Tag Archive | society

You only gave us rights because we gave you riots: thoughts on Pride

“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)

I’ve had three partially-written blog posts about Pride sitting here in the queue for a few weeks, but kept changing my mind about which direction I wanted to go with it. Then over the last few days I’ve seen several more iterations of a question that drives me crazy, and some related stuff appeared on a couple of my usual news sits, which made the three ideas I had coalesce into one. First: never forget that the first Pride was a riot. And it wasn’t just one riot—the rioting continued for several nights. The quick summary: because (among other things) it was illegal for a bar to knowingly serve more the one openly gay person at a time, most of the places where gay, lesbian, trans, and other queer people were able to congregate were illegal bars, usually operated by the mafia. The cops occasionally raided those bars, just to remind the people operating them that they needed to keep bribing cops and other officials. Because it was also illegal for a man to wear clothing traditionally thought as a woman’s, and it was equally illegal for a woman to wear men’s clothes (stop and think about that a moment: it was a crime for a woman to wear slacks of a pantsuit in many states in 1969), in addition to shutting down the bar and confiscating the alcohol, the cops would always arrest everyone who was gender-non-conforming.

So, forget the lies that certain so-called religious people have started spouting lately: the cops were not rescuing underaged people who were being sex trafficked. The purpose of the raid was to insure that the mob paid it’s bribes on time, and to give the cops a chance to rough up some trans people, masculine-looking women, and effeminate men. That was it.

And for some unkown reason, part of the crowd started fighting back on that night. The cops were so overwhelmed that they had to barricade themselves inside the now-emptied Stonewall Inn and wait for reinforcements. Over the next six days, news spread and people gathered, rioting on at least two more nights. The people who led the fights were the outcasts: the street queens, the people of color, the homeless queer teens—the people least likely to blend in at some white middle-class event.

The New York Daily News, a bit over a week after the first riot.

The New York Daily News, a bit over a week after the first riot.

To the extent that the press covered the event, most of it was very condescending. Joe Jervis has been posting the full text of the New York Daily News’ story every June for a few years. If you want to see just how the so-called liberal press felt about gay people, go give it a read. To the extent that the media covered it at all, most of the coverage was either as disdainful and mocking as the New York Daily News, or they focused on the police version of the story.

The Village Voice put the phrase “Gay Power” in the front page!

Technically, the riots didn’t start the gay rights movement. There had been several organizations staging the occasional picket lines (with the men in suits and ties and the women in skirts), or other orderly protests for a couple of decades. In fact, some of the organizations that had been lobbying for gay rights for years issued condemnations of the riots. Second: But the riots did have a several important effects. while the mainstream press either ignored them or made fun of queer people, some of the alternative papers tried to show both sides. And these papers were read outside of the neighborhoods they served, especially papers like the Village Voice which was read by many professional journalists and academics far outside New York. Third, the news of the riots spread through social grapevines, and within weeks younger, less affluent queer people who had never ever heard of organizations like the Mattachine Society were gathering and forming groups like the Gay Liberation Front, the Gay Activists Alliance, or the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries.

Fourth, by the fall of 1969 chapters of the Gay Liberation Front were being formed on college campuses all over the U.S. I know, because I happened to know a man who was a freshman at the University of Washington that year, who was not only a founder of the UW chapter of the Gay Liberation Front, he served as an officer for the next few years.

Fifth: Commemoration led to recognition. The next year, June 1970, on the anniversary of the first riot, a small group met to march in what was then called Christopher Street Liberation Day, but by the time the group reached Central Park, the march had swelled to thousands. And, interestingly enough, the same papers that had been so condescending a year ago were at least less disdainful: “There was little open animosity, and some bystanders applauded when a tall, pretty girl carrying a sign “I am a Lesbian” walked by.”

I mentioned the organizations that had been fighting for gay rights for years. There were enough of them that they had been holding regular conferences for some years before the riots. Several months after the riots the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations passed a resolution supporting the Christopher Street Liberation Day, though several groups abstained. And the only reason the resolution was under consideration was because a group called Homophile Youth Movement in Neighborhoods had started working with the Gay Liberation Front, and brought some GLF members to the convention as guests. The New York Mattachine Society (the people who had been doing that staid picketing for years with no significant changes in the law or attitudes) was one of the organizations that opposed commemorating the riots. But that parade, and others held in other cities all over the country, happened anyway, and they have been growing ever since.

The Mattachine Society had been lobbying for gay rights since 1950 to virtually no avail. The more radical queers who organized after Stonewall made more of a splash: by the 1972 presidential election campaign, there were national Democratic candidates advocating for anti-discrimination laws to include queer people.

Since that first march in 1970, there have been people within the community who call for the parades to be less outrageous. Specifically, they ask people not to wear kink gear, or sexually provocative clothing. Every year I hear someone saying that such-and-such or so-and-so doesn’t belong at Pride. They argue that only if we show the world that we aren’t freaks will we get rights.

Bull.

