Category Archives: jewish identity

Equinox thoughts

As a Jew I have always understood myself to be part of a people – could say nation, but we have no land or territory and no self-government. The Jewish religion, I have always understood to be part of that culture, essentially a tribal god and a set of rules or principles for how to live in the world. Stories, music and poetry are part of this, gratitude and acknowledgement of the gifts of life. Balancing ritual duties with meeting needs (you can break the shabbos or a fast if needed for health reasons). So I’ve kind of bracketed the patriarchal nature of the religion, avoiding it, keeping what nurtures me – the ethical principles, the poetry.

This Rosh Hashana I came face to face with the patriarchy in a way I couldn’t avoid. I wanted to relate to the holiday in community instead of in a solitary way or only by wishing my wife a sweet year as we eat apples and maple syrup. So I attended a service by zoom, done by a progressive Jewish Renewal synagogue in California. The service was conducted by several people together, there was music and drumming as well as speaking and singing. The primary officiant, a transman who carries the title of Maggid, or preacher, was highly dynamic and brought a lot of heart to the service, using humor and connecting the themes of Rosh Hashana to life and emotions and fears and needs.

I mention that this person is a transman because I felt a deep connection with them – pronouns are ambiguous and impossible to accurately convey this situation, since to say ‘him’ would deny the connection I felt with another female person entering into patriarchal archetypes. And it would flatten and reify the archetype of masculinity itself which I reject, along with the archetype of a violent masculine covenant of submission to abject terror and helplessness that is the essence of the religious significance of Rosh Hashana beyond the simple fact of an autumnal lunar new year.

The Torah portion traditionally read for Rosh Hashana is the ‘akedah’, the binding of Isaac to an altar as sacrifice to Abraham’s god. As we know, the god saves Isaac at the last moment, it was only willingness required and not the sacrifice itself. We can rationalize this any which way, consider it to be a reconciliation of the practice of sacrifice with preserving life (of a supposedly beloved child!) by making the deity responsible for both ends and worshipping the deity ultimately as both all-powerful and merciful. But it is a patriarchal vision of deity as an entity to be feared, an arbitrary power that issues commands having no inherent value that we can discern – indeed the deity’s reasoning is considered to be asymptotically incommensurate with our capabilities of perception.

The service I attended didn’t read the Torah portion (for which I was thankful) but the themes brought out invoked it implicitly. On Rosh Hashana it is said that the deity inscribes people in the book of life or the book of death for the year to come, and on Yom Kippur that fate is sealed. Well, we know that some people will live and some will die, it is sobering to contemplate our mortality and what this means for how we want to live our lives. But there is a theme of atonement for sins, asking forgiveness for all the ways in which we have disappointed our higher conscience, as if it is a matter of averting the imposition of a death sentence that the deity may arbitrarily impose for any reason of its own. This again is a patriarchal image of deity as sovereign monarch, a king ruling by decree, the best we can hope for is mercy. And that is not an inherent attribute of deity or our relationship to the sacred, it is a reflection of a particular kind of class society with patriarchy at its foundation.

The other patriarchal aspect of the ‘akedah’ is the covenant that follows the merciful saving of Isaac from a death sentence. It’s a male covenant with a male god, involving male circumcision. What is this for women? How are women even a part of the Jewish people?

There is in the scripture reference to older traditions that may have been matriarchal, including the marriages of the founding patriarchs to the founding matriarchs – Isaac and Jacob both returned to their mothers’ relatives to seek their mates, and Jacob spent a number of years living with those relatives in a matrilocal arrangement before uprooting his wives and household to re-assert the patrilocal arrangement he had intended. When Rachel takes the teraphim – the household gods – she is both asserting her right to them, and cooperating with Jacob in moving to consolidate a patriarchal society. (We don’t have to take these stories as literal to derive this implication.)

As a Jewish woman, already having rejected zionism as an expression of nationhood because it adopts the form and nature of white settler colonialism with inherent genocidal implications that are ongoing, and also understanding that the patriarchal religion is not salvageable – this is how I see my particular situation in the world:

I can choose to look within to invoke my own ancestors, known or unknown, that come in a good way. (Thanks to Veronica Agard, who conducts the Ancestors in Training workshops). When I connect with my ancestors, I invite them to the place where I currently make my home. They can communicate with me through dreams or other signs and it is up to me to discern meaning and take responsibility for what I do in response.

