Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Women’s eNews has an article today titled, Young Women Say Generation Labels Need Not Apply. In the Queers and Theory class we’ve been talking about generations, how generations react to systems of knowledge, how younger people compensate for lack of knowledge (as a consequence of time), how knowledge becomes institutionalized and reified, and how generational cohorts weave in and out of these things. It’s significant to me because naming and labels were one of the most important things to me in my early life as a lesbian and feminist. I wanted to have those words, lesbian, feminist, and I wanted to perform those words in exactly the way that I saw women ahead of me doing. I wanted the silver rings, the baggy silk pants, the Birkenstocks, the wool socks. There was a lesbian-feminist aesthetic and I wanted to be a part of it; similarly, if there was a lesbian-feminist intellectual hegemony, I wanted to be a hegemon. If only I had known that the performance of lesbian-feminism was going to change as soon as I was doing it and that it would continue to change and morph throughout my lifetime. Sometimes I’m able to keep up. Sometimes I’m not. Sometimes, I’m on the inside of the aesthetic, sometimes I’m not. I’d like to say sometimes I’m a hegemon, but more accurately, sometimes I’d like to be a hegemon even though the theory and practice revile the hegemon. Still, in my construction of my life, naming, labeling, if you insist, have always been important. Lesbian, feminist, socialist, writer, poet, essayist, commentator, public intellectual, pacifist. I could riff on the labels for days. I could identify the full intellectual heritage of my thinking and the labels that I inhabit from these foremothers (Virginia Woolf, Sappho, Alice Dunbar, Lucy Stone, Robin Morgan, Audre Lorde, Beth Brant). I like the labels. I like the walls around me.

Now I read this article in Women’s eNews. Young women, which frankly I could count myself among them with only a minimal stretch, don’t want these labels. Though this article is but a feminist flashpoint in a longer dialogue about labeling. I want to tell them, though, I want to tell them: resistance is futile. Though that isn’t helpful either. Still, I want to tell them that they will be classified; they will be labeled. Much better to grab hold of the classification system now and take hold of its consequences than be controlled by it. That’s probably a result of the fact that I’ve been dipping into Starr and Bowker’s book Sorting Things Out: Classification and It’s Consequences. It’s a fascinating book about what’s at stake in labeling and what seems to me the inevitability of labeling. That may be why I want to tell the young women in the article: resistance is futile, but you can try and control the label. Though that is my own agenda: it’s what I’ve spent the last twenty years doing, trying to control my own label.

Sunday, October 29, 2006


Annie Liebovitz was in Washington, DC last week promoting her new book, A Photographer’s Life: 1990-2005. There was a great interview with her on the Diane Rehm radio show and a fantastic profile in the Washington Post. I went to see her at Politics & Prose with a friend. We arrived a full hour in advance of the scheduled talk and the book store was packed. It was like going to a rock concert that had been sold out, but still people showed up without tickets, hoping to hear and see the star. With standing room only, we hung out next to the bookcase housing books on Africa, but then moved into the overflow room where the literature is housed. There was no way to position ourselves in the bookstore to see the presentation. We were lucky enough, however, to see Annie Liebovitz emerge from the elevator and greet the full house graciously and kindly while tossing her iconic hair. She read from the introduction to the book. My companion and I left early on in the evening because without a place to sit and a temperature in excess of eight-five degrees it wasn’t set up to be a pleasant evening, and, truth be told, my main objective was to lock eyes on her. I wanted to see her for myself and try and understand if she is indeed a lesbian.

