An apology, and an (optional) explanation

I don’t generally go in for long explanations, when harm has been done. I did harm, this morning, with some heartfelt but thoughtlessly expressed sentiments and poorly chosen words, which conveyed nearly the opposite of what I intended. I screwed up in about a dozen separate ways, and people were offended and possibly hurt by that. For that, I am truly sorry. Period. Insofar as the apology goes, that’s all that really matters, and no one owes my explanation any attention, if they prefer not to hear it. I fucked up, I’m sorry, and I intend to do all that I can not to fuck up in that way, in the future.

Someone in my Twitter timeline retweeted the following tweets from Yves, regarding the revelation that Sandra Bland was homophobic:

yves

There was a tweet before these two, which apparently had a link to an article that I somehow missed. I replied with the following:

sandra bland mistake tweet

…and was soundly and deservedly reprimanded by three separate people.

Not having read, or even been aware of the article, my response was dismissive, and likely painful for some who read it. I wish I could rewind, and repair that. Stop and read the original tweets more carefully, from a more mindful, less emotional place, and either not respond at all, or respond with a better understanding and more thoughtfulness. Since I can’t, I’ll offer what explanation I can, here. Not as an excuse – I was wrong, and nobody is obligated to excuse that – but merely as insight for anyone who cares to have it. And this will be long. There’s a whole lot that went into the feelings that inspired those badly worded tweets, and I don’t know how to condense this, without losing the essence.

I’ve been really disturbed by this never-ending pattern of media and public response to state sanctioned murder of black men and women, and other people of color, in which the “they were no saint” rhetoric gets trotted out and paraded around every article, every television news feed, every sound bite, every comments section and social media discussion. It makes me physically ill to read, over and over again, the picking apart of every single personal choice, belief, and behavior of the victims of these crimes, as if smoking weed, or refusing to put out a cigarette, or speaking rightful challenge to over-reaching authority, or shoplifting, or being fucking rude, somehow justifies their murders. It’s the same damned thing that I, and other victims of sexual crimes, have to face when we come forward to either report those crimes or seek social support. It’s victim blaming, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter whether or not Sandra Bland put out her cigarette, when the cop told her to do so, any more than in matters what a rape victim was wearing, when some rapist made them his prey. It doesn’t matter whether or not Michael Brown had ever smoked weed, any more than it matters whether a woman had one too many drinks in a bar, if somebody assaults her. It doesn’t matter what the fucking VICTIMS did, before they were made victims, whether the person who victimized them was a rapist or a trigger-happy racist cop. The victims deserve our support. So, the whole not-a-saint thing hits me pretty hard.

Homophobia does, too. It has been a fact of life for me, since I realized I was something other than “normal,” something other than straight, when I was in my early teens. I’ve written, here, about what it was like for me, growing up bisexual in a bigoted, shitpot, southern town, and here, about how some of that bigotry was shoved down my throat, growing up. And here, about sexual abuse, rape, and victim silencing. About hate, racism, homophobia, erasure, shaming, indoctrination, and how all of those things have been a part of my history, a part of how I became who I am, now. If you don’t want to read them, I understand. None of them is an easy read. All of them come with possible triggers, especially for anyone who is marginalized, harmed, and/or oppressed by racism, homophobia, or rape culture. In a nutshell, I’ve faced homophobia for most of my life. I still face it, now. The memories of the ways it has been weaponized against me are still nearly as painful as its current presence. The fears of what that same homophobia, and the usually accompanying transphobia, may do to my teenage, transgender son, are ever-present and often overwhelming, even in the obvious context of my own undeniable white privilege.

Since my unavoidable return to that shitpot town, all of those things, and a sweeping culture of racism that pervades nearly every single facet of life, here, have made me all but a shut-in. I can’t go to the grocery store, without running into someone who bullied me in high school for being bisexual. I can’t stop to put gas in the car, without seeing a handful of bigoted, hateful stickers on cars, or an overblown pickup truck with a full sized confederate flag hanging from a jury-rigged flagpole in the back. Christmas dinner with my family ended with me, my partner, and my child walking out fifteen minutes into the meal, because of the blatant, unapologetic racism in my family’s conversation. My facebook, on June 27th, was FULL of right wing rhetoric about how conservatives and Christians were being oppressed by “that Muslim traitor in the White House.”

Living here, it is utterly inescapable, and for at least a few more years, I can’t leave.

So, I turned my facebook, where my friends are family and what few locals I didn’t have horrid associations with, from before, into a platform. Nearly every day, I comment on other posts, trying to simultaneously maintain composure, and fight against the all encompassing culture of hate-infested, cis-hetero, christian, white supremacy that permeates everything. I post educational things about the history nobody taught us in school, the one in which slavery was literally the ONLY real reason for the Civil War (and that, alone, is usually a brick wall), about how community policing, as we know it, has always been inherently anti-black, about how Jesus never condemned homosexuality, about how love between consenting adults is never either a sin or a crime, about how transpeople deserve the right to not be murdered by bigots, about how people of color deserve to live in a place where the police aren’t the enemy.

