Thursday, July 4, 2019

Written Thursday, July 4, 2019

[Published retroactively on 2021-09-03, with minor edits for privacy.]

I didn't realize until earlier this morning how much I actually want to write about this.

The fourth of July has always been a stressful holiday for me, in one way or another. In recent years it has been largely because the entire day was a continuous hell for my poor dog, who would spend the surrounding 36 hours pacing the house in abject fright, unable to even get outside long enough to visit the yard, because of the random booms and explosions. Watching him suffer and being utterly powerless to help was not exactly conducive to enjoying the day.

But there's more than that, and I realized that as I thought about what to do with the day when I'm by myself. For instance... why am I spending the day alone? I've carefully avoided getting invited anywhere. Sure, some of that is transition related, and it's nice to just have a chance to not perform for anyone else. But there's definitely more still.

A bunch clicked into place when I read a tiny [social media] post from someone about their own negative feelings about today. The "patriotism" still grosses me out a lot. The nationalism has waxed and waned over the years, and in the social circles I'm in these days, it's certainly tempered compared to - say - the atmosphere in the post-9/11 south.

But there's still some polarizing clearly visible. Presumably there's a camp that thinks the country is good right now, and while that makes me quite sad, I at least don't have to interact with them these days, which is important for my own health. There's definitely a camp that feels like we're off track and just need to stand for the Right Things and it will all get better - like there's a core essential America that can still be salvaged. The bizarre overlap with MAGA rhetoric is not lost on me, but I do kind of worry that it might be lost on everyone else.

And then there's the camp I feel the most affinity for: this place is fucked, we never were good to begin with, and the lies and posturing and systemic brainwashing of successive generations are just perpetuating an unforgivable disregard for basic human decency. This shit hole doesn't deserve to be celebrated.

Learning about actual American history was one of the key threads in the process of my own discovery that authority is not to be trusted, and face value can be fatally deceptive. There were the elementary school fairytale versions of the revolutionary war, colonization, westward expansion, and so on. But they never really held up under scrutiny.

I remember a confusing process that unfolded over my time growing up overseas. In second grade I dropped into a tiny enclave of international kids that held a "school" together, courtesy of a couple of parents who had some teaching background. (I need to pause in remembrance of my teacher, who I knew as Aunt Kathy for silly cultural quirk reasons. She was an immense help in a lot of ways and I owe a lot to her loving and genuine involvement in my young life. She returned to the US to battle cancer around the end of my second grade year, and for years we thought of her as a hero. I am ashamed to confess I don't remember much else, but we lost her several years back. Thank you, Aunt Kathy. Rest peacefully.)

In this little proto-community, there were a few kids that were "old school" is as far as one can be in elementary school I suppose. And I was the new kid. I quickly learned that America wasn't thought of highly - not just among our host country but by the white kids too. Some of them were loyal and fond of the country we were in, the place that truly was home. That contrast stuck with me, and later in life I found it a vital clue in understanding third-culture. It also became a permanent building block of my own politics.

The next major shock was spending a year back in the US in middle school. I kind of intuited that maybe people wouldn't really "get" why I preferred a foreign country to their home, but I was not at all prepared for the venom behind that. Not only do American middle school kids lack the experience to empathize with my affinity for a "third-world garbage heap", they were abundantly eager to give me shit for it. I don't think they were bad people. I think they were victims of the kind of pervasive brainwashing that patriotism tends to produce - and that I had been lucky enough to avoid.

I mean, yeah, there's obviously something wrong with that kid! Who doesn't think America is the best thing ever? Who would want to live in a country where you don't have TV and can't go to the movies and they don't even sell the right kind of clothes?

I always found it telling, though, how I responded to that experience. I went back overseas the next year, and rejoined the community of international kids again. Except suddenly I had been promoted. I was now de facto old school, plus I had endured the dreaded rite of passage known as Furlough, so I was fucking made. The old guard saw me as having real cred now, and the next wave of new kids needed to be helped to understand what it was all about. (I want to make this sound more humane and pleasant than it was. Frankly, I was too young to actually get it properly, too angsty and teenaged to be nice or gentle at all, and honestly high school freshmen just aren't likely to engage with a subject like this in a cultured and compassionate manner. I'm not judging anyone, least of all Past Me. Just, in the interests of honesty, I was a total shit.)

