Category Archives: Politics

Video

Charlie Rose Show Debate: Which Way Forward for the LGBT Movement?

In honor of Pride, I thought folks might be interested in this 1994 debate on the Charlie Rose Show on whether the LGBTQ movement should align itself with social justice movements in general. Between me and playwright Tony Kushner (on one side) and then-openly conservative Andrew Sullivan and Bruce Bawer (on the other). A quote from back-then me that I like: “The main disagreement between us is whether the gay movement should align itself with other groups that are also disenfranchised, with the poor, with women, with people of color. Bruce has said that we need a place at the table, but in fact what we need to do is overturn the table. The table isn’t serving lots and lots of other groups. Everyone is underneath the table scrambling for crumbs.”

Another, if you’ll be kind enough to indulge 30-year-old me: “You’re shortening your imagination. You’re not asking for enough.”

https://charlierose.com/videos/1545

Gay White Nationalists

This article was published in Slate, in slightly different form, on June 5, 2017.

It’s the National Policy Institute conference, Richard Spencer’s annual Nazi-fest, and openly gay fascist Jack Donovan is exhorting the crowd to “leave the world the way you entered it, kicking and screaming and covered in somebody else’s blood.”

Over at The Occidental Observer, one of the most prominent white nationalist webzines, another out gay man, James J O’Meara, is holding forth about how “behind the Negro, hidden away, as always, is the darker, more sinister figure of the Judeo. The Negro is the shock troop. The Jew is the ultimate beneficiary.”

O’Meara believes that gay white men represent the best of what Western culture has to offer because of their “intelligence” and “beauty,” and that “Negroes” represent the worst, incapable of “achievement.” Donovan calls women “whores” and “bitches,” and, when a questioner on Reddit asked him his views of the Holocaust, said, “What is this Holocaust thing? I’m drawing a blank.”

Both have become influential figures in the alt-right; horribly, they are not the only gay men to respond to an olive branch lately offered by white nationalism. The opening of this movement to cis gay men is a radical change, “one of the biggest changes I’ve seen on the right in 40 years,” says Chip Berlet, co-author of Right-Wing Populism in America. In the United States, unlike in Europe, out gay men have never been welcome in white supremacist groups. The Klan and neo-Nazi groups, the main previous incarnations of white hate in this country, were and still are violently anti-queer. And while a subset of openly gay men has always been conservative (or, as in all populations, casually racist), they never sought to join the racist right. Till now.

That was before groups like NPI, Counter-Currents Publishing, and American Renaissance started putting out the welcome mat. Since around 2010, some (though by no means all) groups in the leadership of the white nationalist movement have been inviting out cis gay men to speak at their conferences, write for their magazines, and be interviewed in their journals. Donovan and O’Meara, far to the right of Milo, are the white nationalist movement’s actual queer stars. But there are others in the ranks, like Douglas Pearce of the popular neofolk band Death in June. And there are many more gay men (and some trans women) who have been profoundly influenced by two white nationalist ideas, the “threat” posed by Islam and the “danger” posed by immigrants.

Donovan tries to sugarcoat his own racist beliefs when speaking to his main fan base, gay men who like his macho looks and straight men from the “pickup artist” culture and the manosphere who are desperately trying to learn from him how to be manly. Instead, reverting to the other half of the Nazi playbook, he prefers to highlight his hatred for “effeminacy,” feminism, and “weakness.” A beautifully muscular man of 42 who has perfected a masculine scowl in the many photographs of himself he releases on his website and Facebook page, he functions as beefcake for the neofascist cause, earning money from a line of T-shirts and wrist guards that say things like BARBARIAN and a series of books that seek to instruct both straight and gay men in how to become more masculine and in particular, more “violent.”

One of my Facebook friends, a politically liberal gay man I’ll call Frank, is a fan of Donovan’s Facebook page “because of the visuals. I like his looks — I mean, he’s bald with tattoos. He really exudes a lot of sex.” Frank also likes that Donovan “trashes that whole gay club scene,” which Frank finds conformist and alienating.

