A Couple of Quick Thoughts

I happened upon a meeting that was discussing LGBT issues in the workplace. As a guest speaker, a transgender person was answering some of the questions offered by those in attendance. Truth be told, I really wasn’t paying that much attention. Not that I’m apathetic, I just find it hard to identify with such a person. I’ve always been a solid believer in having a frame of reference to understand a person. Regardless, something she said was that if she could change anything, it was the flippancy that the younger generation nowadays uses the term “gay”. My daughter professes herself bi-sexual, and I’ve heard and read that word being used by her peers, some of them her friends. She’s told me that the word being used like get bothers her, but she’s never really spoken up to her friends even though they know she’s bi-sexual.

It got me to thinking; we have a number of words within out culture that are no-nos. Hell, I grew up listening to Eddie Murphy using the term faggot and getting laughter from his audiences about it. Now the only jokes told here with that word are used in the context of that word is used to describe cigarettes in the UK, and how funny is it that we can get away with saying it so long as that’s what you’re talking about. But the biggest taboo is the dreaded “N-word”. Gallons of ink has been spilled to explain how African Americans have stolen that word from white people so as to somehow disempower it. African Americans use the word freely in speech and music. But to hold it specifically to my generation, the word itself has no real meaning — at least not in so much as it’s original connotation. Personally speaking, I don’t see why it’s used any longer, regardless of context. It’s a word that was originally meant to assign a person to a sub-human status, and for those people to use it in describing one another, many decades after it was anything socially acceptable, to me only throws salt on their own wounds. And really, what’s the point of that?

But after hearing what this transgender person said, I had to stop and wonder if “gay” really has the negative connotations to my children’s generation that they had in mine. Unlike the “N-word”, gay has several meanings. My children live in a fairly open-minded generation where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and Harvey Milk would’ve been proud to live. It’s because of their efforts and sacrifices that we do. And it’s only going to get better. I don’t think these words should be taboo, nor should they be edited from anyone’s speech. After all, it’s not the words that give them power, it’s who’s saying them and the message they’re trying to send.

* * *

I watched one of my favorite movies with my son tonight — Sneakers. If you’ve never watched it before, I’d recommend it because it’s a sort of light-hearted spy movie. But it does deal with some serious questions. And it wasn’t until this viewing that I realized just how much the world has changed since 9/11.

Not to spoil it for you, but the movie has to do with the development of a “black box” which is a brute-force encryption algorithm that can be used on any information database. In the movie, this device was created at the behest of the National Security Association. The implications were, as outlined at the end of the movie, that the US Government would have no other use for such a device than to spy on its own citizens. How horrifying, right?

Well, now it’s law. The NSA can spy on you whenever it wants and there’s nothing you can say or do about it. All they need to do is say you’re a threat.

Now it would be too easy for me to say “It’s Bush’s Fault”. All of these laws were signed by Dubya. But since Obama took office, he hasn’t exactly stormed the NSA Bastille demanding privacy for US citizens. In point of fact, all we’ve gotten is a wink from the government saying they’ll only use that power when it’s necessary and to protect the interests of national security. Meanwhile the most paranoid people in the world, second only to the lunatics you find in homeless shelters with tinfoil hats, have the means to listen in to anyone’s personal life they choose with almost no justification.

Since 9/11, the attitude of Americans has changed significantly. They can justify this lunacy so that they can sleep better at night without having to worry that some foreign zealots can’t fly airplanes into our buildings. Never mind that the lessons of 9/11 was not that we didn’t have intelligence, but that our agencies didn’t share it with one another very well. (And there’s the bit about how the White House wouldn’t listen to them at all, but that’s beside the point.) What ended up happening was that truly scared Americans gave away their rights to privacy in return for promises of safety.

I really have to wonder if Sneakers could be remade into anything relevant to today’s world. The odd thing is that I feel no safer now than I did then.