Bi-dentity

Jun. 1st, 2016 11:38 pm
liv: Stylised sheep with blue, purple, pink horizontal stripes, and teacup brand, dreams of Dreamwidth (sheeeep)
[personal profile] liv
So my gf convinced me to join her on a panel about bisexuality and religion at BiFest Wales. To be fair I didn't need very much convincing. And it was a pretty cool experience which I should write up before I forget about it.

The travel was really horrendously awful; on the way out there was an incident where someone stole a tractor and crashed it into a railway bridge such that it blocked all rail access into the West Country and Wales. So my train got turned round back to Birmingham, and some time after midnight the rail company organized taxis to get the passengers to their destinations. My sweetie and her husband ended up rescuing me from Cheltenham, which is not by any realistic definition near their home. So we got ridiculously too little sleep, and they did far too much driving, and I was basically running on adrenalin by the time the panel came. Then on the way back, a car crashed into ours while my sweetie was trying to drop me at the station; nobody was hurt but it was deeply unpleasant.

Anyway, BiFest itself. It's a tiny little event, run by a woman who has been involved in bi activism since her teens, with basically no budget, in a couple of rooms in the YMCA that can be hired cheaply. The attendees were a mixture of the kind of people I think of as typically bi scene folk: mostly young, very Tumblr-savvy, wearing jewellery and make-up in bi or rainbow colours, concerned about pronouns and inclusivity and social justice, many of them genderqueer. And a smaller but noticeable group of older... transfeminine folk, I think is the best generic term; some introduced themselves as trans women, others talked in ways that made me think they probably didn't exactly identify with the most common contemporary gender categories. About half the people I spoke to were, to simplify things, non-scene; they didn't wear their sexual orientation metaphorically or literally on their sleeves, and weren't necessarily familiar with all the lingo or the political stuff. This included some people who said they were supporters or curious or allies rather than bi, including a policewoman who had been given the hate crimes and diversity brief and clearly knew very little about bi issues, so she was asking very basic questions, though obviously well-meaning.

I'm ashamed to admit I did the useless flaily cis person thing over putting my pronouns on my badge. I know it's bad form to say that I don't really mind which pronouns people use for me, when correct pronouns are something that many trans people really have to fight for, but equally I felt weird about actively choosing to use female pronouns rather than just letting people assume. A little after the fest I saw this gender paint chart, which I really like. Partly because I often feel comfortable when a second axis gets added to a scale previously assumed to be linear, and partly because, well, placing myself somewhere in the middle of the one-dimensional line from male to female feels wrong to me, whereas I think I might well fit somewhere up in the top right, ie a lot more feminine than not, but also very very pale in hue. But we don't have a pronoun for 'why do I have to care about this?'; in theory epicene or gender-neutral pronouns should serve that function, but at the moment they don't, they are much more likely to convey the impression that I care passionately about identifying outside the gender binary. I felt even more uncomfortable asking for gender neutral pronouns than for female ones. But even with all that, I do like being in an environment where pronoun badges are standard.

Our panel went well. It was well moderated, and we had an audience who were engaged and interested and also very respectful, so we managed actually productive discussion rather than rehashing the obvious clich├ęs and more of a comment than a question, actually derails. My sweetie and I talked about bi-friendly readings of Jewish and Christian scripture and the third panellist, a Druid, talked about creative ways of working with some of the traditionally heterosexist / gender-essentialist bits of Pagan ritual. I am anyway experienced at being the Explainer of Judaism at events like that, though I'd never done it in a specifically bi context. There were some questions coming from a place of pain, people who had had lost their faith and their communities when they came out, but they were all open to hearing about the panellists' generally much more positive experiences of being bi and religious. I was tired enough to be a little punchy in my response to a question about homophobic ritual laws in Leviticus, noting that Christians have a long history of blaming Jews / the OT for things that are actually problems within Christianity, but I think I avoided offending anyone.

There were a fair number of people, of whom the poor policewoman was the most vocal, who were pretty ignorant about bisexual identity and culture. In particular, there was quite a lot of explaining that bi doesn't imply having multiple partners, even though in practice all three speakers on the panel are, well, poly. And it's bad enough doing, plenty of bi people are monogamous even though I'm personally not, without having to explain from the ground up what ethical non-monogamy even is. Still, I think people who hadn't previously come across these concepts did learn something.

