Monday, March 21, 2011

Calf update

I went to see my PCP today to discuss my calf problems.  At first, I was a bit upset because her immediate reaction was that if it hurt my calves this much while running, I needed to stop running.  Since the rest of my body responds very well to running (e.g. breathing, weight loss, HAPPINESS), though, we're going to try to figure out what's going on.

She immediately ruled out vascular issues, since my internal numbers are ridiculously good.  We're going to see if it's a foot problem first, since I definitely have no arches and I'm sure I walk and run incorrectly or something.  So I'm seeing a podiatrist next month (or sooner, if there's a cancellation), and if things don't work there, I'll then see an orthopedist and do physical therapy.

Cool.  I always figured that PT was for that abstract group of athletes/people who are athletic, so even though I wish I could run without pain already, I kind of like that I might belong to this abstract group.  I mean, really, I've always been extremely geeky!  So it's fun to think maybe I could also be jocky.

Meanwhile, I'm not supposed to run on the treadmill, but eh, I probably will.  Because that's who I am: CONTRARY.

(By the way, I love my doctor.  She considers me extremely healthy without questioning my weight.  We need more doctors like her, who don't just assume that fat folks need to lose weight to solve any health problem.)

Friday, March 18, 2011


I haven't been slim since I was in maybe 8th or 9th grade.  I'm sort of okay with it at this point; my internal numbers (e.g. blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol) have always been excellent, none of my stupid illnesses have been caused by my weight, and I've got some awesome clothes that wouldn't fit anymore if I lost a lot of poundage.  I struggle on a regular basis to keep myself from internalizing the shame that a lot of people project on me for being, well, FAT.

It's really all over the place, if you're aware of it.  There are articles all over the place about how to lose weight (many of them aimed at women, specifically), "regular" sized clothing often only fits and flatters slimmer folks, and the alarmist talk about the obesity epidemic is getting to the point where it could be considered an epidemic on its own.  Lots of folks can't seem to stop thinking in black and white; they can't seem to think beyond, "Fat is bad."  And naturally, this morphs into, "Fat people are bad," and then evolves into, "Fat people aren't normal; fat people are unnatural; fat people are disgusting."  Often, this sort of thinking isn't explicit, even to the people who think or believe in it.  It might just manifest itself in an inability to find a person attractive if they're larger than a certain standard, without a conscious understanding that the lack of attraction is built on prejudice.*

But the point of this post isn't to discuss fat acceptance or fat hatred, although I do operate under the general assumption that if you're not about fat acceptance, you can leave now (because to engage in fat hatred is to hate me, and I don't really like people who hate me, ya know?).  The point of this post is that my daily struggle to deal with a fat hating society has brought to light something about my body that I don't understand.

The summer before my senior year at college, a friend of mine approached me about going running together.  It was a bit quiet and lonely, since it was summer time, and a lot of our friends were home for the summer, not sticking around campus.  I had a lot of free time and was feeling ashamed of my body shape at the time; she had gotten news from the doctor that if she didn't improve her internal numbers, her health was in serious trouble.  It seemed like a good set-up.  She was already in better shape than I was, so she planned to run the half mile or so to my apartment, and then together we'd run a mile loop around part of campus, and then she'd run home.

The first day, I couldn't make it a half-mile without having to stop.  It was demoralizing.  By the time we stopped to (power)walk, she had to do all the talking,** because I couldn't even breathe.  There were stitches in both my sides.  I felt as if I was going to die.***

She kept me on schedule, though; it was hard to cancel at the last minute, so I would just go.  Eventually, we stopped going together because I wasn't ready to start working on pace yet, just distance, and I couldn't keep up with her without pushing myself too hard and crapping out early.  But by then, I was going running because I wanted to, because it was habit, because I loved it.  I began expanding my loop, often going a mile and a half.  I didn't lose much weight, but my body began to change, began to become a running body.  It was fantastic.

One afternoon, about two months after I first started running, I went running without eating anything all afternoon, and during my period.  I'd done both those things before, and I wasn't feeling particularly hungry or anemic.  I made it through the first mile of the run without any problems.

As I began the last half-mile stretch, my calves began to burn.  Not as if I was pushing myself too hard.  It actually felt as if they were on fire.  They felt completely hard and tight, too.  Something was definitely wrong.  I tried to run through it for a couple of minutes, but it was just excruciating, even for my high pain threshold.  I finally decided to just stop and walk the rest of the way home, assuming that it was just some unfortunate incident that only occurred because I was trying to get a better mile and a half than I had done previously.

