On ‘White History Month’

Well folks, it’s almost Black History Month again!

And as we all know, the biggest problem with Black History Month is that there is no equivalent for white people, there is no ‘White History Month’.
… wait, what?
That’s right, there’s no single White History Month, because there are eleven white history months. There’s no White History Month because white history is not pushed aside and ignored to the point of needing to slow down and say “well hang on now, let’s think about white people for a minute!” There’s no White History Month because in our current culture, WHITE HISTORY is practically synonymous with HISTORY. And all of that is a problem. It’s also a problem that so many white people have such blinders on to their own privilege that they could ever assume that not having a white history month is a detriment to them, when it is actually part of the very fabric of white privilege.
Actually, it is a detriment to white people, in that racism, especially culturally sanctioned and imbedded racism, is a detriment to all people. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, equality is not about trying to be MORE equal than anybody else, it’s about trying to set up a world where we are all equal. That means that lifting up minorities does not threaten the majority position. That means letting go of our hierarchies. Ideally, that means seeing history as WHAT HAPPENED IN THE PAST as opposed to WHAT HAPPENED IN THE PAST AS IT PERTAINS TO “IMPORTANT” WHITE MEN.
Maybe you think that I’m exaggerating? Maybe you are saying “I’ve heard people of color mentioned in history books other than in February!” to which I would respond with two points:
1) rarely.
2) only when they did something that was important to white people! For example, when I was in school I only learned about the indigenous people of North America in terms of when and how they interacted with white people. The whole time there were disputes and sometimes friendships going on between the settlers and the natives, there were also tribal wars and all sorts of other things going on among the many nations that populated this continent. And yet we learned only about their interactions with Europeans, because that is what was important to white history.
***
So tomorrow begins Black History Month, a whole month when we (sometimes) discuss history that is not solely white history. Of course ideally, this would not be necessary. Ideally, we would talk about and teach all history all the time, not just the history of “important” white men. Ideally we would talk about the important contributions of African Americans to the history of America all year round, and we would also talk about first nation people and even countries that aren’t the United States sometimes (wouldn’t that be grand)! But we do not live in an ideal world, and history is still largely the pastime and province of white men out to glorify other white men. Until we teach history in a more equal way, Black History Month is a drop in the bucket, a small and important step towards including the histories of all people. Children of color deserve to know that white men were not the only people to ever accomplish things, and for many, Black History Month might help to show them that. For white kids, Black History Month can and should serve as an important reminder that lots and lots of people have done important things, not just people who look like them. Hurray!
Yet, some white people are still upset about it.
So I have a solution that’s bound to make everyone happy. Let’s go ahead and institute White History Month! We can have March, maybe, so we don’t have to wait too long? (I’d say January since white people probably want to be first, but goodness knows some folks will be upset that they “missed” it!) We can have White History Month, but that means that we no longer get eleven white history months per year. That way, the playing field will actually be leveled! For one month of the year we can talk about the important contributions to history and society by white leaders, and I’m sure we’ll find there’s plenty else to talk about for the other ten months.
***
If you’d like to suggest a topic for me to discuss this Black History Month, I’d love to hear it!
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What Do You Do With Your Struggle?

Lately everything I write seems to have the same theme. It is all about activism and oppression, and it is all about empathy. What do you do with your struggle? What do you do when the powers that be oppress you and you have to fight for your rights, what do you take away from that at the end of the day? Do you feel that your position is so hard won that it needs protecting, even from other oppressed people who are fighting for their rights? Do you feel that your position, your tiny amount of power you’ve carved out for yourself, is precious and sacred? When you see other people struggling against the same forces that held you down do you say “well, it’s not my problem, I’ve my own battle to fight.”

What do you do with your struggle?

Or do you learn empathy from your struggle? Are you fighting for a world where you are less oppressed than you once were, or are you fighting for a world where oppression can’t take root? I want to be the second kind of person. I want to be as outraged about racism as I am about sexism, because it isn’t about what affects me directly, it’s about struggle. I don’t just want to live in a world where I’m not a second-class citizen, I want to live in a world where there aren’t second-class citizens at all, where we don’t have create all these false hierarchies of who is the MOST human. I want to take my struggle and learn from it, and grow, and challenge others to learn and grow as well.

There is a great David Rakoff story about the Log Cabin Republicans… (in the book Don’t Get Too Comfortable) and this isn’t a direct quote because I don’t have the book in front of me, but he basically comes to the conclusion that gay republicans make no sense to him because he cannot separate the idea that he should have the right to exist as a gay man from other ideas, such as that women should have the right to choose and children should have the right not to starve to death. (It occurs to me that I wrote that entire sentence in present tense, and David Rakoff passed away this past summer, but I can’t go back and change it now.)

I can remember reading it and audibly shouting “YES!” alone in my tiny studio apartment. I don’t come to all of the same conclusions, I don’t think voting democrat is the answer, but I do think that a lot of these ideas are, and should be, wrapped up in each other. And I’m surprised when they aren’t for other people. It makes me think about history class, and I remember what I learned about slavery and reconstruction and Jim Crow. Essentially, one of the biggest factors in keeping African Americans disenfranchised in the South was the anger and racism of poor white people. These were not the plantation owners, these were poor people who had to struggle to make a living, and were held down by the same unfair class system that was built upon the enslavement of brown skinned people. But when the slaves were freed, they were so engrossed in the hierarchy that was keeping them down that they couldn’t deal with the idea that there might not be anyone below them. So they colluded in the oppression of others, which of course preserved a system which was unfair for all people, including themselves.

That is what I think about when I hear people say that the struggle against racism isn’t theirs because they are white, the struggle against sexism isn’t theirs because they are male, the struggle against homophobia isn’t theirs because they are straight, the struggle against transphobia isn’t theirs because they are cisgendered. The idea that everyone deserves a few basic human rights may take on more personal urgency when it is my rights that are on the chopping block, but  it should never be at the expense of the rights of others. Equality, if it truly is equality, isn’t a limited resource, and we need to stop acting like it is. We will not get to be somehow more equal by not allowing some people to take part in the equality. That’s not equality, that’s scarcity mentality and scarcity thinking, that’s capitalist logic applied to basic human rights, and it’s ugly and mean and we all know damn well it’s not right.

So what do you do with your struggle?

Today is MLK day, and quotes are being thrown around and they will continue to do so. There’s one quote that you will hear used to justify all sorts of things, but I want us all to take a minute and think about it.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

It will continue to be used to justify wars and global bullying, but I still think they are important words. Think about it. Think about how your struggle is the same as everyone else’s struggle, and think about how we don’t gain anything by stepping over them. Think about how much more powerful we would be if we all struggled together, for equal rights for all people, instead of separately, to carve out a more comfortable existence with a few more rights for ourselves.

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Bad Feminists and Straw Feminists

I’m a little behind on writing this up (and I still owe you more installments on When Feminism Fails) but I want to talk to you briefly about some of the criticism of feminism, and when it comes from sources you might not expect.

I recently read this piece on Libby Ann’s fantastic blog, Love, Joy, Feminism, which talks about the argument over feminism in the atheist community. Now, I don’t identify as an atheist, and I don’t follow atheist blogs unless they also talk about something else which interests me (Libby Ann’s blog is a prime example of this) so while I had kind of heard there’d been some hoopla about the feminism going on I wasn’t familiar with the specifics.

If you are interested, I encourage you to go read that post. I think it is worth your time and I think Libby had some important things to say. Originally I thought I’d go point by point, with quotes and all that, but instead I’m going to try to (for once) keep this brief.

