I am a hypothetical zygote-American murderer

I just read this Feministe post about Georgian state Representative Bobby Franklin’s new bill that would require Georgian women to report instances of miscarriage (since, in the words of Jill from Feministe “fetuses are Georgian citizens and their deaths are potential crimes”).

Jill issues this challenge:

“I think we should help Georgia out. Since life begins at conception, and a fertilized egg is a human being with all of the rights of any other citizen of the great state of Georgia, we need to make sure that all egg-deaths are properly accounted for, and that all zygote-Americans receive a proper burial and an investigation into whether their deaths were caused by foul play.

Devery Doleman, an Actual Woman, writes a letter to Rep. Franklin requesting that he investigate the potential murders going on in her pants. I think she’s on to something. I suggest, based on Devery’s idea, that we send Rep. Franklin the evidence of the potential murders committed in our uteri. Now, we can’t actually send used tampons through the mail — sending bio-hazardous material to an elected official can get you in BAD TROUBLE, so don’t do it — but we can certainly send photos. So! Next time you’re on the rag, photo-document the results. Why? Because somewhere around 50% of fertilized eggs naturally don’t implant, and are flushed out of the body. It’s an act of God, sure, but still — that’s a 50% prenatal death rate for Georgia’s smallest citizens. Your womb, basically, is a serial killer. And Rep. Franklin is very, very interested in using the Georgia state police to investigate any possible death of a Georgia citizen.

“So! I recommend you photograph your period paraphernalia, and attach it to a letter thanking Rep. Franklin for his good work in standing up for human life. Here’s a form letter you are welcome to use.”

While this is a great idea, it leaves me with unanswered questions. How do I, as a “Gay” “Lady” fit in to this picture? I wrote my own letter to Rep. Franklin urging him to also take on the Georgian Gay Lady population, because they are potential zygote-American killers too! Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Rep. Franklin,
Your new bill requiring Georgian women to report any instance of potential zygote-American murder makes me feel seriously guilty. You see, as a “Gay” “Lady”, I don’t even allow potential zygote-Americans to come to glorious, beautiful, tear-fucking-jerking fruition inside that hateful, useless thing which I have made my uterus by being a Gay Lady. I am very concerned about this, and I’m sure you would tell me that by not even passingly attempting to procreate I am not doing my best to protect the possible zygote-Americans that I could make. All of my eggs are just lying there useless! Ultimately some leave my body each month without ever having the chance to become true zygote-Americans. I’m depriving them of their hypothetical future! I am, again, very concerned about this. Perhaps your next piece of legislation can require all Georgian Gay Ladies to report every instance of sex wherein it is biologically impossible to produce a zygote-American so that they can be investigated for the murder of potential zygote-Americans. Because they are clearly being murdered, these hypothetical zygote-Americans!

Best Regards,
“Gay Lady”

In love, solidarity, and snarkiness,

Maggie


Obama on DOMA – thanks for the gesture?

I don’t mean to come off super pessimistic about this, so first of all I want to unequivocally state that I think Obama’s reversing the administration’s position on defending DOMA is awesome, and a great step in the right direction for gay rights.* Among other things, it states their legal opinion that “‘classifications based on sexual orientation’ should be subjected to a strict legal test intended to block unfair discrimination.” (NYT article, quoting Attorney General Eric Holder)

This is a big step because it expresses the idea that people of non-hetero sexual orientations should be considered a marginalized group that needs extra special legal protections against discrimination (such as hate crimes, getting arbitrarily fired, getting arbitrarily evicted, etc). The reason why this argument is being made now is because of two recent lawsuits against DOMA that were brought in districts with different rules than districts where previous lawsuits had been filed. If it sticks, this precedent could potentially lead to lots of changes in laws and policies that benefit queer people.

However, I don’t really share in all the excitement and hype that this move has gotten in the past day or so, for the following reasons -

1. The president doesn’t have the authority to repeal DOMA because it’s an act of congress, so the administration saying that it doesn’t support DOMA won’t have any immediate practical outcome.

2. Any repeal of DOMA that tries to go through congress right now would likely fail to get through the republican-controlled House.

3. Even if the federal government were to completely repeal DOMA and begin recognizing same-sex marriages, that still wouldn’t mean that the country has same-sex marriage all over. It would still be up to the individual states to decide what rights to marriage, if any, queer couples receive.

