Monday, February 28, 2011

Childless by Choice: the Politics of Difference

Standing Out in a Crowd
Peer pressure to conform follows us throughout our lives. Presuming we survive our teenage years, we can choose to ignore tradition and follow the road less traveled. There is always a certain amount of sacrifice inherent in this decision and the perpetual assumptions of a traditional life will be constant and dog you wherever you go. Whether openly queer, proudly child-free, unabashedly atheist or marxist, these differences create divisions often making it harder to have the kind of conversations with co-workers, people we might encounter on jury duty, and just about everyone outside our circle. This can be more challenging than mainstream folks realize.

A close friend of mine who happens to be a mother felt invalidated by my recent blogging about discrimination against those of us who choose not to reproduce. Both myself and my sister, who is straight, made the decision to not have children an early age. I'm sure that hearing our mother continually harping on how the two of us ruined her life did not encourage us to follow in her footsteps. As a child I remember saying often that I didn't ask to be born and I was totally serious. There is beauty in the world but, in general, I wouldn't wish this life on anyone. It was not out of selfishness that I chose not to reproduce. I was truly motivated in the opposite direction.

Is the purpose of our time on earth to reproduce our species? Perhaps. Even so that doesn't mean everyone should be forced to do it. Do we live for some nebulous future or for the present? Well the inside-the-box thinking tends to lean toward the future. Buddhist thinking emphasizes the present. This starts to touch on that old religious question. Are we waiting for pie in the sky when we die or do we really want to be here now? We hear voices from the "family" contingent all the time. Minority stands must be heard as well! That has to be the reason that god invented the internet!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Support for Workers/ Economists Who Deserve Love

New Yorkers Show Support
As concerned folks gather in state capitals and urban centers across the country gather to support the last bastion of the rapidly disappearing middle class, ie: workers right to organize and bargain collectively, another huge rally is taking place in Madison. Today police are throwing out protesters with sleeping bags, tomorrow, Sunday, they are going to clear the building of people who have been camped out there for eleven days. At that point the protesters will have three options: 1. To walk out willingly when requested. 2. Make it clear that they are leaving against their will and leave in handcuffs. 3.Resist and be carried out. Options 2 and 3 may result in a misdemeanor arrest and fines.

Since the not-so-great economic collapse and recession this queer and aging hippie has become a bit of an armchair economist following a few leftward bound stars of the profession. Let's hear a shoutout for Paul Krugman, in spite of the fact that he works for the NYTimes, his pithy insights into the recent crash have given encouragement to all of us lowly working stiffs. In that linked article he gives tribute to another of my favorites, Naomi Klein, militant and erudite author of "The Shock Doctrine." Another Marxist of note is Richard Wolff, star of the video, "Capitalism Hits the Fan," which explains in laywoman's language the events which led to our present predicament. Now local Berkeley guy Robert Reich has spoken up eloquently about income inequality and support for public sector workers. My significant other (sig-o?) and I even ran into him in a local chain pharmacy I will not name. At about four-feet, nine inches tall, he's hard to miss. She tapped him on the shoulder and said, "keep up the good work!" Here's a recent piece of his defending social security. And last, but not least, the ever-informative, The Economic Collapse Blog by Michael Snyder.

Friday, February 25, 2011

We Need a Viable Third Party!

I don't care what name we give it. We could call it the Labor Party, like in the UK except without the u. Call it the Coffee Party or any other beverage that isn't taken but the fact is we need a viable alternative to the Republicans and Democrats. True, with Republican attack on unions and public sector workers has successfully caused the Democrats to step up their game. That is encouraging but it's not sufficient. We have to be united and fortified to ride out the coming attacks against us. Yes, we have been engaged in open class warfare since the economic meltdown of 2008 and, in case you haven't guessed, we have been hammered. Now they are just trying to drive the nails in our coffin. But surprise, surprise, we were not dead, only sleeping. Can a million Lilliputians defeat the sleeping giant of corporate greed? Can David slay Goliath? You know the answer already. We just have to get out butts in gear and full speed ahead!

