Articles by Taylor Swartz
Taylor is a contributor to Bent Alaska.
Politicians lie, but we can’t afford to lie to ourselves. Quit thinking that someone else will vote in your place: In today’s political climate, complacency equals death.
A new…ish resident of the Municipality of Anchorage calls the Assembly, Municipal Clerk’s office, and Election Commission on their dissembling about the botched April 3 election.
Okay….we’re going to play the game of choice vs. not a choice…or if you will, nurture vs. nature. Because I’ve seen a lot of nonsense circulating the web of how “those people” “choose” to be gay. Or transgender. Or whatever.
“These people” are educated, they vote, and they are human. They have families, friends, people they don’t get along with, problems. In spite of myself, I find myself allowing them access to my thoughts and feelings. Second of a series. See Part One.
“Ain’t no rest for the wicked!” A commonly-heard anecdote in this place. If only those that uttered it knew just how apt I once found it, considering the source.
No, these aren’t evil people. Just confused, and with no real curiosity to explore the depths of what our profit-driven social system would have them believe. Ignorance, it would seem, is truly bliss. I’ve had the chance to know this, first-hand.
We of the more left-leaning communities suffer from our own brands of ignorance. We assume that the characters that occupy the space in which I currently exist, are uneducated. We assume that they lack drive to vote, or do anything besides consume PBR. We assume that Geico’s TV ad, which touts, “It’s so easy, a caveman could do it”, applies in a way that is humorously ironic to these individuals. I can state with a fair level of certainty that the educated, aware, progressive factions of our society have assumed wrongly, on so many different levels.
I have met more drillers with bachelor’s degrees out here than I can count, many in Accounting or Business Management, or Sciences. Their reason for doing this work? It lets them work in the great outdoors, it allows them to see different parts of the country — and sometimes, the world — and it pays well. And I can say that these educated walking contradictions, to a man, believe, first and foremost, in their Second Amendment rights, are at least some breed of Social Conservative, and worship the ground Sarah Palin walks on. If there are those that don’t fit this bill, then they have remained silent, or blended in. Those of us that must be malleable in order to camouflage recognize it easily in others.
“These people” are educated, they vote, and they are human. They have families, friends, people they don’t get along with, problems. In spite of myself, I find myself allowing them access to my thoughts and feelings. I find my carefully constructed walls compromised as I find things to like, if not admire, in each of them. The human desire to find camaraderie anywhere will always win out over social cliques…or, in microcosms of human society such as my workplace, we’d all kill each other. Stranger things have happened, especially in three weeks’ worth of work-imposed isolation from society.
My duty rotations run three weeks on, one week off. Just enough time to become acclimated to camp, and for paved roads, vegan food, and safe spaces for queer people to drink and date to become foreign concepts.
For three weeks, I’m not Taylor, I am the Medic. I am not genderqueer or even really gay, but I AM “butch enough to hang out with”. I am not Leftist, I am Middle of the Road…at least, outwardly. I drink with “the boys”, even if it is cheap, bad beer, and even if I don’t actually drink with them, I just hang out and sip my water, or tea (this particular company allots each employee two beers per day…believe it or not, such camps do exist, but usually, only in the explorations phase).
For three weeks, people that would ordinarily have nothing to do with me — in fact, I rather suspect they would literally like to take a shot at me, ordinarily — profess that they “have my back”, and will help out in the event of a serious incident. A few are sincere. A greater number are likely responding to what our inner psyches rail against in an environment such as this: Loneliness.
Though the armor plating of my alternate self does not fall away, there is a strange merging of that armor and my sense of self, such that, I may begin to breathe and feel as a different person. If my super-power is compartmentalization and putting on a good act, my kryptonite is forgetting where the act ends and I begin. I find myself relenting (or even acceding) regarding topics that, in another space, place or time, would leave me running rabid circles around my brain in order to piece together a rational counter-argument…or a back-handed comment, whichever comes first.
I become acclimated to the pejorative terms so casually slung about. My head no longer turns at any racial slur I might hear (and there are many). Jokes about various bits of male anatomy being inspected for health problems become commonplace in my proximity, and I might laugh a bit, before telling the offending party where to stick it. Here, sexual harassment sensitivity training is often defined as “telling you where the line is, and how to stand on it, without quite toeing over that boundary”.
