Monday, May 29, 2017

My first public talk here in Melbourne, 1999

Now I see how it will be, As I sort papers, my history really, I will post here what calls out to me--not because of its rightness but because of  memory's fragility.

From: Joan Nestle
Date: Tue, 19 Oct 1999
Subject: Hatespeech
To: Crusader [owner with Rolland, his partner, of Hares and Hyenas, the queer and progressive bookstore here in Melbourne. Crusader and Rowland have remained friends and supporters since my first days here.]

Dear Crusader,
I am going to type in my speech--I tried to send it to you through a cut and paste attachment but I have not mastered that technique without Di [Otto, my partner now of almost 20 years] it seems. This may take two e-mails. thanks for wanting it.

Background: What follows is the text of comments I made on the topic of Hatespeak for a panel at the 1999 Melbourne Writers' Festival. David Crystal chaired the discussion and Kim Scott and Ghassan Hage were co-speakers. We each had ten minutes to approach this very complex topic.

      First I want to thank the Melbourne's Writers' Festival for being so generous to me and my work; I am a visitor here and not a famous writer. You have brought me new friends and a renewed sense of wonder at the kindnesses between strangers that language--the speaking of it and the hearing of it--can engender. With all this tenderness in my heart, it is sadly but somehow fitting that this, my third and last time to speak with you, is about what we have come to call "hatespeech."

     I want to share with you why I think I was asked to speak on this topic. I am not an academic who has studied the twists and turns of language, and I am not a philosopher who delves into the meanings of linguistic utterances. I am a Jew born in the Bronx of New York city in 1940, a lesbian who came out in the late 1950s and has been active in my queer community for over thirty years, and perhaps most pertinent for this discussion, a writer of erotica that often has earned me the label of pornographer. thus I am both the recipient of hatespeech and some would say the creator of it.

    I come to you this afternoon with fragments of information, and with quandaries about this topic of hate and how to control it in our societies. I speak as an American, a citizen from a country whose wealth was built on slave labor, whose very land was stolen from indigenous people, the land where the KKK was born, where Japanese Americans were forced into relocation camps during the Second World War, where some of the most powerful men of business and politics have been and are virulent anti Semites, the birthplace of Joseph McCarthy, a politician who made unorthodox thinking so shameful, that thousands of people lost their jobs, their social safety and some, their lives.

      A piece of information: Just as I was preparing for this discussion, I checked my e-mail to see what my friends back in New York had been up to. I discovered an urgently forwarded message informing me that action must be taken. In a Times magazine internet voting poll for person of the century, Hitler was running 3 in popularity. White supremacist advocates, whose hatreds include all people of color, Jews, Catholics and homosexuals were flooding cyber space with their voices.

   My quandaries about how to approach the civic challenge of hate speech come from the contradictions I find when I use my queer perspective. Anti-discrimination laws, yes; challenging the laws that uphold heterosexual social dominance, yes, and of course, anti-violence legislation, yes--but as Judith Butler has pointed out--the assumption that speech is the same as action leads to some unfortunate positions. For instance, the national policy of keeping gays under control in the military is based on this same belief--that conduct and speech are one so to declare one's homosexuality
becomes the same as performing a homosexual act, resulting in the loss of freedom, not the protection of one.

      My history as a queer--and I use that word consciously not as a signifier of queer theory, but as an act of reclamation, as an act of anti-hate speech, because that is the word that haters used n the 50s and that is now the word that stands in the fullness of our own culture--has shown me that one of the best ways to fight hate and its speech is to refuse the victim category it is so dependent on. From the 1950s on, gay people in America organized culturally and politically to limit the effect homophobic and action could have on their lives. A homophile civil rights movement was born, small journals were published, with article debunking the onslaught of religious, legal and medical hate   speech and then in 1969, a ragtail group of drag queens, bull dykes and their admirer turned the discourse of hate on its head. From the Stonewall Rebellion on, gay people have poured their energies into lessening the impact of hate speech in their lives and on their psyches, while at the same time pushing  at the state to include us in the Bill of Rights.

