Pity the Billionaire is the title of one of Thomas Frank‘s brilliant books, and one I immediately thought of when I read his current column, “Hillary Clinton forgets the ’90s” Our latest gilded age and our latest phony populists” over at Salon.com.
In it, the man who originally asked What’s the Matter with Kansas? today reminds us that Hillary, with her latest references to our living in a new gilded age, was living in the White House with her then-president husband when Frank and his colleagues at The Baffler used the same phrase to describe that era.
In fact, as Frank recounts, there were a number of policies put in place by the Clinton administration that helped set us up for some of the big economic failures of the following decade, including
The point that really nailed the Gilded Age comparison, however, was the obvious return of monopoly in industry after industry. The concentration of media ownership, a development facilitated by Clinton’s 1996 telecom deregulation, was particularly scary: The Nation magazine ran a big chart showing who owned whom in the “National Entertainment State”; I myself called it the “Culture Trust.”
The same kind of monopoly-building was happening in the ’90s in food processing and meat packing. It was happening in oil. It was happening among defense contractors, with the Clinton Administration’s active encouragement. And, as we all know, it was happening in the financial sector, a process that culminated in the much-celebrated repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999. Then there were Bill Clinton’s beloved free-trade deals; one effect of these, according to Barry Lynn of the New America Foundation, has been to expose our economy to monopolies based overseas, which have proceeded to gobble up sectors like the beer industry, 80 percent of which is controlled today by just two foreign companies.
Hmm.. Thomas Frank joined me on the show to talk about all of that and more this morning, and reminded me that next time, we need to begin our segment earlier because it always goes by way too quickly!
To begin the second hour of the show each day, we talk with someone from the Talk Radio News Service. Today it was former Congressman Bob Ney, who had some first-hand problems with Darrell Issa and had no problem sharing them with us when I asked about his embarrassing behavior at yesterday’s hearing on the IRS non-scandal. We also briefly discussed the new report on climate change by a new organization, co chaired by Michael Bloomberg, Henry Paulson, and Tom Steyer – Risky Business. Check it out here, and stay tuned, as we’ll unpack it on a future show soon.
As she does every Tuesday morning, The Political Carnival’s GottaLaff joined in for hour two.
We had fun – talking about John Oliver’s calling the chair of the FCC a Dingo and getting called out on it, and naming a Faux Newsmodel today’s “world’s biggest asshole“. We got serious – reading an email from a Vietnam War veteran who knows what our current wave of returning veterans are going through. And we marveled at the amazing parents of one brave eight year old.
I don’t think Laffy posted this story yet, so I will. The names have been changed to protect the privacy of the family.
A friend of ours shared a letter she got from another family, friends of theirs. We’ll call them Lisa and Ted. Lisa and Ted have a son named Daniel. What follows is part of the letter they sent to friends and family, and I thank them for sharing their awesome parenting and research with us.
To those of you who have spent any time around us and know Daniel, I am sure it is obvious that he, like all kids, has his own set of unique and wonderful – as well as obnoxious – qualities. Daniel is basically a typical 8 year old. He loves to read and draw. He enjoys climbing rocks, looking for bugs and worms, and making forts. He is currently obsessed with ‘Wild Kratts’ and ‘creature powers’, and he loves swimming, playing in the ocean, camping and riding his bike. One of his favorite past times (much to our chagrin) is belting out songs at the top of his lungs (the current favorite is ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen). He can be loud and bossy at times but also super sweet and sometimes overly affectionate. He is very intuitive and observant but he struggles at school with focusing and staying on task.
Daniel is also all about “typical” girl things: Barbies, fairies, twirly dresses and all things related to fashion. He prefers to play with girls rather than boys, and identifies with everything feminine. He can create very artistic outfits, complete with high heels, out of a few scarves and safety pins. He is fond of modeling and performing for whoever will watch. He prefers to wear a nightgown to bed, and chooses girls skirts, leggings and dresses out to play and to school.