I have a few more verbose responses:

First: if we all showed up with the men wearing suits and ties and the women in skirts, and walked calmly down the street the same bigots who claim we are sick and going to hell would still be screaming those lies. Because they did it for the two decades that groups like the Mattachine Society were playing the assimilationship card.

Stop ignoring the blatant sexuality of every day straight culture.

Second: have you ever been to a straight parade or festival? Because let me tell you, the first time I ever attended Seattle’s Torchlight Family Seafair Parade I was shocked at how just how many skimpy bikinis were being worn by women on the floats and how many sexual innuendoes other floats were designed to embody. The only reason why LGBT Pride Parades appear to be outrageous and not-family-friendly to people is because none of the sexuality on display is aimed at white straight men. There is no less sexuality being flaunted at most non-gay festivals, parades, sporting events, et cetera, than there is at Queer Pride Parades. None.

“No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hand of the person they love.” —Barack Obama.

(click to embiggen)

Third: the whole point of liberation and equality is that everyone should be free to be themselves. No one should have to hide who they are to be treated equally before the law. If you’re trying to keep the kinksters, the dykes on bikes, the drag queens, the scantily-clad go-go boys out of the Parade, you’re on the same side of this battle as the anti-gay bigots. You’re helping our enemies, not us. And I’m not the only person who feels this way. Take it away Amanda Kerri, writing for The Advocate:

“I’m frankly too worn out from this stuff at this point to be nice about it anymore. Saying that kink has no place at Pride is a bad opinion and you should feel bad. First of all, kink was at Pride long before upper middle-class queers decided to take their kids to Pride…. As for those of you arguing about how a bunch of queers running around in collars, harnesses, and body tape over their nipples makes us look bad in front of the straights and supports their arguments that we’re all perverts, well you might want to sit down for this: the ones who think we’re perverts don’t care how we’re dressed.”

Fourth: Pride isn’t a celebration of being gay, it’s an assertion of our right to exist without persecution. What is being celebrated is the fact that we have survived and even thrived despite the oppression. What is being celebrated is the rights of each and every one of us to be who we are without shame.

Fifth: Have you been to a Pride Parade lately? Because most of the groups marching in Pride Parades of late are corporate employee groups. They are queer people usually dressed in matching t-shirts approved by some corporate flunky, along with shorts and sensible shoes. Yes, I think there is a lot we need to think about with the corporations who pretend to be gay friendly for marketing purposes while actively supporting our oppressors. And I would frankly have more respect for the people trying to exclude the kinksters if they also talked about the corporate coopting, but they don’t usually seem to be the same people. Regardless, my point here is that just as straight public events aren’t really any more family-friendly than most Pride events, the Pride events aren’t nearly as outrageous as some of you seem to think.

Bottom Line: Everyone who is there to celebrate Pride is welcome, including straight allies. I’m not saying that you have to show up in a g-string with rainbow glitter on your nibbles to participate. I’m going to be wearing a t-shirt and shorts and sensible shoes, carrying my bright rainbow parasol and looking every bit the short, old, queer, nerdy bear that I am. But not only are the street queens, the freaks, the kinksters, the butch dykes, and all of the other “outrageous” or non-conforming people welcome, they were our founders—and they sure as hell belong.

What doesn’t belong at Pride are oppressive attitudes.

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Reminder: colors don’t have gender

A couple weeks ago I’d had a busy day at work, and then had walked around downtown until my work out app said I’d done more than a mile, which is when I headed to the bus stop. The sun had been bright when I first left the office, so I was wearing my broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses. I was checking the bus app on my phone to see how soon my bus would arrive, then checked messages.

I man walked past—then stopped a few feet away and turned in my direction. Since my head was down and I had the hat on, all I could see was his legs and feet. It’s a busy sidewalk and busier bus stop, so nothing seemed odd. I was standing close enough to the kiosk that lists the routes that stop there that if I gave any thought to him at that point, I thought he was looking at the sign.

He walked back the other way, passing only a few feet past me before stopping and turned to me again. I looked up just as he started walking his original direction. But he wasn’t randomly pacing. He was staring at me as walked by. And he stopped again a short distance to my right and turned his whole body toward me.

And stare isn’t the right word: it as a glare. Such an intense glare that you would think we had been mortal enemies for years—but I didn’t recognize him at all.

I smiled.

His glare became a sneer, and he looked me up and down before he said, “Nice hat,” in a very contemptuous tone.

I nodded and said, as neutrally as I could, “Thanks.”

He snorted, did the look up and down thing again, then said, “No, I mean a really nice fucking hat.”

The hat isn’t just broad-brimmed, it is very broad-brimmed. It casts a shadow that completely covers my face. And it is purple (two different shades!) and grey. This guy was hardly the first strange man to make less than friendly comments on the hat. Not wanting to escalate any things. I nodded again and said quietly, “Okay.”

He snorted again. He looked me up and down again. He muttered something with a very disparaging expression, then turned away and walked about a dozen feet further down the sidewalk (presumably) to wait for his bus in another part of the crowd.

