I think that I read it for the first time in the fall of 1976, shortly after my mother, oldest sister, and I had moved to southwest Washington some months after my parents’ divorce was finalized. My subscription to the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction had lapsed not long before we moved, but I had been happy to discover that the public library in our new home town subscribed to the magazine. A couple times a month I spent a couple hours at the library reading the magazine, and I am fairly certain I read the October issue, which contained “The Hertford Manuscript” on one of those visits.
I definitely read the story a subsequent time when I bought the paperback of Donald Wolheim’s anothology, The 1977 Annual World’s Best SF a couple years later at the used bookstore. And since I re-read stories in that collection off and on over the next seven or eight years, I probably read it again several times.
Each time I’ve read the story, I began to suspect that the story was going to be a Lovecraftian tale, even with the hints in a completely different direction. And then each time there’s a point where I say to my self, “Oh! I think I remember this story…” Including when I re-read it this week.
The tale starts slow. Our narrator, Francis Decressie, tells of us of his eccentric Great Aunt Victoria, whose husband died in World War I, leaving her to run a rare books business, which she excelled at for many years. She occasionally told slightly scandalous stories of her youth when she was acquainted with H.G. Wells and Aldous Huxley. When his Great Aunt dies, her will bequeaths on him a 17th Century Registry—specifically a list of the admissions, discharges, and deaths of patients at a Franciscan Charity Hostel/Hospital in London.
In addition to the ordinary 17th century pages covered with small columns of very compact writing, are a number of pages that don’t match the others. The paper is just as old, but it is clearly manufactured using more modern methods, and the handwriting is very different than the rest of the register. And it appears to be a journal.
The narrator then reproduces the journal, and we find ourselves following Dr Robert Pensley, an acquaintance of H.G. Wells, as he recounts how, having completed his journey into the far future, meeting the Eloi and escaping the Morlocks to return to his own time and recount his findings to some friends, had undertaken a journey into the distant past. Except one of the quartz crystals in the mechanism of the machine breaks (he attributes this to damage inflicted by the Morlocks), trapping Pensley in 1665 England—right when the Plague is ravaging the land.
Pensley must find a jeweler or lens maker to create a replacement crystal, and has to deal with all of the problems of a nation in panic over an illness they do not understand. There are increasingly amusing attempts by Pensley to convince various authorities that the illness is spread by fleas on the rats. The lens-maker has difficulty tracking down a large enough piece of quartz, and various other things go wrong over the course of the tale.
The story ends with a few pages of the narrator explaining how he tried to prove that the pages were a hoax, but experts all agree the book has not be taken apart and restitched since the late 1600s, and he does find various bits and pieces of obscure historical evidence to back up some of the minor details the journal recounts.
And that’s it. The story ends with a philosophical observation about tragedy by the narrator.
The tale told in the enclosed journal was very engaging. The descriptions of the time traveler’s experiences in the mid-1600s pull you right into the tale. Cowper’s attention to historical detail is something that is seen in many of his other works, and serves him quite well here. The framing story is written in the style of a 19th century novel, evoking Dickens and Anthony Trollope and even a bit of Bram Stoker. Which is a little out of place given that the narrator is living in the late 20th Century, but is a nice homage to Wells.
As a kind of sequel to The Time Machine the story works well enough. The framing sequence is not quite as good as the time traveler’s journal. Especially the ending, which I found a little flat. I wanted more. I’m not sure how, exactly, but rather than leaving me wondering what happened next, it felt like he left out something.
So it was enjoyable, but not a mind-boggling revelation. Still, each time I read it, I recognize certain minor details that stuck with me, and have resonated with some of the ideas I’ve tried my hand at in my own stories. Every story we read doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. Sometimes merely good is good enough.
You set your own goal and if you achieve it, hurrah! You win. The Camp website has a couple of different features that aren’t part of the regular NaNoWriMo, chief among these are virtual cabins. You can set your account be randomly assigned to a cabin, or you can form one of your own and invite your friends to join. Or not do it at all. The cabin is simply a small chat forum that only members of the cabin can post to and see. So it’s a place you can check in for encouragement or to ask questions, or simply report on your progress.
I’ve enjoyed myself every time I’ve participated. I haven’t always hit my goal during Camp. But I do a better job of staying on target for the month than I do at other times. It helps having a goal and people encouraging me.
