Spring has barely started, and I was expecting a few of the usual seasonal assaults to the eyeballs: crusty, dirty-nailed toes in open-toe sandals; lumpy bodies stuffed into spandex; out-of-towners making the lines longer at my favorite ice-cream joints and fish shacks. But before April was done, we had two surprises in Portland: topless women marching from Longfellow Square to the Old Port, and a bunch of open-carry gun lovers having an armed barbecue near Back Cove.
At the risk of offending either group, one of which could smother me and the other of which could ventilate me, both events were assaults to the eyeballs, and general sensibilities. Breasts are natural and wonderful and great for feeding babies as well as serving some pleasurable needs. Guns have their uses and their places. But these events were very much in the faces of the wider public, and unnecessarily so. (And then the people at each event professed surprise about why others might stare, protest, or complain.)
Both events put me in mind of a recent column by Tim Wise, a white guy who speaks very eloquently on race issues, who challenged readers to imagine how Americans would have reacted to the open-carry demonstrators recently in Washington DC, had they been mostly black folks armed to the teeth and talking about revolution.
I don’t want to copy Wise, although I have to observe that many pro-Second Amendment Mainers would have freaked if a bunch of young Somali men had been sporting firearms in Back Cove.
Instead of simply reversing the skin colors, I want to alter the scripts.
Let’s take some of those gun-rights advocates, many of whom weren’t from Portland, and place them in their communities where it’s not a big deal to walk around with a gun. Now let’s have liberal activists who want to encourage sexual empowerment stage an event there openly displaying sex toys at a park. Sex toys aren’t illegal. No one is having sex. Would conservative gun owners be comfortable with that? I have yet to hear of anyone escalating an argument with a sex toy, or having a vibrator accidentally put a hole through a child’s head, or an angry spouse murdering his or her partner with a dildo.
And what about if some people angry at Vatican policies against birth control and abortion set up outside a big Catholic church on Sunday with a table full of condoms, Planned Parenthood brochures, and the like. Or maybe they get a little more radical and dress up like doctors, holding the tools needed to perform an abortion, and loudly proclaim the right of all women to terminate their pregnancies. Would anyone be surprised if those people were derided and accused of being aggressive?
Or maybe some people who are against drug laws could smoke a bunch of joints and bongs in Monument Square or the Old Port on a busy summer day when families are out enjoying the sun. Even if it was tobacco being used and not pot, wouldn’t people be justifiably angered at creation of an awkward and uncomfortable scene?
Yes, baring one’s breasts in Maine is not against the law. Nor is openly carrying a firearm. But the fact that it’s legal doesn’t make it appropriate to flaunt your goods among people who consider breasts private parts, or to have loaded guns and boast that you have 12 rounds in the clip and one in the chamber, while telling people they shouldn’t be afraid of you. Context is important. And so is common sense.
Shay Stewart-Bouley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.