Thursday, August 28, 2008

In Memory of Del Martin

Dorothy L. (Del) Martin (May 5, 1921 – August 27, 2008)

Died on Wednesday, August 27, 2008 at UCSF Hospice, San Francisco, California. Survived by spouse Phyllis Lyon, daughter Kendra Mon, son-in-law Eugene Lane, granddaughter Lorraine Mon, grandson Kevin Mon, sister-in-law Patricia Lyon and a vast, loving and grateful lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender family.

An eloquent organizer for civil rights, civil liberties, and human dignity, Del Martin created and helped shape the modern lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and feminist movements. She was a woman of extraordinary courage, persistence, intelligence, humor, and fundamental decency, who refused to be silenced by fear and never stopped fighting for equality. Her last public political act, on June 16, 2008, was to marry Phyllis Lyon, her partner of 55 years. They were the first couple to wed in San Francisco after the California Supreme Court recognized that marriage for same-sex couples is a fundamental right in a case brought by plaintiffs including Martin and Lyon.

Born in San Francisco on May 5, 1921, Dorothy L. Taliaferro, or Del as she would come to be known, was salutatorian of the first graduating class of George Washington High School and went on to study journalism at the University of California at Berkeley. At 19, after transferring to San Francisco State College (now San Francisco State University), she married James Martin and two years later gave birth to their daughter Kendra. The marriage ended in divorce.

Del Martin met the love of her life, Phyllis Lyon, in Seattle in 1950 when they worked for the same publication company. They became lovers in 1952 and formalized their partnership on Valentine’s Day in 1953 when they moved in together in San Francisco. In 1955, they bought the small home that has been theirs ever since.

In what would prove to be an act that would change history, Martin, Lyon, and six other lesbians co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) in San Francisco in 1955. DOB, which was named after an obscure book of lesbian love poetry, initially was organized to provide secret mutual support and social activities. It became the first public and political lesbian rights organization in the United States, laying a foundation for the women’s and lesbian and gay liberation movements that flowered in the early 1970s and continue today.

Del Martin used her writing and speaking talents to challenge misconceptions about gender and sexuality. “We were fighting the church, the couch, and the courts,” she often remembered years later, naming the array of social and cultural forces early activists confronted when homosexuals were treated as immoral, mentally ill, and illegal. As the first President of DOB, she penned stirring calls to arms. “Nothing was ever accomplished by hiding in a dark corner. Why not discard the hermitage for the heritage that awaits any red-blooded American woman who dares to claim it?” She was the second editor (after Phyllis Lyon) of DOB’s groundbreaking monthly magazine, The Ladder, from 1960 to 1962 and ushered in a new decade of political engagement and media visibility for the nascent gay rights movement. The Ladder grew from a mimeographed newsletter in 1956 to an internationally recognized magazine with thousands of subscribers by 1970, and thousands more readers who copied its contents or circulated it among friends and coworkers. Martin’s many contributions to The Ladder ranged from short stories to editorials to missives: one of the most famous is “If That’s All There Is,” a searing condemnation of sexism in the gay rights movement written in 1970. Due to Martin’s influence, The Ladder provided one of the few media outlets confronting misogyny in the decade before the rebirth of women’s liberation.

In 1964, Del Martin was part of a group that founded the Council on Religion and the Homosexual in order to lobby city lawmakers more effectively to reduce police harassment and modify the sex laws that criminalized homosexual behavior. In later years, Martin was also a founding member of the Lesbian Mother's Union, the San Francisco Women's Centers, and the Bay Area Women's Coalition, among other organizations.

As an early member of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Del Martin worked to counter homophobia within the women’s movement – fear of the so-called “lavender menace.” She and Lyon were the first lesbians to insist on joining with a “couples’ membership rate” and Martin was the first out lesbian on NOW’s Board of Directors. Their efforts helped to insure the inclusion of lesbian rights on NOW’s agenda in the early 1970’s.

