248. quiddity

GoldRingIt’s the last rose of summer.

The autumnal equinox is three weeks away, the days are getting shorter, and grad school starts up again for me on Friday. I’ve read over the syllabi for my two cataloging courses this coming term and it’s perverse how excited I truly am to finally dig in to this subject.

And in keeping with all of the changes in my life over the past couple of months, I’ve now decided to stop wearing the gold ring my parents gave me as a birthday present around age fifteen or sixteen. I can’t quite remember which birthday it was, but fifteen sounds about right.

So eighteen years, I’ve been wearing it.

A simple gold band that has confused and intrigued countless numbers of people—many of whom assumed it meant I was married.

I’m not even going to think about how many guys assumed it meant that I was unavailable when in reality I’ve been quite available all this time.


The official story I’ve told people about its origin is that it commemorated the first time I made it through The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which isn’t entirely untrue.

I’d actually finished the series around age thirteen, so it was more a belated token, a symbol of my undying love for Tolkien’s world. By age fifteen, I’d read the entire trilogy about four times and had made the first of several aborted attempts at getting through The Silmarillion.

The nerdy birthday present story always makes for an easy out for having to explain a much more complicated picture. It engenders amused if not outright delighted reactions, from “That’s so cool!” to “That’s unbelievably nerdy!”

And, of course, I get asked about whether fiery Tengwar letters appear when the ring is heated, which it doesn’t, and if I’ve looked, which I haven’t. Frankly, I read the books long before the movies were made.

I’m not a connoisseur of cheap tricks!


Like the One Ring of Tolkien’s world, the truth about my gold ring is more layered than meets the eye, and requires some specialized knowledge of arcane cultures.

Specifically, purity culture.

Promise (or purity) rings came into fashion in evangelical Christian culture during the 1970s, around the time Christianity was finding its own version of Catholic kitsch. This was also in the wake of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, when fundamentalist Christians started pushing back against what they saw as insidious decadence and rampant immorality of secular culture.

(And yes, it was entirely demonic in origin.)

The ring was to be worn as a reminder of the vow to remain sexually chaste until marriage, when it would be replaced with an actual wedding band—divine permission to finally get it on.

By the time I was a teenager in the mid-1990s, “purity rings” and the public signing of purity pledges by adolescents were commonplace in churches. Undoubtedly horny teens, conditioned to fear their own sexual natures, took part in public church ceremonies where they signed pledges to “take the high road” to defy a culture that urged them to “just give in.” The pledge was a promise to abstain from all forms of sexual activity—including masturbation.

Once a year at my church, teens were invited at one point in the Sunday service to come to the front to sign a large poster and take that vow. It was partly inculcation and largely peer pressure, but it was mostly shaming.

So there are Christian men’s support groups for battling sexual temptation; software that actually notifies a designated and trusted friend if you look at “dirty” websites; and books like Every Man’s Battle, to shame young people for their otherwise normal sexual urges.

I’ve no idea if I signed one of those pledges or not. It would’ve made an excellent cover, seeing as I was realizing then that abstaining from sexual activity with women wouldn’t be a problem.


Thankfully, my ring had nothing to do with any of that, although it was obliquely related.

On the inside of the ring is engraved a reference to a Bible verse: 1 Timothy 4:12,

Don’t let anyone look down on you because of your youth; on the contrary, set the believers an example in your speech, behavior, love, trust and purity. (Complete Jewish Bible.)

Boys in Evangelical circles don’t get quite the heaping of shame about sex and their bodies that girls do. Rather, young people are taught that men are sexual beasts who’d run amok if not for the controlling influence of women—and the Holy Spirit, of course! God, in his infinite wisdom, gifted men with insatiable lust that’s supposed to be expressed only in the bedroom, between one man and one woman whom the Lord joins together for life, regardless of whether they’re even sexually compatible.

But why worry about whether you’ve made the wrong choice in a life mate, or wonder about what it might be like to have sex with other people? God took time out from creating the universe in six days to match-make for everyone thousands of years into the future, ensuring each of us a mate for life!

… except for the ones he “blessed” with singlehood.

Naturally.

DontMasturbate

For me, however, the ring had a more sober meaning.

The verse was a signal from my parents that I was transitioning into adulthood, into manhood, accountable directly to God for my life and the choices I’d make.

I was supposed to start taking on the mantle of a godly man and leader, the kind of man a godly wife needs to be the Christ-like head of our household.

Thankfully, things didn’t go according to plan.


Their message impacted me in a way they couldn’t have anticipated.

I wasn’t a kid anymore.

I could think for myself, take responsibility for my direction in life, and not merely abdicate that power to someone else.

It would take thirteen more years to figure that out though.

Now, my hand is a blank slate—rather like my future.

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247. beatific

The-art-of-courtly-love-2A few years ago, my friend Sarah Howell moved to New York City to start a career in stage management. She’d been working in Minneapolis for a while and building a solid reputation for herself, and when the opportunity to move east presented itself, she sold everything and jumped at the chance. And unlike some of my friends who have tried their hand at Broadway, she is doing quite well! It helps that, unlike the denizens of aspiring actors in NYC, competent stage managers are hard to come by.

