Israel & gay cash + Israelis distance themselves from settlements – kinda.

I was away! But now I’m back. And while I was away, I wrote the following two pieces for The Forward:

1) Israel Loves Gay Cash — Just Not Gay Marriage: 

What do you reckon is the busiest time of year for Tel Aviv’s hotels — maybe the High Holidays? Perhaps Christmas/New Year’s, when America’s families are on vacation? How about Gay Pride Week?

Bingo!

…Tel Aviv’s message is clear: Come, have fun! We love your party attitude and your wallet!

To which Israel’s national government can only add: Just don’t fall in love and try to get married.

Even as Tel Aviv was raking in that sweet, sweet gay cash, a few miles away in Jerusalem the Knesset spent Wednesday rejecting a marriage equality bill…. To read the rest, click here.

2) Would Israelis Be Kidnapped If Not For Settlements?

On Monday the New York Times reported that the recent abduction of three Israeli teens in the occupied West Bank has raised a “hushed debate [within Israeli society] over the conduct of Jewish settlers.”

While I think it’s fair to point out that Israel’s reactions to the kidnappings have been marked more by anger and prayer than debate (however hushed), the simple fact that any questions whatsoever have been posed in conversation with an American reporter is significant and reflects a broader shift in attitudes toward the settlement project.

Earlier this month, Justice Minister (and one-time right-wing stalwart) Tzipi Livni was quite blunt: “It’s time to say things exactly as they are: The settlement enterprise is a security, economic and moral burden that is aimed at preventing us from ever coming to [a peace agreement].” Moreover, a recent study found that a growing majority of Israelis no longer support that enterprise.

It’s important to note, however, that if the citizenry shares Livni’s general sense of disapproval, they do not appear to share her reasoning: 71% of those surveyed say settler violence against Israel’s military keeps them from “identifying with” their settler brethren; 59% say the settlements are bad for Israel’s relationship with the U.S. The violence of some settlers against Palestinians, the financial drain on Israel’s increasingly inequitable society, or the obstacle that settlements pose to achieving a workable resolution of the conflict do not appear to be major concerns. In fact, while 52% support a full or partial withdrawal from occupied territory in the framework of an accord with the Palestinian Authority, 31% support full or partial annexation — where the difference lies between partial withdrawal and partial annexation is unclear…. To read the rest, click here.

Gay, ultra-Orthodox – and married.

What do you do if you’re ultra-Orthodox and gay? You almost certainly hide.

On Thursday, Israeli daily Yediot reported new figures released by religious-gay support group Hod indicating that “two-thirds of ultra-Orthodox homosexuals [in Israel] have chosen to marry women despite their sexual inclination”; almost all of the more than 1,100 men included in Hod’s report admitted to having sex with other men at least once a month.

According to Hod founder Ron Yosef, an Orthodox rabbi and gay activist:

The situation of homosexuals in the Haredi society is much more difficult because of the social isolation they live in. A gay Haredi man cannot share his situation with his friends in the community or the yeshiva, his family members or rabbis, and “coming out of the closet” is definitely inconceivable.

To read the rest of this, please go to The Forward.

Josh Hutcherson: “I would probably list myself as mostly straight.”

Josh Hutcherson — a young man who might just make the 40-something among us long for their misspent youth, and furthermore can be seen below holding a puppy, just to make that longing more acute — appears to be a hell of a young man. If one is to believe the interviews one occasionally reads, most recently, in Out Magazine:

“I have this dream that one day, my kid’s gonna come home from school and be like, ‘Dad, there’s this girl that I like, and there’s this guy that I like, and I don’t know which one I like more, and I don’t know what to do.’ And it’d just be a non-issue, like, ‘Which one is a good person? Which one makes you laugh more?’ ”

To read the whole interview, click here — but let me warn you: You’ll have to look past an inordinate amount of fashionably applied hair gel. I mean, it won’t kill you, but honestly, Out Magazine — his hair was fine.

(Also, I may or may not have just re-watched The Hunger Games with the family and not for nothing but #TeamPeetaForLife).

A few resources re: Manning’s transition from Bradley to Chelsea.

Not an expert, not a member of the LGBTQ community, etc, etc, all the caveats. Also, FWIW, I’m pretty convinced that Manning’s massive leak to Julian Assange, a foreign national, in the knowledge that Assange would turn around and indiscriminately dump unprecedented amounts of classified information into the public domain was not a good, right, or smart thing to do. Aside from anything else, Manning was a soldier at the time, and had taken an oath. As Josh Marshall wrote at TPM yesterday

Soldiers get in huge trouble for going AWOL, even though one individual soldier abandoning his post seldom does much damage to a country or an army. This is a far graver insubordination with incalculably more widespread consequences….. I think a military force requires a substantial amount of secrecy to operate in any reasonable way. So when someone on the inside breaks those rules, I need to see a really, really good reason. And even then I’m not sure that means you get off scott free.