     A quandary--the most powerful example of the magical loss of distance between speech and action are the words of the same forces of the state that we want to empower and protect us form hate speech. "You are sentenced to die," and death does enter the room. "We declare war on you," and whole cities fall. In the hands of the conservatives or reactionary forces, protective legislation becomes a weapon against those labeled obscene or socially suspect.

As a Jew, I face another quandary--I know my history, I know that like racism, anti Semitism is one of the most powerful forces of hatred in the world, and yet I do not agree with the laws that want  to control the hate sites of the internet. I have read the words of hate on my own computer screen--words that say the only problem with Hitler is that he did not finish the job, that say Jews control the world, that Jews are Christ killers, that the Holocaust is a figment of the Jewish imagination. I have read the words that in an  eerie way sum up my life--with a few adjustments--"Kill the mongrel Jew commie pornographer sodomites." Just as  I have read "if we are all lucky, all homosexuals will be dead in ten years."

   I do not believe that this kind of hatred, this transforming hatred that becomes an altered consciousness, can or should be hidden away or that it can be legislated out of existence. I want to know that these words live still,there there are Americans who say they are willing to kill Jews to protect the Christian white way. I need to face this reality, to know how much more work has to be done, to know how we as progressive forces must organize in the face of consuming hatred. We must take action, and we must make connections--between other genocides and turned backs--I am thinking of Rwanda--but if a man wants to say the death of six million Jews did not happen, what purpose is served by making him a criminal, by passing laws that make it illegal to speak or lie about history? If the deaths mean nothing to him, how do we strengthen our own freedoms by enabling the state to police our statements--in this case, a statement that seems insane, but in the next instance, one that we hold dear. I am afraid the issue is too complex for such a response.

    Some final comments.  I do not want the state to have the power to silence what it considers painful speech. I do want the state to be challenged for its support of systems of power, systems of exclusions that engender the need to hate. I more fear the hate speech of the powerful, our religious and military leaders, because it is not seen as such, because it is delivered as if it is rational policy, right and moral thinking, patriotism.

    I will do battle with the anti Semites, with the queer haters, with the women haters, by engaging in cultural work and political struggle that will, I hope, make their voices meager things. I will join with others in the creation of narratives of liberation, narratives fed by all the cultural and political voices of the world in which the desire to live with understanding of difference speaks louder than the need to hate.

    Sometimes the words we think we cannot say are more powerful than the ones we do--like the word, sorry.

(Crusader, I typed fast so there may be some editing that needs to be done--like I spelled quandary wrong in part 1.)

Now it is a late cold May night here in Melbourne in 2017. So many years later, now in the Trump time where poses of hate and ridicule are America's face of government. 

Two Letters, 1964 and 1976

I am in the process of sorting papers for the two archives in my life, LHA and ALGA. All goes piano, piano, slowly, slowly,  each year a growing column of talks given, of lives touching mine, of Australian moments which will live in Brooklyn while NYC streets will find themselves in Melbourne. Two letters stopped the sorting process, stopped the illusion that memory can be assured. The first from the first woman I loved, Carol Betty Lipman, We met in our last year Queens College while I was living on Sixth Street on the Lower East Side --1960, perhaps, and Carol was still living at home with her family in Jamaica Estates in Queens---two separate worlds. I cannot tell the whole story here, I would never stop writing; just to say we became lovers even though she had to disobey her therapist at the  time who warned her, "if you allow yourself to kiss a woman, you will be lost." Such warnings, such refusals to obey were part of queer life then. We did kiss, on the chewed up sofa in my one room flat, a kiss, a wanting I will never forget,. Can words forget? There is no marble strong enough hold on to that moment, only bodies that have already left. Carol and I lived together for a few years, and then she fell in love with another woman and I moved out of our shared two room apartment on the upper West Side, back to the lower East Side. A New York story, a lesbian story, deep enough for a lifetime. Written on a single sheet of lined pad paper in blue ink.

