Archive for May, 2006

how the Radical Feminists™ made me mad today

A brief change from writing about gentrification (just wrote a response to Paul Brady’s comment in my last post that is basically a post in itself, with how long it got.)

Lately, I tend to avoid the blogs of self-proclaimed “radical feminists” (in which “radical” apparently means “more feminist/less brainwashed than thou). While we probably agree on a great deal of feminist thought and philosophy, the frequent posts and subsequent debates about how all pornography and BDSM are inherently patriarchal and evil, well, they just give me headaches, so I’d rather not partake.

Yet today, I wound up reading a lengthy indictment of polyamory over on Angry for a Reason. (I got there by following an old Technorati link; seems that there used to be a link to my blog on the blogroll there, but it has since been removed, probably because of my rampant misogyny and all.)

Lost Clown’s article, which was published in off our backs, begins thusly (after the requisite Dworkin quote and a definition of the word polyamory):

I believe in polyamory, but only in a society where everyone is equal, where everyone is allowed to be human. Polyamory, therefore, cannot exist in our society.

I have been a polyamorist all my life, before I had knowledge of the word polyamory. I am still a polyamorist today, but I cannot bring myself to practice anymore, because polyamory as a mutually fulfilling practice cannot exist in a society that does not see me as human. The rise of polyamory as the preferred lifestyle in the radical leftist/anarchist circles parallels the “sexual revolution” of the late ‘60s movement. This supposed sexual freedom for women is done not for our benefit, but for the benefit of men. The ultimate goal for these “radical” men is still the fuck.

The article continues as such, with nary a mention of, you know, polyamory that maybe doesn’t involve men and is not all about “the fuck.” Despite the grand pronouncements of polyamory at the beginning of the article, it looks only at heterosexual relationships (in which, of course, polyamory only serves the interest of the men involved, and women are stripped of all possible power and agency because, hey, the patriarchy exists!)

In the comments, I criticize Lost Clown for this narrow, heterosexist dismissal of polyamory; she responds by saying that obviously she was only talking about heterosexual polyamory, despite never explictly saying that anywhere in the article. Funny, it seems like when you say things like “polyamory cannot exist in our society,” without any qualifications, you might be read as talking about polyamory in general. Unless, somehow, one is supposed to understand that by polyamory, she means heterosexual polyamory – heterosexuality being the default, which is a thoroughly heterosexist approach. If you’re going to completely disregard non-heterosexual relationships, please own that and say it outright, instead of assuming that everyone will just understand what you meant. Or, better yet – just don’t disregard them.

I suppose the whole thing hits a rather personal sore spot for me, since I am polyamorous. And, while I do not think that polyamory is some perfect philosophy, or that it is easy to navigate without fucking up or hurting people, or that it is inherently better than chosen and intentional monogamy, I also think that chosen, intentional polyamory that is pursued in an open, honest, equitable and kind way is far preferable to societally-enforced, by-default monogamy. Everyone always seems to think that polyamorous relationships are destined to blow up in people’s faces, but hey, monogamy doesn’t seem to have that good a success rate, either.

Edited to add: Some dialogue continued in the comments of Lost Clown’s post, in which she wrote that she sees my point and that, if or when she re-edits her article, she will try to make it clear that she’s talking specifically about leftist men’s practices of polyamory. I still disagree with her on many points, but I appreciated her seeing my point and planned efforts to make the article more clear; I also do think that, though I probably wouldn’t take the same approach as her, it is important to discuss the problematic aspects of polyamory. Though I haven’t experienced it myself, it seems like there is clearly a lot of sexism going on in certain polyamorous communities. And one problematic thing I have seen is this faulty view of polyamory as sort of “more radical” than any other relationship configuration, privileging polyamory as an inherently more enlightened practice than monogamy. Um, no.

postmodern hipster colonists suck.

I’ve found myself thinking, talking, and writing a whole lot about gentrification lately. It’s something I’ve thought a great deal about for a long time, but ever since I wrote that letter to Time Out NY, it’s been coming up more than usual. There’s a lot of good conversation going on in the comments of the thread where I originally posted that letter. I encourage folks to check out the discussion.

*****

Yesterday my girlfriend gave me a heads up about an awful post on the Brooklyn USA Livejournal community, which seems chock full of people who are blissfully ignorant of or indifferent to gentrification. This post was entitled “The Gentrification of Pimptropolis,” and was an invitation to what the poster claimed would be the “banginest” party ever to be held in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The poster also declared that, since moving into Bed-Stuy, he was on a mission to gentrify it, and to have “bangin” parties while doing it.

