Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Iraq My Brain About This One

I have a friend whose brother has been serving in the military in Iraq during the invasion. Within days he should thankfully be back in the United States. His girlfriend, to whom he plans to marry, but is not yet, is recognized by the US military as the family member to whom information regarding his status, including his expected date of return, should be communicated. This important information regarding his welfare and location in the world is sent not to his parents, or to any of his siblings, but rather to this woman to whom he is not even yet engaged to at this time.

While I'm exceptionally happy for my friend, her brother, and their family, nothing at the same time makes me angrier. First, a person seving in the military who has a same-sex partner would not even be allowed to divulge that information without being drummed out immediately. It wouldn't matter how faithfully and well they served. It wouldn't matter that he/she spent months on hostile foreign soil in service to the whims of dishonest politicians. If a serviceperson asked that their return home be communicated to their same-sex partner, they would be forcibly removed from the military.

But let's forget the insipid "don't ask, don't tell" policy for this rant. Rather, do you think for one minute that, even if military personnel were allowed to be out and serve that the US government would recognize their partner as having family status and communicate with them? Of course not. The government would insist that the solider list a blood relative. The courtesy they afford a potential heterosexual partner would not even be considered towards a homosexual partner, regardless if they had spent the past twenty years together. Again, our commitment and dedication to our loved ones, and our service to our country (both military and financial) are ignored, devalued, and derided.

This is but one more reason we need gay marriage. This is one more reason why we need to challenge American cultural values about homosexuality. This is one more reason we need to preach back to those in the pulpits. One more reason why America needs to provide the same rights and protections afforded its straight citizens to its gay ones as well.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Fundamentally Wrong

"It doesn't matter who's to blame. They are all a bunch of terrorists. One does it for God, the other because they think they have a purer blood line."

So, can you guess who said this and who it was said about?

According to the New York Times, Jesus Miguel Gomez said it in regard to the train attacks in Madrid.

I would be a travesty to compare the Basque terrorists or Al Queda to most of the population of the American Religious Right. Although a few extremists commit horrible acts such as bombing abortion clinics, terrorizing abortion doctors, or protesting that "God hates fags" at funerals, these individuals are just that, extremists and atypical.

My first reaction to reading that line, however, was wondering if it was said in either relation to the Religious Right or possibly even the Bush administration. Either is overblown, but I think my reaction speaks to the current atmosphere in America. Fundamentalist Christians and Republicans in power have made me feel so uncomfortable in my own country that I am not surprised that some individuals, angered at the resistance gays face currently in America, did not make such a comparison.

The Bush/Republican opposition to gay marriage is hardly based on either on any belief of faith or idea of sanctity and purity, despite the rhetoric the President spews like so much vomitous garbage. The President's support of a Constitutional Amendment is solely a political convenience to secure the blessings of Christian Fundamentalists.

At one point in my life I would have self-identified as a Christian Fundamentalist; today I see myself as a Liberal Christian. Some of my friends and family are still Fundamentalists. They are good, decent people who have beliefs rooted in love, compassion, and beneficence. Still, I wonder if the concept of Fundamentalist itself is not inherently troublesome.

Theoretically a fundamental belief or understanding means an understanding on the most basic level. Rather than simpleness, the word actually conveys an understanding that is so complex and deep, that the person has mastered the understanding of the underlying principles of the complex system or theory. Fundamental Christianity, however, is just the opposite. Today it means a simplified view of the Christian faith.

The central tenet does seem simple: Christ was fully man and fully God born of virgin birth and raised from the dead as an atonement for the sins of all people. However, most Fundamental Christians have added to this core principle a thoroughly non-Scriptural teaching: the Bible must be seen as inerrent and read without any historical-critical context. Although the first tenet is not without problems (for one, it does not take into account the discrepancies in the Gospels concerning the life and teaching of Christ), but this new piece of dogma is the most problematic.

