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Entries in politics (9)


today is a good day.

I know it's been a good long while.  And for that, I am sorry.

A lot has happened in the last few months.  I'd like to think I'll take time to write about those things, but realistically (and lately, I am all about being realistic), I won't. 

I write today (rather than yesterday, last week or tomorrow) because something very important happened today.  Today, President Obama publicly endorsed marriage equality for gays and lesbians (I am not including the B and the T right now because this kind of specifically applies to same sex couples, so maybe some bisexuals will benefit too). 

As some of you may know, I had the good fortune to work for the Obama campaign.  I also worked for Senator Kerry's campaign.  I threw my everything into those campaigns.  Quite literally, blood/sweat/tears.  However, the fact that neither of my candidates publicly supported (real) marriage equality always nettled me.  Granted, I was not in a same sex relationship until AFTER Obama was elected, but I always identified as a switch-hitter (my preferred term for bisexuality) and had scores of friends who were gay as the day is long.  My attitude during these campaigns was typically: "well, the alternative is horrible."  I stand by that claim.  Both times the alternatives were really, truly horrible. 

In this next election cycle, the first I will be FORCED to sit out, I will finally know that my candidate supports me fully.  I will know that he will actually take a stand for civil rights--that he'll hopefully be more likely to appoint Supreme Court Justices that feel similarly. 

When I was stationed in Adrian, MI for the Kerry campaign I was pretty miserable.  Keep in mind that 2004 was the year that the marriage amendment was on the ballot in Michigan.  (Yes, we mitten folks outlawed gay marriage long before North Carolina, remember that.)  Adrian is a small town, surrounded by smaller towns.  It has a strange dynamic in that it has a fairly large Hispanic population (for Michigan) and a HUGE convent, the Adrian Dominican Sisters.  Surprisingly, the most liberal folks in town were those blessed nuns.  I think I've mentioned this before, but they phone-banked for Kerry every Tuesday.  However, that's not the point of this story.  The point is that while I was working for Kerry in this kinda-backward town, I had to work with Democrats that HATED gay people.  Some of my best volunteers had terribly offensive, anti-gay marriage yard signs.  It got to me.  I spent three very, very long weeks there.  On my drives home (which was a lovely, 82 year old volunteer's house who made me lunch every day and 'kissed' Jon Stewart each night he showed up on her television), I would count these hateful yard signs.  On a few particularly defeated days, I would cry.  Barbara (that lovely lady), would wipe my tear-stained face, tell me I had worked too hard, and send me to bed. 

Weird, weird times those were.

Importantly, though, if 'my' candidate supports gay marriage, I don't have to put up with the gay-hate bullshit that I did in the past.  (Not that I ever had to put up with it, but if you've worked on a Presidential campaign, you know what I mean.)  I don't have to defend a president that believes I don't deserve equal rights.  For that, I am eternally greatful.  I really am.

So, I want to say in as public a way as I can: thank you, President Obama.  Thank you for having the guts to stand up and say what you feel is right.  I don't think this is pandering (because realistically, it might hurt him).  I think the pressure of his supporters finally got to him, and I am glad.  I am thrilled.


I chose a conservative field.  Part of me thinks this is because I am an opositional/defiant type: "Oh, you don't like gay people?  Let me make it really hard for you to deny I'm a good person."  Part of me thinks it's because I didn't realize how hard it would be to exist as a head-strong liberal among those who are either apathetic or vote with their wallet in mind.  Either way, I'm here, I'm fairly queer, and I do a damned good job of working with patients. 

I haven't been discriminated against in a really vicious way just yet (I don't think), but my daily life is awkward.  In a way that my boo, Jess, doesn't have to be, I am cautious as hell when talking about my personal life.  Generally, I throw out a few political topics over a few days with new colleagues before I dare mention the word 'partner' instead of boyfriend/fiancee/husband.  If my attending or resident seems reasonable, I'll bring Jess up in a casual way.  Normally, it's fine.  It gets glazed over, or at most 'Oh... you date ladies?'  There have been a few funny/awkward reactions since I've been on surgery, though.  Good one first, or bad one?  I like to get the bad out of the way.