Lesbian/Woman, the book they co-authored in 1972, is one of Martin and Lyon’s landmark accomplishments. The book described lesbian lives in a positive, knowledgeable way almost unknown at the time. In 1992, Publishers Weekly chose it as one of the 20 most influential women's books of the last 20 years.

For many years, Del Martin was a leader in the campaign to persuade the American Psychiatric Association to declare that homosexuality was not a mental illness. This goal was finally achieved in 1973.

Del Martin’s publication of Battered Wives in 1976 was a major catalyst for the movement against domestic violence. Martin became a nationally known advocate for battered women, and was a co-founder of the Coalition for Justice for Battered Women (1975), La Casa de las Madres (a shelter for battered women) founded in 1976, and the California Coalition against Domestic Violence (1977). She lectured at colleges and universities around the country. Martin received her doctorate from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in 1987.

Martin’s keen political instincts and interests extended her influence into the mainstream Democratic Party. She and Lyon were co-founders, in 1972, of the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, the first gay political club in the United States. Martin was appointed Chair of the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women in 1976 and served on the committee until 1979. She worked as a member of many other councils and boards including the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. Throughout the years, many politicians recognized their stature as community leaders and sought advice and endorsement from Martin and Lyon.

It is difficult to separate Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon and write about only one of them. Their lives and their work have intertwined and their enduring dedication to social justice has been recognized many times. In 1979, local health care providers established a clinic to give lesbians in the San Francisco Bay area access to nonjudgmental, affordable health care and named it Lyon-Martin Health Services in their honor. In 1990, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California awarded the couple with its highest honor, the Earl Warren Civil Liberties Award. In 1995, Senator Dianne Feinstein named Martin, and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi named Lyon, as delegates to the White House Conference on Aging, where they made headlines by using their moment at the podium to remind the 125,000 attendees that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people grow old, too, and must be included explicitly in aging policies. The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality gave Martin and Lyon their Outstanding Public Service Award in 1996. They are among the most beloved figures in the LGBT community and have served as Grand Marshals at Pride marches across the nation and been honored by every major LGBT organization in the country.

Del Martin identified her own legacy in 1984 when she said that her most important contribution was "being able to help make changes in the way lesbians and gay men view themselves and how the larger society views lesbians and gay men." She had the courage to be true to herself when the world offered only condemnation for lesbians. Martin showed all of us how to have what she called “self-acceptance and a good sense of my own self-worth.” Del Martin never backed down from her insistence on full equality for all people and, even at 87 years old, she kept moving all of us closer to her ideal.

Gifts in lieu of flowers can be made to honor Del’s life and commitment and to defeat the California marriage ban through NCLR’s No On 8 PAC at

A public memorial and tribute celebrating the life of Del Martin will be planned in the next several weeks.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

This morning I was up at 4:30 a.m., which is actually a great time to do reading if one is not sleeping. Unfortunately, a consequence of this is as the day drags on, it is more and more difficult to stay awake. I am trying, heroically, however.

Here is a link to all of the photos from Australia:

There are 85 of them on the page so it takes a while for the full page to load.

In a delightful turn of events, my father has scanned the postcards that I sent him from Australia (I mailed about fifty postcards while in the country) and so I include those below as well. He has one more on its way to Saginaw, MI.

Dialogue about Judith Butler

This summer one of my projects has been to read Judith Butler. I’m nearly done with her books, though behind on posting about them on the blog. I’ve noticed on my weblogs that Judith Butler is one thing that brings visitors to the blog. Apparently many others are reading her as well. One person who read my posts on Butler is Lindsey, with whom I had this dialogue - I am in green while Lindsey is in blue.

Here's where I struggle with Butler and I've come to realize reading her that it is less of a struggle with Butler than with others readings of Butler. Yes, gender is something that is performative and inscribed and reinscribed constantly, but it is also something that exists beyond personal actions, even beyond community actions. Granted the body is the most politically charged template for imparting meaning, the body also serves as a mediator between the public and the private spheres. But, while _the_ body is meaningful politically, how is a specific woman’s body inscribed? To what extent does she/can she perform? I agree that gender exists beyond personal and community actions. I also tend to get a little pluralistic (as many genders as there are bodies, but admittedly this is not a very useful), but this causes other problems – intelligible gender is coded and all too often split in two. What is the “beyond”? 