4. If this goes to the Supreme Court in its current iteration (5 conservatives, 4 liberals) they will probably uphold DOMA. The Supreme Court is the ultimate authority on legal issues in this country with little oversight of any kind, and if they don’t want to take the Administration’s opinion on this then they don’t have to.

5. A pessimist could see this as Obama throwing a bone to the mainstream liberal gay organizations, since it doesn’t change anything and might make them back down from criticizing him as much as they have been.

6. The president’s views on same-sex marriage are “still evolving” – meaning that he either doesn’t believe that same-sex marriage should be allowed or that he can’t say that for political reasons (cough, 2012, cough). Also, even though this change in position won’t lead to any immediate change it could be a rallying point for conservatives in the next election, putting his chances at reelection in more jeopardy than they already are.

7. I’m tired of seeing the gay/queer movement as singularly defined by the issue of marriage. There are so many more issues, so many more important issues, that are desperately in need of attention and advocacy that this tunnel-vision focus on marriage seems sadly inefficient. I could go on and on about this, but I’ve done that in other forums before so I won’t get into it here.

What are your thoughts on this? I’d love to hear others’ opinions.

In love and solidarity,

Maggie

*I’m consciously using the word ‘gay’ here instead of queer.


In Defense of My Countries, My Identities

I have always been in search of words to describe myself. Usually I’ve found the words to be too limiting, too uniform. It has been only the past few years or so that I have had to confront my social identity, my relation to others, my past and eventually my future.

Born and raised in Iran, I could never deny my Iranian-ness. But even in Iran I didn’t completely fit in with everyone. I knew I was different. I did not act like other girls and did not hold exactly the same thoughts and values. When I went to college in the US, I became more engaged with my sexual and gender identity. I ascribed my difference in relation to other girls as a difference in gender. I refused to ascribe to a violently limiting binary system of genders. I began to view gender as a spectrum. But little by little, I disposed of the spectrum idea, founding even that to be limiting. Thus, I came to the conclusion that each individual person has their own gender, which is an ensemble of a variety of things such as their biological sex, their gender expression, their culture, their own self-identification, the identification by others, their class, their race, their religion and so many other factors that affect our notions of gender. But I have to wonder now: this could not possibly be all that differentiated me from other Iranians? Even as mere children in Iran, we knew deep down inside how the world functioned, even if we didn’t have the words to describe it. And sometimes the words were too painfully precise. Yes, I was too American, a remark that many of my Iranian friends did not fail to point out at times. I accepted their haphazard observation and even took pride in it. But for the most part it was a source of play and joking. When I moved to the US at the age of 15, I did not fail to mention to my newly found American friends that I was Iranian – a fact in which I took great pride. At first, this phrase was pronounced with much nuance, with almost a sense of provocation. Were they going to be mean to me? Were they going to make fun of me? Were they going to be surprised? Or simply indifferent? The response most often consisted of an initial surprise, a series of questions posed out of curiosity and ignorance and eventual indifference.

Despite holding official citizenships of both countries, I never felt myself overly American.[1] Throughout high school and even the first few years in college, I insisted that I was not American, regardless of my social status. Never until now had I ever questioned why I was so vehemently opposed to being American. Furthermore, what does being American even mean? I posed this question to a few of my American and foreign friends but none of whom could provide a satisfactory answer. But one thing was clear: you do not need to be born on American soil to be considered American. In fact it was not until I was doing a study abroad in France that I accepted and made my own the American identity.

During my three months in France, I met and interacted with many different people from all over the world. One of the first things that was always asked in class from professors and fellow classmates was national origin. My initial response was immediately: the United States. If I somehow felt as if I was going to have a longer relationship with this individual I always added: “But I was born and raised in Iran before moving to the US.” However, throughout my stay, my response, even to people with whom I knew I would have no major or very little contact, slowly became: I was born in Iran but I come from the United States. Finally it turned into what I had been feeling for a while but had never pronounced out loud: Iranian-American.

