The Mayor Helps









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.

A House Divided




…and a good thing it is, too. I speak of the U.S. Democratic Party, which has gone to great lengths to show that it is anything but democratic. If, indeed, Hillary is the nominee, should she invite Bernie to be her running mate? Should he accept a role in the campaign to elect Hillary? No, because the man isn’t what makes the difference. For the first time in a long time, there has been real and substantive discussion about ideas and policy, and many issues have come to the fore in this primary campaign that seem to have been totally lacking in most previous campaigns, both in the US, here in Canada, and farther afield. Would those issues be addressed more efficiently and thoroughly in a Clinton White House were Sanders part of “the Team”? I think not. The rôle of the Vice President has been famously ceremonial, and might be a convenient place to put Sanders so that he can orate endlessly and harmlessly while lending some credibility to an administration otherwise woefully bereft of credibility on anything other than Wall Street plunder and eternal and universal war. There was, I seem to recall, a quip from the old Soviet days in Russian affairs that one should keep one’s friends close, and one’s enemies even closer. Following that line of thinking, it seems logical that Sanders should be trussed up as part of the Clinton package to appease the Berners and effectively neutralize the Bern.


Remember Obama’s soaring rhetoric of 2008? Do we feel fulfilled, do we sense that there has been a major shift in US and Western policy? Is the US a significantly more empathic and egalitarian place than it was when our second Black president took office? It isn’t, and the wife of our First Black President would like to keep it that way, so snuffing out the first wisps of the smoke and fire of a real re-writing of how we do things is likely high on her list of events to manage. Sanders needs to stand back from the coming storm (unless he gets nominated) and keep his powder dry.


Standing On Guard For All?

Bit of a ramble here because a lot of this keeps me scratching my head at the level of blind acceptance we accord to traditions, the protection of those traditions and the negative reaction to proposals to modify or extinguish anything even loosely defined as a tradition. The latest volley in the tradition wars is the proposal to change a line in our national anthem from”…in all thy sons command” to “… in all of us command”, part of a desire on the part of an MP to render the national anthem gender neutral and therefore more inclusive. Said MP is apparently on a fast track to an early expiration and seems to have engendered more bickering than sympathy.


There have been a ton of interesting and different renditions of national anthems over the years, most of the interest being generated in the name of being different, or sheer shock value.  The first shocker was the Hendrix rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock, a somewhat different affair from the typical fare at sporting events where the reverence can be irreverent, but the tribute must be paid. Most renditions are pretty serious, but there are singers who just plain overdo the operatics and the embellishments and those who want to show how Country they are, and there may be disco, jazz, reggae, polka, trance, metal and other styles applied to anthem singing, but I’ve managed to miss them. In fact, as I’ve moved into serious curmudgeonness, I tend to screen out the anthems and, increasingly, the sporting events that follow.




I remember sitting through this, just stunned:


Carlos has come a long way since the early Fillmore/Mission District days:


The kicker is this lovely rendition of O, Canada, which, hopefully, does not indicate the level of respect for Canada from its border mate and largest trading partner:



I love where I live and I’m a great enthusiast for much of what passes for Canadian ethos and culture, though it often seems as though there is something of a discrepancy between who we are and who we think we are (was it Germans who started saying that the way to great wealth was to buy a Frenchman for what he’s worth and sell him for what he thinks he’s worth? Canadians are not alone in being blissfully unaware of much of what’s done in their names). I like the idea that we want to have symbols of inclusion in all that we do, particularly in those national artifacts that are supposed to be the greatest expression of the Canadian spirit, but I see almost daily and generally across the country where people are much more concerned about the image that we project than they are in living, as a population, up to our expressed and implied ideals. Let’s work at reversing that phenomenon and the cultural artifacts will take care of themselves.


Post Post Note:

I was travelling with family in the Massif Central in France at the time of Bastille Day in not-too-recent history, during which visit we attended several official celebratory functions. I realized at the end of it all that I had never once heard the singing of La Marseillaise, and if it had been sung, I would have heard it. So where was the Cocorico?!