domenica 25 agosto 2013

I have a dream

Washington DC, 28.08.1963
On August, 28th, 1963, 250,000 people marched on Washington, DC for civil rights and work, and the march ended with Martin Luther King's speech universally known as "I have a dream" [PDFYouTube].

In the USA the results of the struggle for Black Civil Rights are being assessed, and are only partially satisfactory: the current President Barack Hussein Obama is black, but inequality between whites and blacks haven't narrowed much.

The march deserves commemoration for several reasons: first, who wants freedom and dignity for him/herself must ask them for anybody - it's a catastrophic policy to claim: "I've been more victimized than you, therefore not only do I think to myself only, but I also oppose your requests as I regard them as a threat to me". As incredible as it may be, such thinkers (sort of) can't be found among racists only - even in the LGBT* movement you can find  them, and they are termed homonationalists.

MLK and AJH at the Selma-Montgomery March between March, 21st-25th, 1965
A man who understood that and did its polar opposite - i. e. he supported the struggle for Black Civil Rights, as he judged it pursuant to the Biblical commandment "We-ahavta le-re'akha kamokha = And thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself [Leviticus 19:18]" - was the Polish Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the greatest of the 20th century, scion of an old hasidic family, who managed to  take refuge in the USA before being caught by the Nazis - his works have also been published and highly praised in Italy.

It must also be said that Heschel would have made a significant contribution to the Vatican Council 2 (see [1] e [2]), convincing the Catholic Church to remove the anti-Jewish invective from liturgy and inspiring the writing of the Nostra Aetate.

Intelligence can't be caged and always goes beyond identity boundaries; it must also be added that Heschel was just the most renowned of the many White American Jews who thought it was a "mitzwah = (religious) duty" to support the struggle for Black Civil Rights.

The struggle for Black Civil Rights didn't end on that day in Washington - the photo above shows Rev. Martin Luther King jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching from Selma to Montgomery (Alabama) against racial segregation betweeen March, 21st-25th, 1965. Heschel would later say that in that march he prayed with his feet - a rightly famous remark.

Another reason for commemoration is what is technically named "intersectionality", whose outcome, alas, is at times "multiple discrimination"; the theory is of feminist origin, and was born to explain why not only somebody is disadvantaged just because she's a woman, but also because she belongs to several marginalized groups at once: it is not the same thing being a rich, citizen, Catholic, young, cissexual, married to a man, healthy, etc., woman, living in a metropolis, and being a poor, undocumented, Muslim, mature, trans*, in a lesbian relationship, ill or disabled, etc., living in a hamlet.

Intersectionality isn't just a female issue: although the mainstream LGBT movement has often ignored it because it was easy to coalesce gay and lesbian people on the basis of sexual identity alone, and deem other personal characteristics or issues negligible (but lately the attention towards HIV+ people, immigrants, disabled and aging LGBT* people has forced to rethink this assumption), the bisexual (and trans*) movement cannot afford that: bisexual and trans people are much more diverse, and intersectionality is necessary to understand them, not to speak about uniting them.

In bisexual and trans* literature great care is taken to explore and expose the intersection between sexual identity, gender  identity, race, gender, (dis)ability, age, health, religion, and several other variables that often enrich a person, but make him/her more amenable to discrimination.

It's a strategic error to address LGBT* issues ignoring the rest - it can only be justified as a tactical choice, as it is usually easier to solve a problem at a time, but the other issues must not be overlooked, and the solution chosen for a problem must not worsen others, but it should help solving them - lest you may fall into homonationalism.

Last, the march on Washington which occurred on August, 28th, 1963 was to be followed by several others carried out by the LGBT* movement, which, in my opinion, may be commemorated together with the one in which MLK disclosed his dream:
Raffaele Ladu

sabato 24 agosto 2013


I chose a sensational title, but I can explain you now why I can define myself "gramscisexual".

My current self-definition is of a liberal-democrat, although I'm member of no party, but I was a member of the PCI from 1980 to 1988. Among the few things I learnt while I was in the party, there is the concept of cultural hegemony, created by Antonio Gramsci.

