Archive for April, 2007

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salty sunday

April 29, 2007

(a little taste from yesterday’s salty fun with the lovely Miya. Saltyfemme will be changing servers very soon. Stay tuned for an exciting new layout!)

Philly-based activist April Rosenblum published a pamphlet about anti-Semitism on the Left called the Past Didn’t Go Anywhere: Making Resistance to Antisemitism Part of All of Our Movements. Via Jewschool.

Check out this very special d’var torah from the Forward on this week’s torah portion, which contains the infamous verses on anal sex. New Voices’ Ilana Sichel considers the functional purpose of Jewish guilt.

Um, this is really weird. Wetnurses are back in style. I wrote a whole post about this, linking the issue with the campaign I’m working on with JFREJ but then decided against it. I don’t know enough about it, except that (mostly low-income, women of color) wetnurses make $1000/week, significantly more than domestic workers.

JSpot covers a new MSNBC documentary about transgender issues and touches on trans stuff in the Jewish world.

On Rosie O’Donnell’s parting: Queer Sighted’s Kenneth Hill wonders if she’s gone because she was too dykie, too fat, and too opinionated.

Rudy Giuliani has changed his mind and now hates the gays. Er, I mean, now he is opposing civil unions to pander to the homophobic republicans who are now his potential supporters. Via Pandagon.

This is a little delayed but still important – the World Health Organization published a new report presenting findings from a 10-country study, which tracked the link between HIV/AIDS and violence against women. Via Reproductive Rights Prof Blog.

Ms. Foundation sponsors its final Take Our Daughters to Work day. Now that we’ve achieved equality in the workplace (hhmm), can we work on it everywhere else? Via NSRC feed.

That swimsuit covers too much skin. Or maybe I’m just your run-of-the-mill islamophobe. Via Pandagon.

Tech dept: RSS feeds made easy. Via Michael.

Finally, an ex-gay parody from Queer Sighted.

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connecting the abortion dots

April 27, 2007

WIMN’s Voices and Pandagon both have posts about an explosive device found yesterday at a women’s clinic in Austin, TX. If the actual story wasn’t infuriating enough, both posts are ranting about the paltry news coverage that this story received. (a 97-word AP story is about all there was). Keely Savoie at WIMN only knew about the story because a friend in Austin, “where it was covered with all the fanfare of a traffic accident,” passed on the news to her.

Zuzu at Feministe questions the selectivity in American definitions of “terrorism.”

For some reason, terrorism doesn’t count if it’s directed against women and their health care providers. It’s just not news, and the fact that it goes unremarked in the national media — and hell, even in the local media, as in the case of the Austin bomb — contributes to the idea that women are not important and that violence directed at women is not only to be expected, but to be dismissed.

It should be no shock to anyone that terrorism is defined racially and nationalistically – not according to the characteristics of the crime, but who is being threatened and who is doing the threatening. In this case, the lowest of the low – not just women but women seeking abortions – are being threatened. Their lives are clearly of no import.

I just can’t believe the number of newspieces and blog posts I’ve seen lately highlighting how little women’s lives actually matter. I can’t believe the hypocrisy of anti-choicers who go batshit about the lives of zygotes and fetuses and not the women carrying them (who are clearly just incubators). I love the guy who says that ultimately he has more unconditional love for his unborn child than his wife because he shares genetic material with the fetus. Or how about Mississippi, the safest place in America to be an unborn child but one of the worst if you are a low-income woman (and probably a woman of color) trying to access prenatal care? How long will it take until we start connecting the dots and realize that this so-called “culture of life” is a total sham?

I just started reading journalist Eyal Press’ fantastic book Absolute Convictions, a combination history of the anti-choice movement, social history of the city of Buffalo, and biography of his father, an ob-gyn and a colleague of Dr. Barnett Slepian, who was murdered in Buffalo in 1998. Press seamlessly links the closing factories, the declining faith in the labor movement, economic decline, a resurgence of fundamentalist Christianity, and rising racial tensions with the emergence of the anti-choice movement. In the end, women and the medical professionals who care for them pay the price for this lethal combination. Perhaps we need to do more than raise an eyebrow when explosives are sent to a clinic in Austin and start seeing this problem in more systemic terms.