I attended two workshops led by the organizer, who's clearly a kindred spirit with our shared history of running this kind of thing from a young age. One on intersectionality, which didn't exactly work for me. Partly because there was no acknowledgement of Crenshaw's work, and it's an ongoing problem with white-dominated feminism that white people take credit for and distort her ideas about the subject. Obviously I don't have a problem with the idea of applying intersectionality to bi disabled people, that's the point of intersectionality, but I felt the discussion should have kept more of the focus on race. I was a bit uncomfortable with the way people commented on the fact that bi circles are often really white; it felt more like an act of self-criticism than an actually useful way to address the issue. And lots of random speculation about how 'minorities' don't like the word 'bi', which is too facile an excuse and I imagine would have made me feel even less welcome if I had been a non-white attendee. Generally the audience were just too mixed, and there wasn't really a good dialogue between people encountering the concept for the first time (though all of them were basically on board with the idea) and people well versed in internet social justice discourse.

The other was the kind of exercise I've done lots of times where you provide a bunch of prompts to get people talking about identity issues. I may have offered to run that workshop next year. But generally what happened was that people had really good, mostly free-form conversations, and we started to make connections between the scene / activisty bis and the people who just happen to be bi. One of them was a fill-in-the-blanks exercise about I thought everybody at BiFest would be ____ / and I would be the only ____ , and really quite a lot of people had thought they'd be the only Queer identifying or genderqueer person, so they all found eachother and that was heartwarming. I had a rather annoying middle-aged man in my particular buzz group, one of those who just wouldn't shut up about how the human spirit transcends labels, but the workshop as a whole went really well.

Our co-panellist asked for permission to take a photo of us, which he said was for his collection of selfies doing interesting religious things. I was completely cool with that, but did not understand that his request implied he was going to put said photo on Facebook. And then my metamour tagged me with my wallet name, which meant that the photo of me doing a BiFest panel was displayed to some random subset of my FB connections. I'm not exactly closeted on FB, but there plenty of people there, mostly people I've worked with in various Jewish communities as well as some ex-colleagues, I haven't explicitly told I'm bi, and given the choice I might have preferred not to wave that in everybody's faces.

Also, in the comments the panellist referred to me as 'Professor', and somebody asked my metamour if I was the 'rabbi' they'd met at his wedding. So I put up a FB post requesting that people not refer to me by either unearned title. This led to some really interesting discussion. Regarding Prof, several of my American friends think of it as just a job description, and didn't realize that in this country it is a title of high respect and that it would look really bad professionally if I appeared to appropriate it.

And regarding rabbi, several people had some really interesting thoughts about whether I count as a de facto rabbi because of the kinds of roles I fill within the Jewish community. I do tend to a pretty traditionalist view of this question, that rabbis have to be formally ordained, and as such have the authority to interpret halacha, whereas just doing bits of Jewish education and pastoral stuff and leading services doesn't count. Among knowledgeable Jews I refer to myself as shlicha tzibbur, no more than the representative of the congregation, or sometimes, half-jokingly, as a maggid, a preacher or story-teller. But some of the people who argued that I'm a rabbi in practice were members of my own community, which is worrying me as it confirms my suspicion that people are giving me authority just because I happen to read Hebrew fairly fluently and I'm moderately knowledgeable and confident.

One of the reasons I think rabbis need formal ordination not just a general community consensus is that it's important to me that lay people can run most aspects of Jewish life without recourse to a rabbi, and just dubbing everybody who volunteers for this sort of thing 'rabbi' really undermines that. Another is in fact the issue of ordination of women; just general community consensus would never have regarded Progressive women as rabbis in the 70s and wouldn't regard Orthodox women as rabbis today, but if specific individual (male) rabbis like R' Weiss give these women smicha by the expected formal process, that's harder to challenge.