Basically, what is happening here is that some people in the atheist community (all the people Libby quotes are men, though the concept itself was created by a woman) are trying to make a distinction between two kinds of feminism that they see as completely different and somewhat opposed to each other. They call these two kinds of feminism “equity feminism” and “gender feminism”. It needs to be noted right off the bat that all the people who believe that feminism breaks down into these two categories, all those people consider themselves to be “equity feminists.” The people who they would categorize as “gender feminists” do not see the world of feminism in terms of these two different categories, and we mostly just call ourselves, you know, feminists.

The first big problem is the way that they define these two different forms of feminism. In their world, equity feminism is considered with creating legal and social equality for women, and gender feminism is dumb and wrong. That’s a little bit of hyperbole, but it’s not too far off the mark. Rather than first defining the two things as “equity feminism thinks this and gender feminism thinks this” and THEN moving on to “and I’m an equity feminist and here’s why I think gender feminism is missing the mark” they include their criticisms of gender feminism right in their definitions. Ok, here’s just one quote to show you what I’m talking about:

Gender feminism is very different. It looks far less egalitarian, involves sharp criticism of gender roles, and seems to emphasize victimhood.

Libby personally doesn’t pick apart why that definition is a problem, but I want to. Because any time that your definition of your opposing view includes such negative language, you aren’t really engaging with it at all. Rather than explaining the criticism of gender roles, and then explaining why they find that to be less egalitarian, they start right off the bat telling you that gender feminism is NOT ABOUT EQUALITY.

Hm. Insisting that the majority of feminists aren’t interested in equality and just want to play the victim… does that sound familiar to you? Let’s come back to that in a minute.

Because that’s just the first problem. The second problem is the insistence that gender feminists want to deny that there are biological differences between men and women. Essentially, what they are saying is that if there aren’t more women engineers, it’s probably because women just aren’t as good at engineering as they are at some other things (like childcare!) and we just need to accept that men and women are different and let them do the things they are best suited for. As long as women have full legal rights, gender roles are a-ok with equity feminists.

So many issues here. First, sex and gender are two different things, and that is an important thing to know. When you use the words “sex” and “gender” interchangeably you create some very real problems (and I stop taking your argument seriously). Sex is biological, and gender is social. The two are often related, but not always. Also, because gender is a social construct, gender norms and expectations can vary greatly from culture to culture. If this is still confusing to anyone, here is an example:

Having breasts is part of being of the female sex, while wearing a bra is part of the female gender (in many parts of the world). Breasts are biological, whereas to claim that women naturally wear brassieres, as if it were somehow part of their biological make-up to do so, is preposterous. In many parts of the world women do not wear them, and while in our culture it is considered a feminine thing to do, it is entirely possible to still be female without one on, and it is also possible for male people to wear them.

The argument being made by the “equity feminists” (and it’s really the same argument being made by many supporters of old-school patriarchy) is that when we rail against gender roles, we’re trying to deny that there is any difference between men and women at all. That simply is not true. Because sex and gender are different things. And because we don’t any of us live in a vacuum. It is impossible to know whether women are by nature more nurturing then men are, as long as we encourage young girls to play with baby dolls and discourage young boys from doing the same. And even if you, as a parent, don’t tell your son not to play with baby dolls, unless you are parenting in the woods with only toys you made yourself by hand, the gender roles of the dominant American culture affect your child.

Go into a toy store. Go into the “pink” aisle. Tell me how many baby dolls there are. Now do the same in the “blue” aisle.

And if that weren’t enough, what are they using to back up their gender essentialist claims? Oh good, it’s evolutionary psychology. Here’s some criticism of evolutionary psychology that you might find interesting, including this gem about an evolutionary psychology study that claimed to FINALLY discover why girls prefer pink. (Spoiler, pink used to be considered a boy’s color, and the study makes no sense.) Recently I had to try to explain evolutionary psychology to a friend who was not familiar, and I broke it down like this:

Evolutionary psychology is when you take a look at your wife staying home to take care of the house and kids, and you wonder why that might be. Then you think “hey, maybe there’s an evolutionary reason she wants to do that! I bet that back during evolution times MEN were the ones hunting (cause men hunt now!) which lead me to believe that women stayed home with the kids (cause someone had to or they would have been eaten by a lion).” Then you take that faulty logic and REAPPLY it to the modern world, asserting that women EVOLVED to stay home with babies, and therefore that must be what they are best suited for now.

Most of the scientists I know just start laughing when evolutionary psychology comes up.

***

Ok so this still hasn’t been as brief as I would have liked, there was a lot to talk about. We need to bring it full circle now. Because the argument that some feminists are good and want equality and some feminists are bad and want to be victims… it’s an argument we’ve heard before in many different forms.

“now, when you say feminist, do you mean pro-equality, or pro-women?”

Bam. He was just asking a simple and honest question, which actually led to a very productive and positive conversation. However, wrapped up in that question were all of the reasons I didn’t call myself a feminist when I was fifteen, all of the reasons my mother doesn’t call herself a feminist now because “I’m for equality for everyone, not just women.” The raised eyebrows I was met with when I actually did start calling myself a feminist, the way I still get a little nervous dropping an f-bomn in public sometimes, and the reasons it is so effing important to keep doing it, they were all there in that simple little sentence.

Yes, I realize that quoting oneself is kind of ridiculous. This is from my piece about why it’s important to speak out for feminism and against patriarchy. Because that is all I could think about while I read about supposedly liberal-minded, equality-minded atheists arguing that the reason most of the speakers at atheist conventions are men is because speaking at conventions is “kind of a guy thing.” Because rather than saying that ALL FEMINISTS are bad, these “equity feminists” are setting themselves up as the “good feminists” and all others as the “bad feminists”… the same old straw feminists that we are all sick and tired of hearing about.

But other than that, other than that assertion that there is a small group of good feminists who think that voting rights are enough, their argument sounds EXACTLY the same as the tired old conservative patriarchal argument that women ought to just stay in their place.

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The Trouble With Gay Marriage (according to an engaged gay)

I need to talk to you about gay marriage.

No, I really need to talk to you about gay marriage.

This is important.

The political powers that be have made gay marriage a hot-button issue. In fact, it’s generally assumed that if you’re talking lgbtq rights, you are talking about marriage rights, and that is a pretty dangerous assumption. One reason that gay marriage gets so much more attention than other queer issues is because of the powerful backlash against it. The push for constitutional amendments to specifically ban gay marriage is fairly unique, and it is quite obviously a problem. The personal is always political, but this is one area where the personal decisions of some people have been loudly and publicly and unfairly politicized. However, when we talk about gay marriage as being synonymous with lgbtq rights we miss a a lot of very important things.

You guys, I’m engaged.

And I really want to be all “I don’t care what anyone thinks of me!” but the fact is that I’m not sixteen anymore and I’m just done wanting to be seen as someone who doesn’t care how other people see me. I do care. I care what the people who I love and respect think about me. Sharing our opinions about each other’s life choices is one of the ways that we take care of each other as a community. I’m not so desperate for approval that I’m going to do everything someone else says, but I will take other opinions and viewpoints into account, and I think that is healthy. I care what people think about me, and I want people to understand what it means (and what it doesn’t mean) when I say that I’m getting married.

So, let’s talk about gay marriage, ok?

***

The Convincing Argument for “Marriage Equality”

The argument goes something like this: as long as the government is sanctioning some kinds of committed relationships, why should gay people be excluded from that? We have as much right to get married as anyone else does! Furthermore, the opposition to gay marriage comes, primarily, from conservative religious leaders, but we all know that we are supposed to have separation of church and state in this country. Plenty of people, both gay and straight, have taken a look at loving gay relationships that look an awful lot like loving straight relationships, and asked questions such as “why can’t they share insurance?” “why don’t they get deathbed visits?” “why can’t they file taxes together?” and perhaps most importantly “why can’t they be married in the eyes of the law?”