But when Donovan says violence, he means violence. This is not BDSM. “The ability to use violence effectively is the highest value of masters,” Donovan said in a speech at a fascist think tank in Germany. “It is the primary value of those who create order, who create worlds. Violence is a golden value. Violence rules. Violence is not evil – it is elemental.” Though Donovan tries to mine the latent sexiness in violence for all its worth, he is, in fact, against consensual BDSM, condemning it as part of a long list of evils that he feels has been perpetuated by gay culture: the “extreme promiscuity, sadomasochism, transvestism, transsexuality, and flamboyant effeminacy” promoted by “the pink-haired, punk rock stepchildren of feminism,” gay activists. No, it’s straight-up people hurting and killing people he’s endorsing.

And what is all this violence for? Um, creating small, decentralized “homelands” in this country separated by… race. It’s an idea the alt-right calls “pan-secessionism,” under which, in Donovan’s formulation, “gangs” of white men would form “autonomous zones” for themselves and white women, where women “would not be permitted to rule or take part in… political life.” The gangs would enforce racial boundarylines, because, as Donovan puts it, whites have “radically different values [and] cultures” than other people, and “loyalty requires preference. It requires discrimination.”

Donovan fears that if he writes more about race, it will “distract people from the bulk of [his] work” on the sexiness of violent masculinity (which could impede sales of his clothing line, books, patches, and the tattoos he sells out of a Portland-area gym.

But on his website, he repeatedly says that real men long to “control our borders,” rails against the “black-on-white crime rate,” and says, “I support White Nationalists,” who “I call… ‘The Mighty Whites. ‘ ” Recently, he admiringly interviewed the two young men who lead Germany’s anti-African, anti-Arab Identitarian movement. On his podcast, the men, one of whom used to belong to a neo-Nazi group in Austria, boast about attacking a mosque and disrupting refugee theater. He also has begun whispering praise for Julius Evola, the Italian anti-Semite and fascist who joined Hitler’s SS.

If Donovan is a caricature of the gay Nazi strongman, almost a literalization of the phrase “body fascism” (which was originally used by gay men to critique other gay men’s obsession with perfect gym bodies), his counterpart, James O’Meara, is an embodiment of something that could barely be imagined until now, Nazi camp. I hesitated to write that phrase, because it’s almost painful to acknowledge that camp, that subversive, gay “turning” of seriousness into playfulness and straight narratives into gay ones, could be deployed by a Nazi. But of course it can: if the emergence of out gay white nationalists shows anything, it’s that we truly *are* everywhere, for good and for ill. And that we no longer have the luxury of assuming that LGBT tropes are inherently, and trans-historically, progressive.

Far femmier than Donovan in both looks and tone, the 60-ish O’Meara writes alternately smirking and playful essays for Counter-Currents about men’s clothing, the closeted Cardinal Spellman, the “homoromanticism” of the Boy Scouts, and the political economy of The Gilmore Girls. O’Meara openly loves Hitler, but he also grooves to the socialist Oscar Wilde, and admiringly includes this quote from “Bunny” Roger, the gay, British dandy and World War II hero: “Now that I’ve killed so many Nazis Daddy will *have* to buy me a sable coat.” But his “fun” paragraphs always end up at the same un-playful conclusion: “the Judaic is always there, blocking the way” and spreading “rot” throughout American culture. “The Jew” is deliberately destroying the country by building up “Negroes” and promoting “the alien, dissolute, demonic culture of the Africans.” In a podcast, O’Meara said “the blacks get their chicks pregnant as soon as they turn 15, and have 30 different children with 10 different women” because of Jewish scheming: “the poison that the Jewish mentality introduces” promotes heterosexual sex and “girl-craziness” instead of the glorious gayness that would dominate “if the Jews hadn’t taken over Hollywood.”

O’Meara seems to want to talk about boys having sex, but whenever he attempts to, the words stick in his throat and he can’t breathe until he speaks a full paragraph about “the Jews” spreading poison.

Of course, neither he nor Donovan actually support gay rights. This is partly because they don’t believe in “civil rights.” Although O’Meara wants support to be in an imagined elite band of men who love each other and rule society — his version of an Aryan fantasy called the Männerbund — he doesn’t want to support “some sniveling queen demanding ‘my rights!’… ‘The plight of the homosexual’ … is a Leftist myth.” Donovan says explicitly that straight people should be given more power and privileges than gay folk, because their “reproductive sexuality” is superior to ours. Both men openly detest lesbians and trans and genderqueer folk: Donovan calls the trans movement “men who want to cut their dicks off and women who want to cut their tits off.” And of course, no white nationalist organization anywhere supports LGBT rights. Their new “support” is limited to allowing cis gay men who are white racists to join them.

