Let’s begin with the headline: This Gay Mormon Man Who Got Famous For Marrying A Straight Woman Is Getting Divorced. Quick sum-up, back in 2012 Josh Weed and his wife went public about the fact that he was gay, but that as devout Mormons they were choosing to be married. He claimed to be happy and fulfilled in this loving marriage with a woman, and by the way, he mentioned he was a therapist who was always happy to take on new patients.
He was quick to deny that he was pushing so-called ex-gay or conversion therapy. He was simply “helping those with sexual identity issues, unwanted sexual attractions and behaviors.” In interviews he insisted again and again that this wasn’t conversion therapy because he knew that no one could stop being homosexual. No, he was just helping people (“particularly young people”) struggling with this problem by “meeting them where they are and helping them find a solution that meets their needs.”
And specifically, he was holding himself up as an example of a gay man who could enter into a heterosexual marriage, never act on his same-sex attractions, while living a happy, fulfilled life that was congruent with his church’s belief that being gay was an abomination. Except, of course, he didn’t mention that abomination part.
To claim this wasn’t conversion therapy was to draw a distinction without a difference, at best. To do it while advertising one’s therapy services moves it squarely into the lying category.
“The couple is now apologizing to the LGBT community for how the “publicity of our supposedly successful marriage” has been “used to bully others.””
As part of the process of the downfall of the explicitly ex-gay conversion business (and it was always a business), there were a number of court cases (often parents of children sent off to this quack therapy now suing over the wrongful deaths of their children) where the practicioners were forced to admit under oath that at least 99.9 percent of the time no one was ever cured of being gay. Their previous claims about cure percentages was to count anyone who was able for a period of time to resist their feelings and put on a good front pretending to be happy while the refrained from acting on those feelings as a “cure.”
In other words, all the people doing it knew that it never worked.
Part of Josh’s and his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s apology now is to claim they are deeply saddened and ashamed that their story was used to bully other people. They write a supposedly heartfelt account of a person in his twenties coming home for Thanksgiving not long after the Weeds’ story first came about and being physically assaulted by his father because, “If Josh Weed can stop being gay, so can you!” And many many other horrible tales.
Here’s one of my problems taking this apology as sincere. This assault? Happened back in 2012. The young man who endured it wrote to them about in shortly after it happened. And he wasn’t the only queer person from a conservatively religious family who during the time the Weeds were in the headlines previously experienced something like this, went to Josh Weed’s website, and posted a comment years ago.
If Josh Weed was sincerely sorry about people supposedly misconstruing his allegedly not-homophobic story, he would have began issuing apologies and clarifications when the comments first turned up on the website. What he did instead, was to continue to insist in interview after interview in various publications throughout the years since that 1) he wasn’t providing conversion therapy himself, and 2) he didn’t think that him choosing to live in an opposite sex relationship implied that other people ought to do it.
That’s not my only problem with this. As part of their announcement and apology, they recount the epiphany that Josh had that his sexual orientation isn’t a “biological aberration” after all. Back in 2012 and in all those subsequent interviews, he constantly insisted that he didn’t think there was inherently anything wrong with being gay, he was just offering help to those who didn’t want to act on their desires. But now we clearly know that he and his wife (because while talking about the epiphany he also talks about all the conversations he had with his wife about it) believed all along that being queer was a biological aberration.
So in his apology he is tacitly admitting he was lying for all those years.
Listen, I used to be a self-loathing closet case. I spent most of my teens and twenties scared to death that people would find proof that I was the faggot that many of them called me all the time. I prayed and cried and pleaded with god during those teen years to make it go away. The Southern Baptist churches I was raised in are no more welcoming to queers than the Morman churches Weed grew up in. I understand how he got in that situation. I understand how the fear of being rejected by your family, your church, and everyone you know drives a closeted queer person to terrible rationalizations. I understand that when you’re in that situation, you are lying to yourself and trying to convince yourself to believe the lie even more than you are lying and selling the lie to everyone else.
And, yeah, I’m happy for him now that he’s finally realized that forcing himself to pretend to be happy and fulfilled in a marriage to someone with whom he wasn’t in love—a marriage in which his sexual and emotional needs weren’t being met—was actually harmful. And I’m happy that, unlike a lot of other ex-gays out there who came to their senses he’s actually gone public about it. And sure, it’s nice that he’s apologized for some of what he did.
But it isn’t enough. The current apology is just a variant on the old “if someone was offended” non-apology. He’s apologized that other people used his story to hurt queer family and friends, as if it’s just a completely unexpected side effect that he has only recently learned about. We know that he was contacted by a lot of the victims years ago. He knew. He knew and yet he used the impression people had that if he could pretend to be heterosexual than anyone can to advertise his own counseling services. And in those therapy sessions he told many patients all the things that he says now he’s realized weren’t true.
