Miss Piggy was aggressively straight, yet it took decades to acknowledge the existence of Muppets who aren’t straight
I first began following Matt Baum when he was posting regular video news reports on what was then the fight over civil unions vs full marriage equality for queer people. A few years later he branched out into other topics, and over the course of those years I came to realize that we had a bunch of mutual acquaintances. And yet I still have never met him.
One of his projects is producing videos where he analyses ways the queer people and queer issues were handled in popular media, such as situation comedies of the ’70s, ’80s, and beyond. This week, he tackles one of the pivotal people behind the Muppets, who happened to be a gay man, and how that influenced and eventually changed the Muppets.
This isn’t the first I have hear of Richard Hunt and his contribution to one of my favorite media properties, but Matt weaves in video clips and quotes from people who worked with Hunt that I have never heard before. So give it a watch.
I probably should mention that a couple parts of the story made me cry. But I am a really big softie who is very easily moved to tears:
Assuming you’ve watched it, I want to expound a little bit on the topic that I put into the headline. It isn’t just that for many years the corporations controlling the Muppets as well as important performers from the troupe would insist emphatically that, for instance, Bert and Ernie were absolutely not gay. They would (Sometimes angrily) insist that because the Muppets were puppets, they could not possiblye *have a sexual orientation.
Despite the fact the Miss Piggy wasn’t just obviously heterosexual, but she was aggressively so from the nearly her very first appearance. A Piggy wasn’t the only one. Lots of female Muppets had (usually off-screen) husbands and boyfriends. A smaller number of male Muppets had wives and girlfriends.
Yes, technically, puppets don’t have a sexual orientation. But it is exactly equally true that they don’t technically have voices, either–those are provided by the humans operating them. Just as the personalities are provided by the operators and the script writers.
I’m glad that the people currently running the Muppets have finally begun embracing the truth the queer people are everywhere and that we’ve always been here. A lot of the world still doesn’t understand that when someone identifies they are gay, it is not about sex. Just as when a conservative businessman introduces people to his wife, we aren’t "shoving out sexuality down your thoart" — we’re just telling you about ourselves and at least one of the people we love.
Laws have frequently been used to target minorities and marginalized people who are not doing what most people would think of as criminal activity. When writing about the origins of Pride Month, I often mention that before the early-to-mid-seventies it was illegal for a woman to wear pants in public. This seems crazy to most people now, and it sometimes came as a shock to people back then, but there it was.
Other laws sound more reasonable until you understand how they were actually applied. For example, in 1968 the Nixon campaign committee came up with the idea of the War on Drugs as a way to target two groups which opposed all of Nixon’s priorities: black people and those opposed to the Vietnam War. Many years after the fact, Nixon domestic policy chief, John Ehrlichman, explained it:
“You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” Ehrlichman said. “We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Long before that loitering laws were used to harass anyone that the powers that be found undesirable. Loitering was usually defined as “a person simply being in a public place for no apparent reason.” In 1972 the Supreme Court ruled that loitering ordinances and vagrancy ordinances were unconstitutional for two reason: they were so vague that a common citizens couldn’t be sure what behavior constituted the crime, and police were able to arbitrarily enforce it on people who were poor, members of minorities, and so forth.
Historically, the laws were almost always used to target minorities.
The Supreme Court ruling led many jurisdictions to replace the ordinances with so-called “loitering plus” laws. These were ordinances supposedly didn’t make simply being in a public place a crime, but rather being in public for various nefarious purposes. And one of the most popular in the late 80s and 90s were so-called “drug loitering” laws. These laws allowed police to demand ID and to perform personal searches on anyone who was in public and behaving in a way that made the cop suspect that maybe they might possibly be trying to buy or sell illegal drugs. Common activities that could get you arrested under these laws were such horrible criminal acts as: looking at the cars driving by on the roadway, waving at someone, appearing to be trying to make contact with other pedestrians on the sidewalk.
And the sad thing is that even though people tried to appeal these laws to the Supreme Court, it hasn’t accepted such a case for review in decades.
The City of Seattle passed one of these laws back in the 90s. I donated money to a campaign that tried to appeal the low through the courts. When that didn’t get anywhere, I donated money and even volunteered to phone back for a campaign that tried to get an initiative on the ballot to repeal the law. We didn’t succeed.
Year after year people brought forward evidence that both the drug loitering ordinance and the prostitution loitering ordinance were disproportionately used to target black people and gender-non-conforming people, the laws stayed on the books. A few years ago a new city attorney was elected he ceased prosecutions on the two laws precisely for those reasons, but it didn’t really solve the problem, because the next city attorney could just start filing the charges again, and cops would know they could start harassing people in the name of those laws again.