At the same time, I’m also pretty well convinced the the level of government and military freak out over Manning’s actions does not accurately reflect the damage done, the intent, or the person responsible. As Amy Davidson wrote in The New Yorker yesterday: “This sentence, given all we know about Manning and what he did (and what was done to him), is a strikingly harsh one.”

I highly recommend that you read both pieces (both of which also discuss the Edward Snowden case and both of which are excellent, in very different ways), but, that’s not what I’m here about.

This morning Manning came out as transgender, and asked to be called Chelsea and referred to with female pronouns henceforth. I happen to have read something at Boing Boing some time ago (possibly as long as two years ago) that indicated that Manning identified as a woman — a hugely complicating factor for anyone making the kind of moral and ethical choices that the then-20 year old Manning felt duty-bound to make (as Davidson wrote yesterday [before the request had been made to transition to female pronouns]: “He thought, his lawyer argued in the trial, that he might save someone, or everyone”).

As far as I’m concerned, you are who you tell me you are. Chelsea Manning is a woman. Period, full-stop — and it’s a matter of sheer good manners and civility to refer to her as such. Whether or not I agree with the actions which earned her a dishonorable discharge and 8-35 years at Fort Leavenworth is utterly and completely beside that point.

So. Here are just a few resources that I’ve found useful as I’ve attempted in recent years to become more familiar with the reality of trans folks. I hope you find them helpful, and would love any added recommendations.

  1. Transgender Terminology – a vocabulary resource (the good, the bad, and the don’t-ever), by GLAAD.
  2. Led by the Child Who Simply Knew – a beautiful feature article in the Boston Globe about a girl who knew she was a girl even though her family thought she and her twin brother were both boys.
  3. How To Make Love to a Trans Person – a beautiful poem about how we talk about bodies and making love: “Break those words open/ Like a paramedic cracking ribs…. Scratch new definitions on the bones.”
  4. A good (brief) definition and explanation of “cisgender,” a recently coined term which roughly means people who identify with the gender they were assigned (“it’s a girl!”) at birth.
  5. And finally, I’ve posted it before, I’m posting it again – Hank Green’s video on Human Sexuality. It’s remarkable, and less than four minutes long.

Kissing vs. injustice.

That Vladimir Putin. He’s a piece of work. As you likely know, last month he signed into law new legislation that forbids “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations around minors” — ie: the “gay propaganda law,” ie: the law which holds that Russians can be arrested for discussing LGBTQ rights and relationships within the hearing of children, ie: the reason some folks are talking about boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympics scheduled for Sochi.

After winning the 4X400m relay with their team at the IAAF track championships in Moscow, Russian runners Kseniya Ryzhova and Tatyana Firov had a different idea — in the tradition of Jesse Owen, who showed up despite Hitler’s hate, they showed up with a kiss, “to protest their own country’s anti-gay propaganda laws.”

This isn’t the first protest of Russia’s laws that penalize anyone for talking about homosexuality in front of children, but it’s the most visible one done by Russian athletes. U.S. runner Nick Symmonds dedicated his silver medal in the 800m to his gay friends back home, and Swedish high jumper Emma Green Tregaro painted her nails in a rainbow in honor of LGBT pride.

…One of the reasons many LGBT sports leaders are against a boycott of the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, Russia, is because more can be accomplished by LGBT athletes and their allies standing atop the medal stand with pride.

I’m not gay, I’m not an athlete, I don’t even much watch the Olympics when they roll around, so there is a level at which none of what I might say matters. I do think that the officials involved and sponsoring corporations must do something to protest this gross abuse of civil rights, but I also think that people who spend their lives building to a single moment should not be forced to deny themselves that moment because of the assholery of a nation’s government. That on the contrary, as the President suggested at a recent press conference, the best response to Putin is for LGBTQ athletes to go, to win, and to get up on that podium and fly their flags. I don’t know what I would do were I one of those athletes.

But I’m grateful to the two women who defied their nation’s leaders with a kiss, and I hope that their act is just one of many to come. To defy injustice with love — that’s a world in which I want to live.

Gay, religious, and proud in Tel Aviv.

gay pride tel aviv“Pinkwashing”—the calculated exploitation by Israel’s government of the LGBTQ community’s hard-won  civil and social gains as a beard for the human rights abuses of the occupation—is a thing. It’s real, it’s documented, and the sheer cynicism becomes even clearer when we consider that the government that conducted a PR campaign around gay-friendly Tel Aviv is the same government that gives disproportionate power to religious parties that reject all that Gay Pride stands for.

