Category Archives: Government
The following essay was written as part of a larger art exhibit curated by Roberto Jones called “The Contemporary Form,” which explored androgyny as a contemporary social and artistic concept. I provided the following essay as a plea to explore gendered expressions as not simply a political or artistic curiosity but rather a survival mechanism.
The Body Is Where We Live:
On the Importance of Questioning Gender and Embracing Androgynous Forms
A Short Essay
By Derek Berry
Gendered language is the sarcophagus but not the corpse within. You can
claw your way out of the coffin, sure, but how to escape the body? You live there,
every experience, every moment, every love, every thought filtered through the
reality of existing in that corporeal being, one you cannot escape except through
sleep or orgasm or suicide. Even dead, you cannot escape the tongues of
others—those who will name you boy or girl when you only ever named yourself
God or fairy or Leelah Acorn. The catch, that skin stretches around our
bones, a flesh-prison. A strange virtual reality video game, in which we sit rattling in
the consoles of our skulls, controlling human-shaped vehicles. In these vehicles, we
collide and crash and zip and brake—we live our entire lives within bodies. We do
not even understand what it means to live beyond the body, whether death be a
coda or refrain. So we have these: we own bodies, though several own the language
that describe our bodies. How can we own a name that does not belong to us, one
our tongues have never learned to properly speak? How can we own a body so
inscribed with meaning we did not choose, a library of misinterpretations that
mangle bones, that fertilize graves, and that trap us with organs, with body hair,
with blood. We do not properly understand the physical effects of gender, that these
transgressions do not only happen in discourse or in the classroom or in some
theory-ruled vacuum but rather on the body, in the body, to the body. Always the
body is the final secret exhumed, the final consideration behind the name on the
headstone or taste of the dirt. This is a cemetery we continue to dig.
[A poem about a specific event in Cuba, though severely exaggerated. It had an interesting impact and summed up much of what I learned while I was in the country. I’ll post a live reading of it when I debut it at an open mic, which should be some time next week.]
On my final night in Cuba, while strolling home
from the Malecon, drunker than Hemingway
and more nostalgic than Buzz Aldrin during a full moon,
a boy spat on my shoes and screamed,
“Screw you, dirty American. You ruin everything!”
That is the edited version of his comment,
bleary-eyed and angry as he was.
My entire life I had grown up being called names:
Spazz, geek, twitch, space cadet, nerd, stupid face,
weirdo, pothead, loser, Southern boy, and usless.
But nothing hurt my pride more than
being called, a “dirty American.”
Which in Latin America is a strange insult:
they too are America, not just the United States,
which the US citizens tend to forget.
Without breaking a sweat, I turned about face
and stood in the place before him and said,
“Look, don’t you realize—don’t you see?
I love you!”
We stared each of us for a moment, tense,
and I said, “Look, man, we’ve got a war going on,
and we’re losing. Love is losing.
We’re being drowned in a sea of apathy
while our violence is anything but holy.
But we need to return to the sacred, to the human,
to the soul and to our passions.
We’re facing giants of oppression
and if we don’t learn our lesson, we’ll be done for.
So you and me, we gotta stick together.
We have to rally on the side same,
and what’s the point of shouting at each other on the street
when you’re little brother doesn’t have anything to eat?
Why would you want to fight like this
when you don’t own a toilet where you can take a piss?
So, I’m here for you, and I’ll always be here for you,
so don’t you dare talk to me that way.
I know, I know, you can only get drunk and forget your life
only because today was a good day.
But what about tomorrow?
When will we fight for tomorrow?
When will we wield our imaginations like swords?
I’ll charge into the battlefield mounted on a unicorn
There’s no time to squabble and there’s no time to mourn.
Because it’s bigger than us.”
I realized as he nodded his head
He didn’t understand a damned word I said
But he understood my voice and with what passion I spoke
and I guess he figured I was an alright bloke
He shook my hand and I went on my way
and we got drunker, because today had been a good day.
Sometimes, words won’t do, and sometimes
we fail ourselves—that’s evolutionary
But if we live and we love,
that act is revolutionary.
