Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Info for Voters Facing Discrimination!

A lot of folks are worried about voters being disenfranchised this Election Day. There’s a good precedent for being worried – if you’re a historically marginalized person chances are your vote will be extra-difficult to cast. So here are some options come November 4:

If you’re transgender contact the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund between 6AM and 7PM EST. They will have lawyers staffing their hotline to respond to callers who experience discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression at the polls.

The number to call is: (646) 862-9396.

If you were convicted of a felony, and are trying to register the ACLU has a great form to fill out here. There’s also a very informative read about why folks convicted of felonies should have the right to vote re-instated. Otherwise, the ACLU recommends calling Election Protection which is below.

If you’re a voter with a disability, there are several options. Almost every state has a Disability Law Center that is providing some form of Service to voters on Election Day. However, one of the best national groups is the National Disability Rights Network. Their main page has loads of info in Spanish and English. If you experience discrimination due to your disability they urge voters to contact the people below, Election Protection.

Election Protection is a national non-partisan campaign to ensure that people can vote successfully. If you’re discriminated against in any way contact Election Protection at any time between voting hours in your state. People can call the hotline if the polls are closed when they should be open, if they are turned away for "wrong" ID, or for whatever reason they are not allowed to vote.

The number to call is 1-866-Our-Vote (which is also 1-866-687-8683).
Or you can e-mail: help@866ourvote.org

Election Protection is accepting volunteers, too. You can sign up for training and a volunteer shift at their website.

I’m gonna urge you to store these numbers in your cell phone or have them written down in advance of voting. These processes seem to work best if you call from the polling place.

Voting is not the most important thing we’ll ever do, and it’s most def not the only way to participate in politics. But if you choose to vote no one should take away that right because of discrimination and prejudice. I’m already worried about my vote (first election I’m registered as male) and my partner’s vote (she’s inexplicably “inactive”) so I know there must be countless others nervous about being disenfranchised on election day. I hope this is helpful. Please feel free to pass these resources around widely.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Social Justice: Learning from Love

A lot of hate is spread on the Internet - which in many ways is therapeutic and democratizing – but often the hate can grow unchecked and come from places of pure ignorance. I’m excited that the Internet can bring marginalized people together so that safer spaces can be created for discussions, however I get wary when too much space is spent on hating other people and not a lot of space is spent celebrating and thriving. At times, particularly on LGBT blogs, I notice a certain desire to ignore the struggles of others and focus solely on how oppressed a specific identity group is, rather than realizing that all struggles are interconnected. I see a pattern of ignoring the validity of a person or group's struggle.

When I began Coffee and Gender, I never wanted my blog to be a space where unchecked hatred would be allowed. I try with incredible difficulty to never completely dismiss the works of other people, and I attempt to always see the viewpoint a person I disagree with is coming from. Especially when the individual is an outspoken advocate for many issues and simply hasn’t yet understood certain prejudices. There’s a balancing act of not forgetting an individual or organization’s prejudices and acknowledging that no one person has an easy life in our capitalistic white supremacist hetero-patriarchal ablest world.

It takes a lot of courage for people to speak out about oppression. So even when they get the message wrong, we should support them and try to gently guide them towards a more nuanced understanding (Also, entertain the notion that we could be wrong too. Perhaps our statements are too sweeping, etc.). A good example of this is the murder of Matthew Shepard. A lot of folks are angry at Matthew’s memory for getting the attention he received after his death. Advocates point towards the ridiculous lack of coverage for folks of color, women, transfolks, sex workers, and working class people and ask why they don’t get a national outcry as well. However, sometimes we ask the wrong question. We ask “why did Matthew get that coverage?” which suggests that he didn’t suffer enough or give enough or feel enough oppression to be cared about.

There’s no doubt that Matthew’s whiteness, his class privilege, his cisprivilege and maleness got him more coverage and respect. No doubt. But that doesn’t mean we should spend our time hating his memory, or as too often happens, saying awful things about him. Instead we should turn our anger to media corporations, LGBT organizations, community officials and religious organizations etc and ask why didn’t you cover the murders of Sanesha Stewart, Simmie Williams, Sakia Gunn and so many others? But hating Matthew doesn’t make us stronger or happier or more whole. Hating Matthew has us turn our hate against our own community. And that’s troublesome and destructive.

