Monthly Archives: June 2020

Solstice meditations

  1. On envy

Envy as need for belonging, wanting to fit in, to be included, to be safe, to find a home. In childhood we may have been denied a safe home or our trust and safety was violently disrupted. We may have been bullied or just not fit in. Others may have characterized us as strange or different, we may have seen ourselves as different.

Envy as imitating others who seem to have a better right to speak, whose needs are attended to, whose existence is more legitimate than our own.

Envy as being replicated by being drawn to derelict places, wastelands, and also to the places where no one else has seen the beauty. Sometimes this is a path of choosing work that fills a historical or spiritual need.

Envy as linked to sex and love, themes of wanting love and fearing to lose the self, amplified by patriarchy which demands women to lose ourselves and men to extract women’s soul energy.

What or whom do you envy? Where does it start, and where does it end?

Free will and determinism in a dialectic, thinking about Jane Rule’s novel This is Not For You. A heart-breaking story of lesbian love rejected, and the rejected woman becomes a nun. It is presented as the inner logic of her destiny while at the same time if both women had had the courage – not bravery but courage that starts from self-acceptance – to love each other, if everything around them had not built walls of fear and shame and denial, a different destiny could have manifested itself.

Believing in good luck and and allowing good fortune.

Shoving off the chains of caring what nay-sayers think. They don’t hold my destiny. Who are you? Finding the truth, the kernel of light and shining it where you are. Diffused light, diffused power of growth, keeping time.

2. On feminism and progressive politics in this historical moment

Several times on this blog I’ve addressed my feminist sisters including about rejecting mental illness accusations. This time I am addressing my progressive, leftist, anti-racist community, including my psychiatric survivor and disability community.

We are living a significant historical moment for the transformation of society to eradicate police terror and other systemic racial injustice against Black people in the US. At the same time we are living the decline of feminism as a movement for liberation of the female sex from subjugation to males, and the submersion of lesbians into an LGBTQ+ acronym that erases our unique existence as same-sex attracted females and the intersectional struggle we bring to feminism and to the politics of lesbian/gay liberation. Progressive spaces fighting racism can be unwelcoming to those of us fighting for lesbians’ and women’s liberation, and we are subjected to ageism as well, treated as dinosaurs who should die out and leave the young to their innocence.

Some background for pride month. The word ‘gay’ can include lesbians, but often a bar, gathering, organization, event, service advertised as gay turns out to be exclusively male or to be centered on gay male sexuality. Saying lesbian/gay was our way to make women visible in the movement of homosexual, or same-sex-attracted people. The additional of bisexuals, and then transgender, then queer and other letters, was a different kind of political intervention – a move towards redefinition of the politics of gay/lesbian liberation into a politics of diversity encompassing sexual orientation of any non-heteronormative kind and gender nonconformity in expression or identity.

The role of butch lesbians in the Stonewall uprising has been obscured by a focus on drag queens and transwomen, who are male. Stormé DeLarverie and other butch lesbians fought with police who arresting them and beating them for being at a gay bar, and according to some reports, Stormé’s call to the crowd, ‘Why don’t you do something?’ sparked the collective rebellion. Stormé, a Black lesbian, was a drag king performer and remained active in the gay liberation movement; she was honored with awards and Michelle Parkerson made a film about her. Lesbians’ place in our own movement (lesbian/gay liberation) needs to be honored, respected, uplifted, and continually remembered.

When progressive spaces make us into pariahs some white women avail themselves of privilege to jump to alliances with reactionaries, who are willing to use feminist concerns as a front for anti-trans, anti-gay/lesbian, anti-female, anti-poor and racist agendas. Progressives have to do their part to fight the mainstreaming of reactionary politics by opening a door to feminists and lesbians – women of color as well as white women – whose feminism excludes males and includes all females.

The use of feminism by reactionaries has extended to the fight against exploitation of women in sex industries and surrogacy – public sexual and reproductive exploitation, in the capitalist market, that unsurprisingly affects disproportionately black and indigenous women and other women of color, and women without economic resources. Reactionaries’ objections to these industries are that they undermine the control of women by the patriarchal family, but they are happy to have feminists front for them while they steer the agenda.

