238. caustic

cups08I’m now into the twelfth week of classes in my library science master’s program, and between working a full-time job and doing monthly music for Sunday Assembly there hasn’t been much time for writing. With seeing my therapist every two weeks, there’s been plenty of personal reflection, but not much time to actually meditate about it, which has been difficult. Writing is how I process those things, but when one’s life seems to be flying along at 600 miles-per-hour, some things take a back seat for the sake of steering.

So a few weeks ago I was finally on my friend Keith’s podcast, Vita Atheos. It’s terrific, and you should check it out. It’s devoted to “telling the stories of atheists, their journeys towards non-belief, and the struggles that they faced in the past, or still face today because of their lack of belief.”

We’ve been talking about my being on for a while now, partly because of how unique my dual coming out story (gay and then atheist) seems to be in the community. It was an interesting experience being interviewed, and the conversation actually ran about two hours and fifteen minutes. And I didn’t even get to talking about my family!

It had also been a while since I’d told my deconversion story in detail. Most people in my life know the details so we don’t have to rehash them. Although recently, there have been conversations about the weird, fucked up things that I was taught growing up. At times it feels as if I truly came from another culture, or even from another planet entirely.

Because there are few analogues in “normal,” mainstream life—that is, for those who didn’t grow up in a conservative, fundamentalist, religious community. The “real world.”

One of the themes that has come up with therapists over the past few years (including my current therapist) is a sense of being just broken and fucked up from all of the religious programming in my early childhood years, further compounded by internalizing the homophobia that surrounded me at home and in my community. One of the things that’s come up is my inability to truly forgive myself for not knowing better, for not being stronger, for not coming out sooner and standing up for myself.

But as Lalla Ward is quoted as saying to her parents in The God Delusion: “But I didn’t know I could.”

That sort of historical musing is easy to do. It feels good to put ourselves on the moral side of history—standing up to the Nazis in Germany, or standing with Martin Luther King, Jr. against racism. Fifty years from now, children will read with similar horror about homophobia and opposition to gay rights. Of course I wish things could’ve turned out differently, and that I wasn’t trying to rebuild my life and constantly struggling under the weight of depression, anxiety, and inherited self-hatred.

The past few months I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around why I’m currently so obsessed with my age right now and being gay and single at 32. I think I’ve written about this before, that part of it the need to validate myself against the messages I got growing up, that gays don’t have relationships. Part of it is the rampant ageism in the gay community, and the fixation on being young and fit, and I frankly don’t see myself as either of these things anymore. I don’t have time to work out, so I’m still rather scrawny; and now that I’m in my mid-30s my metabolism isn’t what it used to be. I’m not overweight, but I am “gay fat” by the standards of the community (i.e., not having a gym-perfect body, BMI is over 12%).

Maybe it’s just Midwestern gays. I’m starting to wonder if that isn’t what it is.

The reality is that I’m where most of them are when they were in their early twenties, leaving me feeling hopelessly behind and outpaced. It seems so easy for everyone else to find boyfriends and relationships, and I don’t even know how to date. Perhaps it would be easier if my standards weren’t so high, or if I could just have fun; but it’s difficult as it is for me to connect with other humans in general, and I’m really not one for casual dating or sex, which frankly doesn’t leave many options in the Twin Cities since that seems to do it for most guys around here. Everyone here seems to be on Manhunt, Grindr, or Scruff.

#notmyscene

But there’s a much darker reality that I’ve just recently become aware of. It’s so new that I haven’t had time to put it into words, so this may not make much sense, but here goes:

Basically, at this point, I don’t know if I could be with someone when I can’t even accept myself.

Central to Christian fundamentalist teaching and Calvinism is this notion that humans are basically shit because of Adam and Eve. An ongoing theme of my childhood was a virtual obsession with sin and confession, because God is always watching, and Satan is always trying to trip Christians up. Constant vigilance. What could go wrong with teaching a child to believe that they were born flawed, and that even the most minor of unconfessed sins could land them in Hell for eternity?

So even though I know intellectually that I’m likable, even desirable, I don’t feel it. It’s the emotional equivalent of an eating disorder, I guess. What I see in the mirror is not everyone else seems to see. I see trash, failure, ruin, someone whose prime years were stolen by religion.

It’s as if, because I deem myself unworthy, I reject anyone else’s approval of me as a matter of course. Is that arrogant? Probably. But when you grow up fearing the disapproval of everyone around you, it becomes the lens through which you view all relationships.

An examined life may be admirable, but can also be unlivable.

Advertisements

225. osculate

anxietyFunny how I first learned the word “osculate.”

It was in men’s chorus at Northwestern, the conservative Christian college that I attended and graduated from.

And no, not how you think.

Unfortunately.

If the group was particularly well-behaved and productive in rehearsal (which, given a bunch of college-aged adolescent males, wasn’t very often), the director would promise to read from something referred to as (curiously) the “red book.” Essentially, it was a book of advice from the 1940s to young men on various topics… such as, how to woo girls.

As you might imagine, it was about as bad as advice from the same time period written to young brides. There was a chapter in this book on how to “go in” for the first kiss, and how to overcome any objections the young lady might have.

Because, you know, women are virginal and virtuous, and men are coarse animals who can’t help themselves.

There are two things I can recall about this book, the first being the stilted, unwittingly hilarious, horrific language the author used in basically recommending young men force themselves on women. It went something like: “If she backs away, don’t worry—women are naturally hesitant in these areas… If she tries to push you away, don’t worry… if she starts to claw at your face, start to worry.”

I’m paraphrasing, obviously. But not very much.

The second thing I’ll never forget about those days in men’s chorus, at Northwestern, and of all my growing up years was the intense attractions that I felt towards guys—and the equally intense anxiety of being found out and caught.