Is the body the most politically charged template? Doesn't our template for meaning extend beyond the body? I think that we write as much meaning through things beyond the body - our words, what we say, what we write. As well as how we live, the spaces that we create for ourselves, the places where we put our bodies and where we interact with others. Can our lives and our inscriptions be really limited to our physical beings? Doesn't the performance of ourselves extend far beyond how we present the body? Can a person be known only through a physical encounter? To what degree to we present ourselves online (an increasingly important presentation - and performance?

Yes, it is interesting that there is a worldwide network with no bodies. =)
I agree, our template for meaning is multifaceted, and exists outside and inside the body. Consider a word such as “Rape” one of the most politically and bodily charged word, perhaps. Take “date rape” for example, which was not a term before the late 80s. Did women experience date rape before then? Bodies are what we have words for.
Regarding the pluralism, I find it interesting, but I don't think it holds up beyond theoretical. That is, I think that people perform a gender, or a multiplicity of genders, but that it is shaped by the community in which people exist. I think that there are microcosms of gender that get performed in peer groups. For instance, I was a particular type of lesbian (read woman) when I was in college. That changed when my peer group changed. Now my gender is read in particular ways as a partnered lesbian, as a lesbian living in the suburbs. People read my gender in terms of what is understandable and discernible to them which is based on THEIR experience much more so than my presentation.

Neat. Ok, does this mean that I am (or am not?) only the “seen” and the “interpreted”? Theatrically who is really whom. There are gender codes (or marks of gender performativity) that are and aren’t intended to be read. Some of these gender codes may not even be conscious, but we, as those who are hyper aware, would recognize more than most. There are degrees of awareness of performance, I think. Nonetheless I do tend to think there is multiplicity, and that is my concern when we split simply gender into two, three, or even four. But, given a person’s gender codes are legible (to or by any group), and even if these codes can change (even like socks), then the person’s performance is more likely intelligible. Anyway, that’s part of why I enjoy teaching first-year students in the English department, because in lieu of creating an environment for scholastic writing, we encourage them as thinkers to be better readers of marks of every sort of culture around them.
There are power relations at work in the world and understood by the world and those power relations are an integral part of the inscription and reinscription of gender.
I’m curious about these power relations. Are they fundamentally linguistic?                                                                                                                                                                                             AH! This is exactly what Butler talks about in Excitable Speech. I've not finished nor digested the book so that is about all that I can say about it. The opening, however, is very much about how power is and is not linguistic. At this moment, I actually don't think that power relations are fundamentally linguistic. I think that they are material. The power relations that I think of are related to who has access to decision making that influences other people and who has access to resources to the exclusion of others. Certainly there are linguistic implications to this, but much more, to me, there are economic questions. I have a bit of the Marxist perspective and union organizing perspective - who has the right to hire and fire? Who has the right to tell people to leave early? Who has money to secure his/her own time? Who has the ability to care for his/her basic needs and those of his/her family? These to me are the questions of power relationships. If I have the money and the decision making authority to control my own life, I have the power to inscribe and reinscribe my gender. If I do not, the question of gender has an entirely different framework.

Interesting, I wonder what this framework would be like…without money, per se.
To suggest, as some do - though I can't tell if you would - that gender is something performative by individuals and without material consequences in the world is something that is greatly concerning to me because it ignores history and historical placement of bodies. I don't think that Butler does this at all, but some of her disciples do. So I often just find myself adding too much of the performativity that Butler writes about gender that it has material and historic consequences. Again, Butler understands this and part of her project is in sussing out those consequences.

