Sunday, June 13, 2021

Undying Admiration

Before Anne Boyer deleted her Twitter account, she was my favorite mutual. We never met in person, but I admired her poems, and one of our interchanges on there contributed some inspiration and ideas that found their way into my story "Ruins of a Future Empire". However I hesitated to read her breakout success book, The Undying, as it seemed voyeuristic for a "man", as I still believed myself to be, to seek out a book about breast cancer.

As it happens, though, we are all implicated in breast cancer. My mother-in-law had it, and as she stubbornly works herself to exhaustion caring for my father-in-law, who is currently much more ill, my greatest fear is not that he becomes more ill, but that she has a recurrence, and suddenly worsens to a point where she can no longer insist on their capacity to manage on their own. Because my mother-in-law has had it, and because my partner inherited "dense breast tissue" down her matrilineal line, my partner is classified as being of greater risk, and gets imaged regularly. She recently had a scare. It turned out to be artefactual, a flicker of the ultrasound machine misunderstanding itself.

And the time will come, soon enough, for me to join the diagnostic parade. According to a presentation I attended on trans health, for trans women and nonbinary people who had previously been assigned male, the risks of breast cancer appear to reach parity with cisgender women's risks after about five years of HRT. Assuming that I remain on HRT for at least five years--and I have every intention of remaining on HRT--then I should get mammography at the same ages as women of my risk category. Fortunately, I am aware of no breast cancer history in my family, so it would not begin until 50. At the age of 50, my nonbinary gender identity will receive a peculiar sort of confirmation through the androgyny of my routine examinations: A doctor will examine my prostate, and then write a radiology prescription for me to get my tits smashed in between glass plates.

So I have read The Undying, now, and I would urge everyone to. As Anne points out, anyone with breast tissue--including men--can get breast cancer. And we all live in the capitalist carcigenosphere that she describes as no one else has or can.

This post is not so much about Anne Boyer or about The Undying, though, as it is about my own very peculiar experience of reading it. That is, imagining the possibility that the A cups which I waited so long to pursue, that I am so glad to have grown, that fill me with joy whenever they are caressed lovingly by my partner, that they could someday betray me. Having delayed my transition for so long, I want to live, if for no other reason than to have the duration of my joys outlast that of my self-suppression. If continuation of life should at some point require the sacrifice of the portion of my body that most readily symbolizes the reality of my transition, it would still be worth it, but the irony would be agonizing.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

A Note about the Palestinian General Strike

This post takes some scattered comments made recently in various formats on social media and attempts to synthesize them into something resembling a coherent argument. I should begin with a necessary disclaimer: It has been a decade since I made a point of routinely keeping up to date on Israel's social statistics and political events. I no longer pretend to be a researcher on Israeli society and the role therein of Palestinian workers. So this post will not contain any detailed quantitative analyses, nor will it attempt to provide a meticulously documented overview of various contending forces and trends within Israeli society. However, though my attention to Israel has waned over the last 10 years, compared to the period before, I remain interested, as a Jew who unconditionally supports the rights of the Palestinian people and therefore politically opposes the State of Israel and the Zionist movement. And the fact that I can read Hebrew sometimes gives me access to information that other such casual observers may have missed.

Many observers, both internationally and within Israel, were surprised at the impact of this Monday's Palestinian general strike on the Israeli economy, which hit sectors such as construction and food production and delivery particularly hard. They should not have been, though one can understand where the misperception of reality and the resulting surprise came from. Many people--myself included--have at times overstated the degree to which Palestinian workers have been excluded from participation in the economy, which is overwhelmingly controlled by Israeli employers in portions of the land under the direct military control of Israel. Palestinians suffer greatly from this exclusion, and therefore it is important to emphasize it, but one runs the risk thereby of overemphasizing it. Thus, for example, I once wrote something characterizing the response of the Israeli state and capital to the last time that Palestinians made extensive use of the strike, the first Intifada, as a "general lockout," in which the State sped up Jewish immigration from Ethiopia and the ex-USSR, while capital shoved the new migrants into the types of jobs that had hitherto been stigmatized as avodah aravit (Arab work). This was accurate, but only for a limited span of time. Thanks to the internationalization of racial-caste barriers the Ethiopian Jews are still largely stuck at that economic stratum, but most of the "Russians" have moved on. Internationally, Israel is running out of marginalized communities of Jews which it can import and exploit.

This is a problem, then, both for the Israeli state and for Israeli capital. Through dispossession of Palestinians, Israeli capital took possession, with the state as an active intermediary, of land and natural resources which were preconditions to accumulation. However land and resources are merely necessary conditions to accumulation, not sufficient. Capital requires labor, and it accumulates especially rapidly when the labor force is sharply segmented and therefore politically weakened in its resistance to accumulation. The degree and modality of this segmentation varies according to historical conditions. Israel is part of the subtype of colonial-settler states and societies. There is, however, no pure, Platonic form of colonial-settler society, and Israel is a particularly messy blend. At one end of the spectrum, one finds societies such as North America and Australia, where the native population is so thoroughly subordinated, so extensively expelled and destroyed, that the survivors of the resulting genocide can play only a relatively small role in the composition of the labor force. The extent to which the working-class of the settler population can be exploited is limited therefore by the material concessions which capital has to make in order to assure that they place their loyalty to the "white race" ahead of their loyalty to the international working class. These concessions did measurably slow the accumulation of capital in Canada and Australia at key moments in history, relative to their imperialist peers. It was less of a brake on the accumulation of capital in the U.S., for two reasons: First, the existence of an enslaved portion of the proletariat, and its demographic and temporal extension through the enforcement of a racial-caste barrier against all Black Americans, enslaved or free, which provided a model for the prolongation of superexploitation following slavery's formal abolition. Then secondly, in part through the operationalization of the racial-caste boundary, the staged and partial admittance of immigrant groups into the contingent and limited benefits of whiteness. The history of immigration and the formation of the U.S. working class is the history of the successive (but sometimes partial or revocable) admission of meticulously defined and re-defined groupings into hegemonic whiteness.

At the other extreme, we find the Apartheid model, exemplified, but never exclusive to, South Africa in the period from 1948-1994. That is, a state in which the native population is classified, segregated, and subjected to innumerable restrictions on where and how they may work, live, and even die and be laid to rest. Every colonial-settler society is, potentially and in reality, at certain moments of its history, an Apartheid state, even in the historical epoch before the Afrikaans word was coined and disseminated world-wide. For example, it can be argued that colonial society in what is now the United States pioneered Apartheid well before that name, with the establishment first of all of a category of hereditary chattel slavery to which laborers both of indigenous and African descent were subjected. It was only after indigenous labor was, in most areas of the emergent polity, genocidally destroyed that the mark of hereditary chattel slavery came to be confounded with the racial-caste mark of Blackness. Through the subsequent elaboration of an global discourse of "race," the indigenous labor of Africa came into the circuits of world capital already branded by irons that had been forged for their enslaved cousins in the Americas.