Dear Joan-
    Every day, I think to myself- how is Joan-what is she thinking? I wonder if I can ever really be happy, Joan. there are always so many problems. I would have called you tonight but every night I say to myself-she will ask why do you call. And whatever I answer means nothing to her anyway. If I say, I was worried about you--you would say you don't have to worry about me Carol. and if I said I was thinking of you, you would remain silent. And whatever else I might say would certainly upset you-so you see, I do not call you. I try not to be selfish although I would like to hear your  voice and I miss you.
    I wish our lives could meet sometimes but when they do, it is then that we are most apart. I think we are together in our separateness. It is quite sad to think that but I know it is true. I feel so much a part of you at times Joan.
    Please stay well Joan.. In spite of what you may think, I still love you in my own way and I think you know that.

Carol died of ovarian cancer in 1966.

The second letter, also in hand, the bookkeeping sloping script of my mother, Regina.

 Joan Dear=
      We received your card. It is quite difficult to communicate at this time. Somehow, when I permit myself to remember beautiful happenings I live the Christmas 2 years ago--I think it was then, when Mabel [Hampton], Lillian [Foster], I, you and Valerie had that fantastic day--so real, so beautiful, one can't live on past feasts, and it is impossible to reconstruct the past to the present.If I sound maudlin or depressed, that could be the gift I give myself to be truly emotional for all for all the beauty that one has experienced. Possibly in the future, I will recall the beauty that exists now--I don't know--I shall hope I can salvage and create my own myths. Do I sound despondent--Not so, just feeling all emotionalities and longing for the sight and feel of you. I love you so much. I am enclosing a check for $20. have a feast or a drink on me--Also am enclosing a $10 bill. Send it to Mabel and Lillian for their wine or whatever. I salute all of you, your beauty and your love.
                            Regards to Debbie, Valerie, all.

                                                        Regina Nestle, 1958 (?) NYC

My Jewish working class mother, under deep strain trying to protect her grandchildren, Lisa and Robin, from the violence of their father, writes from California, cherishing her time back in 13A in an apartment filled with lesbians of all ages and the becoming collections of LHA.

I carried these frail papers with me, from NY to Melbourne, almost 20 years ago,  my documents of being, and now I prepare to send them back to where it all happened, to LHA , but really to you, to ask you to cherish your markings of love, and to give heart comfort room, as Hopkins said, for complicated lives lived outside the more rewarded, more known, territories.

                                                                Lillian Foster, 1938

                                                           Mabel Hampton, 1980, at 13A

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Journal Moment, 2004/April 2017

I have stopped talking at least in a blog way, it seems. 77 soon and going slowly. Doing what I have done before when I sense a transitional time coming, getting papers in order to find their home in the Lesbian Herstory Archives. Today I worked on gathering my set of the minutes of OWN, the Older Women's Network, founded in the 1980s by Naomi Replansky and Eva Kolisch which met monthly in the community room of Westbeth in the Village. Women, gay and and straight, feminists all, old friends and new, aged together, sharing their celebrations, their struggles, their political insights, their practical knowledges of medical and legal care, even dance steps. I sat at the table with them from time to time and thus my copies of the minutes, the maps of the conversations. a portrait of aging that will enrich the archives collection. At some point,OWN started a journal group and I was part of it for a short while--with Eva, Edith, Kathy, Joan D. and Helen. Some of these journal offerings will be housed at the archives as well.

Here is one of my journal entries, written when I was no longer living in the Northern Hemisphere.

Dear Eva, Edith, Joan and Kathy--Thank you for keeping the journals coming; I can't tell you what it means to me. I am a little rusty as you will see.

Journal--July 16, 2004
Now towards evening after a cold blue day with gusting winds, our winter, remember, your summer.

I have just finished reading a most Australian novel, Tim Winton's Dirt Music, full of sea and escarpment, men and women struggling to come back from the blows of life. I start here because of the hugeness of my task--I am now the Australian Joan and how did this come to be? I wander the inner suburb streets of West Brunswick with their early 20th century terrace cottages and its newer immigrant housing, nothing above three stories, roofs of terra cotta shingles or of corrugated steel, blue cobbled-stone lane ways making for short cuts behind the houses, shortcuts into the history of night soil pick ups, reminding me of small towns in Ireland, the unevenness of the stones beneath my feet. How do I tell you of my life here, how do I keep intact all my histories, all my longings for New York and my friends of so many years, and the small garden that now fronts the room in which I write--seldom write.

