By Jay Hansen
Part 1, Politics
In my closing piece for 2013, I ended with the following statement.
I guess, in giving this year a moniker, 2013 was just the year of fail. The President, Congress, the Supreme Court, the media, both parties… no one came out looking really good this year. 2013 was a war just to prevent the nation from falling apart. It was a war to just maintain our already sad condition for a little while longer and not to fall further.
I find this oddly metaphorical and sadly appropriate for politics in America though, given how much we obsess over election years, which 2014 will be. It’s like everyone was just holding their breath and waiting for 2013 to pass. So, I guess all there is left to say is here’s looking forward, and hope that 2014 can be just a little more productive than 2013, even though that’s setting the bar pretty low.
Well, in 2014, the nation “fell apart,” which is why I hereby dub 2014 the year progressives gave up on the system, from their refusal to participate in the election to the seemingly endless string of police brutality stories with unjust endings. Republicans regained control of the Senate by a huge margin, and bolstered their numbers in the House considerably, and primarily because the Democrats were too scared to run progressive candidates. Progressive ideals won around the country, including red states like Arkansas and Alaska, from ballot initiatives raising the minimum wage to legalizing pot, disproving or at least greatly working against the argument that Democrats have to run conservative candidates in conservative states. Similarly, we’re half-way through Obama’s second term, and since getting re-elected, what has he accomplished? There have been no legislative victories for sure, and only more defeats from the judicial branch. The only “victory” progressives had was when the Supreme Court didn’t act, which forced dozens of states to legalize same-sex marriage at long last, including Oklahoma. As for the executive, the Obama Administration has taken small steps to ease the rabidly out of control war on drugs, he’s currently trying to do what little the executive can to reform immigration with great opposition from Republicans, and he’s reached a non-binding agreement with China to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, though Republicans have already taken legislative action to undo the agreement. That’s pretty much it. Everything he’s promised, from meaningful immigration reform to raising the minimum wage, has seen virtually no progress this year, or since he won re-election. The only major things he’s done are cut taxes and deregulate, the two core tenants of the Republican Party and conservative ideology.
Don’t get me wrong; I understand that the most immediate reason Obama hasn’t accomplished anything is because of Republican obstructionism. But why do the Republicans have so much power to begin with? They were a minority at the federal level for a long time, and yet they were able to block or greatly water down virtually everything during Obama’s presidency until they managed to “run out the clock” and regain control of both houses of Congress. In 2010, Democrats badly bumbled the election, and in 2014 we saw the exact same thing. Ask yourself this; what were the Democrats running on in 2014? Did they even have a single, unifying message? It’s almost hard to believe that anyone could be as bad at politics as the Democrats were in 2014, especially when you consider a lot of the mistakes they made in 2014 were the exact same ones they made in 2010. It’s so hard to believe that some can’t help but wonder if Obama and the Democrats wanted to lose.
That sounds absurd, but if you look at Obama’s legislative history it’s not that farfetched. Republicans haven’t even taken over the Senate yet, but Obama and the Democrats have already agreed to an extremely Republican budget that undoes some of Obama’s chief accomplishments, including his agreement with China, Dodd-Frank financial reform, and a small part of the Affordable Care Act… let the chipping away begin. It’s no wonder progressive voters didn’t even bother to vote in 2014, the year America set a new record for low voter turnout across America. Why should progressives vote for anything or anyone if they’re not actually progressives? At this point, Obama has indisputably proven that he not only isn’t a progressive, but that he’s actually very conservative, and now, in effect, is a Republican President.