My good fortune found me sitting down with famous Southern writer and political analyst Henry Cotton III, author of 7 Habits of a Highly Successful Secessionist. He is renowned for works such as A Southern Guide to California: Into the Eighth Circle of Hell, The Five People You Will Meet in Georgia, Chicken Soup for the Confederate Soul, Eat, Pray, Secede, and Three Mason Jars of Moonshine: One’s Man’s Mission to Promote American Values in a Liberal Land.
His newest work follows the efforts of anti-Obama protestors calling for the secession of 20 U.S. states. It focuses on how by seceding from the Union and creating a new Constitution based on allowing the minority vote to choose the presidency, these states will display what real democracy looks like.
Derek: Mr. Cotton III, what do you think spurred the recent secession movement?
Cotton: Well, Derek, Texas was basically its own country anyways. So, allowing it to break off and swim somewhere out in the Pacific Ocean seems like the best way to settle our differences. As for the rest of the states, it is our divine right to reject our government when we disagree with it. What do you think the Revolutionary War was about?
Derek: Or the Civil War?
Cotton: No, the War of Northern Aggression was not about rejecting government. We were attacked. Our values were attacked. We protected them.
Derek: I see. What are the chief complaints of the states involved? Why would they want to leave the United States.
Cotton: Well, recent research has brought to light that democracy has not been carried out in this land. For example, when a majority of electoral votes goes to somebody I don’t like, there must be a real glitch in the system, especially if that happens twice. For decades, real Americans have suffered attacks on our freedoms and rights. Just the other day, I went down to the Piggly Wiggly, and what did I see? Two men holding hands, infringing on my rights to be a heterosexual.
Derek: How unfortunate, sir. Well, what other reasons might you have?
Cotton: I know you think I’m just some ignorant hick, but I think that we have every right to secede if we want to.
Derek: No doubt. It’s actually in the Constitution. ““Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” one portion read, “that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and institute new Government.”
Cotton: That’s right. People say we’re unpatriotic, that we don’t know what we’re talking about, but if we disagree with the federal government, we actually have every right to secede.
Derek: If enough states leave the Union, will they form their own country, do you think, or will they continue on, each state as a separate, sovereign entity?
Cotton: I imagine a new nation with rise, one that our Founding Fathers imagined, one where we can carry guns to church without harassment. And anybody don’t like it, they can move up North to Yankee-land. We have survived long enough in enemy territory, ever since the Usurpation of Lincoln in the 1800’s.
Derek: Well, I thank you for your time, and I hope everyone buys his new book 7 Habits of a Highly Successful Secessionist. It’s a thrilling read about how you too can secede from the union!
In light of recent elections, I have heard chaos and turmoil. When the results were announced, the earth opened, lava pouring across the land destroying America values, destroying the homes of all hard-working, straight Americans. The flags burned symbolically and Barack Obama removed his clever prosthetic concealing his demonic horns.
Well, I mean, that happened metaphorically, right?
I mean, the Earth shuddered with sudden change.
Didn’t you feel that?
Time to honest: I wasn’t too worried about the election. Why?
Because it was a choice between moderates. I knew that it did not matter who won, not much would change. Now that Obama is president again, while I suspect his views to shift more liberally, I know that it’s not going to change the world. And not that I would mind America changing.
Whatever, I can adapt.
And if Romney won and I lost federal aid for college, I mean, that would be a change, but I could deal with it. It’s almost as if the election did not truly decide the moral and grandiose fate of the United States. And I’m not sure why anyone would want to move to Canada after this point? I mean, Canada is terrible. If you really wanted to get away from liberal policies, I don’t know– Are there any more conservative countries than us? I’m not sure.
Like waking from a strange and lurid dream, the election was over. No one mentioned the economy or “the media” as if it existed, an amalgam of demonic spirits. Over night, elderly couples had extracted the signs from their lawns, and my curse was lifted. The curse, I believed, meant I was nearly mad—or in comparison to others, sane. I became struck with an odd, creeping feeling, a horrific notion that perhaps everyone else had descended into insanity, jabbering gibberish and talking too loudly about subjects which did not seem to matter.