So why are white nationalists putting out the welcome mat? Most importantly, because it worked in Europe. In Holland, France, Germany, and Sweden, white nationalists have deliberately used LGBT people and Muslims as a wedge against one another. Polls show that over one third of French gay men supported Le Pen in the recent election despite her promise to end same-sex marriage, and in Germany, the far-right AfD recently tapped an out lesbian banker to run for chancellor. (The AfD is even more hostile to actual pro-gay policies than France’s National Front is.) Sweden’s fascist party organized an LGBT pride parade through Muslim neighborhoods, and of course, in Holland, Pim Fortuyn and later Geert Wilders tried to make “Islam” synonymous with “hatred of gays.” Their ultimate goal was to make hatred of immigrants “progressive.”

Bringing queer people in, in both Europe and America, is a way to grow their movement. It is also a way to court millennials, who are consistently supportive of gay rights even when they swing conservative on other issues. It’s a testament to the fact that, in some ways, the queer movement has already won the battle for public opinion. The far right could not beat us, so they decided to join us (a little teeny bit). Ultimately, it’s a form of pinkwashing. How could Le Pen, or Wilders, or other open racists be so bad when they liked queer people? It could even work to make white supremacists seem hip and edgy.

There was another potential benefit: if they could equate “Muslims” with attacks on LGBT people — and women — they might be able to attract liberals and moderates into a kind of anti-immigrant “big tent.” This would dovetail with another fascist talking point that said hatred of immigrants was “pro-worker.” it’s worth noting that Donovan and O’Meara are both anticapitalist in their way. They wouldn’t be the first white men seduced into a Nazi-like movement by the thought that it would empower them against the depredations of big capital.

The American white nationalist movement has modeled itself in almost every way on the European New Right. Years ago, it laid the groundwork for adopting the Europeans’ tactic of claiming to be friendly to queers. In America, as in Europe, they started by attempting to make white queer people afraid that “immigrants” were the ones who posed a danger to them. In fact, only two days after the massacre at the Pulse nightclub last year, white-nationalist meme producer Butch Leghorn wrote on the alt-right website The Right Stuff, “This shooting [is] a very valuable wedge issue.… We simply need to hammer this issue… Spread this meme. Drive this wedge. Smash their coalition. Make it cool to be anti-Muslim because Liberalism.”

No matter that neither Butch nor his website like queers at all. Butch’s author tagline on the site says: “Southern shitlord. Ideology is faggotry, biology is real.” One of the taglines for The Right Stuff itself is “Would you like some fag marriage with that side of waffle fries?”

Butch and his co-activists put out a plethora of memes for the occasion with, for example, a rainbow flag and the words FUCK ISLAM, and the phrases, “To be pro-Islam is to be anti-Gay.… Daddy’s gonna build a wall and keep you safe.” Said Leghorn, “We are currently driving this wedge as deeply as possible to break off the Pro-Gay coalition into the Trump camp.”

One of the many gay people who received, and began avidly sending out, such memes was Peter Boykin, a 39-year-old, married, white Virginian who had eight years earlier been suspicious of Obama because “His name is like Osama bin Laden. We don’t have his birth certificate, and he came out of nowhere.” Boykin, who grew up with conservative Catholic parents who had campaigned for Ronald Reagan, founded an organization called “Gays for Trump” after he attended a party of the same name at the Republican convention last July. After the Pulse shooting, he says, “People came pouring into the group. It was like Boom!” Boykin says he isn’t afraid of attorney general Jeff Sessions’ antigay record: “When I met him, he shook my hand, and he put my business card in his actual jacket. He was very nice to me. I don’t think he’s antigay at all.” But Boykin is profoundly worried about “radical” Muslim immigrants wanting to hurt him: “I keep seeing videos people send me where they’re beheading these 13-year-old boys and throwing people off of roofs.”

Longtime LGBTQ organizer Scot Nakagawa has been fighting white nationalist movements for over 30 years, now as a senior partner at ChangeLab, a think tank on racial justice. Says Nakagawa,”We have to remember that even racist white gay men are still very vulnerable to discrimination” because they’re gay. “When one is under attack” — not by phantom Muslims, but by real, neighborhood gaybashers — “one picks up whatever shields one can,” even shields like racism that will not fight the true threat. In Donovan’s writing, it’s clear that what he’s terrified of most is “weakness,” especially male weakness. (He notes that he feels “disgusting” if he doesn’t train in a gym “for more than a few days.”) It doesn’t take a psychoanalyst to guess that, at bottom, he feels profoundly weak and vulnerable. O’Meara, for his part, fears that he will be destroyed by African-American and Jewish “rot” and pollution. It doesn’t take a psychoanalyst to guess that he feels dirty, and at risk of decaying from within.