I have NO community, in real life. Aside from the two other people who live in my house, I have a sister and a former stepmother I barely see, and one old high school friend, with whom I find I have less and less in common. My father and extended family refuse to see their unconscious racism, transphobia, and homophobia, so I don’t feel safe in their presence. There is literally nothing to do, here, no place to go, that isn’t at least a 45 minute drive, which doesn’t involve associating with dangerously hateful bigots. I’m disabled, so travel isn’t something I get to indulge in, much, even just to the nearest city.

In the last two years, over and over and over again, I have either lost friendships, or chosen to dissociate myself from people who refused to see their victim blaming, predator enabling behaviors were a problem. So the vast majority of people I knew, people from my former home whom I considered friends, are no longer a part of my life. And that one former high school friend I mentioned? He’s a white, cis-, gay man. Recently, he was here, visiting, and dropped the phrase, “playing the race card,” into a conversation about politics. It was kind of the last straw, for me. I’m basically a hermit, now.

See, bigotry has been a fact of life, for me, ALL of my life. I am always the most upset and offended by that bigotry when it comes from someone who is also marginalized and/or oppressed by the current status quo. Hearing my gay friend express something so blatantly racist was enraging and devastating. The one person I believed I had, here, the one person I thought was more evolved, and beyond all that bigotry, had just revealed that he wasn’t. It felt, as it always does, when that happens, like a betrayal.

Oppressed people actively participating in or perpetuating the oppression of other people is the one thing I simply can’t ever wrap my brain around, can’t ever stop feeling astonished and hurt by, when I hear or read it. It rips into me like a dull knife, every single time.

What happened to Sandra Bland, even though we don’t know all of the truth, yet, was horrific and inexcusable. I’ve argued with idiots about this until I could barely speak. Idiots who trot out that ridiculous line about how, if she’d just obeyed the nice white policeman, she would have been fine. Idiots who spout the suspicious evidence of marijuana in her system as proof that she was to blame, somehow. Idiots who are just exhausting, and pretty much everywhere I go. I’ve argued until I wept, in frustration with them, and in utter despair of our culture as a whole. I haven’t been able to march. I can’t go to where the protests are, but I’ve been working towards educating other white people about the white supremacist reality of present day America, nearly every single day since last August.

So, when I saw that Sandra Bland was homophobic, it felt like a kick in the gut, on a day when (for a host of unrelated reasons I won’t even get into, here) my guts had already been pummeled. My initial emotion was that same sense of betrayal I felt when my friend revealed his racism. Then, a little bit of anger, and the return of that overwhelming sadness and despair for what our culture is, despite the fact that it’s the 21st century.

If the people I know, here, discovered this, they would undoubtedly use it as a sort of gotcha. They would use it as yet another reason why they think I’m wrong to believe that her death was not fucking okay, or in any way justifiable. They would do this, even while believing that I, and my son, are fundamentally less worthy, as human beings, because of our sexual orientation and gender identity.

And all those things were swirling in my head, as I realized that it didn’t matter whether or not she would have fought for me, or for my son. She did not deserve to die, alone and unjustly imprisoned. When I said that “homophobia isn’t a lethal offense,” I did not mean that directed homophobia doesn’t kill, because it absolutely does. I know why that seemed dismissive, and it is entirely the fault of my own hastily worded reaction. I only meant that her being homophobic was not reason enough to justify locking her up and taking her life. When I said what I did about her not having the opportunity to learn and grow, I said it from a place of someone who was raised to hate, raised to be racist and bigoted, and learned better. Someone who, through life experience and age and seeking knowledge and understanding, overcame some busted beliefs that were carefully cultivated in my young, formative mind. Someone who believes that we all have the capacity to overcome our broken and damaging conditioning, to become more empathetic and humane and caring towards one another, no matter our lot in life.

If someone had killed me, when I was a few years younger than Sandra Bland, I would never have been shown my internalized racism, either. I think that unjustly depriving someone of that chance is every bit as tragic as killing someone more socially enlightened, more empathetic to the ways in which people unlike themselves are oppressed.

So, yes. I will continue to demand answers and accountability from the people responsible for Sandra Bland’s death. Her homophobia didn’t make what they did to her less unjust, and my support for that doesn’t hinge on what her attitudes towards me may have been. I don’t say that for anyone other than myself, though. It is completely understandable and justifiable for other LGBTQ people to wish to withdraw their vocal support for that particular cause, in light of this information, and I don’t judge them in any way. For me, her death didn’t remove homophobia from the world, or even my little sphere of it. It just denied her the chance to gain experience that may have shown her a better way to be.

So, I will still  say her name. Sandra Bland may never have been my friend, if we’d met, but what was done to her demands justice, and she should not be forgotten.

