Sunday, December 31, 2006

Sparkling Anyway

(A while ago ...)

I’m about to finish graduate school. With the end of the school year also comes the end of my super-fabulous, no-questions-asked, everything’s-free student health insurance. This makes me anxious.

I decide to make good use of my student health insurance before it runs out. I get my annual gyn exam for the first time in 2-1/2 years, and an eye exam for the first time in three. I also decide to get the extensive batch of blood tests that I will need in case I decide to start hormone therapy sometime soon.

So here I am, perfectly healthy, chillin in the dingy basement waiting room of the university health lab, sharing air with half of this week’s flu cases. Sometimes it goes that way.

It was surprisingly easy for me to get the tests ordered. I thought it might take some finagling, even lying. I was prepared for an argument with the insurance company, or to pay for the tests myself if necessary. I came in for my appointment armed with enough emotional energy to battle the medical establishment for weeks.

Instead, I explained the situation to the NP who is my primary care provider. She is queer and usually falls over herself trying to be trans-friendly. She made a few phone calls, confirmed which tests to order, and sent me down to the lab right then. Now, in the lab’s waiting room, I'm not sure what to do with myself. I have all this unused stand-up-and-fight in me. It's flying around my head with nowhere to go. I feel excited, bouncy almost, and also a little bit nervous.

The sign on the counter reminds me that today is national phlebotomist day. (A phlebotomist is someone who draws blood.) I didn’t know there was a national phlebotomist day. In my head I quip, “If I had known, I would have brought flowers!” But I don’t actually have the chutzpah to be that casually flirty. And besides, the receptionist looks grumpy. She wears faded black scrubs, and hasn’t dyed her roots in a while. She doesn’t smile as I approach her desk. Maybe she’s not even a phlebotomist. I keep my mouth shut about the flowers.

The receptionist takes my lab form and clips it to the edge of her cubicle. Looking past the cardboard wall, I can see through a door into the lab itself. A few microscopes, long metal counters – it looks mysterious, and not as sterile as I want it to look. I am reminded of that window behind a diner counter, where the waitress clips up your order, and you catch a glimpse of the greasy kitchen beyond. Then you spend the entire meal trying to shake the image so you can just enjoy your fries.

The receptionist indicates a row of square brown chairs against the opposite wall. I sit, twiddle my thumbs, try to relax. Soon, a different woman comes to get me. She must be the phlebotomist. I’m the only one waiting at that moment, so she doesn’t have a chance to mess up my name, yet. She just says, “Hi, come with me.”

The phlebotomist is cheerful, and absurdly heterosexual. She’s not just wearing pink scrubs: she’s wearing pink scrubs with teddy bears on them. Please. She leads me to a room where latex tourniquets are arrayed by color on the arm of an exam chair - pink, blue, and purple. That's the kids' chair. Grownups get plain old dusty latex-color. The phlebotomist leads me to the grownups’ chair and I feel slightly disappointed, but relieved that I don’t have to choose.

She glances at my lab sheet and asks, “So, how do you say your name?”

“Davey.”

“Deh-vey?”

“Davey, rhymes with wavy.”

“Daisy?”

“Davey, short for David.” It’s not short for David, but that usually works. It does this time.

“Oh, Davey. That’s unusual!” Uh-huh. Never heard that one before.

But, the phlebotomist does know what she’s doing. I lay back in the cushy vinyl chair and barely notice as she finds a vein and fills three tubes. Meanwhile she’s not skipping a beat, chatting me up about finals and the weird spring weather. (Which is perfectly normal, of course. When is New England weather not weird?) Anyway, she’s good. Maybe I should have brought flowers after all.

The glitch comes when she’s prepping the fourth and last tube. She can’t read the doctor’s handwriting. She’s not sure what the abbreviation means. She’s so confused I’m not even sure what the confusion’s about. She pops her head out the door and whispers a question to a middle-aged person in a lab coat. She pops back in. She looks at the form again. She picks out a tube, changes her mind, picks out another one. I’m pretty much stranded, what with the needle still taped to my arm. The lab tech leaves again, has a longer conference with her supervisor in the hallway.

Finally she comes back in, selects a tube without hesitation. But her conversational skills have gone AWOL. She barely looks me in the eyes as she giggles, “It says ‘serum testosterone.’”

“Yeah,” I say, flat-toned. I could have told her that. This time it pinches when she attaches the tube to the needle. She’s still smiling, but her cheeriness is starting to look a little desperate. The tube takes forever to fill. My blood probably clotted in the needle waiting for her to figure it out.

Finally the tube is full. The lab tech adds it to the collection she has lined up in a little rack. She’s all confidence and efficiency again, except for how she still doesn’t look me. “Hold this,” a piece of gauze, and then the needle is gone and the phlebotomist’s powder-blue gloves are unwrapping a bandaid for me. “There you go,” she coos, all cornsyprupy sweet. She sticks the bandaid on my arm and announces, “It’s sparkly!”

And now it’s my turn to be confused. My head swims trying to figure her out. Did she not notice that I’m a trannyboy? Were the name, clothes, haircut, and serum testosterone measurement not enough clues? Or maybe she does understand, and disapproves. Maybe she wants to push my buttons by giving me girly things. I mean, it’s not that I disapprove of sparkles – far from it! But everything else about the phlebotomist tells me she has ideas about girl stuff and boy stuff – from her own goofy scrubs to the gender-colored tourniquets on the kids' side. Then again, maybe she is just trying to give me the same kind of attention that would be comforting for her.

Whatever. This kind of speculation is never productive, and I push it aside with effort. I don’t mind sparkles. As long as I’ve gotta wear glitter on my arm, I might was well get into it, right?

“Thanks!” I exclaim, funneling my resentment into cheeriness. I'm only half faking it. Maybe the blood loss has made me alittle high - I don't know. But somehow, I'm actually beginning to enjoy this. I let myself lisp just a little. My voice slips back up into its naturally high range. “I can always use a little sparkle!” Half her smile falls into bewilderment as the phlebotomist snaps her gloves off, into the biohazard-red trash can. I stand up cautiously, wait for the headrush to clear, and then sashay out the door, faggy as the day is long.

I will always be wading through other people’s discomfort. I gotta keep sparkling anyway. Even, sometimes, when that’s what they want me to do. This time, Davey wins.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

NY Times on HIV & Circumcision

On December 14, the New York Times featured a front page article (may require NY Times login) about how male circumcision reduces the risk of males acquiring HIV by about 50%, and the risk of transmitting HIV by 30%, during heterosexual (penis-in-vagina) intercourse.

I don't think this topic requires too much more commentary, beyond what I said in my 8/15 post about the World AIDS Conference presentation on the same study. Please, before you try to get your teenager circumcised, read the previous post.

I will point out one piece of information in the NY Times article that may be confusing, one that is infuriating, and one nugget of wisdom from hamakotaco.

The confusing bit: The NY Times article reports that circumcision "...does nothing to prevent spread by anal sex or drug injection, ways in which the virus commonly spreads in the United States. " The article does not mention that heterosexual (penis-in-vagina) contact is also a very common mode of transmission in the U.S. - according to some interpretations, the most common mode. Also, the study that this article is based on did not examine anal sex transmission at all, so if circumcision did have some effect on transmission/acquisition of HIV, this study wouldn't have found it.

The infuriating bit: Also from the NY Times article, "Dr. Mark Dybul, executive director of President Bush’s $15 billion Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, said in a statement that his agency 'will support implementation of safe medical male circumcision for H.I.V./AIDS prevention' if world health agencies recommend it." Yet, last I heard, Bush continues to withhold funding from agencies around the world who provide condoms and other non-abstinence-based interventions. He would rather fund circumcision that condoms. Is he trying to bring about the apocalypse? Oh, wait ... Well, that's for another post.

And finally, an exceedingly clever point from hamakotaco, guaranteed to win your arguments with any conservative men in your life: "Yes, well, chopping off your entire penis would also reduce the risk of getting HIV, but that doesn't make it a good idea." True that, my friend. True that.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Class Conversation Starters

Last Sunday I had the privilege to co-facilitate a wonderful discussion about how class affects interpersonal relationships. I hope it was only the beginning of a wonderful, challenging, and healing process for everyone involved. Several of those who participated asked for a copy of some of the conversation prompts. So, here they are.

These were intended as prompts for "Common Ground," a popular workshop game. In Common Ground, participants stand in a circle. For each prompt, they take one step in and then back out if the statement applies to them. If it doesn't apply, they stay put. Then the group discusses whatever thoughts, feelings, and questions came up.