Or, as my great-grandmother once very eloquently put it, “Oh, let them be unhappy along with the rest of us!”

It just makes good sense.

The Trouble with Gay Marriage

1. Widening an Exclusive Category Vs. Creating an Inclusive One

A few months ago I went on this totally intense Netflix marathon of the horrible TLC reality show Sister Wives. The show is really incredibly boring because, as they keep trying to remind you over and over again, they really are just a normal family in most regards. Seriously, if you are looking for something juicy and complicated, be forewarned that even reality TV editing cannot make watching other people grocery shop exciting. The sexism can be frustrating, the patriarch is a total goon, and the plot line is anti-climatic at best. And yet, I am addicted.

One thing that the gang on Sister Wives do though, that most folks pushing for gay marriage try their best not to do, is compare their situation to the gay marriage struggle. The comparison is easy to make. Gay people do not have the right to marry legally in most of this country. Polygamists also do not have the right to marry legally, however they have the added bonus of being able to be prosecuted for living as if they were married! Wowza! If three adult people decide to enter into a marriage-like agreement, even if they do not seek any legal spousal benefits for the third spouse, they can be prosecuted for that. Think about that for a second, when I did, it was probably the first time that I felt privileged as a queer person. I mean, my fiancee and I may never be able to share insurance, but no one is going to take me to jail for calling her my wife.

(It bares mentioning that that was not always the case, and historically many gay people were in fact locked up for the crime of having “indecent” relationships.)

And yet, when conservatives bring up polygamy in that “if we allow gays to get married, what’s next?” sort of way, the vocal majority of those pushing for gay marriage have one clearly resounding answer: We are nothing like them. They are icky. We absolutely oppose polygamy. We promise if you just let us nice, clean, polite, monogamous, gays get married, you’ll never have to worry about polygamy being legalized.

And this is what we call marriage equality? Does that sound anything like equality?

And here’s that quote from the president that we’ve all ready a million times:

“I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.”

Let’s not even talk about how his beliefs on gay marriage never “evolved”, just his public persona. The president makes his position very clear: GOOD gays should be allowed to get married. MONOGAMOUS gays should be allowed to get married. Gays who just want a family as beautiful as the Obamas, they should be allowed to get married. It’s not just mormon polygamists that are being left out of the discussion, it’s whole crowds of queer people who don’t fit into the tight little mold of what a “good gay” looks like. If you are queer, bisexual, pansexual, polyamourus, genderqueer, trans, or otherwise WEIRD… well then, you need to take a step back, because this conversation is not about you. This conversation is about RIGHTS, and you don’t have any.

I’m annoyed by the president’s statements, but I’m not shocked by them. What really gets my goat is the sanctioning of this crap by gay folks. Do we have no empathy whatsoever? Why doesn’t the experience of having our rights denied cause us to be protective of the rights of others? How can we even call this equality?

2. Basic Rights before Marriage Rights

I live in Michigan. In the state of Michigan, there is a constitutional amendment on the books which prevents the state from recognizing my impending marriage as a marriage, for any purposes whatsoever. Many people think that is ridiculous, and I agree with them (however, if the election in 2004 is any indication, the majority of Michiganders think it’s swell). Actually, one thing that is interesting to me is that many Michiganders aren’t actually aware of that amendment, and I keep having conversations about my engagement that include the questions “so how does that work legally in Michigan?” to which I answer “well, it doesn’t.” The 2004 election was an important milestone on my own path to political awareness (it was the first election I could vote it, the second Bush Jr. election, and the election where Michigan decided that gay marriage was SO ICKY that mere laws against it simply would not do) but I suppose it wasn’t that for everyone.

However, when we act like our inability to marry (legally) is the only injustice going on, we act like fools. Because in Michigan it is also perfectly legal for my employer to fire me because I seem gay. The good news for me is that my employer doesn’t want to fire me for my gayness! I’m a middle class white lady who went to art school, who has a vaguely art-related job, and works with some other gay folks. I’ve been set up on dates with women by people I work with. Folks at work keep congratulating me on my engagement. It’s absolutely fabulous.

The thing is, not everyone has a fabulous job where they can be out and talk about gay stuff. And because discrimination against gay people is in no way protected against, many people have to stay in the closet in order to maintain a job, a job they probably need to survive. And it seems to me that the right to SURVIVE, that right needs to take precedent. So it strikes me as odd that the push for gay marriage has been so strong in recent years, and yet the push for anti-discrimination laws takes a back seat.

Of course, if you are cynical enough, it isn’t all that surprising.

The mainstream gay rights movement is led by gay folks in positions similar to mine. We don’t really need anti-discrimination laws because we have the ability to choose jobs where we feel safe and comfortable. Anti-discrimination laws likely won’t benefit us directly… but you know what would be nice? That’s right, having our relationships sanctioned by the state, and getting the laundry list of benefits that that entails. Which leads us to….

3. When “Gay Rights” = “LGBT Rights”, and How We Love to Forget The T

I’m sure you are going to be totally floored when I take this opportunity to remind you that we live in a patriarchal society. I know, I hoped that I could get through a whole blog post without brining it up too, but I just can’t. Yeah, patriarchy, it blows for all sorts of reasons. Patriarchy is all about hierarchies, and guess who’s at the top? You guessed it! White dudes! Usually straight white dudes, but in the case of lgbtq issues, we will even accept gay white dudes!

So often, when we talk about LGBT rights, or LGBT issues, or LGBT interests… what we are really talking about is gay men and their rights, issues, and interests. I’m not arguing that those things aren’t important, but there’s three more letters in LGBT, and four if you include the Q (I do, I didn’t in this statement or heading because I’m talking about the larger mainstream conversation, which usually doesn’t). We are leaving people out, and we are leaving them out based on where they fall on the patriarchal hierarchy.

And guess who we don’t talk about when we talk about marriage equality? We don’t talk about trans people. We don’t talk about them, even though they are more likely to be murdered than the rest of us. We don’t talk about them. We talk about nice, upstanding gay men, and maybe some nice, upstanding lesbians. But that’s it. I know tons of people who technically fall under the definition of LGBTQ but don’t identify with it, because they see it as all about gay men.

I stopped reading my local LGBT newspaper because they were more likely to publish an article about a straight woman who wrote music or was in a play that gay men love than an article about a gay or queer woman. I’m just saying.

4.”We’ve Been Together for 3,000 Years and We’re Finally Tying The Knot!”

Every time gay marriage gets legalized somewhere, the press is the same. You see a lot of pictures of happy couples getting married at city hall, and I won’t deny that it always brings tears to my eyes. Always. Every single goddamn time. But I’ve also noticed a trend. If you have been with your partner for 20, 10, or maybe even just 7 or 8 years, and you want to get married, the liberal media loves you.

But guess what there’s zero coverage of? Brash, young, crazy in love homos getting married. I haven’t seen any. Granted, I haven’t specifically looked for it, but I have looked at a lot of general gay marriage coverage, and impulsive young people are simply not included.

Is it because we’re trying to be more palatable to the mainstream? It it because we have something to prove (like how committed we are)? Is it because the folks who’ve been waiting for years are more likely to get married on the first day marriage is legal in their city? I don’t have the answers, my guess is a combination of all of the above. But I do think this goes back to my first point, about the GOOD GAYS getting married. Apparently, the mark of a truly Good Gay is that marriage is not the commitment, the commitment is in fact made years before the marriage.