I had my headphones on listening to an audiobook, so I literally didn’t hear what his last contemptuous muttering was, but it was clearly two words, two syllables each, both starting with F.

It wasn’t until I had gotten on my bus and settled into a seat that I noticed that I also happened to be wearing a purple polo shirt. Which isn’t a surprise, because last time I counted, exactly half the shirts that I think are suitable for the office are one shade of purple or other. At least two-thirds of the t-shirts I own are purple. I own several more purple hats. During sunny weather I often wear a Hawaiian shirt (often unbuttoned over a t-shirt), and most of them have purple as a prominent color.

If you hadn’t guessed, purple is my favorite color. And if the article from which I swiped the graphic above is correct, fully 12% of all men name it as their favorite color. Even so, this guy is hardly the first person to react this way to me wearing purple. Heck, about a year ago a very progressive co-worker, while we were discussing a book about racism in America, and while making a point about how different marginalized groups experience prejudice, he made the off-hand comment that if I just took off my hat and hid it, I could pass for straight.

And the hat that was hanging on the hook that he pointed to was not my big broad-brimmed two-shades of purple one. It was a much more subdued flat cap with a short bill. It just happened to be purple.

When I have told one of my other stories about a incidents similar to the bus stop encounter, sometimes someone feels the need to advise me to either, a) just ignore the glares and comments, or b) stop wearing purple.

To the first suggestion I have a few responses:

  • Humans are social animals, and most of us are hardwired to pay attention to other people around us, particularly their facial expressions and tone of voice. Difficult to ignore.
  • As a person who has been both verbally and physically assaulted by homophobes, I can’t help being vigilant. There is a part of my brain that is constantly looking for warning signs.
  • Given that queer people still get attacked and murdered by homophobes in this country, it would be very unwise to suppress that urge to keep an eye on my surroundings.

As to deciding not to wear purple. Really? So it is my responsibility to try to guess what might set off a random bigot? That solution is to take away something that I love, something that makes me feel good, something that doesn’t hurt anyone else, just so a bigot feels comfortable pretending that gay people don’t exist? If you think that suggestion is a reasonable one, I have to ask: why would you want to make a bigot feel comfortable? Seriously, go look in a mirror and ask that question out loud: why would you rather a bigot feel comfortable than someone like me be happy? Think really hard about why that was your first response.

Colors don’t have gender.

And I find it particularly amusing in Seattle when some of these guys react to my purple garments. Seattle is the home of the University of Washington (among other colleges) home of the very popular Huskies football team. And the team colors are purple and gold. So you see people wearing purple sweatshirts, purple hats, or purple shorts adorned with one or more of the team logos on them all the time. They are so ubiquitous in clothing stores around here that I can’t count the times that I saw a purple garment out of the corner of my eye, only to see that it’s Huskies merchandise.

And no, I’m not going to replace all of my purple clothes with Huskies merch. For one, I attended a different university altogether.

“Keep calm and love purple”

(click to embiggen)

I just think it’s crazy that some people see a guy wearing purple, and their fragile masculinity gets riled up unless they also see a sports logo. It’s still the same color. And it still doesn’t have a gender.

Confessions of a packrat-haunted packrat

“We produce enough food for 10 billion humans to live comfortably, but capitalism throws almost half of it away for not being pretty enough, profitable enough, or because it simply rotted on a shelf. Scarcity, suffering are manufactured in order to maintain profitability.”

“We produce enough food for 10 billion humans to live comfortably, but capitalism throws almost half of it away for not being pretty enough, profitable enough, or because it simply rotted on a shelf. Scarcity, suffering are manufactured in order to maintain profitability.”

I’ve written more than once about being a packrat–specifically, a packrat son of packrats, grandson of packrats, great-grandson of packrats, great-great-grandson of packrats… and I’m sure it goes back further than that, but those are the ones I know. Growing up like that, many habits of thinking and perceiving and worrying become deeply ingrained in one’s brain, so that it is a constant struggle to keep from turning into a full-on hoarder. Any time I put something that we no longer use into the pile to take to Value Village or what-have-you, I hear a chorus of voices in my head admonishing, “You might need that some day!” With some side comments about how much money it originally cost, so that would be a waste and so on. This manifests in many other ways. If we don’t finish all the food we cooked for a particular meal and I even think about tossing the tiny portion of something that just isn’t really worth putting in a container to stick in the fridge, the chorus will talk about wasting food and people who can’t afford to eat (as if I could someone forward this tablespoon of vegetables that were already part of leftovers from a meal a few days earlier, to a starving child somewhere, right?). It really does feel, at times, as if I am haunted by a slew of judgmental ghosts.

One reason those ghosts are so strong is because they are really a manifestation of anxiety. Spend any part of your childhood or young adult life where food and shelter were in jeopardy because of money issues, and those anxieties get a lot of power. And because we survived some of those situations thanks to some packrat in the family who kept that old appliance when they bought a new one which we can now use after ours broke until we can afford to replace it, well, those anxieties can rightly remind us that “You might need that someday!” is true.