When people like Josh Weed tell their story of choosing not to act on their sexual orientation—when they actively seek out interviews and coverage in the religious press for their story—that lie he’s telling himself is weaponized by other people. It is used as an excuse by those people to bully their own queer children or any other queer people in their families and communities. It is used in far too many cases to bully those queer people to death. It is used as an excuse to throw queer and gender nonconforming children out on the street.
I’ve written before about my personal experience of having family members use the stories of people like Josh Weed as the justification to reject me, threaten me, and say I and my husband aren’t welcome. I don’t know a single queer person who hasn’t had someone browbeat them with stories like Josh Weed and other ex-gays.
I’m going to keep insisting that Josh was an ex-gay. It doesn’t matter that he rejected that label. The hair-splitting he was doing to justify the rejection was ludicrous. And I’m not going to accept this apology because it is incomplete. He wasn’t just deluding himself for those years, he was literally selling that lie to other people. And until he admits that he was doing that; until he admits that the weaponizing of his story wasn’t happening without his knowledge; until he admits that his denials about the nature of his counseling was wrong; until he admits his silence until very recently in the face of that weaponization was also wrong; he doesn’t have an ethical right to ask for forgiveness.
One of the things I love about tumblr is how easy they make it to share something cool, interesting, or informative you find on someone else’s tumblr blog with your followers, while maintaining a history of who all has shared it and where it was originally posted. Especially of someone says something that I’ve been thinking or trying to write a post about, but here is someone else’s words saying this thing I’ve been thinking for a while so well. And I know that now if I try to finish my own blog post, even if I try not to phrase things the same way as this other person, I’m going to repeat key phrases and so forth. So I’d much rather quote the whole thing, then add a few comments of my own.
Such as this interesting post from the blog the only living boy in new york:
The thing I hate about coming out is the way society expects it to go down.
When gay people come out, more often than not they are expected to almost have to beg for their families love, and if they receive it without having to, they are expected to be over the moon and rejoice and be thankful and think, “what loving family and friends I have”.
The way coming out should go down is the exact opposite.
Families and friends should almost have to beg for your love, and should most definitely be apologetic for the homophobic shit they most likely put you through whilst you were still in the closet. They should be like, “I’m sorry I was a bigoted prick all these years, I hope you can still love me and forgive me”.
The thing that bothered me the most when I came out was that my families reaction was just, “of course we have no problem, we love you no matter what”… when what I really wanted was an apology. An apology for having been ignored for years, an apology for having to sit though homophobia not only by them, but by my extended family and their friends. But what I got was, “of course it’s not a problem, now lets not talk about it again and lets not bring up all the horrible shit that we said to you openly or allowed to be said about gay people openly because we don’t want to feel bad”.
It bothers me so much to this day how much society loves to praise straight people for being so accepting of gay people but no one ever praises gay people for accepting and loving their families through the years despite all the homophobia.
—the only living boy in new york
While the beginning of the post focuses on coming out, that isn’t the only part of a queer person’s life this is limited to.
Yes, it is more than just annoying that people who spent years regurgitating anti-gay myths and homophobic stereotypes around us when we were closeted (and in many cases ridiculed us directly using homophobic slurs) act as if they are doing us a favor by being tolerant or accepting when we do come out. But the truth is that they are never as tolerant as they think they are. The homophobia becomes a bit more subtle. They use dogwhistles rather than bluntly bigoted language.
If we point out that something they said is unintentionally homophobic, we get accused of being too sensitive. If we point out that a politician they support advocates homophobic policies, or that a charity they support has actually contributed to the deaths of queer teens, we’re told that we’re overlooking all the good things because of one little bad thing. Never mind the queer people are denied needed healthcare, or lose their jobs or homes, and so forth. It’s not important.
And we’re supposed to be grateful?
The same people who accuse us of being too sensitive throw hissy fits because some businesses say “Happy Holidays” in their advertising rather than “Merry Christmas.” They’re the same people who tried to organize boycotts of businesses that chose to provide health care coverage to the partners and kids of their queer employees. They’re the same people who do call for boycotts if a movie and television show includes a queer character (usually supporting character who is given little screen time and is never shown with a same sex partner except in such ambiguous ways that the casual viewer will think it’s just a friend or a sibling).
And they expect us to explain why something is offensive, no matter how many times we’ve already explained it. Besides the fact that if they applied the teeniest tiniest bit of empathy they should be able to see it on their own. Heck, they get angry at us if we hold hands with our partner in front of them, and think it is horribly thoughtless of us not to realize they were uncomfortable, but don’t expect them to know they shouldn’t tell an AIDS joke in front of us!