To quote Dr. Cox: "Wrong wrong wrong wrong; wrong wrong wrong wrong; you're wrong." The calf pain was at least twice as bad when I stopped to walk.  Even worse, I felt extremely lightheaded, and my vision was beginning to fade.  The last time I'd experienced anything like this was when I watched my first surgery as an intern at an animal hospital (well, you would have, too, if you had seen the doctor pretty much digging into that dog's elbow, looking for a bone fragment!).  And that hadn't come with obscene calf pain.

I had to sit down on someone's front steps.  I was planning on trying to rub my calves, to get them to stop hurting, but first I had to lie down and try not to lose consciousness.  I succeeded, and after a few minutes, I began rubbing my calves and popping my feet in and out of my sneakers.  Eventually, I felt well enough to walk the rest of the way home.  I was scared out of my mind, though, and was too scared to run after that.  I called my doctor, whose response was, "Well, you almost passed out, but you didn't, so call back if you pass out."

Then, running became something I did infrequently, and with great fear.  I ran only a few more times after that and before I graduated, and only once with a friend.  I felt too guilty to run with people after that, because I kept having to stop because of my calves.  I moved and started my first job, and when I was feeling up to exercising, I still didn't do it, because the few times I did felt too risky (plus, running in a cul-de-sac is SO BORING).  I joined a gym that did almost all circuits with a personal trainer, quitting only when work got in the way; I only ran a few times on the treadmills, and it only went well once.  The trainer assumed that my calves just needed strengthening, something I knew was false.  This wasn't out-of-shape pain, or pushing-myself-too-hard pain.  The first time it happened, I had been running without any problems for two months, after all.

After moving again, I only ran twice before giving up completely.  I live in one of the hilliest areas of Boston, and it just wasn't the best way to get into running again (hills + strange calf problem = no thanks).  But during my first winter, anticipating that I might face fat-related prejudice at graduate school interviews, I joined a nearby gym (and the only reason why it didn't help me before interviews is because interviews messed with my schedule!).

Meanwhile, I've been trying to determine why the fuck this has been happening.  I can't predict when it'll be a problem, which is extra-frustrating as a scientist.  It's not that my blood sugar is too low (I've made sure to eat enough during the day, but it often happens anyway).  It's not my shoes (because it sometimes doesn't happen).  It's not that my calves are burnt out or that I'm pushing myself too hard (I went yesterday after a couple days off, and ran at a slower speed).  It's not hydration or menstrual cycle or low potassium (the first thing I suspected, and the reason I started drinking orange juice for the first time in 15 years).  I have no fucking clue.

So I'm going to the doctor, finally (different PCP this time, one who doesn't need me to pass out before she'll help me), but I'm concerned that if we determine it's not a heart problem, she'll just tell me to use the elliptical, since that doesn't make my calves hurt at all.

But wait! you say.  Why not just use the elliptical?  Then you would be able to exercise without this silly problem affecting you!

Why, what a great point that I've obviously never considered! I respond.

Well, okay, I mean, it's fair.  But there are two reasons why it's, well, not fair.

First off, we're steeped in a culture of fat hatred, one where, "Losing weight is easy, you dumb cows" is a common sentiment.  And that involves, "Exercise is easy, idiot" as well.  But obviously, if losing weight were super easy, I would have done it already to get people to stop treating me like I'm disgusting because of the size of my body.  DUH.

While some folks who have succeeded in either changing their diets or incorporating exercise into their lives will just brag that it's super easy, many other people comiserate that it's difficult and offer suggestions to make it easier for other folks.  And one of those suggestions works for me so well that I'm even surprised at how stupid my brain is.  That suggestion?  Pick an activity you will enjoy, because if you don't enjoy it, you won't do it.

The reason why I'm surprised at how well this works for me is that I don't love running that much, mostly because I hate exercising and I don't like being sore or having sports injuries.  I'd rather just go home and curl up in bed with Loki and Netflix and candy.  But if I go to the gym, I just hop on the treadmill and get going, no questions asked.  And it's because it's so damn useful.  Not because I actual believe that the zombie apocalypse is going to happen, but because if it did, I could run away from zombies (or towards delicious brains) much more easily.  It's stupid, but it works.  It makes me want to run.  The elliptical would be great if I wanted cardio and weightloss.  But I want to be better at running.  So put me on an elliptical and after a few minutes, I'm so bored out of my mind that I need to stop as quickly as possible.  I'll leave work late intentionally so that there are available treadmills by the time I get to the gym; otherwise, I'll have to wait or use an elliptical.  Nope.

