It looks like my native country of Poland is just as politically divided right now as my adopted home country of the United States.  In last week’s EU parliamentary elections, the two main rival parties received the exact same number of seats–19.

The party which is the “winner” of the election–with only 32.8% of the popular vote–is Platforma Obywatelska (PO) or Civic Platform, a center right party.  And this may be the one time that I will be excited about the right winning an election.  Because PO is–there is no other way to put it–the sane party.  They are right wing in a very moderate sense–perhaps this is what the Republicans in America used to be like, or wish they could be like again.  They are interested in free markets, open to Poland being a part of the European community and the economic benefits that can bring to the country.  They have previously come out in favor of privatization and deregulation, but have been in charge for the last few years and privatization has only happened on a small scale.  They don’t seem to be interested in dismantling society.

On the other hand, there is the opposition.  Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc (PiS)–the Law and Justice party.  It’s a bit unclear to me if they would be considered left or right by American standards.  What they are, more than anything else, is religious.  PiS followers are fervent Catholics.  They are nostalgic people of the sort which wants to wind the clock back to a better time in the past, in this case possibly back to the Middle Ages, when the Church was safely in charge and the priest was the ultimate authority figure.  Hence their opposition to Poland’s involvement in the EU–they don’t want Polish culture to be influenced by all that Western moral decadence, with its pesky feminism and pride parades.  This would also be why some Catholic right talking heads have actually expressed support for Putin’s expanding influence.  Sure, Russia may endanger Polish sovereignty, but at least it doesn’t have gay rights.  The spiritual scene in Poland has become a lot more diverse since the fall of the Iron Curtain, with Buddhists and pagans popping up, and PiS followers are not big fans of that.  While we’re at it, they would also prefer it if women would step back into the kitchen where they belong, thank you very much.  This would mean no rights to abortion or contraceptives, and a proposed tax rebate for each successive child, to encourage Poles to continue following the Catholic big family model.  There is definitely a populist streak to the PiS platform–they are in favor of welfare programs and at one point made promises of a large-scale guaranteed housing project for Polish families.  This is where your average American observer might get confused.  PiS essentially combines social conservative values with some progressive safety net ideas.

Funny thing is, the Civic Platform party isn’t that terribly liberal about social issues either.  But they are closer to the middle, which has caused them to be accused by Law and Justice of being depraved and sinful heathens, ready to take Poland over the brink into heresy, which is enough to recommend PO to me.  And I guess there’s the similarity–whether in Poland or America, elections aren’t about voting for the party you love, they’re about picking the less crazy option of the two.

So just as I decided to be whiny about it, I’ve been given a good reminder of why I should be grateful to live in Portland.  The entire Internet has been mocking the Idaho gubernatorial debate today, with its wacky Bible-quotin’ conspiracy-theory-spoutin’ candidates.  This brings back lovely memories, as I used to live in Idaho.  Only for a short time, but still, wow.

The Idaho of today seems at least slightly less homophobic, as one of the debaters opined that gay people love each other more than he does his motorcycle.  I can still remember the guy at my Boise school who told me that if he found out a person was gay, he would have no problem whatsoever with killing them (shudder).  Then there were the male students in my college class (a college class!) responding to a female professor’s lecture by saying that yes, in fact, women should be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.  While the boys were a bit more rude about it, the girls explained to me in a nice and polite way that they were going to submit to their husbands when they got married.  I think my jaw dropped to the ground and stayed there for the entire five years I lived in that state. 

In the end, it was too much for us.  We couldn’t handle Idaho.  Having just come from a stint in Holland and New York, the culture shock was too extreme to overcome.  We were singing on the day we packed up our U-Haul to leave.  And then it was time for our romance with Portland to begin.

I would like to add that there were a few wonderful and open-minded people I met in Idaho as well.  I feel for them–it’s not an easy life for those brave individuals.

When you go on a journey, you discover that the world is full of dangerous people.  My life has been no different.  I’ve come far and faced off against many villains.

For example, when I was a child, I was told that evil American capitalists wanted to drop a nuclear bomb on me.  But then I moved to a different land and found out that it was, in fact, evil Russian Communists who wanted to drop a nuclear bomb on me.  That was confusing, but then things got even more complicated.