Every time that I try to recruit folks I know, there are always some who are reluctant because either they tried it before and it didn’t work, or they don’t think they’ll hit any goal, or the like. And I get it, I do. But missing a goal isn’t failure, it’s just missing the goal. We’re too focused on never making mistakes, and forget that the way you learn is to try, and when you don’t succeed the first time, try again. The analogy I’ve used before is a toddler learning to walk. We don’t remember how many times as toddlers we fell down attempting to walk. But we didn’t give up, we kept trying. And now we do it without even thinking.
Learning anything works that way. Maybe you won’t hit your word count goal. Or maybe the story’s plot won’t go in quite the direction you planned. But that’s okay. You tried, and if you let yourself learn from it—and most importantly, try again— you’ll get better next time.
So, wanna join me at Camp NaNoWriMo? If you’re still in doubt, may I suggest this video to help you decide?
Shakira – Try Everything (Official Video)
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
The pope made news again, saying that in light of the Orlando shooting, the Catholic Church owes queers an apology: Pope: Church owes apology to gays (and they’re not the only ones). The news came while I was in the middle of a busy weekend including both the Locus Awards and the Pride Parade, so I didn’t have time to dig into it. I assumed that this was another instance of the press taking part of a statement out of context, as they did three years ago with all the “who am I to judge” headlines that said the pope was in favor of gay rights, when what the pope actually said was more along the lines of, “Who am I to judge a person who claims to be ex-gay and does a decent enough job of staying in the closet as to give me plausible deniability?”
I figured that I would look into the story later, fully expecting to find out that the statement he’d made was more complicated than the headlines make it. Well, it is, but the contradiction isn’t as blatantly obvious as that previous time. “I think that the Church not only should apologize to the person who is gay whom it has offended. … But we must also apologize to the poor as well, to the women who have been exploited, to children exploited for labor. It must apologize for having blessed so many weapons.”
There are several qualifiers in there, and I could quibble over a lot of them, but the real hypocrisy is a bit more meta. He things that the Church should apologize. Really? I wonder if he has thought of mentioning it to the person who is in charge of the Church; you know, the person who has the power to actually apologize. And more than apologize, the person who, in theory, has the power to make infallible statements that come with the stamp of approval of god?
Has the pope actually told the pope what he thinks?
The other contradiction is a little less funny. The statement, and his following comments, make it clear that he is referring to the church apologizing for things that it had done in the past, as if its teachings are not still, present tense, causing harm to queers, and women, and so on. Biblically, you don’t ask for forgiveness until after you have stopped committing the sin. The church (both the Catholic Church and a whole lot of people claiming to speak for god in other denominations) is still bearing false witness against queer people, still describing us as sinful and disordered, and so on.
You have to rescind those lies, aspersions, and condemnations before you apologize for them.
There’s a new study out showing, once again, that simply saying these things about us causes actual harm to our health, both mental and physical: What Happens When Gay People Are Told That Homosexuality Is A Sin?
And I want to make something very clear, here. Theologically, a sin is an intentional and voluntary action. All of the medical science (yes, all of it) agrees that homosexuality is not a matter of choice, it is an innate characteristic. In other words, it isn’t voluntary. When a sincerely held religious belief is contradicted by scientific fact, then it isn’t faith, it is delusion.
When any religious leader insists that homosexuality is a sin, they are bearing false witness. The Bible also insists that slavery is a good thing, yet no Christian religious leaders (not even Pope Emeritus Benedict) are calling for a return to slavery. They now all handwave it and say that the slavery comments in the Bible are because of the culture at the time, and therefore aren’t a commentary applicable today. Or they try to claim that the Bible’s comments on slavery are really about god advising people how to deal with a situation that shouldn’t exist but that cannot, at present, be rectified. They insist on that rationalization even though the Apostle Paul wrote one entire book of the Bible about how a Christian slave owner should treat his Christian slaves (spoiler: at no point did he say that people should never treat other people as property).
The sections of the Bible that are usually read to condemn homosexuality are a lot less clear than its teachings on slavery. Yet members of the religious right are willing to contort themselves to claim that the Bible’s clear endorsement of slavery doesn’t exist, while pretending that these few mostly ambiguous comments on fidelity, temple prostitutes, and so on are indisputable statements about people who love other people of the same gender.
