Monday, May 25, 2009

On gay activism (with or without quotes)

Several months ago, I received a "friend request" on from Cleve Jones. The name sounded strikingly familiar, as it came a very short time after I had seen the movie Milk. Cleve Jones, as portrayed in the based-on-historical-events feature film on the life – and death – of the so-called Mayor of the Castro, was a young, sarcastic, mischievous-turned-idealist member of Harvey Milk's campaign team in San Francisco. 

Naturally, I thought it was a prank. After all, among my now-600-odd facebook "friends" are a dead author, a fictional orphaned girl from Kansas and even a teddy bear whose name resembles that of an Israeli-made semi-machine gun. I accepted this request, but questioned the requester as to the authenticity of the account from which it was sent. Within minutes a response arrived, informing me that indeed this was the Cleve Jones of Milk fame, well, really his personal assistant (who eventually became my "friend" as well), and that the real Cleve Jones is seeking to network with other gay activists.

The Hebrew verb katónti comes to mind. This is a stative verb, which essentially is a word that inflects like a verb (in this case, like a past-tense verb), but denotes a state rather than an action. It translates roughly as 'I am [too] small.' A more liberal interpretation would yield a meaning approximating 'I am humbled by this epithet, of which I am hardly worthy.'

I refrained from further questioning Mr. Jones, i.e., his personal assistant, as to the nature of my alleged activist status. I can only imagine that someone somewhere had read about my week-long (or was it week-short?) hunger strike in January of 2008, protesting the refusal of my employer at the time, the University of Texas at Austin, to abide by its own nondiscrimination policy and extend the same spousal benefits to same-sex couples as it did to other-sex couples. 

As a rule of thumb, I do not intervene in internal US politics. I am not a US citizen, and as such do not feel that it would be appropriate for me to do so. I did participate in anti-war demonstrations, as it is a global issue, and as a citizen of a Middle Eastern country what the United States does in a country which shares a border with a country with which my country shares a border is very much my business. And in the case of my own employer violating its own rules I also felt as if the relevant "citizenship" was that of me as a UT faculty member rather than the one imprinted on my passport.

So I took a stand. Needless to say, the University of Texas had bigger fish to fry, but my passive-aggressive protest caused a bit of a tropical storm in Central Texas, including a number of notable mentions in the local media and around the blogosphere.

So am I a gay activist? I maintain that there are people more worthy than I of that title, but I'll give Cleve Jones and his assistant (a young, seemingly interesting bloke in his own right named Tony Cochran) the benefit of the doubt.

The next installment (originally planned to be included here, but postponed for brevity's sake) will be on friendship (also with or without quotes). I may even have something profound to say.

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