Archive for October, 2006

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Potlucks, purim, and gay marriage

October 31, 2006

One of the speakers at last week’s “Beyond Marriage” event, Terry Boggis (who directs Center Kids at New York’s LGBT community center) spoke about all the different types of families that she has interacted with since founding the program in 1988. One of the important points she brought up was regarding the families that many LGBT people form for themselves as adults or even as teenagers. It may be because of a family that wholly rejects a family member because they are gay; it might also be because there are many LGBT people who, through breaking boundaries of sexual orientation, also learn to break boundaries of blood relations/friends/family friends/lovers, etc. This is not restricted to LGBT folks, of course, but it seems to happen more frequently among us. (there’s also the whole thing about most LGBT people being unable to have babies naturally but that’s another story I don’t really want to touch at the moment).

All of these experiences are clearly affected, if not determined, by many factors (race, economics, gender, etc.) and so I want to write from my own personal experience. I’d like to say, daringly, that my lessons in queer family began when I was growing up – long before I was exposed to any radicals (!). My parents were members of a Havurah before I was born. This Havurah was part of a larger movement to bring Shabbat t’filot (prayers) back to the community, and made a point to have non-hierarchical leadership and completely egalitarian services. The group had no rabbi and no president. Shabbat and holiday services were held several times a month, each time at a different family’s house. A potluck lunch always followed services. And there were tons of children around. Being in someone’s home, their intimate space, rather than the neutral space of a synagogue, had a profound affect on me. That community of families shared emotional and physical space with each another in a remarkably different way than most American Jewish communities. To this day, I have an aversion to Jewish communities organized around a synagogue structure and prefer the more organic Havurah model. While my parents’ Havurah has since disbanded, their closest friends today are all former members of the now-defunct Havurah. The Havurah families remain interconnected and continue to be a part of each other’s ever-changing lives. They are still growing together, as they age and lose parents and celebrate as their children have their own children.

My family became close with another family in particular from this Havurah, with whom we moved together to Montreal and shared a moving van in the mid-1980’s. We went on vacation with them every winter for over 15 years. Our families continue to depend on each other for many things and do them not simply to “be a good friend” but because it is expected, because we have created a sense of mutual obligation that can only come from a connection that I would call “family.” Some years, one family is more in need. And that, too, happens in biological families, as much as those power imbalances can be very frustrating. Caretaking without conditions is a beautiful and rare thing. And we should treasure that in whatever form it happens to appear.

Which brings me back to another fascinating part of last Monday evening’s discussion. During the Q & A, a man asked why the statement seems to exclude single people. Lisa Duggan responded by pointing out that most of the people who had this criticism of the statement were gay men. Interestingly, the statement is built on a feminist model of “caretaking and dependency,” in which our emotional lives are organized according to who we depend on and who depends on us. Single people, therefore, are obviously included in this framework; even single people have a structure of people around them on whom they depend for support (and who depend on them). I would even argue that the statement is saying precisely the opposite: why should anyone determine that our romantic relationships should be primary over others? Shouldn’t we be able to determine that for ourselves?

In a very literal sense, then, I went to San Francisco this past August not out of the need to “be a good friend” but out of what I feel strongly as a familial obligation. My best friend in the world, the youngest daughter of that family with whom mine moved to Montreal, became very sick. As she is my sister, and as she has taken care of many times in my life, it was my obligation to go. My point here, if I’m making it well, is that there is no reason for us to think of these types of things as ‘being a good friend’ if we do it for someone who is not related to us by blood. Why is the obligation any less of an obligation? Once you get through the tough parts, your bond as family is even stronger. And if the process of ‘getting through’ is long, your family is with you. Biological families, when they are around, are too small for most of our emotional needs. The only non-biological bond that the state (and our culture) values in the same way it does a biological bond is that of marriage. And when each of us thinks of the people in our lives to whom we feel an emotional obligation, the valuing of romantic connections over those other connections feels cheap.

