Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Connections Made, Connections Hold

The actress Kathleen Chalfant, who signed a letter of protest over 54 Below’s action. “I was very distressed to discover that, in order to support one movement I thought was important, there was some kind of peculiar political test,” she said.CreditSara Krulwich/The New York Times
A group of actors, playwrights and others in the theater world signed a letterprotesting the recent cancellation of a Black Lives Matter benefit concert at Feinstein’s/54 Below.
The protest was led by the Jewish Voice for Peace’s Artists and Cultural Workers Council, and the letter includes signatures from the playwright Annie Baker, the novelist Alice Walker, and the actors Wallace Shawn and Kathleen Chalfant.
Earlier this month, the owners of 54 Below decided to cancel the concert, set for Sept. 11, titled “Broadway Supports Black Lives Matter,” saying in a statement that they supported the Black Lives Matter movement but disagreed with a “platform that accuses Israel of genocide and endorses a range of boycott and sanction actions.”
The letter in response, which has been signed by more than 50 people, asserts that the cancellation “both undermines the visionary leadership of the Movement for Black Lives and contributes to the institutionalized silencing of advocates for Palestinian human rights.”
The letter continues: “We call on theater venues, artists, and supporters in New York City and beyond to proudly support the Movement for Black Lives and its inspiring solidarity with the Palestinian people.”
Other signers include the playwright Sarah Ruhl, the cabaret singer Justin Vivian Bond and the actress Tonya Pinkins.
In an interview, Ms. Chalfant said, “I was very distressed to discover that, in order to support one movement I thought was important, there was some kind of peculiar political test.”
“To be opposed to the action of the Israeli government is not the same thing as being anti-Semitic,” she said.
Some of the Black Lives Matter benefit performances were moved to a show on Sunday at Joe’s Pub, which sold out.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Living Intersectionalities