Finally, the laws have been repealed: Seattle City Council Repeals Loitering Laws – The council has voted to repeal two loitering ordinances, which they say had racist origins and disproportionately targeted minorities.
This is a direct result of the Black Lives Matter protests still going on in the city. So we’ve made a teensy bit of progress!
There are many other problems to address. The biggest problem is that virtually all politicians and most common people believe that myth that police forces protect the public from crime. Statistically, they don’t. Of the most common categories of property crime (burglary, larceny, auto theft), only between 13% to 22% of those reported result in an arrest. And those percentages have been so low, that by best estimates, less than 29% of burglaries and larceny are even reported—that means fewer than 4% of such crimes are ever solved!. Heck, fewer the 70% of car thefts are reported to police!
Only abut 38% of rape cases reported to police are cleared (and a laughably even tinier percentage result in any conviction). And since only 25%-40% of sexual assaults are even reported to the police, again we’re looking at fewer than 10% leading to an arrest. Only about 60% of murders are ever solved.
Meanwhile, through abuse of asset forfeiture laws, law enforcement agencies steal far more from the people in their communities that all the burglaries and other robbery categories combined!
There are many reasons for this. One is that in most police departments across the country, the units tasks with investigating robberies and sexual assaults get the lowest budgets, and for various reasons even then, they are the departments most likely to be understaffed (as in, fewer officers actually working in those divisions than is budgeted for).
And then there are the cultural issues. K.L. Williams is a former police chief who now runs the Institute of Justice and Accountability, trying to reform police training (among other things). He sums up the police culture problem this way: about 15% of officers will do the right thing no matter what. And approximately 15% percent of officers will abuse their authority at every opportunity. The remaining 70% could go either way depending on whom they are working with.
At first glance that might not seem too bad—only 15% of cops are abusing their authority, right? But with 70% willing to look the other way and even cover up for the bad cops, that means that it’s 85% of cops who are bad, nut merely 15%. And surveys of cops have shown that a clear majority of cops admit that most of the colleagues routinely look the other way and often help cover up misconduct by other cops.
It’s just just that systemic racism, homophobia, and misogyny leads policing to victimize, rather than protect, minorities and marginalized people—those things combined with police attitudes about the public in general and anyone they perceive as being worth even less than the public means that queer (especially gender-non-conforming) and trans people have been oppressed, harassed, and abused by police forever. And as the article above explains, race, perceived ethnicity (not always the same thing), and perceived immigration status simply amplify that.
Which brings us full circle back to the trans women of color who threw the first bunches, the first bricks, the first shot glasses, that started the Stonewall Riots.
If you have time to read the post and the comments, it’s worth the time. John moderated the comments for two days before closing them, so it probably won’t be traumatic; but he does let people who remain polite and don’t repeat falsehoods about trans people say a few things that might be a bit upsetting.
I’m going to steal one bit from the middle of John’s piece:
“Understanding one’s own sexism, or racism, or homophobia, or transphobia, isn’t about reaching some plateau and getting to stop. You have to keep working at it.
“Which can be fucking tiring, you know? Now I get why so many people who were 20 or 30 years older than I was would tell me proudly that they marched with MLK or protested in the 60s: Because it was a way of saying “here’s my resume, I’m on the side of angels.” But the 60s were the 60s, and now is now. The fight’s not the same and sooner or later, generationally speaking, there’s always something to trip over.”
John is much kinder to the transphobes he is talking about than I find myself able to be. And I think he might be being kinder than they deserve. Let me explain: some years ago, I was blessed to take part in the birth of the child of two of my best friends. I was in the room when my godchild was born (after a long labor where we were taking turns who was supporting the mom). There is something that happens in your brain/heart when you hold a newborn baby after going through the birthing process. There’s a part of me that said, “I will walk through fire for this kid. I will slay dragons for this kid.”
Some years later, my godchild told us all that we had been using the wrong pronouns. And that their old name was now a dead name. It wasn’t easy to learn the new pronouns and name. Similarly, my sister’s youngest child informed us a year or so ago that we had been using the wrong pronouns, and that they had a new name.
I don’t think I’ve ever dead-named either my godchild or my nibling in person, but I know I have used the wrong pronouns more than once. Forgetting to use the correct pronoun or slippin on a name is tripping over trans issues.On the other hand, saying that trans women are not really women, repeating lies about trans people, claiming that trans people are threats, denying trans people health care, denying trans people rights? That isn’t tripping over trans issues. That’s erasing. That’s threatening. That’s attacking. That’s harming.
If you believe those things about trans people? That makes you one of the dragons that my godchild and my nibling (and every other trans person out there) needs to be protected from.