The assumptions behind that statement alone are substantial. First, that a lesbian could be decoded from a look; second, that I could do the decoding. Still, that is what I did. And the answer? The answer? I don’t know. What I do know is that Annie Liebovitz and Susan Sontag had a long-tem relationship that was intimate and meaning. Liebovitz talked about that with Diane Rehm and in the Post profile. I know that she is not comfortable with the label of ‘lesbian’ nor is she comfortable speaking about her relationship in the terms and language that lesbians use. While for most of the first week after I saw Liebovitz and read these things, I felt that she was basically a lesbian and deeply uncomfortable with her sexuality. Now I feel that, while that is true, there is also an element of resistance by Liebovitz in talking about her sexuality and the construction of her intimate relationships; I think that she resists easy categorization and the conventions of lesbians in discussing our lives and our relationships. Part of me wants her to accept the label and speak openly as a lesbian; part of me wants her to carry on the resistance to push us to something new.
'PUBLISHING' IN 2006: Formal Blog Announcements

Academics live and die by publications. There is change afoot, however. The Internet and the publishing tools and opportunities that it represents and enables is certainly changing the nature of publication for poets and writers, but it also is changing for academics as well. The announcement below came to me through a listserv.

It is unusual in the world of blogging to receive such a formal announcement as someone commences a blog. Dr. Herek is a well-known psychologist, however, which may make his blog more newsworthy. Yet, the notion that beginning a blog is newsworthy is a new one. Bloggers “earn their stripes” in scrappy ways: building an audience through word of email, through informal, online networks. Bloggers become known, not necessarily because of some outside credentials, but because they build a corpus of posts that are interesting and meaningful so that people return to them on a regular basis. This announcement of a blog reverses that paradigm. Is that the trend for the future? Or will blogs continue to operate outside of the usual paradigm of what is newsworthy? Will blogs move from the smart and savvy individual without institutional affiliations or credentials to being the domain of traditional academics?

Time will tell, but I hope that the dynamics of the blogosphere will continue to privilege the outsiders and build space that is vibrant and multiplicitous.


For Immediate Release

Contact: Greg Herek bloguser@beyondhomophobia.com

DAVIS, CA, September 27, 2006 -- Dr. Gregory Herek, one of the nation's
leading social science experts on sexual orientation, has launched a new
blog that focuses on the intersections of science, policy, and sexuality.
"Beyond Homophobia" is located at http://www.beyondhomophobia.com/blog/.

The blog's title reflects Dr. Herek's efforts to encourage a more nuanced
understanding of prejudice against sexual minorities, moving beyond the
conceptual and linguistic limitations of "homophobia." Toward that end,
blog entries will address sexual prejudice and its relationship to cultural
events and public policy in a variety of ways. Critical summaries of new
research studies will be posted, as will discussions of how social science
research can inform efforts to fight prejudice and discrimination based
on sexual orientation.

All of the postings are intended to discuss research findings in a way
that nonresearchers will find informative and useful. Topics include:
* Sexual Prejudice
* Marriage Equality
* Sexual Minority Families
* Don't Ask, Don't Tell
* Hate Crimes

Dr. Herek is a Professor of Psychology at the University of California at
Davis, where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on prejudice,
sexual orientation, and survey research methodology. A leading expert on
antigay prejudice, hate crimes, and AIDS-related stigma, he has published
more than 80 scholarly papers on these and related topics. He has
before Congress on antigay violence and on military personnel policy, and
has assisted the American Psychological Association in preparing amicus
briefs for numerous court cases related to sexual orientation including
recent challenges to state marriage laws.
GAY PANIC: Anwar Ibrahim in Malaysia and Canaan Banana in Zimbabwe

A fascinating chapter in the book Mobile Cultures deals with the imprisonment of Anwar Ibrahim by Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed in Malaysia. The chapter is somewhat dated, however, as Ibrahim was released from prison in September 2004 after Mahathir had left office and the Federal Court overturned Ibrahim’s conviction. It’s a fascinating story, however. Anwar was Mahathir’s protege and ostensible successor. The Wikipedia article about Anwar Ibrahim explains the sequence of events that led to Anwar’s conviction and sentencing to six year in prison for corruption and eight years for sodomy. It doesn’t explore the dynamics of labeling Anwar Ibrahim as a sodomite in the Malaysian culture.