Feel free to use these as Common Ground prompts or in any other way that makes sense for you. If you use the whole list, or a significant part of it, then a polite facilitator would cite us as the authors of the activity. (Since we're not using real names here, citing "us" might be awkward. So, if you intend to cite us, and don't already know our names, please post a comment including a way I can contact you off the blog. I'll send you our names, or the name of our group, when it has one, and feel very tickled that people are making good use of these ideas.)

Common Ground If ...

  1. you’ve ever had a close friendship across class
  2. you’ve ever had a romantic relationship across class
  3. you’ve ever had a relationship end because of class differences
  4. there are class differences within your own family
  5. you yourself have changed class over your lifetime
  6. most of your friends are people you go to school with, or went to school with
  7. most of your friends are people you work with
  8. you’ve ever been in a situation where your friends could afford something you could not
  9. you’ve ever been in a situation where you could afford something your friends could not
  10. when you were a kid, shopping for clothes was a special event
  11. being presentable was taught as an important value growing up
  12. being practical was taught as an important value growing up
  13. you were told that growing up to have a job that earned money was important
  14. you were told that growing up to do something interesting or important was important
  15. you ever don’t buy something because you could make it at home
  16. you’ve ever argued about money
  17. you’ve ever felt left out because of class
  18. you’ve ever felt self-conscious or embarrassed because of class
  19. you’ve ever felt guilty because of class
  20. you’ve ever felt proud because of class
  21. you’ve ever not invited someone over because you didn’t want them to see your home
  22. you’ve ever felt like you had to explain or justify something about your class
  23. anyone’s ever assumed something about your class which isn’t true

Monday, December 04, 2006

Christian Hegemony is Always in Season

So I'm not slacking on the blog-writing, or at least I'm not doing it thoughtlessly. It's just that I'm busting ass on lots of awesome work with amazing people, and it hasn't all made it into writing yet. It will. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, here's a tidbit from a friend of mine. She's a baker in a bourgie grocery store. Actually, she's a fabulous baker, who makes a wicked dairy-free just-about-anything, in many places including the bourgie grocery store and her own kitchen. But that's not the point of the story. The story is about hamentashen in December. Remember what I said about Murphy's law of Jewish holidays? What did I tell you.
so i was having a meeting with my boss today, and we were talking about the things we don't make any sort of, like biscotti or little tartlette things, that he thinks we might have a market for if we would just start making them.

then he suggested hamentashen. my first response was "...it's not purim." he said "what?" so i tried to explain to him that hamentashen were specific to a holiday which wouldn't occur until early spring and that you couldn't just make them any old time.

his response was "but other grocery stores do." so i told him that the fact that other grocery stores make them year round actually offends me, and it's not something i'm willing to do.

argh. the argument went on, with him trying to convince me it didn't matter, and me telling him i didn't care that it didn't matter to him, i still would only make them on purim.

then i went online and found a description of purim and the history and why we make hamentashen and all that, and printed it out for him, and then went home early.
Argh, indeed. Now, I dunno if it's actually wrong to serve hamentashen when it isn't Purim. But that's beside the point. Two out of two Jews in a workplace say that it's a bad plan. A thoughtful boss would take that into account. But, oppression has made him so stupid that he thinks he knows everything and doesn't need to listen to anyone else. As if there wasn't enough for small-town Jews to deal with in December, some white male gentile business owner has to be throwing his privilege around, making it worse. Hmph. Bah, humbug.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

What Gentiles Should Know about the Christmas Season

by a cranky Jew

I do not celebrate Christmas.
Please don’t tell me to have a Merry Christmas. This is comparable to telling a Martian happy 4th of July.

Christmas is not a “secular” or “American” holiday. It is a Christian holiday.
If you celebrate it in a secular way, it is still a secular Christian holiday. (If I celebrate Pesach/Passover without reference to G-d, is it then an “American” holiday? No. It’s a secular Jewish holiday, and it’s no more universal without the G-d language than with it.)

Chanukah is not a Jewish version of Christmas.
It is not even a religious holiday. It’s a cultural/historical holiday commemorating a military victory of a group of Jews (specifically, Macabees) against imperial oppressors (specifically, Syrian Greeks). It’s kinda like the aforementioned 4th of July. Only older, and with miracles.

Chanukah does not occur on December 25th.
It is an eight-day festival beginning on 25 Kislev by the Jewish calendar, which is a lunar calendar. The corresponding date on the Gregorian calendar, the one commonly used in public life, ranges from mid-November through late December. Therefore, do not tell me to have a happy Chanukah unless you know when Chanukah falls this year, and that it’s not over.

Chanukah may be spelled several ways:
Hanukkah, Hanukah, Chanukkah, Chanukah, etc. That’s because it’s a Hebrew word, and it’s actually spelled like this: חֲנוּכָּה. Chanukah is probably the closest transliteration. It sounds like it looks, only the initial H or Ch sounds like the guttural sound at the end of the composer Bach.
I don’t care how you spell it. Just don’t tell me how weird it is that it has multiple spellings. I’m over it. If you can’t say the Ch sound without spitting on me, then just say H and keep your germs to yourself.

There’s no such thing as a Chanukah bush.
Did you really need to be told that? Christian hegemony appropriated the tradition from Celtic pagans, and now is trying to impose it on Jews. We already have pretty stuff for the holiday. We don’t need Jew-ish-ified trees, wreathes, elves or mistletoe.

Chanukah is not a good excuse to tell me about your best friend, neighbor, or distant relative who is a Jew.
If you didn’t care enough to tell me the rest of the year, then I don’t care to hear about it now.

Don’t try to impress me with how much you know about Chanukah or about Judaism.
It’s a safe bet I know a whole lot more than that about Christmas and Christianity. Not cause I’m so smart or so studied. Just cause y’all are everywhere.

“Happy Holidays” is not an acceptable secular substitute for “Merry Christmas.”
No matter what words you use, we both know you’re only saying it because of Christmas. Otherwise, you would say it in September/October and March/April, when I’m observing major religious holidays, as well as in December, when you are.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

He's Not My Girlfriend

Me and my friend have a little problem. Everyone thinks we’re lovers. Hotel clerks assume it, and waiters, and strangers on the street. Even some people who actually know us pretty well, continue to believe it after we’ve tried to explain.

We are considering desperate measures. Maybe I should start to dress more punk again, so we look like an even more improbable couple than we already do. Maybe when my voice starts to change, I’ll seem half his age instead of two-thirds it. That ought to throw ‘em. Maybe we should make more of an effort not to finish each other’s sentences in public.

Actually, the most likely plan is that I’ll make us a matched set of tee shirts. Mine will say “He’s not my boyfriend,” and his will say, “He’s not my girlfriend.” But I don’t know. The way some people are about gender, that might not do it.

I resent the wrong assumption for a lot of reasons. One of the big ones is because of what it implies about how people are reading each of our genders and sexualities. People almost always take us for a straight couple. That means they’re reading me as a woman. I hate that. Failing that, they might be assuming that he’s a gay man. It wouldn’t be the first time, but still … I imagine it gets to him.

My instinct, for a while, was to address people’s wrong assumptions from that angle. “Of course we’re not fucking. I’m a trannyboy. He’s a straight man. It would be ludicrous!” But something did not feel right about that argument.

I dated a straight man once. Actually, a few times. We were on and off for five years. We were on when I was a lesbian, when I was an I-don’t-believe-in-labels, when I was genderqueer, just plain queer, a trannyfag and a boy. He was a straight guy the whole time. Many of those combinations could be called ludicrous, if the only information you had was how we each identified. But it happened. It was entirely possible, and not particularly ludicrous.

When I told people that it would be ludicrous for a straight man and a trannyboy to be lovers, I drew on dominant assumptions that a) there is a thing called a straight man, and being a straight man means something particular, and it means that for all straight men everywhere, b) there is a thing called a trannyboy, and being a trannyboy means something particular, and it means that for all trannyboys everywhere, c) straight men behave like straight men and trannyboys behave like trannyboys, and d) because of what a straight man is and what a trannyboy is, it would be by-definition impossible for a straight man and a trannyboy to be lovers.

I call that normative identity logic. It is how most of us are taught to think about identity, and it’s bullshit. (This is my opinion, and also a central argument of contemporary queer theory.)

How many lesbians do you know that sleep with men from time to time? I know I’ve met quite a few. Some of them even do it for pleasure! And who are you to tell them they’re not a lesbian? I know a lot of dudes that have sex with men, and if you tell them they are gay you will have another thing coming.

Identity does not equal behavior. Identity categories are not natural, definable, or stable. And identity labels are not merely descriptive. Identities like straight man or trannyboy are complex strategies that people deploy in a context of oppression where nothing is neutral.