For 35 years I lived 13 stories above the ground, never in all my years did I live in a house--a fact when discovered by my Melbourne friends sends them into wonderment. We have a front door and a backdoor, a native garden in the back, made by Di's hand, two baby gum trees [now soaring adults, 2017], an ancient grass tree, banksia bushes and callistemon shrubs--all with their unflower-like flowers, long spikes with small curled-in tendrils that slowly unfold into very red red berry-like blooms, full of nectar for the native honey-eaters, small birds so badly treated by the intrusive English sparrows, whose progenitors came in cages hauled here by home-sick Europeans.  You see, I cannot speak of this place without these Australian themes--the fragility of an ancient land, of biologies that do not fit a Northern hemisphere way of seeing, of tensions between making home and invasions.

I wonder after reading Winton's book if I am too old for this land. His characters make long treks over impossible terrains, fleeing from pain, only to find each other in calamitous accidents like sea planes crashing into isolated top-end lagoons. On earlier trips, when I was stronger, Di took me into the central desert, a red rock strewn plain, with its blue tongued lizards, wild camels, strutting emus, mystical Uluru, pitted with stories of first Australians' origins. As Di walked through an ancient passage in the rock formations known as Kata Tjuta, I huddled in the shade thrown by its rolling shapes and thought I was on another planet. By the end of our three week trip, I had grown used to the feel of hard scrabble under my boots. But I was still a tourist then, with my own home on 92nd street. and it was six years, before the second cancer. Now I am a different traveler.

I am really wondering if I can make a life here, other then waiting for Di to come home from work. I make sure there is a good dinner waiting for her when she comes through the door. I do some helpful, I hope, things for students at the University--I just served as an  examiner of a short novel handed in as fulfillment for a MA degree in Creative Writing. About gay male sex in public places, called "The Park Bench," and it was quite good--my reputation precedes me, I joked when the woman from Student Affairs called to ask me if I would serve in this capacity. I bake apple pies for Anna, our wonderful neighbor from Calabria who is always giving us home made tomato sauces and small salamis which she has hand stuffed and tied so tightly.Our little dog Cello insists on his walks, giving me time to ruminate in those aforementioned streets, but how do I make a life here, here with my aging body and my New York self and the longing for my friends.

Your journals tell me how we all keep going and more, find the gardens and the touch that for long minutes still the worry.

In March, 2017, with La Professoressa

April 6, 2017.
I have made a life here--with wonderful friends, new discoveries, my darling holding on, and I know how fortunate I am, in this world where so many live in fear of what is falling from their skies, from what awaits them at the border, from an enforced paralysis of movement by state sanctioned hatreds. Thank you all.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Hard Words We Need, the Words of Gideon Levy

"For supporting Israel, all is forgivable

The Israeli right has invented a new hybrid tool: the pro-Israel anti-Semite. It turns out that such a thing is possible. You can be an anti-Semite and still be okay is certain circles in Israel. The main thing is being “a friend of Israel,” which today means loving the Israeli occupation.
In return for supporting the Israeli occupation indefinitely, for encouraging the settler enterprise, the Israeli right is prepared to forgive anything. Anything at all. To forget the past, turn a blind eye to the present, mortgage the future, and relinquish any vestige of morality. Just let us go on building in the territories, that’s all we care about. To perpetuate the occupation, the Israeli right will sacrifice even the fate of America’s Jews, pawn its connection with them, ignore their anxieties and dismiss their concerns. 
Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, another extreme right-wing figure, once said: “For the sake of Israel, lying is permitted.” The limits of this dubious assertion have now been woefully stretched by Israel’s right-wing settlers. For Israel, it’s permissible to support even anti-Semitism, extreme nationalism, chauvinism and racism of every sort. The stretch began with the Israeli public’s overly broad support for candidate Donald Trump, perhaps the broadest of any other constituency outside the US, until it arrived at the ministerial letter congratulating the newly appointed Bannon."

