Category Archives: Sexuality

Me in 1966! Baffled by Batman in Bellmore!

On Thursday, August 25, 1966, I was among the estimated 3,000 people who gathered on Bedford Avenue in Bellmore, Long Island to see Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) from the TV series that brought “POW!”, “BAM!”, and “ZONK” into our living rooms each week.

Going through some old files, I just discovered the cover story in “Bellmore Life” (August 31, 1966)* and there we were! I put a little yellow arrow to point out what was most assuredly my debut in print media—at the age of six-and-a-half!

The paper reported: “A ‘see’ of people drowns Batman in Bellmore … some with gay signs, pro and con.” That’s a quote folks. And I can state for the record I was very pro!

Sadly, I remember that Batman and Robin never got out of their Bat Bus, but “it was the people’s own fault for not cooperating. It was said that Batman was wearing his fourth suit that day, the previous three having been ripped apart by overeager admirers at earlier stops at Huntington and Massapequa.”

No matter! I was there! And I saw them! Behold!

__

* Today, it’s known as the “Bellmore Herald Life” (though it ran from 1964-2013 under the original title). It says online: “Richner Communications, the Herald’s parent company, recently acquired Bellmore Life. Bringing the two newspapers and their respective staffs together will allow us to build a better, stronger paper whose guiding mission will be serving our readers’ best interests.”

Here’s a link to the original paper from August 31, 1966 in the archives. The photos there are even clearer (see below). I distinctly remember that Batman was positioned (as in the photo) looking out the side front window of the bus. And Robin was looking out the rear windshield of the bus. He didn’t look thrilled, as I recall.

Jonathan Rauch on the History of LGBTQ Erasure

Over the years, Jonathan Rauch’s prolific work has delved into many provocative political and cultural topics. The openly gay author, who is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, has been a strong proponent of same-sex marriage and a gallant critic of attacks on free thought.  His newest contribution to The Atlantic, “The U.S. Should Apologize to Gay People” (26 January 2024), is a riveting piece of journalistic research, exploring the ways in which the U.S. government led a campaign to erase LGBTQ people from public life.  

Rauch’s investigation exemplifies a genuinely dialectical approach to the study of history. By that I mean, Rauch is concerned with exploring the full context that shaped and was shaped by political, cultural, economic, psychiatric, and social institutions, all working in tandem toward the oppression of LGBTQ people in the United States. He traces the ways in which these institutions became reciprocally reinforcing preconditions and effects of one another, leaving a tragic wreckage of individual lives in their wake.

The author reminds us of a time when “the U.S. government fired homosexuals, the military discharged them, and police arrested them.” But this well-known history sheds little light on the systemic policies that “were not discrimination of any ordinary sort.” Rauch admits that even he had “not fully appreciated” the full historical scope involved. He’s very clear that “[b]ecause society targeted what it identified as ‘homosexuality,’” he uses that term throughout his essay, even though it applies broadly to “[p]eople who today would identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or gender-nonconforming,” all of whom were targeted. He writes:

Beginning in the 1940s and continuing for more than six decades, the United States waged a campaign of legal, social, and psychological obliteration against its homosexual population. … The campaign was initiated by the federal government but recruited all of society. The pressure could be felt everywhere. It found you not only at work, where you could be fired, or in bars and clubs, where you could be arrested, but also on the street and in public spaces, where you could be harassed or assaulted; in a doctor’s care, where you might be deemed mentally ill; at home, where you saw gay people ridiculed and pathologized on TV. …

The goal … was not merely to disadvantage homosexual people; it was to erase homosexuality from every corner of public life. … Some of what America did to its LGBTQ citizens would have been right at home in places such as prewar Germany, Communist East Germany, and any number of repressive states today. … The campaign stands, at its peak, as America’s purest national experiment with totalitarianism. Although not the cruelest or deadliest of America’s historical oppressions—no populations were decimated or relocated; no people were enslaved—it stands apart in its use of every governmental and social channel to eliminate the very thought of “deviance.”

Whereas totalitarianism is typically thought of as “centrally planned and imposed,” in the United States, “a decentralized system of mutually reinforcing repressions” had much the same totalizing effect. Rauch recognizes how various structures, institutions, and practices across American society fortified one another. “Official acts of persecution, executed loudly over many years, could not fail to echo in the culture at large; and indeed, they created a permission structure for blatant prejudice. Mass media amplified the message that homosexuality was disgusting and terrifying.” This “entire system of erasure was backed by violence,” as LGBTQ people were all too often singled out for street bullying, threats, and assaults. Moreover, the psychiatric profession provided “both legitimacy and impetus for the eradication of homosexuality,” becoming “the most soul-crushing cog in the repressive machine.” The psychiatric use of electroshock therapy, lobotomization, and other gruesome techniques to tame sexuality were matched by coerced resignations and blackmail in the private sector and interrogations, arrests, and prosecutions in the public sector.

Rauch continues:

The arrests, the raids, the firings, the networks of informants, the coercive investigations, the surveillance, the obliteration of privacy, the abuse of medicine, the drumbeat of street violence, the disruptions of social gatherings and family life—each element of the regime supported and amplified the others. Only by standing back and seeing the regime whole does one appreciate how all of society was bent toward repressing every aspect of homosexual life, wherever it might appear. The goal was to suppress not just deviant activity but deviant expression and even deviant thought. That was what made it literally totalitarian.

Rauch’s investigation in this remarkable essay is staggering in its scale. He examines how interlocking structures of oppression amounted to a virtual “declaration of war” on homosexuality. Some of the battlegrounds in this war could be found in the actions of various commissions, Congressional and Senate hearings, agencies as diverse as the Foreign Service, Civil Service, and FBI, and the Departments of Commerce, Defense, and State. It extended even into the Oval Office, when, “in 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower issued his infamous Executive Order 10450, one of America’s most grotesque civil-rights violations, declaring ‘sexual perversion’ to be a security threat. The effect was to authorize all federal departments and agencies to root out and terminate sexual deviants. … [H]omosexuals were fired automatically, without excuse or exception.”

This federal effort was met by state and local “enforcement of anti-homosexual measures,” which involved systematic “surveilling, entrapping, arresting, harassing, exposing, and prosecuting homosexuals at previously unknown rates.” Targeted by laws prohibiting “solicitation, indecency, lewdness, loitering, and obscenity effectively criminalized the mere act of flirting, socializing, or hanging out.”

In 1973, even after the American Psychiatric Association had “removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses, … the damage lingered for decades.” In that very same year, Rauch explains,

Farrall Instrument Co. of Grand Island, Nebraska, proudly advertised a line of devices for home-psychiatric treatment of male homosexuality. The ‘Visually Keyed Shocker’ showed alternating slides depicting conventionally attractive women and men (‘stimulus scenes’). The latter were accompanied by an electric shock. If you were a latent homosexual and desperate for a ‘cure,’ you could buy one for $600 or more.

