Thursday, February 07, 2008

Should Utah Have a MSDS?

Throughout my life, I’ve often chose to put myself in places that are very likely bringing the moment of my death closer (at a rate greater than 1 second per second ;-)). Not purposefully, mind you. I’ve done it because I love science and I love being in the lab. I got my first job at 13 as a stock boy and worked there until I got into college. From 18 on my professional life has been a series of laboratories, most of which have been filled with a panoply of poisons that could kill a man in all sorts of colorful ways.

I’ve worked with substances that could easily eat through a hand, those that could infect me with deadly pathogens or leave me neurologically disabled, and voltages that could send a rhino well into the air. I’m not the sort of person who’s bothered by the idea of my death, but I’m not one who cares to court it either and I’ve been cautious. Now though, now that our boys are in our life, my caution has a new urgency. I have to live to at least see my grandchildren; I’m gladly obligated to that much.

So what really worries me now are those poisons of which I take in a little each day, just by being in a place. Not a month goes by that I don’t realize that an odd smell near my station is something that could contribute to a slow and ugly death, and those carcinogens add up. All I could do is find other work or be very careful. For now, I’ll just be very very careful :-).

But volatile carcinogens aren’t the only poisons I take in each day. A couple nights ago Salt Lake City voted to give gay couples some official recognition, to aid in their obtaining hospital visitation and maybe private health insurance for their spouses. Immediately afterwards Senator Chris Buttars began drafting a bill soon to be introduced which, by the account of those who’ve seen the language, has been described as very punitive and with palatable malice. He wants to stop Salt Lake City from giving us this scrap. They didn’t even give us a day to feel like our families can have a measure of protection and equal treatment in this state.

Such antics can keep me up at night; they can raise my blood pressure. I get stressed thinking how such anti-gay politicians and activist groups might, as they’ve threatened, come after our parental rights. I remain defiant and don’t want to let them get to me… but I feel their poisons slip into my thoughts each day here in Utah, like an occasional breath of a chemical that should really be kept in the fume hood, rightly away from any person.

And I wonder, is this killing me, however slightly?

A couple months ago--I wish I kept the paper--I read some research that showed African Americans who lived in situations where they experienced more prejudice were more likely to die of cancer and heart disease, years earlier than their counterparts. Is this what Utah is doing to me? And if so, do I owe it to my kids to move to where we are more comfortably accepted as equal citizens by the law? I remember going months in California without ever realizing we were gay, the sort with a difference. Do I need that? But then what about being around our family? What about the gay kids just coming out here, and the children of other gay couples we know here? We can’t just cut and run, right, even if the cost might be a couple years of life?

Don’t get me wrong; Utah really is a great place, a great state, but there seem to be poisons wafting about, as it were. We are one of the states with the highest incidents of suicide, depression, and teen STDs. Yet, no one here seems to understand why. I mean, we are extra good at the moralizing here, and shouldn’t that help cure societal ills? Unfortunately, the idea of goodness and justice is no substitute for goodness and justice, and the culture here, while right in many areas, has clearly got it wrong in others.

Funny, if living here is indeed shortening my life, the anti-gay activists would likely call it a result of my “gay lifestyle,” blind to the fact that my lifestyle is more puritan and chaste than theirs, and that they are the main source of stress for my home, practically the only source. They actually believe their “stop hitting yourself” argument. Unfortunately, I don’t think even the bigots affecting the African Americans included in the study mentioned above would take any responsibility for, or find their shame in the demonstrated loss of years of those they treated with inequality. Heck, most of them probably convinced themselves they were behaving justly, as many around here have talked themselves into thinking they treat everyone equally (I mean, I could leave my husband and marry a woman, just like any other man, right? ;-)).

What’s most sad for me though is to think of all the people around here, people I love, family, who’ve contributed to this climate by some moral equivocation or another. They never stand up to people in their community who vote for people like Senator Buttars. I’m glad for their nuanced position that keeps them in our lives and friendly, but frustrated that they remain so lukewarm and complicit. Ah, but there I’m getting stressed again :-); best stop.

Simply, I think this lab needs a new safety manager.


Java said...

I like your analogy.
I wish for a world where you could go for months or years and not realize you were gay; where being gay involves no social stigma.

But what am I doing to move this world closer to that ideal? I really am doing little bits here and there. I'm teaching my children not to associate any stigma to homosexuality. I can only teach and demonstrate. They have to learn it. But I live it.

Thank you for this post. It helps me think of other ways I might further the cause.

Concolor said...

In your post you said: "Unfortunately, the idea of goodness and justice is no substitute for goodness and justice, and the culture here, while right in many areas, has clearly got it wrong in others."

I love that. That is one of the best quotes I've heard in a long time.

Also, what Java said.

Java said...

hey Scot. FYI, concolor is my husband, whom I refer to as Superman on my blog. He's an engineer, very intellectual and science-minded, and I knew he'd like this post. Especially the part about the MSDS. He got that one immediately! So I read the post to him this morning and he was so inspired by it he found his way here himself and left a comment. I think you have a new fan!

Scot said...

Oh, Java, from what I can tell, you do more than your fair share.

And it’s very nice to meet the superhero :-). You two seem like a wonderful couple.

Also, I hope you’re enjoying your trip!

Guy said...

Scot, I just ran across your blog last night (while working in Hawaii and away from my husband and own kindergartner in San Francisco). I can so relate to much of what you post, including this dilemma of whether to live and raise my children in Utah or not. I'm from there (Provo, like Rob) and love (and hate) much about it, we met at BYU, etc. and whenever in Utah I am torn with whether to consider moving back (partly for financial reasons--it's so crazy expensive to raise kids in SF, and therefore stressful--and more importantly, as with you, to be nearer my family and perhaps to be able to hopefully better help change my culture). I still keep property there in case we ever do. But whenever I read about the state legislature, my blood boils too, and I wonder if I want to subject my kids to that environment. So, it's great to know of families there so much like our own, and to read of your experiences, from what I've read thus far, and to know things are changing in the general public, at least, if not on Capitol Hill. It gives me hope. Thanks for a really great blog, by the way! And for the idea of a weekend trip to Zion and Bryce when we're in Utah this summer. :)

Guy Berryessa said...

Funny! After posting, I looked more closely at a photo of your family and realized you ARE who I thought you may be (I didn't recognize the names at all ;), but I hadn't really looked at photos of you (with my glasses on at least!), but had thought how uncannily similar you seemed to the family we met on the Rosie Alaska cruise. Duh! Good to know you guys are doing well.
Perhaps you are on the cruise to Mexico right now...we almost went on this one, but canceled as we'll be in Mexico again in June. Did G and G end up going?