So I’m incredibly proud of her and her work, and wish her continued success!

When I googled her most recent show (called Love In the Middle Ages), another page appeared in the search results that caught my notice, a University of Oxford Arts blog article by Clemency Pleming titled Did love begin in the Middle Ages? I’ve come across papers and books in the past suggesting that our modern notion of romantic love is actually a relatively recent development in human history.

Well, recent compared to 20,000 years ago.

Pleming quotes professor Laura Ashe, who says that before the Norman conquest of England,

Anglo-Saxon literature had a very different focus… The world of the Anglo-Saxon warrior, at least in poetry, was based on the bond of loyalty between fighting men. Love in this world means love for your fellow warriors, and the idea of sacrificing yourself for the group.

In the Middle Ages, however:

There was a transformation in culture, a series of church reforms in the 12th century took Christianity from a rather austere view of God the Father to a new focus on Christ’s humanity.

The spiritual lives of ordinary people were recognised, and people were encouraged to have a more emotional and personal relationship with God as individuals. And romantic love – giving yourself to another person – provides a justification, in the medieval moral compass, for the pursuit of self-fulfilment as an individual.

Even tragic love stories are based on the idea that the living individual is to be celebrated and that it might be better to stay alive after all.

Ashe identifies this as something of a turning point in how we view the importance of marriage in society. Where once it was approached more like a contract or a business transaction for the sake of convenience or practicality, people now began to view it as something to aspire to.


I’ve been thinking about that recently in relation to myself—specifically, examining why I’ve been so obsessed the past few years with finding a boyfriend and potential future husband.

It’s impossible to ignore daily reminders that I’m single. Coworkers pepper their conversations with references to spouses and kids, vacations and trips “up north” to the cabin. Adverts not-so-subtly tell me that I’m incomplete, that there’s no one to share in meaningful experiences with, to share the picture frame in tagged social media posts.

I’m a “me.” Not a “we.”

As I’ve written about in other posts, there is also the element of needing to prove wrong the voices from my past that claimed gay people don’t have relationships. I was taught that gay people were promiscuous, hedonistic, riddled with diseases contracted from hundreds of sexual partners and their deviant sexual practices, and would eventually succumb to HIV/AIDS.

But there’s another latent evangelical Christian element at play in my subconscious—the primacy of marriage and commitment in that culture.

From my earliest recollection, marriage was the holiest sacrament after communion. While sacraments aren’t really a Protestant thing, we held it in the same high regard. After becoming a missionary, marriage was the ultimate calling for Christians. It was a living parable, the means by which God shaped Christian men and women into more godly people.

And there were so many analogies that, in hindsight, are just plain fuckin’ weird. Marriage is a mirror of Christ and the Church… of the Trinity… of God’s love for us… of how we’re supposed to give of ourselves for Jesus.

But of course the real reason evangelical Christians are obsessed with getting married is so that they can finally have sex, which is likely a contributing factor to why the Christian divorce rate is comparable to that of non-Christians.

So while I don’t buy into any of that anymore, there’s still this core notion buried deep in my subconscious that marriage is somehow a benchmark of success in a person’s life. It won’t be perfect, by any means, but it’s an indicator that a person is stable, attractive, and self-actualized enough to find a partner and build a life together.

Now, I know intellectually that that’s a crock. Unstable people get married, as do aimless and irresponsible people, and those who are unattractive by conventional standards (which also doesn’t mean much).

And there’s no such thing as security. Partners sometimes cheat on or abandon you, and eventually everyone dies.


I guess what’s frustrating is that I’m not so desperate to be in a relationship that I’ll date anyone. That’s how I ended up with Jay (my ex of 2½ years) for nine months. And I’ve seen friends and acquaintances languish in unhappy marriages because they’re afraid to end it and be alone.

It’s why it goads me to see ex-boyfriends and lovers just fall so seemingly effortlessly into new relationships. The other night I foolishly looked up Seth on Facebook and found out that he has a hot boyfriend named Martin and two adorable dogs.

Big mistake.

It renewed the mental loop of thinking that what appears to be a smörgåsbord for him and others in the Midwest is a veritable dating wasteland for me. That it appears so easy for them.

Everyone says good guys are out there.

So where are they hiding?

I need to get over this belief that I’m somehow less-than for being single, and determine if finding a partner is at the root of the anxiety, or if this is more old programming wreaking havoc on my current happiness.

176. aleatory

roll-the-diceSo after my friends’ wedding in Stillwater this past weekend, several wonderful chats with friends, and being around more gay couples, I’ve been thinking more about what it is that I want in a future partner.

This has been something on my mind ever since I came out gay in August of 2008, and since I accepted the notion that a romantic relationship with a man was indeed possible – and that I could have one. Back then my list of must-haves was probably a mile long, as was my list of things to avoid. Somewhere on that list was faith in God, and we can safely say that’s not on the list anymore. (If anything, it’s something for me to avoid!)