There is a difference between converging on a particular policy at a moment in time, and making organizational alliances, conducting joint projects, creating relations of dependence and interdependence. There is also a difference between such alliances and lobbying of politicians or government officials who may be diametrically opposed to one’s political views. The US disability movement has encountered similar issues in its position that Terry Schiavo should be maintained on life support, and in legislative work including the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is not always easy to draw the lines and the issue is one of politics and impact – the impact on feminism, on women, in this case, of succumbing to a strategy of co-optation that steers us away from our own ultimate objectives. Cooptation is an issue we have faced in the US psychiatric survivor/anti-psychiatric oppression movement, when the federal mental health agency decided to fund our organizations to provide peer support and consult on mental health programs but not to do anti-psychiatric oppression work.

Male violence has been named as a problem by feminism in three respects that have to be disentangled. The most central is men’s violence towards women that is specifically enacted sexually through rape, including rape aimed at enforced pregnancy and rape as a weapon of war and genocide; that is aimed at controlling women’s sexuality and reproduction, including anti-lesbian violence, ‘honor codes’ legitimizing the killing of women and girls who are sexually active or who are raped, the criminalization of abortion, female genital mutilation; that is aimed at subjugating women individually and collectively, including the beating and killing and coercive control of intimate partners, misogynist femicides against one or more women chosen to represent women as a class. This is sexual politics per se.

Secondly, violence itself, including sexual violence, and including war, is itself predominantly a practice of males. It can therefore be examined through a lens of gender, or sexual politics in an extended sense, to consider analytically and historically, what is the linkage between the male sex-role, the premise of male sexual entitlement and sexual aggression under patriarchy, and the maintenance of violence through war, particularly aggressive and imperialist war, violent and militarized policing and penal systems and other violent carceral and repressive systems including psychiatry, violence between groups of men and individual men, violence related to criminalized economic activity such as the drug trade, violence against feminine males whose existence threatens sexual politics and the feminization of male enemies. Analytical and historical research on these questions links to the complementary need to research matriarchies – societies ‘beginning with the mother’ – that are egalitarian, consensus-led, based in economic reciprocity with distribution under the control of women, in which structural violence is eliminated. Are these societies peaceful in general, and are they also characterized by an absence of and intolerance for rape? What is the relationship between women’s centrality socially and culturally and women’s economic control, and the ability to live harmoniously? What lessons do these societies hold for us to un-build capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy?

Thirdly, some women hold men to be essentially violent, and equate violence with either male biology or with a male sex-role. This view can lead to diametrically opposed positions, either aiming for complete separation or the fantasy of eradication of males and reproducing parthenogenetically or in other ways controlled entirely by women, or eliminating sexual politics entirely and viewing feminine or feminized males, and those who are sexually assaulted, as being equivalent to women and butch or masculine women, and women who commit violence, as being the same as men. The resurgence of interest in evolutionary biology among feminists in a more narrow sense of theorizing a difference in reproductive strategies between males and females differs from these other positions as the antagonism it implies is not necessarily violent or irresolvable but would need to be taken account of, which could point towards a matriarchal organization of society. I am not comfortable with such an account, since it posits biology as an explanation of behavior, flattening out culture and history and any initiative for change outside the posited parameters. While biology constrains us – e.g. we can’t fly without mechanical constructions, our sexed bodies can’t be self-adjusted like the blowfish though they can be modified through hormones and surgery – the linkage between biology and behavior at individual or species level is a different kind of proposition. That type of theory has been invoked to uphold racism, male dominance, ableism and violent practices associated with those ideologies including eugenics and forced psychiatry, so while I want to learn more about this position from a feminist colleague who holds it, I am skeptical.

Which way forward? We have to continue to think, and act, in all dimensions that we move, with as much consciousness and deliberateness as we can. It is likely that partial movements, constrained by the limitations of politics in liberal capitalism and the violence of the state in suppressing uprisings outside those constraints, will continue to arise, and that suffering and oppression will increase worldwide as capitalism tries to postpone the inevitable running out of material for its pyramid scheme of constantly increasing wealth. I am tempted to think, my life is finite and it won’t be my problem, but I am not yet dead and the year 2020 continues to show us that we will be surprised if we aren’t paying attention. Better to meet the future with open eyes and tools to fight for the whole of what we believe in.

What is Pride?

LGBTQ+++ spaces are asking ‘what does Pride mean to you?’ Pride is sorrow for being deprived of a public language in which to express who I am as a lesbian.