As of today, the Wisconsin assembly railroaded through and passed the bill eliminating pubic sector workers bargaining rights. The measure now goes to the senate where Democrats have been absent for a week, trying to prevent the chamber from achieving a quorum.

Article from Alternet: Uniion Busting is Theft and St. Louis Post Dispatch: On Madison, class warfare comes out of the shadows.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Pink Slips, Pills, War on Women

Walker has now begun sending out as many as 6,000 layoff notices to public sector employees in Wisconsin. Even Lisa Fitzgerald, the wife of republican and state senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald has gotten one. This is a familiar strategy to try to scare folks into compliance. Just last year on March 5, 2010 the then mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom sent out more than 15,000 pink slips to city workers threatening us with termination.

In 1994, every employee of the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Newspaper Agency went out on strike. We were tired of working without a contract and going without cost of living raises for so long. After about one week of walking the picket lines, management sent out certified letters to all employees that said we would lose our jobs if we didn't come back to work. Luckily, when I answered my door, my porch was covered with strike/picket signs. The postman said he had a certified letter for some of this name, mine, but it was clear that she wasn't home to sign for it. "Yes," I replied, "she is gone and no-one knows when she'll return." I experienced so many acts of solidarity during that brief, 11 day, strike. BART employees gave us free rides, truckers brought us big boxes of burgers, it felt like a huge extended community.

Well, there seems to be a double dip in the housing crisis. Prices are still falling and new home sales are diving faster than a cormorant on cocaine, Obama's loan modification program has not functioned very well due to lack of cooperation from the banks, gas, food and the prices in general keep rising. Now, the media keeps telling us the recession is over, thinking if they repeat it often enough we will start to believe it.

And, if that's not enough salt rubbed in our wounds, yesterday I saw a televised ad for a new anti-depressant. The commercial begins something like...are you having money troubles, family problems?...Well, ain't that a kick in the head, sell us medication to take while you rob and rape us! This brings me to the GOP's new war on women. Their prescription for returning women to a subordinate class: make abortion illegal, change the definition of rape, and in Iowa and South Dakota there are bill being presented todecriminalize the murder of doctors in clinics that give women access to abortion. So much for all their talk about "right to life."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Obama and DOMA Split-up/ Punked Walker Praises NYTimes

At long last Obama's arc seems to be bending a bit toward justice in the case of queer civil rights. He has instructed his justice department to discontinue its practice of defending marriage as an exclusively heterosexual prerogative, to ignore section 3 of DOMA. Is it conceivable that our asleep at the wheel president is finally waking up the concept of equal rights for all? Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, the terminally fascist-leaning governor of Wisconsin was duped into believing that he was speaking to Tyranny Party representative, super-capitalist David Koch when he was actually chatting the progressive editor of the Buffalo Beast, Matt Taibbi. During their extensive phone conversation, Walker praised a front-page article from the New York Times, vilifying "evil" public sector workers and stirring up resentment and misinformation in an attempt to divide and conquer the working class. After all, why punish the actual bankers and venture capitalists who caused this mess, when we can just turn our anger against each other. So much for the mainstream media and its complicity, lies and corruption!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

La Lucha Continua...

Today in Wisconsin the AFL-CIO endorsed a general strike on the day Walker signs his "budget repair bill." The last massive and successful general strike in the US occurred in San Francisco in 1934. It was started by longshoremen but grew to include all workers, union and non-union.

Democratic lawmakers in Indiana have followed the example of their Wisconsin colleagues and fled to avoid a quorum on a "right to work for lower wages" bill. Today, February 22, protestors are on all floor of the State Capitol building in Indianapolis. And all the legislators have fled to the state of Illinois. Will there be a hot time in the old town tonight, Chicago?

A major protest is being organized in Columbus Ohio to fight against proposed anti-labor legislation there.

