2017 may have been a disastrous year for the country, with the election of Donald Trump, but for me personally, it was a year of progress and growth. Trump’s election and new administration dominated the news throughout 2017, but happily, neither had any direct impact on my life. Activism and writing continued to be a major focus of my life, but the other themes were injury and travel.
The first few months of the new year were dominated by my meniscus, torn when I tripped and fell outside the Puck Building in Manhattan in early November 2016; it was the worst injury I’ve ever sustained and was the occasion for my first ambulance ride.
I was lucky to have a friend accompany me to the hospital and lucky indeed to have had fairly prompt treatment in the emergency room, but a month later, an MRI revealed that I had in fact torn my meniscus, and so I went for physical therapy — not just one session, but dozens of sessions — and eventually for arthroscopic surgery in February, and then still more sessions of physical therapy. I suppose it was fortunate that I tripped and fell in November 2016 rather than in April or May 2017 because I could never have undertaken the arduous journey through three European countries that I did in June and July 2017 had the accident occurred that much later. I have two activist friends to thank for invaluable advice with regard to my knee, one of whom told me to go for the MRI.
The injury has made its mark on my knee and its a permanent mark, but it could have been so much worse and I’m lucky it wasn’t. In any case, the injury did not stop me from voting in the presidential election in November 2016 or going on my trip to Europe in June and July 2017; nor did it stop me from continuing to coordinate and facilitate the transgender support group at Queens Pride House or from continuing to do activism of various sorts, including LGBT advocacy work and Palestine solidarity activism.
But I began the year speaking at a forum in Manhattan organized Femidangdang, a Korean feminist organization, “Feminists Take on Presidency” (Jan. 14), at which I engaged in a progressive feminist analysis of presidential politics in the United States and South Korea, focusing on Park Geun-hye’s presidency and Hillary Clinton’s record as secretary of state and failed presidential bid ( “Hillary Clinton & Park Geun-hye: a progressive feminist analysis of presidential politics in the US & Korea“).
On December 6, I joined members of the Palestine Solidarity Alliance of Hunter College of the City University of New York (CUNY) to protest Donald Trump’s outrageous recognition of an ‘undivided Jerusalem’ as the capital of Israel, an outrageous violation of international law and part of the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinians of illegally occupied East Jerusalem.
As in every year since I first became involved with Palestine solidarity organizing, my support for human rights for Palestinians provoked backlash on Facebook and Twitter; unusually, this year, an argument that started on Facebook in July and then migrated to Twitter ended up in the form of a vicious attack on me by a Zionist who simply could not tolerate my pointing out the fact that (as I wrote) “Zionists use false charges of anti-Semitism to silence people of color in the Palestine solidarity movement” (as well as others); the director of a documentary I appeared in that premiered in October 2016 even threatened to cut me out of the film for speaking out against the Zionist smear campaign against people of color by privileged white Zionists, possibly the low point of the year for me. But as I have said many times since becoming involved with the struggle against Israeli apartheid back in February 2011, threats, bullying and campaigns of harassment and intimidation by Zionists and their confederates will only reinforce my commitment to working for the liberation of Palestine from Israel’s brutal and illegal apartheid regime, as I did in participating in the first US LGBTQ delegation tour of Palestine back in Jan. 2012 (below, a photo of me standing in the gap in the apartheid wall at al-Wallejeh).
On Dec. 4, I joined three other Queens-based activists to speak at a forum on “Money, Power & Politics: Queens Democrats Examined” sponsored by the Queens Anti-Gentrification Project and Progress Queens.
QAGP’s Michael Forest (third from left) moderated the panel, with Kenneth Shelton, Jr. and Louis Flores joining me on the panel; we had 50 some people in the audience and a great discussion of the nexus of power and politics in Queens and New York City more generally. I was honored to be invited to speak at the event and delighted that the Queens Chronicle covered the event (Anthony O’Reilly, “Examining the power of Queens Democrats,” Queens Chronicle, 12.7.17)
I also continued to facilitate discussions at meetings of the Philosophy Forum, including on Aristotle’s “Poetics” (Jan. 9), Ludwig Wittgenstein’s “Philosophical Investigations” (Apriil 9), Plato’s “Republic” (Dec. 10), Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France” (Feb. 11), Sarah Worth’s essay on “Narrative Understanding & Understanding Narrative” (April 8), Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” (Spet. 9) and Michaella Perina’s essay on “Encountering the Other: Aesthetics, Race & Relationality” (Dec. 9).
