Posts Tagged ‘religion


Feminisms and Intersectionalities Conference.

Yesterday, Roger and I attended the Feminisms and Intersectionalities Conference at UC Riverside. We left a little later than planned, but thanks to FastTrack and the tendency for things to start fifteen minutes late, we made perfect time. The conference was organized around panels comprised of one main presenter, three discussants and a moderator. The audience appeared to be mostly professors and graduate students, only a couple hundred people and some other undergrads as well. We saw HLT Quan and Crystal Griffith, whose rough cut of “The Angela Davis Project” was screened at UCI the other day.

The first session was entitled “Undoing Academia: Creativity, Dissidence, and Feminism” and the presentation was mostly the life experience of an amazing woman, Nawal El-Saadawi. El-Saadawi, a long-time educator, physician, writer and political activist from a poor, Muslim Egyptian family, spoke candidly about the importance of being fearless (of unemployment, poverty, imprisonment, death, hell) and maintaining creativity, particularly in academia. She made a lot of excellent points about how everything is political, and what that means. She said religion cannot be depoliticized and that all wars are economic wars. She illustrated the ways in which colonialist discourse continues to inform language and rhetoric, even in academic circles (maybe especially in academic circles). She cited the regionalization of the “Middle East” as a relic of European imperialism and problemitized the framework of “post-colonial”, substituting instead, “neo-colonial” demarking the fact that colonialist practice is on-going.  All of this was part of wider discussion on how processes of learning in modern, Western academia stifle creativity and dissidence in favor of politics of fear and illusory democracy. She expressed that we need to be aware that ideological formations (such as religions) come out of specific political, economic, social and historical conditions. Her candor was inspiring and her words were profoundly resonant of things I’ve heard, read, and experienced.

Jeff Sacks, a UCR professor of Comp. Lit. shared excerpts from an email he recently received from his chancellor’s office that we assume was sent to his entire department. The email stated that UCR faculty were “blessed to have the privilege of free speech”. At a public institution. In America. HOLY CRAP. He also said some interesting stuff about how the university needs to be re-thought, so as to become an institution of knowledge production for its own sake.

Yenna Wu, another UCR Comp. Lit. professor, citing examples of different ways in which Buddhism has been practiced in Taiwan, posed that religion and secularism is a false dichotomy and spoke about the spiritual movement. El Saadawi problemitized this notion of “spiritual” by claiming it reinforces a mind/body dualism, as well as a division between the self and the other. She said creativity abolishes the line between the self and the other.

The discussion about religious and secular segued into the audience discussion, where things got a little heated. Among what appeared to be the other undergraduates in the room, were several Muslim students, many of whom were veiled. El Saadawi had more or less implied that the way to see through ideology, whatever it may be, is to go back to common sense. By this, she meant acknowledging that due to the myriad interpretations of religious texts, we can assume that they’re not all “correct”, and that in fact (most likely), none of them may be correct, as they arise out of these historical, social, political conditions.

However, her invocation of “common sense” seemed to rub some people the wrong way. One of the veiled students challenged El Saadawi on the grounds that “common sense” isn’t very particularly “common” at all, meaning it isn’t necessarily shared among everyone. Different things inform different people’s formations of common sense. For example, the student’s common sense is informed by her reading of Islam. Here, El Saadawi kind of said religion isn’t common sense, and told the student that she changed the terms of the conversation. This back-and-forth went on for about ten minutes.

I see the point on both sides. Obviously, someone’s religious beliefs are going to impact the way they think about the world. It’s simultaneously ideological and common sensible. But, not being religious, I can’t help but personally side with El Saadawi. Watching this near-argument, which oftentimes became a debate about the function(s) or dysfunction(s) of the veil, I was reminded of what arguing with people about homosexuality is like. When debating with people about Prop 8, for example, and speaking from a position not informed by religion, but rather by what I consider the common sense that everyone deserves the same rights, it’s frustrating when people revert to the familiar rhetorical script, “my religion says homosexuality is wrong, therefore I believe it is wrong”. Realizing that is some people’s “common sense”, whatever that means, I attempt to shift the terms of the debate back to politics and away from religion. I incite separation of church of state. I remind them that their religious beliefs should not be writing my secular laws; that civil marriage has been made a property contract, not a religious institution that it may have been before. Somehow, this never works. Frustrating.