Of course, my head nearly exploded when I read this. So me and a bunch of my friends decided that we’d all post comments to the effect of “gentrification is not a joke. And you suck.” A little comment war ensued, with plenty of people telling us to “take a chill pill” because it was “just a joke” and we shouldn’t be getting all political about it, and that gentrification was actually a good thing because it “renews and rebuilds” neighborhoods. Yeah. Uh huh.

I’d link to the whole mess, but as of this morning, the original poster had deleted the post. He’d never actually responded to any of the comments, so I have no idea what he thought of what all of us were saying. Hopefully it made him rethink making a big, fucked-up joke about something as serious and harfmul as gentrification? One can hope.

*****

In the issue of Time Out that came out after the one in which my letter was printed, there was another letter responding similarly to the Apartments 2006 coverage. The letter was written by Cynthia Kern, a real-estate broker who I know vaguely from some theater stuff that I did a couple of years back. She made many good points that were interesting to hear coming from her, since real-estate agents are often quite complicit with and invested in gentrification. From her letter:

In the inset about Sunset Park, [the author of the article] says that folks should check out the neighborhood because “the real-estate maxim of ‘follow the gay people’ applies dramatically to the evolving Sunset Park.” Follow the gay people? You mean, follow the white lesbians, who make less money on average than straight white folks and gay white men, and who will often move to poorer neighborhoods because that’s where we can afford to live. Many real-estate brokers then use the existence of white faces on a block to indicate that the neighborhood is “safe” and has “changed.” And the historical and cultural integrity of that neighborhood is eventually destroyed as those who’ve lived there for years can’t afford the rents or mortgages anymore because the area has become a “hot deal.”

The next week’s issue featured the first letter written as a rebuttal to mine and Kern’s. Now, I personally have a hard time letting other people have the last word, but since I’m certainly not going to write another letter to TONY, I’ll just respond here.

Paul Brady from Manhattan writes:

I moved to east Harlem a year ago to improve my Spanish, eat some of the city’s most authentic Mexican food and, yes, to find an apartment that I could afford on my modest salary. Does that make me some sort of postmodern hipster colonist?

Yes, Paul Brady, it does. You are, I’m assuming, a white man who has moved into a Latino neighborhood to enjoy their culture, learn their language, and eat their food. You feel entitled to do so, regardless of however your presence might negatively impact the very people whose culture you’re so enjoying. You take what you want from your neighbors and, most likely, give nothing back, at least nothing good. I think that fits the bill of the “postmodern hipster colonist,” as you so aptly put it.

Brady continues:

Perhaps folks who bemoan an influx of new residents – during a time when the city is experiencing the worst “white flight” in its history – should spend less time reading Heart of Darkness and more time enjoying the multicultural vibrancy of Manhattan.

I just love when people pull “facts” out of their ass. New York City is not actually experiencing very much “white flight;” in fact, the upsurge in gentrification has a lot to do with white people coming back to NYC in large numbers. And Manhattan actually experienced far less “white flight” than the outer boroughs, which really counters whatever claim Brady’s trying to make. Are we supposed to be happy that white folks are moving into our neighborhoods? No, Paul Brady, you and yours are not doing anyone a favor – well, not anyone poor or not white, that is.

I’ve never actually read Heart of Darkness, but Wikipedia tells me that it includes much commentary on the evils of colonialism, though critics including Chinua Achebe have criticized the racism prevelant in the novella despite that anti-colonialist viewpoint. But anyhow, it seems like Paul Brady is equally indifferent to the ills of colonialism as he is to the ills of gentrification, and thinks that the rest of us should try to be as indifferent as he is. No thanks, Paul Brady.

As for “enjoying the multicultural vibrancy of Manhattan” – Paul Brady, are you blind? Don’t you realize that the kind of gentrification that you seem to think is no big deal is slowly squeezing the “multicultural vibrancy” that you so celebrate out of NYC? I can see this city becoming more and more monocultural, thanks to people with attitudes like yours. But I guess that doesn’t really matter for you, since that multiculturalism is just a source of spice and entertainment for you and not a real and necessary part of your own life and culture like it is for the Latinos you’re supplanting. Where will you go for your ethnic kicks when you can’t get it in el Barrio any more? Whose neighborhood will you invade next?

Edited to add: Paul Brady speaks! Or types, as it were, in the comments of this thread. And I respond, but of course.