I have no homeland, most of my people came here from countries where they were being persecuted. The land of Israel or Palestine is not capable of being a spiritual homeland because of how it is being used destructively for genocide. I can’t ‘go home’ again. I was born on land that was original Lenape territory, in Brooklyn; now I live on land that was original territory of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy/Mohawk nation and also occupied and used by Abenaki and other nations through treaties. (The book Rural Indigenousness by Melissa Otis is a fascinating history though needs to be supplemented by learning more about the massacres which are not presented in detail.) When I connect to the land, I recognize the original peoples as custodians and their ancestors as well as my own. Connection to this land where I live – the particular place where I make my home, its immediate surroundings – has become a source of important meaning to me, communion and mutual energy and knowledge.

As for the rest, it is open and indefinite, and unfinished. Being part of ‘the mixed multitudes’ is what diasporic identity means if it is an identity at all and it may be a history more than anything else.

There is a legacy of ‘tikkun olam’ that might be the best of what I inherit as a Jewish legacy. Survival strengths and understanding ourselves as both/and, inside and outside, a people dispersed among the nations, needing to find ways to repair what has been harmed and having the perspective to see from inside and outside at once. We have also inherited some intense fear, both from our own patriarchal covenant religion and from the persecutions we have undergone throughout history. So we can’t come to the world, or to tikkun olam, as beggars, as beings tainted by an original sin of homelessness mixed with patriarchal ambitions, crying to a sovereign king worldly or otherworldly for mercy. Moving into our place within the mixed multitudes, we have been and are part of reinventing woman-centered power as creative intelligence and order (see Paula Gunn Allen, The Sacred Hoop). That is a paradigm I am tentatively adopting as a both/and way of exploring matriarchies (cultures centered on mothers as beginning with spiritual, social, economic and political implications). It may be that the two are the same but that as a lesbian raised in patriarchal culture I see ‘mother’ in a restrictive light. I am also especially interested in exploring original forms of law from this perspective, and connecting this with the possibilities that may or may not exist still to exercise creative intelligence through law-giving either using the political structure of states (can they be transformed, are some already functioning as anything other than a violent paradigm of arbitrary sovereignty?) or in any other meaningful ways.

Jewish holidays as transformation and community building

Passover is just ending for this year, and I had been thinking, for no particular reason, about feeling a lack of connection with my ancestors; not having any descendants myself either. I was thinking that I didn’t have a way to talk about, approach, the historical trauma that affects me as a Jew.

We had had a really good seder on the first night, and I felt connected with both the ancient story and the modern freedom songs and the poetry (especially Irena Klepfisz’s Bashert) included in the Haggadah we use.

And it came to me that Passover itself is a ritual for the transformation of historical trauma. That this has been here in plain sight, and I was already participating in it. We have the container within our own culture, and we can make it more meaningful (I can make it more meaningful) by acknowledging that this is what it is.

That is my connection with the ancestors, and they gave it to me just as I was feeling the need for it.

Other Jewish holidays that commemorate liberation from oppression – Chanukah and Purim – are different kinds of transformation rituals. Now I’ve just been through Pesach, so am in the grip of this one which is the most intense and even grueling.

Then I think that Shavuot and Succot are nation-building or people-building rituals. And our high holy days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, are community-building more than they are simply a matter of inward contemplation. We ask one another for forgiveness, we ask forgiveness in community. These are all part of the transformation of historical trauma as well. Building community is the nurturance we need, after we have been through hell and come out alive.

Even the story of the Akedah, which we retell on Rosh Hashanah, we tell in order to emphasize that the sacrifice did not take place.

There is something in this that nourishes me and leads me out into the place where I am born, where I am connected to the whole and enter into community that is mine.