And I don’t have an answer. Except to urge you, if you think that you are a supportive friend or co-worker or family member of a queer person, to stop and check yourself. If you start looking at your own words and actions from an outside perspective, you may be in for a sobering surprise.
I’ll give you a couple of suggestions for some ways to do this:
1. If you’ve ever said, “no offense!” to an LGBT+ acquaintence…
2. If you’ve ever said, “I’m not talking about you, of course, I’m talking about those bad people” or “Present company excepted”…
3. If you’ve ever dismissed anything as being politically correct…
4. If you’ve ever said, “I’m not homophobic, but…”
5. If you’ve ever noticed that your queer relative declines your social invitations again and again…
…you may not be nearly as accepting as you think you are.
A tumblr post recently came across my dashboard that summed up an issue I keep running into (often with folks who I consider friends). The original blog, feministpixie.tumblr.com, has been deleted, but the words are still true:
“Oh, so because I’m straight I’m not allowed to have an opinion on [insert LGBT issue here]”
I’m an english major. I know next to nothing about science, engineering, and astronomy. Sure, I think space is cool. I’m very supportive of NASA’s efforts. I might even have an opinion on where we should send the next shuttle or how much money we should spend on space travel.
But at the end of the day, my opinion on the matter is not valuable. I’m not going to enter into a discussion about the next shuttle launch with a bunch of trained scientists and expect them to take me seriously.
Sometimes, your opinion is not valuable. Sometimes, you aren’t qualified to enter a discussion.
And, lets be honest, straight people’s opinions are valued in literally every other situation. Hell, straight people get more awards for lgbt “activism” than queer people themselves.
If you really can’t accept that sometimes your voice isn’t the most important in the room, you might need to get over yourself.
Recently I’d re-tweeted something someone else retweeted in which a person commented about some “no homo” behavior he had observed in the real world with a comment about how fragile some people’s masculinity seemed to be. A friend jumped on the tweet to lecture me about how there were plenty of other reasonable explanations for the observed behavior, specifically saying the observation was the moral equivalent of an anti-gay slur.
I pointed out that the original observer was summarizing something he saw in a 140-character tweet, and might have left out a lot of other cues that he might have observed to deduce that the guys in question were homophobic. To which the friend replied, “That’s like gaydar, which is fun, but—” and then went on for a bit, concluding with the tired old chestnus, “I try to just mind my own business and not judge strangers in public.”
There are several things to unpack here:
- Gaydar isn’t merely a game. Gaydar isn’t accurate (though there is science to show that it is more often right than random guesses). And I’m sure to a straight person someone claiming to have gaydar is just about fun and giggles and guessing who might be part of the family. But that isn’t what gaydar is. Gaydar is an outgrowth of a survival mechanism. In a world where people are gay-bashed (sometimes to death), a queer person learns from a very early age to start looking for signs of who might be a friend, and who might be an enemy. Gaydar is just one manifestation of that.
- Therefore, keeping a wary eye for possible homophobes is not being judgmental. Again, as a queer person, I don’t have the luxury of minding my own business in public. I have never had that luxury. It isn’t just the bullies that beat me in school. It isn’t just the junior high coach who called me “faggot” all the time. It isn’t just the stranger on the street who shouted the word “faggot” and other things at me as I walked to work years ago. Gay bashing still happens. It isn’t just the occasional nutjob who goes on a mass shooting and kills 49 queer people in a single night. We never know when it might happen. So again, from an early age we look for warning signs, non-verbal cues, et cetera. We learn to avoid certain types of people, not because all of them are violent homophobes, but because some of them are and not being careful is risking more just getting our feelings hurt.
- It isn’t always about you. I get it, you’re not a violent homophobe. You may share some superficial characteristics or behaviors that a stranger might interpret the same way, but you would never attack someone. That’s good to know, but this isn’t about you. This is about our own safety and our experiences.
- Being thought of as possibly homophobic is not the equivalent of being gay bashed. I also understand that when you, a straight person, read about this sort of thing, you get your feelings hurt because you think that queer people who don’t know you might think you’re a homophobe because you act in a similar way. I’m sorry that your feelings are hurt, but your fear of being judged doesn’t balance out against our very real fear of being attacked. You’re not going to have to go to an emergency room to get stitches in your feelings. Your loved ones won’t be going to a funeral for your feelings. We, on the other hand, very well might get beaten or worse if we just mind our business and be ourselves around the wrong person.