Then there’s fact that the entire justice system has fallen apart. We thought the Trayvon Martin case was bad in 2013? At least there was a fucking trial for Trayvon Martin. 2014 brought us Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, and countless other faceless victims of our broken justice system. All of them were unarmed black men killed by the police and the police responsible faced no consequences for their actions. John Crawford was holding a toy shotgun in the toy aisle of Wal-Mart when cops arrived on the scene and immediately shot him without warning. Tamir Rice was a twelve year old boy with a toy gun that was shot literally within two seconds of police arriving on the scene; there was no “freeze” or “drop it,” cops just arrived and shot, like a drive-by shooting. Eric Garner was killed by cops when he was put in an illegal choke hold by the police, which was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner. Garner was not resisting or being violent at all. He had been charged with “selling untaxed cigarettes,” but that’s not reason enough to execute someone, much less without a trial. Worse, many people have the audacity to say something along the lines that technically, Garner died of a heart attack and not the choke hold. That’s like saying Trayvon Martin didn’t die from being shot, he died from internal bleeding. Internal bleeding caused by being shot; a heart attack triggered by being put in a choke hold. Saying Garner died because he had a heart condition is no more accurate than saying he died because he was obese, which is another claim some are making, including Republican lawmakers. But even considering these arguments, the cops that killed Garner did not call for an ambulance for several minutes, and when they arrived they waited several more minutes before trying to help him. Still, no indictment, let alone trial, meaning there apparently wasn’t even the appearance of wrongdoing in any of these situations, according to the American justice system. But you know who was indicted? The guy who filmed the cops killing Garner. The cops themselves aren’t really making it any better though with their increasingly juvenile and “proving-our-point” responses, from staging political protests at the funerals (maybe the Westboro Baptist Church will join them next time), to suing the city for which they work when put on administrative leave for a whole three days after firing 137 shots at two unarmed people, calling their punishment an “onerous burden.” I’ll spare you commentary on the entire Brown case and just say this; either the prosecutor Bob McCulloch threw the case because he’s in league with the police or he is the worst prosecutor in the entire country, which earned McCulloch The Young Turk’s “Jerk of the Year” Award, despite significant competition for the title.
There is an anger building in this country the likes of which it hasn’t seen in generations, and the people in Washington are still completely oblivious to it.
And did I mention TIME magazine tried to “ban” the word feminist this year? Even if you’re not a progressive, you’ve got to acknowledge that the deck seemed really stacked against us this year.
But if you regularly read my site you knew all of that already, I’m sure. That’s why I’ve dubbed 2014 the year progressives just gave the fuck up. They gave up on Obama, on the Democratic Party, on the entire democratic process, on the justice system, on everything. For better or worse, they’re just done. We’re just done.
Part 2, Personal and Social
That said, I also have to use my reflections article as an opportunity to talk about 2014 more personally than I normally do to bring the year to a close, because 2014 was quite possibly the hardest year of my life yet. It all started all the way back on January first, right after the clock struck midnight to usher in 2014. For the first time in my life the local news stations didn’t interrupt programming to go to the downtown celebration to ring in the new year for the Central Time Zone. Not a single news station did, and it’s always been a small moment of personal joy for me. Immediately I took to Facebook and said “I really hope this isn’t a bad omen.” But tragically, I had no idea how accurate that statement was.
Literally right at the start of the year I caught the flu and strep throat at the same time, neither of which I’ve ever had in my adult life. I’ve never had to take a sick day before, but the year opened with me taking three of them. A couple of months later my last living grandparent died. I barely knew her, but at her funeral learned that I had more in common with her than I’d ever imagined. Just a couple of weeks later my mother died totally unexpectedly and with little warning. Work has been extremely difficult as we struggle to find good help; I wasn’t even sure I was going to be able to take my vacation which I had filed to have off a whole year in advance. To this day there are still troubles ensuring the work gets done right. My job woes pale in comparison to those of my wife, however, as her employers and higher-ups have demonstrated again and again how little they value her or appreciate the fact that she is the glue holding the entire department together. Just a couple of months after my mother died, we had the shit scared out of us when my wife had a cancer scare and had to have a total hysterectomy to check if a growth in her uterus was cancerous or not. It was benign, thankfully, but she still had nearly two months of recovery from such a major surgery. It ate up all of my remaining sick leave too since I stayed with her to help care for her. Ever since returning to work, counting her commute time, she’s been working twelve to thirteen hour days (and she was working ten to eleven hour days before the surgery). Worse, it was during her recovery from surgery her employer decided to start paying her subordinate more than her, which is still an unresolved issue. She’s been seeking a raise ever since she found out, but there’s been little progress thus far. In addition, despite working as a supervisor for years now, the state still refuses to recognize her as one, adding more insult to injury.
Heidi’s surgery led to more monthly medical bills, which I’ve severely railed against this year. We also had little choice but to get a new car, as Heidi’s new job location (did I mention the state re-located her much farther away and gave her more responsibilities?) was devastating our bank accounts with the cost of gas for her truck, forcing us to take on another debt. She’s had to take on so many debts, most of which are medical (which will never be paid off in her lifetime), that her credit union is now less willing to work with her at maintaining the mortgagee on her house, which her son has been paying through her. Her son also went through a divorce that diverted a lot of our time and support, both financial and emotional, after his wife cheated on him. So, we’re left with little choice but to sell her house. We have one month to fix everything wrong with the house, get it on the market, find a buyer, and complete the sale before we get slammed with more financial penalties.
