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How people use a word can tell you more about them than they wish — more adventures in dictionaries

Abuse as defined in one of my dictionaries... (click to embiggen)

Abuse as defined in one of my dictionaries… (click to embiggen)

I can’t count the number of times, as a child, that some adult (relatives, teachers, or people from church) would take me aside to suggest or insist that if I would just be more obedient or behave the way my dad expected, he wouldn’t have to be so strict with me. I know my younger siblings got similar admonishments: Dad wouldn’t be forced to use such strict punishments on us if only we could placate his moods. They never referred to his behavior as “abuse,” it was always said that he was “strict” and that he “had a temper.” And while they often implied that they thought his punishment was harsher than necessary, they never acknowledged that his behavior had crossed a line into being unacceptable or uncalled for. Which is quite amazing if I explain some of the specifics.

Content Warning: the following essay (which will also touch on dangerous misperceptions and myths about sexual orientation) includes some specifics about physical abuse of children and worse. Only click when you’re ready Read More…

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If you don’t know labor history, you’re doomed to repeat the bad parts

“Union Accomplishments: Safe working conditions; Safety regulations; No toxic dumping; No child labor abuses; Standard minimum wage; 40-hour work week; Overtime pay; Paid vacation; Pensions; Healthcare; Equal Pay for Equal work.”

“Union Accomplishments: Safe working conditions; Safety regulations; No toxic dumping; No child labor abuses; Standard minimum wage; 40-hour work week; Overtime pay; Paid vacation; Pensions; Healthcare; Equal Pay for Equal work.”

Both of my grandfathers were life long union workers. Dad moved in and out of union and non-union portions of his industry. When Mom re-entered the work force after my parents’ divorce, she became a union member and other then a few stints in management, remained one until she retired. I, on the other hand, work in an industry that has fought to keep unions out, and for various social reasons, the same co-workers who complain loudest about how everyone is classified as “professional” and therefore exempt from overtime pay and the like, are also convinced that unions would be a disaster.

Which is really sad. Mostly I blame the decades-long war on unions waged by mostly the Republican party. They have managed, somehow, to convince people to believe, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that businesses have always given out wages and benefits out of the goodness of their hearts.

I don’t understand how anyone who has worked for any business larger than a mom-and-pop operation can believe that.

“If unions are bad for the economy, why did America's greatest era of prosperity have more workers under union contract than any other time in history?”

“If unions are bad for the economy, why did America’s greatest era of prosperity have more workers under union contract than any other time in history?”

It’s not that profits are driving business decisions, it’s that maximizing benefit to business leaders while milking short-term profits without investing in workers and their skills for long-term benefits.

You can keep talking about the economic insecurities of angry white guys, but you have to recognize that the source of economic insecurity is not market forces, or immigrants, or equal opportunity laws. It’s the people in that top 1%. And somehow we’ve got to get those scared angry white guys to recognize that they are being duped.

“Did it ever occur to you that union workers aren't overpaid, maybe you're underpaid? Where are the gains going? From 1970 to 2010, in inflations-adjusted dollars, income of private sector workers fell from an average of $32,000 to $29,000, while income among 'job creators' rose from $2-million to $16-million.” Source: nyti.ms/saez-and-piketty-on-inequality

“Did it ever occur to you that union workers aren’t overpaid, maybe you’re underpaid? Where are the gains going? From 1970 to 2010, in inflations-adjusted dollars, income of private sector workers fell from an average of $32,000 to $29,000, while income among ‘job creators’ rose from $2-million to $16-million.” Source: nyti.ms/saez-and-piketty-on-inequality

Confessions of a recovering evangelical, part 2

Man dressed as Jesus stands in front of a group of anti-gay protestors. Jesus-guy holds a sign that says, “I'm not with these guys.”

“I’m not with these guys.” (Click to embiggen)

When I was a teen-ager our church had a debate about locks. I think the precipitating event was the purchase of a new organ for the main sanctuary, but I also know there had been an incident of one of the other churches in the neighborhood being vandalized. The upshot was, someone had proposed that we put locks on the main doors of the church. We had long had locks on some specific rooms inside the building, and the auxilliary wing of the church was locked up when not in use, but the main building and specifically the sanctuary (which is the official name of the large room with the pews, pulpit, and baptismal) were always unlocked and open to everyone.

There was a lot of talk during the meeting about insurance—either that our current insurance carrier didn’t want to cover us against theft and vandalism for parts of the building that were unlocked at night, or they were going to raise our rates significantly, I don’t recall which. There were a number of people in the congregation who felt maybe we should start locking the main building. “We aren’t in a tiny town and it isn’t the fifties,” is how I think one person put it. Another person told a story of homeless people routinely sleeping in churches and sometimes not being careful about where they went to the bathroom.

One of the associate pastors rose to his feet on that one and said, “Call me foolish if you want, but I think the proper response to finding a homeless person sleeping in your church should be to offer them a meal, and then ask what other help do they need!”

I grew up in Southern Baptist Churches where the tradition is that all business decisions related to the church are decided by the congregation as a whole. At regular intervals the usual Wednesday Prayer meeting would begin with a business meeting. Any congregation member, no matter their age, who attended the meetings had a vote. I had been attending business meetings at the many churches we attended (as my family moved) for as long as I could remember. I seldom remembered one that became more impassioned than that debate about whether to put locks on the sanctuary door.

It was beginning to look like as if the majority was leaning toward adding the locks. And then one elderly member of the congregation struggled to stand up. She had been frail and needed a walker to get around for some years, but she never missed a service at the church. She let the person sitting next to her help her to her feet, but then she sort of shook him off and raised her face as if she was speaking to the heavens themselves, and I hadn’t heard her voice sound so firm in years. “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not visit me. And they will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick and in prison and did not help you?’ And he will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whenever you did not do it for the least of these, you did not do for me!'” She paused, looked around at all of us, and then added. “We call it a sanctuary! That is what it is supposed to be! This isn’t our house, it is His house, and he already told us what we ought to do!”

