Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Weirdest Place

coal-powered iron

Last night a friend asked me what was the weirdest place I’d ever been. I had to pause, and then laugh, because the first answer that popped into my mind was Budapest and second was a Christian Values Conference I attended as a teenager (twice!). I have traveled on four continents: North America, Europe, South America and Asia and visited many places. Yet I feel that there is still so much of the world I haven’t seen. Back to my friend’s question, I started to interrogate what “weird” meant. What is it that makes something strange? Is it merely because it is unfamiliar and out of sync with my own experience of the world? In almost every setting, I recognize myself as the one that is weird, out of place.

I visited Oaxaca, Mexico in 2005, where I saw expansive straw platters heaped with roasted crickets called chapulinas. It seemed weird to me, but I was the odd-woman out; the people around me were delighted by this local treat. Contrast that with my breakdown over schnitzel in Budapest in 1992 and one might draw the conclusion that I am most certainly a strange creature.

I take my cues from the environment and surroundings. The first time I went to France I was 19. We stopped at a rest stop to use the bathroom, but I came up short when I walked in and found a squat toilet. Whatever urges I had that brought me in came to a screeching halt and I decided I could wait until I found a “proper” toilet. Fast-forward 20 years and I mastered these same squat toilets while traveling throughout SE Asia with nary a second-thought. And while the roasted and grilled bugs for sale at the night market still gave me the willies, I recognized that it is only in “the West” that we consider this abundant source of cheap protein inedible.

Does algae growing on snow qualify as weird? Because I’ve seen that in some of the places I’ve hiked. How about little chameleons and anoles hanging out on window screens? We grew up with them decorating our house in SW Florida. I think most Americans would consider that weird. We were Jewish in a sea of Christians, weirdos without a television or air conditioning. And on top of that, I was an identical twin in a time when we were considered oddities.

Which brings me back to the Christian Values Conference. It was a week-long camp/retreat for high school students, held in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. My sister and I weren’t the only Jewish kids to attend, but we were among the few. Since the ratio was pretty much the same as our high school, it didn’t feel that strange. Or rather, once again, I was the strange one. As far as camps go, I think it probably sounds more exotic than it was. The kids were all friendly and sweet. I loved the boys from Alabama and Georgia with their gorgeous southern drawls. We were divided into groups of 10 and for the week, this was our “family.” The second year I attended, the organizers wanted to include proper Bible study into the session. When my “family” found out I was Jewish, they unanimously decided to skip the Bible study out of respect for me (although I had a sneaking suspicion that most of them didn’t like it and used me as a convenient excuse, which was fine by me)! We all got along fantastically and I had a blast. There was singing in the morning and evenings, and when they would sing about Jesus, I would just hum or skip saying “Jesus”.

In my interrogation of weird places, it comes down to me. I am the common factor of strangeness. I am the stranger, the strange one, visiting strangeness until it becomes familiar.

Share

Roe at 40

orange bloom

In January 1990, I was a freshman in college and doing an internship in an Ohio state representative’s office in Washington, D.C. Mostly this consisted of helping the staffers go through the mail the legislator received. I also got to explore the tunnels beneath the 3 buildings that held the legislators’ offices, take bundles of mail to be “franked” (machines that signed the legislator’s signature in lieu of postage) and handle the receipt of flags that constituents asked for.

But January 22nd, 1990, was a different day. It was cold and bright and the “Pro-Life” lobby was hitting the Hill hard. The representative’s office had been inundated with graphic postcards of aborted fetuses and there were groups visiting every elected official and dropping off dead roses. Up until that point, I had wavered as to what was the right position to take on abortion. But seeing these people so determined to make that choice for me, I determined that day that every woman should have the choice.

I think Marge Piercy said it best:

“I will choose what enters me, what becomes flesh of my flesh. Without choice, no politics, no ethics lives. I am not your cornfield, not your uranium mine, not your calf for fattening, not your cow for milking. You may not use me as your factory. Priests and legislators do not hold shares in my womb or my mind. If I give it to you, I want it back. My life is a non-negotiable demand.”

I want the final say over my future, and I believe every woman should have that right.