The struggle unfolded. There were a few of us who still fiercely advocated for the value of our host nation and culture, and of international experience in general; but we lost numbers steadily, as people graduated school and left, or had to go for other reasons. The scene was slowly flooding with bitter, grumpy Americans who resented being taken away from their cushy lives and privilege.

Frankly it was exhausting, and it was one of the single biggest reasons why I was mortified to learn, around late 2000, that we were moving to Florida after the end of the school year. I remembered middle school. I didn't want to face that treatment again, especially when I felt like I'd been losing ground in that war on my own fucking home turf. Summer of 2001 we slogged through the infinitely unhappy process of moving across the planet, and after a bunch of unpleasant crap, finally wound up in a tiny duplex apartment in a backwater town in Central Florida.

Somehow I wound up getting shunted into a "home schooling" situation which, ultimately, I find a painfully mixed blessing. My "high school" experience was fucked, but it did come with the cold comfort of not having to walk into classrooms full of people who hated me every day.

The details are fading with time, but the moment - and especially the emotions - I don't think will ever dim. I was doing some stupid busywork under the guise of school. Dad was working on the lawn. Mom I think answered the phone when my sister called.

"Go get Dad and then turn on the TV."

Some moments in life you don't have to recognize to know exactly what they mean. I'd never heard that tone, but it was unmistakably clear.

The first plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York City just a few minutes prior. We watched live as the second hit, then the Pentagon after that, and the crash in Pennsylvania after that. Watched live as the towers came down.

Nobody knew what it meant; fuck, for weeks it wasn't even entirely clear what had happened. But everybody was definitely scared.

I don't remember how much I said at all those days, or how much I was honest about things. I suspect I followed my gut and just lied, if I even spoke. I don't even think I had many people to talk to about it. But regardless, my true fear was unspeakable - it wasn't safe to admit.

I'd left the world and come to Florida with a low, rumbling unease about how America thought of itself and the rest of the planet. The morning of September 11, 2001, I felt so alien and alone. I was scared, absolutely, but my fear wasn't about America being attacked. I was scared for everyone else.

The next months and years were like a waking horror nightmare, as that fear turned into increasingly awful reality. Within hours the American flag paraphernalia was everywhere, and it stayed that way for months, if not longer. The rhetoric made a sudden and dramatic surge towards violent retribution and "sending a message." People drew encouragement, I guess, from the patriotic melodrama and the nationalistic frenzy.

We started a war, and then more. There was a stomach-churning phase of "debate" about clamping down on people's lives and rights in the name of protection. The cynics were right, ultimately; the debate happened, faded out and whimpered into nothingness out of sheer exhaustion, and despite the apparent "compromises" that were supposed to come from it, here we are, years later, happily chugging down the path of surveillance state and dehumanizing as many people as we can possibly manage.

The sick twist, of course, is that the "government" isn't directly acting as the face of most of this shit. (They're doing some, yes, and it's vile how happy they are to own it.) Most of the insidious erosion has been outsourced to private corporations. Shouldn't really shock me, I suppose, that's the fucking American way.

By the time I was in high school I had done more air travel than most adults in the US, by any number of different metrics. Going through an airport shortly after 9/11 was unspeakably painful to me. The inconvenience didn't matter; I'd had far more annoying experiences already, but... stories for another time. I sat in the winding security lines and watched people be molested by "security personnel" and watched people suffer through incredible amounts of blatant bigotry. I often wondered, in those airport lines, if I had the strength to do anything. There's a young mother, wearing an understated head-scarf, traveling alone with her infant child, struggling to communicate in fragmented English with someone who is overtly and proudly treating her like shit.

And here's me, a dozen people back in line. I feel visceral pain for her, in so many ways. What could I do? What would anyone else in that line see? There goes some pasty, scrawny white boy, to do... what? Being forced to watch suffering, and being entirely powerless to stop it, is my ultimate hell.