The second reason why I'm not accepting, "Well, use the elliptical" as a solution is because it's not a solution.  It's avoidance.  What if this weird calf thing is actually a symptom of something more serious, like a vascular disease or malformation?  What if I could DIE because this thing went undiagnosed?***  I want answers, even if it doesn't change the fact that I might have to use the elliptical or stop having cardio workouts all together (noooooooo).

My appointment this Monday will the the first step in solving this strange problem.  Meanwhile, I forgot to stretch after the gym last night (and no, stretching isn't related to the problem, I tried that!), so with my calves sore and tight, I'm dreading tonight's workout even more than I was before.  Oh well!

* To me, this sort of goes with people saying, "Oh, I'm just not attracted to people who are [insert race here]."  Considering the variation of folks we're attracted to (I don't know a lot of people who have a specific type, and many who I do know who have a type are currently with someone who is not that type), I'd say it's pretty suspicious if you're just not attracted to an entire group made up of one ethnic background.  Not that you're lying, but it's definitely internalized prejudice, in this case racism, and I recommend that you do some thinking.

** And people who know me know I LOVE talking (and people who don't know me should know I love talking just by the length of this post).

*** I may or may not be dramatic sometimes.

Update to United Airlines Loses a Customer

I guess they're not going to lose a customer.  I just got an email from them yesterday with apologies and a $150 voucher.  Since I need to fly to Tahoe, and then Colorado, and then back to Boston this July, I'm looking at a $700 ticket ... so I think I'll fly United and use that voucher.  But I'll probably avoid them afterwards.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

United Airlines loses a customer

Not that I was a frequent flier anyway, but I definitely won't be after the weekend I had.

On Thursday, I was set to leave Boston for Cedar Rapids, Iowa (final destination: Iowa City).  I arrived at Logan on time and ready to get my trip on.  I'm not a fan of flying, mostly because I'm just not a fan of complicated traveling, but I've being flying a lot recently and wasn't in a bad mood about it.  Additionally, I love hotels, and so I knew there was a room at the Sheraton in my future, which cheered me considerably.

I had booked a flight to and from Iowa on United Airlines.  I had waited until the last second to book the flight, and flying to Iowa is extremely expensive, so my options were incredibly limited.  The United flights would cost $500, but they would get me in and out of Iowa at reasonably times.  I figured hey, I'll be reimbursed, and the times of these flights are perfect.  The Thursday evening flight gets me to Iowa City a little before 10pm, and I can relax and get lots of sleep.  And the Saturday flight doesn't require me to wake up at some ridiculous hour, and I'll be home by 5:30pm in time to get rest before Sunday and Monday, when I would be at BU.  Tadah.

I checked in on Thursday afternoon and found that my 5:25 flight had been delayed until 6:13.  Crap--I only had a 58-minute scheduled layover, and according to my phone, the flight from Chicago to Cedar Rapids would be on time.  After getting through the terminal, I asked a couple of reps what the hell I should do.  They printed out my boarding pass for the Cedar Rapids flight, although I'm not sure why it didn't print out when I selected the option to check into the flight while I was checking into my Chicago flight, and then they reserved me a seat on the very next flight to Cedar Rapids, all the while reassuring me that we would make it with about 15 minutes for me to make the connection.  They also gave me the information about which gates I needed to run between.  I explained to them that I needed to make the connection, because the next flight didn't leave Chicago until 7:30am in the morning, and I wouldn't get to Iowa City until 9:15.  I needed to be in a breakfast meeting at 8:30.  Obviously, they couldn't schedule another flight, but they didn't offer to do anything for me.  No hotel, nothing.

The flight, however, did not leave at 6:13.  We weren't even boarding at 6:13.  The plane arrived from Chicago around 6:20, and we were only able to leave around 6:40, almost an hour and a half late.  Even with the flight attendants asking non-connecting-flight-chasers to remain seated, it was a struggle to get off the plane when we landed.  I missed the connection by approximately 15 minutes.

Fortunately, I have a great friend in Chicago, who insisted on picking me up and letting me spend the night (and I am currently working up a thank-you card for her and her family). In the morning, I took a cab back to the airport.  The driver, who was totally awesome, told me that United was at Terminal 1, but I was confused because my ticket very distinctly said that the flight would leave from Terminal 2.  The driver brought me to Terminal 1, where I asked one of the United employees who was running the curb-side check-in.  He looked up my ticket, told me that yes, I needed to go to Terminal 2, and then checked my bag for me.  He did not print me a boarding pass, and even said that I would have to print it inside.*

In Terminal 2, the shit really hit the fan.  Up until this point, United hadn't been going out of their way to show me that they value their customers, but the problems I experienced were really problems caused by O'Hare (there's so much traffic at that airport, it's common for people to miss their connections; my flight from Boston was on a plane that had presumably been coming from O'Hare).  But when I went to Terminal 2, that's where United absolutely failed me, and lost a customer.

