I appreciate you guys letting me speak. I have been looking forward to this a long time. I was a feature speaker here in 2012 and other than that have mostly been an attendee. When I made remarks they were off the cuff and generally just an update of my latest adventures.
Just to check, are there people here who are already following my campaign on the website, Facebook or Twitter? You can do all that. I believe that a campaign is about a vision for the public. First and foremost we have to be on the right side of issues and after that the most important consideration is to make it fun and/or interesting. From 1989 to 2011, I have written nearly 300 installments of my political column, Current Comedy, where I tried to make fun out of the never-ending frustration we call the nightly news. I mention this as a warning. After all that practice, my natural inclination is to be a humorist. So, if, during these remarks, I say something that sounds strangely worded or offbeat or clearly out of left field and you find yourself wondering, ‘did he say that thinking it was going to be funny?’
So, I asked Toni if I could speak about gender issues when I came here. I say gender issues because to me, sexual inequality has forever been a central issue in humanity and in the past 150 yrs or so has finally gotten some air time on the political stage; but as all-encompassing an issue as the battle between the sexes has been for millennia, gender issues are still even larger than that. In communication theory, they talk about the concept of “the other.” The Other is someone outside the approved group, someone it is OK to pick on, to marginalize, to ignore, to exploit. The other is always mysterious and not part of the community of the “understood.” Being mysterious, the Other always provokes distrust and suspicion. Essentially unknowable, or supposedly so, the Other’s methods are concerning, their intentions suspect and their hidden savagery and selfish intention always a given. Because of this the Other is forever being attacked. They’re ripe for subjugation, they must be controlled, kept away for the switches of power. It is for everybody’s own good if we define them and keep them in their place.
Now I tried to write this to make you think of the way the mainstream looks at, say Muslims, or marijuana users, the poor, the pagan, sundry brown-skinned people of varying ethnicity or, most recently, Guatemalan teen-age immigrants, but you know I am talking about the way society, meaning our male-dominated society, treats women and the LGBT community.
Now I know I do not have to tell you about what it is like to be marginalized in your own society. If we are dealing w stereotypes here then I am the stereotype oppressor: a hetero old white guy. I don’t need to tell you about the grand or the everyday struggles of being a woman, a mother, or a daughter in a society that presents women as a commodity to be consumed and a social force needing to be corralled. Though I have been a man, a father and a son and intimately and socially involved w women my whole life. Heck, I like women so much I used to live in one.
See, that is one of those weird remarks I warned you about.
But seriously. Women’s issues in specific are not something I will ever know from the inside out as it were. But I can tell you about some of the women I’ve known, the things I’ve seen them face. My mom, Patsy Ann Perrodin, was a nightclub singer. She did not like being a Patsy and changed her stage name to Pattie Weisser when she married my step-dad, a rough and tumble hard drinking electrical contractor literally named Bud Weisser. But before they met I was raised by a single mom, who shaped my life more than she lived to know. She kept a professional music career going for nearly 20 yrs despite being in and out of the hospital repeatedly for umpteen surgeries even as the world of live music was leaving her style behind. She made sure I understood that politics was important, that the world operated in ways we must pay attention to or else the powers that be will take care of their own wants at our expense. We championed Martin Luther King. We cried when Bobby died, opposed the war and watched the Watergate hearing together intently in the summer of ’73.
She quietly overcame a mountain of medical complications that repeatedly halted her momentum as a performer, constantly reinventing herself, a writer, a painter, a small-town, small-time business woman. When I returned from being a teen runaway, we went to college together. My dad fought against it. He needed a ditch-digger; but she persisted and we went to school, 40 miles each way for my first semester back into quote real world after living on the road. Her health dropped her out of school at some point in our second semester and my early taste for misadventure derailed me before too long. But that wasn’t the story I wanted to tell you about her.
When I was very little, she tried to kill herself and spent some time in a mental hospital. As you can guess, when she returned, to my little baby’s mind, she seemed a superhero and really never changed in my mind after that. The point of the story here is I remember her being afraid … and taking on the world anyway. I mean she literally sang for our supper in a time when working in a nightclub made her a marked woman. She focused on her gifts. She focused on her hope and never stopped; and those are skills that men do not teach each other.
