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Chapter Seventeen: The Gender Chip on my Shoulder

 

As a boy growing up in Detroit, I was aware of gender and racial issues but they hardly affected me. My family lived in a white enclave on the east side of Detroit called “Indian Village”. It was surrounded by less prosperous neighborhoods where the blacks lived. After attending public school in my Detroit neighborhood, my parents arranged in 1951 to send my brother Andy and me to a private school in Grosse Pointe. It was an all-boys school until my last year. Then my family moved to the northern suburb of Bloomfield Hills, again largely white. I spent 10th grade in the public high school and finished the last two years at Cranbrook, a boy’s prep school. My schoolmates and companions during these years were mostly white although some blacks attended the neighborhood elementary school and, on a token basis, Cranbrook. Some conservative friends expressed concern that my family might sell the house on Seminole Avenue to blacks when we moved from Detroit. They did not, although the house was later bought by a black family. I also remember doing a writing assignment in my 10th grade social studies class about “prejudice”. My mother took me and some friends downtown to hear a talk by Jackie Robinson on race relations, which was starting to be an important political issue. We were more interested in Robinson’s baseball career.

In the fall of 1958, I entered college at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, then an all-male college. Here and at the Telluride House at Cornell, which I almost attended, I became exposed to Civil Rights fervor. I listened to the East Coast students, many of them Jewish, talk passionately about race relations. The Yale chaplain, William Sloane Coffin, was one of the northern “Freedom Riders” who lent their name and support to southern desegregation efforts. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and other Civil Rights luminaries visited the Yale campus. While trying out for the Yale Daily News, I remember covering an incident at the Yale Law School. A pair of young men from New York City who claimed to be “white racists” were surrounded by angry law students who were arguing with them. I tried to take notes to record what the racists were saying. One of them complimented me for being willing to listen. On the whole, I was suspicious of the desegregation agenda, though not with any conviction, because of the blanket accusations against white people. I thought this might be a problem for me somewhere down the line. But still I had no firm opinions about race. I had little contact with the South.

After graduating from Yale and attending Rutgers business school in Newark, New Jersey, for two semesters, I moved to the Twin Cities in January, 1965. I wished to live in the Midwest but not necessarily in Detroit, which would be following too much in my parents’ footsteps. Minnesota had a relatively low minority population and a liberal political culture centering in Senator Hubert Humphrey. I visited my old Detroit neighborhood after the 1968 race riots. Parts of the east side had burned. A friend of my father expressed anti-black sentiments and some sympathy for George Wallace. When I raised a few mild objections, he called me naive, suggesting that white Minnesotans had little idea of what was happening racially. While parts of Minneapolis had also burned the year before, I lived in another area of the Twin Cities. I was indeed quite inexperienced with respect to race relations. I was also unsure of myself around women. I was pretty much a loner, pursuing ideas and a writing career which at that point led nowhere. But it was also a life of reasonable contentment.

I married for the first time in the summer of 1973 and stayed married for ten years. The ‘70s were a time when feminist ideologies were building up steam. The White Bear Unitarian Church, where I served as president of the congregation for one year, had an active feminist contingent which put on programs that ruffled male sensibilities including mine. As congregation president, I also had to deal with conflicts arising from our gay minister’s theatrical use of his position to advance personal causes. When I lost my job of six years, my wife grew antagonistic, accusing me of not trying hard enough. This was partially true; I did have other interests.

Our divorce, stretched out over four years, was an eye opener for me. The feminist revolution of the past decade had had its effect on legal and police bureaucracies. When my wife locked the door as I was trying to remove my personal belongings from our home, the Ramsey County Sheriff’s deputy summoned to the house told me that my wife could make me “eat off paper plates” if she chose to do so. The judge in our divorce case, the Hon. Roland Faricy, was a total jerk. He was openly sarcastic towards me in the courtroom and assigned my wife the bulk of our marital assets while assigning me the debts. I successfully appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals which remanded the case back to Judge Faricy. After dithering for six months, Faricy issued another ruling which ignored the appellate court’s instructions. My wife and I came to terms after I filed in the appellate court for the second time.

In little ways, too, I saw bureaucrats empathizing with women while “throwing the book” at men. When our last joint income-tax return was audited by the IRS, for instance, I remember the female agent excusing my wife’s complete lack of documentation for her deductions and then glaring at me and saying, “I want to see this, and this, and this”, for a deduction that I took. Or maybe I was being overly sensitive about gender-equity issues at that point.