I had the best of intentions when I called on the well-worn logic of identity. I was only trying to represent our relationship truthfully. But in the attempt I slipped into an anti-queer logic that I don’t believe in and I don’t want to be preaching. I don’t want people to believe me because of some essentialist nonsense about who can date whom. I want them to believe me because it is true. Ironically, even though most people do believe in normative identity logic, my strategy didn’t even work!

I realized that, when my friend and I try to convince people that we are not lovers, our genders and sexual orientations are entirely beside the point. If I were a girl, or my friend were a fag, I would still want us to be able to go out for dinner, and not have everyone and their second-cousin’s lab assistant think we were screwing. And I think that this would still be a problem, even if our identities were different.

No one who buys into the logic of identity (and I think we all fall into it to some extent) wants to believe that a straight man and a trannyboy are lovers. So why do they choose to explain our relationship in that way?

I think it’s because they don’t want to see what is true. I was naively assuming that our friendship was innocent and simple. But now I’m thinking it is actually way more radical than I realized.

We are friends who treat each other like family. We go on vacations and spend holidays together. We go grocery shopping together. We accompany each other to doctor’s appointments. We put each other first, often before our romantic interests. We do deep personal work, separately, so that we can be better friends to each other. We do deep personal work together, and grow closer through it. I have had long-term romantic relationships that I put less into than I am putting into this friendship.

And I think that’s what people don’t want to see. People would rather believe that we are breaking all the rules of sexual identity than see that we are being really good friends. It is radical to be good friends. It is radical to centralize a relationship that is not romantic. It is radical to build intimacy that has nothing to do with sexuality or building a nuclear family or making babies. It is radical to say, it is not impossible that we would be lovers, but as it happens we are not doing that. And what we are doing is just as important, just as intense, just as rewarding as the fictional romance you imagine.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Too Funny to be Fiction

A store downtown is advertising specially decorated cakes for "the holidays." They have a sample on display. It is a round, white cake, with green holly leaves and red berries adorning the edges. Red icing traces intricate, swirly caligraphy across the middle.

We may never know if it was poor spelling, poor penmanship, or both, but instead of Joy someone has decorated the "holiday" cake to proclaim Goy*.

How great is that! Afterall, "goy" is way closer than "joy" to what I'm actually thinking when I look at a Christmas wreath. Now I know what to bring to the agency "holiday party" potluck! I just hope someone gets the joke.

*For my hypothetical reader who might be one, I should explain this word. Goy is a slightly rude Yiddish word for a person who is not Jewish. How rude it is depends on context. The connotation can range from tolerant ("He doesn't know the blessings, he's a goy."), to wary ("Donna's new boyfriend's okay, but, he's a goy..."), to exasperated ("Another official department event scheduled on Yom Kippur. A goy did that for sure.), to angry ("Why your zayde was poor his whole life? Cause the goyim, that's why."), and so on. Yiddish is flexible that way.

So anyway, it's funny, you see, because it's redundant. A Christmas cake that says Goy on it. Because anybody who knows what goy means already knows it's a goyishe cake. Only it's not completely redundant, because "goy" is Yiddish, so pretty much only a Jew would use it. So the market for a Christmas cake that says Goy would be pretty narrow - Jews who celebrate Christmas (that's a story for another entry, but yes, they exist) and goyim who are in with Jews enough to mock themselves. Mostly likely both of those at the same party. This is a very Jewish joke, because you need to know at least 2 cultures and 1-1/2 languages to get it, and not everyone who finds it funny is laughing for the same reason, or with the same emotion.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Ah, lowered expectations...

I am thrilled with the Tae Kwon Do school at which I have newly (re)started training. And that makes me kind of sad.

You see, this school is not trans-savvy at all. They don't deal well with chemical sensitivities. And let's just say I'm not thrilled with the idea of a Christmas-Kwanzaa-Chanukah party idea ever, and much less so when it is in fact on the first night of Chanukah.

But most of me thinks, they're not so bad. The head instructor, Master J, has gotten my gender and/or pronoun wrong 3 times, and gotten it right 0 times. Each time he's gotten it wrong, I've corrected him, and each time he has responded with grace and humility. I said that it was "okay," that it would probably take people a while to get used to it. He acknowledged that it will take a while, and insisted that it was not okay, and promised to push himself to learn faster. Most of me thinks, "Wow! What more can you ask for?" A lot, I guess. But I don't ask for more. This is better than I had hoped it would be.

When I started grad school, I had high expectations. I assumed everyone in my social justice-oriented program would get it right all the time. Don't laugh! I had come from a community where this was possible. I could walk around with no bra on, wearing glitter in my hair, swishing my hips and smoking girly cigarettes and everyone still knew that I was a boy, because I said I was. I thought my graduate program would be at least 1/10 that welcoming and supportive. Boy was I wrong. I spent three years in the program dressing more and more "passing," acting more and more normatively masculine, smoking butch cigarettes and walking like a cowboy and they still couldn't manage to call me "he." By the end of my three years, out of four full-time faculty members, one was getting it right most of the time, one some of the time, one rarely, and one has yet to refer to my gender appropriately. By contrast, Master J seems to really have his act together.

Likewise, Master J's solution to my chemical sensitivities is not adequate, but it's a far sight better than anyone's offered me before. He reminded everyone not to wear scents, he keeps windows open and fans on, and he allows me to get out of rank order to stand close to the window where the air's fresher. These measures help a lot. They're not perfect, because some people don't realize that their body products are scented, and wear them anyway. Since Master J doesn't wheeze or get migraines from it, he doesn't notice that people are still wearing scented products. I don't complain, because other teachers/leaders/groups where I've asked for changes to accomodate chemical sensitivities have responded far less well than Master J has already. Again, my inner voice says, "What more can you ask for?" So I don't ask for more.

I'm not even gonna get into the Chanukah thing. We'll have more than enough of that conversation over the next few months.

Is it necessarily a bad thing, these lowered expectations? Should I reclaim my punk, bitchy, oppositional persona and teach myself how to ask for more? Or will I be better off accepting that happy thrill I get when something goes slightly right? Will I be better of if I'm not always putting energy into making things better? Maybe with lowered expectations, I'll make fewer enemies. Maybe with fewer enemies, I'll have more friends. Maybe some of those friends will turn into allies, and fight these fights with me so that I'm not so often doing it alone. But then, would I only get to breathe easy (literally!) when I'm with friends?

When I think "What more can you ask for?" I imagine I hear my great-grandparents' voices. It even has a Yiddish accent, in my head. It sounds like my great-grandmother Molly, who was really named Malkah but I didn't know that until recently. When I was ten I visitted Molly for the last time. She was something over 90. We don't know, because in 1929 she lied on her passport to get past immigration, and in 60-odd years no one ever managed to clarify the situation. She sort of spoke English. At ten, I could barely understand her. She said, "Do you want a banana?" This is not just a cliche, this really happened to me. She offered me tea. A section of orange. Crackers from a box. Molly grew up (if the family stories are true) as the daughter of a kosher meat wholesaler, and the granddaughter of a rabbi, in a shtetl where even so she must have eaten potatoes and cabbage at almost every meal. I imagine she thought, "A fruit with no pit that you can buy any time of year for a dime. What more can you ask for?"

Maybe she couldn't ask for more. Maybe she was actually unable to imagine more. But I'm not. Even when I choose not to ask for what I deserve, I never want to forget that more is possible. I must nurture that imagination, that vision. Without vision, oppression just feels like pain. But with the knowledge that more is possible, oppression feels unfair, and where I can recognize unfairness, I can choose how to respond.

Lowered expectations are one thing. I expect mediocrity, and sometimes I get to feel pleasantly surprised. But an atrophied imagination is not acceptable. I let myself feel content with mediocrity, because I am too tired to fight all the time. But I do not let myself imagine that a mediocre situation is fantastic. It is not fantastic. I can imagine more. I must imagine more.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

It is starting early this year ...

I was in CVS yesterday, with a friend, looking for a cheap alarm clock. It's a few days before Halloween, and there was the expected hubbub. Lots of overpriced miniature candy bars. A rack of small spandex costumes. Superman, complete with pectoral padding. Some ballerinas. A ninja. None to fit me, of course. They only have little kid sizes.

We were looking through the greeting cards, just because they were there. I was tempted to buy several, because they were funny and my mom would get a kick out of them, but luckily I didn't have any cash in my pocket so I was spared the $4.50 Hallmark charges these days. Greeting cards are weirdly fascinating. They are cultural artifacts. Extraterrestrial anthropologists will build whole careers on them.