Having this kind of conversation in semi-public on Facebook is not my favourite thing anyway, which is why I've brought the conversation over here. Well, the post is public but it's also anonymized in the way Facebook largely isn't, and I have in many ways a better idea who's reading than I do with my supposedly friends-only FB posts. Also because DW discussions tend to be rather more nuanced than FB ones. In fact nothing very bad happened because of unexpected people seeing the discussion, but I did get a comment from the sister of someone I'm really close to, jokingly quoting Matthew 23:8. I was a little nervous about that, because I hardly know the sister, and it does look a bit odd for a Christian to bring into a discussion mostly between Jews a bit of the Gospels which has historically been applied in nasty antisemitic ways. My friend pointed out to me that her sister probably just meant literally that verse in isolation, and didn't realize that I would go and look up the whole chapter, let alone think about the historical connotations. So anyway, that was only mildly awkward, but it's one of the ways that having nuanced discussions about tricky subjects seems more prone to going wrong on FB.

But anyway, it felt quite relevant to the discussions we'd been having at BiFest itself, about different aspects of identity and the subtleties of being out or not in different contexts.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-01 11:23 pm (UTC)
redbird: closeup of me drinking tea (Default)
From: [personal profile] redbird
I think there's another reason people are giving you authority: you keep doing the work, including leading services.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-01 11:29 pm (UTC)
ceb: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ceb
I was just going to say this too!

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-02 10:41 am (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
It's an interesting question. I think partly, you *are* more knowledgeable than a lot of people, so that *does* put some obligation on you to be responsible (at least to represent accurately what you know, if not to be responsible for what you don't know), and using the word is merely acknowledging that. After all, ordained rabbis have all the training, but that doesn't mean they know everything, it means they know enough and accept a responsibility to advise as well as they can.

But mainly, you're right, it makes sense to have an official ordination process, and having that, it makes sense to use "rabbi" for people who are actually ordained.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-02 11:42 am (UTC)
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
So even Orthodox Judaism has, roughly, two different rabbninical ordination processes, one where ordination means "I am investing you with the authority to make halakhic decisions on behalf of the Jewish people, making you one more link in a chain of halakhic decisors that stretches back to Moses at Mount Sinai." and the other where ordination means "I acknowledge that you have studied a lot of specific elements of Torah in an academic setting and are capable of providing leadership to a Jewish community because of this training." And non-Orthodox Judaisms have yet other meanings behind their ordination processes, that I am not qualified to speak to.

So no, I don't think being called Rabbi just means they know enough and accept a responsibility to advise as well as they can. It can mean that, but there are a lot of other things entailed by the title, and it makes sense to me that [personal profile] liv would be hesitant to claim it.

In my own lay-led minyan, the general shaliach tzibbur/guy who makes announcements is often half-jokingly referred to by the title "Reverend", I think largely because it is a title that nobody would misunderstand as representing any specific Jewish authority, but which acknowledges his leadership role.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-02 01:03 pm (UTC)
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
It is complicated, which is why I said 'roughly'. The two forms have definitely been blurred considerably, especially as there is little consensus on the direct intellectual heritage, but there is still a clear idea that some Rebbeim are Poskim, as one manifestation of the distinction. I think depending on the school and the orientation within the Orthodox spectrum there are very different attitudes toward what semikha means and to what degree it is a professional vs. spiritual title, but I also guess very little of that variation is encoded in the title Rabbi by itself. If you meet a person who is introduced as a Rabbi, you cannot make any judgement about how they regard these questions from the title alone.

Rabbi v Minister

Date: 2016-06-05 11:10 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
In my Orthodox communities of, say, 1950 - 1970, it was well-established that "Rabbi" necessarily meant officially recognised s'michah (the nearest Jewish equivalent to Christian ordination).

(As a side issue for the benefit of USA academics: As Liv points out, this restriction of "Rabbi" to a formal professional qualification is mirrored by the British usage of Professor as the topmost academic position rather than as a job description.)

Other professional employees of the synagogue, such as the Chazan (Cantor) used the formal title Reverend. Both the Rabbi and the other ministers wore black gowns during services. The Rabbis at my own synagogue and at other synagogues which were even more traditional regularly wore dog collars, with or without white bands. I am puzzled by this deliberate imitation of Christian clergy but it was accepted as normal at that time.

