Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Are You On the Masculine Side of the Gender Spectrum, Or Are You a Mouse?

A band of men formerly known as women now calling themselves Schmekel (link here for translation from Yiddish) want to know. Well, they don’t really want to know, especially not band member Simcha Halpert-Hanson, who, according to the New York Times, “prefers not to be identified with gendered honorifics or pronouns.”  These “klezmer-core punk band” artists are on the frontlines of absolutely everything, so they already know all they’ll ever need to know. They’re “100% trans Jews” (not to be confused with trannies); they’re New Jews; they’re Old Jewish; they’re “a sea-change in mainstream Judaism.”

As they finished their set at the Jewish Community Center’s Halloween show, they made a smooth transition from an original song, “Surgical Drains,” to “Hava Nagila.” As one, the crowd joined hands and began to dance the hora. Androgynous individuals in butterfly costumes and women in traditional Orthodox dress whirled joyfully through the auditorium, a perfect vision of the world as seen through Schmekel’s eyes. . . .

They are not fractious rebels storming the castle of traditional faith, though they are fierce critics of homophobia, transphobia and misogyny in organized Jewish life. They see themselves as grounded in a strong Judaic tradition, even if the rest of the world doesn’t—yet. But they are reaching out, and the mainstream is reaching back.

Apparently so. “What has become so particularly amazing now,” says the Jewish Community Center’s director of programs, “is all of the places you get to layer your identity” (which explains why they’re celebrating Halloween at the JCC). “The Venn diagram on musical, Yiddish and queer leads to a very small shaded area, but they live in it. . . . This is à la carte Judaism. Or you could do a different frame, and it’s à la carte queerdom.”

And if you can figure out what she means by that, you’re a better mouse than I.

Bomb Assad

Brutality incarnate in Syria

The diffident president of the United States watched for five months in virtual silence as Bashar al Assad carried out his campaign of rape, torture, and slaughter, until at last the Obama Doctrine of “calibrated diplomacy”  was deemed a failure and its author was forced to call upon the Butcher of Damascus to step down. Leaders of the Arab League, too, who three decades earlier had given a pass to Assad the father after he slaughtered tens of thousands of subjugated innocents, waited eight months before they were officially shocked to find that the son, their brother Arab, was presiding over atrocities against his own people, and sanctioned Syria out of membership. Even the notorious, sullied United Nations Human Rights Council, which refused for two years to condemn Iran’s gruesome human rights abuses against the Green Movement, and eventually managed to do so only over the objections of its most murderously fascist-totalitarian members, China, Russia, and Cuba, took notice of Syria (five months late) and denounced its brutality—with demurrals by those same red-handed actors—and finally released a report (PDF) whose eyewitness accounts of barbaric acts by Syrian security forces chill the soul.

If the Arab League’s sanctions have the sharpest sting—and the greatest shock value—for Assad, they nevertheless share one thing with censures by the U.S., Europe, and the UN—they’re gestures only; they do no more than demand an end to his barbarity; and they’ve all gotten the same answer: “The hell you say. We do as we please here.”

But where’s the world’s “responsibility to protect” the thousands of Syrians who even at this moment are enduring Assad’s savagery in bloodied streets and interrogation rooms across their country? How many more little boys must be tortured, raped, and slaughtered before real action is taken against him? He is brutality incarnate. Monsters like him can’t be contained—not by tepid demands, too little, too late, for their letters of resignation; and not by condemnation by sullied states with not a little blood on their own hands. Monsters like him proliferate. Only bombs can do them justice.  Ask the survivors.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Porn By Any Other Name

Not all that long ago the New York Times was studying eugenics at the feet of some very high-toned twin-cullers-in-utero, and peddling its horrific findings with the flat, clinical dispassion of a Nazi record-keeper. Now the magazine has sent one of the glut of Joan-Didion-wannabes who weekly scrawl on its creamy pages with “values-neutral” dreariness to a fancy Main-Line Philadelphia Quaker school to investigate the purveying of porn—or, as the editors would have it, “Teaching Good Sex”—to high school students.  

Of course, values-neutrality lies in one direction only at the Times: Liberal orthodoxy, expressed here in the cheerleading author’s flat description of the screening by a sex-ed teacher of  “a medical research video . . . [showing] a woman ejaculating . . . and a couple of dozen up-close photographs of vulvas and penises” for his mixed class of seventeen-year-olds, with the full approbation of their parents, is NEUTRAL (GOOD), because, as he sees it, “It’s really a process of desensitizing them to what real genitals look like so they’ll be less freaked out by their own and, one day, their partner’s.”

Heterodoxy, as in the narrow-minded resistance to the sexualization of students in the classroom, is NON-NEUTRAL (BAD):

It’s axiomatic . . . that parents who support richer sex education don’t make the same ruckus with school officials as those who oppose it. . . . “The campaign for abstinence in the schools and communities may seem trivial, an ideological nuisance,” Michelle Fine and Sara McClelland wrote in a 2006 study in The Harvard Educational Review, “but at its core it is . . . a betrayal of our next generation, which is desperately in need of knowledge, conversation and resources to negotiate the delicious and treacherous terrain of sexuality in the 21st century.”

These now genitally desensitized, and apparently unsupervised, children, ready or not, are going to be Just Doing It (but Just Looking at It First) anyway—fraught though the whole thing may be for their not-yet-fully-developed bodies and their extremely vulnerable souls—so isn’t it their right to learn how to get some pleasure out of it?

Thus, Al Vernacchio, the sex-ed teacher in question, who is “nothing so much as a mensch . . . lectures with plainspoken authority while also conveying a deep curiosity about his subject—the consummate sex scholar.”

Vernacchio said that he portrays sex in all its glory and complications. “As much as I say, This is how orgasms work, and they’re really cool. I say there’s a lot of work to being in a relationship and having sex. I don’t think I have the power to make sex sound so enticing that kids are going to break through their self-esteem issues or body stuff or parental pressures or whatever to just go do it.” And anyway, Vernacchio went on, “I don’t necessarily see the decision to become sexually active when you’re 17 as an unhealthy one.”

“If kids are starting to use their bodies sexually,” he avers, “they should know about their potentialities.”

Maybe so. But perhaps they should be learning about those potentialities from someone other than a man who’s showing them ejaculation films, telling them how orgasms work, and handing out a worksheet with the five senses printed along the top and ask[ing] the students to try and list sexual activities that optimize each. (There were examples to prod their thinking: under hearing, for instance, was listening to your partner read an erotic story).

As one young man of my acquaintance notes, “A grown man who is talking to kids about sex this way is usually called a pedophile. Hes giving them an induction ceremony, not an education. What would happen to that same group of students if they were caught looking at Mr. Vernacchio’s film on the internet in the school library?” Damn good question.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day 2011

God bless you and keep you safe, wherever you are. With admiration and gratitude for your courage and your sacrifice.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Arab Spring

These are women demonstrating in Egyptrounded up, lassoed like horses, and pulled along the street by a man who must be on his guard lest by some horrific accident they catch the eye of a passing male and “mix.” 

A nation that treats its mothers, sisters, and daughters as if they were unclean temptresses is not civilized.