"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Two Must-Reads

The first, from Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin, on Stonewall and what it means.

It’s kind of like the story about Paul Revere’s ride and the Battle of Lexington. Or the story of the Mayflower and the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving. Or the story about Christ in the manger or Adam and Even in the Garden. What actually happened that day matters relatively little because Stonewall has gone way beyond all those mundane details. It has become our origin myth. And like all origin myths, it’s all about the idea of what happened when that world began: a police raid on a dingy and not particularly popular mafia-owned gay bar, people who had nothing to lose and who fought back, a community that organized against all odds and marched, and kept marching for more than four decades to bring us where we are today. It all traces back, like a straight line — at least in our imagination — to that hot Friday night on Christopher Street.

As you might imagine, the origin myth idea resonates with me in a big way. (And I'm chagrined that I didn't spot that right away. Me, of all people.) He's right: human beings are myth-makers; it's how we find our place in a universe that is much bigger than we are.

This, in particular, relates to my post of yesterday, at least the part about the so-called "whitewashing" of Stonewall:

As is true with all origin myths, this one gets recast with each generation’s telling, complete with new heroes. Last summer, the semi-fictionalized Stonewall movie, which bombed at the box office, was criticized for “whitewashing” the rioters and “erasing” other minority communities who were out that night. That criticism was part of a newer re-telling of Stonewall, where some argue that it was a specifically transgender uprising and a specifically people-of-color movement. Gay white men, that argument goes, have stolen the real history of Stonewall.

People who were actually there in 1969, including two leading transgender activists, dispute that. Dana Bryer wrote, “I was there [at the Stonewall Uprising] the second night, too, and the streets were overwhelmingly filled with white men (which included the way I was perceived back then, too).” Lesbian activist Robin Tyler added, “I was there [at the Stonewall Uprising] the second night. The majority of protesters were white gay men.”
But of course, transgender people were there. So were people of color. And women. Some were all three, and more. All of that is true. And it’s also true that history is typically recorded from a white male viewpoint. And so ensuring that history is accurately recorded matters a lot, as does making sure it is comprehensively recorded.

Yet the arguments over “whitewashing” (or historical revisionisms to accommodate political imperatives, depending on your perspective) miss the far bigger picture. Because Stonewall has become our creation myth, we all have a natural human need to see ourselves, directly, in that story. Just as Ethiopian Orthodox Christians have for millennia painted their icons depicting Jesus, Mary and Joseph as Africans, just as Asian missionaries gave the saints Asian facial features, just as Egyptian Coptics drew the martyrs and prophets (perhaps most accurately) as inhabitants of a harsh Mideast desert, and just as Caucasians around the world turned their prayerful gaze upon a Nordic blue-eyed Jesus, we too, in our rich diversity, also need to see ourselves in our foundational story. Those very parochial responses are powerful illustrations of the truly universal ways those stories speak to us. As I said, no impulse could ever be more human.

What we seem to have here, at least in terms of myth and metaphor (and the two are intimately related) is a collision between versions of the creation story. One hopes that eventually they will settle out into a version that includes all of us. (To go back to my original contention about the film Stonewall: It's fiction, and by that measure contributes to the myth-making. It's not "history" and never claimed to be, so as far as I'm concerned, the cries of "whitewashing" are out of place.)

The second is not about myth-making, but establishing a benchmark. The Supreme Court yesterday handed down its decision in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt Et Al striking down Texas' law restricting access to abortions.

As Tara Culp-Ressler notes, this decision is likely to have a significant impact across the country, and it’s easy to see why. Laws such as the one that was before the Court in this case are on the books in twenty-five other states. While many of them are in one stage or another of Federal Court review, they have yet to proceed as far as the Texas law has. This ruling means that their legal journey is effectively at an an end, and that those laws that have not been challenged as of yet are likely to find themselves being challenged as unconstitutional as well. The outcome of those cases would seem to be rather obvious. This means that a significant legislative strategy of the anti-abortion/pro-life movement is now cut off, leaving them searching for a new strategy to try to restrict access to abortion while not running afoul of the law. Today, the Supreme Court made clear just how difficult that is going to be.

What the court did in Whole Women's Health was to clarify the "undue burden" requirement established in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, mandating a much tighter reading of the concept with much less deference to legislatures' stated (as opposed to real) motivations. Oh, yes, this is going to have repercussions.

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