Monday, May 4, 2015

Does Transitioning Fight Oppression?

Biologically, I am a lesbian Yes, I consider myself to have been, not only born a female, but born a lesbian.  I am a feminist. I have absolutely no idea how "women" feel. I don't believe that I've ever felt like one. Men are even more foreign. I have always just felt like a person, one saddled with organs and anatomical features that cause me to be percieved as a female person.

I used to see a world divided into two types of people, functional and decorative. Each person has traits from each category but "women" skew toward decorative, "men" functional. Words like interior versus exterior could be used as well. But this is all a bit too simplistic. I actually find each package full of sex roles disgusting and any person who acts as one package, quite limited. The nature of each makes them anti-human and unacceptable. We are all so much more than either of those options. 

I wonder that if I were young today would I transition to a man? I might consider it but only because present-day options are so limited. For me, it would be a terrible mistake. The gendered world today is full of the misguided notion that all a person has to do is be the right gender, or no gender, and their problems will be solved. The idividual solution is the only one actively proposed today. It is the Ayn Rand gender solution.

Sexism is not some gender-binary equation. It is systemic, an integral part of the capitalist economy that exploits labor by race, class, gender and a litany of other things. It's a different issue than changing your body. Ideally, we should all be able to do whatever we want, pursue whatever inspires us within the context of the body we already have. Transforming the physical body is not the answer. Go ahead, if it floats your boat. Have all kinds of plastic surgery too! Just don't expect your decision to weigh in against the dominant paradigm.

We used to see broad-based gender stereotyping and discrimination as a social problem.That is something that was the basis of oppression. It required organizing, mobilizing, conciousness-raising, demonstrating and fighting for something better.

You can appoint yourself a god or a goddess. It may do wonders for your ego but nothing will change. Transgendered people have become frontline symbols for a much bigger, more compelling problem. They have been deluded into thinking that by simply altering a body you can make oppression vanish. If that were true, every movie actor would have already changed history. Do what you like to your own body. But don't delude yourself. Only organizing in the outside world can cause the struggle for justice to begin.

Friday, April 17, 2015

LGBT Rights: Up and Down and Up Again

I've been down with a flu from the depths of hell but have been mostly following the news. The instantaneous and massive mobilization around Indiana governor Pence's religious discrimination ordinance was fabulous! Nothing I could have dreamed of witnessing in the bad old days. Most of the USA has now made it abundantly clear that denial of service based on bigotry is unacceptable.

Of course, every step forward brings a certain amount of backlash so events like Springfield Missouri repealing a gay rights ordinance is no surprise. And, as much as I distrust mainstream politics, civil rights protections of queers and people of color will be a frontline issues in the 2016 presidential election.

Our support can be deceptive. We have not crossed the finish line yet. In fact, if we look to the Black civil rights struggle as a model,  not only are the last laps of the most difficult ones, but the struggle itself is endless. Things inevitably will get a lot worse before they get better.

The best alternative would be to stop doing things in a piecemeal fashion: non-discrimination in employment, marriage,  housing, adoption, all the issues together under one civil rights protection statute, preferably issued by the Supreme Court. That is easier said than done. The ERA, Equal Rights Amendment for women, never made it across that finish line. Now the right wing has opened an abyss full of snapping crocodiles they call "religious freedom." It is part of their victim-based strategy of persecution, an interesting reversal of the actual dynamic.

But we need not despair. Among young people organized religion is rapidly declining. The last time that happened was during the late sixties and early seventies when my generation was coming of age. And you know how that played out.

So there is hope. We are in this for the long haul. Whenever people say how quickly the LGBT struggle has achieved some rights I wonder what version of history they are reading. Certainly not the sixty plus years of my struggle or that of my predecessors in whose footsteps I have walked.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Shooting Queers in California

Yes, an initiative ushering in a new sport in California is wending its way unto the ballot. It's called the "Sodomite Suppression Act" and could replace skeet shooting once and for all. Sure you've heard of proposals like this in Uganda,Iran, Russia and a whole slew of fly-by-night republics where bills like this have been introduced, mostly by frustrated Evangelical Americans.

Now thanks to attorney Matt McLaughlin, rumored to be the reason Will Shakespeare once suggesting killing all the lawyers, you can get that exciting third-world vibe without leaving home! If you're thirsting for homosexual blood and vengeance upon the wicked like Matt, there now exist a proposed death-penalty solution to that pesky, long-standing homosexual problem!

This homophobes ultimate wet-dream, is a bit unclear on specifics. This new initiative would require that "anyone who touches another person of the same gender for the purpose of sexual gratification “be put to death by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method.” Although I am deeply moved that expediency was a priority in this proposal, would Matt himself be responsible for the shootings? Will firing squads come back into vogue here as they have in Utah?