Finally we tore ourselves away from the spectacle and headed toward the checkout. And stopped short, because I saw something in the bargain bin that I couldn't wrap my head around. It was a role of Chanukah wrapping paper, decorated with dreidles, mogen davids, and menorahs, in blue and yellow of course. Right next to the ballerinas, ninjas, and inflatable pumpkins.

Today is October 29. Chanukah begins on 25 Kislev, which this year corresponds to the evening of December 15. That's over six weeks away. Usually, the Christmas stuff doesn't really get rolling until after Thanksgiving. Usually, the Chanukah stuff doesn't come out until right around Christmas, which, usually, is too late.

What are they thinking? Did they mis-judge the date last year and miss it? Are they putting it out early this year just in case? Don't they have calendars?

The really sick part is, I am strongly tempted to buy it. It's not particularly nice Chanukah paper, but I know that by the time Chanukah rolls around there won't be any in the stores. If Murphy was Jewish his law would have been, whatever holiday is coming up, you can be sure the stores will be well-stocked with supplies for a different holiday. Matzohs at Rosh Hashanah. Latke mix at Purim. Hamentashn at Pesach. And nothing much at Chanukah, because they always get the date wrong, even this year when it's right before Christmas.

So there you have it friends. It is starting early this year. It knows when you've been naughty, even if it doesn't know from the Day of Atonement. It knows when you've been nice, but it doesn't know from apples and honey. It flies through the sky on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. And you better duck and cover, because the capitalist hegemonic Christmas Season will knock the yarmulke right off of your head.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

church (n.):

As part of my job I participate in a number of county-wide and tri-county coalitions focusing on various issues. Coalition meetings serve to coordinate services among different agencies, and also to organize joint projects that no agency by itself could pull off. Good for us.

Now, maybe it’s because I grew up in Woodstock, or maybe it’s because I went to socialist summer camp, … whatever the cause, I often find myself surprised at progressive, well-meaning people who turn out to be way less radical than I assumed them to be. Sometimes they are also way less smart than I assumed them to be. It throws me off. I often don’t respond as well as I could.

An example happened the other day during one of these coalition meetings. Many of the participants in this particular coalition are also part of the city’s Interfaith Council. I’ve heard them talk about the Interfaith Council before, but I don’t know much about it. We were trying to work out what seemed like a minor scheduling issue, revolving around the fact that church buildings are unavailable for public events, other than church, for most of Saturday and all of Sunday. I became confused during this conversation, because the people who are part of the Interfaith Council kept speaking as if everyone were Christian, and as if churches were the only religious organizations/buildings in town.

Now I like to think of myself as a smart person. I don’t like feeling as if I’m missing something. So when I am confused, I ask questions, and try to acquire better information. I asked, “So, is the Interfaith Council made up of only churches?”

The person who had been speaking seemed disoriented by my question.

“Well, yeah. It’s the Interfaith Council. All the churches come … ”

“So it’s the inter-Christian Council?” (I know, this was not my most tactful moment. But I wasn’t trying to be obnoxious. I was honestly confused.)

“…and the synagogue and even the Wiccans come, to.”

“Oh! See, that’s what I was asking. Because those are different from churches.”

“Right. So anyway, all the churches come, and of course they can’t do a Sunday event …”

I didn’t have the chutzpah to interject again. No matter what I said, it seemed that this person would continue assuming that all religious organizations are churches, and all churches have services on Sundays. Like my friend hamakotaco says, oppression makes people stupid.

This wasn’t the first time I asked an accidentally tactless question in this group, having to do with churches. I think they gather by now that I don’t go to church. But I don’t think they’ve figured out yet that I’m Jewish. And I don’t know if I want to tell them.

I have rarely felt as isolated, as a Jew, as I do in these meetings. It brings up all my I.O. (internalized oppression). It makes me want to crawl into a corner and disappear. It makes me want to stop participating in the coalition, so that none of us have to deal with the awkwardness of my presence. It makes me want to pinch myself, hard, to remind myself to keep my mouth shut. Or failing that, it makes me want to rebel – to be that grungy queer Jew who sits in the back row of the lecture hall and disagrees with everything the professor says and always gets A’s to spite him. I have some practice with that role. And it makes me want to go to shul, any shul, even a conservative homophobic zionist shul where I’m the youngest congregant by 30 years, just so I won’t be the only Jew in the room.

I am still trying to strike a healthy balance – speaking up just often enough to stay sane, and contribute to the group, and yet not offending anyone too badly or running away. But there is one place where I think they should be able to meet me:

church (noun): (from Dictionary.com)

1. a building for public Christian worship
2. public worship of God or a religious service in such a building: to attend church regularly
3. (sometimes cap
ital letter ) the whole body of Christian believers; Christendom.
4. (sometimes initial capital letter ) any division of this body professing the same creed and acknowledging the same ecclesiastical authority; a Christian denomination: the Methodist Church.
5.
that part of the whole Christian body, or of a particular denomination, belonging to the same city, country, nation, etc.
6. a body of Christians worshipping in a particular building or constituting one congregation: She is a member of this church.

A church is a Christian building, or a Christian congregation. A Jewish building or congregation is not a church. Church is not a neutral word. It is specific. Only Christians think they can apply it broadly to all religious groups and buildings. They don't even realize that it's a metaphor. (A synagogue is like a church, but using "church" to mean "synagogue" is figurative - like using "nest" to mean "house".) That is an example of Christian Hegemony. And if you don’t believe in Christian Hegemony, than please believe me that it is just incorrect usage.

If you mean all the Christian congregations, then you can say “all the churches.” If you mean all the Christian, Jewish, and Wiccan congregations, then say “all the churches, synagogues, and covens.”

It is true that we sometimes use the word “church” to mean religious authorities as opposed to secular authorities – as in “separation of church and state.” Sociologists, including some notable Jews, also use the word “church” in this way. That’s because no European sociologist has ever come from a society where the dominant religious authority was anything other than Christian. (In fact, the borders of Europe have been defined in part by the borders of Christendom, as witness recent debates about whether Turkey will be accepted into the European Union.)

Those theorists and politicians did not say “separation of coven and state” because in their world there was never any danger of any coven, or synagogue, or mosque, or temple or anything other than a church taking over the government and instituting theocracy. So while it might seem that "church" can mean any religious authority, the theorists and politicians who use it that way are actually talking about Christianity.

Oppression wants you to be stupid. But even if Christian hegemony isn't the issue you're pouring your energy into these days, you can still be smart. You can start by learning one small, simple thing that oppression has tried to make you stupid about: Church is a Christian thing, and not everyone is Christian.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

More Smart & Sexy

Further evidence, from the blog with the incredibly clever tagline, "because you don't think about world affairs every 6 seconds."

Also, a friend pointed out to me that studies have shown masturbating while studying improves memory formation. I'll give a prize to the first person who finds a citation for that.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Smart & Sexy

Overheard Recently:

“Post-colonialist theory makes me wet.”

“Ooh, your anti-racist analysis is soooo sexy.”

“Wow, I’m just, like, hypnotized by your lips right now, and I really just want you to stop talking so I can kiss you, only you can’t stop because I really need to hear where this idea is going because it’s fascinating, almost as fascinating as your lips…”

That’s right folks. Learning is sexy! Bet they didn’t tell you that in kindergarten.

I have long suspected that intellectual stimulation and sexual stimulation are not unrelated. For example, when I was in college, I noticed this pattern in my dating life. In the beginning of a semester, when I was starting new subjects, I would get lots of fast, intense, but not very serious crushes. Every text book and every face looked bright and shiny and new, and I couldn’t wait to learn more about them. Before long, I would settle in to my academic schedule. I figured out which classes required constant study and which I could breeze through, which really excited me, and which were just requirements to be completed. At the same time, my attractions would level out as well. There might be one or two people with whom I felt some mutual interest, and we’d flirt in a casual, unhurried way for most of the semester. Then finals would come around. I’d have five major papers and three exams all due within a week of each other. And that, against all logic, was when we’d finally fall into bed together.

The 3-day study period before finals went like this: Write for a few hours, eat, write for a few hours, fuck, write for a few hours, sleep, wake up and fuck, write for a few hours, … and so on.

Does this sound familiar?

For a long time I assumed that this relationship I'd observed between intellectual passion and sexual passion was just weird. Maybe it was just a nerd thing, or just a queer nerd thing, or just a “women’s” dormitory thing. But, I’m learning to interrupt this script of “Maybe it’s just me.” It’s usually not just me.

