Saturday, July 18, 2015

Go Kill A Watchman

If you haven't read the just-published Harper Lee novel Go Set A Watchman (a quasi-sequel of To Kill a Mockingbird), please listen to it first, specifically the spoken audio version read by Reese Witherspoon. This is a novel about what people think, not about what they do, and Reese really gets inside Jean Louise's head.
It seems most literary critics have rushed to express that Go Set A Watchman is an unworthy successor to To Kill a Mockingbird. I hope that you, as I, disregarded their self-appointed gatekeeper role and made up your own mind.

So you didn't like it? This suggests to me that:
  1. you can see only in black and white,
  2. you are an idol worshipper (whether it be Atticus Finch or Harper Lee),
  3. you need the approval of people "better" than you (such as literary critics),
  4. you love humanity but hate real humans.
  5. you find fiction and "literature" boring.
True confession. I was forced to read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school and thought it was boring. The book went on and on about a child's thoughts, which I being recently a child myself was in no further need of. The movie was much better, but my teacher didn't want to hear that. I grew up in a liberal Catholic family in California, so it was fun to ridicule the South for its backward ways, but did Ms. Lee really need so many anecdotes of childhood? I could have summarized my view of the South much more succinctly: "You were wrong then, you're wrong now. You lost the war, get over it already!"

And then I grew up, went to U.C. Berkeley (a privilege that I as a smart white middle-class male accepted as birthright), and began to see things in color, grew fond of cognitive and moral dissonance, and was ready to have my idols upended. In 1986 I saw, and joined, young people rising up against old men accommodating apartheid in South Africa to maximize profits for employee pensions. The struggle had a wonderful Les Miserables quality to it, including the building and brief habitation of a shantytown in front of the administration building. In the end, we won (I mean of course that South Africans won), and we celebrated ourselves and indeed the old mens' pensions were perfectly fine -- they had lied to us, and respect for authority died a little after that. Sadly, the on-campus naval museum died too, apparently a victim to the self-righteous arrogation through arson of a few overzealous anarchists angry about the military's role in ROTC on campus. Respect for righteous indignation died a lot for me that day as well.

So where could Harper Lee have gone after Mockingbird? She could have published Watchman soon after Mockingbird, perhaps at the cost of her own fame, moral clarity, and effectiveness. But she did not. Some moral courage!

But then, where did we student protesters in the thousands go after "freeing South Africans from political bondage"? Certainly not to north Oakland to picket an unscrupulous nursing home sweatshop where workers were being paid less than minimum wage. Or I should say, at least the lucky ones...I and a handful of others not yet equipped to say no to a direct plea from moral authority to our moral superiority to do our moral duty found ourselves whisked away in a white van, and I was condemned to a hot afternoon pushing a large fat man in a wheelchair around in circles: he waved his sign and I pushed him uphill and braked downhill. I can no longer remember what the sign said, only that the man stank of ripe sweat and I consoled myself that since he was black, I could at least relieve myself of some white guilt I was feeling and hopefully get some Filipina caregivers a 50-cent raise. Sadly, as fate would have it, neither came to fruition. I did not feel more noble, and despised myself for wanting to. The workers did not get their raise. No media came to document the futility of our labor action, and no one wrote the Great American Screenplay where Gregory Peck played me playing Norma Rae. Real life has a remarkably unromantic and mundane quality to it.

Still, I was stubborn and unwilling to let go of the dream, so I went into the Peace Corps upon graduation and lived two years in the Central African Republic, where my students still stank of ripened sweat, I grew even more cynical, and left no lasting legacy: instead of the neocolonial subjugation they enjoyed when I was there, they now have machetes and religious war. As yet I have not been called to write the Great American Novel about my time there. What I had was better than fiction because I lived it, but I cannot share it with others because I have not learned from it anything worth sharing.

But Harper Lee has. Go Set a Watchman is not a Great novel, but it is a good one, with good people with good intentions, perceived grievances, and self delusions struggling to be moral individuals in a world that prefers group labels. The prose is sufficiently rough and at times wordy that we can dispense with the straitjacket of author worship. Atticus finally gets the right to a third dimension. The black characters can stop stepping-to, because (being written from a white point of view) they have almost no presence anyway. Even in its boldness, the novel is racially self-serving, but at least white readers are well served.

By which I mean that Harper Lee gave me a fleeting chance to experience the dissonance of knowing that white privilege is loathsome and in any case unsustainable, yet somehow wanting to mourn its loss. It is an uncomfortable feeling which maybe I brought to the book myself, so your mileage may vary. Thanks to a novel written 40 years ago, I finally have a clue why the Tea Party lives on and has staying power, and how people saying overtly racist things about President Obama seem earnest in professing that it's not about his race. Indeed it is not about his race: it is about their race, and the intersection of race and identity cannot be understood unless at some point you are willing to temporarily accept its validity and empathize with hate dressed up as victimization and animated by fear and loss. The sandbox of fiction in Watchman gave me enough permission to do this where I would not in real life.

For moral answers, I will always have Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn, but to form moral questions I prefer Watchman and Billy Budd. I still don't like literature, but it seems to like me.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

White privilege

I walked the red dirt road alone guilt-free,
camouflaged by choice and chance.
My flashlight knew its place,
but dared to dance and jumped to late.

Startled black at new moon, intruded need interrupted.
Eyes and teeth justly shamed my light shaft down, 'til
self-incriminating shine of whiter skin had its way and
we together did as done must do.

I quickly mumbled my pardon monsieur,
but he parried with practiced humility,
His own right hand reached for mine, as custom did oblige,
but need as well for left hand he was aiming at the bush.

Machete laid on the ground,
he twice exposed himself to me, and I thus armed
in my white skin had twice the upper hand,
Noblesse oblige I crossed my light saber left to play my part right.

Feigning delight at the exchange,
though secretly mourning solitude now lost,
I repulsed unbidden urge to blame the man
for being too black to see in blackest night,

As he too surprised at night might blame in turn
a black Mamba snake for being underfoot.
Once out of sight I doused my light to recover my equality,
For white can pass for black with naught to see and nowhere to be.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

One Holy Catholic And Apostolic Social Contract?

As one raised Catholic, I always tacitly accepted as a secular humanist that there is exactly “one holy catholic and apostolic social contract”. Now I'm not so sure...

One: Is there one single best way to structure society for the greatest benefit? One that maximizes individual freedom for those who can support themselves while providing social justice for those who cannot? Not if we are hardwired (through heredity or environment in childhood), say for risk aversion, need to belong to a group, have difficulty embracing change, feel undeserved loss more strongly than unearned gain, cannot tolerate ambiguity or chaos, need a higher purpose in life than we can ourselves construct, or fear our own mortality. Sociology emerges from psychology: different strokes for different folks.

Holy: Does the group even serve some higher destiny, beyond a utilitarian one in which the pragmatics of life unfold? Is patriotism or civic-mindedness an objective good or mere social lubricant so we don't all kill each other? You don't have to be an Ayn Rand devotee to wonder why the group has any moral legitimacy: many progressives (myself included) are baffled at Citizens United, which holds that a corporation is a person. A mob may have a moral code well below that of any of its participants and free from self-doubt or guilt about its actions. Is communitarianism just mob rule with a human face?

Catholic: Is the Enlightenment is purely a cultural construct of Europeans, or are “human rights” universal? I long thought this was obvious, until my two years in the Peace Corps in the Central African Republic where I saw near-universal endorsement of the group (family, clan, tribe) as the fundamental unit of identity, where the prosperity of the group and the strength of one's two-way ties to it were the measure of happiness, not the self-indulgent whims of the individual. I got only baffled confusion trying to explain even to my educated fellow teachers the possibility that in America young and old wouldn't naturally both want to live together in a multigenerational unit or that it wasn't the accepted duty of any adult to discipline any child (to the benefit of both). What is the social benefit of religious homogeneity among Muslims or the fusion in China of economic liberalism fused with state-enforced social cohesion? Only time and social science will disentangle cause from effect here.

Apostolic: Is humanity too precious to be left to the hand of humans? Should we embrace the Platonic ideal of an aristocratic guardian who protects us from our worst impulses, like the American Constitution that guards against majoritarian tyranny, defended by judges anchored to reason devoid of passion, with a ruling and business class propped up by the practice (if not the theory) of our voting system in which franchise is exercised at much higher rates by educated property-owning old people with money, assumed to be pursuing ideals extending beyond how to maximize their own immediate material comforts. Or is it preferable (if even possible) that we commit to universal education sufficient to ensure that the governed are equipped to choose the greater good on their own without coercion? Bread and circuses are to politics what television is to parenting: we can do better.

Social: Are laws limited to governing the group, or does the individual also need to be governed? Are there any victimless crimes, such as not wearing a seatbelt or motorcycle helmet, opting out of healthcare, or taking drugs which destroy the individual's own freedom of choice? Or are we actually our brother's keeper, whether he likes it or not?

Contract: Are interpersonal relations governed merely by contract, where voluntary agreement of the parties is necessary and sufficient? Or is there some “natural law”, a higher ideal that makes it for example wrong to kill the weak in a resource-poor economy or destroy the climate in ways that will not harm us or our children but may injure our great grandchildren? Is it true that access to abortion in the 70s was the main driver in lowering asocial behavior in the 90s, and if so what should we do with that knowledge?

Secular humanists sometimes come across as amoral elitist wishful-thinkers who believe as Hamlet that there is “nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” and admit like Einstein to loving humanity but hating humans. In fact, I see us as pragmatic optimists who have observed over time that society progresses when knowledge spreads, that theory bears fruit only when anchored to data empirically derived through scientific method, that we don't need to be smart enough to do if we are just bold enough to try and wise enough to assess. For us all to advance, we each have to advance, but not necessarily in the same direction, and none should be left behind.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Gibbs Free Happiness

Money can't buy happiness. Or can it?

Richard Easterlin found in 1974 (the so-called Easterlin Paradox) that once basic needs are met (around US$70,000 today in the developed world), happiness does not increase with income.