A nod here to Russian nationals greased-up for Putain's, er Putin's iron fist: “It would also make it a crime, punishable by 10 years in in prison for those who advocate gay rights to an audience that includes minors.” An even bigger nod to George Zimmerman in the section that would “authorize members of the public to carry out the killings if the state fails to do so within a year.” I’m starting to feel more secure already.

Yes, gathering signatures for this ballot proposal may begin quite soon. We can all rest easy in the realization that even calls for mass murder can get on the ballot in our Golden State. It's a process open to anyone who can put up the 200 dollar filing fee. Ask Charlotte Laws. She has responded with her own initiative aimed at McLauglin and his ilk, "The Intolerant Jackass Act."

Friday, March 6, 2015

I'm Taking a Break From Being Jewish

Yes, you heard right, I’m taking a break from being Jewish. It’s gotten to be kind of a drag lately with all this conflict, controversy and impending war stuff, so I’m choosing to be un-chosen. I think I’ll be Episcopalian instead. They have such great hair! I’ll guess I'll have to work on that.

In the past,  when I heard about "recovered Catholics," I was jealous. I thought that recovery for Jews was impossible. It seemed like much more of a terminal diagnosis.

But I intend to prove myself wrong. I’m already trying to smile so hard in public places that it hurts my face. And when something or someone makes me angry, I will let it fester inside until a year later when I'll display total recall of every word of that final conversation. Anger should marinate slowly and thoroughly, kind of like barbequed pork. My new motto will be flies are more attracted to honey than vinegar. What I'm going to do with that swarm of flies still remains to be seen. 

I must let go of my Sigmund persona and stop analyzing and attempting to interpret every human interaction. This perpetual mental note-taking is interfering with my experience, preventing me from living in the present moment. Sigmund Freud must go.I’ll need to replace him with someone else, maybe Rush Limbaugh?

So don’t talk to me about great deals at garage sales, high-yield index funds or adventures in real estate. Remember, I’m taking a break from being Jewish. Perhaps, in several years, there will be some fabulous whisper campaigns, but for now, Happy Easter! He is risen...er, almost risen. Grammatically, the word should actually be raised. Damn, this is going to be harder than I thought!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

I’ve Been Training All My Life to Run this Race

I am Charlie, I am Ahmed, I am Jewish
I was moved and inspired by the unity rally in Paris last week. After the horror stories I’d read about European and French anti-Semitism this past year it was particularly heartening to see the signs that read, “je suis Charlie," "je suis Juif,"and some that read, “je suis Ahmed," the name of the Muslim policeman who was murdered at the Charlie Hebdo office. 

A united front is neccesary at this historical moment when overt anti-Semitism is worse than any time since the lead-up to World War II and Islamophobia is being weaponized as a fascist organizing tool.

Of course prejudice against Jews is not the only problem now. Islamophobia is a massive concern in non-Muslim countries worldwide. The deluded thinking that makes each individual Muslim responsible for the actions of any other Muslim embodies the very essence of bigotry. Muslims are a stigmatized underclass in Europe. As such they are often victims of racism and have limited prospects for upward moblility. The anti-Muslim rallies being held almost weekly in Berlin are actually quite reminiscent of the anti-Jewish rallies of the thirties!

A few journalists have even gone so far as to label Muslims the “new Jews.” This is ridiculous. To even consider this to be the case we would have to be living in a post anti-Semitic world. The fallacy that anti-Jewish hatred has been eradicated makes as much sense as calling our society “post-racial,” In other words, it makes absolutely no sense at all.

Some of my friends have been posting articles and cartoons pointing out that Jews receive an inordinate amount of attention when bigotry rears its head. This "special privileges" strategy has a tried and true history. It is the pedestal approach that has been applied both to women and gays as well as Jews. It denies the reality of both minority status and varying levels of race and class within a group. Once you’re up on that high perch it is easier to be the recepient of all sorts of projectiles. Neo-nazi groups and their followers find this school of thought appealing.

As a child growing up in Ohio in the 1950’s, I was warned repeatedly by virtually all family members, that it was only a matter of time until the gentile world, would try to eliminate us again. That undercurrent of fear has always been deep in Jewish communities, and not without reason. In many ways this fear has shaped my life. It has driven my politics and directed my struggle and fueled the determination to make my presence felt in opposing all forms of oppression.

It is difficult to impossible to be proudly Jewish in the left. We can be Jews but we have to be careful about talking about it. LGBT folks have experienced similar constraints in the past. There was a time when you could be discreetly queer, just keep your mouth shut about it. As leftist Jews today, we are required to bury our memories of discrimination and harrassment and simply pass for "white." Our loudest accusations of racist or Zionist are often reserved for fellow Jews, due to peer pressure, due to fear. We are terrified of bringing that undercurrent of disdain, of hatred to the surface.