To my dismay, there really weren't any United service desks in the terminal, since, as the cabbie pointed out, United is in Terminal 1.  But there was a United Star Alliance desk, so I figured I would go there any ask what I should do.  The employee behind the desk was obnoxiously rude and inappropriate.  He told me at first that he wasn't on duty/didn't work for United.  He then tried to check me in using the self-check-in system, after some grumbling.  It wouldn't let me check in, and he got angry because apparently the guy at curb-side was supposed to print my boarding pass.  He kept commenting how "fucking stupid" either the curb-side guy was, or maybe how "fucking stupid" I was; it was hard to tell who he was referring to.  He then told me that it was stupid that I paid $25 to check my luggage.  First of all, I know it costs $25 to check my luggage, since that's pretty standard for a lot of airlines, and I'd done it before.  It's not as if I could have checked it for free.  Second of all, I had to check my luggage; my suitcase is very large.

After going on about how I had done everything all wrong, the employee ended his profanity-laced tirade by directing me to go back to Terminal 1 to check in, which I did.  Awesome.

My flight home wasn't much better.  My flight to Chicago from Cedar Rapids was delayed because the plane was delayed coming out of Chicago.  It was further delayed because of de-icing.  We landed in Chicago with about 15-20 minutes to go before my connection to Boston, but we had to sit on the tarmac because there was no gate for us (and then the plane leaving our gate had to de-ice at the gate).  Even though I used my phone to determine that the flight to Boston was still scheduled to leave on time, the flight attendant reassured the passengers that several connecting flights were also delayed (she referred to specific flight numbers, including the Boston flight).  After waiting for approximately 35 minutes, we finally got a gate, but all of us found that we had missed our connections.  We then went to the nearest United customer service desk.  Although I was one of the first people in line, and there were always between 3 and 5 United employees behind the service desk, I had to wait 20 minutes to be helped.  Not that it took them 20 minutes to help the people ahead of me.  There was one man being helped when we all arrived, and after a rep finished helping him, she didn't help anyone else.  No one in line was helped for 20 minutes.  And there were 20 of us in line.

Fortunately, I was put on the next flight to Boston, even though it was overbooked.  That flight was delayed because of weather and de-icing, but the flight was otherwise uneventful.  However, when I got home, I realized something very interesting.  When I flew to Iowa and got stuck in Chicago, they put my luggage in the O'Hare baggage claim.  The tag on my luggage only had the call letters for O'Hare and not Cedar Rapids.  As I mentioned before, I had to get my boarding pass to Iowa after I complained to the service reps; even though I did say I wanted to check in for the Cedar Rapids flight, the system did not do so.  That is, if I had arrived in Iowa that evening, my luggage would not have.  On my flight home, I received both boarding passes right away, and my luggage had a tag with both ORD and BOS on it.

So, to summarize:

Flight to Iowa:
- delayed, no reason given
- delayed twice as long as originally announced
- did not receive a boarding pass for my connecting flight when I originally checked in
- luggage would not have made it to Iowa City
- missed my connecting flight
- next flight to Cedar Rapids would not get me to Iowa City in time
- no offer of compensation, no offer of a rental car, no offer of a hotel for the night
- confusion about terminals
- curb-side employee did not print my boarding pass or give me accurate information
- Star Alliance employee rudely and inappropriately made a minimal attempt to help me

Flight to Boston:
- delayed, weather
- delayed longer than originally announeced
- sat on the tarmac for 35 minutes after landing
- crew incorrectly informed several passengers that their connecting flights were delayed
- missed connecting flight
- had to wait 20 minutes before customer service employees would assist us

So, I will never fly United again.  If I attend the University of Iowa, I will fly Delta (not only will this mean I don't give United my money, it also means that I'll be able to connect at another airport, avoiding the problems that O'Hare inevitably creates).  If I attend UChicago, I will fly JetBlue or Southwest.  Not flying United ever ever ever again, the assholes.

* For those of you who are much more familiar with O'Hare, but maybe not Logan, there's some confusion about the terminals.  While it seems self-explanatory that I should have just gone to Terminal 1, where United is, because my flight was leaving from Terminal 2, it was confusing.  At Logan, you can't move from terminal to terminal without having to go through security again, whereas at O'Hare, you can go to any of the three terminals without having to exit and re-enter.  I didn't know that I could check in and go through security in Terminal 1 and then fly out of Terminal 2 because you can't do that at Logan.  The reason why my flight was leaving from Terminal 2 and not Terminal 1, I think, is because Terminal 2 has ground-level gates; the plane we were taking was very small and we entered it from the tarmac.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Pay Gap ... again

Every year, I see articles on news sites about the pay gap.  It's an annual sort of thing, where the statistics are released, news sites think, "Oh, that's interesting!" and they post an article on them.  And then the next year, the same thing happens, with the statistics barely budging.

