I’m thrilled to report that poet Betsy Andrews will be the featured author at Lit Lit next month, Friday, November 4! Betsy’s poetry is fierce and lyrical at once, all about the climate, the family, and the Anthropocene, edgy, political, and freaking gorgeous all at once.
Her latest, Crowded, is just out from Nauset Press, and Betsy will read from it and sign books at the November 4 Lit Lit at the Howland Cultural Center, 477 Main Street in Beacon, 7-9 PM. As Susan Tichy writes, “Private and planetary angers twist together in Betsy Andrews’ Crowded, rising and falling together in the drunken winds of violence we have come to recognize as home.”
Come hear Betsy — followed by our usual kickass Lit Lit writers. Betsy is the winner of the Brittingham Prize in Poetry and the 42 Miles Press Prize in Poetry, and also one of the best food writers around.
You can sign up at the door to read one of your own pieces of writing, up to 5 minutes in length! We will take all comers till we run out of time 😄
This is a brief talk I gave at the First Presbyterian Church of Beacon as part of their first Pride Service, June 26, 2022.
By Donna Minkowitz
Since I first felt the power of queerness in my life when I was 14, it has seemed to me like a kind of fierceness, a kind of fire, the sensation that radical joy is worth fighting for, that sex is worth fighting for, that the funky beautiful intoxicating overflowing life force inside yourself is a thing to defend, a thing to show, a thing to love, a thing to refuse to squash or strangle or imprison within gates of adamantine iron.
I’m here to speak on behalf of of that life force.
As a young adult in the 80s, I was part of the first generation of activists to reclaim the word QUEER for ourselves. Some of the stronghearted holy power of queerness comes across in these lines that the gay singing group The Flirtations used to sing, which were written by a black gay British man named Labi Siffre:
the higher you build your barriers
the taller I become
the more you refuse to hear my voice
the louder I will sing
“When they insist we’re just not good enough,” the song says, “just look em in the eye and say/We’re gonna do it anyway! We’re gonna do it anyway!
And that my friends, is the buoyant, ever-defiant power of queerness.
This fiery joy is also what our queer brother the Jesuit priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins had in mind when he spoke of Jesus metaphorically as a falcon:
“I caught this morning morning’s minion,
kingdom of daylight’s dauphin,
dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding of the rolling level underneath him steady air
, and striding high there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing in his ecstasy!
Then off, off forth on swing, as a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding/ Rebuffed the big wind…
Brute beauty and valor and act, oh air, pride, plume here/ Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion times told lovelier, more dangerous. Oh my chevalier!”
For that is queerness too, the wild life force that refuses to give in to narrow demands of propriety. Queerness is also the ecstasy Hopkins is invoking in this poem, and the willingness to embrace wild, unchained beauty even when it might be socially or politically dangerous, because all beauty and pleasure comes from God, in fact, as Hopkins is suggesting in this poem, it IS God.
Beyond this, queerness is the radical belief in the goodness and innocence of pleasure, and I am thinking of myself at 14, discovering kisses and affectionate touch, discovering hands shoulders long hair and bellybuttons in all their sweetness and goofiness.
The queer life force within me has saved me so many times, it saved me as a teenager when the enlivening, flowering beauty of puberty gave me a power to stand fast against the violence I was experiencing at home, as a young and as an older adult when the sunny queer force in my blood gave me hope and creative power that always let me sail past depression and obstacles.
Thank you very much for inviting me here today to your beautiful congregation to speak about the connection between queerness and holiness.
And thanks to the supremely alive, defiant queer life force inside me that keeps my blood flowing. Thank you.
Hey everybody! I’ve been having some exciting stuff go on, but I haven’t updated here for a while!
First, I’ve been thrilled to start doing Moth-style, personal storytelling without notes, at The Artichoke’s sold-out stage in Beacon and Beacon’s wonderful other venue, Adult Stories with John Blesso! One of my stories was about being at close quarters with some very scary people, and the other was about the very first time I went in disguise to a Christian right conference.
I am so excited to be pursuing this new art form. I’ll be doing more of it Saturday, June 29 at Pros(e) of Pie’s LGBTQ Pride Show at Philipsburg Manor and Saturday, September 14 back at The Artichoke, where the story will involve parents and porn.
Other stuff going on: I’ve been touring local Ethical Culture humanist congregations, speaking on “Atheism and the Alt-Right: A Horrible Confluence,” about the weird and disturbing fact that alt-right politics have been permeating atheist subcultures for the past several years. Next up is Sunday, June 9 at the New York Society for Ethical Culture!
Stay tuned for a project I will launch soon that combines lyrical, sensual writing with service journalism! (Bet you don’t hear that a lot! 🙂 )
I’ll be featured speaking about my career and reading my work at Julie Chibbaro’s amazing series Get Lit Beacon Sunday, July 14 at 5 PM! I will read from my memoir Growing Up Golem and read/tell some harrowing and funny personal stories about hanging with the far right.