About the white gay men who white nationalism is hoping to recruit, Nakagawa says: “it is really important to think about who those people are, and to try to reach out to them. Which means having compassion for them, as difficult as that may be.” Even these men, Nakagawa says, are suffering economically, because, in fact, nearly every group of Americans is suffering economically right now. “It’s a bad choice to imagine that all these men are incredibly rich.” Nakagawa says that the left has too often behaved as though racism and sexism as primarily matters of personal character, rather than deep social structures that elites — the 1% — use to consolidate their power. Only by finding a way to invite these men into the left “not as auxiliary members,” but “around their own self-interest,” too, “can we find a way to move forward on common concerns.”

At the same time, the LGBTQ movement needs to have the deep and searching conversations about race that have always eluded it in the past. Our whole community must radically stand up for those parts of the community that are of color, Muslim, female, and trans.

In this time of great danger for both the LGBTQ community and our the entire country, the only real way to fight fascism is to offer a competing vision, for a society that will meet everyone’s needs rather than, as Donovan would have it, the needs of “the wolves”who seek to assert “dominance and control.” For at the end of the day, none of us is a wolf — or to say it another way, even wolves are vulnerable.

Addendum: As this article was going to press, Jack Donovan wrote a long, rambling post on his website dissociating himself for the first time from white nationalism.  The post may have been a response to the enormous public anger in the Portland area where he lives, following white nationalist Jeremy Christian’s alleged murder of two men for defending women of color on a commuter train May 26. In the essay, Donovan claimed he doesn’t want to organize anyone politically, “I just want to hang out in the woods with … the people who I am oathed to, my tribe, the Wolves of Vinland” — a white quasi-military pagan brotherhood recognized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  (Wolves of Vinland member Maurice Michaely recently spent two years in prison for burning down a black church in Virginia.)

When A Holocaust Denier Asks for Help Promoting His Book


This appeared, in slightly different form, in The Forward on March, 30th, 2017.

The email was a blatant appeal to my ego. The subject line said “Speaking Engagement,” and the writer, who I didn’t know, was inviting me to speak about whatever I wanted to — wow! — on a New York City panel celebrating the release of a new book by “internationally acclaimed British jazz saxophonist, philosopher and author…Gilad Atzmon.” They were inviting me, Atzmon’s volunteer publicist said,” because of my “honest and thoughtful perspective” which would be “valuable” on the panel.

I hadn’t heard of Atzmon before, but the panel was scheduled at the hip Theater 80 St. Marks in the East Village. The vague synopsis the publicist sent for his new book, Being in Time: A Post-Political Manifesto, simply suggested that “much of humanity has been reduced to serve the interests of big money and oligarchy” and claimed that “Left and Right have become indistinguishable and meaningless.”

But there it was, at the bottom, the following curious phrase: “a tale of the decisive victory of one elite.” Gilad Atzmon, said the press release, “has managed to dissect the ethos, strategy and culture that are driving this invincible elite.”

Googling, I discovered that Atzmon, born in Israel, identifies himself as “a proud self-hating Jew.” American white nationalist Greg Johnson, an admirer, calls him a “self-exterminating Jew.” Since 2000, Atzmon has been spewing out viciously anti-Semitic writings with statements like “we must begin to take the accusation that the Jewish people are trying to control the world very seriously” and “with Fagan and Shylock in mind, Israeli barbarism and organ trafficking seem to be just other events in an endless hellish continuum.” Then there was this: “It took me years to accept that that the Holocaust narrative, in its current form, doesn’t make any sense… We should… ask why? Why were the Jews hated? Why did the European people stand up against their next-door neighbors?… What is the holocaust religion there to conceal?”

I can’t recall any other “offer” of a speaking engagement that has ever made me feel such an intense mix of emotions. I’m a Jewish writer, a lesbian, a progressive who has written for The Nation and used to be a Village Voice columnist. I knew that the racist right, both in this country and around the world, had become increasingly brazen. But had they become so brazen that they thought a Jewish lesbian leftist would rally to their side? Or were they just trying to dupe me? I felt horror, anger, disgust; and I felt queasy.