A new study by University of Michigan economists Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson demonstrates that this hypothesis is not supported by data. It seems we are unsatiably-greedy beings after all.

Perhaps these two can be reconciled (in what I will glibly call Gibbs Free Happiness) using a thermodynamic analog, namely Gibbs Free Energy:
G(p,T) = H − T S = U + WT S
  • U is the internal energy
  • W is work exerted on the environment
  • T is the temperature
  • S is the entropy
  • H is the enthalpy
If you did not study physics, look these up later. For now, I will supply my own definitions:

Total happiness is like enthalpy H, the total amount of happiness accumulated up to now. This is what I infer that the study measured. This is itself composed of:
  • Invested happiness is like internal energy. This is the non-liquid happiness for being in a non-shareable state that consumed finite resources or opportunites and is not easy to get in or out of: having gone to college, having a career in one's field of interest, owning a home, having children.
  • Altruism is like work W, easily spent in small amounts or given away (in the form of helping others out financially, doing favors for, etc.) and easily received, reversibly without friction loss.
Opportunity, i.e. the number of distinct dimensions with accessible ways of spending your happiness (more precisely, the logarithm of the total number of distinct combinations of ways of investing all your happiness) is the analog of entropy S. Opportunity, naturally, goes up with income.

Risk tolerance, the conversion factor from opportunity to happiness, is the analog of temperature T. Our sensitivity to risk in undertaking self-satisfaction depends on our environment. When in equilibrium with a world of abundant happiness, T is high and one opportunity is as good as another: small-risk/small-reward vs. big-risk/big-reward have the same long-term payoff, and we can afford to float risk, to be wrong in the short term. Conversely, in a world of few opportunities, low hanging fruit that are easily achieved are more valuable than reach for the sky ventures that have a low payoff, because with few chances to convert money to happiness, we just can't afford to be wrong.

So what? It turns out that in physics, lots of things tend to saturate through this very mechanism. Electrons left over after atoms take their fill conduct freely as electricity. So is it Gibbs Free Happiness that saturates around $70K?

My hypothesis is that it does, that this study is consistent with Easterlin's original observations, that the "free happiness" -- that excess happiness that can be freely given away without noticeable adverse impact to oneself in a zero-sum world -- wanders away so easily precisely because we have little capacity to make us of it ourselves.

In other words, if you can't use excess happiness, just gibbs it away! Others won't be sorry.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Will the real Maggie Thatcher please sit down!

It's official: the Iron Lady has joined Ronald Reagan, Jane Roe, and Jesus in the pantheon of human projector screens.

How are we to reconcile George Will's encomium of Baroness Thatcher as the one who with Reagan “helped bury socialism as a doctrine of governance” with Lawrence O'Donnell citing “her unyielding support for socialism” including her staunch support of socialized health care, regulation of greenhouse gas emissions to reduce global warming, and proud defense of Darwinism and the scientific method?

Does it even matter that the hagiographically enhanced Ronnie and Maggie, if running for office in the US today, would be laughed out of CPAC, kicked off Fox News, denounced by Sarah Palin, and heckled by Tea Partiers? For that matter, did it matter that the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., so loved in death, might have been denounced as unpatriotic if he had lived long enough to dare oppose our post-9/11 invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as he once opposed the war in Vietnam?

Not in the least. The courts did us a great favor in giving Norma McCorvey a pseudonym, so that when she later found Jesus and went from out lesbian to anti-choice evangelical, she did not get to take Jane Roe with her. Jane Roe the defender of reproductive freedom belongs to me and every other pro-choice American, just as Thatcherism and Reaganomics have a right to a life independent of their eponymous hosts. Ms. McCorvey no more owns Jane Roe than Dame Maggie owned Thatcherism.

Calculus doesn't need pebbles, algebra doesn't need integers, and great -isms cannot become truly great while still shackled to their flawed -ists. When I hear the names Thatcher, Reagan, Darwin, and McCarthy, I am quite unbothered that the real Maggie Thatcher thought Nelson Mandela was a terrorist, that the Ronald Reagan who opposed discrimination against gays while governor could not later as President utter the word AIDS, that Darwin apparently had a soft spot for colonialism and eugenics, that Joseph McCarthy even in ignominy was supported and liked by the Kennedys and Catholics.

Through the miracle of historical revisionism, I get to reinvent these heroes and villains to support my cause as I see fit, and I don't intend to let the real-life versions get in my way.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Diapers and bathtubs

Ask me about same-sex marriage, and I will go on and on about my husband of 13 blissful years (3 of them legally). As Obama evolves, Romney revolves, and debate devolves on gays getting married, I have the real thing every day. I could brag endlessly about Marty and not do him justice. Everyone likes him. He is the paragon of spouse.

But company loves misery, and misery has loved gays for so long, so I will share another side, a darker side, of same-sex marriage, one that all parents will relate to.

Before my current wedded bliss, I was with another man 5 brief months and then 8 long years. I'll call him Eric (because, of course, his name was Eric, and he deserves not to be anonymized). Eric died a slow miserable death, but not before losing 80 pounds, his mind, and his continence to lymphoma. Diapers and bathtubs are the promising start of childhood and the despair of old age. Eric was 28 years old when he died, and never saw the millennium.

Eric and I fought almost from the first. He was uneducated, broke, manipulative, and came from a broken home. He was also young, ambitious, handsome, and dauntless. He decided we should learn to ski, and we went skiing. He started his own business, starred on the big screen (as an extra), turned a hand-typed hiking club newsletter into a glossy splendor through aggressive selling of ads and then extorted free color from the printer with false promises of future business. He was everything I was not, and I was smitten.

I might have left Eric soon enough and joined the divorced 50% disillusioned with marriage. Instead, Eric got sick, then sicker, and then I was trapped. Trapped by a sense of duty, of commitment that my Catholic parents taught me too well. We lived in a condo on the second floor, so lowering Eric down the exterior cement stairs in a wheelchair to go to his radiation treatments was always an adventure, especially when he tried to help. He slowly became paraphasic and incoherent, so twenty questions with a nodding head soon became a mere guessing game with a petulant and frustrated child.

And then there were the endless diapers that never seemed to fit, and so no sooner dressed than undressed and back to the bathtub. Eric was fragile at this point but still a 130-pound 6-foot man (though in this as usual he had rounded up, being only 5'11"), so maneuvering him into and out of a wet bathtub was a battle between hurting my back or dropping him, so the only thing between me and insanity was ibuprofen and overeating.

The above is mere preamble to the real confession: Eric lingered too long, and there was nothing left to like. When he mumbled with his last spoken words, "I wanna go home, I wanna go home", I didn't care whether he was talking about heaven or Kansas, I was ready to buy the one-way ticket. For myself.

But I didn't, and that is also what same-sex marriage is to me: not bailing out when like is gone and love must do. When can't-take-it-anymore yields to one-more-time-into-the-tub, because it must and there is no one left but me. This side of marriage gets lost when the willfully stubborn insist that gays can't realize true love outside of "one man and one woman" relationships. It also fails to make it into the chanting and placards of marriage equality rallies.

To quote the President of the United States (not Obama, I mean Michael Douglas in The American President): "I've loved two men in my life. I lost one to cancer." Marty is no Annette Bening (then again, who is?), but I plan never to lose him through my own action or inaction. I know how precious marriage is, and nothing and no one will take it from me, not even me.

Same-sex marriage is nothing new: I have been in one half my life. If it is new to you, I invite you to see both Marty and Eric in your understanding of it.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Human cutlery

There are three basic types of people: forks, spoons, and knives. Each can behave like the other two when pressed, but rather badly, and after a while it becomes quite fatiguing.

Forks take charge. Insubstantial in themselves, they want to skewer others' accomplishments. At rest, they set themselves apart from the others, but (in America at least) they keep crossing over to be on the winning side of any task. Those in charge swear that the fork is the most useful, though it is a tool best suited to stealing the credit only after the hard work of cutting is already done.

Spoons support. They are affable enough, though of limited craft, and easy to use. They stack up best when facing the same direction as every other spoon and do not respond well to being put to uses beyond their ken. Teaspoons look to tablespoons for career advice. True, they are indispensable when eating soup, but when reaching into a drawer, it is the forks who command (and the knives who deserve) respect: the spoons go unnoticed and unrewarded.

Knives engineer. Spoons serve up and forks take away, but knives transform. The knife does not envy the spoon nor fear the fork, for the spoon aspires not, and even as the fork is stealing the previous bite, the knife is already dreaming of the next slice. Those who are wise use only the sharpest knives they can afford and do not dull their keenness on menial labor, yet they will never give the knife a free hand nor let it near their mouth once the job is done. That is a privilege granted to the fork.

I neither envy the fork nor pity the spoon, and in truth would be miserable doing either's job. For I am, and have only ever wanted to be, a knife.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Celebrating Marriage

To celebrate my husband's birthday and the more than 11 years we've had together, I give you a fun little video of romance and marriage, from our friends Down Under:

Saturday, October 1, 2011

How not to come out to your parents

I'm a sucker for coming-out stories, and the end of Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) was underscored with moving videos of coming-out stories. Most viral among them is a video by Airman Randy Phillips coming out over the phone to his father (and again later to his mother). Good thing they each reacted reasonably well, as it was on display for 4 million and counting of Randy's closest followers on his YouTube channel AreYouSurprised:

Randy is a good-looking and empathetic guy, but perhaps his poor parents deserved to hear this news in person, and in private. It's easy to forget that it's not always only just about us.

Are Mormons like planets?

Mormon virtues are usually listed as thrift, industry, duty, self-reliance, risk aversion, pursuit of prosperity, and respect for authority. Detractors will often list these very same traits using less flattering words. I think this list misses the mark and describes many non-Mormons as well, such as myself. What then is the distinguishing feature of Mormon culture?