Chinese & Indian Australians: queer, here and in need of Safe Schools

As reported in Overland yesterday, the New South Wales parliament last week tabled an Anti-Safe Schools Petition of 17,000 signatures from the Chinese-Australian community. The petition raises a few key concerns about the Safe Schools program, namely that it promotes gender fluidity contrary to cultural and religious beliefs; discriminates parents and children from other cultural backgrounds who have a view that sexual relationships involving male and female is normative, and prevents them from teaching these norms to their children; is not inclusive of Australia’s cultural and religious diversity; and does not address other forms of bullying such as those based on race or physical appearance. The following day, on 25 August, the chairperson of the Confederation of Indian Australian Associations and the president of the Chinese Association of Victoria both expressed the same troubling concerns as those cited in the petition. Two days later, former High Court Judge and prominent gay advocate Michael Kirby responded to the media by backing the Safe Schools program and stating that Australia, unlike the Australian Chinese community, has ‘moved on from not discussing homosexuality’.
Implicit in these concerns are claims about the incompatibility between cultural identity and sexual identity. Implicit here too is the separation between sexuality and culture. Sexuality is viewed narrowly as sexual practices rather than as a set of learned, culturally inscribed values, meanings, symbols, habits and rituals that we live and experience alone and with each other. Culture is also viewed narrowly through its anthropological lens as a set of shared beliefs and customs of a group of people, rather than the arena where issues such as identity are played out and contested. Central too is a contestation of values, between Western sexual ‘progress’ and non-Western sexual ‘backwardness’.
The petition does not recognise the long histories of sexual diversity in Chinese and Indian cultures. In artworks from archaeological digs, pictures in sacred texts, stories from literary classics, and in practices of everyday life, there are plenty of examples of diverse sexual practices and gender expressions. From as early as the third century in ancient China, political ideologies, philosophies, and religions have regarded same-sex intimacy as a norm in everyday life. Poems and courtly journals from the Ming, Lin and Song dynasties have extolled the virtues of male friendships and some have even regarded them as neutral and exemplary. Similarly, in the ancient texts of Hinduism such as the Kama Sutra, sex and same-sex eroticism are celebrated as central and natural components of everyday life. Taught in schools, celebrated in operas and embraced in popular films, these practices are respected in Indian and Chinese cultures. In 1997 China decriminalised homosexuality and in 2009 India officially recognised its third gender by giving the hijra, a person who is born male or intersex but dresses in feminine clothing and uses female pronouns, the right to vote. So it is not historically accurate to claim that the cultural and religious values of Chinese and Indian communities are at odds with gender diverse expressions. In fact, as Chinese-Australian writer Benjamin Law concurs in his tongue-in-cheek gonzo journalism book, Gaysia, ‘Of all the continents in the world, Asia is the gayest!’
Moreover, by suggesting that gender fluidity is contrary to cultural and religious beliefs, the petition also denies the presence of LGBTIQ people everywhere, including in Australia’s Chinese and Indian communities. (In Sex by Numbers, David Spiegelhalter, a statistics professor at Cambridge, revisited Kinsey’s contested claims that 10 per cent of the population are gay, and proved Kinsey was actually quite accurate. It is therefore prudent to proclaim there are at least 10 per cent of people in these communities are LGBTIQ-identified.)
In fact, anti-bullying support resources for Chinese and Indian LGBTIQ people are extremely important as they confront multiple layers of discrimination in their everyday lives: the gendered racism and hetero-sexism of the mainstream predominantly Anglo and straight community, the hetero-sexism and patriarchy of their ethnic communities, and the racism and hetero-sexism of other straight ethnic communities.
Even in mainstream predominantly Anglo LGBTIQ communities, sexualised racism works to situate Asian queers as both hypervisible and invisible at the same time: hypervisible through the exoticisation, fetishisation and sometimes stigmatisation of skin colour, (ask any Asian male who uses Grindr); invisible, because cultural identities and heritage are often relegated or not recognised as part of queer social life. Coupled with Australia’s white immigration policy that has historically emasculated Asian men by preventing them from bringing their wives or inter-marrying, and Australia’s media that has consistently stereotyped Asian women as either too feminised or too passive, Chinese and Indian LGBTIQ folk experience multi-layered discrimination at the intersections of these histories and practices.
For young people who are also experiencing life-cycle transitions, these intersections are accentuated. As they encounter the physical and social change that falls between childhood and adulthood, they are also coming to terms with who and what they want to be.  Just as straight young people embark on life-cycle transition with trepidation, so too are Chinese and Indian youths, straight and queer alike. Some straight kids, especially those who are lithe and smaller in musculature, are also often misread as effeminate. Some queer kids, who may choose to ‘come out’ by disclosing their sexual identities, are sometimes ostracised from their families and ethnic communities. All of which makes the support resources the Safe Schools program provides all the more important. As the 2015 Mission Australian Youth Survey reports, equity and discrimination are one of the top three issues ranked by young people as the most important to them. In claiming that the Safe Schools anti-bullying only addresses one form of discrimination (sexual), the petition fails to see that for LGBTIQ people from culturally and linguistically diverse and Indigenous backgrounds, experiences of discrimination are always intersectional and interrelated.
The Safe Schools program emerged from evidence-based research that there are and will continue to be young people who are same-sex attracted and gender questioning, and thus vulnerable to bullying and self-loathing. These young people need access to information that can help make sense of their feelings and experiences. They need to hear that there is nothing psychologically wrong with them and that they do not have to be forced to conform to rigid gender identity and sexuality norms that suppress their own sense of self, a self that does no harm to others. Their peers need the same education so that they do not fall into bullying or discriminatory behaviour, which will cause irreparable damage to young LGBTIQ folk.
Safe Schools cannot be a question of weighing the values of cultural and religious beliefs of migrants against the lives of young sexually and gender diverse children and teenagers, some of who will be from migrant backgrounds themselves. We know that migrant and LGBTIQ identities are not mutually exclusive. There are queer Chinese and queer Indian people. Our multicultural nation needs to get used to that fact. We’re here, we’re queer and we are not prepared to allow young queer folk from migrant communities to experience the same kinds of isolation and alienation that many of us had to grow up with.
Moreover, the purported cultural and religious values pitted against LGBTIQ folk by segments of the Australian Chinese and Indian communities can be equally found in Christian cultural and religious beliefs that still pervade much of Western and (white) Australian culture. We do not need to look far to see that the language of the anti-Safe Schools petition lodged by members of the Australian Chinese community in NSW, whose sentiments were supported by segments of the Australian Indian community, is remarkably similar to that expressed by the Australian Christian Lobby.
As a nation, we need to recognise that migrants and LGBTIQ people both share common histories of marginality. To suggest that ‘the Chinese community need to be told that Australia has moved on from not discussing homosexuality’ is to suggest that migrant communities and queer individuals cannot coincide and that the Australian nation is homogenous. For queer migrants, there is no easy way of separating one category of identity from the other; both markers sit within the same body as neither separable nor inseparable. And this should alert us to the fact that these identity markers also intersect with others – class, age, nationality and citizenship, disability – to name some of the more salient classifications of social differences. Attending to the intersectional and multi-dimensional aspects of difference does not call for a more general anti-bullying program to replace Safe Schools. Rather, it calls for highlighting the specificity of different forms of life experiences that can help young people navigate the difficult terrain of growing up and give them options for how to negotiate their gendered and sexual lives. Contrary to opinion from the anti-Safe school lobbyists, gender and sexuality educators are much better equipped to account for how sexuality and gender have come to operate and acquire their meaning in our society than those who have never studied this stuff. If we are to understand how bullying works in the school ground, the workplace, the media and even various cultural and religious beliefs, we need to give an account of how the marginal have come to be marked as lesser beings.
Any responsible parent would not want to encourage or perpetuate an environment that produces bullying. All educators need to be made aware of the diversity of the students to which they have a duty of care, and be equipped to deal with such difference and deter prejudice and bullying. Every government ought to support programs that build environments that respect the diversity of its people and protect those who are marginalised, isolated or excluded from social life as a consequence of erroneous understandings of identity and prejudiced practices of past institutional arrangements (such as diagnosing homosexuality as a mental illness). The sooner the Australian nation cultivates the means in which to educate its people on how sexuality and gender diverse folk are present in all cultures, and that this does not have to spell incompatibility with religious belief, the better able our democracy will be able to live up to its name of governing for all.