Again, if you’ve made it this far, I am so very sorry that my language was dismissive, offensive, and/or harmful. I can’t promise never to screw up again, but I promise to try harder to be more conscious of my words, rather than spewing complex emotions into thoughtless 140-character blurbs. And now I’m off to find the article that inspired all of this, and learn how to do better.

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Why I Need Feminism

I have recently started spending an inordinate amount of time on Twitter. A year ago, I would have believed that to be a waste of time. A year ago, I was uninformed.

Twitter, largely thanks to the efforts of Black Lives Matter activists like  Johnetta Elzie, DeRay Mckesson and Zellie Imani, has become the active, vibrant, effective hub of social change. It’s strange to say, but I sometimes feel like I didn’t really grow up, didn’t really mature in my own feminism, until I found Twitter. Sure, I sort of understood my own white privilege, but I didn’t really know even a third of the racial history of this country. I believed in intersectionality, but I had not quite internalized it.

Twitter changed that, 140 characters at a time. Not to mention all the links to mind-blowing, mind-expanding studies and articles, op-ed pieces and blog entries. It also introduced me to a host of amazing people who are doing some very difficult, often thankless, sometimes risky even to the point of possible death, activism work.

Aside from the cat pics and joke memes (which, let’s be clear, I enjoy more than I should), Twitter has mostly been a feeling of community I’ve missed for a long time. It has given me something I thought I’d lost, before: a place to talk about my personal feminism, without feeling like I was constantly under attack. A place to learn from other people, without feeling completely disconnected from the teachers. A place to debate, where the trolls can fairly easily be dismissed (at least, they can for me; I know others’ experiences haven’t been that at all) by the simple click of a mouse.

And there are the question tweets. Mostly, the questions aren’t original. Often, they’re things I’ve seen a million times, and just haven’t bothered to address or answer, for myself. Simple questions, with maybe not-so-simple answers.

Tonight’s simple question, from Feminist Gals an account created mostly (from what I can tell) to educate teens and college-aged adults about feminism, was this:

Why do you need feminism?

I responded twice, and I’ll include those answers, here. But there is so much more than I could put into tweets, even if I filled that text field over and over again, all night long. I decided to start a living, updated-as-necessary list of all the reasons why I need feminism.

I need feminism…

  • …because before I was old enough to legally buy a drink in a bar, I’d been molested for five years, gang raped while on a vacation, abused by two different partners, and roofied and raped at a party where I had one drink.
  • …because my family didn’t believe I’d been molested.
  • …because I chose a boy I didn’t really care about, to lose my virginity, so that the grown man who was molesting me wouldn’t take it from me, without my consent.
  • …because virginity has become so commodified in our culture, I actually believed I would lose value as a human being, as soon as I was no longer a virgin.
  • …because from the moment I had sex with that sweet boy, I was labelled a slut.
  • …because my best friend at the time was also gang raped, that night, and blamed me for it. Because she and her friend beat me in a parking lot for not saving her.
  • …because I was taught to question and doubt the validity of my own lived experiences, by people not believing my accounts of them.
  • …because of gaslighting.
  • …because, when I told my boyfriend (at the time) about being raped, he blamed me for it, and immediately explained how he would leave me, if I pulled away from him the next time he tried to kiss me or initiate sex.
  • …because I was still so unsure of my own value as a human being that I stayed with him, anyway.
  • …because my sexual orientation has been dissected, ridiculed, picked apart, and even been deemed imaginary or non-existent, since I was outed in high school.
  • …because not all of that came from straight people.
  • …because a high school guidance counselor told me that I shouldn’t be “shoving it (my sexual orientation) in everybody’s faces, when I spoke to her about the bullying.
  • …because I was quietly steered away from the hobbies and careers I wanted, when I was young, because of my gender.
  • …because my childhood religion taught me both that I was the source of all evil, and that my only legitimate purposes on this planet were to make babies and take care of them. And men. To take care of men.
  • …because my emotions, even when their expression is both logical and appropriate to the situation, are often used to discredit my words. I am neither hysterical nor oversensitive.
  • …because I had an easier time getting booze at the liquor store, when I was a teenager, than I did getting birth control.
  • …because I grew up believing that women weren’t supposed to enjoy sex.
  • …because all the heroes in my books, movies, and TV shows were men and boys, beyond Nancy Drew.
  • …because I was taught all about all the things I was supposed to do to keep myself from being raped, without ever hearing a thing about consent.
  • …because my male friends and cousins were never taught not to touch me, if I said no.
  • …because I was never taught how to set boundaries, or even that I was allowed to do so. In fact, I was made to accept kisses, hugs, cheek-pinches, and to sit in someone’s lap, even when I’d said I didn’t want to do so.
  • …because parents are still forcing their kids to accept touches and physical affection from people who make them uncomfortable.
  • …because, until I was in my late twenties, I believed that if I “led a man on” to a certain point, I owed him sex.
  • …because girls – and more importantly, boys – are still being taught that lie.
  • …because too many people believe they are entitled to my attention, time, respect, affection, body, and intimacy.
  • …because girls are still made to choose their clothes for school based upon whether or not the boys might find them “distracting.”
  • …because the vast majority of legislators making policy and funding decisions about women’s health in the US are male.
  • …because I’m afraid to post face or full-body pictures of myself online, due to the possible commentary.
  • …because my clothing does not indicate consent
  • …because my alcohol consumption doesn’t, either.
  • …because one in five women will be raped in her lifetime.
  • …because 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are molested as children
  • …because our country provides those child victims with neither justice nor adequate treatment for their trauma.
  • …because a child victim of sexual abuse is almost twice as likely to be sexually assaulted or raped, later in life, as someone who was not molested as a child, yet there is no ongoing support system.
  • …because children almost never lie about sexual abuse, yet are rarely believed.
  • …because women almost never lie about rape, yet are rarely believed.
  • …because police officers often interrogate reporting rape victims as if they were the criminals…
  • …and only about 3% of rapists ever see the inside of a prison cell…
  • …and victims are revictimized by the court system, during trials…
  • …and by their communities…
  • …and by the media…
  • …yet too many people, when told by a woman that she was raped, refuse to believe her unless she goes to the police.
  • …because people like RooshV and Donald Trump exist.