Perhaps Mormons are like a planet, moving as one in a larger revolution while remembering to generously and dutifully rotate to give all longitudes their chance to view the central sun, yet all the while aware that any more chaotic rotation to extend this warmth to the colder latitudes could destabilize the common orbit, trigger a collision, and reduce the cohesive whole to a sea of scattered lifeless asteroids. At some point, the good of the many means that a few arctic dwellers must resign themselves to making do with less. That is what planets do.

I too might not have disdained life on a planet, had I only the good sense to have been born at the equator. Instead, I lead the life of a comet. My path may be either elliptic or hyperbolic (I do not know), but I am willing to adjust my course with each passing encounter. And though currently enjoying my momentary basking in reflected warmth, I am destined to shoot out again soon on my cold and lonely path. That is what comets do.

Still, so long as planets and comets manage not to collide, the solar system is richer for having them both as members.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Haiku-tainment for the Prose-Weary

For those who value form over substance, I offer up for public ridicule some haiku musings of mine, reprinted (and slightly edited) from here.

On gay marriage:

Kekkon wa
Obama ni yoreba
Okama dame

As for marriage ways,
According to Obama
No way for the gays.

Lawrence v. Texas
Souter gone, will we lose all?
Soyomayor says…

On Mormon missionaries:

Mormons in haiku
demonstrate free agency,
pass the Turing test

Missionaries rap
Book of Mormon in haiku
Old wine in new skins.

LDS haiku,
yet not a one containing,
“And it came to pass…”

On McNaughton's painting One Nation Under God:

Token black complies
Clarence Thomas in disguise?
Reality belies…

Blacks still in the rear
Satan whispers in gay's ear
Such do WASPs hold dear

Franklin clutching chest
Justice cannot watch the rest
Lying at its best.

Jesus now reveals:
Constitution, not Bible,
Is the Word of God.

Boy is so confused:
“Church and State shall not be fused”
Jesus not amused

The Second Coming
Jesus judges living, dead
Who will make the cut?

Painting shows the way
sells better than truth.

No haiku attempt is complete without literary criticism. Here is my response to one who did not care for the use of rhyming in the above haiku:

Critics I address,
To some rhyming I confess
Cease with your distress

To those who contend
“Rhyming haiku sense offend!”
Let me now defend

As one who adores
Rhyme which haiku underscores
How the purist roars!

Give your rules a rest
Grating rhyme is rhythm's zest
Fusion food tastes best.

Wisdom in five feet?
Even coffins are longer.
There ain't no free lunch!

Like one thousand cranes
Haiku speaks not of what is,
but to what should be

Thursday, October 14, 2010

It gets better, really!

Joel Burns, currently on the Fort Worth TX City Council, was moved by the recent epidemic of gay teen suicide, to make his own video (and personal testimonial) for Dan Savage's It Gets Better project, encouraging gay teens to stick it out until, as it did for me, it does get better.

If you have not yet seen it, please watch it in its entirety (not quite 13 minutes, but if you must, you can skip to 4:20 for his personal story).

Joel Burns' story is also my story. What he so compellingly and tearfully recounts happened to me twice, once in my sophomore year of high school, and again in my sophomore year of college. Here too, as Joel did, I apologize that close friends and family are hearing this story for the first time. Some things are best said in public.

I was harrassed regularly before and after P.E. class, in ninth grade and especially in tenth. One of my teachers was an unsympathetic ex-Marine, the other a very unsympathetic coach who ironically had an openly gay son of his own. Both coaches were well flirted with by the girls, and neither seemed to mind this at all. I was physically assaulted (punching and shoving) maybe a dozen times or more, in and out of the locker room, a place of special dread I learned to avoid so assiduously that one girl remarked how my swimsuit stank. In fact, I was afraid to change out of it after swim class and it would mildew tucked safely in my book locker when I changed privately in a campus bathroom stall.

I was fired on by a boy at the top of our street using a pellet gun while I was walking home, and the pellet lodged in my knee. My mother stormed up there and banged on the door, threatening to return with the cops. I had never seen her so mad. Another time, while walking home, a thuglet from the high school football team stopped me, called me a fag, and punched me in the face. Or tried to, anyway. I raised my right forearm (to this day, I wish I had used the left instead!) to parry the blow, and heard a snap. My right ulna suffered a hairline fracture. I was too ashamed to tell my French teacher that my arm ached (lest she asked how it was hurt) and failed a French quiz that day. The school administration interrogated me at length seeking the identity of the assailant, but I yielded it not. The Vice-Principal and Head Guidance Counselor were both coaches on the side, and I knew deep down on where their inner loyalties lay. I did not trust them to protect me from the fallout, either further harrassment, or (far worse) total social isolation. I was not “out” to myself, much less my family, much much less to my peers, and I could not confide in anyone about this.

As it turns out, the broken arm was a golden ticket to Special Ed. P.E. Nominally for the physically disabled, it was filled with fellow misfits (read “gay” students). Long after the three weeks it took my arm to heal, I remained in this P.E. for Sexual Minorities where dear Miss Sensenbrenner (bless her soul) led us in gay-friendly sports like volleyball, swimming, softball, and non-competitive soccer while our straight brethren sweated and sweltered in the heat on the football, baseball, and basketball fields and running cross-country around the school. Miss S. and whatever other faculty members arranged this island of sanctuary for me may have saved my life, and I thank them.

In college, I lost my faith that this “phase” would ever end, and when my sister asked me point-blank if I were gay, I said No and hoped for the last time that it were true. Soon after, I confided in my closest friends and all but one was supportive. Unfortunately, that one was my closest friend and his rejection was devastating. We did not speak again for 30 years. It was ironic that he, a devout Christian, was the final catalyst in my abandonment of the myth of a benign Supreme Being, and after all who has use for a malign one?

I remain to this day a scarred optimist and devout atheist. Things did get better. I “dated” a few times (as in, I fell hopelessly in love, they never returned my call), I was Vice President of the UC Berkeley GLBA and put on their first major dance for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. I joined the Peace Corps to save the world and earned my way into a non-existent heaven with chronic diarrhea. I fell in love and “married” another man for 8 1/2 years, until he passed away leaving me even without the strength to cry. Now I am very happily married to the man of my dreams, one wonderfully overlooking of my flaws. We got to drop the quotes around the word “married” two years ago, with family present, but we refuse to reset the clock and are soon approaching our tenth anniversary. I have a great job and have been able to travel to almost 30 countries. Life is good. I wish the boy I was could see me now, he would be so proud.

I am here today because of the people in my life, the tremendous support I had growing up, an incredibly tight-knit large extended family (including one gay cousin, who was there when I needed him!) that gave me the self-esteem and strength to work through these issues and seek out help from others. Too many young gays teens today do not have this support network of family or friends, and the result is tragic and pointless.

If you feel as grateful as I am to Joel for speaking up, despite the potential backslash, about this silent pandemic, a near right-of-passage for gay teenagers, you could do worse than go to his his website at and click on the Get Involved! button. While you're there, consider a monetary contribution to his campaign. Even heroes need to eat.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

No hierarchy of fiction

Recently, a friend of mine (raised fundamentalist Evangelical) railed against the “cultist superstition of Mormons”. It was a throwaway conversation filler, and I knew I was expected to conflate my frustration over LDS opposition to same-sex marriage with ridicule for their curious beliefs, then move on to more topical gossip. Instead, I fired back with some inconvenient truths: that the contributions were from members’ non-tax-exempt contributions and not from Church tithings, that even “evil” people have First Amendment rights in this country, that I have met some really warm and friendly Mormons online, at least one of whom I consider a friend (even though we have yet to meet in person), that though Mormons are arguably almost pathologically polite, they didn’t (and don’t) strike me as particularly “evil”.

My conscience thus appeased, I went on to swear, drink, and traffic in calumny of others not present. It was, all in all, a great afternoon.

Only later did I realize that my friend had mistaken my position entirely. It is not, as she had assumed, that the sins of the group are outweighed by the virtues of the few, or the one. I hope that I do not base my philosophy (or my bigotry) on mere anecdotalism.

Simply put, there is no hierarchy of fiction. Those who believe that an angel appeared to Joseph 200 years ago are no less right — which is to say, no less wrong — than those who believe that an angel appeared to Mary 2000 years ago, or those who believe in astrology or flying teapots. A deist who ridicules a Mormon’s beliefs has truly no sense of irony. A Jew who takes comfort in millennia-old prayers has no right to religious superiority over the new-age fusion beliefs of the Buddhist-Unitarian.

Extrapolating beyond the data is akin to guessing how the dice will land, and the guess does not get less difficult by shaking them seven times instead of seventy times seven times.

For the record: the LDS Church is manifestly wrong for opposing my marriage. But more wrong is the suburbanite liberal who adores gays at her cocktail party, but not in her child’s classroom. The Mormon who voted showed more (misguided) moral conviction than the hipster too hung over to bother. Those who content themselves with an avuncular supernatural “higher power” instead of Zeus and Poseidon are just as intellectually incoherent but lack creativity. There is a weird conceit among many of the credulous left to disdain the credulity of the right. In turn, those who cling to the Book of Genesis have no shame in scoffing at Native creation myths involving Crow, Beaver, Otter, and Whale.

Here are the facts: I do not know the facts. I do not know how I know this. Faced with this uncertainty, I am guided in my beliefs by empiricism, in my actions by utilitarianism and the Golden Rule, and resist the powerful, presumably Darwinian, instinct to yearn for a life after death with the modest antedote of resigning myself to extracting the most out of this one. If I live on in others’ memories, it is enough for me. Anything more is vanity.

Then again, if pressed to choose a supreme being, I do rather like the idea of a flying teapot. It is hard to imagine people killing each other to defend the honor of a such a crock.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Time for the Pope to Walk on Water

The Rev. James Martin, S.J., a faithful Catholic and Jesuit priest, has recently written an excellent essay titled “The Church's Easter: What Needs to Die in the Catholic Church so That it May Live”, outlining the way forward for the Church from priesthood sexual abuse. In short, for the Church to live the following must die:

  • A prideful clerical culture of power, privilege and secrecy.
  • Elevating concern for a priest's reputation above that of a child's welfare.
  • Having more zeal in investigating dissident theologians and American Catholic sisters than in investigating abusive priests.
  • Paralyzing fear of the consequences of confession.