When I was in Malaysia in December 2005 and June 2006, I talked with a variety of people - hosts of ours, taxi-drivers, shop-keepers, etc. - about the situation with Anwar Ibrahim. Everyone with whom I spoke saw the event not as a moment of gay panic or sex panic; in fact, most people said that Anwar isn’t gay and proceeded to talk about his wife and children demonstrating them as substantiation of his heterosexuality. For most Malaysians with whom I spoke, the situation with Anwar Ibrahim was a political ploy to undermine Anwar and isolate him and remove him from power in Malaysia. Even to supporters of Tun Mahathir, the Anwar Ibrahim situation was a question of politics and economics. Many talked about how Anwar wanted to “sell” the Malaysian economy to the US run IMF in the midst of the “Asian crisis” and that action was necessary to prevent that and maintain the Ringgot’s independence from the US dollar. I think that a portion of these responses was a result of 1) the amount of time that had passed since the trial of Anwar, 2) the preponderance of people with whom I spoke were political in orientation and sought political answers to questions, and 3) the conceptions of gender and sexuality are different in Malaysia than they are in the US and explaining the nuances of them was something that some were reticient to do with a white, Western woman.

At the same time, when engaged further about the Anwar Ibrahim trial and questions of homosexuality in Malaysia, people with whom I spoke acknowledged the discomfort with gay people in Malaysian culture, although most people parsed the differences along cultural lines, separating Muslims from the ethnic Chinese and Indians, attributing greater acceptance of gay people among non-Muslims in the country but acknowledging that there are gay and lesbian people in all Malaysian cultures. One person talked about how gay and lesbian Muslims navigated family within the laws of shariah, by caring for parents or siblings as strategies to avoid marriage, and observed that flexibility to openly express homosexuality was tied with economic resources.

Although the people with whom I spoke didn’t view the issues as primarily only of homosexuality, they also didn’t believe the notion that homosexuality was only a construct of the West, despite the fact that that is a position strongly advocated by Mahathir. At the time of the Anwar Ibrahim arrest, members of Mahathir’s political party formed a group to stop the homosexual infiltration of southeast Asia. This confluence, in conjunction with other statements of Mahathir about homosexuality, to me demonstrates that the actions of Mahathir with regard to Anwar Ibrahim were orchestrated to induce a sex panic that targeted gay people.

There is an interesting parallel story here, however, that moves us from southeast Asia to Africa. Robert Mugabe, the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, has orchestrated his own gay sex panic to manage political crisis. Canaan Banana, the first President of Zimbabwe and at one time a friend and ally of Mugabe, was labeled a homosexual and “tried” for sodomy at a time that he was trying to generate a political comeback and threaten Mugabe. Banana escaped from Zimbabwe and lived in exile in London after this event. This article reviews some of Canaan’s legacy after his death in 2004. Mugabe, however, continued his vicious homophobia and attacks and threats on gay and lesbian people in Zimbabwe. ILGA’s dossier on Zimbabwe continues to document the repression of queer people. Since the sex panic events around Banana, Mugabe’s dictatorial control of Zimbabwe has increased; his land reform efforts in the new millennium have catapulted the country in extreme poverty, hyper-inflation, and further repression of all people.

The connection between these two incidents is that Robert Mugabe and Mahathir Mohamad are political allies and good friends. Orchestrating sex panic and blaming it on the westernizing forces of homosexuality is a similar script acted by both leaders.

Of course, sex panic as a script is an old one with multiple uses by multiple actors in a variety of situations. Most recently, the sex panic that has been whipped up around Mark Foley may serve to secure political gains for the Democratic Party in the United States - and if recent reports are accurate, a gay person working for a gay organization had a hand in whipping up this sex panic further. For me the central question is, what needs to happen to eliminate the stigma that makes sex panic effective?