Share

Lawrence V. Texas

an unjust law is itself a species of violence

At the urging of a friend, I read the Kennedy decision on Lawrence V. Texas today. This is the decision that overturned the laws making sodomy illegal in 2003. First, it is very readable. There are a few portions that are more technical, but for the most part, it really attempts to speak in plain and respectful language. I wanted to point out the sections that jumped out to me, and honestly, give me a lot of hope for the upcoming Prop 8 and DOMA cases that will be heard this spring. Emphases are all mine.

Kennedy begins by reviewing an earlier case, which upheld the illegality of consenting adults engaging in homosexual acts:

To say that the issue in Bowers was simply the right to engage in certain sexual conduct demeans the claim the individual put forward, just as it would demean a married couple were it to be said marriage is simply about the right to have sexual intercourse. The laws involved in Bowers and here are, to be sure, statutes that purport to do no more than prohibit a particular sexual act. Their penalties and purposes, though, have more far-reaching consequences, touching upon the most private human conduct, sexual behavior, and in the most private of places, the home. The statutes do seek to control a personal relationship that, whether or not entitled to formal recognition in the law, is within the liberty of persons to choose without being punished as criminals.

The decision goes on to quote from Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey in addressing the issue of liberty:

“These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.” Ibid.

He then refers to Romer v. Evans on equal protection:

Romer invalidated an amendment to Colorado’s constitution which named as a solitary class persons who were homosexuals, lesbians, or bisexual either by “orientation, conduct, practices or relationships,” id., at 624 (internal quotation marks omitted), and deprived them of protection under state antidiscrimination laws. We concluded that the provision was “born of animosity toward the class of persons affected” and further that it had no rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose. Id., at 634.

He goes on to address the case specifically:

When homosexual conduct is made criminal by the law of the State, that declaration in and of itself is an invitation to subject homosexual persons to discrimination both in the public and in the private spheres. The central holding of Bowers has been brought in question by this case, and it should be addressed. Its continuance as precedent demeans the lives of homosexual persons.

He then concludes:

The case does involve two adults who, with full and mutual consent from each other, engaged in sexual practices common to a homosexual lifestyle. The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime. Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government. “It is a promise of the Constitution that there is a realm of personal liberty which the government may not enter.” Casey, supra, at 847. The Texas statute furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual.

Share

Standing at the threshold

tree framing door

I started to write a post about liminality, which turned out to be rather squirrelly, because it turned out to be difficult for me to structure a piece of writing about boundaries and borders dissolving. I was getting away from what I really wanted to talk about, which is about living at the margins. I have talked to a couple of people about this, and the notion I want to stress here is that this is not about being marginalized, but rather about hanging around at the edges – which are also often the points of intersection and overlap.

In my mental map of where I am located relative to the groups I associate with, it’s always on the edge – almost rarely it is in the center. I feel uncomfortable in large groups. I often feel like an oddball, that for whatever reason I just don’t quite fit in. I’m too slow, I’m too alternative/mainstream, too queer/not queer enough, too sensitive, I lack ambition, I’m not driven enough, etc. If I pull my gaze out further, I often imagine the spider web or Indra’s Net, where I am one point of intersection but if I only reach out in any direction there are a multitude of connections.

I like to hang out here, because there are interesting things that happen. And mostly, because I am perfectly positioned to connect people who are closer to the center. I have this idea that I am like the gloss that monks used to write in their manuscripts, adding commentary to color to the original text, expanding on it in some way and connecting people in the present to something from the past.

*

Liminality is about “standing at the threshold” – except that it refers to ritual space and an internal transformation that occurs for the participant. According to the wikipedia article, liminality has become more widely adopted and applied by mainstream culture, “undermining its significance.”

I love the liminal space, because it’s the space of transformation and also the space of possibility. It’s the place where the boundaries of time dissolve and we become connected across time and geography. A friend posted on Facebook about re-enacting an action that was done hundreds of time in the past in preparation for a ritual and how it collapsed the boundary of time until he felt that he was with the people who were doing it originally. I have experienced that same thing when I prepare food that I know my grandmother or ancestors going back further made. It’s like I have this power to bring the past to the present.

*

In my mind, these concepts are connected, just the like various groups with which I interact. However, connecting them in words is proving to challenge my abilities. I would love to hear your thoughts on any of these concepts and how you relate to them or how they relate to you.

Share