That is, it's 2011, and women still still only earn, on average, 80% of what men earn.

80%! you might think.  That's pretty good!  That's like a B-, which for me wasn't a bad grade!  It's still a lot of money!  Men and women are just about equal!

Except not so much.  Getting $80 for every $100 of what a man earns in the same job sucks.  You're losing $20 each time, and over the course of months and years, that adds up pretty quickly.  Additionally, that's the average, which means that many women earn much, much less than 80 cents on the dollar.

Well then, you say, there must be a reason for this.  You know, women are less assertive on the job than men are, and we all know that a lot of men have to support their wives who are home with kids!  It only makes sense that men earn more!

And that means that YOU are part of the problem.  YOU are part of the reason that year after year, the gender gap refuses to disappear, and then everyone acts all surprised when the statistics are released.  I think this is the fifth year in a row that I've seen the annual statistics, and then the annual surprised at the statistics, and thought, "Well, why would you think it improved, dummy?  Nothing changed!"

And part of the reason why nothing changes is that we've created several just-so stories about the wage gap.

A just-so story is basically what it sounds like.  People see a phenomenon, and the come up with a story to explain why the phenomenon is happening.  Greek myths are just-so stories.  My favorite example is that of Persephone, who was kidnapped by Hades, and eventually required to live in the underworld for 6 months out of the year.  It's a just-so story to explain why the seasons change; Persephone's mother, goddess Demeter of the harvest (and the seasons) is so sad when her daughter leaves that nothing will grow.  And then civilization's investigative tools and reasoning improved, and we no longer believe that the story actually explains the seasons.

A lot of bullshitting about the wage gap is a just-so story.  Many people who help perpetuate the gap aren't bad people, but people who see the gap and mistakenly assume that the gap is there for a good, reasonable reason.  If women are paid less than men, it can't be because of institutional sexism, they think.  It has to be because there's something about women that makes it completely appropriate to pay them less.

The first favorite excuse is something along the lines of, "Women aren't assertive enough in the workplace, and if they were, they would all be rolling in dough and the gap would disappear; it's their own fault that they make less."  The reason this is my favorite excuse is that it very, very quietly implies that all women who make less than their male counterparts are aware of the fact that they make less.  I have no clue how much money male research techs and lab managers are making at my work.  It's impolite to ask.  Our salaries aren't public information.  I'm surviving on my wage all right, and so unless I found out I was making less than a dude, I have no reason (and no real grounds) to ask for a raise.

The second reason this excuse is so effective is that it very explicitly blames women for socialization.  While we all would like to believe that we're in no way forever molded by our upbringing, or by all of the people and advertising that come our way, we're all products of socialization.  I know that being fat really has nothing to do with my intellect, my ability to keep myself clean, or my actual internal health (and if you think I must be unhealthy because I'm fat, allow me to punch you in the face with my spectacular cardiovascular health--my cholesterol stats make you look like you're about to drop dead any minute).  But I also know that in today's American culture, people BELIEVE that I'm a lazy, unhealthy slob who's probably incompetent.  That's where the shame and pressure to lose weight come from for so many people.  That's why so many men feel as if they have to go out of their way to prove their masculinity.  That's why you see so many of your female friends act completely normal until their on a date with a man or with a boyfriend, and they begin to act in a much more exaggerated feminine manner.  We've all been trained.

So yes, many women have been trained to just shut up and take whatever salary they're given.  But many people are trained to expect that, and therefore have negative opinions of women who don't shut up and just take the salary.  Blaming women for their own socialization, or for institutional sexism, is just unacceptable.  Do you really think that I'm happy living in a world where I'm considered Other and lesser on a regular basis because I'm female?  If sexism didn't exist, or women were in control of it, this wouldn't be a problem.

My second favorite reason to explain the wage gap is actually a significant part of why there is one in the first place.  It's the assumption that 1) men are either currently supporting a family, or will be in the future, and that 2) women are probably going to give up their careers someday and stay home with babies, or otherwise be supported by a dude.  This sounds pretty obnoxiously 1950s.