To get out of the abstract for a bit: one of the tasks that has been on my list for a while was to go through the closet and my chest of drawers to purge clothes that I don’t wear anymore. We last did that seriously two years ago while preparing to move… and we did it again when we unpacked, because after all that packing and moving we were both feeling that we had not been ruthless enough in the purge leading up to the move.

But we’re both also busy with work and chores and so on, so it is easy to put it off. I have also learned that those ghosts will enlist the aid of my inner procrastinator in interesting ways. Usually I distract myself with another chore or project that is important, but manages to grow into something bigger. The trick, I have learned, is to actually say out loud, either to myself or my husband, “I really want to go through the closet and drawers this weekend to get rid of the clothes that don’t fit me any more.” And even though whether they fit isn’t the only reason I plan to get rid of some clothes, if that’s the only part I admit out loud, it’s harder for my to procrastinate.

Yes, I just admitted that I have to trick myself. The funny part is that it works.

Weekend before last I started at the closet. One reason it had become urgent is that the closet is so full of clothes that it is difficult to put clean clothes away after I do the laundry. It’s a struggle to squeeze things in. The side effects of that are that it is difficult to find a particular garment when we want and that a lot of shirts especially get weird creases because everything’s jammed in.

Because I had been doing other housework that day, I didn’t get started on the closet until nearly 2:30 in the afternoon. As I pulled things out of the closet, giving them a look over and trying them on, it was easy to toss things that don’t fit (or don’t fit comfortably), or if they have another physical issue (there was one really nice dress shirt that I really like that got a coffee stain on it that resisted all my attempts to remove, and it wound up being put back in the closet because the packrat ghosts in my head convinced me that I could think of something to remove the stain later.

It was more difficult to put things in the “get rid of” pile that had no physical problems, but that I just know I’ll never wear again. There are a few reasons that I know I won’t wear something ever again. Sometimes it’s something that I bought because I thought it would go really well with something else and I either no longer own that other garment or once the outfit was assembled it didn’t look good or it had a major impracticality or whatever. Other times it’s just that while it looked good in the store, later I didn’t like how it looked on me. And other times it’s just, I’m over that–whatever look it was.

If I keep it, it will just hang in the closet. It will be looked at from time to time while I’m looking for something else, but I will never pull it out and actually wear it. I know that. No matter how much I know that, I feel a tide of guilt rising inside as I contemplate tossing it into the “give away” pile.

The trick I have used in that situation is to ask myself, “If my friend Kristin were here, what would she ask me?” And what I imagine Kristin (who I sometimes call “the Ruthless One” in these circumstances) would ask me is, “Are you really ever going to wear that, or is it just going to take up space that you could put to better use with things you actually do use?”

And once I have imagined Kristin saying that (or similar), the guilt recedes and I can put the shirt or whatever into the pile.

A bit over two hours later, I had pulled every shirt, sweater, pair of pants, jacket, and so on out of the closet, tried it on, put it into a pile, and then had re-hung all the clothes that I was keeping. I had an embarassingly enormous pile of clothes to go, and an impressive mass of empty hangers. And I was tired and sweaty and felt grungy and grumpy.

I checked in with Michael about how many of the hangers to keep, I bagged up the clothes and the hangers, and I hopped in the shower to wash the grunge and (mostly repressed) guilt away.

I looked at the chest of drawers–three of the six drawers so overfull that they couldn’t be fully slid in, looked at the time, and decided that it was not procrastinating to put that off until next week if I loaded up the car and actually took all the stuff we had in the get-rid of piles away. And it wasn’t just an excuse, between that and the other housework I’d been on my feet and moving for many hours. Value Village was only open until 8pm, and we were now past 5.

So we loaded up the car (which took longer than I thought), drove up to the donation center, dropped the things off, did a quick run through the store on my usual quests (I am trying to replace one decorative plate that got broken while we were hanging the set on the wall at the new place, I keep hoping to find a matching sixth cut crystal wine glass for one of my sets, and I have slowly been acquiring semi-matching bone china saucers to go with a small set of teacups that belonged to my late first-husband’s grandmother — and which, yes, I actually use!). And then we stopped at a nearby sushi place for dinner.

Then, this last weekend, I went through the drawers. Since taking things off hangers wasn’t involved, it went a bit faster. The pile of things to get rid of wasn’t nearly as impressive as the one I’d had the weekend before. But now I am able to easily open and close all six drawers on my side, and there is actually room in the drawers for some new things when they come along (because they will).

Michael, on the other, spent something like five minutes going through his drawers, and all he did was move heavy winter things to the drawers drawers in the bed pedestal (we decided after the move that they only we we’d remember to use them at all was keep seasonal stuff in them), because as the hot weather had come on, he’d started pulling summer clothes out of the drawer, but hadn’t transferred. But all the drawers on his side now easily slide closed, so, win!

Of course, while he was a lot of packrat tendencies, his are focused differently than mine. And he doesn’t have the same habits I have of, for instance, if I have to toss out a couple of socks because they wear out, I will replace the two thrown out pairs with six… and then a month later not remember that I have already more than replaced those “bunch of socks I had to throw out” and buy another six-pack.

