Archive for February, 2007

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queer Purim

February 26, 2007

Purim is coming up, and I know that Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) always holds a fantastically queer and social justice-oriented Purim celebration. I also know that folks have been finding saltyfemme by googling ‘queer Purim’ but haven’t been finding anything satisfying (disappointed googlers find a post about growing up in a Havurah and why I hate gay marriage). Give them what they want, I told myself. First I must tell you that Purim is very very gay. Queer Esther and her ‘coming out’ as a Jew? The holiday where everything is turned upside-down, everything you take for granted is suddenly shaken loose from its foundation? Drag. Debauchery. Hello? Queer holiday if I ever knew one. You just have to be around the right crowd.

Which brings me to my announcement. If you live in New York City, I strongly urge you to get out your costume and join JFREJ for what I believe is their biggest social event of the year. It promises to be queer, so I’m told. I didn’t go last year because I was a hermit. I will hopefully redeem myself this year. I’m especially excited because the organizers themed the celebration in conjunction with JFREJ’s domestic workers justice campaign.

Saturday, March 3rd, 8pm-2am

Roti and Homentaschn: The Palace Workers Revolt!

A Purim Carnival Spectacular
Come see the hidden story of Shusan’s domestic workers revealed!
Location: Workmen’s Circle, 45 E 33rd (between Park and Madison)
RSVP:
to Nicole at info@jfrej.org or 212-647-8966 x10

Details: $12 at the door, No one turned away for lack of funds or costume
A raucous Purim carnival featuring outrageous performances, traditional Jewish and Caribbean food and drinks, and dancing to the sounds of klezmer, calypso, and marching bands! Revellers are encouraged to come in costume and see the Purim story as they’ve never seen it before! This event is co-sponsored by JFREJ and Workmen’s Circle in partnership with Domestic Workers United and Great Small Works.

Other resources on Purim as the homo holiday:
Gay Jews Connect Their Experience to the Story of Purim (From the Washington Post, two days ago)
Wrestling with Esther: Purim Spiels, Gender, and Political Dissidence (from Zeek, March 06)
High Healing: A Purim Message (From Jewish Mosaic, March 06) – This is a really fantastic piece – quick excerpt:

Some Kabbalists…taught that in the future days, the only two holidays to remain on the Jewish calendar will be Yom Kippur and Purim – two days that are complete opposites but are both days of sacred transformation. Our ancestors understood that the only way to live with laws is to break them from time to time – or nothing will ever change.

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salty sunday (take 1)

February 26, 2007

I’m trying out a new weekly post, wherein I will share some of the gems that have flown through my rss reader over the last week or so. I don’t have much pontificating to do so they’re not worthy of entire posts, but perhaps you’ll find something you wouldn’t have otherwise. I’ll see if I can keep it up.

From Nextbook: Peggy Orenstein wistfully remembers her high school sweetheart, wonders whether her miscarriage was written in the cards, and ponders in amazement how anyone can raise 15 children in the One that Got Away. Via my mom.

Remember that whole “buy property in the West Bank! It’s totally legal and legit!” thing that was happening in my hometown? I’m happy to hear that there were some protestors, at least enough for an MSNBC story. Excellent. Via Jewschool. *update* It also made Monday’s NYTimes.

“I still don’t accept their lifestyle. No.” In case anyone thought he might have had as quick and radical a turnaround as Ted Haggard, Tim Hardaway is still a homophobe. Via Pandagon.

Check out this fairly convincing argument to end the obsessive bashing of Britney Spears from Rebecca Traister at Salon. Via Feministing.

Anyone looking for a comprehensive summary of the current state of the HPV vaccine should check out this piece from Our Bodies Our Blog.

A thousand demonstrators marked the two-year anniversary of resistance in Bil’in on Friday. Via Orthodox Anarchist (there’s a video there too).

New to me blogger Callan’s assertion that femme identity is a constantly evolving process (among other thoughts) resonated with me. She wrote this piece during the Translating Identities conference in Vermont. Via my handy-dandy google alert for ‘queer femme.’

Finally, a little bit of self-congratulation, from our friends at New Voices magazine: saltyfemme made the top-ten list of Best Jewish Blogs! New Voices is one of my very favorite mags – maybe if it had the writing and editing then that it has now, I might have actually read it in college and learned something instead of groaning when I saw my free copy in my mailbox. Be sure to check out their latest issue.

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debunking "JAP" is like pulling teeth

February 20, 2007

Interesting stuff happening over at Jewschool – my virtual ears perk up whenever I see a discussion relating to feminism and Jewish women (among other things, of course) in a mainstream-ish Jewish space. The majority of Jewschool’s contributors are men (I get the sense that this is also true for the overwhelming number of commenters). So when I see a post about the reappearance of the word JAP (‘Jewish American Princess’) and why it is incredibly problematic, I start listening.