When I lived by the northern European seas, abortion and gay rights were considered good things, and anybody who opposed them was strange.  But when I lived in the American desert, I learned that abortion and homosexuality were sins, and anybody who supported them was immoral.  Now I live by the Pacific Ocean, and once again it’s those who are too religious and too traditional that are suspect.  I’m having a hard time keeping track of all this.  Maybe it would be easier for me to tell the good guys and the bad guys apart if I had stayed in one place and didn’t move around so much.

What makes it even harder is that so many people wear magical disguises and are not what they seem.  For instance, those who aren’t Christian aren’t really American, even though they pretend to be.  Just like those who aren’t Catholic aren’t really Polish.  Ah, but hold on–it’s not enough to know that someone is wearing the Christian label.  If they are liberal, they aren’t really Christian.  You see how tricky this gets.

Now I feel as if I’m living in a cursed time, because everyone is starting to look like an enemy.  The conservatives aren’t true patriots and neither are the progressives.  I’m supposed to be on the watch for thieves who will steal my money through taxes and robbers who will steal my work by paying me too little for it.  There are hawks who want to attack everyone and doves who want us to get attacked.  Gun nuts want to shoot me, but then again I hear that those who favor gun restrictions want to see me defenseless and shot.

So how do I move forward on my way when I’m surrounded by dragons?  Could it be?  Is it possible that I’m the only one who’s right and everybody else is wrong?  After all, many wise men and women around me are making this claim–that they are the only ones who hold the key to true knowledge.

Believing that those who think differently from you are monsters to be fought is one way to journey through this world.  I find the travelling lighter and easier when I don’t carry all that heavy weaponry with me, though.  The dragons are imaginary anyway–they’re just imperfect human beings, a lot like me–and our battles are unnecessary.

What will those be like, I wonder?  Will there be little child dancers fighting the evil Pink Triangle trying to recruit them into homosexuality?  Will the ladies of Pussy Riot perform a touching song about how beautiful life can be in a gulag?  Will Putin ride out on a horse, all macho and bare-chested?  What about Edward Snowden in a bodysuit?  Toilets that will actually work?

Honestly, at this time, unless the opening ceremonies include a festive parade of happy gay people with their newly adopted stray dogs, I really don’t wanna watch ’em.  The idea of Putin’s Russia putting on a show about world peace and love is too ludicrous for consideration.  I had a difficult time watching the Beijing Olympics because I have a problem with how that country treats the Falun Gong and Christians–looks like these Olympics will be an equally painful event.

Toddler beauty queens.  Families which think that spawning nineteen babies is a great idea.  Gator hunters from the swamps.

See a pattern here?  Yes, I disagree with the Duck Dynasty guy’s views on homosexuality.  But the purpose of these characters is to be freakish.  The TV channels which rely on these shows for ratings scour the darkest recesses of this country and dig up the bizarre and the shameless.  And we’re supposed to be shocked that they have backwards opinions?  About a year ago, Michelle Duggar–of 19 Kids And Counting fame–made a speech at an evangelical conference in which she gave tips for being a more obedient wife.  Seriously…this is the kind of thing we should expect from this crowd.

More importantly, why should we care what these reality “stars” think?  It turns out Honey Boo Boo is in fact in favor of gay rights–so what?  This is still Honey Boo Boo we’re talking about.  Since when do we care what the circus sideshow thinks about marriage equality, or any other issue?  I guess we do now, and that makes me far sadder than anything Phil Robertson will ever say.

Edward Snowden continues to say hilarious things about Russia as he hangs out in the transit section of the Moscow airport.  (Hey, it’s funnier to talk about than the depressing Trayvon Martin verdict).  He has now described Russia as “the first to stand against human rights violations”.  Gay people and political dissidents all over the country laughed, or would have laughed if they were not in labor camps or dead. 

This statement from Snowden made me scratch my head, until I realized that when Snowden is talking about “human rights”, he is thinking only of a very specific human:  himself.  He is so focused on his own situation that he cannot see some of the other “human rights” stuff which is happening in the country which has granted him refuge.  This may speak to a big ego on his part–which wouldn’t surprise me.  Or it may simply show that Snowden is frightened and exhausted, and is probably saying flattering things about Russia out of fear.  Meanwhile, Putin has described him as an unwanted Christmas present.  Ouch…the love here is clearly not a two-way street.

Now, here’s a human rights defender I can really get behind…the awesome mayor of Reykjavik, Jon Gnarr, who has proposed to end Reykjavik’s sister city arrangement with Moscow as a protest against Russia’s recently passed homophobic law against “gay propaganda”.  Needless to say, Mr. Gnarr is a big proponent of gay rights and has appeared in drag in Pride parades. 

