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

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.
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?