Yes! I agree. The body, and bodies, are texts (as suggested by “inscribed”), and texts are historically situated. Individual texts, canons, etc. In the 102 writing class I taught this spring, one of my assignments was “An historical approach.” Students chose a painting (visual text) and “read” it in terms of its historical moment – politically, artistically, symbolically, etc. 21st century “first” world United States American patriarchally determined able bodies have received and adapted on many levels bodies that are intelligible to their cultural time/space; and historical bodies are intelligible only through a contemporary cultural lens. That being said, how does an individual performance have any substantive consequence whatsoever? 
[A side note, I am reminded of a private school setting where everyone wears the same uniform, but everyone finds a way to express themselves – different color shoestrings, a barely visible tattoo, a different kind of scarf. Does this performance really differentiate one from another? or make any real material consequence?]

Individual performance does have a substantive consequence, but it depends at how wide the lens is. So for example in the private school, the lens is more narrow. Everyone is wearing the same uniform, but expressing gender or some other statement of individuality within that context. Extend the lens however, to include those students and the students of the nearby public school and there are different systems of gender and expression at play.
I’m still curious about this. The lens, wide enough, may allow for every marker of gender and expression. The private school sector, however, tries to stifle and constrict performance. So does society (close or far reaching). There is intelligible gender performance, and society determines, invents words to include and exclude, to appropriate gender within its framework.

What is really fascinating me about Butler is the way that gender has become an identity and her critique of that. I think in some ways feminism has produced the identity of male and female in a similar way to how Marx and Engels produced the notion of the proletariat. The analogy becomes interesting to me at the point that the identity of proletariat begins to come undone in some ways as male and female is now becoming undone. (As a side note, I was at  the Newseum in WDC yesterday and the front page of the English language paper in the United Arab Emirates was the story of Thomas Beattie having a baby. The first "man" to give birth. Why was this on the cover of the English language paper in the UAE? What does that mean?)

So I feel like what Gender Trouble did in 1990 when it was published was question a lot of assumptions of feminism and women's studies which opened up new thinking about post-colonialism and queer studies, but I also think that the materialist critiques of her work have a lot of value and that she is highly responsive to them as her work continues. I've been really compelled by two questions while reading her: what import does the lens of gender have for thinking about the world today? and what would our lives be like if we were not constructed with identities along the lines of gender, race, sexual orientation, nationality?

To what extent do these identities liberate and to what extent are these bins constricting? By that I mean, how easily can gender, race, etc. can be thrown out or shoved aside even in the very making of a statement, an article, or a movement? Does the lens distort (make things seem close or far), or to what extent does the lens allow for a more clear vision of reality? Further, is there a way to bend vision? Even to the extent of bending vision back on itself?
It seems to me that the nature of the bins is both to liberate and in the process of liberating to constrict. I think that is part of what JB talks about that the inscription of liberation is by its very nature generating what is the next constriction. 

There is a lot more dialogue still to be had here - care to join in?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Feminist Dystopias

On the plane to Mexico for spring break, I read Jeannette Winterson’s new book, The Stone Gods. The beginning of the book is spectacular as Winterson transports us to a future dystopic world. The problem with the book is that it unravels by the time Winterson reaches the end of the book. I desperately wish that she had written more of the first section of the book and ditched the second and third parts, although the trope of interweaving the three worlds is interesting and somewhat engaging. In spite of this criticism, this really is a fantastic book by an author that I just love. One of the very interest things about Winterson’s dystopia in The Stone Gods is how gender and sexuality operate as a fulcrum of the creation of her dystopic future.

I had the opportunity to watch the more recent dystopic, Children of Men, this summer as well, which was nominated for three Academy Awards. The interesting thing about Children of Men as a dystopia is the way that it, almost unwittingly, I think, fetishizes pregnancy. The framework of this film is that in 2027, conception is impossible and no children have been born, until a woman, an immigrant in England, is pregnant and seeking safe passage to have her baby. In the film, pregnancy is the opportunity for a future and for a release from the dystopia created by the film.