With this historical understanding of the range of colonial-settler societies, it becomes possible to recognize the degree to which Israel, in its treatment of the indigenous Palestinian population, has heterogeneously mixed and matched elements from both the Apartheid model of settler-colonialism (segregate and exploit) and the American/Australian model (expel, expropriate and destroy). The dynamic tension between these models has enabled Israeli capital to accumulate over the last 73 years with almost unmatched rapidity. (The document in which I argue for this is about 10 years out of date, and I would likely want to revise some of its subordinate conclusions before publishing it, but I do have back-up for these assertions.) The current working class of historic Palestine is complexly and multiply segmented. The most important division has been and remains that between Jews, on the one hand, and Palestinians, on the other, which is at least partly comparable to the Black/white division in the United States, or the African/European division in South Africa. However within each of these two major groupings there are multiple subdivisions that are at least partially recognized and reinforced by state policy, along lines of "race," ethnicity, religion, migration status, and geography. In this respect it is also comparable to both the United States and South Africa, inasmuch as both those countries were always also complex, and complexified, in ways that have been expertly turned into modalities of power. As in these predecessors, however, the complexities ought not to obscure the stark moral difference between those who are oppressed and excluded, and those whose identity depends upon participation in the mechanisms of oppression and exclusion.

And there are also, it must be added, groups that do not fit into the core dichotomy. These groups have proliferated especially in the thirty years since the first Intifada. I refer here primarily to groups of non-Jewish migrants, who can be put to use by Israeli capital as a source of labor comparable to Palestinian workers' in their precarity, but without the risk to profits that arise whenever Palestinians attempt to assert and defend their rights as indigenous people.

There have been two major categories of such migrants. The first consists of refugees and asylum seekers, mostly from various parts of Subsaharan Africa. For these migrants, Israel is more a destination of convenience than a preferred destination, because, unlike EU member states (with the partial exception of Spain, with its colonial enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the coast of Morocco), Israel has a land border with an African country, Egypt. The second consists of economic migrants, who are usually employer-sponsored--in other words, guest workers--and who mostly from non-Muslim countries and ethnicities in South Asia and Southeast Asia. The first flow is irregular and subject to militarized interdiction by both Israeli and Egyptian state forces. It was not even possible until after the return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egyptian control under the Camp David Accords and the Taba Agreement of 1989 (which coincided, helpfully for Israel, with the beginning of the subsidence of the first Intifada). The second flow is subject to tight bureaucratic supervision. This is not to say that migrants who enter via this route do not sometimes remain in irregular visa status, of course, as is the case with state-supervised economic migrants throughout the world. With both these groups of migrants--the refugees/asylum seekers and the guest workers--recruited for similar jobs to those available to Palestinian workers, there is of course some element of labor competition among these groups, and between these groups and Palestinians.

However, the same fact that keeps Palestinians in "48" (the original boundaries of the State of Israel) in a subordinate social position despite their Israeli citizenship, and that utterly dispossesses the Palestinians in "67" (Gaza & the West Bank)--namely, the avowedly "Jewish" nature of the state--also keeps both these categories of migrants in a very precarious position.

Let us consider, for example, how difficult it would be for a migrant to marry an Israeli citizen, either for love or for convenience. There is no civil marriage in Israel, due to a political power-sharing agreement with the Orthodox Jewish Rabbinate dating back to 1948, under David Ben-Gurion. Marriage must therefore be carried out by a state-recognized officiant of a state-recognized religion--Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or Druze. Each of these religions have limitations or prohibitions on marriage to someone of another religion. And perhaps the most stringest such prohibitions are those observed by the Jewish authorities in Israel. I don't know the details of what it would take for a migrant to marry an Israeli citizen of Christian, Muslim, or Druze faith, but I do know this: None of those marriages will qualify that migrant for permanent residency or citizenship in Israel. They will remain precarious. To become a citizen, only marriage to a Jew will do, and that is only possible following a conversion to Judaism that has been administered according to Jewish law in its most stringently Orthodox interpretation, as rendered by the Rabbinate. This sort of conversion is no easy matter.

Ironically, the traditional difficulty of conversion to Judaism evolved, not as an exercise in ethnoreligious chauvinism in service to a powerful state, but as a method of Jewish communal self-defense over centuries in "exile." So long as most Jews lived in the power of state authorities that were avowedly Christian or Muslim, and those authorities defined "apostasy" (e.g. conversion to Judaism) as a crime, any desire of non-Jews to become Jews was implicitly dangerous for the community as a whole. To reassure state authorities that Judaism was not a proselytizing religion, a whole host of restrictions proliferated--based of course on Talmudic precedent, but driven largely by matters of political convenience. Since "Jewish Emancipation" (dating, in North America, largely to the American Revolution), and in Europe, to the French Revolution and the partial spread of its juridical accomplishments through the Napoleonic conquests), there have been debates among Jews about whether such stringency is even needed any more. The Reform and Conservative movements have loosened up significantly. But remember, Reform and Conservative Judaism have little legal standing in Israel.

Consider the case of the Lemba people. They are an ethnic group found in parts of Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mozambique, and Malawi, who have traditions claiming patrilineal descent from Jews. Because Orthodox Judaism, and therefore Israel's immigration laws, does not recognize the validity of patrilineal descent, a group of Lemba who had formally converted to Judaism petitioned recently for permission to migrate to Israel. They were denied, however, because their conversion had been performed by a Conservative Rabbi. That stated, the authority of the Rabbinate is not absolute, due to the complexity of the power-sharing agreement with the state and the so-called "Law of Return". There have been other groups of migrants to Israel whose Jewishness, by the terms set by the Orthodox Rabbinate, was dubious--e.g. many former Soviet Jews--but for whom the State found ways of bringing them in as citizens. Comparing the Lemba to the cases of Soviet Jews, some of whom only had patrilineal descent--and some of whom were even practicing Christians!--suggests strongly that Anti-Blackness is a factor in their treatment.