Of these excellent points that Father Martin makes, the last is I believe the most important, for without confession, repentance is insincere and atonement is impossible. Too many good men in the Church hierarchy are paralyzed with fear of making things worse, of painting with too broad a brush which might slander and demoralize good priests.

But cancer requires both acute surgery and radiation at the site of pathology and systemic chemotherapy to prevent future outbreaks. Just so, the pathology of priestly paraphilia must be excised swiftly where it is found, but the abuse will recur unless structural changes — and here I mean specifically an end to clerical celibacy — are instituted.

The past deserves from the Catholic bishops a sincere act of contrition. The future requires that the Pope himself find that same courage to make a leap of faith towards Christ that Peter made (Matthew 14:28-31) in walking on water even at the risk of drowning:

Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.

But when he saw how (strong) the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

In the original Greek, the last verb doubt (διστάζω), which also means hesitate, implies that Peter's failure was not a lack of belief but rather a lack of faith: the courage to trust in and act on belief. Let us hope that the current Pontiff can find the same courage to reach out unselfconsciously towards righteousness in these troubled times. Salvation is ultimately in God's hands, but failure is fully within the power of man.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday from an ex-Catholic Perspective

What does Good Friday mean to me who do not believe that Jesus was God?

I think it is useful to place Jesus' atonement within the context of his time. The Jewish requirements of atonement include repentance, confession, restitution, punishment (by God or others or else undertaken voluntarily), and absolution (Yom Kippur for venal sins, death for mortal sins).

Note that to Jews, absolution was given by God, not man. And forgiveness is not in the list: if you gave adequate restitution to your neighbor, you were done: you did not need his forgiveness. Encouraging the forgiveness of sins was a Christian departure from Jewish tradition. And forgiveness by proxy is simply not possible for Jews.

Catholics (modern ones, at least) make much of Jesus having provided restitution, tribulation, and death, allowing us to close the deal merely with repentance, confession, and penance. Absolution can be granted (through a priest) by Jesus. In fact, we up the ante: mere repentance (forward-looking: go and sin no more) should be accompanied by sincere contrition (backward-looking: I wish I hadn't done it). Without regret, repentance is insincere.

The justification of these "more than strictly necessary" measures is that they are for the benefit of the sinner's psychology, not her soul. In practice (if not in theology), unless we attempt to actually try (and fail) to walk the walk of Jesus, and not just ride free on His shoulders, we will slip back into sin and become hypocrits. That's just how humans are wired (call this Original Sin if you are inclined to view the latter as mere metaphor). Catholics are raised to believe that suffering is good for the soul.

Evangelicals are so much more fortunate to have the psychological strength not to need to personally atone for their transgressions: “forgive me Lord”, and poof! Sins are erased like writing on a whiteboard. They treat sin like a soiled shirt: just Shout It Out™!

And indeed, to the believer, both Catholic and Evangelical positions are quite close in theory (if not in practice).

But to the unbeliever (like me), there is a vast difference between the discipline of the former and the lip service of the latter. I retain my Catholic moral structure more or less intact. Actions speak louder than words, and (pace St. Paul) Jesus' example of atonement offers great meaning even to me who do not believe that Jesus was God, and even more meaning to me when I came to not believe in a god at all.

Had I been raised Evangelical, I might well have fallen very far from grace. The strength of Catholic shame does not let go so easily, and for that I am blessed.

This is my testimony: through contrition, confession, restitution, and graceful acceptance of appropriate punishment, I too receive absolution in the form of self-forgiveness and psychological cleansing. Though Jesus may not have saved my soul for all eternity, his teachings and example have helped me to save my own soul in this life. Until such time as further revelation come to me, that will have to do.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sometimes bad cases make good law

Most of you are well acquainted with the antics of professional scumbag Fred Phelps, whose mantra "God Hates Fags" now extends to anyone who dies in defense of our Constitution that defends the right of homosexuals to exist.

Now, adding insult to injury, the father of a fallen Marine, whose funeral Phelps' "church" picketed, has been ordered by the Fourth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals to pay court costs for that cockroach Phelps.

If there is a God, I am certain that Phelps will be writhing in the next life in some serious pain (of his own making) for being so loathsome in this life. But under the U.S. Constitution, it was Phelps who was wronged. His First Amendment freedom was infringed upon by a grieving father, and the most conservative Court of Appeals in the country upheld Phelps' right to speak evil.

I applaud the court for its principled stand. Freedom of speech is far too precious to deny even to a hate-filled homophobe whose own self-promoting celebrity status now makes him fair game for satirists and bloggers.

There is a well-known legal maxim that "bad cases make for bad law". No judge wants to have Fred Phelps for a poster child. But our Constitution is not a fair-weather friend, and a country that might censor a devil today would silence an angel tomorrow. Even in death, that Marine served in defense of our country and the values we hold dear, first among which is the right to speak freely. I salute both father and son for their sacrifice.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sins of the Father

The Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic School in Boulder, CO recently expelled a preschooler because the child's parents are lesbians. The Archdiocese of Denver has released a statement justifying the expulsion:

“Parents living in open discord with Catholic teaching in areas of faith and morals unfortunately choose by their actions to disqualify their children from enrollment.”

The pastor of the school, Father Bill, has further explained his reasoning in his blog post titled What wisdom is at work in not having children of a gay marriage in a Catholic school?. Most commenters on his site have vehemently disagreed with his position in expelling the child, and small wonder: he misstated his position and thereby generated the very controversy he was trying to avoid:

“The core issue for us Catholics on this question is our freedom and our obligation to teach about marriage and family life as our Faith teaches.”

He is mistaken. This is an expression of Protestant belief. It invites the Catholic lay reader to misconstrue the meaning of "us". I suspect what the good pastor really meant was:

The core issue for the Catholic Church on this question (or any other) is the ability of the Magisterium to understand the will of God, the presumption that God will ensure that it does, and the freedom and obligation of the clergy thus enlightened to teach to others less attuned to God's wishes, in the hope that the faithful will not fall away in a misguided and self-deluding belief that they can more reliably intuit God's teachings without a reliable intermediary.

Some commenters wondered about the Church's tolerance of divorce (at least with respect to parochial school attendance), but this is a false analogy: no parishioner thinks that divorce is an objective good. Even non-Catholics understand divorce to be a failure.

In contrast, the understanding of the morality of sexuality is evolving in American society quite rationally, with increased understanding by scientists of its etiology and the apparent lack of negative societal impact.

The "moral relativism" here is not about sexuality, but about the increasing unease by Catholics (since Vatican II) with the proposition that the clergy is credible in matters of sexuality, even as it has simultaneously failed to understand the root causes of clerical paraphilia and failed to provide an understandable narrative that harmonizes recent genetic and social science on sexuality with the teachings of the Church.

When Jesus was asked, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”, he did not say "I am, trust me." He said (Mat 11:5-6), look around and believe what you see with your own eyes:

“The blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”

When deciding whether to trust the Catholic Church in matters of sexuality, my own eyes tell me that gays are clamoring not for the self-indulgence of "free love" but for the sacrament of marriage, that these lesbians are raising their children not as an atheist but believing in Christ, that sexuality is in fact not "ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil" but rather oriented towards a well-integrated psychological, social, and spiritual whole.

In short, my eyes tell me that Father Bill is not speaking for God on this issue. Perhaps it is time for the teacher to become the student.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Catholic ultimatum: Obey, or the poor will starve!

What would Jesus do?

Jesus had no trouble interacting with prostitutes, beggars, and Samaritans. He was not an -ism sort of guy. When his questioners phrased their queries in the third person ("What must a man do to ..."), Jesus usually responded with "You must". No shift of responsibility from the individual to society was allowed under his watch. No dogma would exculpate individual failure.

The Roman Catholic Church has been in retrograde motion from Vatican II since the assent of John Paul II, and has under Benedict XVI rapidly increased its purge of liberalism within and without the Church.

Its latest candidate for the Grinch Award comes with an ultimatum issued by the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. to the District that it will be "unable to continue the social service programs it runs for the District if the city doesn't change a proposed same-sex marriage law".

Rather than extend employee benefits to same-sex married couples, Catholic Charities would rather deny shelter to the homeless and food to the hungry.

Quo vadis? Mat 25:34-46 suggests that this is ill-advised strategy for someone wanting to get to heaven:

Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.'

Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'

And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Even that firebrand St. Paul would find the current Catholic self-righteousness un-Christlike and counterproductive, as he clearly states in Romans 12:14-20:

Bless those who persecute (you), bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not be wise in your own estimation.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.

Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."

Rather, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head."

If you cannot give charity without preconditions and with selfless generosity of spirit, then keep your money. As St. Paul says so passionately in 1 Cor 13:4:

If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

The poor, the hungry, the homeless, are not pawns in some Vatican chess game. Threatening to withhold succor from them to blackmail and pressure secular politicians is evil.

In the 70's we used to sing in mass, "you will know we are Christians by our love". If only that were still true.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hydrogen's Love Affair with Helium

One lonely Hydrogen atom sees how noble Helium is and wants to join with another Hydrogen atom to form a Hydrogen marriage. At first, they just moved in together, but inevitably a third Hydrogen would come along and break up this cohabitation scheme. Finally, they decide to fuse their nuclei like Helium.

The Latter naturally object, insisting that only Helium can do that (though rumor has it that sometimes Helium sneaks in an extra neutron or two, those are called Fundamentalist Helium but are now officially disowned by the Periodic Table), and that two Hydrogen could never get close enough to have what Helium has. Once inside they might seduce other nucleons to change identity and destroy chemistry as we know it (indeed it was standard practice to expel from the nucleus such deviants via radiation).