Saturday, October 28, 2006


In one part of my heart, marriage for queer people thrills me. Sentimental, syrupy, sappy, I want to be married. I may resist the femininity that proscribes the cream puff dress; I may have an analysis that resists patriarchy and commercialism, but still I want to be married. Sometimes. Sometimes, I want the mark of living outside the hegemonic systems. I want to not be married. I want to resist marriage. I sway back and forth between these two polls thankful that for the moment marriage is not an option for me - it’s not available in my home state of Maryland and the object of my affection has convinced me that we wouldn’t even consider marriage until we could do it where we live. So we’re the lesbians who’ve been in Canada, Massachusetts, and Vermont and emerged license, registration, civil union free.

In the other part of my heart, I yearn for a dialogue about marriage that is deeper than what I want individually. I want a dialogue about how we organize our lives and how our government and our collective institutions support and engage our lives. A group of queer academics want the same thing and have book together a statement called, Beyond Marriage. It’s a beginning to talk about what is next for the queer community. The Washington Blade covered the statement in this article, Rethinking the Marriage Debate. I’m excited about this Beyond Marriage statement and what it represents in a new trajectory of thinking in the queer community, but I think it is a first step. Marriage has become an entrenched issue in a short amount of time and one that appeals in an emotive and even irrational way. To move beyond marriage, we’ll need more than intellect; we’ll need something else to appeal to our hearts and to our souls.

In the short term, on November 8th, there will be a new set of thinking about how we shape our political lives based on the outcomes of the mid-term elections. I’m watching the Senate race in Virginia in particular. If Jim Webb is able to win in spite of the Virginia anti-gay ballot initiative, he’ll be the first politician to pull off a win who spoke out against an anti-gay ballot initiative, though I wouldn’t characterize his “speaking out” as much more than tepid opposition; still it is opposition. I’m also watching what happens in my home state of Maryland as well as the other hot spots. As always, hoping for a break out year from the past six years. A new direction in Washington could signal a new direction for the queer community, not just work to advance the notion of marriage equality, but a new engagement in progressive values. Given the people that the Democrats are running to be competitive (Webb and Casey, in particular), that seems unlikely, but I live in hope - just like I hope you do, too.

Yesterday’s Washington Blade includes my most recent column about ballot initiatives and putting people up for a vote. In many ways, I’m disheartened by this “democracy.” What I want most of all is for elected officials to stand up for us and say that it’s not right to vote against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people and our families. That doesn’t happen time and again. What we get instead are scripted, calculated responses that speak to a “middle.” I think that we need to be asking ourselves hard questions about our democracy and how we want to deal with people in it.
Please read the column and let me know what you think. Comment on the blog or email me.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Jon Stewart on Annie Liebovitz

I’m thrilled to be planning to see Annie Liebovitz on Tuesday evening at Politics and Prose in Washington, DC. Part of what I want to see is if she looks and feels like a lesbian. I probably won’t get close enough to touch her, but still. I want to lock eyes on her and see and feel what it’s like. I was appalled at the degree that Susan Sontag was closeted in her death and the entire roll out of this book of photography by Liebovitz - from radio interviews on NPR to the cover story in Newsweek, she was cagy about their “relationship.” Jon Stewart said it the best, “You know they just have a lot of common interests, photography, literature, each other’s vaginas.” I’ve searched all of the web for this brilliant schtick in case you missed it. Click here and then endure the advertisement and about half-way through the clip Stewart talk about Liebovitz. It is worth the wait. I’ll try and report back on what it’s like when I lock eyes on her - providing, of course, that she doesn’t see me and fall deeply in love with me.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Five Things Feminism has Done for Me

Damion over at Queering the Apparatus tagged me with this meme. It’s my first meme! I have to comply.