Also, my fall memoir workshop starts Wednesday, September 25, and goes for eight weeks (we skip October 9). Let me know if you’re interested.
Meanwhile, I’ll be teaching a one-day summer memoir writing intensive in Beacon Sunday, July 28.
The Bellingham Review has also just published the following short essay by me (published under the title “Tender”) in their fall special issue of creative nonfiction about disability.
I’m on Facebook. Some of my friends are posting their fury, as artists and radicals, about something that’s just happened: A few art students have complained to college administrators about their professor. He’s made them watch, as part of a regular class session, an experimental film he made. It shows, among other things, his erect red penis again and again, at one point going into a woman’s mouth and later, her vagina.
These friends of mine are furious the students have interfered with their professor’s work by complaining. On their pages, commenters condemn students for their “fragile sensibilities” and “fragile feelings,” for how “delicate” they surely are.
Oh reader, I am fragile, I am delicate, in fact I’ve often wanted to write a book entitled Sensitive. Because spectacularly, insatiably, annoyingly, unbearably, I am.
I am not saying that everyone who doesn’t want to have to watch their professor fucking a woman on camera is someone who is Delicate, like me. But I thought I would tell about my own experience.
I am sensitive in almost every way a person can be. And most of my sensitivities come from disabilities. I have a couple different ones of those (physical, psychic), but the disability that has made me the most sensitive of all, the tenderest, perhaps the choicest meat to the touch, is the abuse and neglect I experienced as a child.
But the tender meat is tickled all day, and sometimes it’s// unbearable
“Grow up,” says one Friend of a Friend, and others echo, “Yup, they should grow up.” A woman comments, “One would hope that they’re mature enough to care of themselves and leave.”
None of us has read the students’ complaints because they are not public, so we don’t know what they told administrators about being made to watch the film. But a man mocks them for having what he writes in capitals as “Triggers. Oof.”
Oof. I am able to be triggered, yes indeed, and definitely not always able to take care of myself in a situation of harm and just leave.
About that last bit, no human being is in fact so powerful that we are always able to remove ourselves from what we can’t endure.
My friends’ 5000 fans condemn the students’ “latent puritanism,” their “learned helplessness,” their “censorship, punishment, and scapegoating.” Says a man, “The conflation of discomfort and harm is a truly bizarre phenomenon that I believe can be attributed to a vocal minority of bourgeois, sheltered millennials.”
To read the piece on their site and see the other work in their special issue on disability, click here.
On December 31, 1993, a 21-year-old trans man named Brandon Teena was shot and stabbed to death near Falls City, Nebraska, by two other young men because he was trans. A week earlier, they had raped and brutally battered him.
I wrote about it at the time in a long, reported feature for the Voice that introduced Brandon Teena’s story to a broad audience, and helped to galvanize the cultural conversation about trans people. After moving to Falls City from his hometown of Lincoln, Brandon met a 19-year-old woman named Lana Tisdel and swept her off her feet. But a week after he was arrested on a check-forging charge, local police revealed his birth gender in the newspaper. A few days later, Tisdel’s friends John Lotter (Tisdel’s ex-boyfriend) and Tom Nissen forcibly stripped Brandon and forced Tisdel to look at his genitals; then they kidnapped, raped, and beat him, and subsequently killed him.
Boys Don’t Cry director Kimberly Peirce told me in a recent interview that my article had been the major inspiration for her film about Brandon’s life and murder: “Your article was on fire. I read it and I fell in love with Brandon. It made me love his vulnerability, his daring, his innocence, the way that he gave pleasure sexually. I was in love with this person who had shaped himself.”
It also proved to be the most insensitive and inaccurate piece of journalism I have ever written.
[To read the rest of this piece, published in the Village Voice on June 20, 2018, please click here.]
This piece appeared in slightly different form in The Nation, April 18, 2018.
“Jews commit a disproportionate number of mass shootings,” Wisconsin Republican congressional candidate Paul Nehlen lied on Facebook recently. Earlier he had tweeted, “Poop, incest, and pedophilia. Why are those common themes repeated so often with Jews?” Another GOP House hopeful, Pennsylvania’s Sean Donahue, recently told me, “The United States was intended to be white. I don’t see why we had to have the Fair Housing Act.”
Welcome to Trump’s America, wherea rash of white nationalist candidates is running for office. Between nine and 17white supremacists and far-right militia leaders are currently candidates for House and Senate, governorships, and state legislatures.
Most have little chance of winning, but as with neo-Nazi Arthur Jones, who recently ran unopposed in the Republican primary for the 3rd Congressional District in the Chicago area and won 20,339 votes, their mere candidacies, along with other Republicans’ growing acceptance of them as legitimate stakeholders in the party, are dangerous. “They are by their very presence shifting the pole of what most Americans find to be acceptable political discourse,” said Erik K. Ward of the Western States Center, a progressive group in seven states where white nationalism has been active.
