Like all good genre stories, The Liminal People sneakily explores some deep questions. In between cool fight sequences and imaginative depictions of the not-quite or perhaps more-than-human, it makes you wonder about what it means to belong and who gets past the gates of that exclusive country club called “normal.”
Rumpus: All this talk about your family makes for a good transition into the book. For all the fighting in it and the action and the supernatural stuff, what struck me was that it seemed, in the end, to be a story about family and finding your place in the world.
Jama-Everett: Yeah. I’ve never really felt family or the whole notion of home. I wish I did but it just never worked for me. I’ve always felt like the outsider. When I was younger, I had an idea that I could make family. I think that is what most people try to do. You go from your family of origin to your family of choice. I think that’s what Taggert is doing and I think that’s one thing I’ve been dealing with, too.
Rumpus: And yet, not to give anything away, the book does seem hopeful in that regard, with Taggert moving from his family of origin towards a family of choice—or at least beginning to see a way to make that happen.
Jama-Everett: I think everybody’s on a grind. Everybody’s working through something and trying to figure it out. And Taggert’s grind is trying to find support. It’s like joining a gang. A lot of times you have to get jumped in or you have to take somebody out. And that gang can be different things. It can be the military or it can be the Vatos Locos. But everything requires a sacrifice.
Rumpus: And now you’re writing about liminal people, people on the edges of society.
Jama-Everett: Yep. When I first started writing, that’s what I wrote about. People on the fringes of the fringe group. One of the things I got from growing up in New York was that you should never assume you know the full story about people, never assume that you know everything that’s going on.
I remember riding the A train one day when I was about nine years old. I had headphones on. And this dude and this girl were talking, so I took off the headphones because I wanted to hear his game. The guy is talking at her: “What’s up with you? You got a man? Blah, blah.” And the girl keeps telling him to leave her alone, but the guy won’t shut up. All of sudden, this other guy from across the aisle gets up and punches the guy three times in the head—knocks him out. Bam bam bam! Then the girl gets up and goes through his pockets and she says, “I told you to back the fuck off.” Then they both get off the train together! That taught me, hey, you need to pay attention. You need full awareness at all times. Everything is a risk.
All the spots that were landmarks for me were landmarks because of people. And the people I chilled with can’t afford to live in Manhattan anymore. So, you know, talking about family of origin, it’s not there. That city is gone. I remember watching Sex and the City and I’ll be honest, the first two seasons, I was hooked.
Rumpus: Sex and the City? Really?
Jama-Everett: Oh yeah. I’ve got weird streaks in me, man. I was all in it. I was like, “What is Samantha going to do next?” And then—and I hate when this question happens in my brain because it usually fucks up my experience—I thought, “Where are all the black people?” And it hurt, because I realized I had just watched two seasons of this show set in New York fucking City where I was born and raised, and it wasn’t even just, “Where are the black people?” It was, “Where is any person of color?” Even the cab drivers were white! If your cab drivers are white, where the hell are you?
Since I’ve been fairly doom and gloom recently, I will now post some good news.
A couple of years ago my autoimmune condition had flared up to the point that I could hardly untwist the lid on a jar. I woke up stiff every morning and sometimes had trouble walking.
Cut to the present day, where I’m on medication, which helps with the stiffness but alone doesn’t completely prevent flare-ups. Several months ago I started practicing kundalini every day, and now I find myself not only deeply relaxed but in even better physical shape than I was in my thirties (and I was doing hard gym workouts and jogging back then). I absolutely kick butt in all my gym classes, with a strength and stamina that has me at the forefront of the class.
So getting older, while creating decline in some aspects, does not entirely point downward.
Today the main barriers to further progress toward gender equity no longer lie in people’s personal attitudes and relationships. Instead, structural impediments prevent people from acting on their egalitarian values, forcing men and women into personal accommodations and rationalizations that do not reflect their preferences. The gender revolution is not in a stall. It has hit a wall.
Another unhappy choice I feel I am facing:
Today, almost 40 percent of men in professional jobs work 50 or more hours a week, as do almost a quarter of men in middle-income occupations. Individuals in lower-income and less-skilled jobs work fewer hours, but they are more likely to experience frequent changes in shifts, mandatory overtime on short notice, and nonstandard hours. And many low-income workers are forced to work two jobs to get by.
Articulating what it takes to live full lives as single people is what I have been doing for years, with much more thinking still to come. Here, I will point to three examples from Stephanie Coontz’s article, and show how her arguments can be broadened to include single people.
#1 Women are paid less than men
Noting that “women are still paid less than men at every educational level and every job category,” Coontz locates the implications in marriage. Wives are more likely than husbands to give up their jobs to care for kids.
For single people, the problem is more daunting. With no spouse to pay the bills, quitting work is not an option. And as Lisa Arnold and Christina Campbell pointed out in their Atlantic article, The high price of being single in America, to be single and disabled is to be especially vulnerable, financially.
Until men and women are equally able to support themselves economically – and some children, too, if they wish – there is no gender equality among the unmarried.
#2 Part-time workers get screwed
Coontz reports that:
“A 1997 European Union directive prohibits employers from paying part-time workers lower hourly rates than full-time workers, excluding them from pension plans or limiting paid leaves to full-time workers.”
Wow, wouldn’t that be nice!
Here’s the next sentence: “By contrast, American workers who reduce hours for family reasons typically lose their benefits and take an hourly wage cut.”