Image: Bengaluru Pride 2009, by Vinayak Das

Audrey Yue is Director of the research Unit in Public Cultures and Associate Professor in Cultural Studies, University of Melbourne.
Carolyn D’Cruz is a Senior Lecturer and Program Convenor of Gender, Sexuality and Diversity Studies at La Trobe University.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Listen to the Seen

Denver, Joan Nestle and Mabel Hampton looking out over Rocky Pond Pond in New Hampshire, Deb Edel's family vacation home, c. 1979

I have been trying to sort my images, recreating the slide shows I with the help of comrades presented through the 1970s until the 90s, for the Lesbian Herstory Archives. All will be given to LHA to be available, but as I click the images over, through the years, I pause and feel the touch of lives, of love.
I could use this space to rail at the uglinesses of our times, but in other places, these words are being said, by so many, and that is good. Here I will touch the past and what my life is like now.

Cello and Joan, on the deck at Dayehnu, Anglesea, Victoria, Australia, 2016 with my knitted blanket, the only thing I can knit

Cello, age 16, a dear friend, West Brunswick, Australia, 2016

Intent, filled with their own lives, losing vision and strength in limbs as us, they look as hard as they can at the world around them--understanding what we will never know--but willing to sit beside, with horizons out of their control. An unseeing gaze that gives complete attention.

From another time, another place:

Marching, bare breasted down Fifth Avenue, NYC, after Giuliani threatened to arrest any woman          who removed her top, Gay Pride, NYC, 1980s with images of Sonny Wainwright, writer, founder of                                                       Feminist Writers Group and Mabel Hampton held high

Oh Cello, the stories we could tell. Listen, listen.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

So Much...

So much has been happening, like one blow after another. I have been reading all your words, thinking of the old Village and my old bar, the Sea Colony, and all the years in between and now--do not think you are invisible, only we can make ourselves disappear with silences, with our own fears. Take to the streets, with banners--Lesbians Against Fascism, Lesbians Against Trump, Lesbians for Gun Control like we did when Reagan spread his ugliness--these are anxious times and we grow anxious about our own histories, until we take to the streets, the meeting rooms, the cultural events at LHA, look into the faces of our dear ones like Carlson and Michelle and so many more and join with others shouting our visions of just life into the cities, on whose streets we found our public selves, our desires singing in the hot night air--from the 50s and before until now and beyond.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Remembered Women's Words: Thank You, Geraldine Robertson for Your Dedication

