June 26, 2013
It’s my birthday today. I’m 31. Yikes.
And I had just finished breakfast this morning, in the kitchen of a friend I’m visiting, when we got the news, just after 10:00 AM, of the Supreme Court decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, and shortly thereafter, Proposition 8.
I remember being a teenager, sitting at my own kitchen table, at breakfast time, in the house where I grew up, reading the news about DOMA’s passage. I wasn’t all that attentive to what went on in politics or the world at that time, I didn’t know things I do now about my own identity, and I didn’t think I knew any gay, trans, or queer people. I still believed some things about sexuality and morality then that I don’t anymore and am not particularly proud of to look back on.
But I remember reading about it in the morning paper and being so sad. Something about it just profoundly didn’t sit right with me. I couldn’t think of another instance within my own lifetime in which a law had been passed for the deliberate and express purpose of depriving a specific group of people of rights or protections. And based on very little except the perception by the majority that they were simply the wrong kind of people, or willfully deviant–a burden which I had always felt, though for different and at the time unnameable reasons.
And no matter what I felt about homosexuality, I couldn’t believe that that was right.
It was part of a long pattern, that I identified with the wrong people in the given narrative.
I honestly didn’t think it would be so soon–though of course it’s been more than long enough for a lot of people who have suffered under the consequences of this law–that I’d get to look back on that day with a bittersweet happiness.
The world does change when people persistently stand up for what is right. We are capable of making the world kinder and fairer.
Remind people of this day, tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after, when they tell you any version of the lie that we can’t make the world safer by standing up for each other, or that it’s better to just keep your head down, fit in, and not speak up for justice or piss off anyone in authority, because the world never changes. It’s people with a vested interest in the world never changing who keep telling that lie.
(Edit: I hit publish on this, and then realized that I hadn’t come up with a title, but when I went back to edit one in, I thought that the date was kind of title enough. DOMA: 1996-2013. RIP.)
April 7, 2013
Really happy to see an update from the Out of Order team this week. Seeing this film get made is a wish very dear to me. It will come as no surprise to anyone, probably, that I treasure stories of people being told that they’re not supposed to exist, and then doing it anyway.
And also because I’ve had people who are not allies to the cause of equality tell me that they’re really and truly trying to understand the position of people who consider themselves both faithful Christians, and avowedly queer. Being able to point them to this film would be a great place to start, but it has to get made first.
Earlier this year I shared the first trailer for this documentary project. I know that everything and everyone is asking for your time or money for something, and I know that queer Presbyterian aspiring clergy might seem an obscure or marginally important topic for a documentary, but the filmmakers have this to say:
This important film is about people making a stand for what they believe in. It’s not merely about Christians or gay and transgender people. It’s about wider humanity and doing what’s right, despite institutions telling you you’re wrong, broken and don’t belong.
I know that’s something that probably a majority of my followers can identify with in some way.
December 9, 2012
I’m very excitedly looking forward to the release of this documentary:
From the project website:
Most gay and transgender people know what it feels like to be told they are broken and to be rejected, and often this message comes from Christians. Out of Order is a feature length documentary following the journey of three queer members of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
With unprecedented access, this groundbreaking documentary joins a group of queer future ministers at a secret retreat in the South. The critical decisions they make there will forever alter the course of their lives.
October 29, 2012
Playwright Doug Wright posted a Facebook status the other day that went:
I wish my moderate Republican friends would simply be honest. They all say they’re voting for Romney because of his economic policies (tenuous and ill-formed as they are), and that they disagree with him on gay rights. Fine. Then look me in the eye, speak with a level clear voice, and say, ‘My taxes and take-home pay mean more than your fundamental civil rights, the sanctity of your marriage, your right to visit an ailing spouse in the hospital, your dignity as a citizen of this country, your healthcare, your right to inherit, the mental welfare and emotional well-being of your youth, and your very personhood.’ It’s like voting for George Wallace during the Civil Rights movements, and apologizing for his racism. You’re still complicit. You’re still perpetuating anti-gay legislation and cultural homophobia. You don’t get to walk away clean, because you say you ‘disagree’ with your candidate on these issues.
I had been thinking along those very same lines myself, with regards to the alarming pattern of statements minimizing rape and its consequences, and advocating depriving women of the option of legal abortion even in cases of rape and abuse, on the part of Republican candidates lately.