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probably not the easiest place to come out as trans

April 26, 2007

LA Times sportswriter Mike Penner has come out publicly as transsexual and announced that her new name is Christine. Bravo. H/T to Snugget.

I’m interested in this story particularly because the world of sports and sports journalism in this country is so male-gendered. For those of you who don’t read sports blogs, (myself included) Snugget has provided me/us with a few important links to check out. The first one I clicked on was over at Deadspin, Gawker’s sports blog, where readers, presumably mostly boys, mull over this recent news and its strange imposition on their daily sports fill.

Some of the comments are blatantly transphobic; others are simply uninformed. Others reference what seemed to be the first pop culture reference to transpeople that came to mind (Ace Ventura, South Park). Some just seem irritated that Penner’s article was about personal issues and not sports. Some are just unabashed misogyny. The overwhelming majority of the comments are fairly harmless jokes revolving around The Penis. Which makes me wonder, what are these sports fans really focusing on? Do they take this sports writer’s announcement of gender transition as a kind of personal assault on their own manliness? The jokes are mostly harmless, though, and the comments seem to reflect more of an immediate reaction than any sort of lasting hateful bigotry.

There were a couple of gems in here, which I’d like to quote. These questions seem to be bits of feminist ideology cleverly disguised as manly jokes:

Upon return to the newsroom, Ms. Daniels salary will be cut by 25 percent (link).

A female sportswriter? Now I’ve seen everything (link).

And here’s the substantive question:

Seriously though, that’s gotta be a tough thing to go through and I could never even begin to comprehend the situation. I do wonder how it will affect his (soon to be her) ability to get information and interviews in the sports world (link).

The freak factor rears its ugly head in very clear terms here. Snugget pointed out that this won’t make big news until journalists ask 100 professional sports players what they think; the first 99 will say they don’t care and that Penner should just leave her personal life outside of her columns (a sentiment shared by many of the commenters at Deadspin). Then there will be one bigot who will say something stupid and transphobic and suddenly she will be all over the news. Kind of like when former NBA player John Amaechi came out as gay and Tim Hardaway went all homophobic.

Meanwhile, we have a lot of sports fans who thought that perhaps “this sort of thing” did not touch their world – a common reaction in any community, let alone one so male-gendered, to a transperson coming out. Ultimately, if the writing is good, the fans will stick around, no matter your gender. Says (Orioles diehard) Snugget, via gchat:

Really passionate fans are going to care more about what you say than who you are. If you are trans and super cool, and you write a column talking shit about the Orioles, I will hate you. And maybe if I’m a dumb boy, I’ll call you a stupid tranny. And if I’m Snugget, I’ll call you just stupid. But there were a lot of comments on the LA times [forum] that were like, who cares and not out of fear or hate I think, but purely that it was not about sports.

Sports journalism is an interesting place to be – on the one hand, sports, and sports journalism, by extension, is male-dominated. But one could also argue that sports writing is more passive than other journalisms. Theoretically, one could be a fantastic sports critic and never talk to a player or another fan. Snugget also pointed out that sports fans tend to stick with specific sports commentators. In this case, then, Penner might have shared this news with fans simply to inform them that the name on her column would change and that they should stick around. In the end, it’s about the sports. Hopefully, we will not see transphobic backlash.

Definitely check out Snugget’s writing at the Bleacher Report and her blog, the Sports Section.

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painting our weapons pink

April 24, 2007

The radical queer groups in Israel do some great stuff, but since returning two years ago I don’t get to hear much about their actions. I like the way they bring the layered nature of occupation and Israel’s culture of violence out in such a clear and strong way. A few years ago I received a collection of pamphlets and clever fliers that Kvisa Shchora (Black Laundry: queers against the occupation) had used over the years at pride parades and demonstrations and I remember being very impressed with their wit and nuance.

In honor of Israel’s independence day, celebrated today, an unidentified group of queer activists painted pink a memorial canon in Jerusalem’s Davidka Square and graffitied the words “lesbiot neged k’lei zayin” which means “lesbians against weapons” (literally “lesbians against dicks”). You can read the article about it in Hebrew or in the English translation, courtesy of Mobius at Orthodox Anarchist. Excerpt:

The group, which is defined by activists as “a subversive group of lesbians and queers against militarism and nationalism”, claims that “the State of Israel will not be free as long as it occupies another nation. An occupying State is a State which lives in violence and fear: a State that builds walls, sets boundaries, and turns its neighbours into enemies.”

