Why Miley Cyrus is Cooler Than You Think: The Progressive South

What I was supposed to be when I grew up

When people meet me, even here in South Carolina, they almost always are surprised to learn that I am from the South.  I don’t have much of a Southern accent and I am not demure or interested in playing dumb.  There is, unfortunately, a prejudice that exists, even in the South itself, against people who are Southern.  There is an assumption that everyone here is stupid, poorly educated, and a redneck.

It’s not that the South hasn’t come by its reputation honestly.  There are Bible Thumpers, Tea Partiers, Second Amendment Freaks, and an education system that is more broken than not.  There are rural areas that don’t even seem like America to anyone who has lived near a town, and the problems and poverty that come with that.  But, while a Democrat may never win the state of South Carolina, 40% of the population votes for a Democrat.  You may be able to paint the South itself with a broad brush, but you lose a lot if you also paint individuals from the South with that same brush.

I have struggled over the years with embracing that I am from South Carolina, but I really am about as Southern as it gets.  I was a debutante, I was sent to cotillons when I was growing up.  My father hunts and fishes and collects rifles, my mother worked for Lee Atwater and George HW Bush.  When I was young, I spent most of my days with my babysitter/nanny who lived in a trailer park and we watched NASCAR, drank Mountain Dew, and occasionally I missed my nap and watched The Bold and the Beautiful.  The first time I ever got on a plane was to go see Graceland.

Before my breast reduction and dying my hair red, I think I could have pulled this off

And, even more embarrassingly, the thing I most wanted to be when I grew up was a country music singer.  I’ve never lost my love of singing or a (not so) secret desire to be a rock star, but I did lose my fondness for country music over the years.  But yes, there was a time when my favorite song was “Achy Breaky Heart” and I dreamed of being Dolly Parton.

I suspect many people reading this would think that this was a major handicap, something that I had to overcome to be the erudite, snarky, witty, and progressive person that I am today, but I think it was actually completely necessary for me to get here.  I only wish that I was better at embracing it and not being embarrassed by it.  In an attempt to embrace being Southern, I’m offering a paean for Miley Cyrus.

Miley Cyrus is a lot cooler than most people realize.  I’ll be the first to admit that her devotion to her faith is not something that particularly appeals to me, but the fact that she is Southern Baptist and still open-minded is something we should be celebrating.  And I confess that her music isn’t exactly my thing, as most of the teen music I like was written by people now in their sixties.  But the really cool thing about Miley Cyrus is that she’s a bona-fide red-state American who depends on red-state Americans for her career and she hasn’t let that stop her from speaking out against what she perceives as injustice.

The only tattoo I’d consider getting

She is a vocal supporter of marriage equality and LGBT rights.  This past May, she bashed both Urban Outfitters and Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum for being anti-gay.  She is so in favor of gay rights that she got it tattooed on her body — an equal sign for “equal love” on her ring finger.  And when someone disagreed with her stance on Twitter, she posted, “Where does it say in the bible to judge others? Oh right. It doesn’t. GOD is the only judge honey.”  Hell yes!

She fights in favor of reasonable body images for women. When people try to shame her for her weight, she says that her accusers are part of the reason there are so many women with eating disorders and states quite clearly that she has no intention of buying into it.  “I love MYSELF & if you could say the same… I don’t wanna be shaped like a girl I LOVE being shaped like a WOMAN & trust me ladies your man won’t mind either.”  That’s a feminist message about body acceptance, and an important one for the age group that she appeals to.

It’s easy to look at Billy Ray flag waving for Republican candidates, how very Southern they are, how vocally Christian they are, and assume that they are stereotypical, uninformed conservatives.  They are not.  Her grandfather, Kentucky Colonel Ron Cyrus, was a Democrat and a member of the Kentucky House of Representatives for 21 years and he was the secretary-treasurer for the AFL-CIO.  It turns out that Southerners have a wide range of political beliefs.

From the video

The inspiration for this post was a video in support of the Occupy movement that she posted this week on YouTube, as part of her celebration of her 19th birthday.  Most of the response among my friends on Facebook has been shock and a little bit of poking fun at her music and at the irony that she, of all people, was the big musician to support the Occupy movement.  But actually, it is not ironic and, if you’ve followed her, it is not surprising.  It is, however, marvelous.