Dislocations – political and personal

– This reflection piece was first written to an email group in a discussion I had started about marriage and disability (for many of us from a lesbian or queer perspective), that brought up issues of care/support in our old age, which is on my mind, as well as loneliness. –

I am thinking about how dislocations shaped my relationship to community, always a qualification or limitation, this but not really or fully this, that but not fully that, etc. again and again.  I am an American Jew, never a Jewish American (until perhaps now when facing antisemitism directly in the political sphere).  My people were never at home here, not just as settlers but as Jews; and our previous homes were also precarious and then wiped out; my only relatives overseas that weren’t wiped out are in Italy and there was some strangeness about the familial relations that we never got to know them.  My parents treated their background culture and language (Yiddish was still spoken in their homes alongside English) with a mixture of pride and shame; my mother in particular strove to assimilate both in terms of class and culture, and there was a lot about that process that was head-scratching for me, just confusing in ways I didn’t know how to understand or even begin to articulate.  Because of ups and downs in that attempted assimilation process I never made lasting friends in my childhood as we shifted from one school to another and one neighborhood to another (unrelated to the schools); then I internalized some of that and became a person who stood to one side.  

But also we were focused on the family, there was little real sense of community belonging aside of that; there was the sense of being a Jew but as a relationship to culture and not so much community.  The Yeshivas I went to, we were class outsiders and also outsiders by not being religiously observant; I tried once going to a neighborhood synagogue by myself (as my family didn’t go) but it’s not a kind of place a child can go alone unless maybe they are very gregarious.  And nothing about the wider social or political existence in terms of how it affected us as citizens; my mother told me later she supported the civil rights movement but she never talked about any such activity to us.  So adulthood seemed like it was ‘leaving home’ but also leaving culture and any kind of belonging at all, there was nothing in the wide world expected to welcome, just the market economy and how you might become part of it, or get the college degree and do something more fulfilling.  

Without a sense of responsibility and mutuality as belonging to something bigger than my family, though there was cultural Jewish political imperative of Tikkun olam – repairing the world – that I did internalize! – there is a way that my wanderings that ended up being locked up in psychiatry reflect the dislocation that became a break and that I could then grow up differently out of, though it took years and painstaking effort to do that.  I don’t mean grow up in a psychoanalytic developmental sense, rather like a tree growing up new out of a stump struck by lightning.  

I’ve been thinking about this because of the question of individualism and community that is on my mind – related to the pandemic and also to my big piece of writing on social model crisis support, which some of you have read and commented on and that I’m finalizing now with revisions.  It feels like this is the root of my need for community and inability to actually achieve it so far, and in a sense replicating the dislocations.  I think it’s important to excavate historical dislocations and traumas in a way that isn’t rote, that starts from our own lives and not (only) from some particular historical event or set of events; there are always the particularities (multiple) and how they come together in any person’s life and legacy.  

I’m realizing in the pandemic what it is I need in many different ways; and making some tentative feelers towards deepening friendships while being open to what might present itself, and staying close to what matters to me; it is important to not lose your center or unbalance yourself in order to try and fit in some community, to not leave part of yourself outside and hope for the best while accepting some lesser connections.  I tried that, thinking it was going to be just easy and casual (with a local recreational group) but that failed too, my personality and culture and politics had to emerge somehow and were too much for that group and their narrow ways of thinking.  

Does this resonate with anyone else?  The thing about individualism as a strategy for class and cultural assimilation that is actually counterproductive and backfires is what feels important to me politically and personally.  And it’s not about prescribing anything to counter it, but just to understand it and see what changes.  