The beauty of the Havurah, for my parents, was creating an organic community based on what they envisioned for their own Jewish community: lay-run, family-oriented, full of spirit, laughter (Purim was the BEST!), Torah, learning, a love for Israel, and home-cooked lunches. And all made up of people who lived nearby. And they pulled it off. They could never be without the bonds they have with their own siblings, parents, and cousins, but the Havurah satisfied a need that biological family could not. Everyone has needs like that, and the lucky ones figure out how to fulfill those needs. Beyond Marriage responds to the myriad ways in which we fulfill those needs: the current push for gay marriage, in my opinion, does not.

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wedding bells ring again

October 26, 2006

On Monday night I attended a fantastic event at NYU-Wagner (Graduate School of Public Service) called “Beyond Marriage: Towards a New Policy Agenda for the LGBT Movement.” The panel discussion was the first in-person event following the release of the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement that I wrote about back in July, when the statement was released. You can also read my own long post about my issues with the same-sex marriage discussion that I wrote in June. The panelists were 5 of 20 of the co-authors of the statement. They all came from remarkably different ideological places and talked about their own issues with the gay marriage debate as it currently stands. They also shared some of the highlights of the painstaking process of writing the statement. They were:

– Terry Boggis, Director, Center Kids, the family program of The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center
– Joseph N. DeFilippis, Executive Director, Queers for Economic Justice
– Lisa Duggan, Professor and Director of American Studies, New York University
– Kenyon Farrow, Co-Editor, “Letters from Young Activists: Today’s Rebels Speak Out,” and Author, “Is Gay Marriage Anti-Black?”
– Amber Hollibaugh, Senior Strategist, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

I don’t want to reiterate the main points of the statement – I did that in July and if you’d like to know them you should read the statement itself. I would, however, like to share some of my favorite points that were made that helped me better frame this discussion.

· Only 25% of American families fit the traditional nuclear model (one mother, one father, child/ren). The ideas contained in the statement are not for the protection of polyamorous queer folks alone – in fact, they suit more American families than current idealized notions of family do. (Terry Boggis)

· The statement was necessary because so many people were frustrated by having to make a choice between two mutually exclusive sides of a complex discussion – you are either in favor of gay marriage or you are opposed to it, end of story. Many people, given a third option, would choose one that benefits not only the middle- and upper-class monogamous heteronormative gays and lesbians, but benefits all types of families. Liberals/lefties/PC folks/etc. (straight or gay) support gay marriage because their only other option is to be a homophobic bigot!

· This statement is not anti-gay marriage: rather, it envisions gay marriage as being one of many ways “family” is counted.

· The writers of this document disagreed in so many ways. They all agreed that the current discourse was problematic, but for a lot of reasons. The two main things that they wholly agreed on:

1. The definition of “family” in this country needs to be expanded

2. Benefits should not be determined by marriage

· Marriage used to be about the acquisition of property and a means to reproduction. And now it has come to mean something else. But what does it mean? Historian Lisa Duggan: “Marriage is an instrument of neoliberal privatization.” The non-academic version: marriage, as it exists now in this country, serves the purpose of replacing (and therefore privatizing) the welfare state. Marriage is the new anti-poverty program.

· Citizens’ backlash to social services being cut: voting for Defense of Marriage Acts (DOMAs) because clearly the gays should be blamed for the erosion of the American family. (Oh man – this totally made sense when I heard it and now when I write it out, it’s hard to explain. I hope people get this.)

· Amber Hollibaugh: “If you think equality is what you’re aiming for, you’re starting in the wrong place.” We should be seeking liberation, not equality.

I’ve had some thoughts brewing since Monday night about my own notions of queer family and why I feel so strongly about this. I’m hoping I can write some of them down before the weekend. I really wish more people could see this document and use it to spark discussions with their families and friends (however that’s defined!). This stuff is important, and it’s all happening as we speak.

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a short promotion

October 21, 2006

DMF finally put the really excellent poem on the web. Props. Clicky here.

