Thursday, December 19, 2013

Crosses are not Non-Denominational

Dead Christians Only?
This heading may sound like a real no-brainer but Christianity and it symbolism has become such a deeply engrained part of American culture that many people have blocked this simple truth from their awareness. I cannot tell you how many anti-war rallies I have attended where crosses were unilaterally carried to represent the dead.

Even the Lafayette hillside anti-war memorial is often referred to as "the crosses of Lafayette." Yes, and it certainly appears to be cross upon cross but, I am told, that there are a few crescents, stars of David and Buddhas amid the overwhelming number of crosses.

Many people tend to have these distorted memories of cemeteries as well. I remember reading an article that referred to the rows of crosses at Arlington National Cemetery. In fact, Arlington has rows and rows of tombstones, not crosses. Upon each individual stone there may be a cross, a crescent, a star of David and there is even the occasional pentacle from the Wiccan persuasion. There may be only a name with dates. It all depends upon the wishes of the deceased person or members of that family.

The fact is that the cross has become so pervasive it's actual meaning has been watered down to nearly nothing. For people who use it as a symbol of worship, this is a negative side-effect of the Christianization of America. A friend of mine visited a "women's spirituality" alternative house of worship. She described the room as having a cross over the podium but explained it was small and unobtrusive. She also told me it is a place of "non-denominational" worship.

Arlington: Tombstones, Not Crosses
A cross, no matter how petite and unassuming is not non-denominational. Growing up a Jew in an overwhelmingly Jewish neighborhood in the fifties, I often confused the cross and the swastika. Both were symbols emanating from a gentile world of otherness that I had been taught to mistrust and fear.

I'm not saying that this level of paranoia was constructive or healthy, only that it existed and it affects me still. A cross is a symbol of Christianity. There is nothing wrong with that. Just be mindful that it doesn't represent all of us!

Friday, November 22, 2013

That Time of Year Again...

F.Y.I:  the box is empty!
It's fast approaching this year. With Thanksgiving falling on the second night of Hanukah this year we have a unique holiday, Thanksgivukah. This cultural collsion that has moved up and lengthened the dreaded Xmas deluge and has ushered in what promises to be a long season.

For an entire month all those Happy Holidays themes will be officially irrelevant to those whose token festivals either don't exist or are over. Those tacky paper menorahs, dreidels and blue and silver decorations will have to be sold at deep discount on December shelves.

Not that this mish-mash holiday stew ever made much sense in the first place. Hanukah is a minor Jewish holiday that was blown up and embellished to provide Christians with company on their big birthday bash. Kwanzaa was invented  in 1966 to spotlight Black history. The Solstice celebration of the return of the light on December 21st dates back to the pagan calendar. But, under capitalism, all these festivals are reduced to one purpose only: rampant consumerism.

In my family we covered all the bases by celebrating both Hanukah and Christmas. Neither had any religious content and the eight presents of Hanukah were token tschokes at best. The Hanukah Bush was a staple seasonal fixture in many Jewish homes. Ours even had lights on it.

My sister and I had a yearly tradition. On the night before Christmas, we would call strangers on the telephone and read the entire text of the poem by the same name. Almost every person listened until the end then applauded and thanked us.

So, there was no war on Xmas coming from my house. All we had there were collaborators. But my parents did draw the line. Strings of colored lights on the outside of the house were declared strictly for Gentiles only. But we always drove around to find the most exciting and elaborate displays on other people's lawns to both enjoy and envy.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Class Comfort Level Persists

My father was a salesman who worked on commission only, my mother temped as a secretary throughout my childhood. My sister and I would spend every weekend at our immigrant grandparent’s apartment because parenting was not on the to-do list of either of my folks. In both environments, the kids I hung out with were from what we all considered “regular” families but now recognize to have been mostly from the socio-economic class that lies between the poor and the middle class.

My mother was always quite vocal about my father’s irresponsible financial behavior which consisted mainsly of going deeply into debt in order to project a middle-class image. She often called him Willie Loman, in reference to Arthur Miller’s character in “Death of a Salesman.” Both of them were Jewish and college-educated so, in some ways, they were atypical of the "white" working-class. And, in those days, Jews were not really considered white, anyway. 

In spite of my parents' educational achievements, they fell far short of the material prosperity held out by their socio-economic aspirations. None of us possessed the mannerisms of that desirable group. Kids in my school seemed to know instinctively that I was not one of them and treated me accordingly. Was I too outgoing? Too open? I couldn't figure it out. But the friends I made then were all from similar class backgrounds. We just had so much in common that I never considered befriending one of the “rich kids.” Like the weather it was just a given, a reality too obvious to be questioned or discussed.

At Ohio State University, I was introduced to a broader vision of the world. Now, if I so desired, I could be friends with students who wouldn’t have had anything to do with me before. And, sometimes, I chose to pursue these very people. It was to prove my worth, as though their privilege might rub off on me and allow me to rewrite my past. Sometimes making them like me was simply a way to extract a sort of revenge.

But as college years faded into real life, my path diverged sharply from that of the factory-owners’ daughters and the trust-fund babies. Economic struggle is not just theoretical when there is no family safety net waiting to catch you if you fall.

To this day, I find myself gravitating instinctively toward people from similar circumstances. Instead of diminishing, this tendency seems to be increase with age. I can’t put my finger on the exact cues of this shared oppression but, considering my automatic selection process, the indicators must be quite blatant and obvious to all.

Evidently, the people who can best put up with me, are those who have made their way without a lot of financial and emotional support. It has nothing to do with concious intention or some form of reverse snobbery. It just happens.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Day of the Dead vs Halloween

Octavio Paz described Mexican culture as being “seduced by death.” Sugared skulls, and the skeletal figurines (colacas) of humans in every conceivable clothing style and occupation seem to confirm this sentiment. Day of the Dead is primarily a celebration of the ancestors. Unlike Halloween, the goal of the flowers, altars, candy and skeletal array is to pay respects in the more creative, fanciful style of the people who brought us magical realism.

