Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Consider Class Identity

Meaningful Work?
The hardest and most-fraught struggle of my life has been an economic one. It is often difficult to explain what this means this to people, for whom this was not the case. Unlike contemporary kids who go back to their parental home when they are having trouble being self-supporting, many of us don’t or didn’t have that option. By age twenty-two, because of deaths and remarriage, I no longer had a family to return to if I had nowhere else to go.  My family of origin was never wealthy to begin with. My parents, an insurance salesman who worked on commission and a secretary were not regarded as accomplished in this culture. And following our mother’s untimely death, my seventeen-year old sister and I took off for California in her car, to try to make a life for ourselves.

Yes, it was easier to make a living in those years, even in the Bay Area. Working part-time, paying rent and eating was possible then. But there were things I had to learn. To act obsequious and smile were two feats I found particularly difficult. I learned to swallow my pride when gays, lesbians or Jews were insulted, and this happened more often than I’d expected. Even though I was a chronic insomniac, I managed to get up early and go each day to a place where I was neither welcomed nor respected. You could call it prostitution. It was certainly soul-draining, humiliating and degrading. I did it for money, because it was necessary. I did it because I had no other options.

In lesbian activist groups in which I was a participant, friends would tell me how odd it was that I did such politically incorrect work. They said they could only perform a job if it was meaningful and fulfilling. I listened politely not bothering to explain that I didn’t have that luxury. Some of them didn’t procure work until their early thirties. Many never did get paying work and lived on trust funds while pursing art or politics. They put their energy into activities that had the potential of changing the world and looked down on folks like myself. I envied them. They were often very nice people who knew the right behavior for every situation. This knowledge of propriety was a totally new concept to me. I had trouble holding on to jobs, partly because I was too honest.

On three different jobs, all of which I was hoping to hold for a relatively long time, I was fired. It usually happened after I came out as lesbian. On one, after being outed in the SF Chronicle in a Sunday Gay Pride Parade, I was fired Monday, the very next day. Were these firings homophobic? Of course. But they were also class-related because of my poor social skills.

When I visited Cuba, two years ago, I met lots of very poor people. They had tons of issues due to poverty but fear of having no food and no place to live because of lack of money was not among them. Their rent and some basic food staples were given them by the government, but most make less than the equivalent of twenty dollars a month. Insufficient as it was, they had a safety net, unlike the potential free fall in a deep well that we have here in the USA.

I don’t need to worry and struggle anymore. In later life I learned my lesson. I went back to school, Because I could keep only union jobs, I looked for that protection and my work life as an older worker was easier. But my entire journey is part of my identity. When a political person who never experienced the anxiety and pressure of needing to earn their living, speaks to me as though our allotment of “privilege” is the same, I get extremely angry. If I bring up class issues in response, it is often dismissed as a sour grapes thing. “She can’t help her background,” might be said. Of course, she can’t change her circumstances, we are all born with some assets and liabilities.

But now, more than ever, white folks are acknowledging the way race has helped them move through the world. This is a change for the better. It is the same with class advantage. No-one is saying they hate you but our identities are not the same. Never make assumptions that your story is true for anyone else. Open your eyes to the many different routes we all must take to arrive at the same place. And like all members of a wide variety of groups, try to see people in all their identities, all their colors. Life is not just where you wind up. It is also an equation involving the distance traveled.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Reality Show (Rising Phoenix Review)

Reality Show By Joan Annsfire

Reality Show
I was weaned on fear,
marinated in bitterness;
My grandparents fed me stories
of fleeing the Czar,
the Cossacks, the pogroms.
Growing up in Ohio,
the fifties were difficult years
my Jewish family, outsiders, determined
that the events in Russia, in Germany,
would not happen again,
could not happen here.
With this election the universe shifted.
Words, like bullets, ripped through
a veil of pretense leaving us
stranded on an ice floe
of worse case scenarios.
Distortion, dystopia;
Daily news coverage
has become a reality show
in which I am powerless
to change the channel.
A ship of state,
tilting menacingly off balance,
leaning precariously
over a roiling sea.
Unlike the frogs in the pot,
I am aware of the heat rising.
I move in sometimes in anger,
other times in hypnotic denial.
Witnessing the frontlines of a culture war
that has enveloped us
without warning.
In nightmare visions
I dodge cars, teargas, bullets,
escape down totalitarian streets,
covered in the toxic white dust of nationalism;
a caustic mixture
of hatred and despair.
Perhaps I will get used to it, become inured,
the same way that online comments
about lampshades, ovens and gas chambers,
one day lost much of their capacity
to shock or wound.
Now casualties mount
and desperation rules.
I re-examine history, mobilize inner strength
and measure resistance
against the weight
of authoritarian forces.
History’s clock is unrelenting.
It ticks off minutes, hours;
we watch, mesmerized,
as the needle of racial memory
moves closer to zero.
The longest night has just begun.
Shapeless as shadows,
my ancestors surround me;
gather like exiles,
hover like phantoms,
whisper in foreign tongues.
Awake, alive, afraid,
I understand every word.
By Joan Annsfire