The conference allowed two and a half hours for lunch. Roger and I made our way to Del Taco where we ate and studied for a while. We were some of the first ones back to the conference. Probably less than a hundred people attended the second session, and Roger and I were certainly two of the only undergraduates. Among the audience was Laura Kang and Lilith Mahmud from the UCI Women’s Studies department, but we didn’t say hi to them until after.

The second session was entitled “Archive, Affect, and the Everyday: Queer Diasporic Revisions”. Roger and I both took Queer History Making last quarter, so I went into this presentation thinking a lot of it would be familiar. The presenter, Gayatri Gopinath, compared the work of two queer diasporic visual artists (Allan deSouza and Chitra Ganesh) with Saidiya Hartman’s [apparently] heteronormative memoir, Lose Your Mother in order to give it a queer reading. She drew on some work that we were familiar with, particularly Jose Muñoz and Judith Halberstam.

Her analysis opened up a lot of discussions about what queer theory means, where it diverges from post-colonial studies, and a bunch of other things that kind of went over our heads/I don’t know how to paraphrase, hahaha.

She drew some interesting connections using the idea of “waste”, particularly waste as generative; how queer archives are made up of the “waste” (and ephemera) or excessive material of mainstream history that’s rendered irrelevant. She used this concept of waste in her analysis of deSouza (who superimposed actual human waste on his pictures) and Ganesh (who animated her representations of mug shots with “warm data”, or the information about people not extracted through interrogation—“cold hard facts”). All of this was about “lives that have lost the luxury of the mundane”. It was all really interesting.

Someone in the audience drew our attention to thinking about affect as a hegemonic mode of feeling, which could potentially be really, really interesting.

After the second session there was an hour break before performance artist Monica Palacios. Roger and I went outside and sat at a table where Keith Harris, one of the discussants, and several other audience members joined us. It was cool to converse with these professors about what we’d just seen, as well as the other sessions of the conference. Some seemed surprised we were from UCI, and especially that we were undergraduates.

Lilith Mahmud introduced me to Dr. Kang, who I’d never actually met, but she already knew of me from Prof. Terry, apparently. I’m still geeking out over that. Inside, Roger introduced himself to them both and we all talked more. It was really nice.

Monica Palacios’ performance wasn’t bad. She made me say “lover quesadilla” in front of a roomful of professional academics.

As an aside, the moderator of the second session was Jane Ward, who I recognized right away as being a presenter at the 2007 Pacific Sociological Association Conference that I attended in Oakland. Ward’s presentation on the [in]visiblity of lesbian femininities in non-queer space was one of the first time I start thinking about bodies as text in any sort of academic way. Very cool.

Overall, the conference was incredibly fulfilling and engaging. I look forward to attending more such events in the future.


post-Prop 8.

I’m happy to return to my more radical politics, but we’ll get to that later.

A few days ago, a 52% majority of Californians eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry by passing Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment defining marriage as that between one man and one woman only.

Discrimination is officially written into the California Constitution. Thousands just lost a right many consider to be fundamental, along with many of the [heterosexual] privileges that come with it. 

