Archive for July, 2006

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NYTimes on those rebel gays

July 30, 2006

There’s an article today’s New York Times about the gays who question the gay marriage movement: “For Some Gays, a Right They can Forsake.” While the article may be a bit unbalanced (in my opinion), giving a lot of voice to the sexual freedom-loving gays, it does talk a bit about the queer voice calling for a wider definition of “family,” and also mentions the “Beyond Marriage” statement about which I posted on Friday.

some excerpts:

But as the fight for same-sex marriage rages across the country — this month being defeated in the highest court in New York State as well as Washington — the anti-marriage gay men and lesbians say they are feeling emboldened to speak out against what they view as the hijacking of gay civil rights by a distressingly conservative, politically correct part of the gay establishment. They say the gay marriage movement, backed by major well-funded organizations like Lambda Legal, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, has drained resources and psychic energy from other causes like AIDS research, universal health insurance and poverty among gay people.

and:

To these activists, the fight for gay marriage is the mirror image of the right-wing conservative Christian lobby for family values and feeds into the same drive for a homogeneous, orthodox American culture.

A sentiment to which Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, responds:

“My organization is called ‘Freedom to Marry’ not ‘Mandatory Marriage,’ ” Mr. Wolfson said. “Gay people in America can’t really say they’ve rejected marriage in favor of something else, because for most of us it hasn’t been offered.”

And here come the queers at the end, trying to widen the context of this debate:

Other groups, while supporting gay marriage, are using the issue to push for legal recognition of other nontraditional relationships, like unmarried couples of all kinds.

Check out the full article here and read the “Beyond Marriage” statement here. I have tons to say about this issue, particularly about the way it was portrayed in this article, but I don’t want to get into it too much. Briefly, I think it’s interesting that the two main arguments that they showed, the “we don’t want pressure to get married” kind, and the “this is not a broad enough definition of family and/or relationships” kind, represent two very different kinds of homos, maybe polar opposites. Even though I criticize the goals of the gay marriage movement as being too narrow, I recongize that there are hundreds of rights being denied to gay people that straight people have, and I agree that it is completely unfair and yes, unconstitutional. At the same time, I really believe that the this issue is a symptom of a much larger problem in this country, and the gay marriage movement seeks to deal only with that symptom, in a way separating this issue out from and therefore ignoring the larger problem of which it is a part. I agree with folks that argue that this is playing into the Christian Right’s mantra of marriage and monogamy. However, I think the people who really lose out in this battle are those alternative families mentioned in the “Beyond Marriage” statement, and not gay men who are wistfully dreaming of the sexual freedom of the 1970’s and don’t want to be pressured to get married. Annoying as that might be, it doesn’t affect your financial status or your ability to access health care or countless number of other benefits that marriage gives you.

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beyond rhetoric

July 28, 2006

A statement was recently written by a group of 20 queer writers, educators, and activists (among other professions) called “Beyond Marriage.”

We offer this statement as a way to challenge ourselves and our allies working across race, class, gender and issue lines to frame and broaden community dialogues, to shape alternative policy solutions and to inform organizing strategies around marriage politics to include the broadest definitions of relationship and family.

According to the website, the statement was a product of a meeting held in April to discuss marriage politics in the US. The statement, a summary of which you can read here and the full version of which you can read here, is remarkable in the way that it manages to frame queer politics of marriage, family, and inclusivity in a productive and realistic way:

All families, relationships, and households struggling for stability and economic security will be helped by separating basic forms of legal and economic recognition from the requirement of marital and conjugal relationship.

Their critique is extensive and yet totally on target:

The Right’s anti-LGBT position is only a small part of a much broader conservative agenda of coercive, patriarchal marriage promotion that plays out in any number of civic arenas in a variety of ways ­ – all of which disproportionately impact poor, immigrant, and people-of-color communities. The purpose is not only to enforce narrow, heterosexist definitions of marriage and coerce conformity, but also to slash to the bone governmental funding for a wide array of family programs, including childcare, healthcare and reproductive services, and nutrition, and transfer responsibility for financial survival to families themselves.