A few years ago I was riding the bus home from work and my cell phone rang. I looked at the screen and saw that it was a call from a relative I don’t hear from often. I declined the call, because I always feel self-conscious having a personal conversation in a place like the bus where total strangers can overhear (whether they want to or not). And often the bus environment is just loud enough that I can’t understand everything the other person is saying and they keep asking me to repeat myself because the background noise plus my aforementioned self-consciousness means they can’t hear me.
Once I was home, I called them back, leading with an explanation that I was sorry I hadn’t answered, but was afraid the bus was too noisy to have a conversation. The relative reacted with shock.
“Why are you riding the bus? What happened to your car? Were you in an accident? Is everyone all right?”
I explained that I have always used a combination of bus and walking to get to work.
“But why? You have a car!”
So I explained my reasons which are: 1) Not driving myself to the office every day means less wear-and-tear on the car; 2) Dealing with traffic can be stressful, and particularly after a stressful day at work it’s nice to let the bus driver deal with the traffic; 3) it is a whole lot cheaper to take the bus than to pay for downtown parking.
“Why can’t you just park your car at work?”
Then I had to explain that I could park my car in the garage under the office building if I wanted… but it isn’t cheap.
“Why are you working for someone who charges you to park at work?”
I proceeded to explain that, for one, my employer doesn’t own the building—they only rent a few floors of it. Two, if I do choose to park there monthly, my employer pays a portion of the cost, but not the whole thing, and the remainder is still quite a bit more than a bus pass. Three, there is no free parking in the downtown portions of most cities, because real estate is too valuable to have parking lot-sized portions of it not being used to generate income. Therefore, no matter who I worked for in Seattle, I’d be paying for parking.
“How expensive is it to park there?”
I told her how much (at that time) my portion of the cost would be each month to park in the building where I worked.
She whistled loudly. “That’s more than my mortgage payment! And that’s just to park your car for a month? How can that be?”
I wasn’t sure how she would react if I told her that the cost to park the car in that downtown garage for a month was less than one-tenth of the rent I was paying at that time for a two-bedroom apartment in another neighborhood. So this was when I said, “Things are more expensive in the city. But we shouldn’t be talking about my commute. You called me for a reason. What’s up?”
This is hardly the first time I have had a variant of that exact conversation with a relative or former classmate or old friend who still lives in one of the small towns or suburbs where various parts of my childhood occurred.
On a couple of occasions the conversation has included a long digression about how awful it must be to ride the bus, since the bus must be full of drug addicts and homeless people and the mentally ill and so on. When I say pleasant experiences on the bus far outweigh unpleasant ones they clearly have difficulty believing me.
And with some of the relatives/former classmates/old friends, if I explained how many unpleasant bus experiences (particularly in the first decade or so I was taking the bus) were because some not-homeless, not-mentally-ill, not-drugged-out guy suddenly suspected I was a faggot and deciding he needs to tell me how much he loathes my kind… well, that would have kicked off an entirely different kind of bewildered and awkward conversation.
The questions about buses and parking are relatively benign examples of a phenomenon that Foz Meadows very succinctly called an onion argument:
“When it comes to debating strangers with radically different perspectives, you sometimes encounter what I refer to as Onion Arguments: seemingly simple questions that can’t possibly be answered to either your satisfaction or your interlocutor’s because their ignorance of concepts vital to whatever you might say is so lacking, so fundamentally incorrect, that there’s no way to answer the first point without first explaining eight other things in detail.”
They illustrate a bigger problem. The frames of reference between rightwing folks and others is so disjoint that it’s really no surprise that we seem to be constantly talking past each other.
As I said, this comes from years of debating issues such as bus service, various ballot measures to build or extend light rail or commuter train service and related policies. It’s also grounded in my own experience growing up in rural and suburban U.S. communities.
For a bit of cultural context: to graduate from high school in this state back in the year I graduated one of the courses you had to complete was a Civics class. And there was an entire chapter in the state-approved textbook my high school was using at the time called “America’s Love Affair with the Automobile.” I very distinctly remember that there was an essay question on one of the tests in which we were to describe the procedure for changing a flat tire.
This knowledge was considered to be of the same level of importance as how to register to vote, read a voter’s pamphlet, and fill out a ballot.
So, to get back to the question about trains…
Cars represent self-determination and self-reliance. They are seen as being more flexible than trains, because they aren’t limited to running on a track. Cars are also perceived as being the responsibility of the individual owning it. You choose how often to buy a new car. You decide what kind (and how costly) of car you want to own. You pay for your gas and maintenance. And so on.