I hate the fact that I still have to check myself constantly. I hate the fact that I can’t just be in the moment when I’m out in public, especially with my husband. I hate the fact that I have to keep an eye out for how strangers around me are acting. I hate the fact that I always do a quick assessment of our surroundings when I’m in public with my husband and one of us calls the other “honey.” I desperately yearn to live in a world where I can just mind my own business and not pay attention to how other people talk or act or what their facial expression is when they look at me, et cetera.
Believe me, I really wish that I could just mind my business.
But I can’t. Instead of getting upset because someone might misinterpret some of your behavior and be careful around you, be thankful that you don’t live in that same fear.
Stop straightsplaining. We really do understand homophobia far better than you ever could. That’s just a fact.
It’s National Coming Out Day! And just for the record, in case it isn’t clear: I’m queer! Specifically I am a gay man married to a bisexual man. For many years I lived in the closet, and am ever so happy that those days are far, far behind me. So, if you’re a person living in the closet, I urge you to consider coming out. Being in the closet is scary—you live in a constant state of high anxiety about people finding out and what they might do when it happens. Studies show that this affects us the same as extended trauma, inducing the same sorts of stress changes to the central nervous system as PTSD.
The problem is that coming out is also scary. 40% of homeless teen-agers are living on the streets because their parents either kicked them out because the teens were gay (or suspected of being gay), or drove them away through the constant abuse intended to beat the gay out of their kids. This statistic is the main reason I advise kids not to come out until they are no longer financially dependent on their parents. Yeah, there are many stories of kids who came out to their parents and those parents became supportive allies. But not all, by any means.Even if you are a self-supporting adult, coming out is often accompanied by drama. Some of your family and friends will not take it well. You will be surprised at some of the ones who you thought would be okay with it being exactly the opposite. On the other hand, some people will surprise you with how fiercely supportive they become.
In the long run, being out is better than living in the closet. You will finally know who loves you for who you are, rather than those who love the idea of who they think you ought to be. You will also find out that you were expending far more energy than you realized constantly being on the look out for signs your secret is discovered. There will be a moment when you feel the burden lifted. But you will also discover the coming out isn’t a one-and-done deal.
But the freedom of no longer living a lie is incredible. So when you’re ready, come out, come out, where ever you are!
Don’t just take my word for it:
Please note that I said this stereotype is only somewhat less toxic than many others about queer men.
So a few years ago when I mentioned in blog post that it was my birthday and my age (it was 53 or 54, but I don’t feel like going on an obsessive search to try to find the specific post), some random person I didn’t know commented about how broken-hearted I must be, since everyone knows that fags are all obsessed with being young. I typed a reply to the effect that no, I actually considered myself quite lucky. But then I decided that rather than argue with a troll the better thing to do was to simple delete the troll’s comment and move on.
But I keep running into people making this specific observation, or variants of it. A gay activist who is a frequent guest on news programs passes the age of 50 and all the anti-gay hatemongers start referring to him as an “aging activist.” This is pretty rich coming from a completely white-haired anti-gay pastor who is pushing 70, let me tell you. If a 50-year-old is “aging,” what do we call a 68-year-old, hmmmmm?
So, I’m still a couple years from 60, yet, and I know that I frequently make references to my age, mostly because 1) I am older than the average people active on the internet, 2) I’m older than the average age of people active in the various fandoms I participate in, and 3) I frequently find myself being a little boggled at people who otherwise seem really well informed being completely unaware of (or deeply misinformed about) fairly major things that happened in the world when I was, say, in my 20s.
I was still very closeted in my early 20s when the AIDS crisis began. This mysterious illness was striking gay men down, and not only did the White House Press Secretary laugh and make a fag joke when a reporter asked about the first Center for Disease Control alert about the illness, but all of the rest of the reporters in the room joined in on the laughter. One night at a church service I was sitting with my head bowed when a pastor went on a long digression in his prayer thanking god for sending the scourge of AIDS to punish the wickedness of gay people and wipe them from the face of the Earth. 10 years later, as an out gay man, I found myself going to memorial services of men sometimes younger than I. One particularly bad winter, 16 different people we knew died in a single three-month period. It really did seem that every gay person was doomed. And it didn’t seem to matter that we all now knew to practice safe sex—because condoms can break, and so on.
As much of an optimist as I’ve always been, in the face of all the overwhelming chilling life experience, I seriously doubted that I would live to see my 50s.
So, I am not in the slightest bit sad or embarrassed to have reached the “ripe” age of 57. I’m not sad that my beard is mostly white, because I’ve earned every one of these grey hairs! I’m not ecstatic that some of the medical issues I’ve always had are getting worse as I get older. I’m not joyful when I read about the death of someone (famous or not) that I’ve known and admired for years. I know that that is going to happen more often, that’s just the natural consequence of the passing of time.