One last trick for dealing with all of those ghosts. Whenever I win a little battle with them, I make an extra donation to either Northwest Harvest or True Colors United–gotta use that guilt for something useful, right?

Doesn’t anything last anymore—or, insights from a penny-pinching packrat

The pill minder I’ve used for more than ten years broke…

Lots of people are uncomfortable with change. For instance, I have medical conditions and have to take medicine every day. Some of the medications need to be taken every morning, some every night, and keeping track isn’t impossible, but it’s easiest if I have a system to collect them and keep track of which have been taken. Thus, the pill minder pictured here.

It isn’t the first one I’ve owned. Back in the ’90s I had one medication that had to be taken five times a day. That was no fun, let me tell you. So I had a pill minder back then that actually consisted of seven little four-compartment pill-minders. On a Tuesday morning I could pop up Tuesday’s four-compartment piece, take the morning pills, and then put the Tuesday minder in my backpack, go to work, and throughout the day take my other doses.

That served me fine for years. Even though as it got older most of the words printed on the little lids had rubbed off, and a couple of the little lids wouldn’t stay latched as the little plastic catches wore down. But the penny-pincher inside me kept saying that I could keep making do with it. Despite a few times when I had to dig around in the bottom of the pack to find the pills that had fallen out.

But my meds changed. The one that had previously needed to be taken as five little pills every four hours or so was replaced by one larger pill just once a day. Other medications that had come in small pills were replaced with new ones in very large pills and I had to admit that the old rickety minder with it’s tiny compartments wasn’t right any more. I just needed one with larger compartments divided into only a morning and evening for each day. So I bought a new one (the one pictured above). Which worked fine for years, until one lid broke off week before last.

I figured, oh, it’s just one day, and beside, I don’t carry this thing around with me any more, it stays home, right? Except just about every time I picked it up to open a compartment and take out the pills for that morning or evening, I’d spill some or all of the pills out of the broken compartment. I had to admit it was time to buy a new one and throw this one away.

The new one is pretty and new and shiny… and has a different kind of locking mechanism that means when I unluck, say, Wednesday morning’s compartment, all of the morning compartments are unlocked. So I have to be careful to relock each of the others each time.

Which gives a bit more insight into the sorts of behaviors that could turn one into a full-on hoarder: sometimes we hang on to things because they are familiar. And when we are forced to swtich to a new thing, we find things that are different from the old thing annoying. Because of the years of familiarity, very tiny inconveniences become very outsized annoyances.

The last couple of days while I’ve been using the new minder, I’ve been thinking about how my out of proportion annoyance is not unlike the irrational way that people often react to changes in society in general. Those of us who have spent our whole lives struggling for equal rights often find ourselves having to ask others (sometimes our own relatives) why it bothers them so much? How can decriminalizing my love life possibly hurt them? How does legal recognition of my marriage possibly hurt them? It isn’t logical.

And that’s precisely right. It isn’t a rational response. It is an out-of-proportion reacting to change. Men kissing men in public was unheard of when they were younger, why can’t it stay that way, they ask? And so on.

This doesn’t mean that they are right. Just as me clinging to the broken pill-minder did me no good, them clinging to the past does nothing good. There are notions that belong in the dustbin of history. Hoarding prejudice isn’t the answer to anything.

When the roll is called up yonder, or queer confessions of an ex-evangelical

Me wearing part of the uniform for the interdenominational youth touring choir I was a member of for many years.

Me wearing part of the uniform for the interdenominational youth touring choir I was a member of for many years.

Just a few months ago I was trying to explain to a friend who lives in the U.K. the weird hypocritical dogma of the typical American fundamentalist Christian, and wound up mentioning that although I disagreed vehemently with many things that Billy Graham preached, I always felt his basic faith was sincere. This is in contrast to my opinion of Graham’s son who has taken over running the ministry, who both on air and in-person came across as an especially unethical used car salesman.

Even so, I was a bit surprised at my reaction to the news that the 99-year-old Billy Graham, oft described as “America’s Pastor,” died yesterday. Let’s make no mistake: while Graham was unusual among Southern Baptist ministers in the 1950s to embrace desegregation (“there is no segregation at the foot of the cross”) and at least gave lip service to decrying racism, he was an unrepentant homophobe. Statements he made over the years included: “Let me say this loud and clear, we traffic in homosexuality at the peril of our spiritual welfare.” Or: “Is AIDS a judgment of God? I could not be sure, but I think so.” Graham claimed to be non-partisan, but often came down on the Republican side of many issues. “At 93, I never thought we would have to debate the definition of marriage. The Bible is clear — God’s definition of marriage is between a man and a woman.” And it’s really hard to justify some of the comments he made while discussing Jews and the media with President Nixon in the 1960s.

But Billy could preach! Oh, how he could preach! It’s difficult to explain to someone who didn’t grow up in an evangelical community in the 50s, 60s, or 70s the cherished place Graham inhabited in the hearts of the faithful, semi-faithful, and faithful-adjacent. Graham wasn’t just held up as an example of a good man and great preacher, people were so certain he was inspired by god, that quoting him sometimes had a stronger effect than quoting from the scripture.