On the other hand, all types of mass transit are perceived (at least by those of a more conservative bent) as being primarily for the use of people who are too poor to afford a car of their own. Transit is therefore perceived as being paid for primarily through taxes, and specifically the taxes of folks who are not so poor as to need public transit. Add in another myth popular with that crowd—that the vast majority of poor people are only poor because they are lazy, immoral, or both—therefore taxpayer-funded transit being used mostly by people who don’t deserve it.
Whenever I have tried to point out that virtually all roads which cars drive upon in this country are built and maintained entirely by the taxpayer, people are unpersuaded. Because of another myth—this one is believed by people of virtually every political stripe—which is the myth that roads are paid for by taxes on gasoline. Therefore, it is believed (incorrectly) that people who own gas-burning cars are paying for all of the roads all by themselves.
While it is true that most gas taxes are spent on highway projects and the like, what people fail to grasp (or fail to remember once it’s explained to them) is that gas tax revenue is not sufficient to pay for highways, and none of it (at least not in any state where I have lived) is ever used for surface streets within towns and cities. The portion of highway costs that aren’t covered by the gas tax comes from the general tax revenue, of course. And all other road construction, likewise, is paid for by all tax payers, not just the ones buying gasoline.
On the very rare occasion that I have convinced someone in one of these discussions on the latter point, we get to yet another myth that is widely held by conservatives in this country: poor people don’t pay taxes—at all. Again, while if one makes less than a certain amount of money, one does not pay federal income tax, that isn’t by any means the only taxes there are. If you are earning a paycheck so small that there is no federal income tax withheld at all, one still pays social security tax, medicare tax, and state unemployment tax
And that’s still not the entire tax picture. Most states have a sales tax. So everyone who buys things pays those taxes. Most states have property tax, and if you don’t own the property yourself, your landlord is charging you rent to cover those property taxes, it’s just indirect. Depending on the jurisdiction, there are many other taxes that folks who earn too little to owe federal income tax do, indeed, pay.
I’ve skipped over another bit of the issue, though it is implied in one of the earlier points. A lot of right-wingers (because they believe that the only reason one is poor is because one is lazy, immoral, or both) adhere to the firm conviction that any service which makes life less than completely miserable for poor people simply encourages them to continue being poor. Therefore, buses, light rail, commuter trains, and so forth are seen as things that encourage laziness and immorality.
There are a lot more aspects to all these misconceptions. The idea that cars are more flexible than trains overlooks the fact that roads are no easier to move than train tacks. And that most cars aren’t suitable for extended off-road use. Even for those cars which are, most car owners would not be happy with what extended off-road use does to their paint job. And since 80% of the population lives in cities, the only way 80% can get more flexible than existing roads is to drive through other people’s yards. Not a good kind of flexibility!
The above misunderstanding about gas taxes also contributes to why so many right-wingers sneer at electric cars and hybrids, for another instance.
And so on.
But, really, most of it comes down to that dogma I talked about near the beginning: cars represent self-determination and self-reliance, while mass transit (especially trains) are perceived as a tax-payer giveaway to people too poor (read lazy/immoral) to afford a car.
And thats why right-wingers in America hate trains.
Because I participate in the Hugo Award nomination and voting process, I frequently find myself at this time of year scouring review sites and such looking for things that were published in the last year that I might want to read. Now, I look at review sites and follow-up on book recommendations year-round, but usually when I sit down to nominate and start going back through the things I’ve read recently, it turns out that a large portion of those books and shorter stories were published more than a year ago, and therefore aren’t eligible—hence the need to find and read more things that are eligible to see if any of them wow me enough to nominate.
During this process I occasionally come across recommendations of things that I decide I definitely will not read. Sometimes my reason for not reading it is because the review tells me that the story deals with things I don’t want to read about.
Now, when I have admitted this before, there have been people who chime in to say that it is wrong of me to condemn a story without reading it; why don’t I give it a try, just in case I like it any way? I have two responses to that. The first is, me declining to read a story is absolutely not the same thing as condemning it. Secondly, I don’t owe anyone or anything my attention. How I spend my life (energy, time, money) is my business.
My friends will tell you that when I really like a book or a show or an author, I will enthuse about them rather a lot. I’ll urge them to check it out. If they’re someone I see frequently, I may repeat the recommendation many times. I’m doing this because I really like that thing, I genuinely think that they will too, and it’s fun to share an enthusiasm with friends. Sometimes, I don’t recall that they have already told me that they aren’t interested, or that they checked it out and didn’t like it, or whatever. So I’m not meaning to be annoying. But I know it can come across that way.