My recently expired relationship with Jason also taught me a lot of things about what it is that I want in a partner, and things that I want to be for a partner.

At the top of that list is being active – socially and otherwise. Jason had the disadvantage of suffering from fibromyalgia, so being physically active wasn’t as easy for him. But it did make me realize how much I missed being with people, and just doing things – going to plays, concerts, fundraising events, and so on. And I like doing those things with a person who means a lot to me. Currently I’m leaning on close friends to fill that role, but that’s not quite a substitute for being at a concert and your boyfriend holding you while you listen to a band you both love. I was at a Cloud Cult concert on Sunday night, and a boy standing next to me was holding his girlfriend for most of it. And as much as I balk at public displays of affection, I’m secretly jealous because I’m a closeted über-romantic who really loves that shit.

I’ve also been volunteering a lot more as of late. Last Thursday I participated in an event called Dining Out for Life in which various restaurants donated a certain percentage of their proceeds towards helping people living with HIV/AIDS. My friend Adam and I were on site for lunch and dinner and two local participating restaurants, going from table to table handing out donation envelopes and telling people about the event. It felt amazing to be part of, and to be doing good, and I want to do more of that. And I want to do more of that with a special guy who also enjoys doing good, so that we can do good together.

I also want to be with a fellow gay atheist. This is one area that I’ve waffled on a little over the past two years, but the more I think about it and the more dates I’ve been on with gay guys who believe in God, the less likely it seems that we’d be able to sustain a meaningful, long-term relationship with that as a difference. Because how you view the world as an atheist is vastly different from how you view it as a theist. I should know – I used to be one.

A couple years ago my sister went into the hospital with some serious health problems. My mom called to tell me about it, and she asked if I’d pray. I said, “Mom, you know that I don’t believe in prayer.” And I don’t. I don’t believe that anyone is looking out for us, that things will necessarily work out for the best, or that there’s some grand purpose for life on this planet. She seemed flummoxed that I wouldn’t pray, so I explained that I believed my sister was in good hands with doctors who have years of medical training, and that they’d figure out what was wrong. And they did. And, of course, my parents gave all the credit to God.

I don’t want to have that argument with my husband when one of our parents gets sick or dies – or when one of us gets sick or hurt. Because it inevitably will.

I also want to be with someone who’s as big of a geek, and as deeply curious about the world as I am. Last night I got to hang out with two guys who’ve been married for eighteen years. Our conversation ranged from classic Doctor Who episodes, to music history, to politics, to confusion over pop culture references. They balanced each other in many ways, but there’s a mutual passion and love for learning in both of them that I realized I desperately want in a husband – someone whose initial reaction to something new isn’t “That’s weird” but rather, “Oooh!” I committed myself a long time ago to living my life with my eyes wide open, and I want to be with someone who has the same love for knowledge – a fellow philomath.

Another thing I’ve learned about myself is that I’m not monogamous. I’m all for getting married and committing myself to a guy I’m madly in love with, but the idea of sexual exclusivity for both of us is one that I think is unnecessary. There are many gay couples who want to be monogamous, and good for them; but I personally enjoy sexual freedom and being able to get to know other guys intellectually as well as physically.

Maybe it’s just that men view sex differently than women, but if anything I’ve found that many of my friendships have been enhanced for having a sexual element, probably because it’s not some unspoken, forbidden thing between us. Because there’s a major difference in having sex with someone you care deeply for, and sex with someone you enjoy being with.

As Dan Savage has said on his show, cheating is only cheating if you’re sneaking around on your partner. The couples I know who aren’t monogamous communicate more, are more attuned to being safe and staying healthy, and have deeply committed relationships.

And more than anything, that’s what I want.

159. disbosom

First of all, the eight-year-old in me finds the word “disbosom” so snortingly hilarious, but it’s precisely the reason why I love the Dictionary.com Word of the Day. It’s an eighteenth century word meaning to reveal, to confess, as in “baring your soul” or “the naked truth.” Words are a window into the sensibilities of another age, when they actually meant something to the people who used them. Today words seem little more than candy bar wrapping paper — disposable, cheap, trivial. I find particular awe in the opening words of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word.” While I no longer believe in the literal factualness of this idea, that God created everything, it’s still a beautiful image of creating through speech. It’s the dream of every writer to give his or her words life so that they may convey everything that can’t be expressed on paper.

Today I received a response to a comment I left on a blog several weeks ago during the national gay marriage debate that sprang up over the recent (and it turns out, successful) marriage equality initiatives. It was clear that this woman meant well and wanted me to know that God loves me, even though I don’t believe in him and am living a lifestyle that this God apparently thinks is an abomination.

She also pointed me to a blog entry written by a young man named Matt Moore who has been sharing his story of apparently finding Jesus on the floor of a gay club. (Or so she says. I’m skeptical about that claim.) One of his recent blog entries is entitled HIV/AIDS & The Hope Of The Gospel, in which he recounts a close call he had with contracting the virus. This apparently led him to conclude that being gay is a sin, and he claims to have “left the homosexual lifestyle,” which as we all know is code for going “ex-gay.” Whether that means attempting to change his orientation through therapy or “praying away” the gay, or turning to a celibate lifestyle is uncertain.

