In recent weeks, America has learned the extent to which our government collects data on its citizens, gathering and storing personal information on each and every one of its 316 million or so cell phone and Internet users–data available for scrutiny at any point that any one citizen becomes a threat to national security or, perhaps, simply inconvenient to the purposes of hoarding power.
So… blessed (or cursed) with an active imagination, I’ve wondered in these last weeks that should this 51-year-old ex-teacher become a source of interest to political power mongrels (not likely), and should the NSA decide to go snooping around in my personal correspondence and behavior, what might they find?
They wouldn’t find much in the way of phone records: numerous texts and Skypes to the same number in Portland, OR and to my two teenage sons whose whereabouts are of consistent interest. However, with regard to the Internet, I have no doubt but that they would declare me a stalker… most recently, of any information regarding Bradley Manning, U.S. military soldier and leaker of war crimes, or Michelle Chamuel, rocker extraordinaire, performing on Season Four of The Voice.
I don’t have television, but during an evening Skype with Christy after I’d been sobbing through stories of Manning, the mood softened when the Internet connection rotted leaving us chasing a few audible syllables and lip reading the rest. I figured out that Christy was telling me about a talent on The Voice. “Michelle” came over, but Chamuel I’d had to lip read. It was a short search on the Internet, however, because there she was, all over The Voice pages.
I started with her audition piece, I Kissed A Girl, and was immediately intrigued—cool, indie sound. And although typically averse to stereotypical judgments, she was dancing around in gray high-tops and singing about kissing a girl so she could be “family.” Not sure why it mattered except maybe that I reached the latter half of my life before coming out (mostly), so still curious about all celebs gay. Took a while, but traipsing through interviews, I found one with her band, Ella Riot, where the interviewer asked the “non-queer” members to comment on their experience in a band with queer sympathies. I was taken aback when Michelle started answering the question as if among the straight members, but then she stopped herself saying something like, Oh wait, you’re not talking to me. Confirmation enough. And in all that stalking I found other intriguing stuff like she sang God Bless America at Fenway Park in a black hoodie, straight unkempt locks falling from a messy pony tail; on the show, she resisted makeup and hair extensions and heels, insisting that she present herself as herself; she sings to her tuxedo cat, produces music in her bedroom (presumably) in a plain t-shirt on a bed of solid sheets only loosely made, and digs Ella Fitzgerald. Really… what more could I need to join her burgeoning legion of fans?
But before Michelle, there was, and is, Bradley. Buried in a teaching career these past several years, there’s little of media that I’ve heard or read (accepting what I needed for my classroom), and, for that matter, little that I trust. But much by accident, while trying to understand what happened to a profession I loved—once esteemed now beaten by propagandists to an end of corporate profits—I stumbled upon Chris Hedges at the website truthdig.com. After reading his piece, Why the United States is Destroying Its Education System, I went on to find other pieces by Hedges, including, We Are Bradley Manning, and later, The Judicial Lynching of Bradley Manning where I learned that Manning had been court-martialed for releasing classified documents—documents revealing war crimes committed by our soldiers and our government. I watched one of the videos he released where soldiers shot down Iraqi citizens simply because one or two of them held weapons (not uncommon for citizens to carry weapons under conditions of war that touches their homes) and others attempting to give aid to those the Americans shot (actions illegal by U.S. military law). Two children were injured in the shooting and others killed including two Reuters employees and a number of unarmed citizens. One soldier announced with pride from the Apache helicopter, “Look at those dead bastards.” And for releasing such documents, making public the crimes against law and humanity, Manning faces the possibility of a lifetime in prison. To date, the soldiers guilty of breaking military law in combat have faced no consequence.
But realizing Hedges represented only one side of an argument that surely had others, I broadened my search and found a number of “journalists” taking issue with Manning’s character—not the legality or ethic of behavior in the documents he disclosed. Notably, I found an article in New York Magazine by Steve Fishman. The writer details Manning’s email correspondence with a transgendered activist as well as his relationship to his parents to paint a picture of a weak, gay boy, deprived of attention in an emotionally malnourished childhood. To state the obvious, it is a gross insult to Manning and every gay and trans citizen of this world that Fishman uses Manning’s sexuality as some sign of a weakened character. But that aside, what is it, exactly, that Fishman would have us believe? That Manning’s motives are somehow relevant to the truths he disclosed? That the documents are false because, after all, Manning is a flawed human being?
Were I to believe such an argument—that Manning’s character actually mattered to the questions begged by these military documents—I would offer to Fishman that there was documented evidence of anti-Semitism in the voices and behaviors of both Virginia Woolf and John Lennon; actions that I would like to believe each of them came to regret at some later point in their lives. But whether or not those reflections came to pass, the peace loving lyrics of Imagine are no less real to me, nor the sum total of Virginia’s art and writings on the destructive value set of patriarchy: conquer, control, dominate and protect—the very values that breed the entitled secrecy and inhumanity that our government now uses both to protect and extend its powers.
And to return to the NSA and the notion that any might give a rat’s patuti about this elder ex-teacher: In addition to determining me an Internet stalker of all things Michelle Chamuel and Bradley Manning, those God-fearing (or government-fearing) masters of surveillance might also find that I write this blog in anonymity and that my parents don’t know that I’m gay. From such information, any who needs or wants could draw a conclusion of cowardice, society’s pet follower—a disease that showed up in my teaching as well; I received many an accolade for simply following orders and doing it well, whether or not I happened to believe those orders served the children I taught. Approval is a drug for me. But it’s not ALL of me, and I would like to believe that such fear and approval-seeking don’t negate the better parts of my teaching and my humanity—the parts that show up honest and real; the parts that believe that I and everyone else in this world can do better—be better. But who am I on any given day? Which me shows up? Most days I would be hard pressed to tell you where the better parts of me end and the demons begin. Would that any of us could unravel those pieces of ourselves. Would that Steve Fishman could.
To Michelle Chamuel–the authenticity of your art and voice inspires me, as does your willingness to choose a path of independence rather than sell out for greater fame or money. And should someone, some day, report a behavior that seems inconsistent with that picture my stalking has drawn, you will become, perhaps, more human—not less believable. I hope to see you at Red Rocks some day.
And to Bradley Manning, thank you. I am grateful that you did not stop to unravel your motives before delivering the truths that cause any who pause to consider what it is we want our relationship to this world and its humanity to be. I hope to see you… free.