It’s often difficult to talk about queer “opposition” to the current framework of the gay marriage debate without coming off like a self-righteous radical contrarian. I didn’t really mention that part of my struggle with this debate in my post about some of these issues. I really feel like this is a statement I can really put my weight behind. It addresses the different types of families that would not benefit from same-sex marriage as it is currently being proposed and why the debate really needs to be widened. And unlike so many “anti-“ arguments, it actually proposes something different and still concrete, even bringing in examples of specific states that have made strides in reframing this debate to include different permutations of “family” (Arizona, South Carolina, and Utah). This was one of my favorite parts, specifically because I had no idea that there were actual examples of efforts towards legislation in the US that sought to broaden the term “family” and address the large context of the gay marriage issues, (adoption, health care, etc.) which often seem to exist in a sort of gay marriage vacuum, unrelated to other issues/people. They end the section of those summaries with:

Different regions of our country will require different strategies, but we can, and must, keep central to our work the idea that all family forms must be protected – not just because it is the right thing to do, but also because it is the strategic and winnable way to move forward.

The statement has some impressive signatories, over 250 of them, including a number of my former professors; academics through whose writings I learned a great deal about queer and gender theory, history, and Jewish feminism; Barbara Ehrenreich (who spoke at my commencement), and Leslie Feinberg; among many others. I like. My only question, of course, is what does this document do for us now that it exists? Firstly, you can sign it yourself here. After that I’m not sure what else. My guess is that they wrote it to garner support and publicity for a movement, yet to be created, which might complicate (in the good way) the framework of the current marriage debate. I’m not holding my breath, but if nothing else, it’s an interesting and inspiring read.

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gratitude to the blogosphere

July 26, 2006

Apropos of “doikeyt” (“here-ness” in Yiddish), a concept that I mentioned in a comment on my previous post, thank you to jspot, for this very important post about not forgetting that while a war rages on in the Middle East, there are tons of domestic issues that are getting the back burner that really deserve our attention right now.

Jeremy Burton writes:

It is not to say the Jewish organizations ought not or should not be deeply attentive to the Middle East in a moment of crisis, nor that it doesn’t remain high on Jewish agendas at all times – reflecting the diverse politics and positions of our community and organizations. It’s just that we also cannot afford to lose sight of the broad vision of what we care about in the world, the issues that have implications for us and millions of others here at home and around the world. These are equally important to a powerful Jewish vision of the world and our place in it.

The rest of the post provides a short list of current issues not getting much attention. Visit the post here and bookmark jspot.org, the group blog for “Jewish perspectives on contemporary issues of social and economic justice,” which focuses only on domestic issues: “no foreign policy, no Middle East, no Israel.”

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oh, silly nuance. like a pebble in my vegan shoe.

July 25, 2006

Last night I attended a “workshop” called “Anti-Semitism on the Left” at Bluestockings Bookstore, a self-described “radical bookstore, fair trade cafe, and activist center” on the lower east side of Manhattan. I put workshop in quotations because the tiny store was so packed with people that there was no space for any sort of “workshopping.” There was a panel discussion of three people whose perspectives and areas of expertise seemed to overlap quite a bit, followed by a Q+A (mostly Q’s, of the long tirade variety) of some very passionate progressive Jews (and some very loud non-Jews, of course). Full disclosure: it was a beautiful evening outside and stifling inside the bookstore. The yogurt friend and I arrived exactly on time, only to find that the only seats left were on the floor. Hot and uncomfortable do make it very difficult to sit patiently for someone to say something innovative and/or productive, but I sat and listened intently for a good hour and remained mostly bored throughout. Eh.

I don’t really want to go through all the points of the evening. But some of the discussions that came up during the Q+A that were brushed aside quite quickly were really interesting and I think are worth unpacking. Part of the point of the evening was to delve into what anti-semitism really is about, and more specifically, what it means in the general wing we like to call “LEFT” (whatever that means). What I saw was a lot of Jews with anti-occupation politics who seem to be quite angry at the way that Zionism has hijacked “Judaism” and the way that this has caused many non-Jews define our religion/culture/ethnicity according to their [negative] opinions of Zionism and the state of Israel. What I did not see was anyone, besides the panelists, who was able to talk about their own experiences with anti-Semitism in their left-wing lives. In some weird way, a discussion that was framed as “look what’s happening in our movement, let’s figure out how to change it,” turned into, “why are these other Jews doing this to us?” Which lead me to believe, while swept up in the anti-Semitism train of thought, is that a serious symptom of anti-Semitism is when Jews pit themselves against each other instead of addressing a larger issue.