And every time this pope has said some things that the press latched onto to wildly report that the Church was softening it’s stand on queers, later statements and officially issued proclamations re-iterate the original position that we are disordered, sinful, dangerous, et cetera. So, no, I’m not awaiting whatever comes of this comment about apologies with bated breath.
I should pause here, in case you don’t know what the Locus Awards are. Locus (The Magazine of The Science Fiction & Fantasy Field) was founded back in 1968 as a fan produced news magazine and to promote a WorldCon bid. The ‘zine has continued for decades since, printing news about fannish and pro activities in the SF/F realm. In 1971 Charles N. Brown, the founding editor, decided to have the readership nominate and vote on deserving works in the field, in order to help the Hugo awards. Think of it as an organized recommendation list. Readers and contributors to the zine recommended books and stories and editors and so forth, and voted on them. The Locus awards has different categories than the Hugos, and since you don’t have to have a membership at WorldCon to participate, in theory the awards may draw on a more diverse crowd.
What I like about them is that they have multiple novel categories. While the Hugos just have Best Novel of the Year, the Locus Awards separate Science Fiction novels from Fantasy, and also have a separate category for Young Adult novels and first novels. Anyway, the recommendation list that is generated in the process alone is a wonderful resource for finding good things you would have otherwise not heard of.
Even though I have been reading the list of winners every year for a long time, it somehow never occurred to me that there was an award banquet, and even more important on a personal level, I didn’t know that the banquet has, at least for the last several years, been happening right here in Seattle. I found out because a woman mentioned it at a panel at NorWesCon, and handed out fliers.
The event is like a miniature sci fi con. There are a couple of Readings by pros the night before the banquet, followed by a party, then on Saturday morning there are a couple of panel discussions. There is an autograph session and a bookseller is there ready to sell you books by the authors who are signing, and there is the banquet. In addition to the awards, there’s several silly activities that have grown up as traditions around the event, such as a Hawaiian shirt contest (Charles Brown, Locus’ founding editor, was famous for his fondness of loud Hawaiian shirts).
We both have been having worse than usual hay fever lately, so neither of us have been sleeping well, and we both wound up taking naps Friday afternoon after work that lasted late enough that we skipped the Friday evening activities. Saturday, we made it to the event and had a great time.
First, no one told me that there would be free books. Apparently the publishers of books that make the shortlist often send boxes of the books to the event. So those (and other books) are set out in little piles on each banquet table. And a bunch more are on a give-away table in the back. We brought home free books whose retail prices definitely exceeded the cost of tickets to the event!
It was also just a fun event. There were a lot of familiar faces there (since I’ve been attending Northwest sci fi conventions for nearly three decades), but it was a smaller crowd, and a much higher percentage of the attendees were pros.
The event also overlaps with the first week of the Clarion West six-week summer writing workshop, and we wound up sharing our table with three of the students from the workshop. They were really nice, and were a diverse group: one guy was from Chicago, a woman was from Wales, and another guy was from India.
I knew our new acquaintances were “my kinda folks” when the young woman from Wales picked up one of the books in the free pile and said, “I should not pick up a new book that is this thick when I have no free time for the next several weeks” then, a second later she gasped and said excitedly, “It has a map!” and the other two immediately stopped their banter to add comments about how books with maps are temptations one can never resist.
I had been about to make a similar observation. Having written about it before: “Some of my favorite books have maps…”.
Whenever I go to a con, I come back feeling excited in new ways about my writing. Some of it is from hearing authors at panels talk about their own troubles and triumphs writing. Some of it is from learning new things or finding new stories that inspire me. Some of it is because I almost always wind up sitting in a corner somewhere with my laptop or iPad or a paper journal working on one of my stories in progress, and being out of my usual routine makes me look at the plotholes and so forth differently.
But a big part of it is simply the joy that comes from meeting other people who love the same kinds of books I do. Shared joy multiples. Chatting with another person who loves something you love, explaining to each other which bits made you squee and so on, increases that wellspring of delight inside you.
That remembered elation can help carry you over the rough spots in your next round of revision.