Monday, July 2, 2018

Young Women Attack Dykes their Grandma's Age

Oh my god, they really are old!
It was a nightmare scenario. Imagine the Lavender Menace meets Lord of the Flies. Twenty-something participants in the Dyke March swooped down on our small contingent of old lesbians like crazed predators thirsty for blood.

There were eight of us marching together at that point. Many were old friends from the seventies. Each one of us has different political views that include leftist activism, mainstream liberal Democratic politics and radical feminism to name a few. Three of us were holding signs. The rest were not. I was wearing a t-shirt from the 2004 Dyke March that read, "Uprooting Racism," with a creative graphic of a brown, tree-root woman holding the earth in her branches. I am 67 years old. Another seventy-something woman wore a Dyke March T-shirt from the year 2000.  A younger woman was carrying a cane and wearing a t-shirt that read, "My favorite season is the fall of the patriarchy."

Suddenly the youngsters were surrounding us. One was yelling through a bullhorn which made answering back nearly impossible. She was calling us TERFs, an acronym that stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists. The background story would take three more blogs, but just be aware that "Kill TERFs is a favorite slogan of this population. And, if you're old, you are automatically under suspicion as a target. When she belligerently yelled, "Don't touch me!" when my shoulder accidentally brushed hers, I knew she wasn't kidding around and moved away.

Two of our group carried signs they didn't like. Ironically, one sign said, "You Cannot Silence Us with Violence," and underneath that, "Stop Lesbian Erasure." I knew that was currently in the news and certainly didn't consider that sign "fighting words." That sign was torn up by the end of the march. Another sign about puberty blockers I knew was controversial in the medical community but I (wrongly) assumed that lesbians, like other members of society, have a right to differences of opinion, just as doctors and nurses do.

But these baby-faced gals couldn't figure out that we were all individuals, let alone old friends, or that free speech is still the law in this country. They descended screaming "TERFs go home!" and "Down With Trans-phobia," although no-one had spoken a word against transgender folks and most of us are progressive activists in various communities. It was strange coming from these females who certainly looked like cisgender girls barely pushing twenty-one. They all wore the smooth, impenetrable faces of pampered youth, strangers to adversity who, most often, live with their parents.

I tried to reason with them, explaining that falling for Trump's agenda of rabid hate is playing right into their hands. But their eyes were on fire, their bullhorn loud, their white faces contorted in a distinctly unattractive way. I was surrounded by flying hands and hula-skirt hair, you know, the kind that dances around heads in strands and is produced only by round follicles found on the heads of the master race. As they screamed their hatred at me, I politely informed them that I was Jewish, just in case they ran out of insults.

But for the likes of us activists, our crime was not trans-phobia. Our offense was obvious. You could see it in the sag of our lined faces, the soft outlines of our not-so-svelte bodies. We could not deny it. Every one of us was guilty, guilty, guilty of being old. Yes, that terrifying state that, if all goes well for these young tormentors, they would reach one day.

At that moment, my partner and I absconded to take a break in the shade. By the time we caught up with our contingent, mob mentality had set in. Two signs had been torn up and their bearers repeatedly knocked down. The whole group had procured a police escort to help them leave the march in safety.

We certainly have fallen a long way since the early, heady days of the lesbian movement. Elders' horror stories of being beaten, spit on, fired from jobs and refused all kinds of services simply for being lesbian or gay are clearly not of interest to many of this generation. Learning from history has become a concept discarded and forgotten. I suppose it's much easier to hate the people around you, folks to whom you have access, than to direct righteous anger toward the real enemy, the corrupt, fascist administration we live under, in other words, the powers that be.