This is part of why the wage gap exists.  It's the unconscious assumption that, not only will men be better employees because women are too meek/too insecure/too (insert negative attribute typically associated with women here), but that women don't need to make as much as men do.  But the world is changing.  Many women do support their families.  Many women have no intention of getting married, or getting married to a man.  Many women don't have plans to have kids, or don't plan to stay home with them.

But what happens is that there's a wage gap, and so in families with one man and one woman, the wage gap increases the likelihood that the man will make more than the woman.  If the couple have children, and cannot afford childcare, which parent will probably stop working full-time (or completely)?  If the parent who makes less is almost always the mother, we're going to see more stay-at-home mothers than fathers, and then just-so believers will declare that women want to stay home with their kids, mistakenly mixing up the sequence of events.  That is, they'll believe that there's a wage gap because more women than men choose to stay at home with kids, whereas in reality, many women have to stay home with their kids because their family cannot afford to give up the father's salary.

The wage gap isn't going to disappear just because people are reminded once a year that it exists.  Employers have to actually stop paying women less for doing the same job as men do.  They have to stop promoting women less because women might leave and have babies.  They have to stop assuming that it's solely women's responsibility to ask for raises and bonuses and promotions.  And when the wage gap disappears, who's going to be upset besides people who think women shouldn't work in the first place?  Equal pay for equal work is a pretty popular standpoint.  Now we just need it to be true.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Falsettos and MassResistance

A little background here.

I went to a high school in Massachusetts known as CCHS.  While not everyone who walks the halls, student or teacher, is a commie-liberal, a lot of us are (or were, if we graduated or otherwise left).  We've had a gay-straight alliance for a long time; we have several out teachers and students, we're allowed to dress however we want, we cast men and women into whatever roles make sense in the schools plays, and we can take whomever we want to the prom.  And honestly, even if we have people on different ends of the political spectrum, generally, everyone felt like things were all right.

Several months ago, the gay-straight alliance held a panel of out teachers, who spoke about their experiences growing up.  I didn't know about the event, and read about it later, and it was a really emotional experience for me because I knew a lot of the teachers, and one of them had been a friend and mentor to me while I was a student.

I was extremely angry, later on, to see that a hate group called MassResistance, which is based in my home state and was involved in opposing same-sex marriage back in 2003, had heard about the event and written horrible things about it, claiming that parents were upset that their children had been exposed to something so horrible.  Never mind that no one was required to attend this event, and never mind that if such parents do exist in our liberal towns, they're in the tiny minority and not representative of the parents of the student body as sa whole.  I was pissed off, but since there was nothing that MR could do besides whine, I brushed it off.

Recently, though, MR has come back into my life to piss me off again.

CCHS put on a play called Falsettos, which I have never even heard of.  They already did the play, so it's not like I can go watch it and see what it's like.  But there's an all right synopsis on Wikipedia.  In general, I think it's safe to say that the play is about a non-traditional Jewish family, where some characters are in gay or lesbian relationships.  Sounds ... well, as a LGBT-ally and a Jew, I don't really have so much of a problem just from reading the synopsis.  And even if I didn't feel as if the play could capture my experiences of being Jewish, that doesn't mean it's wrong.  My Jewish experience is not the universal one, after all.

MassResistance is unhappy about this play.  Very unhappy.  They took some video of the play.  This is prohibited.  CCHS does its own filming of theater productions and then offers copies of the video at a small price.  The video taken by MR was taken illegally.  Additionally, the majority of the students in the play, just based on probability, are minors.  The video by MR was taken without their consent, and posted on Youtube without their consent.  MR used the footage to create a little video about how depraved and deviant the production is.  Students are currently trying to get Youtube to permanently remove the video.

Meanwhile, MassResistance is interfering in other ways.  One of the members happens to be a resident of the town that our (regional) school is in.  She is basically petitioning the town to punish the school for putting on the play.  Here's what we're looking forward to at the town meeting:
To determine whether the Town will vote to condemn the production of the play “Falsettos” with public funds by Concord-Carlisle High School in 2009, and urge the regional school committee to discipline the employees of the school district responsible for this play, urge the regional school committee to issue a letter of apology to the Rabbinical Alliance of America, and urge the regional school committee to promote positive role models and students which encourage responsible citizenship rather than controversial sexual behavior, or take any other action relative thereto.

Petitioners Explanation: This article allows Town Meeting to take a vote on whether or not to condemn the high school production of a lewd play called “Falsettos,” which defamed the Jewish religion and people in a public building with public funding, using underage students as actors in December 2009. This article also allows Town Meeting to submit the following requests of the regional school committee: 1) reprimand school employees who were responsible for this play; 2) issue a letter of apology to the Rabbinical Alliance of America; and 3) take action to promote positive role models to students consistent with the high school’s mission and Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 71, Section 30.
Let's take a look, yes?