5. “Traditional” American Marriage and Patriarchy, Straightness

One of the biggest arguments against gay marriage that I hear from queer people is this one: marriage is straight, sexist, constrictive, patriarchal institution, so why should we even want it? I want to respond to some of that in a bit (mainly my response boils down to “it hasn’t always been/it doesn’t have to be”) but I do think it’s important to mention the argument.

Many, if not most, of the elements of the average American wedding these days are extremely patriarchal and gendered. In many US states married women could not own their own private property until the 1840s. And while it seems that most present-day Americans prefer more egalitarian relationships, and the practice of say, the father of the bride “giving his daughter away” to the groom is merely a nod at tradition, it’s probably worth pointing out that it isn’t that way for everyone.

I don’t bring all of this up to say that we should reject the term “marriage” outright, but rather to say that it’s probably a little more complicated than “I have the right to get married the same as you do!”

Why I’m Still Getting Hitched

1. Marriage is About Individuals, Not The State

I’m one of those people who thinks that the state shouldn’t have anything to do with anyone’s relationship, and that includes my own. That means that while my state will not recognize my marriage, I still get to have one. Just as most Christians see the ceremony they have in their church with their religious community as witnesses and their religious leader as an officiate as infinitely more important than the marriage license they receive, I see the ceremony we are planning together as infinitely more important than the marriage license we won’t be receiving.

Recently, I was on the phone with a very good friend discussing my engagement and impending wedding, and after we talked about the legal aspect she said “gosh, I’m sorry you have to deal with that.” The only way I could respond was to say that yes, it is frustrating sometimes, but at the same time I feel incredibly lucky that I get to deal with it. I want to make a public commitment with an incredible woman, to spend our lives together, to keep a home together, to take care of each other. That’s what I want, and I asked her, and she said yes, that is what she wants as well. And that is what marriage is about as far as I am concerned. What 60-something percent of voting Michiganders think, or what the president of the United States thinks, it’s not a factor to me because I’m not marrying them.

2. Many Different Forms of Marriage, Not Just Patriarchal Marriage

Historically, throughout the world, many different kinds of marriages have been recognized. While in the US we tend to think of patriarchal marriage as “traditional marriage” that isn’t strictly true. I can definitely see how someone could look at the state of marriage in this country and reject the institution wholesale, I can get it, but it’s not my view.

We do not intend for our wedding, or our marriage, to be a slightly modified version of a patriarchal marriage. We intend to do what queer folks have always done, to build the relationship that makes the most sense for us. It will have some things in common with “traditional marriage” but it will also be very different. The union we have in mind is a covenant, but is not about ownership or control. It’s about forming a family together, a family that starts with two equal partners who love, respect, and honor (but not necessarily obey!) each other.

We’ve talked a lot about our ideas about what a marriage is and isn’t, should and shouldn’t be, can and can’t be, what we want and what we don’t want. I need my queers who are critical of the institution of marriage to please trust me on this one. This is well thought-out, this is not a hasty decision, and this will not be a slightly watered-down or gussied-up version of the thing that you hate.

3. I’m In Love, and I’m Stoked About Calling This Rad Lady My Wife

WordPress says I’ve written almost 3,000 words on this subject, and yet I haven’t gotten all gushy and starry-eyed about my betrothed yet! That is crazy, that simply will not do.

If you haven’t met her, she is simply the best, and if you have you probably don’t need me to tell you how great she is. A few short weeks ago, I took her out on a pedestrian bridge in our neighborhood, and under the moon I told her how much better she has made my life, and me as a person, and how I want to grow with her and continue to let her challenge and change me. Then I offered her the rest of my days, and asked if I might have hers in return. There was a ring. (Quick plug for Emily Wiser, who made the ring, and is incredible) There was crying. There was a toast and a prayer.

Since then I keep having these little moments, moments where I notice how great it all is. Maybe we’ll be talking about something we’ve been meaning to do together, and suddenly we both burst out smiling when we realize we have all the time in the world. Maybe I’ll be talking with a friend about heartache and say “when I’m broken hearted I always ____” and then I realize that doesn’t need to apply to me anymore. Maybe my favorite cat marks her as a member of his pride/family and I realize that he’s absolutely right. Maybe I call her my girlfriend and someone corrects me and says “fiancee” and I have to catch my breath.

That kind of happiness strikes me as a very good reason to get married, despite all the shit.

***

I’ve got about eight months to plan a wedding and make a dress. I’m not sure how much I’ll be posting about it on here, but you know, wish me luck.

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I have complicated feelings about that: when feminism fails, part one

The other day I spent wrote a long, somewhat rambling, post about why it is important for me to call myself a feminist, and why I encourage others with feminist principles and ideals to use the word themselves. The backlash against feminism (and feminists) is real and it is damaging, and it is important that we talk about it, and that we do not fear the straw feminists. I stand by that post.

What that post wasn’t about was dissecting the problems that occur within feminist communities. I briefly hinted at the idea that hey, shit ain’t perfect and neither are people, but I didn’t delve. Actually, I don’t like the “of course no movement is perfect” stance because it avoids talking about the actual ways in which movements can be flawed, how important they are, and what we can do to change them. So, let’s talk about a few of the problems that I see cropping up in feminism. To be clear, these are not problems that all feminist movements or all feminists have, but they are themes. They can exist in more mainstream feminist circles, as well as more radical feminist circles, and they are damaging to us all when they happen.

I’m going to tackle different failures in separate posts, as they are getting kind of long.

1. “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”

From my perspective, feminism is about recognizing and opposing patriarchy. It is a little bit like “oh hey look, I see a patriarchy! I’m against it! Now what am I going to do?” This isn’t how a lot of people see feminism though, a lot of people see feminism as first and foremost a struggle for women.

And you know what? Patriarchy oppresses a whole lot of women, all of them, in fact! And there are a lot of women! And many, many, maybe most, people see the world in terms of a gender binary: there are two types of people, men and women. So I could see how easy it would be to think that opposing the patriarchy and wanting equal rights for women are one and the same thing, I can totally see that. Most of the early leaders of feminism framed their struggle in that sense, and that is literally where the word takes its meaning from.

However, patriarchy doesn’t just hurt women. I believe that if you are against oppression you are against oppression period, not just for people who look like you, live like you, or have bodies like yours (more on that later). There’s a pretty clear loser when we make feminism exclusively about women. Have you guessed it yet? It is so obvious. That’s right, it is our trans* and intersex friends and allies.

First of all, the wrath of patriarchy falls the hardest on folks who don’t fit into the heteronormitive, male-female, binary framework upon which it is built. Trans* people, almost be definition, are hated by patriarchy. They receive the brunt of the abuse, and often the dominant patriarchal narrative would seek to either ignore their existence, or make them actually not exist. The rate at which trans people are murdered should terrify you. If we are against patriarchy, we need to be these people’s champions. When we sweep them under the rug saying “oh well it’s such a small percentage, when we’re done with equal rights for women we will totally work on that” we fail.

Secondly, we need to talk about reproductive health. And when I say reproductive health, I mean everyone’s reproductive health, not just people who identify as women. I am sick and tired of reading about the struggle for women to maintain reproductive rights. Maybe those on the other side of it think this is about women, but we need to be smarter and more inclusive than that. The reality is that some people who do not identify as – and simply are not – women have uteruses and vaginas. When we make having female reproductive equipment synonymous with being a woman we ignore and belittle the experiences of many people. People, who as we’ve already discussed, get stepped on by patriarchy even more than cis-gendered women do. Yes, access to birth control and pregnancy termination services are important things, but they are not important things for women alone.

