Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Happy Holiday Season!

Between Hanukah and Christmas I'm posting this collage featuring the "Next to the Last Supper" and highlights from both holidays. Have a great season, whatever your preference.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Cultural Differences In Europe

 In Paris along the Seine
The traveling I have done in the past, if you eliminate the seventies, has taken place in what is commonly referred to as the Third World. There, of course, there are a myriad of cultural differences depending on the country and the culture. But I didn't expect to find much of that in Europe where Deborah and I were the downscale peons descending from the much derided and lauded USA.

But things are done differently over there in subtle ways. One that came totally out of left-field and was explained to me by a gay male couple we were staying with in Belgium was that people don't commonly use wash cloths for their faces there. They thought my request for one was quite exotic. This seemed bizarre to me because I had bad acne as a young person and my washcloth was a bathroom staple. "How do women take off their make-up?" I inquired. They just...and Paul pantomimed sprinkling water on his face with his hands. I did notice that tissue boxes were often next to the sinks as well.

Asking for tap water at restaurants can be a dicey proposition, even without a drought. In France they will do it if you ask for "l'eau du robinet" water from the faucet. It will never have ice though. Ice is reserved for mixed drinks only. In Belgium they will run you out of the country if you ask for free water with a meal, but the Belgians will run you out of the country for a lot of things. A coffee-shop owner in Bruges was not going to let me sit with Deborah while she drank her espresso without ordering something. I refused and told him he was being unrealistic. He became furious but did not call the police. I had the whole scenario in my head, "Tourist arrested for refusing to order drink." I told him I was just going to sit with my wife while she drank her coffee. He stormed out of his own shop when I suggested he lighten up.

Beer and wine tended to be cheaper and more readily available than water, even in libraries. By ten in the morning folks were politely swilling beer in cafes, especially in Amsterdam. Never ask to be directed to a "Coffee Shop" unless you want to smoke marijuana. Cafes serve coffee, coffee shops are smoke to get high joints. When our host, Indra complained that some travelers make her apartment smell like a coffee shop, I thought dark roast, yum! But that's not the smell she was referring to.

A true sore point for me in Europe has to do with the fact that I can't go for more than about an hour and a half, two hours max, without emptying my bladder. When we visited museums or historic sites, this was not an issue, but for exploring neighborhoods it was. Public bathrooms were only in cafes and many cafes would only let you use them if you bought something. Buying a drink is counter-intuitive if your goal is to pee less! Belgians were fanatics about this, the French might give in but the Dutch were the least rigid if you gave them a good reason. Department stores or clothing stores did not have bathrooms. It makes me wonder about the capitalist history of making the shopper comfortable which must have been an evolutionary part of US culture. One store that did have a restroom charged .50 euros to use it (about 60 to 75 cents, depending on the exchange rate, but you had to have exact change).

All in all, I did have a great time running around France Belgium and the Netherlands. But now that I've returned, I do have a renewed appreciation for the land of the free, bathrooms and water that is.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Backlash to Marriage

Kim Davis and Kathy Bates as crazy Annie Wilkes
The South may not rise again but more often than we'd like, it rears its ugly head, This time it is Kentucky clerk Kim Davis refusing to obey the law and do her job and give out marriage licenses.

As a former civil servant, I know how little discretion we wage slaves have in deciding our own job descriptions. So possessed, angry, deluded Kim and company (the Jerry Falwell founded, Liberty Counsel is supporting her) stands blocking the schoolhouse door as the George Wallace of her generation.

God help us defend ourselves from those who believe they have god on their side. Kathy Bates is a lock to play her in the movie version as she played the crazed fan so well in the movie "Misery." Here is Domenick Scudera's amusing take on that movie in the works!

Monday, July 6, 2015

LGBT Struggle is not Diminished by Marriage Equality

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

My Body, My Definitions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 4, 2015

Does Transitioning Fight Oppression?

Biologically, I am a lesbian Yes, I consider myself to have been, not only born a female, but born a lesbian.  I am a feminist. I have absolutely no idea how "women" feel. I don't believe that I've ever felt like one. Men are even more foreign. I have always just felt like a person, one saddled with organs and anatomical features that cause me to be percieved as a female person.

I used to see a world divided into two types of people, functional and decorative. Each person has traits from each category but "women" skew toward decorative, "men" functional. Words like interior versus exterior could be used as well. But this is all a bit too simplistic. I actually find each package full of sex roles disgusting and any person who acts as one package, quite limited. The nature of each makes them anti-human and unacceptable. We are all so much more than either of those options. 

I wonder that if I were young today would I transition to a man? I might consider it but only because present-day options are so limited. For me, it would be a terrible mistake. The gendered world today is full of the misguided notion that all a person has to do is be the right gender, or no gender, and their problems will be solved. The idividual solution is the only one actively proposed today. It is the Ayn Rand gender solution.