Pride is hurt that when I talk about being a lesbian feminist, a lesbian whose destiny is bound up with the fate of all female human beings, I am drowned out by ‘trans lives matter’. I don’t want to have to answer that with sharing the stories of lesbians brutalized for the intersectional oppression of being homosexual and female. Or with those of women forced into compulsory heterosexual arrangements and punished for following their own desire of any kind, raped and disbelieved and punished again by police and family. Any of those could have been me.

Pride is sometimes small and quiet, self-preservation finally shaking off fear. Pride is knowing who I come home to, and in which spaces I am only tolerated or precarious (too many, including LGBTQ+++ and progressive politics generally in the US). Pride is being my full big self, laughing and unafraid. Pride is dignity knowing there are some spaces where my role is as an ally and not centering my needs there, but if a community requires me to leave part of myself at home – this time it’s my femaleness more than being same-sex-attracted – I will be a shadow and will not stick around but will show my support in other ways.

This Pride I’m coming out as a lesbian who stands up for female autonomy and won’t go back into the closet, will make that a core part of my political public identity and not ask anyone’s sufferance. So here’s my coming out for 2020: integrating my women’s human rights work with my larger body of disability rights work, I’ve uploaded my 2016 LLM thesis ‘Female Autonomy vs Gender Identity A critical analysis of gender identity in CEDAW jurisprudence and the Yogyakarta Principles‘ to my Academia page, to join the rest of my papers.

Happy Pride!

White women and racism

I’m writing this on June 2, 2020, during a Week of Action called by the Movement For Black Lives, after a series of racist murders and incidents including the horrific police murder of George Floyd, whom they initially approached over an alleged counterfeit $20 bill and who was unarmed. His murder was captured on video by Black teenager Darnella Frazier and others, taking place over eight minutes while he slowly asphyxiated complaining he couldn’t breathe.

Breonna Taylor, a 26-year old African American EMT, was murdered in her home on by police who fired several shots rapidly, after her boyfriend Kenneth Walker shot at them in self-defense. They had entered after midnight with a battering ram without identifying themselves as police, executing a ‘no-knock’ search warrant based on allegations that a drug dealer had used the apartment to receive packages.

Amy Cooper, a white woman, called police on Christian Cooper, an African American man (no relation), who had told her to leash her dog and took out dog treats when she refused. She told police that she’s a white woman and a Black man is threatening her life, dramatizing with her voice to give the impression of intense fear. Christian’s videotaping may have saved his life, and showed the incident to the world. When police came, both of them had left. Amy lost her job and had to return her dog to the shelter she had gotten it from.

As a white-privileged, Jewish woman I grew up with and internalized a lot of racist tropes and attitudes. I was conscious of white privilege mixed with upward class mobility, as protection from the horrors that I knew Black people and other People of Color were subjected to, in my segregated New York City (neighborhoods were pretty much one ethnicity or another, not very mixed): poor housing and schools, violence that comes out of poverty; later I understood that police were an occupying force in those communities. My family were marginal in Jewish communities we lived in and in the Yeshivas I attended, neither being religious nor materially successful, but being Jewish was the identity I most related to. In some sense it created a shelter that itself amounted to white privilege, though it was also a root of heritage that entailed good and bad I would have to sift through. Anti-semitism was not a daily or current matter and adults placed the Holocaust, pogroms, their own earlier poverty in the past along with the Yiddish language, though some horror images and stories percolated through.

I was also the favored child in my family, the oldest and the one with whom my mother had first experienced that sensation of falling in love with a newborn. With her injuries and traumas, I had to mother myself a lot but the experience of being favored, along with her real sensitivity to my needs at times, gave me a sense of confidence that stayed with me even after we had an irrevocable breach in our relationship. The privilege was doubled edged, however, giving me a sense of my fragility – caution, deserving to be protected in some way – and of not needing to be accountable. This family privilege linked to white privilege through my blond hair as a child, unusual in a Jewish family, and in my school I was viewed as pretty as well as smart (the latter of which I feel confident that I was in fact).

As an adult I’ve had hardships and needed to unpick and unpack all of that. But it stays with me as what I bring to a conversation about white women and racism. It’s not enough to proclaim solidarity without feeling personally implicated. As a Facebook friend posted, in the fight against racist violence there are no bystanders. Witnessing the murder of George Floyd, witnessing Amy Cooper’s blatant racist weaponizing of the police, just the latest in an unending onslaught since the first slave ships, white people have to choose justice or else be swept up in evil whether by deliberate choice or indifference. We are personally implicated either way.