One particularly tense point came about when one of the panelists, in answering a question, touched on the complexity of the fact that the state of Israel was founded following some very intense anti-Semitism in Europe (um, hello?), and now I paraphrase: this makes our hatred for the state of Israel quite complicated. And from the back of the room there was lots of murmuring that I loosely interpreted as: why is she saying that out loud? Doesn’t she know that the whole anti-Semitism thing that pushed the founding of Israel is so overplayed? And now these interpreted thoughts are starting to sound like those of a Holocaust denier. And now I’m getting ahead of myself.

To me, that could’ve been a really intense part of the evening, unpacking that question. I don’t understand why we can’t see these issues with more nuances. Isn’t it possible that the Jews have been both oppressed by anti-Semitism and also have and continue to act out a different kind of oppression on Palestinians? Forget Israel for a second. Let’s take the Crown Heights riots of 1991. To keep my argument short (and please forgive me for my oversimplification), can’t we admit that the riots were a product of some complex combination of anti-Semitism, racism, and classism? Why does it have to be one or the other?

In some ways I felt like an outsider last night, like suddenly, after all these arguments I have had with my family where they look at me like I’ve gone so far to the left I must have lost my head, I felt like a right-wing Zionist. When I mentioned that discussion about the anti-Semitism that immediately preceded the founding of the state to my mother today, she said that it demonstrates a lack of knowledge of history. And I guess that’s just it. It could also be just ignoring certain inconvenient facts that complicate one’s argument or perspective. Thinking about the history of the state of Israel, and maybe more broadly, the history of the Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries, one has to use to be very delicate in forming opinions about current affairs in the middle east. I’m deeply opposed to the occupation and even more opposed to and frightened by a Jewish state that is based on its military might. However, I can’t say with a full heart that Israel should never have been founded, as I believe many of last night’s workshop attendees seem to believe. Simply put, it’s too simple a perspective. It’s also not real or productive in terms of present politics.

Perhaps this sort of conversation should take place in a Jewish context, where we can have a serious discussion about what Jews who don’t want to prioritize Israel or Zionism can do to identify strongly as Jews without feeling ostracized for not being Zionists. That might be a good place to stop this posting. I’m seeing a part two in the near future. Stay tuned…next week: learning to love your Diaspora!

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baby making in the 21st century (hint: this has nothing to do with sex, and maybe that’s the issue)

July 12, 2006

Check out the July/August issue of Mother Jones magazine – it has some great articles relating to Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART). This is not something I knew a whole lot about, especially for a person who considers herself somewhat in the know in terms of “reproductive rights.” What began to sink in for me, first of all, was the way that “reproductive rights” has come to be a synonym for “abortion rights,” which is actually not accurate at all. The aspect of reproductive rights, in its most literal sense, is the notion that any woman with a desire to get pregnant and give birth should be able to do so. ART includes in vitro fertilization, surrogates, sperm/egg/embryo donation, etc.

This article, by Elizabeth Weil, discusses the complexities and difficulties of ART. The thrust of the article revolves around the fact that there is almost no public policy in the US that manages ART, leaving the decision of who is fit to receive help in becoming a parent up to fertility doctors themselves. Personal beliefs enter this decision-making too often, Weil argues. It’s actually sort of shocking to me how much the doctors get to pass judgment on people seeking fertility treatments and how much power our government has given them by not creating any guidelines for ART. Weil states the following in a table that I can’t seem to find in the online edition of the article:

In a survey of fertility clinic doctors:

  • 59% agreed that everyone has the right to have a child
  • 44% believe that fertility doctors don’t have the right to decide who is a fit parent
  • 48% said they were very or extremely likely to turn away a gay couple seeking a surrogate
  • 38% would turn away a couple on welfare who wanted to pay for ART with Social Security checks
  • 20% would turn away a single woman
  • 17% would turn away a lesbian couple
  • 13% would turn away a couple in which the woman had bipolar disorder
  • 9% would turn away a couple who wanted to replace a recently deceased child
  • 5% would turn away a biracial couple

So everyone has the right to have a child…with many, many exceptions. Aside from the moral stuff delineating whether lesbians, women with disabilities, single women, etc. are fit to be parents, there is another issue. Potential ART “consumers” shop around for awhile, looking for the fertility clinic with the highest success rate before plunking down $100,000 or more. To obtain high success rates, these clinics have to do their own careful choosing among potential patients. Most of this discrimination has to do with age – older women are often rejected from potential ART.

What would it look like to actually have ART controlled by the government? Weil cites different rules in different European counties as examples for ART-related regulations: “A woman is entitled to two cycles of IVF, a woman is entitled to four cycles of IVF, a doctor will implant one embryo, a doctor will implant up to four.” Weil points out, almost ironically, that the only law relating to ART has to do with embryo use for stem cell research:

So far in this country no rules have been set. Literally, the only thing you can’t do is use embryos created since 2001 for stem cell research in a lab that receives federal funding. Other than that, anything goes. Women in their 60s have been assisted in having children. Semen has been extracted, without prior consent, from men who’ve died. In some states, embryos are treated as material possessions and deemed transferable as part of one’s estate; in others, they’re treated almost as children and cannot be harmed or destroyed, and, if abandoned, can be implanted by doctors in surrogates’ wombs.

A quick aside: there’s a guy named Geoffrey Sher, who runs this weird website that allows any woman up to the age of 42 to pay a lump sum for three tries to have a baby, and receives a percentage of it back if she fails to give birth to a baby. He has a total open door policy, except for a few occasions, and Weil cites what she believes to be some bizarre circumstances surrounding one of the few times he refused a patient:

In his 24 years of operation, he’s turned down only a few patients for nonmedical reasons-one being a woman who wanted to harvest her eggs, fertilize them, freeze the embryos, have a sex change, find a woman to marry, and then have his wife carry his babies.

I’m sorry but open-door my ass, that’s some clear and obvious transphobia. If Sher prides himself on being so non-judgmental, why the sudden judging of a transman? It seemed very strange to me that Weil would use this example as a very extreme case where Sher was forced to turn on the morality.

A big question I was thinking about when I read this article: why are we so obsessed with our own biology? I fully understand that adoption, in most cases, is equally as expensive, if not more so, than some types of ART. However, shouldn’t all these concerns about our “embryo glut,” coupled with “abortion stops a beating heart!!” be reasons to make adoption more affordable and more accessible? I have this theory that on some level, putting adoption on our map as a real and viable method for raising a family (and not just touted as an alternative when you are unable to conceive, though even that would be great) would fall somewhere near approving GLBT relationships. Part of what bothers the haters so much about GLBT folks is that we take human relationships out of the realm of what is ‘natural’ and create something not dictated by our genitals and some human need to procreate with those genitals. In the world of computers, paved roads, subway trains, radios – you name it, nothing can really be ‘natural’ anymore – why are we still obsessed with the fact that children have to be spawned from the DNA of two people and then raised by those two exact people until they are old enough to move out and renew the cycle? We know full well that that isn’t the way the world functions anymore.

I fully support people who want to give birth to their own babies. But I really wonder what the world would look like if we stopped telling women (consciously or not) that they will form a connection with a baby that is growing/grew in their uterus that will be far more intense than with an adopted child. I wonder what the world would look like if adoption didn’t mean years of red tape and money to have a child that our culture still considers ‘second class’ to a biological child, if it simply meant giving a parentless child a home and not needing to spend $100,000 for just a chance to have a baby who shares your DNA.

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Operation "Summer Rain" and Gidon Levy’s latest column

July 2, 2006

I struggled about whether or not I should be writing about Israel. It’s completely overwhelming, besides the fact that I’m not living there anymore and therefore have less of a sense of what’s what. In the end, I decided to do it, and even if I have no new ideas to present, I have a whole series of links to really interesting and informative articles.