Getting older has its drawbacks, yes. But the alternative is worse, right? So I say, “Bring it on!”
Among my role models growing up was a very cantankerous paternal great-grandmother (who taught me how to listen in on the neighbors’ on the party line phone, among other fun things) and an even more ornery maternal great-grandfather (whose jobs when he was younger had included driving souped up cars, including sometimes outrunning the police, to deliver illegal alcohol during Prohibition). Both of them said and did things around us kids back then that embarrassed their own children (my grandparents and great-aunts and great-uncles), and I fully intend, if I’m lucky enough to live as long as them, to similarly embarrass some of my younger relatives and acquaintances.
On ocassions such as birthdays, one is often asked to share some words of wisdom. I’m going to give you two pieces of advice, one from each of the aforementioned great-grandparents:
“Life is too short to carry grudges or worry about what other people think of you.”
“Never let the revenuers piss on your parade.”
Not every person who identifies as bisexual is experimenting. Nor are they in denial of their real orientation. Because a certain number of gay people who are struggling with accepting themselves take shelter in a lie (a lie we were trying to sell to ourselves even harder than to anyone else), we give other people anecdotes that get weaponized and used against people who actually are bisexual. So, for my contribution to that misperception, I must apologize. I’m sorry.
So, to be clear:
- A bisexual person who settles into a long term committed relationships with a member of the opposite sex is still bisexual. They just happened to fall in love with this person.
- Also, a bisexual person who enters a long term committed relationship with a member of the same sex is still bisexual. They just happened to fall in love with that person.
- A bisexual person who isn’t dating anyone at all is still bisexual. They’re just not seeing anyone right now (or ever). A person’s sexuality isn’t determined by their current relationship status.
- A bisexual person who has never been (or you have never seen) in relationships with members of both sexes is still bisexual. Again, relationship status is different than sexual orientation.
Bi erasure is a real problem. Bisexual people often don’t feel welcome in queer spaces. They also often don’t feel welcome in non-queer spaces. People assume that they are straight of gay based on their current relationship. Other people dismiss them as confused or in denial. Sometimes they don’t just feel unwelcome, but unsafe.
Studies have shown that the stress of enduring homophobia affects the health and nervous system exactly the same as PTSD. It’s traumatic and physically damaging. That’s true whether you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or any other orientation outside the heteronormative. And its true in all the forms it takes, including biphobic attitudes of other queer people.
Don’t contribute to someone’s trauma. Don’t be an asshole about bisexual people—all the time, not just when you think you’re in the presence of a bisexual person. Because if those National Institutes of Health studies about covert sexual activity are correct, about 46% of the population is bi (and about 6% is exclusively gay). So if you’re sitting around with a half-dozen people, the odds are more than one of them is bi. You just don’t know it.
When the NIH published those studies in the mid-90s, the summary included this little gem: Americans would rather admit to being heroin addicts than tell someone they were bisexual. And that’s because of homophobia in general, but also biphobia among both the straight and queer communities.
So, if someone tells you they are bisexual, don’t argue with them, don’t doubt them or try to convince them that they’re just confused or curious or uncertain. Believe them. Accept them. They were brave enough to open up to you. The least you can do in the face of that is refrain from being a jerk. You know, don’t be a “contemptible, stupid, or inconsiderate person.”
Instead, be an ally. Their sexuality is valid. Period.
That is not histrionics. When they talk about “saving the white race” and so-called “self deportation” and the like, they are saying “go away and die!” When they say that queer people are a threat to the future of the planet, they are saying we deserve to be killed. When they say that brown and black people are destroying “white culture” they are saying brown and black people deserve to be killed. When Richard Spencer said, literally moments before he was punched in the face on camera last summer, “we have to ask ourselves whether humanity needs the black man, and having confronted that question, then ask how to most efficiently dispose of them” he is saying that black people aren’t human and that they must be killed.
And if you don’t believe that saying that deserves a punch in the mouth, then I question more than just your morals.
In the case of the angry man who was punched in downtown Seattle this weekend: he wasn’t punched just for wearing the swastika. He was punched for yelling at every dark-skinned person he passed on the street, specifically calling them an ape. He was explicitly saying that they aren’t human. He brought a frickin’ banana with him that he eventually threw at someone after screaming that that person was an ape—underlining and emphasizing the claim that the person thus targeted isn’t human (and implying that said people don’t deserve rights, dignity, respect at the least, and that killing would not be murder). That wasn’t just expressing an opinion, that his verbal assault and a declaration of intent. And under the law, throwing the banana is physical assault.
Wearing a rainbow and chanting “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” is none of those things.