The not so good: There is one surgeon I've been working with very frequently over the past three weeks.  She's kind and smart and generally a really admirable lady.  I generally feel like female surgeons are strong women who are interested in equality.  They have had to fight an uphill battle, and I have MAD respect for that.  She wears golden retriever a pin on her white coat and her hair is generally all done up.  I think she's pretty cool.  She asks a lot of personal questions in the OR--not in a bad way.  Just in a 'I like to get to know my med students way.'  Somehow, she had avoided romantic relationships... until two days ago.  Over the open abdomen of our patient, me with retractors, her with a scalpel and hemostat: "So, Em, when you are applying to your psych residency, what are you taking into account?"

This is a normal question.  One that has many, many answers.  For me, I have a few things to consider:

  1. Jess--wherever we go, she'll need to get a job.  Both because I can't be captain moneybags and because she is interested in not going crazy.  Her work requires either a college campus or a fairly urban area. 
  2. Pita--our baby's gotta come with us!  This means Pit Bull friendly housing.  Something we can't compromise on.
  3. Gay-Friendly--Jess and I are not interested in being hate-crimed.  In fact, I refuse to live in an area that is even remotely hostile to the gays.
  4. Close-Enough--Jess and I would like to stay within a day or so's drive from our families.  We are close with both sides and will need their support. 
  5. Affordable--we aren't interested in going house-poor.
  6. Good-ish Programs--At this point, I am applying to Psych-Family and Psych residencies.  As I'll probably do a fellowship afterward, I am interested in an academic program.

So, all that shit is running through my head.  And what's most important?  Jess.  So, I tell her that I do have some geographic restrictions in that my PARTNER needs to be able to get a job.  The response?

"Oh.  Your partner."

That was the end of that conversation.  Well... so, no more gay talk around the lady surgeon?

The good: I am on a team with some pretty funny dudes.  There are five of us total, and they are all pretty cool.  One of them is a resident from a local program that is temporarily rotating at our hospital.  He's funny and kinda brilliant.  I could tell from his banter that he was a liberal.  Yay!  One morning, on rounds, we were talking about good places to hang around town.  I told him: "My boo and I like to go to Corner, she's really into beer." 

"You're gay?  Ha!  Cool.  I just didn't take you for the lesbian type."

"Hahahah, yeah, I am not 'butch' I suppose."

"No, no you're not.  Is she?"

"Definitely more so.  You can 'tell' she's gay."

"Ha!  Cool."

And that was it.  I like when people aren't afraid to continue a conversation, or point out difference.  Difference is cool, it's OK.  It can be recognized without being marginalized.  I have mad respect for him now.  Also, in a way that I have found is pretty common, straight dudes open up to gay ladies.  It's interesting.  It's kind of similar to how women relate to gay men.  It's like they don't feel threatened, or feel like I am going to 'go after' them.  So now he tells me about his dates with various nurses at his hospital.  It's cute.  I wouldn't recommend him (he's pretty unavailable), but he's fun to talk with.

So, that's life right now.  More later.  Maybe.  I am on nights, so while I can talk on the phone, I can kinda get away with blogging. 



And the war on women continues...

Currently, the house is 'working on' HR 1216, a bill that will make tremendous cuts to graduate medical education (read: residencies).  This bill is bad enough on its own--we are already facing a truly terrifying primary care shortage--but to rub salt in that gaping wound, Representative Virginia Fox (R-VA) has proposed an amendment that would bar the remaining funds from being used for abortion training.  This woman is hoping to get re-elected on the backs of her sisters.

She is no sister to me.

Amendments like this are smack in the face of reality and legality.  Newsflash: ABORTION IS STILL LEGAL.  This hasn't changed since 1973.  Sure, politicians more interested in getting re-elected than truly helping their constituencies have been successful in creating enormous barriers to access, but the procedure itself is still, in every sense of the word, LEGAL. 

I seriously feel like vomiting.  Nothing angers me more than legislators using gestures like this to get re-elected at the cost of good medical care.  This woman knows nothing about medicine.  She probably knows even less about abortion.  And I guarantee you she has NO IDEA what it takes to become a well-trained physician.  This amendment would force OB/GYN residencies to essentially ignore the most common out-patient surgery among women of child-bearing age. 

