27 February 2008

In Defense Of Growing Up (Part One)


On 21 February, an excellent essay called "On The Need To Grow Up" was posted on the front page of Jerry Maneker's blog, Christian LGBT Rights. After reading it there, I urged him to post it at Pam Spaulding's House Blend website as a diary entry. As I'd hoped would happen, she chose to feature it on her front page.

In the essay, Jerry criticized a poster produced to publicize the most recent Folsom Street Fair, a leather/fetish event held annually in San Francisco. The poster was a take-off on Da Vinci's "Last Supper" painting; it re-imagined the solemn gathering as an S & M sex party complete with "toys". The depiction (see above) was guaranteed to offend most Christian sensibilities, and Jerry's was among them! Patrons of the Blend immediately pounced on his criticism, accusing him of bigotry against the BDSM community (a charge I find baseless, knowing Jerry's libertarian views about sexuality as I do).

Personally, I find the Folsom Street Fair poster tacky and ill-conceived, but I don't want to stir up that hornet's nest again: The brouhaha over leather/fetish politics obscured the main points Jerry was trying to make! I'd like to refocus attention on them. Here, in my opinion, is the meat of his essay:

The unfortunate fact is that many Gay people . . . have bought into the false notion, inculcated by religious and secular homophobes, their very oppressors, that they are merely sexual beings . . . who then, therefore, portray themselves, and view themselves as just that: One-dimensional people who focus on sexual activity, and who define themselves by their sexuality and by little or nothing else . . .

Being Gay, just like being Straight, is about one's whole being: His/her perceptions, sensibilities, and emotional/affectional/sexual preferences. We are all multi-faceted, and to restrict oneself or others to being a mere one-dimensional sexual animal does a grave injustice to both logic (and) Gay people themselves.

One can blame centuries of discrimination for the unconscious and/or conscious self-loathing that prompts the appropriation of the hateful epithets . . . by which many LGBT people identify themselves, and the sexualization of the self as the major component of one's very being that is held by many LGBT people; but that explanation only goes so far, and gives such LGBT people too much slack when any of us put the onus of self-hate solely on those who discriminate against the oppressed.

There is a point when one has to own his/her dignity, demand the respect due to any human being, demand full and equal civil and sacramental rights regardless of the negative messages and hostility that have been visited on that person in the past, or even in the present . . . and those goals will not be realized as long as the minority group accepts its inferior status, and revels in it by referring to its members by the very same terms used by the most virulent homophobes throughout history . . .

So, I say to those who revel in using pejorative and hateful self-identifiers, who are content with being treated as second-class citizens, who are delighted with crumbs of incrementalism, who are self-satisfied as long as their immediate perceived self-interests are being met, who tolerate the indignities attendant upon being treated as "the other" and "the deviant," who allow homophobic clergy and others to demean them with impunity: Grow Up!

When we were children we usually, and for some of us all too frequently, allowed adults to define our realities for us. Now that we're grown, we have an obligation to act our ages and demand to be treated with the same dignity and have the same civil and sacramental rights as anyone else! And not settle for anything less!

To the degree we act like children, either by centering our lives on frivolous and self-destructive activities, or by allowing others to define our realities for us, or by not demanding full and equal civil and sacramental rights, or by using negative and hostile self-identifiers that serve to perpetuate "outsider," "deviant," "abnormal," and "inferior" status, it is to that degree that homophobes are further emboldened; what rights that are currently enjoyed are threatened or may even be rescinded; increasing numbers of decent people will find "justification" for considering LGBT people as "not one of us," and the fight for full and equal civil and sacramental rights will be greatly harmed.

"In Defense Of Growing Up" continues with Part Two.

26 February 2008

In Defense Of Growing Up (Part Two)


Reading the essay again, these words make as much sense to me now as when I first read them. Obviously, most people who read them at Pam's House Blend didn't think so! The following excerpted comments were typical of the feedback Jerry got:

You're lecturing us . . . you're using words like "act like children" and "frivolous and self-destructive activities", and you demonstrate that you have no clue whatsoever about our history, or if you do know, you have no respect for it.

Ha! This person doesn't know much about Jerry Maneker.

Jerry, I'm not ever fooled by examples of "blame the victim", which is the card you are playing. Please take your prejudice and pray about it.

This person seems to have taken the message stop being a victim to mean blame the victim.

You live in a very boring world and expect everyone else to look and act just like you and your hetero neighbors, to make it easier for you to be accepted. That's BS!

Excuse me?  Did this person read the same essay I read?

I might be 'way off base, but it sounds a lot like telling someone from another country to drop behavioral and cultural habits in order to "fit in" with those that dislike them.

I think this idea is 'way off base! Exaggerated sexuality is a "cultural habit"? News to me!

Frankly, a married, "het" male has no business critiquing GLBTQ (sic) relationships and sexuality, not as long as women are still treated as a subordinate class of human beings; barred from the priesthood, unelectable to the presidency, trapped beneath a glass ceiling in business. And no member of the sect (Catholicism) that bears the most responsibility for creating, spreading and sustaining anti-homosexual prejudice has any business critiquing our response to that prejudice, ever.