And that’s all I’ve got the spoons to type, right now. I’ve barely scratched the surface, and I will be back.

Why I Won’t Continue to Argue With You

I am a socially aware person. Which, if labels are to be trotted out, most often translates to “feminist,” “Social Justice Warrior,” “liberal hack,” “slacktivist,” or “Feminazi scum,” depending entirely on the beliefs of the speaker. With the exception of “feminazi” – which is utterly absurd and particularly hateful because no feminist or feminist group ever imprisoned and tortured and killed millions of human beings for their differences – I wear each one with pride. I know what they mean, what they’re intended to mean, and that the resentment behind them often indicates the frustration of the ignorant with inevitable social progress.

I didn’t just jump on this “bandwagon,” as so many opponents would call it, on a whim. I didn’t become this shining example of a “SJW” overnight. I got here through a very logical progression of questioning, seeking answers, and finding knowledge. It was an almost organic evolution. It was growth, and growth doesn’t happen without impetus, or all at once.

plant watering

It started when I was very young. I remember playing basketball in the Carolina summer heat, with my cousins, who were mostly boys. The hotter it got, the more shirts came flying off, to be discarded next to the red clay “court” in the backyard of the cousin who led the games. I was about six or seven. I hadn’t been taught anything about the differences between girls and boys, let alone about sex or sexuality. I got hot, too. I took my shirt off, too. And it was no big deal to me, or to the half dozen boys with whom I played. I took my shirt off, and ran around with the same sweaty, dirty abandon as all the other kids, and nobody cared. Until my father came running outside, red-faced and yelling. What the heck was I thinking??? What was the matter with me? He yelled and made me put my shirt back on, and go home, but he never explained why. From that day forward, I knew that girls couldn’t do everything that boys could do. That girls would get into trouble for things about which boys never had  to think twice.

I was also only seven years old when my family taught me to be a racist, and only about ten when I started to question that belief system. I found that I had a drive to learn more about other people, about how they lived in this world we shared, about how their experiences in that world were different from my own. I visited the school library. I read everything they had that related to my questions, then moved on to the county library. I talked to people. I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t, like me, white and protestant, at the time, but I asked questions, anyway. The answers I got were… dissatisfying. My parents and my preacher gave me biblical justifications for racism. So, I read the bible, cover to cover, for the first time. What I found was that the Bible doesn’t justify racism, yet it repeatedly urges us to love one another, regardless of our differences. I asked my teachers. Only one had an response that didn’t amount to a lackadaisical shrug of the shoulders. She pointed me in the direction of some amazing literature written by black authors, about their experience in this world. I devoured every one. Armed with this knowledge, I started questioning people, again. My parents eventually just shushed me with the equivalent of Because we said so. Now stop pestering us. My preacher brushed me off the same way.

I had encountered the first revelation of growing up: The grown-ups didn’t know everything, after all. They weren’t infallible. They could be wrong. But I’d also learned something of the utmost importance. I didn’t have to settle for their non-answers. There was a whole world out there, full of answers. I just had to find them for myself.

library

The next stage of this growth was related to sexuality. In a church where they managed to justify racism with bible verses, it’s no surprise that homosexuality was also sternly frowned-upon. This was problematic, for me. See, I was in kindergarten when I developed my first celebrity crush – on a woman. I was in first grade when I had my first real-life crush – on a girl. I later developed crushes on boys, too, both in real life and on TV (Doogie Howser, anybody?), but by then, I knew I was… different. I’d never associated my differences with “The Gays,” then. That’s how they were always referenced. Implied capital letters, and sneery italics in my head. The Gays. Also occasionally known as HommaSECKshuls. I didn’t connect the descriptions of those people with the difference I knew existed between me and other people, because of the way those people were described. Immoral. Sneaky. Dishonest. Sleazy. Perverted. Dangerous. Likely to molest small children and family pets, and steal the family television, while they were at it. I knew that wasn’t me, and hadn’t yet connected those labels to who I was.