Single people sometimes work at part-time jobs not because they have chosen to “reduce hours for family reasons,” but because part-time work is all they can get. With only their own employment package to live on, and no spouse as a back-up economic plan, getting screwed on pay, pension, and paid leave is all the more devastating.
To the extent that part-time work is disproportionately disadvantageous to women vs. men, then singles are facing gender inequality as well as unmarried inequality.
#3 Family and Medical Leave is unpaid leave
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, Coontz says, “guaranteed covered workers up to 12 weeks unpaid leave after a child’s birth or adoption or in case of a family illness.” She believes that we should be more like the vast majority of other comparable countries that “offer guaranteed paid leave to new mothers” and sometimes new fathers, too.
For people who are single, the deficiencies in FMLA are far more formidable. Single people do not have the same opportunities under the law as married people do to give and receive care – not even unpaid opportunities. Under the Act, eligible employees are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave “to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition” or to deal with “a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job.”
The married person’s spouse is covered under the Act. There is no equivalent person covered for single people. That means that single people cannot take time off under the Act to care for an important person in their life, such as a sibling or close friend; nor can such a person take time to care for them.
If the need for care, or the need or desire to provide care to others, is different for single men than for single women, then, once again, single people are doubly discriminated against – they are targets of unmarried inequality and gender inequality.
Some great comments:
#3 (unpaid leave)
Submitted by Psyngle on February 18, 2013 – 8:37am.
In the new economy, too, there are lots of people like me who lost their jobs and are eking out a living as self-employed contractors, and we have no benefits, no paid sick time, nothing. If I didn’t have a compassionate ex-husband who was willing and able to float my mortgage for 2 months, I’d be out on the street now. The world of unmarried equality is still out of reach for me; I’m working on parity with people with “real jobs.” For me, paid disability means having at least $20,000 in savings. What I pay in health insurance alone would rent me a 1-bedroom apartment or provide the car payment for a vehicle much nicer than the one I own. There are so many people like me out there, the world we were booted out of is becoming irrelevant to us. Musing on parity in the workplace is an exercise in nostalgia.
Submitted by Rachel on February 18, 2013 – 1:47pm.
Universal health care is another one of those issues that would remove relationship questions from the table and ensure that we can be free to quit a job when our boss harasses us (for example).
To me, then, unmarried equality leads to (more) human equality.
The sentence that got me
Submitted by Simone on February 18, 2013 – 4:17pm.
Was that people shouldn’t have to get married in order to survive. I’d never heard it put that way before. That’s what it is, though. (Not spoken is that those people who have to get married to survive are 99.9% of the time women.) You could change it, too–no one should have to get married to have health insurance, to accumulate wealth, to work in certain fields, to live in certain places, to have physical safety, to be accepted socially.
Interesting way to think about it.
#2 (Part-Time Workers Get Screwed)
Submitted by UpperWorks on February 18, 2013 – 5:14pm.
Last week, a coworker, single woman working part-time, collapsed twice on the job 30 minutes a part. She refused ambulatory services and the first responders were sent away. When the paramedics were called the second time they called law enforcement for assistance. She refused medical services because she could not pay for an ambulance or medical treatment in the ER. And she couldn’t afford to lose the part-time job by missing work due to illness. She preferred to risk dying instead of incurring medical expenses. She kept saying over and over again, “I have bills I gotta pay. I can’t miss work.” This is America – the real world we live in. Politicians talk a good game. Universal Healthcare . . . yeah, right.
This article is worth reading, but my biggest beef with it is that it places too much emphasis on women who are childless because they find kids unappealing:
From the first couple of comments, the readers, thankfully, aren’t buying that as the biggest reason for the declining birthrate:
I agree that the declining birth rate is a challenge to the future of our country as a vibrant and progressive society, but I disagree with the analysis of its cause. The decrease in the fertility rate is caused not by sociological reasons but economic ones. Seen in this context, the decision to not have children is not a “selfish” choice but a rational one.
Look at the state of America today from the perspective of a young adult, married or single. The economy sucks, and the future seems unpromising. Good jobs, with decent salaries & benefits, are harder than ever to find. The middle class, the foundation of a stable, secure and prosperous society, is rapidly disappearing. Public education is underfunded and under attack. Medical and child care costs are increasing, even faster than the rate of inflation. And the promise of long-term economic security, once guaranteed by employee pensions and Social Security, seems to be vanishing before your eyes.
And, you want to “start a family”?
I did find this interesting:
The strong correlation between childlessness and high-density city living has created essentially two Americas: child-oriented and affordable areas, and urban centers that have become increasingly expensive and child-free over the last 30 years—not coincidentally the same span over which middle-class incomes have stagnated. In Manhattan now, nearly half of all households are singletons. Over the past decade, the San Francisco, Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia metropolitan areas all lost children, even as lower-density and more affordable metropolitan areas such as Raleigh, North Carolina; Austin, Texas; Houston; Atlanta; Dallas–Fort Worth; and Salt Lake City registered significant gains. Seattle, once known as a strong family town, is now home to significantly more dogs than children.
Essentially, I am going to be moving from a place with lots of single people (supposedly– I don’t meet a lot in my age bracket) that’s incredibly expensive for a solo person to a more affordable, less stressful place that will then have lots of families with kids (where ironically I was living before but unable, myself, to pull off a family). It’s a frustrating situation.