For months, they screamed in a language of “politics,” citing sources that didn’t exist to support arguments wholly metaphysical or hypothetical.
“What if,” the brain-washed inquired, “Barack Obama won and then aliens attacked? What would he do? Why hasn’t he addressed that problem?” Any attempt to swerve the conversation back to tangible and pressing issues proved ineffective against the hot-headed pollsters, the opinionated elite, who had “educated themselves.”
“Oh,” they would chide, “you should really get educated. Maybe do a little research into the truth about the elections.”
“What?” I implored them to tell me their secrets, if there was truly some conspiracy brewing. If Obama planned to murder children or if Romney plotted to destroy the university system from the inside, I wanted to be in the fold. I wanted to be the ringleader of resistance movements, ninja-leaping through the lawn of the White House to stop the Antichrist from initiating the Apocalypse. I wanted to put out buckets in my home to stop the leaking of lava through my singed roof.
But no matter I how fervently I tried to froth my mouth and gnash my teeth and cry in the midst of a tribal dance around a sacrificial fire, I could not feel as religiously as they for anything so trite. Instead, I kept in constant consciousness that the dance was an illusion, that we were not performing rituals to save the world (because this election would determine the future of human morality), but instead crass acts, calling it “politics.”
The worst shock was what people said—it’s certainly not quiet now. But those swearing in adoration or disgust are both marked as certified “crazies.” Anyone who still pursues, after this point, the cult of politics is considered a lunatic. But before, we were all lunatics, all these cloudy-eyed zombies repeating rhetoric we heard on the evening news.
What makes an election so volatile and consuming that we fall into such a trance, biting our fingernails at the drama as the ballots roll in. Today, however, the storm has settled into glass, the shudders quieting into rumbles and loud coughing and little sneezes, then finger snaps, then true and solid silence.
Perhaps the world has gone un-mad.
These words come from curiosity more than from deep thinking: this post contains more questions than answers.
With the debates currently going on in politics, I have been thinking how we approach the subject of sex: how we discuss it in our personal lives and how we discuss it concerning politics. Sex, after all, has become a dividing factor of politics– and I’m not talking about “gender,” but straight-out, throw-down coitus.
How does our comfort with discussing sex affect our political views? Can sex be used as a political means? What is considered inappropriate in the political realm?
Mostly, conversations have stemmed from the outbursts of foolish old men, most notably U.S. Representative Todd Akin’s comment about “legitimate rape.” He argues that sometimes what we call rape is not rape at all, but instead a fantastical illusion of some woman’s mind. Basically, he claims that some forms of “rape” are justified, that the air-quotes around the word should always been instilled in our language. Honestly, just typing the word makes me shudder, which makes me unlikely to openly discuss it, which probably affects how I approach women’s rights altogether.
This is interesting to consider because when the Founding Fathers first signed the Constitution, they deliberately refused to discuss slavery or immigration. Both were highly controversial and to avoid causing disagreements, they explicitly refused to argue slavery for at least twenty years. Sometimes, we put off speaking of what we should for the sake of feeling comfortable.
I won’t get into that conversation at all, but only to say that this idea permeates world-wide, though I believe most people from the U.S. have come to a consensus that Akin’s style of thinking is nothing short of ludicrous. I didn’t come here to talk about why rape is real and obvious. If you want to hear about that, look here and here or here to get a wide scope of the issue from several viewpoints.
For the past four decades, Togo has been ruled by a father and son who have shared the presidency throughout, holding bogus elections and generally inciting tyranny for the country. Isabelle Ameganvi (leader of a civil rights group) urged women to go on a “sex strike” for a week. This means withholding sex from their husbands to encourage them to unseat the current leader. By violent or political means, I’m not really sure, only that these women want their voices heard.
This interests me because women in this country intend to use sex as a political tool. They hold a particular power over men in that respect, even if not directly politically. ” That’s also a weapon of the battle,” said Ameganvi of sex (http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/08/27-6). So, in this sense, sex is a weapon, a means to an end, a reward for all men willing to make change. While this may work in a country in which women hold no political power, I wonder how American women (fighting to be de-sexualized in the political sphere) feel about this.