Unlike Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, where pregnancy and the control of the female body is the source of the dystopia, in Children of Men, pregnancy is the way that we are released, or delivered, from the dystopia. Atwood’s work is really a classic now and I think it’s interesting to consider these two books in light of The Handmaid’s Tale. Children of Men, for me, while disturbing and unsettling, does not have at the core of its analysis gender roles. Rather it embraces the current environmental horrors as the source of creating the dystopic future and then overlays gender, pretty uncritically, I think, onto the story--and uses traditional constructions of gender as the “savior” model for the book. Winterson, like Atwood, however, has at the base of her work an analysis about gender - and sexuality - and it is central to the telling of her story. That’s why while I see limitations to Winterson’s work in this current book, I admire it. As a professor of mine said, “Writing books is hard work.” That’s true, and writing them in a way that is informed by sex and gender is even harder.

Cool Things about Coming Home from Vacation

        •        Processing over 1,000 email messages (confession: I did dip in over vacation and delete some spam and other email while on free computers abroad)
        •        Two stacks of snail mail! I love the mail, especially when aggregated over two weeks. The piles were filled with letters, postcards, great catalogues, my favorite magazines, some bills, of course, and books!
        •        A three hour nap. Really. So. Very. Necessary.
        •        Having notes for three book reviews in place so I can feel like I did some writing today.

Martha Graham to Agnes de Mille

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique.
And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable it is nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.
You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you.
Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive.

~Martha Graham to Agnes  de Mille

MFA Reflections #3

I never introduce myself as a poet. Until recently, I recoiled from public pronouncements by other people that I am a poet. I suppose I found it somewhat presumptuous. Mary Oliver is a poet. Maxine Kumin is a poet. I am just me. Muddling through life, reading books, writing some poems. A portion of the MFA program is, in some ways, professionalization into the world of poetry. Though that seems completely ludicrous as the world of poetry is a world of very little economic value, something that is of the ultimate importance in the United States today, and it is a small world. By small, I mean not of ideas or ambition, but of people - poets, readers, admirers. The MFA is unlike the MSW, for example, or the JD. Those two degrees are invested integrally in professionalizing people for a life-long practice of work. I suppose that the MFA has some ambitions to that end, but honestly I think those ambitions are misguided. There are many things I learned through the MFA and there are ways that it changed my thinking about my life and my professional work, but the later isn’t the thrust of the degree. The thrust of the degree is not finding ways to embrace the moniker of poet or introducing young students to a professional society. The thrust of the degree is not to standardize a particular professional practice. The thrust of the degree is to provide time and space for the wild creative mind to go hunting internally and in the world. The thrust of the degree is to write poems. Each different, each hopefully better. Yes, there are particular professional bona fides that are a part of the degree as it lives in our society that thrives on such bona fides, but I think the more that it is considered outside of that realm, the better for us all.

The Anthropocene Era

(Note: Yes, I am back from Australia. Yes, I am totally whacked by jet lag. Yes, there will be photos, but it is going to take a few days. For now I am posting things that require minimal cerebral activity.)

I heard about this on the radio a few months ago, probably when the London society first reported on it. Now it is appearing in the progressive media. We are living at the dawn of a new era. Let us hope the planet survives to see the next era.

1. Farewell to the Holocene

Our world, our old world that we have inhabited for the last 12,000 years, has ended, even if no newspaper in North America or Europe has yet printed its scientific obituary.

This February, while cranes were hoisting cladding to the 141st floor of the Burj Dubai tower (which will soon be twice the height of the Empire State Building), the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London was adding the newest and highest story to the geological column. Although the idea of the "Anthropocene" -- an Earth epoch defined by the emergence of urban-industrial society as a geological force -- has been long debated, stratigraphers have refused to acknowledge compelling evidence for its advent.

At least for the London Society, that position has now been revised. This new age, they explain, is defined both by the heating trend ... and by the radical instability expected of future environments. In somber prose, they warn that "the combination of extinctions, global species migrations and the widespread replacement of natural vegetation with agricultural monocultures is producing a distinctive contemporary biostratigraphic signal. These effects are permanent, as future evolution will take place from surviving (and frequently anthropogenically relocated) stocks." Evolution itself, in other words, has been forced into a new trajectory.

Read the rest here.