I know it, because I’ve had those “Why not give it a try?” conversations mentioned above, and find myself explaining exactly why I’m not interested in a particular subject matter or whatever.
Then, sometimes my reason for not reading it is because the author of the story is someone I find problematic. For instance, back when I was in my early 20s, a series of sci fi books came out that several of my friends were reading and really enjoyed. And the world the books occurred in seemed to be right up my alley. So I read the first book and liked most of it. There were a couple of points where rape—one instance psychic, another physical—figured in the plot in a way that felt unnecessary to me, but other parts of the story were great. But as I read through the subsequent books, physical rape, psychic rape, maiming, and a disturbing number of murders while in the middle of the sex act became more and more prominent.
I decided I didn’t need to read any more in the series. Even though there were a lot more books, and people were gushing about how great they were for years after. And when the author started another series in a related genre, and it became a bestseller, people were again enthusing about it. It had been long enough that I didn’t connect the author’s name with my previous experience until I read some reviews. The guy’s plot, according to all the reviewers, still wallows in rape, grotesque murder, and similar stuff. And I just don’t need to read yet another tale like that.
There are thousands of books that don’t leave me feeling dirty and blood-soaked nor do they cause nightmares. I’ll read those. It’s perfectly fine if other people want to read the blood-soaked rapey books. Me not reading that sort of thing is not the same thing as saying it shouldn’t be published, nor that it shouldn’t have been written. Many years ago, after a series of unpleasant experiences of by verbally harassed by bigots who (correctly) guessed that I was gay, I wound up writing a story in which a gay character was cornered and gay bashed… and rescued. With the bashers dying in the process. It was not great literature. The plot was barely there. Some people read it and enjoyed it. Other people read it and didn’t enjoy it. Some people, I’m quite sure, declined to read it when they saw the content warnings.
And all of those responses are valid.
You don’t owe other people an explanation for why you don’t want to read (or watch or listen to) a particular thing.
A lot of people have linked to the comments by people like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and so forth denigrating the modern superhero movie as not being “real cinema”, not being narrative, having more in common with an amusement park ride than a “proper movie” and so forth. And many other people have posted counter arguments, but most of the counter arguments I was thinking were being a bit too timid in their defense. And then Cora Buhlert weighed in: Old Directors Yell at Clouds – Pardon, Superheroes. And she nailed it:
My initial reaction to Martin Scorsese’s remarks was, “I could say the exact same thing about his films. I tried to watch them, I really tried, and I’ll never get the hours I spent sitting through Taxi Driver or Gangs of New York back. But I’m sorry, I just cannot connect with the kind of white dude arseholes who are the protagonists of Scorsese’s movies.” I may never have been a superhero, but I find Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and the rest of the gang much more relatable than anybody in Taxi Driver or The King of Comedy or Goodfellas or Casino.
I mean, really, it’s quite rich for a guy like Scorsese to accuse any other filmmaker of not being able to create a narrative. I had immediately gone to Gangs of New York myself as the perfect example of the kind of failed storytelling usually defended with “but that’s what happens in real life!” The difference between fiction and real life is that fiction has to make sense. That’s what narrative actually means: making sense out of events by tying them to a thread of meaning. Gangs of New York (and every other Scorsese film I’ve sat through) set up all sorts of narrative threads, places metaphorical guns on mantlepieces, that are simply ignored or forgotten in an ending that can be boiled down to: “Life is unfair and meaningless and you, the audience, are stupid for not realizing it.”
Buhlert makes some other points that I was thinking while reading the various screeds:
Because for all their flaws, today’s superhero movies are a lot more diverse in front and behind the camera, then the highly touted movies of the New Hollywood era, which were made by and for a very narrow slice of people. It’s no accident that directors, actors and characters of those movies are all white and male and either Italian-American or members of some other immigrant group (the characters in The Deer Hunter are all descendants of Russian immigrants). There are a lot of people who never saw themselves reflected in those movies – women, people of colour, LGBTQ people, people who are not American – and who likely never much cared for those movies either, because the big Scorsese or Coppola fanboys are mostly white dudes themselves.
Not all superhero movies are diverse. I mean, I was hardly the first person to point out that several of the franchises featured blond-haired, blue-eyed protagonists who were playing by and white actor named Chris, for goodness sake! But just as one example, the best Captain America comics (And the movie moments) have been the ones created by writers who never forget that inside that supersoldier body, deep down, Steve Rogers is still the not-able-bodied asthmatic kid who understands what it means to be powerless and to be bullied, and who has the empathy and hope necessary to fight for the powerless.