There have been so many arguments in America to remove the idea of sex from politics because it corrupts the fairness of the proceedings, but in Togo, women actively use sex to drive political initiatives.
Like I said, I have no answers, only questions and whatever research I could muster. For example, I could find nowhere whether or not the women of Togo can vote. I also don’t know the laws of Togo concerning sex with husbands. I can glean from this next quote that the laws do not favor married women:
“I do agree that we women have to observe this sex strike but I know my husband will not let me complete it. He may agree at first, but as far as I know him, he will change overnight,” said Judith Agbetoglo. “So I don’t believe I can do the one week sex strike. Otherwise, I will have serious issues with him. He likes that too much.”
Many are quick to point out that the inciter of this idea (Ameganvi) is not married herself. The entire situation raises many questions, of course.
How might this discussion affect our views of how women are treated in America? And do men, who simply cannot experience things from a female perspective, have at all a reasonable handle on what it means to live as a woman in our country today? Therefore, should this blog post exist or should I avoid wading into sexually-charged, political waters?
In the case of Togo women, the organization plans on coaxing the men by giving them a reward, or perhaps in the eyes of the man, taking away what is rightfully his. Naturally, from nation to nation, culture to culture, the idea of what a man’s “rights” are drastically changes, whether they be civil or natural. And this implies that the act of withholding sex for the Togo women will be much more controversial than it would be in America. While here we would see that as women asserting their rights over their own bodies, in Togo this could be seen as severe disobedience not only to the family but to the ideals of the culture.
An aside: I’m not sure a week without sex would truly change my political views, but maybe because for me, every week is without sex. What is important to remember is that men in Togo see sex as a duty their women commit to, not a gift they give away. So women are not simply shirking on pleasure, but in the Togo mindset, their obligations.
As I have said again and again, I have no answers, only questions. If you are a woman (from America or from anywhere in the world), how do you feel about the Togo sex strike? Are they demeaning themselves or empowering themselves by using sex as a political “weapon”? How else might sex or sexuality affect politics and create change?
Leave me some answers in the comments, perhaps.
Eighteen years old, I’m caught in a strange predicament. Considered an adult by the government, only not by society. Forced to make decisions that will affect my career and the rest of my life, but not allowed to consume alcohol or rent a hotel room or test-drive a car. During youth, we experience this duality of responsibility which we can choose to detest, exploit, or ignore.
During school or at work, I find myself assuming a very adult role. I dress for the part, sometimes even donning a tie, tucking in my button-down shirt, combing my hair. I speak in even, professional tones and answer the phone with the same greeting each time. There is an adult-like process to work, where we can fall into routines that mimic what we’ve seen others do, what we’ve seen on television, read in books. We act like what we think adults act like just like the generations before us did, never realizing we will never truly leave childhood, only heap more responsibility upon ourselves without actually feeling any more mature.
But right now school is months away, college looms in the distance of the coming autumn, and I’m wading in the shallow waters of summer irresponsibility. Summer offers unlimited time where the demands of the adult world get bored and begin to leave you alone. Of course I still have to go into work, but that constitutes maybe 18 hours a week. Otherwise, we’re allowed to do what we like, when we like. I’m not on-call 24/7 at the Be-An-Adult Center.
So what do we do with this lack of responsibility? Stupid things, of course. We generally forget that in August, we will return to school, to classes, and for me, a higher level of schooling and classes. Nevertheless, we kill those brain cells like they’re alien invaders and we are mighty Hulks.
So that is what we live with. A balance of time spent pretending to be mature and time spent wasted on the internet. Or lounging by a pool. Which for me offers no real purpose because I’m not interested in a tan or anything. I am simply interested in the act of doing nothing. Absolutely nothing, like the silence that surrounds us when stress lowers its axe, too exhausted to continue hitting us in the calves.
And what we do with that time, when productivity does not insist upon itself, when all of our daily projects seem pointless, well, that’s important.
