On Thursday I was in the city and it was a warm day and I walked from 57th Street to 17th Street on the West Side, then from 17th to 26th. I hadn’t spent so much time in the city for a while and I was struck by the strange way people were dressed. I realized, I’ve reached the point of being a hick coming into the city.
In Times Square a thickset man was wearing a red bikini and being filmed, and some Japanese young people were chattering, he is transgender. I passed a woman wearing a coverall pantsuit made of sweatshirt material that had a halter top and she wore a t shirt under it. I wanted to say it was unflattering but she wore it with such confidence and seemed to be rushing to such an important job that I stood back with respect. Then there were some young black street performers who had attracted a large crowd and were collecting money before they jumped over a line of 5 or 6 tourists. The dowdy white tourists were happily standing in a line waiting to be jumped over. There was a feeling, we’re all in this together.
As I waited to meet a friend at 6th and 26th, two more striking human avatars walked by me. One was a very feminine young woman wearing a sheer green skirt and a black miniskirt under it. Oh so you are being sexy in quotation marks, and mocking my gaze. Then a man walked by with a woman’s handbag and wearing a jacket cut in a feminine manner stopping at his hips and Belgian slippers in pale pink and tight black pants that also seemed like they were made for a woman, with little vents at the ankle. I stared at him like the aboriginal I am. At dinner that night a friend my age used the term heteronormative and others spoke casually of people going from male to female.
Later, walking thru Harlem to the train to get back to the woods, it struck me that I am enormously conservative, in this realm anyway, and I’m a loser. In the past, I have staked out my heteronormative, cisgendered position in articles, but phhhhhtt, the world has passed me by, spat me out. I haven’t changed in my heart. I’m old school. But the world is completely ignoring me, waiting for me to die. It isn’t interested in what I have to say, New York isn’t interested– and New York is the forward edge of American attitudes.
Right after that, I thought, Zionism is just as over. It has rationalized subordinate status for Palestinians under apartheid, and these attitudes are past. The world is sick of these attitudes. They’re completely anachronistic. That word rings a strong bell. “Israel, in short, is an anachronism,” Tony Judt wrote in 2003, seeing the future, and when you walk through New York nine years later, the Zionist ideals of human separation seem so absurd that—oh my god, why on earth would anyone be discriminated against, because of who they are, with my tax dollars no less?
Why? The only way such attitudes can be maintained is by asserting that we are at war with Islam. Then occupation is justified.
But while I was walking from 17th street to 26th street, my earbuds were saying that Eric Holder the attorney general had criticized the movie Third Jihad as offensive to Muslims, that film used by the New York Police Department for training. And in that glorious instant he had put Mike Bloomberg and Chuck Schumer who had defended the disgraceful film on their heels. It is now completely obvious that the Israel lobby is primitive on this question it keeps pressing on us– Is there something wrong with Islam?– and it is dependent on these us-against-them attitudes; in fact the film was made by people who support a Greater Israel agenda – and Eric Holder struck a brave blow against these out of step ideas when he stood up against the film.
The title of this post is Advice to Zionists from a loser. Zionists, I lost my gender and sexuality battles; my attitudes are old school, traditional, out of step. I am not going to say my attitudes publicly because they will turn people off, and young people will learn nothing from them and think I’m a creep. But: they are my attitudes. I don’t think I’ll change. They work for me in my private spaces, my household. But before long I will die off and the world won’t shed a tear for my old attitudes. The world is embracing more individualistic idiosyncratic ideas of gender and sexuality, planted decades ago by leaders. So be it. I will keep my attitudes in a box.
I’m advising the same to Zionists. The world (and I mean NY, America, the future) doesn’t like your ideas. You can only sustain them with hysterical grievances against radical Islam. The world is tired of that opposition. We all need to move past it. And this is happening under all our feet, before our eyes. These things change because privileged people, cultural leadership communities, the woman in the sweatshirt one-piece, the guy in the vented pipecleaner pants– they lead the change and we all sense it and go with it.
This 10- or 40-year process is happening with Zionism. I’d say we’re halfway through that. All the SJPs on campus and the heckling of AIPAC and the demonstrations, do you see what is happening? As queer leader/writer Sarah Shulman said last month, the vanguard is leading a shift in consciousness on American support for ethnocracy. The writing is on the wall. You Zionists should respect the ground moving. I will praise Peter Beinart’s book The Crisis of Zionism as a political act, but to cultural leaders it will seem outmoded as soon as it appears.
So the advice from a loser in New York is to shut up about your attitudes and go with the program. I tell you, if a woman in a burka had walked down Broadway Thursday amid all those other manifestations of ideas, she would have been ignored, no one would have cared. Let it be, let it go.