Radical Feminism and Dialectics

  1. I start out with a feeling of anger and vulnerability.  As a Jewish dyke, I inherit the fear of pogroms, the knowledge of being hunted and needing to be vigilant, needing to be prepared for when the welcome wears out.  Making a home in the whirlwind. Growing up in a non-religious family while attending a yeshiva, in a family struggling economically among those more well-off, I also know this feeling of hesitating at the door, not sure of knowing the right thing to do to be accepted.  (Unwrapping a Hostess twinkie package and not knowing it’s not kosher, for example.  Or however people wash dishes in their own houses.)
  2. In 2019, the welcome mat is being pulled away from Jews in more and more places in the world.  The attack on a community center by 50 neo-Nazis in Hungary, chills me most somehow despite it being violence against property and not people.  This is not a rogue shooting, it’s a message by an organized political force.  The neo-Nazis are organized in the US also, and they represent part of a far right political spectrum that Donald Trump has brought full scale into national politics and government:  a coalition of Christian fundamentalists whose primary agenda is subjugation of women through denial of sexual and reproductive autonomy, and enforcement of sex stereotypes and heterosexuality against lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people; white nationalists whose agenda is exclusion and ultimately genocide of black and brown people whose very existence is viewed as a threat to white supremacy (and Jews who are demonized as the masterminds of liberal and leftist agendas for equality); and predatory capitalists whose aim is evisceration of any remnant of the social safety net and any expectation that government is responsible for the well being of all its people, in essence dismantling of the social contract, problematic as it has always been due to its nature as a compromise that sacrifices power for protection.
  3. Into this scenario comes the intra-left struggle around gender identity.  Transgender people came to the forefront after lesbians and gay men won the emblematic right of marriage, which positions us as social equals with heterosexuals (though without federal civil rights protection against discrimination in employment, housing and similar areas, the slogan is true that we can be married on the weekend and fired on Monday).  Transgender people similarly lack protection against employment and housing discrimination, and deserve protection.  But the transgender movement has made demands that conflict with those of lesbians, all women, and gay men.  An important part of the women’s liberation movement has been the creation of autonomous women-only spaces, services, politics, and culture – that movement itself represents (or represented) an assertion of female separatism.  We named ourselves as a political constituency based on sex, and named our oppressors as the male sex which has systematically expropriated our sexual and reproductive power and various forms of labor, and has promulgated ideologies that treat us as half-human to mobilize our intelligence and strength and half-exploitable natural resource; we fight this oppression together with the class system and racialized exploitation that it is inseparable from.  Now comes a movement that rejects the radical feminist analysis and seeks to displace it entirely from political discourse, undermining gains we have made in women’s and girls’ sports and education,  lesbian-feminist autonomous culture and politics, women’s facilities in public mixed spaces (restrooms, changing rooms, baths), domestic violence and rape crisis refuges that bring peer support and advocacy to serve women in highly vulnerable situations, the feminist women’s health movement that named our body parts and took back power to know our own bodies and take charge of our health.  This revolution is not over, and maybe its distance from any conceivable finish line prompts frustration and fatigue, while the popularization of liberal feminism as the legal possibility and existence of women in managerial positions and skilled professions allows for a large segment of the population who are generally progressive and support women’s equality in principle to think that there’s nothing more to fight for (ignoring the massive existence of rape, femicide, sexual harassment, pay gap, the continued treatment of women and of female bodies as secondary in health care and in design of goods and services, the cutting back of abortion rights and contraception that has helped to fuel a surge in religious fundamentalist influence in our political arena, an environment where gender nonconforming girls and young women are unaware of lesbian and feminist role models and the rich literature of our movements, etc. and etc.).
  4. The transgender movement demands that a person’s declared sex must be treated as their actual sex, i.e. a man who feels subjectively that he is female must be socially and legally recognized as female for all purposes.  This and nothing less is said to satisfy the demand for inclusion of transgender persons in society.  And it directly conflicts with lesbians and women as actual, defined, collectivities of persons who have material existence and are entitled to voice, assert, and defend their boundaries that set them apart from males.  The transgender demand for self-declared sex amounts to a silencing of women and suppression of women’s autonomous political, social, and legal existence.  The impact on lesbian-feminist spaces and organizing has been huge and painful, as many have had to close or disperse and reform out of sight of the mainstream, thanks to boycotts, threats and intimidation, divisions among women about whether to include males who identify as female, ostracism, and physical violence.  These spaces have always existed largely out of the public eye, we protect them, they are ours and they are meant for us and not for public consumption.  They have always met with criticism, ridicule, and bemusement due to their being women’s autonomous spaces that have no place and no role to play within a liberal order that simultaneously pretends equality between men and women already exists, and depends on women’s unpaid and underpaid labor and sexual exploitation in homes and in prostitution/pornography that put women in subservience to men.  When we decry this impact of gender identity claims, it’s as if no one spoke.  As Judy Grahn wrote in another context, being outside the capitalist, patriarchal and heterosexual order means that ‘no one is there to testify.’
  5. Now come radical feminists.  We’d think that in mobilizing against gender identity because of how it impacts on women including lesbians, we’d be fighting simultaneously against the left/liberal consensus on this issue that reveals their misogyny/lesbophobia, and against the right which still wants to subjugate us entirely by rolling back the gains we’ve made under liberalism.  And yes, that’s a tough row to hoe and it’s ours.  There are some feminists who have decided instead to make an alliance with religious fundamentalists, and this itself becomes part of the landscape for those of us fighting for liberation for all women – including, damn it, women of color, indigenous women, Jewish women, working class women, and lesbians who are the front-line targets of the far right coalition currently in power in the US government for reasons that are immediate and life-threatening.  How dare they put us even more at risk by confirming the left and liberals in kicking feminists out of their zone of solidarity?
  6. I had written an earlier draft post discussing some of the details of the right wing alliances, but actually don’t want to give it airspace.  I will say that those women are talking out of both sides of their mouths, at one moment claiming it’s not an alliance, just sharing a platform, and the next moment organizing a joint rally and co-producing a text advising parents on how to oppose schools that introduce children to gender identity or other topics the parents might not agree with (including sexual orientation and sexuality).  Feminists who are concerned about the sterilization and body modification that is being promoted for children need to revert to the feminist women’s health movement as a grounding, talk to children and put a feminist context to the body-hatred directed at all females, while acknowledging that these individual solutions are an expression of pain and struggle and survival that are no less legitimate than those our own generations might have used.  We have to get away from using children as a prop for our political ideology, and not in any way condone or be party to the religious fundamentalists’ use of children, lesbians, or other women as a prop for their own anti-woman, anti-lesbian, anti-child’s rights authoritarianism.
  7. I titled this post ‘radical feminism and dialectics’ because we see how one thing can generate its opposition.  We need to look at the forces that have emerged against us – the far right coalition in government, the gender identity movement that aims to replace feminism with queer/trans ideology, the feminist alliance with religious fundamentalists that confirms the gender identity movement’s view of feminism as reactionary – to study and understand while also acting where we see an avenue to act.  We need to study and engage with queer/trans ideology to understand especially how girls and women relate to it and its appeal to them, while also deepening our own understanding of patriarchy and of radical feminist action, if we are to re-emerge as political actors.  It may not be immediate, but if we are correct in saying that the revolution for women’s liberation is not over, the dissatisfaction of women will ultimately be on our side.