Helium got together with its buddies Neon and Argon to form a coalition of the willing, even though Argon was too heavy to be of use, and stingy Neon turned out to be no more buoyant than hot air (and secretly loathed Helium), so in the end it was Helium, being the lightest, who did the heavy lifting. They passed a ballot proposition by telling the other elements that Hydrogen's real goal is not nobility but alchemy, and that anyway they already had their own, much weaker, Hydrogen bond.

Outraged, Hydrogen charged straight at the Helium nucleus, expecting to do battle with the usual inverse-square repulsive electric force of Evangelical positive ions, the seductive power of vice-ridden negative ions, and the side-swiping of the well-meaning but just as deterring magnetic force which, rather than do any work to help, merely diverts Hydrogen with offers of separate-but-equal civil union, pushing Hydrogen off course and sending him in circles.

But unexpectedly, when Hydrogen got close to Helium, he sensed an unusually strong but very short-range force which he could not explain and did not understand. Formerly indifferent to his presence, Helium was inexplicably and strongly resistant to his nuclear ambitions. Many Hydrogen, understandably angry, started calling Helium bad names like Boron. But one Hydrogen suspected that the very force that was repelling him was the same strong force that bound the Helium nucleus so harmoniously.

More determined than ever, Hydrogen joined Helium blogs (the other noble gas blogs were uninsightful and poorly written) in the hope of understanding the true nature of this strong nuclear force, so powerful that Helium does not steal electrons, is not attracted to alcohol or caffeine molecules, and is always so level-headed.

Now this no-longer lonely Hydrogen does not just advocate for Hydrogen rights or disparage or envy Helium, but seeks to understand the true nature of the strong nuclear force, just one small but essential step on my path to discovering a unified theory of my universe.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pope trolling for Anglicans

The NYTimes reports that the Vatican is bidding to Get Anglicans to join the Catholic fold, while maintaining their separate traditions of non-celibate clergy. It seems that politics trumps long-held belief.
More shocking still is that this flies in the face of Pope Benedict XVI's very own words1 (when he was merely Josef Cardinal Ratzinger):

“Although the particular inclination of the [Anglican priest to become Catholic yet retain the right to marry] is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.”
“[Marriage for a Catholic priest] is not a complementary union, able to transmit [eternal] life; and so it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self-giving which [the Catholic Church] says is the essence of Christian [sacerdotal] living. This does not mean that [married priests] are not often generous and giving of themselves; but when they engage in [married life] they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent.”
“The Church teaches that respect for [priests in other traditions who do choose to marry] cannot lead in any way to approval of [such] behavior or to legal recognition [under canon law] of [connubial] unions. Legal recognition [of marriage among the clergy] or placing them on the same level as [the celibate priest] would mean not only the approval of deviant behavior.”
“Allowing [parishioners] to be [put in the pastoral care of priests] living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children [of God], in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development [and that of their Catholic faith and identity].”
“There are absolutely no grounds for considering [priestly marriage] to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan [for the Priesthood]. [The celibate sacerdotal calling] is holy, while sexual acts go against the natural law [of priestly chastity].”
“The various forms of the dissolution of [the priesthood ]today, like free[dom of thought], trial [priests], and going up to pseudo-[ordinations] by people of [other religious traditions], are rather expressions of an anarchic freedom that wrongly passes for true freedom of man [embracing celibacy in a life devoted to God].”
“[T]he church, while deeply respecting the people in question, cannot admit to the seminary and the sacred orders those who practice [their Holy Orders within the bounds of marriage], present deeply rooted [conjugal] tendencies, or support so-called [liberal] culture. Those people find themselves, in fact, in a situation that presents a grave obstacle to a correct relationship with [God]. One cannot ignore the negative consequences that can stem from the ordination of people with deeply-rooted [Protestant] tendencies.”

1Actually,those words within brackets above not Ratzinger's but my own. I have made a few key substitutions to accentuate the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church under the leadership of the present pontiff. I trust I have not done any more violence to the Pope's thinking than He Himself already has.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Cheney is playing Obama...good!

Full disclosure: I loathe Dick Cheney.

Now, after torturing prisoners of war, illegally wiretapping Americans, and conspiring to out Valerie Plame, Cheney dares to shame President Obama into agreeing with him to support same-sex marriage! Obama must now either take the bait and admit that gays are worthy of that sacred institution (after which the Republicans will no doubt wedge the issue mercilessly) or else be to the right of Dick Cheney on a central tenet of the Progressive agenda.

What is a President to do? If you are Jimmy Carter or Harry Truman, you make the moral choice and take the heat. If you are Bill Clinton, (either) George Bush, or the last emperor of Russia, you consult your James Carville, Lee Atwater, Karl Rove, or Rasputin to pick the politically safe choice. (Safe at the time, though the Romanov and Bush dynasties show that history is not always kind to political expediency).

Obama too has his Rahm Emanuel, the man who allegedly cannot call his mother without appending a four-letter word. Obama has defied all expectations (including my own) to become President, and I am very glad for it. Clearly the Man with Hope (like the Man from Hope) has a strong dose of political savvy behind the charisma and needs no advice from me.

Still, I will give it. President Obama, it is time to take that 63% approval rating out for a spin (eerily prescient, Mr. Sorkin!) The American people are fickle, but history is not.

Dick Cheney is suckering you Mr. President. Show him you're smarter than that.

Take the bait.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Primus inter pares: a strategic blunder

While reading Stuart Whatley's blog post Moral Majority or Immoral Minority?, I was struck by one sentence:

If conservatives wish to elevate their fight against same-sex marriage to primus inter pares without a smarting backlash, they will have to somehow justify this exclusive denial of rights as something other than hidebound bigotry.

Primus inter pares (first among equals) is the status that conservatives currently allot to heterosexuality. Not five years ago, homosexuality was hedonistic. Fifteen years ago, it was perverted. Twenty-five years ago, it was a mental illness.

Conservatives have been playing catch-up with the American public, admitting only enough normality to homosexuality to remain credible on the issue. Unfortunately for them, as in a tug-of-war contest, once you start sliding, the ground gives way from under you. Justice Scalia himself noted in his dissent to Lawrence v. Texas that there is no other basis besides the right of the majority to impose its moral standards for discriminating against homosexuals (or for that matter, bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity). As usual, Scalia gives into to shocking exaggeration for effect, but he is largely correct. The only essential difference (barring direct revelation from a Higher Power) between bigotry and public morality is whether the majority (and the Court) feel good about themselves in thinking it.

The public is no longer feeling comfortable with large-scale discrimination against gays. The inevitable side-effect is that there is no other intellectually coherent stopping point. Either gays are defective, immoral, or normal. After ceding the judgment of "defective" in 1975 and "immoral" in 2003, there is only "normal" left.

The latest arguments against same-sex marriage are variously fatuous (it harms opposite-sex marriage), bizarre (it leads to sex with animals), or highly speculative (it harms children). The only plausible arguments, that being gay is a "bad thing" and should not be rewarded, or that marriage is about children and not spouses, are now soundly political losers, rejected by a substantial majority of Americans. Those left adrift in the political center who believe simultaneously that being gay is just fine but that marriage is preferentially for straight people with children are standing on logically thin ice. Their thinking is not at an equilibrium state, and the internal contradiction will inevitably impel them either forward or back, for there is no rational middle ground.

We are not now at a crossroads. That dilemma is past. Those old people stuck in that past have learned too late that righteous indignation, once bereft of righteousness, becomes mere bigotry. Pace Dylan Thomas, even as they grieve it on its way, and do not go gentle into that good night, their time to rule is passing.

And for me, that is none too soon.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Obama, remember us?

The road to the White House is paved with broken promises.

Obama promised as a candidate to end Don't Ask Don't Tell. He is the Commander-in-Chief. He has a Congress begging to do his bidding. He promised as a candidate to end discrimination against gays in the military.

He has done nothing.

At the White House Correspondents' Dinner, he jokingly compared himself to God, saying that He had accomplished his first 100 days in only 72. And on the 73rd day, He rested.

If you have time to rest, Mr. Obama, you have time to remember your campaign promise and stop allowing the throwing away of valuable military talent (and people's careers) by resistant generals who will drag this out until you are out of office. Congress is willing to follow, but loath to lead, on this issue. You have only to expend a microfraction of the immense political capital that you have.

I know that gays are not going to win politicians any elections (though fortunately we are no longer losing them any!). That is precisely why honoring a commitment to fairness in taking active steps to end discrimination against us is such a clear sign of integrity. It is time to do the right thing.

Because political capital is a terrible thing to waste.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Black Dyke got it just right

The black dyke got it wrong. No one told her the rules.

Thus allegedly (and laconically) did Christopher Hitchens call out Wanda Sykes over her undiplomatic and sarcastic “humorous” jabs at all things Republican at the White House Correspondents' Dinner a few days ago.

He is half right. Ms. Sykes is indeed black and (by her own admission) a dyke. It is highly likely that someone did tell her the rules, she just didn't play along.

Nor does Mr. Hitchens. I suspect I am the one missing Hitchens' own satire. Perhaps it was this repulsive idea — that adulatory, sycophantic, even fawning media elite who go to sleep nightly with Beltway-ese language tapes and rise the next day to insinuate themselves farther up Obama's backstory still find it necessary to vaunt (and flaunt) their insider status with a yearly orgy of self-important stroking disguised as stand-up comedy with the very people whom they are paid to investigate — this idea which impelled the usually expansive wordsmith to encode his nausea in two short satirical sentences.

A judge cavorting with a prosecutor would be disbarred. Why do journalists get a pass? Obama calls it torture, yet the New York Times cannot?

The real zinger was when Obama got real at the end of his roast. Crudely speaking (if Obama could speak crudely, which I doubt): “Your industry pimped itself out and lost the trust of the people, who then took matters into their own hands. Now you're crying to me. Sorry, can't help you.”

