Thursday, October 09, 2008


Color me cranky

There is something about Mr. McCarthy's sermonette that really sticks in my craw. I suppose I should be glad that the editors of major college newspapers now have to deal with the fact that faggots have power; I guess I am. No, really, I am. And I also appreciate a lot of what this very serious young man has to say. But there is part of me that doesn't, and a part of me that, quite selfishly, wants to know where all this understanding and "brotherhood of man" bullshit was when I was in college.

Yes, it was a hundred years ago. It wasn't like there weren't plenty of us around, but the A-list guys who edited the paper would not have dreamed of letting us into its pages except maybe to slice each other up in the drama reviews. And you can bet your bottom dollar none of us were invited to give homilies at the college chapel on how we had suffered. Still were.

Oh, never mind...

Yes, Stonewall had certainly happened, but it was happening on some other planet, and not on the Outer Edge of Nowhere where we were running the academic race. On that other planet, people were @#$%-ing like dogs in heat, in public and at all hours of the night and day, but there on the Outer Edge, even stoned hippie tolerance had limits, and we were it.

Don't get me wrong: I still think that a lot of what went on in the name of "liberation" was plumb crazy. Actions have consequences, and long before AIDS, there were consequences to taking every drug known to man, partying like there was no tomorrow, and screwing anything that wasn't nailed down. But it was liberation, and it only came because the hustlers and the drag queens who bore the brunt of police oppression had had enough. I remind myself of that untidy little fact all the time...

I grew up in a home that most children can only dream of—an only child and grandchild showered with more love and support than any person reasonably deserves. I’ve been surrounded by good friends and sustained by good health. Despite their modest means, my parents were determined to give me the very best education in the world, and now I have the great opportunity and responsibility of passing that on to others. By every measure, I am among the luckiest of men, rich in all the appropriate ways.

But I haven’t always appreciated this. Despite these great blessings, there has always been something about me—something essential, unshakable—that caused me great shame.

Actually, I had the good luck that the unconditional love I got immunized me against this kind of shame. I wasn't ashamed until my father arrived to pick me up from what was in fact my lover's apartment one summer, and instead of ringing the doorbell on the street to give us some warning, had the good luck to arrive just as someone was exiting the building. The next thing I knew, my lover, who had answered the knock on the door at an angle to cover up the fact that he was naked and still a bit of a mess, closed the door and said in a voice of wonder and shock: "It's your Dad." I don't think I've ever gotten dressed as quickly in my life.

So when I finally got up my courage to come out to him, it was a bit of an anticlimax. Once again, I have missed out on the experiences of my generation. I get neither the shame nor the liberation.

But then, Mr. McCarthy was born when I was in college--well after Stonewall--and he still had to do the whole Aztec two-step around shame. How long is this going to go on? It's like sexual liberation generally: when will we stop saying we were/are combatting the residue of Victorian attitudes? Has anyone who mouths this nonsense ever looked at what actually went on in the Roaring 20's, for example? Not to mention since then. Well, at least some of us dodge the shame bullet: So there's one more blessing for me to count.

I am a homosexual. Not merely “different,” but dirty, diseased, despised. I spent much of my life, far too many years, trying to hide this “curse.” Having been raised in the Catholic Church—despite the unconditional love of my parents—I thought of myself in precisely these terms. Like Adam and Eve, Ham, and the Israelites, I embodied “sin,” my sexuality a potent symbol of God’s disapproval.

Why does this sound like AA? "My name is Troll, and I am a practicing homosexual." "Good morning, Troll." I won't recite all the pronouncements of the Old Testament which are not trotted out when the few "important" bits of Leviticus are paraded around again, but you do have to wonder why the people who quote it aren't stoning their misbehaving children [Deuteronomy 21:18-23]. When my eldest son reached the age at which our church gave him a Bible--way too early, to my mind--he was well on his way to becoming an atheist, and did some critical reading. He found a commandment that the army of Israel march with little scoops on the ends of their spears so that they could dig their own mini-latrines and bury their , um, "waste." I don't think he was making this up, though I can't cite chapter and verse, and I think he brought it up to let us know what he thought of the book we had seen fit to have him supplied with.

But what is Peter's vision in Acts 10 about, if not that the strictures of the Old Covenant do not apply? In fact, Peter is told not once, but three times that all the previously forbidden food is now clean. And he clearly understands this as a metaphor, because he promptly decides to enter the centurion's house after all. Now I did not grow up Catholic, so I can't vouch for what was dished out in their homilies, but I can tell you that there is not one mention of sex in the story of Adam and Eve. Shame at nakedness, yes. Sex, no. The snake talks about the knowledge of good and evil making us like gods, and look where it got us. We embody "sin" all right--we all do--and who in his right mind can deny that, given what goes on all around us? But LUST is only one of the Seven Deadly Sins, and it's not even the one given pride of place as Lucifer's sin: that's PRIDE.