Those things could just be mistakes made by well-meaning feminists who just aren’t thinking. Often they can be corrected simply by bringing the issue up. I’ve seen people make these mistakes, and hell I’ve made similar mistakes, and what I see is that in generally when they are pointed out, people are ready to wise up. When I say something about “women’s rights” and then catch the eye of a trans* friend who is just as affected by these issues as I am, I feel bad about that and I try to correct it. We can keep doing that, all of us. Let’s do that.

There is, however, something more sinister that we do need to talk about. I got the following comment on Facebook, from a close friend who I have a lot of respect for:

“But the extreme “feminists” that absolutely hate trans* people and don’t want us to have equality definitely exist.”

Yep. This person is totally right. There are some feminists who aren’t making an honest mistake when they talk about feminism in terms of women, there are feminists who really want feminism to be exclusively about helping women. I’m not going to unpack the reasons behind their prejudices completely, because frankly, it doesn’t all make sense to me. This is going to come up again and again, but in my life, the experience of being oppressed always makes me more empathetic to other oppressed people. What it never does is make me feel competitive with other oppressed people, as if equality were a limited resources and I needed to try to get more of it than them. But there are people who seem to feel this way, and I keep not getting it. There are also some feminist, cis-gendered women, who seem to feel especially and particularly threatened by trans* women. These women seem to see trans* women as wolves in sheep’s clothing. It’s as if they live in a world where the major force in patriarchy is the penis and that by identifying as women and (possibly) having penises trans women are sneaking weapons into safe spaces. It probably goes without saying that they feel even more threatened by queer trans* women.

(Because, you know, that’s totally fair, I can totally see how you should try to kick people who suffer oppression from all different angles in our patriarchal society out of your club that is against patriarchy. I’m not sure, can everyone read the sarcasm on that?)

First of all, that just isn’t how it is. Patriarchy isn’t propagated by penises alone, in fact I would go so far as to say they aren’t even a major player in the propagation of patriarchy (although many a penis-having patriarch would like to think otherwise). Secondly, this idea, the idea that ones genitals are the most important thing and make a person good or bad, safe or unsafe. Oh hell. Do I even have to say it? You guys. THIS IS A SEXIST IDEA. It is contradictory to all of our ideology to say that we are in a special cis-ladies only club and no one with the wrong junk is allowed in. Unless of course your ideology is self-serving and doesn’t care about the suffering of others, doesn’t seek to end inequality but only to elevate yourself on the ladder of inequality. And if that is your ideology, than I (and all of my totally awesome non-binary friends) don’t want to play with you.

For this reason, many people who support not only women’s rights but trans* people’s rights refer to themselves as trans* feminists. I don’t do that most of the time for two reasons, I think that supporting the rights of trans* people should  be inherent in the definition of feminism, and also I think that it kind of is. Hating someone based on their genitals is sexism. Feminism is against sexism. I don’t want to cave to the crappy definition of sexism that a bunch of jerks have.

(I didn’t include a break down on the different between sex and gender in this post because I thought it was probably unnecessary. If I’m wrong about that, let me know in the comments, and I’ll try to write about it or point you in the right direction for further reading in the future.)

Next time: Anti-racism and Feminism! Wahoo!

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I don’t want to find violence intellectually interesting.

I used to avoid the news at almost all costs. This isn’t all that surprising considering that when I was a teenager “Columbine happened” and then “911 happened” (I find the language we use to discuss our tragedies utterly bizarre). I was a young person. I couldn’t even vote, and I felt entirely powerless. I also was a nerd, and I had this theory that humans are empathetic, but that our empathy works best in smaller communities. So, before all this technology started to connect the whole world, if you found out about something bad happening, it probably happened to someone you knew, or at least someone who knew someone you knew. I realized that if I was going to be sad for every single person who died, or even every single person who died in a tragic way, then I would have to be sad forever all the time. I didn’t want that, I was a teenager, I was sad enough already. Since I viewed the news as inherently negative (again, so surprise there) I cut it out of my life. It hurt less.

***

These days I am an adult, not a sad teenager, a truth which I am grateful for. I have a slightly more nuanced understanding of news and current events, and will concede that it is probably sometimes a good idea to be informed. I don’t try so hard to avoid the news. And now, thanks to facebook, google reader, and a million other tiny bits of technology which connect us all (and connect us to more and more information) the news is a whole lot harder to avoid. I don’t have to seek it out. It comes to me. And I still struggle with that. I struggle with knowing where to draw the line. When is it important to be informed? And when is it important to turn the damn machines off so one can focus on the things that are actually in one’s life?

I don’t have any answers. Mostly I try to take it on a case by case basis, and to be perfectly honest, most of the time I feel like I’m failing. Either I’m too detached, too reserved, and not ready to spring into action when action is needed because of it, or I’m on media overload and I desperately need to close the lap top, play with my cats, write a letter to someone I miss, do anything else in the world.

***

On Friday something horrible happened. You already know what it was. What is is. Almost every blog I read published something on it. My facebook was exploded with condolences and prayers, sadness and anger. Mostly, I have been avoiding it. And I feel weird and guilty about that. And I also feel weird and guilty about the Pakistani children who die everyday. While America grieves for the (mostly white) innocent children who were gunned down needlessly, the needless slaughter of the (mostly brown) children goes largely undiscussed and unchallenged. Why is that? Is it because it is sanctioned by our government? Is it because we are way more racist than we would ever want to believe we are? Is it because we are more afraid of this kind of killing, because it feels more personal (it feels like it could have been our children or the children of our friends)? Is it because it is geographically closer? I’m guessing the answers vary from person to person.

I’d been avoiding reading about it. I know what happened, how could I not? Then today I thought I might browse some of the blog posts. I don’t want to join the throngs of people proclaiming “everyone is reacting to this wrong except for me!” but goddamn, I have some mixed feelings about the things that I have been reading. Here are a few of them:

1. Anarchists who are pushing for more gun regulation and/or full out banning of guns. I don’t get it. I mean I get why someone might think guns should be harder to get, and I get why someone might be in anarchist, but I don’t understand how the two can coexist inside of one human.

2. I really really wish that we could talk about mental illness in a respectful way.

3. People seem to have this amazing ability to look at a tragedy, see that it is tragic, and then announce that this tragedy totally proves that their position on the issues is the only correct one. I don’t know if this particular tragedy proves anything or doesn’t prove anything, I really don’t. What I do want to say (as respectfully as possible) is that that attitude seems a little disrespectful to the dead.

4. Seriously though. Can we please talk about the government sanctioned killing of innocent children, and how that is not ok? Can we please grieve for them, if innocent children are truly so important to us?

5. We live in a world that promotes, sanctions, and rewards so many kinds of violence.

6. And then I came across this line “Well, today I got an email from a reader drawing a parallel I found fascinating.” And it occurred to me, that with all my desire to distance myself from tragedy, I don’t ever want to find violence “fascinating” or intellectually interesting at all. I want to let it just be sad.

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I have complicated feelings about that: sometimes, you have to use the F word

Recently I was having a conversation with an acquaintance and colleague (the kind of acquaintance and colleague that I sure hope will soon become and honest to goodness friend) about television. It was the middle of the day and I was suddenly sleepy and this person was asking a lot of “have you watched x?” type questions. I got to talk about how stubborn I can be. It was really fun! And then I brought up Sady Doyle.

Actually, I didn’t say “oh yeah that’s true because Sady Doyle blah blah blah blah blah,” what I said was “But I only finally started watching 30Rock after this feminist writer that I really like wrote about it quite a lot. Eventually, I wanted to know what she was talking about.”

