December 23, 2009

Hump Day Poetry: Naomi Shihab Nye

Posted in Poetry at 11:26 am by The Lizard Queen


Once with my scarf knotted over my mouth
I lumbered into a storm of snow up the long hill
and did not know where I was going except to the top of it.
In those days we went out like that.
Even children went out like that.
Someone was crying hard at home again,
raging blizzard of sobs.

I dragged the sled by its rope,
which we normally did not do
when snow was coming down so hard,
pulling my brother whom I called by our secret name
as if we could be other people under the skin.
The snow bit into my face, prickling the rim
of the head where the hair starts coming out.
And it was a big one. It would come down and down
for days. People would dig their cars out like potatoes.

How are you doing back there? I shouted,
and he said Fine, I’m doing fine,
in the sunniest voice he could muster
and I think I should love him more today
for having used it.

At the top we turned and he slid down,
steering himself with the rope gripped in
his mittened hands. I stumbled behind
sinking deeply, shouting Ho! Look at him go!
as if we were having a good time.
Alone on the hill. That was the deepest
I ever went into the snow. Now I think of it
when I stare at paper or into silences
between human beings. The drifting
accumulation. A father goes months
without speaking to his son.

How there can be a place
so cold any movement saves you.

Ho! You bang your hands together,
stomp your feet. The father could die!
The son!
Before the weather changes.

—Naomi Shihab Nye, 1998


December 18, 2009

The day after the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

Posted in Activism, Feminism, Human rights, Musings, Sex at 5:40 pm by The Lizard Queen

Recently I overheard a conversation in which a woman stated that because she’s a feminist, she opposes prostitution.  Another woman chimed in, stating that she, too, opposes prostitution, and that no woman ever chooses to be a prostitute.  Those were actually the words she used: “no woman, ever.”  She went on to say that a woman might become a prostitute voluntarily to try to escape poverty or what have you, but that that’s not really a free choice.

I thought of that conversation today as I reflected on the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, which was yesterday.  I agree with Jos of Feministing when she says that the notion that “sex work cannot really be a chosen profession, regardless of what sex workers themselves might think . . . leads to the continued criminalization of sex workers rather than efforts to make it a safer, non-exploitative job.”

Also, quite frankly, I think convincing oneself that no woman would actually choose to be a prostitute—and nevermind how that framing erases prostitutes who aren’t women, and sex workers who aren’t prostitutes—ultimately enables one toward seeing sex workers as less than human, “disposable persons,” as Michael from Sex in the Public Square put it yesterday.  He used the phrase in a paragraph wherein he makes some important points:

We also need to consider the way violence against sex workers is customarily framed as situational or predatory, or how when sex workers are the victims the job and not the person becomes privileged, and the crime becomes portrayed as just another disposable person. What is not conveyed by such reporting is how it is the state itself that becomes the agent of violence, creating the structural factors that shape and facilitate the observed violence.  Similarly the agents of social control, policing and criminal justice, are the major determinants of much of the violence. We must also realise that the agents of social control are just tools by which society disciplines subdominant cultures and that equally destructive is the violence of stigmatisation.

The memorial Radical Vixen participated in yesterday sounds like an excellent way not only to memorialize fallen sex workers, but also to focus on their humanity.  I recommend checking that particular piece out, as well as the writing she’s done in the past and will do in the future about her fellow sex workers.

(I’m a bit concerned, though, that all of us are sort of preaching to the converted.  How might we go about getting this message out to the public at large?  How do we go about changing the dominant culture?)

December 10, 2009

Pastor Rick Warren (finally) condemns the Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill

Posted in Current events, GLBT issues, Human rights, Religion at 8:59 pm by The Lizard Queen

Well, color me surprised: “Reverend Rick Warren released a video letter to clergy in Uganda today, speaking out against proposed legislation in that country that punishes homosexual activity with death.”  You can view the video at the link, or if you’d rather not watch the message, I’ve transcribed Warren’s message below the fold.  While I’m grateful that Warren finally spoke out on the subject, his message leaves much to be desired, and I think it comes off as defensive at some points and painfully self-congratulatory at others.  All the same, is this the best we can hope for from evangelical leaders — a statement that essentially boils down to the notion that LGBTQ folks deserve respect and dignity, and should not be imprisoned or put to death simply for being who they are?  I mean, I guess that’s a place to start, but — is it really so naive or foolish of me to expect more?  Read the rest of this entry »

December 7, 2009

Memo to Rick Warren

Posted in Current events, GLBT issues, Human rights at 5:14 pm by The Lizard Queen

Check out what the Episcopal church is up to:

The Episcopal Church joins many other Christians and people of faith in urging the safeguarding of human rights everywhere. We do so in the understanding that “efforts to criminalize homosexual behavior are incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (General Convention 2006, Resolution D005).

This has been the repeated and vehement position of Anglican bodies, including several Lambeth Conferences. The Primates’ Meeting, in the midst of severe controversy over issues of homosexuality, nevertheless noted that, as Anglicans, “we assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by him, and deserving of the best we can give of pastoral care and friendship” (Primates’ Communiqué, Dromantine, 2005).

The Episcopal Church represents multiple and varied cultural contexts (the United States and 15 other nations), and as a Church we affirm that the public scapegoating of any category of persons, in any context, is anathema. We are deeply concerned about the potential impingement on basic human rights represented by the private member’s bill in the Ugandan Parliament.