This New American Struggle for Justice is catching fire in a country reeling from job losses, foreclosures and being robbed blind by Wall Street thugs who recieve handsome rewards for their graft and extortion. Click here for the latest updates on the situation and here for data compiled by Mother Jones illustrating the growing abyss of economic inequality in third-world America.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Class War in Wisconsin

Mubarak of the Midwest
Onward street fighters in the state of cheese! Mubarak of the Midwest, Scott Walker, is determined to bring Republican, T-Party style (that's Tyranny Party in case you didn't know) martial law and authoritarian government to our new third-world economy with his refusal to negotiate on anything short of the elimination of collective bargaining rights. Middle class, Sorry I hardly knew ye! Yes, we may not win but at least now we are not lying in the road waiting for the steamroller. Keep on keepin' on sisters and brothers, the rest of the country is rooting for you.

Read more here: Invitation to Class War,
AFL/CIO--Wisconsin is about every worker

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Dyke factor in the Queer Equation

Equality Means Recognizing Difference
Yes, I want unity, I want solidarity with my leftist constituency and for the underdogs to fight and win against the powers that be. But I also want to be accepted for who I am in the context of that struggle. I remember the first time I saw an open lesbian in a performance where the audience was mixed, queer and straight. It was a Lily Tomlin show, "The search for signs of intelligent life in the universe," and oh, I was searching. I enjoyed the show but what surprised me was a homophobically charged encounter with some upper crust type of straight women seated behind us. I don't even recall exactly what transpired but the thing that confounded and amazed me was their homophobic atitudes in spite of the fact that they were watching an "out" dyke, Lily Tomlin, perform.  I'm sure that this kind of thing happens with African-Americans all the time. You know, the famous ones are ok but the regular ones...

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area so, if you are of an optomistic bent, you would think that the people I work with, run into etc. have arrived at a state beyond homophobia. You would be wrong. Although some perceptive and intelligent folks have LGBT people in their conciousness, and in thier FGs (friendship groups), many do not. Some folks are friends with gay men but have never encountered a lesbian. To assume that being cognizant of the issues affecting lesbian, gay bisexual and trans folks by schmoozing with charming and powerful gay men just doesn't cut it. It would be like saying that I'm aware of the issues Muslims face because I know Tariq, Mohammed and Suleman. But until you speak to Fatima, Aisha and Yasmine you don't know squat.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Protest Spreads to Ohio

The Streets of Columbus
The Midwest seems to be rousing the American working-class from its long, winter's nap that has had it hypnotized by T-Party nonsense since the crash and banker bailout of 2008. As an anti-christ, agnostic I must say, Praise the lord and pass me a picket sign!

We have stood by passive and mute as the financiers of Wall Street rifled through our pockets, taking our homes, our jobs and chunks of our salaries. As a public-sector worker, I have undergone wage freezes, furlough days and pay cuts, all the while watching the anti-austerity protests in Greece, Ireland with awe wondering what it was going to take to get us out on the streets again.

Then came Iran which, although they were creamed, was an inspiring battle. Of late the people of Tunisia, Bahrain, Algeria and, of course Egypt have all entered the fray as well, spurred on by some of the same conditions we experience here, falling wages, rising prices and a general lowering of the quality of life. In Egypt the people actually drove out a dictator even though the kind of government they will build remains to be seen.

Now the Wisconsin struggle to hold onto the last vestige of unions, collective bargaining, has spread to the state where I was raised and the town of my old alma mater, Columbus Ohio. Will this be a watershed moment, a turning point for US politics or will this be the beginning of a clash between left and right wing Americans, with have-nots fighting each other in the streets? Civil rights or civil war? I am hoping for the former. That working-class T-party reactionaries will wake up to the fact that fighting against decent wages, benefits and health care is contrary to their own interests.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Socioeconomic Class and Identity

When I was about to head off to college at the largest university in my state, my mother gave me very specific advice regarding my new cronies. She said, "If anyone asks you what your class background is say upper-middle class."At that point in my life I didn't even realize that she was lying. After all, weren't there a lot of "rich kids" that I attended high school with?