Sexism is not some gender-binary equation. It is systemic, an integral part of the capitalist economy that exploits labor by race, class, gender and a litany of other things. It's a different issue than changing your body. Ideally, we should all be able to do whatever we want, pursue whatever inspires us within the context of the body we already have. Transforming the physical body is not the answer. Go ahead, if it floats your boat. Have all kinds of plastic surgery too! Just don't expect your decision to weigh in against the dominant paradigm.

We used to see broad-based gender stereotyping and discrimination as a social problem.That is something that was the basis of oppression. It required organizing, mobilizing, conciousness-raising, demonstrating and fighting for something better.

You can appoint yourself a god or a goddess. It may do wonders for your ego but nothing will change. Transgendered people have become frontline symbols for a much bigger, more compelling problem. They have been deluded into thinking that by simply altering a body you can make oppression vanish. If that were true, every movie actor would have already changed history. Do what you like to your own body. But don't delude yourself. Only organizing in the outside world can cause the struggle for justice to begin.

Friday, April 17, 2015

LGBT Rights: Up and Down and Up Again

I've been down with a flu from the depths of hell but have been mostly following the news. The instantaneous and massive mobilization around Indiana governor Pence's religious discrimination ordinance was fabulous! Nothing I could have dreamed of witnessing in the bad old days. Most of the USA has now made it abundantly clear that denial of service based on bigotry is unacceptable.

Of course, every step forward brings a certain amount of backlash so events like Springfield Missouri repealing a gay rights ordinance is no surprise. And, as much as I distrust mainstream politics, civil rights protections of queers and people of color will be a frontline issues in the 2016 presidential election.

Our support can be deceptive. We have not crossed the finish line yet. In fact, if we look to the Black civil rights struggle as a model,  not only are the last laps of the most difficult ones, but the struggle itself is endless. Things inevitably will get a lot worse before they get better.

The best alternative would be to stop doing things in a piecemeal fashion: non-discrimination in employment, marriage,  housing, adoption, all the issues together under one civil rights protection statute, preferably issued by the Supreme Court. That is easier said than done. The ERA, Equal Rights Amendment for women, never made it across that finish line. Now the right wing has opened an abyss full of snapping crocodiles they call "religious freedom." It is part of their victim-based strategy of persecution, an interesting reversal of the actual dynamic.

But we need not despair. Among young people organized religion is rapidly declining. The last time that happened was during the late sixties and early seventies when my generation was coming of age. And you know how that played out.

So there is hope. We are in this for the long haul. Whenever people say how quickly the LGBT struggle has achieved some rights I wonder what version of history they are reading. Certainly not the sixty plus years of my struggle or that of my predecessors in whose footsteps I have walked.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Shooting Queers in California

Yes, an initiative ushering in a new sport in California is wending its way unto the ballot. It's called the "Sodomite Suppression Act" and could replace skeet shooting once and for all. Sure you've heard of proposals like this in Uganda,Iran, Russia and a whole slew of fly-by-night republics where bills like this have been introduced, mostly by frustrated Evangelical Americans.

Now thanks to attorney Matt McLaughlin, rumored to be the reason Will Shakespeare once suggesting killing all the lawyers, you can get that exciting third-world vibe without leaving home! If you're thirsting for homosexual blood and vengeance upon the wicked like Matt, there now exist a proposed death-penalty solution to that pesky, long-standing homosexual problem!

This homophobes ultimate wet-dream, is a bit unclear on specifics. This new initiative would require that "anyone who touches another person of the same gender for the purpose of sexual gratification “be put to death by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method.” Although I am deeply moved that expediency was a priority in this proposal, would Matt himself be responsible for the shootings? Will firing squads come back into vogue here as they have in Utah?

A nod here to Russian nationals greased-up for Putain's, er Putin's iron fist: “It would also make it a crime, punishable by 10 years in in prison for those who advocate gay rights to an audience that includes minors.” An even bigger nod to George Zimmerman in the section that would “authorize members of the public to carry out the killings if the state fails to do so within a year.” I’m starting to feel more secure already.

Yes, gathering signatures for this ballot proposal may begin quite soon. We can all rest easy in the realization that even calls for mass murder can get on the ballot in our Golden State. It's a process open to anyone who can put up the 200 dollar filing fee. Ask Charlotte Laws. She has responded with her own initiative aimed at McLauglin and his ilk, "The Intolerant Jackass Act."

Friday, March 6, 2015

I'm Taking a Break From Being Jewish

Yes, you heard right, I’m taking a break from being Jewish. It’s gotten to be kind of a drag lately with all this conflict, controversy and impending war stuff, so I’m choosing to be un-chosen. I think I’ll be Episcopalian instead. They have such great hair! I’ll guess I'll have to work on that.