Many of the queer community have responded by scapegoating the Mormon church (and the entire state of Utah) who spent millions of out-of-state dollars on a Yes on 8 campaign of lies and deception [and hatred]. Their campaign propagated the lie that same-sex marriage  would be taught in schools (and with it, acceptance of homosexuality as normal), to children as young as six. Also, that religious facilities, and by extension their affiliated charitable community organizations, that refused to perform same-sex marriages would lose their tax-exempt status. They used backwards and confusing slogans such as “Prop 8 equals less government” and “Prop 8 protects families”. They purposefully decontextualized statements made by politicians, namely Obama. They ran radio and tv advertisements on every available time-slot and station. They blanketed communities with signs and bought internet ad space on every website they could. They did all of this in multiple languages, and they did so subtly [and then not-so-subtly] for months.

It’s understandable why some people have reacted with overt hostility towards this group, but it is a displaced and inappropriate [and embarrassing] response. 

It’s also confusing. Frankly, I don’t understand why, under separation of church and state, any religious organization is exempt from paying taxes. Granted, many of these organizations provide invaluable resources for their communities–charity made necessary by the shortcomings of state-run social support [funded by TAXES], but the vast majority do so while pushing their faith-based agenda. This not only allows them to alienate [if not discriminate against] those who may not share their views, or those who may not enact them just so, but also allows monies that could, and arguably should, be going back into the government to be funneled into campaigns like this. 

Although the Yes on 8 campaign mystified the issue for some, it did not do so for the whole 52%. The Yes on 8 campaign worked because it tapped into the homophobia that the majority was already harboring. Homophobia and the system that perpetuates it is the scapegoat, not the Mormon church. If people were not homophobic, they would not care about their children learning that the marriage of two people of the same sex is equal to that of two people of different sexes.

Many queers have also chosen to scapegoat the Black community for the passage of Prop 8. Blacks turned out in record numbers to vote for Obama this year, and unfortunately, they also voted “overwhelmingly” yes for Prop 8 (70% voted Yes). The Latino vote, also, has received similar recognition (52% voted Yes).

The failure of one group to recognize the struggle of another is staggering, but not uncommon, nor unforeseeable. Is it really any wonder that a group traditionally mobilized from within the church turned out in favor of Prop 8? I don’t think so. Is it also surprising that some members of a group whose oppression in this country began with slavery and has yet to see an end (despite President-elect Obama) don’t consider the desire of some gays and lesbians to gain access to marriage a legitimate struggle?

Perhaps the failure of the gay and lesbian movement to include, if not at least reach out to, communities of color until the week before the election, all the while co-opting the struggle of the civil rights movement, specifically the politics of interracial marriage played a role as well. Comparing the assimilationist struggle of same-sex couples to gain access to marriage to a racial caste system, the effects of which still remain to be seen in white suburbs and urban ghettos, may have rubbed some the wrong way. Yes, they are similar, insofar as most of us alive today think it’s completely outrageous that two people couldn’t get married based solely on skin color, and at least 48% of us think it’s completely outrageous that two people can’t get married based solely on gender. But, queers were not enslaved, or disenfranchised (McCarthyism notwithstanding). The second-class citizenship of those of queer identity is not the result of American imperialism (although it is arguably an illustration of American fascism). 

The plight of gays and lesbians is unique. The “queer community” is arguably the most diverse imaginable. Sexual orientation cuts across lines of class, race, gender, background, ability, citizenship, location, religion, age, sex, politics. In a lot of ways, queers are an invisible minority. In some ways, re-framed, queers might actually be the majority. And yet, the struggle of this immensely diverse group of people is framed around the struggle for access to an oppressive patriarchal institution rooted in monogamy, heteronormativity, gender normativity, reproduction and capitalism. Because, for many, marriage is the means through which people access healthcare and like services, acquire and transfer property, start and raise a family. We live in a patriarchal system, and marriage is how we participate in it.

This is so because we allow it to be. We’ve allowed the separation of church and state to be little more than a myth in this country. We’ve allowed a religious morality to permeate every facet of our government and its institutions at the cost of equality. The only reason I can’t marry the person of my choosing is because other people’s religion has shaped my government. And the only reason I’d want to, is to gain access to things I should have anyway. We need to abolish marriage. We need serious structural reorganizing before we can start talking about equality in any sort of tangible way. We need to demolish the patriarchy.