Now, bringing up his brutal death to make a point may be a little disrespectful, and I want to acknowledge that. His suffering shouldn’t be used for my gains – but I wanted to illustrate how a tragic event can become twisted because the organizations we work with and the organizations we rely on (the media, our elected representatives, doctors, etc) have become so de-compartmentalized. Gay groups don’t focus on women or folks of color, trans groups forget about sex workers, etc. And then those of us who exist within multiple identities (which is most of us) have unfiltered anger that we are never seen or fully acknowledged in our chosen social movement spaces. Often times we use that anger against our allies, or we make sweeping statements that suggest anyone of a specific identity group can’t possible understand our struggles.

These attacks make logical sense. They even feel good, too. I couldn’t tell you how many disparaging comments I’ve made about straight people, people born into class privilege, and folks without transgender or gender non-conforming experiences. Too many times when I am frustrated by the systems I work in I regress to name-calling and sweeping statements that make me temporarily feel good. But I know that’s wrong. I know as a transman and as a white person that my experiences of privilege are nuanced and that I struggle against them everyday. I shouldn’t be given sympathy or pity, or an easier time because of that – but neither should I be completely dismissed because of my privilege. Being a person with privilege doesn't make a person a jerk, the excercise of that privilege in the face of udnerstanding how it is oppressive makes them a jerk. Consciously not understanding other histories, languages, or traditions should make someone disliked, not a reaction to a perceived identity.

Consider how many other organizations dedicated to social justice specifically ask that members of majority populations or historically oppressive populations participate in consciousness-raising efforts. What this does is encourage these individuals (such as myself) to engage our privileges while still telling us “we need you in this fight too”. Including men – or white folks, able-bodied folks, folks with class privilege – in a movement towards social justice allows for total community growth. Alice Walker’s definition of womanism* is specific to black communities** but I feel that all of us can learn and grow from this strong term that places the oppression of women at the center of a larger discussion that is fundamentally inclusive.

Walker specifies that men – young and old alike – need to be included in any discussion of gender equality, specifically when you consider the racialized oppression of men of color. If you consider the definition of womanism as the basis for understanding interconnected oppressions and identities then it makes pinpointing individuals or specific groups as “the enemy” incredibly difficult. When you consider that all social justice movement is inherently interconnected – that we have to talk about all of our needs in order to address any of our needs – it makes no sense to bash any group or specific sub-groups.

I’ve written about this in previous posts, but I believe it is worth discussing again as all of us will inevitably encounter people still dealing with inherent privilege – such as myself – and it’s good to have a strategy. From reading the Combahee River Collective Statement, bell hooks, Chela Sandoval, Gloria Anzaldua, Zachary Nataf, Cherrie Moraga, and countless others I have concluded that the best forms of social change happen because of a personal connection to the experiences of oppression. The love that we feel for another person can become radicalized – to use Sandoval’s term*** – when we use it to make our world better.

When we use our love to explore our privileges, our oppressions, our intersecting identities and to join and listen to leaders across social justice movements. In order to create this love, however, we need to treat those who disagree with us with respect and courtesy. We need to understand that no single person comes from a place of absolute privilege. I made that mistake several times early on in my activism, and I probably continue to make this mistake from time to time. But we can try not too, without becoming Polyanna's, all of us cans till approach each other as potential allies and friends - placing our movements on equal terms and realizing that all of us in specific justice movements need the other movements in order to thrive.

* Walker, Alice. In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Prose. Santa Rosa, CA: Harvest Books, 1984.

** Alice Walker doesn’t capitalize Black, so in talking about her definition I won’t either, although I normally would.

***Sandoval, Chela. Methodology of the Oppressed. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Racism Encouraged, Racism Ignored

This is a very brief post, brought about because I’m simply upset at the way some of the current political discussions have gone surrounding the presidential campaigns. I am not someone who focuses a lot of time on federal politics – I prefer to act locally and look towards alternatives - but I cannot deny that the current presidential campaigns have revealed a deeply disturbing part of America.

Surprisingly, it is not that so many people in the US are racist and sexist or that people allow their racist and sexist feelings to move them towards violence. Anyone who has experienced racism or sexism – whether on a daily basis or to a life-threatening degree – is aware that these prejudices are alive and well in our country. What shocks me is that we have candidates running for the public face of America who would allow racially motivated attacks and violent attacks against another person to go un-checked in their campaigns.

