Thursday, September 28, 2006

update links

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

9/11 with the queer arab girls

i read another column today that talked about how connected this woman felt with all her fellow americans after 9/11, and it got me thinking again about how different my 9/11 experience was from most people i know.

i'd moved to the bay area from the south, where i spent most of my life, a couple months before 9/11. then i'd moved to this house i was renting in berkeley like a month before. i hadn't found a job yet, and i was still sort of going through culture shock at how different the bay is from where i'd been living-- as well as the different shock of having split up with my partner of seven years. it was a crazy time.

i got a phone call from one of my arab-american dyke friends that morning, saying a little bit of what had happened and to come over. i went to andronico's, the super-fancy grocery store in berkeley, to pick up snacks to take with me-- i hadn't eaten breakfast yet-- and i felt totally disconnected from the other people there. i rushed off to my friend's house in oakland, where maybe 5 or 6 other arab american queers were watching tv-- mostly women, a couple of other guys, all of us vague friends.

we all huddled around the tv being really scared that cops were going to come and arrest us. we were talking about the japanese internment camps. we made expeditions-- always several of us at the same time-- to take off or cover up the "free palestine" stickers on our cars. my friend took the arabic word of greeting off her front door; we talked about whether her neighbors knew we were arab, and whether they were likely to try to beat us up. i thought about my brother, still in college in a small town in the south, and worried about him. he looks much more arab then me, and much more male then me-- i look like a jewish girl, he looks like an arab boy. i was scared he'd be attacked.

the whole time, we kept praying that whoever did it wasn't an arab. please, god, let it be operation rescue.

for awhile after i remember being really scared to talk about it in public. or to even talk about any stuff where people could tell i'm arab in public. my friends all said it's cool, people in san francisco aren't racist like that. but i knew that if i was still in the south it would be dangerous, and i got really nervous when my friends wanted to talk loud in public spaces. also i knew about those phone lines where you could anonymously report your neighbors for suspicious behavior. it was really scary.

it was also a hard time to be looking for work. the name on my resume doesn't sound arab to most people, but it does sound foreign. i have "us citizen" on my resume. my friend from hr at my last job told me that doesn't need to be there, but i think it does.

friday night i talked briefly with another female-to-male trans guy about name changes. he can't legally change his name & gender cause he's not a us citizen. i'm a us citizen-- i was born in the south-- but i feel like it's still risky for me. my current name is sortof borderline-- like i said, it seems to most folks foreign but not arab-- but i'm already more likely to be profiled, if i've got any clash between names or pronouns, or a name change, i think it pushes me over from borderline to definitely suspicious.

also, you know, arab men are a lot scarier then arab women-- which is what i legally am now.

i think about all this stuff all the time.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


After a really long week, I had a pleasantly low-key evening with a new but beloved friend. We cooked dinner, then hung out on the couch job-hunting on separate laptops. I got an email from an acquaintance-- I don't know him very well, but I like and respect him tremendously-- who I hadn't heard from in a long time. He wrote that he was thinking of me, wondering how I'm doing, and asking after me and my partner and if I'd like to have tea with him some time.

I'm quite moved. He knows I've got family in the Middle East, and I have this hunch that he wrote because he wants to be supportive if I'm worried about them. And I really appreciate it. It's a brave, socially awkward thing to do-- to reach out to somebody because you're thinking they might be hurting. I wrote him back right away. I'd love to have tea with him.

My friend and I wound up talking about how awkward it is to reach out to somebody who's suffering. I mentioned the fear of intruding, and she said that her own fear is of being an additional burden on somebody who is already overloaded-- that they will feel the need to take care of her. I relate to that fear. At the same time, my own experience is that most Americans hold back and avoid reaching out to somebody who is in trouble. The result is folks feeling alone, rejected, and abandoned by their communities in their time of trouble.

There are several times I've done that-- known somebody was suffering, and not reached out through fear of burdening or intruding on them-- and later learned that they were really isolated and suffering because nobody was supporting them. I regret this, and I want to try to avoid it. These days I phone, I leave voicemails saying that I'm thinking of you, I hope you're okay, I'd love to talk if you have the energy, but I also understand you might be too overwhelmed and busy to call back and please don't feel an obligation to do so. It results in rambly, long, slightly socially-awkward voicemails. Sometimes I'll leave several every month for a few months before I hear back from someone. But I generally get feedback that knowing I'm thinking of them is appreciated. Just hearing an affectionate voice can help break isolation.

I'd rather be pushy and socially awkward then abandon somebody in pain.

Eventually we all have trouble. We all deal with aging and illness and death in the family. So now's a good time to think about how we're going to help each other through.

Go ahead, send me email. Don't worry too much about being pushy or making me take care of you.

I'm just glad to hear your voice.

Monday, August 07, 2006

statement from underground queer iranian newspaper

We note some differences of opinion in the international lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) movement about how to best support LGBT people in Iran. We would like to express our view, and we believe that a great number of our readers share our opinion.

Iranian society has developed despite the oppression. The demand for democracy and human rights is growing in our country.