And then she sat down.

Every one was very quiet for a moment, then someone said, “I move that we do not put locks on the sanctuary.” About forty of us said, “Seconded!” And the deacon conducting the meeting said, “Everyone in favor, signify by saying ‘amen’?” That was a very loud chorus of “amens.” Then the deacon asked, “Any opposed?” And I think one person said “Nay,” and he was immediately admonished by his wife.

Before I move on, a few notes. It has been many years since I considered myself a Christian. I usually say that I didn’t reject the church, but my denomination (which is still anti-gay decades later) rejected me. At that time, I felt I had no choice but to look for spiritual fulfillment elsewhere. I usually define myself as Taoist, now. But when that woman started quoting the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, I found myself murmuring along with her. I wasn’t the only person, by any means, but my point is that I was the kind of kid who could quote entire chapters of the Bible from heart. Some of those passages still speak strongly to me.

If it isn’t a sanctuary, it is not a house or worship.

So, yes, I was one of the people a bit outraged when so-called christian televangelist Joel Osteen, mega church pastor in Houston, Texas, refused to open his building as a shelter to his neighbor flooded out of their homes: Joel Osteen’s Houston megachurch opens to Harvey victims only after backlash. The church’s statements have been slightly contradictory. There are plenty of posts on the internet you can track down of people living nearby walking to the church during the time when the church claimed it was flooded to show there wasn’t any flooding. And during the time when they said it was not locked people walked up and took videos of themselves trying doors and so forth.

So let’s get a few things straight. Osteen’s “ministry” preaches so-called prosperity gospel, the essence of which is: if you’re rich, that’s a sign God likes you. If you’re not, maybe he doesn’t. This runs absolutely counter to almost every word Jesus actually said. The church in question isn’t just a megachurch, it is a former sports arena that the “ministry” purchased for millions of dollars, then spent at least 70million more renovating. The renovations include installing two artificial waterfalls inside the church, yet somehow in all of that they neglected to put in any symbols of Christianity: there are no crosses or any other signs inside the sanctuary that indicate in any way that it is a christian house of worship. Thousands of TV cameras and screens and a top-notch sound system so that you can always see and hear Osteen, though.

While the child inside me who used to love reciting John 16:33, or Matthew 5:3-16, or Matthew 25:31-46 gets outraged at Osteen’s actions, I can’t really say that he is much of an outlier of typical evangelical christian thought. Most evangelical christians believe, whether they say it aloud or not, in the Just World Fallacy: if bad things happen to you, they are almost certainly a punishment from god. In other words, if you’re poor, it can’t possibly be because the entire system of the economy and society is geared to transfer wealth and resources from everyone else to the rich, it’s because you’re probably secretly doing something sinful. If you get a horrible disease, it isn’t caused by a virus or chemicals you’ve been exposed to in your deregulated workplace, et cetera, it’s because you’re doing something sinful, et cetera. And therefore, poor people, sick people, and so forth don’t deserve help and compassion. Like Osteen’s prosperity BS, it is the opposite of what Jesus actually taught.

As if one object lesson in just how uncompassionate and unchristian many of these so-called religious leaders are, at the same time this was unfolding, another group of evangelical leaders were doubling down on their anti-gay, anti-trans, anti-sex, anti-joy hateful rhetoric: Evangelical Leaders Release Anti-LGBTQ Statement On Human Sexuality. The fact that some of those “leaders” have been involved in serious scandals trying to cover-up rampant sexual abuse within their organization is really all anyone needs to know about them.

But someone else described these situations far more eloquently long ago:

“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
—Jesus, as quoted in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 7, verses 21-23.

We mistake our privilege for something earned, and think the worst of those without pedestals

Who knows what self-delusion lurks in the hearts of white men? The Shadow knows...

Who knows what self-delusion lurks in the hearts of white men? The Shadow knows… (click to embiggen)

My dad was the kind of racist that was almost too easy to spot. He threw around the n-word and other racial slurs not just casually, but with great frequency. It was impossible to talk to him without also hearing how all those people were the cause of anything and everything bad that he perceived was happening in the world. Friends and acquaintances didn’t always believe me when I would describe the phone conversations where I had to ask him, multiple times, to stop talking like that or I would hang up.It was simply toxic to talk to him, which is why I literally stopped speaking to him at all about seven years before he died. My dad was the kind of racist who made it easy for other people to congratulate themselves that they weren’t racist because they didn’t talk as crudely as he did. We look at guys like my him, or the people waving Nazi flags and throwing Nazi salutes in Charlottesville, Virginia this last weekend, and tell ourselves that we aren’t like that, so clearly we aren’t racist.

Who speaks truth about the evil that lurks in the hearts of men?

Who speaks truth about the evil that lurks in the hearts of men? (click to embiggen)

But we live in a racist society. We’ve been conditioned to believe all sorts of things about each other based on the color of their skin. Studies show that when we’re shown photographs of black teens of either sex we consistently over-estimate their age, for instance. We’ve been conditioned so that if we look at a young black man, we don’t see a kid, but a thug. We’re pre-disposed to believe that a young black man is not only capable, but likely to hurt someone. We see a video of a dark skinned person carrying a toy gun getting gunned down by police (even though he has dropped the toy and has his hands in the air), and say, “Well, he still looked dangrous.” Then we see video of hundreds of white guys showing up at a political rally carrying rifles and guns and say, “They’re just exercising their rights.”

It is impossible to grow up in a racist society and not absorb a lot of racism. It is also impossible to grow up in the U.S. as a white person and not benefit from all that racism. Part of it is the generational thing: we lived in nicer neighborhoods than we otherwise would because our parents, grandparents, and so on benefited from preferential hiring practices, redlining of mortgages, and unequal distribution of resources for public schools. And it’s easy for us to say, “Well, that was the bad old days. Things have changed, now, and besides, I can’t do anything about it.” But it isn’t just the bad old days. Racist assumptions are baked into all of our social conventions, institutions, and business practices. Studies have shown again and again that changing something as simple as making a name look less ethnic on a resume substantially improves the odds that a submitted resume will get result in a call for a job interview, for instance. We see it in statistics of which people cops decide to stop and question, let alone the ghastly statistics about police shootings.