I was in my teens before I knew what lesbian meant, and the first time I heard the word bisexual I was a freshman in high school. And it fit, for me, in a simple way that nothing else ever had. That was when the derogatory use of The Gays and HommaSECKshuls connected, in my mind, with me. This time, though, I knew it may be dangerous to ask questions of the same people. I knew where to find answers, and went looking. What I discovered was that there was no logical reason for anyone to hate or fear or abuse other people, based solely on their sexual orientation. I also discovered a need to hide. To conceal who I was. Until I couldn’t, anymore. Until I accidentally outed myself to my school and my family. I’ve since discovered that a prejudice against bisexual people exists in more than just the straight community. Like the other prejudices I’d discovered, like all prejudice, it is illogical. I know this not only because I happen to be bisexual, but because I did with that what I always did, when faced with such things; I educated myself.

It’s the method I’ve developed, over the course of a lifetime, when faced with beliefs that don’t make sense to me, for understanding those beliefs, and developing my own. Research, questioning, debating, reading, and learning as much as I can. Informing my opinion.

So when I encountered such concepts as privilege, institutionalized racism, rape culture, misogyny, transphobia, and patriarchy, I approached those in the same way. I talked to people who knew more than I did. I talked to people who believed those things, to understand where those beliefs, however problematic, originated. I researched. Fortunately, by this point, I had access to all the information I could ever want, via the internet. I read academic articles, first-hand accounts, editorials, and blog posts. I devoured research studies and statistics, conducted and compiled by everyone from accredited universities to the Department of Justice to the Census Bureau. I ordered non-fiction books about the prison industrial complex, and civil rights battles, about the struggle for LGBT rights, about the ways in which US society is predisposed to actively disadvantage and oppress women, minority races, immigrants, and LGBT individuals. I read first-hand accounts and historical documents about protests and movements, the reasons they happened, and the motives of both those involved and those opposed. I participated in debates with other people who were seeking answers to the same questions. I sought out knowledge and understanding. I informed my opinion.

Which brings me to the point of this whole thing, far too late for a TL:DR warning. I do not disagree that everyone has a right to their opinion. You have the right to believe whatever you like. But we’re not talking about the existence of fairies in a J.M. Barrie story, here; your belief does not make a thing true. You can’t clap your hands loudly enough for racism or misogyny or homophobia to be a logical response to the world. You can’t generalize your personal feelings or experience, as a single human being, to all of humanity.

I am glad to discuss any of those topics, at great length, and mostly without rancor. They’re a particular passion of mine, and we all love to talk about the things that inspire that passion. What I am not willing to do is give an uninformed opinion equal weight to one that is based on a lifetime of research, study, growth, and learning. If you haven’t spent at least some tangible amount of time and effort learning about these things, chances are pretty good that I know more than you, about those specific topics. If you want to learn more, to inform your opinion, I will be happy to point you in the right direction to do so. To a limited extent, I will even be happy to teach you, myself. What I will not do, though, no matter how often or how loudly you rail, is let you shout down those years of hard-earned understanding with your gut feeling, your very deeply tinted personal lens, your unfounded and uninformed beliefs. What I will not do is engage with you, when you don’t want to learn, when you aren’t interested in understanding, when all you want to do is be right, without any basis in fact, without any research, without any logical basis for your determination of rightness, at all.

My refusal to discuss those things with you doesn’t necessarily mean that I don’t like you. That I think less of you, as a person. It simply means that, until and unless your opinion becomes informed, I recognize the pointlessness of engaging with you on those topics. Doing so would be like inviting you to play soccer, when you’ve never played, then agreeing to play by the rules that you make up as we go along, and further agreeing that doing so makes perfect sense. It would be absurd, counterproductive, and demeaning to all the other people playing who took the time to learn the rules and practice, before that game began.

You do have every right to your opinion. I also have every right to refuse to discuss opinions that are uninformed, with people who refuse all attempts to learn.

not listening

Love thy Neighbor?

June 26, 2015, is a day that will live forever, in the minds of many Americans. For some, it will live in a rainbow-colored glow that isn’t likely to fade anytime soon.

1024px-Rainbow_flag_and_blue_skies

I was personally overjoyed. Until last year, I honestly didn’t believe this was a thing I would live to see. I hoped that it could happen in my children’s lifetime, but I never really dared hope it could happen in my own. I spent much of the day, long into the night, and even a sizable portion of the next day reading stories, sharing joy, and just sitting in awe of the new reality.