I was hurrying to get to the bus stop on my way to work recently and as I started to cross a side street I was surprised at something I saw on the other side. It looked like someone had planted a bunch of new bushes along a construction fence. This new line of freshly planted greenery was on the exact spot that only a month or so before a hedge had been removed. Clearly the bushes were going to be in the way when workers needed to start demolition work. I had been sad to see them go, as I’ve been walking past that line of bushes for many years. It made no sense to plant new ones now, because they haven’t even begun to tear down the old buildings yet, let alone start the new construction. Why would anyone start planting new landscaping now?
I crossed the street and only when I got closer did I realize what I was actually looking at. They had cut down the old line of bushes, yes. But the roots were still there in the soil. And it was spring time and there was ample sun and rain, so new growth was vigorously re-asserting itself.
I was nearly past the bushes before I decided to stop and take a couple of pictures. Looking down at all that bright green new growth bushing out around the stumps, I couldn’t help think about how tenacious life is. Cut something down, and it will grow back.
It’s hardly an original metaphor, I know. But it’s a process I’ve lived through and witnessed more times than I can count. I was a teen-ager in 1977 when Anita Bryant led her first campaign to repeal an ordinance that would protect people from being fired or denied housing because of their sexual orientation. And when he supporters passed a law banning gays and lesbians from adopting or being foster parents. We weren’t even a decade past Stonewall, and getting a few anti-discrimination ordinances passed in some of the most liberal cities hadn’t been great progress, but it had seemed people were starting to come around. Then this happened.
As Bryant led successful campaigns in city after city to repeal those ordinances, it looked pretty grim. But queers and their supporters didn’t give up. People laughed when they found out that gay bars were boycotting orange juice (Anita Bryant’s primary source of income at the time came from making commercials for the Florida Orange Grower’s Assocation). Gay bars and restaurants removes screwdrivers from their menus and added a new drink called an Anita Bryant: vodka and apple juice. Reporters chuckled on air as they explained the boycott on local evening TV shows. Newspapers ran cartoons mocking the sissies for thinking that some cocktails would change anything.
But all the mocking put the information in front of people. And a surprising thing happened. Orange juice sales were hurt. People wrote to the Florida Orange Growers Association to protest their support of these anti-gay campaigns. The Association hadn’t been supporting Bryant’s campaign, but all that mocking coverage of the silly faggots and their boycott made people think they were. Not just silly faggots who brunched together and gossiped over cocktails.
And it put the issue of gay rights in the news in a different way than anyone had seen it before. Certainly I, as a seventeen-year-old living in a small town, had never been to a brunch with a bunch of queers, and I wouldn’t have known that there were actually places where the law might protect a queer person from some kinds of persecution. And the rhetoric of the anti-gay forces made a lot of people that you would never expect stand up for gay rights.
The result was that all over the country, queers and their allies formed new organizations to fight the anti-gay initiatives and referendums, and those organizations kept fighting. And people like me realized that they weren’t alone. There were people out there like us. There were people out there who wouldn’t hate us if we came out.
Unfortunately, we were then hit by the AIDS epidemic. It’s really hard to explain just how horrific that was to folks who didn’t live through it. As I pointed out in response to an online conversation a few months back, it was not simply that most gay people knew one or two people who died. It felt like everyone was dying. There were weeks when my (now late) partner Ray and I had to decide which of several funerals or memorial services happening on the same day we would be able to attend.
But even as we were dying, we fought back. We banded together into new groups like Act Up and Queer Nation and Q Patrol and many others. We banded together to take care of each other while White House press secretaries and reporters openly laughed and made jokes about our deaths. We buried our dead and we mourned and we got right back out on the streets and marched and demanded to be seen.
And the haters ran their anti-gay campaigns again. Initiatives to forbid gay and lesbian people to work in certain fields. Laws to criminalize our terminal illness (sadly still on the books in many states). Proposals to quarantine us in “medical camps.” Laws to ban us from adopting. Laws to ban us from putting partners on our insurance policies.
For every fight we lost, it just made us more determined. Like that hedge, you can cut us down, but our roots go deep. We come back, stronger, brighter, more determined to win the next battle. And every fight we won, when the opposition said, “Okay, fine, you can have those crumbs. Now be quiet!” we refused to go away.
Joe Jervis, who runs the Joe.My.God web site, every year explains why he thinks the Pride Parade is important, which he sums up by quoting the old Jewish joke about the true meaning of every Jewish holiday: “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.” Joe then gives his Gay version of the meaning of Gay Pride: “They wish we were invisible. We aren’t. Let’s dance!”
