Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Erotic Activism

The nation of Lithuania was due to hold its first gay pride parade in a few days. Yesterday Lithuanian judges banned the event, citing "concern for public safety".

It's calming to see other countries dealing with issues that we have somewhat resolved. In Israel, three pride parades are held each year. The one in Jerusalem is always the focus of conflict, drawing murder threats from the ultraorthodox community, yet was never canceled. The Tel-Aviv parade is simply enormous. This year it is scheduled for June 11th. Its theme is "social change".

Please do not deduce that Israeli gays live in a shangri-la painted by Tom of Finland. Gay bashing is rampant and last year a massacre of gay youths took place at a Tel-Aviv community center.

Yes, the mass media placed several gay men and even a transsexual woman inside the "big-brother" house and changed the public's perspective a bit, but there's still work to be done. At the moment there is a single openly gay member of Knesset in office (Nitzan Horowitz of the Meretz party). Note that according to statistics, there should be about eleven more closeted gay individuals in the house.

But the problem isn't only a gay one. Israel's heterosexuals aren't free either. I can't think of a single member of Knesset who seems sexually liberated, and there should ideally be 120 of them. Our society is becoming more and more repressed, and we don't even notice it, confusing commercial sexual media content and tawdry fashion trends in girls attire for honest liberalism.

Sexual liberation should come from the bed of the layman. Thus I feel great pride in my own few actions of the recent times. Two weeks ago, I supported the right to gender ambiguity by narrating an experimental poetry event in full drag:

But this is softcore. For a year now Itka and I have supported alternative lifestyles by having an open relationship. It's a worthwhile challenge, but a challenge indeed, as we described in an article published a few weeks into the experiment.

You won't even believe how much criticism we recieved for living lovingly yet outside of typical monogamy. Thankfully, potential partners are not always so critical. After recovering from the initial shock and clarifying that they themselves could never maintain such relationship, they usually open up to the adventure.

Itka is an advanced activist in the field of sexual politics, currently running an internet campaign promoting more freedom of choice in matters of bodily hair and always on the battlefield for women's rights. Some of the campaigns are not so humorous and her activities have been known to cost her friendships. Not everyone understands the broader values and humanism for which she's fighting.

Now comes an opportunity to challenge another form of social oppression: clothes! Photographer Spencer Tunick, who paves the cityscapes of the world with naked bodies, is arriving to Tel-Aviv this summer and plans to shoot a naked scene in Tel-Aviv. Itka got both of us registered to appear among the multitudes and found herself interviewed to a local newspaper about nudism and art.

It was interesting to read the online comments beneath the short news item. Most of them were attacks on "leftists" who are destroying this country's moral core.

Leftists? If anything, I'd expect to be attacked for not being leftist enough. Gaza is under siege, The West Bank is a tightly-controlled, futureless territory. Human rights are of no concern to the state, freedom of speech is a diminishing commodity, and we indulge in erotic activism? Who gives a toss about our sexual emancipation when people are rotting in our prisons without due trial?

Then again, I see the connection. Our sexuality is political. It's no accident that the Israeli LGBT community is overwhelmingly supportive of the Palestinian cause, even though Palestinian society is deeply homophobic. The experience of freeing ourselves strongly enhances our capacity to care for the freedom of others.

Lithuania's judges are being reasonable. They seek to maintain conservative order. They know that nothing threatens the hyrarchical power structure more than a community of free, confident human beings. Our sexuality is power. Liberalism is a doorway to mutual support and political progress, especially in a land where religious zealots are constantly gaining more and more control. Breaking ground on issues of sexual liberty also advances this coutry's hard faught feminist struggle and the dignity of every person here. Let's punch bigotry and racism, intolerance and prejudice in one blow, and let's make it a sexy blow.


Nadav Appel said...

Good post. But there's one openly gay Knesset member, Nitzan Horowitz.

יובל בן-עמי Yuval Ben-Ami said...

I didn't realize he was openly gay. I thought he was simply sympathetic towards gay issues. I'll make the correction. In any case he's an impressive parlamentarian who promotes liberalism and tolerance in many ways.

Robert Atkins said...