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nerd-tastica

October 20, 2006

Some recent webby discoveries I’ve made that I thought I might share:

  • Blogs here, blogs there: Don’t feel like checking blogs all the time? Afraid of RSS readers? Don’t even know what RSS stands for? Have no fear. I just discovered an excellent tool called r-mail. R-mail allows you to enter a blog address and your email address. You will then get an email each time that blog is updated! It’s so simple, even a computer illiterate baby boomer can do it! If you want to be emailed with saltyfemme updates, look over there on the right side of this screen. Underneath ‘categories’ you’ll see a place to add your email address. Click subscribe. That’s it!
  • Queen of Craigslist: During my long quest for the perfect roommate and then for the perfect apartment and then for the perfect and inexpensive furniture with which to furnish it, I spent many hours on Craigslist. It’s tedious and annoying and I never remembered which posts I had seen already. Until I discovered that craigslist is actually RSS compatible. Meaning that you can perform any craigslist search, with as many search terms as you want, copy the url address into your RSS reader, and boom, you never have to check craigslist again! I was very impressed, both with craigslist and with myself.
  • Shutting out that annoying co-worker (we’ve all been there): In our never-ending quest for good, varied workday music with minimal commercials (we’ve exhausted MusicMatch radio, Yahoo launchcast, even the online stream of the Israeli pop station galgalatz), the glass lady found Pandora, a site that I don’t completely understand but have learned to really love. The idea is simple: each user can create up to 100 radio stations, each one based on the genre of one artist. You can’t mix artists, so Pandora is when you’re in the mood for one particular genre.
  • This American Life, everyone’s favorite public radio program, is finally offering the show in a free weekly podcast! Hurray. Subscribe through itunes or however you get your podcasts.
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time for dinner

October 20, 2006

I have seen a whole slew of articles in the last few weeks about the “cafeteria crisis.” Children are eating horribly unhealthy food at school, and someone’s trying to do something about it. Out with sugary sodas, out with high-fat fast food, in with organic vegetables and fresh unprocessed food, etc.

The school lunch craze is out of control. Everyone’s obsessed, everyone’s talking, everyone’s writing. It’s an interesting place from which to start talking about diet and nutrition. We all saw Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock’s famed documentary wherein the filmmaker eats nothing but McDonald’s three meals a day for a full month and the extreme diet wreaks havoc on his entire body. And I sat there, as any good college-educated, middle-class white person living in a major American city would; I shook my head in sadness and wondered, in awe, how Americans can eat such terribly unhealthy food.

In August, the NYT magazine visited the issue in the School-Lunch Test. Last month, the education issue of the New Yorker Magazine came out, and in it was an article about another attempt at alleviating the “school lunch problem,” detailing efforts to improve school lunches at a few Berkeley public schools. The Lunchroom Rebellion profiles chef Ann Cooper, who revamped the lunch program at a private school in the Hamptons and was then hired to work on lunch in Berkeley. And just yesterday, the NYT summarized the same issue as it is taking shape in England (Glorious Food? English Schoolchildren Think Not).

Read the rest of this entry ?

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framing the choice debate

October 16, 2006

Saturday’s Alternet has a really fantastic piece written by a former anti-choice activist. Elizabeth Wardle’s “Reflections from a Former Anti-Abortion Activist” is concise but carries a broad and productive critique of the overall tone and message of the both the anti- and pro-choice movements. She briefly describes her childhood, attending anti-choice rallies and believing that the abortion debate was a simple one, it was about life-and-death. She went to college and learned that this issue is grayer than she thought:

In my women’s studies classes I learned about poverty and racism, about misogyny, about the history of birth control (or rather, control of birth control). I learned that for many women there are several important questions that come before whether or not a fetus is a life–questions such as, “Will this pregnancy cost me my life? Who will feed this child? Where is one person who will provide me with some support if I have this child?”

