Monday, June 29, 2015

Life and Flags and the Horse World

Life last week was bizarre and sad and happy all at once, huh?

You probably already know about Lauren and all that she is going through. I don't have the words for her, not at all, but I want to again express how deeply sad I am for her. Tracy set up a GoFundMe for her, if you want to contribute financially.

And of course, the Charleston church shootings have been weighing on me heavily. While there has never been an easy time to be a person of color in America, the past year has been especially horrifying. I'm a professional historian, remember, and while my work focuses on queer people, many queer people are people of color. I also study the South specifically. I could go on about this at length and would be happy to, but it is well beyond time to take the Confederate flag down off any government sites where it remains.

I'm guessing I won't be telling anyone here anything new, but listen: there is no way to argue that the Civil War wasn't about slavery. It was. Go read the Articles of Secession if you don't believe me--all of the states said that they were seceding because they wanted to keep their slaves and the winds weren't blowing that way up north. It's not a grey area. If you need more evidence, this is what the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, said about it:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery -- subordination to the superior race -- is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.
 If that isn't a punch in the gut, I don't know what is.

A few weeks ago at a horse show, M was riding a client's horse, and that client came to help out and brought one of her students with her. That student was wearing a very loud Confederate flag shirt. I'm a white person, but I found myself feeling extremely uncomfortable around her. The mentality that goes into the choice to wear a Confederate flag is not one that is often friendly to queers, and I'm a pretty visible one. She didn't say anything rude to me (it would take some serious cojones to say something shitty to me about my gender presentation/sexuality/anything really in front of my particular coach, though, so no points awarded to her for that). But even if all Confederate flag wielders were openly supportive of queer people, I would still feel seriously uncomfortable around them because of the statement it makes to people of color, with whom I do my best to stand in solidarity.

The horse world is a pretty white place. We can all think of, and some of us are, equestrians of color. But being able to think of someone who isn't white participating in something doesn't mean that it's a space that is always comfortable for POC to be in. And wearing a Confederate flag to a horse show is chilling, in that context. She felt comfortable enough with the idea that she was in a white-dominated space (as many spaces are) that she could do that.

"But horse people are so nice and I've never seen a Confederate flag at a horse show ever."

Listen, horse people can be super great. M is one of the best humans I've ever met. I love a great many of you. But just because someone is nice to me at a show--like this girl, who seemed genuinely friendly with M and the client and so on--doesn't mean that they don't harbor feelings about marginalized groups that I find abhorrent. You know? "Nice" is lovely but it doesn't get us all off the hook for self-reflection at the very least.

And now, after Friday's Supreme Court decision legalizing marriage equality in all 50 states, there's another flag to talk about. My feelings on this one are a little bit more complicated, to be honest. Marriage isn't an institution I'm especially interested in participating in. I also don't love that the entire conversation around queer identities seems to be hung on marriage, when LGBT people can still be fired or denied housing, legally, in most states and according to the federal government. Gay and lesbian people have somewhat more protections in this area than do trans people, whose lives are on the line every day. We've got a situation on our hands where 40% of homeless youth are LGBT and something like 30% of LGBT youth are homeless. I find those numbers shocking. And so marriage, to me, has always felt like a less important issue. If marriage is an institution that exists, then queer folks should have access to it. And beyond that I've never gotten all that worked up about it.

But Friday's decision was great nonetheless, and while I watched Facebook explode into rainbows (because I have a carefully-curated list of friends and no time for homophobic nonsense), I found myself getting excited about it. I can be a curmudgeon for the rest of the year and keep my focus on the issues that resonate with me more than marriage does, but I appreciated taking the day to enjoy finally having a constitutional protection, which is not something my crew is used to having.

This is what I said on Facebook about it:

When I'm in a riding lesson, on my young horse, and things are going well, my coach and I will talk about whether this is a good moment to "get greedy" and ask for more, or whether it's best to leave things where they are and be happy. With the horse, that's a bit complex, because you want to move things along without frying the little darling's mind or losing confidence.

With the past couple of weeks and couple of centuries being what they've been around here, this is ABSOLUTELY the time to get greedy. Health care, removal of racist symbols from government sites, and marriage equality are BASIC. Now is the moment to push and get some real shit done, not to give the horse a pat on the neck and be done. This is the warmup, not the jump off.
 And then I did this to my profile pic:

Riding Rainbow!