As a teenaged Southern Baptist (very closeted) queer boy in the 70s, I was perhaps more acutely aware of how much Graham was revered than most. While many saw my flare for the dramatic as a troubling hint of queerness, others saw it as a calling from god to become a preacher. The combination of that theatricality with my ability to memorize and recall huge sections of the Bible, as well as a facility with language, and being quick-thinking on my feet had people talking about what a great preacher I would make when I was still in grade school. Once I was older, and had more experience thanks to musical groups, drama club, and the debate team, well, it surprised no one when elders of the church started trying to convince me to get ordained in my late teens.

At the same time, completely unbeknownst to me, Mom and several women in our church were meeting once a week to pray that god would “rescue” me from the temptation of homosexuality. I hadn’t come out to anyone, at all, at the time. And while there are been some very furtive sexual relationships with a few boys my age during middle school, by the time people’s suspicions had risen to that point I was celibate, secretly praying even more fervently than they were, and doing everything I possibly could to be straight.

Which is precisely why, when I was approached about ordination, I started meeting with one of the associate pastors and studying to become a minister. Like millions of religious queers before me, for some time I thought that embracing “full-time Christian service” might be the only way to make my feelings for other guys go away.

I should mention that in Southern Baptist churches at the time, ordination was something that happened usually at your local church before you went off to Bible college. Which is the reverse of the way most other denominations do it. So I was still a teen in my first year attending community college while meeting with the pastors and deacons of our church several times a week to study and pray about my future.

I wish I could say that what caused me to back out was an epiphany about my sexual orientation resulting in self-acceptance replacing the self-loathing I had been taught all my life. That tipping point wouldn’t come for a few more years, yet. I also wish I could say that it was learning that the origins of the Southern Baptist denomination were much more racist and pro-slavery than I had been taught. That shocked me a little bit, but I was already quite familiar with the fact that only a few years before this the Southern Baptist Convention had finally denounced segregation of the races.

What did bring me to my senses were two conversations that happened close together, each with a different deacon in our church.

In the first, the elder in question took issue with my continued interest in science, particularly my interest in astronomy and evolution. He was quite unimpressed by my argument that a god who could plan and carry out a plan involved 15 billions years of stellar evolution eventually leading to humans was a far more impressive feat then simply waving a magic wand and making everything at once. While he referenced the Baptist principle that interpreting the scripture was something each person must do on their own, he also made it clear that my adherence to scientific fact was not an asset for a pastor.

In the conversation with another deacon, I mentioned an article I had read recently in which I learned that Fred Rogers, famous as Mister Rogers on PBS stations, was an ordained Presbyterian minister, who considered his work producing the children’s show his ministry. I thought it was a great example of how doing god’s work could take many forms The deacon had a very different view. First, he pointed out that (in the opinion of typical Southern Baptists), Presbyterians were “soft” on Biblical inerrancy. Further, if Rogers was actually doing god’s work, he would use that daily television show to tell children directly the story of Jesus. Since he didn’t do that, he wasn’t doing god’s work, according to this deacon. Finally, he said, “You know that Billy Graham was raised Presbyterian? He joined the Baptists because we’re actually doing god’s work.”

And those two conversations were the final nails in the coffin of me becoming a Baptist minister. The epiphany I had after those conversations was that all of the church leaders who had been urging me to become a minister didn’t really see the makings of a pastor in me. Instead, they thought that anyone who had Talent, whether it be intelligence, a gift for language, or whatever, who didn’t use that to evangelize wasn’t doing god’s work. That simply being a good person and doing what you can to make the corner of the world you were in a better place and to love your neighbors wasn’t enough.

I didn’t call things off until the end of the Sunday evening Church service where, as part of the process, I delivered a sermon and otherwise conducted the service. I still think that my John 16:33 sermon is an incredible work of art. But even as I was giving it, I knew the whole thing was a mistake. I suspect if I hadn’t called it off, that the deacon who was so concerned about my love of science would have done what he could to derail things. Regardless, there were a few more times over the next couple of years that leaders in that church and related churches came to me and asked me to prayerfully reconsider become a preacher.

I had learned my lesson: if the evangelical faith couldn’t accommodate both scientific fact and Mister Rogers, well, it didn’t have a place for me, either. I didn’t find my real place until several years later, but that’s a story for another day.


Note: The title comes from the hymn “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” by James M. Black, hymn #482 in the 1956 Baptist Hymnal.

It can’t be too late for common sense about guns, right?

I’ve written about the most recent incident last week, and laid out how all the usual arguments for why we can’t do anything about mass shootings have been trotted out by other industries and proved incorrect a while ago: They used to insist that drunk driving couldn’t be reduced either. I had some more stuff I was going to follow up with, but almost everything I wanted to say is summed up by Emma Gonzalez, one of the survivors of last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida: Teen who survived massacre rips Trump to pieces in emotional takedown. I’m just going to quote a bunch of that article:

[S]he responded directly to Trump’s tweet, which blamed students at the school for not reporting on the shooter’s behavior before the event.