How do these activists relate their queer identities to their anti-occupation/anti-Zionist politics?

Lesbians fight for freedom, liberation and independence. We know that a militarist and nationalist society is also a racist society, a chauvinist, homophobic, and violent society.

This touches the surface of this complex issue, one that actually taught me a lot about the way I would later define queer politics when I returned to NY. How do we define political queer identity and how do we relate to other systemic oppressions? The excessive masculinity in Israel that promotes and fetishizes Israeli military culture is the same masculinity that oppresses queer people in Israel. In Israel I learned to connect the war in Iraq with the American culture of violence – different but related to that of Israel. I have not always agreed politically with the activities of Black Laundry or other queer groups. I do admire their clever actions and the fierceness with which they carry them out.

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salty sunday

April 22, 2007

(This photo by Israeli photojournalist Oded Balilty won a Pulitzer for best breaking news photography of the year. The woman in the photo is a resident of the Amona settlement, east of Ramallah, which was evacuated February 1, 2006. Via Jewschool.)

Today’s salty sunday is a doozy. So much happened this week. I have attempted some categories.

Feminism
Kaiser has a pretty great list of opinions, editorials, and basic coverage of the so-called “partial-birth” abortion ban, upheld this week in the supreme court. Oh, and here’s the original text of the ban.

If you’re looking for some well-written and comprehensive pro-choice commentary on the “partial-birth” abortion business, go read this article, written by Jill from Feministe at HuffPo.

All five justices who voted to uphold the ban are Catholic. Coincidence? Geoffrey Stone at HuffPo thinks not. Via Feministe.

American women have greater health needs than men but have lower incomes and therefore less access to health insurance, according to a new study. Via Feministing.

This month’s carnival of feminists is so F-ing long. I can’t get through all of it. Maybe you can. Part 1, part 2, part 3. There’s a salty post buried in part 3 somewhere.

This week in homos
Kol Ra’ash Gadol at Jewschool responds thoughtfully to some more reckless rhetoric from the homophobic Rabbi Einat Ramon.

Women may soon be able to produce babies without men. But only girl babies. Radical lesbian feminists rejoice! Via Feministing.

Blatant transphobic humor in the Illinois state legislature. Via Feministe.

A transman is running for prom king in Fresno, CA! Rock on. Via NSRC feed.

A fantastic piece on Jewish approaches to intersexuality at Jewish Mosaic.

Funny, not Always on Purpose
Pollution is good for you! (it’s a video, and it’s short)

Ever wanted to watch cheddar age? Yeah me neither, but apparently 900,000 people do.

Blog post title of the week: “Gynoversity” not, in fact, attended by vaginas. This article is truly hilarious. Boo hoo, it’s so hard to be a man in the world these days.

Israeli academics with time on their hands came up with this nifty tool that uses an algorithm to guess a writer’s gender based on a prose selection of 500 words or more. I tested it with three saltyfemme posts – every time the Gender Genie told me I was a man. Hhmmm. Via Majikthise.

From the Onion: This American Life Completes Documentation of Liberal, Upper-Middle-Class Existence.

Miscellaneous
On VA tech shootings: Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon explains why placing blame and making generalizations are unhelpful and problematic responses to this tragedy. She also links to some hilarious right-wing bloggers who have been quite creative in explaining this shooting spree.

Also on VA tech: Talk about victim-blaming. The first sentence in this article about the first woman killed who was being stalked by the shooter: “This is the face of the teenage student who may have sparked the biggest gun massacre in US history.” Via Feministe.

Eyal Press in the Nation on New Voices magazine’s funding crisis, which was essentially a discussion of journalistic integrity vs. Israel advocacy. Covered at Kabobfest and analyzed at Muzzlewatch.

Quentin Tarantino’s character from Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse movie Planet Terror, “the Grindhouse Rapist No. 1” has been made into an action figure! Retails at $12.99. Via Perez Hilton.

Finally, do check out this thoughtful piece from the American Prospect about Muslim radical reformer Irshad Manji.

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salty sunday

April 15, 2007
(How many problems can you find in this photo? source.)