That stated, if this happens with a coherent grouping of people with cultural traditions linking them to Judaism, imagine then how much more difficult it would be for individual migrants, of African or Asian origins, to become Jews, either sincerely or for opportunistic reasons. The traditional religious restrictions on conversion, therefore, serve the Israeli state and Israeli capital, then, as a means of conserving and enforcing the precarity of migrant workers. Therefore, while migrants are in daily competition with Palestinian workers for labor and pay, both groups are oppressed by the same mechanisms of chauvinist exclusion. Another glaring example on this point: It is commonplace, on the part of Netanyahu, other right-wing Israeli politicians, and the media, to refer to refugees and asylum seekers from Africa as "infiltrators". The same Hebrew word, mistanenim, was used after 1948 to refer to Palestinian refugees who attempted to cross the "Green Line" armistice border, in most cases for reasons as innocuous as trying to return home or trying to tend the crops they had planted.

This chauvinist maltreatment, which treats all non-Jews a priori as "infiltrators" is not qualitatively different from what migrants face in most of the world's wealthy nations. But there are many ways in which migrant life in Israel is worse than in many other countries, and migrants have a grapevine of sorts.

Meanwhile, among the Jews of Israel, the Orthodox population is growing faster than the population as a whole. If there was ever a window of opportunity for undoing Ben Gurion's compromise with the Rabbinate, it closed long ago. Thus, so as long as Israel defines itself exclusively and primarily as a Jewish state, the Rabbinate's hold on matters such as marriage & migration is irrevocable. Thus migrant workers, Palestinians of all classes, and any Israeli Jew who chafes under the ingrained conservatism and violence of their society, has grounds to be opposed the Zionist (Jewish-chauvinist) nature of the State of Israel.

The comparative unpopularity of Israel as a destination country, and its internal political reasons for making itself hostile to migrants, means that migrants will never fully supplant Palestinian workers' important economic role. And this is a source of hope, because it means that Palestinian workers still have a great deal of power that has yet to be fully unleashed against the Israeli state and capital, as was shown by the one-day general strike earlier this week. I will not end this essay by pretending to have the answers to how that power can be unleashed or what those workers should fight for. But I don't see anything compatible with human dignity short of a single, democratic state, from the river to the sea. (I'd prefer no state at all, anywhere, but that's my inner Emma Goldman speaking.)

Sunday, April 25, 2021

A Note on the Futility of Social Democracy

A difference between political parties in (most) European countries and in the United States: In Europe, political parties are power apparatuses formed with the intentionality of exercising authority within the separate power apparatus of the State. In the United States, however, with State-controlled party registration and regulation, political parties function in effect as part of the State apparatus already. Using the Foucauldian diagram of the panopticon: In Europe, party leaders function as prison guards surveilling social movements, as practice for their hoped-for role of administering the broader surveillance of state power. (The example of Tsipras and Syriza in Greece is instructive in this respect.) In the United States, however, there is no practice period. The difference between party leadership, elected officialdom, and the state bureaucracy is rudimentary and functionalist. Different functions are often co-located in the same person. Parties both surveil and are surveilled.

It is this that indicates the futility of U.S. social democracy, in both its right- and left forms. Right social democracy is the “realignment” fantasy shared by the majority of the Democratic Socialists of America, as well as the CPUSA. In this fantasy, the Democratic Party would not cease to function as part of the state apparatus, but it would do so in a way that is better aligned with the desires captured by the social movements that it electorally exploits—the unionized fraction of the working class, and minoritized racial, ethnic, and gender groupings. Thus the movements must conservatize themselves in order to capture and radicalize the Democratic Party. In the process, the movements have in fact conservatized themselves, as in the case of Labor, nearly out of existence. Left social democracy is represented by those groupings who insist it is possible somehow for a “new” party to give genuine representation to the working class, on the model of European social democracy. In the current atmosphere of DSA hegemony on the left, this tendency is not as visible as it once was, but it can be seen in various DSA minority groupings, in the “left” Greens who want to make the Green Party into an explicitly socialist party (or who insist, based on tortured readings of various GP position papers, that it already is one!), and in a few small groupings, usually of Trotskyist origin, who proclaim the need for a “workers party”. Such groupings do not recognize the degree to which U.S. political parties differ in their relationship to the State apparatus from European ones, and share a utopian view of the European reality that is out of step with the experience of workers’ movements there.

This note is not a general statement on the “party-form.” Such a statement would require both more empirical research (e.g., on the varying relations of parties and states in Latin America and other portions of the “global South”) and theoretical rigor (describing the fundamentally carceral nature of the diagram of power on which various types of party formations are based). But it provides adequate evidence, for those with eyes to see, on the futility of continued reliance on party formations in two important geographical spaces, the U.S. and Europe. Unfortunately, it is a futility that continues to consume much of what passes for “the left.”

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Notes for a Post-Foucauldian Research Program in Gender and Sexuality

The Foucauldian equation of Power/Knowledge only works when those with power take responsibility. (Foucault would quibble with the idea of any identifiable grouping “having” power, so let us say, pedantically, those constituted by power as authoritative.) Ignorance can be a tool of heedless authority, a means by which it retains stability. Ignorance can be cultivated, preserved, guarded jealously.

From this it follows that the smooth circuit of power, knowledge, and pleasure which he postulates in Volume 1 of The History of Sexuality is invalid, even within the arbitrary (Eurocentric, Christocentric) civilizational constraints he imposes on that study. The pleasure of knowing does not exhaust the scope of pleasures that can be taken. Pleasure can be experienced in the absence not only of power but even of knowledge. By studying and naming a phenomenon, one has called it into discursive existence, but the means by which that phenomenon participates in power may come about through discursive practices other than the scientific (knowing). Ample historical evidence for each of these points exists in the generation and comprehension of minoritized genders and sexualities.

Further: Within that volume there is a self-contradiction, which may or may not be related to this. On the one hand, he claims that “Power comes from below; that is, there is no binary and all-encompassing opposition between rulers and ruled at the root of power relations….” (Part Four, Chapter Two, “Method”, p. 94) And yet in his periodization of sexuality he argues that “sexuality is originally, historically bourgeois” and speaks of “the proletariat’s hesitancy to accept this deployment and its tendency to say that this sexuality was the business of the bourgeoisie and did not concern it” (Part Four, Chapter Four, “Periodization”, p. 127). This proletariat he describes speaks in an unusually (for Foucault, though not for vulgar Marxists) univocal manner, and does not seem to include, e.g., proletarian women who agitated for birth control technology. If we take seriously the notion that “power comes from below,” then we must consider the possibility that these women were advocating for pleasures (the least of which would be, the pleasure of not having to worry about having yet another child) regarded as unspeakable by the bourgeois knowledge of the time. They advocated for one knowledge—the recognition and regulation of one’s own menstrual cycle—against another—the demographic certainty with which the bourgeoisie hoped that the reproduction of the labor force could be regarded as a matter that “took care of itself,” part of the faux frais de la production.