Easy enough, but now the confusing part comes when she tries to synthesize her former beliefs with her newly-acquired ones:

By the end of college, my former certainty about abortion had completely deserted me. I had arrived at a place where I couldn’t identify myself as pro-life any longer. I now believed in choice, but without advocating abortion. I still believed a fetus was a life–but I had come to understand there were other issues at stake, too. Was mine a pro-choice position? None of the pro-choice rhetoric with which I was familiar led me to believe it was; having once been a true believer in the pro-life movement, I found nothing in the rhetoric of the pro-choice movement that appealed to me or adequately stated my position.

Wardle’s words rang true for me, as I believe they ring true for many pro-choice folks who understand that the “pro-abortion” image of the movement is not representative of the beliefs of most people who are actually pro-choice. None of us is pro-abortion; rather, we understand that the issue is more complicated that that. I believe that it is the anti-choice movement that has created the image of us as baby-haters (and worse: baby-killers). Wardle is spot-on when she writes that the coat hanger is no longer a useful image for the pro-choice movement and one of the reasons why the anti-choice movement is successful is because of its gory images. On the coat hanger, she writes:

…that symbol is rhetorically empty for women of my generation forward. As a result, the pro-choice movement simply does not have competing images for those placed on placards by the anti-choice movement. As long as abortion is legal and safe, there is (thankfully) no image to rival the visual horror of an aborted fetus; instead, there are only sterile, unemotional concepts in which to believe: privacy, choice, legalization. While feminists may feel the rightness of choice, that rightness can’t compare, on an emotional level, to the emotions associated with the implied opposite of pro-life (pro-death) or with the images of bloody fetuses.

And thank you for clearing up that the main focus of the pro-choice movement is not abortion (or at least it shouldn’t be):

Here is a pro-choice position I can get behind: Abortion is generally not the problem in need of our attention. In most cases, abortion is one result of a number of related problems; abortion is wrapped up in intimate ways with attitudes about sex, living wages, access to good jobs, healthcare, childcare, education, and so on.

If we want to prevent bringing unwanted or unsupported life into this world, birth control must be accessible to all; men and women alike need education about the necessities of birth control. Birth control, sex education, and factually correct abstinence-only programs are abortion issues.

Full article here.

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Thank you, Pink

October 12, 2006

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I don’t know how in the world she managed to get this song on a mainstream pop record but I have a lot of respect for her for doing it. It’s kind of unbelievable, millions (literally) of copies of this album have been sold around the world. Teenage girls everywhere are hearing a pop star sing an unabashed protest song – and doing it beautifully, painfully, and honestly. The album version of the song is better than the one above because the Indigo Girls sing with her – I highly recommend it. Lyrics below.

“Dear Mr. President”
(feat. Indigo Girls)

Dear Mr. President
Come take a walk with me
Let’s pretend we’re just two people and
You’re not better than me
I’d like to ask you some questions if we can speak honestly

What do you feel when you see all the homeless on the street
Who do you pray for at night before you go to sleep
What do you feel when you look in the mirror
Are you proud

How do you sleep while the rest of us cry
How do you dream when a mother has no chance to say goodbye
How do you walk with your head held high
Can you even look me in the eye
And tell me why

Dear Mr. President
Were you a lonely boy
Are you a lonely boy
Are you a lonely boy
How can you say
No child is left behind
We’re not dumb and we’re not blind
They’re all sitting in your cells
While you pave the road to hell

What kind of father would take his own daughter’s rights away
And what kind of father might hate his own daughter if she were gay
I can only imagine what the first lady has to say
You’ve come a long way from whiskey and cocaine

How do you sleep while the rest of us cry
How do you dream when a mother has no chance to say goodbye
How do you walk with your head held high
Can you even look me in the eye

Let me tell you bout hard work
Minimum wage with a baby on the way
Let me tell you bout hard work
Rebuilding your house after the bombs took them away
Let me tell you bout hard work
Building a bed out of a cardboard box
Let me tell you bout hard work
Hard work
Hard work
You don’t know nothing bout hard work
Hard work
Hard work
Oh

How do you sleep at night
How do you walk with your head held high
Dear Mr. President
You’d never take a walk with me
Would you