”  This is largely inaccurate. While I am liberal in a lot of ways, I am actually fairly conservative in many others.  Just because I happen to believe that we are all equal, regardless of skin color, sexual orientation or disability doesn’t make me politically liberal. Just because I am a firm believer in free speech doesn’t make me an Occupy member. I deplore hate speech and political correctness with almost equal passion. I like social programs, but hate that the government spends money.  I am a strong advocate for the Canadian military, and for military forces in general, yet deplore warfare.

Sexuality and sexual activity are also things that people seem to want to pigeonhole others into.  Straight, gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer, open relationship, swinger, fetishist… the list is long and intriguing.  But so many of these labels are situational or misleading – I have a number of friends that have identified with more than one of them at different points in their lives, often ones that are supposed to be opposites.  From straight to gay and vice versa.  Kinsey scales aside, I have to say that sexual labels are about as useful as the label on a shampoo bottle - everyone knows they are there, but only a few idiots think you have to read and follow them.  And sexual activity and preference (note, I am not talking about orientation here, but rather what you like to do in the bedroom, or on the living room floor) change as well.  Our sexual selves and sexual desires change as we discover more about ourselves, as we are exposed to more opinions and experiences, and can change depending on our partners.

All of that to say that I don’t think I am a feminist.  Not that there is anything wrong with feminism, but to quote a great man, “-Ism's in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself.”

So keep your boxes to yourself, and take your labels elsewhere.  They aren’t welcome in my home or my life.

Friday, January 27, 2012

I Remember When...

Once upon a time, a young boy moved to Medicine Hat, Alberta.  He knew no one, had no friends and was joining the class in the middle of the school year, a daunting task for any newcomer.  He’d grown accustomed to this, as he’d done it about six times by now, his step-father was prone to jumping jobs without any thought for the consequences on the family, and especially on his step-son, a chubby and intellectual kid that he never really understood – and I think secretly didn’t like all that much.

The boy meandered his way through the first few weeks of school, not making any friends, sticking to himself and reading alone for the most part.  He was old enough to start showing an interest in girls, but they were a mystery to him yet (he was only ten at the time) and the boys all wanted to play rougher games than he was really interested in.  His teachers liked him, he was quiet and attentive, without really causing any distractions in class (which of course counts for a lot at that age) and smart, but they could see he was very alone, and they did what they could to shield him from some of the inevitable bullying that chubby, smart and quiet kids suffered then, and still suffer today.

But one day, and very much out of the blue, everything changed.  The boy met a classmate, John, who saw the book he was reading (David Eddings’s Pawn of Prophecy if I recall correctly) and asked him if he liked “dragons and stuff.”  The quiet boy smiled and said that he loved them, and that The Hobbit was his favorite book (and remains so to this day).  That day, he made his first friend in this new school, and later that week, he was invited to John’s house to play a game John’s older brother had just received, a game called Dungeons & Dragons.  The moment he saw the cover, bright red with a roaring dragon being faced by a mighty warrior, he was hooked.  They spent a while making their characters (he made a dwarf, because back then, dwarf was a class, not just a race) and then spent the rest of that weekend living the lives of noble heroes, mighty wizards, skulking thieves and ancient races.  It was probably the best weekend of his life at that time.

When his mother found out what he’d been doing all weekend, her joy that her son had made a friend was replaced by concern about this game he’d been playing.  She’d seen a young Tom Hanks in a movie about Dungeons & Dragons and was concerned.  The movie portrayed the game as a brain washing exercise, and suggested that the players could be so caught in the fantasy of it that they would hurt themselves and others.  She called some friends who all told her that it was the devil’s game and that her son should never be allowed to play it.  She instantly forbade playing it.  The boy begged and pleaded with her, using the logic that his family knew would drive him to law school later in life, and finally she accepted a compromise.  She would come and watch a playing of the game and make up her own mind.  It was possibly the first and last time she would ever compromise with this son, and despite all that happened before and after, he would forever remember this one act of generosity on her part.

She visited John’s house later that week and spoke with both John’s parents and his older brother.  All assured her that there was no devil worship involved, and that it was not any sort of cult or brain washing experiment.  So they all sat down (John’s parents both joined in for the evening) and set out to conquer the Keep on the Borderlands.  Half way through the evening, the boy’s mother laughed and dusted the chip crumbs from her shirt front, loudly proclaiming that people could be very stupid about things they didn’t understand, and that D&D was certainly no more than a game.  She left that night chuckling to herself about dwarves and elves. That Christmas there were two cardboard boxes under the tree for the boy – both the shiny red Basic box that had caught his attention, and a brand new one, the bright blue Expert set, complete with The Isle of Dread adventure.

For decades, he’s played these games and dozens of others. For decades they have brought out the best in him, and sometimes the worst as well.  They taught him to act, and in that he found a passion for the stage.  They taught him to communicate in different ways, and in that he found friends and family near and far.  They taught him to examine situations from different angles, to look at things from a multitude of positions and in that he found a passion for the law and for critical thinking.  They have brought him friends and lovers.  They have helped him through dark times in his life, and brightened the good times even more.  They have had a hand in shaping him into the man he is today, and that is no mean feat for a collection of papers and oddly shaped dice.