At the university I followed her instructions to the letter. But the only thing I altered was the way I labeled my family. I didn't change my actual experiences which involved thrift-store shopping, having credit card confiscated by store workers, my parents perpetual arguments about money, or even the fact that, part of the reason I was in college at all had a bit to do with a more than gentle suggestion by a judge and a probation officer.

I was active in many aspects of political organizing but especially grateful for a women's consciousness raising group where I could analyze and debrief about every issue and incident. One day after a meeting, I was walking across the oval with my new friend Ronna. She said, " I know you describe yourself as upper-middle class but when you talk about your life, it doesn't sound that way. I think you might be interested in this book." And she handed me a very early draft of Lillian Rubin's "Worlds of Pain: Life in the Working-Class Family." I opened it and read a few pages. Then came that click we used to talk about, the one that happens when everything finally falls into place. Needless to say, things have never been the same!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The War on Workers Escalates

The Streets of Madison
Wisconsin has declared war on public sector employees, more specifically on their unions. The voracious Republican beast won't be satisfied until we are all homeless and out on the streets. Scott Walker has become the Hosni Mubarak of Wisconsin leading the call to arms, trying to mobilize private and public sectors workers against each other.
He is even trying divide and conquer from within by offering to exempt police and firefighters (often the highest paid group) from his draconian proposals.

 This battle has been fermenting quite a while. In the last election the people of San Francisco defeated, by a large margin, proposition B, a proposal by public defender Jeff Adachi to charge workers more for health care and cut into the benefits of the most underpaid.

The Streets of Cairo
In Wisconsin Walker is trying to eliminate collective bargaining, the raison d'etre for unions, completely. Fortunately, the people of Wisconsin are fighting back. With 30,000 in the streets yesterday, Madison is beginning to look, not quite Cairo, but definitely a bit like Bahrain.Instead of pulling down everyone to the lowest possible level, we should be struggling to improve the quality of all our lives.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Identity Issues and Boomer Homophobia...

Lately my queer identity has overpowered the other ways I identify myself. My various identies seem to ebb and flow depending on the circumstances. Sometimes, especially when among reserved folks, I feel terminally abrasive and jewish, in very sex-role circumscribed situations where all faces are male, I feel extremely female and among the economically privileged I feel very working-class. Now, among almost everyone I am beginning to feel really old. Yet, at rare and wonderful moments I feel as though I represent a universal human being, connected in many ways to everyone. It's never a question of one identity trumping the others, it's a far more fluid situation.

Of course, I feel very queer when I am singled out for discrimination. For example, I belonged briefly to a writing group that was overwhelmingly heterosexual. They were, like me, older lefties who were serious about writing. The format of socializing was very different from what I'm used to. The women didn't  reach out to each other very much. The person I got the most support from was a man. It wasn't a come on thing (he was married with kids), he just liked my writing. But I wasn't there to make friends so I let it go. The real reason I wound up leaving the group was that queer issues were not taken seriously. Civil rights issues for other racial and ethnic groups were, rightfully, regarded as an important struggle. But when I wrote a memoir piece about homophobia on the job they viewed it as a story about individual indiosyncracies presenting problems in a specific workplace.

An acquaintance of mine wound up in a nursing home. She was suffering from dementia. Her close friend/ex-lover would visit her there. The staff assumed she was her sister until one day she explained that Nan, in better days, had been her lover. This admission was a terrible mistake. Once the other old women realized that Nan was a lesbian, they became aftaid of her. In her dementia, Nan believed that she was in her own home and would sometimes wander around naked. Her roommate and fellow patients now considered her nudity a sexual come on. Due of the lack of conciousness and support of the staff, Nan had to ultimately find another place to live.

