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    Gurl-on-gyrl action (sort of)

    I’ve been summoned to the role of gay big brother more than usual these last few weeks. I’m glad to do it–お互い様でしょう?–but it’s made me more jealous of my time alone and less likely (if you haven’t noticed) to feel like posting.

    I’ve been reading enough to notice that class is one of the topics of the day, though. Virginia Postrel’s advice for one of the people profiled in the final installment in the NYT series on class, who is making plans to go back to college and become a schoolteacher, is good:

    Blevins sounds like a fine man, the kind of person who makes communities–and supermarkets–work. Too bad the Times won’t honor him for his real accomplishments, including finding a demanding career he’s good at. (Most of his buyer colleagues have college degrees.) Instead, he’s portrayed as a victim and the “happy ending” is that he’s going back to college so he can get a job he’s totally unsuited for. A guy who hates school this much doesn’t belong anywhere near a classroom, least of all in front of one.

    She’s right, but it’s interesting how the article raised and then didn’t follow through on one of the more interesting angles here. A lot of working-class people see college as a trade school with more books and more job security waiting when you finish. Merely going to college no longer makes you plummy, given how the economy has evolved; but still, feeling engaged by school is, in many ways, not encouraged.

    My father read to my brother and me from the Bible every night before bed until I was, probably, 15 or so. The church to which we belonged published two monthly magazines with a lot of writing about world affairs (it was big on prophecy), and they were always lying around. Or Mom would be reading one of them while the television was on. Additionally, my Catholic mother and Anglican father married and then converted to an extremely tiny fundamentalist sect; without disrespecting the dead, I think I can say that this sequence of events was met with something less than enthusiasm by key family elders.

    So I was brought up by parents who read when they didn’t have to (if that makes sense) and who were sympathetic to the idea that your parents’ expectations may not be what’s really best for you. They made an effort to become friendly with my teachers and, without being neurotic, kept after me if I got lazy. We also happened to live in a school district in which there was a critical mass of well-off families. The people I was in classes with were talking about MIT and Bucknell and Penn State main campus and Columbia from junior high school on. So were the teachers and guidance counselors.

    By the time I got to college, my experiences had made me much more like the people I was surrounded by than like the people I’d actually grown up with. I don’t mean “experiences” in the sense of having summered on Mackinac or watching Dad casually write a check for $15,000 for that semester’s tuition–those I obviously didn’t have. I mean feeling like part of the progression from high school to competitive college to choice of major to a good job in a major city; I was in on the dance and knew the steps. Barring a financial emergency, it would never have occurred to me to drop out temporarily. You might have a semester when you were bored by most of your classes and feeling hiply disaffected, but you kept going and maybe drank a little more.

    What we’re talking about is an entire vision of the world and where you fit into it. It’s not surprising at all that well-meant preschool initiatives (as the Kay Hymowitz article linked above discusses) and increased attempts by big-guns institutions such as UVA to recruit in poor districts don’t succeed in getting more low-income students to leave college with a degree. If you’re focused solely on the prospect of getting a job and think of learning as nothing but the means to the end, it’s easy to be tempted away by an offer of solid, full-time work that makes you feel you’re doing something. And because Mom and Dad’s constant worrying about money is almost certain to have colored your upbringing a lot, the impulse to start saving now and figure you can come back to college after you have a safe amount stored away is also probably strong.

    Virginia Postrel’s comments reminded me of an article I read last week-ish that made me so angry I nearly started hurling my saucily-patterned throw pillows around. It was by one Cameron Scott, whose unfathomable non-argument in this opinion piece was apparently sufficient to get it into the SF Gate (via Gay News), but who exhibits all the sociological insight of a two-slice toaster and the coherence of my utility drawer.

    The main topic is, actually, an interesting one: why is it that the public presence of gay culture is so weighted toward us boys? Scott points out that lesbians in general earn less than gay men and are, therefore, a less attractive market for investors who want the bars and events they fund to turn a profit. Fair enough.

    Next she asks whether this is the result (1) of choices made by lesbians or (2) of forces beyond their control. The answer is, uh, yes:

    Charity work, bohemianism, working-class culture: These enduring affinities reveal that out lesbianism has long been at odds with middle-class values and income.

    The mutual exclusivity of lesbians and the middle class does not mean that there are no lesbians who get by in the middle-class world. It means that lesbians can become part of public culture only to the extent that they turn away from their own culture. Lesbians as lesbians have virtually no role in public culture.

    Dyke culture’s long-standing opposition to middle-class values is one of its most vital and empowering aspects. But the impossibility of middle-class existence for dykes means that we still have to deal with some aspects of homophobia that have been ameliorated for gay men.

    Economic disempowerment leaves people more open to the blows of discrimination. Middle-class jobs do not tolerate lesbian attitudes or attire because they suggest that the prospective employee is not already a member of the middle class — a sin greater even than private perversion.

    Yes, it’s a good thing the working class exists–otherwise, where would slumming lesbians go for empowerment? (Or maybe I mean disempowerment–am I imagining things, or did she not describe it as both, almost in the same breath?)

    I’ve known plenty of lesbians with formidable management skills who flourish in corporate environments like fish in water, but everyone has her own set of strengths. If someone who was brought up in middle-class surroundings decides she’d rather work with her hands than play the often soul-destroying career game of office politics, great, I say.

    But if you opt for working-class life, you’re going to get the whole thing: money is tight and you worry about it a lot, you come home from work physically worn out, and you have little direct input into the shaping of images in popular culture. You don’t get a pass just because you fancy that your little épater le bourgeois dress-up game of Hard Hat Barbie is a noble gesture of non-conformism. Bitching along the lines of “Can’t I wear the comfy clothes to work and have a job with no staff meetings and make enough money to vacation at a dedicated hotel in South Beach and be a creative consultant on a soon-to-be hit show?” is asinine.

    If you want access to the money and connections that allow your group to raise its issues and work its agenda, you have to demonstrate a basic willingness to do business. That does, indeed, mean dressing up and being nice and putting the project at hand ahead of sexual frankness sometimes when you don’t feel like it.

    Everyone born into this world is limited to a degree by the circumstances of his genes and upbringing. In America, unlike almost everywhere else, decisions about how to build on that foundation are left up to the individual rather than the group. That’s a great and wonderful thing, but it doesn’t mean that trade-offs are unnecessary. Andy Blevins’s views of education may be misguided, but at least he’s taking the right approach: asking how he can improve himself and considering the possibility that he may need to do things he doesn’t like. He’s a far more sympathetic character than Scott, who seems to believe that her coterie’s problems stem from the fact that neither the middle nor the working class sees how cool they are.

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