Self-authorship, mad pride, lesbians

Gerda Lerner in her second volume on women’s history, ‘The Creation of Feminist Consciousness’ (1993), writes about Hildegard of Bingen’s coming to self-authorship, shown in her final series of mystical art works, in each of which she includes the figure of a nun writing on tablets in the left hand corner.  Women still struggle with self-authorship, putting ourselves forward is taking a risk of hubris anticipating that other women as well as men will tear us down and ignore us, not because they dispute the quality of our work so much as because they dispute our right to claim public stature as authors at all.  I am not talking about the industries and their commodification of art, writing, scholarship, activism, legal practice, any profession, so much as that which, as Lerner wrote at the end of ‘The Creation of Patriarchy’ (1986), puts women at the center (taking any issue from the perspective of how it is experienced by women) and gets outside patriarchal thought (questioning all systems of thought, including one’s own).

Readers of this blog will know that I can claim co-authorship of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and can demonstrate in particular my contributions to its most innovative normative standards.  They may also, from knowing me, or from some of my previous writings, know that I struggled first to minimize the significance of this authorship while retaining enough control within the ongoing work to continue developing the logic of what I had begun, then later to reassert and reclaim an authorship that was unique in relation to the issues that I addressed and in the constituency of survivors and users of psychiatry/ people with psychosocial disabilities that I represented in that process.  It was only when it became apparent to me that others claimed credit for innovations that pre-existed their participation, or had a mistaken view of equal contributions when their memories seem to have not retained key milestones in the process for which I had been uniquely responsible, or simply wished ‘everyone to get along’ and minimized – as I had myself – the aggression directed against me as a woman with a bare minimum of credibility from patriarchal institutions (being at the time a recent law graduate), a gender non-conforming lesbian, a survivor of being locked up as a madperson, upending two millennia’s worth of doctrine with a logical pathway that no one had seen before but that opened clear as day to my naive eyes.