For me, I intend to write. I still do, though I haven’t done much this summer. I fell into summer like it was a pool of Jell-O, and I keep sinking, refusing to swim or struggle. Is that inherit laziness or does stress actually spurn creativity? Who knows? I even do not blog as much as I usually do when very busy. Now that my schedule is so free, I do it quite less!
Certainly, I will begin writing more fiction soon. This afternoon, maybe.
Yes, I tell myself. I will write something new this afternoon.
The human race makes me SMH sometimes. (SHAKE MY HEAD, for those of you not familiar with text-speak vernacular). When you get down to brass tacks, our race does a lot more harm than, say, sharks. And sharks are feared a lot. Sharks get blamed for a whole lot of stuff, mainly eating people’s limbs. But the human race killed more people with the atom bomb in a single day than the entire shark population has killed in… a century. That’s a lot of people.
It’s makes us pretty easy to hate. But since we’re the only animals who speak English, we don’t catch any flack about it from dogs or giraffes or, more tellingly, sharks. Who is anti-humanity? Humans.
And I realize we probably don’t deserve the gold medal for “Best Animals Ever.” (That would probably be panda bears or sea otters, both very cute). We do a lot worse for the environment than any other animal, even worse than kudzu or mangrove trees. When you reach that level of destruction, something bad is going on? It is more likely you will be killed by a human than a shark, though not all humans think you’re tasty. For the record, I bet you’re delicious.
Despite all this, I don’t agree with hating on humanity. I know I just laid out a lot of very bad things we’ve done, but since I’m human, I’m on Team Humanity. I’ve heard a lot of fellow humans (I’m supposing most of you reading this are human- Sorry 1% sentinel cyborgs) do not think humanity is “good.” In fact, a lot of people believe that humanity is innately evil. We are savages driven to kill and destroy and a few systems of government and religion are all that keep us from tearing into each other’s throats.
For example, board games. Playing Monopoly alone would be less fun and less violent. Without other people, not only Monopoly is given up.
We can kiss, sumo-wrestle, or do both at the same time. We can hold intense philosophical conversations and learn from each other. We can help each other survive. We can’t play freeze tag alone without dying of starvation. Face it, we need each other and cannot turn away from humanity. The human race is all we’ve got, so why give that up? We need each other for the purpose of, for example, love.
Without getting too gooey and cliche, I’ll admit we need love. Maybe you’ve been broken up with, divorced, and chopped up into tiny pieces by a serial killer, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never need another person to be with you. To love you. Unless you’ve been chopped up into tiny pieces by a serial killer. Then, you’re dead.
If human beings were meant to live alone and hate each other, we may never have invented salsa dancing or sports games or parties or sex. All these things are what we get in return for being part of a somewhat horrid race. But perhaps that is the point of humanity. In a way, we’re despicable. But that wickedness is bred from the same race that brought you Super Mario Bros. and hang gliders. Do you realize how cool hang gliders are? Very much so.
We have this incredible duality: we have free will and so can commit either atrocities or great acts of love.
So, before condemning your own race to the bowels of Hell, think about what horror it would be if we were any different. Imagine us as clean robots. Sure, we may never spill ketchup on the floor of restaurants so waitresses are forced to clean it up. But we also would be unable to love.
That is more than can be said for sharks.
I’m tired of my young friends complaining about “the government” or “the man.” I get. You think you’re oppressed because you have to work to make money. Teens are malleable in opinion and weak in heart when it comes to politics or revolutionary ideas. Some teens were raised from Conservative parents and so endlessly talk about how Obama needs to be “taken out,” that if only someone capable like George W. were again in control, America would be better off. And then the other half keeps bringing up how we’re all the 99% and should “take back” all that money we never made for ourselves from greedy Wall Street bankers.
First off, I don’t agree with everything Obama says, but if I hear another person offer to assassinate him, I will punch him in the face. To claim that Obama and his ideas are “Un-American” would be frivolous, a waste of both of our time. Our nation was established on the principle of compromise so yes, that means other Americans will hold different opinions than you. And you must work together to reconcile them, not “nuke ’em.”