We believe that the human rights of Iranian women, students, workers and LGBT people are not western phenomenon but aspects of universal human rights and are important for human freedom, dignity and fulfilment in Iran – and everywhere.

Despite all our difficulties and dangers, the Iranian LGBT community is getting more and more informed and is expressing its demand for human rights. We identify as LGBT people and want the same freedoms that LGBT people worldwide want.

Let no one claim there is not homophobic oppression in Iran. Every LGBT Iranian is at potential risk of arrest, imprisonment, flogging and execution. Avoiding such a fate requires leading a double life and hiding one’s sexuality. Even though there are secret gay parties and magazines, we are all at risk. Great discretion is the only thing that keeps many of us from the jails of the authorities – and worse.

Any disagreement over the reason for the execution of Mahmoud and Ayaz in the city of Mashhad last July does not alter the fact that the execution of men and women indulging in same-sex relations is mandatory in the penal code of Iran.

For the record, we believe the two teenagers were hanged because of their homosexuality. The authorities are well-known for pinning false charges on the victims they execute. We urge people to never take at face value the charges claimed by the courts and newspapers. They are not reliable. In late July 2006, for example, a BBC television programme in England exposed how the Iranian authorities made false allegations about Atefah Sahaaleh, who was executed in

the city of Neka in 2004 for “crimes against chastity”. The Iranian courts even lied about her age, claiming she was 22 at the time of her execution. In fact, she was only 16 – a minor, like Mahmoud and Ayaz.

We express our appreciation and admiration for the united efforts worldwide on July 19 in support of Iranian LGBT people, against homophobic oppression and all executions in Iran. These efforts gave us Iranian LGBTs hope and inspiration. It is good for our morale to know that people in other countries care about us and are pressing the Iranian authorities to halt their homophobic persecution.

Some prominent authorities here in Iran publicly condemned same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage, following last year’s international protests against the Mashhad hangings.

This shows that your protests are having an effect.

The authorities in Tehran are concerned about the bad publicity they are getting all over the world.

Please do not stop. International protests are effective and we urge all groups around the world to work together for the common good of LGBT Iranians.

There is growing activity by Iranian LGBTs, both inside and outside Iran, to enlighten people about sexual diversity and respect for individual sexual orientation. Our E-magazine is part of that process.

The Iranian LGBT community in exile plays an important role in the struggle for LGBT rights in Iran. We believe that unity and cooperation between all LGBT Iranian activists is vital and important and we advocate this unity.

LGBT rights are part of human rights and they will be achieved in Iran by a joint effort from all Iranians for a democratic and modern Iran. International support for the democracy struggle inside Iran, at every level, is laudable and helpful.

We express our strongest opposition to any military intervention or military action against our beloved county Iran. It will not help the democratic struggle here but only strengthen the position of the conservative religious hardliners. War would close down the opportunities for reform. The authorities would use the pretext of “national security” to suppress debate and dissent, including the work of LGBT Iranians

Within our country, LGBTs need to make alliances with other oppressed sectors of the population who share our commitment to democracy and human rights. It would be a mistake to see LGBT rights as separate from the broader humanitarian struggle in Iran. Isolating our movement would keep it weak and marginal. LGBT rights should be a part of the mainstream Iranian democratic agenda.

We believe that Iranian LGBTs need support at every level, both nationally and internationally – from the UN, EU and national governments, and from human rights, NGO and LGBT organisations worldwide. We value your solidarity.

International pressure on the Iranian authorities regarding human rights and LGBT rights is effective and we welcome it.

Portraying homosexual rights in Iran only as a socio-cultural issue is harmful for our unity and the success of our struggle. It is our view that LGBT rights are about social, cultural, economic, legal and political justice. One cannot fight for LGBT people but ignore discrimination in the law and the fact that the Iranian authorities have made sexual orientation a political issue by denouncing and outlawing same-sex relations, and by punishing LGBTs with imprisonment and violent abuse, including torture and hanging.

We do not agree that the LGBT issue in Iran is purely a cultural matter.

LGBT rights are a political issue too. Achieving LGBT rights in Iran demands hard work, both socio-cultural and political – changing laws and institutions, as well as changing people’s values and attitudes.

Iranian homosexuals are oppressed by the authorities. But in some other Muslim countries, like Lebanon and Turkey, LGBT people are able to form their own organisations, organise conferences and publish their information.

This shows that greater liberalisation is possible in a Muslim country.

That is why, we strongly believe that in the current situation, the central obstacles against homosexual rights in Iran are the anti-homosexual laws.

That is why the removal of discrimination against LGBT people in the country’s penal code is vital. It would pave the way for a significant improvement of LGBT people’s lives by changing the law and removing the threat of arrest and other abuses. We also need democratic, reform-minded people to lead the country and to secure changes in the education system and the media tocombat homophobic prejudice and to promote understanding and acceptance of LGBT people.

Due to the current homophobic repression in Iran, we are unable to openly express our demand for LGBT human rights. That is why international LGBT pressure on the Iranian authorities, in solidarity with Iranian LGBT people, is most vital and welcome.