The idea that the Bible can be and must be read through an archaic (though beautiful) translation with a modern contextual understanding defies any logic, yet is how the Bible is mostly read by Fundamentalist. No discussion is held in Fundamentalist churches about what Paul means when he uses the word "natural." There is no concept that what Paul thought was "natural" in his time and context might be different from how we use the word, the modern connotations of the word or how we define it.

Of course depending on the denomination or church, you will still have sections ignored that cannot be reconciled with a strictly modern context. The Bible stricly forbids women from speaking in church, advocates celibacy over marriage, and condones slavery, just to start. Yet in most congregations, these problems are not addressed. Still, most Fundamentalists want to jump on the "homosexuality is a sin" bandwagon because "the Bible says so."

I suppose this phenomenon occurs because most Fundamentalist know women, many are women, actually, and women have actually probably been responsible for helping maintain modern Christian faith more than men. Most Fundamentalist enjoy the opposite sex and having sex, so they marry. And many Fundamentalist know and are black, so slavery is not a good idea. However, gays make up such a small percentage of the population (3%-10%) that, even if a Fundamentalist knows a few, the critical mass is not there to make them change their mind. And while even most rational whites can relate to the idea that your skin color should not make you bad (what is the roles were reversed?), same-sex attraction is completely foreign and unthinkable. Thus, it's an easy target.

And, much like a bully in a schoolyard, Fundamentalism has caused emotional and spiritual terror to many gays. Fundamentalism has caused many of us to believe for so long that there is something wrong with us; we'd better change or we'll burn; and that we are Satanic deviants. We've been ostracized instead of loved and embraced. We've had parents and friends try to change our wicked ways. Fundamentalism has left deep psychic scars on much of gay-dom in the name of God.

And notoday, the terrorism expands to a legal assault. Not content with the emotional sub-human status, they have labelled us with, many Fundamentalists want to instill into law our second-class position. Although they haven't bombed or shot at us, who knows how many gay people have taken their own lives or continue to live as broken people because of this message. Nobody thinks well when we talk of Islamic Fundamentalist. It's seen as a bad thing. Christian Fundamentalist need to ask themselves what makes them different.

Monday, March 08, 2004


"While [Will and Jack] are as stereotypical as Amos and Andy, they help humanize gay life."
--Gay author Felice Picano to Richard Burnett's Three Dollar Bill column in Montreal's Hour newspaper

"We're not actors, we're just guys on a TV show being ourselves. We don't claim to represent
the entire gay community. ... If that means that in some way we sometimes embody these stereotypes
then so be it, because if it's not OK to sometimes be stereotypical -- whatever that means --
then it's allowing a fearful straight community to dictate to me how I should behave."

--Queer Eye for the Straight Guy's Kyan Douglas to Miami's The Weekly News, Dec. 18.

Much ado has been made over the stereotypes represented on Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. I find it to be much ado about nothing. With the exception of Carson Kreely, the fashion maven, I don't see these guys as being very stereotypical. And while I think that while Carson may camp it up from time to time, overall I don't think he's playing a character. (Consequently, Carson, much like Jack on Will & Grace is one of the best elements on the show, adding a great touch of humor and particular queerness.) Are the other members of the Fab 5 supposed to be stereotypes because they are experts on grooming, food, culture, and home decor? That's something akin to saying that women hosting makeover shows are being stereotypical because women are supposed to be good with makeup.

First, stereotypes generally exist because somewhere, somehow they are built upon at least a grain of truth. I have witnessed some of the harshest stereotypes played out in people, sometimes several people, I know and respect. The primary problem is that stereotypes are usually employed by hateful and ignorant people to oppress entire groups. These people seek to solidfy their power base by instilling the stereotype as The Truth and then spread this disinformation.

But stereotypes can be fun when rooted in truth. I love, and I mean love, a good show tune. And if you catch me on the right day, my inner drag queen will emerge and I'll do a full a dead-on Diana Ross singing "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." I don't care that anyone knows it, although any who hear it may rue the day.