America’s Halloween differs from Day of the Dead in many ways. Number one is that Halloween is scary. In American culture death is not a natural occurence common to all life, but a fearful, traumatic end. When the dead come back, they are not pleased. They haunt and frighten us by making spooky sounds and rattling bones. Like the ever-so-popular vampire and zombie legends, the moral is always that it is preferable for all if the dead remain buried. Our culture gives a high priority to everyone staying in their designated place.

In Dia de Los Muertos, the dead are revered, not as superhuman, but with all the frailties and imperfection of the lives they lived. Altars, the tributes to the departed, often include whiskey bottles and cartons of cigarettes. These are not the trappings of saints. It is a time of memory and celebration. If these deceased returned for a visit, it seems that their friends and families would rejoice not cower.

When my mother was dying of ovarian cancer, the primary emotions she expressed were fear and, more puzzling, shame Fear seems a natural response to the unknown but her shame was trickier to comprehend. In retrospect, I believe it was about relinquishing control in front of her children. Being invulnerable was a necessary part of that definition.

Of course control is also a primary part of our philosophy of rugged individualism. “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul,” was a quote often repeated by my father. To be so ill that you can no longer steer your own ship is not only considered tragic, it is a disgrace.

If my mother had openly acknowledged how sick she was it would have been a relief to all of us. We could have begun initiating closure much sooner; expressing emotion and saying all the things that need to be said.

I don’t know how her death would translate in Mexico. But, on her altar, I would place a copy of Simone De Beauvoir’s, “Second Sex,” a bottle of scotch, and one of Sanka, a can of tomato juice and one of asparagus spears, a slice of rye toast, a pack of Kent cigarettes, a copy of the New Yorker, a steno pad, a credit card and an old typewriter.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Invisibility and Lesbian Experience

The Invisible Lesbian
I read an interesting article in the NYTimes Magazine a couple of weeks ago. It concerned the ways that women are actively discouraged from pursuing careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, what they called the STEM subject group. Unfortunately, a large portion of the article focused on how majoring in STEM  fields frightened off potential male suitors. But one sentence in the article indicated that there was a different point of view expressed by a minority of the interview subjects. The sentence is framed in parentheses and reads as follows: "The lesbian scientists with whom I spoke, at the tea and elsewhere, reported differing reactions to the gender dynamic of the classroom and the lab, but voiced many of the same concerns as the straight women."

Huh? What does this mean? How many lesbian scientists were questioned? How does their experience differ? I was left with these unanswered questions as this sentence contained the only reference to lesbians in the entire piece. Clearly the writers and editors were only concerned with the experiences of genuine women, i.e.: the heterosexual variety.

Recently a poem of mine was included in an anthology about women's experience in the sixties and seventies. My entry was openly queer and dealt with unrequited lesbian love. Reading through the numerous poetry and stories included in the book, I have found only one other out lesbian. 

This is what it means to be part of a minority culture. Your experience is tokenized or erased, your pespective deleted. In capitalist publishing this is just mainstream vs niche market politics. But genuinely good writing should transcend these categories. It seems obvious that inclusion of ethnic and gender minority voices would only improve both the sales and credibility of an article, journal, film or anthology.
But now, at least, they are giving us a little nod. That means we have successfully been a thorn in their side long enough to make them aware of our existence. There is a small hole in the fence that has segregated our experience from that of real women. To make that opening larger, we must all pour through it en masse. Lesbian history is women's history and we are the only ones who can write it. Our experience is an indespensible and necessary component of the liberation of all women, and yes, all people.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Medical Marijuana Subculture

I've lived in California for forty years and if you had told me when I arrived in 1973 that, one day, I'd be a married lesbian and have access to legal marijuana I'd have assumed you were either delusional or quite stoned. But today, both these things are true and yet the earth keeps revolving and the sky remains in place.

I've never been a much of a pothead. Truthfully, back in those hippie days, cocaine and quaaludes were my drugs of choice with an occasional acid trip thrown in for perspective. I hate smoke and the very thought of smoking anything makes my throat ache. But recent eye problems caused me to visit an opthomologist who diagnosed me with high-intraocular pressure, a possilble symptom of, or precursor to, glaucoma.

Of course, as soon as I get a new diagnosis, I do what everyone in the digital age does, that is head straight to my computer for more information. I expected to find health guidelines like cut down on sugar or salt or caffeine but instead, I found the most mentioned folk rememedy was cannabis. In fact, glaucoma was the disease that first propelled the medical marijuana movement into existence.

Armed with a letter from my long-time doctor, who admittedly partakes a bit herself, I ventured toward one of the several dispensaries near my home. The fact is that Berkeley has one pot dispensary for every 28,000 residents, a record number in the world of legalized weed.

To enter the place, I had to pass muster with the security guard, an African-American woman who examined my letter and complimented me on my t-shirt and earrings. After being registered in the waiting room, I proceeded into the purchasing area full of display cases of grass with names like "blueberry haze" and "tangerine dream." I was magically transported back to the days of windowpane and orange sunshine.

After explaining to the counter guy that I wanted something that would help me sleep and last through the night, he introduced me to the world of edibles. There were several choices that encompassed my requirements: capsules, bars, carmel-like chewy things; my mind was boggled. I settled on a chew, a professionally wrapped indica morsel, the sleep inducing variety. The sativa strain is more for those speedy highs that made me so anxious and paranoid many years ago. Because it was my first visit, I was also given a lighter and a free sample of mint chocolate for an entirely different type of high.

It cost twelve dollars and was only supposed to provide four doses. I took about a twentieth of it, instead of a fourth and, after nearly an hour, I became pleasantly tired. I did drifted off to sleep without my usual ambien and was still a bit stoned eight hours later when I awoke.With my super-sensitivity to drugs, this stuff can last me for quite a while.