So if you’re like me, looking at this news this weekend and being horrified that an angry white man who drove his car into a crowd killing a woman (and wounding at least 19 other people), while people ranging from ordinary citizens to news anchors and even the president are bending over backward to say that bigotry isn’t involved—it isn’t enough to say, “Aren’t they terrible people?” We have to be willing to admit that these terrible people were enabled by a society which explicitly benefits white people, whether we individual white people think of ourselves as racist or not.

Some other folks have explained it quite well: How “Nice White People” Benefit from Charlottesville and White Supremacy:

“For white people who don’t self-identify as disciples of Richard Spencer, David Duke, and/or the ancient demon Beelzebub, there is extreme anxiety around the accusation of racism. We see this fear of blame in Trump’s statement. “Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama” seems to say, ‘Hey, there’s been a tense racial climate in this country forever. It’s not anyone’s fault!’ Except the opposite is true. American white supremacy has been a problem forever, and it is all of our fault, fellow white people.

“White people benefit from white supremacy. Period. Peggy McIntosh spelled this out for us in 1989, but apparently we’re still not quite getting it. Her famous piece, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” lays out undeniable ways that it is simply easier to be white in this country, like always having a boss who is a fellow white person, or, you know, being able to eat Skittles at night without getting shot. Most white people didn’t ask for this privilege. Actually, that’s the whole idea. White privilege is an inherent advantage that easily goes unnoticed and unacknowledged. Rather than stuffing down the sense of shame associated with this obvious unfairness, why not work to even the playing field?”
—Lauren Duca

The referenced article by Peggy McIntosh is also a very good read: White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.

“I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.”
—Peggy McIntosh

We can’t just shake our heads and blame it all on those people. Society as a whole, including us, are to blame. The first step is recognizing that the problem isn’t something which was forced on our country. The problem isn’t something that just appeared recently. The problem has always been there. It has been growing and getting angrier for years. We are part of the problem, so we have to be part of the solution. We have to find ways to oppose this racist authoritarian movement with more than just words.

Queer Plus, or Intersectionality Isn’t Just a Noun — more adventures in dictionaries

“#MoreColorsMorePride” Supporters of Philadelphia’s revamped version of the Pride flag say it’s meant to be more inclusive to nonwhite LGBTQ persons.

“#MoreColorsMorePride” Supporters of Philadelphia’s revamped version of the Pride flag say it’s meant to be more inclusive to nonwhite LGBTQ persons.

When I first saw a link to an article about the More Colors More Pride campaign and their new flag, I admit I was a bit confused. My specific thought was, “But the black stripe goes at the bottom…” because I’m already very familiar with the Victory Over AIDS version of the Pride flag. In that flag, the black stripe represents our being in mourning for the loss of hundreds of thousands of members of the queer community due to AIDS, and it is the bottom stripe on that flag because the idea is that we are determined to be victorious over AIDS, right?

Anyway, my confusion lasted only milliseconds, because I hadn’t even finished reading the headline before I understood that for this flag, the new stripes represented Queer People of Color. Which made perfect sense. But, as an article that I included in the most recent Friday Links noted, the new flag wasn’t greeted enthusiastically by everyone: The Surprising Controversy Surrounding A More Inclusive Pride Flag.

I’ve seen some of the negative reactions on my own social media, and one thing I couldn’t help noticing was that every person I saw objecting, if you checked out their profile, they were white and male (Full Disclosure: I’m white and male, myself). And their objections are, to a one, ludicrous. I especially liked the guy who said something along the lines of “if you don’t see yourself included in the universal symbol of the rainbow, you need to do some soul searching.” Because first of all, it isn’t a universal symbol, is it? As just one example, we have all the whacko Christian fundamentalists who get all angry and in our face claiming that we’ve stolen the rainbow from god. When the flag was first created (and hand sewn) under the direction of artist Gilbert Baker in 1978, some people in the queer community didn’t like it for a variety of reasons.

Gilber Baker's original flag design had 8 colors: hot pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, indigo, and violet.

Gilber Baker’s original flag design had 8 colors: hot pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, indigo, and violet.

And it isn’t as if the flag has remained completely unchanged since its original creation. In the fall over 1978, after the assassination of Harvey Milk, there was a sudden demand in the San Francisco area for more of the rainbow flags. To meet the sudden demand, Baker and a flag company decided to use existing stock rainbow fabric (red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, blue, and violet), so they lost the hot pink and changed the indigo to a lighter blue. And a year later the official banners for the San Francisco Pride events switched to a six-color version ( red, orange, yellow, green, royal blue, and violet). There are two different explanations given for that change: some say it was because when the seven-color versions were hung vertically from street lamp poles the middle stripe wasn’t always visible, others say that there was difficulty getting both the turquoise and indigo fabric. The point is, the rainbow flag changed several times, with the original artist’s blessing, in the first few years of its existence.

Many groups within the community have felt that the rainbow didn't explicitly include them, and have opted for other flags to use either instead of the rainbow or along side it.

Many groups within the community have felt that the rainbow didn’t explicitly include them, and have opted for other flags to use either instead of the rainbow or along side it. (Click to embiggen)

I mentioned above that not everyone was happy with it. Some weren’t happy because they thought the rainbow was two generic. Others because there were already symbols being used by lots of queer people (for example: a pink triangle or a labrys on a black triangle), and they thought we should stick to those symbols for various reasons. Other folks have made other variations. And a lot of people in the community didn’t think that the rainbow (or the Pride marches themselves) should include anyone other than exclusively gay men and lesbian women. I remember public arguments about whether the words bisexual or transgender should be added to the official name of the Pride Parade in Seattle during the 90s, for instance. There many other arguments still raging about who should be included.

Many, many more variants and alternatives to the rainbow flag.