That frankly, every time I hear someone defend their Republican votes, despite that party’s deplorable stances on women’s and LGBT rights (among a host of other issues), saying “I only vote on economic issues,” what I hear is, “Your rights as a citizen and presumed equality as a human being with control over your own life and body are disposable to me, and here is exactly the amount of the tax break or economic advantage for which I would sell them. Your worth and dignity, your rights to medical care and privacy, are for sale to the highest bidder as far as I’m concerned.”
But rationally, I know that it’s not exactly a fair accusation, because people are neither that simple nor that consistent nor that self-reflective, and really, really talented at double-think.
That people are, in fact, somehow capable of seeing absolutely no conflict between believing that they love and respect their wives, daughters, sisters, and their gay, lesbian or transgender children, friends, and coworkers–and voting for candidates whose policies directly threaten our well-being and civil rights.
I don’t understand this, but I know that it’s true.
My more vexing question for these voters is, “What on God’s green earth makes you feel safe at the hands of these people?”
Because let me tell you something: They are not only threatening me. They are not only threatening women, gay people, trans people, religious minorities, poor people, illegal immigrants, various demographic groups whose voting patterns they don’t like, and the societal resources that make all of our lives richer and more stable.
They are threatening you. And they are telling you that they are. And you keep voting for them.
How many times have we heard children who didn’t want to be bullies, but who witnessed their “friends” or ring-leaders bullying others and did nothing, talk about why they didn’t? Because they were afraid that their “friends” would turn the ugliness on them if they stepped out of line. And indeed, many teenage bullying victims report that this is exactly what happened. That they were part of the clique, part of the in-group, one of the right people, until they weren’t.
When someone will do something horrible to other people, ostensibly for your sake, what they are telling you is not that they so vehemently have your best interests in mind. What they are telling you is not that they will go to whatever practical lengths necessary, however hard-hearted they seem, to uphold the beliefs you both share.
What they are telling you is that they will do horrible things to other people. They are telling you exactly who they are and how they treat people.
And if they will do terrible things to other people for your approval, then know exactly what they will do to you when they decide they need someone else’s approval.
I used to listen to Dr. Laura. I was young and thought I was a conservative. But, as a broken clock is still right twice a day, I think she said about two things that are utterly true and brilliant, and one of them was:
If they will do it with you, they will do it to you.
And when these guys talk about what they think or what they want to take away from the poor, jobless, disabled, and marginalized…and you think that doesn’t apply to you? Ask yourself just how confident you are that you will never be one of the poor, jobless, disabled or marginalized. (And before you decide, recall that a lot of people who thought they’d done everything right were pretty confident of this before 2008.)
This is one of those things that I grew up instinctively understanding, and am mystified by people who don’t, who I guess have just never been in a situation in which you had to know this. I have always had to know this.
When someone threatens any vulnerable person or group of people, they are threatening me. They are coming for me next. They are broadcasting that this is what they do to the wrong kind of people. (In my heart, I’ve always been one of the wrong kind of people.) It doesn’t matter that it’s not you right now. It’s going to be whoever they need it to be.
They’re telling you what they will do to people. They’re telling you, on the basis of their authoritarian religious beliefs, and with no economic reasoning whatsoever, what they want to be able to do to us.
They are threatening to take away access to health care.
They are threatening to take away our rights to control over our own bodies, and to privacy of our reproductive and medical decisions.
They are threatening to invalidate marriages and families. They are threatening to take away from children the securities intrinsic to having legally married parents. They are threatening to turn back the clock on the progression of equal rights under the law no matter the sex of the person you love.
Even if you don’t give a damn that this is being done to women and gays, try looking out for yourself and your own self-determination for a minute.
They consider themselves uniquely justified in imposing their religious beliefs on other people’s lives. Why do you imagine you’ll be exempt?
Why do you think you’ll be safe?
Do you seriously think that they’re just morally bankrupt enough to do this to me and the people I care about, but not to you and the people you care about?
September 9, 2012
So apparently school started again this past week, and (in)appropriately, I ran across this article on Salon.com (Americans Want Sex Ed), summarizing a report from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. The report presents the seemingly paradoxical findings that while a solid majority of both adults and teens in the United States believe that teenagers should be taught about birth control, and also that anti-abortion leaders should support the availability of birth control, and also that they (teens) themselves have the information they need to avoid unplanned pregnancy…a somewhat scarily large percentage of teens then go on to report knowing little to nothing of contraception methods.
