Wednesday, November 28, 2018

On being Other in a world that would rather I wasn't

So this is the blog where I get the most political.
Because bicycles, sustainability, economic justice and social justice all intersect here.

So when I'm called out for speaking my truth, for calling out a case of cultural appropriation, and then getting my head handed to me by the folks who basically rule in my professional landscape, well, that really hurts.

Here is the text of a post I shared elsewhere, and then retracted because it was too politically charged and the language deemed too hurtful.

Can you handle metaphor? Promise? Great. Read on.

***    ***    ***   

(from a FB post earlier today)

I'm about to get my head handed to me somewhere. But I think this needs to be said.
I watched the newest video from the vocal band Six13. Six13 is an a cappella group of six Orthodox Jewish men and their harmonies and arrangements are often amazing. Their musicianship is evident in everything they record.

Their latest video is a "parody" of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," with the lyrics re-written to tell the story of Chanukah but the vocal harmonies left the same as in the original.
It's well-crafted.

AND --

I actually did not like this at all. And I had to think about why I didn't like it. Because on its face it is pretty cool.
Until I finally realized that I struggle to appreciate this because six frum boys appropriated the musical genius of a man whose pansexuality and flamboyance they might not defend publicly if he were still alive today.

Cultural appropriation of queer people is a real thing. And it troubles me deeply. Especially when it's done by people who think it's perfectly fine to condemn the individual human being while at the same time borrowing his artistic gift.
And I guess that's why I can't get excited about this.

As a queer person, I'm just calling it like I see it.

Cultural appropriation is theft.
Cultural appropriation is murder.

***    ***    ***    ***

So that's what I originally posted. At my personal FB page, which probably has too much overlap with my professional life. (Yeah. I'm gonna work on that.)

And within five minutes of hitting "post" I was besieged by over a dozen Jewish professional colleagues who PM'd me to tell me my post was inappropriate and that I owed the group an apology because my words were so hurtful.

I sent the apology. And, because I'm sensitive to the realities of my professional landscape, I also decided to pull the post by marking it "Me Only". I didn't delete it because while my words are intense, they are still how I feel. And at some future moment I will want to return to them and re-read them and ponder.

These guys may be all over the map individually, but they move with ease through the Orthodox world, and within a system that says queers are not acceptable and that women should not sing out loud within earshot of men because inserting the controls for men's sexual urges is actually the woman's job. (No Jewish stream is monolithic, but Orthodoxy is more unified and leans more rightward on a lot of social issues than most other streams of Jewish identity. So, sorry, but yeah, that's a thing.)

The older I get, the angrier I get -- especially about everything I've had to stuff over a lifetime of being not only other, but silenced for it. And I guess that at some future point I'll be compelled to choose between keeping peace in my professional landscape so I can get work, or throwing up my hands and deciding that I'm going to be like the Shondes, a Jewish band who will likely never perform in a mainstream Jewish space again because of their sexual and global politics.

I'll put this aside for now. Anyone who wants to read it here, read away. If you want to seriously engage, and if you can do that without attacking me, great. I'd love it. But if all you want to do is tell me to shut up about my pain and anger, I'm not interested. See ya.


Sari said...

I shared my thoughts on your FB page, so I won't repeat them here.

I am sorry your professional peers are so rigid. I cannot even begin to imagine how they reconcile their rigidity with the lessons I remember from Judaism. To learn. To teach. To grow.

All that being said, we can be old and angry together. I expect that, at some future time, I will open my home to like minded angry women so that we can support and keep each other safe as we continue to Learn, Teach, and Grow.

Howard Patterson said...

I hear you. I see you.
I've observed that parody lyrics are, somehow, a Jewish tradition. My conservative childhood shul did a parody musical every year - "Howard Blum's Song" for Flower Drum Song, f'instance. Frank Jacobs, the parodist for Mad Magazine. And, of course, Alan Sherman. I was flabbergasted to find that the non-Jewish members of the Karamazovs had never heard of him, though of course the Jewish ones knew every word like I did.
So yes, it's a tradition. I hadn't intuited the "only boys can sing" part and the hurt that must have caused you and so many others. Of course each of the traditions I've grown up with have been increasingly inclusive of women and queers, and my interactions with Orthodoxy have been a strange combination of admiration and revulsion from a distance.
I'm sorry your colleagues have compounded your pain. Our culture, our society, and our world are in a "transitional moment" for the next few decades or centuries; all I can hope is that the arc of history, while long, bends towards righteousness. Love, h

Lzbth said...

I read your post and then I happened upon the video in question just after we were talking about it. It was posted by a reform congregation in my hometown. So I clicked on it.

My initial thoughts were forgiving. I was not seeing what you were seeing. I thought to myself - clearly they appreciate Freddie Mercury's music, surely they know Queen has seen a resurgence recently and wanted to leverage that. Cant blame them, they sure aren't alone. It is possible to respect the music even if you see the individual's life and/or life choices as sinful...

But then... One person "became" Freddie Mercury. Taking on the moustache, the stance and movements, taking Freddie's place and that WAS uncomfortable. You cannot take a person's place part way. We were talking in class at CBH last night about how putting on one's clothes is a way of telling the world WHO we are. There is not a particular right or wrong in it, but it exists. When you put on your dockers and a button down shirt you are proclaiming who you are. Every item I put on says something about who I am, or at least how I perceive myself. When that young man put on Freddie Mercury's identity... well he was either saying he wanted to emulate Freddie Mercury and all of the fabulous gay flamboyance that comes with him and his identity or he was creating a parody, and the Parody is NOT ok. Not when you are using the music to advance your cause.

bikelovejones said...

Oh, Sari, I cannot wait to be old and pissy with you. I'll bring the beer. Love, Beth

Robyn said...

so that's what the controversy is about! i haven't seen the video yet, but i've seen plenty of six13's work [sidenote: my road bike is a Cannondale six13]
but i haven't seen this one. yet.
i've seen many of their videos, so i will comment on their, um, book of business.
i am often disturbed.
perhaps it is because they hone to the orthodox line so closely that i am struck by the lack of diversity in their work. where are the women? where are the non-white Jews? were are the jews who would make me feel like i'd be welcome at their table and not behind the mechitza in the kitchen or perhaps the balcony upstairs? where?
i'll watch the video in the near future. i'm curious. i saw a link in an email before i saw your post. i don't expect to be thrilled.

Unknown said...

Hi, Beth --

I think what you wrote is important, and I'm very sorry that colleagues attacked you. I saw the video, not knowing anything about the people who made it. I thought it was clever, although I did not watch it all the way through and did not see the part where one guy "became" Freddie Mercury. That sounds completely not ok, and everyone needs to know it.

I thank you for being brave enough to put all this out there.

mc-delta-t said...

Wow, I just happened upon your blog after attaching for bike notebooks but I'm glad I did. This is powerful and important reading. Thanks for writing!