If you think the Darfur issue is simple, if you think it’s a better focus than Iraq, if you think there are no other ethnic conflicts happening in the world, if you are calling for international intervention, if you feel an unexplainable desire to save helpless children in a faraway land, if you think this issue has nothing to do with politics, or if you know the Darfur rhetoric is problematic but can’t quite put your finger on why, please read this long piece (worth the read) by Mahmood Mamdani: The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency.

If you haven’t seen in yet, don’t miss February’s In the Life (PBS’s gay and lesbian news magazine), this time hosted by Ani DiFranco. The episode, the Principles of Youth, tells a few stories of queer youth from around the country. The highlight for me is the first segment about a brave and honest high schooler, Emily, who struggles with coming out in a small Christian town in Iowa. Via saltyfemme’s newest blogger.

The Boston Globe on the transmen at women’s colleges debate. Not a great article but I felt like I should link.

A surprisingly sensitive post at an urban parents blog on the complications of transmen giving birth.

Immigrants who want to bring children still abroad into the US undergo DNA tests ($450, which the government, shockingly enough, does not cover) to ensure biological relationships. Does anyone else find this insane?

Many states have begun refusing federal funds for abstinence-only sex education, perhaps because of the new study that came out that boldly declares that abstinence-only sex ed does not result in abstinence? (full study is here, it’s way long but the executive summary, pages 14-24, is worth reading).

seething sapphic septets next time you catcall. Headline of the week: Attack of the Killer Lesbians! It brings warmth to my heart to know that the NYPost is the 5th largest newspaper in the US. Via Feministing.


Feygele: Derived from the Yiddish for “little bird,” a disparaging appellation for a male homosexual, considered an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. There is no disparaging appellation for a lesbian, since they are really hot. In the eyes of the Lord, I mean.

Via Jewschool.

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The Greatest Love of All

April 13, 2007

(saltyfemme says: welcome to guest blogger and she took a bite, who will be bringing us some delicious words of Torah every so often. For the uninitiated, parashat hashavuah is some interpretive words on the weekly Torah portion.)

Parashat Shemini

“The Kotzker Rebbe said that the distance between heaven and earth is a journey of hundreds of years, but the distance between the mind and the heart is even greater.” (source)

Near the beginning of the parsha, we meet Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, who upon making an impromptu devotional incense offering in the sanctuary that becomes a “strange” or “alien” fire meet a sudden and puzzling death.1

It could be argued, and often is, that they built their alien fire for another God, as idolatry, a harshly punishable offense (i.e. the golden calf fiasco), but I don’t think that was the direction in which Nadav and Avihu strayed. On the heels of the formation of the Israelites as a people, Aaron and his sons held roles of distinction. They were priests, divinely chosen, and well-versed in the new language of monotheism they were expected to espouse. In fact, the previous reference to them is when God calls upon Moses to officially choose and celebrate all five of them as holy priests.2

But regardless of their servitude and exceptionality, God consumes them with no further discussion. Afterwards, Moses gathers Aaron and his two remaining children, Elazar and Itamar, and delivers a list of bizarre instructions for them. He instructs them to act as though they are not in mourning, keeping their hair and clothes neat, refraining from all intoxicating substances, and maintaining their air of nobility and holiness as beacons amongst all the other Israelites. These rules are given with the threat of death not only to them, but to everyone around them, and with the guilt-ridden warning that they are meant to be examples to others, to “distinguish between the sacred and the profane, and between the clean and unclean.”3

But moments later, these guiding lights disobey Moses’ orders to eat the “elevation offering”—no doubt meant to elevate their souls, and likely an effort to separate them from the impure acts of their close kin, Nadav and Avihu. Alas, Aaron explains himself vaguely, saying that on that (tragic) day, of all days, he could not enjoy this honor. And Moses approves.

Why is Aaron met with compassion when he disobeys the law outright, while Nadav and Avihu impulsively act (against no clear law) and receive no leniency whatsoever? Why is it kosher to eat cod, grasshoppers, and cows, but not octopus, pelicans or beetles?4 These questions hang over the remainder of Shmini.

Many say that separations, arbitrary and otherwise, are the essence of Judaism. Many also say that questioning is the essence of Judaism. I think that the separations are what largely necessitate the questioning, each rooting the other more deeply with each examination. The tension between the black, white, and gray zones entrenches and demands rereading, re-explaining, new teshuvot (responsa), new halachot (laws), new denominations, rituals, and interpretations.