Many, many more variants and alternatives to the rainbow flag.

I wasn’t around the community for the arguments about the rainbow flag when it was first introduced, but in the late 80s and early 90s, when I was just coming out, the arguments about why the rainbow wasn’t a good symbol for LGBTQ+ people were still raging. I knew more than one person who was adamant that the Pink Triangle was a better symbol because it represented a time gay men were targeted for extermination in Nazi Germany, and we had taken the symbol back. Of course, there were plenty of people who didn’t like the Pink Triangle, either (some because it was considered to represent only men; others because of its origin as a symbol of our oppression). Or only liked it if it were used along with other symbols commonly associated with lesbians.

So claiming the current six-color rainbow flag is universally recognized as including everyone even within the community simply isn’t true.

There’s another big hint that something like the More Colors Flag is needed: white queers wouldn’t be offended (and the folks objecting are definitely offended) at the flag if the problems it addresses weren’t real. Not only that, all of the arguments I’ve seen used to explain why the More Colors Flag is unnecessary sound exactly like the homophobic arguments given for why queers don’t need representation in movies, books, TV and such or why laws against queer discrimination aren’t needed. And they also are exact parallels to racist arguments used to argue we don’t need laws about racial discrimination (among other things). As they say, if it looks like a racist argument and sounds like a racist objection…

None of this will sound unfamiliar to anyone familiar with discussions about intersectionality. In case you don’t know what intersectionality is, let’s start with the definition (I warned you in the title we would get to dictionary topics in this post!):

intersectionality noun the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, gender, and sexual orientation as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.

So another reason that you can’t claim that the rainbow is a universal symbol that applies to all queer people is because the experience of being queer isn’t the same for all categories of queer people. It’s kind of like the people who make that argument that you shouldn’t let a black actor portray James Bond or a woman portray Doctor Who because that would make the shows political. Insisting that the hero must be a white male is just as much a political statement as asking why the hero can’t be something else. Similarly, suggesting we should do something to make people of color feel more welcome is not racializing the Pride flag any more than resisting that inclusion is.

I’m a cisgender white man. I also happen to be queer. I have faced discrimination (and worse) because I’m a gay man. But I also know that I have been shielded from certain types of discrimination because I’m a guy and because I’m white. I don’t know all of the times that this happened, but I understand how systemically racism and sexism are baked into our culture, and therefore there are times when I experience no obstacles, where a person of color or a woman would find things less welcoming. The types of discrimination I experience and the ways I encounter discrimination as a gay man are often very different from the types and ways experienced by queers of color. The same kind of discrimination that I might be able to somewhat sidestep because of a bit of white male privilege I don’t even notice at the time can be a much more devastating experience to someone who does not have those two advantages.

“If your profile says: No Latinos, Blacks, Asians, Fats or Fems then you SHOULDN'T BE HERE.” PHOTO BY BOOMER BANKS (Click to embiggen)

“If your profile says: No Latinos, Blacks, Asians, Fats or Fems then you SHOULDN’T BE HERE.”
PHOTO BY BOOMER BANKS (Click to embiggen)

Recognizing this isn’t about trying to decide who is more oppressed. This isn’t the Oppression Olympics. The truth is, that a lot of white queer people are unaware of their own racism. Most insist that they aren’t at all, which is literally impossible. You can’t grow up in a racist society without being conditioned to the assumptions of racism. Asserting that the rainbow already includes everyone ignores the fact that there is a lot of racism within the queer community, some of it really subtle because it is just a manifestation of the systemic racism of the whole society, and others of it quite blatant. It’s blatant while also being rationalized away. The photo here of the sign that was seen at the Equality March earlier this month talks about one of those examples. Please note that this sign was at an Equality March, not a Pride March. But it underscores a real truth: a lot of queers, particularly certain white gay men, have these racist attitudes. And yes, it absolutely is racist to say in your dating profile “no blacks” or “no asians” or “no latinos.” The usual counter argument is that they’re just talking about a preference.

No.

I have a preference for redheads. Yet I have never refused to date a non-redhead. And a good thing, too, since neither my late partner, Ray, nor my husband Michael are redheads. I lusted after and occasionally dated redheads, but I wound up falling in love with two different men for reasons other than their hair color. That’s because while I have an attraction toward redheads, I recognize that’s all it is, and that there are other reasons to like or dislike a person than their hair color. The same holds true for race. If you completely exclude someone from consideration because of their race, there is no word other than racism to describe it. And while we’re on the subject: fat-shaming and fem-rejection aren’t any better, and if you’re doing that you’re just being a different kind of bigot, but no less of a bigot than the racist, so don’t do it.

This is another variant rainbow flag that's been around longer than the More Colors Flag.

This is another variant rainbow flag that’s been around longer than the More Colors Flag.

Nobody’s free until everyone is. And one of the steps to setting everyone free is recognizing that not everyone is as free as everyone else. We have to find a way to actually be inclusive, not to simply say that being inclusive is a good thing. And being inclusive requires us to recognize intersectionality. To understand that there are different degrees of discrimination. Society imposes different types of disadvantage on people based on categories of race, gender, sexuality, economic class, and other things. Those differences are real. The pain and suffering they cause is real. And the benefits that other categories of people receive at the expense of that pain and suffering is also real. Fighting for equality means not just giving lip service to inclusivity and intersectionality, it means taking steps to do something about those problems. You have to look for the people who are having trouble getting into the freedom tent and work to help them inside and to feel welcome. That requires first listening, really listening to try to understand–not pretending to listen while we’re really just waiting for our turn to talk.

If my queer kindred of color tell me that they don’t feel welcome in many queer spaces, then I have to take that seriously and ask what I can do to help. And then I have to actually help. Which is why I say that intersectionality isn’t just a noun. Because those of us who have some privilege, however little it may be, have to stick our necks out and use that privilege to help those who don’t.

Pride should be for all of us.