There’s enough anxiety around one’s affection being discovered and the fear of being exposed and scorned.

However, it’s a real brain teaser for a young gay man (or woman) to know that one’s romantic affection could get one expelled from school and from an entire community.

So, all this to say, I had a breakthrough a little while ago, thanks again to Hank Green’s Crash Course: Psychology.

“Say someone almost drowned as a kid and is now afraid of water. A family picnic at the river may cause that anxiety to bubble up, and to cope they may stay sequestered in the car, less anxious but probably still unhappy while the rest of the family is having fun.”

Earlier today, I went grocery shopping with my friend Matt. On the way in, I stopped to pick up some course-ground coffee for my French press for an upcoming trip (as I’m not a fan of drinking coffee that I can also chew).

One of the baristas was a young man who I’ve seen there before, and who I’m 99.99% sure bats for my team. (Not so sure, however, which position he plays.) I’m never sure if baristas (who I’m reasonably sure are homos) are actually flirting with me, if they’re being polite, or if they’re trying to get a bigger tip. But this guy was definitely laying on the charm in asking me if I’d done anything fun that day.

When guys flirt with me, especially seemingly out of the blue, it launches an internal monologue that goes like this:

  1. Shit, someone is talking to me!
  2. Wait, is he flirting with me?
  3. Is this guy even gay, or is he just one of those overly friendly straight guys? Because I can’t tell anymore!
  4. Quick, what can I deduce about his cultural and educational background? His hair is styled in one of those dumb faux-hawks. Is he a “club” gay? Will he even understand half of the words I use? Should I switch to one-syllable words? Wait, that’s so incredibly elitist and arrogant, making grand assumptions about someone based on their hair style…
  5. And wait, why would he be flirting with me? Guys don’t flirt with me. Yet, he seems to be flirting with me. Oh god, what do I do? Am I supposed to flirt back? What if he’s not flirting with me after all? Will that make me look desperate? Pathetic?
  6. Shit, he’s talking to me… oh, no, he’s still just waiting for me to respond to the thing he said two seconds ago.

Later, I recounted this experience to my friend Matt and he pointed out that there have been plenty of occasions where I’ve spontaneously come up with something witty or clever to say. So why is it so damned difficult for me to respond to flirts?

In other words, why am I basically Liz Lemon?

Enter Hank Green.

“Anxiety disorders are characterized not only by distressing, persistent anxiety but also often by the dysfunctional behaviors that reduce that anxiety.”

It doesn’t take a PsyD to recognize that my current anxiety about guys is directly caused by those closeted growing-up years. In every interaction with a cute guy, I feared that I might inadvertently say or do something to give away the fact that I was wildly attracted to him, i.e., gay.

If you’ve seen the video of the guy getting beaten up by his bigoted family after they learn he is gay, being outed in a predominantly religious community is a legitimate fear, whether of physical violence or being shunned.

For much of my teenage and adult life, I had to tell myself that acting on my attractions to other men, let alone having a boyfriend, was impossible. And though I’ve been out-gay for some time, there’s still that same unresolved anxiety running like a background app on my phone, draining the battery.

While it leaves me lonely, like the girl who survived drowning only to hide in the car when her family goes to the beach, I unconsciously shut down potential romantic or flirtatious interactions to reduce anxiety.

And, just as my depressed moods have a cause, it’s not that I can’t flirt. There’s just unresolved trauma. Phew!

What to do about it now?

That’s one reason why I’m back in therapy.

212. cuittle

Franciscan_missionaries_in_CaliforniaOn Sunday, in the Wall Street Journal online, writer Dave Shiflett penned an opinion piece about the upcoming American Atheists convention in Salt Lake City, Utah — on Thursday, in fact: “Where Atheists Meet to Evangelize: Telling believers they are rubes may not be the best recruitment strategy.”

Frankly, I’m still not sure what to make of it. I don’t know what Mr. Shiflett’s personal religious views are, but his article contains a number of mordant jabs. “… deity-dissing group,” he calls American Atheists at one point.

“… suggesting that the uninitiated are delusional and feeble-minded might not be the wisest way to expand your brand.”

I’m reminded of what Julia Sweeney reports in Letting Go of God, what her mother says in a phone call after Julia is accidentally outed to them: “Everyone knows that there are those few people out there who don’t believe in God, but they keep it quietly to themselves!”

The timing of Shiflett’s article was curious, because on April 11, Kellie Moore wrote a piece in the Washington Post about the growing number of secular communities: “Don’t call it atheist church; secular communities are growing.”

Moore notes that many of the secular groups are geared towards families with young children, and that the children’s activities don’t include “teaching atheism.” In fact, they try to steer clear of any kind of indoctrination.

“Teaching atheism”? What would that even look like??

In my own Evangelical upbringing, a fair amount of time in church was spent teaching us theology and Christian apologetics, the systematic field by which Christians learn how to present a rational basis for the Christian faith and defend it against objections. Everything from having us memorize Bible verses to lessons on Sunday mornings about the Christian life were intended to prepare us to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

Going between these two articles, it’s interesting to see how religious people superimpose their models of church and community onto atheist assemblies. To paraphrase Queen Victoria: “Whatever do atheists do?” They assume that, like them, our goal is to make more atheists; to break down the deeply held beliefs of Christians with cold, hard, scientific logic and rational arguments.

The popular image of an atheist is based on media figures like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, aggressive and vituperative voices bent on destroying any belief that isn’t founded in hard science or reality. We are portrayed as angry, bitter loners without a moral foundation or compass. A recent study covered today in Pacific Standard confirmed that Americans intuitively judge atheists as immoral.