My chatting companion visibly froze. He (this was a male acquaintance, though I get similar responses from women when an f-bomb drops) looked nervous and said “now, when you say feminist, do you mean pro-equality, or pro-women?”

Bam. He was just asking a simple and honest question, which actually led to a very productive and positive conversation. However, wrapped up in that question were all of the reasons I didn’t call myself a feminist when I was fifteen, all of the reasons my mother doesn’t call herself a feminist now because “I’m for equality for everyone, not just women.” The raised eyebrows I was met with when I actually did start calling myself a feminist, the way I still get a little nervous dropping an f-bomn in public sometimes, and the reasons it is so effing important to keep doing it, they were all there in that simple little sentence.

When I was fifteen, I was pretty sure I knew what a feminist was, even if I didn’t know what feminism was. A feminist was an angry lady. She was power hungry. She probably wore horrible shoulder pads and lipstick that clashed with her complexion and made you really wish she hadn’t decided to dabble in makeup. She both hated being a woman and wanted to make everyone else a woman. She might actually spell the word “women” as “womyn” because she both didn’t understand the etymology of the word and she hated men so much that a totally inappropriate “y” was preferable to ever having to write the three letters M-E-N unless it was part of the statement “men suck.” She was decidedly un-fun.

When, in my junior year history class, our teacher showed us a video which discussed whether feminism had gone too far (this was presented to us as him teaching us to look at both sides of a nuanced argument, although looking back on it the whole thing was incredibly biased and prefaced with a talk that basically went “some people (feminists!) want to say there is no difference between men and women, but that is just obviously not true!”) I kind of sided with him. Maybe these ladies were taking it too far.

All that is to say, I understand how one could develop a distrust of feminists and feminism in our culture, because I grew up in this culture and I used to feel that way. Fortunately for me, I started reading books. And while my mother never called herself a feminist, she did teach me both to think for myself and that I could do anything I wanted to do, even if it was a “boy thing”. Experiences such as teachers (both male and female) who obviously favored male students helped me to realize that gender equality was still an issue, it was not something that we had achieved in the 70s (as I had assumed). It followed that we needed a movement to push it along. And hey! Presto! There already was one, it was called feminism!

All of this got me thinking of my favorite ‘Hark, a vagrant’ comic of all time. If you click no other link in this post, seriously, click that one. Here it is again. This is really the inspiration for this whole thing.

So if feminism isn’t about hating men, what is feminism about? One thing I’m proud of is that, in the conversation mentioned at the beginning, when I was asked if I meant “pro-equality or pro-women”, I didn’t blow up. I didn’t say “GOD WHY ARE PEOPLE ALWAYS ASSUMING THE WORST OF FEMINISTS YOU ARE ALL SUCH JERKS!” Instead I got myself a glass of water, and attempted to calmly and reasonably define that scary f-word. It isn’t always easy to do that. I’m not going to link to any of the definitions of feminism here, I’m just going to dive right in.

In my mind (and I need to mention that I can’t speak for everyone who identifies as a feminist here) feminism is a) the recognition that we live in a patriarchal society and b) opposition to that patriarchy. That’s pretty simple and straightforward, so in case this isn’t long and rambling enough, let’s just take a minute and unpack that.

Patriarchy is a system where power is concentrated in the hands of men, in a variety of both obvious and less than obvious ways. It almost always comes with a side dish of racism and heteronormitivity, so that in a patriarchal society power is concentrated in the hands of men who are perceived to be masculine and “straight” (according to the specific rules of their culture) and are part of the dominant racial or ethnic group. Patriarchy has been around for a long time, and while it has been chipped away at (by people such as feminists!) we still live in a patriarchal society. If you read this and you’re all like “nah, no way man!” you need to take a good look at people in power. Whether it’s Congress or CEOs of major companies, what you are going to see is this: predominantly white, predominantly male. The male-female population ratio (oh and we’re going to talk about how that dichotomy is fake and messed up soon, don’t worry kiddos! but please roll with me for a second, this is the measurement we have) is roughly 50-50. Now let’s look at the U.S. Congress…

While the partisan composition of the Congress is fairly close to that of the electorate, there are larger disparities between the Congress and the general citizenry in term of sex and race. In the House, there are currently 362 men and 76 women. In the Senate, there are 17 women and 83 men. (source)

The second part of feminism is opposing that patriarchy. Patriarchy hurts everyone. I was going to preface that with “I believe that…” or “It is my opinion that…” But no. Patriarchy hurts everyone. Full stop. Patriarchy forces men and women into roles that are not always healthy for them, and fully denies the existence and relevancy of anyone who does not fit into one of those roles. The ideas of patriarchy seep into every aspect of life in a patriarchal society. Patriarchy teaches boys to be aggressive and ambitious and girls to be nice and accommodating, and then blames women when they don’t achieve leadership positions.

It’s as if we give a lady a whisk, and a man proper building tools, and then measure success by house building! When someone points out that it is unfortunate that the lady wasn’t able to build a house, someone else is there to say “we can’t be held responsible if women don’t want to build houses!” or worse “maybe this just proves that women naturally don’t build houses! It’s in their nature to make meringue!” Meanwhile, the lady is holding a goddamn whisk! You can’t even hammer a nail with a whisk! As a feminist, I oppose both the inequality of the whisk-giving arrangement, and the subsequent victim blaming when the whisk wielder isn’t able to build a livable structure with it. Do you want to know why there aren’t more women in leadership positions? It’s because first we teach girls to be “nice” in a world that values competitiveness, and then we chastise them for not competing, and then we take their niceness as evidence that they weren’t cut out for competition in the first place. There is no winning.

Sorry, I get kind of worked up sometimes. Whew.

So back to my conversation. It was great. I explained my position as a feminist, and he listened. I felt like we came to a mutual understanding. There is still sexism. There is still a glass ceiling and a wage gap. These are for real problems. I oppose that. My friend (let’s just call him my friend, I can tell we are gonna be buds) is totally cool with all that. Then he says:

“Oh that’s cool. I just wanted to make sure you weren’t one of those extreme feminists!”

I’m going to post that Hark, a vagrant link again here, because it is totally relevant.

***

I got to thinking about this days after that conversation. Here is the thing. People hate Sady Doyle. They hate her because she is a feminist. I’m not going to post any of the nasty things that are written about her on the internet here, because I don’t want to give those creeps the traffic. But she is basically what people are talking about when they talk about “extreme” feminists. She’s a killjoy because she talks about sexism in the media, she talks about how pervasive and dangerous patriarchy can be, she talks about rape and how patriarchy supports rape culture. “Oh come on!” they say.

And I’m kind of like that too! When I mention how as I think referring to men as “men” and women as “females” is disrespectful and derogatory, people say “oh come on!” People tell me to lighten up. People tell me I’m being “oversensitive.” I’m probably among the most “extreme” feminists you know, and yet all I’m doing is calling it like I see it. I recognize the patriarchy, I oppose the patriarchy, and I have the audacity to talk about.