A credulous press is a threat to our democracy. Bloggers like me know this. Most journalists do to. And then there are the White House Correspondents who prefer their gossip served up first hand in the East Room, where propaganda offends less than rearranging the seating chart. Their paymasters in turn have learned from Limbaugh that in large part the American people are intellectually lazy and chronically incurious and want their prejudgments confirmed by self-selected “news” sources.

So what? If you can't pay for the ink and paper, stop printing (and go online). If you can't pay the correspondent to propagate (as in, propaganda) the words of others, facilitate the countless volunteers who actually want to research a policy (and and not the one making it). Who cares if Obama is for healthcare reform, the question is whether I am for healthcare reform (and if so, which kind?) Any journalism worthy of the name should at least help me decide that I need to decide such things.

This noble quest is now in the hands of bloggers, many histrionic, most partisan, all opinionated. Still, readers are only one Google search away from every side of any issue. Bloggers compete in a truly free market for your attention, and “even though we cannot affirm that the products of mimesis are invested in the panoply of existence” (i.e. even if we're just bullshitting you), a quick survey of opinions (and their sources) quickly sieves fact from fiction.

Did the Black Dyke get it wrong? She wasn't the one voting against my same-sex marriage. She did not worry that in embarrassing Sean Hannity (or herself) she might (heaven forbid) also be embarrassing Barack Obama...unlike the access-craving sheeple in the audience.

If the label "Black Dyke" seems incomplete, perhaps it is because you were secretly thinking "Uppity Black Dyke" and wondered why Hitchens censored himself (and Wanda Sykes). Clearly Sykes has no problem with this designation, for it is the calling of truthseekers. Uppity is exactly what journalists should be, upending the cherished decorum of smugness pervading the Inner Circle who have forgotten that at the heart of Correspondent is the verb "respond". Uppity White Fag is what I aspire to be when one day I get the chance to speak to such a large and influential audience as Wanda Sykes did. Meanwhile, I will settle for Lonely Voice Crying out in the Wilderness.

Love is patient, love is kind. But the truth is jarring and rude. It imposes on friends and turns on its own.

I suppose the Fox News table could have walked out on Sykes' ungracious contumely. But then they would have missed the after-dinner schmoozing, and that would have been such a waste of privilege.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

LDS proxy baptism is none of my business

Poor tormented soul.

Obama's mother was abducted recently. Last seen on Cloud 9, her soul was brazenly stolen by proxy baptists, posthumously baptized into the LDS Church, and is feared lost in a post-mortal LDS eschatology. Although archangels are out looking for her, God Himself seems powerless to stop this odious practice. Obama is considering sending in the clowns.

Truly, the world has gone mad.

If President Obama's religion is even remotely true, then it is asinine to believe that a member of the LDS Church (or any other mortal besides Stanley Ann Dunham herself) has any say over her final resting place. In fact, asinine is too kind (and yet too mean to donkeys). It is heresy to believe this, and any self-respecting (non-Mormon) Christian should be ashamed to have let such paganism into his or her belief system.

It is no surprise to read that the Vatican has called LDS baptisms for the dead a “detrimental practice” and directed each Catholic diocesan bishop “not to cooperate with the erroneous practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (according to the Salt Lake Tribune). After all, they should know about "erroneous practices", given their history.

If we all claim to know the Truth, why the outrage when what they others quietly (even secretly) undertake a ritual we believe will be completely ineffective and harmless?

Slander, pure and simple. However disguised, it is an unjustified free kick at a political opponent. What's not to like? Plenty. Gays are culturally more "odd" than Mormons, and those attempting to "shame" us with our "odd" beliefs are waiting in line to see if the mud sticks to Mormons before pour hot tar onto gays. Those avidly watching Big Love today will be laughing at Butt Love tomorrow.

It is not hard to find legitimate points of disagreement with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has not earned my good will in playing such a central role in opposing my same-sex marriage (a purely civil matter) through lobbying (inappropriate for a tax-free institution).

But if we want the LDS church not to meddle in our civil marriage laws, who are we to tell them what secret (and, we believe, vain) ritual they might undergo in the privacy of their own temple? We need to take our own advice and butt out.

By all means, take my future soul away with proxy baptism, and leave me my same-sex marriage here on Earth. Now that's a bargain I can live with.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Separation of Church and Plate?

(H/T HuffPost, title courtesy of CoolerHeads)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Spoken Sango: a musical language

For those of you wondering what Sango is, wonder no more. Sango is the national language of the Central African Republic (the official language being French). There are also numerous tribal languages, making most Central Africans trilingual at least.

For those of you out there wondering how Sango sounds when spoken, wonder no more. For your listening pleasure I give you the November 5, 2008 evening broadcast of Radio Centrafrique, Sango language edition, where President Bozize offers his congratulations to President-elect Obama.

You can download the Sango version, or listen here:

For comparison, you can download the French version, or listen here:

I hope you hear how musical spoken Sango is, with its high, medium, and low tones like Chinese. If you listen closely, you can hear numerous French words slipping in (a hallmark of educated urbanites), although the prepared text of the broadcast does try hard to limit the number of loadwords where possible to help develop Sango as a sufficiently rich language on its own.

For those who understand neither Sango nor French, President Bozize expressed (very roughly) the pride that (Central) Africans have that a man of half-African descent has become the most powerful man in the most powerful country of the world, and that this is a sign that skin color is no longer an issue. The Sango motto of the CAR is Zo Kwe Zo (literally "Person-each person") meaning that every person is a somebody, regardless of tribe (or by extension, race or nationality). Those who think this sounds an awful lot like the South African idea of Ubuntu have good instincts. Both phrases center on the word "humanity". For Americans, Obama's election is a welcome sign that we too are at last embracing the idea that Zo Kwe Zo. Strom Thurmond must be rolling over in his grave.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Why does the State care about marriage anyway?

Stand To Reason Blog asserts what they consider the essential Rational Basis for the State to oppose gay marriage:

...marriage isn't an issue of fairness. It's not a civil right. It's necessarily discriminatory because it favors the kinds of relationships that the state has in interest in. Marriage is unique in that it produces the next generation of society, an interest all cultures must favor. Marriage also provides the kind of stability that not only protects children. Without that kind of stability when the family breaks down, the state has all sorts of new burden that affect everyone, including increased crime and poverty that social programs are then needed to fill the gaps.

The state obviously has an interest in traditional marriage.

Obviously? Let's look a little closer:

  1. The California Supreme Court has applied the standard of "strict scrutiny" in the appelate review in re Marriage, not a "rational basis" standard, so even if the above were true, it is not sufficient cause to oppose gay marriage. The State must clearly show not that children might be harmed but that in statistically significant numbers they will be harmed. No such evidence has been accepted by any court to my knowledge, and most certainly not the California Supreme Court.

  2. None of the three branches of California State government have made the above argument, nor did Proposition 8 make it (having after all only 14 words in it). To be relevant in a legal context, this argument must be advanced through Executive Order, Legislative Action, Judicial Finding, or Popular Initiative. Blogging provides no legal standing.

  3. The claim is facially untrue. Marriage does not produce the next generation, sexual reproduction does. This not only does not need marriage, it will soon not even need parents. A fertilized egg could be incubated, or a person cloned.

  4. The claim is substantively untrue: "About half the babies born in Sweden are born to unwed mothers, though very few are born to teenagers....Despite all these “problems,” the Swedish birth rate has increased steadily since 1970 (Home sweet home, 1995), and children rarely suffer....Swedish children showed the highest educational performance of the four groups in the study, the lowest percentage in poverty, and nearly the lowest child abuse death rate."

  5. The state obviously has an interest in traditional marriage.

    No. The state might have an interest in traditional child rearing, in which case it must more narrowly tailor its support, allowing binding marriage proposals only to a woman who conceives (or declares her intention to conceive) a child, with whoever she thinks can best co-parent with her. This marriage proposal would automatically become a marriage contract upon successful live birth (and be retroactively nullified upon failure to achieve this) and would automatically dissolve when there are no children of minority age. Spousal cohabitation (unlike the parent-child relationship) would be a matter purely of contract law, with default nuptial obligations when no prenuptial agreement is in place. In fact, the child would logically even have standing to sue both parents for breach of contract in the case of divorce or family strife. The State obviously has no business involving itself so intimately in the intimate lives of adult relationships, and certainly not in an unequal and discriminatory fashion.

Family law is very messy business, and the courts continually seek (and are legislatively encouraged to seek) advice and guidance on child welfare issues from experts to form a time-varying consensus understanding to inform their legal judgment. There are already ample sanctions against irresponsible parents, without government intrusion into the private lives of consenting adults.

There is a meme, relentlessly promoted by anti-same-sex-marriage advocates, that the State has a right—and duty— to care about marriage. It does not. The State has a duty only to children, not to parents, and though it may permissibly embed what is clearly an instinctive bipartite pair bonding (common among most all higher-order animals) in contract (spousal) and family (child) law, it has no right to restrict this institution to opposite-sex couples. Many religious arguments against same-sex marriage have been advanced, but the First Amendment forbids consideration of these in our civic framework.

No wonder this tired argument never made it out of the sermons and blog pages and into a legal finding. Not the California Supreme Court, not the Assembly or Senate, not even our Republican Governor has shown any more sympathy for this argument than I have.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

LDS and Prop. 8: Losing sight of the goal?

It has been said that the fanatic is the one who redoubles his efforts while having lost sight of his end.

So reminds us Doug McManaman in his (Catholic oriented) essay On the Importance of Taking Oneself Lightly. He goes on to note:

I have seen a tremendous redoubling of efforts on the part of many Catholic teachers in recent years, engaged as they have been in strategic planning of job action for this, for that, and the other thing, all accompanied by a manifest loss-of-sight of the end of their vocation as Catholic teachers of the baptized.

Humans need a purpose to live, and some religious people deep down do not trust that God has given them sufficient purpose. Even among these, some fear that they will not be around to watch the wicked get their just desserts. Theirs is the sin of self-importance.