What I am certain of is that my heart is absolutely breaking for this young (and, if I may say so, very attractive) man. He’s had a hell of a time, and his story is rife with abuse and sadness. And this is precisely the kind of person that the Church preys on, exploiting the feelings of self-loathing programmed into them by society and promising deliverance, if not here then in the hereafter.

As an atheist, I don’t believe that there is anybody minding the store with a broom and dustpan at the ready to sweep up the mess and set everything right at the end of the day. I believe that, if we’re lucky, we have 70-80 years of existence on this planet, and then that’s it. There is no great reckoning. No big reward. No eternal punishment. We have one go at this life, so why waste it strapping yourself into a straight jacket to please the jackals who preach their toxic hatred from the pulpit?

I can understand how someone who fell into a lifestyle of promiscuous sex and drugs for a while would want to run from all of that. Many alcoholics pick up their entire lives to start over, leaving behind the environment and the people who enabled their addiction. But homosexuality is not an addiction. It’s an orientation, something deep in the wiring of the brain that leads some of us to seek out members of the same sex as mates. Unlike most animals, we’re capable of much more than just breeding. As primates, we’re highly complex social animals. We can form pair bonds, and build emotional and romantic connections with our partners. What conservatives like to describe as “homosexual behavior” is behavior we find among heterosexuals as well. But just because many homosexuals have engaged in that kind of party lifestyle doesn’t mean that all homosexuals do.

Most of the gay men I know are in committed relationships of some kind. The single gays I know are looking for committed relationships. With the introduction of more LGBT characters in movies and television, our community is moving from the fringes of an underground lifestyle to the mainstream. We don’t want a sling in the bedroom, or a dungeon in the basement. We want the house in the suburbs with the dog, the neighbors, the couch and the mortgage. That is to say, everything we associate with heterosexual marriage. Is this the gays trying to emulate the “straights”? I don’t think so.

Those things don’t just symbolize heterosexual marriage. They symbolize adult commitment, setting down roots with the person you love and care deeply for. Of course, those symbols are going to be different for each person. For example, I could never see myself as a suburban couple, with the Subaru jeep, picket fence and 2.8 kids. Maybe a dog. Jason and I don’t really see ourselves as a “planted” couple. We want to travel, live in foreign countries, study abroad, and see and learn as much as we can. But we want to do it together.

A few weeks ago I attended a wedding of a friend of mine. I know for a fact her now-husband has struggled with same-sex attraction. Another friend of mine there confirmed that many of the other guys there also struggle. It breaks my heart because I know what they believe their God is demanding of them, and I also know they have been conditioned to not see it as a burden. The author of the first epistle of Peter writes:

“But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13)

They honestly believe overcoming their homosexual feelings is suffering for Christ. This is the evil humans do with religion.

As the character of Auntie Mame says in the stage play, “Life’s a banquet, and most poor bastards are starving to death.”

152. concatenate

 

Last week I watched my news feed with excitement for the much-anticipated landing of the Mars rover Curiosity. Since I don’t watch television, radio and online news are my primary sources of information, and I was admittedly somewhat embarrassingly anxious to hear how the $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory would fare on its “seven minutes of terror” landing. Seeing those first few pictures of the Martian landscape is still breathtaking—images of literally another world that isn’t earth.

This mission has revived a public conversation that’s been raging in the scientific community for decades. What is life? How do we define it? How do we recognize it when we see it? Since the dawn of the science-fiction genre with the second-century Roman satirist Lucien’s True History,we’ve been imagining other forms of life in our own image, which really isn’t all that different from how we’ve crafted our gods. Until recently, sci-fi shows and movies almost always portray aliens as humanoid, partly due to budget or material constraints.

In an article on NPR today, Marcelo Gleiser ponders the implications of finding (or not finding) evidence of life on Mars. “The expectations are high that Curiosity will find a trace of life, even if long extinct,” he writes. “However, if results turn out negative, we will still learn a lot. After all, the question we are asking is whether life on Earth is the exception or the rule. If life is not found on Mars, it will be harder to justify that life is abundant in the universe.”

The human race is currently emerging from its infancy. Until a certain age, young children are egocentric, incapable of empathy and recognizing that other people are separate individuals. Their brains haven’t developed that ability yet. (Some people never grow past that stage.) Similarly, the human race is finally learning that there might be other ways to be alive. We’re now conjecturing what silicon-based life form might look like, how it could evolve, how it could evolve intelligence, and how we might recognize any of those things. Depending on planetary conditions and the elements its parent star are rich in, a life form might find chlorine, arsenic or methane nourishing, and water a lethal poison.

Analogously, the human race is also discovering that there’s more than one way to be human. (Yes, I just managed to link the Mars mission to gay rights. Bite me.)