Care to join me?
In the immediate aftermath of the Orlando shooting, President Obama’s remarks were met with criticism from many corners, as they do, but there was a particular comment that seemed to really upset a lot of straight people on social media. This bit really got some folks’ panties in a bunch:
The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live. The place where they were attacked was more than a nightclub—it is a place of solidarity and empowerment…
Some people had a real difficult time understanding why anyone would refer to a gay bar as a place of empowerment. It’s really hard for most straight people to understand just how isolated and alienated queer kids feel their entire lives. We take a lot of flack, particularly white male queer people, from people of color whenever we draw parallels between our struggle for acceptance and equality with the struggles that racial minorities face. There are more similarities than some people want to admit, but they are correct that there are differences. And one of those differences is that isolation.
A member of a racial or ethnic minority growing up in a racist society is never told that other people like him or her do not exist. At all. Usually a person of color is aware of the existence of other people of color if for no other reason than the rest of their family is also a member of that racial or ethnic minority. They may live in a neighborhood where other members of the minority are neighbors, classmates, and so on.
Not queer kids. Until very recently, queer kids were pretty much guaranteed to grow up being told and shown again and again that every human is straight. Little boys are teased about having a crush on any girl or woman other than a close relative that they get along with. Little girls get told they will be a mommy some day. Every book, movie, television show, family anecdote, et cetera shows us again and again that every boy grows up to have a girlfriend, eventually a wife, and will become a daddy. And they tell every girl that she will grow up to be some boy’s girlfriend, then some man’s wife, and eventually will have that man’s babies.
And anyone who doesn’t do those things? Well, there’s something wrong with them! Unattached characters of either gender appearing in stories and shows are usually treated as the comic relief or as tragically alone. Lonely spinsters that everyone feels sorry for or eccentric bachelors that no one takes seriously are the least horrible futures that society tells us await us if we don’t fall in love with a person of the opposite gender and settle down.
That’s the initial indoctrination. The first level of lying, if you will.
As we get older, we start noticing other fates for men and women who don’t fit into the coupled hetero ideal. They aren’t just taken seriously and pitied, it’s worse than that. Some of those oddballs may indeed have special friendships with another person of the same gender, but that always ends in death for at least one of them. If one survives, it is as a broken creature, forever haunted by guilt and despair because of it.
The lies that we are told is that queer people don’t exist, or at least they don’t exist naturally, and those few queer people that do come about however that happens, will live lives that are filled with loneliness, despair, pain, suffering, and death. But it is a pain, suffering and death that they deserve because they are monsters.
When you are told those lies again and again; when you are made to feel like a freak any time you behave or feel anything other than what is expected; when you are not allowed to see any examples of queer people who aren’t object lessons who deserve pain and suffering—you believe it. Your parents, your teachers, your church, your neighbors, your classmates, and your siblings have all told you the same thing again and again your entire life. It must be true! There must be something deeply wrong with you, and that wrongness means that you can never be happy, never be loved, never know joy, never be accepted.
And you’ve been made to feel miserable any time that any hint of your difference has manifested. You have probably developed crushes on members of your own gender, but realized that the other person didn’t feel the same way. Or if the affection was returned, you both lived in terror of what would happen if anyone found out. If anyone has found out, there were some sort of bad consequences. One or both of your were beaten. You were forbidden to see each other. One or both of you might have been sent away or simply kicked out of your home by your parents.
So, the first time that we walk into a gay bar is usually a revelation. There are other people like you there! More importantly, you find people like you there who seem to be happy. The first visit may be a short one because you’re nervous and not sure what to expect. Or it might be that the atmosphere or theme of the place is catering to a different subset of the community than you identify with. But when you find a place that you can feel comfortable in, you see that there are people there who are living lives other than lonely and tragic. There aren’t just sexual or romantic relationships, there are friendships. People share drinks and a laugh when their life is going well, they share drinks and hugs and commiserations in times of sorrow.
And while you may not be a person who particularly fits in at the bar scene, there is still a sense of community and belonging that you can find there. One that many queer people never experienced before that.