Since Daniel has shown all of these behaviors consistently since he was two, Ted and I have done our best to support him as he is; to talk to him about his feelings, make sure he is comfortable in his own skin, and to educate ourselves. We have done a lot of research and participate in a local support group, as well as a national organization that links families like ours together.
Right now Daniel is figuring out what feels right – she has expressed a desire for us, her teacher and kids at school to use feminine pronouns and the name, Sophie. Daniel feels and acts like a girl. People who don’t know us always assume he is a girl. He loves when people mistake him for a girl and it happens all the time now. In fact, at his request, we are transitioning ‘him’ to ‘her’ in all her upcoming summer camps. We have talked with the principal at her school and, though all legal documents still will read ‘Daniel’, she will be entering 3rd grade next year as a girl named Sophie, with everything that entails, including use of the girls’ restroom. We do not know how Daniel will identify himself in 2, 5 or 10 years. All we know is who she feels herself to be today – Sophie.
There is a lot of information about our situation and a LOT of kids, boys and girls, like Sophie who have traits of the opposite genders. The “scientific” terms for how Sophie acts are gender variant, gender fluid, or gender non-conforming and possibly transgender. We know from our outreach that many kids like Sophie have considerably more stress about the dichotomy between their anatomy and their internal gender. And there are many kids, unlike Sophie, who are gender different but only slightly so (i.e. feel no need to dress or wear hair as the opposite gender). We feel very fortunate that, at least right now, she seems a happy and well-adjusted child without a lot of angst or worries, who gets to express herself in play and life just as it feels right to her (like all of us gender-typical people do all the time!). She wears what she wants to school, play, or family events and we honor her request to be called Sophie. We expect that things may change as she ages but our hope is that she will never have to hide who she is in order to be safe and feel loved.
Here are some of the facts:
- Research indicates that gender identity and behavior is hard wired in the brain before or soon after birth and that biologic factors (hormone levels etc.) cement gender identity during the first 6-12 months of life. Sophie’s attraction to girl things, her need to dress like a girl in order to express how she feels inside and to play with girl things – are as normal to her and as much a part of her inner being as being left-handed or having perfect pitch is to some people. All of Sophie’s behaviors –boyish ones and girlish ones, come from within. They are not choices she is making. They are part of her just like her brownie blue eyes and her sensitive soul.
- This is not something that as parents, we can “fix”. Some might argue that we “encourage” it, so it continues. Some might say that if we didn’t “indulge” her desires then she would forget about them (out of sight out of mind). They would be totally wrong. Sophie chooses to wear a dress/skirt or sparkly tight leggings when, inside she feels like she wants to be herself. She doesn’t wear a dress to get attention – she does it because she wants to express herself and that is what feels right to her. When we have a dress up affair, her immediate desire is for a dressy outfit and high heels because that’s what dressy means to her. If this is not intuitive to you – those of you that have boys, are married to boys or are typical boys – ask yourself if that boy would ever put on a dress or heels just to be silly or get attention? I assume the answer is no. Sophie does sometimes seek attention when she is in an outfit she thinks is especially pretty – but it is because she wants to show off her true self, not because she can’t get attention other ways.
- This is not something Sophie is going to grow out of. None of us know what kind of adult she will be, but this is not a “phase”. She may become more “boyish” or more “girlish” or go back and forth between the two her whole life. And even though she is only 8 it already creates some stress for her. She is well aware that other boys don’t play like she does – for the most part, so far, she doesn’t care what anyone thinks, she just revels in the joy she feels when she can express the girl part of herself.
- No matter how open-minded a person you think you are or how much you love someone – seeing a boy act and dress like a girl is awkward at best and basically a hard thing to accept easily, at first. I can tell you though, that awkwardness disappears with time – she is just Sophie, regardless of what she is wearing. We are all so “norm” socialized that it makes even the best of us feel “funny” to see her in a dress. [BTW- there are plenty of girls who are gender fluid also, and experience discrimination, bullying etc. – however, at this young age our society and socialization make those girls who act and dress like boys blend in better. They are way easier to accept than boys who act like girls.]