Now I am a comic fan of old and like superhero movies. And so the current golden age of superhero movies is a dream come true for me, where I finally get to see plenty of characters on the big screen that I never expected to see there, in well made movies with excellent actors, great production values and stories that capture what made the comics so compelling. However, I also realise that not everybody likes superhero movies and I know the pain of cinemas being full of some genre of movies you don’t like. After all, I felt the same during the glut of westerns (and anybody who hates superhero movies should remember that the glut of westerns lasted from the silent era into the 1970s, i.e. almost fifty years), the glut of Vietnam war movies in the 1980s (and WWII movies in the 1960s), the glut of gangster movies in the 1970s/80s (and the 1930s) or the glut of romantic comedies in the 1990s. Oddly enough, however, I never hear the usual suspects complaining about too many westerns or war movies or gangster movies, though romantic comedies, Star Wars knock-off space operas and even the mini-trend of YA novel adpatations approx. ten years ago all got dinged. Gee, I wonder why that is.
It’s another example of that phenomenon that I called “applause from the wrong crowd.” Movies that are aimed at that narrow slice of cishet, white, male, able-bodied people are “proper cinema” and anyone in the audience who isn’t a member of that demographic is expected to watch with quiet admiration. We’re not supposed to expect to see our own stories on the screen. We’re not supposed to expect to see our issues addressed in the tales on screen. And if somehow something slips through that does include us, or tell our stories, we’re not supposed to cheer it loudly and enthusiastically.
If I keep going, I’m just going to devolve into ranting on my own. Buhlert makes a lot of other good points about the kinds of stories that superhero comics and films tackle well, the kinds of movies that are being squeezed out by the current focus on blockbusters, and other topics along the way. You should really go read the whole thing.
Frequently, Bisexual Awareness Week is the same week as my birthday, so I had been planning a post about bi-erasure, the importance of bi visibility, and so forth for next week. Then I saw a link on a newsblog that this week is it.
I often quote the study completed by the Centers for Disease control in the early 90s whose conclusions included the line, “Americans would rather admit to being heroin addicts than being bisexual.” I’m not bisexual, but my husband is. A lot of people leap to the conclusion that because he’s a man married to another man that he is gay. He’s not. A have several other friends who are bisexual who have ended up in long-term relationships with opposite sex partners and people assume that that means they are straight. They aren’t. And that’s just one aspect of bi-erasure.
One of the reasons I take bi erasure a bit personally is my husband: I love him, and being bisexual is part of who he is. It’s not that I only love his “gay half” (as if that even existed), I love all of him. Because he’s awesome.
I have to admit that another reason I take it personally is because I owe bisexual people an apology, because I’m one of those gay guys who—during the time I was struggling with coming out of the closet—lied and said I was bi. I was lying to myself at least as much as I was lying to anyone else, but it was a lie. It wasn’t a transitional phase on my way to being gay. The complicated forces of internalized homophobic and the tremendous social pressure that defines adulthood, in part, on getting married to a person of the opposite sex and starting a family cause us to do some stupid things. And unfortunately, the existence of exclusively gay or lesbian people who falsely identified as bisexual for a time while struggling with their identity contributes to another aspect of bi-erasure.
Bisexual (and pansexual) visibility is important. There are people out there—many of them young people—who aren’t out yet. They may be struggling with even understanding what their sexuality is. And the more examples they can see of adults of all sexualities — bi, pan, ace, gay, lesbian, queer — the more they will know that they aren’t alone and that they can have a future full of love.
And that means that the rest of us in the queer community need to do what we can to make our bi+ siblings feel welcome in queer spaces. If someone tells you they are bi, believe them. Don’t argue with them. Don’t tell them that they may feel differently later. Recognize that they are trusting you with information that makes them vulnerable, and be the kind of ally you wish your straight friends and family members had been for you when you came out.
And let’s be perfectly clear: I am not yet willing to embrace him into the ally fold. Because so far his “apologies” and his repudiations of his former stances have fallen far short of the minimal acceptable act of contrition.
In order to explain that, I have to give you some background. Mr Harris was raised by two of the founders of the evangelical home-schooling movement. I know that there are non-evangelical families that participate in home-schooling, but the largest of the home-school movements are run by very conservative so-called Christians. All of the statistics indicate that the majority of students in those programs, at least, do not receive minimal science education while their history curriculum fall far short of any reasonable expectation of accuracy. And the sex education would be laughable if it wasn’t causing so much harm.
But let’s get back to Mr. Harris. Harris came to prominence in evangelical circles for writing a book called. I Kissed Dating Goodbye which was about how modern dating culture was merely thinly disguised promiscuity. He promulgated all the usual arguments fundamental to purity culture, which is pushed by many churches as a biblical reaction to immorality, when it is actually a codification of practices that victimize natural feelings women experience, while excusing immoral impulses of heterosexual men.
