Mayor Lisa Helps of Victoria spoke yesterday at a gathering to memorialize those killed and injured at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and to allow a space for those shocked and traumatized by the events. This is pretty standard procedure for politicians. She also made direct mention of her sexual orientation, something not heretofore known to be part of her rhetoric, though she noted that everyone at City Hall and most of the community had known all along. This is what struck me, and I hope I’m not reading too much into it, but here’s my thought:
Watch it! Gross oversimplification on the way, combined with personal perspective. Bear with me, please.
We are all, to a greater or lesser extent, sexual and social beings. Much of what we do, particularly in the long period between puberty and senility, is driven by what is essentially a need to reproduce. Many narratives have grown surrounding our reproductive activity, particularly once the survival of the species seemed to be assured, wherein folks began to focus increasingly on the possible pleasures of the reproductive act and the social aspects of that interaction and its place in social intercourse. This has generated, over the centuries and millennia, a variety of narratives that we use to define our sexual selves and a lot of our social interactions with other individuals and groups. These narratives have become so ingrained that they produce some pretty serious cognitive dissonance when they butt up against conflicting narratives. This might be pretty devastating, particularly where some of the conflict might be internal, and to pile that on the conflicts inherent already in many of the narratives, might produce considerable stress and frustration.
We seem to be in a period where there is either an increasing amount of sexual misconduct of various forms and at various levels of harm, or where said misconduct is more readily becoming public. The recent Stanford Rape case, compounded by parental enabling-after-the-fact and what looks a lot like judicial laxism and favouritism, seems typical of current revelations, but then, there are cases such as that of a British MP who apparently interfered with young girls for several decades, something just now coming to light. What makes is acceptable is some people’s minds to unload their sexual tensions on someone else without consent? There must be a story inside these heads that says to them that it’s all right to engage in this kind of conduct, mostly in full knowledge that the law says otherwise, and that it isn’t being done generally in society.
Much of the cultural narrative I saw in my formative years was a very traditional look at the roles of men and women, along with a heavy dose of courtly love propaganda. As a counterpoint, my parents shared some of the household chores, discussed issues as equals and clearly formed the closest mutual admiration society I’ve ever known. This held up even after Dad died and continued, as far as I can tell, until Maggie’s death some fifteen years later. So along with all the fiction I read, the television I watched ( I quit for about a dozen years starting around age twelve because I found so much of it to be embarrassingly stupid), all the paintings, sculptures, poems and songs from all the ages, I had a head full of mostly that image of a steadfast, courtly and passionate love, and it was definitely focused on women. As I got into my later teens, I got immersed in blues music, meaning that I also got a big dose of the chest-thumping machismo of many of the big-name artists, the sly references to carnality or Bessie Smith’s bust-outbawd, and this seemed to permeate much of the love ethos of the milieux in which I traveled, with the temporizing influence of parental observation always lurking in the background. Illicit love was cheating on your partner and there was no admission that your partner might be of the same sex. All those perverts out there remained marginalized and stayed on the periphery of consciousness.
As society has adapted, so have I, and I like to think that I might even have been a bit ahead of the curve, particularly as I learned that I had pervert relatives, friends and former girlfriends, people who continued to be, as ever, wonderful people, so hey! what does it matter. They weren’t”out” in the full sense of public disclosure. I was “out”, but as a flaming heterosexual, a label I likely wore proudly.
Here is what Lisa Helps did: she just is who she is, and broadly tolerant of what other people are, but she didn’t walk around with a sign indicating that she was, for instance. the gay city councillor, or the gay mayor. She was a city councillor and her sexual orientation had nothing do to with it. Same for mayorishness.
With all the conditioning that goes on, we have to wonder whether the expectations we get from the narratives that surround us lead us to wear labels in hopes that labels will lead us to the fulfillment of these expectations, cause us to buy into what the extant narratives are selling without necessarily knowing that this is a subconscious act that leads to conscious acts. Lisa Helps waited until it was entirely appropriate to make a grand statement, and there was no judgement, belligerence or hostility in that statement, insisting that we may be different, but that no difference should separate us as social beings if we’re willing to tolerate and embrace plurality and cease to accept that threatening someone else for the peaceful expression of their social mores serves no constructive purpose. It stirs up a good deal of reflection about how the Orlando massacre came to happen and what we need to do to move ahead. It was, I thought, a pretty neat trick on the part of Her Lordship.
Apologies for the rambling and disjointed nature of the piece. It’s a fragment of a much larger contemplation on narratives that’s been kicking about on and off for a couple of decades and is still very much lacking focus and resolution.