In a moment of poignant self-reflection, Rauch, who was 13 in that year, tells us:

This was the world I grew up in … Everything I saw and heard conveyed that something was wrong with me, and that I must keep it secret, especially from the people I loved and depended on. So warped was my inner world that, until I was 25, I could not bear to face the blatant truth about myself and managed to believe that I was asexual, some kind of freak who could never love anyone (a story I told in my 2013 book, Denial: My 25 Years Without a Soul). In that respect, though I never owned a “Visually Keyed Shocker,” I administered a full course of self-erasure in the privacy of my mind.

Many years later, on January 9, 2017, Secretary of State John Kerry posted an official apology on the State Department’s website, “for the department’s relentless, decades-long persecution of homosexuals. By January 23, the page was gone, removed in one of the first acts of the incoming Trump administration. The government was sorry for two weeks.”

That such acts of erasure continue prompts Rauch to call on the United States to join the governments of the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, and others, which have apologized for “past abuses of homosexuals.” He further demands “restitution to living victims of government arrest, firing, or military discharge.” This is most assuredly not “pandering to modern grievance culture.” In Rauch’s view, it is the righting of a systemic injustice in accordance with American ideals.

The author warns us that as today’s “conservative activists crisscross the country seeking to wipe homosexuality and transgenderism from school libraries, from history classes, and from other curricula,” there is an eerie similarity to the campaigns of yore. His words are timelier than ever as illiberal assaults on LGBTQ people are heightened throughout this nation’s increasingly toxic culture wars.

My discussion here, which quotes liberally from Rauch’s important essay, offers only a fraction of its unsettling contents. I urge folks to read every single word of this raw historical reckoning.

You can access the article on the site of The Atlantic. It is also archived here.

Some Facebook discussion of this entry can be found here.

“Conversion Therapy” & The Tragedy of Alana Chen

This article can also be found on Medium.

I have long known about the tragic suicide of Alana Chen, a 24-year old woman who was found dead near the Gross Reservoir in Boulder County, Colorado in December 2019. Chen’s death has been the subject of much controversy. She was a devout Catholic, who dreamed of being a nun someday. But at the age of 14, she confessed to a trusted priest that she thought she was attracted to women. And for all intents and purposes, that confession was the beginning of the end.

Alana was a victim of 7 years of “conversion” or “reparative therapy” — an attempt to dislodge the “impure” thoughts of same-sex attraction. The “pious” counselors who engage in this kind of “therapy” employ an arsenal of tools that equip them to wage psychological and spiritual warfare on their victims. What they leave behind, what needs repairing when they are finished, are the fractured souls of those who earnestly sought their sincere spiritual guidance and were taught instead to disown their humanity and to hate the love that was trapped inside them.

new 8-part podcast series, “Dear, Alana,” on TenderfootTV, produced and narrated by Simon Kent Fung, offers us a grueling, shattering portrait of Alana’s life and death. As noted in the official trailer to the series, Fung had access to Alana’s texts and two dozen journals that chronicle her “deep faith, love of fashion, and dream of becoming a nun.” But Alana “harbored a secret,” and when she shared that secret with her priest, she “was instructed not to tell her parents.” For seven years thereafter, she “covertly received conversion therapy which her family believes played a role in her fate.” Fung’s journey into Alana’s past enables him to share the striking similarities of his own story, as he grapples with “the truth of what happened to Alana,” in “an unraveling mystery and … poignant spiritual memoir about teenage rebellion and spiritual manipulation.” It is a series that details “the price we pay to belong and the systems that pay no price at all.”

I don’t want to say too much about this series. It must be heard in full. It will upset you. It will make you angry. And it will provide a hint at how flagrant abuses of clerical and clinical power are a significant aspect of the ways in which power relations operate in our society.

For many years, I’ve argued that power relations are manifested on at least three distinct levels of generality — the personal, the cultural, and the structural. On the personal level, when an individual’s method of awareness is corrupted by therapeutic practices that cut them off from their own emotions and even their bodily integrity, power is being exerted. On the cultural level, when a religious institution creates an atmosphere of intolerance, subjecting its parishioners to moralizing dictates about every thought and action they deem “impure”, preying (not just “praying”) on guilt, shame, and fear, power is being exerted. And when this translates into economic and political practices that attack the individuals and groups being marginalized, power is being exerted. The reciprocal ways in which each of these levels reinforces the others are crucial to a whole system of oppression. Those who fight for human freedom and personal flourishing cannot underestimate the interlocking components of that system.

Ayn Rand opened her 1970 essay critiquing modern education, “The Comprachicos,” with her own translation of a passage from The Man Who Laughs by Victor Hugo. For reasons that will become apparent, it’s worth reproducing, in part, here:

The comprachicos, or comprapequeños, were a strange and hideous nomadic association, famous in the seventeenth century, forgotten in the eighteenth, unknown today. … Comprachicos, as well as comprapequeños, is a compound Spanish word that means “child-buyers.” The comprachicos traded in children. They bought them and sold them. They did not steal them. The kidnapping of children is a different industry.

And what did they make of these children?

Monsters.

Why monsters?

To laugh.

The people need laughter; so do the kings. Cities require side-show freaks or clowns; palaces require jesters. … To succeed in producing a freak, one must get hold of him early. … Hence, an art. … They took a man and turned him into a miscarriage; they took a face and made a muzzle. They stunted growth; they mangled features. … Where God had put a straight glance, this art put a squint. Where God had put harmony, they put deformity. Where God had put perfection, they brought back a botched attempt. And in the eyes of connoisseurs, it is the botched that was perfect. … The practice of degrading man leads one to the practice of deforming him. Deformity completes the task of political suppression.

The comprachicos had a talent, to disfigure, that made them valuable in politics. To disfigure is better than to kill. … The comprachicos did not merely remove a child’s face, they removed his memory. At least, they removed as much of it as they could. The child was not aware of the mutilation he had suffered. This horrible surgery left traces on his face, not his mind. He could remember at most that one day he had been seized by some men, then had fallen asleep, and later they had cured him. Cured him of what? He did not know. Of the burning by sulphur and the incisions by iron, he remembered nothing. During the operation, the comprachicos made the little patient unconscious by means of a stupefying powder that passed for magic and suppressed pain.

Rand went on to use this metaphor in her indictment of the pedagogical methods at work in contemporary education. She remarked that educators had reversed the process, leaving traces of the damage they had done not on the face of a child, but on his mind. “To make you unconscious for life by means of your own brain,” Rand wrote, “nothing can be more ingenious.” These are “the comprachicos of the mind.”

I could not help but see the parallel between what Rand wrote in 1970 and the nightmarish realities of the practices of “conversion” therapy. That this is often done in the name of religion is even more ironic, given Hugo’s passage. For if one believes that God provided harmony and perfection, one can see the deformity, the degradation, the “botched attempt” that leaves in its wake broken souls. And the more these souls become aware of their “suppressed pain”, of the reality that they are “botched”, the more trapped they feel, such that the only way out is at the end of a noose at the bottom of an empty reservoir.