I connected with Rich Doyle of the Men’s Rights Association, which helps men with divorce, and wrote a few articles for his newsletter. Doyle and I attended one of the public meetings of the Minnesota Supreme Court’s “Task Force on Gender Fairness in the Courts.” It was obvious that this committee was following a preconceived agenda hostile to men. I pointed this out in an opinion article published by the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The task force, I concluded, “seemed to have a gender fairness problem of its own.” I dated sporadically. But mostly I tended to my new day job as cost accountant at the Metropolitan Transit Commission while pursuing writing projects in the evenings and on weekends.

I am rather conservative both in employment and dating. Even long after it became clear that my MTC job was going nowhere, I clung to employment there. I am uncomfortable in bars, never having mastered the arts of small talk. Maybe that is because, having buried myself for a long time in narrow personal interests, I feel I lack the common experiences that most people have. Occasionally, though not often, I have placed a personals ad in the newspaper hoping to meet that special person. Those encounters never worked out for me. I remember having coffee and pastries with a rather attractive professional woman who asked me to say a little about myself. I told her about my accounting job and about my real interest which lay in writing. After a few minutes of this, she interrupted me to say, “In fifteen years, I think you will be a retired accountant.”

While living on the east side of St. Paul after the divorce, I took the bus to my job. The bus company was also my employer. A smiling young black woman boarded the bus at the same stop. We talked several times, both on and off the bus. Summoning my courage, I knocked on her door around the block from mine to ask if she would go to the Minnesota State Fair with me. She declined because of an impending trip to San Francisco. A month later, there was a knock on my door. It seemed that she and her girl friend were being evicted for nonpayment of rent. Could she stay with me for a short time? I agreed. I had a spare room in my living quarters on the second floor of a house rented from my friend, Harvey Hyatt. This young woman, named Linda, said she was a lesbian. Linda had come to the Twin Cities from St. Louis because she wanted to be part of the music scene centering on Prince and because her mother lived here.

Linda and I had many interesting discussions. She told me all about gay life from a lesbian’s point of view. She introduced me to the music of the day including singers like Whitney Houston and the Pointer Sisters. She herself aspired to be a singer, having won an amateur talent contest at First Avenue. I accompanied her to a “job interview” where a cocaine-snorting booking agent offered her a job if she would sleep with him. One evening, Linda took me on a tour of the gay and lesbian bars. I posed as a gay man. Linda dressed me up in suitable clothing and put a special wave in my hair which homosexuals would recognize. As an attractive young black woman, she was lionized at such places where I, the shy man, was happy to be tagging along. The best night was when Linda decided that she was no longer entirely a lesbian. She wanted me. We lived for the next several weeks as a satisfied couple. But winter was approaching, and Linda could not stand the cold apartment. Harvey heated the house with a wood-burning stove.

During the afternoon before Thanksgiving, Linda and I discussed the meal that we would have together. She would prepare it. I would purchase the ingredients. There was tension involving Linda’s lesbian friend. We had an argument. She slapped my face. I slapped her back. She was indignant that I would do this, telling me that I should “be a man” like John Wayne, who had taken a woman’s on-screen slap in the face. We argued some more. Linda grabbed a kitchen knife and chased me around the room. Just when I thought I had her calmed down, she called the police to report domestic abuse. The St. Paul police officer arrived. When he asked what had happened, I referred the question to Linda. There were no signs of bodily injury or even a scuffle. The officer seemed disinclined to believe anything had happened. I maintained silence the entire time. Then Linda accused the officer of ignoring an assault victim. The officer thought it over for a moment and slapped the handcuffs on me. He drove me to the St. Paul police headquarters which had jail cells on the second floor.

I spent the next thirty hours - Thanksgiving Day, 1985 - locked up in that jail, staring out the window at the red “Taystee” bakery neon sign across the freeway. I was released on bail thanks to a cell mate whose family had contacted a bondsman. Linda was not at home when I returned there. She reappeared several days later. We packed her bags and she moved back to St. Louis.

I should have had the sense to take my licking in silence. Instead, I interpreted this event in terms of men’s rights. That is because I had read in the newspaper that a national police institute had reported a study which found that rates of domestic abuse dropped significantly if police had a policy of automatically arresting the man when a woman complained of domestic abuse. Minneapolis police chief Tony Bouza was a champion of this policy. That, evidently, was what had happened to me. Was this fair? Was it even legal? Of course not. I called the St. Paul human-rights department to complain of discrimination against men. The representative referred me to the state human-rights department, saying that his agency was prevented from pursuing a complaint against the city. The state agency did take my complaint but then sent me a letter with the argument that two conflicting state laws precluded its acting in this matter. Meanwhile, the city attorney declined to prosecute the case against me because the “victim” was unavailable to testify.