Until pretty recently, I hated myself because I thought God hated me. The greatest tragedy of our human existence is the fact that we are so quick to see human difference as a perversion of nature rather than as a rainbow sign of God’s creativity... And so it is that the worst angels of our nature—slavery and poverty, greed and corruption, war and genocide, racism, sexism, and homophobia—are routinely cloaked in the language of Scripture. This, I’ve come to understand, is the real perversion.

Anyone who teaches another person that God hates him, no matter how obliquely, is to my mind committing the sin against the holy spirit, the one sin for which there is no forgiveness; that's just my opinion, of course--people have been accusing other people of commiting that sin for millennia [remember that Dante already showed bishops and popes in Hell some seven hundred years ago]. You will probably also have noted that in my opinion, if we all manage to get to our graves without choking on all the rainbow shit that has rained down on us in the last ten or twenty years, we may consider ourselves lucky. Enough with the @#$%-ing rainbows, already. Yes, the worst angels of our nature have been cloaked in the language of Scripture as long as Scripture has been around. I think maybe the less I say about the above equation of homophobia with genocide, the better. I am still at the garden party, after all, even if I am a skunk.

Too often, however, those of us who live on the margins act as though we deserve our fate. If prejudice is the greatest source of human tragedy, self-loathing is its most powerful enabler. Our inability to accept ourselves fully as human beings—to become comfortable in our own skin—has sometimes led to very bad behavior. We internalize the fear and loathing directed at us and we re-direct it at ourselves, and each other. In doing so, we lose faith in the very thing that should save and sustain us: our common humanity. History is full of such casualties.

This is hash. We need to question very carefully how we are defining ourselves before we outlaw self-loathing; Pascal said many years ago [OK, about 330, but who's counting?] that "the I is loathsome." And the idea that other people's prejudice is responsible for our bad behavior is so insulting to sense that I will pass over it, If you're lucky, I won't come back to it later, but I probably will. History is full of such casualties...

Change becomes possible only when we find faith in something larger than ourselves. We’ve seen it in the Exodus of Jews from Egypt, in the flight of slaves from bondage, in the protests of workers and women, in Freedom Rides and peace marches. We felt it in the rebellious spirit of our founding mothers and fathers outside the Stonewall Inn in June 1969, and in the heroic resilience of Stonewall’s children in the face of AIDS and Reagan and “family values.”

So far, so good. But I have the teeniest little problem with Stonewall being put on a level with the Exodus. Yes, every departure of slaves for freedom is to be celebrated, and every "nation" celebrates the event that brought it into being, but let's keep things in perspective. Can we celebrate our resilience in the face of AIDS without also asking ourselves how AIDS became a plague to begin with, and what that means for our self-definition as Stonewall's children? Don't get me wrong; I have no desire to go back to the days when we were harassed and criminalized even when we gathered behind closed doors. But is promiscuity the hallmark of liberation? Let's look at the whole truth as well as nothing but the truth.

Too many of us have gone, but many more of us remain. As we gather to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus this weekend, may we still feel this spirit as we affirm the value of our LGBT family.

25 years is cause for celebration in any event. What bothers me here is not the overall sentiment, but the definition of "family." This happens all the time. It is not that I believe that we are forever only members of our birth family; no adopted child could possibly believe that, and I have spent my life acquiring fathers and families, myself. But among the many things that family is about is the relationship of people between genders and between generations, two counts on which our "family" until recently has not done very well. One of the clearest signs that "gay" people in the Stonewall sense are something completely new is the way that we are now dealing with just those issues: we are adopting children [!], we are demanding the right to marry [as opposed to what we spent the '70's doing], we are are leaving money to organizations which will look out for "the community" for generations to come, and we are having to negotiate the meaning of that "community" with all the other letters of LGBTQIA, beyond our loyalty to our own.

We are no longer just those who have refused to take part in the wars between the sexes and the generations; we have now entered the conflicts as co-combatants, and are even among those attempting to conclude a peace. And that is what the New Testament calls "a new creation."

My prayer this morning is simple: that we use this historic occasion not only to celebrate how much has changed for us, but to renew ourselves as a people—to find faith in family so that change will continue to be possible for every last one of God’s children, even and especially those who are all alone in this world.

Well, there we are. A simple morning prayer that makes me weep for the years when such words could not be spoken in such a public way. A simple prayer to reflect in gratitude on how much has changed.

And then the odd call to renew ourselves as a people--someone else will have to tell me exactly what Mr. McCarthy means by "finding faith in family" so that change will continue to be possible. If it's just "just believe in yourself" again, I have my doubts about what he was doing praying his simple prayer in a church, rather than under a tree or in a TV movie.

Here's hoping there's more to it than that. And here's hoping that I can knuckle down and get something done one of these days. It's going to get ugly pretty soon unless I do...

I guess there was something to add to the sermonette, after all...

Hang in there, everybody.

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