Okay, first I want to say that I started to write this about 2 months ago right after some very good friends left to go home to the east coast, right after I had made the decision to leave my current job without having another job lined up, right after Riley started first grade and was having a lot of problems with the transition. I finished it almost a month ago right after the Connecticut marriage decision was made. For some reason, (maybe I was afraid of being blamed) I couldn’t bring myself to share when it was really hard, but now, now I’m feeling a lot better, a lot stronger as a family, and a lot more able to deal with schools, The Church, community, job searching, Utah and my place in it. I share as food for thought, something that rears its ugly head now and again as we’ve lived here, not something I’m feeling particularly strongly today- perhaps that’s why today is a good day to post. And if you don’t know this Nanci Griffith song (then shame on you. just kidding) that I posted the chorus to, you should listen to it online, it rocks. Storyhill does a pretty good cover too.
It’s a hard life
It’s a hard life
It’s a very hard life
It’s a hard life wherever you go
If we poison our children with hatred
Then, the hard life is all they’ll ever know
And there ain’t no place in (Belfast) for these kids to go
One way that the cycle of oppression imposes its power on individuals is through victim-blaming. The woman who is sexually assaulted gets re-victimized by the legal system, the media, maybe even friends and family through blame being put squarely on the woman’s shoulders – “why were you dressed like that?” “Why did you have so much to drink?” “You had to have known he would do that?” Even strangers hold their opinions on the culpability of victims. This victim-blaming isn’t reserved just for one marginalized group. I’ve been told that LGBT people deserved to be fired from their jobs because they insisted on “flaunting” themselves. I’ve heard that argument taken all the way to murders like Matthew Shepard’s. Comments that he would be alive today if he didn’t insist on being out, or if he wasn’t at a bar looking for a “hook up”, or that he should have known not to get in a vehicle with his killers. To the battered spouse, we hear, “She should have left.” To the family in foreclosure, “You bit off more than you could chew.” Or, “Didn’t you read the fine print?” Or, “If you didn’t understand the contract very well, why didn’t you get an interpreter?” To the struggling racially-diverse college student, “he shouldn’t have gotten accepted here anyway, you know, Affirmative Action.”
I realize the role of victim-blaming perpetuates our oppression. These attitudes against victims of oppression sends those privileged the message that “they deserved it” and those marginalized often internalize a similar message, “we deserved it.” But even if we work to not internalize the messages the dominant group sends about us, how do we ever really avoid it?
I’ve been really trying to figure out something lately. Something related to being LGBT. Here in Utah. Something that’s victim-blaming sure. But I can’t figure out how much responsibility I need to take for the circumstance I allow myself and my family to be in.
We welcomed Connecticut lately along with Massachusetts and (for now) California into the small sampling of places that allow same-sex marriage. I’ve never really even been one who thought that marriage was a place the movement really ought to spend its resources, especially when there’s so much else at stake, especially when schools aren’t safe, and young LGBT people are committing suicide and being rejected by their families and left to live on the streets, especially when LGB non biological parents have seen the courts rip their children away from them, especially now. But at the same time, there are now 3 states that my family could move to and we could stop spending so much time and money on legal contracts and stop worrying about who in the family will have medical insurance and stop worrying about “what would happen if.” We wouldn’t have to worry about adopting because we’d be married. We wouldn’t have to worry about how we’d attain the more than one thousand benefits to the institution, we’d access them. The stigma would be so much less; we’d be married. Sure heterosexism and homophobia exists there, but it seems like it’d have so much less of a presence in my daily life.
And yet I choose to live here. Worse still, my children live here because of me. I at least have language and a sophisticated understanding of oppression. I know that who I am inside is okay. But what about my boys? Sometimes I worry that they have too much information about the world at too young of an age. What is, and what will be, the impact of that knowledge on their lives? Instead of a college fund, should I try to start saving for their therapy? I hear all the time that “If you don’t like it here then leave.” And, “Nobody forces you to live here.” And I thought I wanted to be a person who came back to my home to make a difference. But my home is hard. We’d had such a hard time since we came back to live in Utah. I know that if every queer came out and moved away from Utah then Utah would never change. And I wanted to be among those changing it. But it’s not easy. And sure, some of it is that Kim is in school, the economy is in ruins, jobs are hard to come by for everybody, not just me. Not everybody is embraced by their neighbors, its not just gay folk who struggle to find community. Other parents have hyperactive children, not just me and he isn’t active because of my poor parenting. Elementary school is hard for many, not just my kid. But it seems that this isolation we live in, this place that keeps telling me, my partner, and my children how bad we are, is becoming so unbearable.
And yet we choose to live here.
Is it victim-blaming? Or do I have to take responsibility for living here? Or is it both? Is it giving up to say that Utah needs us but we aren’t up to the challenge? Connecticut and Massachusetts and California look so warm and inviting.