Harris supported an alternative to dating called “courtship,” where a young man—feeling that god has pointed out his intended bride to him—approaches her and her father, and if the father approves, they begin courting. This is different than dating mostly in that everyone agrees there will be no kissing ever, and that they will also spend their time together in chaperoned (usually church-sponsored) activities until such time that that families deem it is time for the two to marry.
You will note that it is the young woman’s father who approves in that description, not the young woman herself. If you bring that up to the folks who push this particular brand of purity culture, they will insist that of course the father consults with his daughter before giving his approval. But counsellors who have worked with young people who feel they are being railroaded by their family’s beliefs on this, as well as the accounts of adults who have fled those churches, report that the majority of the time the young woman’s wishes are not taken into account.
The entire process is built around assumptions that men naturally are imbued by god with insatiable lust, while women are tasked by that same god with ensuring that lust doesn’t become inflamed. The upshot of which is that boys and young men aren’t taught to respect boundaries or take responsibility for their own feelings and actions. And if any so-called sexual sin happens, it is always the fault of the girl or young woman, because it’s her job not to tempt the young man, right?
Harris made a lot of money from that book and subsequent writings, going on to become a pastor in a very anti-gay denomination. Which comes as a surprise to no one.
What has pushed him into the spotlight in recent years are first, his repudiations of his past teachings. It began a few years ago when he said he no longer supported many of the ideas in his first book. Oddly, it was quite some time later before he asked the publisher of his first book to stop selling the book. He and the publisher reached an agreement whereby they would not pursue any further reprints, but they would continue to promote and sell his book until the existing inventory was sold… and they would continue to pay him his royalties throughout this period.
Next, he worked with a documentarian to produce a film and then go an a so-called apology tour for the communities that were harmed by his sex-negative, misogynistic, anti-gay, anti-trans rhetoric. The problem is, the documentary and the tour was all about him (and selling his new apology merchandise) and not about the communities that have been harmed for many years by his anti-gay and anti-feminist teachings and his books.
Since then, he and his wife have announced that they are getting a divorce. Shortly after that he announced that he no longer considered himself a Christian and he specifically issued an apology to the LGBT community. That sounds great. But when he made this last announcement on Instagram, in as accompanied by a pretentious photo of himself gazing out at a lake. A photo was was taken by a professional he hired for the purpose. Which is totally what you would expect an ordinary person to do when issuing an apology about your years of being a leader of a bigoted movement, right? [/sarcasm]
And then, this weekend what did he do? Why he traveled from Ohio to Vancouver, British Columbia and marched in the Gay Pride Parade there. We know this because he posted a number of pictures of himself wearing a rainbow t-shirt to his Instagram account. We see him posing with people at the parade. We see him eating a rainbow donut. We see him standing on a sidewalk with the rainbow-clad crowd applauding the parade in the background, and so on.
All of which seems very… calculated. Joe Jervis over on his blog, Joe.My.God snarkily observed: “I guess we can give him props for at least doing this on his own before a Grindr account or something similar goes public.” I don’t suspect that Harris is going to come out as gay anytime soon—though he certainly wouldn’t be the first conservative pastor whose sermons focused a disproportionate time on sexual matters to be found out to be a closet case. I’m more concerned with how he has found ways to monetize his so-called transformation.
Take that documentary: a blogger named Elizabeth Esther who had written about her own escape from a purity-culture church, participated in Harris’s documentary. Later, when Harris started selling copies of the documentary while doing his apology tour, she saw how her interview with him was edited in a very distorting way. As she says, the whole thing came across as Harris proclaiming, “I had good intentions. I need you to know how good my intentions were!” That’s not an adequate apology to queer kids who were abused and/or kicked out on the street by their religious parents following advice from Harris’ books. It is not an adequate apology to women who were shamed about their own bodies from early childhood. It is not an adequate apology to kids of all genders who were pushed into relationships without adequate understandings of how real relationships work. And so on.
I could rant some more, but Patrick L. Green, who for many years was a pastor at a liberal church near Chicago that ran a youth outreach program which, among other things, tried to support kid who were being victimized in the purity-culture obsessed churches in their community. His post includes a lot of interesting (and sometimes disturbing) information: Joshua Harris’ Creation And What We Need to Consider.
Maybe Harris really is trying to find a way to make amends, but given that he first half-heartedly repudiated his most famous book (and had to be called out many times by ex-evangelicals before he actually asked the publisher to stop selling it), then made a documentary that he sold along with other merchandise on that so-called apology tour, then hiring a professional photographer for his instagram post announcing that he was leaving the church, and then those Pride Parade photos that look staged…
…well, let’s just say, I’m expecting a new book or something similar to go on sale soon. I’m not planning on buying it.