But I suspect that the discrepancy obscures, at least in part, a disconnect between the fairly binary way in which we conceive of what “sex education” can and should be–either abstinence only or abstinence plus safety and contraception–and the nuances of students’ real lives, or how well what students are taught about contraception does or doesn’t match up with how they really need or want to be educated about sexual relationships.
If, for instance, you’re a 15-year-old lesbian, it may be true that you know what you need to about contraception at the moment even if that isn’t very much. Or if you’ve genuinely decided to wait for sex–till marriage or just till you’re older–you might not be wrong that you don’t need to know everything about possible contraception methods right this minute. Or if you’re on the asexuality spectrum and not seeking a sexual relationship…this information might not be taking up space on your hard drive, but you know where to find it if or when you want it…or if, like some students taking this survey, you’re 12 years old.
Or imagine how profoundly unhelpful a group role-playing game full of scare tactics about the dangers of promiscuity is to someone desperately trying to figure out how to have one good, safe, physical relationship.
It’s also easy to mistakenly think you know everything it’s possible to know, when what you don’t know is what you aren’t being taught.
I was, probably unsurprisingly, one of the kids who thought that I knew what I needed to know. I’d been through fairly decent classes on what to expect from puberty. I’d been given information on available contraception. (In a totally brilliant move on my mother’s part, one day she had picked me up Seventeen magazine’s Environment Special Issue, which she said she thought I’d enjoy, environmental activism being my primary obsession at the time. It also had Your Complete Guide to Contraception in the back of the issue. It was years before I realized that handing that over had probably been deliberate and not an oversight on her part.) I was a biology wonk and already knew more about disease transmission and risk than what was in the health class videos and graphic slide shows.
And, for reasons that turned out to be a good deal more complicated than I even thought they were at the time, I’d taken a stance that I was delaying sex…pretty much indefinitely.
In this state of affairs, I wound up, despite my protestations that the requirement was insulting, in my school’s “Health and Family Wellness” class. In which I somehow managed to be continuously stigmatized for the very choices that the class purported to be encouraging, because the ways in which I’d made them did not comport with the core presumptions of What Teenagers Are Like or How Dating Works. At the same time that I did indeed think I knew what I needed to, as far as what I saw available, I felt this gaping absence of anyone anywhere accurately describing how I actually experienced myself or my desires, and how to build a life or be safe and respected in those things.
Now I look back and know that I cannot have been the only one experiencing this, because people who were not represented as having sexual or romantic relationships worth talking about included gay people, queer people, trans people, disabled people…so also disabled queer people…any kind of gender fluid or gender variant people, people on the asexuality spectrum, or now that I try to think of it, very many people of color or of cultures other than Normal American Teenager. Let alone any of those people having relationships with each other.
What worked for other people was clearly not going to work out for me, but there were no examples of what would. Or of how to talk about what was true for you, if that wasn’t what was presumed to be the default.
There’s a quote from Adrienne Rich that I think of more and more often: “When someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked into a mirror and saw nothing.”
So…not getting pregnant was actually not my biggest problem. The ways in which our school’s sex ed didn’t have much to offer me went way deeper than “I already know all about contraception, this is a waste of my time, and I’d rather be taking art.” But that was all I was able to express—in no small part because of the poverty of education or language available about relationships, sex, and gender that went beyond the very superficial. And so I sat in class day after day, feeling more and more alienated from my peers and from how adults presumed I should be treated based on the fact that I was 15 and not much else, being told by unqualified teachers “I’m sorry you think you’re too good to be here,” rolling my eyes at badly produced educational videos, and learning most of what I really knew about love and respect from Mulder and Scully at home alone on Friday nights. (And I’m not the only person I know who says that I learned what love was supposed to be from those characters.)
How would I have answered a survey question “Do you feel that you have all the information you need to prevent an unplanned pregnancy at this time?” Yes. But it would’ve been a stand-in answer for the fact that the question didn’t address anything real in my life.
I can well imagine that if you go to a school in which the name of your sexual identity is literally a bad word (“Don’t say gay” bills have been introduced in both Missouri and Tennessee), or a subject that faculty feel forbidden to address, up to and including when you’re being violently victimized for it, that you might reasonably feel that your ability to name risks and benefits of five different kinds of contraception is a little bit beside the point.