One article on Crosswalk.com claims to expose “Chilling Strategies of Neo-Atheists.” If you’re paying attention, this is how Evangelicals portrayed Communists in the 1950s—godless, immoral atheists mobilized by Stalin to turn the United States just as Communist and atheist as the U.S.S.R.

Nicoll claims that part of the atheista strategy is to target the young and turn them into god-hating, anti-religious clones. (Transference much??) He then quotes philosopher Richard Rorty, who described his dream that students might enter college “as bigoted, homophobic religious fundamentalists” and leave full-fledged atheists.

“… we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable.”

It’s true that some atheists share this view; that religious people are feeble-minded and that religion must be stamped out if humanity is to survive and thrive. Yet what Nicoll accuses us of sounds more like what Evangelicals having done since the inception of Christianity. “Give me the child of seven,” said Francis Xavier, “and I will give you the man.”

This is the distorted view of atheism that we have to contend with, just as many liberal Christians try to distance themselves from their bigoted brethren.

Honestly, how often does the average atheist think about religion? Probably not much. For those of us who follow the news (politics in particular), it’s difficult to ignore the presence of Christofascism, the kind of belief that seems eager to wield a sword to spread and enforce Christianity far and wide.

So were it not for city councils opening meetings with Christian prayers, daring anyone to bring a lawsuit; wedding photographers and bakers making martyrs of themselves in their increasingly bizarre war on marriage equality; and politicians trying to write their religious views about women’s bodies into law… well, most of us wouldn’t think much about religion.

The new Cosmos (with the amazing Neil deGrasse Tyson) is a reminder that there’s more than a lifetime’s worth of amazing things to think about and ponder!

Yesterday, I posted an article with the musing that punishing those who hold (increasingly) unpopular views about marriage equality “seems to run counter to the very message of the LGBT movement, which is that there’s room at the table for all. The real question is whether equality opponents are willing to sit at the same table.”

This is where I’m also at with Evangelical Christians.

The fact is that, until we invent spaceships to whisk us away to other planets, we’re stuck learning to live peaceably together on this one. The atheists I know are willing to reach out, to build a table where there is space enough for everyone, their views and beliefs (however strange). Because right now, outside of academia, we’re rarely invited to join the party. True, we often self-segregate, but mostly, that’s because we’re accustomed to not even being recognized.

We don’t want to necessarily make atheist converts. We don’t want to dash anyone’s hopes and dreams. Rather, we desire a renaissance of critical thinking—and less dogmatism. We want children (and adults) to be free to consider every possible idea and facet of human knowledge, and decide for themselves what they believe instead of being told that they must accept one particular narrative, without question, or burn forever in Hell.

That’s all.

Because it’s about time we started celebrating the wonder of being alive.

206. caveat

rainbow_roadYesterday I received an email inviting me to sign a petition. I get these fairly often, usually from Change.org or the Democrats, alerting me to some grave issue that requires my clicktivist engagement right away. Sometimes I join if it seems a worthwhile cause, but usually it gets deleted.

The petition I received yesterday was from All Out, an organization whose mission is to build “a global movement for love and equality.” A worthy goal, if a tad… shall we say… lofty.

All Out is mobilizing millions of people to build a world where no person will have to sacrifice their family or freedom, safety or dignity, because of who they are or who they love.

If anything, they’re doing a fairly good job of alerting people to issues around the world, such as human rights abuses and instances of LGBT discrimination and persecution. And they are bringing together LGBT advocacy organizations to combat institutionalized prejudice and hate.

The petition yesterday was intended to put pressure on Orange, “one of the world’s leading telecommunications operators, present in 32 countries,” to remove its advertisements from a Ugandan tabloid that recently published the names of “Uganda’s Top 200 Homos.” This just a day after its president, Yoweri Museveni, signed the “Kill The Gays” bill into law.

Getting Orange to pull the adverts wouldn’t just send a message to the editor of the Ugandan tabloid — it would show the Ugandan government that a major investor doesn’t approve of the anti-gay law. If more companies join in, the Ugandan government won’t be able to ignore the potential damage to their economy of their attacks on human rights.

While this is a good sentiment and a good start, having grown up in Evangelical culture I know that this approach won’t ultimately do much good. The authors of this petition are assuming that Ugandans (and Evangelicals) care what the international community thinks. They think that sanctions and cuts to aid from other nations will convince Uganda’s leaders that the bill was a bad idea, and that human rights is the best way to go.

In short, they’re assuming that they’re reasonable people.

What they don’t understand is that Evangelicals believe that our world is a spiritual battle ground, divided between God and Satan.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Furthermore…

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you… If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (1 Peter 4:12-14)

They’re not being criticized and their aid is not being cut because they’re bigots. They are experiencing backlash because they believe they’re doing “God’s work.”

I grew up being told that if we lived true to the Bible and God’s commandments, non-Christians (i.e., “the world”) would turn on us. When someone made fun of us for not using profanity or “saving ourselves for marriage,” we weren’t the real target — Jesus was the target.

If you listen to any ultra conservative bent on outlawing marriage equality or screaming about “religious liberty,” these are the Bible verses you’ll hear. They believe that a time is coming when Christians will be thrown in jail and possibly even executed for their beliefs.

No, really. Seriously.

I’m currently watching the fourth season of the Star Trek series Deep Space 9. The other night I saw the episode “Accession,” in which a Bajoran poet who disappeared two hundred years earlier mysteriously reappears through the wormhole. He claim to be the Emissary and to speak for the “prophets,” demanding that Bajorans return to “d’jarra,” an ancient caste system. This doesn’t go over well with everyone. The decree also puts Bajor’s application to Federation in jeopardy. But the religious leaders in favor of the “d’jarra” believe that following the “prophets” is worth any consequence that may result.