‘The peoples, as well as the Governments, have sown the wind of misunderstanding and of hate and are reaping the whirlwind,
and we must bring in the soft breezes of sweet reasonableness, of charity, of clarity to the considerations of social and industrial problems.’
Letter from Vida Goldstein published in the Woman Voter, Melbourne, 18 December 1919.
It was referring to the First World War, particularly to the signing the Versailles Treaty at the Paris Peace Conference, 28 June 1919.
6. Versailles signing Paris Peace Conference
Also from Vida and published in Woman Voter 11 May 1917:
The WPA (Women’s Political Association) and the Women’s Peace Army will be remembered in Australian History
as the one band of workers who never wavered for an instant in the Australian fight for internationalism,
which the WPA began on 7 August 1914.


Geraldine Robertson
Tel: 03 9486 1808 Mobile: 0412 8653 10

Women's Web - Stories, Actions
Women Working Together suffrage and onwards
Prejudice and Reason

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Where hope springs. Lepa reports in May:

"Dear Lesbians, 
here's again your East European reporter!
yesterday was a beautiful day in TIRANA!
dont forget they have the best president at the moment in the entire Balkan region, one Socialist and painter~!
anyway, this is 5th bycicle ride against homophobia in Tirana!
photo1: in the first row is XHENI KARAJ, she i THE LEADER OF THE LESBIAN AND GAY MOVEMENT IN ALBANIA, in the red shirt!!!  She is the main reason why there are so many people behind her, a charming queer feminist leader!! and then Kris Pinderi, a great gay activist in blue shirt.
When I was in Tirana, he wanted his mother to meet me and brought me and his partner to a dinner, it was moving... i listened about  life in socialist absolutist Albania, his mother ... waiting in the row for bread as early as 5 o cock in the morning... untill 1990 they had only the basic items for life.  just so that you can imagine where did these young beautiful people come from.  And then the third in the front row, the butch with a cap and blue moto on the very right, KEO, she is a passionate motorcycle rider...  and i am one of her amazone mothers by choice!!!! on the third photo with white jacket is Delina Fico, legendary feminist activist & professional, who is making history of freedom for Albanian women!!
i love them all...  you can imagine this is a big gathering for Albania, we are all so happy...    BRAVO!!!
(the bikes are rented for free by a friend who does it every year, now fifth time!)

Robert Kagan's Drawing of the Picture

   Like so many of you, I am trying to find a way to understand the Trump ugliness of spirit that seems so popular to so many now in my old country. I read, l listen, I think, and hear the echoes of other times when a government used economic fears and the desire for national purities to come to power.                     

