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

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Unlearning Apologies

I want to say I’m sorry
for saying I’m sorry
so goddamned much
for being a nuisance
with my insistence
that I’m too insistent
too needy
too much

I want to apologize
for apologizing
when I shouldn’t
when I’ve done nothing
wrong
when I’m simply feeling
like the burden
you assure me I’m not

I get frustrated
with myself
with my fears
with the crushing weight
of not knowing
how much need
is too much need

I get angry
with myself
because I know
better
I know
that you know
I get angry
because I am
saying I’m sorry
for existing
as I am
for being me

I see your face
puzzlement and proxy-pain
when you tell me
“No, baby
No sorries.”

And then I get angry
with them
all over again
for teaching me
that I am too much
that my need
is too much

Angry with me
for letting that stick
where other
better
knowledge has failed
for being afraid
to ask

Angry with a world
where being sick
or being young
or needing help
has always equaled
being too much

Then, you smile
and stroke my face
remind me that
it’s not a one-way street
remind me that
the things I give
balance with
the things I need

So I say again
I’m sorry
for saying I’m sorrry
so goddamned much


This kind of just happened. I wasn’t planning this. I was just sitting here, being grateful for what I have, feeling unworthy.

I had a seizure today. I hurt, and I’m tired. I’m not up to much, and going out, anywhere, is much. There are just days when the getting ready, the getting dressed and being presentable in public is too much. It’s daunting, like facing a mountain you never wanted to climb in the first place, and knowing you have to, anyway.

We had been, I think, planning to go get Chinese takeout at that place that lets you get the buffet to go. He’d been wanting it for a while.

And I just… can’t. And I knew he wouldn’t, as much as he’s been craving it, if I couldn’t. I asked him, if I gave him a list of the things I wanted off the buffet, would he be willing to do that? And I felt shitty, asking. I felt like an imposition, a burden, a drag. To ask him to go to so much extra effort, just because I’m all fucked up.

And off he goes, with a list and a smile, thanking me for coming up with a way for us to still have Chinese. And all this just kind of… erupted.

This thing has played out more than a time or two in my life, both before and after the illness, with romantic partners and parents and friends. The me being too much thing.

Most of the time, I’m okay. Most of the time, I hear him when he says that’s bullshit, that it was always bullshit. Most of the time, I believe him.

Standing in one of those mountain-facing days, though, and asking him to climb it for me, no matter how small it seems to him, sometimes I get scared. This is one of those days that life has taught me I have to be sorry for being me.

Don’t kid yourself; it’s ALL conditional.

Unconditional love. It’s the much-hyped, much lauded, Utopian emotional ideal.

The idea that there’s someone for everyone, someone who will love us no matter what, accept us just as we are, warts and all. Someone who will continue to give us that love, regardless of circumstance or change, action or inaction. Blanket absolution for every flaw, every misdeed.

Friendship? The same ideals seem to apply. Respect? Admiration? Also the same.

The thing is, none of those things are unconditional. And I don’t think they should be.

There are conditions on every single type of relationship, on every human interaction. Those conditions are mostly unspoken, silently understood. Tacit social agreements. The clerk at the convenience store won’t charge you for things you don’t buy. If he does, he risks losing the employment through which your interaction with him takes place. The teller at the bank won’t pocket part of your deposit, or she risks the same thing. The trucker behind you on the highway won’t ram into you and push you into oncoming traffic, or he risks losing his job, his license, and his freedom.

Your friends won’t steal from you. They won’t trash your things, or take undue advantage of you. They will listen when you speak. They won’t decide that they know, better than you, what your motivations or experiences are. They won’t form their opinions about you without coming straight to the source, and giving you the chance to clear up any misconceptions they might have. If they do, they risk losing the friendship.

Your romantic partners won’t intentionally harm you. They won’t lie to you about important things. If you’ve agreed to be monogamous, they won’t cheat. If they do, they risk losing the relationship.

All of these things are conditions, set on relationships from the outset. Most of the time, they aren’t explicitly stated, but they exist just the same. No relationship is unconditional. Love is conditional. Admiration is conditional. Professional relationships are conditional. Friendships are conditional. Romantic relationships are conditional.

Frankly, it would be unhealthy, otherwise.

Unconditional love, unless it’s the kind given to minor children by parents, leads to some pretty busted shit. It’s at least a part of the reason, in many cases, that domestic abuse victims stay with their abusers. It’s the reason why people allow themselves to be beaten down, repeatedly, in unhealthy relationships with relatives.

Without these conditions, you’re basically saying, “You can treat me however you like, do whatever you want to me, and I’ll still take it, still allow you to have influence in my life, still continue to make you a priority.” You’re devaluing yourself, your emotions, your safety, your own experience, and the relationships, themselves.

Our relationships, whether romantic, friendship, professional or otherwise, exist for a reason. There’s a commonality between you and the other person, between your interests, ethics, goals and/or ideals. If this weren’t the case, then the person with whom you have the relationship wouldn’t matter. You could replace them with any warm body, any other person, no matter their personality or commonality with you, and it would make no difference.

The conditions are what make the relationships valuable, at their core.

Unconditional love is a sweet and reassuring concept, on the surface, much like “…and they lived happily ever after.”

But only children believe in fairy tales.

Anything. Everything.

Eyes shining
glittering
brimming over
un-shed tears
of mirth
Your shoulders shaking
breath catching
jaws and ribs
aching from the onslaught

I puff up
come over
all indignant
offended
self-righteously put out

but the truth

The truth is
this is where
the limits falter
wither
and die

Because it is entirely possible
that no limits exist
in the lengths to which
I will dance
play the fool
submit to
embarrassments beyond measure

Just to see
to catch your frivolity
your exuberance
on each inhalation
to tremble with your delight

to see the sparkle
in your eyes

and to know
it belongs also to me

What would I do?

Anything
Everything

Originally posted elsewhere, Dec 16, 2013