But what is also a thing, what is also real, is Israel’s actual LGBTQ community, and the joyous celebration that is Tel Aviv’s Gay Pride Week—a multi-hued happening to which people travel from all over the world, because it’s a blast. Witness the fact that this year’s “Official Video of Tel Aviv Pride Week” (which, okay, I admit: I did not knowthat was a thing) is performed by the straight and wildly popular Mizrahi singer Omer Adam (video below). Gay or straight, Pride is one of the best weeks of the year to be in the city that I still consider my home.

The big event is, of course, the parade itself, which will take place on Friday. It’ll feature all the usual suspects—Adonises and Amazons in itty-bitty clothes; rainbow flags, clothes, and hair; the famous and the wanna-be. But participants will also find a quieter, ultimately more subversive presence, as well:

Havruta, the organization for religious gay men, and Bat Kol, the organization for religious lesbian women, have been marching in Pride parades in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa for the past four years.

“In the past few years, we realized we bring a different and unique voice to the march, especially in Tel Aviv,” says one of Havruta’s chairmen, Daniel Jonas, explaining how their presence helps bridge Judaism and the LGBT community. “We represent something else, more moderate, more communal,” he says.

He admits that the parade’s debauched atmosphere doesn’t totally jive with their taste – “It’s not exactly something you’d see in a synagogue” – but the visibility is important.

“Pride attracts many people and lots of media,” Jonas points out. “So many young religious people around the country are exposed to us. After Pride every year, I get tons of calls from people who realize they can contact someone.”

As wonderful as Pride Week is, it’s typically a week apart, much like the community doing all the dancing. Though there has been real movement, across the globe, toward the recognition of the civil and human rights of the LGBTQ community, we still have a mighty long way to go, not least in not insisting that the people line up neatly with the colorful stereotypes. As Haaretz reporter Brian Schaefer notes, “the delegation of proud, God-fearing religious gays and lesbians appearing in the parade… remind us that sexuality and spirituality are not mutually exclusive.”

Indeed, they are not. I would even suggest that they are, or can be, deeply and essentially linked, and that it is a mitzvah of the first order for straight Jews to welcome our LGBTQ brothers and sisters with open arms, and stand with them in their struggles.

The Jewish and LGBTQ narratives share a crucial parallel: The personal, in-the-flesh knowledge of being a stranger in a strange land. I’m grateful to Havruta and Bat Kol for their participation in Tel Aviv’s Pride events—they’re praying with their feet, and likely saving Jewish lives as they go.

*

P.S. For my money, the single most “Tel Avivi” moment of the video comes at the very end, when the performers happen to run into a couple of women just doing their morning yoga.

*****

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

You can’t make homophobic jokes and be a Progressive.

Lindsey GrahamI have real, enormous, and numerous issues with Senator Lindsey Graham. Indeed, my first tweet of the day was to call him an asshole. Because he is. An asshole.

Also a dick.

Douchnozzle.

Douchcanoe.

Human sack of effluvium and fucknuttery.

And what have you.

But here’s the thing: If I, or any other Progressive in this country, want to take issue with any of Graham’s hateful and cruel policy positions — that’s what we should do.

We should argue the value of not holding up important Presidential nominations for the sake of personal glory; we should argue that President Obama’s plans for immigration reform are an important step forward; we should work to turn the tide of public opinion against the gun lobby; we should make clear the advantages of Obamacare; we should clarify just what it means to oppose the Violence Against Women Act; and we should lobby aggressively for the right of women everywhere to bodily autonomy (links to all these issues in the list of insults, above).

What we should not do is make puerile jokes about the fact that Lindsey Graham “looks/seems gay.”

For the record, I have come around to believing that when conservative politicians and anti-LGBT activists are, in fact, in the closet, it’s an important political act to out them publicly. I understand the arguments against such actions, and I have genuine compassion for the people who have been so outed — but if you have spent your days and your power dehumanizing your fellow Americans, your fellow Americans have a right to know how much you’re lying. Given the imbalance of power, our right to know outweighs your right to privacy.

But that is not the same thing — by any stretch of the imagination — as making jokes that traffic in America’s widely-held homophobia.

It’s not Progressive to belittle and/or dehumanize anyone, period. It is, thus, Not Progressive to belittle and/or dehumanize LGBTQ Americans — and when we mock Lindsey Graham or any other person in a position of political and social influence (Marcus Bachman comes to mind) for appearing to be that which they loathe, we’re agreeing that calling them gay is an insult. We’re agreeing that there is a way to “look” or “act” gay, and that these things are laughable.

Now, I’m not going to presume to judge the gay community on this. If you’re a member of the LGBTQ community and you want to mock Lindsey Graham, go on with it. That’s your community and your struggle and you folks have to decide for yourselves what the limits are within your own community (to the extent that consensus can be reached, and as a Jew, let me say: Good luck with that).

