Sunday, June 22, 2014

Reflections on pRIde

The notion of writing on LGBTQQ Pride parades in relation to the Israel-Palestine conflict may strike some as, among other things, off-topic, ridiculous, even obscene.  But I think the precedent has been set in the media so often it deserves to be given some sort of critique.  By this, I refer to the constant invocation every June of a canard by pro-Occupation policy wonks about how the Palestinians are not worthy of democracy because they persecute LGBTQQ Arabs and receive funding from governments that execute homosexuals while, in contrast, Israelis have been holding a Pride parade in Tel Aviv for decades.  From this descends an entire notion of how the Israelis merely intend to save the Palestinians from themselves and their barbaric Islamic tribalism.
However, after watching Sandi Simcha DuBowski's 2001 film TREMBLING BEFORE G-D, an American film co-financed by Israeli sources, this science fiction vision of reality collapses under its own stupidity.
DuBowski, raised in a Conservative Jewish New York family, approaches his subject in a fashion that is sympathetic yet objective, following a selection of lesbian and gay Orthodox Jews who insist on trying to live as faithful members of their community while being queer.  The problem, of course, is that Orthodoxy is so militantly patriarchal and homophobic, with heterosexism so inherent to the culture norms of that milieu, the film's subjects come across as having major psychological and emotional burdens related to living a closeted lifestyle.  Indeed, some of the interviewees are so deeply in the closet, they are photographed in shadow and many of their faces are never shown.  If Israeli society is so liberatory of LGBTQQ people, these folks should not fear being out.
Of course, the reality is much more complex, with rabbinical courts allowed to intercede in and control the proceedings of divorces based on the myriad of exceptions the Orthodox branch gets from the (allegedly) secular government.  Whole families can be rent asunder by the opinions of Rabbis who say parental visitation rights should go out the door if one parents comes out.  That old Arabic saying, "When you point one finger, three point back at yourself", seems strikingly relevant here.
It is with this in mind I want to try to localize this critique in Rhode Island.  First of all, Rhode Island is an important hub in the American military defense structure, the Newport Naval War College and the corresponding base are vital assets in the schematic of nautical defense.  As such, because Iran and Israel are essentially nations defined by their ability to engage in inter-continental trade by way of the ocean, the role Rhode Island plays is unique.  Also, the city was host to a major gay scandal when FDR was Secretary of the Navy, and so the intersections are repeatedly manifested.  Especially male homosexual activity and national defense are inherently linked in this small town.
Yesterday was the annual Pride celebration, and this year especially was a commercialized affair.  There was a contingent of marchers from Bank of America, and as such I was not clear whether I should cheer for being openly gay or boo for their continued liability for the 2008 banking collapse.
This type of schizophrenia is a cultural norm called 'inclusivity', the idea that, if you are pro-LGBTQQ, you are allowed into the club.  But, on closer examination, this kind of logic is both hypocritical and morally bankrupt.  After decades of persecution at the hands of the GOP, culminating with the intentional ignorance towards the AIDS epidemic in the 1980's and the Culture Wars of the 1990's that directly inspired the murder of Matthew Shepard, why am I suddenly required to think of these cretins as anything less than morally repugnant?  Even if the GOP puts on a cute street show, the real movers and shakers in the GOP remain the veterans of Watergate and the Reagan Revolution, both movements not just noted but explicitly sold to the voters as being against any civic or social inroads for the LGBTQQ community.  Reince Priebus may pretend to be the head of the GOP, but the party builds itself on the insights and ideological molds put forward by Nixon, Reagan, Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, et. al.  The entire Tea Party movement was not created by Karl Rove, it was merely the incarnation into a militia of Nixon's notion of the 'Great Silent Majority'.  In this sense, I refuse to be inclusive, I refuse anything less than a brutal series of public show trials to prove these are genuine supporters of LGBTQQ liberation and not just crass wreckers and collaborationists intent on the eventual downfall of the LGBTQQ movement.  (And I also write these things with slight irony, using the vocabulary of the extremely homophobic Stalinist government.)
After the parade, the viewers went in their variety of directions and dispersed to one of many different club-hosted block parties that cost upwards of $15 to gain admittance.  But, rather than pay such a price, I did come upon what I felt was a genuine instance of liberation.  One of the groups in the parade was the Extraordinary Rendition Band (ERB), a marching band that fortuitously ended up hosting an impromptu jam session that soon attracted a large enough crowd to be called their own block party.  In the crowd were a variety of people of colors and social standings, but it was clear that they had very little interest in paying to celebrate their identities.  There was break dancing, butch Latino lesbians, and even mothers and fathers who brought their children to enjoy the music.
But, simultaneous with their support of liberation, the band paradoxically was able to re-enforce a dangerous notion in society.  With the exception of perhaps the most naive, extraordinary rendition is understood now in the West to be coded language for US-sponsored torture of alleged terrorists, as shown most explicitly in the film ZERO DARK THIRTY.  So I am left wondering, would a pro-LGBTQQ band be allowed in the parade if it were called 'Triangle Trader Extravaganza' or 'Slave Ship Boogaloo'?  Because that is exactly the paradigm utilized when someone sacrifices objective and reasoned segregation of certain groups from the whole in the name of 'inclusivity'.  Of course, some may see invoking segregation as a taboo, but I do not.  We segregate children from child murderers.  We segregate racists from the general public discourse.  We segregate all sorts of groups we judge as bad from our general population, including especially Muslims who are thought to be homophobic, in a way that is so dehumanizing we allow torture in not hushed but open and joking tones!  In this sense, inclusivity is really just an excuse to mainstream LGBTQQ liberation into the larger spectrum of pro-Western capitalist hegemony, stripping away its vital links to labor, women's liberation, minority issues, and opposition to racism.  Very few today are left that recall Harvey Milk only joined the gay rights movement as a protest against Richard Nixon's bombing of Cambodia, and as a result, LGBTQQ liberation is quickly melting into a petty miasma of naval gazing and mainstreamed bigotries deemed acceptable by the defense industry.

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