In the same way, the Ugandan government doesn’t care if it loses standing in the international community, if Western nations cut off funding and aid, if advertisers pull spots from newspapers, or international businesses pull out of the country.

I’m not sure how many Evangelicals really believe they’re following the commandments of their “God” by attempting to deny LGBT people equal human rights. Frankly, I think it’s part of the song and dance they perform to help themselves sleep at night.

I believe it is the responsibility of the ninety-four nations that signed the UN Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity to offer asylum to LGBT Africans affected by these bills. Yesterday, I sent a letter to the director of U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services, asking him to do that. I’m also writing to activists to ask if there are any organizations working to help relocate LGBT Africans to safer areas.

What we need is for Western nations that claim to welcome LGBT people to offer asylum to displaced Ugandans and Nigerians (and Russians). Like the Underground Railroad of the 19th Century, we could build a “Rainbow Road” for people currently living without hope. Many of these people are living in poverty, with little to no means of immigrating, now in fear of being exposed, punished, and even killed.

Secretary of State John Kerry recently said: “People everywhere deserve to live in freedom and equality. No one should face violence or discrimination for who they are or who they love.”

I believe we’ve a responsibility to try to and make that a reality.


UPDATE: This site was recommended as a potential resource for helping LGBT Ugandans: ugandans4rights.org.

183. bilge

Another Exodus International alum is on the mea culpa circuit: Randy Thomas, former Executive Vice President of Exodus, who issued a public apology today.

Why does anyone think this matters? Do they think this will lead to some sort of hippy-dippy Kumbaya moment where bygones are bygones, and we hold hands and sing around a campfire? Lest we forget that this is an organization that emotionally manipulated thousands of gay people into betraying themselves in the name of religious bigotry and homophobia…

The fact is, this apology doesn’t matter. Like his former boss, Alan Chambers, at no point in this “apology” does Thomas ever outright apologize for his actions. Instead, he blames others for his part the psychological terrorism of LGBT persons:

  • “My understanding of public policy at that time was limited to the talking points I was given to tailor my testimony around.”
  • “I participated in the hurtful echo chamber of condemnation.”
  • “I was, in a sense, attracted to this kind of power and allowed my conscience to be numbed so I could have a seat at their table. In the name of trying to positively affect Christian leaders, I willingly became one of their pawns. Again, I was selfish and prideful. Please forgive me.”

According to his biography on the Exodus website (now taken down), Randy Thomas grew up in an abusive home, which he attributes to having caused his feelings of same-sex attraction:

“Growing up I internalized the abuse and the pain grew. My need for love was desperate. I knew at a very young age that I preferred the company of males even though I wasn’t like them. When a male would smile my heart would leap. This became erotic at the age of ten.”

After being thrown out of his home by his religiously radicalized mother, he basically went on a sex, alcohol and drugs bender that eventually led to a “come to Jesus” moment and internalizing the lie that homosexuality is both a disorder and a sin. He “left his homosexual identity at the cross,” “learned to relate to men and women the way Father intended,” and “received love from men and women in the body of Christ that displaces homosexuality.”

Essentially, he became frightened of the abusive way he was treating his body, and was seduced by the alluring message of (conditional) love and acceptance of God and the Church. Not only that, but he joined an organization devoted to seducing others into exactly the same lifestyle (irony strongly intended).

Rather than see that he needed psychological help and counseling after an abusive childhood and then rejection and abandonment by his own mother, like so many of these ex-gay faggots (as Dan Savage likes to call them, because not a single one of those pathetic individuals are heterosexual), Randy Thomas made the fatal leap of seeing correlation where there was no causation. He associated the emptiness that he felt with homosexuality, not the emotionally empty sexual encounters he was having with other men.

I’ve felt that same emptiness too after a hookup that comes from the deep longing I have within me for a partner and kindred spirit, and not finding it in those encounters. We’re complex social primates, and that’s how millions of years of natural selection have groomed us for survival. For most of us, the desire for emotional companionship is embedded in our genes.

Instead of seeking real help, Randy cut himself off from his friends and support network, and joined up with bigots of the ex-gay movement who told him what he wanted to hear.

Nowhere in his public apology does Thomas take full responsibility for his part in the abuse of LGBT people, or that these beliefs were wrong and scientifically ungrounded to begin with. He apologizes for the hurt he caused, but he doesn’t actually say that the actions that caused that hurt were actually wrong. This is one of the first lessons I learned about making apologies: if you were in the wrong, you admit it. Instead we have this masquerading as an apology:

“I apologize to the gay community for idealizing and reinforcing the institutional groupthink of Exodus. I apologize for remaining publicly silent about the hurt caused by some of Exodus’ leaders and actions. I also apologize for my inexperienced participation in public policy, placing my personal ambition over truly serving the gay community as a Christian friend.”

This is virtually no different from saying: “I apologize for shooting you. But it was for your own good, and to keep you from going down an even worse path. I regret hurting you though! Friends?” That’s not an apology. That’s excuse making, designed to let the offender off the hook from feeling guilty about his/her past actions.

The fact is that Randy Thomas and everyone in the ex-gay movement knows that their ship is sinking, and fast. Their claim of evidence of change in sexual orientation evaporated into thin air, because it was never there to begin with. Every mainstream medical body in the world has affirmed that there is nothing aberrant or pathological about homosexuality. The much touted Mark Regnerus study that was supposed to prove that same-sex parents ultimately harm their children turned out to be fraudulent.

And they’re likely trying to make friends amongst enemies before the anti-ex-gay animus really heats up.