So here are five things that feminism has done for me:

1. Saved my life and provided an analysis for why my life was worth saving.
2. Helped me to make the connection between the body, the pen, the page, and the world.
3. Made the world into which I was born in Saginaw, MI larger than it was intended to be and filled with more people and experiences than intended for me.
4. Given me lots of funny and obscure jokes to share with other like-minded people while simultaneously providing me with an appearance to the world of being humorless and occasionally dour.
5. Provided me with a stack of really good books that I want to read and that probably exceed my time in this life while continuing to grow.

I tag Nicki Hastie at Out on a Dike, my buddy, Glo, at Miss Wild Thing, and the Gayest Editor Ever.

Reflections on Roderick Ferguson's Aberration In Black

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A Simple Poem for Virginia Woolf

This started out as a simple poem
for Virginia Woolf you know the kind
we women writers write these days
in our own rooms
on our own time
a salute a gesture of friendship
a psychological debt
paid off
I wanted it simple
and perfect round
hard as an
egg I thought
only once I'd said egg
I thought of the smell
of bacon grease and dirty frying-pans
and whether there were enough for breakfast
I couldn't help it
I wanted the poem to be carefree and easy
like children playing in the snow
I didn't mean to mention
the price of snowsuits or
how even on the most expensive ones
the zippers always snag
just when you're late for work
and trying to get the children
off to school on time
a straightforward poem
for Virginia Woolf that's all
I wanted really
not something tangled in
domestic life the way
Jane Austen's novels tangled
with her knitting her embroidery
whatever it was she hid them under
I didn't mean to go into all that
didn't intend to get confessional
and tell you how
every time I read a good poem
by a woman writer I'm always peeking
behind it trying to see
if she's still married
or has a lover at least
wanted to know what she did
with her kids while she wrote it
or whether she had any
and if she didn't if she'd chosen
not to or if she did did she
choose and why I didn't mean
to bother with that
and I certainly wasn't going
to tell you about the time
my best friend was sick in intensive care
and I went down to see her
but they wouldn't let me in
because I wasn't her husband
or her father her mother
I wasn't family
I was just her friend
and the friendship of women
wasn't mentioned
in hospital policy
or how I went out and kicked
a dent in the fender of my car
and sat there crying because
if she died I wouldn't be able
to tell her how much I loved her
(though she didn't and we laugh
about it now) but that's what got me
started I suppose wanting to write
a gesture of friendship
for a woman for a woman writer
for Virginia Woolf
and thinking I could do it
easily separating the words
from the lives they come from
that's what a good poem should do
after all and I wasn't going to make excuses
for being a woman blaming years of silence
for leaving us
so much to say

This started out as a simple poem
for Virginia Woolf
it wasn't going to mention history
or choices or women's lives
the complexities of women's friendships
or the countless gritty details
of an ordinary woman's life
that never appear in poems at all
yet even as I write these words
those ordinary details intervene
between the poem I meant to write
and this one where the delicate faces
of my children faces of friends
of women I have never even seen
glow on the blank pages
and deeper than any silence
press around me
waiting their turn

Bronwen Wallace

Here's a mini biography of Wallace from Wikipedia:
Bronwen Wallace (26 May 1945 – 25 August 1989) was a Canadian poet
and short story writer.
Wallace was born in Kingston, Ontario. She attended Queen's
University, Kingston (B.A. 1967, M.A. 1969). In 1970, she moved to
Windsor, Ontario, where she founded a women's bookstore and became
active in working class and women's activist groups. In 1977, she
returned to Kingston, where she worked at a women's shelter and
taught at St. Lawrence College and Queen's. She wrote a weekly column
for the Kingston Whig-Standard. In 1988, she was writer-in-residence
at the University of Western Ontario.

Her collections testify to her social activism involving women's
rights, civil rights, and social policy. A primary focus of her work
was violence against women and children.