My first few experiences in gay bars didn’t go terribly well. The first place I went to was more of a leather bar and I felt as if I’d stepped into a foreign country. My bright colored nerdy t-shirt didn’t help me fit in, but more importantly, I didn’t understand any of the non-verbal signals that were going on all around me. My second gay bar was filled with loud music that I had never heard before, and everyone was dressed in far more fashionable clothes than I could pull off. I felt like a very ugly duckling surrounded by a sea fashion models and body builders.
For me, the bar that clicked was the old Timberline. It was a mix of lesbians and queer men—a lot of people wearing cowboy boots and blue jeans. Country music was played there, and twice a week there were classes in line-dancing and two-stepping. Same-sex couples danced arm in arm, circling around the dance floor to the kind of music that I had grown up with. It wasn’t every queer person’s dream, but to those of us who are came to Seattle from the south or from rural communities just about anywhere, there were enough cultural touchstones to our childhood to make being an openly queer man dancing with another man feel like a magic transformation where the impossible suddenly seemed within reach.
That’s another reason the shooting hurts so much. Even though I haven’t been inside a gay bar in something like 14 years, the images of wounded people being carried out of the club not by paramedics, but by other people who were clearly part of the bar crowd was worse than a punch in the gut. One of our places was no longer ours.
I’ve rambled enough about this. We grew up being told we were monsters who should either not exist or be invisible. We grew up believing we would never have friends who would accept us for who we really were. We grew up believing that not only would we never find love, but that we didn’t deserve any form of happiness at all. For many of us, a queer club was one of the first places that we learned that all of those things were lies.
And it wasn’t just me who experienced that:
Every year as the date of the local Pride Parade approaches, I start seeing the comments and questions: “If you get a Gay Pride Parade, why can’t we have a Straight Pride Parade?” I can’t decide which is the saddest aspect of this question: 1) that they think this tired old canard is actually being clever, 2) that they don’t understand that 99.9% of all television, movies, news, and other public discourse is geared toward affirming heterosexual life, including straight sexuality (so every day is already Straight Pride Day), 3) that they don’t understand that Queer Pride events are about our very right to exist—an act of defiance against those who want us to be invisible or dead—not merely our right to party, 4) that no one is is stopping them from organizing their own straight pride events (even though I think they’re redundant)?
This year there is a new wrinkle. Some of my less-than-affirming relatives have (after trotting out the thoughts and prayers nonsense) urged me not to go to Pride, because they don’t want me to get hurt if something happens. They make these comments completely oblivious to the fact that the anti-gay memes they share online every day, the anti-gay initiative for which they signed the petition to place on the ballot, the angry calls they say they make to their congressperson after learning of an anti-discrimination law under consideration, and all the rest contributes to the atmosphere of hate that drives people to violence against queers.
And yes, I’ve also gotten, even in light of the most recent publicly visible horror, a few people asking me what’s the point of Pride. “You can get married, now. You won. Isn’t that enough?” Marriage equality was one very tiny battle, by comparison to what remains. We live in a world where:
- Religious leaders openly call for our deaths: Christian Pastor Hopes God “Finishes The Job” And Kills Orlando Survivors
- Politician just as openly call for our deaths: After Orlando, Congressman Defends Reading Bible Verse About Gay People Being ‘Worthy Of Death’
- People think that trans children’s use of school bathrooms needs to be policed: Kansas Bill Would Pay Students A $2,500 Bounty To Hunt For Trans People In Bathrooms (and an initiative gathering signatures in my state includes a clause like this!)
- Religious leaders who claim to preach god’s love think nothing of posting nasty anti-gay messages on their church signs: Vandalized: Georgia Church Sign That Says ‘Satan Made Gays & Transgender’ — and when a local lesbian Christian tried to help clean up the vandalism, the pastor who insists on leaving ht “Satan made gays & transgender” doubled down, insisting the lesbian is not a Christian and that she’s going to hell.
- Because people still think that even acknowledging our existence is “too much”: Boosie Badazz Thinks There’s Too Much Gay Stuff On TV
That last one is just the tip of the iceberg. It is still really common for people to react to any depiction of a queer person’s life as a queer person with, “Why do you have to show us all the time? Why can’t you just be who you are without labeling everything?”