In the past,  when I heard about "recovered Catholics," I was jealous. I thought that recovery for Jews was impossible. It seemed like much more of a terminal diagnosis.

But I intend to prove myself wrong. I’m already trying to smile so hard in public places that it hurts my face. And when something or someone makes me angry, I will let it fester inside until a year later when I'll display total recall of every word of that final conversation. Anger should marinate slowly and thoroughly, kind of like barbequed pork. My new motto will be flies are more attracted to honey than vinegar. What I'm going to do with that swarm of flies still remains to be seen. 

I must let go of my Sigmund persona and stop analyzing and attempting to interpret every human interaction. This perpetual mental note-taking is interfering with my experience, preventing me from living in the present moment. Sigmund Freud must go.I’ll need to replace him with someone else, maybe Rush Limbaugh?

So don’t talk to me about great deals at garage sales, high-yield index funds or adventures in real estate. Remember, I’m taking a break from being Jewish. Perhaps, in several years, there will be some fabulous whisper campaigns, but for now, Happy Easter! He is, almost risen. Grammatically, the word should actually be raised. Damn, this is going to be harder than I thought!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

I’ve Been Training All My Life to Run this Race

I am Charlie, I am Ahmed, I am Jewish
I was moved and inspired by the unity rally in Paris last week. After the horror stories I’d read about European and French anti-Semitism this past year it was particularly heartening to see the signs that read, “je suis Charlie," "je suis Juif,"and some that read, “je suis Ahmed," the name of the Muslim policeman who was murdered at the Charlie Hebdo office. 

A united front is neccesary at this historical moment when overt anti-Semitism is worse than any time since the lead-up to World War II and Islamophobia is being weaponized as a fascist organizing tool.

Of course prejudice against Jews is not the only problem now. Islamophobia is a massive concern in non-Muslim countries worldwide. The deluded thinking that makes each individual Muslim responsible for the actions of any other Muslim embodies the very essence of bigotry. Muslims are a stigmatized underclass in Europe. As such they are often victims of racism and have limited prospects for upward moblility. The anti-Muslim rallies being held almost weekly in Berlin are actually quite reminiscent of the anti-Jewish rallies of the thirties!

A few journalists have even gone so far as to label Muslims the “new Jews.” This is ridiculous. To even consider this to be the case we would have to be living in a post anti-Semitic world. The fallacy that anti-Jewish hatred has been eradicated makes as much sense as calling our society “post-racial,” In other words, it makes absolutely no sense at all.

Some of my friends have been posting articles and cartoons pointing out that Jews receive an inordinate amount of attention when bigotry rears its head. This "special privileges" strategy has a tried and true history. It is the pedestal approach that has been applied both to women and gays as well as Jews. It denies the reality of both minority status and varying levels of race and class within a group. Once you’re up on that high perch it is easier to be the recepient of all sorts of projectiles. Neo-nazi groups and their followers find this school of thought appealing.

As a child growing up in Ohio in the 1950’s, I was warned repeatedly by virtually all family members, that it was only a matter of time until the gentile world, would try to eliminate us again. That undercurrent of fear has always been deep in Jewish communities, and not without reason. In many ways this fear has shaped my life. It has driven my politics and directed my struggle and fueled the determination to make my presence felt in opposing all forms of oppression.

It is difficult to impossible to be proudly Jewish in the left. We can be Jews but we have to be careful about talking about it. LGBT folks have experienced similar constraints in the past. There was a time when you could be discreetly queer, just keep your mouth shut about it. As leftist Jews today, we are required to bury our memories of discrimination and harrassment and simply pass for "white." Our loudest accusations of racist or Zionist are often reserved for fellow Jews, due to peer pressure, due to fear. We are terrified of bringing that undercurrent of disdain, of hatred to the surface.

It is true, Israel is a travesty in so many ways. How ironic that the very country that was supposed to keep us safe is the one now most likely to lead us into danger just because the Germans wouldn’t just give us Germany but saddled us with someone else's country instead! But this purpose of this piece is not to discuss the Middle East. The establishment of Israel was the result of a massive and brutal genocide. But it has nothing to do with our individual histories as Jews outside of that state today. Our attempted assimilation, our wounds, our victories, the struggles of our parents and grandparents, all that doesn't change. As secular, American, activist Jews, these are the stories we must tell.
The far-right is practically orgasmic over the Paris attacks. The burgeoning neo-Nazi organizations in Europe would adore seeing Muslims and Jews fight to the death of every last one of us. Unity is of ultimate importance now. Arab Muslims are Semites; they are our cousins who, under different circumstance, could have been our closest allies. Perhaps there is still time. Today both Jews and Muslims are in the crosshairs, our destinies intertwined. We will rise or fall together.