Both Hugo and Rand were right that this deformity completes the task of political suppression. In actuality, what it achieves is the suppression of the human heart, the repression of the human mind, the oppression of human life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The political attack on the LGBTQ+ community that we are witnessing today requires a multipronged assault on a person’s psychology, methods of awareness, and moral sense. It requires fostering an illiberal culture of intolerance that undermines a person’s ability to flourish by inculcating guilt, fear, and hatred. It is ironic that the reactionary culture warriors often attack “drag”, but they wear drag of a different sort. They wrap themselves in the vestments of religion and turn the holy into the unholy. Where they see life, they create death.

The Culture Wars are not insignificant. The forces of reaction know this. They are providing the cultural and moral weapons that make the current political assault on LGBTQ+ lives and liberties possible. Their cultural values must be exposed for what they are. And they must be fought.

Alana Chen’s spiritual maiming made possible her death. For Alana, spiritual disfugurement was the necessary prelude to suicide. Those who destroyed her soul have blood on their hands. Her death will not be in vain.

My sincere thanks to Simon Kent Fung for bringing this podcast series to fruition. I implore readers to listen to the entire series. It can be found on multiple platforms here.

If you or someone you care about may be at risk of suicide, contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988, or go to 988lifeline.org.

Song of the Day #2061

Song of the Day: Heartstopper (“First Sight”) [YouTube link], composed by Adiescar Chase, is one of the many original themes heard in this coming of age British romantic comedy-drama series that, in its debut 2022 season, won five Children’s and Family Emmy Awards. Based on the Alice Oseman graphic novels, this popular Netflix show offers an affirmative and poignant exploration of the glories of love and friendship—in all their rainbow hues. I’m looking forward to Season 3 in 2024. Check out the “first sight” meeting of Charlie and Nick, during which this sweet theme is heard [YouTube links].

Stonewall Pride in Song / Song of the Day #2047

As we near the end of Pride Month, this remains a night to remember.

On this night in 1969, in Greenwich Village, NYC, a rebellion began. It would unfold over six days, taking on legendary significance in the battle for freedom and personal flourishing. This is my tribute to Stonewall Pride in Song …

Song of the Day: The Monkees (“I’m a Believer”), words and music by Neil Diamond, was recorded by The Monkees, with lead vocals by Micky Dolenz. It first appeared on the group’s second studio album, “More of the Monkees“. It was heard in four consecutive episodes of “The Monkees” TV show in 1966.

Though the show ran from 1966 thru 1968, this song remained on the jukebox of the Stonewall Inn in the wee hours of June 28, 1969, when that gay bar was raided by police for the umpteenth time.

For those who don’t understand why there is such a thing as “Pride Month” or why it is celebrated in June, it’s because on that night, the patrons fought back. They had had enough of being regularly harassed and bullied, arrested and bloodied. This was not the first such revolt against state authority, not by a long shot. In NYC, for example, during the “Sip-In” at Julius’ bar in 1966, gay men who identified themselves as such were defined as “disorderly” and denied service. Despite court victories in 1967 against oppressive liquor license laws, mob-owned bars like the Stonewall operated without liquor licenses, with all the corruption, payoffs, and blackmail this entailed.

That’s why the Stonewall Uprising remains a milestone of mythic proportions.

In honor of their bravery, I salute the Stonewall Rebels in all their rainbow glory. Their historic struggle has universal significance for those of us who value human freedom and personal authenticity.

Check out this song in a compilation of scenes from “The Monkees” [YouTube links]

Jackie Goldberg: “Fear is Not Our Friend, Love Is”!

As a follow-up to my Medium piece, “Welcome to the Culture Wars: Pride Month Edition!”, check out this impassioned plea for tolerance in our schools from Jackie Goldberg, current President of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education for the 5th District.

#Pride2023

This was also published on Medium.

Welcome to the Culture Wars: Pride Month Edition!

This article also appears on Medium and on C4SS.

The Woke Nightmare That Doesn’t End!

It’s in commercials! It’s on storefronts! It’s on social media, on television shows and streaming platforms! We may not be able to define what “woke” is, but, dammit! Like any obscenity, we know it when we see it! They’re ramming it down our throats and shoving it up our asses! Okay, okay, not the best metaphor to use during a “Pride” month celebrating sodomy. But you know what I mean!!!

Just a couple of months ago, Bud Light suffered a backlash because it hired a transgender spokesperson who shared a sponsored post on their Instagram account on the weekend of the NCAA Basketball Men’s and Women’s National Championship. Kid Rock stood up for family values when he used a semi-automatic rifle to shoot up cases of Bud Light for all to see!

Then, Target got caught in the crossfire of another controversy when it removed some “Pride” merchandise from some of its stores to avoid backlash. (And what is it with this “Pride” stuff anyway!? You don’t see Straight Pride Parades! Gimme a break!)

Founded on solid Southern Baptist Christian values by a man whose WinShape Foundation gave millions to bolster conversion therapy, Chick-fil-A’s COO (son of the founder) has always been steadfast in his opposition to same-sex marriage. But even they have now been infected by the Woke Virus! They hired a VP of “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion”!

As if that were not the ultimate indignity, the Texas Family Project, which has joined with Defend Our Kids to protect “our children’s innocence by uncovering and highlighting the left’s public displays of sexual degeneracy”, has announced: “We take no pleasure in reporting that Cracker Barrel has fallen.” Imagine that. We now have to be subjected to the outright pornographic display of a rainbow-colored rocking chair in a Cracker Barrel Instagram post! The Southern-born Old Country Store chain had the utter audacity to desecrate its Instagram feed with this:

You know it’s the end of the line when this company — a company that once fired employees because of their sexual orientation, that was forced to pay an $8.7 million settlement because it “discriminated” against black employees and mistreated black customers, a company that put the “Cracker” in Cracker Barrel (H/T EY) — goes woke! What is this world coming to?

And mind you, this whole woke nightmare is nothing new. Companies of every brand have been “taking lefty positions on political issues” for years now. Social media platforms and search engines like Google are hammering us with “left-wing algorithms”. In 2019, Nike recalled its Betsy Ross Flag Sneakers after Colin Kaepernick, who had the insolence to take a knee during the national anthem, criticized the design. Even AirBNB, Lyft, and Uber had the gall to protest former President Donald Trump’s America First immigration ban!

Is it any wonder that our courageous state legislators have risen to combat this tide of immorality?! Over 650 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced across 46 states to protect our families, our children, our very social fabric.

Does all this sound a little unhinged? A little hysterical maybe? OVER THE TOP?

Welcome to the Culture Wars: Pride Month Edition!

WTF is Happening?