The saddest part of this is that those people don’t think they are being homophobic at all. And they never think about the fact that straight people “shove their sexuality” in everyone else’s face all the time. Have pictures of your spouse, significant other, or children on your desk, wall, or phone’s home screen? Mention your wife or husband in casual conversation? Comment on how hot a particular actor or actress is? 99.9 percent of all movies and TV shows depict opposite sex couples flirting, kissing, and more? Routinely ask about family discounts? Expect that, of course, your spouse will be included in the company health insurance plan? Invite us to your wedding or your kid’s straight wedding? Show us pictures of yours or your kid’s straight wedding? Ever use the phrase “no homo”?
Since we get accused of shoving our sexuality in your face if we merely casually mention the existence of our significant other, we get to count all of those things as you shoving your sexuality in our faces.
Why do we need Pride?
- We need Pride because people are still trying to kill us.
- We need Pride because religious leaders are still cheering on the people who kill us.
- We need Pride because people accuse us of “stealing the tragedy” when 49 of us are murdered in a gay night club on a busy Saturday night during Pride month.
- We need Pride because people still target gender non-conforming children in schools, and now adults aren’t just making excuses for the bullying, they want to pay the bullies bounties for doing it!
- We need Pride because it’s still legal to fire us just for being gay in 28 states.
- We need Pride because people are more offended at the idea of selling us a wedding cake than they are about 49 of us being gunned down in a single incident.
- We need Pride because people get angry when other people acknowledge our existence.
- We need Pride because people get offended if we mention the gender of our significant other in casual conversation.
- We need Pride because religious parents still kick their queer children out onto the streets just for being gay, and it isn’t considered child neglect or abuse to do so.
- We need Pride because queer kids are born everywhere, not just into families and communities that love and accept them, and they need to know that they aren’t alone.
- We need Pride because the world tries to make us hate ourselves, tries to make us be ashamed to love, and most importantly tries to convince us we are utterly alone.
The only way queers like me have been able to stand up and be ourselves is because other queers before us were brave enough to be out—whether it was staging sip-ins to protest laws that made it illegal for a bartender to knowingly along two homosexuals be served in the bar, or fighting back when police raided a gay club, or picketing in front of federal buildings, or marching in the first ever Pride event in June 1970. Those of us who can stand up for ourselves now, owe a debt to the sacrifices the earlier generations of queers made. We can’t pay them back directly, so we have to pay it forward. We do that by standing up and being counted and being visible for all of the people (especially kids) who can’t, yet.
We need Pride not because we’ve come so far, but because for many there is still a long, long way to go.
People insist that there is nothing they else they can do, but frequently they’re wrong. There are things which can be done. Things within the power of the people making that statement. Congress critters of the conservative sort are especially liable, here (but not the only ones). And I don’t just mean in passing laws, though that could often help.
The very same congresspeople who sat in Republican caucus recently and prayed that gays are “worthy of death” made a big show of talking about thoughts and prayers while a lot of the public was up in arms about the Orlando shooting. It didn’t stop them from killing an amendment to extend job discrimination protections to queer people. It didn’t stop them from voting down an amendment to tighten (but hardly close) the so-called gun show loophole. It doesn’t stop them from attending rallies with pastors who call for the death of gays. It doesn’t stop them from telling their supporters that letting trans children use the bathroom that matches their gender identity is dangerous.
They’re not just withholding a water hose. They’re the people who have been splashing gasoline in the direction of every queer person they could for years. They’re the people who handed matches out to lots of people and said, “I don’t condone violence, but god says queers are monsters.”
Thoughts and prayers is more than just a means to look like you care when you don’t. It’s more than just a means to appear helpful while you do nothing. It’s more that just a means to make people focus on your piety rather than the problems of others.
It’s also an attempt to establish an alibi.
If they offer thoughts and prayers, then clearly they can claim they had no idea that all their anti-gay rhetorical was going to encourage another to attack queer people. If they offer thoughts and prayers, then clearly they can also claim that they had no idea that all the anti-trans hysteria they’ve whipped up over bathrooms would make gender nonconforming kids hate themselves to the point of considering suicide. If they offer thoughts and prayers, than clearly they can claim it’s not their fault that queer people grow up filled with fear and self-loathing, driving some to self destructive behavior, while driving some to turn that violence toward others. Clearly, they say, it isn’t their fault that anyone would listen to all the hate they have been spewing and act on it.
Why would anyone ever think they wanted that?