Thus: A disjunction between power and pleasure, that took the temporary historical form of a quarrel between types of knowledge. One need not adhere to the repressive hypothesis which Foucault so thoroughly and effectively discredits, for the same historical evidence can show how the demands of pleasure were soon enough recuperated into the circuits of power, through the expansion and segmentation of the productive labor force and the commoditization of care work. But one can see here--and in many other places--how inadequate a framework for critical analysis Power/Knowledge is.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The Structural Antisemitism of Cuomo's New COVID Maps

I want to emphasize structural here, because I am discussing how the methodology apparently used in formulation of these maps would have resulted in disparate outcomes that are detrimental to Haredi Jewish communities in ways that do not benefit public health independently of whether or not there was any intention, on the part of Governor Cuomo or others, to do so. (I have reasons to believe that there was a combination of spite, arrogance, and political pandering to antisemites at play, adding up to intentionality, which time permitting I will discuss in a separate post.) For now, though, let's look at the maps.

Based on Cuomo's own tweets, showing how lines of the various zones relate to the residential addresses of individual recent COVID cases, the approach seems to have been to draw the lines based on the density of of residential cases. Some of the absurdities of this have already been noted on Twitter. GIS geeks have pointed out that the lines do not follow streets, meaning that residents and business owners at the boundaries of different zones have to guess where they land and what restrictions they are subject to. As a result of that oversight, I noticed that the campus of Queens College, where I used to work, falls into three zones: A slice of yellow, a chunk of orange, and a sliver of red. A spokesman for St. John's University pointed out that they were 2/3 in Yellow, and 1/3 in the clear. No doubt the administrations of these institutions will be seeking clarity from the State government. The absurdity of Queens College is especially pointed, since it is not a residential institution--nobody lives there! So whoever drew the lines was clearly trying to create some sort of compact-looking boundary without taking account of the fact that they were cutting through a major institution of higher education.

The absurdities of the line-drawing exercise impact all New Yorkers, but the way they went about selecting where to draw the lines, by focusing on density and residential addresses, was bound to have a disparate impact on Haredi communities, who are more likely than most contemporary Americans to live in large, intergenerational households. They are also more likely to live in apartment-like structures than other groups. This helps account for why Cuomo's methodology resulted in more stark divisions in suburban areas, such as Orange and Rockland Counties, than in Brooklyn and Queens. In New York City, the family structures and residential buildings of non-Jewish (or non-Orthodox) neighbors are more likely to be similar to those of their Haredi neighbors than out here in the suburbs. (This has accounted for some of the negative response to Kiryas Joel here in Orange County, the fear that the Satmarim bring an urban lifestyle--and urban problems--to a setting that is mostly suburban, even partly rural.) But it is when we look at the reasons why Haredim have these lifestyle differences that we start to uncover how the methodology is also premised on fundamental misunderstandings of how contagious diseases spread.

Haredim are drawn to high density housing not because they like being on top of each other more than other people do, but because religious observance makes it convenient and desirable. On Shabbos and other major holidays, one must not drive, at all. Therefore it is necessary to live within walking distance of one's synagogue and mikveh (ritual bath). This also helps account for the relatively cramped family living quarters: While part of the appeal of this area was that relatively prosperous families are able to buy rather large houses at prices that are lower than most of the NY metropolitan area, most families in KJ are not so prosperous. Women with children, as a rule, don't work outside the home after their second child. If the husband works in a religious calling, those jobs do not tend to have much in the way of monetary compensation. The relatively prosperous families tend to be those with some sort of business. Businesses that cater specifically to the community, such as selling Judaica, preparing kosher foods, or clothing that matches the idiosyncrasies of custom, can only support so many. But even those who work in outward-facing businesses try to stay relatively close to home. It stands to reason: If you and your car must be home well before sunset on Friday evening, it would not be good to get stuck in traffic on the New York State Thruway. So as a rule, Haredim tend to stay relatively close to home: School-age children, as young as 3 years old, going to religious schools, women staying home with the younger ones, men working as close to home as possible, most business needs being tended to locally, without venturing very far afield for things such as diapers, prescriptions, or banking. There are exceptions to this, of course, but the exceptions prove the rule.

Contrast this with how my family lives. At this point, because of COVID, my kids rarely get to go anywhere other than their school buildings. In this respect they are, for better or worse, not so different from Satmar kids. However my partner works as a librarian at Marist College, in Poughkeepsie. She works from home 2-3 days a week, but is in her office, in the library, the remaining work days. We both make trips out for household necessities and, since the restrictions were loosened, some personal care. Most of these trips are local--Monroe, Harriman--but for some things we might end up in Cornwall, Beacon, Middletown, or even New Paltz. So if I got COVID, contact tracing would not remain local to the town of Woodbury and environs, but have to reach out to the staff of my butcher in Beacon, my liquor store in Cornwall, my hairdresser in New Paltz. If my wife got it, all of her coworkers at the Marist Library, who live scattered in various locations around the Hudson Valley, would have to be tested, along with possibly some faculty or students. And our family has been relatively cautious, compared to neighbors who are enjoying sporting activities and indoor dining.

Therefore what I submit is that, while the density of dots, individual cases, in Kiryas Joel looks very frightening--and it is very frightening!--the lesser density of cases in the surrounding "yellow" zones of Monroe and Woodbury, or even parts of these towns and surrounding areas that are subject to no new restrictions, is no cause for complacency, given the differences in lifestyle between a Satmar and an average non-Haredi American suburbanite. Cuomo and his supporters are boasting that the zones and restrictions are based on "science" and "data," but a real science-based, data-driven approach would not have focused not on where people with new COVID infections live but on where they likely got it. To estimate that would require a robust contact tracing program. And despite Cuomo's boasts that New York State's contact tracing is the "best in the country" (which I doubt), its data is apparently not robust enough to have allowed his administration to consider that as a possibility.