In a series of letters published in 1994 as Two Women Talking:
Correspondence 1985-1987, Wallace and poet Erin Mouré discuss
feminist theory. Mouré defends the language philosophers
(particularly Wittgenstein) who demonstrate that our speech, and the
concepts expressible in language, governs our knowledge and actions.
However, Wallace disagreed that language-centred writing rescues
women from the patriarchy, claiming that it can be easily co-opted by
patriarchs. Society's use of politically correct language bears this
out. Wallace believed that by engaging her readers in the issues of
violence, she could provoke change in the reader and hence in society.

Wallace died of cancer in 1989. Her first and only published
collection of short stories, People You'd Trust Your Life To, was
published posthumously in 1990.

The Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award, funded by friends of the poet and
the Writers' Trust of Canada, is an annual prize given to a young,
promising poet or fiction writer who is under the age of 35 and
Making "books" in 2006

In one of my classes, I've been reading Elizabeth J. Eisenstein's The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe. It's an incredible book reviewing the social and political implications of the new technology in producing books.

It's almost eerie to be reading this in the current moment because I feel rooted in history in the 1600s and 1700s (which I am woefully ignorant of) that is profoundly resonant today in light of the internet and digital publishing.

One of my primary projects as a poet and writer is to figure out how to get my work out in the world to an audience that will appreciate it and react to it. I've always had the easiest time getting my essays about gay and lesbian life and culture out into the world primarily using our local press and organizational newsletters as the vehicle. It is quite profound, actually, to realize how important local GLBT newspapers and newsletters are to spreading ideas and information among the self-identified group of gay and lesbian people.

Reaching people with poems is more difficult. For example, each article I write for the Washington Blade generates email to me and often letters to the editor whereas I've published more than a couple dozen poems online and in print magazines and rarely receive comments from readers. It may be simply that there are different norms for discourse in the two world. In the political world of readers of GLBT newspapers and newsletters, discourse and reaction are the norm. Often the intent of the piece is to provoke a reaction. Although the provocation remains the same if I look at my writing over the past fifteen years, that is, my intent to provoke is the same, but the delivery of the reaction has been radically transformed. Ten and fifteen years ago, people would either tell me face to face what they thought of my ideas, and quite often of me as a consequence of those ideas, or they would call me on the telephone. Equally, many people never told me what they thought about my writing or ideas, but they shared with other people - friends, colleagues, or, I must assume strangers. Today, most feedback comes to me via email. A quick click on my name and presto--an email address that delivers thoughts, feelings, tirades, to my inbox. Whatever people say, it is always gratifying as a writer to have people talk back to you. Even though my most recent article generated more vitriol than praise, it feels powerful to be able to provoke - anger, rage, or respect. Thus, it is ironic that the writing which to me seems the most obvious and even rote, my essays, my political analysis, provokes the most reaction whereas the writing that is more intentional, even painstaking, is the writing that often provokes no response at all. Still rather than bemoan a situation of perceived declining readers of "fine writing" such as poetry and fiction, I chose to look at it as a challenge of how to reach readers.

That challenge of how to reach readers is both a question that I bring into my writing studio with me, which is to say I think about who will be reading this and how to connect with those readers, and a question that I bring to my submission practices. There is a revolution in the creation and distribution of literary magazines. It is happening on the internet. While the Washington Post can wax nostalgic about the Paris Review in its pages, I would argue that the real revolution is happening online.

I've been involved in a few interesting publishing projects that have a technology component to them. I share them as a way of starting to think about the technology revolution that we are in the midst of and how it is affecting authors and readers. First, and now most familiar, there are a variety of online magazines. My publications in online magazines are here. They demonstrate a wide variety of the online publications that are out there - some are new journals; other older. Some appear to have published only a few issues; others keep at it. Some print only new work; some reprint work from published books. Some use simple web technology; others utilize more cutting edge technology. All are run by people interested and invested in contemporary writing - publishing it and helping it reach an audience.