If all funding for abortion training is cut, where does Ms. Fox propose the money come from?  Or would she prefer that all OB/GYNs from here on out are incompetent at the procedure?  Shall we go back to the days of back-alley abortions?  Fact is, the programs that will be most hurt by this, the programs that depend most on federal funding, are in areas that need to be fluent in comprehensive women's health care.  These aren't hospitals with gobs of money and rich patients, these programs are in hospitals that work tirelessly to provide care to the under-served.

Outrageous.  This is so outrageous.  Do me a favor and call your rep to give his or her constituency aide an earful.  This isn't just about abortion, remember, this bill will make cuts that will cement our country's deficit in primary care docs. 


victoria jackson--

makes me feel like winning this battle against the social conservatives shouldn't be as hard as it seems sometimes. 

Just watch.


why you should care.

Apathy is not, has never been, and will never be sexy.  This is not to say “being sexy” is of the utmost importance—rather, it is to highlight that you do not win any points for saying, “I hate politics.”  In fact, it just shows that you aren’t willing to think hard enough about an issue, that you can’t be bothered to spend time reading the articles that may in fact cause you to care, and that perhaps you lack the chutzpah to take a stand. 


My blood may boil when I read about all the bullshit legislation the GOP is ushering through the halls of Congress, but it goes absolutely cold when someone (proudly, even) claims to “not care.”  While I hate legislation that aims to take away civil rights and funding for social programs, I truly despise apathy.


You see apathy requires a special kind of ignorance—the willful kind.  It’s actually relatively difficult to avoid all current events.  At some point, over the course of the day, most people are confronted with one political issue or another on which they could (ahem… should) take a stand.  Instead, the 40% or so of the electorate that can be relied upon to stay home the first Tuesday in November turn to topics that are much easier to discuss—say, the newest Josh Groban song or the score of Sunday’s football game.  This is not to say that I hate celebrity news (sadly, I find it enthralling), but rather to compare the relative gravity of the two topics.  The next vote in the House of Representatives may directly impact your future.   Even if you plan to play this Groban hit at your wedding, it would behoove you to check out the goings on of DC—and to give them some thought. 


Those who claim to find politics unworthy of their attention regularly lambast the world of politics as immoral/useless/corrupt.  I have always found this argument to be self-defeating.  Isn’t that more of a reason to care?  If you believe your representative is corrupt, if you think that the government is wasting time and money, perhaps you can invest some of the energy spurned from this disapproval into creating change.


Not only am I obsessed with politics; I can admire the genius behind any kind of political ingenuity.  While I may not agree with the ends—the means are often brilliant.  Politics may be a dirty business, but what business doesn’t have a few skeletons in its closet?  Like it or not, this dirty business is crucial—and we all have the right and responsibility to participate.  You hate the government?  Fine.  As a citizen, it is your right to fix it.  It is, after all, by the people and for the people.  That hasn’t changed. 


What has changed is the composition of our bodies of elected officials.  Once seemingly representative—a farmer here, a doctor there—politics has become a money game.  The people who represent you are often members of the wealthiest 2% of the American money pie.  While this doesn’t necessarily mean they are evil (or particularly interested in keeping that money), it certainly means they need to hear from you—the other 98% of America, the 98% that is most affected by the legislation that is sometimes little more than political gesturing.  Because while you ignore them, they are writing bills that will increase your tax burden while lowering that of the corporation you work for.


So… you can sit back in your cubicle, cruise Perez Hilton (hahahaha, not trying to make a joke, but awesome anyway) and sip your $4 latte from Starbucks.  I will be ignoring my schoolwork while hunched over my macbook, poring over NPR and NYT articles and sipping my $4 latte.  But it will probably be a skinny latte.  You know, gotta watch the calories. 


rebel rebel!

Lately I have been more happy to lay claim to a radical identity.  With a mix of disenchantment, passion and perhaps a little too much academic knowledge, I grow more comfortable with having radical views.  I have always gone back and forth on political identity, and for that matter cultural identity.  What is the worth of a political identity unless it is followed by action?  To me, political action is the only statement that holds power, whether that is voting, donating or giving time to causes one cares about.