Thus, by focusing on residential address, Cuomo and his staff ended up taking an approach that ignores the realities of infectious disease transmission, in a way that was bound to come down heavier on Orthodox Jews than on most of their neighbors. Given the latter, it is no wonder that many Haredim feel that they are being discriminated against, which in turns makes it even more likely that people will rebel against the restrictions. This is particularly the case given the strictures on schooling and religious observance, which to such a community can appear as an attempt at cultural genocide. (Time permitting, I will make a future post explaining why this description is not hyperbole.) The maps and their underlying methodology are therefore structurally antisemitic--that is to say, they are antisemitic in effect regardless of the intentions of the people who drafted them--and detrimental to the public health aims they purport to serve.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Gender Trouble: A First Pass at a Few Frequently Asked Questions

If your pronouns are "he" or "they," does that mean you are still in some sense a man?

I never was a man. "Man" was an identity marker that I tried to live with and up to for a quarter century, at the expense of my sense of self and well-being. Including "he" in the options is a preemptive concession: I have been called "he/him" long enough that I am used to it, and if you are used to calling me that, I am signaling that I will not fight you over it. I will fight over other things. To be fair and complete, I would welcome "she/her" as well, if someone feels moved to refer to me thus, but I will not lay claim that up front in a quick introduction. Mostly because it feels potentially trivializing to trans sisters who identify as, are unequivocally, women, and who have had to struggle through more bureaucracy, medical intervention, social opprobrium, hatred and self-hatred, to claim that for themselves. "Genderfluid" means, sometimes I am predominantly masculine, sometimes predominantly feminine, sometimes--most often, in fact--some varied and varying mixture of the two, which can also mean, neither at all. It means you would need partial differential equations to describe my gender, and PDEs are sometimes insoluble. If you must encapsulate it in the symbolic order, then I'll borrow the words of Prince Rogers Nelson:

I'm not a woman, I'm not a man
I am something you will never understand

Or maybe you will. The scope of human understanding is growing, I hope and believe.

So, then, why aren't you changing your name?

The reasons are varied.

First, pragmatic: I already have a professional track record and publication history under this name.

Second, emotional: The great-grandfather after whom I am proximately named is one of the few people I am related to against whom I hold no grudge, perhaps because he died before I was born. And the biblical figure who is my ultimate namesake--the Joseph of Genesis, not the one of the "New Testament"--is a character with whom I have identified since I was a child. The wearer of the coat of many colors, the interpreter of dreams, sold into bondage by his brothers and escaping through wit and foresight. Read between the lines and you'll also see that he was queer as fuck.

Third, my habitual formality: Some have pointed out that "Jo" could be a shortened version of the name that would be readily perceived as ambiguous with respect to gender. But some of my earliest memories are of rejecting nicknames: Someone once called me "Joey," and I wailed that I was not a baby kangaroo. "Jo(e)" with or without the "e" (or, in the case of my spouse, with a macron and a final "h") signifies a level of emotional intimacy I allow only to a few--my partner, the best man at our wedding, my brother and sister, a small number of closest friends. If you feel close enough to me to try it, do so in my presence. If I look daggers through your chest, then kindly revert to Joseph. I certainly will not allow the state or its agents that sort of counterfeit intimacy.

Lastly, and perhaps most potently, my stubbornness: My name has been defying expectations since I was born, thanks to my surname. Tomaras "doesn't sound Jewish," and for those in the know--mostly Greeks--it is recognizably Greek, which because of the religious construction of Greek identity around the Orthodox church also implies "not Jewish" (never mind that there have been Greek-speaking Jews in the territory known as Greece since well before Saul set out on the road to Damascus, let alone changed his name and started writing epistles). Through the stubborn fact of my existence it has become a Jewish name. This is why I won't change my surname, even though it marks a patriarchal inheritance that I loathe, or rather, precisely because it does. My pappou, a fascist and a wellspring of hereditary trauma, boasted of having traced the family line back 600 years to an eponymous mountain in northern Greece. For a grandchild bearing that name to be a queer, Jewish communist is like a well-placed gob of spit in his eye. If through my stubbornness (and fecundity) I have made Tomaras into a Jewish name, perhaps through similar stubbornness I can get people accustomed to thinking of "Joseph" as a name that does not necessarily imply male gender.

I said there would be things I would fight about.

So if you're nonbinary, why are you taking hormones?

I am taking hormones because I am nonbinary. I am thankful to a transmasculine friend who, in a conversation about my elder child, mentioned that this could even be a possibility. That got me thinking. It has been difficult for me to look into a mirror for the last decade. I have always strongly resembled my father. About ten years ago, I reached the age that he was when he started regularly abusing me, and the resemblance became uncanny, frightening. If hormone therapy has no other effect than to lessen this, then that would be sufficient. Better fit into a wider range of clothing would, over the long term, be an additional desired effect. I am already seeing psychological effects--which may be due to the hormones, or may be due to the placebo effect, but even if it's the latter, placebo effects are real and medically measurable. I had not fully anticipated these effects, such as more spontaneous demonstrative emotion with my spouse and kids, but they are desirable. The tablets cost me about 12 cents each. Given all that, why wouldn't I?

You're unemployed right now. Couldn't doing this, and being so public about it, complicate your job search?

You know what's really complicating my job search? The fact that we're heading into an overdue global depression, which in the United States has been compounded and accelerated by a completely botched public health response to COVID-19.

In the course of the career that I stumbled into, grant administration, I have enabled the organizations that have employed me to obtain and manage about $60 million. In that time period, my total compensation has been less than 2% of that figure. Any organization that would overlook that because a quick Google search uncovered information about my gender identity and presentation is not only bigoted, but will ultimately suffer for it. And if the economic crisis, the public health crisis, my own openness, and the foolishness of others ultimately do prevent me from securing a new job in that field, then I will not be sad to leave it behind in favor of something else.

I have various possibilities in mind. One would be focusing on writing. In the last week I have started work on a novel, and seem to be making interesting progress with it. To stand out from crowd among writers requires at least one of these three things: attractive youth, genius, or outrageousness. Youth is a thing of the past for me. Up to now I have not applied myself sufficiently to writing to be able to make a plausible claim for genius. So outrageousness it is.

Does the novel you're working on have anything to do with gender?

Of course it does, silly! A smart person once wrote that "race is the modality through which class is lived." Along the lines of that thought, one can say that gender is the attentional frame through which any experience at all can be said to be lived. (Yes, my vulgar-Marxist friends, that does imply that gender precedes class. Please re-read your Engels before you protest.) The novel is a genre of writing which treats lived experience as its medium. Every novel, inasmuch as it succeeds as a novel, is "about" gender, whether its jacket copy says so or not, much as epic poetry is always "about" divinity, tragedy is always "about" fate, and lyric poetry is always "about" beauty.