Re: Rabbi v Minister

Date: 2016-06-05 11:11 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Apologies. I forgot my signature.

Southernwood

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-02 02:36 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
I think people are trying to find a label for what you do, and for many of us Christians, especially in the churches with a very formalized clerical hierarchy, there's not a handy one to grab onto. (Deacon might come close in certain senses).

It's more interesting that people from your own community are doing it too, but maybe that's because they aren't distinguishing the role, which arguably you are substituting for at least in part, from the position, which you aren't.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-03 03:10 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
Agreed. Deacon might work if someone is really pressing you for an explanation in Christian terms, but there's a calling to the ministry sense of it, not just a calling to facilitate worship, that you would have to give some thought to. 'Lay preacher in the Methodist sense' might be better in having more flexibility.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-04 01:25 pm (UTC)
cjwatson: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cjwatson
"Lay preacher" is certainly a specific role in some denominations, but in others I think it's basically just a plain description of something somebody does; if a non-ordained guest showed up and gave a sermon to us then that's very likely what I'd call them, and it's probably the most concise phrase I would reach for to explain what I've seen you doing. Outside of the Methodist kind of sense I don't think it would necessarily be understood to encompass the service-leading/ritual aspects as well as the exegetical and pastoral aspects, though.

"Deacon" is, I think, as likely to confuse as anything else; and in some denominations (including mine) it's specifically an ordained office, so it may have some of the same kinds of problems as "rabbi".

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-04 10:41 am (UTC)
ceb: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ceb
While churches do often have some sort of formal authority structure I think they also often have a lot of the volunteer organisation about them. In (especially informal) volunteer organisations often some combination of respect / effort / willingness to do stuff / access to resources / longevity *do* substitute for authority, because how else would you define authority in an informal organisation?

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-02 12:39 am (UTC)
jesse_the_k: Ultra modern white fabric interlaced to create strong weave (interdependence)
From: [personal profile] jesse_the_k
That sounds like an interesting and exhausting weekend. You did a lot of teaching; did you have a chance to learn anything?

Now, this is more of a comment than a question, but how can person truly believe just saying "my consciousness transcends labels" would have the force to change how others handle being boxed and battered.

Also "intersectional without Crenshaw" seems such an easy error to avoid. On other hand, I'm still processing my weekend at WisCon, where one panel was "'intersectionality' and other ideas stolen from black women" so it's more common than I'd like to believe.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-03 03:36 am (UTC)
jesse_the_k: unicorn line drawing captioned "If by different you mean awesome" (different=awesome)
From: [personal profile] jesse_the_k
Glad to make you smile :,)

I'm working on writing up my panels; didn't make the "words stolen by white women" but I'll link you to it when someone writes it up.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-02 12:47 am (UTC)
nicki: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nicki
There's a weird thing about memorizing bible quotes in a decontexutalized environment. I don't get it.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-02 02:16 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
I think a lot of people within the Catholic/CofE traditions don't actually do a lot of deep thinking about what the text actually means. Even the lay readers just get pointed at a text to recite, there's no strong tradition of analysis because the rigid hierarchy put that role in the hands of the clergy alone.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-02 04:46 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
She didn't think she was insulting anybody - she thought it was a text supporting the idea that you shouldn't appropriate a title you're not entitled to.

I agree, from conversation with her, that she probably thought 'this applies to a subset of Pharisees who do appropriate a title' but she was more saying 'some people do this, don't' as opposed to 'that group over there all do this'.

Does that make sense?

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-02 11:11 pm (UTC)
nicki: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nicki
Certainly could be.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-02 10:18 am (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
:( I didn't realise the context for that quote was so unfortunate. And I'm sure she didn't mean anything judgemental by it, just that she was amused to have a relevant bible verse. But I did think it was likely to be pretty tactless to quote Jesus to a jewish person on not being a rabbi -- you don't need a great level of interfaith awareness to realise that jewish tradition might not automatically accept everything Jesus said as definitive, even if many of the things he said make sense in a jewish context.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-02 11:10 am (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
Ah! I think I read that as "no-one should be rabbis" which seemed rather more pointed. Except that, in some ways, it's saying "no-one should be in position of special spiritual authority", which I think modern judaism mostly agrees with? Like you were saying, everyone is equally valid for almost everything, and rabbis are just more learned, not "better". But it's *calling* those people "rabbis", I don't know if that would have been accurate at the time that many people thought of rabbi-equivalents that way?