It would be too narrow-sighted and utterly false to claim that going to France was the ultimate experience that pushed me into this brilliant new identity that I had forged for myself. So I retreat. Before traveling to France, I had become relatively active with the Seattle community organization of Iranian-Americans. It was there that I met a lot of Iranians from all walks of life and from very diverse backgrounds. I talked to people who clearly felt one side of their identity weighed more than the other, and then there were individuals who easily described themselves as Iranian-Americans and found no irony or contention in saying so. I knew I was one of them but I felt that I first needed to define being American. But can I even define being Iranian? I would be lying if I said Iran was a homogenous country with very little diversity, hence the question is never posed like it is in the United States. As an atheist upper-middle class Persian born and raised in the city, who am I to ignore or worse – assimilate the experiences of millions who are lower-class, religious, Kurd, Turk, Azeri, Arab, Lur, Afghani, Turkmen, Baluchi, and the multitude of other ethnicities that make up this beautiful country, into my own narrow experience as an Iranian? And I have to wonder: do other ethnicities and classes in Iran make the Iranian identity their own as I do?

It had been some time that I had completely washed my hands off of Iranian politics, even if I followed the news regarding the nuclear program and the 2009 elections very closely over the past few years but I never commented or even allowed myself much thought. Even when talking to friends genuinely interested in international politics, I refrained from getting myself too involved. I could not because it was too painful. I could not be emotionally invested in an issue that was tearing me from within. What I didn’t realize until the last six months was that only by confronting my fears, my prejudices and privileges, and by actively engaging with my Iranian and American identities and communities could I truly heal my wounds. I cannot move forward without confronting my past. And if I am to call myself a true activist and continue on the route of anti-oppression work, how can I simply disregard the political realities of US-Iran relations, the consequences of which affects my identity and my relations to the people around me at every level?

And even yet, my overly active and critical brain does not permit me to read back upon these words and not reproach myself for throwing myself under the ugly and violent grasp of nationalism. Many terrible things have been done under the name of nationalism and it is precisely nationalism to which I am subjecting myself by defining my identities as a haphazard mix of a multitude of cultures, histories, and politics from two different countries I call home. But when I am faced with the threat of the destruction of everything that I hold dear in Iran and in the United States, I cannot help but feel a deepening desperation of clinging onto what little I feel is left of my past for a morsel of stability at present, and hopes of a brighter future. As much as I would like to join hands in the common fight against racism, imperialism, and oppression, without regard to nationalism, I cannot raise myself above the unfortunate realities of borders. My experience of the world is deeply rooted in histories. Thus, I can never own the Iranian-American identity without fully engaging in its politics and the consequences it entails.


[1] The usage of the word “American” here is meant to refer to the United States. I fully understand the white/north amero-centrism of the usage of this term. With my deepest regards to my fellow Latin/South Americans, the term is used out of ease and to differentiate it from being a “US citizen.”

SH


culturally queer

My parents never forget to remind of their good intentions: “We say this because we love you.” But with so much of my life hidden from their peripheries, I wonder if they can fathom the thought of their little girl standing up on her own two feet and taking charge of her own life. When did the hand holding and spoon feeding stop and the independent social justice queer superhero persona begin? When did I make the transition from their daughter to my self? Somewhere between my gender and sexuality, I started fighting for myself rather than fighting against them. Nonetheless, it is always a fight to be who I am because it’s hard for them to understand the butch behind the babe.

They have yet to be acquainted with the world I have come to call my own. How could I expect them to know what I, as a gay genderqueer individual, need? They grew up in irony. Post-colonial India, the mysterious subcontinent, the womb of the karma sutra, shies away from its roots and boasts a hush-hush attitude toward any thought of sex, sexuality, and gender nonconformity, as if somehow it makes them more chaste. What is morally pure about perpetuating the cycle of oppression? How is it that a culture that worships an androgynous god, who is represented by an abstract sculpture of a lingam and yoni (male and female sex organs, respectively), can’t talk about sexuality?! This symbolism for oneness is not a promotion of heteronormativity but a union of male and female energies, an embrace of sexual dualism. The true nature of this culture, based on the idea of natural balance and fluidity, has been drowned out by colonialism, insecurity, and ignorance. I can still feel the effects, generations later, continents apart. These human experiences, sexuality and gender, were never discussed in my house, as I was growing up and even now. And I never dared to ask. I only dared to learn.