And anyway, my own sex life wasn’t the only evidence of a connection between learning and sexuality. In grad school, I was impressed by how some of us seemed absolutely addicted to interesting ideas. One might even say we took perverse pleasure in mulling over unsolvable problems and unanswerable questions. You know those “ah-hah! moments” we talk about? You ever heard someone shout, “Aw, yeah!” when they finally get a new concept or solve a problem? You ever stop to think when else people make sounds like that? And then there’s the badge put out by the undergrad students of a certain Women’s Studies department, reading, “Post-colonialist theories make me wet.” As my Bubba would have said, "Well I never!"

Turns out I’m not the first smart, sexy, queer theorist to think of this. Britzman (2000) uses psychoanalytic theories of libido and motivation to posit sexuality as the root of intellectual curiosity and creativity. Psychoanalytic theory says that in infants, learning is motivated by the instinct to seek pleasure, including both emotional and physical sustenance. If early learning is all about pleasure, Britzman argues, then it makes sense to assume that adults also learn because learning feels good. What did I tell you!

Given this intimate relationship between pleasure and learning, Britzman (2000) urges teachers and learners to consider,

“How does the experience of learning become pleasurable? How does one take joy in having ideas, in changing one’s mind, in encountering the work of learning? What sorts of relations exists [sic] between learning to love and loving learning?” (44).

Mmm-mmm. Now that’s sexy.

Portions of this essay were lifted from my article:
Queer (v.) Pedagogy:. (2005). Equity and Excellence in Education, 38(2), 123-134.

The Britzman article I reference is:
Britzman, D. (2000). Precocious education. In Talburt & Steinberg, Eds. Thinking queer: Sexuality, culture, and education. Peter Lang.

And another Britzman article that might tickle you is:
Britzman, D. (1998). Is there a queer pedagogy? Or, stop reading straight. In W. Pinar, Ed., Curriculum: Toward new identities.
Garland Publishing.

Enjoy. ;)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Age and Gender

Obstructing Reality asked about age and gender. Well.

O.R. said, "In other words, if people read your gender that readily on the phone, do they also read your age?"

The thing is, people do not read my gender on the phone. They misread it. They think I'm a woman. Once they get that my name is Davey, they think I'm a woman with eccentric parents. The gender weirdness totally overwhelms the age weirdness of my name.

As O.R. knows, people often misread my age in person. But that's because they are correctly reading my gender (and misreading my sex) as male. Grown males are bigger, hairies, etc. than I am. Therefore, if they're reading me as a guy, I must be a kid. I think it has much more to with appearance than with my name.

Even if my name is part of it, the fact that people can't hear my name on the phone shows me that they're not thinking of me as a guy at all, and therefore have no reason to assume I'm younger than I am.

But just for fun, I'll relate one of the more amusing age-dysphoria moments I've had lately. Obstructing Reality was there. We were doing some outreach at a local high school, trying to get the young people from the Gay/Straight Alliance to participate in some broader community activism we were working on. We arrived at the school before the last bell, and signed in at the main office as visitors. About twenty minutes later, we were ready to leave, so we went back to the main office to sign out. By then the school day was over. We waited at the counter behind a loud, gregarious teacher who was blocking us from clipboard we needed to sign out on. Eventually he turned around and noticed us.

"Can I help you folks?"
"We're just waiting to sign out."
"The bell rang! You don't need to sign out!"
"Uh ... we're not students. We're guests ... of the GSA."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you were trying to get off campus early."

When this happened, I had been out of high school for 8 years and was finishing a Master's degree. In Education. Thank G-d I'm not a high school teacher, heh?

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Two Peculiar Conversations about My Name

My name is Davey. When I introduce myself over the phone to someone who hasn't met me, they almost always hear it as "Daisy." Contrary to some people's opinions, this was not funny the first time, and it was far less funny the fiftieth time. I stopped counting a while ago, but this one seemed notably ridiculous, so here it is:

Me: Hi, my name is Davey and I'm calling from [my office].
Her: Hi Daisy, how are you today?
Me: No not Daisy, Davey. Rhymes with wavy.
Her: That's what I said. Daisy.
Me: No, Davey with a V. As if it's short for David.
Her: Right, so if someone's name was David, I would call them Dave, and then you get Davey. So I can call you Daisy.
Me: No, my name is Davey, like short for David.
Her: What does it rhyme with again?
Me: [Taking a slow, deep breath and struggling to remain polite.] Wavy. With a V.
Her: Z as in Zoo?
Me: No, V as in Victor.
Her: Oh, I'm sorry!
Me: [Not meaning it.] It's okay, really. People often hear my name as Daisy on the phone. [Lying.] I'm not sure what that's about.
Her: Well it's because I can't see your lips move.
Me: [Ready to move on now.] Uh-huh.
Her: That's why you always have to say "D-as-in-David, A-as-in-Apple, V-as-in-Victor".
Me: Right.
Her: So what were you calling about, anyway?

Despite what I said while playing stupid for "Her" on the phone, I do know what this is about. It's about gender. Surprise! Many things are about gender. But seriously, what else could it be? My diction just is not that bad, and Davey is a perfectly pronouncable, English-language name. The only reason people could mis-hear it so consistently (and so persistently) is that they can't handle the combination of an obviously female voice with an obviously male name. They don't want me to be named Davey, so they go out of their way to hear it as anything else.

I know that people's mishearing my name is not really about my gender. It's about their own gender training. But I have gender training too, and this stuff is so deeply internalized it's not easy to get rid of. So when I say "My name's Davey," and someone says to me, "Oh, hi Daisy," what I hear is something like, "No it's not. Your name's not Davey and you're not a boy, no matter what you call yourself."

I don't like feeling that way, and I know I can't blame my reaction on the other person. It's just my more-or-less automatic reaction to being called Daisy, especially for the fourth or fifth time in a day. Lately I've taken to defending myself against this feeling by giving all my pronunciation guidelines even before someone has a chance to mess up. I conlclude voice mail messages with, "So again, my name is Davey, Davey with a V. It rhymes with wavy and it is not a flower." It helps with some people. Not all of them.

As I've alluded to at least once, trans people are not immune from gender stupidity. Last week I had the refreshing experience of having a misunderstanding about my name with someone who had no doubt I was boy, and which did not involve the word "daisy." But still, it was weird. This one takes place in a doctor's waiting room.

Nurse's Aid: Is [horrible mispronuciation of my legal name] here?
Me: [Didn't hear.]
Nurse's Aid: [Tries two or three more pronunciations of my first and last names, all incorrect.]
Me: [Finally recognizing my name, standing up.] It's Davey, but that's me.
Nurse's Aid: Davey?
Me: Yeah, Davey.
Nurse's Aid: [Indicating clip board.] That name is Davey?
Me: No, that's my legal name. I don't use it.
Nurse's Aid: Oh, okay. That's your old name. I totally understand. I'm the opposite.
Me: Your name used to be Davey?
Nurse's Aid: Uh . . .

Well no, of course her name did not used to be Davey. It used to be Edward. She just meant that she's MtF. Silly me.

I guess I should be thrilled to have been recognized by another trans person in a healthcare situation. I'd never had a tranny girl take my blood pressure before. But even though we could empathize about the name/gender thing, her response was still wrong. By telling me that she was "the opposite," the Nurse's Aid implied that we are making parallel journeys in opposite directions. I'm picturing a rickety suspension bridge, like in Indiana Jones, over a deep chasm between two cliffs. All the girls are on one side and all the boys are on the other, and somehow we'd pass in the middle and each end up where the other started.

Not so. I don't see myself as going from F to M or anything else. I'm not into the two binary gender camps, and I'm not into a dangerous one-way journey. I think gender is bunk. I think my options are infinite, every day. I am trying to make a comfortable way for myself within a fcked up system, without compromising the integrity of my experience of myself. I truly hope that nobody is doing the opposite of that.

But, what with all the "daisy" stuff, I have to wonder. Seems like some people are more invested in the integrity of their camps than the integrity of their own selves. That has to change. Not just for the comfort of trans people, but for the true-ness of all people.

I know I can't force anyone to think creatively about their gender, even though sometimes it's tempting. For now all I'm asking is that y'all not get in my way of me being creative with mine.

And again, it's Davey. It rhymes with wavy, and it is not a flower.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Reflections on MWMF & Exclusive Spaces

For the past few weeks, since the most recent news storm about Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (MWMF) and it’s infamous trans policy (or non-policy?), I have been trying to figure out why I have nothing to say about it.

Actually, I always have felt somewhat disconnected from MWMF as a trans issue. For one thing, it confuses me. For another thing, after six years of involvement in trans activism, I still have not been sure why I should care about it. Lately I’m beginning to understand why I have felt this way.