The concept can be used by any political movement that wants to transform society with pacific means, and among them there is, obviously, the bisexual movement. Shiri Eisner wants a bisexual revolution, but to really cause it you need Antonio Gramsci's tools.

Among the readers, somebody would likely wonder: "Who is to make the revolution? The bisexual movement or the LGBT* movement as a whole?" In my opinion (confirmed by a conversation with Shiri Eisner), it is impossible to make a unified movement, but it is necessary to keep distinct and allied the gay/lesbian movement (which is called the "GGGG" movement by Shiri Eisner) and the bisexual, trans*, etc. movements, as all those who have studied bisexual people and directed bisexual organizations claim that, besides the issues all LGBT* people share, there are distinctive problems of each category, among  them bisexuals.

The White House itself, arranging a closed door session dedicated to bisexual issues on September, 23rd, 2013 [Bi Pride - Day of Bisexual Pride and Visibility], acknowledges that they have peculiarities irreducible to the general characteristics of LGBT* people.

Please, don't be shocked: Gramsci, in his analysis of the Southern Question, wrote at length about the need for an alliance, not a fusion, between workers and peasants, as he apparently acknowledged that these two classes had different interests to reconcile. If you carefully read his piece, you realize that it wasn't just the peasants who were to evolve in order to be up to the task - workers had to do that beforehand.

Moreover, Gramsci was well aware of the risks entailed by prejudices among the different components of a social block - in the same text you find a beautiful description of the resentment Southern peasants harbored against Northern workers after the end of WW1, and what it took to defuse it.

Alas, bisexual people are often victims of akin prejuices harbored by other LGBT* people, and there is no Gramsci able to solve the problem.

Obviously, you can't mechanically transpose Gramsci's thought (which wasn't, by the way, able to pave the way for the dictatorship of the proletariat, a goal I now vehemently oppose) to the LGBT* reality and struggle, but I think that it may enlighten the issue from a different and useful viewpoint.

Raffaele Ladu

giovedì 22 agosto 2013

Rereading Callisto's Myth

As a friend of mine had prodded me to seek bisexual myths, I found Callisto's myth, well told in [1] (alas, the source is in Italian). Summarizing, according to Bernard Sérgent, Callisto's myth is not just totemic (it explains why the inhabitants of Arcadia trace their mythical ancestry to a female bear), but it also describes the elaborate initiation of a maiden (Callisto) at the hands of a mature woman (Artemis), through a lesbian relationship that hands down fecundity to the next generation.

The myth has been then patriarchally re-read via the insertion of Zeus, who disguises himself as Artemis in order to seduce Callisto (Ovid [The Metamorphoses, Book 2, vv. 401-530] says it was actually rape, but [2] warns against taking rape tales in Greek mythology too seriously - by the way, had Callisto been actually overpowered as Ovid claims, the wrath of Artemis and Hera would have been groundless)

This reading, put forth by a luminary of comparative religion, is apparently unassailable; but I think that I can cast some doubts at least.

First, this is an essentialist reading: it assumes that, if Zeus turns himself into a woman, this is forgery, interested interpolation, something against the logic of a myth.

Yet Zeus turned himself into a host of persons (as in the myth of Alcmene), animals (as in the myth of Europa), and things (as in the myth of Danae) to lay his women (and his men - e. g. Ganymede); he even carried Dionysus within himself (he sewed him into his thigh after unwittingly killing his mother Semele); he bore Athena after engulfing alive and whole her mother Metis (who managed to carry on her pregnancy within the body of the god who had impregnated her) - and in Greek mythology there is at least another person who changed sex (Tiresias) and another who changed gender (Achilles) - I'll talk about them later.

Thinking that Zeus can believably turn himself into anything but a woman, in my opinion, becomes more the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival than Greek mythology.

In fact, [3] takes trouble to warn us that  in Rome the herma of Jupiter Terminus (Jupiter is Zeus' Roman counterpart) bore the marks of both sexes, and other myths of Zeus' (like the aforementioned myth of Metis and Athena) point not just to bisexuality, but to hermaphroditism as well, and that for ancient Greeks, "power is the essence of bisexuality".

