Marching Through The Archives

November 16, 2006, 1:16 pm

Well, there was less for breakfast this morning because the entire Clemson swimming and diving team, men and women, are staying at the Hampton Inn. They are all incredibly tall, except for the women divers, who are incredibly short, and they all hoover up food. My theory is that that the “Lady Tiger” divers are gymnasts and figure skaters who, to someone’s dismay, actually went into puberty, with the result that they look healthy and happy.

But this leads me to another issue: manners of the young. Every time I leave the Northeast, which I experience pretty much through the student populations of Zenith and Oligarch Universities, the young people are nicer, cleaner and more respectful of total strangers who happen to be adults. Perhaps it is a sign of middle age that I have come to value this, but I don’t care. For example, the dining room this morning was really crowded with very big kids. And yet they managed not to take up all the room, made space for other people (two athletes actually crowded in with their friends at another table so I would have a place to sit), and cleaned up after themselves.

My research — which is on feminists and the modern conservative movement in the Reagan eighties — takes me to all kinds of places where I actually, for a short time, live among people whose parents I am writing about. Last year I went to a Christian college in the Midwest to work in the archives of a prominent national evangelist, and the students there were unbelievably sweet and decent people. They held doors for each other and for me, they were affectionate and polite with each other (do you know Christian boys hug a lot? They do.) They didn’t run around making noise to get attention, like the kids at Zenith often do. And they were extremely courteous in their speech, and dressed neatly without large parts of their bodies hanging out (what is it about stomachs hanging out all over? And tube tops in Northeastern winters?)

When I came home from the Christian College, people asked me if I didn’t feel weird there — and you have to get it that I am the kind of lesbian you can not only pick out of a crowd, and I am not infrequently mistaken for a man, depending on what I am wearing and how short my hair is and what the gender conventions are in the location I am in. And the truth is I did feel weird, to begin with, but honestly — I think it was me, not them, and it was a reminder that good manners go a very long way to put differences on the shelf and create superficial, comfortable relationships. Which is also, by the way, a reminder of why in many of the local cultures that make up “America” people regard folks being publicly gay as more or less bad manners, since if you didn’t insist on being “in their faces” they could treat you as if you were a normal person like they really want to. This is how people like Mark Foley, and other highly placed Republican queers get along happily for years. It is a contract of sorts, although not one that sits comfortably with civil rights or the kind of full, personal disclosure that the culture is often simultaneously demanding and saying it values.

Combat Philosopher said in a comment I should go further South — indeed I will, since part of what I am interested in is southern left feminism and right-wing feminism (no, this is not an oxymoron, people — leave Chicago and the coasts and you’ll see.) In the next few months I do a reverse of the March, and go to Clemson, then Atlanta. And yes CP, I haven’t been to New Orleans since Katrina, and I miss it. Hope y’all are well down there and I’m very glad the hurricanes didn’t show up this year. And here comes another truck of archive boxes…..

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