It is true, Israel is a travesty in so many ways. How ironic that the very country that was supposed to keep us safe is the one now most likely to lead us into danger just because the Germans wouldn’t just give us Germany but saddled us with someone else's country instead! But this purpose of this piece is not to discuss the Middle East. The establishment of Israel was the result of a massive and brutal genocide. But it has nothing to do with our individual histories as Jews outside of that state today. Our attempted assimilation, our wounds, our victories, the struggles of our parents and grandparents, all that doesn't change. As secular, American, activist Jews, these are the stories we must tell.
 
The far-right is practically orgasmic over the Paris attacks. The burgeoning neo-Nazi organizations in Europe would adore seeing Muslims and Jews fight to the death of every last one of us. Unity is of ultimate importance now. Arab Muslims are Semites; they are our cousins who, under different circumstance, could have been our closest allies. Perhaps there is still time. Today both Jews and Muslims are in the crosshairs, our destinies intertwined. We will rise or fall together.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Diversity in December

That holiday in December that customarily brings the USA to a grinding halt has passed and I am so relieved. Now, there are nearly a year of days until it rears its head again. I am not a grinch, I am a secular Jew. Certainly, I do not begrudge anyone their religious practices or celebrations, nudism, paganism, polyamory and devout atheism included. Just go for it, whatever it may be!

I almost succeeded in completely ignoring Xmas this year and I am grateful to immigrants for this bliss. Before large groups of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists came here en masse, this place was truly a Christian country. Yes, there existed a meager six percent minority of Jews and a few Buddhist Chinese around in the fifties and sixties while I was growing up. We were thankful to those who kept their restaurants open on that fateful day. Beyond that, there were few dissenting voices within earshot.

My Jewish parents made the decision to bring secular Christmas to my sister and me. We had a Chanukah bush that looked and smelled deceptively like a Christmas tree. We lit candles on the menorah perfunctorily. And, like other Americans celebrated on the 25th. The reason for this was that my parents, like so many Jews, had just felt odd and left out on that day. They wanted their children to be more part of this country’s culture. Why not indulge in some harmless trees, ornaments, lights, reindeers and Santa. American Christmas really has very little to do with old J. C. and besides that, it was fun.

It’s true, secular-Jewish Xmas did make me love the holiday season. But today, something makes me even happier this time of year. It is the fact that many new immigrants do not make these concessions at all! The motel my friends and I stayed in near Monterey California is owned by East Indians. Our small coterie of wandering Jews stayed there right through that holiday with neither a decoration nor a single mention from the very diverse group having coffee and waffles on Christmas day. To me, that was a gift of unbelievable magnitude and spirit.

So keep on coming Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and even, goddess forbid, other Jews. We are broadening the spiritual scope of this country. And I love it!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Organizing Matters

Black lives matter. Women’s lives matter. Queer lives matter. Disabled lives matter. Every member of every ethnic group's lives matter. Working-class lives matter. All lives matter.

I am trying to be inclusive here, not divisive. Murder by law enforcement is appalling and wrong. It happens because the police, increasingly the arm of the new authoritarian state that is struggling for control, are the weapon of the one percent. They have been bought and paid for by the corporate personhood of the sickeningly wealthy. Yes, we must demonstrate against indiscriminate police murder without any accountability.

Getting out in the streets to demonstrate has always been a powerful tool to fight oppression. But now, more and more, the protests become the control group for testing every new military weapon. Sound canons that damage hearing are a new toy. The powers that be now bring strobe lights to make photo or video recording impossible. And, every day, more and more places are making the recording of police an illegal activity thus threatening the very basis of free speech.

This is a rat race and, unfortunately, the rats are winning. We are all potential criminals under constant surveillance. Survival itself has become so much more difficult since the banksters overthrew the economy taking away middle-class jobs and any remaining semblance of workers’ rights. Racism, sexism and ethnic prejudices are running wild. As far as trashing some minority group, anything goes It is no co-incidence that the atmosphere is starting to feel like Germany in the early 1930’s. The conditions are similar.

Massive demonstrations may take us in a different direction and they are worth a shot. It is also possible that we will see repression on a massive scale, unlike any we have seen before.

I’m not arguing for fear, just saying that we have to organize. Single issue struggle is fine but we need much more, a program that encompasses all our issues combined with the unity and commitment of each of us to fight for everyone. We will also need representative democratic structure with leaders we can trust.

Knowing that something is very, very wrong and desiring to fix it is the first step. We are on the tightrope now. On one side is a more egalitarian, compassionate society. Fascism on the other. The direction we will fall remains to be seen.