Published on
Friday, November 25, 2016

When Is Anti-Semitism Not Anti-Semitism? When It’s From a Trump-Loving ‘Friend’ of Israel

Critics have pointed to Bannon’s “promotion of antisemitism, misogyny, racism, and Islamophobia” as disqualifying him from any White House post. (Photo: Reuters)
"The only message of congratulations that Steve Bannon has received from abroad, apparently, since being named the senior strategic adviser in Donald Trump’s White House, is one that arrived on official Israel government stationery and was signed by Israeli Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel. 
The Anti-Defamation League, long prominent among American Jewish organisations battling anti-Semitism, published a sharply worded announcement signed by its CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, urging that Bannon’s appointment be rescinded; the Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center and others pointed to Bannon’s “promotion of antisemitism, misogyny, racism and Islamophobia” as disqualifying him from any White House post; and local Jewish Community Relations Councils (eg New HavenSan Francisco) promptly published similar statements even as the leadership at AIPAC equivocated.
In return for supporting the Israeli occupation indefinitely, for encouraging the settler enterprise, the Israeli right is prepared to forgive anything. Anything at all.
Meantime Israel’s Ariel hastens to send Bannon his blessings. Ariel, who is from the Jewish Home party, the party of the settler movement and the most extreme right-wing group in the Knesset and a senior partner in the Netanyahu government’s coalition, was pleased at the appointment of a man whose ex-wife has accused of anti-Semitism. “There are no words to describe this shame,” fumed Knesset member Stav Shaffir of Israel’s Labor Party in a Facebook post (Hebrew).
Knesset member Stav Sappir of the Israeli Labor party posted a scathing response to Ariel’s ensdorsement of Bannon (Hebrew) on her Facebook page: she wrote. “Rabbis from all across the USA are publishing denouncements… [and] dozens of Jewish organisations are campaigning against the appointment; the rest of the world – left and right alike – are warning of the danger in appointing a proud racist to such a sensitive American government post… while, along with Minister Ariel of Israel, those congratulating Bannon on his appointment include the leadership of the Ku Klux Klan, some prominent American anti-Semites, and the American Nazi Party.” 

For supporting Israel, all is forgivable

The Israeli right has invented a new hybrid tool: the pro-Israel anti-Semite. It turns out that such a thing is possible. You can be an anti-Semite and still be okay in certain circles in Israel. The main thing is being "a friend of Israel," which today means loving the Israeli occupation. In return for supporting the Israeli occupation indefinitely, for encouraging the settler enterprise, the Israeli right is prepared to forgive anything. Anything at all. To forget the past, turn a blind eye to the present, mortgage the future, and relinquish any vestige of morality. Just let us go on building n the territories, that's all we care about. To perpetuate the occupation, the Israeli right will sacrifice even the fate of America's Jews, pawn its connection with them, ignore their anxieties and dismiss their concerns. Former Prime Minister Yizhak Shamir, another extreme right-wing figure, once said: "For the sake of Israel, lying is permitted." The limits of this dubious assertion have now been woefully stretched by Israel's right wing settlers. For Israel, it's permissible to support even anti-Semitism, extreme nationalism, chauvinism and racism of every sort. The stretch began with the Israeli public's overly broad support for candidate Donald Trump, perhaps the broadest of any other constituency outside the US, until it arrived at the ministerial letter congratulating the newly appointed Bannon.

Israel loves Trump
Unlike in many other countries, notably in Western Europe, no Israeli official figure has expressed reservations about Trump’s electoral win. This turn of events is not attributable solely to any threat to Israel. It was driven by authentic support for this problematic president-elect. Evidently the Israeli right, with its nationalism and its racism, finds a common language with the American right, similarly nationalist and racist.
Even worse, the global battle against anti-Semitism, a platform where the rightists typically scream loudest, begins to some degree to resemble a manipulative and cynical (and currently less useful) ploy. Suddenly, being anti-Semitic is no longer so terrible now. Suddenly it’s forgivable, especially if you hate Muslims and Arabs. So long as you are “pro-Israel”.
The Jewish and Israel right has issued a blanket pardon to pro-Israel anti-Semites, who will run the next US government. Like pornography, anti-Semitism now becomes a matter of geography, self-interest and cost-effectiveness. Right-wing American anti-Semites are no longer seen as anti-Semites as long as they support the occupation. Israel’s right wing finds anti-Semites only on the left. Roger Waters, an upstanding man of conscience, is anti-Semitic; Steve Bannon, openly racist and a closet anti-Semite, is Israel’s friend.
Jewish and Israeli activists who left no stone unturned in the search for signs of anti-Semitism, who saw every parking ticket issued to an American Jew as a hate crime, who screamed bloody murder when any Jew was robbed or Jewish headstone desecrated, are now kashering vermin. Suddenly they’re not sure that what we have here is that old disease, anti-Semitism.