But straight Progressive America? Step off. If you cannot find a way to mock Lindsey Graham’s heartless version of “conservativism” without resorting to humanity’s centuries’-long abuse of gay folks? Then you’ll just have to work against his agenda without eliciting the lulz.

Because you can be a Progressive, or you be that assclown who mocks teh gayz. You can’t be both.

Recreating humanity.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Photograph_of_a_baby_standing_in_front_of_a_mirror.jpgOk, here’s what occurred to me the other day: We’re a generation engaged in building an entirely new kind of human society. Possibly an entirely new kind of human.

Consider just a few 21st century facts, and then try to project them back 50 years: Openly gay and transgender people serving in our government and legislative branch as we fight for marriage equality. America’s last two Secretaries of State? Women, one of them black, one of them a serious contender for the White House. Black man in the current White House. Well-known and well-respected women publicly and often angrily expressing women’s right to bodily autonomy; well-known and well-respected men supporting them, publicly, and often angrily.

I know I frequently say some version of “Hey, look, things are so much better than they used to be,” but I’m not saying that here. I’m not comparing today to the day I was born. I’m comparing today to every single moment of human history. And we’re recreating ourselves.

Because every single one of the items mentioned above was effectively unimaginable once, and not at all long ago either. If we consider the entire expanse of human history, and then look at the changes wrought in Western society in the last four decades alone, it’s actually quite startling.

Each of the examples I’ve provided (and many, many others that are not reducible to a single sentence or sentence fragment) represents in turn the hopes and dreams and literal blood and tears of uncounted, uncountable people. People who died dreaming only of the vote. Or of a life lived without violence. Or of the freedom to make decisions based on internal truths, rather than external pressures. People who died never, ever imagining the world as it looks today.

What we’re doing today has never been done before. Sure, there was that thousand year stretch when dudes who were brown (roughly and metaphorically speaking) ruled the known world (starting with the dudes in the Arabian Peninsula and eventually leading to the dudes in Istanbul), and one would be hard-pressed not to notice that Asian dudes ruled the Asian Empires — but: a) DUDES, and b) in each of those cases, one had to be of the right clan/color/faith system/what-have-you to wield power or even personal autonomy. The kind of radical, universal equality that so many of us have begun to see as the default of human existence has literally never existed in human history.

And so my point is: That’s why it’s hard.

That’s why it all moves in fits and starts and we have fights about words and about who gets to say what about whom and every two steps forward serve as but a precursor to one step right the hell back. Because we have never, ever done this before. We are creating something New, and we don’t even, really, know how to imagine it yet.

I’m not saying that the battles have be won. They haven’t. They’ll never be won. Every time that something Gets Better, we’ll uncover something else we didn’t realize we had to do. There are questions that my grandchildren will face that I cannot even imagine in 2012.

And having said that: Wow. Think about it. Think about the fact that gay men and lesbians got married before God and family in Washington state this weekend, and then think about the entire rest of human history.

Holy cow.

Update: Speaking of which…. Just look at these pictures from Seattle’s City Hall.

“The best video on human sexuality ever” – my 13 year old son.

There I was dozing on the couch (as one does) when I heard my 8th grader, sitting one room away at his computer, say the words “that was the best video on teenage sexuality I’ve ever seen.”

Now, it turns out he’d actually said “human sexuality,” but either way, those are words that will perk your ears right up.

I lifted my head as much as I could, yelled a muffled “Send me the link!” and — irresponsible mother that I am — fell back into a doze. But then! The very first thing I did when I arose from my slumber was to click on that link (responsibility!).

Now, I will admit, the instant I saw that the video in question had been made by Hank Green — of the VlogBrothers, Crash Course, DFTBA Records, and General Awesomeness — any concern I might have had was (and I mean this) instantly erased. The Green brothers have already taught the boy (and me) any number of wonderful things, and I have real confidence that anything either one of them might say about human sexuality is something that I can get 100% behind. Truly.

But you know: Still. If one’s boy is watching videos about human sexuality, one should watch said videos. Moreover, and not incidentally, now I was interested. What, in fact, had Hank Green said?

Well, as it turns out: Only everything. Only everything that anybody should ever say or hear about human sexuality, whether teenage or otherwise. Only everything, and in three minutes, forty-nine seconds, no less. Watch, and marvel.

And then maybe share it around, because honest to Pete. These are words that everyone on earth needs to hear. Especially these ones:

But what’s really important is that we trust ourselves and we understand ourselves, and we love and respect ourselves, and we grant that same understanding and respect to the people around us.

Thanks, Hank!

In which your host brings you something sweet and funny.

No, I know! It’s almost impossible to believe!

And yet here you go, a slice of adorable in support of a good cause. If you are the kind to wear bowties, you might buy one of these:

*

Heh! “..and mankind’s human race.”

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