Three cheers for the Red, White & Blue — or why I’m more patriotic than any MAGA-hat wearer you will ever meet…
On the first day of July I took down the Pride flags that were mounted on the rail of our deck and put up my Independence Day banners. Our deck, which I usually refer to as The Veranda is a 38-foot long, 5-foot wide lanai or balcony on the back side of our apartment building, where it is three stories up from the ground (even though our apartment is only a second floor unit from the front of the building).
The picture above is only half of my current display. The Fireworks banner I’ve owned for years, the Red-White-Blue bunting is new, the new variant on the Rainbow Stars and Stripes my hubby found at the Pride Festival, and I bought a replacement of my old very faded Seahawks Nation flag this spring.
Just before Independence Day I saw a lot of posts on twitter and tumblr (from people who think they are patriots) very angry that rainbow Stars and Stripes flags exist, and insisting that any of us flying them are disrespecting our country (and veterans and so forth). For the last several years I have been careful to make sure that my rainbow Stars and Stripes flag always appeared next to my Seahawks Nation flag precisely because I have never seen anyone claim that a football-team-logo-themeed-variant of the U.S. flag was disrespectful.
And the Seattle Seahawks are not the only professional sports team, by any means, to license such a flag:The NFL team known as the Raiders has licensed and sold this flag while they were the Oakland, California francise, and while they were one of several Los Angeles, California teams, during the season they were in Berkeley, when they returned to Oakland, and even now while they are transferring to Las Vegas. And at no time in all those years has anyone suggested they are disrespecting the U.S. flag by selling this variant. Similarly the Denver Broncos franchise within the Nation Football League has been selling (for profit!) this flag similarly inspired by the U.S. flag, yet none of the people who get angry about the Pride flag or the Rainbow Stars and Stripes flag have ever said a word about this blatant instance of sport team enthusiasts making a travesty of the flag of the United States of America. Not even the Miami Dolphins are immune, because once again we see the blatant disrespect and abuse heaped upon Old Glory and every soldier and sailor and marine and airman who has ever served under the legitimate flag of this nation. Yet, once again, despite the National Football League committing this heinous act of debasement, not one single person has ever objected.
Many, many, many times over the last 28 years, I have run into people who get very angry about any variant of the U.S. flag that incorporates the rainbow; with much wailing and gnashing of the teeth about people who have died in wars for that flag. Yet I have never seen anyone get similarly exorcised about various sports teams (and the four I have included above are hardly the only ones) who similarly riff on the U.S. flag. Also, almost every single person who has ever confronted me about the rainbow stars and stripes, or the regular pride flag, or has passively-aggressively commented on the same, has felt absolutely no shame for posting images of the Confederate Flag, even though that was blatantly the flag of the traitors trying to overthrow the Union AND the flag of pro-slavery and white-supremacist movements.
Yet, somehow, we are the ones disrespecting the flag???
When I posted the pictures of all four of the banners on my balcony: a red, white & blue fireworks banner; a traditional red, white & blue bunting; a rainbow stars & stripes flag; and a Seahawks nations flag—a few people asked why I didn’t also fly an actual U.S. flag? The answer is simple. Because I am a former Boy Scout, and I still adhere to the traditional Flag Code: do not leave a U.S. flag out in the rain unless it is an All Weather flag, and NEVER leave a U.S. flag out after sunset unless it is illuminated with spotlights.
During the last two decades, I have met nearly zero people who think of themselves as patriots who also understand that under old U.S. laws the way many people treat the flag would be considered the same as burning a flag in anger. Specifically: if you have a flag displayed say on the antenae of your car 24-hours a day but it isn’t an all-weather flag nor do you have spotlights illuminating it at night? Well, guess what, you have desecrated that flag! Good on you, MAGA-hat wearing hypocrit! You are the exact opposite of a patriot. But then, most of us knew that already.
I have owned a couple of actual U.S. flags, but because I actually understand the flag code, I have only flown them at times when I was sure I would be at home to take them back in before sundown.
I’m the kind of patriot who gets teary-eyeed when I listen to recordings of people singing the Star-Spangled Banner, so yes, I would love to fly my regular flag on at the very least Flag Day and Independence Day, but I have refrained on those years when I wasn’t sure I would be home before sundown.
Because I was talking about this earlier this year, the other day I heard my husband drop a hint or two that he is plotting a way for me to put out the flag at a spot against the wall and with spotlights next year. So next year may be slightly different. Though the rainbow flag and the Seahawks flag will ALSO be on display.