Claiming ‘naivety’ is a trope of humility of mystics of both sexes as well as a way of deflecting frontal assault for the temerity of authorship by a woman.  I did experience my work on the Convention as a somewhat mystical destiny, having had a prefigurative dream soon after being freed from psychiatry in which I saw myself as a lawyer, never having considered law as a profession, and having left law school abruptly the first time I started in the 80s, having completed all but six months, then embarking on a kind of ‘rabbit hole’ journey that focused on self-healing, contemplation, self-knowledge, self-directed study and attention, which led me back to law school undertaken at a higher level of understanding and with some awareness of personal power, and which included my first thoughts putting together disability non-discrimination with international human rights to address psychiatric oppression.  Many kinds of synchronicity – meaningful coincidences and decision-points – affected my law school education, and shortly after I graduated I became aware of, and had and eagerly took the opportunity to become involved with, the inauguration of a process to draft a convention.

I had experienced during my time in law school, and reflected to a professor I spoke to,  that I was being erased or erasing myself, and that this wasn’t uncomfortable.  It wasn’t about becoming ‘a lawyer,’ it was something else that I believe was about becoming an impersonal public self to act within history, while letting personal aspects of identity, or who I believed I was, fade away.  It made space within me to allow me to focus on the ideas that I absolutely knew were the logical pathway, and that I kept checking with my sense of responsibility to the constituency – to not harm anyone or destroy anything that should be preserved, given that this was about destroying systemic practices that harmed us and that needed to be catabolized.  There was accountability to the board of the organization I represented, through formal and informal mechanisms, and I involved many people in our networks and in my personal circles in collaborative thinking and decision-making – and yet it was clear that the drive, the logic in its totality, the authorship resided in me.

There is still a sense of potential shame in saying this, a sense that I am sticking up my head like a nail to be beaten down.  I don’t think I could have done it if I hadn’t been female, a dyke, opening myself to the void and its creation of self and other and definition all at once.  I don’t think I could have done it with the male-paradigm creativity of bringing an issue to an international forum and raising it within the confines of possibility, or speaking out and promoting a new vision and collecting adherents.  I worked within a sense of historical time and creative energy, not expecting or anticipating next steps until they were already there, creating the tightrope I walked one as a spider spins out her thread.  Maybe that is why no one saw what I did as I was doing it.  My wife has always called it the ‘path-o-logic’ pointing to the mad quality of this creativity standing outside conventional norms.  I don’t know another ‘mad’ person who has claimed simultaneously to enter history, to bring the void to the conventionalities, which is what the CRPD has opened a pathway for.

And, maybe we are all doing it.  Gerda Lerner’s vision of authorship and how she sees the obstacles to it is still somewhat class-limited, it doesn’t take account of thinking by women, especially women of lower classes, that might be profound and worthy of engagement that simply was trashed, that wasn’t written down, that was burned, that was ignored, that was ignored, that was ignored.  As Judy Grahn wrote in ‘A Woman is Talking to Death,’ ‘I looked in the mirror and nobody was there to testify; how clear, an unemployed queer woman makes no witness at all, nobody at all was there for those two questions: what does she do, and who is she married to?’  Lerner also gives short shrift to lesbians (so far in my reading), saying only that some women ‘turned to each other for care and affection’ among those who escaped the general subordination not only to men’s control but to the material and sexual servicing of men.  While dykes it seems to me are self-authoring beings out of a void, who interact with each other in unpredictable and permeable ways, different entirely from the paradigm of yin/yang heterosexual relations (see eye-opening Sakhiyani: Lesbian Desire in Ancient and Modern India, by Giti Thadani), and the paradigm of lesbian self-authorship not only as women alone against patriarchy but as women interacting with other women similarly inventing themselves against patriarchy, because they are drawn together, seeking fulfillment in each other and through their honoring of each other, has been important for feminism, at least as much as women in heterosexual relationships reinventing their own stance and honor between the sexes.

