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?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Shrewd sidelining, or shocking sell-out?

Barack Obama is a skilled politician.

That's at least what I'm counting on, because the alternative is worrying. It seems that Barack Obama has invited Rick Warren, the Palmer Joss of the 21st century, to give the invocation at Obama's inauguration.

Here is what Rick Warren (founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church, a megachurch located in Southern California, and author of the bestseller The Purpose Driven Life) says about gay marriage (emphasis added by me):

One controversial moment for you in the last election was your support for proposition 8 in California. …

The issue to me, I’m not opposed to [California's 1999 domestic partnership law] as much as I’m opposed to redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage. I’m opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.

Do you think those are equivalent to gays getting married?

Oh , I do.

It seems in his haste, Warren forgot about bestiality and sex with plants. Or can plants and animals marry each other? What does it say when, regardless of his feelings about gays, a person who is invited to speak at a Presidential Inauguration cannot distinguish the large number of gays seeking cohabitation from the infinitesimal number of "other" unions (like dog/fire hydrant). Last I checked, there were not 18,000 brother/sister pairs lining up in California to legalize their sibling pair bond. This distortion is defamation, and if Warren does not see a qualitative difference, at least Obama should extract from him an admission that gay marriage is quantitatively different from these "slippery slope" false comparisons before giving him the microphone.

Or perhaps I'm being too thin-skinned? This is just a speech, after all. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Any good discussion has a least two sides. Let's hear from one of Warren's defender's. Steven Waldman, the founder of the mainstream and centrist website, offers this defense of Warren's views. I will merely summarize the main points here:

  1. Warren has used his fame and fortune primarily to help the most destitute people in the world. He reverse tithes, giving away 90% and keeping 10%.
  2. He's worked hard to get other conservative evangelicals to care more about poverty
  3. He has voiced his own spiritual doubts.
  4. He's mostly about God.
  5. For Obama, picking Warren for the inauguration...helps to depoliticize prayer — which, of course, is very politically shrewd.

Reason 1 sounds great, and Warren is a good counterforce to the grotesque and very unChristian belief in the Prosperity Gospel, and though reasons 2-4 are no more than one should expect of any Christian pastor, you rarely get it in most megapastors. But the last reason is self-contradictory. The very purpose of having a prayer at a political event is to mingle religion and politics, to remind the sovereign that he rules dei gratia and not merely populo volente. Still, majority sensibilities must be assuaged (and Obama of course professes to be Christian), so if politics is what Obama is playing, I fully support the move.

But, as I wrote in an earlier post, Obama is not in favor of gay marriage either. Since the President has no power over state matters like marriage, I will be content if he ends discrimination of gays in the military, as he and his people have been hinting will happen in the next six months or so. Maybe having Rick Warren speak will lower the volume on Evangelical blowback?

For now, I'm keeping my fingers crossed and going with Shrewd Sidelining, not Shocking Sell-Out. It's not as though I have much choice. I sure hope I'm not wrong. It's a terrible thing to discover that you've been worshiping a false god.

Friday, December 5, 2008

No religious exemption from Free Speech

I was wondering how long it would take for the oppressors behind Prop. 8 to play the victim, although it is a difficult feat to pull off for any group that can afford a full-page ad in The New York Times.

Mormons have collectively been taking a lot of heat for their singularly active role in working to pass Prop. 8 in order to strip gays of their preeexisting Constitutional right to marry in California. Their participation went way beyond that of any other organization, religious or otherwise, by more than a factor of 10 (more than 100 per capita). To their small credit, they have not greatly disputed their role or sought political cover for it.

Yet political cover is on the way nonetheless. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is a non-profit advocacy group that promotes Religion (not religious liberty as they claim, as they do not advocate for atheist rights). They interpret the First Amendment as favoring religion, not being neutral to it. Here is how they expect a free advantage in public debate (from their ad No Mob Veto):

“We're a disagreeable lot. We differ about a great many important things...Nevertheless, we're united in this: The violence [?] and intimidation being directed against the LDS ...—and even against individual believers—simply because they supported Proposition 8 is an outrage that must stop.”