Despite what had happened, I remained on friendly terms with Linda. In St. Louis and later in Denver, Colorado, she gained some attention as an actress. She became a sexual superstar, snagging a championship golfer, a former Presidential candidate, and several NFL head coaches. A Republican, she also became a casual acquaintance of the Bush family. Before Monica Lewinsky, she was a White House intern; but when she complained of sexual harassment, she was quietly transferred to the office of Colorado’s Republican Senator. I was on the phone with Linda when the news about Clarence Thomas broke. She had just met him.

Linda has since graduated from college and from grad school, married, and started a computer business. I have seen her one time since her departure and, as a result of attending a party at Paisley Park as her guest, met Prince. She also signed a letter recanting her accusations on the police report. But I remember Linda mostly for her spunk. Once, after she broke up with a white guy in Colorado, she told me that she called the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan to pass along information that this man had been dating a black.

I continued to have a chip on my shoulder about anti-male bias. I wrote a letter to the director of the First Bank System foundation complaining of a feminist conference that it had funded. When his response did not satisfy, I bought First Bank System stock intending to make a statement at the next stockholder’s meeting. The foundation director meanwhile was let go. Because I bought low, I made a good profit on the stock purchase. It helped to fund expenses related to my apartment.

Rich Doyle asked me to talk to a reporter from the Star Tribune who was doing a story on groups supporting men. I was quoted in a single sentence. Because the quotation was inaccurate, I wrote a short letter to the editor calling attention to that fact. Lou Gelfand, the newspaper’s Reader Representative, intercepted the letter. He suggested that I run my complaint through his department, promising me some say in stating my position. When he reneged on the promise, I took the Star Tribune to the Minnesota News Council. Learning that two other persons who were quoted in the article also believed they were misrepresented, I told the News Council I would present our complaints together. On the day of the hearing, the others’ cases were dismissed because they were not present. My own typed statement was not photocopied beyond the first page. The committee unanimously rejected my complaint. I could tell from the discussion that political correctness was a strong influence within the journalistic community. With delicious candor, a female member of the committee later told me privately that, if I thought feminist bias here was bad, I should see the state legislature.

This experience opened my eyes to bias in the news media. Since the Star Tribune had made it an issue of my word against the reporter’s (who, of course, had proof), I requested that the News Council compel production of the reporter’s notes. That request went nowhere. I pointed out at the hearing that the reporter had used a journalistic trick to discredit the men’s rights advocates. Several times it had stated that these advocates (leading with their emotions) “believed” or “felt” something when, in the next clause, it would cite a study that supported the opposite position. I knew that one of my co-plaintiffs had sent the reporter a study to document his statement that almost as many men were battered by women as women by men. Why did you not mention that study in your article, I asked? The managing editor said in response that the study was so obviously false that his newspaper would be “laughed out of town” if it gave credibility to such nonsense. I had the satisfaction several months later of reading an article in the New York Times on the same subject which did mention that particular study. I sent a copy to the Star Tribune editor.

The Metropolitan Transit Commission, like most corporate employers, aggressively pursued affirmative-action policies and promoted stereotypes unflattering to men in posters for United Way or Women’s History month. Whispered news about my arrest for domestic violence spread around the agency. The first and only time that I have appeared on a program on commercial television, the interviewer began by asking me to tell about how I had beaten up my wife. I became a gender complainer. I filed a complaint against my employer for sexual harassment under the alternative definition that the anti-male posters created a “hostile work environment”. It was rejected, of course. Many of my male coworkers privately agreed with me but dared not take my side.

These gripes plus the fact that I was taking part in a union drive (hoping thereby to acquire some power to fight back against my increasing marginalization at the agency) doomed my accounting career. For three or four years, I was under the continual threat of being fired for poor work performance. Finally, in 1996, I was laid off, or maybe retired, when the Commission was merged with the Metropolitan Council. This was three weeks before I would have become eligible under the agency’s severance package to have my health-insurance coverage extended until age 65.

For the last five or more years, my attention has turned away from issues of gender fairness. I joined a singing group organized by Robert Bly, thinking that he might champion the men’s rights cause. However, Bly and his associates are into personal issues rather than injustices against men. For the past ten years, the group has met weekly to chant songs and recite poetry, recreating the Sufi experience.

I also remarried twice - both times to minority women. I married an African American woman with five young children in January 1995. We were divorced a year and a half later. In January 2000, I went to China to marry my current wife who has a college-age daughter. Lian has given me a stable marriage. Race relations were a submerged element in my dealings with Minneapolis city government and neighborhood groups as I grappled with problems of being an inner-city landlord. But mostly this set of concerns was put on the back burner. I revived them when I became a candidate for U.S. Senate.

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