If Randy Thomas wants to “make amends,” he could start by inventing a time machine, going back and smacking some sense into his young adult self. Or spending his time volunteering in shelters for gay teens who have been disowned by their bigoted Christian parents, and helping them reject the lies that he helped perpetrate, come to accept themselves as the beautiful human beings they are, and find healthy and emotionally mature ways of expressing their sexuality.

Hell, just a decent sex ed course would be a start.

But this so-called apology is a joke. It’s self-pitying, self-congratulatory, and blame-shifting. Whatever his motivations here, an apology without action is worthless.

179. balk

ruined city“Please know that I am deeply sorry. I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change… You have never been my enemy. I am very sorry that I have been yours.”

Dear Alan Chambers,

I read your funny little note today. Or it would be funny if it weren’t so deeply offensive to me and to every gay person you’ve helped murder, maim, mangle, dehumanize and abuse over the many years of your “ministry” as president of Exodus International.

Fortunately, I am not one of those “ex-gay” survivors (i.e., victims). I was never desperate enough to fully buy into the lie that there was something fundamentally wrong with me, or that my sexual orientation needed “curing.” Frankly, I’m not sure why this is when so many of my friends willingly subjected themselves to the brand of psychological terrorism your organization helped promote. They did this out of a desperate, last-ditch hope that it would make them acceptable enough for your so-called God, and for their families who ultimately failed in the duty to show them unconditional love.

Perhaps it was my parents’ instilling of critical thinking skills in me at an early age that never allowed me to fully accept their and my church’s teaching about homosexuality. There was a small but present voice in my mind (that, thanks to teachings about demons and “spiritual warfare,” I attributed to the Devil tempting me) that said, “This doesn’t make sense.”

And why should it? Why would we willingly choose a “lifestyle” that for too many of us results in the hostile rejection of our friends and family, being taunted, called names, beaten up (and too often brutally murdered), demonized and hated — all for simply loving a person of the same sex?

That’s right — straight people have relationships; faggots just want sex.

“… If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”

I was never desperate or foolish enough to pursue so-called “reparative” therapy. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t spend the majority of my teen years in pained anguish over what I believed were filthy and repulsive sexual feelings, pleading with God almost every single night growing up to take those feelings away.

It doesn’t mean that there aren’t 25 years of my life that I’ll never get back because I believed the bullshit that God’s “design” for human beings was heterosexuality.

It doesn’t mean that my young adult life were desperately lonely and miserable as I watched my straight friends date, fall in love, and get married, something I thought wasn’t an option for me because our holy book said that marriage was between a man and a woman.

So forgive me if I find it infuriatingly laughable when you say that you’re not my enemy. You’re worse than my enemy. You’re a disgusting quisling, a self-loathing, self-hating collaborator against your own kind. You’ve ruined lives with your teachings. You’ve all but put the gun in the hand or kicked the chair out from under who knows how many innocent LGBT people who couldn’t live with the life you and others told them they had to live in order to get to Heaven — all because they were unfortunate enough to have been born different than 95% of the human population.

And for that you’re sorry? Like Steve Urkel lamenting, “Did I do that?”

The only good thing to came out of this nightmare for me is that I was well prepared for the realizations that (1) religion is nonsense, and (2) there is no God. For me, these conclusions were inevitable. I was never the kind of person who can blindly accept given propositions as fact. It would’ve been nice if these realizations could’ve come earlier, and with less grief and pain, but they are hard-won, and they are mine. And I’m building a new, happier, freer life for myself, without the lies and self-hatred that I was fed growing up.

It would’ve also been nice if I could have accepted my sexuality earlier, and in a family where I could’ve been accepted for who I am rather than who they believe I should be. But then, I wouldn’t be the unique, strong, dynamic and caring individual that I am today. It has been a long, difficult road to accepting myself, but I doubt that I’d appreciate the joy of love and relationships in the same way had I not known the despair and broken loneliness first.

However, I hold you personally responsible for the grief, loss and pain I suffered, in the full knowledge that you’re merely a part of the system that oppressed and subjugated you too. Yet you willingly participated in that oppression and subjugation by becoming an oppressor yourself. You taught millions of gay men and women to hate and loathe themselves, and to bury themselves alive in unfulfilling relationships with members of the opposite sex because the leaders of your church taught that this is “God’s will.”

So until you figure out a way to go back in time and prevent every person from going through the life of pain and misery you inflicted on them, there is no forgiveness for you, or your kind. All I hope is that you devote the rest of your sad life to dismantling the lies about LGBT people that you’ve promoted and fostered over the years.

But there is no forgiveness for you. There may be others who can find it in their hearts to do so, and good for them. But you will be my enemy until the day you die and leave this planet to those of us who want to build a more kind, peaceful and tolerant world.

 

170. atavistic

whiskeySo apparently two of the Phelps granddaughters, Megan and Grace, have left the Westboro clan. They even issued a public statement expressing regret for their actions as members of the family and the church. And everyone seems to be really excited and happy about that, ready to welcome these women with open arms into polite society.

And while I’m certainly glad that they’re out of that awful place and that there are two less Phelps in that clan to cause harm, I’m not entirely pleased with the reactions to this story.

Before I delve into my own feelings on this, here’s the statement they released:

We know that we’ve done and said things that hurt people. Inflicting pain on others wasn’t the goal, but it was one of the outcomes. We wish it weren’t so, and regret that hurt.

We know that we dearly love our family. They now consider us betrayers, and we are cut off from their lives, but we know they are well-intentioned. We will never not love them.

We know that we can’t undo our whole lives. We can’t even say we’d want to if we could; we are who we are because of all the experiences that brought us to this point. What we can do is try to find a better way to live from here on. That’s our focus.