It was in 2018 that Ross Douthcat introduced the phrase “Woke Capital” in the New York Times. But it was already part of the zeitgeist. Derek Thompson in The Atlantic noted the “politicization of the public sphere” that was leading “nonpartisan companies to take one partisan stand after another.” Thompson wrote:

In many cases, America’s corporate community has become a quiet defender of socially liberal causes. Nearly 400 companies filed an amicus brief in 2015 urging the Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage, including Amazon, Aetna, Apple, American Airlines, American Express, and AT&T (and those are just the ones starting with the first letter of the alphabet). Hundreds of executives, many from tech companies, signed a 2017 letter urging the president to protect immigrants brought to the U.S. as children by saving the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. When North Carolina passed a law against transgender-friendly bathrooms, the NCAA announced in 2016 that it would pull its college-basketball tournament from the state (and other companies withdrew their business, too).

Make no mistake about it, however. Though some corporate types are no longer quiet in what may in fact be a genuine endorsement of progressive social justice causes, many put their fingers in the air just to see which way the wind blows. As my friend Ryan Neugebauer observes:

Liberal Corporate Capitalism in its welfare-statist form seeks a stable society for profit generation. It doesn’t care what kind of families you have, who you have sex with, or what gender you identify with. All it cares about is profit generation. So, in the 1990s, a corporation could throw gays by the wayside when it was much more acceptable to be anti-gay and then do a 180-degree spin in today’s climate, with very pro-gay policies because the national opinion has changed. Profit determines values and actions.

Despite its general endorsement of conservative economic policies of lower taxes and fewer regulations, companies cannot bolster their bottom line by alienating more and more consumers through exclusion. Nor can they broaden the pool of cheap labor by opposing immigration. Still, even in today’s climate, by seeming to endorse a gospel of inclusion, many businesses are now alienating traditionalists. Just for noticing or marketing to marginalized groups, companies are being eviscerated by traditionalists as exemplars of “woke capitalism” and “woke corporatism”. This is not unusual. As I stated in a recent essay, “as privileged groups of people sense that they are beginning to lose a grip on their ‘traditions’, they fight like hell — [even] passing laws and regulations — to keep them in place. But the very dynamics of the market society they claim to value are such that traditions are among the practices that are often brought into question. That’s one of the reasons that Friedrich Hayek himself proclaimed he wasn’t a conservative.”

A Digression: The Problematics of “Woke” and “Capitalism”

It should be noted that, throughout all these discussions, I am bothered by the problematic usage of such terms as “woke” and “capitalism”.

As I’ve argued before, the very word “woke” verges on becoming what Ayn Rand once called an “anti-concept” insofar as it entails some kind of “’package-deal’ of disparate, incongruous, contradictory elements taken out of any logical conceptual order or context”. Indeed, at this stage, it has become a mere pejorative, which in the hands of its ‘opponents’ is used as a bludgeon against any legitimate social justice cause. So, the moment I hear that word coming out of the mouths of its ‘critics’, I know exactly what they’re talking about. It’s an all-inclusive four-letter word to denigrate anyone who is interested in addressing the historic marginalization of people because of their race, religion, belief, sex, sexuality, or gender.

But problematic terminology is not restricted to the word “woke”.

For nearly twenty years now, I’ve avoided using the word “capitalism” to describe the socio-economic system that I value. That word was coined by left-wing critics who understood the system’s history in stark contrast to the “unknown ideal” projected by its ideological defenders. As I reiterated in a recent essay, “just as the state was not born of a bloodless ‘immaculate conception’, so too, capitalism, ‘the known reality’, like every other social system, arose from a bloody history. It emerged through the state’s violent appropriation of the commons, enclosure, and mercantilist and colonialist expropriation.”

Libertarian defenders of capitalism have typically used various modifiers to distinguish their model from the historical realities: whether they call it “free-market capitalism” or “laissez-faire capitalism” or even “anarcho-capitalism” in contradistinction to state capitalism or crony capitalism, they project an ideal that has never existed. That’s problematic not only for its defenders but also for its critics. Its defenders can’t easily bracket out state intervention when the state has been so integral to the historic formation of the system. And its critics can’t easily bracket out state intervention when many of the ills of the system are generated by it.

Laissez-faire capitalism has never been, is not, and never will be. Granted, by any measure, state interventionism has increased exponentially in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. But not even the “Gilded Age” of nineteenth-century capitalism was absent such intervention. In virtually every industry — from transportation, energy, and manufacturing to the crucially important banking sector, it is big business that has led the march toward full-throttle corporate state capitalism, thru government subsidies, grants of monopoly, regulatory formation or capture, and a foreign policy of intervention abroad.

The economic instrumentalities of the system have always been organically intertwined with the politics of the state. It’s no wonder that theorists who focus on this area of study call it “Political Economy”. It has always been political. And it always will be.

The Importance of Markets

While capitalism has never provided us with free markets, or even freed markets, the importance of markets cannot be underemphasized. Markets long pre-date capitalism. But even within capitalism, at their best, they are conduits of human sociality. And for those who respect the value of “markets, not capitalism”, they can be useful, even virtuous, tools for the dissemination of social knowledge and the peaceful proliferation of exchange along a wide continuum of human interactions — whether through interpersonal, cooperative, or communal arrangements.

But if history has shown us anything, it’s that markets are not neutral. There can be markets in the slave trade, markets in human trafficking — all sorts of markets serving ends that no humanist can support. Markets are always embedded in historically specific cultural and structural contexts. This means that markets are shaped not only by the structures of politics and economics, but also by the cultures within which they function. Markets will tend to reflect the cultural attitudes of those communities they serve. If the dominant culture of a community places a high value on cosmopolitanism, markets will tend to reflect the tolerance and diversity that cosmopolitanism enriches. And if the dominant culture of a community places a high value on illiberalism, markets will tend to reflect the intolerance that such illiberalism breeds.

Because markets are not neutral, it should also be understood that market actors are not neutral. The idea that prior to “woke capitalism” companies were sashaying down the runway of nonpartisanship is laughable at best. Not saying a word is a political stance. Acting in ways that fortify “traditional” values is a political stance. Just because companies didn’t explicitly ‘market’ their products by slapping the colors of the ‘rainbow flag’ on them does not mean that they were being apolitical. If not rocking the boat helped corporations to sell products in states that had a history of segregation and Jim Crow or a history of criminalizing same-sex relationships and alternative lifestyles, their silence was a political stance. And sometimes, as in the case of Cracker Barrel and many other companies, corporate America regularly adopted policies of exclusion directed against marginalized groups.

The Proliferation of Identity Politics

Given that we have always lived in a political economy, and that markets are never neutral, why does it seem that we have reached a point in history where there is this vast proliferation of groups at war with one another? And why has this manifested with such virulence in identity politics?

On these questions, we can draw lessons from two of capitalism’s most vocal defenders: Friedrich Hayek and Ayn Rand. It was Hayek who argued in The Road to Serfdom that as the state comes to dominate more and more of social life, state power becomes the only power worth having. This sets off a war of all against all, in which groups vie for political power at the expense of one another.