I don’t know if you know me, but I was that bisexual girl who was outed in high school. The one who was incessantly bullied, mostly by people who justified their hateful behavior with a misunderstanding, or misinterpretation, of their religious text. I can say that because I was raised Christian – Independent Baptist, to be precise – and I know Bible better than most. I don’t believe in it, anymore, and haven’t in a very long time, but I know it. I read it, cover to cover, more than a couple of times – which is more than most Christians can say. And I’ve never ceased to be amazed and disheartened by the things people will do to one another, in the name of their God. Specifically, in this case, the Christian God. I’ve never stopped being baffled, bemused, and disappointed that they could cling to such ignorant and harmful hatred, and use that as their excuse.

I’m sure some of you are confused. You believe what you’ve been told, what you’ve been taught by people you know and trust. People, like pastors and parents, to whom you turn for guidance. It’s difficult to hear that the things they’ve been teaching you may be wrong, or that they may be mistaken. For the purposes of this post, even though I don’t believe in the Bible as anything other than a work of fantastical historical fiction, let’s just assume it is, instead, historical fact.

Many people who use Biblical verses as justification for their judgment and /or hatred of homosexuality reference Leviticus. In chapter 18, it states, You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. In chapter 20, we have If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.

There are several problems with using this verse to back up your argument. One, it is being taken entirely out of context, and context is important. The context of both quotes was one of a list of rules for the children of Israel, specifically one tribe, the Levites. It didn’t apply to anyone else. It was a code of behavior meant to separate them, to distinguish them, in their purity, from other indigenous peoples. The punishment for committing any of those acts was simply being ostracized from that tribe.

The most popular biblical tale used to condemn homosexuality comes from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Again, context matters. The sins that led to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah weren’t sins because they were homosexual acts. They were sins because they were rape. Biblical scholars largely agree that the cities were burned because of a lack of charity, a lack of care for social injustice. They were greedy, lazy, didn’t care for their poor, and tried to rape guests in their cities. The fact that the guests were male wasn’t even a part of the issue, and the person who actually ended up being raped, the night of the story, was a woman offered by Lot, to appease the roving band of rapists.

More importantly, these two instances were in the Old Testament, which became nothing but a history book, the moment Jesus was resurrected. This is the central tenet of the Christian faith, that up until that point, man lived by law, and after that point, man lived by grace. Yet it’s a thing so many Christians want to forget, in order to keep hating, judging, or condescending to anyone who isn’t straight.

The only reference regularly used from the New Testament is in the book of Romans. It comes in a list of “unrighteousness.” That list also includes such things as envy, strife, deceit, maliciousness, gossip, slander, haughtiness, bragging, and disobedience to parents. None of these things is distinguished as better or worse than any of the others. It should also be noted that the entire book was a letter, written by a man, to a very specific group of people – the Romans.

I explained all of that to illustrate a point: I don’t disagree with you because I don’t know any better. As a matter of fact, I do know, and know well, what the Bible does – and does not – say about sin and homosexuality.

I also know that Jesus, the man who is the basis for the entire faith, said the following:

  • He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone…
  • It is not what goes into a man from outside that can make him unclean. It’s what comes out of him that makes him unclean.
  • But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.
  • If you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
  • Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

You could say I’m conversant with Christianity. Much like Inigo in The Princess Bride, though…

inigo-montoya

So, for the last two decades of my life (and for others, many decades before that), people have been treating me, and many other LGBT people, horribly. They’ve gone out of their way to bully, insult, demean, degrade, judge, injure, and even kill us. They’ve fought with the tenacity of bulldogs with bones, to deny us simple rights, like the right to marry the people we love, regardless of gender, and the right to equal protection, under the law. We could be fired from jobs, denied health insurance, denied the ability to visit ill and dying partners in the hospital, denied the right to shared and equal custody of children, denied the right to adopt children, denied the right to simply be listed as next of kin on a death certificate. There was no logical, non-faith-based reason for this to be so, yet these denials have been consistently, continually a part of governmental policy, and even codified law. Because of a misinterpretation of a religion whose two main tenets are grace and love. If you can’t see the irony in that, there’s a problem.

Finally though, finally, we’re really starting to make progress as a nation. We’re getting back to our foundation, our constitutional roots. This country was founded, to a large degree, on religious choice and equality. We’ve struggled to get it right, as evidenced by a host of social ills, from slavery to healthcare, which we’ve been notoriously slow to address and repair. But they’re still our foundation. The separation of church and state is indisputable law for a reason. Our government isn’t supposed to take its cues from religion, religious leaders, or gods of any stripe. It’s finally beginning to right that wrong.

