Monday, July 6, 2015

LGBT Struggle is not Diminished by Marriage Equality

We have just begun to fight!
The legalization of marriage, like the acceptance of queers in the military, is not the endpoint of LGBT struggle. It is necessary to have the same rights and opportunities as heterosexual people, even when applied to institutions you may not personally respect.

The right to marry in all fifty states is nothing to sneeze at, especially when it comes to elderly folks and the terminally ill. It is essential to remember that many LGBT individuals still have families who might swoop in and confiscate everything should a partner die.

How feeling good about the victory of same-sex marriage is inherently reactionary is one of the many puzzling, self-defeating stances of some lesbians who consider themselves progressive leftists. It is not an endorsement of the institution of marriage or that of the military to extend the scope of who's allowed to do whatever. It does not diminish other struggles. Those who view marriage as the be all and end all of queer rights are simply short-sighted, not the enemy. I get so tired of lesbians fighting each other. It's just another manifestation of internalized oppression.

What we need now is total constitutional equality that outlaws housing and job discrimination. These issues will not be dealt with more quickly the more that we, like crabs in a barrel, pull each other down. Lighten up anti-marriage crusaders! The longest journey begins with one small step.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

My Body, My Definitions

When I was a reference librarian there was a man who suddenly began calling himself Krystal and demanded, from that point on, everyone refer to him as a she because now she was a woman. Nothing about him had changed except this pronoun. I found that odd but fine with me. Then, to my confusion Krystal stated,” I’m a woman just like you.”

How dare anyone make assumptions or claim to know anything of who I am without talking to me! I have not now nor ever possessed a “woman’s brain” whatever that’s supposed to mean. To me “womanhood” is a nebulous and ridiculous concept. Yes, I have female sex organs but I’ve never experienced any emotional attachment to them. I have been disparaged, discriminated against, discouraged, threatened, molested and undermined for this female body all my life. I have never been called “courageous” for undergoing this abuse. It is just considered normal.

And as a woman who is attracted to other women, I’ve been ridiculed, fired from jobs and beaten by strangers. If I had a dollar for every time someone said “are you a boy or a girl or called me sir, I’d be a millionaire. I have come to answer, “It’s none of your business since I have no desire to sleep with you.”

The New York Times front page article by Elinor Burkett posits an interesting take on the MTF transition. She asks what if someone who always considered himself a black man in a white man’s body chemically increased the melanin in his skin and braided his hair? Would he be lauded as courageous and embraced by the black community?

I am a human being who has been relegated to life in a woman’s body. I don’t feel like a woman or wish to be a man. My brain is full of all kinds of things based on my experience. I’d prefer to have been treated as neutral and allowed to develop my full human potential. What I am capable of accomplishing has nothing to do with the shape of my body. I respect everyone and deserve to be accorded that same respect. Others are not allowed to re-define and rewrite my life experience due to their perceptions of my age, race, identity, appearance or anatomical arrangement.

I have no intention of interfering in personal decisions people make for themselves. Changing gender falls into this category. Choice, personal selection, privacy, freedom of self-definition, these are all rights and protections I will not violate. But everyone has the right to define themselves. So do what you like to yourself, but keep your assumptions and pre-judgments off my body!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Why Don't Directors cast Jews in Jewish Roles?

Ryan Reynolds: Randol Schoenberg
 I saw the movie "Woman in Gold" a couple of weeks ago and then I watched a Netflix movie from 1999 called "A Walk on the Moon." Both of these films, along with many others had Jews as main characters, in "Woman in Gold" both the present and flashbacks and "A Walk on the Moon had costuming and hair remeniscent of the fifties but was supposed to be set in the sixties.

Diane Lane: Pearl Kantrowitz
The question I came away with in both of these and many other films is why do casting directors refrain from casting actual Jews to play the roles of Jews especially leading roles? No-one still casts white people with make-up and contraptions on their eyes to play Asians, but they used to. It was really offensive and would never be done now.

Yes, race and ethnicity are just social constructs and not genetic realities. But, beyond that, it was my experience growing up in the fifties and sixties and living in a segregated Jewish neighborhood that the hundreds of Jews (mostly Ashkenazi) I came into contact with daily didn't look like or speak like gentiles. One or two might have been able to pass but the majority were, at least somewhat, identifiable in looks or speech or both.

When I was young I never saw images that resembled me or my family reflected in film. I deduced that maybe Jews were just too funny looking, read ugly, to be in movies. Oh yeah, a few got through. Who could forget Lauren Bacall and the lesser known Judy Holiday! A bit later Paul Newman came onto the scene. But they all had straight-textured hair and the kind of small, Nordic, features that are considered beautiful in American culture. 

In the mid-sixties, "Fiddler on the Roof," came along and I was overwhelmed! Real Jews playing Jews in a Russian shtetl (village). One even had curly auburn hair and looked a bit like me. Than Barbara Streisand made the scene and I was floored, not because I didn't consider her looks appalling, (I had come to think like the majority culture by that time) but because she could really sing and that her talent had been a magic key that slipped her through the door of fame.

Are there not enough of us full-blooded Jews to cast anymore? Perhaps it has to do with our melting pot culture that supposedly loves diversity but does not really welcome difference. Noticing physical traits and differences between people has always been politically incorrect.

It's not socially acceptable here to comment on a person's ethnic background until and unless they mention it first. This is true for all groups. In Turkey that was not the case. In Istanbul my partner Deborah and I were immediately taken for Jewish and often greeted with Shalom! I think they presumed we were Israelis, which we found quite scary. Anyway, it wasn't a hostile observation, or something loaded with negativity, it was just a fact. We told one guy that this assumption is considered impolilite in the US and he asked, why, I am not ashamed to be taken for Turkish!

A few years ago when I was at a staff meeting at the library and we were discussing problem patrons. A colleague, also Jewish, referred to one thorn in our side library user as "the Jewish-looking guy." other staffers were up in arms, saying things like how can you say that?  My only reply was that I knew exactly who she was talking about.

Movies have to cast people. In books you just use your imagination. I know that straight people play queers all the time. And that makes more sense to me. It's not simply that these non-Jews are bad actors. I definitely believe it would contribute to the authenticity of the movie to hire actual Jews in Jewish roles.

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!