by Zackary Drucker
Nov 29 2018
I’m so proud of you” were the first words Judy Bowen spoke to me, affirming me before we even got to names. We met at the The LGBT Community Center in New York, where we were both being filmed for a documentary. I was captivated by her dynamism and self-effacing beauty as she unravelled stories about life on Christopher Street, the home of the Stonewall Inn, in the 60s, and later in Queens as a (mostly) non-disclosing trans woman. When telling stories, Judy has an exciting tendency to spontaneously change directions mid-stream, and in listening, I felt that I was always being transported somewhere unexpected.
Judy was raised in the South in a religious home, and worked as a reporter for an evangelical newspaper. She was unable to conceal her transgender identity in her youth, and moved to New York after witnessing racist and transphobic violence in Knoxville. In New York, Bowen lived in Greenwich Village before the Stonewall riots, and became an organizer and community activist. In the years following the riots, she started two transgender support organizations in New York City. Today, at 74, she is a active member of The Center in Las Vegas, which supports the needs of LGBTQ people, as well as a champion of the Safety Dorm for transgender individuals at The Salvation Army, which houses and provides professional support for homeless transgender people in Las Vegas.
Ms. Bowen’s story is one of the many remarkable and unique journeys of a 20th century trans pioneer, who survived by always following her instincts and, when necessary, blending seamlessly into cis society. “You should have the right to be who you are and not be ashamed of it,” she landed on in our interview. Indeed, trans people’s lives are shaped by the shame of difference—of existing on the fringes of dominant culture, or outside of it all together. Judy exclaiming her pride in me, and our collective pride as a community, feels like magic conjured in a vacuum, against all odds.
ZACKARY DRUCKER: How did you find your way to a trans identity, into your true self?
UDY BOWEN: I was always me. I can never, never not remember being me mentally. But of course, physically, I was not happy with myself. I grew up in a religious environment in Virginia and Tennessee —church three times a week—and you know what? I think it was because of my beliefs in a greater spirit that I’m here today. My whole progression is basically a tribute to my faith, and believing in myself. Of course I had to be very careful, because those were not good times, it still isn’t good times. I had a lot of horrific things happen to me because I’m me, but I somehow overcame it.
What were some of those obstacles for you?
Well, in high school, I had to go to boy’s phys-ed, and I hated it. So eventually, because I had asthma, I was able to get a doctor’s permit to get out of it. And what’s really, really wonderful is a lot of my high school and college friends are now friends with me on Facebook! It’s kind of nice, they come to Vegas and they visit me sometimes. And they’re proud of the fact that I did progress, and are kind of shocked that I’m so active. I’ll be 75 in September.
Some of my friends in high school went on to be college professors and famous musicians. But my whole being was geared towards community service. Of course, you know, there was Stonewall—a whole era of nightclubs—and my focus then was making lots of money.
When I was like 22 years old, I started buying real estate. Most all the clubs I worked in were mafia [owned], and I had to be very careful, but one of my dear friends, who was an attorney, he finally told me one day, “You’ve got to get out of here. The FBI’s closing in. You’re going to be called to FBI headquarters because you’ve been around these people for a long time.” So he suggested that I go into some other kind of business, so I found a restaurant and catering business, which I purchased for very little money.
Is this the return of the Thought Police?
By Phyllis Chesler
December 12, 2018
In 1984, George Orwell wrote: “The two aims of the Party are to conquer the whole surface of the earth and to extinguish once and for all the possibility of independent thought. When people ‘disappear’ no one is allowed to mention it, no one is mourned, no one person is important, only the Party and Big Brother are important.”
Today, Orwell’s Thought Police are, rather ominously, everywhere. There is a definite intellectual chill in the air. Reason and civility are all but gone in the public square. In its place, we have insults, shaming, censorship and self-censorship that is meant to “pass” for thought. Hotly internalized propaganda rules the day online. We have met Big Brother, and he is us.
In my view, people seem to develop some kind of psychoanalytic transference to their Listserv groups. In a way, the connection is an umbilical one. The darker side of this connection isn’t hard to find. Internet Listserv groups bully and purge dissident members—this has happened to me and to many others. Sometimes, a small group of people (teenage “mean girls” and their mothers, academics, journalists,) attack the same person over and over again, day after day, for months, even for years. Meanwhile, hundreds of onlookers remain silent. No one stops the attacks or calls for a more civilized fight.
Unlike in-person mobs, attackers on social media attack and instantly disappear. Often, people attack one by one, one after the other, in sequence, even when there are hundreds of them. As a result, individuals in cyberspace may continue to see themselves as individuals rather than as members of a lynch mob or as contributing to an atmosphere in which people are systematically demoralized or silenced.
This New Intolerance and the New Censorship that online mobs zealously enforce is narrowly focused, in ways that are hard to miss when you are a member of a targeted group. In my experience, being the object of mob opprobrium has everything to do with where one “stands” on ethnic bigotry towards the Jewish people, on Israel/Palestine, and on Islam. Meanwhile, Sunni-Shia fratricide, African genocides, worldwide sexual slavery, war-zone atrocities, the persecution of dissidents and infidels in the Islamic world go largely unremarked upon. This is by design. The only events that matter are those that might feed pathological obsessions with the Jews.
Once you’ve taken the “wrong” stand on Israel or Islam, your reputation precedes you. No matter what other subjects you may be talking or writing about, (gardening, cooking, grandchildren, feminism, the Crimean War), these positions will forever haunt you and block your path. This too is by design; it is a deliberate strategy to inhibit argument and free thought by directing the mob to attack those who dare to step out of line. This is why so few people take such stands. They can clearly see what happens to those who do.
Last week, I was being interviewed by a genuine, not a faux, feminist, who praised my work but then said: “Yes, but now I must ask you to explain your position on Israel.” Israel had nothing to do with our conversation, but it was now an important subject of the interview. What I was expected to “explain” was my failure to conform to a party-line norm. Until I did so, nothing I said on any other topic could legitimately be heard or praised.
About a month ago, the editor of a left-wing magazine said that the only reviewers he could find for my new book, A Politically Incorrect Feminist, insisted on using my memoir of feminism in New York City in the 1960s and ’70s as an opportunity to challenge my position on Israel/Palestine.
“But I don’t write about it in this book,” I said.
“It doesn’t matter. I cannot get anyone to review you without taking this into account.”