It started with the linking of some random youtuber’s videos wherein she models various stereotypes – the purpose is beyond me, it’s hard to tell what her point is, whether she’s pointing out how easy these different personalities/stereotypes are to imitate, thus poking holes in their authenticity or just having fun or what. I watched it, I was kind of over it after 10 seconds (wow, you’ve got the JAP stereotype down pat. What are you going to do with that incredible talent?). The weird thing about blogs is that it’s possible she was just having some random fun and decided to post her vids on youtube, but once some blogger picks it up and posts it, suddenly people start theorizing and pontificating about it. But I digress – the discussion was kicked off, and so it (mostly) stops being about random youtuber and starts being about something else.

That was yesterday. Today’s entry was way more interesting. Kol Ra’ash Gadol writes in Can We Please Not Revive That Ugly Stereotype? on the resurfacing of the little nickname that could:

Let’s get at what’s really underlying the stereotype here: there’s an element of self-hatred (I – particularly if I’m a man- can differentiate myself from those Jews, I’m not like them) and there’s an element of misogyny (we know what women are about, don’t we, nudge nudge, wink, wink). But make no mistake, it is not an accident that this stereotype is rearing its ugly head again against not just any women, but Jewish women.

She links to Evelyn Torton Beck’s fantastic 1992 article From ‘Kike to Jap’: How misogyny, anti-semitism, and racism construct the Jewish American Princess. The article, in pretty amazing clarity, asserts why the use of the word JAP (and the normalization of its use) is the result of some combination of self-hatred, anti-Semitism, misogyny, racism, and classism, all in one tight little package called JAP. An excerpt:

The woman, the Jewish woman as JAP has replaced the male Jew as the scapegoat, and the Jewish male has not only participated, but has, in fact, been instrumental in creating and perpetuating that image. I want to show how some of the images of Jewish women created in American culture by Jewish men provided the roots of the “Jewish American Princess.”

Jews have been said to be materialistic, money-grabbing, greedy, and ostentatious. Women have been said to be vain, trivial and shallow; they’re only interested in clothing, in show. When you put these together you get the Jewish-woman type who’s only interested in designer clothes and sees her children only as extensions of herself. The Jew has been seen as manipulative, crafty, untrustworthy, unreliable, calculating, controlling, and malevolent. The Jewish Princess is seen as manipulative, particularly of the men in her life, her husband, her boyfriend, her father. And what does she want? Their money! In addition, she’s lazy — she doesn’t work inside or outside the home. She is the female version of the Jew who, according to anti-Semitic lore, is a parasite on society; contradictorily, the Jew has been viewed both as dangerous communist” as well as non-productive “capitalist.”

I highly recommend the entire article for anyone genuinely curious to know why the overly-sensitive feminists get whiplash every time they hear that word. KRG instructs her wise Jewschool readers to check out the article, as it is chock full of useful and enlightening information. Ever the patient and engaged readers, the brilliant comments and questions start pouring in (and all of them, clearly, reflect having read the aforementioned article and having understood the focus of KRG’s argument. Picking up on my sarcasm yet?). These are only as of today, I’m sure that more great ones will roll in tonight/tomorrow:

-Is the JAP unique in the spectrum of Jewish stereotypes?

-i dare you to spend one thursday night standing on ben yehuda street and tell me that this is a stereotype that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

-How do you feel about Sascha Baron Cohen pretending that Jews turn into cockroaches at night? Does that also assert negative Jewish stereotypes, or is it ridiculous enough that he gets a free pass? And finally, if you’re answer is that Cohen is a Jew, and thus has some permission to mock himself (since a Gentile doing the same over-the-top humor wouldn’t get a free pass) isn’t Maya a Jewish woman? Doesn’t she have the right to play with the stereotypes generally applied to her?

-Has the “JAP” stereotype ever included physical ugliness? Maybe at one point, but I think now the stereotype, as included in Escobar’s treatment, is of highly attractive women.

Miss the point much, folks? The discussion then continues to something a bit more substantive, but it stray further and further from the original argument of the post, which included very scary elements like feminism and self-criticism. The point of KRG’s post as well as Beck’s article is that JAP is different, unbelievably more complicated and worthy of some serious unpacking, not to be brushed aside. Certainly if we can’t talk about the misogyny/ racism/ classism, can we at least talk about the internalized anti-Semitism it takes for Jews to call each other such a term? Am I expecting too much if I think a self-proclaimed “progressive Jewish blog” should be able to have a simple feminist discussion? Granted, Jewschool readers do not necessarily equal Jewschool readers who comment on posts. But still. Come, on folks.