But I also felt an overwhelming anxiety about why Atzmon’s backers thought I in particular would speak on a panel promoting him. Did something in my writing make them think I’d be sympathetic? As a reporter, I’ve written about the antigay Christian right many times. And I have, in fact, tried to “understand” them. Why would anyone spend their time trying to take rights away from another group of people? I spent a good portion of my work life trying to find out. Did I go too far trying to “understand,” and was this why a man who’d said “the [Nazi] death marches were actually humane” thought I’d be on his panel?

I have wanted to understand what makes far-right bigots tick, but I never wanted to support their mission. I finally realized that the primary reason Atzmon’s backers had approached me was not because of anything I’d written, but because obfuscating, and deliberately obscuring hateful premises behind seemingly genuine critiques of real-world oppression, are a fundamental part of the white supremacist and anti-Semitic projects. Gilad Atzmon may have begun as a progressive critic of Israel, but he metamorphosed into a misogynist, antigay Jew-hater, and he has made a career out of confusing the two stances.

It is symptomatic of our weird political moment, when white nationalists and Sebastian Gorka hold power in the White House, that progressive Jewish writers should be approached to legitimize a man who said “the Jewish tribal mindset” “sets Jews aside of humanity.” When white nationalism and anti-Semitism are being discussed as mere “political ideologies” equivalent to any other, when millions voted for Trump because they believed his lie that he would fight the rich for them, we need renewed political clarity in our country more than we need air and water.

The dangers of such obfuscation are getting clearer by the moment. The “progressive” former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, whom the Green party ran for president in 2008, has written the introduction to Atzmon’s book, and radical Jewish lawyer Stanley Cohen has apparently agreed to be on his April 30 panel at Theater 80. In a sense, it’s of a piece with Atzmon’s perennial ability to get some on the left (Richard Falk, James Petras, the journal Counterpunch) to endorse or publish his work. But the willingness of some so-called progressives to support blatant anti-Semitism is oddly mirrored by the right’s increasingly successful use of the tropes of class oppression against Jews, African-Americans, and immigrants. When Atzmon argues that “the Jewish elite” are destroying “working people,” when Donald Trump complains that an elite has let “radical Islamic terrorists enter the country by the thousands” in order to “disenfranchise our working class,” it’s time for all of us to be utterly and completely clear about our politics, exactly what we’re saying and what it means.

In this time of great danger to the poor, to people of color, and to Jews, it is time to unite the entire country behind its real needs, and to revive the slogan of Occupy: We are the 99%. No population is the enemy; the problem is not a person or persons, not even the 1%. The problem is the exponential rate at which economic inequality is growing, and an overall system that is not meeting most of our needs. The more we identify the problem as systemic, and not caused by an amorphous “them” that is exploiting “us,” the more strength we will have to fight Gilad Atzmon, Donald Trump, and anti-Semites everywhere.

 

 

Memoir in the Age of Trump

I’m teaching a new six-week memoir writing workshop in Manhattan this spring, focused on memoir’s radical capacity to tell the truth. When our president tries to convince us that the truth does not exist, it’s a good time to write memoir. Speak your unspeakable truths and shatter the false, glittering surface we’re supposed to present to the world!

This course is focused on helping students write about their actual feelings, experiences, wishes, and needs, not the ones they think they’re “supposed” to have.

Memoir Writing in The Age of Trump: The Art of Radical Truth-Telling

Six Mondays, 7 PM to 9 PM, March 27 through May 1

Arts on Site, 12 St. Mark Place. The fee is $225.

To register, please click here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2886466

In this workshop, we will use emotion, sensory details, critical thinking, imagination, and courage to construct profound and relatable works about our actual experience. Students will get frequent feedback in a supportive atmosphere.

Bio: Donna Minkowitz has taught memoir writing since 1998 at the 92nd Street Y, The Kitchen, the JCC of the Upper West Side, and the New York Writers Workshop. Her recent memoir Growing Up Golem was a finalist for both a Lambda Literary Award and for the Judy Grahn Nonfiction Award, and her first memoir, Ferocious Romance, won a Lammy. A recipient of a Writers Omi fellowship and an Exceptional Merit Media Award, Minkowitz has also written for the New York Times Book Review, Salon, and The Nation.

