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Interview with Amalia Ziv – queer, feminist and anti-occupation in Israel

June 15, 2013

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On April 3rd, 2002, Israeli peace organizations led by women activists tried to enter Palestine, but were violently rebuffed by Israeli soldiers – 21 required hospitalization when it was all over. The picture shows seven members (six women and one man) of the organization Kveesa Shchora – Lesbians and Gay Men Against the Occupation – as they set out that morning.

It was through Amalia Ziv ‘s work that I came to know about ‘Kvisa Shchora’ (Black Laundry), an Israeli anti-Occupation queer group, which positions itself against both Israeli Zionist queer politics and the Israeli Left, against whose universalist understanding Black Laundry poses its queer identity as a platform for critique. Ziv suggests that Black Laundry tied together ‘sexual deviance’ and ‘national deviance’ with slogans like ‘Free Condoms, Free Palestine’, ‘Bull Dykes, Not Missile Strikes’, ‘Transgender not Transfer’ (that is, forced deportation of Palestinians)  – which break down the hierarchies of Nation and Sex, challenging queer politics in Israel with anti-occupation politics and Left anti-occupation politics with the queer gaze. Ziv argues that through the ‘twin strategies of national betrayal and sexual depravity’, Black Laundry deliberately situated itself outside both  discursive communities – that of Israel/Palestine as well as of hetero/homosexual.

Read this wonderful interview by  TSAFI SAAR with Amalia Ziv in which she talks about queer parenting, pornography, masochistic fantasies, her envy of people who have the capacity to be polyamorous, how tolerance in Israel for queer politics  ‘runs out when queer politics melds with politics against the occupation,’ and about her crush as an adolescent for Woody Allen. ‘Eros is blind’, she says unrepentantly.

Here are two excerpts.

On queer parenting:

How does the concept of parenting fit in with being queer?

“It is not simple in the least. Ever since my son was born I have been in a kind of cultural shock, which I am trying to process. One of the facets of this experience is to see the gender juggernaut in operation from up close and to try and pose some minuscule resistance, even though it is a fairly lost cause.”

How, for example?

“For instance encourage a range of activities. Let’s say he is very interested in cooking, so he has a toy kitchen. Overall his identity as a boy is already pretty established, but we can try to expand a bit what it means to be a boy, and also make it clear to him that gender is not a dichotomous issue. With me that occurs quite naturally, because at home I speak primarily in the masculine.”

When referring both to yourself and to Sharon [Amalia’s partner]?

“Yes. It is something I have come across here and there in heterosexual couples as well, an expression of intimacy. With him, too, I refer to myself in the masculine. And he addresses me in the masculine. It causes a lot of people dismay, but it’s interesting to see how his friends accept it very quickly, a lot simpler than adults.

“Furthermore, I also identify more as a father than as a mother. I can’t manage to fathom myself through the category Mother. It has to do with all sorts of things − my gender identity, the way I perceive motherhood, Sharon’s and my relationship. Publicly I fully identify as a woman, but privately it is more complicated. There’s also some significant masculine identification there.

“So my son lives with two parents who are identified from the outside as mothers, while there is some gender difference, which to him is very apparent. In other words, it is also clear that there is a similarity of sorts between him and me, which there is not between him and Sharon, as his mother. So in that sense he is learning about queer gender. He is learning that there is not a complete overlap between sex and gender; that in certain respects Sharon and I are the same gender, and in other respects we are not. He is learning this experientially. And he gets that this is not something that is easy to explain to those around him.

“I see a clash that is far from simple between queerism and parenting, because in parenting there is something inherent that reproduces the social order, even if you don’t mean to.”

On the term ‘queer’

“What is interesting about ‘queer’ is also that the term does not denote sexual orientation: If someone says, ‘I am queer,’ this does not automatically tell us what that person does in bed. There is also the category of ‘genderqueer,’ with which quite a few people identify.”

How do you define genderqueer?

“There isn’t one definition, but genderqueers are people who are opposed to gender normativity, and generally distinguish themselves from transgender people. Transgender people usually define themselves in terms of passage − ‘trans’: that is, from the identity I am perceived as having today to an identity by which I want to be perceived. Genderqueers, in contrast, conceive of themselves as being beyond the categories of man or woman, beyond gender binarism. They are interested in creating an admixture, confusing people, appearing both this and that, speaking this way and that.”

What tidings does queerness bear for heterosexuals, in your view?

“The main message perhaps is that if you are heterosexual, that does not mean you have to be heteronormative. Straights don’t have to be one thing all the time either. And even if you are straight in terms of sexual preference, that need not say anything about your sexuality, your fantasies or your politics.”

Read Fifty Shades of Gay, the full interview with Amalia Ziv

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