“Congress passes ban on protests at military funerals; still OK to protest at funerals of murdered homosexuals.”*

*(thanks to my friend Chris for this post’s title)

A while back I wrote about the new outcry over the Westboro Baptist Church’s protests at the funerals of soldiers who died in Iraq. In these demonstrations, they spew their usual, hateful homophobia, claiming that soldiers are dying because america, unlike their twisted version of God, apparently loves fags. (Yeah. Uh huh.)

Today, Congress easily passed legislation barring such protests at military funerals held at national cemeteries. How nice that Congress was so moved and angered that they jumped to stop homophobic protests at the funerals “fallen heroes,” as the act calls the soldiers, when they can’t be bothered to do much of anything for actual queers. Maybe if a whole lot of queers go invade another country and shoot and abuse the brown people there, Congress will start caring about us, too?

The article states that more than a dozen states are considering similar legislation that would cover nonfederal cemeteries. I wonder if their wording will extend to protect all people, including queer folks, from these kinds of protests, or if they’ll specifically limit their protection to military funerals. I fully expect the latter to be the case.

jury duty, part deux

First off, a quick note: my letter on gentrification to Time Out New York was published in this week’s edition. And they didn’t edit all that much out, though they did leave out the sentence about poverty and neglect in Bushwick. Ah well, that they published it at all is somewhat surprising!

So – my jury duty experience lasted only one day, but I did get my wish. After lunch, the lawyers for the plaintiff and the defendant (it was a civil case, a lawsuit around an injury) picked three more people to interview at random. These three came off as being much less prejudiced, in the “having a prior opinion” sense of the word, than the three who went before lunch. They were three men, two white, all very quick and eager with the “right” answers that made them seem fair-minded and lacking prejudice. Part of me couldn’t help but suspect that they were giving what they knew to be the “right” answers without thinking very deeply about the questions being asked. They were also grilled a little less than the first three folks who were up there (two women, one white person.) I wonder what it was about them, or what they had on their juror survey ,that maybe reassured the lawyers. Anyhow, in the end, they were quickly chosen as the other three jurors; they’d picked the first three the day before.

I was a little disappointed until the lawyers said that they were then going to pick two alternate jurors, who would attend the entire trial just like the regular jurors and would fill in if one of the jurors became ill or otherwise unavailable. They picked two more people at random to interview for those seats, and I was one of them! I tried to avoid grinning too broadly as I took my place in the front row of office chairs that were crammed into our little empanelling room (as they are called.) It was me and another woman of color. They asked us way more questions than they asked the previous guys. There’s a section of the form that asks questions like, “Have you or anyone close to you ever been accused of a crime, convicted of a crime, victim of a crime, witness to a crime, filed suit against someone, been sued?” I checked almost all of them, so they got to ask me about the lawsuits; neither bore any resemblance to the lawsuit at hand. They asked about my technology work and about the other woman’s work as the principal of an elementary school in Harlem (she seemed like she’d be a good principal.)

They then asked if we’d be prejudiced against either of the parties in the lawsuit – ConEdison, or the policeman who claimed he was injured due to ConEd’s negligence. They specifically asked if it made a difference to us that the man was a police officer. That gave me a bit of pause, but in the end, I said that it wouldn’t sway me either way. Having heard the background of the case, I thought I’d be able to be balanced. After all, big corporations and the police are kind of on the same level of undesirability, aren’t they? Heh. I wonder how my personal preconceptions would have played out as I observed the trial. I mean, sure, I’d have attempted to be as impartial as possible, but come on, I don’t really believe in objectivity and I know that certain preconceptions would have lurked in the back of my head. Class issues (police officer vs big corporation), issues with the police, any other buttons that might’ve been pressed during the trial… anyhow, regardless of all that, I really thought I’d be able to be an impartial juror, and so said I.

Both the other woman and I were picked as alternate jurors! First, I was excited. Then, I felt a sense of dread at the possibility of having to spend five days at court. One day of jury duty is one thing, many days in a row is a whole other ballgame. But in the end, I wound up being excused – I’m going out of town next Friday, have a reservation made and everything, and they weren’t sure that the trial would definitely be over by then. So, they excused me, after which I waited around for around two more hours until I was finally discharged from jury duty. I’ve now fulfilled my civic responsibility (as they described it, my right and privilege) for the next six years, in Kings County, at least.