Earlier this week I was having several discussions over this infographic that’s been floating around cyberspace:

In case you haven’t seen it, the gist of it is that we dismiss much of the Bible now as being either culturally contextual and therefore irrelevant to modern-day society (such as wearing clothes woven from different fabrics, or any of the Old Testament laws and regulations), or flat out wrong (such as forcing rape victims to marry their rapists).

Naturally, it’s caused a firestorm of controversy and disagreement.

The two central questions this debate has raised seem to concern the definition of marriage and the definition of sexuality. What does it mean to be married today? What has it meant historically? Is heterosexuality the only way to be sexual, or are there alternatives? That was the central issue in the California Proposition 8 case—whether homosexuality is a learned “behavior” or it’s a natural variant of human sexuality. The answer to that question determined whether the GLBT community could be considered a legal protected class and therefore entitled to protection under the Due Process Clause. In his ruling decision, Judge Walker overturned Proposition 8 as unconstitutional, saying that “no compelling state interest justifies denying same-sex couples the fundamental right to marry.”

Walker’s decision harkens, of course, to Chief Justice Earl Warren’s landmark 1967 ruling decision in Loving v. Virginia, when he wrote that “marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival.”

I’ve encountered a number of people of the anti-gay persuasion this week, most of whom continue to insist that being homosexual is a choice. They’ve also claimed that gay men have hundreds of partners, are riddled with STDs, rape and molest children, and bring down God’s wrath and judgment on any society that doesn’t persecute us. But I haven’t heard one argument that has cited a scientific study proving categorically that homosexuality is indeed a perversion of human sexuality, that anyone is harmed by homosexuality (including homosexuals), that children are placed at risk of harm or indoctrination by an insidious “gay agenda,” or that the institution of marriage itself is endangered by including same-sex relationships under the umbrella.

And that is the central issue at stake here. You can argue that “God says it’s wrong” until you’re blue in the face. That argument doesn’t hold any water in a secular society and government—which America is. And the second president of the United States would agree with me.

The question we should be asking is not whether homosexuality is wrong. The reparative therapy crowd has admitted that the homosexual orientation is 99.99% fixed; the scientific community has a plausible explanation for how homosexuality could indeed be genetic; conservatives have yet to produce one marriage destroyed by homosexuals (though the Miller family of Pittsboro, NC might disagree after their harrowing ordeal); and children of same-sex parents seem to grow up perfectly normal—perhaps even more well-adjusted.

In the absence of any compelling reasons, the Constitution of the United States of America weighs in via the Fourteenth Amendment:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Bottom line: Either all citizens deserve equal protection, or no citizens deserve protection.

150. foible

On the way up to my boyfriend’s place this weekend I was listening to the audiobook of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, which I’ve read and listened to several times so I mostly revisit just to hear Dawkins and his wife Lalla Ward read. They could recite the periodic table of elements and I’d still listen.

Earlier this morning I was going through email, RSS, Facebook and Twitter feeds (thank you, HootSuite) and came across an article on Upworthy about The Top 8 Ways To Be ‘Traditionally Married’ According To The Bible. It’s that infographic that’s been going around the Internet for months, and is actually a pretty concise description of what a traditional, “biblical” marriage looks like—according to the Bible.

But as I opened the page, the following bubble popped up…

What exactly do global warming and same-sex marriage have to do with each other? I don’t really need to explain my stance on same-sex marriage, but when it comes to global warming my opinion is fairly nuanced. Just as same-sex marriage is a complex issue that can’t be distilled down to “agree” or “disagree,” global warming isn’t as simple as everyone makes it out to be.

While I agree that the earth is warming, I don’t think that human activity is 100% responsible. There are many plausible explanations for the trends we’re observing, such as increased solar activity (a theory backed by CERN scientists concerned about charged subatomic particles from outer space) or geomagnetic reversal (which is a rather more frightening prospect than global warming).

To be clear, I think we should be doing more to keep our air clean and not pollute. It doesn’t make sense to use the water in your own backyard as a sewer, and we have future generations to think about. Plus, interplanetary travel isn’t yet possible and we have limited resources on the earth, so why spend money you don’t have?

But it bothered me that I was only given two choices to a question I didn’t entire agree with. If I went with the affirmative, I was agreeing with the idea that same-sex marriage should be legal and that humans are responsible for global warming trends. If I went with the negative, I was saying that there are other forces at work besides human activity and that same-sex marriage shouldn’t be legal. It’s one of those “gotcha!” tactics, such as when politicians sneak piggybacked legislation into bills. The addition of a repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell to an otherwise unnoteworthy defense spending bill is one such example.

There are other examples of how this tactic is used to trap people into agreeing or disagreeing with certain positions, but it illustrates how emotional appeal instead of intellectual argument is employed. On the issue of same-sex marriage, conservatives voters are being caged into supporting the denial of equal treatment of the GLBT community. They hear things like, “If gay marriage is legalized, your children will be taught about homosexuality in school!” which is code for “Your children will be taught how to be homosexuals!”, as if in addition to the safe sex and AIDS prevention curriculum in health class they’ll also receive tips on how to properly fellate a penis and cruise for men in a gay bar. A Christian may not agree with the majority that homosexuality is wrong, but with the looming spectre of the “gay agenda” and the demonization of homosexuality they may not see that they have a choice.

