Orientations: Writing Sexuality
By Jaimie Epstein, Official ZEE JLF@Boulder Blogger
In Janice Gould’s poem “The Girl I Used to Be,” from her collection The Force of Gratitude, the subject rises from a clear Sierra stream, “gasping from that brutal creek, terrified, but absolutely clean.” This is a metaphor for the psychic rebirth that each LGBTQ person has to undergo on their journey to owning who they are—not just by coming out but by embracing radical self-acceptance. Each person’s journey of rebirth is as unique as the circumstance of where they were born the first time around.
For Amber Cantorna, the home-schooled daughter of a Focus on the Family executive, coming out meant losing her entire family. Despite the fact that “family values” are at the core of the Christian fundamentalist sect, that’s what drove a wedge between them. “What’s supposed to bind you together is actually what drove us apart,” she says. Her parents’ reputation and maintaining the prescribed appearance of family was evidently more important to them than their own daughter according to her. She hasn’t had contact with her family for years, and they haven’t met her wife. “I can count on one hand the number of people who are still in my life who were in my life before I came out,” she says. “I’ve had only one cousin who has stood by me.”
Crisosto Apache, a poet and Two Spirit advocate, is a Mescalero Apache who grew up on a reservation influenced by fundamental religion but also by tribal cultural beliefs that was seemingly more open-minded. The elders even talked about a time when gender and sexual expression was more fluid. (FYI: The Navajo evidently believe in four and sometimes six genders, or spirits.) Apache says he’s one of the fortunate people whose family accepted him, but that he grew up “with a lot of fears dealing with violence, discrimination, decompartmentalizing—things that no one should have to deal with.”
Growing up near Kamathipura, Bombay’s red-light district, Anosh Irani was a witness to what he calls the deep wound of rejection faced by the transgendered, which drives his recent novel The Parcel, about a transgendered sex worker. “My pain is absolutely zero compared to what I was witnessing,” he says. His connection, as a writer “was that I was inspired by the bravery of individuals and horrified by what people do to each other.”
Born in San Francisco and raised in New Zealand and Michigan, Minal Hajratwala wrote Leaving India: My Family’s Journey from Five Villages to Four Continents so that her huge splayed-all-over-the-world family (she has 35 first cousins) would know who she was, but “I realized that when the book came out, it would be this BIG coming out.” This was a time before social media, before anyone could just look you up and see what you were up to. “I came from a very conservative family of arranged marriages,” she says. “My brother dating a white woman at the same time was a very big deal—it was a radical departure from the way we were raised” and was very difficult. Her parents did come around over the years, and her book was a big part of it. In fact, when her father was dying, he said to her wife: “Don’t let anyone tell you you don’t belong in this family.”
The word for transgender in India is hijra, which means “to migrate.” Although in 2014 India’s Supreme Court gave the hijra legal status as a third gender, they, like other LGBTQ people are constantly migrating to find a home in their own bodies and in society as well, to complete their journey home.
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Patriot Games: Nationalism and Globalism
By Jaimie Epstein, Official ZEE JLF@Boulder Blogger
Omar El Akkad’s dystopian novel, American War, is set in 2075. Florida is under water, the Eastern Seaboard has vanished. Finally addressing climate change, the president has banned fossil fuels even though they have long since been the energy source of choice, and civil war is raging like a wild fire. China and the Middle East are meddling in the affairs of the United States. Mexico has annexed most of the Southwest. Is this a lucid gaze into a crystal ball or a cautionary tale? If it is the former, how did we let this happen? If the latter, is there anything we can do to prevent it from playing out as written, to prevent life from imitating art?
The answer lies, perhaps, in being able to question “systems that do not benefit our societies and move them forward,” says Kayhan Irani, an artist whose work addresses immigration, citizenship, and belonging. “We still have not figured out that everything is oriented to maintain the status quo,” she says, adding: “How do we derail the way that we’ve been socialized to participate in systems that do not value us and value our futures? We each have to think about that and play a role.”
The answer also perhaps lies in identity politics and in understanding how identity politics plays out in nationalism and globalism. “I love it when people say identity politics have gone too far,” says Yassmin Abdel-Magied, a social advocate who is passionate about making diversity the norm. “We all have identities. All we’re doing is equalizing voices”—so we don’t just hear the white male voice.
The overarching narrative of nationalism, regardless of what country it has taken root in is of one voice (and let’s face it: it is mostly white and male): one unified us versus an amorphous them, everyone else, the other. Devash Kapur, director of the Center for Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that there is an outward-directed nationalism, which is exemplified by what he calls Asia’s hierarchy of humiliation, and an inward-directed nationalism, which is aimed at purging certain ethnicities. Ultimately, he says, “my nationalism will breed your nationalism,” and that’s why we’re seeing rampant nationalism all over the world.
While nationalism is really about disconnectedness, globalism is about interconnectedness. “Nationalism versus globalism is maybe a false binary,” says Mukund Padmanabhan, editor of The Hindu, one of India’s oldest and most respected newspapers. Globalism works for some. Padmanabhan points out that “China’s economic future depends on interconnectedness.” Who’s discontent with globalization—not China!
If globalization is defined as the crossborder movement of money, goods, services, and people, “there has been a great upliftment out of poverty because of this,” Kapur says. “Globalization causes vast amounts of stress in some parts of the world, but great improvement elsewhere—it is here to stay.”
“We will always want to belong to a group,” Abdel-Magied says. “The more important question is how we see our group in relation to others.” And whether we are ultimately able to see ourselves in relation to other people, to other groups, to be able to grok the interconnectedness, and thus, interdependence, of us all is probably what’s going to determine whether Omar El Akkad is a visionary or a fantasist.
Photo Credit – Abhijit Sur