Iceland’s Pirate Party has voted to offer Edward Snowden citizenship.  Should he ever get his ability to travel back, this would be a much better choice than Moscow.

 

So, one argument I’ve been hearing a lot this week from those who oppose same sex marriage has been that traditional marriage has “worked” for thousands of years.  I have to wonder what “working” means in this case.  If by “working” we mean just “continuing the human species”, then yes, we have done that.  I suppose that continuing to exist can be a success in itself.  But has traditional marriage truly been an effective way of living life?  Women, in particular, have held a shitty and repressed role in marriage for all those glorious thousands of years.  Has traditional marriage worked for them?  Many married human beings have spent their lives being miserable and unfulfilled in those marriages.  It almost makes me wonder if gays and lesbians really want to be a part of the marriage train.

But the basic truth about marriage is that it’s an economic contract.  That is what it has been about for straight people for centuries, with romantic love only being a recent addition to the mix.  That’s why most of the arguments in favor of same sex marriage have been about money, and rightly so.  And about the simple desire of people wanting to be treated like everyone else, which is completely understandable.

I see no good reason not to expand the definition of marriage to same sex partners.  I also can’t help but question the “sacred institution” of marriage itself.  Hopefully we can continue to re-invent our institutions and traditions in ways that make our lives happier and more fulfilling.

Yes, even after President Obama’s inaugural speech.  In this Palm Beach story, a gay man has been told he is required to put his pride flag in the back of his property, where it will be out of sight, because other residents have started to complain.  And his landlady claims he’s “trying to disrupt the community”.

The article suggests that many residents of the same neighborhood fly American flags on their homes.  I can’t help but imagine the storm of protest that would ensue if one of them was asked to put their American flag away in their backyard.  There have been multiple incidents in past years in which people have had their lives threatened and their jobs taken away because of some (often imagined) slight against our country’s flag.  Perhaps that is the LGBT community’s mistake–maybe they need to start issuing threats or brandishing weapons every time the rainbow flag gets disrespected.  I’m guessing most of them are too classy for that sort of thing, though.

Interesting quote from David French, director of “How to Survive a Plague”, commenting on why today’s LGBT generation might be less radical about their political fight:  “Hasn’t all identity politics hit a wall?  Feminism as identity politics is nothing like it was in the ’70s and ’80s, the way we talk about race is all kind of blurred now.  I don’t know how to describe the period we’re in, but it’s post-identity politics.”

Post-identity politics.  As a woman, I would agree with this statement, especially the part referring to feminism.  My question is, would this be a positive development–a sign that there is less discrimination for these various groups to worry about?  Or does it simply mean that people are not speaking out as much about the problems which are still in existence?  After all, these days when you draw attention to racist innuendo against the President you’re playing the “race card”.  If you argue too loudly for women’s rights, you are an angry feminist requesting special birth control perks from the government.

I think it’s obvious that the undercurrent of bigotry is still there.  Witness the 2012 election, with its food stamps race-baiting and the male politicians fixating on women’s health, the angry red staters arming themselves to the teeth because that African guy got re-elected.  Perhaps the real issue is that the way talk about all this is, as French said, “blurred”.  Maybe we shouldn’t be afraid of playing our cards and stating our identities, and shouldn’t be in such a hurry to be post-everything.

A few weeks later, I had my first real chance to test my powers when I heard that those archvillains, the Funeral Fiends, were coming to town.  In a fatal accident, a bus filled with nuns, little children, bunnies and virgins crashed, so naturally, the Fiends decided to protest homosexuality.  They blamed everyone on the bus for America’s acceptance of gay rights, except for the bunnies, which were cute, but did not have a soul.  Anyway, they were going to harass the grieving families of the crash victims, and I wasn’t about to let them.

“I’m going to fight your evil buddies,”  I warned RedGirl as we sat over a breakfast of croissants and orange marmalade.

“Go for it.  Those people aren’t my buddies, they’re complete morons,”  RedGirl sniffed.  “I’m not going to defend them.”

It was a bit of a letdown to have my nemesis agreeing with me, but I would carry on.

In the cold Thursday sunlight, I watched the invaders getting bussed in, appearing from the depths of the wilderness to the South of us.