“We did,” Gonzalez said, “time and time again, since he was in middle school.”

“We need to pay attention to the fact that this isn’t just a mental health issue,” she continued. “He wouldn’t have harmed that many students with a knife.”

“How about we stop blaming the victims for something that was the shooter’s fault?” she demanded, and called out those who do deserve to shoulder that blame.

“[The people] who let him buy the guns in the first place. Those at the gun shows. The people who encouraged him to buy accessories for his guns to make them fully automatic. The people who didn’t take them away from him when they knew that he expressed homicidal tendencies. And I am not talking about the FBI. I am talking about the people that he lived with, I’m talking about the neighbors who saw him outside holding guns.”

The NRA gave $30,000,000 dollars to the Trump Presidential campaign alone, not to mention the tens of millions to various senators and congresspeople. Last year, when Congress passed a law making it easier for mentally ill people to buy guns (and Cadet Bonespur signed it), the NRA sent out a bulletin to all of its members bragging about it.

The NRA routinely pours millions into defeating laws that NRA members themselves claim to support. When gun sales plummeted last year after Cadet Bonespur was inaugurated, they spent a bunch of money producing advertisements that portrayed Black Lives Matters protesters and such as dangerous violent people. The ads were blatant calls for white supremacists to buy more guns and prepare for a race war.

The NRA as an organization is demonstrably not promoting responsible gun ownership and hasn’t been for decades. It’s only goals are to protect and increase gun manufacturer profit; and if any of its leaders aren’t racist (a highly difficult proposition to prove), they are all absolutely fine fanning the flames of racial fear to keep the money rolling in.

So, anyone still supporting them is supporting an organization that sees mass murders of children and racial tension as marketing tools. You aren’t nobly defending a moral principle if you support them.

It’s time to end this bloody charade.

“The common refrain when shootings happen in that if you restrict access to guns, they'll just use knives. This is a switchblade. It's illegal to own in 11 states, illegal to sell in 13, illegal to open carry in 14, and illegal to concealed carry in 17. Itf we can agree that certain knives are so efficient at killing that we shouldn't possess or carry them, why can't we agree the same about guns? Keep in mind, knives meet the legal definition of arms referred to in the 2nd amendment.”

“The common refrain when shootings happen in that if you restrict access to guns, they’ll just use knives. This is a switchblade. It’s illegal to own in 11 states, illegal to sell in 13, illegal to open carry in 14, and illegal to concealed carry in 17. Itf we can agree that certain knives are so efficient at killing that we shouldn’t possess or carry them, why can’t we agree the same about guns? Keep in mind, knives meet the legal definition of arms referred to in the 2nd amendment.”

Great-grandma’s Gun

My sister and I with Great Grandma St, John. I'm 9, my sis is 4, and Great-grandma is 74 in this picture.

My sister and I with Great Grandma St, John. I’m 9, my sis is 4, and Great-grandma is 74 in this picture.

I have often found myself in weird discussions/arguments with people who assume that because I favor many extremely liberal policies, I must be one of those evil anti-gun people. So before I get into this tale, let me begin by saying that I used to be a card-carrying member of the NRA. I have owned guns. I have fired guns. I have almost never fired guns on a gun range, because we didn’t have many in the Rocky Mountain towns where I grew up. I was taught how to shoot a gun by being taken out into the wilderness by my father and grandfather and firing it for a couple of hours at various things we set up as targets. Then after the third of fourth weekend of doing that being told I needed to go shoot a rabbit or two if I wanted to eat that night.

Long before we got to that point there had been many, many gun safety lectures, because there were lots of guns (mostly hunting rifles) in the homes of most of my extended family. I knew how to take apart, clean, and put back together a bolt-action rifle and how to re-load bullet cases (by which I mean, measure out gunpowder, put it into a spent casing, align a new bullet and insert it with a hand operated press, and install a primer cap) years before I was allowed to hold a loaded gun and shoot it.

There were winters when the only reason there was enough food on the table for the whole family was because some of us had gotten a deer or elk during the appropriate season (not to mention rabbits, pheasants, and grouse). I should also mention that I was raised to look down my nose in disdain at people who hunted pheasant and other birds with a shotgun. As my Grandpa said, “If you can’t hit a flying grouse or dove or pheasant with a rifle, you have no business pointing a gun at anything.”

I should also mention, in case it isn’t obvious from the part about learning how to turn spent cartridges back into bullets, missing was considered wasteful. We couldn’t afford to waste a lot of bullets getting the food.

But as the title of this post suggests, today I need to tell you the story of Great-grandma’s Gun… Read More…

No one deserves to live in a closet

“If Harry Potter taught us anything, it's that no one deserved to live in a closet.”

“If Harry Potter taught us anything, it’s that no one deserved to live in a closet.”

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.