For Jewish women newly entering the emerging working class in Russia, Eastern Europe and then as immigrants to the United States, theory and analysis was thriving in the communist socialist collectives they took part in during their off-work hours (at least until they married); this is documented beautifully along with other dimensions of women’s lives written in Yiddish during the period in which that language flourished.  (We need to talk about Jews in history also; the background/foreground effects of Biblical history/Israel as nationhood narrative contrasted with exile among nations, as a people similarly exercising creativity from a position of non-identity or void.  Lilith is said to be ascendant in exile; as well as being the energy of autonomous female sexuality.)  Revolutionary women were among the prominent theorists; I have mentioned Alexandra Kollontai’s essay and should set myself to read some of Emma Goldman and Rosa Luxemburg, and I’m sure there are others I’m not aware of – to center women and step outside patriarchal thought as Gerda Lerner has challenged us to do.

My point in these last two paragraphs is that democratization of authorship is consistent with women’s claim and necessity of self-authorship.  As entirely predictable, when I recently posted a quote from Lerner on the need for women to assert ‘intellectual arrogance,’ a woman was right there to decry women becoming more like men.  How can we overcome silencing without confronting that which tells us it is ‘arrogant’ to speak?  As with lesbians creating permeable relationships into and out of the void, as mad people creating lives unaccountable to systems of normalization, it is essential to radically re-create all social relationships that have been based on dominance or shaped by ideologies of dominance of any kind (which as Lerner convincingly argues in ‘The Creation of Patriarchy’ is modeled on, reinforces, and always develops in interaction with, patriarchy), to be more like what we create in resistance from these positions of oppression.  Lesbian relationships based on desire of mutually autonomous beings each self-creating in resistance, are unique and cannot be replicated in our relations with men, in work comradeship, in platonic friendship; still as Audre Lorde said in ‘The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,’ we can and do use the same energy throughout the different parts of our lives.

Lesbian relationships require us to pay attention to women’s relations with each other completely outside anything to do with men.  Feminists have also looked at women’s class relations with other women.  Gerda Lerner addresses these differences consistently – the (upper class) ‘wife’ in ancient Near East patriarchy could own property including owning female and male ‘slaves’ but her sexual and reproductive power was owned by her husband, while lower class women would be sold into slavery or concubinage to pay off their family’s debts; in both cases women’s relationship to class is defined by their sexual relationship to men); she acknowledges that class differences have made it difficult for women to come to awareness of themselves as an oppressed sex, but does not deal extensively with the intra-sex cross-class relations, e.g. (as described in Nell  Irvin Painter’s biography) Sojourner Truth’s description of having been sexually abused by a ‘mistress’ as having been especially traumatizing because it was done by another woman.  The lesbian/feminist journal Lesbian Ethics made a point of addressing abuse in the mother/daughter relationship and philosopher Claudia Card takes as one of her starting points the existence of abuse within lesbian relationships.  But it is difficult to not only claim authorship but excavate claims and counterclaims and create the language for them among people who have been denied not only authorship but connection to one another unmediated by their oppressors.  (Alison Bechdel, the ‘Bechdel Test’ for movies – are there more than 2 women, do they talk to each other, about something other than a man?)  (Two lesbians, recently beaten up on a bus in the UK, after refusing to kiss for the titillation of a man.)  Our connections to one another have not only been circumstantially impeded, they have been actively suppressed, repressed, and punished.  Solidarity in response to male violence has paradoxically been more visible in the mainstream and in a sense more acceptable, more cognizable, than women being able to claim public (?) space to talk as women with other women, about pains caused within the community of women.  We don’t want men jumping on this, as lesbians we don’t want straight people using our imperfections to vilify us or, even worse, benevolently offering to fix us up if we would follow their advice.  Women claiming public space, lesbians claiming public space – public in the sense of being open to all women, or to all lesbians – while excluding those who don’t belong (men, non-lesbians, respectively) was marginal for the brief periods we have claimed it and now is being forced into hiding, into the impossibility of being public, once again through accusations of transphobia.