And then a friend gave me some rainbow flags so I did this to the saddle pads I'd planned to use on Saturday before I decided to scratch in lieu of buying water wings for Mo:

They'll still be beautiful at the next show.
I know people think the horse world is super gay-friendly, and it certainly can be, but I was also aware that putting these on my saddle pads at this particular horse show in this particular town could have made life a little uncomfortable. But that's fine with me, because unlike Confederates, gay people don't have a history of oppressing and enslaving other people. So instead of being uncomfortable because they're feeling unsafe, due to someone wearing a sign of the oppressor, some folks might feel weird because they're not comfortable with gay people. And the best cure for that is knowing gay people!

Instead of writing this entire thing, I suppose I could have just posted this, from the Southern Poverty Law Center's Facebook page:


16 comments:

  1. Great post! I was looking forward to reading it after the comment you left on my blog hinting at it. You're absolutely right - there are still many issues to be tackled. It is my hope that those very strong words in support of the equal rights of gay people to be found throughout the Supreme Court's opinion will serve as a building block for recognizing more rights and protections for LGBT Americans, and identifying (and changing) some of the additional inequalities that exist in our legal system. It is high time.

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    1. I sure hope so. There's a lot of talk in my world about how "love won because gender lost" and how this creates even bigger hurdles to trans rights. I straddle both of these worlds and so it's constantly on my mind.

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  2. The marriage thing made me really happy in a dark time. Life is too shitty and too hard enough as it is to deny people who love each other the ability to get married. Love is love.

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    1. Love you, lady. You're amazing.

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  3. One of the first arguments and wins made in the civil rights movement was the right of black and white people to legally marry each other. It provides protections for the family unit and protections for the kids. It is the basis for growth and possibility, and you are right: this is a kick off point, not an end point. I think the rest of the dominos will begin to fall, as far as legal protections for LGBTQ folk at the state and federal level go.

    And for those of us in a committed relationship with kids, this was one step closer to safety and freedom.

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  4. For someone to wear a confederate flag shirt in light of the recent move to banish the confederate flag - even walmart has stopped selling it - is particularly telling. That person is making a very active choice/statement with that shirt. This sort of crap is why I can't live in the south. I just can't deal with those types of people. So even though it costs like 10x as much, I'd rather live in CA or the northeast.

    I'm pretty excited about the SCOTUS decision. I know there are other issues, but this is a great step in right direction.

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    1. I know. And where I live, I'm seeing more and more of them every day. I live in a kinda scary place.

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  5. great post. i have never heard those stats about homelessness and lgbt youth - that is seriously shocking, and definitely seems to indicate deeper societal problems... your metaphor for 'getting greedy' vs pushing for more is great tho - and i agree, since there is obviously so much more that still needs fixing too!

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    1. Yeah, queer youth homelessness is actually the issue that resonates with me the most.

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  6. Great post! I have to say that while there are certainly a number of large issues LGBT and transgender folks face, and marriage might not be quite as important as others, it's still about damn time!!

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  7. Completely with you on this entire post. Hooray for progress (which I think the SCOTUS ruling is), but there's still so much facing the LGBTQ community including very high rates of assault and suicide in addition to homelessness and the currently legal persecutions (losing job, housing, etc).

    My jaw dropped when reading about the gal wearing the confederate flag shirt. I've only see someone wear it twice in my life, and both times I vocally objected and got into respectful but heated debates. But I live in So Cal so its not as prevalent.

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    1. Oh girl. I've seen four confederate flags already this morning. Sigh.

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  8. I tend to eliminate closed minded assholes from all my social circles, so it baffles me that there are people out there defending stuff like this.

    Honestly, you are an amazing and inspirational person and I want to be like you in a lot of ways when I grow up.

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    1. Aw thanks man. That means a lot.

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  9. I"m not one to normally read super long posts but you are a fantastic writer and I enjoyed this a lot. This conversation definitely needed to happen. Is it bad that I kind of laughed when you said horse people are nice? Because tbh most of the people I have met haven't been. I always thought this was a very selfish and greedy (and bitchy) industry. I mean the blogosphere I'm involved in is extremely supportive and y'all are great horse people but I guess in my personal life I've just had bad luck?

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