Their surprise I can understand, not everyone is as obsessed with LGBT activism as I am, but it is when people dismiss her entirely that I get upset.  There is an article in the National Post that made my blood boil.  The writer describes Miley’s birthday party, which apparently included a unicorn, and then goes on to discuss the Occupy video:

At the very least, it seems Cyrus is interested in showing a more socially conscious side of herself now that she’s entered the twilight years of tween stardom. Like many people, 19 or otherwise, Cyrus has apparently been following the Occupy movement, and together with Rock Mafia (the production team helmed Cyrus hits including 7 Things and Can’t Be Tamed), she Tweeted a link to a video montage featuring footage of Occupy protesters around the world. Titled “Don’t Give Up – It’s a Liberty Walk,” a remix of the pop star’s 2010 track Liberty Walk features in the video, which Cyrus posted to YouTube with the following message: “This is Dedicated to the thousands of people who are standing up for what they believe in.”

This, we can only assume, includes unicorns.

That may be the most dismissive thing I have ever read.  I’m not going to go into a rant about how wrong it is to dismiss people for being young and female, because I might explode, but that’s exactly what’s going on here.  “Oh, she’s interested in politics and unicorns, how sweet.”

Why not?

Miley Cyrus is now a player in progressive politics, not because she is a politician, but because she has a voice that is heard by millions.  This young woman isn’t part of the “Hollywood Elite” — she is from “Real America” and her fans are all from “Real America” too — she is an ambassador to the red states.  But because she is young and because she sings pop and because she is from the South, many people are tempted to dismiss her out of hand.  Her conservative critics are wise enough to be afraid that her influence will lead young Christians away from the intolerant values of their parents, perhaps we should be wise enough to be very grateful to have her on our side.  Embrace her or not, she has influence with the people progressives have the hardest time reaching.

Maybe being from the South isn’t a handicap, maybe it makes our progressive voices that much stronger.

My Talk about Emotions in Rhetoric

I gave a “sermon” at the UU in Columbia at the end of September and they’ve gotten around to putting it up on their website. If anyone is interested in listening to me talk about rhetoric, emotions, and Prop 8… here’s yet another opportunity!

UUCC-sermons-2011-Q3-Jul-Sep – UUCC-2011-09-25 – eSnips.

It looked exactly like this except nothing said TAM

75 Books 31-35: Fey, Hecht, Rogers, Bailey and Grayling

31. Bossy Pants – Tina Fey

I like Tina Fey, she’s funny, but her humor often feels very shallow to me. I really loved Mean Girls, but I don’t really like 30 Rock very much. The characters don’t seem to have any real emotional touchstones, which makes it difficult to care about the show. It’s a problem I often have with Community, except Community does a better job at having emotional depth than 30 Rock. Which says a lot about 30 Rock. Well, this book has the same problem. It’s funny, at times incredibly so, but it feels so surface level that it’s hard to feel like you’ve done anything with your time when you’ve finished. I wanted to know more about her, her life, her struggles with making it in an industry that doesn’t like women very much, her experiences on SNL and Mean Girls. There wasn’t much of any of that. I can’t see myself rereading it, so I’m going to have to take advantage of that whole sell it back to the airport thing when I go to TAM next month. Which is fine, I just was disappointed. B

32. Doubt – Jennifer Michael Hecht

This book is like forever long, jeez JMH. I think it has single-handedly put me behind on my book goal. More than anything it introduced me to people I hadn’t known about and want to learn more about. Some day, when I have free time or am back to being ahead of book reading schedule, I will want to sit down with it again and take notes on who I want to read more about on Wikipedia. There’s so much here that I feel like I haven’t retained all that much of what I read. It is not a light read, it’s trying to balance depth with breadth, it’s a survey course that would take two semesters to do justice. There are so many characters and philosophies and stories and time periods that it’s difficult to keep it all straight if the figures are all new to you. It is a scholarly work, in other words, it takes effort to get through. A-

33. The Next Ancient World – Jennifer Michael Hecht

To make up for all the time Doubt had eaten up, I decided to read JMH’s poetry book. Mostly because she’d given it to me, and I’d been at a crazy awesome party in at the SCA Summit where she read quite a few of the poems in there. Poetry is difficult to analyze or to review, if you’re not into poetry it’s hard to share any enthusiasm for the subject. I will say this, it is as though TS Eliot was interested only in mythology and sex and had way more of a sense of humor and less need to pretentiously add footnotes to everything. My favorite poem from the book:

History
Even Eve, the only soul in all of time
to never have to wait for love,
must have leaned some sleepless nights
alone against the garden wall
and wailed, cold, stupefied, and wild
and wished to trade-in all of Eden
to have but been a child.

