Thursday, March 22, 2012

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

Sorry this is late.  I drafted it late Wednesday night, then realized I wanted to sleep on it before posting.  Life is really busy, our spring concert is next week, the Annual Budget Drive is in full swing, and I'm trying to learn Python for the Natural Language Processing class.  I'm still *trying* to post on Monday-Wednesday-Friday.

Every student that graduates from Purdue is required to take Comm 114, a course on communication, speech, and working in groups.  As a required class, COM 114 draws from a larger pool of students than usual.  Most of my other classes were full of engineering students, or Spanish majors/minors.  But here I met a much wider variety of students than I had encountered so far.

"Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, nothing remains quite the same." - Jimmy Buffett

COM 114 is mostly another Speech class.  We had to introduce ourselves (~1 to 3 minutes, if I recall), give three speeches, and give a group presentation.  The third speech was supposed to be persuasive.

I've forgotten, now, which speech came first or second.  For one speech, I decided to research the ~22 Purdue astronauts.  With that, I was introduced to the wonderful world of space biographies (and auto-biographies, but they're usually written with help).  I found them to be fascinating reading.  I remember the facts better when they're presented as a story, and reading multiple perspectives reinforced the lessons.  My other early speech, was on spaceships.  One of the Purdue libraries actually had a book about  the Russian spaceships, so I covered both U.S. and Russian.  Both speeches were crammed with information, too much in too short a time.  But it kicked off my Space History hobby.

I don't remember what our group project was about, but I remember the persuasive speeches.  I, of course, tried to give a persuasive presentation for why we should explore space.  It didn't convince many of my classmates.

One young woman spoke about feminism and women's rights.  She had been quite shocked to learn about horrible things like female circumcision still existing in this world.  It's... yes, they're horrible.  Yes, they need to stop.  But... I guess I had seen / heard / read about enough human cruelty that instead of shocked I just felt saddened.

A third woman spoke about GLBT rights.  I wasn't very receptive then... but much of her speech has stuck with me over the years.    She asked us to imagine the opposite world - what if it were "breeders" who were scorned?  She talked about the fear, what if your roommate finds out?

My parents are/were super-conservative Catholics.  Mom believed in "wifely submission," although that did not prevent her from eventually starting a career.  They believed very strongly in marriage being between one man and one woman.

Except.  Dad had one piece of advice for me, regarding love and marriage.  He said, "Marry your best friend."  Which is not bad advice... but his timing sucked.  We were still in Omaha, so my Freshman-Sophomore years of high school.  Cognitive dissonance at it's finest.

"Marry your best friend." 


"Marry your best friend."
"Dad, I'm 14/15 years old.  I haven't even kissed, why are you talking marriage?

"Marry your best friend." 

"I'd like to finish high school first."

"Marry your best friend."
"Uh, Dad?  You do realize you're sending me to an all-girls school?"

"Marry your best friend."
"Dad!  ALL my friends are girls!"

"Marry your best friend." 

"Ugh!"  (teenage flounce-away)

And the one I thought, but never said.  The one that "8" reminded me of, so strongly.
"Marry your best friend."
"Dad!  I CAN'T!" 

(This, too, was a factor in choosing Brian so quickly.  18 years later, he is still most definitely my best friend.  Nothing's perfect, but we work it out.)

No, my parents made their views and expectations very clear, especially when "The Outcast" aired.  It took college, living away from home, and several years of pondering to quit mirroring their beliefs, do my research, and start discovering my own.  If I can find the appropriate journal entries, sometimes I think I might write a fanfic with Joe Hart's reflection from Glee's "Heart."  It took me a lot longer than a week to reach his conclusion, but I got there eventually.

Last fall, at my Unitarian Universalist church hosted a Welcoming Congregation workshop, to learn more about GLBT issues and how to be friendly.  Somebody asked me what it was that changed my mind.  The honest truth was, for me it was the person-to-person relationship that started the ball rolling.  People that I cared deeply about, coming out to me.  And then, later, getting to know more people.

As a college Freshman, I was still very much a conservative Catholic.  If I could sum up my 6 years of undergraduate college education in one song, it would be this chorus:
"Everything you know is wrong... and everything you thought was so important doesn't really matter anyway."  This semester was just the beginning.

Don't get me wrong.  I am VERY grateful for my Catholic education.  There are things about the Catholic Church that I deeply respect.  After college, on one of my business trips to Huntsville, Alabama, I came across the travelling Vietnam Memorial.  I stopped and walked it, read the pamphlet.  Nearby was a cart with photographs and mementos of protests.  One of the photos had protesters carrying signs, the UUs and Catholics standing side-by-side.

For most issues, social justice is the common ground between/among my faiths.