Gay It Forward, part 2

“You only gave us rights because we gave you riots. Queer Power”

“You only gave us rights because we gave you riots. Queer Power” (Click to embiggen)

The original Stonewall protest was a riot. Some people want us to forget that. They want us to be polite, not to make waves, and not to upset or scare “ordinary” people. But make no mistake: the only reason we queer people have any legals rights now is because we refused to be quiet, we refused to be invisible, we refused to go quietly.

By “we” I don’t mean to imply that I was actually at the Stonewall Inn on that fateful night, or for several nights after where the street queens and homeless gay teens and butch lesbians and angry sissies kept coming back out on the streets and demanded their right to exist. I was 8 years old living in a small town in Colorado (and if I recall correctly crushing hard on Robert Conrad as Secret Service agent James West). I wouldn’t even hear about the events of the summer until more than ten years later. But that summer the people who were standing up to the police and demanding the simple right to be out in public without being harassed, weren’t the quiet ones. That wasn’t entirely their choosing. Heroes of the time such as Marsha P Johnson or Silvia Rivera were exactly the sort of gender non-conforming queer who had spent their entire lives being literally unable to hide. When the police raided that night, they took their usual tack of grabbing the people who looked least “normal” to single out for a beating and arrest.

“The first PRIDE was a riot.” And a nice caricature of Marsha P. Johnson, the street queen often credited with throwing the first brick at Stonewall. (Click to embiggen)

“The first PRIDE was a riot.” And a nice caricature of Marsha P. Johnson, the street queen often credited with throwing the first brick at Stonewall. (Click to embiggen)

Their only crime was being at a bar and being obviously queer-looking and/or queer-acting. Just for some context: it wouldn’t be until 1973 that a court would rule as unconstitutional laws banning people from wearing clothing “typical of the opposite sex” (which included women wearing pants). The police had a lot of leeway in deciding what constituted not dressing in clothes appropriate to one’s gender. And that’s how these raids would go. Cops would surround the bar, then come in, turn on the lights, order everyone to line up and produce their identification. Anyone who was “cross dressing” would be arrested (and usually get roughed up on the way). It was not uncommon for male cops to grope the butchest lesbians while making lewd remarks to try to get them to react, so they could be arrested for resisting.

Ultimately, the cops and other authorities were targeting people who were different.

There had been raids before, but almost never before had the crowd turned on the police. Normally everyone who could run away did, and those who couldn’t tried not to be the few who would get beaten. But that night, the patrons decided not to cooperate, and things went downhill rather fast.

Again, no one, including many of the people who actually were there, knows why the crowd reacted differently that night. Just as no one knows for certain why the police were raiding the Stonewall Inn that night. The leading theory is that the mafia-connected owners of the Inn were suspected of making more money than they admitted to from blackmailing well-to-do customers, and were therefore not bribing the cops and liquor inspectors as much as they should have been. But because all of that was highly illegal, we’ll never know. The riots went on for several nights. Then, in the weeks afterward, several of the people that had been there formed politcal groups to fight for queer rights: The Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaires and the Gay Liberation Front.

Let’s pause here to talk a bit about terminology. Transgender, transvestite, and cross-dressing were terms that at that time were used inter-changeably by people within the community, even though today it’s considered offensive to act as if those terms refer to the same thing. There is still some controversy about which of the street queens should be considered transgender, for instance. It’s an argument I don’t want to get into right now.

And it’s really beside the point. The people who were at the forefront of the Stonewall Riots, and who organized the first new gay rights afterwards were mostly trans (or otherwise genderfluid/non-conforming) people of color. It was the most marginalized who led the way.

Protest sign from a photo of an early Pride march: “An army of lovers cannot fail.”

“An army of lovers cannot fail.” (Click to embiggen)

I’m not trans, myself, but from a very early age I was called “sissy,” “pussy,” “faggot” and worse (by members of my own family and teachers, no less). I was four years old the first time that my dad angrily beat me while calling me, among other words that I didn’t know the meaning of, “cocksucker.” And at four I didn’t know what a drag queen was, let alone a gay or lesbian person. I wasn’t intentionally acting whatever way it was that made that the go-to insult to throw at me. I didn’t mean to be the kind of boy that caused teachers to tell my parents later, after one of the most severe bullying incidents at school, “As long as he walks like that and talks like that, how else do you expect the other boys to react?”

Whichever of my mannerisms trigger people’s gaydar, they’re not under my control. I tried so hard to act like the other boys and not get noticed. Yet, again and again I failed. So it’s both ignorant and unfair to say that the people who got targeted by cops in those raids could have prevented it if they just stopped flaunting things. Long before Marsha P Johnson wore her first outrageous flowered hat out in public, as a little boy growing up in Elizabeth, New Jersey, she had been beaten and bullied. There came a point when she decided to stop hiding who and what she was and embrace it.

Similarly, it’s both ignorant and unfair to say that people shouldn’t dress outrageously or otherwise let their freak flag fly at Pride. The only reason that so-called “straight-acting” gays have found it safe to come out at all (whether it be former NFL players or rugby players or button-down executives) is because the “queens and trannies and freaks” of previous generations decided to stand up and fight back. I’m not saying it is easy for anyone to come out, but many of the community didn’t have a choice about whether people knew—the only choice they had was whether to let themselves be beat down, or to fight back and be proud of who they were.

“We kept fighting after Stonewall. We're still fighting the AIDS Crisis. We kept fighting after Anita Bryant. We kept fighting after Jesse Helms. The struggle is far from over. I'll keep fighting. Will you?”

“We kept fighting after Stonewall. We’re still fighting the AIDS Crisis. We kept fighting after Anita Bryant. We kept fighting after Jesse Helms. The struggle is far from over. I’ll keep fighting. Will you?”

So embrace the fairies, the leather daddies, the cycle mamas, the butches, the fems, the sissies, the nellies, the drag kings, the street queens, the gym bunnies, the queer nerds, the bis, the pans, the aces—every gender, every race, every freaky and fabulous corner of the big wild Queer Community. The old Isaac Newton quote is that he could only see further than others because he stood on the shoulders of giants. We’re only able to be here and see a bright future because we’re standing on the shoulders of those fabulous freaks. And as someone else once observed, if you think someone is normal, you just don’t know them well enough.