Up until now, our names have been synonymous with “God Hates Fags.” Any twelve-year-old with a cell phone could find out what we did. We hope Ms. Kyle was right about the other part, too, though – that everything sticks – and that the changes we make in our lives will speak for themselves.

Okay, basic rules of public apology-making, as summarized on Billosophy:

  1. Ask For Forgiveness
  2. Admit What You Did
  3. Do Not Excuse
  4. Do Not Place Blame
  5. Do Not Justify Why
  6. Acknowledge The Consequences

I know as well as anyone who grew up in a fundamentalist home the regret that comes with wishing you had come to your senses earlier. The way things are is normal. You don’t know that you have a choice not to participate. But we’re not talking about just any family. This is the “God Hates Fags” family, just a step below the Manson clan in terms of notoriety. So it bothers me that not once in this statement did either Megan or Grace say, “I’m sorry.” The whole thing is essentially a non-apology.

We know that we’ve done and said things that hurt people. Inflicting pain on others wasn’t the goal, but it was one of the outcomes. We wish it weren’t so, and regret that hurt.

“Regret” is a word you use when saying that you wish things had turned out differently: that the other car hadn’t run the stop sign; that you hadn’t sunk all your money into the Ponzi scheme; that you hadn’t wasted a year of your life pining after a guy who would never return your love. However, it’s not a word you use when talking about having intentionally caused pain and misery for so many people. Because if inflicting pain on others wasn’t the goal, I’d sure as hell like to know what was.

It’s as if a rapist-murderer said at the trial: “I know that I’ve done things that hurt people. Inflicting pain on others wasn’t the goal, but it was one of the outcomes. I wish it wasn’t so, and regret that hurt.” We shouldn’t be surprised when the jury comes back with a guilty-on-all-counts verdict.

When it comes down to it, Megan broke pretty much every rule of apology making that psychology has identified as being integral to the healing process. She justifies her actions by laying the blame on her family, and on us by saying they were somehow misunderstood. She glosses over the painful consequences of those actions, and dances around the specifics of what she actually did (e.g., picketing military funerals, thanking God for AIDS, telling everyone God hates them). Then she justifies her actions by having the unbelievable gall to say that she didn’t mean to hurt anyone.

Personally, I’d have been satisfied with something like this:

I’m sincerely sorry for all of the pain and suffering I inflicted on innocent people as a leader of the Westboro Baptist Church. There’s no way that I can ever fully undo the damage I caused or unsay the things that I said, but I promise to spend the rest of my life working to heal the hurt I imposed on gay and lesbian people, on the families of the brave soldiers who gave their lives defending this great country, and on anyone else my family has directed their hatred toward.

That might have convinced some of us of her sincerity—not that we doubt that she’s not a member of the Westboro cult anymore. Rather, that she grasps the gravity of who she was and what she did. At the bare minimum, I expect some real tears here.

Some of the anger I’m feeling comes from the fact that I’ve never been offered an apology by my family, or any of the people who unwittingly taught me how to hate and view myself as a disgusting, perverted, broken faggot. And probably never will. Even after I shared those feelings, no one apologized for the pain I suffocated under all those years, terrified and unable both to articulate that pain or to share its cause. So I’m left to heal all by myself, like the victim of a psychopath with a scalpel, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I’m angry (particularly with the atheist and LGBT communities) with those who seem quick to welcome these women into the fold without so much as an apology that comes close to being adequate or forthright. I don’t expect anyone to crawl over broken glass, but I do expect them to own up to who they were and what they did. They owe us that much.

164. pontificate

Man being bullied by another man.Just so everyone knows, I haven’t forgotten about the shootings in Newtown, CT. My thoughts are definitely with the families and friends of the victims. However, I wanted to share a somewhat related email I sent this morning to Sue Seul, assistant to the superintendent of the Anoka-Hennepin school district.

There’s been a petition going around on Change.org to Tom Heidemann and the Anoka County School Board to have Bryan Lindquist of the Parents Action League removed from his appointment to the district’s anti-bullying task force.

In March of 2012, the Southern Poverty Law Center put the Parents Action League on their list of active anti-gay hate groups in the United States for promoting “damaging propaganda about the gay community” (see below). Incidentally, the PAL is affiliated with the Minnesota Family Council, the group that formed Minnesota for Marriage to campaign for the failed 2012 Minnesota Marriage Amendment.

ABC Newspapers, the local paper for that area, reported that Lindquist “has come under fire due to statements he’s made that indicate a belief that homosexuals can change their sexual orientation and that the district should distribute information about gay conversion or “reparative” therapy.”

On December 10, the nearly 2,500-signature petition was delivered to the District 11 school board. As recounted in an email sent last night by the petition organizer, Melissa Thompson, the board’s response was not only to reject the petition but also to “[remove] the public comment portion of the video and recorded agenda.” She also urged signers to write to Ms. Seul, which I did:

To: Sue Seul <sue.seul@anoka.k12.mn.us>
From: David Philip Norris

Ms. Suel,

I am writing to express my extreme displeasure at the decision of the Anoka-Hennepin school board to not remove Mr. Lindquist from the anti-bullying task force, and to censor the public comment portion of the meeting where supporters of his removal voiced their concerns and opinions.

As a member of the Parents Action League, a group classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as one of 27 active anti-gay hate groups in the United States, Bryan Lindquist is no ally to LGBT students in the Anoka-Hennepin district. This is a man who has been quoted calling homosexuality a “lifestyle choice” and a “sexual disorder” — a man tasked with protecting students (particularly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students) from bullying. This is also a school district with an unusually high number of suicides and suicide attempts, the majority of which are committed by LGBT students and students merely perceived as being gay or lesbian.