Today was the memorial service for one of the little boys who died, I couldn’t remember which one.  Children all seemed the same to me.

The doors of the bus opened and a parade of deformed souls exited, clutching their protest signs for dear life.

I had plans for them.  I would create an explosion of energy that would blow the Fiends far away from here, catapult them across city blocks with the power of love.  I would set off a bomb of compassion and tolerance.

Problem was, I didn’t have enough love inside of me to construct my bomb with.  I tried to scrape some up from the bottom of my heart.  It blazed into a tiny flame and then went out.  Somehow, the presence of the Fiends had infected me—my spirit was dripping with darkness.

Just as things started to look hopeless, a group of heavenly angels appeared.  They formed a shiny band around the small church where the service was about to take place.

“You’re going straight to Hell for this!”  a gnarled old woman screamed at the angels.  She was waving a placard which read “God Hates Everyone”.

The angels did nothing but smile at her.  “Is that it?”  I thought.  They were the divine messengers—I expected at least a little bit of lightning.

The first family members were arriving at the church, their heads bowed, wiping at their eyes, trying to ignore the Fiends, who howled like a pack of banshees at them.  Something had to be done.  I no longer cared which force I was tapping into, I was going to find the center in myself, but couldn’t, I heard a fat guy yelling something about AIDS, I closed my eyes and allowed whatever it was that was chewing at my insides to explode.

When I opened my eyes again, I was lying on the ground.  I scrambled up to examine the beauty of my work.

But the protesters had not been carried off by my wave of anger, as I had hoped.  They had only been knocked down, and now they sounded happier than ever, waving their arms while flat on their backs, proudly proclaiming that they were under demonic attack—finally, they had proof they were part of an army, engaged in a war far more important than any they could have volunteered for overseas.

The angels had also been knocked down, and they lay in a tangled pile of wings and sneakers.  One of them, glowing and blonde, got up, picked up her halo and dusted it off, then, after a long and inquisitive look at me, flung it back down in the dirt and raced in my direction.

Even though she didn’t fly, she easily caught up with me and yanked me towards her.  “What did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything wrong!  I had to fight them!”

“You really think you’re helping, don’t you?”  she asked with angelic pity.

“Did you think you were being helpful?  And by the way, you’re not real, are you?”

“I’m more real than an angel from Heaven would be.”  She shrugged.  “But yeah, I’m part of Angel Action….we dress as angels to protect the families of the victims…in a non-violent way,”  she added emphatically.

“Which is really working very well,”  I snarked.

“Are you screwing things up again?”  The screechy voice next to us made both me and the angel jump.  It was RedGirl, her ruffled, crimson cape flapping in the wind.  She had fashioned herself several models of capes by now.  This one was curtain-based, Scarlett style.

We looked back at the church, where the Fiends now babbled in tongues, defending themselves against the demons they imagined all around them.

“You have to hit your enemies in their weak spot,” RedGirl said to me, “which, as usual, you have no idea how to do.”  Then she pulled the angel into an embrace and gave her a long, sensual kiss.

As soon as the Fiends noticed this, a shriek of insecurity and fear went up from them, the tragic wail of marriages getting redefined, high-pitched like the deflating of a thousand wedding cakes.  They gave chase like a rabid foxhunt, and we fled, RedGirl out in front, then me, the angel stumbling along with her wings sliding halfway down her back, and then the baying mob of  religious warriors, followed by journalists covering the breaking news funeral story.

I was beginning to think I would end up getting burned at the stake in a Wal-Mart parking lot, when the angel appeared next to me, signaling, pointing to our salvation down the road.  It was the Fantasy porn video store.  I had never been so happy to see objectified women in all my life.

Indeed, a few blocks later we were no longer being pursued.  The Fiends froze in front of Fantasy, like cats in front of a giant bag of X-rated catnip.  They dropped their signs about God at the curbside.

Their leader licked his lips, cleared his throat and turned to his flock.

“Remember that as much as we are disgusted by this filth, it is our duty to research it thoroughly…we have to know the tools which Satan uses against us.”

And the Fiends gingerly walked into the store, with the angry old woman waving the journalists away:  “No cameras!  No cameras!  I know what you’re trying to do—gonna make us look like perverts…”

***

“There goes a successful funeral, all thanks to me,”  RedGirl said.  We had said farewell to the angel and were walking home.

“I didn’t know you were into girls,”  I observed.