Second, is a new publication for me in a unique format. Stimulus Respond publishes a bi-monthly "glossy magazine" in the format of a PDF. Filled with pictures and color, it's an impressive object, even though it only exists in its gorgeousness on the screen. They've now published fourteen issues. It's interesting as a reader because I am really taken away by the design; I would even say that I am enamoured with it. That's appealing as a writer, too. It's an honor to have my work, which I labored over, given such a gorgeous package to enter the world. Do I appreciate it more than other online publications? In some ways, yes. There is an immediacy of other web-based publications that I appreciate. It is easy to share a link with friends, for instance, but it is more fleeting, where as this PDF feels hefty - like receiving a copy of the journal in the mail. Almost. Other publications have been using the PDF format - The Midwest Review and Mot Juste. I like the way it combines the distrbution ease of the internet with a "physical" product that feels like something we would encounter in the "offline" world.

Finally, more and more people are using the Print-on-Demand technology to create their own presses. I'm a fan of what the women at No Tell Motel are doing. The website publishes new poets weekly and last year they released their Bedside Guide to the No Tell Motel through Lulu Press, a print on demand publisher. It's a fantastic combination of technology resources to reach readers and writers. Of course, I'm most thrilled that they selected one of my poems for the Second Floor Bedside Guide to be published in January.

This nexus of writers, readers, and technology is one of the overarching themes of my semester, perhaps not by chance as it's a persistent area of interest for me. I was looking at a journal of mine from twelve years ago in which I confess that I want to own my own press like Virgina and Leonard's Hogarth Press. I still want that. It amazes me how little changes across the lifetime.

Monday, October 02, 2006

More observations about graduate school

The second installment in my observations of being a student.

I’m now a full five weeks into this graduate program. The first week or so I felt like I wasn’t fully a member of this elite club. I was waiting for people to find out that I really didn’t belong. That my admission was contingent and not fully on par with the others. It was anxiety provoking and I finally, consciously abandoned it because it wasn’t serving me nor was it serving what I want to be doing in the program. I decided that regardless of how I got in, the program was about what I did with it, how I made it my own. It was a relief to land in that place. That is what I’m doing now - owning it. Making it mine.

The next step of the process was in realizing how all of the old scripts about competition and desire to be the best surfaced immediately for me. I know both intellectually and viscerally that that isn’t what life is about. In fact, I have the appropriate analysis of power and authority that leads me to reject that. I understand that all people have different strengths and weaknesses; different perspectives and different gifts. I want to be in an education system that recognizes that and embraces it. I want to live in a world where there isn’t competition designed to generate more power over people but that shares power and knowledge among people to build a better, more compassionate analysis and understanding of how we live in the world. I believe that. Still, I get into the classroom and I want to be the star. I want to be the A student. I want to be the smartest one in the world. It isn’t flattering to me. I want to undo it, and I think that perhaps by acknowledging it I can work to let it go.

Finally, I’ve been observing in graduate school and in my life as a poet in general, that a central part of being successful as a poet, as an academic, as an intellectual, is the ability to get energy and enforcement from one's self in the intellectual projects on which one is working. No one cares about your intellectual projects as much as you. No one will wake you up each morning to write the poem that you must write for the day. Only you. I think having the capacity for self-discipline and the ability to generate one’s own energy and excitement is critical to being successful in doing this work. It comes sometimes from external sources - good advisors, extraordinary colleagues, for some popular attention - but ultimately it is individual work, done alone for the joy of inquiry and discovery alone. It is that capacity that I must cultivate and to which I must attend over these years and this lifetime.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Merwin and Oliver

Two poems this week from Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac. They made my week worthwhile. Merwin and Oliver make me swoon.

Poem: "Exercise" by W.S. Merwin from Migration: New and Selected Poems. Copper Canyon Press. 