The Daisy ad from Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 presidential campaign that effectively won him the election is an example of how conservatives are using scare tactics and emotional appeal (pathos) to cloud people’s judgment…

In fact, most of the conservative efforts to pass constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage appear to be taken from this iconic minute-long commercial. It appeals to a primal fear in human—that of some harm coming to children. With the threat of the Cold War and nuclear holocaust, the juxtaposition of the girl plucking daisies with the mushroom cloud was a frightening reality for voters in that election.

In one of his essays, David Sedaris illustrates the power of guilt by association:

As we pulled into the station, I recalled an afternoon 10 years earlier. I’d been riding the Chicago El with my sister, Amy, who was getting off two or three stops ahead of me. The doors opened. And, as she stepped out of the crowded car, she turned around to yell, “So long, David. Good luck beating that rape charge.” Everyone on board had turned to stare at me. Some seemed curious, some seemed frightened, but the overwhelming majority appeared to hate me with a ferocity I had never before encountered. “That’s my sister,” I said. “She likes to joke around.” I laughed and smiled, but it did no good. Every gesture made me appear more guilty. And I wound up getting off at the next stop rather than continue riding alongside people who thought of me as a rapist.

There was no evidence that he was a rapist, but all it took was the mere suggestion that he might be to convince a car full of strangers that he was the most vile human being on earth.

In the same way, conservative anti-gay groups have employed this subtle but effective approach in demonizing gay rights. With the allegation that homosexuality is eroding the moral fiber of our country and that it puts children and families at risk, it becomes very difficult to overcome such claims because of the passionate emotions those images evoke. And, as we know, emotions can make people irrational. We’ve seen this in nearly thirty different state campaigns to ban same-sex marriage, and it’s worked—overwhelmingly and inexorably.

So are you the kind of person who believes that global warming exists and gay people should have the freedom to get married?

146. pensée

Earlier today I got the following e-blast from John Helmberger of Minnesota for Marriage:

General Mills Declares War on Marriage

The Green Giant, Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Kix, and Trix have all declared war on Marriage.

General Mills has made billions of dollars in marketing these cereals to parents of young children, and they have just declared War on Marriage here in Minnesota.

In what could go down as one of the stupidest PR decisions of all time, General Mills has pro-actively inserted themselves into a divisive social issue that flies in the face of their very business model.

A survey last year by the Alliance Defense Fund found that 63% of Americans with children living at home believe that marriage is ONLY the union of one man and one woman. Those are the very customers that General Mills has just insulted!

Aren’t you just sick and tired of big corporations ignoring your wishes to pander to special interests? It’s actions like those taken by General Mills that sometimes help me understand the whole “Occupy” philosophy against corporations that have lost touch with the people who have made them wealthy.

Just because General Mills is doing exactly the opposite of the very thing conservative groups have been doing doing recently (i.e., big corporations pandering to special interests and investing money in order to oppose the constitutional amendment), it means General Mills has declared nuclear war on apple pie and puppy dogs?

And, because it’s right on the tip of my tongue, lest I be accused of just throwing the word “bigot” around too flippantly, here is the definition from the Merriam Webster dictionary:

A person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especiallly : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.

It is not hateful or intolerant for those of us on the “anti-amendment” side to call out those who want to deny equal treatment of GLBT couples and individuals (in stark opposition to the provisions afforded to citizens in Section 1 of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution) on their prejudiced and discriminatory rhetoric and tactics.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Head over to Project 515 if there’s any doubt in your mind how GLBT citizens (not to mention non-traditional families) are being treated unequally under current Minnesota and Federal law.

To those on the other side…

We hear your concern and your fear, and we understand that this is an important issue to you. We’re trying to listen, and we want to respect you as much as we can. Most of all, we hope for as amicable an outcome as possible for both sides so that we can, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, come together, “with malice toward none, with charity for all … to bind up the nation’s wounds.”

Because, just as in 1865 after the end of the American Civil War, we do despise each other right now. There are gaping wounds, and we in the GLBT community have been deeply hurt by how we’ve been treated. But we have to move forward if we’re going to grow up as a nation. We got past slavery, we got past women’s rights, we got past racism and inter-racial marriage. We can get past this.

However, this is also an issue that is important to us as your fellow tax-paying, law-abiding citizens, and the fact that you’re terrified of change doesn’t give you the right to treat us like second class citizens because we happen to be attracted to members of the same sex.

We don’t want to destroy your marriages, your families or your homes. You heterosexuals seem to be doing a fine job of that on your own. We are a nation of immigrants whose diversity makes us stronger, and we want to strengthen marriage and family in our country by affirming it for everyone.