In fact, I gather that is why she leapt and fell from grace,
that she might have a story of herself to tell
in some other place.

A

34. Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality – Jack Rogers

I like to be able to effectively argue my points with the religious, to quote scripture back at them and so on, so when I saw this book I thought it could be useful for defending LGBT rights within the Christian community. I don’t know how well it can do that. Perhaps among moderates, but anyone who still thinks that women are to be submissive to their men, which is a great deal of conservatives, will probably have a hard time with the idea. The point of the book is essentially that the bible can be used to justify any number of things that most Christians now think of us reprehensible: Slavery, subjugation of women, racism, and polygamy. There are passages in the Bible that support all of that, some of it much more direct (in the original language) than any condemnation of the homosexuality. The modern idea of loving, exclusive homosexual relationships isn’t mentioned at all in the Bible in the same way that Penicillin, Stem Cell Research, and In Vitro Fertilization isn’t mentioned — it didn’t exist.

Rogers argues that the way the church evolved on the other issues was to take everything back to the philosophy of Jesus, and if something written in the Bible somewhere didn’t jive with what Jesus said, then it was not as good as Jesus’ words. If Jesus’ commandment is to love God and your neighbor and gay people can be good, honorable people, then there’s no reason not to give them equal access to the church and to marriage rights. But then, if people just used the bible to justify love, forgiveness, and kindness, there wouldn’t be a Religious Right, so we can see how much I’m holding out hope for that set of circumstances. I just doubt that the arguments in this book could be very effective. B-

35. Blind Allegiance to Sarah Palin – Frank Bailey

What a fascinating book this was. I have a macabre obsession with Ms. Palin, like so many of the people in the US. She is a polarizing figure, though less and less so as more and more people realize she’s totally nuts. The book was interesting because I learned that it’s not that she’s incredibly stupid, it’s that she’s lazy and a habitual liar. She cannot tell the truth, she just instinctively lies. For example, the question about what newspapers she read could have easily been answered with “I read a collection of news stories gathered for me every morning, primarily from Alaskan outlets.” Instead, she didn’t want to sound like a rural, ignorant governor so she tried to stall and think of a national publication that she could read that wouldn’t make her sound elitist. The New York Times wouldn’t be an option, and she couldn’t think of The Wall Street Journal off the top of her head. B+

 

I tried to read The Good Book: A Humanist Bible by AC Grayling, and I just couldn’t get through it. The Bibley formatting and the lack of attribution and the flowery language… I was just too bored and it was too difficult to read through the formatting. I wanted to like it, because theoretically it sounded interesting, but I just hated it.

Releasing the Prop 8 Videos

 

People in an open society do not demand infallibility in their institutions, but it is difficult for them to accept what they are prohibited from observing - Chief Justice Berger

Former Chief Judge Vaughn Walker, who presided over the Prop 8 trial, recently used some of the video that was taken during the case as part of a lecture.  The Proponents, aka supporters of Prop 8/opposers of gay marriage, immediately took great offense and sent what was essentially a cease and desist order that demanded the return of all the copies of the tapes, Walker's and anyone else who had them.

 
In response, Ted Olson and David Boies, the legal tour de force trying to lift the gay marriage ban, filed a request that the tapes be unsealed and released to the public.  After all, the trial is a matter of public record and the transcripts are freely available.
 
Originally, the trial was going to be broadcast live, but the Proponents felt like this might scare some of their witnesses away, and so they demanded that it not be broadcast.  Judge Walker taped it, but didn't release the tapes, to the great disappointment of the men and women across the country who wanted to see the greatest trial of the greatest civil rights battle of our time.