The LDS focus opposing same-sex marriage is a fixation on means, not ends. As a practical matter, the most probable end in forcing gays to choose between their immanent orientation and God is to prematurely kill their faith in God, or at least to keep infantilized their moral conscience.

Biblically, the usual course of events is a lone voice crying out from the wilderness, followed by earnest exhortations for the wicked to change their ways, which is always ignored, the righteous withdraw, and God smites those left behind. This leaves a clear moral example for those coming after, that free choice has consequences.

We are in uncharted waters now, where the "righteous" decline to withdraw and let God do the smiting. This forecloses on free choice, and deprives those coming after of any cogent moral message.

Or to use another parable: what if the wheat had decided that instead of waiting for the farmer to separate out the weeds after harvest, they are going to crowd out the weeds from the field themselves, not only usurping the farmer's prerogative to decide the weeds' fate, but forestalling the possibility that a weed may choose before it dies to become a wheatstalk.

I believe it is this second aspect that is ignored among the religious. You cannot save a sinner by preventing him from sinning, you only strengthen his resolve to sin. If same-sex marriage is so far beyond God's plan, will it not prove its fruitlessness in the fullness of time? Does the wheat not have enough to do in producing grain, or must it also weed the garden?

If the real goal is not the voluntary choice of chastity, but chastity itself, then we would be better off neutering those unwilling to marry the opposite sex by some age cutoff. Would this not better serve God's plans for humankind? By eliminating sexual desire, do we not eliminate the sin? Is the elimination of sin itself the real goal? Or has our willingness to be the instrument of God's will metastasized into an insistance on our being that instrument? Do we just need to be needed?

Maybe we should all stop playing God. One day the field will be harvested. If the weeds are not keeping the wheat from producing, maybe we can afford to let both coexist until the final winnowing.

Or is the real problem that you don't want to be the wheat, and would rather be the farmer? If God had just wanted us not to be wicked, he could have just created us all heterosexual.

Do you have the wisdom to play God? Judging by the LDS involvement in Prop. 8, somehow I doubt it. Maybe you should just stick to being wheat and stop uprooting the weeds, before the entire field is barren.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


"Persecuted by governments. Arrested and beaten for being who we are. Our rights put up for popular vote, time and time again."

Equality California's new ad makes the connection between past persecution and current discrimination, such as the passage of Prop 8:

(alt. video link)

Actually, gays' rights are usually not put up for popular vote. The immediacy of a popular referendum on your life is so much more compelling than having some mere bureaucrat stand in your way. It's nice to know where you stand, once in a while.

I know where I stand. I hope the California Supreme Court will be standing there with me.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Overturning Prop. 8 would be a win for all

There is a false rivalry between Mormons and Gays.

Proposition 8, which overturned the CA Supreme Court's ruling that gays have a right to marry (each other), presupposes that the right for gays to marry impairs the right of the religious to keep marriage religiously based.

Nonsense. This confuses ends and means. Gays are looking for what and don't care about how or why. We win when we achieve the goal. Religious (especially Mormons) win through the fight itself. It is the opposing that matters, works being the most credible sign of belief, the sacrifice for a good cause, fighting the good fight. The final result can be safely be left to God's hands.

All sides win if the California Supreme Court overturns Prop. 8: Mormons can feel satisfied that they reaffirmed their belief in a divine transmortal marriage and did all in their power to defend this, gays can (finally!) get married, and marriage itself gains from being shown explicitly not to arise merely out of statute or public will (even one that included gays, had Prop. 8 been defeated), but out of a more basic natural right.

LDS, Gay, Marriage: all three winners when Prop. 8 wins before losing. All sides could be proud of their participation and be winners by their own criteria: Mormons in their means, Gays in their ends, and Marriage for all.

Let's hope the Court does not miss this opportunity to make everybody happy.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

I'm in the New York Times!

I'm so proud. Read how awesome I am in my very own New York Times bio. This is better than IMDB! Oh wait, I'm in that too. Oh, and on, and...well, I just can't keep up with it all.

Inexplicably, my popularity is down 35% this week on IMDB. I guess 7 of my 20 fans must have had enough of my insatiable need to be famous. But what can I do...they're family.

Anyway, I would like to thank the Académie (française, that is. The Other One is trademarked).

And don't worry...I've already submitted the 3 missing film credits to IMDB. They assure me the diss was unintentional. I guess you have to be much more famous than I before they intentionally diss you.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Freelancing for Fun and Fame

I knew this day would come.

No one blog is broad enough in scope and target audience to contain all the wisdom I have to offer this world. So, I took the plunge and wrote my first guest post on a topic and blog very different from what you'll find here.

First, read the nice introductory send-up from my gracious host, to remind you why you like me so much.

Then, on to the main course, the highly stimulating apology on how one can in good conscience be both Mormon and Libertarian, aptly titled Mormon Libertarian: Not an oxymoron?.

Still, editors being what they are, I was asked to pick a punchier headline, so for those of you camels out there who've put on a few pounds and can no longer fit through the eye of that proverbial needle: Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy:

Latter Gay Saint overturns Luke 16:13 with new Revelation: Ye can serve both God and M(or)mon

Here's hoping this doesn't use up my 15 minutes of fame. I'm not done basking in it!

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Literate Presidency

Mark Nickolas has consulted the Oracle of Redmond to render an objective judgment on Obama's and Bush's literacy.

While mere humans are still processing Obama's first Presidential press conference, Microsoft Word has already reached an unsurprising verdict: Obama is smarter than Dubya.

Or at least presents himself more intelligibly. In unprepared answers to reporters' questions, Obama speaks at a 10th grade level, Bush at a 7th grade level. To be fair, Obama is still talking down to us, whereas Bush was fully utilizing his English skills to their utmost. Perhaps when Obama gets more comfortable with the long-dormant intelligence and education of his audience, he will let drop more sesquipedalia. In the interim, it already gives me hope just to hear our leader speak extemporaneously on at least a high school level of written English, after the prevaricating and evasive locker room bro-speak of the previous tenant of that high office.

Or, as Henry Higgens had it, “You'll get much further with the Lord if you learn not to offend His ears.”

Mine too.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Quo vadis, Papa?

The Independent reports that Pope Benedict XVI has overturned the excommunication of four bishops ordained by the arch-conservative Society of Saint Pius X.

Who are these wayward souls so deserving of mercy? According to The Independent, three of the four are:

  • Richard Williamson

    British bishop consecrated by schismatic French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Has said the Vatican is controlled by Satan and once declared the historical evidence was “hugely against six million having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers... I believe there were no gas chambers.”

  • Floriano Abrahamowicz

    Regarded as unofficial chaplain of Italy's separatist Northern League. He told an Italian newspaper: “I know the gas chambers existed... but I don't know if anyone was killed in them. I know that, in addition to the official version, there is another version based on the observations of the first Allied technicians to enter.”

  • Gerhard Maria Wagner

    Appointed auxiliary bishop in the Austrian city of Linz last week. In 2005 he suggested that disasters such as Hurricane Katrina were the result of “spiritual environmental pollution”. “It is surely not an accident,” he added, “that all five of New Orleans's abortion clinics... were destroyed.”

Why would the Pope rehabilitate such Holocaust-deniers? Maybe he felt the need to short up his base after the election of Obama and the decline of the Catholic Church in Europe? Maybe he's willing to sacrifice the Jews (and the moral standing of his flock) to lure back the idolaters left behind by Vatican II? Maybe he is merely isolated in his Papal Apartments by a Machiavellian Curia?

Or just maybe, the Vatican really is controlled by Satan. This explanation is the least frightening alternative, and has at least the merit of freeing Catholics from the shame of this decision. Not that His Holiness needs my advice: the Pope seems to be without shame already.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Per cogitandum solum sum

Those who dare to self-deceive,
soon find they cannot apperceive
what they have lost, and at what cost,
when vacuous belief turns fatuous in grief.

While others surrogate science with superstition,
derogate fact and propagate fiction,
and climate change so oft deny
that repetition prove their lie,

How credulous and ignorant appear
the simply lazy and the diffident who fear
that smarter people think them dumb
and thus to dumber still succumb.

If arrogation is the end,
prevarication is its friend,
as weaker minds religion binds,
and guilt and shame kill hearts and minds.

Thus sinners their sins expiate
and with Hail Marys try to mitigate
their penance from an Angry God,
as priests conflate charade and fraud.

What hope have men of reason to oppose
a too-convenient myth in Jesus' clothes,
who first must needs destroy to recreate
our birthright of free thought and Fourth Estate.

While men of faith queue up at Peter's Gate
and pray they serve who just submit and wait,
wise men know better, and do not idly pass the time,
but counter ignorance with reason and with rhyme.

Is not then nature good enough,
with quantum foam and Eightfold Way,
when cows go moo but donkeys bray,
when banana's shape is perfect for our hand,
but only once we grew it on command?

They execrate stochastic fate
and evolution imprecate,
miraculous appraise
what Occam rather raze.

But what of goodness worked with such alacrity
by those of Higher Calling, can it be
that Darwin summoned God to quench our need,
that we in turn encode in sacred screed?

Better that we pray and clerisy obey
lest innocence be maimed by savage man untamed?
Obsequious to absent liege, compliant under present siege,
acquiescing to behest, divine intent not second-guessed?

Or prefer our own quest to another's test?
Not eschatology but (modestly) epistemology.
To learn to know, and yearn to teach
the scientist and teacher preach.

Then poetasters like yours true,
take up baton and see it through.
No God commands the flowers bloom,
per cogitandum solum sum.

          —  Dan Weston

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

When they say it's not about sex...

You know the old saying: when they say it's not about the money, it's about the money.

When it comes to gays, many "obvious" truisms are turned around. A well-meaning straight male acquaintance of mine once offered his admiration (envy?) that since there were no women on a gay date, there was no one to say no. I didn't know whether to laugh or get offended, until I let myself understand that he honestly believed that I spent my nights in a never-ending orgy of debauchery. Or that I wanted to. Or maybe that he wanted to.