Imprisoned within their mental models, they remind me: “We’ve been through it, we were your age once, and we know what it’s like,” without realizing that they are not me. Do they really know what I’m going through? Have they really gone through the questioning, acknowledging, and coming out process? Do they really know what it is like to live in dissonance trying to balance who you know you are and who you know they want you to be? They live life from their perspective, like everyone else, but they can’t seem to see beyond it. They are the “experts” of their lives, but without being me, how could they be the experts of mine? I don’t doubt their intentions but I certainly doubt their knowledge.

At first, I didn’t know what I needed as a queer person. Since knowledge is power, I turned to the knower of all knowledge: google. Researching myself was beautiful, but things got tricky when I went for the “giant leap for queer kind;” from the inter-webs to the real world. I can still remember the fear I experienced the first time I visited the Q Center. I hardly felt like I could walk in the building, let alone the center, I was so afraid of being seen by someone I knew. What would I say about where I was going and why? Do they know what the Q Center is? Are they judging me for going there? At that point I had experience with avoiding the rapture, as many fresh-out-of-high-school students had, but this was bigger than “oh, I wasn’t smoking, my friends were, I just watched” or “yeah, their parents were home and no, we didn’t drink.” No amount of air freshener and no amount of spearmint gum can mask the fact that I am gay. Intimate and powerful, my sexuality and gender expression needed to be acknowledged, nurtured, and celebrated, even if it meant judgment. I had to remind myself that the truth is the truth, and the truth was that I needed to put myself out there in order to seek guidance, despite my paranoia. I am worth the fight. I deserve to find peace.

As a shy person, I was literally shaking as I walked in. I had never been in a room with more than one or two queer people, other than myself. But it felt right. My experiences were shared by many (even my experiences as queer Indian), and it wasn’t long before I found a community of people who don’t look at me funny for dressing like a lumberjack or performing drag or expressing my attraction to that grad student, who is WAY out of my league. They liked me for me, in all my queerness. And I liked them. Being gay was one less thing we judged each other on and one more thing we unified to celebrate. To say I am a different person, a better person, a happier person, after finding this community is an understatement. I am finally able to say “I am ok” and believe it. And for once, I have hope that I am to make it through to another day and love it. Having found my niche, I know that if I ever lost that hope, I have people holding it for me. My parents may not understand who I am yet, but with “Team Sasha” backing me up, I feel like I am where I should be: happy and whole.


the smallest minority

True story: Waiting for the bus one morning, I overheard a mama talking to her 5 year old daughter:
“There are so many different kinds of people in the world, right baby?”
Chewing a mouthful of cold smore poptarts, she nods.
“There are big people, there are little people, there are mama people, and daddy people, and baby people. There are tall people, who play basketball, and small people… There are black people, and white people, and brown people… What kind of person are you baby?”
Still chewing that mouthful of cold smore poptarts, “A cute person!”
Smiling, mama affirms that baby is indeed a cute person.

I too am a cute person (or so I think), but I am also a short person, a chubby person, a silly person, a female bodied person, a gay person, a genderqueer person, a 19-year-old person, a middle class person, and a first generation Indian American person. It might have taken me a long to realize, but I’m definitely a cute person. In fact, it took me a long time to realize who I am. The more I discovered about myself, the more I felt like I was falling further into the minority rabbit hole. I felt more alien than anything. Did anyone else’s intersectionality, intersect with mine? Or was my unique being going to be isolated, alone, and unappreciated?

Intersectionality is a funny thing. It divides us, drawing lines in the sand of humanity, erecting chasms between you and me. And it unites us. And it leaves us solitary. And it creates solidarity. This double edged sword so integral to our being makes us who we are, as individuals and as a human race. There is pride in being the one and only you, celebration and beauty. But what is a celebration without others to share with?! Isn’t there a sense of excitement in meeting someone who shares an experience with you? In seeing someone like you? In realizing you are not alone in your struggles and achievements? This interpersonal connection, this sense of community, plays a pivotal role in self-appreciation and in self-love. In turn, this creates the foundation for the appreciation and celebration of others too.