  This is How Fascism Comes to America
 By Robert Kagan May 18 at 7:09 PM

Robert Kagan is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a contributing columnist for The Post. The Republican Party’s attempt to treat Donald Trump as a normal political candidate would be laughable were it not so perilous to the republic. If only he would mouth the party’s “conservative” principles, all would be well. But of course the entire Trump phenomenon has nothing to do with policy or ideology. It has nothing to do with the Republican Party, either, except in its historic role as incubator of this singular threat to our democracy. Trump has transcended the party that produced him. His growing army of supporters no longer cares about the party. Because it did not immediately and fully embrace Trump, because a dwindling number of its political and intellectual leaders still resist him, the party is regarded with suspicion and even hostility by his followers. Their allegiance is to him and him alone. And the source of allegiance? We’re supposed to believe that Trump’s support stems from economic stagnation or dislocation. Maybe some of it does. But what Trump offers his followers are not economic remedies — his proposals change daily. What he offers is an attitude, an aura of crude strength and machismo, a boasting disrespect for the niceties of the democratic culture that he claims, and his followers believe, has produced national weakness and incompetence. His incoherent and contradictory utterances have one thing in common: They provoke and play on feelings of resentment and disdain, intermingled with bits of fear, hatred and anger. His public discourse consists of attacking or ridiculing a wide range of “others” — Muslims, Hispanics, women, Chinese, Mexicans, Europeans, Arabs, immigrants, refugees — whom he depicts either as threats or as objects of derision. His program, such as it is, consists chiefly of promises to get tough with foreigners and people of nonwhite complexion. He will deport them, bar them, get them to knuckle under, make them pay up or make them shut up. That this tough­guy, get­mad­and­get­even approach has gained him an increasingly large and enthusiastic following has probably surprised Trump as much as it has everyone else. Trump himself is simply and quite literally an egomaniac. But the phenomenon he has created and now leads has become something larger than him, and something far more dangerous. Republican politicians marvel at how he has “tapped into” a hitherto unknown swath of the voting public. But what he has tapped into is what the founders most feared when they established the democratic republic: the popular passions unleashed, the “mobocracy.” Conservatives have been warning for decades about government suffocating liberty. But here is the other threat to liberty that Alexis de Tocqueville and the ancient philosophers warned about: that the people in a democracy, excited, angry and unconstrained, might run roughshod over even the institutions created to preserve their freedoms. As Alexander Hamilton watched the French Revolution unfold, he feared in America what he saw play out in France — that the unleashing of popular passions would lead not to greater democracy but to the arrival of a tyrant, riding to power on the shoulders of the people. This phenomenon has arisen in other democratic and quasi­democratic countries over the past century, and it has generally been called “fascism.” Fascist movements, too, had no coherent ideology, no clear set of prescriptions for what ailed society. “National socialism” was a bundle of contradictions, united chiefly by what, and who, it opposed; fascism in Italy was anti­liberal, anti­democratic, anti­Marxist, anti­capitalist and anti­clerical. Successful fascism was not about policies but about the strongman, the leader (Il Duce, Der Fuhrer), in whom could be entrusted the fate of the nation. Whatever the problem, he could fix it. Whatever the threat, internal or external, he could vanquish it, and it was unnecessary for him to explain how. Today, there is Putinism, which also has nothing to do with belief or policy but is about the tough man who singlehandedly defends his people against all threats, foreign and domestic. To understand how such movements take over a democracy, one only has to watch the Republican Party today. These movements play on all the fears, vanities, ambitions and insecurities that make up the human psyche. In democracies, at least for politicians, the only thing that matters is what the voters say they want — vox populi vox dei. A mass political movement is thus a powerful and, to those who would oppose it, frightening weapon. When controlled and directed by a single leader, it can be aimed at whomever the leader chooses. If someone criticizes or opposes the leader, it doesn’t matter how popular or admired that person has been. He might be a famous war hero, but if the leader derides and ridicules his heroism, the followers laugh and jeer. He might be the highest­ranking elected guardian of the party’s most cherished principles. But if he hesitates to support the leader, he faces political death. Opinions newsletter Sign up In such an environment, every political figure confronts a stark choice: Get right with the leader and his mass following or get run over. The human race in such circumstances breaks down into predictable categories — and democratic politicians are the most predictable. There are those whose ambition leads them to jump on the bandwagon. They praise the leader’s incoherent speeches as the beginning of wisdom, hoping he will reward them with a plum post in the new order. There are those who merely hope to survive. Their consciences won’t let them curry favor so shamelessly, so they mumble their pledges of support, like the victims in Stalin’s show trials, perhaps not realizing that the leader and his followers will get them in the end anyway. A great number will simply kid themselves, refusing to admit that something very different from the usual politics is afoot. Let the storm pass, they insist, and then we can pick up the pieces, rebuild and get back to normal. Meanwhile, don’t alienate the leader’s mass following. After all, they are voters and will need to brought back into the fold. As for Trump himself, let’s shape him, advise him, steer him in the right direction and, not incidentally, save our political skins. What these people do not or will not see is that, once in power, Trump will owe them and their party nothing. He will have ridden to power despite the party, catapulted into the White House by a mass following devoted only to him. By then that following will have grown dramatically. Today, less than 5 percent of eligible voters have voted for Trump. But if he wins the election, his legions will comprise a majority of the nation. Imagine the power he would wield then. In addition to all that comes from being the leader of a mass following, he would also have the immense powers of the American presidency at his command: the Justice Department, the FBI, the intelligence services, the military. Who would dare to oppose him then? Certainly not a Republican Party that laid down before him even when he was comparatively weak. And is a man like Trump, with infinitely greater power in his hands, likely to become more humble, more judicious, more generous, less vengeful than he is today, than he has been his whole life? Does vast power un­corrupt? This is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes (although there have been salutes, and a whiff of violence) but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac--

Another way--our Women in black Vigil in Melbourne, 2016