Unfortunately, the idea of the effeminate gay man is an object of scorn even among many in the gay community. Look at any personal ad these days and you're more likely than not to see somebody seeking "straight-acting" or "masculine" men. Some of the cruder ads specifically ask for "no femmes." The only place it seems you'll find an effeminate man accepted seems to be on Queer as Folk, with Emmet, the loveable flamer of the group.

Certainly when it debuted, Queer as Folk was held up as not only giving us stereotypes of the community, but dwelling on the most negative of stereotypes: promiscuous and orgiastic sex and prolific drug use. And, for the most part, those critics were right. Strangely, this criticism is rarely heard any more, perhaps because the show is in its fourth season now and is old news or newer, fresher targets like Queer Eye are available. Perhaps those criticisms have died down because QAF was recognized as the soap opera it truly is (and what soap opera doesn't have the most extreme personalities of people represented). Probably all of these factors contributed, but perhaps also the realization that, despite all its sensationalism, QAF actually taught some very positive things to the straight world.

Straight people began to hold get togethers around the show. Supposedly it is a huge hit with straight women particularly. The show also embraced feminine men like Emmet; inter-generational love; acceptance of HIV positive men; and accepting people despite their faults. The show also showed the struggles of gay life. It showed the strains of gay parenting, making relationships work, legal issues, workplace issues, and more.

Complaints have been levied against Will Truman for his uber-celebate life as well as the uber-flaming Jack on Will & Grace. Critics target the character of Will as having no love life and, thus, being the ultimate non-threatening gay man. No wonder heterosexuals accept him, and by extension the show, they say, because Will doesn't exhibit any behavior (say, like kissing other men) that tends to scare the straights. Also, could we have anyone more stereotypical than Jack. He's irresponsible, flighty, fashion-obsessed, catty, and incapable of sustaining a stable or single relationship. Oh, and he loves showtunes.

While these criticisms aren't foundless, what ground have we lost with this show? Will & Grace arguably made bringing shows like Queer Eye and perhaps even QAF to our television screens. This show laid a foundation that resonates today. Ellen could be mentioned here as truly setting us up for Will & Grace, but, unfortunately, it blew it. Although the infamous "Puppy Episode" was handled well, Ellen subsequently shifted focus dramatically. What little humor there previously was drowned in DeGeneres working through her own issues on television. It lost ratings once Ellen came out, and turned off viewers while Will & Grace sustains an audience after firmly establishing in the first episode that Will would never be converted to heterosexuality. (Consequently, Will's life has not been as neutered as some would make out. In one episode, his fantasy of sleeping with Stone Phillips was hysterically depicted with a guest appearance by Phillips himself.)

Ultimately, all of these shows do contain stereotypical behaviior from their cast to one degree or another. Still, none of them are the glitter-paint minstrel shows some critics would make them out to be. Being queer once meant being something radical. Queer politics was not about conforming to the mainstream, but standing apart from it and still demanding acceptance. Now being gay has somehow evolved into being as similar to straight America as we possibly can be. The political line has become, "if we're more ordinary, they won't notice we like people with the same genitalia."

So, now, in true Donner family fashion, we are turning on these shows and our own sensibilities because they fail to hide queerness. They are criticized because these gay people are too, well, gay. (Or in Will's case, he isn't gay enough, although Jack is too gay.) Somehow we've become afraid that if we promote the idea we all like high coutre (the label I like best says "wash and wear"), or we have fabulous house decors (mine is chez Garden Ridge) that we'll quit finding acceptance among straight people. Now isn't that a queer idea?

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Abide in Truth

This Sunday, March 7, Bishop Gene Robinson took over full control of his diosese. He was welcomed, according to the Washington Post, with a standing ovation from a packed church of over 700 attendees. According to The Post, Robinson had said in October,"We've always had gay bishops. All I'm doing is being honest about it."