Yesterday, on Facebook, a woman I know from high school posted a status, which I will paraphrase, here. She wrote that her feed was full of disappointing comments, from both sides, whether it was those of us who were crying tears of joy, or those who were ranting and railing against the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality. She urged those reading to stop trying to be right, or incite anger, to encourage one another, and “love thy neighbor.” The words, I’m sure, came from a good place, and were intended as nothing other than an entreaty for people to be kind to one another. I’m not angry with her, and I don’t think any less of her, really.

I do believe she’s being a bit dismissive, and not seeing the big picture.

Yes, those of us who believe that a person’s sexuality should not limit their basic human rights were given a huge victory, last week. To add to the overuse of an overused metaphor, we won a very important battle. The war, however, isn’t over.

In 28 states, employment discrimination laws do not include sexual orientation as a protected class. In three others, while sexual orientation is protected, gender identity is not. This means that, while LGBT people may now marry whomever they choose, they could still be legally fired from their jobs for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, and would have absolutely no legal recourse. Only 22 states protect us from being evicted from our homes, or denied housing, based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Only 32 states have laws that will classify a crime as a hate crime, based on sexual orientation, and 14 of those do not include gender identity. Transgender individuals are still prohibited from enlisting in military service. Transgender, intersex, and sexual orientation-specific training is not a requirement for medical professionals, so we can’t even reasonably expect decent treatment and an understanding of our health issues in the context of our lives from our healthcare providers. Only two states, and the District of Columbia, have banned the abusive and demeaning practice of so-called “conversion therapy,” and parents in the rest of the country can still force their children into what amounts to an indoctrination camp, designed for the sole purpose of denying them the most basic right to their own identity.

Again, none of these shortcomings is supported by any legal, medical, or scientific logic. The only reason these issues are issues is religion, and religious people, having undue influence over legislation.

We’re probably going to be pretty celebratory, sure. We may not be going out of our way to be nice about it. Can you really blame us? We’re still in the trenches, still being told that we are somehow less human, because of who we love, or how we identify. We’ve been meeting hatred and oppression with love and kindness for a very long time, and we triumphed, for once. I feel that asking for an overabundance of civility in our celebration is, in short, unreasonable.

We gained some ground, with our “neighbors,” but we’re still having to stomach an awful lot of dehumanizing behavior. We’re still struggling to take hold of a host of basic human rights that you, my kindhearted friend, are able to take for granted.

So I ask that you forgive us, if we’re not “loving our neighbors,” just yet. They’re still taking dumps on our lawns.

fence

Robin Williams – It isn’t about his fame. (TW)

In a post on another website, someone lambasted people who were publicly mourning the loss of one of the greatest actors of our time, one of our greatest artists, one of the few celebrities who has actually had real influence beyond just what it took to cash a paycheck. This post was my response.


 

Dead Poets Society came out in 1989. I was ten years old. I didn’t see the movie, though, until junior high. Eighth grade, I think. 1992. I was thirteen.

And I was miserable.

I was living in a town where gay was either the worst possible insult, or a whispered horror, like someone telling you that your aunt has cancer, when she’s standing in the next room, and they don’t want her to hear. I didn’t know what bisexuality was, yet, but I knew I liked girls, too. In my mind, I was “half gay.” And I couldn’t tell a single soul.

I was being raised by a father and stepmother who demanded obedience to an extremely rigid set of rules. The dishes had to be washed in a specific order, in water hot enough to burn my hands. The beds had to be made – complete with hospital corners – every morning, before school. I wasn’t allowed to watch movies above a “G” rating without explicit permission, and I’d learned not to ask. I was only allowed fifteen minutes of time on the telephone, twice a week, and only if one of them was sitting there, listening in. I wasn’t allowed to speak to a boy on the phone, not even for a group project for class. If the boy had to get information to me, or I to him, it had to be relayed through another female member of my group. I did a lot of projects alone.

I was forced to attend a church that was based more on hate than on faith. Everything was bad. Everybody else was wrong, and going to hell, and if I so much as put one toe out of line, I was bound for everlasting fire and damnation, too.

My stepmother picked out my clothes every night, the ones she’d chosen when she took me school clothes shopping in August. They were horrid. I went to school every day looking like one of those kids you see in sensational news footage, after the authorities have raided a polygamist cult compound. Long skirts or baggy pants, button-up blouses, and nondescript tennis shoes. No jewelry or makeup allowed. Couldn’t cut my hair. Face covered in horrible acne. Braces on my teeth. I got grounded for almost two months for my first “B.” So, I was a nerd. Always with better grades than most of my classmates. I wrote poetry, and won spelling bees, and always had my nose in a book.

There weren’t many people who would even talk to me, and I had even fewer friends.

One of those friends was Heather. I’d had a crush on her older brother for over a year. He asked me to be his girlfriend. Starstruck, of course I said yes. She stopped speaking to me for months.

I’d lived a very sheltered life, and didn’t know anything at all about relationships, let alone sex. He seemed to know all about it. And he wanted me. The girl no one would even speak to in the halls, and he would hold my hand, send me candygrams on holidays, pick me flowers.