*****

At the beginning of the day, when we were being instructed as to how to fill out our juror cards, a woman sitting near me asked me if I spoke Spanish and could help her with her card. I said yes, with the caveat that my Spanish kind of sucks. She was an older Mexicana woman who had somehow managed to not be called for jury duty in her 20-something years of citizenship. In my broken, half-assed Spanish, I helped her with her card, but also told her that she might not even need to serve because of her limited English comprehension. Indeed, after a while they asked folks who did not speak English to come up to the front to be excused. She went up, but came back not too long after – apparently she spoke just enough English to get to sit around in the main jury room all day, which she did. I saw her at lunch time and came to sit with her again when I was excused from my case. She was really nice and didn’t make me feel more ashamed than I already was about my Spanish. When she finally got called up for her jury discharge, she touched me on my shoulder as we said goodbye. That small gesture, combined with her departure, made me unexpectedly sad. I think I miss the presence of older Latina women in my life. Since my grandmother died almost three years ago now, I haven’t seen much of my family; I have my mother, but even she lives far away from me, and I only get to see her two or three times a year, tops. I think that Silvia reminded me that there’s something really special about older Latina women, something that I can’t really put into words; just a warmth, a familiarty that I miss.

*****

Having jury duty got me to thinking. I know lots of folks around my age and of my general political persuasion who hate jury duty, or at least the idea of it, and would be happy to get out of it. I’ve heard some people talk about playing up their lefty tendencies in the hope that no jury would want them.

This strikes me as a bad attitude and a worse strategy. Yes, the tedious, immensely boring ordeal of court sucks. Yes, the (in)justice system in this country is majorly fucked in twenty million ways. But I think it’s important for folks like us to get ourselves on juries, especially in criminal cases. I do believe that it’s important for jurors to be as impartial as possible, but do I think that most jurors really leave their personal and societal prejudices at home? Hell no. Have many people (especially people of color and poor folks) been royally screwed by juries stacked with people almost guaranteed to look upon them unfavorably? Hell yeah. So, even though the whole carcereal system (as one friend so aptly put it today) probably needs to be done away with, it’s here now, and as long as it’s effecting people’s lives in a very real and often very harmful way, we social-justice-minded folks should try to participate as fully as possible. At least then, the juries might be more likely to be prejudiced towards true justice than against it.

i <3 our judicial system!

I am serving jury duty at State Supreme Court in Brooklyn today. Right now, this consists of eating good Thai food outside of a restaurant in Brooklyn Heights, a neighborhood that I have never ventured into before and never realized was so chi-chi. (took me a little while to find an affordable lunch special.) A one and a half hour lunch break, and I’m stealing someone’s wireless to boot. This rocks!

Jury duty itself is a mixed bag. The morning waiting around was pretty tedious, but then I was called into a jury pool which has been thoroughly amusing. The three people interviewed this morning were not selected, so I’m really hoping that I get interviewed this afternoon. It looks like so much fun! I don’t know how much I actually want to serve on the trial itself but I want them to ask me questions.

I spoke to a friend a little while ago who said that I’m the only freak they know who actually enjoys jury duty. Any other freaks out there?

(By the way, the subject of this post is, of course, completely facetious. I haven’t lost my mind here!)

You know it’s hard out here for a West Point girlfriend…

After a long and winding google search that stemmed from this story about swim tests at colleges (which I myself had to endure and did not pass until my senior year, having attended one of the schools that still requires it for graduation), I wound up on this page: USMA Girlfriends. According to the website, it “was formed in order to provide girlfriends of West Point cadets with a place to come and share their feelings about what goes on in their relationships and lives… [they] enjoy helping through hardships, making long distance a bit easier to handle and sharing in your happy times you have with your cadet.”

This shit is amazing. I spent upwards of an hour reading this website and its guides to being the girlfriend of (most definitely male) cadets in their various years at West Point. It supplies very thorough advice for how to best support “your cadet,” including what to wear to the various W.P. events (“bring a wide variety of clothes. Most things are dress down. But you will want a promish, formal dress for the dance!”), where to get your hair done when you’re in town, and even how to send your letters to him: “Do Not do anything that would make him stick out (stickers, colored envelopes, flowery stamps). Stick to white paper & envelopes, black or blue ink and a flag stamp.” It also is fairly revelatory as to what goes down at W.P. For instance, did you know that all Cows (as third-years are called) receive a $30,000 loan right before spring break, to spend on whatever the hell they want? I sure didn’t!

Also, the girls all look exactly like the preppy white girls who made up the larger part of my all-girls Catholic high school. I half-expected to see one of my schoolmates on the site.

While reading this stuff, I actually experienced this strange, fleeting desire to be a male West Point cadet with a girlfriend who reads this site. Temporary insanity induced by overdoses of heteronormativity, patriotism, cutesy flowery background images and bad clip-art, I tell ya.

linkage

Since I’m a little behind on the blogging, and since I realized that I rarely link to those blogs that I read regularly, I figured I would redress both situations in one fell swoop.