Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Romney: The Scariest Thing This Halloween

Yes, I know that Obama has been a war-monger who has curtailed civil liberties and protections for everyone and yes, I would rather see a third party offer a true choice for all Americans. A Romney presidency would privatize life here in the USA and survival or the fittest would be our new national slogan. But as horrible as his “leadership” would be for immigrants, women, working and poor people in general, but it would be absolutely devastating to the well-being of LGBT Americans.

Romney has stated that the right to hospital visitation by a significant other would be up-for-grabs on a state-by-state basis under his administration. There would be more incidents like the Florida case where in April of 2010, Janice Langbehn was denied access to her dying partner of the past 18 years, Lisa Marie Pond.

Mitt has stated he will enshrine a marriage equals one man and one woman clause in the US Constitution and do everything in his power to take away same-gender marriage rights in those few states that have them.

He will ensure that the children of LGBT couples are discriminated against by noting on their birth certificates by striking out the words mother and father and writing in parent one and parent two. He resisted the printing out of gender-neutral birth certificates because this would be “detrimental to the family unit.” What would become of these “detrimental” families and their children is anybody’s guess but certainly not his concern.

When it comes to the issue of bullying in schools, Romney has opposed any administration-based efforts to oppose this practice or even to educate people about homophobia and gender-based bigotry.

Queer folks will need to kiss goodbye any hope of ending immigration and green card discrimination, housing discrimination, discrimination in access to “public” facilities, job discrimination and any other kind of anti-gay prejudice you can think of because Romney would try to take this country back to the days when gay sex itself was illegal.

In this era of hyper-nostalgia when all rights of women, religious and anti-religious minorities and immigrants are at stake it is important to draw the line somewhere. Yes, I know that the Obama administration is problematic in a multitude of ways, but the election of Mitt Romney would be an absolute nightmare.

Now as we are witnessing the effects of climate change first hand, we have a presidential candidate who has proposed to end FEMA funding too. Romney is a walking nightmare. I lived through the oppression of the fifties and have zero desire to repeat that experience now!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Queer/Straight Friendship: Overcoming Barriers

Friendship Involves Risk
I am active in the progressive, the lesbian, and the more generally LGBT communities, so I've spent a good deal of time pondering the risks and rewards of moving in the larger sphere versus those of staying within my own group.

Growing up in an almost exclusively Jewish environment, I was continually warned of the dangers of the outside world, yet I consciously chose to leave its security and insularity to take my chances with the outside world. As a lifelong out lesbian, my choice to reach out to a broader coalition comes from this same motivation.

But being out and actively participating in "straight" groups and organizations does take more effort and a thicker skin than that of just sticking with queer alliances. Coming out becomes a chore that must be done repeatedly and even when its not fraught with danger, it can still be exhausting. We still live in a world where orientation and gender identification are automatically assumed to go just one direction and gender outlaws are still outside the lines

Stereotyping happens automatically and it is negative even when the stereotypical qualities sound positive in and of themselves. Growing up I often heard the sentiment repeated that "Jews are smart." I tried, and sometimes successfully utilized, this stereotype to my advantage. As a lesbian who leans toward, what popular culture terms "mannish," I have also used this image presentation to lure employers to believe that looking more like a male gives me a better grasp of math, science and spacial interpretation. Did this deception help me land my first job as a drafting technician? I'll never really know theory was just like the philosophy of Aikido, which works by turning the force that someone is coming at you against them.

However, this type of manipulation obscures individuals and serves to perpetuate inaccurate categorization. The only thing that call change these misperceptions is an interchange that includes honesty and self disclosure; in other words, friendship. And real friendship involves trust, and trust, persistence and work.
By far the most inhibiting factor in queer/straight friendship, after the initial period of breaking down stereotypes, is fear. It can be the fear of sexual attraction or sexual misunderstandings or simply the straight person's fearof being mistakenly perceived as gay. As long as homophobia has the potential to damage lives, it will retain the potential to instill great fear.

Some fears have validity in the world and are grounded in reality. Much the same as with racial identity, there are genuine differences between a person who has had to think of orientation almost continually at all times and in every aspect of their lives and someone who has never had to give it a second thought.

The key to overcoming any kind of prejudice is both risk as well as communication. The process of reaching out is never easy but, no matter what the outcome, it is well worth the trouble. Yes, we must fight for equal civil rights for everyone but we must also learn to personally cross the bridges that divide us. Because, until we make these journeys, there is no hope of building a genuine revolution.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Endangered Species: Workers with Pensions

A Nearly Extinct Animal
Employees with pensions are not quite dinosaurs yet, we are probably more in the category of the spotted owl. Our rapidly diminishing group now consists almost entirely of unionized public sector employees, working people who earned all kinds of benefits for simply doing their jobs over a long period of time and then, obligingly, getting old.

I think of my pension as an inheritance of sorts, a kind of consolation prize when friends talk about their windfalls from dead relatives. It may not be much, but it arrives each month without any effort on my part allowing me to sit and my computer and feel like a paid writer.