A couple of days later I tried again to estimate the right amount. But that night I had to take my prescription pill along with the edible. I realized that dispensing with my ambien was proving harder than I'd hoped. And Blue Shield pays for sleeping pills but due to federal law, I cant' use my insurance to buy marijuana.

I will check out a couple more dispensaries and keep trying for the perfect sleep-inducing, ocular-pressure-reducing mix. I feel a bit like Alice now. I've passed through the looking glass but am a bit flummoxed by the wide-array of mind-altering substances here to choose from.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Aging and Breaking Boundaries

Now that I'm 62, the government officially classifies me as old for purposes of Social Security.While I realize that I could be old for, say thirty more years, my initial response to aging is one of disappointment. Where is the wisdom that is supposed to come with experience? Where are the young folks gathered to hear about the tumultuous era we boomers instigated in our adolescence? Instead the main thing I'm finding in my sixth decade is that the abyss between my generation and society seems to grow wider and deeper with each passing year.

Coping with medical problems increases individual isolation. I always knew that aging came with wrinkles and new rolls of fat, but somehow no-one warned me that getting old is like trying to keep a much-used car in running condition. The carburetor gets clogged, the engine begins to sputter, there are too many dents to bother with body work and decorative pieces of the interior begin to fall off.

I see fewer and fewer reflections of who I am in the media. I get tired of seeing twenty or thirty-somethings doing whatever with no hint that others exist. Racism, heterosexism, and just plain sexism were always problematic in media depictions of society, but now even young LGBT folks see me as their mom or granny and society encourages this behavior.

What does aging really mean? I just had an intake interview for a therapy group around transitioning into retirement. The two facilitators are late thirties/early forties women. That shocked me. In the old women's community we would never use people from outside an oppressed group to facilitate it. When I expressed this sentiment to my interviewer she claimed that she understood aging issues. If she had rolled in in a wheelchair or was missing an arm, perhaps I could buy this. But it's strange that she is dealing with something she has never experienced. I have been her age, but the reverse is not true. 

So what doesn't she feel? Invisibility would be the main thing. This is not always a negative. The fly on the wall gets to witness life happening minus the self-conscious obsessiveness of the elephant in the room. But, beyond the circus element here, we all desire to be full participants up until the moment we expire.

The granny syndrome is something that seems to happen only to aging women and it is a major factor in this invisibility. I rarely read a "human interest" article about a sixty-plus woman that doesn't refer to her as a grandmother. This is because the main socially-sanctioned pursuit of women's lives is still reproduction. So, what becomes of us non-breeder broads after we pass through menopause. The answer is that, in the eyes of mainstream consumer-culture, we disappear.

So families become the default refuge of the old although, just as with the young, not necessarily a safe one.  Unfortunately for us childless types, the rugged individualism and capitalist mystique that we were weaned on takes its toll as well. Competitiveness separates us from each other. It often seems that we can no longer connect with compassion and without animosity and suspicion. Our years have scarred us. Thus, as people age, their worlds are in danger of getting smaller and smaller.

The best remedy for a shrinking personal universe is to think outside of preconceived boundaries. Activists and artists who embrace a larger focus have the right idea. We can build an alternative elderly community just as we built the social movements and non-traditional communities of our youth that changed the world. As long as we live, we have to age but we don't have to settle for the same old routine, the same obsolete stereotypes. My hope is that we can age in unique and unprecedented ways, just as we have done in every other stage of our lives.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Lost Art of Conversation

I am a person who truly enjoys conversation. I like it one on one and I also enjoy it in a group. When I was searching for a partner utilizing dating ads, I described myself as a "conversexual." Good ones open me up and turn me on in a sense much broader than sexuality alone. I cherish conversations that include exchange of ideas, playing with humor and language and building emotional intimacy. It makes me wonder if the passion and skills required for good conversation is, in fact.  disappearing.

Maybe it's because I'm getting old. Perhaps it's just due to rampant technology and the creation of "social media." It feels like actual conversation is being replaced by what I refer to as the "drunks at a bar" phenomenon. This involves two or more individuals doing run-on monologues about the issues in their lives without the slightest regard for what the other person is saying. The biggest missing piece here is listening. There is no back and forth, give and take, no, what they call in support groups, "cross-talk." To me, this feels like a hollow, empty exercise devoid of support or caring. It's an each person for themselves dog and pony show.

I have to assume that this level of self-obsession emanates from alienation, loneliness and despair so I don't blame the victims. When it happens in the peer support group co-facilitate, I try to ask more questions, to initiate and back and forth. When it happens, one on one with a new acquaintance, I don't know how to proceed. I would try to turn it around if only I could get a word in edgewise!

Listening is a large part of the battle. Therapists are paid to do it. My cat, Luna, is a great listener but I wouldn't say she is a conversationalist. She does speak a bit, but her subject choice seems to be limited to one dead, Chinese leader. But, therapists and pets aside, listening is a good starting point.

A conversation is a real-time, living, breathing entity. Having an idea of what you want to talk about and attempting to steer it on one course, destroys it. That's why some of the best conversations in college were had in groups of the substance impaired. Being just a tad high helps with spontaneity.

I'm sure some really great talkers are out there still hoping to build a bridge of words that will not only span the distance between our lives, but get us actively thinking about ways in which to improve them. I am already looking forward to our future conversations.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Why Jews Wander...

A Shtetl in Poland circa 1900
Jews have always been wanderers. I'm inclined to believe that a large part of the reason is that often we have not been full citizens of the  of countries where we have resided. Jews have been merchants bringing back spices and products, money lenders, scholars and, most frequently, refugees running from genocide.