The class is sponsored by the New York Writers Workshop.

I’m happy to answer any questions. You can send them my way at growingupgolem AT Gmail.

 

How to Cook A Trump: A Modest Proposal, with Recipes

Photo credit: Brains and Eggs.

I have to say, it’s hard to write about how good food tastes when Trump is compiling weekly lists of “crimes” by immigrants. I wanted to describe for you the precise degree of crispness and umami of the chicken thigh/fermented soybean/potato chip appetizer at the hot new restaurant Llama Inn, but it’s hard to stop thinking about him turning Syrian children back to die from bombing and starvation. I was tearing my hair out trying to figure out what to do about this when a good idea suddenly occurred to me: it would probably be possible to roast Trump like a turkey, trussing him with a little cooking twine and rubbing him all over with European butter, salt, and pepper.

With his new, yellower hair color and more deeply-bronzed skin, he looks like a roasted turkey already, so I thought this would be a good time to try out Tom Collicchio’s Thanksgiving recipe and stuff a thick handful of Kerrygold Irish Butter between his skin and his breast meat, mixed with sage, tarragon, thyme, and rosemary to take some of his funk away. He weighs about 12 times what an average Thanksgiving turkey does, so he could provide a dinner for approximately 20 Iraqi families fleeing rape and what the UN calls “staggering violence” ultimately caused by George Bush’s war.

I have a particular idea for the stuffing. I feel more personally threatened as a Jew than I ever have in 52 years, now that we have a Nazi on the National Security Council and a White House that denies that the Holocaust had any particular impact on Jews. So I thought it would be community-building and holistic to stuff Trump up the butthole with charoset. (If you haven’t heard of it, charoset is the mix of chopped fruits, nuts, and wine Jews eat on Passover to represent the bricks and mortar we were forced to make as slaves in Egypt.) There are dozens of different versions made by Jews from different cultures, but I love my own family’s version best, diced apples and walnuts mixed with sweet, deep purple Manischewitz. There are plenty of non-Passover recipes in which charoset is used as a stuffing, including a lovely one by Martha Stewart that goes up the butt of a Cornish game hen. According to the Talmud, there are also revolutionary sexual connotations to the lush, fruity, sometimes spicy dish: the apples, dates, figs, grapes, walnuts, pomegranates, and saffron used in various versions of charoset all appear as erotic symbols in the Song of Songs, the Hebrew Bible’s ode to carnal joy. (Bananas don’t appear in the Bible, but because they’re also pretty erotic, they’re used in versions from India, Afghanistan, Mexico, and Uganda.)

And the 2nd century sage Rabbi Akiva said — I am not making this up — that charoset particularly signifies the wild frolics that ancient Jewish slaves were able to have in the apple orchards when they snuck away from their overseers to defy Pharaoh’s edict against sex. Charoset for all these reasons is understood to bring a sweetness and hope into our memories of horrible slavery and oppression, and it can bring some sweetness even into Donald’s meat.

The president is known to subsist on a diet of Big Macs, buckets of KFC, and Lay’s potato chips, so it may take some doing to rinse the flavor of salmonella and excessive salt from his flesh. I suggest using the cleansing technique developed for beef kidneys: soak him for two hours in a large Dutch oven full of water mixed with a little white vinegar or lemon juice, then rinse him out three times with fresh water and drain him in a large colander.

Once you’ve cleaned the Donald, he’s perfect for the national dish of Somalia, baasto iyo sugo hilib shildan. In the years since Italy colonized Somalia starting in the late 19th century, Somalis transformed spaghetti Bolognese, the food of their occupiers, into a spicier dish with profoundly African flavors. (Mussolini tried to boost his popularity at home by intensifying the occupation in the ’30s, but you should read up on how that ultimately turned out for him, Mr. President!) One thing to note before I give the recipe: Somali cuisine is halal. Is the First Golfer? I’m not equipped to give a religious opinion.

(With apologies to Somali cooks everywhere.) To prepare, sauté a load of onions in a large skillet. Add cumin, coriander, cayenne, cinnamon, turmeric, cloves, crushed green cardamom pods, fenugreek seeds, and fresh garlic and green pepper. Add fresh Donald, minced, till nicely browned. Add diced tomatoes and tomato paste, sauté until fully blended, about five minutes. Add a little chicken stock and some large-diced potatoes and carrots. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Serve over al dente pasta, topped with chopped cilantro. Eat a banana on the side. (Somalis like to have one with every entrée.)