Rand saw further that this power struggle was endemic not only to political economy, but to the very genesis of the state, which was born from “prehistorical tribal warfare.” Political elites have historically perpetuated racial hatred, scapegoating and subjugating racial and ethnic groups to secure power. But “the relationship is reciprocal,” said Rand: Just as tribalism is a precondition of statism, so too is statism a reciprocally related cause of tribalism. “The political cause of tribalism’s rebirth is the mixed economy,” marked by “permanent tribal warfare.” In Rand’s view, statism and tribalism advance together, leading to a condition of “global balkanization.”

Since statism and tribalism are fraternal twins, as it were, and the “mixed economy” has always existed in some form, Rand argued that intensifying state domination of social life has an impact on every discernable group, not just every economic interest. Every differentiating characteristic among human beings becomes a tool for pressure-group jockeying: age, sex, sexual orientation, social status, religion, nationality, and race. Statism splinters society “into warring tribes.” The statist legal machinery pits “ethnic minorities against the majority, the young against the old, the old against the middle, women against men, welfare-recipient against the self-supporting.” Her point here is a keen insight into the inexorable nature of social conflict. Given that these are the conditions that exist, given that “this is a society’s system, no power on earth can prevent men from ganging up on one another in self-defense — i.e., from forming pressure groups.” Got that? In self-defense.

Identity politics, which has proliferated since the 1960s and 1970s, has been characterized as “a political approach wherein people of a particular race, nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation, social background, social class, or other identifying factors develop political agendas that are based upon these identities.” Typically, “identity politics is deeply connected with the idea that some groups in society are oppressed and begins with analysis of that oppression.” But here’s the thing. An insidious form of “identity politics” has always been at work in this country. It began in this country as a tool of the oppressors, not the oppressed. It began with the “Western” conquest of indigenous peoples, the building of a slave economy, and, later, the tyranny of Jim Crow segregation. “Identity politics” was ensconced in this country’s constitution the moment it allowed states to count three-fifths of enslaved people toward their congressional representation. It was furthered even after slavery met its bloody end in the Civil War, when Southern states relied on Jim Crow laws and the KKK to subjugate, oppress, brutalize, and murder ‘uppity’ blacks who wanted to pursue their own rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.

So, let’s not kid ourselves when we look at marginalized groups today as caught up in some kind of grand woke conspiracy to destabilize white, male, heteronormative elites. White, male, heteronormative elites were using their identity as the basis for political policies for more than 200 years before marginalized groups began to use political and economic means to redress power imbalances. In self-defense. That doesn’t make it right or wrong, but it does put things in perspective. It also helps us to understand why right-wing traditionalists are now using their power to reassert their historically privileged status.

Concluding Thoughts

That said — let there be no mistake about where I stand on the frontlines of the culture war.

I am on the side of those who have been marginalized and who are fighting against the encroachments of right-wing reactionaries who seek not merely to take away the hard-won freedoms of the oppressed but who are engaged in a cultural campaign against any semblance of “virtue signaling” on behalf of the oppressed.

Even if that “virtue signaling” takes place in the simple act of selling a rainbow-colored rocking chair during Pride Month.

Given my long-time association with libertarianism, I’d like to address, in this concluding section, the campaign against “wokeness” that has manifested in libertarian circles.

I have long identified as a dialectical libertarian. Indeed, given my own values as expressed here and elsewhere, I am a dialectical left-libertarian. For years, I criticized those right-libertarians who had fallen into the trap of reductionism: reducing all issues to the cash nexus or to questions concerning The State and The Market. Rand rightfully criticized libertarians for being oblivious to the role of culture in the struggle for human freedom and personal flourishing — for it is culture that typically engenders bottom-up social change.

Given my dialectical predilections, I appreciated the fact that by 1990, libertarian theorist Murray Rothbard, who had long believed in the sole necessity of a “nonaggression axiom” as the basis for a libertarian society, finally recognized that libertarianism could not succeed without a “certain cultural matrix”, which he called “Liberty Plus”. Those in right-libertarian circles who followed him have indeed placed greater emphasis on the importance of culture. But in doing so, they’ve embraced reactionary cultural norms.

The libertarianism that nourished me in the late 1970s and early 1980s welcomed cosmopolitan values. Today, right-libertarians have championed a stultifying cultural conservatism in their attempts at “Getting Libertarianism Right”. Mind you, it’s not just “right”, but “alt-right”: it is a vision that aims to build a stateless society based on such “Western” “family” values as hierarchy, white-male dominance, the segregation of the races, and the expulsion of “degenerates” (that is, those who identify as LGBTQ+).

As I argued in Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism, this vision of “Liberty Plus” will result in minus liberty. Hayek long noted that markets evolve in ways that will challenge traditions. That is part of their dynamism. In an increasingly interconnected, global community, right-libertarians seek a society that will use private property as a tool to hermetically seal off their own chosen set of deplorables. They oppose state-enforced segregation and state-enforced integration, but their anarcho-capitalist vision of private property fiefdoms is based on the centrality of exclusion: the power to segregate, to separate, or to annihilate those whose values they deem as destructive to their bizarre vision of social order.

There is no foreseeable future in which such an anarcho-capitalist social order might be possible, let alone feasible. Hence, we are left with an obscenity far greater than the rainbow-colored rocking chair sold by Cracker Barrel or any of the Pride merchandise offered by Target.

When those who are supposed to be on the frontlines of the battle for a free and open society end up embracing illiberalism of the worst sort — and its war on difference, diversity, and tolerance — I can think of no more insidious way of undermining the struggle for human freedom and individual authenticity.

Happy Pride Month!

No better time to proclaim it than now!

DWR (11): Trans Hysteria

Recently, I had a public Facebook dialogue with my friend, Ryan Neugebauer, on the growing hysteria surrounding Trans issues, especially among people in Randian and right-libertarian circles who dismiss any discussion of “gender identity” as yet another example of left-wing “woke” politics. It is so prolific in Facebook discussions that even a single post on the issue will generate hundreds of vitriolic responses that go on for weeks. As Ryan put it:

These people have lost their minds! Unfortunately, so many of these people, who like shouting about “liberty”, are more about “liberty for me, but not for thee”. They have a “get off my lawn” attitude on everything. “Don’t tax and regulate ME!” “Don’t tell ME what pronouns to call you by!” “Don’t tell ME to wear a mask!” “Don’t tell ME to respect gay marriages!” Nothing healthy about it. It’s like the state of being 2 years old became a political ideology!

Indeed, in all my 37 posts during the COVID pandemic, I observed how politicized the discussion was. I never wrote a single post endorsing draconian measures to deal with the pandemic, and yet, for having acknowledged that I’d taken the Moderna vaccine and its various boosters, I was excoriated as a “Total COVID Warrior”. We can debate for eons the effectiveness of “lockdowns” or the use of masks or the pros and cons of the vaccines. But everything became so politicized that you couldn’t have a decent conversation that didn’t devolve into an exercise in confirmation biases.