Traveling brings up painful truths for those of us who long for a genuine history that immigrants from other countries take for granted.Yes, some folks settled in Israel, displaced the population living there and revived an ancient, unspoken language to call their own and pass on to their children. The real history of the way Jews lived in countries all over the world has been obliterated. Aside from the obvious suspects who brought us the Cossacks and the Holocaust, Jews have been systematically expelled from many other countries including Iran, Turkey, Morocco, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. 

As I travel, I hear folks tell stories of homecoming: finally arriving in a place where the people look like you, hearing the language of your parents or grandparents come alive, seeing the town your ancestors called home and meeting long, lost relatives. For Jews, these places no longer exist. Our ancestors live only on paper and in the memories of a generation that is now dead or dying.

There are no actual Russian shtetls or Polish villages for me to visit. No new immigrants bringing the language and customs of my people. As a group we are alone, making our way without the wisdom of the past to guide us. I feel I have more in common with Native Americans than with Greeks or Belgians. There will never be a living window into either of our societies. Both groups have been deprived of the historical experience of our people.

The world that nurtured Geronimo and Isaac Bashevis Singer cannot be retreived. We can read about it or listen to tales passed down by those who remember. But we have been deprived of a vast legacy that cannot be replicated, reconstructed or replaced. It is just gone, a loss I grieve deeply.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Una Gringa en Mexico

Statue in Guanajuato
There is no substitute for travel. It is a way to feel part of a world so much greater than yourself that opens up a vast array of cultural norm and shines a light on the things we take for granted and fact that these assumptions are not universal in nature.

Although many of their lives are harder, people tend to be much kinder in Mexico. They will readily help friends and family and go out of their way for foreigners. Folks put up with our grammatically flawed Spanish, answered our stupid questions and walked us to places we couldn’t find.  There is a warmth, a generosity of spirit, that is totally unlike anything I’ve experienced in the USA.

This is a laissez-faire capitalist country and hard-working people sell everything from folk art to food to bathroom use, which comprises a national industry. Imagine a job in the US where individuals spend their days giving out toilet paper and cleaning toilets that individuals may use for a fee of 3 to 5 pesos a shot (about 15 to 30 cents). The poverty in Mexico is astounding but so is the growth of a rising middle class.

When it comes to ethnicity, there is an obvious caste system. The darker skinned, indigenous people predominate in the service industry as maids, shop employees, lower level restaurant workers. Yet being an individual entrepreneur is pretty much unregulated. Folks can set up a artisan booth, a taco stand or a public bathroom without government intervention or guidelines.

Mexico is a place where you are on your own in many ways. Real estate taxes, even on mansions tend to run about 30 to 50 dollars a year. Due to lack of genuine police protection, the cops don't get paid much and there is widespread bribery and corruption. The rich and middle class create their own gated communities and hire private security. It is a libertarian dream state. It is left to the individuals to protect themselves and their property because, to quote Bob Dylan, “the cops don’t need you and man they expect the same.”

Deborah and I met up with a relative of a friend who had been living in San Miguel for over ten years. She had increased the height of a wall between her place and her neighbor’s because the adolescent males next door kept trying to break into her place. She said they were bored rich Mexican kids who just wanted a challenge. She also believed that the police had earmarked her as the problem because the family was wealthy and influential. And, in spite of the fact that she is of Mexican-American descent and speaks Spanish, she is considered a perpetual outsider.

That is the dark side of family bonding; the relative ostracism of the expatriate community which, in turn, tends to stick together like any minority group. To American eyes, there is an appalling lack of public safety regulations. Children ride in open backed trucks.  Everything you eat is at your own risk. The potholes in the street are treacherous and there is no such thing as a lawsuit for tripping and falling anywhere, even on government property. I can’t begin to imagine what disabled people must endure. Fireworks punctuate the night like gunshots and dogs run wild.

I have finally come to terms with the fact that I could never live in Mexico. As a long-limbed, big-footed, somewhat sexually-indeterminate, pink-skinned creature, I stood out in every crowd. I longed for the anonymity of blending and the luxury of simply seeing others on the streets who looked like me. I am very happy to be back home but also grateful for the cultural experience of Mexico our close, yet very different, neighbor to the south.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Prejudice Erases Individual Identity

When people are viewed through categories instead of as individuals, it becomes easier to dehumanize them. The racism of our society is so deeply ingrained and reflexive many people no longer see it yet the total exoneration of Gerorge Zimmerman from criminal charges in the Trayvon Martin case has made its continued existence abundantly clear. We are raised to value some people and to deride, degrade and fear others. Generalization is elevated to an extreme level in the United States. Perhaps this is partly due to the fact that we want to categorize and organize our experience without truly researching and questioning it.

It's part and parcel of a our shortcut culture; the search for the quickest, easiest route to a superficial and limited understanding of the world. Americans are raised to be group-thinkers. To begin to understand this, I must draw upon my own experience. Growing up in an almost exclusively Jewish culture in the Anti-Semitic environment of 1950's Cleveland, I was continually given the message that to venture outside of my community into a gentile world was ill-advised and dangerous. Hatred toward me would be rampant and I would return home to my people a sorry mess begging to be welcomed back into the flock.

My parents passionately desired acceptance by and into the gentile world but you would never have known it by looking at their friends who were, almost exclusively, Jews. This limited their empathy and real understanding of people from other groups. We live in a tremendously segregated and economically stratified society. Also an alienating, individualistic and isolated one. Genuine connection with folks from other groups is rare and often only happens in the workplace or under extenuating circumstances like prison, if at all.

Limited exposure to the wide array of individuals in a given group is the breeding ground of prejudice. In the LGBT movement in the late seventies, when we were fighting the Briggs initiative that would have prevented gay positive folks from working in schools, our strategy was to talk to people in bathroom lines, at bus stops, in grocery stores and other public places. Then, upon leaving, we would hand the person a card that read: "You have just been talking to a lesbian, please uphold our right to work in schools and vote no on Proposition 6, the Briggs Initiative. Obviously, the attempt here was to break down the kind of barriers that prevented heterosexual folks from seeing us as human beings.