The short version of the conflict – at least, one short version – is this: On the one hand, Camp Trans asserts that trans women are women, and should therefore be allowed into the women-only space of the Festival. On the other hand, MWMF asserts that non-trans women need women-only space where they can feel safe from sexism and sexist violence.

Camp Trans is right. Trans women are women, are “real” women, are as womanly as any woman. But that does not mean that a trans woman is “just like” a woman who was assigned female uneventfully at birth and has been unproblematically female ever since. The experiences are different.

MWMF is right, too, that non-trans women deserve safe space, and that some MtFs enact sexism and male privilege. I think they’re wrong to assume that a space reserved for women who were assigned female uneventfully at birth and have been unproblematically female ever since is necessarily “safe.” The truth is that women, any kind of women, can enact sexism on each other. Women, any kind of women, can do violence.

And that brings me to the reason that this issue has never fired me up, in either direction. I don’t feel the need to protect exclusive spaces, or the desire to get into them, with the same intensity that some people do. In fact, exclusive spaces usually have not worked well for me.

This year in particular, I have had to learn that people “like me” are not necessarily my best allies. A few trans people have withheld support from me when I needed it most, and said some very oppressive things to me in the process. A few straight, non-trans people have supported me in ways I never knew to hope for. I have had to reevaluate where and how I look for friends, and who I trust with my vulnerabilities. It doesn’t mean I run away from trans community or from exclusive spaces. But I don’t elevate them or assume them to be safe, either.

Last winter I was at a Jewish conference where the majority of attendees were rich, white, straight, non-trans Ashkenazim. The majority were mostly not too savvy about minorities. One morning, I went to a difficult workshop where I was marginalized as a queer trans person, and left out to dry by another FtM. Afterwards at lunch I shared a table with six people who’d also been in that workshop. They were all straight non-trans folks, mostly People of Color, mostly folks I’d just met that day. Right after we sat down, another person from the workshop - a straight white woman - walked up to me at the table and stage-whispered, “Is it okay if a straight person sits here?” I said “sure,” trying not to laugh, and she sat down. No one at the table corrected her assumption that they were all queer. When she started grilling me about trans issues, someone distracted her and gave me an out. I was a numerical minority at that table in almost every way, in both privileged and not-privileged ways. But everyone there was looking out for me, just as if they were my own community. Actually, they were my community.

Later on during that same conference, a woman I had met only briefly was looking for support. She was stressed out and annoyed, because she was being marginalized as a Mizrahi by Ashkenazi dominance, both in general and in that specific moment. She said she wanted some time with the other non-Ashkenazim and/or People of Color. Together with two other friends we looked for non-Ashkenazim she could caucus with, but all of them were busy. Instead three Ashkenazim, two of us white folks, ended up going back to her room to share in an Iraqi Havdallah ritual and to be there with her as she expressed her anger and frustration. Some hours later she noted with pleasure that the three of us had provided the supportive space she was looking for, even though we weren’t a caucus. Of course it would have been nice if we could have found the people in the first place. But right then, we were able to be the community she needed. I felt so intensely right, and so privileged – in more ways than one – to be a part of that moment. I realized that diverse groups can sometimes be even safer and more supportive than the exclusive spaces I was used to looking for.

None of this is to say that exclusive spaces are bad. Sometimes they’re really useful, particularly for consciousness raising around a particular identity-related issue. There is role for exclusive spaces in building sustainable, supportive, and just community. But exclusive spaces do not in themselves constitute community. A group that’s defined by a single social identity can’t function in isolation forever. Eventually you have to come out, so to speak, and meet your allies, and maybe even your enemies. Then you start to find out what community can look like.

So, what about the MWMF debate? After all this, I still don’t have much to say about MWMF. I could outline why I disagree with the Festival organizers. I could outline why I disagree with some Camp Trans folk. For me the bottom line is that the whole argument assumes identity as a basis for community. And that’s not how I define community.

I know people have strong feelings about MWMF. I understand those feelings, but I don’t share them. MWMF is just not my fight. I’m not saying other people shouldn’t care. The argument is worth having, if only for all the thought and discussions it’s generated about exclusive spaces and about trans folk in feminism. If that’s where your passion is, then go for it.

But while you go for it, I hope you will also go out of your way to find and build diverse supportive spaces, as well as exclusive spaces. Even if it means reevaluating who you trust or like or whose opinion you value. Even if it’s harder than being with people “like” you. Even if it feels uncomfortable, even if it feels unsafe. It’s amazing and healing and wholesome when people who were supposed to oppress you turn out to be on your side. You deserve those kinds of allies. You’re not going to find them in a clubhouse posted “Members Only,” and you’re sure not going to find them by standing on the porch and waiting to be let in. Eventually, you have to go find a clubhouse with different signs. And if you don’t find one, you have to build it.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

As Promised - A Hopeful Angle on MWMF

Didn't write this, either. As I wrote in a "comment" to the previous post, I am not very prone to hopeful writing (or thinking) about Michigan Women's Music Festival, or about trans issues generally. But I do feel better reading other people's hopeful thoughts.

I received this piece from Sailor J Lewis Wallace with no return address, but with a message to "forward/share this as you wish". So I am doing that. You can, too.

I do not agree with everything that Sailor says. But I do find Sailor's message both heart-warming and thought-provoking. I'll probably be posting a few of my own thoughts about MWMF within the next few days.

*Hi Everyone. I just got back from Camp Trans

I am so glad to have had the honor to be at Camp Trans (CT) and the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival (MWMF or the Festival) in Western Michigan this year. This year at MWMF/Camp Trans marked an important shift in the culture of the festival and CT. For the first time since official trans exclusion began at the festival in the early nineties, an out transsexual woman purchased a ticket and went into the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival without resistance from festival organizers or attendees. Another out transsexual woman gave a workshop on trans inclusion inside the festival for a group of about 60 womyn. In the meantime, the "Yellow Armbands", a group of feminist trans allies at the MWMF, organized within the festival all week for visibility of trans issues and inclusion of trans women. Across the street, Camp Trans had its own cultural festival of workshops, musicians, poets, trans and non-trans attendees of all genders, and celebrated its 16th year of protest and culture!

I wanted to write to folks in my communities because I know that this exciting news is going to travel fast and I wanted to personally share my views on some questions regarding the situation. I do not represent all of Camp Trans in writing this although I am an active member in that community.

*Did the trans exclusion policy change? Is trans exclusion over?

I am sure in the year to come that much discussion will ensue within the broader queer and feminist community connected to Camp Trans and the MWMF about the festival's longstanding policy excluding trans people and specifying MWMF as a space for "womyn-born-womyn" only.

Here is what I believe to be the bottom line:

Trans womyn attended the festival this year without harassment, and the policy is no longer being enforced, by Festival organizers or participants. As far as I know, Camp Trans will no longer be explicitly protesting the policy. Trans people and allies will be at both the Festival and Camp Trans next year because the majority of the womyn at Festival are open to the presence of trans folks at festival, open to the fact that the times are a-changin', and open to a deeper dialogue about feminism, transfeminism, oppression and inclusion in womyn's spaces. It won't be easy, but it is happening. After all these years of fighting and debating, the transphobic status quo that once supported excluding transwomyn from womyn's spaces is no longer as powerful. The written policy, the word of Lisa Vogel and the potential vehemence of a few transphobes at the festival, simply do not matter as much as they once did.

Transphobia in this womyn's community holds less weight now, and the tides are turning in this small corner of the radical world. If you are reading this, you probably have yourself to thank for
that, because you have probably been working towards that shift for many years now. Now is a time to celebrate, my friends. A weight is slowly being lifted and this is a gift to all of us who have invested time and energy into building feminist space for so many years. Trans womyn are womyn, and we hope they will finally be welcomed as such in the coming years at the Festival.

I think it's important not to frame this issue in terms of a Camp trans victory over the Festival, or an end to the Festival as it has been. This change represents a positive advancement in the
ability of different sectors of queer and feminist community to work together. It represents something positive for the future of both camps. It's time to celebrate that together.

*Okay, so why does this whole thing matter?

1. The festival matters: The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival is one of the largest and longest-standing radical, feminist, womyn's separatist spaces in the world. Festival leaders have been consciously excluding womyn who identify as trans from their space for about 15 years, leading to a huge and divisive controversy in feminist and queer communities all over the US
and some parts of the world.