- Eight year old children are not sexual beings. Plain and simple. So this issue for us – from now to puberty at least – is not about what Sophie’s life will be like as an adult, but just about what it is like to be different. Somehow people just can’t help themselves from thinking gender identity equates with sexual orientation. From what limited research there is out there, we know that a small percentage of these kids are truly transgender and will go on to physically change genders as teens or adults. A percentage (higher than in a control group) will be gay and some will be heterosexual. The point we are making is that whom-so-ever Sophie becomes in 10 years, gender-wise or sexual preference-wise, is absolutely NOT the issue. The issue is that she needs support and encouragement to love herself as she is now.
We are providing this letter because, if it were you having issues in your family that were as important as this, we would want to understand what those issues were and be able to be informed and supportive. Along those lines, there is a lot more information out there about gender variance than we have summarized here. If you are interested we are happy to share. Below there are a couple articles that you might find of interest and we can share other resources if you want as well.
We know for a fact that if we had said nothing at all, you would accept and love Sophie just as she is. Now that we have said something, we also know that you will support our decisions to let her express herself freely and decide for herself what to wear and how to present herself: that you will love, play, discipline and enjoy her in every way possible and encourage her to be the happiest and best person she is capable of being. She should not get any extra slack for being different – she needs to learn from each of you how to behave like a good person and that is what we hope you will teach her.
These are the things we try to do to support Sophie and to help her build a strong character and sense of self: We hope you, our family and friends, will help us in doing everything possible to see that she aspires to great things. For now, we just want our home and our friends’ and families’ homes to be her “safe” places where she can be herself, whoever that is at that moment.
- Love her for who she is.
- Validate her – whenever it comes up or there is conversation, let her know that you know it to be true that there is more than one way to be a boy or a girl, that you imagine it is hard that some kids don’t get how you feel, etc.
- Encourage her individuality (you look beautiful in that dress!) and avoid stereotypical comments (boys don’t skip!)
- Acknowledge and celebrate difference – she is different and knows it and there is nothing to be ashamed of – when she wants to talk about it, talk about it; give examples of how you are different or how being different can be great!
- Try and deal with your own demons – recognize your own internal issues about gender and how they play in to your feelings about Sophie.
- Be Sophie’s advocate – if you are with her in a situation where something is awkward – someone is teasing or judgmental – speak up for her, and help her speak up for herself.
- No victim blaming –– Sophie is not responsible for other people’s intolerance – neither she nor we, her family/friends, have to ‘accept’ that people are going to be judgmental nor does she/we have to constantly be hiding who she is in order to fit in – when people tease or bully or are unaccepting, they are at fault.
- Think about tolerance in other things that you do – making the world OK for Sophie means we all have to work on squashing eons of ingrained stereotypes; think of ways to line up or sort people other than “boys in one line, girls in another”, advocate for others who are different and struggling, examine the world around you and step up/speak out when someone is treated unfairly or unjustly because they are not like you and don’t blend in.
In spite of this horribly lengthy missive, in the grand scheme of things, Sophie’s gender variance is just an attribute of her for us to celebrate and learn from. We are so lucky to have a happy healthy kid. Relative to the horrific things that other people have to endure with their kids all over the world, this is nothing.
And lastly, being our family and friends, we have no doubt that everyone will have an opinion to share – we hope so! We encourage you to ask us anything you want and to offer whatever suggestions you have. This parenting thing is a conundrum at best and we can use a lot of help! The one thing that we ask is that you all respect our decision to support Sophie unequivocally. If you have an issue with that decision or you don’t agree with it, you take that up with us – not her. For right now, she is growing her hair, wearing girl clothes and being addressed as Sophie (which she loves). So as long as she is behaving as any nice child should, we don’t expect her to take grief in any form, from anyone in our inner circle.
Pretty amazing parenting! I only hope that I’d have been as open minded and wonderful if ever faced with a similar situation. All we parents have our own hurdles to conquer, but “Lisa and Ted” have earned my greatest respect.
I’ll be back tomorrow with another show, with Crooks & Liars’ Susie Madrak, and Truthout’s Dahr Jamail.