Second, a patriarchal re-reading is supposed to be oppressive, but Zeus' intervention opens up new opportunities to the protagonists, instead of foreclosing them: Zeus stops being cissexual, Callisto stops being monosexual.

Eva Cantarella in [4] remarks that in Archaic Greece, the one told by the Homeric Poems (which record its transition to Classical Greece) and Sappho, homosexual behavior was part of initiation to adulthood, and in Classical Greece it was heavily regulated between males in order to preserve its initiatory value; but between females, after losing its initiatory value it had in Sappho's times, became invisible at least, and, as far as we can glean, had it surfaced, it would have been held up to mockery, not deemed worthy of admiration.

According to today's criteria, the normative sexual identity for the dominant male of Classical Greece was (heavily regulated) bisexuality; for the subaltern female it was monosexuality, in the semblance of compulsory heterosexuality.

Those who advocate the patriarchal re-reading of Callisto's myth have to interpret it as marking the transition for Greek women from initiatory homosexuality to compulsory heterosexuality - and explain why the former is supposedly more feminist than the latter, as neither is chosen, but socially imposed. Perchance is a female tyrant better than a male despot?

In my opinion, Callisto (seduced, rather than raped, notwithstanding Ovid's tale) moved from monosexuals' disenfranchisement to bisexuals' power, exercised against the heteropatriarchal rules of Greek society, which in fact takes a really heavy toll on her.

By the way, Zeus loses nothing by turning himself into a woman: even if you ignore [3], the myths of Tiresias and Achilles show that those who can transition between sexes or genders are endowed with special gifts, according to Greek mythology.

As a matter of fact, Tiresias, who was born male, lived seven years as a woman, and then become male again, lost his eyesight because he disclosed what it was already an open secret (that women enjoy sex more than men), but he was the clairvoyant par excellence in Greek mythology; Achilles was forced to cross-dress by his mother, to prevent his being recruited for the Trojan war, but, unmasked by Ulysses, he proved to be brave beyond compare.

By turning himself into a woman in this occasion, Zeus just proves his supremacy over the Olympic Pantheon for the upteenth time - I know of no other god up to it (Hermaphroditus, who gave his/her name to the medical-biological condition, is more an apparent than a real exception, since [5] warns us that, even though (s)he is a god(dess) with divine genealogy, (s)he wasn't worshipped - so he is a literary-artistic character, not  a religious one).

As for Greeks bisexuality and  transexuality (or transgenderism, in this myth, as Zeus managed to impregnate Callisto) opened up more opportunities than cissexuality and monosexuality, why should we interpret the myth of Callisto as a defeat for the female gender?

I was taught at (Grammar) School that the main elements of Greek tragedy were:

  1. Hybris = Arrogance;
  2. Phthonos Theon = God's Envy;
  3. Nemesis = Retribution.

Aeschylus wrote a lost tragedy about Callisto, so he was able to find in her access to bisexuality a prime example of hybris, which required a really heavy nemesis by the goddesses vested into heteropatriarchy:
  • Artemis ejects Callisto from her retinue – Artemis had developed a homonormativity mirroring Hera's heteronormativity (in fact, in a version of the myth, Callisto is turned into a female bear by Artemis as per Hera's orders), and the prized value given to maidenhead (as in the American idiom Gold Star Lesbian) by heteronormative and homonormative women alike doesn't lead the latter to wonder whether they've made a mistake (as, on the contrary, the author of [6] does);
  • Hera turns Callisto into a female bear;
  • Callisto is put at risk of being killed by her own son Arcas - Zeus forfends that by turning Callisto into the Ursa Major and Arcas into the star Arcturus (in other versions of the myth, into the Ursa Minor);
  • Hera also begs Tethys and Oceanus to prevent the stars of the Ursa Major from setting and resting (they're actually near the celestial pole) - but that makes them extremely useful for seafarers, so I doubt that it's a real detriment to them.
In Italy we say that "time is a gentleman", and Callisto's case proves that: not only she's been dedicated the Ursa Major, but also one of Jupiter's moons, already by Galileo in 1610; Hera and Artemis have been dedicated just a couple asteroids and something more.

Raffaele Ladu