However, political action is often where identity and pragmatism clash.  While I exist on the very edge of the left end of the political spectrum, I recognize that the person I wish would gain office probably never will.  It is a sad reality, but one I am willing to admit exists.  So what is one to do?  I am more motivated by fear of the other end of the teeter-totter of America's political gamut than I am by voting for/working for a candidate that I know will never win.  In 2004, when I worked as a Congressional District field lead for John Kerry, I can't say I was super passionate about the man.  He is brilliant, and for the most part he represents my views.  However, what got me out of bed every morning (after 4 hours of sleep) was my fear of another four years of George W. Bush.  I hated that man with such a visceral passion that I gave up many months of my life, many hours of sleep, two cars and almost my life for the campaign.  While I am glad to report that we won Michigan handily, clearly we lost the battle as a whole. 

Once I managed to get off my parents' couch and get back to school, I entered a depressive/anti-everything phase.  This was the first time I decided I was a "radical."  I moved into my first coop that summer.  The coops changed my life in many ways.  One of the most immediate things I learned was that maybe I wasn't a radical.  I happened to live in a house that was very, very politically active, and very, very radical.  For the most part, I was fascinated.  I soaked it up.  Did I go to protests?  Yes.  Was I willing to get arrested for the cause?  No.  Was I even able to give up Diet Coke during a campaign to kick Coke off of MSU's campus (a campaign which was run by my housemates).  For about three months.  I realized that I didn't live and breathe radical the way my housemates did.  It was confusing.  Maybe I wasn't radical?  Maybe I wasn't really as leftist as I thought...

Over the next couple of years I gained an informed oppositional consciousness.  I grew weary of capitalism, I became vegan, I ate locally and I distanced myself from party politics.  I felt no pressure from housemates (I had moved) and I felt no pressure from my former Democratic colleagues (I ignored their emails).  I was pretty happy with my internal compromise.  I was still active, though.  When a very vocal anti-choice woman wrote a letter to the editor about how The Vagina Monologues was anti-men, I wrote a scathing response, insinuating she was prude and mis-informed.  I was very active on campus and with my cooperative organization.  I was a quiet and comfortable radical--with no one to answer to. 

When I moved home and the Obama campaign was ramping up, I couldn't resist volunteering.  It was a heady time in politics, and I hated Sarah Palin--maybe more than I hated George W. Bush.  When I got to chatting with the local staff and they found out I was a (campaign) veteran, I was drafted.  Once again, I found myself caught up in precincts, volunteers, local democratic clubs and walk packets.  It was exhausting and I was less fired-up this time.  I made it through with the help of some wonderful, wonderful volunteers (I will never forget Pam, Terree or Brooke) and a hilarious downriver staff. 

I knew I could never do it again.

And then came medical school--perhaps the most politically bereft situation in which I have ever found myself immersed.  The year I began medical school, 2009, was the year of the great health care reform debate.  Every day NPR covered the endless debate between the GOP and the Dems.  I was glued to the radio.  When the public option failed, I felt incredibly let down by the President I had worked to elect.  I had foolishly expected him not to compromise on something that I held so near to my heart.  The weight of the health care debate felt newly heavy to me.  I never wanted to face future patients and refuse care only because they had no ability to afford what is necessary.  I would go to school and rant at the lunch table and no one would bat an eye.  Most of my friends (and not friends) had no idea what was going on.  No idea.  Despite the fact that this policy debate would have direct bearing on their future, they didn't seem to care.  I felt so, so alone.  And bored.

Medical school has proven to me that I am a radical.  It's easy to adopt this identity in a sea of moderates or conservatives, sons and daughters that have been handed their political views on a silver platter, along with their college education.  Don't get me wrong, a lot of my fellow students are really wonderful people--but the vast majority doesn't seem to have a clue what is going on in this country. 

As a feminist, lesbian, pro-choice, future provider, anti-Capitalist, I feel pretty lonely.  At the same time, I am so very comfortable with my various identities.  I feel empowered and passionate and I know that I am slowly carving my place in the future.