11 September 2010

Acting Like It's 9/10

I called Mom and Dad last night to wish them a happy anniversary.  My father asked whether I was going to the 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center.  I said I was thinking about it.  But not long after talking to him, I decided against it.  For one thing, I didn't lose anyone that day nine years ago.  So I really didn't know what I could offer anyone by being there.  Some might say "solidarity," but  I'm not so sure that I am capable of even that.  Empathy, perhaps, at least to some degree:  I have endured grief, however different it may be from theirs.  Then again, anyone of my age who's lived anything resembling a real life could say the same thing.

And, truth be told, it looked as if the World Trade Center was going to be an arena for the battle between those who don't want to see a mosque built there and those who see building it as a matter of liberty.  In the former camp are some lunatic pastor who threatened to tell his congregation to burn copies of the Qu'ran.  Just what the world needs right now...

But even more disturbing, to me, are those who would profit from such a fight, which further victimizes the victims' families to the point that they can be nothing but victims when they are prompted to talk about their victimization by members of the media horde--and, worse, when politicians are using the victimhood of the victims' families to further their own careers, or to revive moribund campaigns.  Now, I'm not a fan of politicians generally, but I see them as particularly grotesque when they show up in just the place and time that will allow them to benefit from other people's grief.

And their speeches--they're never about the people.  They're about some abstraction or another.  Actually, that's not quite accurate.  When something is abstract, some people have more or less clear ideas of what it is, or at least what it represents.  But if you ask most people what "liberty," "terror" or "triumph" mean, they probably couldn't even begin to hazard a guest.  It's not that all of those people are stupid.  They simply are hearing what they've heard all of their lives and repeating it.

Lots of people get through life that way.  And they "get along" with others to the degree that they simply relay what they hear.  That's what allows them to talk about a "war on terrorism" and to think that "fighting" it has something to do with "liberty," "justice" or  being an "American."

Mind you, they are saying things that meant something at one time, and probably still have meaning.  But they no longer have any idea of what those meanings are.  "Muslim" thus becomes a nationality or ethnicity rather than a religion and "radical" means whatever doesn't like or agree with you.

And, in that schemata, someone's identity becomes his or her destiny, and having a capacity for something means being an automaton that can't help but to do whatever it is one has the capacity for doing.  Thus, if you do a good job of teaching a class, they think you're "born to" be an academic, and they try to tell you that they "can't see" you "doing anything else"--provided, of course, that your doing that thing doesn't challenge them in any way.  Likewise, if you care about something that you believe in more than your life itself, you are automatically seen as someone who will die--and cause others to die--for your beliefs.

What I've just described not only precludes any ability to actually think (as opposed to simply making intellectual gestures), it also prevents empathy.  And, even children who don't know the word "empathy" can see its absence when some authority figure is "talking at" them.

That is exactly what I feel every day on my regular job.  There, I am seen as someone who is bound to act in certain ways because I have undergone a gender transition and the surgery.  I really try to be something more than that, but I am given a hard time because I don't fit into notions they have about transsexual people.

And they are the ones who tell you that they're not treating you with prejudice against who you are, and would have you believe that none of their colleagues are, either.  Some of them go to great lengths to make you believe that they understand how you feel--that they "understand" you--whatever that means to them.

In other words, they do exactly what I didn't want to do today:  to display unearned emotions and to appropriate your right to be heard.  And, after silencing you, they'll use you for their purposes--whether you're a tennis player, trannie,  or someone else.  Those purposes are always encoded in some vaguely abstract term:  As the people who act is if it's 9/10, or if they want time to revert to that date,  talk about "liberty" and "war"s against "terrorism" and such, education administrators act as they do in the name of eliminating "disruptions" and doing things "for your own good."  Those administrators no more know you than those who want to "bring back America" know a Muslim or a "terrorist." 

In brief, there is nothing more cynical--and there are very few things I detest more--than exploiting someone's victimhood and grief.


Miss Kitty said...

Justine, this is SO well written. You've said my thoughts so much better than I've ever been able to articulate them.

The whole "Patriot Day" thing on 9/11 has always disturbed me, mostly because of the religion-turned-racism theme, and the jingoistic rah-rah element. What a lot of people don't get is that it's just one day for them to "honor" and "remember" those killed on September 11, 2001...but those people are remembered and honored and loved the OTHER 364 days of the year, too, by the loved ones left behind. A single day of abstract speeches and American flags doesn't amount to a hill of beans.

I say all this having myself lost a loved to murder by a "crazy person." My father was killed by his brother in a murder-suicide in 1997. When I saw the towers fall, I knew a little bit of what those people's relatives were going through; I also knew that the road ahead would be very hard for survivors and family, because I had been in a personal OMG-WTF-is-going-on-here? catastrophe of my own.

I think of my dad every single day. If I went to his grave, waved flags, and made silly speeches on Veterans' Day, or October 5 (his birthday) or January 16 (when he died), it would be so fake and dumb. He's always "nearby," so to speak, 365 days a year.

Justine Valinotti said...

Thank you, Miss Kitty. Check the end of my post: I added it just after the putting up the original post, but I didn't revise the post until now.

I am so sorry to hear about your father and uncle: That's such an awful way to die. And you can indeed die with the survivors in that sense: The deaths of their and your loved ones were senseless.

Mind you, I have experienced the deaths of relatives and friends. Fourteen friends and friendly acquaintances of mine (including my first two AA sponsors) have died of AIDS-related illnesses. On that level, I can identify with the 9/11 victims' families. But there is still an aspect of it that I cannot truly identify with: On 9/11, people were killed when they were simply going about their daily business.

I think of what Albert Camus wrote in La Peste (The Plague): "La mort vient du ciel claire." (Death came out of the clear blue sky.)