Sunday, I was chatting with a realtor at a Berkeley street fair who appeared to be around my age. Her reaction to my obvious delight at being retired was one I have encountered often. It involves an enthusiastic proclamation of job love coupled with a desire to work until reaching death's door. I have no reason not to believe her. I know Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court feels this way as well. Republicans and some Democrats have even kicked around raising the retirement age so folks can enjoy their jobs well into their dotage. 

But many working-class folks have stressful, demeaning jobs that, as the body ages, wring the very life and spirit from them. It is not a blessing to be forced to perform this type of work until 70 years of age. Part of the conundrum professors and doctors, lawyers and CEOs face is that the simple fact of admitting that work is a moderately unpleasant chore for the majority of workers underlines a hard truth of capitalism:  in order for some people to excel at fulfilling and meaningful work, many others have to service them and their needs. They used to need to make the goods as well but this is less of an issue now that the manufacturing industry is drying up.

I am extremely grateful that I snagged one of the last working-class gems of a bygone era but also very depressed that the welfare of the generations behind me will be left up to chance. Those with prudent and frugal relatives or prominent families may have something to fall back on. But regular working people's options are being sharply reigned in by feeding frenzy of plutocratic capitalism. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Newsflash! Lesbians are Women

In this day and age the title of this post seems ridiculous to have to justify. Of course lesbians are women. You would think this bit of information is quite obvious but, reading the articles about women and their/our issues, this point gets lost. It would be impossible to itemize the deluge of writing about "women's issues," that pours out from keyboard across the country, which excludes queer women, placing us outside their purview.

As a current example, examine the sections of that ever-popular leftist online news source, The Huffington Post which, quite recently, added the section, "Gay Voices." They had a "Women" category but everybody knows that "women's issues" involve men: dating them, marrying them, making babies with them, looking attractive for them, conversing with them, you get my drift. Articles about females very rarely include any references to those of that gender who are queer. In "Gay Voices" finally we see some articles about lesbians specifically. We take it for granted that those could never be applicable to any kind of universal human condition. After all what could we possibly extrapolate from a bunch of queers about life in the USA?

Alternet approaches the situation a bit differently. Under their Rights category they have separate sections for Civil Liberties and Gender. Queer rights pieces can and do occupy either of these classifications. But when the article is specifically about "women" the issues of lesbians are not dealt with. Smaller online news sites don't have categories at all. But that decision, which, depending on how it's approached, can be viewed either as a glaring absence or a window onto a less discriminatory future, doesn't seem to help much with inclusivity.

The film industry has a similar take. In "Women's Films," that particular genre that feature a group of women, the writers will sometimes install a token dyke, much in the same way they insert a woman of color. But you can be assured that the lesbian's character development and personal issues will get short shrift compared to the other characters in these movies.

What the world has yet to come to terms with is that lesbians are women. Perhaps the fear of the queer that was instilled in my generation will be carried within each member until death. But, on the bright side, there are girls being born every minute. Hopefully they will grow up in a society with fewer limitations on all their decisions including those regarding gender.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Where the Sustainability Movement Falters...

Of late, I have been participating in a resilience circle. These groups are organized offshoots of the "sustainability" movement whose goal is to create a local, independent economy which can but does not necessarily use currency as a standard of exchange. Theirs is a noble and idealistic vision. But alone, it is not viable for scattered people and communities. The struggle is as unattainable as trying to bring socialism in one fragment of a country in a rabidly capitalist world.

We dare not underestimate the raw power of capital and its well-armed defenders. The magnitude of the force and repression unleashed against the Occupy Movement, particularly in the United States, is just one small example of what we're up against. This once sleeping dog will not settle back into slumber without a fight. People who desire a more humane and interractive world have to actively battle for it on many fronts. The economic struggle is significant, the environmental struggle absolutely critical but these two alone are not enough.

It is imperative that we also organize ourselves against the hatred that is tossed out for our consumption, like a wad of raw meat in order to divert the attention of the underclass and manipulate us into taking out our frustration on one another.

We are given all kinds of targets to keep us busy with hatred and suspicion: immigrants, people of color, women, LGBT folks, Muslims, Jews, atheists and agnostics, even the nebulous category, "intellectuals." To ignore organized prejudice when it rears its ugly head is a huge omission that will defeat our struggle.

I used to mollify myself by calling up that myth, made popular in the book and movie "Exodus," that the people of Denmark all wore yellow stars so the Nazi couldn't pick out and round up Danish Jews. It is a noble, heart-warming story but, like many stories, it is fiction. Nonetheless, we will all have to emulate this fictitious example of our higher nature on the streets and in our communities as certain groups are singled out for mistreatment both by law as well as by lack of legal protection.

Examples of organized lawlessness include the fact African-Americans have served as a kind of shooting gallery for police of late making it clear that some people are more expendable than others. Lack of legal protection has splintered immigrant families, singled out LGBT people for all kinds of discrimination. Laws against rights have prevented many couples from marrying and are now beginning to target women's control of their/our own bodies. Workers, now desperate for jobs, are losing benefits, pensions job security and any control over the conditions in which they work.

No one person can change these terrible injustices alone. We must have an agenda, a complete program that includes both the environment and its people. Doing so requires a discipline, an inclusion and a unity that we didn't have in the seventies when we tried so hard to change the world. We can and must learn from these mistakes. We may not have a second chance.