Subject: the myths we build our identities on.
Date: Mon 12 Oct 1998 - 21:42:02 BST
When I worked at SUNY in Plattsburgh NY, people would always comment on how
hard it must be to handle winters up there, 20 miles from the Canadian Border,
60 miles from Montreal.
I agreed, of course. It was horrible, but we were rugged and tough, togged
out in Sorrel Pack Boots, thermal long-johns and flannels (this was in the
days before caprilene undies & polyproplene fleece). We all agreed. We
believed in our durability and sacrfice, felt it deep in our gut, made it our
But the truth is, when you look at it on a rational level, it wasn't that bad.
Sure, Plattsburg is on the fringes of the Adirondacks, but it's on the east
side, the side in the rain shadow. All the air, full of water off Lake
Ontario, is forced up the west side of the mountains, due to corolis force
winds that give most weather a west to east pattern in the northern
hemisphere. That means that Booneville is the worst snow area in NYS -- both
the lake effect snows and the mountain effect, but by the time it got over the
mountains to Plattsburgh, the air was pretty dry, the water forced out of it
by adiabatic rising.
And as for cold, well, the people up in the High Peaks got that the worst.
They were like 3000" higher than us in Lake Placid, which isn't like the
Rockies, but is a big deal in the east. People in Wyoming & Montana get
incredible lows, between the arctic blows and the elevation.
So Plattsburghs winters are not the worst in NYS. We didn't get snow like
Buffalo, and our cold was managable, though it was worse than Long Island,
where lots of kids came from.
But somehow, that cold became part of our identity. We were the rugged
pioneers, and when people were impressed with our calm courage in the face of
Old Man Winter, we just gave a bit of a smirk -- nothing to us, you know.
Nobody would dare break the legend, the identity.
Every group has some kind of civic or cultural pride. New Yorkers laugh at
crime. Angelinos sleep though earthquakes. Americans are unflappable and
free. And queers face the hardest life in America.
Great myths, all of them. The problem is that they aren't quite true. Life is
tough, and we are strong, but so is everyone else. Ranking oppressions, even
when those oppressions are a core part of our identity, always leads away from
rational thought and theory and into a belief: I beleive that we have the
hardest life, so we do.
Believe you me, I'd rather be a lesbian woman, even a butch lesbian woman in a
good town with a good upbringing than to be a young, poor black man. And I'd
rather be a young poor black man than to be poor in lots of other countries
around the globe.
We are rugged and tough and challenged, it's true, but everyone is in their
own way. They have myths that explain why they are tougher and more
challenged too, and those myths may be great when they keep us going, but they
are crap when they build walls between us and others because we don't want to
have the foundations of our identity, the walls of our specialness, washed
We always need to reach out and change people's opinions. We to help them see
others who make choices they don't approve of are just humans making choices
from their priorites, not wrong, not inhuman, not objects to be destroyed. We
get reminded that every life is scared, and we carry that lesson, and pass it
on, and things change, but there will always be destructive acts -- as humans,
we can't afford the loss of freedom it would take to police everyone for
I just think that the way we use our shock, greif and pain is not by acting
out of fear and the memories of what it feels like to be afraid, but rather to
come together by using out thoughts, clear and rational thoughts, about how to
make the world a better place by erasing more and more of the barriers we
And that means even the barriers that comfort us, like "Plattsburghers are the
toughest and most challenged people in SUNY because of our horrible winters!
We survive winter, we are the best!"
We survive for a while and then we die. We are human.
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