And in the meantime, queers need to stop vying for things that are not solutions to our problems. Gaining access to marriage won’t stop homophobia. And gaining access to marriage won’t guarantee anyone healthcare. Queers certainly need to stop spewing hatred at religious groups, and need to resist the popular urge to fall back on blaming the Blacks for something (because, seriously, it’s old hat).

Our differences need to stop dividing us. We’re not all the same, but we all deserve the same.

We need to funnel our anger and frustration and momentum into making real change.



so, yesterday Nikki and I had just finished getting tortilla express and were en route to Aldrich to meet up with Jenny for our Thursday picnic before class when what I think may have been one of the atheists (of the Atheists, Agnostics and Rationalists club at UCI) approached us and said we should “go hold [our] sign over by that guy that’s talking”. our sign of course was a Get Up Vote Down 4 & 8 lawn sign. naturally curious, we followed her line of sight to Colonel Sanders aka the christian fundamentalist that’s like 300 years old with the bow-tie. [I’m sorry I’m ageist.]

we, and several other individuals, including Andy, listened to his prattle for awhile. I can’t remember what exactly he was saying (I’ve done a lot of drinking between then and now), but I’m sure it was horrible. after a while he took a break and “Sister Pat” took over. Sister Pat liked to preach her gospel of bigotry and hatred a little more aggressively. whereas the Colonel had been sitting in his little chair, holding his creepy little skull, Sister Pat liked to walk around the circle that formed around her, clutching her bible and waving her shaky fundamentalists hands a la invoking the lord to instill fear of the devil in us or something. I don’t know. she was a freaking NUT.

anyways, she yelled about a lot of things; women/whores/feminists, sex, masturbation, Jews, Asians, Whites, “whoremongers”, Muslims, Obama and other democrats, sodomy, abortion, divorce, drugs, and of course, the gays.

some memorable assertions:

“we come to Irvine expecting to find intelligence because Asians study.”

“Obama is a Muslim, because his dad’s a Muslim and you’re born into religion.” at this point she proceeded to racially profile a poor innocent Brown man walking by (who I recognized as a fellow from my War on Terrorism class who, as of last quarter, was in MSU) and harass him into claiming Muslim faith and then tried to get him to say that people are born Muslim. he said “people aren’t born into religion”, but then his friend kinda said that people are kinda born Muslim so then she got bored and moved on.

“if you do drugs, you hate your parents.” and, you’re going to hell, for sinning against your body. or something. if you masturbate, you’re sinning against your body too. but then she said that “everyone masturbates, and anyone that says they don’t is a liar”. then she said most people masturbate, and that “all gay people masturbate” and they’re sinning against their bodies and going to hell. or something. obviously, it was very confusing.

“Asian girls can wear skimpy outfits because they’re so small. but you White girls that wear these skimpy outfits are whores because you’re too curvy!” she actually called Stephanie a whore, among other things, which was OUTRAGEOUS. and grounds to have her kicked off campus, probably. too late now though. damn. she also talked about how rampant female sexuality (my words) threatens boys’ virginity and by extension, everything. after she finished asking Stephanie if she was a “working girl” she noticed Nikki and I standing there in all our androgynous glory. Nikki and I were both a little fancy yesterday, which I think made Nikki look slightly more like a girl than usual and made me look slightly less like one. she started calling me “young man” but I don’t engage in rhetorical battles with fundamentalists of any kind when I can avoid it, so I was unresponsive. then, she stopped, pointed at me, looked at Nikki and said,

“is THAT a boy?” then, she looked at Nikki a little closer and said, “wait, are YOU a BOY?!” needless to say, this was priceless. I mean, I’ve gotten called sir before, tons, but “THAT”?! ridiculous.

goddamn public universities. I think I got sunburned standing out there, too.