2. Trans people matter: We are strong, amazing, influential people just looking for a place to be. Trans people negotiate a painful and direct marginalization on a daily basis to varying degrees in
this culture. For most of us, just as many lesbians have experienced for a long time, there is no place to go, very little support, and no such thing as "trans-friendly-anything" in the daily world we walk through. We are forced to isolate pieces of our identity and hide pieces of our past and present at almost all times, for many reasons. We spend so much time trying to prove our validity it's virtually suffocating. Transwomyn experience a double-edged sword within this, as womyn in the world who also have a unique and marginalized experience as trans.

3. Unity matters: Spaces like Camp Trans and the Festival are meant to be a breath of fresh air for people who live lives that are stifled by this kind of marginalization. Ideally, they give us
strength to go back out in the world and engage in our fights for survival and justice. Many of us are part of struggle in various sectors of a left-wing progressive or radical movement to change the conditions of our lives and of many people's lives globally. Feminism and a struggle against heterosexism and transphobia are an integral part of building strength in this movement, and unity amongst womyn, trans and queer people and all feminists is about as important as it has ever been. We are living in a politically devastating time, fighting an uphill battle. It is desperately important right now to be fighting racism, transphobia, sexism, classism, and all forms of oppression that divide us within our movements, in order to build stronger unified fronts against the people who truly hate us, and hate all of us. The right wing in this country wants us to be divided, and they love that we fight with each other as much as we do. The divide between Camp Trans and the MWMF has long represented an extremely painful rift experienced by many womyn and trans folk, and the bitterness that is born out of never having a place of calm or a space to be slightly safer from everyday harassment. It is far easier, sadly, to tear each to shreds than it is to build inclusive, radical safer spaces, even for a week out of the year. The growing ability to build feminist space together and to challenge and overcome transphobic fear within this space is hugely important in a broader political context. This doesn't mean that oppressive attitudes within radical feminism are over, but it allows an example of a time when oppressive attitudes have been challenged and changed. The spaces we've been building for so long exist intact, and we grow stronger every year.

4. Healing matters: Even those who are uncomfortable with the idea of trans womyn at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival must understand that this moment is a positive one, and one of healing. This uncomfortable moment will invariably mean growth. This piece of land and community of people in Western Michigan will support that growth to happen, for all who are involved. After seven years of participating in this fight, and ten years of connection to MWMF, I can say for the first time that I feel an immense amount of trust in Camp Trans and in the Festival. All I want is a space that is larger than a closet to chill in for a week. Gimme a field. Gimme some woods. Give it to me on my beautiful home turf of Michigan. And give it to my friends, who ARE WOMYN, who are feminists, who are part of this community.

*What should we be talking about in our communities and preparing for next year?

The rumor mill works fast and I have already heard bits and pieces of mis-information about what happened this year. Please don't focus too hard on the details of what exactly happened at
CT and especially at the gate of the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. Very few people were present and therefore very few people can speak accurately to those details. INSTEAD Let's talk about how Camp Trans, the Yellow Armbands, and a plethora of other MWMF workers and attendees are looking forward to welcoming trans people onto the land next year, and beginning to truly work together to support the existence of another trans-inclusive womyn-only space. Let's talk about how happy this coalition of womyn and allies are, to be creating a more inclusive version of womyn's community that no longer excludes some of the most invisiblized and marginalized womyn who walk this planet. This is part of our path to healing, radical, feminist community, and Camp Trans is honored to be working WITH people from the festival to continue to create that, on both sides of the gate.

If you have been boycotting the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival because of its trans inclusion policy, next year is the year to GO BACK TO THE FESTIVAL! For MWMF to work towards a genuine, grassroots trans inclusion, trans people and allies need to be there in full force, starting next year, from now on. The womyn who have been pushed out of participation at Michigan because they could not accept Michigan's inherent transphobia need to be there next year, to support the hard work ahead. Trans womyn who have always wanted to go but never felt comfortable are going to start buying tickets. The policy didn't go away, but its message is no longer the most important message. This is a victory for Camp Trans and for the workers and participants at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival.

If you have participated in Camp Trans in past years, or always wanted to go, GO BACK next year! Camp Trans needs feminist, anti-racist trans folks and allies to continue building a space in
those woods that can support political development, cultural festivities, and a continued relationship with the Festival as the Festival's gates open up to people who've been camping across the road. These coming years have been a long time coming and they are going to be some of the most challenging, and most celebratory years these spaces will see. Come on down and get a piece of the action.

*Congratulations everyone, we are real!

Five years ago at Camp Trans I think it was hard for most of us to imagine that things were really going to change, and change so fast. Many people gave up or stopped participating for personal or political reasons. If you are not able to be in Michigan for any number of reasons, celebrate. Talk it up. Start talking it up now and talk it up until next year. Camp Trans and anti-transphobia allies at MWMF have ushered in a turning of the tides, through a lot of real, concrete work. It didn't fall out of the sky; boycotts, educational campaigns, media work, and endless heartfelt conversations for many years have built this change. Tell everyone how proud you are that people in your extended feminist community have pushed a true paradigm shift in the last fifteen years. Keep on working for change in your communities and keep on believing that change is going to come, and it won't fall from the sky (how nice would that be?) - it will be created and cultivated by real people like us.

Much Love to you all,
Sailor J Lewis Wallace
Michigan, August 2006

Friday, August 25, 2006

Michigan Women's Music Festival

I didn't write this, but I couldn't have said it better myself. I received it as a forward on a listserve and have not been able to identify the original author. When/if I do, I'll cite them.

NewsFlash: Michigan Women's Music Festival: Still Transphobic After All These Years

This just in. Lisa Vogel, owner of the Michigan Women's Music Festival reaffirms her right to determine who is a woman and who is not, as well as to define what transphobia is and what it is not, and to explain that to any trans women who might be confused as to whether or not they are being discriminated against when they are told they are not welcome at the Michigan Women's Music Festival.

Read all about it at http://www.michfest.com/ubb/Forum4/HTML/000890.html.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

on the occasion of skipping yet another friend's wedding

This weekend I am skipping not one but two weddings. One of them, I am skipping because it is very far away, and I can't afford to travel right now. The other one, I am skipping simply because I don't do weddings. Each time someone I love gets married, I struggle with whether or not to make an exception to the "don't do weddings" rule. This time I decided to stay home and write blog entries instead. So on this occasion of skipping two weddings in one weekend, I decided to republish this piece that I wrote the last time I did go to a wedding.

It takes the form of a few letters to and from my alterego, Duck. Duck is me, only more cynical and less tactful, if you can believe it. Everyone else is loosely based on combinations of various people I know. The situations described really did happen.

Dear Click,

Hey! I just got your message. Thanks for offering me a ride to Sadie and Sammy’s commitment celebration. That sounds really great, especially since my car’s in the shop and all. In fact, I’m looking forward to the drive down even more than to the party itself.

Does that sound mean? I don’t mean it to. It’s not that I don’t want to go to Sadie’s party, it’s just, I’m not too sure about commitment celebrations.

I mean, it’s hokey enough when lesbians have them, but for a heterosexual couple to have a “commitment celebration” seems like double-speak. It’s nice that they’re using inclusive language, I guess. But let's be clear, they are in fact married. Legally married. And not just in the friendlier corners of Massachusetts, either. Complete with federal tax benefits, their parents’ enthusiastic approval, and practically inalienable custody rights of any children that they might eventually have. So I don’t know why they bother to call their party anything other than a wedding reception.

I’m kind of afraid it’s my fault. No, seriously. I think I once told Sadie that I don’t go to straight weddings. It was right after the new law went into effect, and every lesbian I knew was suddenly frothing at the mouth over fabric samples and Hers&Hers champagne glasses. They were quitting their volunteer positions and ignoring their friends and generally acting like a bunch of socially-irresponsible honeymooning straight people. Needless to say, I was annoyed. Sadie probably asked me why I wasn’t into marriage activism, and I probably went off about it. I remember I told her I wasn’t even sure if I should go to all those lesbian weddings, since I don’t go to straight weddings if I can help it, and as far as I’m concerned it’s all part of the same patriarchal bullshit.

So I guess I kind of brought this on myself. I mean, I think she thinks I wouldn’t go to a wedding reception, and so she’s not calling it a wedding reception because she wants me to come. So now I guess I have to go. Even though I’m beginning to suspect that I’m being had. It’s probably just going to be a wedding reception that’s not called that. A rose by any other name still gives me an allergy attack. But, since I did kind of set myself up for it, I guess I’ll just pack down some allergy pills and try to make the best of it.

I just wonder what I should wear. I mean, what does a moderately-fashionable, low-budget, slightly flamboyant tranny-boy wear to a “It’s-Not-A-Wedding-Reception-We-Swear-It’s-Not” party? Are there rules for this stuff? Because if they taught that shit in charm school, I was definitely sick that day.