We’re all queer! We all belong here! Let’s march into a brighter future together!

Gay it forward

Source: thedesmondproject.com/Homelessness-Info.html (Click to embiggen)

The Department of Justice estimates that about 1.7 million teen-agers are homeless in America at any time. Of those, about 40% identify as queer (that’s 680,000 kids). According to research by the True Colors Fund and similar groups, the single biggest cause of those queer teens being homeless is family rejection because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. But note that the next most common reasons are abusive homophobia or transphobia in their school, church, or community, even when their parents don’t go to the extreme of kicking them out.

Growing up in Southern Baptist churches in mostly redneck communities, I knew from a very early age that I didn’t belong. I was constantly breaking unspoken rules I didn’t understand. Nearly everyone–not just my physically abusive father, but other relatives, church leaders, many of my teachers, and a lot of the kids at school–made it abundantly clear that I didn’t act like a normal boy, and that if I didn’t figure out how to man up, there would be even more severe consequences than the beatings, teasing, and humiliations I was already enduring. I was taught–not just at church, but also at public school in health and science classes–that homosexuality was a severe mental disease that turned the people who had it into pedophiles, rapists, and worse. Homosexuals, they said, were evil creatures who deserved to die gruesomely.

When puberty hit, I finally realized that those two messages were one and the same. Puberty hit like a Tomahawk missle, blasting away my hopes of growing up to have what I had been taught was a normal, successful life. Because suddenly I realized that those odd fascinations I had had with certain men and boys wasn’t just friendship, they had been crushes. And now my hormones and body were reacting to the guys my emotions had been before. All of that added up to the horrifying conclusion that I could never man up enough not to deserve the scorn, ridicule, physical assaults, and even worse. It was no longer a matter of trying to figure out what I was doing wrong–it became a matter of life and death that I hide the truth about what I was from everyone I knew.

After fighting my feelings and having a couple of furtive relationships with other guys my age who were just as scared, I came to know with all my being that three things were absolutely true: If the wrong people found proof about what I was, I would be rejected and certainly come to an untimely and probably gruesome death alone and unloved. If I couldn’t stop having these feelings and acting on any of those urges, I would spend eternity in hell. And absolutely nothing I did–no amount of tearfully pleading with god, reading the Bible cover to cover three times, stealing my dad’s porn magazines and trying to make myself feel attraction to the women in them, et cetera–would make those feelings go away.

I was doomed. It wasn’t a matter of if, merely when.

Despite knowing I was doomed, my basic temperament just doesn’t accept no-win situations. So part of me kept trying to convince the rest of me that we could fake it as long as it took. I also had certain glimmers of encouragement I’ve written about before in science fiction. One thing I didn’t have was any role model or even a hint that there might be another kind of life possible.

There were no gay people in any of the communities we’d lived in until I was in my 20s. There were no openly gay characters in TV or movies or the like until at least my mid-teens. Oh, there were characters that seemed to be gay, but they were always either the comic relief or someone you were supposed to despise. When a few openly gay characters started showing up, they were never regular characters or even heroic. They were still either comedic characters, or victims. Very occasionally one would appear on a single episode to make a message about tolerance. But they were alway alone and there was no sense they had a life or friends, let alone a love life!

And then I saw a news story about a gay pride event that changed my life. I had seen some news stories before about the gay protest marches, but they had been brief, and were always accompanied by images of either very angry people with protest signs, or outrageous images selected to portray all the queers as freaks. This story did include some of those images, but there was more of an attempt to give the queer people a chance to speak. They showed brief clips from interviews with several people, but the moment that stuck in my head was when a pair of middle-aged men who were interviewed mentioned that they had been together for nearly 20 years. They were boyfriends, and they had been together for years.

That single bit of data changed everything. I was 19 or 20 years old. I had had a few secret relationships and flings with guys. They had all been steeped in anxiety and fear of what would happen if we were caught. These other closeted gay guys were the only queer people I had met, and they were all, so far as I knew, just as certain that we were going to burn in hell for eternity because of what we were. Though some of the fiction I’d read by then mentioned gay or bisexual people in relationships, it had all be in various sci fi settings where things were very different than the real world.

But there. on the TV in a news program two men who weren’t sci fi characters were comfortable saying on camera that they were boyfriends and had been for years.

It was several more years before I would even utter aloud to anyone the words, “I think I might be gay,” but knowing that there were actual, flesh and blood queer people out there who were in love and having relationships is what let me hold on to hope for a few more years and gave me the strength to finally come out.

“I a not a sinner”

“I a not a sinner”

And that is another reason I support Pride Parades and all sorts of other out gay events. Because there are tens of thousands of frightened queer children out there scared to death to be who they are. Worried that their own parents will reject them or worse. And because we know that every years hundreds of those kids commit suicide because they have no hope. As long as we have our crazy, flashy, glittery, contentious but fabulous pride parades and festivals and so on, then news sites will run stories about them. It doesn’t matter that the coverage may be slanted. Some of those frightened kids will see those stories. Some of them will click on those images. They will know that they aren’t alone. If we can give some of them hope, then our mission has been a success.

All of us who are living our lives out and proud got here because of the hard, brave work of the drag queens, trans activists, marching gays and lesbians and so forth who came before us. We owe them a debt we can’t repay directly. So we have a duty to not just pay it forward, but gay it forward.


Edited to Add:

If you can, give a donation to help queer kids who have been rejected by their families and kicked out on the street : True Colors Fund or The Ali Forney Center are good places to start. Many communities have local programs focusing on teen homelessness and particularly queer teen homelessness; a quick Google search with the name of your city or town, and the words “queer teen homeless” should point you in the right way. And if you want to hlp support transgender kids, please donate to: National Center for Transgender Equality.