Whether or not McCain and Palin are themselves racist (and seeing that McCain has an interracially adopted child and Palin is married to a man with Indigenous Alaskan background, I hope for the families they are not) you would think that the covert smarmy political choice would be to renounce acts of bold-faced racism. After all, we know that our political system is encouched in a racist structure and that racist politicians are routinely elected on a local level, and that our previous presidents have behaved in racist (and sexist, classist, homophobic, and ableist) behaviors. There’s really no other word for the welfare reform, treatments of Katrina, current immigration policies, etc etc than prejudiced. But those are veiled (however thinly), and it seemed to me that no national political figure would actually encourage overt racism from their fan base. My surprise is directly connected to my privilege yet I have found many friends to be equally shocked by the overt nature of this campaign. McCain and Palin not only encourage this behavior, they refuse to apologize for it.

Keith Olbermann sums up many of my issues in this beautiful video (kudos to my partner for finding it)

If you want to know more about John Lewis check out Monica Roberts’s blog post about him and his comments.

Also, in this New York Times op-ed by Frank Rich

In this New Yorker column by Hendrik Hertzberg

Finally, in this piece from The Press Registrar by Michelle DeArmond

The friend who forwarded me this last piece, and my partner whom I showed it too both had the same reaction: “people make me sick”. It’s telling that these horrific images can only be discussed in the realm of the physical – the literal desire to purge oneself of the evil just witnessed.

To try and end this on a more hopeful note – I have been volunteering with the Obama campaign to register voters and I am overwhelmed by the number of new registrants who have not voted since the 1980s, 1950s, and even a few from the 1920s. People are clearly responding to the issues brought up by these campaigns in a way that they have never responded to any individuals before. Whether or not Obama delivers on his end, I hope people continue to see their own involvement and importance in these discussions: and moreover that complacent white folk wake up to the every da realities of racism. I believe that we will rise to the challenge and work more to educate each other and ourselves on racism and ways of anti-racism.

Fabulous Opportunities In Disability Studies

I want to re-post two items, first, and TONIGHT:

Images of Epilepsy in Literature

Thursday, October 16, 2008
VISIONS @ Selis Manor
135 West 23rd Street (between 6th & 7th Avenues)
RSVP to ernesto@dnnyc.net or at 212/284-4160

Also, this call was recently sent out again - the deadline is tomorrow - and I wanted to encourage more people to apply for this scholarship, I think it’s fantastic and potentially incredibly helpful. It’s quite specific in the demographic you have to fit, but just imagine what could be done!

Through the generosity of Loreen Arbus, New York Women in Film & Television is offering a $2,500 scholarship for a woman with a physical disability who is studying film, television or communications in the Tri-State area. Students enrolled in an established technical program, community college, college or university are eligible. Students enrolled in graduate programs are also eligible.

The funds may be used for tuition and fees or for production costs for a student film or video project. The deadline for application is Friday, October 17, 2008.

To apply for the scholarship, send a resume and a written 2-4-page description of your current work and goals as a filmmaker. If funds will be used for a film or video project, and a work-in-progress is available, a DVD should be included.

Applications should be sent to:

New York Women in Film & Television
Loreen Arbus Scholarship
6 East 39th Street, Suite 1200
New York, NY 10016

The deadline for application is Friday, October 17, 2008. If you have any questions, please call Sue Marcoux at 212-679-0870, ext. 25.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Images of Epilepsy in Literature: Oct 16 in NYC!!

Just yesterday I saw that I had received an amazing e-mail from the Disabilities Network of New York City regarding an upcoming event. This event looks brilliant - and I am very personally honored that I would get this e-mail. This looks like a really unique chance to discuss the intersections of disability especially disability representations, which I know are the chagrin of so many people. Race, gender, religion, and sexuality will be discussed in connection at this lecture, and if you check out the link below you'll see that Dr. Ozer has written some pretty amazing stuff and she's been a big contributor to the Disabilities Network's work. I think it is a brilliant example of the kind of events we should be supporting with our presence! I hope to see lots of people there - don't worry I'll be reminding people throughout the week!

Also, for ASL Interpretation or other accommodations see the bottom of the event description.

Images of Epilepsy in Literature

Thursday, October 16, 2008
VISIONS @ Selis Manor
135 West 23rd Street (between 6th & 7th Avenues)
RSVP to ernesto@dnnyc.net or at 212/284-4160

People with epilepsy appear in literature as far back as the Bible and other early works. These writings reveal the most deeply ingrained negative stereotypes and idealized myths about people with epilepsy, from the violent, frothing epileptic possessed by the devil to the ethereal visionary.