The Somali civil war is one of the bloodiest going on right now, with the widespread kidnapping of children so they can be forced to be soldiers, and systemic sexual violence. All sides target civilians. The conflict, like most of the current wars in Africa, ultimately stems from the massive destabilization wrought by European colonization. Somali refugees could use a good meal like this: 2 million of them have been forced to flee the country, and only one hundredth of one percent of them — 299 people — were granted visas by the United States in the last fiscal year on record, 2015, according to Quartz.

A Desi chef who insisted on going nameless out of fear of being rounded up offered this recipe: “I just think that given our president’s unnatural tone and coloring, as a chef of Indian cuisine I think immediately of tandoori chicken, with that rridiculous, unnatural bright pink tone a lot of versions of it have.” (Much commercial tandoori chicken relies on food coloring,the chef notes; more holistic versions use a mixture of tomato paste and yogurt that turns the chicken reddish.) “But if you used the president, you wouldn’t even have to marinate him, he’s already that color. And given the sort of injustices he’s committing against humanity, he surely deserves” some time in “an 800° tandoori oven.”

For those of you who can’t bring themselves to bite into such meat and digest, here’s a vegetarian recipe from La Morada in the South Bronx, one of the best Mexican restaurants in the city:

La Morada’s Guacamole Recipe

1 whole avocado, hand-picked by undocumented immigrants in California

1 tablespoon of diced tomatoes cultivated by undocumented immigrants in Milwaukee, Florida

1 tablespoon of cilantro harvested by undocumented immigrants in California

1 tablespoon of onions gathered by undocumented immigrants in Washington

½ lime, hand-picked also by those whom you persecute.

1 pinch of salt.

First take the avocado and smash it with the same passion that activist smashed Richard Spencer’s face, [and activists have smashed] xenophobes, racists, homophobes, and other forms of injustice. Keep smashing the avocado until justice and equality reign. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well until it harmonizes the same way solidarity and intersectionality triumph together. Pair with your favorite Mexican food because you know America can’t survive without Mexicans. Enjoy. ”

Friends and FBI agents, this column is a satire. I don’t believe that any human being should be eaten, not even the president. I do believe his policies are immoral, and he should resign immediately in favor of Bernie Sanders, Angela Davis, or Jasilyn Charger.

Originally published in Gay City News, February 16, 2016.

Cooking Up Rebellion

In times of trouble, cooking makes me whole. I may be tired, irritable, I may have gotten home late, I may even be sick, but I stand at my fry pan tossing in onions, that base of almost every culture’s cooking. To me, it might as well be the base of life itself, as I stand there trying to make something tasty and satisfying and warming out of a few teensy bits of vegetables and some shreds of meat.

Cooking, which I came to only in my 40s and disabled, like someone clutching a lifeline, reminds me of the sacredness of the act of creation. It feels like making something out of nothing: whatever’s assembled on my cutting board – a little mess of garlic bits and bitter vegetables and cheese snips – always seems so poignantly small to me as the basis of a hot dinner that will somehow sustain two adults. The process that transforms these scraps into a whole always seems mystical to me: what god created this eggplant parmigiano pasta?

Certainly not me.

With cooking, as with writing, providence comes in and accomplishes what we ourselves, with our conscious minds, can barely accomplish. When I say providence, I don’t exactly mean God. Who made this dish? It was the fire (which reshapes molecules and “denatures” proteins and divinely caramelizes eggplants). It was the balsamic vinegar in all its oddness, sour, acid, musty, sweet, powerfully itself and shaped by hands and minds other than my own. It was the traditions of a million years of hominids cooking (while humans have only been around and making dinner for 200,000 years, our hominid ancestors have been cooking for even longer). It was my innumerable memories of meals out and Food Network snippets and half-remembered recipes, plus glimmering images in my brain (my mother’s ancient Italian friend’s fresh sausage and tomato sauce), and, maybe most of all, dumb luck and inspiration!