It goes on from there, too.  Doesn’t seem so hard, does it?  Nor does it seem to contradict your Christian values.  Now, you know and I know that your refusal to condemn the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda has much more to do with connections and politics than with any actual issues of faith, but when a person of faith is in the public eye as much as you are, couldn’t you at least pretend to care about other people’s suffering?  (Aside from the ostensible 146,000 Christian martyrs, that is.  Also, what do you suppose the odds are that none of those ostensible 146,000 Christians were gay?  Welcome to the idea of overlapping oppressions!)

Meh.  I don’t even know why I care what Rick Warren thinks or says, particularly, except that he has such a large platform to speak from, and his church is nearly in my hometown…

At any rate, though, kudos to the Episcopal church!  I don’t at all believe that you have to be a person of faith in order to work toward “the safeguarding of human rights everywhere,” but it’s always nice to see people of faith choose to do so.

December 3, 2009

Pondering the idea of debt as moral failing

Posted in Consumer info, Musings at 5:17 pm by The Lizard Queen

This is one of those irregular verbs isn’t it? I am down on my luck, you are feckless, they are fraudulent money-grubbers.

—Katherine, from the comments thread for this post at Feministe

This SF Gate article, which I found via Crooks and Liars, gave me pause, less because the idea of deliberately defaulting on one’s mortgage payments came as a surprise (though it certainly did) than because of the candid way it discusses feelings of guilt, shame, and obligation that often come with financial distress:

The main point, he says, is that too often people’s “emotions” get in the way of clear financial thinking about mortgages, turning them into what he calls “woodheads” – “individuals who choose not to act in their own self-interest.” Most owners are too worried about feelings of shame and embarrassment following a foreclosure, and ignore the powerful financial reasons for doing so.

Buttressing these emotions is a system that White labels “the social control of the housing crisis” – pressures and messages continually sent to consumers by the “social control agents,” namely banks, government and the media. The mantra these agents – all the way up to President Obama – pound into owners’ heads, says White, is that “voluntarily defaulting on a mortgage is immoral.”

On a basic level, I think I understand how (uncontrolled/uncontrollable) debt and shame came to be intertwined.  When you borrow a book from the library, or a blouse from your sister, or cab fare from a buddy, you’re meant to return whatever it was you borrowed, otherwise you are, at best, kind of a jerk, and at worst, a thief.  That idea then gets transferred to more large-scale financial issues: if you borrow the money for a house from the bank, then you’re meant to pay it back, and if you don’t, again, you’re somewhere between a jerk and a thief, only many thousands of times over, given how much more a house is worth than a book or a blouse or a cab ride.

Except, of course, that such a basic blueprint for morality when it comes to material things tends to ignore people’s lived realities.  I know people who have had banks foreclose on their houses, people who’ve had to declare bankruptcy.  They’re not immoral, nor feckless, nor fraudulent money-grubbers.  Indeed, you might even say they’re simply down on their luck.

Furthermore, borrowing a book or a blouse or cab fare doesn’t usually come with exorbitant strings attached.  You give the book back when you’re done reading it, and if you lose it or ruin it you pay for a replacement.  You give the blouse back when you’re done wearing it, and if you lose it or ruin it you purchase or pay for a replacement.  And so on.  Yes, there are generally late fees associated with library books, but they’re not the kind that people go into real debt over.  (Usually.  There are always the folks who can’t go back to, say, Blockbuster because they accrued ridiculous late fees, but it seems like that’s a model companies are moving away from these days.)  Mortgages are a completely different ball game.  (“I’m going to end up paying HOW MUCH in interest??”)

In the end, I’m not really sure what to say about this whole idea aside from, “Huh.  That’s an interesting notion.”  Anyone else want to weigh in?

December 1, 2009

World AIDS day thoughts and round-up

Posted in Current events, GLBT issues, Government, Health care, Human rights, Medicine at 4:14 pm by The Lizard Queen

Keith Haring, 1958-1990

Keith Haring’s “Silence = Death,” 1989

From The Body: What Can You Do, See, Hear and Know on World AIDS Day 2009?

The theme for World AIDS Day this year is HIV treatment access and human rights.  Uganda’s “Anti-Homosexuality” bill is therefore relevant to this discussion:

The bill would criminalize the legitimate work of national and international activists and organizations working for the defense and promotion of human rights in Uganda. It would also put major barriers in the path of effective HIV/AIDS prevention efforts, the groups said.

“Discrimination and punitive laws like this aimed at marginalized groups and at those often among the most affected by HIV drives people underground and does nothing to help slow down the AIDS epidemic,” said Daniel Molokele, Africa program officer at the World AIDS Campaign.

(Rather an unfortunate topic for Pastor Rick Warren to declare himself apolitical on, then, no?)

I appreciate the statement Secretary of State Clinton made on the subject yesterday:

On the eve of World AIDS Day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Monday made the strongest statement yet by an administration official that the United States will not tolerate efforts to criminalize homosexuality among countries that receive U.S. funding to combat HIV/AIDS.

Also from Human Rights Watch: World AIDS Day: Punitive Drug Laws, Policing Practices Impede HIV/AIDS Response

Now that the U.S. has lifted the travel ban for people with HIV, the International AIDS Society has announced that it will hold its 2012 conference in the US, which will be the first time the conference has met here since 1990.  (I recently read about the Society’s early meetings in And the Band Played On; I hope to have a review posted within the next few days.)

Education is still essential: Michigan teenagers, for example, are still becoming infected with HIV at an alarming rate.

From Sex in the Public Square: Thinking Local on World AIDS Day

Finally, Shark-Fu hits it out of the park, as usual.