We don’t want to force you to accept us, because ultimately we can’t change your mind for you, but we hope that you will eventually come to see us as your neighbors and not as a threat.

We don’t want to recruit your children into the ranks of the homosexual army (or whatever it is that you’re worried will happen in public schools if same-sex marriage is legalized), but we do want GLBT teens and kids to feel accepted and safe in schools and their homes to be who they know in their hearts that they are.

We don’t want to force churches to perform same sex marriage ceremonies, because who wants to celebrate their love and commitment in a place filled with hatred and animosity towards them? (There are plenty of places that do want us and our money, and we’ll go there, thanks very much.)

As one who grew up gay in a conservative religious home and spent years denying and fighting against who I was, I don’t want another teen to live with the pain and anguish that comes with thinking that you’re an abomination to God, that you’ll have to choose between living free or losing your family, community and God; and that you’ll go to hell for the sin of loving someone of the same sex as you.

Most of all, we want you to stop being afraid, because you’re missing out on so many opportunities for rich relationships with co-workers, with friends, and with your children and family members.

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.

141. gambit

I really shouldn’t give these people any more attention than they’re already getting, but I have an overwhelming urge to smack that smug little beatific smile off of Kalley Yanta’s face (the friendly face of fascism—every regime has one), and this question has been coming up a lot lately: “Is it true that Minnesota’s marriage law has no rational basis and only exists because of moral animosity toward gays and lesbians?”

The answer is yes.

Thus far, no sufficiently convincing argument has been brought forward by conservatives to prove that homosexuality is unnatural or harmful to society. The studies that they cite are decades old, and carried out by biased individuals who often have a religious agenda to support. Just recently, Robert Spitzer, one of the original proponents of clinical study into reparative therapy, recanted his 2001 paper that lent so much credibility afforded to the ex-gay movement. He has apologized for the harm his work has done to the GLBT community, though it will be interesting to see what move he makes next.

In the video, Yanta claims that Federal Judge Vaughn Walker’s verdict in the Proposition 8 trial was unprecedented, and that “no other federal judge has ever reached such a radical conclusion” (and unsurprisingly casts doubt on his verdict since he’s a gay man himself and obviously can’t reach a fair decision). Which is probably what they were saying about the 1967 Supreme Court ruling on Loving versus Virginia, which effectively overturned the nation’s anti-miscegenation laws and finally opened the door for inter-racial marriage, a concept which was as irrational to legislate against as same-sex marriage is today. To prohibit two human beings from being together based on something as arbitrary as the color of their skin or their sex when doing so doesn’t harm anyone isn’t rational.

Research is rather showing that homosexuality is likely congenital, like left-handedness. While probably not genetic—it’s dubious that scientists will ever find that elusive “gay gene”—those of us who are gay likely acquire our orientation the same way that heterosexuals inherit theirs. But that’s not where conservatives start. In order to continue their campaign of hatred and bigotry they have to begin with the premise that homosexuality is a choice, ignoring all evidence to the contrary. The Mormon Church issued a statement recently that it will continue to use the findings in Robert Spitzer’s 2001 study, though Spitzer himself has recanted it. Though there’s doubtless confirmation bias happening on each side, it falls to the anti-gay crowd to produce any credible, rational evidence that homosexuality is errant, detrimental or morally wrong.

Faith is by very definition irrational. Merriam-Webster defines faith as:

2 (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2): complete trust
3 : something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs.

 

The Bible itself defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith does not demand proof and rather demands absolute acceptance on little to no evidence. The current traditional reading of the Bible claims that homosexuality is an abomination to God, even though there are hundreds of other practices that are also banned (e.g., tattoos, eating shellfish, blending cloth, haircuts, etc), and despite the fact that there is no scientific evidence that homosexuality is detrimental.

So we’re currently at an impasse between Christians who insist that homosexuality is an abomination based on what their Bible says and the scientific community that has found nothing wrong with it. Yanta claims that banning same-sex marriage “is not only rational, but is in the common good.” I’ll let “rational” slip by for now, but by “common good” she evidently means the “Christian good.” No one else benefits from these discriminatory laws except for religious conservatives who are seeking to protect the status quo and enshrine their irrational, dogmatic beliefs.

It ignores the fact that, according to the Bible itself, the definition of marriage has included…

According to the Christian Bible, monogamous, heterosexual marriage was rare in the patriarchal ancient Middle East, and it’s surprisingly silent about such modes as polygamy. You’d think that if God had intended for “One Man One Woman” that he would’ve been a little more more explicit about that, so we have to assume that since men like Abraham, Isaac, David and Solomon all had multiple wives, and that since it was acceptable for women to be forced to marry their rapists that there’s more than one way to be married.

Wait—but that was a different time! That was an acceptable cultural practice back then, but we have different standards now!

Bullshit. Either the Bible is true for all peoples in all times, or it’s just another book that we can either disregard like all the others or glean what wisdom we can from it and chuck the rest. One can’t keep moving the goalposts and expect to maintain credibility.