Homophobia, by its very definition, means fear. Will folks of the boomer generation and older ever overcome the way they were raised? As an old dog, I have learned quite a few new tricks so perhaps there is hope that one day we will come together to fight for us all.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Beyond the Anatomy is Destiny Routine

Walking in Redwood Park yesterday I overheard two youngish, slightly hip women talking. One was going to get married and then have a baby and the oohs and aahs just kept coming ad infinitum. And this is the Bay Area for godsake! In spite of the women's movement and all of my generation's efforts for something more, little seems to have changed. I suppose this mindset is species-driven but for once I'd like to see an email sent by the HR department at work not only to announce a marriage, the birth of a child or the death of a parent but to announce an art gallery opening, a published poem or article, a musical cd or concert, some actual accomplishment. Of course, this would be sacrilege because it implies that we have roles in the world, lives beyond our paid work in a library. Fulfillment is supposed to come from your production and your reproduction not from . Hacking out your own trail through this wilderness is rarified and uncharted territory and the separation is a gaping abyss. Wide and unfathomable by those in the majority.

A few days ago I had to answer some security questions to secure an account in case I forget the password. My choices were literally all things like: What was the date of your wedding? Who did you go with to the senior prom? When was your first child born? Where did you go on your honeymoon? I'm really lucky that I had a cat as a first pet. Otherwise, I'd still be trying to fill out that form.

All of which brings me to another question. Is empathy truly possible? As a writer, I have to believe that it is. I have certainly seen evidence of it in a lot of people's work. Really fine fiction that expands the boundaries of what we know as individuals. I do think that real understanding of another's issues is indeed possible but quite unusual. For members of a majority group whether ethnic, racial, sexual, religious it is much more difficult to see the other because the minority view which is not represented in the mainstream media. Maybe the internet is altering this somewhat. If you've never had friends from this group to inform you of their experiences it can be just a guessing game. But a truly open mind can accomplish a lot. It reminds me of that joke, How many therapists does it take to change a lightbulb? The response: Only one but the lightbulb has to really want to change.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

"Family Values"--the New American Mantra

Childless folks, especially those of the queer persuasion have been cast in the role of pariah, the new American enemy. I'm not fond of the institution of marriage, the very same one that brought us domestic violence, incest, child abuse, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I am all for same-sex marriage, mind you, I believe that we queers are entitled to full civil rights and to be just as unhappy as straight people.  I understand that the right-wing and tea-party wingnuts roll out the family values wagon at every opportunity. What I object to is when the left takes up the cry as well, sometimes with queer breeders in their ranks.

Of late, my union, SEIU, has begun making all its references to "working families" instead of that old Marxist favorite, "workers." This nouveau McCarthyism that casts us all as family units is working my last nerve. I am not only proud to have a friendship group instead of a biological family, I am lucky as well. I actually get to select the folks I spend time with instead of being stuck with them. The friendship group (FG?) that I have does include my biological sister and my not-so-domestic partner, who I have been with for 12 years and no, we don't live together, but I'll get into that in another post.

I have often wanted a bumper sticker that says, "Nuke the Nuclear Family," but I'm opposed to nuclear weapons so it might be counter productive.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Childfree Connection

The thing I have noticed about the type of straight folks that I count as friends is that they tend to be childless by choice whether singles or couples. I do think that if there is ever a time when homophobia disappears, the main connection between people will be whether or not you choose to raise up young'uns. Those who decide against it often are more interested in literature, art, science, politics...just about anything in the universe that has nothing to do with wiping tushies or runny noses.

So genetically the buck stops here. My genotype has arrived at a brick wall. Neither my sister, myself, my partner nor her brother have chosen the path of reproduction. Although I now have a friend who is a single mom, I definitely gravitate to those who have declined this line of work. It's a dirty job and I know someone has to do it, I would just rather let them. It could have something to do with the fact that my mother continually complained that having children wrecked her life. Or even that my sister and I were on our own throughout our childhoods, sometimes coming to school only half-dressed because, even though we had both a mother and a father, no-one was dressing us. My hair is the kinky, jewish kind and my mother couldn't get a comb through it so she only combed and washed it about once a month. Okay, you don't have to bring out the violins, I realize that things are tough all over. I'm just giving some background here.