Freedom of speech doesn’t mean you can say mean, hateful, threatening things to other people and that those other people have no rights to speak up and defend themselves. Calling other humans animals, and saying or implying those humans should he rounded up and executed is not merely stating an opinion, it is revealing their hateful and murderous character. So if other people don’t want to be friends with a hateful person advocating genocide, that’s just making the decision not to associate with horrible people.When we wear rainbows, we’re saying “my sexuality is valid, and your sexuality is valid, and bi, gay, pansexual, transexual, asexual, and straight people are all equally valid and have a right to be who they are.” Yes, we’re saying the straight people are valid, too. We aren’t calling for straight people to self-deport. We aren’t calling for straight people to be killed. We aren’t calling for straight people to be converted. Rightwing anti-gay people do call for queer people to be fired from their jobs, denied the right to rent or own homes, denied the right to put their spouses and children on their medical insurance, denied the right to marry their significant others, denied the right to adopt, denied the right to protection from assault and harassment, denied health care, and so forth. They advocate rounding us up and putting us in prison, or camps, or so-called hospitals (depending on how blatant they are in their bigotry). They advocate the widely debunked conversion therapy. They advocate bullying queer kids in school (when you insist that religiously conservative kids can’t be punished for bullying queer kids or the children of queer parents, you are advocating bullying).
When the anti-gay people (including the neo-Nazis) do that, it isn’t a difference of opinion, it is oppression and assault.
When queer people say we don’t want to be bullied, we shouldn’t be discriminated against, we deserve to have our families and jobs and homes just like anyone else, we aren’t calling for the oppression of anyone else. Because not being allowed to discriminate isn’t oppression. Not being allowed to bully, terrorize, or assault queer people isn’t oppression.
Sexuality isn’t an opinion or a choice. Sexual identity isn’t an opinion or a choice. Sorry, the medical science has been clear on that for a long time.
Hate, however, is a choice. Violence against others because of the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, and so forth is a choice.
All races are valid. All sexualities are valid.
Not all choices are valid.
There are only a couple reasons that you can’t see that distinction. There are only a few reasons you would defend the hate by attacking its opposite. Either you aren’t very bright, you’re deeply misinformed, or you are blinded by hatred.
Please, step out of the darkness and join us in a more glittery, sunny world of the rainbow.
When people find a person in their midst who does not conform to their expectations, their reaction is to try to find a behavioral cause of that non-conformity. Because admitting that different kinds of people exist naturally challenges the simplest notion of normality. So when confronted with a smart, slightly gender-non-conforming kid who seems to know about things people don’t expect kids to understand, they go looking for an easy explanation of why I’m different. And it really was both of those differences that confused people. More than one relative on different sides of the family commented that as a young child I seemed like an adult trapped in a kid’s body.
When you are clinging to the notion that there is a limited number of ways to be normal with someone who doesn’t fit any of your notions, the easiest thing is to look at which of the non-conforming person’s interests seem least like theirs. So in the 1960s and ’70s, people focused on my interest in science, science fiction, fantasy and related topics. Because before the era of the personal computer and the cultural behemoth that was the original Star Wars, those things were completely beyond the kin of normal humans. Some of the cover art of magazines and paperback books raised a few eyebrows. At least one relative asserted the belief that reading superhero comics, with all of those skin tight costumes on the male heroes, would turn a boy into a sissy.
In retrospect I find it hilarious, because of all the media/fiction I can recall from my childhood, the only place where gender fluidity and related topics occurred regularly was not in science fiction, fantasy, or science fact books, but in one of the most popular forms of pop culture of many decades: Looney Tunes cartoons, specifically Bugs Bunny cartoons.
Even before Bugs Bunny had the name “Bugs,” he was dressing up as a woman to seduce a male character. Long before he ever dressed as a woman to distract Elmer Fudd or Yosemite Sam, the character then referred to informally as “Happy Rabbit” disguised himself as a female version of the unnamed hunter’s dog to distract the dog from his trail. So if everyone’s theory that somehow what made me non-conforming was the shows I watched, clearly it should have been Bugs Bunny they focused on, right? Contrariwise, Bugs is a great argument against the whole media-causes-queerness argument: as I pointed out in a post last week, for a number of years the Looney Tunes cartoons weren’t just ubiquitious, they were almost universally adored by a couple of generations of folks. If media exposure causes queerness, then just about every single person aged 40-something through 60-something alive in North America right now should be an out queer, because Bugs taught us all that to be a drag queen was to be triumphant.