But as to the claim that there is no animosity towards gays and lesbians in the fight to define marriage as being between one man and one woman, it’s preposterous. Lurking beneath those polished, fresh-faced veneers are fearful, intolerant bigots who think that gay people are icky. They attempt to justify their prejudice by validating it a matter of faith (which requires no proof or evidence), which is a direct violation of the Separation of Church and State. While they decry government interference in their religious practice, they think nothing of forcing their beliefs on everyone else and enshrining them into law, then cry discrimination and persecution when the secular community objects. As a friend of mine wrote me in an email the other day, “I believe in moral absolutes so I want Christians to be in control.” There it is.

The GLBT community may not have an absolute right to same-sex marriage, but neither are there grounds to ban it either in context of a civil government.

126. bandy

bandyverb1. To pass from one to another or back and forth; give and take. 2. To throw or strike to and fro or from side to side, as a ball in tennis. 3. To circulate freely.

Some days I stare forever at a blank screen and wonder what to write about.

Some days social media just hands it to me in a neat little package with a bow.

I was tipped off to the fact that this weekend (on Friday around noon, to be precise), John Piper, the homophobic pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in downtown Minneapolis, went on the following homophobic rant:

I’m not really sure what set him off this time, aside from Maryland’s upcoming vote to approve same-sex marriage, but I love the fact that he started his rant with a self-fulfilling prophesy. And that all this translates to: “The sky is falling!”

To briefly address each of these tweets one-by-one, as I just said, by quoting 1 Corinthians 4:12, he’s giving himself license to throw up his hands later and say, “We told them they were going to hate us!” He’s refusing to take responsibility for the wrong-headed, offensive nature of his theology that prevents him from accepting anyone who doesn’t live up to his notion of what a decent human being is supposed to be.

As to his second tweet (which rings mildly treasonous), as the Fifth Doctor said of the Daleks, “However you respond them is seen as an act of provocation.” Conservative fundamentalism is and has been living in a wartime mindset for quite some time, convinced as they are that we are living in the End Times and that the return of Jesus is nigh. They are also convinced that the person of Satan is actively working in the world to pervert it and incite the human race into rebellion (deliberate or inadvertent) against god. This tweet won’t make make sense unless you understand that very important point.

To the third—well, I’ll get to that in a minute.

To the last one, his definition of marriage is so narrow and based on something that is itself a fiction that to tie it into something as insoluble as “the glory of god” would be laughable if it wasn’t tragic. If you aren’t familiar with that phrase, one of the central themes of Piper’s teaching is the primacy of the Glory of God, a concept that is found throughout the bible, but may be more familiar to Catholic and Anglican readers from the answer to the first question from the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

What is the chief end of man?
Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Now, I may not be a deity, but if I handed you a list of ways I felt were acceptable for you to show your love for me, you’d be quite right to call me a narcissist. After all, that’s in the very DSM-IV criterion for narcissism.

I don’t have to tell you that I think Piper terribly wrong, or that he’s dangerous and a societal menace. But through his Pie In The Sky theology, he is directing everyone who listens to him (and there are a lot of them who literally hang on his every word) to be precisely the opposite of the qualities that the figurehead of his religion exemplified in the Gospels (if you leave out the crazy bits like cursing fig trees)—namely, showing love, acceptance, charity and generosity towards your fellow human beings.

And these are the people of my state who will be going out in November in droves to vote in the affirmative for the constitutional amendment defining marriage as only being between a man and a woman.

Tell me again that religion is harmless.

Now, to that pesky third tweet. The insanity of these reformed theology fundamentalists is how they pick and choose which parts of their bible they will apply to the rest of the world—as if the rest of the world was somehow supposed to recognize the authority of a 2,000 year-old book authored by a xenophobic Bronze Age tribe obsessed with blood and sexual purity. For instance, since they’re so hot for quoting Leviticus when they’re bashing gays:

“You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes. You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.”
— Leviticus 19:26-28 (English Standard Version)

How many Christians do you know who openly sport tattoos, trim their facial hair, read horoscopes and eat rare steaks?

“But that’s the Old Testament” the contemporary Christian whines. “Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets. We don’t have to follow those old laws anymore.”

Then it stands to reason that if he fulfilled the ones above, then he also fulfilled all the rest, including Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13; and if those have been nullified, then the whole rest of the case for homosexuality being a “sin” falls apart. And what is John Piper and that third tweet of his left with at that point other than prejudice and bigotry? For that matter, what is the American Family Association, Peter LaBarbera, James Dobson, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann and the denizens of fear and ignorance left with?

The sad truth is that they, along with the rest of America that refuses to progress, will be dragged kicking and screaming into obsolescence, watching in a prison of self-imposed horror like Elizabeth Báthory as their influence withers and wanes before their little despotic eyes.

If gays are allowed to marry, will that endanger heterosexual marriages? Nope. As it’s been observed, the only people threatening heterosexual marriage are heterosexuals.

If teens are taught about safe sex or *gasp* the existence of homosexuals in school, will they turn gay? Nope, although apparently the American Life League would seem to disagree slightly.