Although increasing numbers of African-Americans, including our president,  have arrived in the so-called middle class, racial divisions between blacks and whites are still the norm in our society. Immigrants, who have chosen to land on our shores have fared a bit better, even when language and color differences are also present. The younger generations mix more than those my generation did, but even though mandatory government segregation has been officially curtailed, self-segregation is rampant. It becomes a chicken and egg game to figure out what came first and how to stop the vicious circle of stereotyping and estrangement that keeps the racial divide strong.

The recession has, for the most part, made things worse. When people must compete for limited resources fighting ensues. Think of all the experiments of rats in cages. Or just think of the U.S. prison system. Hitler used fear and misunderstanding as a tool to exacerbate divisions between people. That is happening everywhere today. The divisive, competitive nature of capitalism fuels this fire. The fact that Wall Street criminals get away with murder is not helpful either.

I recently saw the movie "Fruitvale Station" and was moved by its poignant portrayal of Oscar Grant and the brutal way his life ended. Perhaps only time will heal the gaping wound that continues to racially divide the human community. It is a deep scar left by slavery. We can read, think, talk and continue to march for a more just and equal society, clearly a long and protracted struggle.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Marriage is Not the Answer

With all the rose-colored musings on the wonders of marriage that have arrived with our newly acquired, still limited marriage rights, you’d think that all the problems of the LGBT community had just been solved with one stroke of a Supreme Court Fairy’s pen. But this flurry of excitement, while contagious, obscures the fact that the institution of marriage is woefully inadequate as a panacea to remedy even the challenges of our personal lives, not to mention our political ones.

I remember, in the seventies, being totally perplexed when the boyfriend of politician Harvey Milk committed suicide. Someone who was part of a couple offing themselves? How could that be possible? What does this mean? In my own fantasies the idea of finding a girlfriend would put all my existential angst to rest.

Marriage is part of a canned, lobotomized prescription for” happiness,” and in reality not much more than a massive advertising campaign. Americans tend to worship the philosophy of “rugged individualism.” Within this doctrine, all formulas for a productive life begin and end with you and yours. The acquisition of wealth is but another of these personal solutions. Reproduction is fundamental as well. Babies are just a commodity created by the family.

In this world view, poor, minority, female, queer babies all have their roles to play whether it is as a target for police, cashier for a convenience store, CEO for an internet giant, or doctor for the upper crust. Whatever their future role, babies keep their parents in line financially and help disseminate this “capitalist mystique.”

At my old librarian job, access to system-wide emails was strictly limited. Yet, we all received announcements of a co-workers marriage or birth of a child. Never did we get information about an employee who’d written and produced a play, an art gallery opening featuring someone’s work or a mountain successfully climbed. In fact, those accomplishments were seen as threatening, taking away from our “real” work in the service hierarchy of the library.

Why are we encouraged to retreat into a universe of marriage, babies and private life? The answer seems obvious. Together, questioning, participating, exploring greater community issues is too threatening to the powers that be. We might grow to see and understand things that would make the crumbs they throw us harder to accept, one that could jeopardize their dominance and hegemony.

It is absolutely necessary that queers have the civil right to marry, to adopt children, to join the military and share every single right that heterosexuals possess. But to elevate marriage to the highest, most noble fulfilling goal is to perpetrate a lie. Each of us is a member of a larger community, beyond the nuclear family and its rigid boundaries. We must make political sense of our shared circumstances and rise and fall together

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Can Lesbians be Friends?

I have had a partner for going on fifteen years. We have a unique relationship because we have never lived together, in fact, I live in Berkeley and she lives in Oakland. We joke that our abode is huge because it has a freeway running down the middle.

The result of our living apart together arrangement is that we each have individual friends, as well as couple friends. As a couple, we sometimes also spend time with each other’s individual friends as well. The odd fact is that the great preponderance of these women friends are heterosexuals and I’m trying to reconcile the reason that this occurs.

Emotional intimacy beyond the couple relationship is necessary for healthy life. Straight women know this well. A boyfriend, husband or loving partner is great but without girlfriends life can be lacking in depth, dimension, and empathy. There is no way that one other person can fill each arising need, nor should they be expected to. I thought this was a given and that, especially child-free adults, would want to form new friendships at all points in their lives.

 For lesbians, there is no similar cultural frame of reference. I believe that, for single lesbians, the need for friendship gets subsumed by the search for lover-ship. Friends are the negative default setting to finding lovers. This is particularly true when folks are working and time is of the essence. The classic sentiment is, if the chemistry is not there, let’s just be friends.

As lesbians, we are a prickly bunch. We all share a history of unrequited love, thwarted romance and ferocious repression. The scar tissue that forms around these negative experiences, especially for us boomer-aged dykes, can be limitless and all-consuming. Our sexuality confuses the issue too. The potential complications of sexual attraction loom over every female to female relationship. And, due to women's oppression, fear of everything from a verbal slight to real, physical danger is always present in our lives.

But being real friends requires a lot more than chemistry. It involves shared interests, trust, mirroring our damaged and difficult selves in a way that requires compassion and understanding. It is not a fallback position, but one of fundamental, front-line support.

Lesbians often draw friends from their pool of ex-lovers or their non-attraction pool of potential lovers. But what about the idea of meeting new women with shared interests, more like straight women do? Does the nebulous sexual element make it any attempt at connection too threatening? Are we doomed to be constrained by this dynamic forever?

You might think that the fact I’m in a relationship would make me more desirable, you know, a safe harbor for the seeking. But I’m getting the feeling that it also makes me a waste of time, like squandering valuable infrastructure capital on a cul-de-sac instead of laying the foundation for a bridge or freeway.