But beyond this truism, two of the three main characters are trans. It is based loosely on an unpublished short story of mine. Reflecting on why that story failed, I realized that one of its weaknesses was that its main character was too close a mimickry of the sad man I was trying and failing to be in my 30s. I have successfully written stories around characters like that, but usually only by giving them some sick twist. This character, by adhering too closely to its model, ended up being merely pathetic. Another failing was that another character had come to a sad end that was too abrupt. I realized that I could deal neatly with both these failures by making both characters trans, but that the structural changes this would entail to the story would necessitate a much longer arc. Hence, a novel.

Friday, July 3, 2020

A Full (Re-)Introduction

I have been out as bisexual, to most people and for most purposes, since I was 16 years old. (A salient exception to this would be my father. If he happens to stumble across this post, here is my personalized message to him: Yes, your eldest son is a faggot, a poustis, to use a word you used so often and freely in both English and Greek. If you're fine with that now, I still have many other reasons to hate you and not want you in my life, so fuck off and die.) Yet I have not identified publicly, until now, as anything other than a man. This despite the fact that my questioning of gender identity began even before my questioning of sexual identity. Yet I have heard so many of my fellow 40-something queers bemoan the fact that we have been slower to come at this than has been possible for the "kids these days," young people who have so many more ways available to question and problematize the prisonhouse of gender. The consoling truth, though, is that we simply did not have the language available to us, at least not readily. Here is my story, interlaced with some textual analysis.

As soon as I was grown enough to pull it off, about the age of 13, I started sneaking into my mother's clothes whenever I had the house to myself. This was not easy. My mother is a very tall woman. She's still taller than I am. If my mother reads this, I doubt that is when she finds this out: I was never as good at hiding things from her as I thought I was, so I suspect she already knew. It was along a similar timeline that I had my first sexual experiments with other boys. I will not go into details about this because people are justifiably queasy about descriptions of childhood sexuality. Suffice to say that both for me, and for the other boys involved, it was possible to mentally compartmentalize these experiences as a kind of "opportunistic homosexuality," similar to that found in prisons and on ships at sea. That is, since we were all nerds and dorks of various sorts, we could rationalize that we were just "practicing" for the girls whom we perceived as being unavailable, and thus that we were able to reassure ourselves that we were really not "that way."

I started college early, at the age of 15, and began my first sexual relationship with someone of the opposite sex shortly before my 16th birthday. This complicated relationship lasted the better part of an academic year and was in most ways bad for both of us, but since she was frankly bisexual herself, I owe her the debt of gratitude of helping me recognize that I was and am also bi. Within a few months of this realization I had told nearly everyone in my life, even my then-7-year-old little sister.

So if I was able to come out so soon as bi, why not as genderfluid, the word that I now believe best encapsulates my gender identity? A long answer would entail a detailed gloss on Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's Epistemology of the Closet, of which I do not presently own a copy. The short answer is: The word did not exist yet. But there are historical and biographical details that help explain why I would not be the person to coin it, either. Those details are worth retelling.

In college, I continued dressing from time to time. (In the first year, I was particularly blessed that that first girlfriend and I were the same size!) But I was fairly certain--and grew more certain as I entered my 20s--that I was not trans. That is, according to the cultural codes & definitions still prevalent in the mid 1990s, I was not "a woman in a man's body." I felt no dysphoria in relation to primary sexual characteristics (though some in relation to secondary sexual characteristics). So I thought of my forays into femininity as being "drag."

This way of conceptualizing things was helped, once I declared a major in philosophy, by the popularity of Judith Butler's Gender Trouble, which had been published a few years before in 1990, and her conceptualization of gender as performativity. I still find this conceptual framing quite useful, and most objections I have seen to it are based on misunderstandings of the meaning of "performative." (I will not discourse on that at length, as it would take us too far into the realm of philosophical nerdery and in ways that Butler herself has already answered better than I can.) In retrospect, however, my ventures in "drag" differed from most of what is understood as drag in the absence of "camp". The object was not to portray an exaggerated notion of femininity, but to express a feminine dimension of myself, to be related to publicly & sociably as femme. Yet since I did not always wish to be such, since there was also a masculine dimension of self which I was often quite comfortable expressing publicly and sociably, it did not seem, by the lights of what I understood at the time, that I could be "trans" in any way.

I am certainly not saying that such an understanding was absolutely impossible at the time: I had contemporaries in college who were transmasculine or transfeminine in ways that differed from the popular understanding of transsexuality, and that I did not fully understand at the time. I only mean to say that it was not in me to be a pioneer of a term that had not yet been coined. The first written usage of the word "genderqueer" that I can find via Google Books is from an academic book published in 1996, when I would have been a junior or senior in college, and may actually not be an intentional coinage of the author but an artifact of hyphenation. Even if I had been searching for such a concept, it is unlikely I would have encountered it.

However, 1996 was the year when I would have been least likely to be searching for such a term. I had just begun a serious, apparently heterosexual relationship, with the woman who would become my spouse. She now understands herself to be bi, and fairly butch. But she was not aware of either when we were both in college, and so she had not been involved with the LGBT student milieu on campus. Thus, by involving myself with her, I ended up getting exiled from that milieu. Let me say, it was just lovely hearing through the grapevine about friends saying, "Just watch, he'll be gay again within a year."

I had never claimed to be anything other than bi, and I was not claiming anything different. However, this adverse social pressure left me with the sense that, if I was to make the relationship work, I would need to distance myself from the queer "subculture" of which I had formerly been part. Honesty compels me to note, also, that while my wife is perfectly supportive now--we had a detailed conversation about my gender identity a couple of days ago, and as a result I am literally the happiest I've been in years--allowing her to get herself there took some work, time and patience on my part. She felt insecure about my sexuality for many years, and as we shall see, at times I gave her causes for insecurity.

I did not dress again for about ten years.

In that time, a few other things happened.

  1. After some episodic activism during college, in my senior year I began sustained, organized involvement in socialist politics.
  2. I entered and quickly quit graduate school.
  3. After leaving graduate school, I got my first full-time office job, as a data-entry clerk at an insurance company in North Carolina.

All of these facts, including the socialist politics, contributed to the reconstruction of the closet.

Let me first talk about the job. My boss there was a good old boy. He was racist and sexist in casual ways from which I slightly benefited (e.g. with a quick promotion). He wore suspenders every day, and would do his Foghorn Leghorn strut around the office every morning as if inspecting his property. Even before my first interview, I knew I would no longer be in an environment where people read Judith Butler. As soon as he shook my hand, though, I knew I would have to "butch up". That is, the gender that I would have to perform to my fullest was the gender which I presented in my pressed, white, Oxford collared, buttoned-down shirt. It was time to be a man, and particularly, a "professional" and white man. I returned his firm grip, and negotiated what I thought would be a decent starting salary.