It was hardly the first time I had heard condemnation of homosexuality coming from the pulpit, but the hostility of these pronouncements was much worse than usual. It was also a bit unusual for a prayer to have such a long expository lump. Not completely unheard of, but enough to make several people in the congregation shift nervously. The prayer was going on and on for quite some time.
The subject of the prayer was also at odds with the sermon we had just heard. The sermon had been delivered by a visiting preacher. The church was having a revival week, which meant that a pastor from out of town presiding of the services, and the church was having a service every night of the week, rather than just the usual Sunday morning and evening worship service and Wednesday prayer meeting. And the visiting preacher had just delivered a sermon about the unity of the church. Nothing about sexual immorality or the like.
The preacher leading the prayer was not the same man who had delivered the sermon. He was the lead pastor of the church. And the tone of his prayer sounded more like an argument than a supplication for divine favor.
I was trying not to have a panic attack. If the church had been my home church I would have been in even more distress. But this wasn’t my church. I was at this service because I was the assistant director of an interdenominational teen touring choir, and we had been asked to have our smaller ensembles take a turn each night providing special music for the service. The ensemble I led within the choir had sang two songs earlier in the service, and we were scheduled to sing one more for the altar call at the end.
Anyway, among the reasons that I was upset at this unusually aggressive prayer was that I had been, to use the evangelical terminology of the time, “struggling with homosexual temptation” for years. Not that I had ever told anyone. I was too afraid of what would happen if I actually admitted to anyone in my church or family that I even thought about homosexuality.
And I had done more than dipped my toe into the waters of temptation. There had been a several occasions during the previous ten years during which I had taken the plunge right into the deep end.
At the time of this prayer, it had been at least two years since my last plunge. And that had been with a stranger not just in another town, but an entire different country. No one I knew knew the guy—and truth be told, I couldn’t even remember his name. So I didn’t think anyone knew. But still, it seemed that the pastor was aiming all this anti-gay contempt at someone, and as far as I knew at the time, I was the only homosexual in the room.
It was not the first time (nor would it be the last) that, while sitting in a house of worship I would hear people like me described as depraved sinners and tools of the devil. But this time was the most vehement had yet heard.
Looking back on it, years later, I realize that there probably was an argument going on. The visiting pastor’s sermon about unity could be interpreted as a call for factions of the Christian faith to set aside their differences, while the local pastor clearly thought that some of those factions weren’t really faithful. But I couldn’t be objective enough at the time to work that out. I half expected someone to take me aside to stage an intervention.
Except the intervention would have involved people laying hands on me and praying fervently for god to cast the demons out of me. Which had been something I had been fearing since at least the age of eleven. And that didn’t preclude the possibility that other members of the community might waylay me and just beat me up. That very thing had happened to one of my classmates several years earlier. There had also been classmates kicked out of their homes by their families and sent “away” to stay with some distant relatives or other vague described living arrangements.
The fear of being kicked out of your home, rejected by your parents, siblings, classmates, and neighbors is something that every queer kid growing up in conservative Christian churches live with. A lot of other queer kids know that fear, as well, don’t get me wrong. But when you’re raised to believe that you are among god’s chosen, that anyone who is not a part of this community of faith means that you are destined to drown in hatred and sin, without ever knowing love and eventually spending an eternity in agony, well, it’s traumatic.
It is a bit astonishing that any of us survive it, to be honest. We’ve known for a long time that queer teens are much more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers, and we know that teens who come from queer-rejecting families are eight times more likely to attempt suicide queer peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.
It’s not just that the haters are trying to take away the rights of adults, such as myself, who have the means to fight back. They spend years telling some of their own children that god hates them. So there was one bit of that prayer that was correct. This isn’t just a difference of opinion. This isn’t about them saying they want to drive gas-guzzling SUVs, while some of us prefer more fuel efficient cars. They are literally bullying children, sometimes bullying those children to death. And they want the rest of us dead, too: GOP Congressman Who Prayed Gays ‘Worthy of Death’ Weeks Before Orlando Still Has No Apologies.
This is why queer people need to be out of the closet. This is why we need to have Pride parades and festivals and all the rest. This is why it isn’t enough to say “to each their own.” As long as there are kids growing up being taught that god hates them, we need to call out the bigotry for what it is, and stand up for those who aren’t yet able to stand up for themselves.
Why Does God Hate Me? – Gay Short film (LGBT):
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)