Recently, I’ve been listening to The Lost Birds: An Extinction Elegy, by American composer Christopher Tin. [Video below] It is an arrangement based on the poems of Emily Dickinson, Sara Teasdale, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Christina Rossetti. It is sung beautifully by Voces8 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Tin composed this marvelous arrangement as a memorial to various bird species that have been driven to extinction by habit loss, pollution and encroachment. The pieces soar and dive in a powerful rollercoaster of emotion, especially when one has been a student of extinction for as long as I have.
With the recent spate of vicious attacks on drag performers and drag shows, I’ve been thinking a lot about a brilliant quote by the late Ram Dass: “Treat everyone you meet as if they were God in drag.” And I think it gets to the heart of this manufactured controversy.
Over this past weekend I went to see the new Avatar movie. I had seen the first one and, although it had flaws, I saw the overall message as compelling. Fair warning, here is a small spoiler: Simply put, the plot is one where humans in the future, with the help of gargantuan and lethal military might, attempt to colonize a planet called Pandora. It is another solar system many light years from earth, and it possesses many extraordinary and rare minerals and resources, as well as incredible biodiversity and Indigenous societies. In the sequel, the humans of earth have returned, and their goal is nothing less than total colonization of the planet for the purpose of resettlement. Earth, as one cold hearted military general says, is dying.
When I was in college, I had the privilege of doing an internship in Los Angeles that was connected to a vibrant inner-city church. While I was there, I was introduced to some of the most radical leftist politics I’ve ever known. It was in this setting that I saw vibrant programs for the working class and for youth being implemented by Black churches. It is also where I learned about Liberation Theology, a Christian movement that was transforming communities all over Latin America at the time as a direct challenge to capitalism and American imperialism.
Whatever one thinks of the politics of Nancy Pelosi, American Democratic Speaker of the House, the violence perpetrated against her husband was nothing short of terrifying, and for many reasons. No spin can erase the fact that this was political violence. And it is becoming normalized in a country that has been rapidly unraveling for several years.
“And those who expected lightning and thunder, are disappointed. And those who expected signs and archangel’s trumps do not believe it is happening now. As long as the sun and the moon are above, as long as the bumblebee visits a rose, as long as rosy infants are born, no one believes it is happening now…” — from “A Song at the End of the World,” Czesalw Milosz, Warsaw 1944
It has become impossible not to notice the trend. Whether it is banning the word “gay,” or banning books that contain topics related to human sexuality, or the Supreme Court decision to overturn a woman’s federal right to an abortion, the war on human sexuality and those who are sexually divergent is ramping up on multiple fronts. Even I’ve been a target of this war. Because of my outspoken advocacy for LGBTQ+ youth, I have been labeled a “groomer” by a few figures on the far right.
What is it about this photograph that is so intriguing? This is the Carina Nebula taken by the James Webb Telescope (NASA). We are looking at a nursery of stars, many far bigger than our own sun. And we are also looking back in time. Deep time. Yet there’s something intimate about it, even though there aren’t any pareidolic references for us to easily latch on to.
The overturning of the landmark Roe v Wade case providing federal protection for a woman’s right to choose is both appalling and enraging. Now, several conservative states have already begun outlawing abortion rights. It is undeniable that women’s rights have taken an enormous blow, and the effect will have repercussions around the world.
If you’ve never traveled around the state of Texas, you won’t really get an accurate picture of this odd land of extremes. The cities, especially Austin and Houston, are islands of relative sanity surrounded by a sea of crazy. All this considered, the unveiling of the Texas GOP’s platform should come as no surprise. They have merely tapped into the paranoid, hyper-nationalist, fascist zeitgeist so prevalent among a large swath of its white, Christian population.
As we observe Pride Month, we should remind ourselves that the original Pride Parade was a riot, not a celebration of conformity to society. There were no permits issued to the people who marched down those streets in New York City. There were no corporate, bank or military floats participating. And it was mocked by mainstream press like the New York Times.
I’ve heard that some of the parents in Uvalde are planning to have open caskets at the funerals for their little ones. I cannot imagine the kind of agony these families are going through. And also for the families and loved ones of the teachers who were killed, and one husband dying of a heart attack from grief only days later, leaving four children.
I will be honest about something. Since the cold-blooded execution of Palestinian, veteran journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh by an Israeli sniper I have felt rather nonplussed. A rarity for me. But it does happen.
Author’s note: this essay is an updated and expanded upon version of one published in May of this year.
There was a part of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, that is perhaps the most unsettling to me. The protagonist, Offred, is walking past the notorious Wall in the Republic of Gilead. This Wall, once part of a prestigious university in Cambridge Massachusetts, is now being used as a place of public execution, where corpses are left hanging for days to send a message of compliance and terror to the citizens of this authoritarian, theocratic state. Defy “God’s law” and you will suffer the punishment for doing so.