With this in mind, and understanding, let us cut to a musical interlude. Please set your mp3 players to the “Strange Fire,” by the Indigo Girls.

In my examination of this text, a constellation hit me that this song’s not-so-hidden meaning is clearly about Nadav and Avihu. Surely, I am one of the last queer, folk-loving exegetes to figure this out, but nevertheless, I modestly propose a consideration of the song’s lyrics in hopes of greater understanding.

The fiesty lyrics indeed maintain the stress of conflicted analysis. The song begins in the first person, where it seems Nadav or Avihu explains himself simplistically, as a loving devotee, with a passion that courses through him.

I come with a strange fire, I make an offering of love…

The incense of my soul is burned by the fire in my blood.

But the purity and beauty of their strange gift is questioned by another voice in the second verse. The verse delivers what is the traditional rabbinic interpretation, the accusation that Nadav and Avihu died because of their self-importance emerges.

Mercenaries of the shrine, who are you to speak for God?

With haughty eyes and lying tongues and hands that shed innocent blood.

Who delivered you the power to interpret calvary?

You gamble away our freedom to gain your own authority.

Many have inserted that Nadav and Avihu had acted similarly callously in other situations, with grandiose schemes to take over Moses and Aaron’s roles5, scoffing off marriage prospects purely on account of their own perceived superiority6, and even of being drunk at the time of the offering.

But Amy Ray, fellow former religion major and frequent user of biblical allusions in her lyrics, incorporates these accusations with a little psychoanalysis. She offers a remedial third verse:

When you learn to love yourself, you will dissolve all the stones that are cast.

You will learn to burn the icing sky and to melt the waxen mask.

Yes, to have the gift of true release, this is a peace that will take you higher.

I come to you with my offering, I bring you strange fire.

Nadav and Avihu bring strange fire to the big potluck in the sky as the price they pay for not keeping it real. Like the rabbis, Ray sees the error of their ways, but she uniquely personalizes them as their individual plights against insecurity. And though she recognizes that their offering is rooted in love, she intimates the adage that one cannot love another until one loves oneself. The love, while nice and all, was itself impure, from the wrong place, and thus, unwelcome.

Nadav and Avihu, who make fewer than ten cameos in the Torah and never speak for themselves, are most remembered by their dramatic deaths. Posthumously, only once is it mentioned that they died without a mention of the strange fire7. Treated with such disdain and impatience, I will admit that I like Ray’s reading for the long-awaited compassion she gives them. I am not convinced that their fire was idolatry, mostly because of their purist familial connections and clean records. I am more comfortable with the idea that in between their anointing as priests and their deaths, arrogance and greed found places in their hearts. The need to be seen and heard and create spectacles out of spirituality perhaps created spiritual arterial blockages in their hearts. And thus, with each attempt to reach a higher place, to love God and show it, they stopped along the way to massage their own egos. Perhaps this strange fire was simply the last straw. Perhaps the distance between their hearts and good sense lengthened with each attempt, creating an impossible distance to forge.

And so we turn down the guitar harmonies and return to Aaron, our pardoned priest. Faced with death threats from God and Moses, he follows his heart and is given a chance to explain his disobedience. His heart, in the throes of mourning and pain from losing two of his sons that very day understandably disables him. He knows he could not properly engage in the highly spiritual acts and so he opts out, rather than reenact a scene of unholy devotion.

Rav Kook said that Nadav and Avihu held only half of the puzzle but thought it was whole. He said they had wisdom (chochmah) but not insight (binah). Unable to see beyond the moment and beyond themselves, they lacked necessary equipment to actually give a piece of themselves in their love and devotion.

Chochmah and binah, like the separations and the questions, are little good on their own. It’s like the black and white without the gray zones—they need each other to truly exist as their whole selves. Nadav and Avihu’s harsh punishment beckons for justification, and we get it with Moses’ gentle dealings with Aaron. The relationship between those two events becomes evident with the push and pull. Why can’t pelicans and octopi be kosher? That’s an entirely other can of treyf worms.

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1. Lev. 10:1-2
2. Ex. 28:1
3. Lev. 10:10
4. Lev. 11:13-23
5. Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 52a
6. Midrash Rabbah 20:10
7. Chronicles I 24:2; Thanks to Zac Johnson for helping me locate this reference and for the last minute, long-distance assistance.