Just as people continue to debate the science and politics of COVID, so too, the Trans issue has been highly politicized. Ryan observed that it’s gotten to the point where “any defense of the legitimacy and dignity of people who identify as Trans or Nonbinary gets one labelled as ‘woke’”—a word that has become one of the most blatant “anti-concepts” in modern discourse. It’s an expansive, elastic, all-inclusive pejorative used to bludgeon anyone who has even a semblance of concern for social justice.

In my reply to Ryan, I wrote:

The issue cannot even be addressed with any sense of balance or proportion—or any remote sense of concern for those whose lives are affected by the toxicity of the discussions. What astounds me more than anything is that so much hysteria is being raised over 0.05% of the [U.S. adult] population [and 1.4% of youths between the ages of 13 and 17] that identifies as such. I had hoped that people who are concerned with the fragility of individual rights would pause, for just a single moment, to consider what it’s like for such a small minority to be targeted by a plethora of rhetorical, political, and legislative bullying. And it’s now taking on a life of its own as political forces are being mobilized in favor of censorship in libraries, classrooms, parades, and in theme parks.

For the record, I have long renounced illiberal authoritarian tendencies on both the right and the left. But ultimately, when a society recoils at the prospect of even attempting to understand those who are “different”, the battle for human dignity and personal autonomy is already being lost.

One of the bedrocks of a cosmopolitan society is toleration. Toleration of difference. You don’t have to “accept” anything you don’t value. But your lack of acceptance doesn’t give you the right to weaponize legislation that undermines the very basis upon which any society, aspiring to protect and defend individual liberties, depends.

And this is what makes the hysteria surrounding this issue even more infuriating. We are talking about individual human lives. Each person facing gender identity issues has their own highly specific and unique context, which requires some form of care. The rising tide of hysteria around this issue is impacting the lives of so many individuals who are grappling, ever so delicately, with crippling self-doubt and their own fears—of being cast out, bullied, demeaned, and destroyed. As one study puts it, “Data indicate that 82% of transgender individuals have considered killing themselves and 40% have attempted suicide, with suicidality highest among transgender youth.”

Ryan agrees that Trans Hysteria is not clarifying; it’s obfuscating the fact that people are being put at risk. And under such conditions, it makes it ever more difficult for anybody struggling with gender identity, or for their loved ones, to seek a way through.

Worse, the fears that are being tapped into by those seeking to make America a place where “woke goes to die”, are now being spread in such a way that they’re also seeking to push back against difference, per se. Don’t say Trans. Don’t say Gay. Don’t say Black. Heck, Don’t Say Anything that even hints at extending a modicum of sensitivity toward—or tolerance of—those who have fought and died for their very right to exist.

The science and sociology of gender identity is a developing area of study, which is still assessing the various “nature vs. nurture” factors—those genetic, biological, developmental, and environmental causal forces at work in gender incongruence. That this area is not fully understood lends even more support to the battle for protecting those who are struggling with gender identity issues. Instead, we are faced with the hysterical assertions of authoritarian Florida Governor Ron DeSantis—who claims that “they are literally chopping off the private parts of young kids” as the medical community bows to “woke” activism. That is simply not happening. Reasonable concerns have been raised about some of the practices surrounding gender-affirming care. But “decades of data support the use and safety of puberty-pausing medications, which give transgender adolescents and their families time to weigh important medical decisions.” Such decisions are not made without teams of medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, endocrinologists, and other professionals working closely in concert, weighing the pros and cons of various treatment options. As one concerned mother of a Trans youth said to me, a hyper-focus on the uncertainties and risks of any kind of medical intervention muddies our understanding of the uncertainties and risks involved with not intervening at all. One would think that Randians and libertarians who have a genuine distrust of state planning of any sort would be just as “laissez-faire” in their attitudes toward government dictating the difficult choices faced by such individuals and their families under these circumstances.

Alas, state interference is not restricted to curbing gender-affirming care. It is shaping up into a grotesque all-out assault on a tiny minority of people. Even some self-identified “radical feminist” groups have aligned themselves with reactionary GOP politicians—who have typically shown no respect for any woman’s right to make basic choices about her own body—in an attempt to bar Trans athletes from competition in women’s sports. While I certainly don’t have all the answers to these challenging problems, the statistics don’t line-up with the hysteria. Because the answers are not clear, because our knowledge is limited, reliance on the state to chart a course through such politically charged cultural issues is no solution at all. It’s probably going to take a lot of trial-and-error policies proposed by alphabet-soup sports associations to figure out fairer, more equitable and more inclusive policies over time. Let’s keep the state out of it!

But the culture warriors don’t stop there. They view Trans women especially as villainous perverts. They spin nightmarish scenarios in which Trans women are exposing themselves en masse in women’s bathrooms and committing sexual assaults against “real” women and “real” young girls. Well, in NYC, we’ve had liberal bathroom policies in place for over a decade and the statistics don’t even hint at an uptick in “Trans” assaults. If anything, violence against transgender people has increased dramatically, as they are being targeted and assaulted—the “collateral damage” of a growingly toxic culture war.

As Ryan has pointed out again and again, too many Randians and culturally conservative right-libertarians have turned a blind eye toward state regulation of social mores. (It should be noted that among Randians, there are exceptions.) Indeed, in the case of the “Free State of Florida”, lower taxes and a rollback on regulation has led even the Cato Institute to proclaim it the second “freest” state in the U.S. (the more socially liberal New Hampshire ranks #1). But that just illustrates how low cultural and social freedoms are regarded in the grand scheme of things. Florida’s interventionists are using government power to forge a new, reactionary ‘politically correct’ curriculum that is hellbent on sanitizing any mention of the civil rights struggles of blacks, LGBTQ people, and others. They have also enacted into law, “Protections of Medical Conscience”, which grants healthcare providers and insurance companies the right to deny care to anyone on the basis of “religious, moral, or ethical belief”. That law, apparently, was designed to pushback against vaccine mandates, but since it allows for discrimination on the basis of sexuality or gender identity, it can be used broadly to deny care to LGBTQ people. Any doctor or healthcare provider who morally objects to medical treatments for transgender people or even the use of antiretroviral drugs in the treatment of HIV/AIDS can deny care—and no medical board has the right to discipline anyone who denies such care. And this is precisely why Ryan has warned about the dangers inherent in healthcare nationalization, since “the politicization of Trans issues” could very well “destroy the ability of people to obtain transitioning care services and the like. Do you really want more of your life’s important decisions and necessities being up to partisan political meddling?”

Defenders of “capitalism” though they claim to be, the Florida Anti-Woke Crusaders are even attacking capitalist companies like Disney because it refuses to fall in line with their political agenda. Disney World has had “Gay Days” since the early 1990s! But now, even Drag Shows have become the target of Florida’s legislative initiatives because they too are apparently harmful to minors.