So because Jerry Maneker is heterosexual, he has no right to counsel LGBT folk? I find that position very ironic. Haven't we been conforming to Straight concepts all along? Think about it. They call us f*ggots, so we call ourselves f*ggots! They call us d*kes, so we call ourselves d*kes! They call us queers, so we adopt that name, too. They say we shouldn't marry, so many of us oppose marriage equality. They say we shouldn't serve in the military, so a lot of us oppose military service for Lesbians and Gay men. They say we don't belong in the churches, so many of us are OK with religious institutions denying us employment, fellowship, services, etcetera.

They say we're obsessed with sex, so we portray and/or allow ourselves to be portrayed that way on book and magazine covers, and on TV shows like "Queer As Folk" and "The L-Word"(not to mention how many Gay men idolize porn stars). They say we molest children, so many of us are tolerant of organizations like NAMBLA and predators like Senator Mark Foley! They say we use public restrooms as trysting places, so many of us claim restroom sex as a civil liberty, and scream bloody murder when Senator Larry Craig, a sworn enemy of Gay Rights, is caught trolling toilets!

All Straight people need to do is create an ugly myth about who we are and what we do, and a significant number of us fall right in line with their prejudices. So what's different this time? Is the reaction to Jerry negative because he genuinely cares about our movement and wants it to succeed? Do we only follow the directives of Straight people who hate us?

Many of the responses to his essay were completely over-the-top! Judging by some of the comments posted, you'd think he was a rabid hetero-fascist along the lines of James Dobson! Blaming him personally for the transgressions of his (former) religious denomination, the Orthodox Catholic Church, was a real low blow. I hope those outraged folk generate as much heat when they have to face off against an honest-to-goodness bigot!

That's certainly not what Jerry is. He's a friend and comrade in the struggle. He knows our history! He's a colleague of MCC leaders Troy Perry and Nancy Wilson. For years, he's been preaching Gay Rights from the pulpit. He preaches it wherever he can find a forum. I can honestly say I don't know anybody who denounces religious persecution of us more forcefully than he does. If anyone has earned the privilege to offer us counsel, he has!

We need committed Straight allies like Jerry Maneker! What's more, their feedback on how best to deal with their bigoted brethren is at least worth considering, isn't it? I agree with Jerry 100% that too many of us are comfortable with marginalization and second-class citizenship. I've said so many times myself! He's not playing a "blame the victim" game with us! He's saying if we wait for Straight people to do right by us, we'll be waiting forever. Did people of color wait for racists to apologize? Did women wait for sexists to repent of their wicked ways? We've got to demand respect, but that won't happen until we begin respecting ourselves! We've got to demand to be taken seriously, but that won't happen until we begin to take ourselves seriously.

Like it or not, Jerry's opinion that Gay people act frivolously mirrors what a lot of Straight folks see when they look at us as a community. This isn't the first time I've heard one say so, and I'll bet it's not the first time for his critics, either. So how are we going to address that problem, seeing that we're supposed to be involved in a serious equality struggle? Realizing Civil Rights goals is harder to do when you're thought of as a dirty joke! Getting the power structure to heed your demands is harder to do when you gleefully present yourself to it as a "d*ke", a "f*ggot", a "tranny" or a "queer"!

Jerry takes flak just for saying LGBT folk sell themselves short. Well, don't we? He gets savaged for telling us we should reach for a higher standard of political consciousness. Well, shouldn't we? He asks us to stop conforming to a bigot's concept of who and what we are. Damn right!  I believe stereotypes should be challenged, not reinforced! However, I understand that some of us adore stereotypes. I understand that some of us truly are hedonists. I understand that some of us despise Christianity! I understand that some of us prefer to think of ourselves as "queers". I don't like these realities, but I have to accept them.

What I don't have to accept, and never will, is letting society perceive me as a hedonist, a Christ-hater, and/or a "queer"! The media, the church, arrogant academics, a bunch of misguided activists and a bigger bunch of just plain ignorant folks seem hell-bent on perpetuating that false notion. If you're Gay, and you think of yourself as abnormal, well, that's your business, and your "right". However, if the things you do and say encourage society to perceive all Gay people as abnormal, that's my business, because I'm Gay, and it has an adverse effect on my life!

I've fought against the lie of LGBT abonormality every day of my life! I'll fight it until the breath is gone from my body. I refuse to be shoved into a box labeled "freak" and be condemned to live my life under that cloud. I don't deserve it! None of my LGBT brethren deserve it, either. We're not freaks! Gay, Pansexual or Transsexual, we are all of us androgynous human beings, and androgyny is part of the natural order.

I want us to have options: To live as outsiders, or live in the mainstream, or live however we want to live; and I want us to have the option of changing our lifestyles, just like Straight people do. Just as important, I want us to understand that our sexuality has absolutely nothing to do with what our lifestyles are or can be!

To Hell with marginalization! Both the kind that's imposed on us, and the kind we impose on ourselves! Hooray for anybody who's in favor of giving us more options! I say: God bless Jerry Maneker, and I hope one day soon we'll be collectively grown up enough to recognize the truth in what he's trying to tell us.