Mr. Lindquist was recently quoted as saying that “discussion of sexual orientation [should] take place in the homes with parents and not with a teacher in a classroom full of impressionable kids.” There is a difference between avoiding discussion of sexual orientation in the classroom and pretending like LGBT students don’t exist and therefore aren’t being bullied for being gay or lesbian. The school board should be enacting policies to protect ALL students, not just students Mr. Lindquist believes deserve not to be bullied.

Yours,
David Philip Norris

School Boardmember Mike Sullivan stated that “it’s critical to have opposing points of view.” Yet as Thompson was quoted in a KSTP News story, appointing Lindquist to this task force “would be like asking somebody from the [Klu Klux Klan] to sit on the committee that plans black history month.”

She has a good point. While it’s not right to exclude someone because of their religious beliefs, neither does it make sense to put a man who belongs to a group that actively promotes the idea that homosexuality results from “dysfunctional family relationships, experimentation with men or boys, incest, negative body image, peer labeling and harassment, temperament, exposure to pornography, not bonding correctly with your own gender parental figure, abandonment, early trauma such as sexual victimization, and media influences” in a position to protect those very students.

The implication here is the same made by opponents of same-sex marriage and LGBT rights: Why should we give them special rights when they choose to live a perverted lifestyle? The FAQ on PAL’s website states that “to date there is no genetic link to prove they are born that way.” Ironically, on the day that the Anoka school board rejected the petition to have Lindquist removed, results of a study by international researchers were published, who found that homosexuality seems to have epigenetic (rather than genetic) causes, suggesting that we really were born this way.

The only special rights here are the ones being demanded by bigots like Lindquist, the PAL, the Minnesota Family Council and its national affiliate Focus on the Family: to abuse LGBT people under the auspices of “freedom of religion.” These groups all have close ties with the Family Research Council, which has promoted and supported the passage of Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill, further reinforcing the notion that groups like PAL and people like Lindquist are in fundamental opposition to the human rights of LGBT people.

As we put the events in Newtown in perspective and try to learn from it, we must remember that making schools safer doesn’t just mean protecting students from outside threats. It means taking a look at internal threats as well.

147. qualia

“It is a horrible thing for a man to be so doctrinal that he can speak coolly of the doom of the wicked, so that, if he does not actually praise God for it, it costs him no anguish of heart to think of the ruin of mil­lions of our race. This is horrible! I hate to hear the terrors of the Lord proclaimed by men whose hard visages, harsh tones, and unfeeling spirit betray a sort of doctrinal desiccation: all the milk of human kindness is dried out of them. Having no feeling himself, such a preacher creates none, and the people sit and listen while he keeps to dry, lifeless statements, until they come to value him for being ‘sound’, and they them­selves come to be sound, too: and I need not add, sound asleep also, or what life they have is spent in sniffing out heresy and making earnest men offenders for a word. Into this spirit may we never be baptized!”

—Charles Spurgeon

Earlier this month I met up with my Former Fundamentalists Meetup group at a coffee shop in Saint Paul. It was a larger turnout than usual, about ten altogether, with several new faces there, and some of our meetings are usually devoted to sharing our “coming out” stories of how we left Christianity or religion. (Not all are atheists, but the majority is probably nontheist.) The purpose of the group is really to provide a sense of community and belonging, and a safe place for people who have been abused or had negative experiences in religion to share their stories—and there are some sad and even horrific stories amongst our members.

One of the guys is a former member of Bethlehem Baptist Church, my old church, so we have fun comparing stories about our experiences there and with John Piper, the lead pastor there, and the awful things that he says and does. In all honesty, it’s not at all productive or helpful and not in line with my current proactive kick, but it does feel good to be able to vent once in a while and feel understood.

In trying to find one quote from the eighteenth century preacher Jonathan Edwards, I came across the above passage from Charles Spurgeon, the nineteenth century British preacher and evangelist. I was really struck by how antithetical his statement is to what normally passes for conservative Christian attitudes today and how indifferent many of those Christians are to the thought of hell as regards the “damned.”

At Pride last month I met a Christian couple who was going around handing out Bibles and having conversations with people there. To my surprise they weren’t concerned at all with preaching or converting anyone to Christianity—or away from homosexuality, which was kind of a shock. Mainly they wanted to share the “love of God” with anyone and everyone there, and find out where people were at since they figured that so many of us at the festival probably had negative experiences with and perceptions of the church. They didn’t believe that homosexuality was a good thing, but also didn’t believe that it was their place to judge or tell anyone how they should be—which was also a bit of a shock since most Christians I know see it as their duty to “proclaim the Truth” (yes, with a capital ‘T’).

What Spurgeon describes is almost exactly what passes for “compassion” in most churches now. Oh, they’re sorry that some people won’t enjoy the pleasures of worshiping God in Heaven for all Eternity, but it doesn’t really keep them up nights. They seem to take a secret enjoyment in knowing that they’re on the winning side, on Team Jehovah.

Johann Gerhard wrote that “the Blessed will see their friends and relations among the damned as often as they like but without the least of compassion.” Jonathan Edwards wrote, “The sight of hell’s torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever. . . Can the believing father in Heaven be happy with his unbelieving children in Hell. . . I tell you, yea! Such will be his sense of justice that it will increase rather than diminish his bliss.”

And this is supposed to be the more moral worldview? The one that encourages parents to take sadomasochistic pleasure in the damnation of their own children, and of their friends and neighbors? This is the loving God that supposedly sent himself to die for the supposed sins of the sinful people he created?

