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The Handmaid’s Tale and the History & Future of Queer Oppression

The Handmaid’s Tale and the History & Future of Queer Oppression

the handmaids tale

Don't let the bastards grind you down.

There's a scene in the first episode of Hulu's answer to Netflix's dominance on streaming prestige dramas, The Handmaid's Tale. Offred (Elisabeth Moss) and Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) are taking the long way home with a stroll along the river, where three men are hanging: "A priest, a doctor, a gay man."
Wearing a hood with a pink triangle--the mark used to identify homosexuals in Nazi concentration camps--the man's only crime was being homosexual. Fun fact: homosexuality, per se, was never illegal in America, but sodomy was...until 2003. That was the year Lawrence v. Texas struck down sodomy laws in Texas and 13 other states, making same-sex sexual activity legal nationwide. That was 14 years ago. But if some in the Trump administration had their way, it would be today, tomorrow, and forever.
Based on Margaret Atwood's 1985 dystopian novel of the same name, The Handmaid's Tale offers a chilling, all too relevant, and potentially prescient view at the most dangerous form of religious extremism facing America today: evangelical Christianity.
Under Gilead's oppressive regime, women have lost all rights and independence, and homosexuals have been labeled "gender-traitors"--either sentenced to execution, or in the case of Ofglen, who is fertile, are kept around strictly for reproductive purposes.
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Given the current political climate and America's historical dedication to religious-sanctioned persecution--from Manifest Destiny to slavery to the Salem witch trials back to slavery again and all the way up to laws against same-sex marriage--the series hits a little too close to home. Hell, this country was even founded on religious extremism. Those pilgrim-collared stick-in-the-muds, the Puritans, came over here because they thought the Church of England was being sullied by Catholicism and was in dire need of purification. So you know folks was crazy if they thought the Church of England was too liberal and progressive.
Which is why anyone familiar with America's history of "God said so" prejudice immediately saw red flags when then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump vowed to make America great again. That, much like "religious liberty," was just code for something far more sinister. First of all, the America to which Trump was, and is still, referring is not the country, but the idea--the idea of America as a white, Christian nation, whose whiteness and Christianity are under threat; a nation in dire need of purification, if you will.
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Author and religious scholar Reza Aslan was recently on Slate's Trumpcast addressing "The End of Values Voters," that is, how white evangelical Christians, in electing Donald Trump, have abandoned their moral values in favor of maintaining white supremacy. "72% of white evangelicals said there should actually be a wall between a politician's public and private lives. These are the people we used to refer to as values voters,'" Aslan told Slate's Virginia Heffernan. "We cannot call them values voters anymore because quite clearly, values just don't matter."
According to Aslan, by 2042, the majority of Christians in America will be people of color, and their values are at odds with white evangelicals, who believe that "America is a Christian nation founded on Christian ideals and our laws and our morality have to change to be in alignment with Biblical values."
Though this argument is as old as America itself, it's regained significant steam with the rise of the alt-right and the presence of "Christian dominionists" in the current administration--Alsan cites VP Mike Pence, alleged chief strategist Steve Bannon, energy secretary Rick Perry, education secretary Betsy DeVos, and noted missing truth-sayer Kellyanne Conway. These moral crusaders are ready to clamp down on anything that smacks of Obama-era progressivism, with the rights of women and minorities first on the chopping block.
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Since taking office, Trump and co. have been trying to turn back time, even though Cher is the only person who can do that and she wants nothing to do with old President Toilet Bowl Emoji. In February, Trump rescinded the Obama administration's protections for trans students; in March he rescinded Obama era gender and sexual identity protections for federal contractors; later that month, the Trump administration decided to drop LGBTQ people from the census, in a reversal of Obama's efforts to collect data on our community; and in April the Justice Department dropped its litigation against North Carolina's transphobic bathroom bill, after the state banned NC cities from passing anti-discrimination ordinances.
Then you have other Trump appointees like Attorney General Jeff Sessions--who, as Congresswoman/spirit animal/#mood Maxine Waters points out, is blatantly racist--and health secretary Tom Price, both proponents of a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and a law protecting religious liberty, as well as opponents of the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the expansion of a federal hate crimes statute to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
As the nation's "top cop" Sessions is apparently determined to prove Waters right, by dropping the Justice Department's investigations into police shootings and reinvigorating America's failed war on drugs, both which unfairly target black folks. Meanwhile, Price has been a vocal supporter of repealing Obamacare, which includes myriad benefits to women and protections for LGBTQ people.
If you see anyone calling a woman a slut for running in a sports bra or referring to a queer person as a gender traitor, it's time to double down on the resistance.
Between 1933 and 1945, some 50,000 to 100,000 suspected homosexuals were arrested as part of the Nazi moral crusade to racially and morally purify Germany. Around 5,000 to 10,000 of those men were sent to concentration camps, where many of them died.
History, as it is wont to do when it is ignored, is repeating itself in Chechnya, where gay men are currently, in 2017, being hunted, captured, and tortured. As the world seems to be sliding ever closer into its own dystopian reality, the world of The Handmaid's Tale serves a warning. And one you should probably pay the fuck attention to.
Gilead was able to take over the government after a terrorist attack, which led to martial law, which led to the stripping of individual rights and freedoms. It's a slippery slope, but not one without precedent. Too often in the course of human events, freedom is sacrificed for the promise of safety. Like after Pearl Harbor, when FDR forced American citizens into internment camps because of their Japanese ancestry. Or after 9/11 when the Bush administration basically threw the concept of privacy out the window with the Patriot Act.
Therefore it's important to know your history and question authority, otherwise the future is bound to be as fucked up as the past.
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Don't let the bastards grind you down, bitches.
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