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-02 10:19 am (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
*hugs* And I'm really glad you were able to go, and I'm sorry about all the aggravating thigns.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-02 10:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] woodpijn.livejournal.com
I like the gender paint chart. I came up with a similar idea but that one makes more sense. Mine was cis----trans along the horizontal axis and "how much it matters to you" on the vertical, but Alex pointed out that the bottom right quadrant isn't very useful - if your gender doesn't matter to you, you probably wouldn't be trans, you'd be cis-by-default and avoid the hassle. Having male----female on the horizontal axis makes more sense.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-02 11:25 am (UTC)
forthwritten: stained glass spiral (Default)
From: [personal profile] forthwritten
Hah, my contribution to the "I thought everybody at BiFest would be ____ / and I would be the only ____ " exercise is usually "I thought everybody at BiFest would be white / and I would be the only non-white person" and this makes everyone uncomfortable, including me. It makes me feel a bit sad because "bi" is an identity where I should feel comfortable - I am attracted to people of genders the same and different to mine - but in practice and in dealing with the community, I'm not.

I really like the paint chart idea! Thank you for sharing it.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-02 11:48 am (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
The paint thing is really interesting.

I think you can both say, "it's important to go ahead and give people pronouns to use for you, because it normalises the practice for trans people" and also, "it's important to think about how you would like to be treated".

People's opinion of trans politics varies, but I know at least people are ok with people using "they" if they would prefer, even if they don't identify as genderqueer or non-binary or trans, and some people say "he or they" or "she or they" (I assume other people would not like it though so I don't know).

I don't think there's a *way* of saying "use she, but don't care about it", I don't know if it would be possible to invent one.

I also think, specifying pronouns is an important tradition, but it's ok to have feelings about it. I think some people say "I don't care" when what they really mean is "it's so obvious what pronouns I prefer I don't want to even say so because having to say feels like it's undermining my absolute identification with my presented gender". And I think it's important to say "everyone, please just say your pronouns, even if you think it's obvious" because a lot of the time, if you don't say that, people who are not familiar with the idea will waste a lot of time, and leave people who are not oblivious cis as the only people actually saying their pronouns. But that doesn't mean, if you ACTUALLY don't care (or care less), that's not something to think about.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-02 04:03 pm (UTC)
forthwritten: text on a dark background: "are you a boy or a girl?" "no. are you?" (non-binary)
From: [personal profile] forthwritten
Chiming in to say that, when I gave a talk/workshop to people in Public Health I made them go around the room and say their name and preferred pronouns. A lot of people were a little taken aback because they'd clearly never been asked and they thought it was obvious, but it was worth it for the person who gave a flash of a grin and said "zie". The feedback later on was really interesting - the cis people noted how asking everyone made the gender non-conforming, non-cis people feel more comfortable, there were people who they would have thought were one gender that asked for pronouns associated with a different or no gender, and they also noted how it made them feel to not be immediately recognisable as a "he" or a "she" and to actually think about what they wanted to say. They had to think about what their pronoun preferences actually were and what their gender actually was instead of doing the equivalent of shrugging and saying "oh, whatever".

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-02 05:33 pm (UTC)
lethargic_man: (reflect)
From: [personal profile] lethargic_man
A little after the fest I saw this gender paint chart, which I really like.

Interesting...

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-04 07:17 pm (UTC)
silveradept: A kodama with a trombone. The trombone is playing music, even though it is held in a rest position (Default)
From: [personal profile] silveradept
It sounds like a good weekend all told, potential outing aside.

I think that itinerant storytellers are generally powerful figures, at least in literature, even if they get no formal title, so perhaps people recognize that power and want to accord the title along with it.
Edited Date: 2016-06-04 07:18 pm (UTC)

Soundbite

Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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