When anti-Semitism is not anti-Semitism

Jurist Alan Dershowitz, pro-Israel crusader and propagandist extraordinaire, has already come to Bannon’s defence. In his Haaretz op-ed of 27 November, Dershowitz opined that the man whose wife testified that he didn’t want to send his children to school with Jews is not an anti-Semite. “The claim was simply made by his former wife in a judicial proceeding, thus giving it no special weight,” commented Dershowitz with pseudo-Talmudic aplomb. Dershowitz was told by an Orthodox Jew who once worked with Bannon that the man had never shown signs of anti-Semitism. Suddenly that’s enough for Dershowitz. Suddenly it’s all right to distinguish between anti-Semitism and racism.
'These racists love Israel because Israel acts out their own fantasies – subjugating the Arabs, abusing the Muslims, expelling and killing, arresting, interrogating and torturing them, razing their homes, shredding their honour'
Israel’s ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, naturally made haste to join the chorus, declaring that he “looked forward to working with Bannon.” And how. They see eye to eye on everything: there is no such thing as a Palestinian, there is no occupation, illegal settlements are forever, leftists and liberals are traitors.
For Dermer, the Likud ambassador in Washington, friend of the Tea Party, boycotter of J Street, who in normal diplomatic circumstances would long since have been declared persona non grata in the USA and thrown out on his ear, the election results and the new appointments are like a brand new day dawning. Dermer will feel right at home with conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy, another Islamophobe slated for a senior appointment; Dermer will love working with Bannon, and Mike Huckabee is so precisely his cup of tea. Dermer, remember, received the 2016 Freedom Flame award from the CSP, an organisation whose banner is Islamophobia and for whom Dermer is a hero.

Racists united

These and other likeminded racists are Israel’s best friends in the United States. They have common cause with right-wing racists in Europe. When supporting the occupation is the one measure of friendship, Israel has no other friends apart from racists and extreme nationalists. This should have evoked tremendous shame in Israel: tell us who your friends are and we will tell them who you are. With friends like these, who needs enemies? The disgrace of their friendship is sufficient. But Israel apparently takes pride in its friends.
These racists love Israel because Israel acts out their own fantasies – subjugating the Arabs, abusing the Muslims, expelling and killing, arresting, interrogating and torturing them, razing their homes, shredding their honour. How this bunch of lowlifes would love to go there. Till now it’s been possible only in Israel, the light unto the nations in this context. Long gone are the days when a handful of South African Jews went to prison with Nelson Mandela. Now, well-connected Jews in America support the nation’s new rulers: racists and anti-Semites. 
“The Palestinians call the white nationalist Bannon an anti-Semite, and AIPAC and Dershowitz think he’s not such a bad guy,” commented Palestinian-American author Susan Abulhawa on her Facebook page. Abulhawa was expelled by Israel at the Allenby Bridge last year. The US and Israel are sharing the same values these days.
All that’s left now is to wait and see whether the new American regime will deliver the goods. Will the declared Islamophobia and xenophobia of several of its main figures lead to blind support for the Israeli occupation, even more so than under previous American administrations? Will the Israeli right wing’s bet pay off?

Liberal Jewish dilemma

There is also the matter of what will happen among liberal Jewish circles in the United States, who are a substantial segment of the American Jewish community. Will these developments change their attitude to Israel? Rightist, ultra-nationalist Israel, with its overt support for Trump and its senior minister who sends his congratulations to Steve Bannon – is that a country worthy of automatic support from America’s Jews? Israel, stalwart friend of the American hard right – is that an Israel whose flag liberal American Jews can proudly wave?
Over the next few months, we will find out. Maybe, paradoxically, the rise of the American right, alongside a regime no less rightist and nationalist in Israel, will shake up the liberal Jews of America and pose hard questions they have never faced. Until now."




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.