How about these questions. How does the JAP stereotype propagate the myth that all Jews are wealthy? What is the damage of such a myth? How does it unquestioningly accept the notion that Jewish women are controlling and manipulative? What lesson are we teaching Jewish girls when their only visible/public image of Jewish women paints them as vain and materialistic? How do we internalize and propagate the stereotype that all (or even most) Jews are rich when half a million Jews in New York City live below the poverty line? And perhaps the underlying question of this post – why are we so afraid to talk about these issues?

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love the sin and other words of advice for straight allies

February 14, 2007

We can’t help it if we’re gay. God made us this way. We were born this way.

I have to admit that most of my friends who say this say it in jest. It’s the most apologetic argument in the book for “tolerance” of gay people. If the most I can ask of you is to tolerate me or my sexual orientation because I was condemned to it at birth so you can’t really blame me for it, I have more work to do – and so do you.

An earnest straight Christian man (so says the article!) is heading on a tour of 32 homophobic colleges called the Soulforce Equality Ride, harkening back to the Freedom Rides of the 1960’s, to try out on homophobia a tactic utilized to combat racism in the 60’s. This year will be Soulforce’s second year. I generally find parallels between the civil rights movement and the LGBT movement to be overly simplistic. However, I know many others can speak far more intelligently than I on that topic so I will stick to what I know.

What I know is that I am alarmed when an activist in this gay “freedom ride” claims that the issue has nothing at all to do with being gay! Nope, nossir.

“This is a justice issue, a Christian issue, a human issue,” Wispelwey, a straight Christian man, said. “It’s not a gay issue. We’re allies in this movement. The time for radical change is long overdue.”

“We’re mainly focused on reconciliation and discussion,” Wispelwey said. “We seek to limit the negative effects of homophobia.”

Hhmm. So let me get this, er, straight. This is not a gay issue, but you strive to limit the effects of homophobia through discussion and reconciliation (but leaving out all the gross gay stuff). I also enjoy the fact that while Wispelwey claims it’s not a gay issue, the author still thinks it’s important for readers to know Wispelwey’s sexual orientation. Lest we think this is all about sex, of course.

Onward. So the parallels between this and the 60’s are so obvious. Like all the dangers!

While nonviolent resistance attempts to effect peaceful policy change, the risks are real. Last year, Soulforce Equality Riders contended with hate messages and verbal abuse. There is also the possibility of arrest.

Sounds just like the risks taken by the brave civil rights activists of the 60’s.

And the kicker, for me:

“I realized homosexuality wasn’t a choice, as I had been taught in school,” Wispelwey said. “Later, once I came to the belief that this was not a sin, I could not just stand by as a Christian. To be silent is, to some degree, to be complicit.”

In all seriousness, I commend religious folks who really grapple with these issues and think about them in complicated ways. What I can’t handle is the patronizing tone used to talk down to gay people, as if we don’t have our own voice in this matter, like we are these poor victims of our own DNA, condemned from birth to a life of pain and derision. All we need is some straight man leading the fight against homophobia – and then trying to say that this issue isn’t a gay issue!

I don’t need a straight man standing up and pointing his finger at other straight men who have yet to “see the light.” I’d prefer a man who will take the piece about not being silent to another level – one where he can see his own part in the perpetuation of stringent gender roles that oppress gay people (not to mention women of all sexual orientations, transpeople, and straight men themselves). This man might ask, what part do I play in enforcing oppressive excessive masculinity? How does it affect the women with whom I come in contact? What can I do to change it?

Love the sinner, I say. Love the sinner, and the sin, and the fact that it’s really none of your damn business whether I was born with it or I chose it. It’s mine, and it’s not going anywhere. And a word of advice to straight allies: best if you ask those you are claiming to represent what they actually want from you.

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changing the context

February 11, 2007

A warm welcome to visitors from Fetch Me My Axe and especially to visitors from the Carnival of Feminists. I am especially honored to be featured on the carnival among so many fabulous feminist bloggers. After the flood of visitors to my post about femininity, I felt compelled to return to my femme roots, at least the literary ones. Joan Nestle is a hero of mine, and her article about femme identity in the Persistent Desire: A Femme-Butch Reader (published 1992, edited by Nestle, and out of print, unbelievable – you can buy it used though) has been a source of learning and growth for me for as long as I have known the word femme. I don’t know why I was so shocked to learn that I learned so many of my notions (not to mention my confidence) about femme identity and femininity from Nestle.

Nestle writes at length about femme identity in relation to butch – and she pulls this off in a way that does not take away from either identity existing and resisting on its own. Regarding the subversion vs. rejection discussion, which I mentioned in that post, Nestle writes:

Colonization and the battle against it always pose a contradiction between appearances and deeper survivals. There is a need to reflect the colonizer’s image back at hi yet at the same time to keep alive what is a deep part of one’s culture, even if it can be misunderstood by the oppressor, who omnipotently thinks he knows what he is seeing. Butch-femme carries all this cultural warfare with it. It appears to incorporate elements of the heterosexual culture in power; it is disowned by some who want to make a statement against the pervasiveness of this power; yet it is a valid style, matured in years of struggle and harboring some of our bravest women. (emphasis mine)

It’s kind of an amazing thing to be able to trace own’s own thought process to a particular article or school of thought. I trace mine to the article from which the above is quoted – “The Femme Question.” Nestle explains that not only are we subverting the ‘colonizing’ power, (and here she is speaking about pervasive heterosexuality and hetero gender norms) she is bravely stating that we are socialized in this pervasive culture, yet we can use the very tools that it has given us to resist it.

