Friday, March 28, 2014

In Defense of Negativity

Sisyphus Couldn't Do It Either!
I’ve seen a lot of online posts and lately defaming a segment of the population blithely referred to as “negative people” Naturally, I’ve come to wonder what these folks have done to incur this disproportionate load of cultural wrath?

Doesn’t each individual have a right to a wide array of personal traits and characteristics?  What some people call negative, others simply consider realistic. Researchers have recently discovered that a healthy dose of cynicism in a turbulent, often intensely distressing world, just may be the most prudent, self-nurturing stance a person can take when it comes to enduring and fielding those “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

Dark-sided people have lower expectations of the world and, for that reason, are less often disappointed with their fate. Sunny-bunny types face continual disillusionment aside from being a real pain in the butt. At times, I may enjoy a chocolate-covered ├ęclair with gooey custard inside, but if I ate one for every meal, it would make me quite ill. However, due to the preponderance of happy posts, I have to assume that many people genuinely delight in continual sweetness, that perpetually bright-sided mind in all its soul-shattering glory.

Maybe I’m just paranoid about this because I’m Jewish. Jews have a long, hard-earned tradition of big portions of negativity with a heaping side of humor a la self-deprecation. It’s a survival tool as ancient and well-documented as the history of stand-up comedy.

All underdogs experience negative emotions. They are a natural response to institutionalized, omnipresent oppression. The word “negative” conjures up the word “edgy” which connotes walking a line close to the edge of acceptability, pushing the envelope of propriety. This is the domain of outliers, outsiders, a group of people who contribute the lion’s share of creative work to any given culture: people who doubt, who question, who refuse to sit back and smile. 

And meditate on this music fans: how would a room without a roof truly feel? Inadequate? Like a failure?

Now wipe that insipid grin off your face and tell me, once and for all, what’s so bad about a little correctly perceived and appropriately directed realism, er, negativity?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Lesbian Movement Comes of Age

Those of us now referred to as boomers share a common history. We cut our teeth in a tumultuous era of love and war, protest and upheaval. The freedom riders fighting and dying to fight racial segregation and restore voting rights paved the way. The outcry against the draft and the Vietnam War galvanized massive numbers of young people.

Then the Women’s Liberation Movement descended with a vengeance and split organizations such as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) wide open. When women stopped taking notes and fetching coffee the patriarchal left began to crumble.
It was a time of relative prosperity. Drugs were widely available. The birth control pill had hit the market. Taboos were being exploded. Free love and sexual experimentation was everywhere. The rules of the old order were no longer applicable.

In 1970, at Ohio State University, I joined a consciousness-raising (CR) group. There was one lesbian among us when the group began. Two years later, when it ended, there was only one woman left who still considered herself straight.

It was as if a wall of shame and fear had fallen. All our wildest fantasies, sexual and otherwise, were suddenly okay. I made new friends in a group that called itself, Radicalesbians. These women were fearless. With proud names like Debbie Dyke and Lisa Lesbian and none of them looked scary or predatory like the old British “bulldaggers” in the movie, “The Killing of Sister George,”or suicidal like Martha in “The Children’s Hour.” Young and hip and angry about oppression, they looked a lot like me. Groups like the Lavender Menace and the Lesbian Avengers and became the persistent thorn in the side of the mainstream women’s movement, the specter of what heterosexual women feared most.

Today, we lesbians seem to be making grand leaps in LGBT civil rights. When folks claim it is all happening so fast, I want to smack them. Fast? The Stonewall riots were in 1969 so 45 years is not exactly the blink of an eye. But it’s relatively rapid when you consider the duration of slavery or how long it took women to get the vote.

Political change always feel geologic in its pace because we are sacrificing our very lives when we are denied full human status. Living to see some of the new dwellings rise over the foundations we laid is gratifying but no excuse to lay back and rest before the job is completed.