The long, lonely death spiral of the anti-gay defenders of “traditional” marriage

“I mean clearly straight people are trying to convert gay kids to be straight, not the other way around. No one tells straight kids they're just confused or wrong or evil for how they feel when they fall in love.”

“I mean clearly straight people are trying to convert gay kids to be straight, not the other way around. No one tells straight kids they’re just confused or wrong or evil for how they feel when they fall in love.” (Click to embiggen)

So the so-called National Organization for Marriage hosted an event in Washington, DC that was supposed to be a March for Marriage (as a protest against Marriage Equality), and the attendance was even worse than last year: March For Marriage Draws Tens, But Promises Ultimate Victory Over Obergefell. The article I linked mentioned how previously the crowd was bolstered by people bused in. What they don’t say is that several of the busloads brought in last year were under false pretenses: a New York State legislator put out fliers in Spanish in community centers advertising a free trip to DC to see the monuments, so there were about a hundred people—mostly older ladies who didn’t speak much English—standing around looking confused at the edge of a small crowd, during the speeches, then they all wandered off to look at monuments on their own while an even smaller group of people marched to support traditional marriage. Oh, and they literally let a visiting French politician who was the leader of the French Nazi Party (I am not making this up) not only give one of the speeches, but she led the march!

None of the groups who previously organized bus trips did so this year. And the crowd, as the headline says, was tiny. One non-attendee who sort of live tweeted the event said that she counted the entire crowd: “47 if you include the babies.” The speeches were the typical anti-gay fare: how letting queers marry is destroying society, et cetera, et cetera. Then the not-quite four dozen people apparently marched down the street and glared at the Supreme Court building.

The downward spiral of this particular anti-gay hate group has been going on for years. I’ve written before about their tax and fundraising shenanigans. The tl;dr version: small donors stopped giving to them several years ago, so they are supported by a very small number of anti-gay millionaires (most of whom demand anonymity), and have had to resort to taking multi-million dollar loans from their associates religious “charity and education” non-profit to shore up the political side. They’ve skipped filing required tax documents since then (again), but I suspect when they are finally forced to disclose again the situation will turn out to be even worse.

I should mention that in the previous years some of those buses who brought people to the march were paid for by NOM. The story I linked says “groups,” but that’s another bit of chicanery. Most of the other non-profit groups that they used to like to list as supporting them were little more than shell companies of the main National Organization. People who were board members of NOM were each listed as the president of one of the smaller groups, and the individual groups didn’t do any serious fundraising, they were supported by the national organization (in turn relying on those aforementioned anti-gay millionaires). You may infer what you wish from the fact that most of those organizations have been dissolved and there were no buses bringing folks to the march. Can’t pay for buses without money, right?

I assume that if there is another event next year, that it will soon look like the pathetic ex-gay pride event four years ago: literally the only attendees were nine employees of the organization trying to sell ex-gay therapy, and about four internet news people covering the so-called rally. Note by that point, even Fox News was unwilling to send someone to cover the event.

While it’s tempting to take some delight in the downfall of some professional anti-gay people (seriously, peddling anti-gay hate is how people like Brian Brown make a living), this hardly means that no one hates us anymore, or that there aren’t plenty of anti-gay groups out there supporting politicians who are passing laws to take away our rights. All it means is that on the topic of marriage equality we long ago passed the tipping point where a majority of Americans think queer people should be allowed to legally marry if they want. And it means that before then we also got to a point where a majority of people believe sexual orientation can’t be changed.

But there are some nuances. Polls have shown that about 10 percent of the people who think marriage equality should be legal, also still believe that queer people are either immoral, or mentally ill, or some other category of “less than” —they don’t approve of us, they don’t approve of our relationships, but they don’t think their objections rise to the level of justifying legal prohibition.
There is a more disturbing segment (but I haven’t been able to find any surveys that have asked the right question to quantify these folks; I’ve just read a lot of their opinions in various places) of people who agree that sexual orientation can’t be changed, and therefore ex-gay therapy is a fraud, but they also believe that we are irretrievably broken, or otherwise inherently flawed. So again, it’s not that they approve of us or support all our rights, it’s that they’ve come to the conclusion that therapy can’t fix us.

The war isn’t over, it’s just that the battle lines have changed. We may have won the battle for legal marriage, and the battle against ex-gay therapy, but there’s still plenty of fight to be had.

Seriously, it’s all Greek — more adventures in dictionaries

“...involving, related to, or characterized by a sexual propensity for one's own sex; of or involving sexual activity with a member of one's own sex, or between individuals of the same sex.”

“…involving, related to, or characterized by a sexual propensity for one’s own sex; of or involving sexual activity with a member of one’s own sex, or between individuals of the same sex.” (Click to embiggen; I got a new self-lighting magnifier for my Compact Oxford—isn’t it neat?)

It happened after a committee meeting for the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Chorus when we had devolved to chatting. I don’t remember exactly what was being discussed, but one of the women got upset when I used the word “gay” to refer to the entire community. “That excludes women,” she said, icily. I apologized and said I didn’t mean to do that, it was just fewer syllables and sometimes I just wished there were a shorter way to refer to everyone, and homosexual is so clinical. She interrupted, leaning in and getting much angrier. “Another word for men! Geeze, how can you do that?” When I protested that it was a clinical term originally coined to refer to both men and women she really got upset, insisting, “Homo means man! Yeah, yeah, it’s like mankind means everyone because men think they’re all the matters!”

At this point I was no longer feeling defensive, I was feeling angry. So I explained that while if one were speaking Latin, “homo” meant man, but the word wasn’t built from Latin roots, it was from Greek roots, and in Greek, homo means “the same” which is why the doctor who first coined the term picked it, as he had written about extensively that he was describing people who were attracted to and formed attachment to member of the same sex, in contrast to hetero which is greek for “other or different.” So “heterosexual” meant someone attracted to the other sex, while “homosexual” meant someone attracted to the same sex. Also, the doctor in question was himself non-heterosexual and spent much of his life trying to prove that homosexuality was not a mental illness.