The branches of our intersectionality all lead to the same trunk, our being. Each branch affects another and cannot exist alone. My race affects the filter with which I view my sexuality or gender expression or class or age or my physical appearance, abilities/disabilities, or the culture I want to create for myself. Finding a balance between the aspects our lives, the tidbits that makes us who we are, can be difficult without affirmation of our existence. It wasn’t until I met another queer, first generation, Indian American that I was able to see how the mosaic fit together. I was opened to a whole new dimension. Realizing that I wasn’t some kind of mistake or freak or monster let me adjust my filters. Apparently the Indian culture is chock full of instances of homosexuality! Gods that are half male and half female, sex positions for lovers of the same sex, even religiously accepted marriages between women! My culture wasn’t as suffocating as I thought, exploring the intersection of my race and sexuality has given me a new appreciation for my mother culture. I’m not a mythical creature, “queer woman of color”, but I am the child of millions, if not billions, of others just like me. There is so much peace in this enlightenment.

Dedicated to gita mehrotra


Spokane MLK march attempted bombing

On Martin Luther King Jr. day in Spokane, the annual MLK unity parade had to be rerouted because of a suspicious backpack that three city workers found on a bench on the corner of Washington and Main. The three workers reported it to the police, and when the police investigated it turned out to contain a bomb that was almost certainly put there to target those participating in the march. According to the FBI, the backpack contained one of the most sophisticated bombs ever used by anyone attempting ‘domestic terrorism’ in the US, and the timing and placement of the bomb was very clearly linked to the MLK march.

The bomb was able to be remote detonated, and it was placed on a metal bench in front of a brick wall – which means that it was designed to inflict as many casualties as possible.

Spokane, and the general Eastern Washington/Northern Idaho area, has a long history of violence and white supremacist groups. Below is a segment from a Spokesman-Review article about the attempted bombing and the local history of violence:

“In 2009, someone spread hate literature throughout North Idaho and Spokane Valley, Stewart said. There was a lull in activity, until the events last week, he said. …

Stewart and others started their efforts to combat hate in 1981 after Richard Butler founded the Aryan Nations compound in 1973. Stewart said his organization tracked more than 100 felonies committed by hate groups in the area in the 1980s and ’90s, including eight murders, several bank robberies and other crimes intended to intimidate residents.

The crimes attributed to people linked to the Aryan Nations included several bombings in the mid-1980s, including those at the home of a Catholic priest, the federal courthouse in Coeur d’Alene and other locations, Stewart said.

Then in 1996, three bombings linked to racists caused severe damage to a Planned Parenthood building, Spokane City Hall and the Spokane Valley office of The Spokesman-Review.

Butler began holding annual marches in downtown Coeur d’Alene in the 1990s before Morris Dees, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, bankrupted Butler in a civil trial in 2000. Butler died in 2004 and much of the crime spree ended with him, Stewart said.”

Additionally, a bomb was discovered last March outside of the Thomas S. Foley Courthouse in downtown Spokane. The authorities still have no idea who planted that one.

Clearly, this is nothing new to the area. But as a Spokane native (the house where I grew up is about 1.5 miles from where this bomb was placed), this history of the area was not something that I was familiar with. Growing up I had heard of the white supremacists that were “somewhere over in Idaho” but I never connected any of these groups to Spokane or to anything personal/local. This wasn’t something that was talked about in schools or any of the other places I had access to as a child growing up.

But why not? And why hasn’t this bomb become a national news story? Aside from some coverage by Rachel Maddow and a couple stories on NBC there hasn’t really been much.

The reason why I’m blogging about this here is because it is a BIG FREAKING DEAL. And it should matter to all of us. The fact that this kind of violence still happens in the US should be something that everyone knows. Racism, prejudice and oppression still exist in America even though we like to pretend that we’re all post-racial and tolerant now. Just because Obama is president doesn’t mean that a long history of oppression and hatred is automatically wiped out or that people don’t face oppression (racial, gender, sexuality, dis/ability, class, or otherwise) daily.

This attempted bombing should be something that everyone who is involved in anti-oppression and social justice work knows about, particularly those of us who are active in Washington. We should be creating dialogue about it and working actively to expose all the hate that these white supremacist groups are still spewing, and educating our friends who think we’re living in a post-racial society. Because we are still living with racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, classism, and a whole slew of other oppressions, and the only way we’re going to overcome one of them is to overcome all of them through continual struggle, resistance and education.

 

In love and solidarity,

Maggie