“Of course I’m not.  I did this to defend the reputation of the conservative movement,”  she replied.

“Oh.  Well, at least I’m glad you agree that Christians shouldn’t be in charge of everything.”

She stopped walking.  “I never said that.”

“Really?”

“The Fiends are idiots.  But this is a Christian nation.  The majority of people in this country are religious.  Why shouldn’t we have the right to express our morality?”

“I…I guess I don’t know why you shouldn’t.”  We continued on our way, but the chill had come back between us, and we were two separate Americas again.

***

“Well, all of that sounds very good,”  Mother said that evening, “but none of it is actually true.”

“What do you mean?”

“That stuff about us being a Christian nation.  Oh, the Founders did their best to pretend, they had to, but….”

“But they didn’t follow Christ’s teachings, because they were heartless capitalists out to oppress the masses!”

“You need meds.”  Mother shook her head.  “What I meant to say was that they were worshippers of the Great Bat.  As are we.  Don’t tell your sister, please—I don’t think she’d take the news very well.  When the two of you were little, I presented you both to the Bat, but neither of you wanted to come into the fold.  You ignored the Bat, but your sister downright freaked out.  It was obvious she needed to believe in something simpler and more comforting.”  She stood up and gestured for me to follow her.  “I can understand that.  It’s not always easy to live with the awareness that your soul will be consumed by a huge Bat after you die.”

I did not have a ready response to that statement.

We walked into my parents’ bedroom.  “Seriously, though,” she asked, “didn’t you ever peek inside our bedroom cabinet?”

“No, I figured that’s where you guys kept your sex toys.”

“I have such strange children.  No, we do not have any sex toys in this house.  See?”  She opened the cabinet and pointed to a little grinning skull inside.  It looked like the skull of a mouse.  It was surrounded by nickels and dimes, arranged in a semicircle.  Nearby stood a bowl of stale chips.

“I always thought you were sane,”  I murmured.  “So what does this thing do?  Can it perform miracles?”

“Sure.  Did you know it was your father who gave birth to you?”

“Never mind.”

“I’m just joking.  There are no miracles.  Our lives are short and unsatisfying, and once they’re done, we’ll be eaten by that Thing, as you call it, and we’ll sink into darkness.  The point is, our lives here can be less unhappy if we have respect for It.”  She peered closer at my face.  “What are you so upset for?  You’re not religious.”

“I kind of assumed you weren’t either.”

“I thought that it didn’t matter to you what religion people were.  You’ve told me so a million times.”

“Theoretically, yeah….  But this is….”  I stretched my arms out towards the altar.

“Look, I’m not mentally ill, darling.”  Mother rolled her eyes.  “I just accept reality as it is.  If you’re not strong enough to handle it, you can continue hiding behind your skepticism, like your sister hides behind her Christianity.  There’s nothing wrong with that.”

I was stepping away from her.

“Before you run away from here, one more thing,”  she said.  “If, for whatever reason, you decide you’re interested in getting to know the Bat, and developing a personal relationship of healthy fear for It, there’s stuff in the public library.”

“Thanks.”  My own Mother was asking me to become a Bat-fearing person.  That’s when I did panic and run away, and hid in my room.  I collapsed on my bed.  I was torn.  On the one hand, it was sad that my family was crazy.  On the other hand, wouldn’t it be great to be able to tell my sister that she was wrong about something?  RedGirl was feeling a bit too confident lately.  Maybe an imaginary bat-monster would come in handy, after all.

***

“Oh-em-gee!  What is this?”  RedGirl said when she found my library books on the dining room table.  They were little kid books.  One of them had a colorful illustration on its cover of the Bat biting off the heads of naughty children.

“It’s the new truth I’ve found in my life.”  I hurried to her side with a big smile.  “Would you like to hear about the Bat?”

“No.”

“But the Bat hates you so much!  And It might hate you a little less if you worshipped It….”

“The Bat sounds like an invention of the Devil.  I’m not interested.”  Sadly, my sister did not show the slightest sign of being traumatized, so she must have forgotten all about her childhood experience.

“Mom, do you want to tell her?”  I asked.

Mother raised a hand to caution me.  “I can see why you’re doing this, and you’re lying about things you don’t understand.  Be careful.”

“Nonsense.”  I stomped off, annoyed at yet another failure.

But all that night I kept dreaming that Jesus was about to fly down from the sky and bite my head off.