One day, we were hiding, making out, hands in places they probably shouldn’t have been (but entirely over our clothes), and a group of the popular kids came around the corner.

By that afternoon, they were talking, you know, the way they do? Loudly enough for me to hear, to the whole class, like I wasn’t there, or was invisible? They were talking about “that girl who let that boy finger her under the bleachers.” I was labelled a slut, immediately. And this was the same boy who gave me my first kiss.

It never stopped.

Everything was about conformity. And I just couldn’t seem to get it right. Couldn’t pretend well enough. Couldn’t make anyone believe that I was just like them, even though everything around me screamed that such was the only appropriate way to be.

At the beginning of that year, my sister had gone to live with our mother. And our stepfather. The one who had been molesting me for two years, by this point. For the first four years of her life, I’d raised her, mostly alone. For the next four, I still had to be the parent, anytime we were with mom. As far as I was concerned, she was my responsibility. And she was gone. There. With him.

I was beyond miserable.

I spent most of the first half of that school year considering suicide. Thinking about how I could do it. About what the least painful way would be, and more importantly, the least messy. After all, I wouldn’t want to leave a mess for anyone to clean up. I was already too much trouble, as it was.

Worry about my baby sister stilled my hand, and stalled my plans, but the thoughts wouldn’t go away. I still couldn’t fit in. Couldn’t be what everyone wanted me to be, what it was obvious I was supposed to be. I was a failure.

One day, just before Christmas break, my English teacher rolled in one of the AV carts, and put in Dead Poets Society.

And I realized, for the first time, ever, that maybe… just maybe, it could be okay to be me. Maybe the people demanding that I be something else, that I round off my edges to fit in that round hole, were wrong.

I know that was a fictional character, and I know the writer is probably owed much of the credit for the role. But Robin Williams’ performance as Mr. Keating rocked my world. And changed my outlook. I decided to take charge of my own fate, albeit in a horribly misguided way.

At the end of that school year, I moved in with my mother. To protect my sister, and to try to figure out who I was, when I wasn’t trying so damned hard to fit in.

And the next year and a half were HELL. My sister didn’t want me. My mother didn’t care enough about me to even ask where I was going when I walked out the door with a friend. And my stepfather had continual access to me, in a house where none of the doors locked properly.

That movie was, again, a touchstone. Mr. Keating was my hero.

A couple of years later, and back in the shitpot little town, I was outed to my entire high school, and came out to my dad, about the time The Birdcage came out. Robin Williams, again, was playing characters which were SO very relevant to my life, and that silly, touching, wonderful movie was a part of what got me through that.

At the end of 2000, my second child was stillborn. I have never wanted to die as badly as I did, then. I don’t even remember most of that year. Just flashes.

But I remember discovering What Dreams May Come. I sobbed most of the way through that movie. Then I watched it again. And once more. I watched it until I could stop crying, and get up off of the couch, and do something besides just wanting to die. I shared the movie with my sister, after her boyfriend, and the father of the child she was expecting, committed suicide. I held her as she sobbed, and we watched it until she was all cried out.

A year or so later, I was the one who put people into action, when no one could reach my sister, and her last communication to anyone, to me, sounded suicidal. I’ve talked people off those ledges, metaphorical and literal.

There were … attempts… during all of those times. Moments when life just seemed too damned difficult, and not at all worth it, besides. And I won’t say that Robin Williams is in any way the main thing that stopped me. But he helped. Every single time. He helped, even if only by giving me a safe reason to cry until I felt a little better. Some catharsis. And that isn’t even counting the laughs he gave me at so many other times.

So, today, I was heartbroken. No, I never met him. No, he wouldn’t have known me if we passed on the street. But the mere thought that someone who has, in some weird, secondhand way, been instrumental in helping me through those times when I wanted to give up, gave up, himself, is awful. Every time I hear of someone’s suicide, I am saddened by it. I know what it is to be mourning the loss of a loved one because life became too much. I know what it is to want to just check out, just stop trying. I ache for every single person who finds themselves in that place.

But, as much as I didn’t personally know Robin Williams, this one hit me pretty damned hard. He helped me, when I didn’t feel like I had anyone to turn to, and when things got bad for him, he didn’t feel like there was anyone there to call for help.

If you want to insult those memories, by saying or implying that the only reason I care is because he’s a celebrity, go right ahead.

Or you could, you know, stop focusing on just the pain of those left behind, and realize that the pain he must have been in, the pain that anyone who commits suicide must be in, is probably far greater. Yeah, he was a celebrity. So what? He was another person, floating around on this rock with the rest of us, and in a pain so unbearable that he chose to hit the emergency exit door, rather than keep suffering.

And I feel for him. Not more than I do for any other person who reaches that point, because of his celebrity status, but certainly not less, either.