No one can really blame the Proponents for not wanting to have video footage of just how appallingly awful their defense of Prop 8 was.  They want to continue to play the victim here — they want to sell the idea that gay marriage is somehow a violation of religious liberty, rather than being completely the other way round.  The video of their disastrous performance would only reveal that they are driven solely by religion and bigotry — and that they aren't even capable of hiding that fact.

Some things that they don't want you to see on television, things that their own anti-equality witnesses did: a witness saying that DADT and DOMA were "Official Discrimination"; that same witness then saying Prop 8 was also discriminatory; Mr. Blankenhorn, their chief witness saying, "I believe that adoption of same sex marriage would be likely to improve the well-being of gay and lesbian households and their children"; Blankenhorn also saying, "We would be more American on the day we legalized gay marriage than the day before".

Well, I mean, no wonder, right?  But that's exactly why these things need to be released.  People need the opportunity to see how feeble the defense was and to really understand how motivated by religion the campaign against equality was.  Not everyone is as nerdy as me and reads trial transcripts because they find them so compelling — video is the medium of our lives, and well do the religious know that since it is the medium through which they sold their hate.

The vast majority of the money and on-the-ground support for the Prop 8 campaign came from the Mormon church, supplemented by the Catholic church.  This isn't even money from California, and it's certainly money that ought to take away their tax exempt status.  People need to be shown the kind of lies they were telling to get people to vote against marriage equality, the emotional manipulation about children and families, things so blatantly false they might be defended with the disclaimer: "not intended to be a factual statement."

Gay marriage doesn't destroy families, it doesn't destroy children, it really doesn't do much except make some people very happy and give them access to rights that the rest of us take for granted.  The trial provided an overwhelming amount of evidence that refusing marriage rights not only hurt gay people, but also hurt the thousands of children of LGBT parents.  It hurts these children irreparably, immeasurably, forever.  This wasn't in question, gay marriage opponents agreed.

These tapes shouldn't just be released, they should be broadcast on every news channel for weeks to expose just how rotten the argument is against gay marriage.  If you've ever questioned why church-state separation is so important, this is why.  If conservative Christians (and I include the LDS) hadn't funded the gay marriage ban, it wouldn't be in place, and even they couldn't create enough money to make credible witnesses or a real argument against gay marriage.  The monstrous unfairness of the church taking over, infiltrating, and outright buying the political process only to then lie to the public to get their way has got to stop.  Not only is it immoral, it is un-American.

Proponents motion for return of videos http://www.scribd.com/doc/52945974/CA9Doc-338
Vaughn Walker's response: http://www.scribd.com/doc/53041973/CA9Doc-339-Letter-from-Vaughn-R-Walker
Olson and Boies request for unsealing of videos: http://www.scribd.com/doc/52945974/CA9Doc-340
San Francisco's feisty response: http://www.scribd.com/doc/52945974/CA9Doc-341

 

In LGBT News

I'm so late on all of this, but I'm going to talk about it anyway.

1. The stay will not be lifted on performing gay marriages in California.  It's been so long since the argument before the ninth, that one might easily have forgotten that we were a hairsbreadth away from allowing gay marriages in California again, which would have been just as well, as there will be no marriages until the case is decided.  And probably no marriages until it's gone through the full judicial process, which may be years from now.  Justice is by no means swift in this country.

This is not a surprise, though.  I would have been shocked if the courts had decided to let marriages go ahead.  Despite the fact that there is no harm caused by allowing gay marriage, to admit so would be to tip their hand and to call into question their judicial ruling, so the Ninth can't really get away with supporting a lift of the stay.

2. In super awesome OMG yes news!  As you may know, mutli-national gay couples who are married and have their marriages recognized elsewhere, cannot have their marriages recognized in the US thanks to DOMA.  This means that people can be married but deported, very much unlike the way heterosexual married couples are treated.  Deportations have been halted thanks to the questions about the legality of DOMA.