So, I honor women’s issues because I honor my mom. I also fight for women’s issues most directly to honor my surrogate mom during my teens, Susanne Nicholson, a take-no-nonsense Viet vet nurse who was way more butch than most drill sergeants. She fought for every activist issue you could imagine in the early 70s and for about five yrs lived w us while she worked as a social worker and put herself to college. Later when she went onto grad school, first at Pan American University in Edinburg, TX same nearby college my mom and I would go to and later in the booming city of Houston where she got her doctorate in gerontology, I got to spend summers w her and see what the world outside my tiny town of five thousand was like.
Later, Suzanne returned to Edinburg to create nutritional programs for nursing home in South Texas, I got to live w her and actually go to the where’d I’d spent my summers. It was a dream come true … for a couple of semesters then I moved out and that is a whole other story but, it was Suzanne who introduced me to the politics of gender equality in a way my mom never could. This was back in the day when the straight culture, especially the rural straight culture had no qualms about being openly hostile to gay culture. This was in a time when stories like Matthew Sheppard were routine.
She showed me that being LGBT though a rich culture was more than a whim. In some cases it is a biological imperative, in all cases it was a battle against a society that has no qualms about marginalizing and even killing the LGBT, the queer, the weirdo. I know about that first hand as well, remind me to tell you sometime about surviving my very own gay-bashing, but that is a different story. Yes, Suzanne gave me so much and taught more than me about acceptance of gay culture and helped house other awkward youth after all I moved on. She was the person who taught me that feminism wasn’t just a lesbian issue or a woman’s issue. Gender equality frees straight males from sexual stereotypes just as well. Making sure all children are wanted, get health care, get educated, get loved, these aren’t just women’s issues, female stereotypes, these are the values that make life worth living. These are the values we want from good government. Feminism or no, these values matter more than who has the biggest army, or has accumulated the most wealth.
So, when Suzanne told me about the development of the battle for the ERA and the development of NOW, I had no hesitation wearing a NOW pin to college and that is why I met the 3rd person I wanted to honor, my late wife Lisa Weisser. In the that redneck time in South Texas a man who would go to college w his mom and wear a NOW pin was pretty rare. Let’s see, on that campus there was probably … me.
A 20yr Montessori teacher till mental health issues took her life, Lisa was also a life-long liberal feminist, peace activist, secularist, environmentalist, and educator; but she was always troubled. In and out of mental hospitals her whole life, at one point she chose to have an abortion rather than bring a 2nd child into her unstable world. It wasn’t a decision I loved, but she was the woman I loved and it was entirely her body. It was a hard choice, but we never doubted it was hers to make. And I still believe that as, Roe v Wade declared, until a fetus is viable, the life of the mother is the primary concern. That birth control is not murder, and neither is standard safe medical abortion, but more importantly that access to safe birth control is the best way to curb abortion and men who try to limit it, are trying to use your own ovaries as chains.
And I have to wonder, being a man and knowing how men think, I have to wonder if the religious rush to illegalize abortion and even prohibit access to birth control is about controlling your ovaries, or controlling your vaginas. I wonder, the way some male dominated cultures, some religiously dominated cultures veil women and shame them for the lustful thoughts men don’t want to take responsibility for having, for hateful actions they explain away as lust. And that’s actually the story I want to tell you about Lisa Weisser and what happened when she was raped once in a mental hospital. I don’t want to tell you about the rape. That is an awful story. I want to tell you what happened afterward. I want to tell you how, when we discovered the state of Illinois’ budget cut for mental health operations led directly to dissolving the sexual predator ward and sending a serial rapist to unit full of the easy victims, the depressed and the medicated. When she discovered a bureaucratic decision to save a dime and cut the quality of a government service led directly to her rape and others we found, she fought back against the stupidity in a way she could not fight back against her attacker, she filed a landmark lawsuit for placing budget above human concerns. She fought that lawsuit for the rest of her life. And the state of Illinois was found liable for negligence and endangerment. And the state hospital system changed back to a system that put patient safety first and not nickels and dimes. The case only took 14 yrs. Lisa only lived 11 of them.
I don’t have to tell you the details of this story. You can actually read them in a series of articles in Springfield, Illinois’ Illinois Times. And it is somewhat unfair that I am not telling you stories of Beth Weisser, my wife for the past 8 yrs, the woman who inspired me every bit as much as any of my other great heroes, who is every bit the activist I am and fighting her own campaign in Mohave County for the LD5 House race. But I don’t have to tell you stories of the women face. You live them. I only have the ones I share. Thank you for letting me do that.