The principle of female autonomy I have proposed starts with a first principle for social/economic/political organization of ‘at least equal’ power of the two sexes (‘at least’ with a preference for women to avoid backsliding to patriarchy or women’s millennia-inculcated habits of deference) including definitional power and control over resources.  Sexual autonomy – autonomy of women as a sex – is claimed in all relations with women and with men – sexual, familial, communal, social, cultural, civil, economic, political, spiritual, meaning the freedom (individually and in collectives) to interact exclusively with other women in any or all of these dimensions/spheres, and (individually and in collectives) to interact with men in any or all of these dimensions/spheres on women’s own terms.  I think that this fits with Gerda Lerner’s call for women to develop new consciousness for liberation and the overthrow of patriarchy.  Lesbians, female-autonomous spirituality, female-only consciousness-raising groups, and much else that is female-only from sports teams to colleges to music festivals, are crucial to developing women’s consciousness of ourselves as oppressed and our resistance – both to patriarchal thought and to patriarchal practices and their extensions in the state, capitalism, colonialism, other dominance relations.  We are now facing a multiple backlash from the left (accusations of transphobia, undercutting and gutting women’s affirmative action, positive measures for advancement, safety and privacy within/against systematic disadvantagement and exclusion from public spaces at all levels and the at-will, continuous violation of our private spaces by men treating us – our sexed bodies, our attention, our capacities and powers – as public/private property), and from the right which seeks unabashedly to drive us back to ‘kinder, kuche, kirche’, even to the extent of blatantly justifying unequal pay for elite women (Heritage Foundation on the US Women’s Soccer team, won’t link to it, a recent article).  Yet women’s powers of self-authorship are stronger than ever before, challenging everything albeit in a cacophony of voices that are watched and algorithmed by corporate social media, maybe irrelevant to late stage capitalist oligarchy destroying the living planet, or maybe not, as women, starting with indigenous women and women of color, defend migrant children against yet another genocide in progress.


you are not our kind of person
you have wild hair
you don’t shave
you smell
you are too short, too fat, you don’t wear a bra
you wear t-shirts with things on them i don’t understand
you sit with your feet up in meetings
you talk loud
you argue
you shake your fingers in the air and it makes me afraid

you are not our kind
my children will be frightened
their father was like that
i don’t want you to be around us

you are not our kind
you are not our
we bar the door against you
chutz lilit

i nod my head, understand
this has happened before

people don’t want their illogic exposed
their little penis
their little ego
their little world that
is guarded against breaking

they don’t want to know what broken looks like and surviving without denial
without comfort or affirmation
breaking through the water unexpected and triumphant and scaring the bejeezus out of everybody

they want perfection or obedience, especially in a woman
even women want this

i have been the chutz lilt also maybe, i can’t remember
we aren’t separate

your world might scare me


ass trailing reluctant acknowledgement of rejection
turning out of a room
leaving where she’s not wanted

waking up
echoes of my own snares

when is desire fertile
when is it cold blooded eggs seeping from a crevice
making lizards
or pearls
of dew and spiders

when does it make dragons

when is a woman not a woman
when she is not a man

do you find something here?
looking under the pillow
what never was

adam v/chava chutz lilit chutz lilit adam always the power behind the throne
even if a woman makes the incantation

is there no place
for fertile dragon eggs

no place for eyes
that swim up from the bottom

wanting as much as you do
the warmth of fire
making the fire with my own sticks
my own dry skin

on the dry skin of others like me
tinder and flesh
setting the leaves to flame

(c) Tina Minkowitz 2017

(lilit/lilith is part of jewish mythology and ancient sumerian mythology, a demonized goddess. ‘adam v/chava, chutz lilt’ = adam and eve, out lilith. not even going to try and explain that, lot of material out there. in my world lilith is a lesbian and this poem ends her up there, female connection and female autonomy.)