“My only regret about being gay is that I repressed it for so long. I surrendered my youth to the people I feared when I could have been out there loving someone. Don't make that mistake yourself. Life's too damn short.” —Armistead Maupin

“My only regret about being gay is that I repressed it for so long. I surrendered my youth to the people I feared when I could have been out there loving someone. Don’t make that mistake yourself. Life’s too damn short.” —Armistead Maupin

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:

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 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 70 million 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.

Voting is our best weapon, but they’re trying to take that away, too

Voter ID laws don't effect everyone equally (click to embiggen)

Voter ID laws don’t effect everyone equally (click to embiggen)

Voter Suppression Laws Are Working. The real purpose of so-called Voter ID laws is not to prevent voter fraud. That’s how they sell it, but the real aim is to keep poor people, the elderly, and other marginalized people from voting. Voter fraud is a for all intents and purposes a myth: There have been just four documented cases of voter fraud in the 2016 election – three of them voted for Trump. The number of fraudulent votes cast are always such a tiny fraction of the total that they don’t effect the outcome of races. And we’ve known this for a while.

Seriously, during part of the George W. Bush administration, U.S. Attorneys were ordered to make finding voter fraud a higher priority than any other case they were investigating. And after a lot of time and effort was expended, they came back and told the administration what state officials who run elections have been saying for decades: voter fraud is virtually non-existent. The most common forms of voter fraud, which add up to far less than one percent of the votes cast, are relatives of recently deceased people casting an absentee ballot for the dearly departed. The next most common is a relative who has been appointed a legal guardian of an elderly relative believing (incorrectly) that the power of attorney they have been given over the relative with a diminished capacity gives them the legal right to fill out the relative’s ballot. And the third most common are people who are wealthy enough to own homes in multiple states registering in all of them and voting there under the mistaken notion that because they pay taxes in more than one place, they can vote.

The Republican party of my state several years ago famously spent more than a million dollars tracking down four voters who had voted illegally in the very tight governor’s race that year: all four of the convicted felons who hadn’t had their voting rights restored had voted for the Republican (because the Democratic governor had been the state’s Attorney General before, and the four felons held grudges against her).

A lot of people ask, “What’s so hard about showing your ID?” Which seems like a reasonable question to a person who enjoys a certain amount of privilege. The funny part is, that the people asking this know how hard it can be and you can prove it to them. All you have to do, is ask them whether they look forward to going to the DMV to renew their driver’s license. They will either brag about how wonderful it is now that their state allows people to renew on line, or they will tell you a horror story about being trapped at said office for a long period of time. While it is an inconvenience to someone who is able-bodied, has access to their own transportation, and has a work schedule that allows them to take the time to go stand in line, to anyone who isn’t in that situation, it becomes an insurmountable obstacle.

Most poor people in the U.S. work multiple jobs. They aren’t hanging around on street corners waiting for a welfare check (that’s an even bigger myth). The typical low income family has trouble finding the time to sleep and cook meals for their kids, let alone try to find enough time during one of the days a licensing office is open to go stand in line for hours. That’s if they can even get to the office. The states that have passed strict Voter ID laws also happen to be states that have fewer offices where people can get an ID. And coincidentally, they tend to only have those offices in locations convenient to affluent neighborhoods.

So you have to add many miles of travel (and the time and expense involved) to the difficulties to overcome to get an ID. That’s if the person has their own transportation. And it just so happens that the same states the have strict Voter ID laws also spend the least amount of money on public transit. Yet more barriers.

I think about the hassle my mom went through a few years ago after a move when she was trying to get her license renewed and updated with her new address. I don’t remember how many times she had to go back, but it was several. One time it was because whoever she talked to before she went in didn’t tell her the right documents she would need to prove what her new address was. I don’t remember what the problem was the next time, but then after she finally got it after her third or fourth visit, they mailed it to her and several pieces of information on it were incorrect. So she had to go back to get it corrected, and that took more than one trip.

My mom is retired, so she theoretically had the time, and she can drive herself, and the office wasn’t very far from her apartment, but she’s got a lot of health issues, and some days she just doesn’t have the stamina to sit in a non-ergonomic waiting room chair for who knows how long, right?

And then there’s the matter of the fee to get the ID. The constitution forbids poll taxes but the requirement of having state provided ID for which you are required to pay a fee is essentially a poll tax. And even if you argue that the ID serves other purposes, the fee is yet another barrier for low income and fixed-income people.

So, Voter ID laws effectively take the vote away from low income people, people with disabilities or mobility issues, and people living in certain communities. And the lawmakers who pass the laws are well aware that those populations tend to vote in favor of one party more often than the other. They want to take that vote away.

Fortunately, there is something you can do about it: Donate to and/or Volunteer with Spread The Vote (spreadthevote.org). Spread The Vote helps people get their required ID. They provide volunteers to help people collect the required documents, transportation to the apply for their ID, assistance with fees, and so forth.

If you want to help with the fight at a legislative and legal level, consider donating to Project Vote (projectvote.org). Project Vote is working to improve voter registration processes and remove the barriers to make it difficult for people to get registered and to vote.

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