My subsequent jobs were in what, to a casual observer would seem to be more supportive environments, but I entered each alert. For example, my next boss, in a law library, was a gay man. But after my collegiate experiences of biphobia, I was careful not to let on anything about my identity to him or other coworkers until I was sure that none of them would take it amiss. Later on, my first job in academia was a mixed experience. The "big boss" was a physics professor who was notorious for his racism, sexism, and general abusiveness to subordinates. However, my immediate supervisor was a woman who was involved in local Green Party politics. I still was cautious. Here is what caution and "butching up" got me at that job: A series of raises and promotions that nearly tripled my personal income in the span of six years, and moved me from the secretarial/clerical ranks to the lower layers of the managerial class. White male privilege is real.

Perhaps if my political life had been more of a refuge, the continual performance of masculinity would have seemed to be less of a necessity. It was not much of a refuge. My political home for just over a decade was a small Trotskyist group that most people reading this have no reason to know about. At the time of its formation in the 1970s, the group in question had had, by the standards of small Trotskyist groups at the time, relatively advanced positions on what was referred to back then as "the gay question." This was part of what had attracted me to it, since similar such groups were worse. Nonetheless, I did push gently to update its positions. For example, at a membership convention--the only one that was held in my years of membership--I had proposed updating our nomenclature from "the gay question" to "the LGBT question" and including some acknowledgement of the importance of trans rights in a "perspectives" document. (Apologies to readers unexperienced in far-left politics for the jargon. Those with some experience of democratic centralist groupings in general and Trotskyist ones in particular may have some sense of the internal significance of both a convention and a perspectives document; describing this to other people would take us too far afield.) I was not prepared for the ferocity of the response. For my efforts, one of the founding leaders of the group denounced my amendment, and by extension me, as "petty-bourgeois". Because of my academic background, this was a sore point that resonated even with some people whom I thought might be inclined to support me. My amendment was voted down by an overwhelming majority. The absurd irony that the denunciation was directed from a straight, retired professor to a young, queer secretary is only apparent to me in retrospect. (Also absurd: The fact that I can't "show receipts" because there were never any official minutes of that convention, because the person who was "National Organizer" at the time lost all the notes. But that's too far off the point, and the grouping in question is too politically insignificant to merit a retrospective polemic. Someday, I'll write a satirical novel and get it all out of my system.) What matters for the purposes of this essay is that, by the standards of "democratic centralism" to which I held myself at the time, any particular attention to trans rights had been held by a majority vote of the membership of my organization to be petty-bourgeois.

Nonetheless, I was not in a state of total epistemic closure. Around this time, I was fairly active on LiveJournal. My presence there was totally pseudonymous, and kept on the DL from my organization, which tended to be suspicious of the internet as a forum for political discussion. Thus my LiveJournal functioned as an outlet for practicing writing techniques too experimental, or working out ideas too heterodox, to be of use in either my work or my political organization. In effect, it was a lengthy rehearsal for my fictional writing "career," such as it has been.

It was on LiveJournal that I first encountered the word "genderqueer." And when I first encountered it, and explanations of what it meant, something about it sounded mostly right, but not quite right, for me.

Even so, "democratic centralism" had just decreed that innovations in terminology relating to sexuality and gender were "petty bourgeois". And so my initial response was mockery. My apologies in retrospect for anyone whom I may have hurt with that mockery: Know, then, that I was hurting myself as well.

Another irony: I am still friends with some members and former members of that group, and they are more vocally supportive of trans rights than they were back then. But I note that their changes of heart followed, rather than led, shifts in liberal public opinion (at least in the U.S., as opposed to the U.K., where much of liberal opinion, and a significant portion of the left as well, is virulently "trans-exclusive"). I have already written on why I no longer consider myself a Leninist, but Lenin did coin an excellent word for that type of political behavior: "tail-ism". Who's petty-bourgeois now, comrades?

So with my work life and political life framing our perspective, let us look at my gender expression in my mid-to-late 20s. I was in an apparently "straight" marriage. I was getting increasingly prosperous, in ways I had not expected. I was getting frustrated with but remained loyal to my political group. My partner was expecting that we would start working on having our first kid soon. I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Therapy helped. After a lot of work, I realized that the major stressor was the issue of kids. I was afraid I would be like my father, and ironically, some of the destructive behaviors through which I expressed this fear mirrored his. One way to deal with the stress: I was fucking around with guys on the DL. Another way: Drinking too much, smoking too much pot, and getting in fights with people. With friends, family, and comrades, the fights were verbal, but because of my history of physical abuse, I was far too slow to recognize that verbal abuse is also abuse. (And my outbursts were not solely verbal: I got into public fights with strangers, sometimes in ways that were considered acceptable within a political framework, e.g. antifa work, and sometimes just because I was being an asshole. I was very careful never to be the one to throw the first punch, but I was good at dodging, albeit less effective at landing retaliatory hits. In retrospect, one thing I wish I had had during this time period were friends who shared my taste in punk and hardcore: I could have gotten this out of my system with some slam dancing at concerts, the way I used to as a teenager. But for the long term, therapy was more effective.)

In short, I was having my first major mental health crisis since grad school, and I had a lot to work on with my therapist. My biggest challenge was the issue of abusiveness and kids. If my marriage was to survive, I had to address it. I had to stop abusing others and myself. If I could achieve that, then I could assess honestly whether I did, in fact, want a child. That is where we focused our efforts. So while we did discuss sexuality some, I did not discuss gender much with her. (In fact, though I have had five therapists--two who were excellent, and three who ranged from mediocre to disastrous--gender has been the topic I've discussed least with any of them.) I am still married, and I have two kids, so apparently that worked out.

Another thing that helped, though, even though I did not discuss it much with my therapist, was dressing again. I went out to t-girl nights at bars in Manhattan, though not the kind (increasingly rare thanks to Giuliani's and Bloomberg's crackdowns) where sex workers congregated. Of course, there were chasers present, but mostly I succeeded in avoiding them, and hung out with the other ladies. It was through conversation that I realized that I was one of them to some extent, but not entirely, and not always. The question of "going full-time" would come up, and that didn't seem like what I wanted. Maybe there was something to that "genderqueer" neologism?