First forget what time it is
for an hour
do it regularly every day

then forget what day of the week it is
do this regularly for a week
then forget what country you are in
and practice doing it in company
for a week
then do them together
for a week
with as few breaks as possible

follow these by forgetting how to add
or to subtract
it makes no difference
you can change them around
after a week
both will help you later
to forget how to count

forget how to count
starting with your own age
starting with how to count backward
starting with even numbers
starting with Roman numerals
starting with fractions of Roman numerals
starting with the old calendar
going on to the old alphabet
going on to the alphabet
until everything is continuous again

go on to forgetting elements
starting with water
proceeding to earth
rising in fire

forget fire

Poem: "Messenger" by Mary Oliver from Thirst .© Beacon Press.


My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
    equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
    keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
    and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
    to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
    that we live forever.

It's the birthday of poet W.S. Merwin, born in New York City (1927). He said, "I think there's a kind of desperate hope built into poetry now that one really wants, hopelessly, to save the world. One is trying to say everything that can be said for the things that one loves while there's still time."
Letter to the NY Times Editor regardin Intersex article from Magazine from Hannah Miyamoto

I am working on a longer blog entry on intersex issues, but while I consider that, here is a very thoughtful and informed letter to the editor of the NY Times Magazine from Hannah Miyamoto about the article that appeared in last Sunday's magazine.

To the Editor:
As one of the few scientists studying intersexed people who is herself intersexed, I wish to share some information not in the Elizabeth Weil’s article in New York Times Magazine about intersexed people (“What if It’s (Sort of) a Boy and (Sort of) a Girl?” NYT Magazine, 9/24/06).
First, the article indicates that “Disorders of Sex Differentiation” (DSD) is the universally-accepted new term for “intersex.” It is not. The focus of controversy is the word “Disorder;” a disorder is an illness—a malady to cure with things like Intersex Genital Mutilation (IGM) “DSD” (or as critics pronounce it, “Dissed”) is a poor compromise between certain intersexed activists and physicians who defend IGM. Better terms include “Anomalous Sexual Differentiation” (ASD) and “Variations in Sexual Development” (VSD).
Second, although the article indicates that genital surgery, as presently practiced, has few negative side-effects, this is unproven, and preliminary evidence is disappointing. For example, the researchers in the first-ever study of clitoral sensitivity of intersexed adults, published by the British Journal of Urology in 2004, concluded: “There is currently no justification for the optimism that modern surgical techniques are better for preserving clitoral sensation than previous operations.” Although these were only preliminary results from studying six women, the clitoral sensitivity of one woman who underwent “clitoral reduction” only a year before being examined was little different than women who underwent de facto clitoral removal.
Third, the article indicates that intersexed people are united behind ISNA, and that Cheryl Chase is their leader.  This is untrue.  Many intersexed adults actually support genital surgery and other elements of forced sex changes. On the other hand, other intersexed people oppose both IGM and the new “DSD” terminology.  
Finally, focusing on doctors and genital surgery ignores the potential damage upon physically anomalous children often inflicted by child psychologists, school teachers and administrators, and other children.  For example, the first sign of trouble in the celebrated case of David Reimer when “he” was being forced to be a girl (see As Nature Made Him: The Boy who was Raised as a Girl by John Colapinto, 2000), was that the other children insisted that “Brenda” was not a girl. Clearly, despite efforts by “her” parents and teachers, children sabotaged all efforts to imprint a “girl” identity on “Brenda Reimer.” ISNA should pay greater attention to the damage done to intersexed children besides being subjected to intersex genital mutilation.  Furthermore, scientific understanding is too limited to justify ignoring the other ways a child can undergo anomalous sexual differentiation between conception and adolescence; for example, I was a relatively normal boy until I began developing like a pubertal girl at age 14. Due to partial androgen insensitivity syndrome, my appearance became so feminine that at age 33 I decided my best option was to begin living as a woman, which I did without first undergoing surgery or taking hormones.
Hannah Miyamoto
Graduate Studies, Sociology
Pacific Center for Sex and Society
University of Hawai’i at Manoa
                                                        Honolulu, Hawai’i