The destination is critical but the journey itself is also important. Sometimes it can be helpful to look at the present through a wider lens. Life is uncertain. If the bolts break in that bridge or the cement cracks in that freeway, spending time on a restful cul-de-sac could be just what the doctor ordered. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

March for Manning and Meaning

For Transparency and Justice
With his military trial underway, Bradley Manning has become an issue of LGBT controversy around this year's 42nd Gay Pride Parade, there are more reasons now than ever to come out and march. The fact that the now established and clearly establishment-oriented Pride Committee president and board could call Manning a threat to the lives of military troops only illustrates the vast distance that our grass-roots, community organization has fallen.

Around 1970 the first Gay-ins were held in Golden Gate Park. In those years, issues like legal marriage and full participation in the military were the last things on queer minds. We were no more than a motley collection of outcasts, still classified in the mental health community as disordered, blatantly and officially discriminated against in every aspect of our lives from holding down a job, to renting an apartment, adopting a child, inheriting anything from our life-partners, being openly harrassed by police, bus-drivers, store owners as well as run of the mill bullies. We had no illusions or desire to be being given a slice of the moldy, cow-patty that was called the "American Pie" or to blandly blend into the mix of the so-called "melting pot."

In 1975, when I first participated in the event called "Gay Pride" it took place in Stern Grove in Golden Gate Park. Hardly a central location, some enterprising organizers had to arrange for local Muni buses to pick up participants in the Castro area and deliver us there. The parades of the seventies were politically focused and militant. 1978 in particular, zeroed in on two hate campaigns: Anita's Bryant the orange juice queen's anti gay rants and John Briggs' more dangerous initiative, proposition 6 which forbade any positive mention of gay people or their rights by anyone, gay or straight, working in California's schools.

Not only were men's issues treated as the only issues in Gay Liberation, men overwhelmingly outnumbered women by about 5 to 1 and the media almost exclusively photographed and interviewed them. Having said that, I should add that both television and print journalists loved the drag costumes and their coverage was predominantly of a derogatory nature.

We dykes were a small, nearly invisible minority. Since forcing women to wear shirts while men are permitted go topless is gender discrimination, breasts of all shapes and sizes abounded in our midst in those early years. Our boobs occasionally got some press but our voices were silenced.

On top of the media problems, there was also rampant sexism on the part of the vast majority of our "gay brothers."Before the first attempts at  genuine lesbian and gay unity which came at the beginning of the AIDS crisis, derision and ridicule of lesbians was commonplace. I remember quite well being verbally harrassed in the Castro for my haircut and lack of makeup. Society, along with gay male culture, worshipped a feminine beauty standard to which dyke outcasts allotted zero respect. The inferiority of women and "their" issues was a given in those days, so, as perverted, non-traditional women, we were considered beneath contempt.

Of course, this fact didn't dampen our spirits or lessen our resolve. It proved only that males were more tied into their superior position on the capitalist gravy train. Thus, in 1993, the alternative to the Gay Pride Parade, the Dyke March was born. It was a women-only event totally devoid of commercial interests and done completely without permits. It takes place the Saturday evening preceeding Gay Day.

With each passing year, the Pride March has become more of a "parade" and a "celebration" as it simultaneously deteriorates into a flashy, show-biz, commercial enterprise for liquor companies like Smirnoff and Budweiser. Performers and alcohol are the main draw, not to mention the plethora of "lgbt pride" items like T-shirts, jewelry, flags, caps,bumper stickers and anything else you can imagine became money-generators. Today, queer "pride" is just a veneer for big business.

But this year, in support of Bradley Manning, transparency, and a more just society for all, people who actually care about queer rights, repression and inequality of all kinds will have an opportunity to come out and show their rainbow stripes. It's past time to turn our parade back into a march, to fight for Manning and meaning in our struggle in the upcoming SF Pride Parade. I hope to see you in the streets on June 30th.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Stories We Tell

I haven't been posting as much as usual. My writing continues but it has migrated to a more personal level involving poems and stories. Politically, the repression our uprising faced has caused a period of remission, a time for self-reflection and regrouping, a gathering in of forces.

This blog celebrated its two year anniversary on February 10th, 2013. Two years in the blink of an eye. I began it in a time of great change and upheaval as an attempt to support the worldwide struggle against capitalist oppression and economic inequality, not to mention the many other forms of discrimination it engenders. Yes, I know that these ideals are ridiculously high and I wish I actually possessed the power to instigate real change. 

I was also coming to terms with my diminshing rights as a worker as well as my demotion from the middle class to the working class, a status I'd tried all my working life to transcend. The dawning of awareness that this was not a personal failing but a shared predicament illustrates the way that mass social movements are born. 

Blogging is a remarkable thing, it's a kind of open diary and a chronological framework to a person's state of mind, and, through their eyes, the state of the country and the world. It produces something notable, like a time capsule, even if it is not read by many. 

The other reason I began blogging was a story I'd read in the New York Times Magazine called "Cyberspace When You're Dead," about ghosts that linger on the Internet long after their creator has passed on. As a cancer survivor, I'm acutely aware of how quickly that rug can be pulled out from beneath your feet! The idea of an online legacy is an intriguing one, an interesting and provacative way for a non-famous person to leave their mark on society.

In newsrooms, online and printed alike, personal blogs are now utilized as research material after death. Regardless of the quality or merit of the writing, they provide a window onto a person's thought process, the way they percieved their personal universe. 

As a sixty-something, lesbian woman, I am trying to make sense of my time on earth, to turn it into stories and poetry because, just like every one of us, I have a unique and compelling story to tell. My mother, who died at 48, never had this chance to look back on her life from a distance and tell her story. I know these extra years are a gift, one I don't want to squander.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Here, Queer and Becoming Visible

Just 118 years after Oscar Wilde’s arrest for sodomy, the LGBT struggle is finally being validated as a worthy cause. The news is full of LGBT issues, from a lesbian military widow being denied spousal benefits, queers being thrown out of restaurants, denied marriage venues and wedding cakes, anti-gay prom efforts in the Midwest and the Associated Press Style controversy over whether the words husband or wife should be used for same-gender couples. Even Obama refers to us with some regularity, linking Selma and Seneca Falls to Stonewall.

