29 May 2012
We currently have three administrators here at Women: Rise Up Now. My two partners live in the Northeast; I’ve spent my life in the Southwest (Arizona) and, primarily, the Midwest (Illinois).
My beloved father hails from Kansas. My paternal grandparents were born and raised in Kansas, and I have family there still. A huge source of pride for me is that one of my great-uncles, William Rockhill Nelson, co-founded the Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper that is now called the Kansas City Star. When Katharine Lee Bates wrote about “amber waves of grain,” she was remembering the wheat fields of Kansas – part of America’s beauty, indeed! I myself have written hundreds of pages of fiction set in Kansas, simply because Emporia seemed the perfect home for my kind, earnest, hard-working characters.
In short, I love the place. Kansas, you occupy my heart.
I think that until the 1990’s, most Americans thought that Kansas was just a black-and-white setting. You know, the land that Dorothy left in order to find Technicolor? Until, of course, she realized she’d rather return to black-and-white than stay in the magical land where she just might get to ride around in bubbles with her eyes dyed to match her gown. Yup, she decided to leave that colorful place, where she could have friends, where she was competent and important, where she was more than just a girl who needed to shut the hell up and do as she was told. She decided to leave the land where she’d proven herself strong enough and worthy enough to keep – get ready for it – a yapping terrier. Because back in Kansas, that dog was scheduled for execution.
Sure, after Dorothy clicked her heels and woke up in bed, they all acted happy and thankful that the tornado didn’t kill her – but I bet the next day, they turned Toto over to the sheriff to have his little brains blown out. Oh, and speaking of the tornado? Although Auntie Em cried out for Dorothy, they all wound up leaving the kid to fend off death alone.
“She got herself into this mess, what with being irresponsible and all; she’ll survive it or she won’t, Em, so getcher ass into this dark hole with us men straight-away!”
I have hidden in basements, I’ve run through blinding rain and golfball-sized hail to reach a storm cellar; no way in hell did I ever, or would I ever, leave someone behind. I would never have said, “Ah, it’s her own damn fault, and I don’t feel like taking any risks for her sake.” I would have found her and helped her – her and her little dog, too.
Kansas is a bunch of adjectives I feel silly using – beautiful, bountiful, haunting. Longtime Kansans are tough, stoic, quick-witted, suspicious people who find themselves saying, “I and the other guy did thus-and-so,” rather than “the other guy and I did thus-and-so,” because Kansans know that the most important element of any personal story is the person telling it.
In the 1990’s, the rest of the country slowly became aware of Fred Phelps. (I’d known about him for a few years already, because he used to preach on the quad at the university I attended; nasty stuff that I’ll write about some other time.) So along with seeing Kansas as a black-and-white state, folks now saw it as the land of queer-hating, funeral-protesting nutbars.
Unless one lived in Arizona. I moved there in the mid-90’s, and Kansas was the go-to place for abortions that even Arizona wouldn’t allow. Honestly, my first day in Arizona, I flipped through my local phone book and was stunned at the ads for abortion services. I’d never seen such a thing in my home state of Illinois! Illinois allows first-trimester abortions only, and the protestors outside abortion clinics are – get this – polite. Those I’ve seen are, anyway. If a woman is on the fence about having an abortion, I bet those rude scary protestors frighten her into running inside the clinic and getting the thing done. The polite protesters in Illinois, on the other hand, just might have stopped a few abortions for women who weren’t really sure that abortion was the right choice for them. Could it be that screaming “baby killer” at a worn-out pregnant person isn’t the way to win her over? Hmmmm.
OK, so, back to Kansas. What’s happening there now is that unless they want to become pregnant, women and girls cannot choose any sexual activity except for masturbation, or sex with other females, or sex with sterile men. Druggists are permitted to be on the lookout for women and girls who want sex but not babies. They are legally allowed to say, “NO, I won’t fill your prescription! My preacher says NO! I’m pretty sure that God says NO! So, NO! And I’m not transferring this prescription order to another pharmacist, because I don’t have to. Ha ha on YOU, you bad, bad girl….”
What is going on in Kansas? When did the land of John Brown, the land of butting out if it’s nunya, become the land that is all up in every Kansas woman’s nether regions? I gave birth, and getting that kid’s head out of my vagina was agony. No way is there room for the state of Kansas in there. I assume that is the case for Kansas women as well. From what I know of my grandmother, they aren’t a different species from the rest of us or anything. They just tend to be quieter. And they say, “I and the other guy.”
So, maybe the solution is for true Kansans to fight that ingrained urge to be stoic and quiet, and instead be all about “I and the other guy.” The most important part of any personal story is the person telling it, right? All true Kansans know this.
Kansans, I am begging you to be… well… not quiet. Just for now. You can be quiet later. I know it’s not easy for you to speak up and complain; you are proud people, rightfully so. But for now, please speak up. You don’t have to agree with my politics, or even agree with me about abortion. But if you are a Kansan, I know you. And I know that people bossing other people chaps your proud, stoic, Kansan ass.