I have a lot of feminist friends and I have read a lot of feminist writing, both in blogs and in print. The thing is, that man-hating woman with the shoulder pads, I haven’t found her yet. Sure, people wore a lot of bad shoulder pads in the 80s, and yes some people feel the need to put a “y” in the word “women”, but I think that comic I’ve posted approximately 85 times might be right. Those evil man-hating harpies just do not exist. Or if they do, they certainly aren’t a major part of the feminist movement. I have some complaints about mainstream feminism, but not the ones that anti-feminists have. In blog posts and on other platforms I repeatedly see people willfully misunderstanding feminist aims though, and trying to make us into those man-hating harpies. It goes down like this:

feminist: women should get more respect in the workforce!
anti-feminist: you’re saying all women should have careers and no women should want to stay home with their children! you’re saying men shouldn’t be respected! you want to castrate all men forever!

feminist: women still make less money than men for doing the same job! I think it’s bad!
anti-feminist: omg I can’t BELIEVE you just said that women should make more than men! that’s crazy talk! you don’t want equality, you want superiority!

But you know what the great thing is? I can have conversation with totally awesome people, and I can tell them that I am a feminist, and then I can show them that I am not crazy, I don’t wear shoulder pads, and I don’t hate men. There. Now they know at least one real-life, honest-to-goodness, feminist, who doesn’t fit the stereotype we’ve all been sold. That’s sort of wonderful. And that’s it, right there. That’s why it’s so important to use the f word. I use the f word:

-because I want to help define it

-because it helps feminism to be more visible

-because it still makes me nervous to use it

-because so many people who believe in equality don’t, for fear of being perceived negatively.

Do you believe in equality for people of all genders? Great! Next time someone asks, tell them you’re a feminist. Yeah, even if you’re a dude.Image

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I have complicated feelings about: grocery stores and elitism!

This is not a post about food deserts. Mostly, it’s not a post about food deserts because I’m sick of hearing about them, I’m sick of talking about them, and my eyes are exhausted from rolling about this particular issue. If you’ve never heard about food deserts before (you lucky little thing) here is an extremely brief and incomplete primer to bring you up to speed:

1. The area that I live in has been called a “food desert” by the national media, it has been said that there are “no grocery stores” and it has been implied that many of our other problems are due to this fact.

2. That assumption, that there are no grocery stores, was made by looking at data which only counted large chain supermarkets as grocery stores. The data was correct, there is no Kroger here, but the interpretation of the data was incorrect.

3. I live in the heart of the “food desert” and there is a small, family-owned, grocery store about 2 blocks from me. There is another similar grocery store within walking distance (though I rarely go because it’s almost the same store, and it is considerably farther away, and I’d pass the first store on my way to the second) as well as a health food store, a bakery, and several liquor/convenience stores that sell more non-snack food than you would imagine, and even sometimes have fresh produce. In the spring, summer, and early fall, there is a once-a-week pop-up farmer’s market practically on my walk to work. If I want to hop on my bike, I can go to several other grocery stores, or the largest farmer’s market in the country. I’m not at all going hungry, is my point.

Most of the people I interact with on a day-to-day basis already know all of the above, and it hasn’t come up (thank the gods) in awhile. So that’s not really what I want to talk about, what I want to talk about is the grocery store right in my neighborhood.

I’ll be honest, it isn’t great. Some of their items are overpriced, and their produce selection is abysmal. It is also small compared to the giant, well-lit supermarkets that I grew up going to. The floors aren’t mopped as often as you might probably prefer. Their avocados are always unripe and terrible. However, I still go their fairly regularly. I stop to pick up things like dry pasta, and they actually carry the coffee that I like. If I can’t make it to a farmer’s market (this happens more in the winter months, since the one that is closer to me shuts down and biking becomes more of a pain) I’ll buy some produce items there, especially if I feel I’m in a pinch, or they have something on sale. Ok, and let’s be honest, I also shop there for icecream.

Right before Thanksgiving (tried to write a post about Thanksgiving, took too long, and now it’s no longer timely) they had a really good deal on sweet potatoes. I’d been perfecting a certain sweet potato recipe, and wanted to make it for a potluck I was going to. I stopped on my way home from work.

It was so busy!

The cashiers looked like they were about to fall over, and the store was full of what you might expect any grocery store to be full of in the lead up to a big holiday: moms, aunts, and grandmas, loading up on all the essentials (or last minute additions, or things forgotten) for their families’ feasts. Me and my small basket of sweet potatoes and garlic, I stood behind women who spent hundreds of dollars without flinching. Some of them had small children with them, some didn’t.

***

Let me tell you something else about “my grocery store” that may or may not be obvious to you by now: its customers generally skew towards the lower end of the income spectrum. The cashiers aren’t surprised when you pull out a Bridge Card, it’s normal here. And if you complain about your food assistance (my caseworker won’t return my phone calls, they keep changing the date I get my benefits on without telling me, they’re cutting me off because I work 10 more hours a month, like that’s enough to buy food with!) most of the cashiers will say something like “You know what girl? The same thing happened to me!” I have lived this. I was working a low-income job and my hours got cut. I ended up making about 20 dollars a month after my rent and electric were paid, and it was like that for a number of months. I’m not on food assistance, or any other kind of government assistance, anymore, and I’ve paid taxes since I started working when I was seventeen. My point here is that there are a lot of low-income folk around here, and I’ve been there, and we’re all just trying to get by.

“My grocery store” is also very close to a university, and I do see some students shopping here (though the ones with cars seem to prefer driving to the bigger, shinier stores in the suburbs). They don’t seem to be the majority, but during the first week of classes the number of groups of two or three pushing a cart full of groceries with a mop sticking out the top was comically extreme.

***

I made my sweet potatoes, I went to the potluck, everyone really liked them! Well, everyone except the baby who was there, who only wanted to eat brownies (and who can blame her?) One of the people seated at the table wasn’t frown anywhere near this neighborhood, and she rather innocently asked “where do y’all get your groceries around here?”

Someone answered right away with the name of one of the grocery stores that is a bike ride, or short drive, away. Not only that, they said it as if everyone who lives in this neighborhood regularly drives or bikes to that neighborhood to buy their food. Someone else said that there are actually quite a few options, which was a more accurate answer, I thought. Then I sheepishly mentioned that there is a small grocery store, just up the street.

“You mean THAT place? You could go there, but why would you? It’s too expensive, it’s really just for the college students.”

I didn’t really push the issue, I think I maybe mentioned how one could buy pasta there if one needed pasta. Honestly, what happened in that moment was that I was embarrassed by my own shopping at this grocery store that my peers found to be so beneath them. It’s only for dumb college kids who don’t know any better, after all. I’ve lived here for four years. What the hell is wrong with me?

But since then, I’ve been thinking about it. I don’t think that person meant any harm, they weren’t trying to be elitist. But it got me thinking about how young, mostly white, people from the suburbs move into a neighborhood, and almost immediately start categorizing which parts of the neighborhood are worth their while. The disparity between the comment “it’s really just for the college students” and the crowds of middle aged women buying sacks of potatoes and multiple cans of cranberry sauce is phenomenal. What does it say about us, and what we think about our neighbors? What does it say about how we really feel about poverty, the people who live it? There are a lot of young people in my neighborhood, and many of them either attend the nearby university or have at one time. I know these people a lot better than I know many of my other neighbors, possibly because we have a lot more in common, and that’s probably ok.

But living in the same building as me there are families, extended families with children. Families who shop at the grocery store just down the way. Families who do not scour the farmer’s market for organic greens. Maybe they don’t have a car or maybe there are all sorts of other reasons. It doesn’t really matter. It does matter, but not for my purposes, not here. What matters is that these people exist, they are my neighbors, and we may not ever be close, but I don’t want to dismiss them as people.

And what could be more dismissive than dismissing what people eat?

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I Have Complicated Feelings About That: Gaza (except it turns out it’s not that complicated)

I write my blog posts in stages, usually writing about 2/3 of a piece, then stepping away from it (sometimes a topic just overwhelms me) then re-reading it, making a few cuts and additions, then picking up where I left off. So I already had a good chunk of a post about Gaza written yesterday, before I left to go to the vigil for those killed this past week.