It isn’t that we shouldn’t teach comprehensive information about birth control, obviously, or work to ascertain whether kids feel they have the information they need about it, but I think in the common conception of what sex education is, this is widely thought of as the ultimate question: whether to teach abstinence only, or whether to teach risk management methods. But even the seemingly right answer to that question is misleading and even counterproductive when contraception as risk management is taught without a bedrock of positive and healthy attitudes about sex, real-life examples of all types of healthy sexual and romantic relationships, a vocabulary to describe what’s true and desirable for yourself individually, and knowledge and respect for your own sexual identity and those different from you.
Without that kind of knowledge, which should be basic and not controversial, I suspect it may be hard for students to draw easy conclusions about whether the health information they have matches up to the realities of their lives.
July 24, 2012
1. A little over 12 years ago now, I was about to graduate from high school. And my church’s brand new pastor, Brian, thought it would be awesome if, for a spiritual rite of passage or something, me and the other graduating seniors–my childhood friends Jess and Nicole–had to plan an entire Sunday worship service and give the sermon. And I’ve never been reticent about saying “hells to the no” to things that I really, seriously don’t want to do…but I’d been in acting class that year past, and so this idea was not as petrifying to me as it might have been only a short time previously. In fact, I’d been half-wondering whether I felt a calling to the clergy myself, and so I thought this might actually be a good, challenging experiment. And so I said okay.
I wrote my sermon on how trusting in God often means being open to unexpected possibilities, including unexpected discoveries about ourselves. I remember sitting outside on the front steps of the church on a warm spring evening for a planning meeting, Brian approving of our sermon outlines and hymn selections, joking about what more humorous though inappropriate choices might have been. It wouldn’t be so bad. There was an order of worship; I knew how it went. I only had to actually speak for five to seven minutes, from prepared text; I’d done scenes longer than that. Jess and Nicky had to do it, too. If I could act, I could do this. And it would tell me something about myself.
And I did, and it was actually pretty awesome; even though I was fairly sure I wasn’t meant for the ministry, I wasn’t sure at all that I wasn’t destined for some kind of life in performance.
A few weeks ago, I was on the phone with my father when he asked whether I’d gotten Brian’s resignation letter in the mail.
WHAT?!?! I said. No, I had not. What was going on, what happened?!
But the news was good. Brian was leaving to become the executive director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, a national organization working to encourage better welcoming and inclusion of LGBT people in the church. And he’d been in a committed relationship with his partner, Troy, for the past nine years.
Given my own past couple of years, I know what it takes to decide that being open about who you really are, whatever the fallout may be, is just worth it. I don’t think I ever imagined that one day I’d get to be so proud of someone who I already liked and respected a lot and who had been a gentle and encouraging influence in choosing to do something immensely difficult all that time ago. I’m fairly sure I cackled for joy when I got off the phone.
2. This has already made the rounds of Facebook, and now it’s up on BoingBoing: earlier this week, my high school friend Chris returned his Eagle Scout medal in protest of the Boy Scouts of America’s recent decision to continue the organization’s ban of gay, bisexual or transgender scouts and leaders, joining a growing number of men who have done so.
I’ve always had a visceral dislike of the Boy Scouts on multiple levels, but the Eagle Scout award is the culmination of years of incredibly hard work, of which men who achieve it are rightfully proud. I didn’t realize until today that only 2.1 million scouts have earned Eagle Scout status…since 1911. So it’s, to say the least, not a trivial decision to give up the award, in order to uphold what it’s supposed to teach.
“Gay scouts and leaders have the right and obligation to be true to themselves. Homosexuality is not a moral deviance, bigotry is,” Chris wrote.
Maggie Koerth-Baker’s article and Chris Baker’s and several other men’s entire letters are here.
I think I agree with a friend who said this week that I clearly have good taste in friends. ; )
July 23, 2011
Legal same-sex marriage begins tomorrow in New York, and I love that the Times ran this article (The Clergy Effort Behind Same-Sex Marriage in New York) spotlighting the efforts of members of the clergy on behalf of marriage equality, noting that it’s a common but erroneous belief that churches and religious people are polarized against the advancement of LGBT equality. While some of the most conspicuous campaigns against equality have been waged by churches, in fact, there are religious believers working on both sides of this issue.
What makes this surprising or counterintuitive for a lot of people is a pair of major misconceptions, perpetrated largely by the preaching of the fundamentalist religious right wing, that moderate, liberal or progressive Christianity is just a watered down version of fundamentalist Christianity with weaker versions of the same beliefs; and that in supporting LGBT equal rights, we’re just capitulating to the permissive amorality of popular culture.