It was also me, yes, along with all of these. It was my own arm strength and my thinking mind, saying “Now! A dab more tomato paste!” and “Now! I want sesame oil and more parsley!” In point of fact, I feel really butch when I cook, much more butch than I do when writing, say, or making love. Turning the flame up and down, I am Hephaestus at the forge; I am Casey at the switch. I feel powerful, capable, gripping my 11-inch pan and smelting tomatoes, refining wine, building skyscrapers out of flour and beef. I am doing this for my family which consists of my partner and me, making things to keep us good and warm inside, and feeling loved. I am blending tahini in a machine noisy as a cement mixer, making a sauce so sumptuous it can make steamed zucchini taste good. I am butchering squashes and making rebellious Jewish bricks out of walnuts, apples and wine that will make our conquerors choke. I am constructing fantasy universes out of ground turkey and breadcrumbs and spices and egg. The turkey meatballs I make will make our hearts happy as we eat them in a radiant red sauce before going to the demonstration.

So, gentle reader who loves the taste of food, dear one who loves kimchi, posole, and democracy: go to the demonstration. There are a lot this week, and there will be more the week after, and the week after that. Keep going. Eat something hot before and after. Take care of yourself. Take care of other people, too. There is no contradiction between activism and compassion, no contradiction between activism and tenderness or sweetness: remember that. What I am trying to say is: everything we do, whether we are masters or novices, we do in the context of other people. I’m no great chef by any measure, but I learned to make a damn good dinner, and so can you. Individual writers don’t create literature, individual cooks don’t create the art of cooking, and individual actors don’t create entire movements. Everyone is needed, and everyone needs others.

Everyone is important in cooking up this struggle, even and especially you.

Originally published in Gay City News on January 19, 2017.

The James Beard Foundation’s Non-Activist Conference

james-beard-conference

The queerest thing about last week’s James Beard Foundation conference in Manhattan was the ginormous photograph of a brown-black human turd, pictured underneath a similar-looking red sausage. The photo was displayed on a huge screen by public-policy academic Raj Patel, who announced to the assembled corporate honchos, entrepreneurs, and bland food-nonprofit wonks, “I’ve come to be the turd in the punch bowl!”

The James Beard Foundation is the most prestigious organization for American chefs and gourmands, and every year since 2010 it’s been holding an “educational” conference about food activism — a really, really tame one, if this year’s confab was any indication. The turd Patel had come to deliver was the message that the sustainable food movement must be grounded in, er, politics — and not just any politics, but a progressive “politics of justice and equality.” Otherwise, the handsome Patel said in his lovely Brit accent, food activism can be used just as easily by the fascist right — as in Italy, where haters of Muslims have passed laws banning kebabs, and in India, where the Hindu right has beaten to death Muslims accused of eating beef.

Unfortunately, the message most conference-goers seemed to take away from the author’s exciting but rambling speech was simply not to be Islamophobes, which the chefs, food-service companies like Aramark, Dunkin’ Donuts brass, and school-garden advocates in attendance seemed to feel they could sign on to fine. The larger message of Patel’s excellent food writing — that systemic economic inequality is the biggest barrier to food justice, not poor people’s confounding failure to educate themselves about kale – was lost at a conference who stated goal was “to explore the genesis and lifecycle of trends and apply that knowledge to food system issues. We’ll draw on the experience of other trend-focused industries, such as technology, fashion, and design, to understand why some trends last and others fizzle.”

The conference was entitled “Now Trending: the Making of a Food Movement,” and the people in the room were almost exclusively white people with very well-paying jobs.

At one discussion at my table, I heard white attendees earnestly debating how to get “people from the inner city” aware they should eat vegetables, as though people of color had no awareness of good health practices. When we finally discussed the need to increase free school meals for hungry children, a man at my table dubiously asked if there was any “empirical data” that they improved test scores.

A few tips for the James Beard folks for organizing future activist conferences: 1) Don’t have a dress code. (“Business casual attire.”) Most of the people you want to get in the room will be wearing jeans and T-shirts or low-end dresses. They will be most comfortable (and most ready to fight the system) if they’re not forced to dress as if for a job interview. 2) Don’t charge your attendees $500 to attend ($600 if they’re unable to pay by the “early bird” date). 3) Have nitty-gritty sessions on how to lobby, how to organize other human beings, how to organize mass demonstrations. Don’t waste chefs’ and advocates’ time with hours devoted to “hot brands” like Gordon Ramsay and “the Internet of things” and wondering how we can make the movement for food justice just as um, “exciting” and sellable. 4) Learn the difference between a market and a movement. Continue reading