Join the Disabilities Network and Dr. Irma Jacqueline Ozer in a discussion about what these images say about societal perceptions of epilepsy and other disabilities, and how they are changing.

Dr. Ozer has published nationally and internationally on disability in law and literature, specializing in epilepsy. As a Ph.D. in German literature, she wrote her thesis on mental illness in the work of female fiction writers.

*****Space limited! RSVP to ernesto@dnnyc.net or at 212/284-4160. Don't miss out!

*****ASL and other accommodations available upon request. Requests must be made by October 9 to ernesto@dnnyc.org
or at 212/284-4160.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Help the New Jersey 4's Renata Hill!

The below is from an e-mail I received today from Bay Solidarity concerning the upcoming re-trial of Renata Hill. To help, you must get this letter out before October 14th when her re-trial is scheduled. I'll be sending mine out tomorrow morning!On June 14, four African-American women—Venice Brown (19), Terrain Dandridge (20), Patreese Johnson (20) and Renata Hill (24)—received sentences ranging from three-and-a-half to 11 years in prison. None of them had previous criminal records. Two of them are parents of small children.

Their crime? Defending themselves from a physical attack by a man who held them down and choked them, ripped hair from their scalps, spat on them, and threatened to sexually assault them—all because they are lesbians.

The mere fact that any victim of a bigoted attack would be arrested, jailed and then convicted for self-defense is an outrage. But the length of prison time given further demonstrates the highly political nature of this case and just how racist, misogynistic, anti-gay, anti-youth and anti-worker the so-called U.S. justice system truly is.

You are needed to help stop the re-prosecution of Renata Hill, of the NJ4. Below is a sample letter addressed to Robert M. Morgenthau, the District Attorney of New York County, in which we state our goals of ending the prosecution of Renata Hill. Please send your letter immediately.

On Ocober 14th, Renata Hill, one of the New Jersey 7, is scheduled to face her retrial. We are in support of her desire to not have to go back to trial, and demand that the charges against her cease.

Please send this letter, or one similar in your own words, to the address listed. After sending in the letter, please let us know so that we can tally how many letters have been sent. (freenj4@yahoo.com)

Forward widely. We will be in touch to follow up with where we are in pressuring the DA or the possible need to escalate pressure.

For Our Defense,
Bay Solidarity

Below is my letter, and you should feel free to use it, or to write your own that reflects more of what you feel about this case.

Robert M. Morgenthau
District Attorney
New York County
1 Hogan Place
New York, NY 10013

October 7, 2008

Re: People vs. Renata Hill

Dear Mr. Morgenthau:

I am writing concerning the case of Renata Hill, who is currently awaiting a retrial on charges stemming from an incident that occurred in August 2006. Her original conviction for Gang Assault was recently overturned on appeal, and I want to encourage you to stop any further prosecution and to release Ms. Hill.

Ms. Hill has already served two years on charges resulting from a street altercation that she did not initiate. While she was incarcerated, she was separated from her young son. She also suffered the death of her mother, whose memorial she was unable to attend. Since their convictions on Gang Assault charges, the felony convictions against both Ms. Hill and one of her co-defendants were overturned by the appellate courts. The two other defendants are currently awaiting their appeal hearings.

Notably, the complainant in this matter has commenced a multi million dollar lawsuit and runs a website, Dwayne Buckle Foundation for Justice, seeking donations to his cause based on virulent anti-gay and lesbian attacks. Prosecuting Ms. Hill further sends the message that attacking gay and transgender people is acceptable, and that the act of self-defense is reprehensible. It also furthers the stigma against women who defend themselves against their attackers, as Ms. Hill clearly did in this case.

I believe that further prosecution and incarceration of Ms. Hill would be unjust. She has been punished enough for her role in the event – both by actual imprisonment, and in the impact that imprisonment has had upon her life. We do not need any more young people brought up separated from their parents. I appreciate any assistance you can provide in preventing any further injustice.

Thank you for your consideration.



Saturday, October 4, 2008

Realabilities: Every Time You Look at Me

Last weekend my partner and I indulged in the new Cohen brother’s Burn After Reading, which was above and beyond what the reviews had led me to suspect. However, it opened with a PSA for Down Syndrome Awareness Month featuring multiple people with Down syndrome and their friends and family. At first, I was excited to see in this packed multiplex a celebration of disability. However, I quickly realized that this was no celebration. The folks with Down syndrome did not speak once the entire PSA. Their friends and family members spoke for them. Now, I have to say that I don’t have any friends with Down syndrome now, but I did growing up. And in elementary school – before I succumbed to the ableist segregation that kept me apart from visible disabilities for years – my friends were able to clearly state basic desires such as “don’t make fun of me”. I don’t see a reason why the participants in the ad couldn’t advocate for themselves, or at least in conjunction with their families and friends. Which brings me to the movie Every Time You Look At Me. I saw this amazing (and sadly under-produced) gem at the Realabilities Film Festival two Tuesdays ago.