With a few more years under my belt to understand straight male sexuality a little better (if second-hand), it may be time for a little myth-busting. Here is my top-ten list:

1. Celibacy is about sex.

False. "Celibacy" means abstaining from marriage. "Chastity" means abstaining from sex. Americans (and American English dictionaries) often screw this up, and there is no need. Two valuable words, and two very different meanings. Since the 60's the former does not imply the latter.

Recently though, having stumbled across a rather interesting gay Mormon blog, I now have learned to my surprise that the latter does not rule out the former. There is apparently intention among some gay male Mormons to marry women with knowledge aforethought that sex will be the price of admission, not the reward. Perhaps a turkey baster will be involved (though I recommend alcohol, as it also helps you forget). Apparently the woman is okay with this idea. Who knew?

Count me out. Marriage can survive the lack of sex, but not of sexuality. That is a sham marriage, and both spouses deserve better.

2. Sexuality is about sex.

False. It is about the desire to have sex, a very different thing. Sex is, in the scheme of things, not very important to human beings, gay or straight. You may have heard the ribald saying that begins "When I was young and in my prime...". It's true. (If you don't know this saying, just take my word for it).

The nude fill straight bars and bathhouses with talk of sex, enchanting the uninitiated and initiating those so enchanted. Gay men, written out of the storyline early on, make do with talking to themselves, then too often make up lost time chatting up complete strangers. They learned this from straight men, in case you want to assign blame.

The naked have something far more important on their mind: sexuality. Not will they get enough, but will they be enough. For religious gays, then answer is no. Ouch.

For those who confuse the naked with the nude, you have led a deprived life. Stop now and read my favorite poem.

3. Gay men are obsessed with sex.

No, though magazines and websites would have you believe otherwise. For gay men, there is nothing casual about casual sex. One's entire self-esteem is on the line: the gnawing fear of inadequacy, the baggage of yesterday and tomorrow, the sudden realization that you have gotten fat in places visible only with clothes off, the suspicion that he who lies too easily with you today will lie as easily to you tomorrow.

What gay men really obsess about is getting old and dying alone. Without sexual allure, who would want us? We learned too early on about rejection, and too late how to live with it. Straight men rely on money as their last resort. In the gay world, money won't cut it. There are enough sugar daddies out there. Youth and beauty are priceless.

Unless, of course, you are married, like me. Then you have love that will last even as youth and beauty fade.

4. Straight men are obsessed with sex.

Close, but no.

What straight men fear (so I hear) is being naked in public, and they hide their nakedness in nudity: overconfidence masks impotence. They wear a variety of masks in public to will into being the perception of being in control. Sex in our taboo culture is power, and (straight) men learn to wield it cruelly in junior high just as bossy girls turn into awkward self-doubting teenagers.

Women (and you gay men out there as well), don't be fooled by this charade. There is a fascinating book by Norah Vincent, an out-and-proud self-proclaimed "dyke" [but straight people, don't use this word, it's just "lesbian" for you: you'll somehow just have to learn to live with the unfairness of this double standard.] Anyway, the book is titled Self-Made Man: One Woman's Journey Into Manhood and Back Again, and draws its inspiration from John Howard Griffin's eye-opening 1961 book Black Like Me, which documents the experiences of the author, a white man, who puts on black face to learn firsthand the anti-black prejudice of Southern whites, even from those who believed themself not to be racist.

The "obvious" analogy in a lesbian setting, the anti-gay and anti-woman sentiments that "no doubt all straight males shared", led Norah Vincent to go undercover (as Ned Vincent). Some things matched her own preconceptions: men hate looking foolish in front of other men and fear looking foolish in front of women. Some things didn't. Most every time she tried (as a man) to instigate anti-woman or anti-gay jokes when only other men were around, she rarely found a receptive audience (apparently one guy thought that she was misogynist and needed help). And she (as a woman) was shocked at what masks men wear even for their closest friends, letting out their inner turmoil only in bursts of anger, sadness, or martyrdom (where a woman is involved), but only for a second. Men are, after all, expected to "suck it up", or risk being seen as unmanly.

Straight men play it close to the vest, because they have much to lose. But not nearly as much as gay men do.

5. Gay man are just like straight men.

Definitely no.

For one thing, we have much better fashion sense. I used to believe that straight men were completely fashion-braindead, until the uglier truth dawned on me. Many men have their clothes bought for them by girlfriends and wives, both of whom have a vested interest in dressing down their man to keep rivals away. Men that dress themselves tend to go for the "I'm not gay, stop looking at me" outfit, like the dreaded low-cut jeans/tailored striped untucked shirt/square-toed dressy casual shoes uniform. Add a thin black sports coat for a more metrosexual look (which is grecoroman for dressing like you don't care if people think you're gay but making sure that they know that you're not).

When straight men look at a woman, they are not worried about being caught. When a gay men looks at a (possibly straight) man, he is simultaneously 1) admiring his looks, 2) assessing whether he's straight, 3) if so, how long/frequently he can look without being caught, 4) if gay, whether the guy is looking back, 5) not getting caught showing interest in someone who will repay it with attitude, and 6) how to extricate body and self-esteem from the situation if any of the above goes wrong. Pulling all this off on a daily basis takes a lot of practice, and gay men come late to the game. Do straight men realize how much thought and effort goes into figuring out just how much alone-time a gay guy can spend with a straight bro before being outed as a mo. I know of no straight man (okay, maybe one straight man, my friend Brendan) who could handle all this insecurity and not go crazy.

Gay men also (usually) are not driven by overt competition to the extent that straight men are. Testosterone, and the aggression that it triggers, really does correlate with straight maleness. So does wrist size. Who needs gaydar when you have a tape measure. The wrist and lower forearm circumference tell all.

One thing gay and straight men do have in common. When both fail, they think deep down that they weren't "man enough". But with straight men, this feeling usually ends with the next conquest. With gay men, the feeling is only reinforced.

6. Gay men are straight women trapped in a man's body.

Okay, no one really believes this, do they? You do? Well then...

First of all, gay men are as intoxicated with male privilege in our society as straight men are, and are loth to part with it.

Secondly, one's sex (physical), gender (psychological), sexual orientation (attracted to whom), and sexuality (aroused by what) are different things, and falsely conflated in our repressed society. There are perfectly heterosexual men, who like being men, who like wearing women's clothes (they're called transvestites). There are gay equivalents (called drag queens). Some drag queens are actually female-gendered would-be transsexuals, stuck in a pre-op holding pattern. Others are perfectly contented gay men, who love the fashion (and drama) opportunities for self-expression that women's clothing allows, but don't want it cut off any more than you do.

Finally, when I'm not thinking of how fine Brad Pitt looks, I'm probably thinking of a math problem or the Mideast, not reading Cosmo or Elle. I hate shopping, don't need to go to the bathroom with friends for company, and don't get a thrill if my boyfriend shows up with some overpriced bauble.

7. Homophobia is like racism.

Except when it isn't.

Gay men can usually pass when they want to, black men can't. White gay men have to deal with one kind of oppression. Black lesbians have three kinds to contend with (and, it turns out, usually the gay part is not the most onerous of these).

Black kids grow up being hated by strangers. Gay kids grow up hating themselves. Blacks face oppression, gays repression.

Blacks have won the moral battle but are losing the demographic one. Conversely, although many religious still publicly revile homosexuality, their victory is hollow. God may be on their side, but time is not, and if polls are to be believed, their hostility is not likely to outlive them.

Many well-intentioned straight people are too eager to overlook the differences between straight and gay, and too reluctant to overlook those between black and white. In both cases, usually these well-intentioned straight people are oblivious to (or in denial of) the hurt caused by this.

Sexual orientation and race do strongly intersect with straight gender roles. Male privilege is what allows straight women to accept gay men much more easily than straight men can. It also explains why white man + black woman is so much more easily tolerated than black man + white woman. The fact is that gays and blacks will never be fully equal until men and women are, and this may be a long time coming.

8. You can love the sinner, but hate the sin.

Maybe Jesus can. The rest of you can't pull this one off. Just admit it. Why add hypocrisy to the mix?

Why does your husband keep leaving the toilet seat up? Laziness? Forgotfulness? No, it's about spite and control. You know he does that to assert his right not to. It makes you mad. You keep forgiving him, but he refuses to admit his sinful nature. Why won't he be more like a man should be?

What you really mean is, why won't he be more like you? The attempt to control and change the rational and self-interested behavior of someone who stands while you sit is not about making man in God's image, but remaking him in yours. No quote from Leviticus is going to change that bit of hardwired human psychology.

"Why can't a woman be more like a man?", Henry Higgens muses. Who is he kidding? Thinly disguised misogyny, dressed up as objective criticism. Strangely, Higgens does not obsess about why a slug, unlike a snail, is born without a shell. Clearly, it was less loved by God, born defective. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against slugs personally (though we would be better off without them). They just are not fulfilling God's mandate...

of pandering to your own preconception of how snails should be. Leave both snail and slug alone. If ever you are called to atone for your sins, odds are high that you will not also need to atone for those of your neighbor. Nor is it likely that suffering a shellless snail to live, or letting that gay man next door get married to the love of his life, will rank at the top of your list.

9. Civil union is the same as marriage.

Yeah, right. When you got down on one knee, did you ask your wife to join you in a blissful consensual domestic civil quasiheteroconnubial bipartite cohabitation contract? If you did, I hope she said no.

The fact that both you and I are making such a big deal about this proves, if nothing else, that civil unions are not "good enough". As with computer graphics, the more verisimilitude you achieve, the higher the stakes. We know the real thing when we see it, and an airbrushed version only reminds us that something (or someone) was left out.

10. Gays are never satisfied!

Try me. I can take yes for an answer.

I'll let you know in a few months, after the California Supreme Court rules on Prop. 8, which rescinded my right to marry.

In preparation for the horrible possibility of equal status under the law, I will try to think up a new obsession. Ideas, anyone?