Haaretz’s Gidon Levy is amazing. He usually presents a hated and controversial position in Israel: that of the Palestinians. His column today is about why the IDF’s latest incursion into Gaza has nothing to do with the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, why it’s completely illegal, and why it’s setting Israel back even further than before.

What’s incredible is that smart people really believe that the way to respond to terrorism or kidnapping is by using force, showing the Palestinians who’s really the boss. The most effective way of demonstrating that Hamas was a bad choice, apparently, is to bomb Gaza to pieces, leaving 175,000 Gaza residents without power or water, destroying bridges, and creating sonic booms to ensure sleepless nights. Amnesty International has called the “Summer Rain” attacks ‘war crimes.’ Levy takes a strong, controversial point: “A state that takes such steps is no longer distinguishable from a terror organization.” This was a point I thought about pretty often last year when I was in Israel, though hardly ever said it aloud.

What is it about Palestinian violence that makes it “terror” and what is it about the IDF’s “military actions” make them legitimate warfare? Many American Jews – the people with whom I spend the majority of my time – seem to have complete faith in the IDF. And here we have Levy arguing that the current re-occupation of Gaza has little to do with the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit:

Everything must be done to win Gilad Shalit’s release. What we are doing now in Gaza has nothing to do with freeing him. It is a widescale act of vengeance, the kind that the IDF and Shin Bet have wanted to conduct for some time, mostly motivated by the deep frustration that the army commanders feel about their impotence against the Qassams and the daring Palestinian guerilla raid. There’s a huge gap between the army unleashing its frustration and a clever and legitimate operation to free the kidnapped soldier.

Arguments about attacking civilians don’t hold water for me. When one country’s military carries on operations like “Summer Rain” (the name for this current incursion into Gaza), continues to paralyze movement in the West Bank, builds a wall that cuts Palestinian villages and farms in half, and allows settlers to terrorize Palestinians and prevent them from farming and walking to school, I have trouble differentiating who is the “terrorist” and who is not. For me, it’s not about who has a “legitimate” military and who does not. Who gets to decide what is legitimate? Usually it’s Western countries like the United States and frankly, from what I’ve heard recently about the behavior of “legitimate” US soldiers in Iraq (G.I.’s Investigated in Slayings of 4 and Rape in Iraq), I don’t know how much I want to use an American gauge to decide what is legitimate warfare and what is not. In our world, we measure military legitimacy in terms of who has power in the world and not in terms of the specific affects of a certain military power on another people. If it were the reverse, I believe we might have a different perspective on the conflict in Israel/Palestine.

The other reason why I don’t put my heart and soul behind the IDF has a lot to do with the things I heard and witnessed last year. When you look a soldier in the eye, you see that he is a mere 18 years old and knows almost nothing about the world and the larger context of his life. He knows the nationalist rhetoric that Israeli society has taught him. Unfortunately, that does not usually suffice in creating an army of compassionate soldiers. Therefore, I have a difficult time putting my full faith in an army or a police force that abuses Palestinian civilians, refuses to stop settlers vandalizing Palestinian property, and stands by while settlers attack human rights workers.

It is too easy to say “they hate us, why don’t they stop bombing us?” And now I feel like a broken record, because a little over a year ago I wrote a long, impassioned email on Israeli independence day about the importance of seeing violence and deaths and interruptions of daily life and damaging of livelihood on both sides of the story as no better or worse than the other. And I continue to hear American Jews and Israelis wonder aloud why Palestinians hate us so much, or even worse, “it’s not even worth trying. They’ll hate us no matter what.” To me, that nihilistic attitude is basically sentencing Israel as a Jewish state to destruction. If we have given up hope of creating two states, pretty soon the Palestinian population will surpass that of the Israelis and either we will really have an apartheid state or the Palestinians will simply take over and the land from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River will be Palestine. Military incursions should not be revenge for anything, and apparently we haven’t been told enough times that collective punishment is a war crime. If the disengagement from Gaza took us forward five steps, I believe that operation “Summer Rain” is bringing us backwards ten steps.