Heidi Beirich, intelligence project director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, pointed to an August 2017 Washington Post/ABC News poll that shows 9 percent of Americans now find it acceptable to hold neo-Nazi views. (Of strong Trump supporters, 17 percent say they accept neo-Nazi views, and 13 percent say they have no opinion one way or the other.) “This is a Trump phenomenon,” Beirich told me. “In the past, [white-power groups] saw no space for themselves in the public sphere at all. You’d see the Aryan Nations saying, ‘We never really thought politics was worth our time.'” Both Trump and a new rush of racist candidates, she said, have had the effect of “re-engaging white supremacists in the political system. Before, they were basically apolitical.”
In the new Republican universe, a flood of so-called “alt-lite” media organs and activist have become enormously influential. Sites like The Daily Caller, Gateway Pundit,Rebel Media, InfoWars, GotNews, and other “mini Breitbarts” have championed the alt-right, employed white nationalists as editors and writers, and expressed views similar to white nationalism. And through their popularity and ties to Trump staffers, they’ve been able to influence the White House and demonstrate that there is room for overtly racist policies in the US political system. President Trump has read and acted upon at least one article from Chuck Johnson’sGotNews (about a supposed leak by deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh, which Politico says led to Trump firing her). Alt-lite solo media-man Mike Cernovich—who has said “diversity is code for white genocide” and “I like choking a woman until her eyes go almost lifeless”—has demonstrated access to the White House through his scoops about personnel matters and Trump’s bombing of Syria. Both Donald Trump, Jr. and Kellyanne Conway have publicly praised Cernovich, with the president’s son saying he deserves “a Pulitzer.” Cernovich said he’s considering running for Congress this year in California.
Some of these far-right media activists maintain what their own comrades call “plausible deniability” of white supremacism. In this media landscape, the effect of open white nationalists running for office is to push the limits of acceptable public racism even further. Self-declaredwhite nationalists running for office not only give cover to “merely” anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Latino, and Trumpist candidates and officials,they also can radically shift the Overton window, a term that describes the range of ideas that the mainstream media deems politically acceptable to discuss.
These new candidates “are not limited by what exists, so they can imagine genocide, they can seriously play around with deporting millions of people,” said Spencer Sunshine, a longtime writer and researcher on the far right. As such notions enter the public discussion through the far-right media, racist violence becomes more likely. Sunshine told me, “White nationalists’ milieu is super-violent, so any rise in their movement,” including mainstream publicity of their candidacies, will be “accompanied by violence.”According to a study by the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, white supremacists killed 18 people in 2017, more than double the previous year; hate crimes in major cities jumped by 20% the same year, according to data compiled by the Center For The Study Of Hate And Extremism at California State University/San Bernardino. Along with Trump’s election, it is not unreasonable to attribute that to the rise in the alt-right’s popularity and its accompanying online media.
“What’s dangerous is the way Trump has helped institutionalize ethnonationalist currents in a way we haven’t seen since before the civil rights movement,” says Spencer Sunshine, an associate fellow at Political Research Associates, which monitors the far right.
The growing profile of such candidates means they sometimes have a legitimate shot at winning national office. Running for governor in Virginia last year, Prince William County Board of Supervisors chair Corey Stewart campaigned several times with Jason Kessler, the white nationalist who would soon organize the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. (Kessler has been charged in several federal lawsuits with conspiring to incite violence at the neo-Nazi rally.) Stewart came within one percentage point of winning the Republican nomination by devoting almost his entire campaign to defending Confederate monuments. That is to say, in a purple state he won 43 percent of the GOP vote clutching a huge Confederate flag and holding rallies attended mostly by white nationalists. Soon, he was using the racist, sexist white-nationalist terms “cuck” and “cuckservative,” applying them in a Reddit chat to then-Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe and to his primary opponent, Ed Gillespie. (The label comes from “cuckold porn,” where a white man—the “cuck”—watches, humiliated, as a black man has sex with the cuck’s white wife.) Stewart also palled up to Cernovich, sitting for an interview with him. The day after Charlottesville, Stewart condemned “all the weak Republicans” who “couldn’t apologize fast enough” for the violence at the rally. Continue reading “Election 2018: Off to the Racists”
Thanks to The Nation for sending me to report from Richard Spencer’s “top-secret” white supremacist conference in a freezing barn in rural Maryland. Spoiler alert: the white nationalists bashed “neoliberalism,” “capitalism,” and Jews.
I covered the largest white supremacist conference in the country for the progressive think tank Political Research Associates. This is my report back, folded into a guide on how white supremacists are recruiting now, and why people join.
It is shortly forthcoming in print in their magazine, The Public Eye.