If you are not a family-type person, living in a cosmopolitan, urban area seems to be necessary. Where else do writers, artists and general weirdos congregate? And what do folks without families pursue along with their varied and ecclectic interests to give their lives meaning and direction?

Friendships! Even older people, after they have found a romantic partner, or sometimes instead of one, along with the possible dog, cat, bird or rabbit, they still want to have real friends. I for one, am not willing to leave those college days of speculating on the nature of the universe and expressing genuine dreams and fears to the solo perview of the young. My mother, at 47 years of age, told me that she was too old to make "real friends." To her that whole area of life was off limits. She died of cancer at 48 and perhaps that was part of the reason. I'll never know that but I do know there is a better way to live...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Hypersexualized Queer Mystique

Full disclosure, I am not a young person. And I have been openly queer for a very long time. I'm one of those genetic dykes, the doctor pulled me out, kicking and screaming (I must have had a sixth sense about this whole setup) and then said, Congratulations, it's a lesbian! The queer part of life did get better after I completed adolescence, which is a hell of an internship, and got past movies like The Killing of Sister George and The Children's Hour I was annealed in the flames of identity, so to speak.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the workplace and being gay there. Mine is in San Francisco so you'd think that all these issues would be a thing of the past and, on the surface, that's true. But work is a place where we are required to deal with people who might not interract with us at all in the real world. In that environment, all kinds of negative assumptions are alive and well. The one that has come up for me, of late, has to do with the hypersexualization of lesbians in the eyes of the straight world, in my case, straight women. I know that in the seventies it seemed as though every straight woman thought that every dyke (and every striaight man as well) wanted to jump her bones. In my real life, I have many straight friends both male and female. They are unabashed progressive types who have opened up their lives to include all genders and orientations. And many have come a long way in queer conciousness since I first met them.

I have always found the entire process of making friends at work daunting to say the least. When you are economically dependent on your job, it can be a path laden with danger. Although I get along well with everyone, the people that I actually talk about my life with tend to be queers. Not that I get along swimmingly with all the other queers but at least there is no "fear factor." This hypersexualization phenomenon is truly amazing. About five years ago I tried to be friends with a straight woman from the Phillippines, married with kids and grandkids who was a world traveler with an interesting history of working in the Peace Corps. We schmoozed a lot in our cubicles so one day I asked her if she wanted to go to lunch. After hemming and hawing a bit she said, I don't think so. You know I'm quite happy with my husband. Wow! I guess that she envisioned one hell of a lunch. Silly me, I was just thinking about a salad.

After that disheartening experience I gave up on befriending straight women at work until recently when I  connected politically with a union activist. Last year our workplace was a very stressful one, filled with pay cuts and layoffs. I liked her politcal perspective and her sense of humor. Here, I must add that I've been with my present partner for 12 years and am not looking for another sexual involvement. Both my girlfriend and I are monogamous sexually but neither of us are monogamous emotionally, meaning we both actively befriend other people. Also, I have to admit I'm not good at small talk and being of jewish descent, Im a bit of a terminal neurotic.So maybe I was inappropriate and too forward with self-revelation because I was having a meltdown due to my incredible, shrinking paycheck. But I felt that it was mutual and I certainly never proposed anything untoward or made any kind of advances at all. In fact I remember a conversation where I admitted that my libido was disappearing as I got older. But I was beginning to notice avoidance behaviors from her, which are really destructive in a workplace. Then I heard from a gay male friend that she though I'd been coming on to her!

Now, I avoid her completely which is sad but much safer for my career. I thought she was a lefty, but I guess the political isn't always personal on some level. 

I find this whole episode tremendously depressing. It reminds me of the way the critics of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy worried about gay males distracting straight comrades with aggresive sexuality while dodging bombs and bullets. Has all salaciousness been relegated to us queer folks? Do other people who've had these experiences have any suggestions? Maybe only time will shift this kind of prejudice.