I also continued to participate in the NYC Area Friends of Tolkien & Fantasy, On Nov. 18, I participated in a roundtable on “The Silmarillion,” which some (mis)understand as the ‘prequel’ to “The Lord of the Rings,” J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece; I presented on “The Alkallabeth,” the coda to “The Silmarillion” proper and Tolkien’s fascinating ‘Atlantis’ story. Tolkien never finished “The Silmarillion” and the sprawling work doesn’t have the taut coherence of “The Lord of the Rings” but has passages of searing beauty.
From January through May, I took first semester Norwegian through New York University (NYU), with a wonderful Norwegian teacher who was trilingual in Norwegian, English and French; it was the seventh foreign language I’ve studied and classes were held at Scandinavia House on Park Ave. in Manhattan.
We all had to give a presentation as our class project at the end of the semester and I gave mine (in Norwegian) on Norse shamanism (“Norrøn sjamanisme og seiðr: profeten taler“), which my teacher found quite fascinating and my classmates also seemed to find engaging.
I also continued Korean through the Korean adoptee organization Also-Known-As in a class with a native Korean speaker at the Chinatown YMCA on Bowery near Houston in Manhattan. While I doubt I will ever attain fluency in Korean, it has been meaningful to study the language of my ancestors and also great brain exercise.
I also made an appearance in the Allgäuer Bauernblatt in a feature story on New Yorkers who play Schafkopf (‘Sheepshead’), an old German card game that originated in Bavaria that I learned from my grandmother and my cousins growing up in Milwaukee (Monika Läufle, the author of the article, is on the left in this photo, which appeared in the Allgäuer Bauernblatt along with the article).
But the high point of the year was without a doubt my trip to Europe from June 20 to July 26; at five full weeks, it was the longest trip I have ever taken in my life, the most challenging and the most exhausting but also the most productive and the most fun (“Europe 2017: Norway Iceland Spain“).
I spent two weeks in Norway, two weeks in Spain and a week in Iceland, though the two weeks in Norway were broken up between the two weeks in Spain: one week in Oslo followed by a week in Madrid, followed by a week in Andalucia, followed by a week in Hordaland and Rogaland, followed by a week in Iceland.
The initial reason for the trip was an invitation to speak in Oslo and Madrid, and I actually had five speaking engagements, three in Oslo and two in Madrid. On Thursday, June 22, I joined architect Øystein Grønning for a talk to members of the Palestinakomiteen i Norge at Maksitaksi in Oslo. I spoke on the ‘pinkwashing’ of Israeli occupation and apartheid and was honored to be invited to do so by the national organization fighting for human rights for all in Israel/Palestine, with over 30,000 members throughout Norway (from left to right: Morten Sortodden, Palestinakomiteen i Norge leader Kathrine Jensen, me and Øystein Grønning).
I flew to Spain the following week for two talks in Madrid. On Thursday, June 29, I spoke at the ‘LGBT@Work’ conference and on Friday, June 30, I spoke at the public forum, “Descolonizar Espacios e Identidades” at the Matadero.
It was an honor to be invited to speak at all five events and I was deeply gratified by the opportunity to speak on LGBT rights and human rights in Palestine as well as the need to decolonize our spaces and identities. The speaking engagements that brought me to Oslo and Madrid launched me on the longest trip of my life, tramping across three countries over the course of five weeks. There were so many high points, but visiting the gran mezquita (the great mosque) of Córdoba (July 7) was one of them.
Another was my visit to the Alhambra of Granada (July 8), which I have always dreamt of seeing.
I also took two exhausting but exhilarating day trips from Madrid to El Escorial and Toledo. Among natural wonders, the Hardanger fjord was the greatest I saw on my trip.
But Gulfoss, the most famous waterfall in Iceland, was a very close second.
While in Norway, I also visited Haugesund, the city where my grandfather was born and emigrated to Chicago from.
I even found the church that my grandfather and great-grandfather were members of.
And just a 25-minute ferry ride from Haugesund lies the small island of Røvær (half the size of Roosevelt Island), where several of my father’s ancestors once lived; there I had the most extraordinary experience of visiting the Vikingtuftet at Grønevika, an ancient fishing village that predates the Vikings.
And in my last hour in Stavanger, I found the last house my great-grandfather lived in before his death.
And finally, I closed out 2017 by spending New Year’s Eve at home writing my year in review, which I thought was a far productive and healthier way to ring in the new year than standing for hours in the freezing cold in Times Square~!