Careful what you wear without the permission of the patriarchy | Photo: Tracy, CC BY 2.0
My home state of Wyoming claims to hold to a “live and let live” ethos. The idea is that everyone just goes along doing what they want to, minding their own business, and not bothering anyone else. In this way we supposedly can accept all cultures, creeds, etc. In reality, this is mostly bullshit. The way that it actually works is “you can do whatever you want, as long as you don’t do it in front of me.” Notice the crucial distinction; Wyomingites will let you “live and let live” only as long as you don’t try to do said living around them. This has quelling repercussions for essentially every minority group or oppressed group in Wyoming. And the directive to interpret our ethos this way comes from the very top.
Last week, our distinguished Senator Enzi did something that has become very unusual for him: actually speak directly with constituents. And then he proved why he’s been trying to stay away from that. Because this happened:
For the last question from students, sophomore Bailee Foster asked Sen. Enzi about the LGBTQ community — specifically what he was doing to help Wyoming live up to its nickname as The Equality State.
Enzi prefaced his response by stating that several situations across Wyoming cannot be taken care of by laws alone; that not every issue has a “federal, one-size-fits-all solution.”
“That’s one of the problems we have in this country; thinking that everything could be done by law,” he said. “What we need to have is a little civility between people.”
Enzi went on to say that he enjoys Wyoming because “you can be just about anything you want to be, as long as you don’t push it in somebody’s face.” He followed his statement up with an anecdote about a man wearing a tutu being surprised that he gets in fights at the bar.
“I know a guy who wears a tutu and goes to bars on Friday night and is always surprised that he gets in fights. Well, he kind of asks for it. That’s the way that he winds up with that kind of problem,” he said, reemphasizing his believe that “everything can’t be done by law.”
“The biggest thing that we need is civility,” he said.
Well he kind of asks for it. Live and let live, as long as you don’t try to live as your genuine, authentic self in a way that other people don’t like. Because if that leads to a fight, well you were kind of asking for it.
The person that Enzi was likely referring to is a man known as Sissy Goodwin. Sissy lived in Wyoming for nearly seven decades before retiring and moving to Oregon, and for much of that time, he dressed in women’s clothing. Sissy referred to his actions as “gender independence.” But Wyoming citizens frequently did not decide to “live and let live” in regards to Sissy. One man beat him up in front of his house, kicking his teeth in, in eyesight of his son. Another man threatened him with a knife and said he would castrate him. Sissy explained to NPR that he calls these people ‘“fashion critics”’ because Sissy Goodwin is a goddamn badass.
A spokesperson for Enzi, Max D’Onofrio, tried to tell everyone who has ears and eyes that they were totally wrong, duh, and that Enzi was definitely not victim-blaming:
“Senator Enzi believes all individuals should be treated with respect,” he wrote. “[Enzi] does not believe that anyone should be bullied, intimidated or attacked because of their beliefs. This is a hot button issue and emotions can run high, but no one should take his remarks out of context or misconstrue them to mean anything but advocacy of kindness toward our fellow citizens.”
Obviously when Enzi said that a man in a tutu was “kind of ask[ing] for it,” he was in no way suggesting that anyone should be bullied or attacked. It would be dreadful if we took that comment as anything other than “an advocacy of kindness towards our fellow citizens” now, wouldn’t it?
Enzi himself even apologized after his comments began receiving national attention (we literally only get national attention when someone does something stupid.) And of course, it’s the usual “I was misunderstood/I’m sorry if you were offended” bullshit:
“None of us is infallible and I apologize to anyone who has taken offense,” Enzi said in a statement. “No offense was intended. Quite the opposite in fact, and so I ask for your understanding as well.”
“No person, including LGBT individuals, should feel unsafe in their community,” the statement continued. “My message was intended specifically to be about promoting respect and tolerance toward each other. I hope if people look at the entirety of my speech, they will understand that. I regret a poor choice of words during part of my presentation.”
Now, I have an English degree. Multiple English degrees, in fact. And yet as much as I try, even I can’t read “promoting respect and tolerance toward each other” into “you can be just about anything you want to be, as long as you don’t push it in somebody’s face.” Either my education is failing me, or Enzi is completely lying about what he said. I wonder which one is more likely? And of course, all of this talk about “asking for it” comes off super well in a state that is possibly best well known for the murder of Matthew Shepard.
I’m writing about this incident, partially because of that whole “intersectional” thing (again, LGBT rights are intrinsically tied to women’s rights) and also because Enzi’s comments are an excellent example of victim blaming rhetoric in general. “If you’re a man wearing a tutu, how did you expect people to avoid fighting you?” is in line with, “If you’re a woman wearing clothing, how did you expect people to avoid raping you?” In both instances, blame is placed on the person who is just trying to live their life for inciting violence, rather than on the person who is actually performing the violence. If Wyoming, or any state, is going to actually subscribe to the ethos of “live and let live,” then we have to actually abide by that ethos—letting people live, not threatening them with violence, or blaming them for violence when violence is done to them.
In related news: even though my federal-level representatives are entirely horrible people, and a depressing percentage of my state voted for Trump, goodness does shine through sometimes. Multiple cities in Wyoming are planning “Live and Let Tutu” events for Friday evening, and Sissy Goodwin delivered the following amazing statement to the Casper Star Tribune:
“I owe him [Enzi] a little bit of gratitude for bringing this up,” he said. “It illuminates the fact that there is a lot of hate and intolerance and bigotry in Wyoming. By ignoring it or not talking about it, it gives a tacit approval for that type of thinking and behavior. By illuminating the subject and discussing it, I think we can work together to make things better for everyone.”
We need more people like Sissy Goodwin in the Equality State, and fewer people like Mike Enzi.
Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not highlighting the badassery of Sissy Goodwin and the assholery of Mike Enzi, she studies gender in popular culture.
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