Like I said, our school is very well-known for being progressive, and our theater department doesn't shy away from that.  When my younger sister starred in Dracula, there were only a handful of male castmembers.  Because there were so many excellent female actors who auditioned, many of them were cast in lead roles intended for men (including the lead role of Dracula).  Additionally, during my tenure at CCHS, we put on The Laramie Project, and extraordinarily moving play about the death of Matthew Shepard, the young gay man brutally murdered in Laramie several years ago.  The administration actually decided that every student needed to see the play, and so in addition to the usual shows, additional shows were put on during school hours, so we could all see it.

Our school is committed to community and to acceptance (not just tolerance).  By insisting that our school encourage "responsible citizenship" as opposed to "controversial sexual behavior," MassResistance is setting up our school's mission in opposition to another part of our school's commitment to excellent.  That is, part of responsible citizenship in our school is accepting our classmates and members of our community; our school is opposed to creating a hostile environment for any student, including LGBT students.

Essentially, MassResistance wants our school to start promoting heterosexism and homophobia.  That's not going to happen.

Secondly, demanding that the school discipline members of the faculty who were involved in the production is really quite stupid.  First of all, the play was put on in 2009.  That's at least one, if not two years ago (depending on the semester when the play was done).  If there was going to be disciplinary action taken against any of the teachers, it should have already happened.  Second of all, this petition is assuming that the faculty did anything that might violate any school rules.  And considering that our school already has a history of LGBT-accepting behavior and events, I doubt that this play has actually violated anything.

Finally, the insistence that the school apologize to the Rabbinical Alliance of America is part of an incredibly insulting plan by MassResistance to set up their opposition to the play as simply opposition to anti-Semitism, not because they hate gay people or anything like that.  Let's talk about why this makes me angrier than any other part of this completely stupid petition.

As I've gotten older, I've seen more and more bullshit from the right when it comes to Judaism.  Plenty of right-wing folks talk about Israel in a very positive light, about how we need to support Israel, yadda-yadda.  To me, that's not really demonstrating a lack of bigotry towards the Jewish people.  Not only are there plenty of non-Jews in Israel, and not only do plenty of Jews feel no real connection to Israel, but there are plenty of us who aren't happy with the Israeli government.  I happen to be in those last two groups of Jews.  So talking about how great Israel is will not make me think, "Oh, great, someone who loves Jews and wants good things for us!"

And considering the anti-Semitic crap that spews from the mouths of right-wing pundits, or actors like Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen (hey, Charlie Sheen, if Mel Gibson thinks you need help, YOU NEED HELP), and all this bullshit about the war on Christmas, I don't really feel all that welcome in the right wing.  And I mean that just in terms of my Jewish identity.  I'm well aware of the fact that being a pro-choice female socialist who isn't married, doesn't want kids, and loves teh gayz might make me even more unwelcome, even without the Jewish thing.

The point is: the right wing as a group does not give a shit about Jewish people.  Not only that, but they have no problem USING Jewish people to further their own agenda.  I say "as a group" because there are ultra-conservative Jews and Jewish groups, as I'm going to talk about.  But the right wing, as a general whole, really, really doesn't care about Jewish people.  And they have no problem using us for their own ends.

And so we come to the last part of the MassResistance bullshit, the part that really, really sets me on edge.  They want us to apologize to a group called the Rabbinical Alliance of America because, according to MR, the play Falsettos is anti-Semitic.

First, I say "us," when I talk about the town, the school, and the students, because I consider myself still a part of the community, and of CCHS.  Going to that high school shaped and defined who I am now, personally and academically.  I might not visit much anymore, thanks to work, and I might not know many faculty or any students, but damnit, that's my high school, and I'm still a part of it.  MassResistance attacks me when they attack my school.

Second, this group, the Rabbinical Alliance of America, did not contact our school to complain about the play.  That doesn't mean they wouldn't object to it.  But MassResistance is the group complaining about the play.  So by insisting that we apologize to a rabbinical group, they are trying to prove that they're really just concerned about the play being anti-Semitic.  Which makes you wonder--why did you complain in the first place, why does your (illegal) video on YouTube discuss just the same-sex relationships (note: they're discussing same-sex sexual behavior they find objectionable, but I don't think the play actually depicts any behavior, just the relationships themselves), and why does your complaint still address same-sex sexuality, not anti-Semitism only?