I have been dismayed and horrified to see the large numbers of gender critical radical feminist white women who are turning to racism as, apparently, their true ‘identity’, looking to the extreme religious far right to save them from what they see as the greater evil of gender identity or as they say ‘transgenderism’. (I consider ‘transgenderism’ to be a slur as no transgender people use it about themselves; we can discuss the boundaries and ideological disputes between feminism and transgender activism without denying that there are people who identify as transgender and it has a particular meaning. We do not have to, and I do not, accept the view that being transgender changes a person’s sex.) Let’s think about that for a minute.

If the transgender ideology ‘won’ and transwomen could legally identify as no different from me, female, for all purposes – if that legal fiction were to be fully and dogmatically enforced in every area of life – it would make it potentially unsafe in some circumstances for me to get health care (it being important to me to have female providers for most kinds of care, and especially gynecological care), and potentially make body searches (at the airport, or if I am under arrest or in jail or prison) even more abusive and traumatizing. It would – it already has – silenced me and deprived me of solidarity among LGBTQ communities that treat me as a pariah. It could – in London and San Francisco it has – resulted in violence against lesbians and other women who profess that ‘lesbian’ and ‘woman’ are material identities and not subject to appropriation by anyone born male.

What does the extreme far right threaten me with? Race war. Assault weapons being welcomed into our capitols without a murmur – the building of white militias tolerated with a wink as ‘free speech’. Creating a hostile climate against all LGBTQ people – all of us who are same-sex-attracted and/or gender-nonconforming – while allowing some, white, lesbians to occupy a protected space if they turn against others and join the religious fundamentalists in calling LGBTQ pride a dangerous and destructive movement. Lesbian feminists have separated ourselves from ‘LGBTQ’ or previously ‘gay rights’ when it is male-centric and misogynist, and still do. But accepting a protected berth with those who want to return women to male domination (maybe accepting de-sexed lesbianism as a kind of spinsterhood so long as it upholds and doesn’t challenged their authoritarian regime) is not just dangerous for those who do it, it implicates white privilege as fragility and lack of accountability.

For me – though apparently not for all Jewish women – being Jewish puts me emphatically in opposition to white nationalism and religious fundamentalism. Anti-semitism is in resurgence, and though we’re not the main target this time, it’s not just about ‘us’ as Jews in particular, it’s knowing what this is and needing to put ourselves in the way of it – to stop it and to give it no breathing room, no aid or comfort, not an ounce of allegiance. Being confronted with the Amy Cooper video puts it very starkly to all white women: are we going to be that, or are we going to stand with women and men of color and say ‘no more genocide in my name’?

There’s a process that any white woman has to go through, to examine her own thoughts and feelings and unpick racism from what she really needs in the world. We need to defend ourselves against violence or abuse from any man, and too often we don’t get what we need – we are overpowered and the abuse happens, the police don’t come or we choose not to put ourselves through their further abuse in case of rape, too many injustices – like forced psychiatry – aren’t even criminalized. We have a ton of injustices to confront and combat. But taking power that is the power of racism and of a racist, male supremacist state, of anti-woman and anti-gay religious fundamentalists, to bring in bigger guns against someone we have a dispute with, is only empowering what is racist, complicit with a genocidal state and misogynist religions, in ourselves – it cannot empower us as women of the world, as lesbians of the world, as dykes of the world. It doesn’t stop violence, it escalates and accelerates it.

Sally Roesch Wagner, a white second-wave feminist who has studied Haudenosaunee culture and the influence of that culture on first-wave feminism in the US, recounts that a Haudenosaunee friend commented to her that white women look at their culture and think women have significant power, but to her, it was a matter of responsibility rather than power. White women need to think about the relationship between responsibility and power, and that it might be different from our own accustomed starting point – in our lives there might have been responsibility imposed on us without power, so we focus on gaining power – but in doing so, remain within our own frame of reference which is a racist, male supremacist, capitalist one. When we start from responsibility we may think we have to give ourselves up – but we can start from inside, quietly. What are we accountable for, and how can we turn that around, show up for ourselves and others in an exercise of responsibility?

And responsibility has to turn outward to the world as it is, not to an imagined one where the white enclosure is all that matters.

Join the Movement For Black Lives and participate in this week of action; see also Bend the Arc: Jewish Action to join with other Jews for Black Lives.