Now, I would be remiss in not saying that there are plenty of Christians who do not subscribe to this doctrine. All in all, they are good, kind, compassionate people who believe that their God is one of love. But I have yet to hear from them a satisfactory answer to why, according to their own holy book, their God has done such horrific things—ordering the mass slaughter of entire cities in order to populate them with his “chosen people” (Deuteronomy 3, Joshua 6), ordering kidnapping and rape (Judges 21), slavery (including selling your own daughter as a sex slave (Exodus 21:1-11)), child abuse (Judges 11:29-40 and Isaiah 13:16), and human (including child) sacrifice (Genesis 22:1-19Deuteronomy 13:13-19, Judges 11:29-40, 2 Kings 23:23-25), to name just a few of his crimes against humanity.

No wonder the Christians are so lacking in genuine compassion when they see examples like this from their God in their holy book.

In a recent editorial in the New York Times, Frank Bruni takes on the perennial subject of Michele Bachmann and her very public image as an evangelical, fundamentalist Christian. He quotes Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, New Jersey, who said: “Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people. Before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all His children.”

Christians are quick to quote John 3:16, but seem to forget what follows it— “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world…”

144. natch

On April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg while en route from Southampton in England to New York City. I don’t need to say much about the disaster. There are documentaries and movies enough on the subject. The most poignant aspect for me about this story is the breakdown of survivors and those who died. The majority of the victims were men, as men were expected to give up their seats on the lifeboats for the women and children. 1,387 men died in the water that night.

The greatest number of casualties were, not surprisingly, amongst the third class passengers, of which there were 706 altogether. 84% (387 of 462) of male and 54% (89 of 165) of female steerage passengers perished. 66% (52 of 79) of their children didn’t make it either. The second class didn’t fare much better. Of the 168 men, 154 (92%) were lost. The second class women were luckier: of 93, only 13 (14%) died. Amazingly, all of the children in second class survived.

In first class, the men bore the heaviest toll, with 66% (118 of 175) never making it to New York City. Still, that’s significantly less than the lower two classes. Of the 144 women aboard in first class, only 4 (3%) died; and of the 6 children, only 1 didn’t make it.

That’s a lot of numbers, but those numbers speak volumes in terms of the human loss of life, of the drama of that story and of the terror and hopelessness that these people went to their deaths with. These were 1,514 individuals with their own unique stories, loves and losses that died in the water that night. Doubtless some of them died believing that their merciful God would save them or at least accept their souls into heaven—probably the greatest and cruelest tragedy of all.

It also speaks to the subjective standards by which human lives were weighed. Your chances of survival on the Titanic that night were predetermined by how much you paid for your ticket, and therefore how valuable you were based on your class. Steerage passengers were corralled below decks like animals and had little access to the lifeboats.

This brings me to my topic for today, which is a familiar topic for many who follow this blog: the religious opposition to gay marriage.

Today the ironically named conservative group Minnesota for Marriage posted a new “marriage minute” which addresses the question: “I have heard people talk about same-sex marriage interfering with ‘Religious liberty’ principles. What does that mean?”

This is probably the most popular argument from religious conservatives—that if marriage is redefined as genderless it will result in the persecution of religious individuals and groups. Churches that refuse to perform same-sex marriages will lose their tax-exempt status (which I and many others don’t think they should have anyway). Christians who speak out against same-sex marriage or gay rights will be thrown in jail. Christian businesses that refuse to, for example, print wedding invitations for same-sex couples will be fined or lose the business altogether. Basically… GAYPOCALYPSE!!

This is one of the loudest talking points for conservatives. They have the nerve and audacity to cling to the Constitution in order to protect their right to discriminate—laws never intended to enshrine religious discrimination or prejudice. Quite the opposite. As a cartoon on the website Slap Upside the Head reads, “Not being able to treat gays as second-class citizens makes me a second-class citizen!” ThinkProgress had a great article about this a few months ago titled “Inside NOM’s Strategy: Use ‘Religious Liberty’ As A Catalyzing Red Herring.” In it, they quote from a memo that included the following passage:

We have learned how to make the coercive pressures on religious people and institutions an issue in the United States. We will use this knowledge to raise the profile of government attacks on the liberties of religious people and institutions in Europe, both for internal domestic consumption in Europe and to halt the movement towards gay marriage worldwide. Our goal is to problematize the oppression of Christians and other traditional faith communities in the European mind.

So yet again, conservatives are resorting to fearmongering and post hoc reasoning in order to scare the Faithful into the voting booth in November. At the risk of invoking Godwin’s law, this is precisely how Hitler was able to gain support in Germany: by manufacturing a threat (in this case, that the Jews were responsible for Germany’s financial woes) in order to rally the people to his side. And as we know now, it worked quite effectively. Here we have groups like NOM and Minnesota for Marriage doing exactly the same thing in response to the “crisis” of the looming threat of gay marriage.

Why shouldn’t a business that refuses a gay couple for no other reason than their bigoted religious beliefs be sued? True, a business has the right to serve whoever they want to serve; and in Maryland, special provisions were put in place guaranteeing that this sort of thing wouldn’t happen. And frankly, we gays should boycott businesses that are not GLBT-friendly. However, at the risk of evoking an overused trope, there was also a time when it was acceptable for businesses to refuse to serve black patrons. As time went on, those businesses were pressured into change not by the government but by public opinion that came to view such behavior as prejudiced.

I say this a lot, but there is no reason other than homophobia bolstered by religious dogma for the GLBT community to be treated differently than the rest of hetero land. Their “scientific” studies are being discredited left and right. The medical and psychological communities haven’t been able to find anything wrong with gays. At what point do we just say “Enough!” to these people? We hear their fear, but we’re doing nobody a service by accommodating this nonsense.

Religious liberty ends where it senselessly tramples on the civil rights and liberties of citizens, and stands in the way of the inalienable Rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.