By claiming that the play is anti-Semitic, MassResistance is attempting to convince the people of the town that the play is bigoted material, while hiding the fact that MR is really objecting to the LGBT content.  Complaining just about the LGBT themes would be considered bigoted, and so MR is trying to pretend that they're somehow trying to end intolerance, whereas they're really just trying to enforce it.

Next, I tried to dig a bit deeper to find some info on the Rabbinical Alliance of America.  At first, I wondered why MassResistance chose that group as opposed to the Anti-Defamation League, which is an extremely well-known group that speaks out against anti-Semitism (among other things).  While I don't always agree with the ADL (most recently, when they spoke out against the interfaith center being built near Ground Zero; I thought it was pretty stupid of the ADL to speak out against it), they're really the people who jump on this kind of thing.  So I wondered, did the ADL just not know about this?  We're a pretty small town.  Or did they know and just not care because the play isn't anti-Semitic?

I'm guessing a combination: that they didn't know we were doing the play, and that they wouldn't have cared.  But I wasn't sure, so I emailed them.  I'm waiting to hear back from them (I will call otherwise).  Meanwhile, what could I find about the Rabbinical Alliance of America?

Not a whole lot.  Their website is extremely sparse.  But there was an article on Right Wing Watch, and a bunch of other ones about the Kagan nomination to the Supreme Court.  Here's the gist of what I learned:

The Rabbinical Alliance of America appears to be a large group of Orthodox and highly traditional rabbis and Jews.  The RAA tends to speak out against LGBT-positive events, such as repealing DADT.  They are openly and unapologetically anti-LGBT, using offensive rhetoric I usually see coming from the nastiest people on the right.

Judaism is an interesting religion.  Like many religions, we've got variation everywhere; some people are just more religious than others, and that's how it is.  But we're also extremely decentralized, which means that unlike, say, Catholic folk, we don't have one person or one group telling us what we're supposed to do as a whole religion.  We can't get excommunicated or otherwise kicked out of the Jewish community.  If you don't fit in with your congregation, you find another one.  In fact, it's one reason why I'm not a huge fan of Israel; I'm a Conservative Jewish atheist, and would not be considered Jewish by a lot of Orthodox Jews in Israel, including lawmakers.

So if the Rabbinical Alliance of America finds Falsettos objectionable, it's not very meaningful in terms of whether or not the play is anti-Semitic.  MassResistance found one of the highly Orthodox groups of Jews, who are extremely likely to find the play offensive because of its positive LGBT content.  Saying that the RAA finds the play offensive is meaningless because it's obvious that they would, but not because the play is somehow anti-Semitic--unless you believe that depicting some Jews as LGBT is anti-Semitic.

And considering the number of LGBT Jewish people I know and care about, I find that pretty fucking stupid.

Not only am I waiting to talk to the ADL about their take on the play (if they even care about it), but I also want to speak with them about the RAA, as well as the ADL's position on LGBT issues (the site is pretty clear that it's a very progressive group and supports civil rights, but nothing LGBT-specific).

Why am I investing all of this time and energy on this topic?  Because in April, there will be a town hall meeting to discuss this mess.  I know that I'm going to be there, as well as approximately 200-300 other students and alumni.  And because our town does not have the largest Jewish population (I was one of maybe 5-6 Jewish students in a class of 300 when I graduated), I want to speak up and call MassResistance out.  No one uses my religion to hurt other people.  No way.

I think it's important for me to point out that I'm shying away from, "Well, I don't find the play anti-Semitic, and I'm Jewish, so therefore I'm right."  The fact is that this argument is used all the time for stupid reasons.  For example, "Well, I'm a woman, and I don't think sexism is real, so therefore it isn't."  And, to be totally fair, I haven't seen the play itself.  I'm trusting my high school community right now; I trust that the administration and the theater department would never have picked an actual anti-Semitic play.  And I don't trust MassResistance, and I know I dislike the Rabbinical Alliance of America from what I've read.  I'm inclined to believe that this play isn't anti-Semitic because of these things.

Additionally, for something to be anti-Semitic, it has to be hateful towards the Jewish people.  It doesn't just have to have Jewish characters, or LGBT Jewish characters, or some Jewish characters portrayed negatively.*  It has to actually be hateful.  But, as a hate group, maybe MassResistance doesn't quite get this ...

* This is sort of hard to explain.  If you have a play with all Jewish characters, or mostly Jewish characters, the odds are low that everyone's good and perfect.  And that's okay.  Jewish folk aren't perfect, I promise.  It's when you portray people as bad because they're Jewish, or there's one Jewish character and he or she happens to be demonstrably evil, that's where things really stop working.  But having flawed characters who happen to be Jewish ... I mean, have you been to a Jewish holiday dinner?  We're not all nice, good people!