This is not to imply that we are winning these battles, actually, in many instances, the backlash has become stronger. Soul-numbing slights have been an expected occurrence for queers for centuries. But it takes public validation for many heterosexuals to be able to see the forest through the trees. And, as in the Black civil rights struggle, people are coming of the woodwork claiming they supported us all along. Well, they say that hindsight is 20/20 and that is definitely preferable to total blindness.

In the bad old days, as an inveterate leftist, mostly what our community faced was invisibility. Bringing up the subject of our oppression would sometimes elicit accusations of “bourgeois decadence” or in some way imply that we were diverting attention from class and racial struggles as though we didn’t occupy places in all other groups.

When a brave non-queer stood up for us, more often than not the comment would have been preceded by an “I’m straight but…” disclaimer. Even in the early gay pride parades straight folks could, more safely, employ the option of marching together as “straights for gay rights.”

But we have persisted and in the geological timeframe of historical change. Will we eventually see full equal rights in this country and perhaps even in this world? I can only live in hope. Still, we have to brace ourselves for the end game struggle. The laps directly before the finish line tend to be the most draining and exhausting of the entire race.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Challenges of Long-Term Lesbian Relationships

 A Long-Term Power Couple
Two women who gossip together, debrief on relationship issues, exchange sexual intimacies, what could be problematic about this picture? In many ways, nothing is and that’s why many lesbians get together in the first place. But the more challenging part of this equation is staying together.

Unlike places like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, in the U.S. the separation between the culture of men and the culture of women exists informally but nevertheless, serves as a divider for the men and women. The football with the boys and shopping with the girls stereotype is simply shorthand for a far wider separation that makes it easier for same-gender couples to meet, yet harder to persist in queer relationships.

Continuing to have friends is a given for heterosexual, married women. And I don’t mean only friends that are also coupled and visited with in pairs, I mean real “heart” friends. For lesbians in couples, emotional intimacy can be threatening for the life partner. There is no automatic dividing line between other women, as all of them have the potential of being seen as romantic partners. To prevent this, once coupled lesbians often engage in what I call emotional monogamy, meaning other couple friends are encouraged but new emotional intimacy is not. 

Among queer women some of the greatest wear and tear on relationships comes from the joined-at-the-hip phenomenon. This “urge to merge” is deadly to long term connections because it becomes attempting to share the totality of one’s existence tends to be deadly in a relationship. It is far healthier to bring home stories and adventures from two separate lives.. This involves cultivation of individual friends and interests; a simple thing that the majority of straight folks do automatically.

Being sexually monogamous yet emotionally non-monogamous is possible. But this feat  is more challenging for lesbians than for our straight sisters. It means being open to the kind of real friendships we had with each other before we were taught that emotional intimacy is automatically a precursor to sexual intimacy. This is debatable, but he absence of the possibility of true friendship cuts off an emotionally satisfying and healing connection to others. Friendship should not only be for teenagers, searching singles and old married ladies. Paired lesbians need friends too.

Of course, the major things that make our relationships more difficult are factors such as outright discrimination, lack of social support, denial of marriage rights, and inequality under the law, things that fall under the general umbrella of lesbian oppression. All are obstacles working against the longevity of lesbian relationships, demanding that we explore workable new alternatives.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Transgender Rights Push Us All Toward Equality

The archetypal blushing bride with her handsome groom is an anachronism in today’s society. Part of the reason for this is a newfound fluidity of roles that men and women assume in today’s world. Another component is the increased occurrence and visibility of lesbian and gay couples but the third, and arguably most powerful factor, is the coming of age of the openly transgender community.

The gender binary is dead. Now gender has become a continuum which, like that of sexual attraction, is individually perceived and defined, so much so that even putting forth the concept of transgender identity as a unilateral entity comes with inherent problems. The transgender community has traveled a great distance since the days of Christine Jorgensen when the word “transsexual” narrowly referred to a man who had specific surgery to invert his penis into a vagina, took hormones to build breasts and sometimes had surgery to minimize protruding facial features.

Now, transgenders and intersexuals (the less stigmatized term for hermaphrodites) of both female and male origin are making decisions such as whether or not to pass as one discrete gender, how much surgery to undergo and what level of homones to take. Unlike in days gone by, these decisions emanate more from an inner voice instead of outward pressure to from social norms and sanctions.

This is an important distinction. In Iran the government will pay for transgender surgery. This is not because Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his chronies have a high regard for LGBT rights. In fact, Mr A. went so far as to deny the existence of lesbians and gays in Iran in a speech he gave at Columbia University. In his country, surgical gender transformation is granted for the most reactionary of reasons. Not only are cross-dressing and transgender people allowed to have reassignment surgery, they are compelled to have it. Once it has been performed all documentation of that person is changed to the new gender. For all practical purposes they can now live their lives as heterosexuals. It totally diffuses the problem by simply eliminating same-gender couples. However, a person who desires a sex change to pursue relationships with people of her/his own identity would, obviously, not qualify for gender reassignment.

The rainbow gender continuum in the United States has implications that resonate far beyond the issue of marriage into the very fabric of society. The first thing everyone is told about us, before birth, is our gender. Baby clothes come in pink and blue and, it could be argued, that all the colors of life are painted with this same brush: In our very recent past job opportunities, voting rights, inheritance rights, the right to serve on a jury, financial rights like the ability to hold a mortgage or have a credit card, all of these options and more were denied to women simply because of anatomy. Discrimination against women is not only a phenomenon of the Middle East and Africa. It is still alive and well, flourishing in the western world.