When my sons come to me with things I don’t understand, or hobbies that I believe are ridiculous, I will hold on to the image of that young boy, and I will remember how he changed when he discovered there are worlds other than the one we walk through every day.  And I will listen to my sons, and I will not close my mind to their dreams and fantasies.  I will do my best to support them in their choices even if, perhaps especially if, I disagree with them.  Because dreams and fantasies make us who we hope to be.  They give us the flying carpets that the regular world denies us.  They let us imagine ourselves better than we are, and then, if we are lucky, the courage to make them a reality.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Oh Gawd it Burns!

There comes a time in a man’s life when he has to take a stand.  He has to rise up, raise his voice and loudly proclaim “I am not going to take it anymore!”  Chest and jaw thrust out in a manly fashion, he must shake his fist and rail at the injustice of it all.  He must lobby friends and family, reach out to strangers, and find a way to have his message heard.

This is not that time.  That time is tomorrow, or maybe Thursday of next week… maybe I should hold off until summer, when I have had some time to really think it over.

But while I am thinking that over, I do have a favour to ask of you - please stop making me defend Stephen Harper!  People need to do some damned research before blindly following the lemmings off the cliff. If you are a member of the fifth estate, please check your frigging facts before you print / display them for people to see.

Whew.  I feel better all ready.

Twice in the last week I have had to explain to people that while Harper may be the physical incarnation of all that is wrong with Canadian society he isn’t actually saying or doing the things they are talking about. 

Avaaz.org recently began sending around a petition (you may have seen it on your Facebook page) to “Save Jasper National Park” and stated that they were rallying support to prevent the “Harper government” from “[privatizing] a section of the national park.”  The website ShitHarperDid.com picked up on it, and sent it around again.  As of this writing, the Avaaz petition has 136,804 signatures, just 13,196 shy of their goal.

What's the catch you say?  Why is this a problem for you SRD you ask?  Well, Harper isn’t privatizing anything.  He probably hadn’t even heard of this issue before he saw it on his morning briefing when Avaaz ran with it.  Here are the facts:
·         There are hundreds, maybe thousands of privatized businesses, facilities and locations within the Jasper National Park already.  Marmot Basin, the ski hill that over three million people a year visit and the primary reason that the town of Jasper doesn't dry up and blow away in the winter, is privately owned – all the ski resorts in the Rockies are.  Every bar, hotel, resort, sled dog company and tour company that operates there is privately owned.
·         The development in question is being forwarded by a company that, while not Canadian owned, has been doing business in Jasper for over 80 years, that has its headquarters in Jasper, and that employs Canadians every day of the year.
·         The Harper government, and federal politicians in general, have little to no influence in this area.  The proposal will be veted by Parks Canada staff and management.  Had this not become a media issue, federal politicians would never even know it existed.

I lost a lot of respect for Avaaz when they started that one, but not nearly as much respect as I’ve lost for the media (and the sheep who don’t ask questions) over the latest Harper-bash.

At a recent media conference in Halifax, where Harper was raking in the political credit for the recent twenty five billion dollar ship deal, he was asked a question by one of the reporters about a recent court case involving a same-sex couple.  It seems that this particular couple, who do not live in Canada, journeyed here to get married.  When they returned to their home, their marriage was not recognized – their nation (not to point any fingers) does not recognize the basic right to wed for same sex couples.  They didn’t care – they were married and happy and they knew they were married, even if the state didn’t.  Until that went south, and they became very unhappy.  So much so that they wanted to get a divorce. 

They came back to the land of Beaver Tails and curling and attempted to start divorce proceedings.  Where a Department of Justice lawyer informed the court that they may well not qualify for a divorce, not because their marriage wasn’t valid in Canada, but because international law (which the fantastic LGTBQ advocate and lawyer Kevin Kindred said all too well in a recent post) generally states that a “vacation wedding” is only really valid if the couple’s home nation / state recognizes it and it has been that way for over a hundred years. That would be the same answer whether the couple was a man and a woman, two women or two men and would have been the answer regardless which political party was in charge. Hell, it would be the answer in most, if not all, other countries of the world as well.

Now, very few states don’t recognize “straight” marriage, so this is really only an issue for gay couples, but it isn’t because of anything the Harper government said or did, and it can’t be taken as any indication that the dreaded Harper government is trying to reopen the gay marriage issue – it was a lawyer, doing their job and pointing out to the court that the law may not permit what the judge is being asked to do.  Furthermore, it wouldn’t have come up had the couple been resident in Canada for a year prior to the application – it only applies to people who get married in Canada, and then don’t live here.

There are also practical reasons to have a law like that – court proceedings cost a lot of taxpayer money.  Clerks and administrative staff have to accept and file the documents, judges will be involved, databases will have to be updated, etc. etc.  If you are not paying into that tax base (i.e. you are in a “vacation marriage”) then maybe it shouldn’t be so easy to get the divorce here… but that’s another argument.

Should the law change?  Probably – as I said, it really only does matter to gay people getting married, and thus it has a disproportionate effect on them – why not clean it up while we have the chance.

But does this have anything to do with Harper?  No.  Not one iota.  He may be evil incarnate, but he isn’t behind everything.

I know, the lefties (and I am on that side of the spectrum) love to have a target to vent their spleens at.  And Harper makes a very attractive target, I’ll admit. But blaming him for everything is going too far.  And the comparisons to Hitler and Stalin?  Come on folks, those have to stop if you want to retain any shred of credibility.

So the next time you hear that Stephen Harper is trying to pass a law making it illegal to adopt a child not of your ethnicity, or is suggesting that we eat old people instead of chicken, check your source, and then check your facts.  We live in a world of constant and immediately accessible information.  Use it.