Almost 18 years later. The post-9/11 America is almost old enough to vote. Airports have tamed a bit, and I can almost fly without having to consciously force down the nausea and unease. My disgust with this country has faded into the background from time to time, no less intense but certainly less visible and demanding of attention.

I haven't lost the awareness. I know, all too well, how big of a gap there is between American perception of America, and what everyone else sees. I haven't lost the deep, rending pangs for the small moments when I see someone being abused and mistreated because of it. For many reasons, I think it has all needed to stay in the background for a while, and it may still be some time before I can safely work with it again. But I intend to.

I will not celebrate the fourth of July. I won't attend the light shows or the barbeques or the parties. I will reserve a moment of silence, instead, to mourn for what this country has done to the world. I will keep holding on to my seething anger. And to everyone who has bled at the hands of this nation - I dearly wish I could promise you more than this, but at least know that you are not forgotten.

Fuck the United States of America.



Side note - I very, very much need to sit down and do a true archival session sometime. There's some interesting snippets from [a long-vanished website] that are still surviving in pockets of the web. (I don't think the record of my brief but very public flirtation-slash-idolization exchange with the T-shirt ad model chick made it, which is sad, because she was super cute, but such is life.) I'm poking around my old high-traffic blog and there are definitely a lot of fascinating bits there too, going back to 2005 and tapering off a couple of years ago. I could also stand to comb through some relics from old computers, especially the laptop that's still running and the one that I think I can use if I plug it into a monitor, although I probably can't remember the passwords.



I'm trying an experiment tonight.

The nationalism is making a lot of noise outside right now. It's 22:41 hours but also northern latitudes in summer, so the sky is actually still a tiny bit light. The fireworks will probably continue to be a pest for at least another hour, maybe two.

I already wrote about how all that shit makes me feel.

A bit ago I played some bass, in a very unambiguously girly outfit, in front of the picture window in the room upstairs. Didn't keep careful track of time but probably close to an hour. It was fun, and I felt good being me, and being potentially visible even though I know nobody around here would notice in the middle of all the holiday junk.

I wore out eventually - I'm still very out of shape and low on practice and physical stamina overall - and wandered back downstairs. I was happy for a second and then suddenly just slammed with this urge to drink heavily and just... torture myself emotionally. I think it's mostly the holiday, but I'm sure the extra strain of all the recent dysphoria and anxiety and such has contributed too.

So I was sitting around sort of paralyzed by this conflict in my head. Some miniscule slice of me remembered that I could, after all, just not do that and maybe go to bed or something if I really needed to put a line in the sand. I am incredibly grateful for that slice. In times past, if I had been struck by the urge to be self destructive and create myself a bunch of emotional pain, I would have just gone and done it, then and there. There's been a lot of my life when I wouldn't even realize there were options.

It's still a fight. I knew from the first moments that I had no persuasive reasons to do it - I knew I would hate the experience, that I would be pissed and miserable about it in the morning, and that there's no way it would have been "worth it" in any imaginable sense. But I still almost did it.

Honestly, what saved me was remembering a brief, fleeting impression I had recently. I don't remember when or really anything else about it. I just remember seeing me, in my head, maybe in a vague Someday or maybe just in a universe that can never be. The details weren't the point. What mattered was that I knew immediately I was seeing myself, and after that was certain, I realized what was happening. I was just... laughing.

It was that kind of unbelievably pure, joyful laugh, of a girl who had clearly known pain and awful things, and still immovably refused to stop seeing beauty and happiness and wonder in everything.

I've lived through hell. I know pain and darkness and all the ways the world can be despicable. I know I can journey around in those feelings. I don't need more practice experiencing suffering.

So I'm trying an experiment tonight.

I saw a tiny glimpse of a reality where I am happy and bright and unstoppable. I know that girl is no fool. She isn't naive, she isn't oblivious, and she isn't hiding. She carries the stature and scars of a fearsome warrior. She has proven her power before, and if it is needed, she will do it again.

That strength will always be hers to command. And she will always reach for love, and caring, and happiness first.

There's a reason I knew my middle name belonged to me as soon as I found it.

I am Amelia Joy.