Sunday, January 3, 2010

peace, love, and understanding

i mentioned montana yesterday, and suddenly there i was again - missing montana. sometimes that happens. it was one of the few places i lived where i woke up every morning and looked at the rugged mission mountains rising above the lake and concretely - not abstractly - thought: i am blessed.

every place has its own unique feel, its own unique combination of culture and social norms that make it fascinating. one of the nicest things about montana is the strong libertarian streak. now i'm a solid democratic socialist; i believe very much in the role of government and why it's important for us to pay taxes and support each other. socially, though, there was something very nice about living in a small town that still had a lot of "don't tell me how to live, and i won't tell you" attitude. you know the joke, "montana, where the men are real men, and so are the women?" of course, the down side to that is that you get more than your fair share of cults, separatists, and militias. not that that doesn't make life exciting. still, it makes me nervous to find out that groups are stocking piling AK-47s in underground bunkers (see the church universal and triumphant; not to mention the "montana freemen", and of course who can forget everyone's favorite recluse, the unabomber?)

the biggest problem, though, was the racial intolerance and intolerance of gays. as an example of the latter: i lived on an indian reservation. while enrolled in a "native american images in film" class at the tribal college - yes, a course dedicated to exposing and exploring the stereotypical ways that natives are presented in film - a fellow student busts out with "i'm all right with everyone but gays. i mean" - she says, maybe sensing that this is sounding a little prejudiced and she might want to show how understanding she really is - "i guess they are all right, as long as they stay away from me and my kids." in other words, men can be men, women can be men, women can be women (grudgingly); but much else...

here's another example, that is somehow quintessential montana. to begin, you have to understand that for the last bit of my tenure out there i was 21, very solo, very un-gainfully employed at a mcdonalds in a town of 3000 people, clearly not getting any kind of a 4-year college degree, and, to add to this laundry list of incredibly attractive characteristics, very pregnant. there was a guy who often came through the drive-thru there, clearly on his lunch break, with a stethoscope draped around his neck. he was young and fairly decent looking, in a sort of manly-man/cabela's way. i'm sure he was in a pick-up truck; i'm sure there was a gun rack. even though he wasn't local, it was clear he fit right in. so one day he asked me out - me! now, i didn't know anything about kids, but i had heard that they got sick all the time. who better to have hanging around then a doctor? besides, it wasn't like i was getting asked out a lot. so, i accepted. he suggested that we drive to missoula to go dancing. that sounded fine, but even a rookie like myself knew to play it a little safer, so i insisted that my roommate come, too. so he agreed and enlisted a buddy of his and we all rode down together to a bar in missoula, me with my big belly, my roommate j., the doctor, and some random hunting buddy of his.

my roommate j. was a thorough cowgirl who worked on a dairy farm - a real montana-style woman - who also happened to be lesbian. she wasn't in the closet, but i think wisely had decided to pick her battles; her friends and family knew who she was, but she didn't broadcast it. we settled in at the bar and the boys quickly started drinking beer. i, of course, couldn't drink at all. i guess it was starting to seem like just being a doctor wasn't enough to make this guy attractive, so to entertain myself, raving liberal and gun-control nut that i am, got into it with them on social issues. as the evening progressed (degenerated?) it turned out that they were also both raving homophobes. she and i were getting thoroughly annoyed before this; by that point in time, we were ready to go. we had a motel room nearby with two double beds. standing our ground, we insisted that neither of us would be sharing a bed with one of them, thank you very much; we'd take one, and they could take the other. which was fine by us, but they absolutely could not do it. one of them ended up sprawled on the ground at the foot of our bed, as if merely touching the bed of another male would somehow brand them a queer for life in montana eyes.

i don't remember the ride back north the next day, but i bet it was pretty quiet. and certainly i never got asked out again. in fact, doesn't it almost sound like the start to a bad joke? "a liberal, a lesbian, a redneck, and a hunter walk into a bar in montana..." only i can't imagine how the punchline would go and how it could end without someone getting shot. no matter. eventually one realizes that "live and let live" can be a pretty shallow notion. and peace, love and understanding can be far away, even in paradise.

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