On top of all that, I just found out a month ago that the magazine I write for, Large in Charge Magazine, is being discontinued at the end of this year, so I lost my position as a columnist. I’ve been contacting more local papers and publications now that I have actual experience and asking if they’re looking for a relationship columnist or some other topic in which I have experience (size acceptance, gender identity, etc), but so far have only gotten rejections (if you may be able to help me here, please do). Speaking of size acceptance, our size acceptance group Oklahoma BBW has experienced a growth spurt of biblical proportions, and the staff is struggling to keep up. There are so many people attending our events now that we have to find an all new venue, but sadly with the experience my wife has searching for them in the metro area the only places that may be able to accommodate us now are likely far beyond our price range, if such places even exist. So for now, the fate of Oklahoma BBW is very much in the air, and with everything else swirling around in our life it unfortunately must take a lower priority position in our lives.
So in case you’ve been wondering where the hell I’ve been all year, now you know.
Right. 2014, you can fuck off. You’ve been shit, and outstayed your welcome to an abominable extent. No, I’m not doing anything to celebrate you leaving. I’m going to sit on my arse on my comfy corner of the couch and open a bottle of Penfolds. End of. Now shush.
It’s really not helping matters that 2015 marks ten years since I graduated High School. I’ve changed a lot of course, and for the better, but losing my columnist position, among the other difficulties I’ve had recently, at this particular time only amplified the feeling of loss. That said, the biggest way I’ve changed is the one area in which I’ve made significant progress in 2014 – openly exploring my gender identity. A lot of people never really think about how much one’s personal development can be hindered when they for whatever reason have to stay in the closet, especially for teenagers and young adults. Often, children of alternative sexual orientations and gender identities don’t have the freedom necessary to really figure out who they are. The process of self-discovery starts as early as ten or twelve for most kids, and really takes off during the teenage years, but this same process doesn’t get to start until eighteen, twenty four, or even later for those trapped in the closet while living at home. For me, it’s been three and a half years since I moved out of my parents house, and so I’ve only had so long for real self-discovery.
Earlier this year, I wrote an article about the first time someone asked me if I prefer to be referred to by male or female pronouns. I was pleasantly surprised at their thoughtfulness, and after a moment of thought I told them I prefer the feminine “her” and “she,” among others. Within a week I was asked two more times, and have been asked several more times since then. Each time I’ve responded with the same answer, that I prefer the feminine, and I’m fairly certain that will always be my answer henceforth to anyone with the mind to ask. I’m definitely preferring it, because for the first time in my life I feel like in using the feminine people are starting to both understand and respect the real me, the one that’s been hiding behind a facade of varying thicknesses for her entire life. I’m certainly not one to get mad at another who uses the masculine, either out of habit or based on what little surface-level assumptions they can make about me (hell, even I’m still guilty of it out of habit from time to time), but as of late I have felt a little more bite to masculine pronouns and titles like him, he, sir, mister, or many others. The water drops are starting to get to me.
In an ideal world, I would just go to the big “user settings” tab in the sky and switch my pronouns around however I wish, but I know for many reasons it’s not so simple or black and white in real life, from some people’s deeply-rooted psychological awkwardness around using feminine terminology to describe me to a simple matter of not knowing or remembering. Still, I’d appreciate being referred to by female pronouns and titles by all those who feel comfortable doing so from hereon out. Even if this is the only victory I get out of 2014, I guess it makes the whole year worth it.
The tragic thing is, I wrote this entire article (save for this paragraph) days before the suicide death of Leelah Alcorn, one of countless trans suicides in 2014. A tragic end to a year with far too much tragedy. Using proper pronouns and titles is something so tiny and so simple that can make all the difference in the world. No longer being afraid to ask this of others is the least I could do for all those like Leelah and the thousands that went before her who no longer can.
If there’s any lesson I learned this year it’s that life is too short to keep putting up with cultural bullshit like all the taboos that still lingers around everything to do with transgenderism. At the very least I’m resolving to stop dumping it all over myself to appease the outdated social standards of strangers, even if not doing so discomforts them. As Ray Bradbury wrote, “we need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?” Or, as my mother so eloquently put it many times, it is my job to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable. I’d say I hope 2015 will be a better year than 2014, but that’s setting the bar pretty damn low. Finding a new outlet for my writing alone would make my year.
All things considered – developments in my personal life as well as everything political happening in the world – I’ll just conclude with this; have a disturbing 2015, everyone.