More on resistance and on reading the nuance of queer feminine gender:

Femmes are women who have made choices, but we need to be able to read between the cultural lines to appreciate their strength. Lesbians should be mistresses of discrepancies, knowing that resistance lies in the change of context. (emphasis mine)

As a femme, I strive to be a mistress of discrepancy. This begs the question though, how do we do that? If “resistance lies in the change of context,” how do we change the context? I believe Nestle would respond that we change the context by subverting the mainstream (what she writes about in the first paragraph I quoted). For Nestle, the struggle for sexual freedom was and is inherently tied to other resistance movements: racial, economic, religious. (for more on this see my favorite Joan Nestle book, A Restricted Country). Our conversations about gender representation and queer identity are incomplete unless they include the racial, economic, and religious contexts in which they exist.

I think that is precisely what is seriously lacking in all these hypothetical conversations about “the end of gender,” as if our gender identities existed in some kind of bubble. “Changing the context,” then, is about figuring out how gender resistance is inextricably linked those other resistance movements. This, for me, is queer identity. It’s what pushes me to hold on to femme, to butch/femme lesbian history: learning resistance and figuring out how to resist in this violence-ridden, xenophobic culture of ours. Change the context.

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right back atcha

February 7, 2007

Clever, funny, AND political? And mocking the gay haters, to boot. This is too much. The Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance has proposed a bill that would require straight couples to procreate within three years of marriage, among other things. Totally brilliant.

The bill is in response to Anderson v. Kings County, in which the court ruled against several gay couples seeking marriage. According to the official ruling, “the State contends that procreation is a legitimate government interest justifying the limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples.” So, in response, the W-DOMA says:

The way we are challenging Andersen is unusual: using the initiative, we are working to put the Court’s ruling into law. We will do this through three initiatives. The first would make procreation a requirement for legal marriage. The second would prohibit divorce or legal separation when there are children. The third would make the act of having a child together the legal equivalent of a marriage ceremony.

Way to creatively turn the rhetoric of the homo-haters on its head! I’m guessing the point is not for the bill to pass but to make a big stink and a statement. Props.

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priorities are such a nuisance

February 5, 2007

As if I needed another reason to be irritated that so much gay attention and resources go towards gay marriage. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) just released a report which documented the state of homeless LGBTQ youth in the US. And it is not a pretty picture. Shocked? I didn’t think so.

The full report is very long but the executive summary is short – pages 7-13.

Highlights:

· Between 20 and 40% of homeless youth identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

· Personal drug usage, family drug usage, and the likelihood of enrolling in a treatment program are all higher for LGB homeless youth than for their heterosexual peers.

· LGBT homeless youth are seven times more likely than their heterosexual peers to be victims of a crime.

· LGBT youth who end up in the juvenile and criminal justice systems…are disproportionately the victims of harassment and violence, including rape.

· Some reports indicate that one in five transgender individuals need or are at risk of needing homeless shelter assistance.

· Homeless youth programs have been grossly under funded, contributing to a shortfall of available spaces for youth who need support. In 2004 alone, due to this lack of funding, more than 2,500 youth were denied access to a TLP [transitional living program] for which they were otherwise qualified. Additionally, 4,200 youth were turned away from Basic Center Programs, which provide family reunification services and emergency shelters. (emphasis mine)

Some anecdotes follow about the experiences of LGBT homeless youth in the shelter system. The study determined that “the majority of existing shelters and other care systems are not providing safe and effective services to LGBT homeless youth.”

I know that the stories below are sensationalistic and also not representative of what goes on, but despite that I think they’re important to read, if only for how unbelievable they are.

At one residential placement facility in Michigan, LGBT teens, or those suspected of being LGBT, were forced to wear orange jumpsuits to alert staff and other residents. At another transitional housing placement, staff removed the bedroom door of an out gay youth, supposedly to ward off any homosexual behavior. The second bed in the room was left empty and other residents were warned that if they misbehaved they would have to share the room with the “gay kid.”

Also completely frightening is the fact that according to the study, many LGBT teens purposely become infected with HIV because “they would then be eligible for specific housing funds reserved for HIV-positive homeless people in need.”

The study ends with a number of recommendations on the federal, state/local, and practitioner levels for how to move forward.

City-specific statistics are available here, full study is here.