So why did I not continue dressing regularly? Here's what is impossible to anticipate before you have kids: Just how much time, energy, and money they take. I stopped publicly expressing my femme moments, for no more substantive reason than this. I hadn't the time, energy, or money. Take, for example, hair removal: It's expensive if someone is doing it for you, and it takes a while if doing yourself. And yes, I know it's not an absolute necessity--women and non-binary people have body hair. But I'm Greek, and if I'm wearing a low-cut dress and mountains of chest hair are peeking out? It's not a good look. It's a dysphoria trigger. And if I had gained weight--as I did, heading into my mid-to-late thirties--and no longer fit the clothes I had bought before, should I buy more?

Here's where we get back, by a circuitous route, to my Daddy issues: My father was not just abusive, he was neglectful. He would spend on himself and his whims even when my family couldn't afford it. This would put my mother into the position of scrambling to make sure that bills were paid and food was on the table. This was another pattern of behavior I did not want to repeat. His whims were drugs, hookers, fast cars, and cockamamie business ventures. Some dresses, blouses and skirts would hardly be on that order of money wasting (though shoes might be another story--get me in a good shoe store, men's or women's, and it's dangerous for my credit rating), but this is psychological reasoning, not economic. Why spend money on clothes I couldn't wear to work, when the kids needed clothes of their own all the time as they kept growing?

Could I have worn such clothes to work after all?

Let's consider: By 2012, I had moved to Maine. I was working at a liberal arts college. I was no longer in the group I once was in. Was I in a welcoming environment? Yes and no.

Portland, Maine is the sort of place where someone could walk down the street with a full beard and wearing a summer dress, and people wouldn't look twice. They'd look once, to make sure they saw what they saw, but wouldn't look again--that would be rude. But I did not live in Portland; I lived in one of the affluent suburbs to its north, what I called "Country Club Land." Nor was the college where I worked in Portland, but in a former mill town that had fallen on hard times. As for the College itself, let us consider a few anecdotes:

Scene #1: A faculty conference on "inclusive pedagogy." There is a student panel on various forms of difference. One of the panelists is a physics major, an international student who is nonbinary. This student is the only one to include pronouns (they/them) in their introduction. None of the other students add their pronouns, nor do audience speakers during the discussion period.
In the discussion period, the chair of the Physics department praises the student effusively--but consistently misgenders them.

Scene #2: I am at a small-town bakery with a faculty member whom, at the time, I considered a friend, a cis gay male. He teaches Gender & Sexuality Studies.
He says: "I don't get the whole 'trans' thing."
I say: "What's not to get?"
Realizing he has messed up, he backtracks hastily.

Scene #3: A fairly well-known nonbinary BIPOC scientist is on campus for a job talk. They, an outspoken lesbian staff member, and I, are in a large room waiting for everyone else to show up. They are discussing lipstick shades. I love lipstick, so I join in.
Staff member: I've never seen you wear lipstick on campus.
Me: Well, I know this place, it would be the talk of the campus if I did. But I promise, if I ever leave here, after I give notice, I'll wear lipstick (and nail polish) whenever the mood takes me.
Some months later, after I have given notice because of my pending return to New York, I come to campus wearing lipstick and nail polish. That day, I have a meeting with the Dean, my boss, to go over a few things for the work transition. When I arrive, he says in a tone of voice that is somewhere between shock and a conspiratorial leer: "So it's true!" So, yes, I was right, even though I had been alone in my office for most of the day before then, it had been the talk of the campus.

To be fair to the institution, shortly after I left they hired a new VP of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, and I have reason to believe, based on how faculty and staff with whom I am still friends discuss gender diversity, that they have been somewhat successful in changing the atmosphere on campus. However, a VP is better positioned to be a pioneer than a staff member in middle management, let alone an international student.

So whence the recent shift in my own attitude? First, I credit my elder child. For coming forward as nonbinary before they had even become a teenager. For telling off their grandfather when he said some particularly hurtful things (even if we, their parents, wish they hadn't screamed quite so much at him). And also for demonstrating, through my mother's much better reaction to their coming out than to my own, that my mother had evolved. There have been none of the microaggressions that I got from her after I came out as bi. Having already cut off my father, I think part of me was subconsciously worried that if I came any further out of my butched-up closet, that I might end up a de facto orphan. (So, thanks Mom; please don't disappoint me.)

I also want to credit the students of my most recent, former employer, Sarah Lawrence College. Unlike my prior institution, it is genuinely open to gender and sexual diversity, and the credit for that goes more to the students than to the faculty and staff. In my short tenure there, I only had a few opportunities to attend meetings with students present. Every single time, the students (including cis students) took the initiative in making introductions with pronouns. Faculty went along, some more comfortably than others. Discussions about this topic with administrative staff were variable, depending on who was in the room. But on campus at least, students set the tone, and a good one. In those meetings with students present, I started introducing myself as he/they, not 100% sure what I meant by that, but knowing that it felt right.

My breakthrough came last week while I was in isolation due to a possible case of COVID-19. I had been feeling some dysphoria (focused mostly on body hair) for some time. With plenty of spare time and the master bathroom to myself, I shaved legs, arms, armpits, chest and belly.

Then on Wednesday, after Spouse and I had the good conversation in which, for the first time, I used the word "genderfluid" out loud to describe myself, I went to a consignment shop for a small treat. I now have a lovely dress--scoop-necked sleeveless black sheath, with a lightly ruffled sheer outer layer in a floral pattern and half sleeves, that I can wear whenever the mood takes me. (I need more clothes, "men's" and "women's" alike, but I'm still a parent, still inclined to put my kids' needs before my own. And I am unemployed at the moment, thus cautious about money. But it was less than $10, so one delightful item isn't going to break our bank account.)

If you search the Google Books N-gram viewer, which cuts off at 2012, the word "genderfluid" does not appear. If anyone has ideas of when and where it may have first appeared, I would be grateful for your leads. Since it does seem to be the word that best describes how I see myself, I would love to know who coined it and when.

If my career-path shows the reality of white, male privilege--the privilege for which I felt I had to butch up and construct a new closet in order to be able enjoy it fully--my layoff and present unemployment also show that, in the face of capitalist crisis, it is transient. After several years of being the "breadwinner," advancing in my "career," I am unsure of what is next. And now, thanks to this essay (and the Twitter thread that gave rise to it), the closet is over and done with, exploded into a million pieces. Wherever my next job is, even if I could rebuild it, I won't.

I am genderfluid and bi, devoted to my bi, butch wife, amazed with both my nonbinary elder child and my younger one who hasn't quite figured such things out yet. We are out, proud, and fighting. My name is Joseph, and my pronouns are he/him or they/them.