Transgender sexuality and indeterminate sexuality of all kinds, by their very definition crush stereotypes. What are we to think of a person who comes across as a mélange of gender, not quite male, and not quite female? Well, after we get past the feelings of discomfort and move beyond knee-jerk prejudice, what we think will depend solely on our connection, or lack of it, with any given individual; nothing more and nothing less.

As all shades of gender expression flower, not only is the issue of one man, one woman marriage made irrelevant. The entirety of sexism itself loses all viability. It is the transgender population that will help push us all forward into a future where each person’s individual character traits and preferences carry more weight the shape of their body parts, a new world that transcends the narrow limits of gender and could well be the culmination of the feminist dream.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Closeted in the 21st Century

It still happens and not just in junior high school. LGBT people live double lives even today. My sister called me the other night so I could watch Jodie Foster come out publicly at the Golden Globe Awards. Anderson Cooper declared his gayness just last year. If it is still difficult for actors and media people to live proudly in the open, there must be a high degree of prejudice surrounding regular folks.

I have been completely out since 1970. Saying this is not meant to toot my own horn. In many ways this decision has caused me a whole boatload of suffering from outright job loss to social ostracism. I didn't want to be a token lesbian for the world to see, but I felt that I had to be. My rationale was that if I had learned anything from past persecution such as what took place during the holocaust, it was that huge groups of people can really despise you and those same huge groups can be wrong. I didn't ask to be born on the other side of the bed, or to be Jewish for that matter, it just happened.

The queers I have met who remain closeted are good people. I am in no position to pass judgement on anyone. An African-American woman I used to work with took two full years to come out at work even though about a third of her coworkers were openly gay and experiencing no problems. It was more difficult for her to make this move because, in her culture, there tends to be more religion and less support. She is in a more vulnerable position.

 A new friend I met in an predominantly heterosexual but alternative environment is a clandestine lesbian. Her language of origin is not English and she is from another part of the world. I respect her very much but still have trouble with this decision, perhaps due to some failing of my own.

I am certainly well aware of what it is like to be openly other in a society that prizes conformity and uses ridicule and contempt as weapons to maintain it. 

I wonder how straight people will learn of our rainbow of diversity if the most introverted and frightened among us remain hidden? Don't these closeted ones realize that Audre Lourde was telling the truth when she said, "Your silence will not protect you?" And Lorde was African-American and, according to her "biomythography," "Zami: a New Spelling of My Name," openly queer since the fifties.

Perhaps my need to have everyone be living openly is a selfish analysis. I can neither assess another's life decisions nor the cost of speaking out for individuals whose experience is different from my own. The best I can do is help to create a world of, not just tolerance, but acceptance, a place beyond the sad, and outdated artifacts of guilt and shame. Until then, I'll just keep in mind that, at any given time, we all do the best we can.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

U.S. Women Have More Options Now…

There is a notable dichotomy that we occidental types fall back on when speaking of women’s rights and issues here at home. We all know that in countries like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan women play an extremely limited role in society at large.We tend to forget things about our own society that are part of our own very recent history.

I was in Mexico this past summer. There, as in many countries, women play a limited role in the work world. Employee wanted signs in shop windows specify often that they want a female employee who is unmarried and around 28 years of age. This is a completely legal request, as it was in the USA up until the mid-sixties. The work that young women do in Mexico now and in the U.S. of the recent past, centers around receptionist, hotel-clerk, salesgirl and other low-level often clerical or service jobs. And sometimes those women with some foreign language skills can procure employment in the travel industry.

Growing up in the fifties and sixties, I was told in so many verbal and non-verbal ways, the work that I could do. The most important job was to marry and reproduce but, beyond that, my choices were limited to teacher, nurse, librarian, secretary and possibly for the strivers, something like social worker. A woman required tremendous external support combined with inner resources to move beyond the confines of her situation. 

And a generation earlier it was even worse. My mother, who was quite a bit smarter than my father, worked for Kelly Girls as a secretary. She had been a business major in college and the highlight of her working life was when she lived in New York City and worked as a buyer for Bloomingdales. The pay scales for male buyers were much higher than for female ones because those guys “had to support a family.”

She could not get her own line of credit or secure a mortgage loan to buy property. Those rights were not extended to women. To be sexually assaulted or raped carried with it a major stigma of shame. Women who were violated were routinely questioned as to why they were in the place where they were attacked and what provocative clothing were they wearing.

It’s true we still don’t have equal power or the kind of parity in government that we would like to see. In the United States women have never held top offices like they have in so many other countries around the world. But things have gotten better. It’s imperative that we hold our ground and not let them slide backwards to an era that is being somewhat romanticized. Those of us who lived it know the truth and it wasn’t pretty. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Women Rise Up in India and Nepal

Protest in India
Internationally freedom for women often takes the form of simple survival. "honor killings," "bride burnings" and requiring a woman to marry a man who kidnaps and rapes her have been common practices in India. Groping and molestation has been dismissed under the benign sounding designation, "Eve teasing."

But now women in India are rising up against brutal conditions. The impetus for this uprising was the gang-rape and murder of a young medical student aboard a bus in Delhi. This incident has been a last straw for Indian women. Their nascent militance is reminiscent of seventies feminism in certain ways ie: the viewing of women and men as distinct social classes with women playing the subordinate, powerless role and completely unlike our early movement in others ie: socially sanctioned brutality up to and often including murder.

Protest in Nepal
Now, the women of Nepal are rising up as well. Their last straw is the case of a maid who says she was raped and robbed by government officials in an international airport there. The perpetrators were not charged and she was reimbursed with less money than was stolen. This one story has opened a Pandora's box of tales of horror involving women in Nepal. Often it is the travelers and tourists who have brought the problem of rape to light, click here to see a story involving an American tourist, simply because Nepalese women had become inured to these travesties.

But this former attitude of helplessness and acceptance has transformed into a militant uprising. We are sending our sisters love and support to continue their brave struggle and hope it speads throughout the world, even to the repressive reaches of the Middle East!