Who's we? Presumably the 13 signatories (almost all with a vested interest in preserving religious privilege). What violence? There was no statistically significant violence, much less ongoing. This is a shameless strawman slander to incite the reader. Indeed there is intimidation: lawful, legal, moral intimidation. Public shame and boycotts.

“Of course, when a religious organization enters the public policy arena, it must be prepared for disputes.”

That's an understatement: anyone wading into a public policy dispute with profound negative effect on a historically oppressed minority should prepare for war, limited only by the legality of its methods.

“Let's be clear: even the crudest anti-religious propaganda isn't illegal, and may not constitutionally be outlawed. But it's nevertheless wrong. It has no place in civilized society.”

Fascist and fatuous. The Constitution protects Free Speech, lawful assembly, and the right to petition because they are such precious rights. Far from wrong, they are our duty in a free society. Politics is bruising business. You don't get a free ride to rescind the rights of another less popular than you and then feign indignant surprise when they defend themselves.

And now brace yourselves for one more bit of strawman outrage over a nonexistent problem, their "righteous indignation":

“We announce today that we will stand shoulder to shoulder to defend any house of worship...from violence....”

As I hope we all would, naturally. But just who is burning this mythical cross or swastika, throwing bricks through Church windows, in some systematic wave of violence? The only major increase in hate crimes this year has been against gays and lesbians. As for last year, where full statistics are available from the FBI, less than 2% of hate crimes were against Christians, whereas 16% were against non-heterosexuals (and for perspective, 36% against African-Americans and 12% against Jews). I think that any feigned wave of anti-Christian hysteria should be kept in statistical perspective.

At last we come to the "threat":

“Furthermore, beginning today, we commit ourselves to exposing and publicly shaming anyone who resorts to the rhetoric of anti-religious bigotry—against any faith, on any side of any cause, for any reason.”

Bravo, now you have lowered yourself below even my standards. I do not try to impose atheism on others, just work to leave Religion out of the public debate. Now we hear that these Religious will come to the aid of other Religious to protect the supremacy of the role of Religion itself. Religiousity is now a favored quality of being American. Religion is too precious to be attacked. All hail Religion.

What can you say against this religiofascist impulse? As one of its more famous adherents put it: Bring it on! Isn't Free Speech messy? You can start with me (okay, that's a bit presumptuous, maybe you should start with Richard Dawkins, as he was here long before me).

I categorically and publicly reject subordinating my conscience, scientific reasoning, politics, rights, and civic duties in mindless subservience to a superstition merely because it is popular.

Much less do I defend the practice of superstition itself, as though ecumenism in fantasy makes it less sectarian: your Flying Teapot for my Easter Bunny.

Religion is Latin for "that which binds one back from". I do not need my free will restrained from free thought and shackled to some popular prejudice handed down from even less enlightened forbears, and I would gladly shame such people as have advocated the apotheosis of superstition in our society.

But those having signed this half-strawman half-arrogant petition of privilege have already shown themselves to be unshameable. And that's a God-awful shame.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Happy Golden Anniversary, CAR!

Bon anniversaire, la République Centrafricaine!

Fifty years ago today, on 1 December 1958, the French Equatorial African colony of Ubangi-Shari became an autonomous territory within the French Community and took the name Central African Republic, largely due to the heroic efforts of its founding father and president, Barthélémy Boganda.

Its motto in Sango is Zo Kwe Zo (All People are People). It is such a beautifully succinct statement of principle that I have adopted it as the title of my blog.

As a former Peace Corps Volunteer who spent two years in Kembe, CAR, I would like to take the opportunity on this golden anniversary to offer my personal thanks to the CAR for hosting me as a junior high math teacher and offering me the opportunity to get to know its people and culture.

On my home webpage, you can find a more extensive write-up about my experiences there. If you get a chance, pop over to it and take a look.