This meaning of drag: “Women’s clothes as worn by a man; (less commonly) men’s clothes as worn by a woman; a party at which such clothes are worn” as rendered in the Oxford English Dictionary has been around since the late 19th Century. The first written citation coming in 1870 as a reference to male actors portraying female characters on the stage. At various times in the history of the theatre, it had been common to cast young men in the feminine roles, because it was considered inappropriate for women to perform on stage. So there is a certain tradition in the theatre (which cropped up later in movies, though usually for comedic effect) of men dressing as women on stage. There is also a tradition of characters of either sex on stage and in movies dressing in disguises—sometimes disguises that shouldn’t fool anyone—and carrying on for scene after scene completely pulling the wool of the eyes of other characters.
The disguises that Bugs donned in the various cartoons weren’t always drag. The point of the gag was how gullible Bugs’ adversary could be in light of the disguise, no matter how ridiculous. Which is why I don’t think it ever occurred to anyone back then that how easily the hero of the story could adopt the persona of a woman and seductively entrance the villain might be just a little bit queer. Maybe it was the fact that the audience was in on the joke—Bugs was dressing as a woman to fool his antagonist and make the audience laugh, not because he enjoyed it, and certainly not because he was actually trying to seduce the other character. Maybe it was simply the fact that they understood the jokes in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, but sf/f didn’t appeal to them, and a lot of that cover art looked erotic, demonic, and sometimes both.
To me, the ease with which Bugs transformed himself in his various disguises is a manifestation of a much, much older narrative tradition: The Trickster God. One of the oldest examples of which is the Old Norse story of the time that Loki is tasked by Odin with getting the gods of Asgard out of a particularly unwise bet. The gods had made a deal with a builder to create a magnificent fortification, but that if the builder couldn’t do it in a ridiculously short time with no help except that of his horse, the gods would never have to pay for the fortress. It quickly becomes clear that that both the builder and his horse are possessed of magical abilities and will succeed at the seemingly impossible task. Loki tries various things, but eventually is only able to succeed by transforming himself into a beautiful mare in heat, and thus lure the magical horse away. In the Norse story, Loki actually mates with the horse and later gives birth to another magical steed, Sleipnir, which becomes Odin’s horse and figures in a lot of other myths.
I’m just glad that I never pointed out that little similarity back then. It was one thing when I was sometimes forbidden to check out certain books from the library, or buy certain paperbacks at the used book store. It would have been infinitely crueler to forbid me from watching Bugs and Daffy!
So, in case you missed it, a group of conservative evangelical organizations have banded together, calling themselves The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and they issued this multipart statement of faith, most of which is exactly the same old ant-gay, anti-trans, anti-equal rights for woman, stuff that we are used to hearing from these bigots. But this time there is one important difference.
That difference is Article X:
- WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
- WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.
In other words, they are now explicitly and emphatically saying that anti-LGBT bias is an essential part of being a christian, and anyone who does not subscribe to their anti-LGBT beliefs are not christians.
Now, for some years many of us on the queer and queer-affirming side of this divide have been pointing out that they have boiled christianity down to nothing more than the hatred of the gays. Politicians who in no other way support what any reasonable person would call Christ-like values, nor who love in anyway according to christian values are given high ratings, endorsements, and money by these organizations as long as they oppose marriage equality, trans rights, and so on.
There was that amusing Tumblr post I linked to awhile back where someone made a joke about homophobes, and scores of angry christians swarmed on the post calling it anti-christian hate. Then the original poster had to point out that the word “christian” didn’t appear anywhere in joke. It literally said “homophobe” but, “you guys went ahead and read yourselves in there.”
But whenever we accuse them of throwing out all of Jesus’s teachings (in the Bible, Jesus never said a single word, not one, about homosexuality) and replacing them with a hatred of us queers, they have emphatically denied it.
I’ve seen some folks say to just ignore it, because they don’t officially speak for anyone. But here’s one of the problems I have with that. In May of 1845 a bunch of conservative Baptist churches sent representatives to a meeting in Augusta, Georgia, and issued a 14-point statement of why they were separating from the rest of the Baptist Churches. Twelve of the fourteen points in that statement were affirming the institution of slavery in various ways, along with the segregation of the races and the inherent superiority of the white race. That was the birth of the Southern Baptist Convention, years before the civil war.
Even after the war, that group continued to fight for white supremacy and racial segregation, until 1971… at which time the finally endorsed desegregation and shifted their focus to abortion, women’s rights, and gay rights. They were the core of the Moral Majority. They remain a core consituency of the Republican Party in general and Donald Trump in particular.
I know this, because I was raised in that church. I’ve always been proud of the fact that my own grandfather was one of the delegates to the 1971 convention where racial segregation was finally removed from the official doctrine of the church. I was less proud of how many members of our home church at the time quit to form a new Bible Baptist Church over the issue of racial segregation.