Cynically yours,
Duck


Dear Duck,

You can wear whatever you want. I’m going to. (Wear whatever I want, that is. Not whatever you want. That would be something.)

After all, it’s not like it’s a wedding reception or anything ;).

And anyway, if it is a wedding reception in disguise, at least there will be wedding cake. There’s nothing like a six-tier pile of excessively processed cane sugar to take the edge off a lousy party, eh?

Click


Dear Click,

You only say that because you don’t drink or smoke.

Duck

being a duck in public

Like many Jews (especially men and Reconstructionist women), I wear a yarmulke whenever I'm in shul. Lately I also wear one on Holy Days, including Shabbes, even if I'm not in shul.

It's a little bit ironic to wear a yarmulke all day on Shabbes, while I'm skipping shul. I never run into anyone else who's wearing a yarmulke, because of course, they're all in shul.

I do it not for religious reasons, but out of a sense of personal and political obligation to make myself visible as a Jew. Several generations of my family have worked hard not to be visible as Jews, and I'm trying to break that habit.

Being publicly Jewish on Shabbes gets me into a lot of - let's say interesting - conversations with gentiles (non-Jews). For example:

"What's that on your head?"
"It's a yarmulke."
"A what?"
"A yarmulke."
"Oh, a yarmulke. Are you Jewish?"

...which reminds me of the old camp game, "Do you want to buy a duck?" "A what?" "A duck." "Oh, a duck. Does it quack?" and so on.

Or this one, with a guy in a laundromat just a few weeks after the last Pope died:

"Is that a yarmulke you're wearing?"
"Yes ..."
"Are you Jewish?"
"Yes..."
"Did you see the Pope's funeral on TV?"

...which made me think, maybe we mean different things by "Jewish"? Maybe he's confused about why the Cardinals wear skullcaps? Maybe he think's the Pope's expression of sympathy for Holocaust victims makes him every Jew's best friend? Maybe he forgot that Polish Catholics on the whole were never friends to the Jews, since long before Hitler.

But this latest wins the prize. I was sitting on the Commons with two gentile friends. Out of nowhere, an older guy approaches, rubbing the top of his head and saying in halting English,

"You Jewish?"
"Yes..."
"I have most sympathy for the Jews. Number one."
"Uh-huh..."
"You know Matisyahu?"

Oy vey.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

class stuff

(This piece is also available at Enough.)

I’ve been thinking about class and community. I’ve been thinking how hard it is to build cross-class community. Lots of stuff comes up in my cross-class relationships. Stuff about money of course, but really, it’s not just the money. There’s stuff about talking, stuff about eating, stuff about dressing. There’s stuff about how close you stand and who you touch and how far in advance you make plans. There’s stuff about how often you do laundry and who has your spare key and how you feel about the kids on the corner.

And also, there’s stuff about stuff. Who has good stuff and who has crappy stuff. Who has lots of stuff and who has just what they need. Who goes and buys the stuff they want, and who just kind of assumes that they can’t afford to, or that they don’t really need the stuff anyway. Who shares their stuff, who borrows stuff, who gives stuff away.

One thing I notice is that I feel really awkward accepting stuff that my friends are giving away. I feel … exposed, kind of, as if everybody’s going to look at me and just know that my new stuff is someone else’s hand-me-downs, and judge me for it.

And this is weird, because I didn’t used to feel embarrassed about hand-me-downs. When I was a kid hand-me-downs were no big deal. It was just how you got clothes. It was kind of exciting actually, like a little party, when some friend of my mom’s would bring over a pile of clothes for us to go through. We’d sit and have tea, try stuff on, decide who looked best in it, and who could use it best. The difference is, mom’s friends were working folks just like us. They might have had a little extra sometimes, or they might have had a growing kid that was bigger than me. They might have bought something at a yard sale hoping it would fit, and found out it didn’t. So they shared. Sometimes we had extra too, and we gave our hand-me-downs to the same people who gave us theirs.

These days most of the folks I hang up with are middle class or upper-middle class. They often have extra stuff, or at least, they seem to have a lot more than I can imagine one person needing. I have extra sometimes too, but it’s a different kind of stuff. The stuff my friends give away is high quality stuff. And because their extra stuff is so good, I’ve convinced myself that my extra stuff is so crappy that no one would possibly want it. I’m not sure if it’s true or not, but it makes the whole exchange feel uneven and shaming.

I remember the first time a college friend gave me a tee shirt that didn’t fit him anymore. I hadn’t realized there were different grades of tee-shirts. I guess I knew tee shirts could be cotton or not cotton, and they could be printed well or they could be printed with that crappy shiny stuff that was big in the ‘70s. What I didn’t realize was that some tee shirts were double-weave, heavy-duty, reinforced hems and embroidered. All that for just a plain tee-shirt, with one stripe across the chest. This plain blue tee shirt with one white stripe must have cost as much as my best shoes.

And it didn’t even fit me. I felt offended that my friend would think I’d want his cast-off when it didn’t even fit me right. But I also felt like, how could I pass up something so much higher quality than anything else I owned?

I took the shirt, and wore it for a few years. Even with all that wear, it’s still in pretty good shape. I guess you get what you pay for. Now the shirt’s in my give-away bag, waiting to be taken down to the shelter. I take my extra stuff there, because I think none of my friends would want my stuff, especially twice handed-down stuff.

I know I shouldn’t feel ashamed about accepting good stuff from friends who can afford to give it away. Actually I think it’s very just and appropriate to get stuff that way. I mean, as long as we’re living in a grossly unjust economic system, it’s more just that they should give it away to someone who uses it, rather than just throw it out. And I guess it’s more just that they should give it to someone who couldn’t afford something as good, rather than give it away to someone just as rich who really doesn’t need any more stuff. And I guess it’s more just that I get free stuff from people who can easily afford it, rather than from people who work hard to have just a tiny bit of extra once in a while. And I guess it’s more just that I give my extra stuff to the people at the shelter, rather than to people who, like me, have enough even if they don’t have much extra.

But somehow, giving stuff to strangers doesn’t feel quite as good as sharing with friends. Sharing used stuff amongst people with similar means feels like … well, it feels like sharing. It doesn’t feel like charity. It doesn’t feel shaming. It doesn’t highlight a power relationship. It feels ordinary. It feels … can I say natural?

“Hey, my tomatoes came ripe all at once, will you take a bag full?”

“Kenny got a big buck the first day of hunting season. Do you want a few pounds of venison?”

“The new hens just started laying, and we got all kinds of eggs, here have some.”

The kind of sharing I remember … It wasn’t about having extra exactly, it was more about natural waxing and waning. The seasonal rhythms of rural working-class life required that we share. And the other, less predictable cycles of layoffs and draughts, big jobs and bumper crops also encouraged us to share. When we shared our extra, we didn’t assume that there would always be extra, or that the sharing would always flow the same direction. We all gave stuff away, and we all accepted stuff when others were giving. It was a way of spreading around the luck.

Later, when I was first out of school and living in working-poor queer youth community, we also shared that way. When someone didn’t have a place to stay, they’d stay on my couch. But it didn’t feel uneven because I knew I might someday need a place, and I knew if they had a couch they’d share it. When someone got a pay check, and it was a bad week for some others, they’d buy dinner or groceries for everyone. That’d be their whole pay check, but they trusted that the next week, someone else would buy. Everyone had times where we couldn’t afford food, but between us we were always fed. We shared so freely because we had so little.

Lately I’ve caught myself thinking that middle-class people don’t know how to give stuff away. That the problem is that unless you’ve been that poor, you don’t realize how much you can live without, so you don’t realize how much of your stuff is extra. I think that’s true, but I also don’t want to let myself off the hook. It’s not just that my middle and upper-middle class friends don’t give stuff away as freely. It’s also that I don’t accept stuff as freely from them. If I thought maybe next week, or next month, I’d be the one with extra, then it would be easier. But if I accept stuff from my upper-middle class friends, I have to realize that I’ll probably never reciprocate. And politically, that’s fine with me. But relationally, it doesn’t feel right.

I am trying to trust that we enter into friendships and stay in them for good reasons. I am trying to believe that I am reciprocating, not with stuff but with all of myself that I bring to these relationships. I am trying to remember that my friends wouldn’t offer me stuff if they resented the exchange or felt embarrassed about it. I am not entirely convinced about these things, but I am trying. And I’m also trying to grow a bumper crop of tomatoes. Because that is something I can share with anybody. That’s a kind of sharing I understand.