What we want people to understand is that we’re actually doing this because we truly believe it is right. Not because it is easy or just happens to be popular at the moment.
We are not, as socially conservative preachers often accuse, saying we believe in equality for political expediency, to be popular, to duck uncomfortable criticism, because we’re insecure in our faith or because we don’t know all the same Bible verses from Leviticus and 1st Corinthians that they do. We support LGBT equality, including in legal marriage, as an expression of our faith, not in spite of it.
We think that the narrative arc of the Bible is one of an ever-expanding conception of grace and compassion for our fellow humans. It’s a story of each successive generation seeing a new reflection of God in the world and the people around them. We don’t think that that story ended 2000 years ago, but that we’re asked by Christ constantly to see all people anew as creations of God.
I do take issue with one characterization of the debate from the article, when it says “Yet the passage of same-sex marriage in New York last month, just two years after its defeat here, attests to the concerted, sustained efforts by liberal Christian and Jewish clergy to advocate for it in the language of faith, to counter the language of morality voiced by foes.”
Because we absolutely believe that this is an issue of morality as well. We believe it’s immoral for the government to create second-class citizens and second-class families. We believe it’s immoral to withhold civil rights based on sexuality just as it would be to deny those rights on the basis of race or religion. We think that the bigotry enshrined by the Defense of Marriage Act is immoral. We believe that to scapegoat gays for divorce, child abuse, and a host of other cultural problems is immoral. We believe it is a moral edict of our faith to stand up for the most vulnerable and marginalized people in our society.
We are not attempting to undermine morality, but to support a morality of compassion and respect for all of our citizens.
We believe, as Victor Hugo wrote, “to love another person is to see the face of God,” and that nothing can make that wrong.
November 16, 2010
One of the latest video messages to have gone viral in the last few weeks’ public fight against anti-gay rhetoric is of openly gay 14-year-old Graeme Taylor speaking at a school board meeting in defense of a teacher who had apparently ejected from class two students who said that they “did not support gay individuals” during a discussion, on Anti-Bullying Day, that erupted after he’d asked another student to remove her Confederate flag belt buckle. The teacher was then suspended without pay for a day.
Sound like a First Amendment quagmire yet?
Graeme eloquently defends his former teacher, saying he was driven to a suicide attempt at age nine in large part by anti-gay slanders by classmates that long went accepted and unchallenged by teachers. The teacher says that he ejected the students for being disruptive, not for their stated opposition to supporting gay people, and I tend to believe him.
But…suppose that the students were telling the truth, that they only expressed their personal opposition to support for gays, calmly, non-threateningly and non-disruptively. Would their ejection have been a violation of their free speech rights? How should the teacher have handled the discussion?
Doesn’t the First Amendment protect even–especially–the most unpopular of speech?
Yes, I would say, IF the students in question merely expressed a position, as vile and unfortunate a position as I find it, then the teacher did wrong to punish them rather than guiding the conversation to a useful and potentially enlightening conclusion…even though he was right, doubtless in the eyes of some of his most vulnerable students, to oppose the sentiments as strongly as he was able to in the moment.
As much as I despise the opinion that gay people (or black people, Gypsies, Muslims, whoever) are morally inferior, in my understanding, the right of free speech applies equally to these sentiments. We don’t allocate the First Amendment’s protection based on the popularity of the content of the speech. So long as the speech does not constitute an explicit or implicit threat, well, people have the right to dislike whomever they dislike, whether or not their reasoning sucks.
But students also need to learn that the right of “free speech” does not mean the right of unchallenged or consequence-free speech, that just because their prejudice may be a religious belief doesn’t disallow opposition to it, and that if they choose to express their bigotry, they should expect to be strenuously challenged. Banning or punishing such speech (again, as long as it’s not actually a threat) will only give the bigots confirmation for their whine that they’re being oppressed by the fascist liberal homosexual agenda or something. Simply suppressing it doesn’t allow us to openly challenge it, to reveal its ugliness and violence for what it is, to discredit it with facts, or to show that the positions of acceptance and respect are stronger. Teachers are in an optimal position to do these things, and more importantly, to show their students how to do them.
Graeme Taylor has eloquence, grace, and self-possession of which I could only be passionately envious at his age; there will be no one more suited to take up the task than he will be. I’m sorry that he’ll have to. I shudder for his opponents to think of what he’ll be like to oppose in debate in a few years.