So, 172 years after issuing a similarly bigoted statement, pain and suffering are still being inflicted on some segments of the population. I have trouble not fearing something similar here from the signatories of the Nashville Statement. Adopting hate and sticking to it didn’t make that group whither away. It grew, until it became (and remains) the largest Protestant denomination in North America.
Until now, they have always stopped short of explicitly saying that the christians who disagree with them on this issue aren’t really Christian. I think this represents a new battle line from people who feel emboldened by the election of Donald Trump. I don’t think this is just the same old, same old. These are the same people who, when we point out that the teachings of Jesus contradict them, claim that Jesus’s various admonitions about love and compassion only apply to fellow christians. They’ve been sanctioning the murder of abortion providers for decades, as well as the bashing and murder of queer and trans people. This statement puts targets on many more people.
Don’t laugh it off.
I was routinely called a “sissy” and “pussy” at school, on the playground, and even at home. Of course, those weren’t the worst insults. If my dad were really angry he’d call me “cocksucker.” This word was usually deployed while he was physically beating me, whereas the others usually never arrived with anything worse that a slap. Now, to be fair, he also yelled that word at tools that didn’t work the way he wanted, engines that were failing to perform correctly as he was repairing them, and so forth. It’s not that the word literally applied to me back then.
I was a sissy. I liked to sing along and dance in front of the TV when mom watched old musicals on the afternoon movie, for instance. I liked helping my mom, my grandmothers, and great-grandmothers in the kitchen. More of my friendships with kids my own age were with girls than with boys. I was horrible at any sports-related activity. I would much rather read (my mom taught me to read well enough to read picture books to my younger cousins before I entered school) than run around playing cops and robbers with the neighbors.
I also loved helping my grandpa do carpentry work (when I was really young that involved me following him around and trying to hand him the right tool). I loved working in the garden with my grandpa and great-grandpa. It wasn’t that I didn’t have any male role models — I had some very positive male role models in addition to the awful example of my father — I was just equally interested in things that stereotypically girls were expected to be interested in as those that boys are expected to like.
I wasn’t completely gender-non-conforming. I liked watching boxing with my paternal grandfather and football with my maternal grandfather (once I was living close enough to see him all the time). I loved playing with my Tonka trunks. I would create elaborate war and spy story scenarios to act out with my Captain Action action figure. I was really into the space program and built a model of the Gemini space capsule and later the Saturn V rocket and Apollo capsule and lunar module.
I have been a science fiction fan since before I can remember. My mom was into Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury, and infected me with the sci fi bug very early. I was quite fluent in Heinlein’s brand of manly-men conquer alien worlds style of sci fi at a very early age.
But for every Tonka truck I longed for, there was an Easy-Bake Oven, or Barbie, or various kitchenware-based toys that I also wanted. And I could never quite understand why I got yelled at by Dad for wanting to play with those. I mean, one of my grandpas (Dad’s father) baked the best cornbread in the world (hand’s down!). If Grandpa could enjoy backing, why couldn’t I?
While some parts of my childhood were bad, I do have to admit that things could have been worse. I was bullied for not be manly enough by dad, other boys at school, certain male teachers, and more than a few church leaders. Mom and a bunch of the church ladies held secret prayer meetings to try to pray my (suspected) gayness away when I was a teen-ager. But, I wasn’t actually kicked out of the house (like thousands of kids around the country each year, and like two of my high school classmates) for being a queer.
And though I did go through more than one period of having suicidal thoughts, I never actually tried it. Unlike hundreds of kids each year who try and succeed because they’ve either been bullied for seeming queer and/or are terrified that their family will find out.
Most of that is down to luck. My love of sci fi/fantasy gave me access to a lot of literature that gave me hope for a better tomorrow. The vast majority wasn’t about a better tomorrow for queers, of course, but just a better, more enlightened tomorrow seemed less likely to be so hostile to boys like me. I also had some wonderful teachers and other adults in my life who affirmed my interests, and just affirmed me.
I also just don’t seem to be temperamentally able to give in completely to despair. There’s a stubborn core to my personality that believes I can beat or solve anything, if I just have enough time to figure it out. How much of it is inherited (I do come from a long line of very stubborn contrarians), and how much is learned (some of the stubborn relatives were in-laws or adoptive relatives), but I suspect more than a little of it is hardwired into my neurological system.
More than one of those relatives who were important role models were also outspoken advocates for doing what’s right, standing up for yourself and others, and never being ashamed to be yourself. That some of them contradicted those lessons a bit later in life when I came out didn’t shake the foundation they had helped lay in my heart, though.
So, I’ve been a nerdy queer loudmouth for as long as I can remember. That’s more than 50 years. I don’t know why anyone would expect that to change now.