It’s a strange thing, looking at a nation from the outside. When I look at my country I see the people, I hear the strange rambling conversations, the arguments and the whispered affection, I see the people I share trains with everyday, essentially. This means that when I hear someone shouting about how the country is going down the shitter, or see reports that say everyone is unhappy I pay no heed. I see hundreds of people everyday, and they seem fine to me. There are shits and saints, but it was ever thus. When I consider another country, however, I see only statistics and cultural output; I get the dispassionate numbers in rows and the emotional Technicolor of words and images. It creates a very different impression. I honestly don’t know whether this means that only outsiders can truly grasp the state of a nation, or that outsiders are always prevented from seeing the picture fully.
There are times when I feel like a vicarious American. I talk to my American friends; I work on American school textbooks in American English; I read the news which mostly seems to talk about American politics. I think that we are, as a country, probably all vicarious Americans to some extent. Whether we consider it to be ‘The Great Satan’ or ‘Magic America’ we are all dancing to their music and caught up in their politics. Through my work I see a lot of information about the United States, census reports, economic forecasts, sexual surveys. I can tell you the proportion of American women who don’t often achieve orgasm during penetrative sex (36%) and I can tell you the tallest point in the state of Montana (Granite Peak). My head fills up with information and I can’t help but start passing judgement, good and bad, on the virtual nation outlined by this stuff.
In practice this generally means that the country in my head, and the imaginary people that live in it, change from day to day, depending on what I’m working on, or what I’ve seen or read. Today I was doing some research into school psychologists, and how they are involved with sex education and counselling. I ended up on the website of the National Association of School Psychologists reading a policy paper on dealing with ‘sexual minorities’ in schools.
The more I read of it, the more horrified I was. It gave the general impression (to me at least) that the poor ed-psych is often left trying to stop the effeminate boys and masculine girls* from getting suicidal or dropping out because of bullying, in the face of indifference from parents and, sometimes, teachers. Schools are afraid to defend the gay kids from the violent nutters, and the evangelicals who want to ‘cure’ them, because they’re quite rightly scared of being demonised by Christians, on the one hand, and printed on t-shirts by every activist in the city of Berkeley on the other.
When I think about the shitty time that anyone who so much as seemed a bit gay got at my school -- a school with rules written in big writing and stuck at the front of every classroom telling the students that queer bashing or racism or sexism would earn them serious trouble, with a significant number of openly gay teachers, and mostly ultra liberal staff otherwise -- It makes me worry about the childhood that the kids in the US get. Which of course, brings me back to the point I made at the beginning. I don’t know. The persecuted kids are in my head, and so are the schools, and the measures made to help them. I’m achieving nothing by writing this, about something I’ve never experienced and won’t ever really understand. All I can say is that based on all the statistics and reports I’ve read over the last few days, I wouldn’t want the situation, as I understand it, to be inflicted on me, or anyone for that matter, and it baffles me that anyone would. They’re just kids, can’t people just leave off demonising them until they’re big enough to fight back?
Eugh. But I suppose society never works that way, anywhere, so my crude rhetorical question will just float around with all the others. ‘“This is perfectly horrible” he exclaims, “You ought to be ashamed of yourselves!”’ I think only James Baldwin properly understood the futility of this kind of activism, of pretending to berate your enemies whilst affirming only the righteousness of yourself and your friends, which is an art no more refined or humanising than it was when Ms Beecher Stowe’s caricatures capered around an imaginary south.
I apologise for the rather florid prose, I spend all day writing in cold, detached, textbook English, and it’s nice to use long sentences, metaphors and pretty adjectives every now and then, even if I don't use them very well. (and look, no serial comma! Oh the decadence)
*I’m fully aware that those are largely unfounded stereotypes, but generally those who beat those kids up aren’t, so it makes little difference.