For all our collective differences, though, the members of this camp work with each other as well-tuned pistons and crankshafts in a much larger engine that occasionally backfires with no apparent reason. Indeed, the dynamic of this camp was once described to me by a co-worker thusly: The world’s largest, most passive-aggressive, dysfunctional family imaginable. Avoidance of interaction, entirely, is not an option here, so one opts, instead, to either soften the rough edges of individuality, or to become a chameleon.
On being a greenie gay girl in a man’s mining camp, or, Don’t judge others for what they must do to survive: Part one
We know what it is to be willing to do, quite literally, anything to make something work, to make it through another month, week or day. First of a series. See Part Two.
It’s a hop, skip, and a short trip in a puddle-jumper from civilization to the Small South here in The Greatland. I am surrounded by people that I ordinarily would not socialize with, even in the outer constellations in the outer revolutions of the small sky that makes up my circles of friends.
Not that I am “snobby,” or looking down my nose; there is only so far that a mutual love of (or lust for) women will go, and the camp is predominantly male roughnecks. There are a total of nine women in camp, on a good week, and even the younger men have a certain amount of chauvinism about them — one of the young men here recently told me I could be “really beautiful” if I just grew out my hair, and proceeded to proposition me with money to do so. Thankfully, I have a good sense of humor, and laughed…and then told him I stopped doing things to please others a long while ago, and am a better person for it.
The world I occupy for much of my summer is so different from my usual comfort zone, and I find myself spending my days listening to Ani and other revolutionary folk singers to hang onto myself when I find that I am slipping from myself. Compartmentalization comes easily, and I develop an outer shell not unlike the one that got me through high school, my gay growing pains, and coming out to my dad’s side of the family: Tough, hard, weathered titanium, with very few chinks or gaps in the plating.
I become someone else, begin to will myself to not care too much, to remind myself of why I am here — to patch people up when they get injured, and to make money. “Mercenary” is the word one of my volunteer Fire/EMS colleagues used once to describe me, and I’ve decided it fits painfully well. I have sold my ethics, sold my soul — if ever I had one to begin with, sold my sense of self-worth, of feminism, of right, of wrong….sold what makes me, me, and my politics, mine. I have sold all, if only for these last two years, because of one horrible thing: It pays well enough to allow me to survive.
The economy has taken such a dip, that a multi-certified, CDL-papered, degree-carrying, enterprising individual such as myself could apply to thirty different jobs in a two-month period (yes, I counted), and hear back from no one. And then I was offered this position. I am a medic, in a camp of about sixty people, in the middle of nowhere, in Alaska. The catch? It’s a camp for mineral exploration. It represents everything that I’ve resisted in resisting Capitalism’s takeover, and many, if not a vast majority, of my fellow campmates hold worldviews that directly oppose my own.
I hear racial slurs I thought long dead in anything resembling civilized society on a daily basis. I see the few women that are here, pushed to the breaking point. I am told that I am a “masculine female,” and thereby “one of the boys,” and “okay to hang with.” Ironic, how my dykedom, my DIFFERENCE, one of my many facets of divisiveness, is what binds me to these men, in their eyes. I am told I am valuable; I am told that I am a good worker; I am praised for my skills, my drive, my prodigious work ethic.
I do not tell them that I work so hard, impress so much, so that I can earn a raise…and get out. I have continued to apply for work in my time with this company, to no avail. So, I have determined that I will bust my fictitious balls in order to pay off what remains of my student debt, and thereby free myself, if only financially. I actually have difficulty sleeping, some nights, knowing what I do, and who I work for. The latter, of course, is the problem. I love my work…if only this country were willing to pay taxes to insure that the entirety of its Fire/EMS personnel were paid (the statistical average for paid emergency personnel hovers somewhere between twenty-five and thirty-five percent…the rest are volunteer, or part-time, at best).
There are far worse ways to do this, but my point in this tidbit of opinion, on my admission of being one of those hardened realists that will do what they have to, if it means feeding their households, is that we should recognize it in others. As a community, we know what it is to be willing to do, quite literally, anything to make something work, to make it through another month, week or day. Not everyone can find a job — that will actually feed them — in activism or at the local co-op. Not all of us have politically correct positions, or even co-workers. Some of us have been reduced to existing in some hellish hybrid of the 1940s and the current era in order to make it through another year.
When will Church actually be separated from State? Why can’t freedom of religion be extended to mean freedom FROM religion?
When it comes to gender difference, we could learn a lot from a five-year-old.