Suffice it to say that she did not appreciate my lecture.

That was not the last time I got into that argument, by any means.

Other times when I’ve pointed out the difference between the Greek root and the Latin word which sounds the same, people have countered that “a lot of people think it means male!” To which I replied that a many people think the world is flat, but I’m not going to stop using the word “world” because some people are ignorant.

Don’t get me wrong—I understand that perception is important, but here’s the thing: if I point to a crowded room full of people of many different genders and say “they’re all homosexual” not one English speaking person in the whole world is going to think I’m only referring to the men. No one will be confused. Yes, a few of the women in the crowd may raise the same incorrect objection as the person in my first paragraph, and some bisexual or pansexual people in the crowd will make an equally incorrect objection (there is no portion of homosexual that means exclusively with one’s own gender, just that there is a propensity toward one’s own gender). I will grant that if there are any asexual people in the crowd they will have, linguistically, a valid bone to pick with my sweeping generalization.

The thing is, I don’t happen to like using the word homosexual because it sounds so clinical, and despite the word being coined by a pro-homo doctor, originally, it was quickly adopted by the parts of the medical establishment who insisted we were mentally ill or depraved. But I also don’t like using it to refer to the community because no matter how you slice it, it does exclude asexuals, as well as trans people who are also straight.

If I’m in a situation where queer isn’t accepted, I will sometimes punt to “non-heterosexual,” but that has the problem of defining us by what we aren’t, rather than what we are.

There are people who object to the term because it places emphasis on sex, while we often argue that the real issue is love. I have some small amount of sympathy for that line of reasoning, though it often digresses into rather sex-negative prudery. And while there is a difference between love and sex, for most non-asexuals, the two things are tangled together pretty tightly. I am attracted to other men. The initial attraction is, to be honest, about hormones and desire. For me, at least, love is a choice I make as I get to know a person. Yes, there are feelings and admiration and so forth, but I have feelings for lots of people who I don’t choose to commit myself to. I admire lots of people I don’t choose to commit myself to.

This attempt to separate the sex from sexual orientation also ignores another important reality: heterosexual relationships are just as much about sex as queer relationships are. Don’t believe me? What were the only legal arguments that anti-gay people had left by the time the case had reached the U.S. Supreme Court: that marriage was exclusively about reproduction, and that heterosexual people would never make the lifelong commitments necessary to raise the resultant children is legal marriage wasn’t reserved for straights (no, that argument makes no sense, and yes, that’s really what they wrote in their legal briefs!). Yes, the people who claim that we’re the perverts obsessed with sex argued that it was wrong to define marriage as a loving relationship geared toward mutual support (yes, that was also in their legal brief).

But I’ve digressed enough. The word “homosexual” does not simply refer to men, it comes from the Greek word homo meaning “the same.” Neither does the word refer to any exclusivity in that sexual orientation. Also, although hetero means “other or different,” neither heterosexual or homosexual linguistically imply only two genders. Heterosexual literally means sexual activity with someone of a different sex, not the opposite sex. So not only isn’t the word sexist, it also doesn’t deny the existence of genderfluid or intersex or third sex people.

And now you know!

Why do I keep having to explain why we need Pride?

“Gay pride was not born out of a need to celebrate being gay, but our right to exist without persecution. So instead of wondering why there isn't a straight pride movement, be thankful you don't need one.”

“Gay pride was not born out of a need to celebrate being gay, but our right to exist without persecution. So instead of wondering why there isn’t a straight pride movement, be thankful you don’t need one.”

It’s that time of year again. The perennial question arises: “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 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), or 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?

And some people seem to be most hung up about the fact that we have parades and festivals. Especially the parade seems to bug them. They are always quick to say that they don’t have a problem with gay people, but the truth is that what bothers them is us being visible. When they ask us why we have to flaunt who we are, what they are really saying is why can’t he be quiet and stay hidden and not remind them that anyone who is different than they exist.

And you know how you can prove this? Ask them if they have ever raised the same objections to St. Patrick’s Day parades. The earliest St. Patrick’s Day parades in colonial times were about Irish Nationalism, since all of Ireland was under British rule at the time. By the mid- and late 1800s the St. Patrick’s Day parades were about Irish equality in the U.S., since anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiment was quite high, and yes often encoded in laws and government policy. While the anti-discrimination purpose of the parades has faded away, the parade is still about taking pride in one’s Irish heritage. If a person doesn’t object to Irish pride parades (which is exactly what St. Patrick’s Day parades are), but they do object to LGBTQ+ Pride parades, the only logical reason can be that they object to the Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Trans, and all other Queers in particular, and not the idea of a parade celebrating identities in general.

I can pretend that the question isn’t a passive-aggressive exercise of bigotry and give you some simple answers. Why do we need Pride?

None of those reasons apply to straight people. No one bullies straight children just because they are straight or gender conforming. No parents kick their straight children out on the street because they are straight. No one is targeting sports bars to kill straights because they saw a man kiss a woman somewhere. No preachers are going on the air to say that straight people deserve death. No one is passing laws saying gender conforming children aren’t allowed in public school bathrooms. No one is passing laws trying to ban straight people from adopting children or getting medical benefits for their partners. Straight people and straight people’s sexuality (ever seen a romantic comedy?) is the subject of at least 99% of all movies, television shows, et cetera. So straight people don’t need pride. But if you really think you do, no one is stopping you from organizing your own parades (though I’ve argued before that you already have those, too).

The reason queers like me have been able to stand up and be ourselves is because other queers before us were brave enough to be out and brave enough to protest when necessary. Be it staging sip-ins to protest laws that made it illegal for a bartender to knowingly allow two homosexuals be served in the bar, or fighting back when police raided a gay club, or picketing in front of federal buildings, or boycotting industries whose spokespeople lobbied for laws to take away our rights, or protesting laws making it a crime for us to be intimate with the person of our choosing, 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 those earlier generations of queers. 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 safely be out themselves, yet.

We need Pride not because we’ve come so far, but because there is still a long, long way to go.

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