We thank you for your support. -- MAHA

Saturday, August 05, 2006

cultural appropriation & patent law

okay, so i recently had a revelation about another reason i hate it when white folks have dreads.

check out this article from boingboing:

Steal this plant: Brazil fights big pharma name-nappers BoingBoing reader Chris Spurgeon says,
Brazil is sick and tired of companies stealing their plant names, and they're not going to take it any more! Brazil has a wonderful rep for not just rolling over and accepting the increasingly draconian intellectual property treaties being foisted on developing nations by the first world. Their latest move comes in response to a growing trend. It goes like this:

1) Brazilians spend millennia eating some great tasting Brazilian plant that's also great for your health.
2) Foreign company learns about the plant.
3) Foreign company trademarks the plant name and creates a company to sell the plant (turned into a health drink, or shampoo, or anti-aging cream, or brain-tonic pills, or God knows what else).
4) Some poor guy in Brazil opens up a local business cooking up the plant for the locals. (He uses the plant name in his company's name). He starts a little export business selling his product.
5) He gets the pants sued off of him because some company 5,000 miles away trademarked the plant name. Never mind the fact that folks in Brazil have been calling the plant by that name forever.
6) Repeat over and over.

Brazil has now come up with a wonderfully pragmatic way to break this cycle. They've compiled a list (there's a pdf here) of more than 5,000 Portuguese language names of plants, seeds, roots, etc. They've shipped the list off to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and trademark offices around the world. The idea is that if all of these organizations and countries know a term is already in use they will be less likely to grant some company a trademark on it. Clever!

Link to article on the Intellectual Property Watch website. Image courtesy of Mauro Peixoto at The Fantastic World of Brazilian Plants, which does indeed look quite fantastic.

okay, so this is the other piece of the whole thing where white people wearing bindis and dreadlocks always say that they have as much a right to this as anyone and they're not doing any harm.

for a long time, countries like the us have been using the bulk of resources from the developing world. resources as in stuff-- raw materials-- and labor. we've been draining the resources of the planet, without giving back anything in returns. the harm is obvious. there are a limited number of natural resources in the world-- when we claim most of them, we make others more poor.

now, in addition to that, countries like the us are using cultural resources as well. yoga, bellydancing, dreadlocks. using the resources of the planet without giving anything back in return. the harm on this has been less obvious. after all, (whines the bindi-wearing sari-clad dreadlocked white person) i'm not taking away a sari from anybody else, am i? culture isn't a zero-sum game.

well, here you go. to add insult to injury, the us takes traditional knowledge, gives patents to the white people who steal it, and sues anybody from the traditional cultures who tries to make a living off of it.

patents aren't supposed to be granted to things that are already known. but what's known by an entire country of non-white people doesn't count. the first white person to apply for a patent gets it. did you know somebody recently patented 37 thousands-year old yoga poses?

how long before some white person patents dreadlocks?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

and she's named zena, too

a young woman blogging in beirut:

the entry for july 28th has a press release about the 15,000 ton oil spill from the israeli raid on the jiyyeh power plant-- the biggest environmental disaster in lebanon's history. she has asked us all to pass on the information.

for some reason the photo of a crab dying from the oil spill, and the eulogy she wrote for the crab, are speaking to me tonight:

Friday, July 28, 2006
a crab eulogy
by the way, we tried to wash the crab. tried to save it. but the oil wouldn't come off. it was so thick. we had to leave him on the beach. i want to take this moment to mourn all our sea life and animals that succumbed or will succumb to this senseless and unjust war. i apologize on behalf of mankind who can be really stupid sometimes. we invade your space, your habitats... we impose our way of life on you... we drag you into our mess... for this, i am so sorry. dearest Mother Nature, i hope you can find a way to forgive us. we still have so much to learn.

posted by zena at 7:41 PM 6 comments

all my love and prayers are for peace. not the stopping of this round of bombing, this round of israel's history of trying to destroy lebanon with my tax money-- but the changes that would bring real, actual peace.

god help zena and the crab and the rest of us, too.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

i love the mujadarra grrls

i'm looking at the possibility of putting together a print-on-demand book for bint el nas, the online journal i was involved with for the first few years i was in san francisco. i love the mujadarra grrls. they're my favorite activists ever; the most thoughtful, the most ethical, the most inclusive, and the most fun. it was a privilege to get to play with the smart hot awesome honorable girls.

meetings were also much less hideous then most activist meetings-- they involved more food and giggling. i'm remembering one which ended with my request to have l put makeup on me, to help me get into character for the transexual sex scene i was about to have with my then-boyfriend. i had been nervous because i don't know how to put on makeup like a real girl.

bint el nas had been coming out for a few years before i joined the team. i was involved before then though; the original two founders had consulted me when first creating the magazine, asking for suggestions on how to make the magazine trans-inclusive. and it was.

i hope we're able to put together this book thing. at this moment when beirut's lgbt center is in danger of being bombed, i'd love to be able to help make this gorgeous queer arab beacon available to the world in another form.

you can read a book, after all, in a city being bombed. even when there's no electricity.