Osnat, are you about to hit Yuval with a bread roll in that photo?

יובל בן-עמי Yuval Ben-Ami said...

Since the events recounted in the article took place over a month we spent in Paris, the magazine decided to make the photo-shoot French themed. So yes, they equipped us with baguettes, but then, we got them to ditch the berets. Sometimes you just have to choose your battles.

Osnatita said...

Actually i wanted to eat the baguette but Israelis can't make decent French bread. It was so hard the only thing left to do with it was to use it as a club.

Daiva said...

Thank you Yuval. The decision can still be appealed, but only 2 days remain until the day the Baltic Pride was supposed to happen.

All of those who support the struggle of LGBT people and their supporters are welcome to join the FB group "Save Baltic Pride":

Giedrius said...

Thanks for this post! In many respects Lithuania has much to learn from Israel when it comes to the LGBT rights.
It is fascinating, how politically and socially successful LGBT movement in Israel is. I would say that the reasons for gay and lesbian political success lies in the period from 1988 through the mid-1990s (starting with 1988 when liberal Knesset members decided to try to repeal the sodomy law and going to legal recognition of different aspects by early 90s).

I would say that the chief reason for this success was the fact that gay activists pursued a very mainstream strategy, seeking to convince the wider public that gay Israelis were good patriotic citizens who just happened to be attracted to the same sex.

This strategy, pursued until recently, reinforced the perception that gay rights was a non-partisan issue, unconnected to the major fissure in Israeli politics, the Arab-Israeli conflict and how to resolve it. Embracing gay rights enabled Israelis to pat themselves on the back for being open-minded, even as Israeli society wrestled less successfully with other social inequalities.

That's only one reason and only one element, but I think this strategy should be employed in Lithuania as well. I hope it's not too late to do this!

יובל בן-עמי Yuval Ben-Ami said...

I hope so too.

Not being versed enough in the history of Gay liberation in Israel, I don't know whether playing it mainstream was indeed the strategy. I think pehaps playing it *also* mainstream was part of it. Some Israeli gays reseved the right to be flamboyant, effeminate, butch and otherwise unique. Next to them there developed a more and more visible society of openly gay bourgeois couples.

I would advise the Lithuanian community not to estrange its "queerer" members. for the public that is capable of tolerance, it should suffice to see that the word gay can have various meanings and that there can be conservative gays, religious gays etc. Eventually they will learn that the less mundane types are people too and that they are nothing to be afraid of.

Those who will refuse to acknowledge this, will rarely be wooed by a mainstream campaign. Take Jerusalem's pride, for example. Most Jerusalemites, whether gay or straight, are subtle folk. The events there are naturally low on nudity and rather subdued. Bigoted religious Jerusalemites couldn't care less. They are just as threatened by Cosbyesque homosexuals as they are by extroverted queens. The Bible does not distinguish between the two.

Anonymous said...

On... open relationships while I get it in theory I am not sure I do in practise, Yes, I read Simone de Beauvoir when I was seventeen and ... just came away from it feeling incrediblely sad for her, It's good to the challengethe power politics of relationships.. it really is however, somebody eventully gets hurt one person will love another more than the other. Who is going to own the rights on hurt? Are you going to be the person laid awake late waiting for the sound of the key in the door, if your not then your ther other sex.

יובל בן-עמי Yuval Ben-Ami said...

Well, we each get hurt every so often, especially by a healthy, natural sense of jealousy. I don't think either of us is "the second sex". I've had my times waiting for that key in the door and she's had hers.

What makes it work is a lot of trust and a sense of balance. We also have a "Cinderella" rule: If either of us feels lonely or upset, we can text the word "Cinderella" to the other. At this point the chariot turns back into a pumpkin and we meet at home, which is neutral turf. So far this word has never been texted.

Life in a couple always demands work and care. Balance has to be maintained. We invest in this just as any couple does, only perhaps a bit differently. Jealousy exists in other relationships too, as does temptation. We made a trade-off based on our needs. swapping exclusivity for a sense of freedom.

Is it right for all couples? definitely not. Is it something that should be limited to theory rather than practice? only if you feel that the same mold of relationship would in practice be right for every couple on earth.

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