If I had to only watch five movies for the rest of my life, Every Time You Look At Me would be an easy add to the list. I’m unsure what the other four would be, but I know that the heterosexual paradigm of love-conquers-all would get old after a while, so I wanted to bring some realism to this review. That aside, I could watch this movie on repeat for quite a while. The film stars Mat Fraser and Lisa Hammond as lovers with extraordinarily oppositional views and upbringings. Lisa’s character, Nicky, is a little person who is vocally proud of her disability and extravagant about her identity to often crass ends - a necklace she wears in one scene reads “great tits”. Mat’s character, Chris, who describes himself in the movie as a “thalidomide-affected individual” has grown up in a family that refuses to see his disability (perhaps because of some guilt associated with it) and has blended himself into upper class aspirational culture as much as is possible.

One of the largest critiques disability advocates have of the movie industry is that able-bodied actors often portray actors with disabilities. This complaint is often answered with self-produced short films or low-budget movies that don’t sufficiently illuminate the fact that a disability doesn’t impede an ability to act. What was absolutely brilliant about Every Time is that Lisa Hammond and Mat Fraser can act the pants off most Hollywood stars. Which is crucial for delivering this film. In one of the rare instances where an analogy across identities works, what is said about women and folks of color is equally true for people with disabilities. You have to be twice as good in order to get as far as an able bodied person.

This film is also, despite its clear adherence to the romantic comedy plot-lines that always leave me in tears, very difficult in terms of its subject matter. Nicky and Chris don’t have an easy time of it, and despite several instances where the filmmakers could have concluded on a happy up-beat note that love smoothes every difficulty, they choose instead to make visible the difficulties that people with disabilities face. At several points the idea of Nicky and Chris being together seems impossible, especially in one poignant scene where Nicky is seen in a hotel bathroom surveying the shelves and appliances that are beyond her reach. The writers are clever, however, in their refusal to make Nicky and Chris poster children for disability awareness. While Nicky has a strong support group around her, and we often see her at what looks like a mother-daughter social events for little people, she does not legislate for access or rally in the streets to end stigmatization. This breaks the code that someone who belongs or claims a particular identity is either going to be an expert in it or have that identity consume their life. I generally despise the line of "we are just like you" and this movie manages to mostly avoid it, showing the ways Nicky and Chris are not like an able-bodied viewer, while making their lives as normal and boring as anyone's - disabled or able bodied.

Nicky also has a fabulous Black best friend who is given a good amount of screen time, and who even has a present family and Black friend base that we see in later scenes. This impressed me as well as most Black-best-friends come devoid of families or other friends of color in Hollywood films.

My favorite part of the movie was watching Lisa Hammond dance. Never before had I seen a person so excited to be in her own body, so comfortable with the fact that people might be staring, pointing, and laughing and not giving too much thought to it. Although we learn later on that Nicky has some extreme self-esteem and body issues that are only brought out when her tough exterior is cracked (have you seen that before?) I genuinely believe that her dancing is an act of liberation.

While the character of Nicky and I have little in common, we do both share a love of dancing that I’m sure we both had to develop. I remember trying to make moves that were more masculine, studying the butch women on the dance floor for cues on how to “move like a man”. I imagine the character of Nicky watching other women dancing thinking of moves that would defy stereotypes of little people. The discovery of quality clubs that allow for serious dancing was perhaps the best discovery of my twenties. I knew people were staring, pointing, and talking, but I also knew they did that to anyone brave enough to dance. As soon as I realized copying other's moves didn't make me happy, my dancing changed and helped me to feel more free. I imagine the character of Nicky stepping up to the challenge of dancing in public at an early age. She basically asks club-goers to notice and acknowledge her existence with her dancing, which she clearly also does because it makes her feel invisible to the stares that more than likely permeate her daily life.

Which is similar to what the movie is asking of its viewers, to acknowledge a presence...and then to let it be. Not to make folks with disabilities invisible, but neither to bring disability into the realm of metaphor and myth.