I’m tempted to conclude with a none-too-subtle variation on Martin Niemöller’s adage: First they came for the Drag Queens, and I did not speak out because I was not a Drag Queen. Then they came for Trans people, and I did not speak out because I was not Trans. Well, in truth, I’m neither Drag Queen nor Trans. But I am speaking out. I am a gay man of Greek and Sicilian descent, and it wasn’t too long ago in this country that even my rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were being marginalized. It is not unusual that as privileged groups of people sense that they are beginning to lose a grip on their “traditions”, they fight like hell—passing laws and regulations—to keep them in place. But the very dynamics of the market society they claim to value are such that traditions are among the practices that are often brought into question. That’s one of the reasons that Friedrich Hayek himself proclaimed he wasn’t a conservative.

Trans Hysteria must stop or the tragedies in its wake will continue down a nightmare path on which no “libertarian” should ever feel comfortable treading.

Postscript (2 July-11 December 2023). I’ve had various discussions in the wake of this post, touching upon everything from sex ed in schools to adolescent “surgeries”.

  1. In New York State, Sex Ed isn’t taught in the schools until middle and high school; nobody in kindergarten or thru grade 5 is learning about transitioning or anything of the sort. See here. Health topics are addressed; all the 9-12 grades (100%) are taught about the benefits of abstinence from sex and about STDs; about 65% address sexual orientation in grades 6-8, 90% in grades 9-12, and around the same stats cover gender identity. None of this is going on in kindergarten or anytime prior to grade 6.
  2. This Reuters Investigates report provides actual “numbers on the rise in children seeking gender care”. There has been a noticeable increase in the number of young people being diagnosed with gender dysphoria (ages 6-17) in the United States. In 2021, around 42,000 were diagnosed. That figure is 121,000+ in the years between 2017-2021. Of those given such a diagnosis over that 5-year period, only 4,780 were given puberty blockers (around 3%), while only 14,726 were given hormone therapy (around 12%). Mastectomies are extremely uncommon; only 776 were recorded (ages 13-17) from 2019-2021. This extremely difficult issue is typically managed with a focus on the person needing treatment, in league with the family and hordes of medical and mental health professionals. That team weighs the pros and cons of intervening versus not intervening, and what kind of intervention is merited, if any, be it mental health services, puberty blockers, hormone therapy, etc.
  3. What also must be emphasized is that this is not some kind of “Trans Epidemic“, as right-wing demagogues put it. One recent report “estimates that 1.4 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds and 1.3 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds were transgender, compared with about 0.5 percent of all adults.” That so much hatred, bigotry, anger, and fear has been generated over such a small and vulnerable population in this country is a disgrace.
  4. As for those who believe that children are so impressionable that they can easily be “groomed” into being L-G-B-T or Q+, all I can say is: Studies show that while there is “situation-dependent fluidity” in sexual responses over time, the overwhelming majority of people are “hard-wired” (perhaps thru a combination of genetics, biology, and environment) from a very young age in terms of their responses. No matter how “impressionable” children might be or how “experimental” adolescents might be, nobody is “forced” to be gay, anymore than they are “forced” to be straight. Or “forced” to be bi, trans, or otherwise. People just are. I often wonder just how fragile some people’s self-conception of their sexual identity is that they see every “alternative” response as a threat. I grew up watching TV shows and films that featured people of the opposite sex being intimate with one another. I saw heterosexual people on the street holding hands and kissing. All the impressions in the world around me didn’t “force” me to become straight or alter my gay trajectory. This is all BS, and it’s exhausting to have to keep responding to it.
  5. As for those who believe that there’s been some kind of “explosion” in “acquired” LGBT identity or that social pressure is leading to “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria“, I’d say that in the current environment, especially in communities that are targeting people for their sexual orientation or gender identity, people are far more likely to be bullied and marginalized precisely for their differences, rather than for having been subject to some kind of social “contagion“. All of this is out-and-out fearmongering (now on full display especially in the Republican Presidential Debates).
  6. And now, some states are moving toward “forced outing“, yet another sign of the erosion of civil liberties from this right-wing assault.
  7. With regard to those on the right who point to the European continent as having rolled back gender-affirming care, the facts are that no country has banned such care. The United Kingdom, France, Sweden and Norway have adopted a more nuanced approach than those who are opposed to the practices here in the United States. See this Politico report. (And on the issue of “detransitioning”, which affects a small minority of a small minority of people, see here.) The only model that the right-wingers in this country would embrace is that offered by Putin’s Russia. What a surprise!
  8. It is certainly true that there are people who have “detransitioned“—and both the right-wing and “progressive” left wing have made a lot of noise about this. Turning this issue into a political football, in which each side scores points on the backs of people struggling with gender identity, is among the biggest tragedies we face in the current climate. All the more reason why doctrinal rigidity needs to be repudiated in favor of a more measured approach.

Elizabeth Sciabarra, Warrior

So many wonderful tributes have been posted about my sister, Elizabeth Sciabarra (aka “Ski”), not only throughout her life and illness, but in the aftermath of her death on November 26, 2022. A lifelong educator, she had an immeasurable impact on countless numbers of people, be they students, colleagues, friends, or family. She has been praised as a gifted teacher and leader, a strong, yet caring coach, a humane and empathetic advisor. Every testimony provides yet another vantage point on the truly organic whole that comprised every aspect of my sister’s remarkable life.

We are a little bit more than two weeks away from a Ski Celebration that will take place at Brooklyn Technical High School on May 6 (3-5 pm). Those who are interested in attending the event either in-person or virtually, should register here.

Don’t hold anyone at Tech accountable for this post; I take full responsibility for it. Today, I’d like to share some stories of which few people are aware. These stories come with a PG-13 rating: Though I’ve been careful to substitute a “&” for every questionable “u”, there’s no doubt that the language here may not be suitable for all audiences. But I don’t want to sanitize the fierce quality that was my sister’s wrath. If you pissed her off, threatened the people she cared about, or stepped over any of her definable boundaries, look out! She was a Warrior—in defense of her bodily autonomy, family, home, and social justice.

The Bar Incident

One night, she was out with friends at a bar and was having a nice time. As she leaned over the bar stool, some guy behind her apparently touched her, uh, behind. She turned around and asked, “What’s up buddy?” The guy apologized and said, “Oh, I’m sorry.” She gave him The Look.

A minute later, that same guy brushed up against her yet one more time. “Hey,” she shouted, “watch your hands!”

The guy just ignored her. But my sister was steaming.

A few moments passed … and the guy grabbed my sister’s butt. She turned around, full fisted, and clocked him so hard in the face, he went down with a broken, bloody nose. Bedlam ensued and she was escorted from the bar.

The guy declined to press charges.