Confirmation that this policy is now in place nationally is cause for celebration. In many ways this is vindication of a two-decade long struggle by thousands of binational couples, advocates and attorneys. But the fight is not over yet. Many couples, after consulting with experienced immigration attorneys, may decide that this is the proper time to file a green card case. However, DOMA is still the final obstacle for attaining a green card; unless it is repealed or struck down, filing any case with immigration is not without risk. – Lavi Soloway

David Kato Slain

Since I’ve been talking about civil discourse, I think I really need to talk about the tragic death of David Kato.  David Kato was an LGBT activist in Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal and where a bill was introduced in 2009 suggesting the death penalty for anyone convicted of committing homosexual acts.  Much of the international community made a stand against it, and the evangelicals from America,  like Scott Lively and Rick Warren, who had pushed a very strong anti-homosexual agenda in Uganda got a lot of negative press attention because of it.

A tabloid in Uganda called “Rolling Stone” (no relation) published Kato’s picture along with other suspected homosexuals with a tagline that read “Hang Them”.  Kato and a few other’s pictured led a successful lawsuit against the magazine, but only a few weeks after that victory Kato was bludgeoned to death in his home.

Some of the LGBT activists are placing the blame on the American evangelicals for stirring up the hatred originally, some are blaming the magazine, and many are blaming Uganda for being religiously intolerant.  I can only say that this is the danger of talking about gay people as though they aren’t human.

I cannot help but see some similarities between the “Hang Them” tagline and the rifle sites on Sarah Palin’s target list.  Both Giffords and Kato noted that that rhetoric was going to lead to violence against them.  At what point does violent rhetoric become the equivalent of shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre?  I’m not sure, myself.  It’s difficult, these things are so upsetting it’s almost impossible to find the rational response to them. 

Coming Out Day

Today, Oct. 11, is National Coming Out Day for LGBTQ, tomorrow is National Atheist Coming Out Day.  I have a lot of admiration for the reasoning behind these days — the more people realize that they know people who are different from them, the less different those people are going to seem.  If you’ve never met an open atheist, you probably think atheists are weird creatures who all talk like Christopher Hitchens (I wish!), but when you realize someone you already know and like is an atheist, it makes you rethink your prejudices.

That being said, I don’t like Coming Out Days, on a personal level, even though I completely agree with the political agenda and logic behind it.  That’s because I’m not a big fan of labels.

It’s a little easier with atheism, because I have a very clear idea of where I stand philosophically, and there are a dozen terms I could use for myself, though they don’t always make me feel totally at home.  Skeptic, atheist, agnostic, nonbeliever, nonreligious, antitheist, freethinker, bright, rationalist, skeptic.  None of those is inaccurate, but it always feels so reductive.

It is much, much harder for me when it comes to LGBT Coming Out Day.  There’s a little box the HRC (don’t get me started) asks you to fill out to describe yourself: are you a straight ally, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer?  And I don’t really think of myself as any of those.  I don’t really think sexuality is one of those things that is very binary, and the idea that I have to reduce it to something that can be described in one word is just impossible.

I grew up in the gay community, I’ve always felt at home with the LGBT community in general.  Except, there’s a little voice in the back of my head, so quiet as to be easily missed, that says “They think you’re straight.  They think you’re a breeder.  They think you aren’t one of them.”  I don’t identify as straight, partially because I grew up hearing straight people not spoken very highly of, and partially because I find women attractive — I find people attractive based mostly on their personality and things that aren’t strictly based on their genitals.  I know, that’s a radical thought — but, realistically, I don’t see myself in a relationship with a woman.  It could happen, but I don’t think it will.  Therefore, do I really want to call myself bisexual and have to deal with everyone saying that it’s either for attention or a stage on the way to gayness?  That’s a fight I’m just not interested in fighting, because it’s almost never going to come up.

So, what then for the people on Coming Out Day who are like me?  Who don’t have a label they understand as related to them?  Shouldn’t I feel included in the movement?  What about those people who are agnostics who really aren’t comfortable Coming Out as Atheists, shouldn’t they feel included too?  Greta Christina posted about how the Atheist movement should really be working hard to include agnostics and secularists (secular ally?) because we’ve seen what happens in the gay community when you exclude bisexuals, and I think that’s true.

I hope there will be a day when the stigma is no longer attached to being atheist or gay, and I know coming out is incredibly important on that front, I just wish the price wasn’t having to reduce yourself to a label, to have to assume the responsibility of making a whole group look good, and to have people assume your entire identity is your sexuality or nonbelief.  But I think there will be a day when Coming Out Day is completely pointless, because no one cares.