The post included a delightful anecdote from the movie Clueless (Cher Horwitz’s confused and privileged “I thought they declared peace in the middle east?) and a lot of discussion about an old friend of mine who I don’t see much anymore -because she lives in Israel. And then I went to the vigil, and things shifted in my head. I still want to talk about those things, and why the US supports Israel and how overwhelming religious politics can be, but I also walked away from it feeling like “this is not complicated at all.”

***

A few years ago, I made friends with a fascinating and utterly brilliant Orthodox Jewish woman. We were both talkers and so we talked about everything (her faith, my faith, how they were different and how they were related, how their differences didn’t stop us from caring deeply about each other). We don’t talk too much anymore, because a couple of years back, after she married, she and her husband moved to Jerusalem.  It was this friend who first introduced me to a particular political stance that I had never even thought about or considered. One day, when I made a (probably awful) comment about how it was my understanding those most minorities, including Jewish people, leaned to the left of the American political spectrum, she informed me of one important exception. She said that some Jewish people (the subtext was “but not me” but I don’t actually know) are single issue voters, and will vote for whatever candidate looks most likely to support Israel. Period. The End.

I was dumbfounded. I said something like “but… you live here, you’re not just Jews, you’re also Americans, you have to live with the laws here.” Fortunately, I had already read Maus. What I mean by that is that I had a framework to understand how horrible anti-semitism could be, and how deeply people might fear it. My friend very patiently explained to me that while that was true, the Western World had gone through various periods of being Against The Jews so often, and the holocaust was so recent in people’s memories, that even if you wanted to live your whole life in the US you might still find it advantageous to have somewhere else to go. And what better place than the holy land? And what better place than a country controlled by Jews? So the thought process would be (and again, these are not my thoughts, I’m paraphrasing a friend here) “if everything else goes to shit, we’ll still have Israel.”

It was probably one of our least interesting conversations at the time, but I’ve lately been thinking about it, and her, a lot. I don’t have the courage to write her and ask her what she thinks about everything that happened this week, because I’m afraid that I won’t like the answer. And then I feel terrible about that fear, like I’m not giving my friend, who is a good person, enough credit.

***

The United States government does not back Israel because of Jewish Zionists, they are not a major enough part of the electorate for them to feel the need to do so. Leading up to the 2008 presidential election, it looked like McCain was more pro-Israel than Obama, and that may have even been (though I don’t recall) what inspired our conversation about the political leanings of American Jews. But McCain wasn’t trying to attract Jewish votes with his stance on Israel. No, he was trying to attract Christian votes, and a particular kind of Christian vote at that.

What we do have a lot of in this country are Protestants, and a good chunk of those fall under the umbrella of Fundamentalist, Evangelical, or sometimes both. Now I haven’t read the book of Revelations since I was twelve (that. goodness.) but apparently many of these Christians believe that certain parts of the holy lands need to be in Jewish hands in order for the apocalypse  to happen – in order for Christ to rise again.

I for one find this line of thought to be a bit weird. I don’t believe in prophesies like the ones in the New Testament, but I could image how, if you did, you would believe that X would necessarily happen before Y. What I have a hard time wrapping my head around is the idea that since X will happen before Y, we should try to help X along so that therefore Y can happen. Why worry about it, if it’s a prophesy, it’ll just happen when it’s supposed to, you know? And certainly plenty of Christians are more than happy to wait for it to happen whenever it happens, but there are also plenty who think in the way I just described. And there is evidence that, yes, that is why the US tends to back Israel.

I try to play really, really, nice when it comes to religion. Everyone can believe whatever they want to or feel compelled to believe, doesn’t bother me. Do you believe marriage should be between one man and one woman and the man should be the head of the household? Great! That is the kind of marriage you should have (and you should look for a like-minded spouse!). Do you believe that abortion is a sin? Cool, definitely don’t have one then, and by all means feel free to encourage others not to as well (but please be nice, ok? Helping a lady with medical expenses goes a whole lot further than calling her a murderer). If you believe that wearing two kinds of fabric at once is wrong, then I want to help you avoid cotton-poly blends. But this stuff gets tricky when your beliefs start to affect other people.

For instances, if you had two groups of people who believed that they had a God Given Right to occupy a certain piece of land, and that since it was ordained by God that it should be so, almost anything they did to maintain control of that land was a-ok? Well, that shit would get messy really fast. And just suppose, just suppose that because of the beliefs of a third religious group, a much larger and wealthier country consistently backed one side over the other. Sounds like a recipe for some pretty major unfairness, doesn’t it?

***

In trying to write this, I looked at some mainstream news sources that I usually try to avoid (because they make me angry). The information is clear. Israel has been periodically bombing Gaza for quite a while, and intensified those attacks on Wednesday, in an effort to kill Hamas leaders. On Thursday, Hamas retaliated and fired rockets at Tel Aviv. As of Friday night 29 Palestinians were dead, including 11 children. Three Israelis were dead. And the message from the West? Western countries say that the majority of the blame lies with Hamas, and Hamas should stop firing rockets immediately.

***

I understand why my old friend would want to live in Jerusalem, where she lives today. I think that she has a right to live where she feels compelled to live, and I support her beliefs even though they are different than mine.

Last night, I went to this vigil with a couple of friends. There were speakers. A man who’s name I did not catch talked about his time in Israeli prison for the crime of giving food to Palestinians. Many of the participants were of Arabic decent, and many of them had relatives over there that they were worried about. It was very emotional. A woman from Jewish Voices for Peace spoke, and I was very happy to see that.

After all of the speakers were done and the candles were (somewhat awkwardly) lit, my friends and I stood in the cold chatting with a young woman in a hijab. We shared our opinions about American militarism with each other, and then she said:

“We all just want to live. The Jews want to live, the Palestinians want to live, everyone wants to live. We’ve been killing each other for so long, we tried it, and it doesn’t work. So it’s time to do something else. It’s solution time.”

So, thank you, new friend, for showing me that this is not complicated at all.

***

FREE FREE PALESTINE

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Do You Know What?

Hello One, Hello All!

 

I write a lot. I mean a lot. You haven’t seen most of it, but a lot of it happens and it is more and more becoming an important part of my self-identity. I’ve been thinking for the last couple of weeks, that I really need to have a public blog-space in the world. Some of my favorite people are bloggers! Maybe I could by one of my favorite people! Only time will tell! So I am going to write things about the mixed-up ways that I think and feel about various issues in the world (especially the ones that people tell me I sounds smart about, because I am vain and I enjoy sounding smart!) and they will be largely imperfect and I will let you read them. Some of them will be re-workings of pieces I’ve already done, others will be brand new.

 

Some ideas for upcoming posts include:

1. How being “out” and in a gay relationship has changed my reaction to the gay marriage debate.

2. How food justice movements really need to include fat acceptance as part of their platform in order to be affective and compassionate.

3. How violence is an inherent part of capitalism, and why I don’t have a great alternative to that, and how I really wish that I did.

4. Probably like eighteen posts about being aware of one’s privilege, and using that awareness to get shit done, rather than feel guilty.

5. Similarly, I want to talk about how “white guilt” actually helps racism along.

 

… and probably a lot of other things as well! So you know, as you can see, we’re going to keep this light and cheerful.

If you have anything you’d like to add to the growing list above, please leave it in the comments. I’m happy to discuss my complicated feelings on everything from bike lanes to victim blaming (am I going to argue that those things are related, yes I am).

 

Cheers!

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