Also, I completely understand how desperately disparate the income gap is. I get it: CEO’s and politicians make way too much money and can deduct way too much from their taxes. Occupy Wall Street may highlight these problems, but it doesn’t do anything about them. In fact, Occupy movements are self-destructive. So… this big wig guy makes more money than you and your entire extended family? How about we camp outside his investment firm and protest? He will definitely care then and then the country will care. We will change everything!
How exactly do you plan to camp out in the streets for weeks and months playing the ukulele? What about going to work? Oh, what’s that? You don’t have a job except for the one that’s “not good enough for you” at a retail store because you got a degree in art history instead of spending those four years at college doing something useful. And because you made that grievous mistake, you want some investment banker to “share the wealth.”
I know that not all protesters are like this. But for those of you who have truly screwed by the system and want to reform, remember who holds your signs and marches with you. It’s sniveling college students with a lot of student debt because they could not stand the thought of NOT going to Stanford for a degree in art history. As if it matters where that sort of degree comes from.
We’ve known forever we’ve been getting screwed over. Our system is more twisted than a Canadian contortionist. But all this talk about “Revolution” is a lot of hot air. That’s not what revolution looks like. Not if you just sit there. And I get that Martin Luther King achieved with peace (I’m not saying resort to violence), but he had a more united cause. Wall Street protesters suffer from this disease of disjointedness. Some want socialism, some want freedom, others free money. But it is not a united cause.
Instead, recent grad students who are forced to work at Kroger realized it would look cool to protest like the Egyptians or other revolting countries. Why can’t America be like them?
Part of the reason is because we’ve already gained democracy. We’ve not ACTUALLY oppressed except by greed. The government is not holding your head under the water. You are free to make money and take part in business. Where you come from partly can hinder you, but don’t tell me it’s impossible. Just because some jerk with lots of money succeeded because of his daddy’s contributions doesn’t mean you can’t succeed as well.
One last thing before I go, American revolutionaries. Right now, millions of internet users are patting each other on the back for snuffing out the fire called SOPA and calling arms for ACTA. Look, they contest, we paid attention to what the government was doing and changed it! Well, good job! You allowed Wikipedia and Google to thrust fear into your hearts so you could act in their better interests. Not that I agreed with SOPA, but you just bent your will to another kind of corporation. This so-called upheaval of anger did not occur until a few days before the act was supposed to be passed.
The act was introduced at the end of October and for a little while, I remember some people from the music industry discussing it. Some authors discussed it. But no one cared. No one cared till websites that would be affected took to the interwebs to warn its users. And then people got up in arms about the acts SOPA and PIPA infringing on our creative licenses… and how it showed unfair the justice system was becoming. Which is good, because that act did not bode well.
What I mean is, when you allow corporations to lead you into revolutionary battle, you’re not exactly going to get a government that is run by and for the people. Instead, you increase the control of corporations. America, you’re doing everything wrong. Don’t kill anyone. Don’t sit on your laurels. And although the internet is a great tool for spreading ideas, you won’t change anything drastically by just sitting there. Engage in conversations outside of the safe walls of the internet where you can be anonymous.
Rise in a different way. If you want to boost this economy, you should not be camping in Wall Street. You should be pursuing an actual job.
Actually pay attention to what your country is doing instead of waiting for the next internet protest to begin, following any “radicals” like lemmings. You are not a lemming. You are an American. And you can be a revolutionary.
Look at what happened during the French Revolution: it looked like a great idea, everyone was getting involve, and fun was had by all until they began lopping off heads in a guillotine. To mindlessly protest against the government is just as bad as mindlessly agreeing with it. you’re just falling prey to another sort of beast.
If you march up and down the street chanting “I am the 99%,” it only means someone else has been able to use you for their ultimate goal. Decide on your own ideas and then start the revolution. If you’re going to fight, fight for what YOU believe. And if you believe in the ideals of Occupy Wall Street (as scattered as they are), then march. If not, keep fighting your own fight.
If I work and you protest, we’re not both together as the 99%. You assume everyone in that vast majority of Americans thinks it is a good idea. But if you WORK to improve the economy and elect officials that actually share your views, you can make a real difference.