Score: Ski, Warrior in Defense of Bodily Autonomy, 1; Sexual Harasser: 0

The New Year’s Eve Incident

Some years ago, I was DJ’ing a New Year’s Eve party at a local catering hall. Some drunk guy came stumbling in with his girlfriend two hours after the Times Square Ball Drop and had missed the promised “champagne toast” at midnight. He demanded his champagne, but I told him it was too late. He grabbed me by the throat, threatening to “hurt” me. I kind of backed off, and let it go. Moments later, when I told my sister of the incident, she bolted after the guy and cornered him on a stairwell, screaming: “You threatened my brother! I’ll kill you!” When his girlfriend started to laugh, she turned to her and yelled: “And you—you f&cking bimbo! Shut the f&ck up!” She called security and had the two of them removed from the premises.

Score: Ski, Warrior in Defense of Family: 1; Drunk Jerk and Girlfriend: 0

The Apartment Incident

A few years later, something rather odd happened at our apartment. No matter where we’ve lived in this neighborhood, it was always a rental on the second floor of a two-family house. This story takes place in our current apartment, where I have been living since 1986. It was the late 1990s, and our trusted dog, Blondie, a Chihuahua-mix with a Napoleon complex, often barked menacingly at strangers near and far. But she was very loving to all those she trusted.

One afternoon, my brother Carl called us—he only lived a few doors down—and told us that he’d be coming over for a cup of coffee. My sister was in her bedroom, straightening up, and I went downstairs and unlocked the door so I could return to working on my computer. The entrance door to our apartment was to my back, and I expected my brother to enter at any moment. Not a minute later, I heard the door open downstairs and I heard someone walking up the steps to our place.

Blondie suddenly became maniacal. She was barking as if the apartment were under siege. “Blondie! Blondie! Stop! It’s Brother!!!”, I hollered. “Come on in, Bro!” And I returned to my computer screen.

The door opened behind my back, and the dog simply lost it! She started lunging. I turned around and it was not my brother. It was some strange man, whom I’d never seen on our block or in our neighborhood, mumbling to himself. Blondie started nipping at his heels. Being ever the diplomat, I looked up at him and exclaimed: “Sir, can I help you? Who are you? I think you’re in the wrong apartment, sir.”

The dog’s barks were now deafening, as the guy walked into our bathroom and started cleaning his hairbrush in our sink. And I’m still trying to be gentle: “Sir! Sir! I think you must be lost. Who are you looking for? I don’t think you’re in the right place.”

Well.

My sister came out of the bedroom and started screaming: “What the hell is going on out there?” The dog had gotten positively violent by this point, as my sister moved toward the bathroom. She was shocked to see this strange man over our bathroom sink. Diplomatic negotiations had broken down. “Who the hell are you?” She grabbed him by the collar of his shirt, opened the apartment door, and forcefully pushed him down the stairs: “You need to get the f&ck out of here!!!” As he departed, my sister locked the door behind him and marched back up the stairs. When she entered the apartment, she gave me The Look.

 “What are you, crazy?! Why were you trying to reason with the guy? You don’t know this guy! You don’t know what he was capable of! What the hell is wrong with you?”

I meekly returned to my seat. A few moments later, my brother rang the bell, and I went down and let him in. Blondie was calm. A re-telling of the story, however, elicited such uproarious laughter that we could hardly catch our breaths.

Score: Ski, Warrior in Defense of Home, 1; Intruder: 0

The Car Incident

Many of my sister’s students have celebrated the fact that she gave a voice to the young women at Brooklyn Tech, an all-male school up until 1970. Having started teaching at that school in 1972, she would go on to coach its cheering squads and took its dance teams all the way to national championships.

She was also known to accompany kids from the school to the subway stations when the high-crime Fort Greene area of Brooklyn had more in common with the “Fort” than the greenspaces of its famous park.

Early in her tenure as principal of New Dorp High School on Staten Island, while she was on stage speaking during an assembly presentation, some kid opened the back door to the auditorium and announced: “She’s a bitch!” She raised her fist in the air and owned it: “Yes I am!”—to applause.

She also went out of her way to ride the buses on various occasions with African American kids all the way to their Stapleton and St. George neighborhoods, to send a message to anyone who might want to target students for taunting or bullying.

Racial problems were certainly not endemic to Staten Island, however. In the early-to-mid-1980s, our Gravesend section of Brooklyn was far less integrated than it is now, populated predominantly by whites of Italian and Southern European descent. As Wikipedia reports, back in 1982, African-American “transit worker Willie Turks was beaten to death in Gravesend by a group of white teenagers.” On Christmas Day 1987, “white youths beat two black men in the neighborhood in an apparent ‘unprovoked attack’,” which led to protests in January 1988 by the Reverend Al Sharpton, who “led 450 marchers between Marlboro Houses and a police station, and were met with chants of ‘go back to Africa’ and various racial epithets from a predominantly white crowd.” In 1989, in the wake of the murder of Yusef Hawkins, black protestors were welcomed to the neighborhood by whites who held up watermelons, while hurling obscenities and bricks at the demonstrators.

It was in this lovely atmosphere of cosmopolitan tolerance and racial harmony that my sister decided to invite a group of mostly African American cheering squad members to our apartment on a sunny Saturday afternoon. The mood was festive, and everyone had a great time. But we saw some young white punks across the street from us who were not very pleased. Under her breath, Elizabeth said to me, “These sc&mbags better not make any trouble with my girls here.” At the end of the day, she made sure that all of them got home safely.

The next morning, I walked out to get the Sunday papers. As I passed our car, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Every window had been bashed in, the glass splattered both inside and outside the car. I walked upstairs and calmly informed my sister what had happened. She was uncontrollably enraged. We both knew who had perpetrated the deed. Looking out the front window, she saw one of the obvious culprits who was visibly irate the day before at the sight of black kids entering our apartment. Nothing could hold her back. She flew down the stairs and stomped across the street, fuming, as a crowd began to form. She went straight for their ‘leader’.

“You! You!” – going full throttle right up to the guy’s face. “You bashed my windows in! You motherf&cker!”

“Ay, ay,” the guy said, clearly shaken. “Watch it, lady. I know people!”

“I know people too!” she shouted. “And they’re gonna break your f&cking legs if you touch my car again!”

The crowd went completely silent. I was right behind her. And we both turned around and went back upstairs.

The black kids would return to our home many times thereafter. And nobody ever touched our car again.

Score: Ski, Warrior in Defense of Social Justice: 1; Bigots: 0

Four incidents. Four victories. One TKO. My sister was a champ in the boxing ring of life!

Postscript (21 April 2023): See Facebook for comments. On Facebook, I added this point:

I just wanted to thank everyone who has reacted, posted, or dropped me a note. I added a postscript to this thread, which I repeat here to highlight it:

It is not without some irony that 28 years ago on this date [April 21, 2023], my mother—Ann Sciabarra—passed away after a five-year battle with lung cancer. She was an incredibly strong woman. The apple(s) didn’t fall far from the tree. We all inherited some of her toughness and loads of her empathy. My sister was definitely my mother’s daughter. For a hilarious vignette in memory of my mom, which illustrates the point, check out this post from Mother’s Day 2021 [also on Facebook].