Welcome to Discovering the Male Mysteries with Mel Mystery. This blog is a supplement to my podcast is for and about gay and bi pagan men. My podcasts are about what it is to be gay, what it is to be pagan, what it is to be men — sometimes as separate topics and sometimes all meshed together as one. I started this endeavor after seeing that there were few, if any, podcasts out there on this topic. The podcasts are informative, and present topics that challenge conventional thinking.

Archive for February, 2019

Overthinking, Over-Moralizing… Perhaps we already learned what we need to know

I mentioned in my last blog post how after years of considering myself a far-left liberal, that I’m starting to think of myself more as a moderate. But just like the Suzanne Vega song, I still find myself “Left of Center.”

One of my reasons for considering myself more of a moderate is how the Left seems to have moved further to the extreme over the past few years. I know this is part of a larger trend of division and movement to the extremes on both sides of the political spectrum.   While I’d like to blame this all on Trump’s rhetoric of divisiveness, this divisiveness was already evident in the Democratic Party during the whole Hillary – Bernie debate before Trump “won” the Whitehouse.

Another reason for my shift to moderate has to do with a whole overthinking / over-moralizing trend that seems to shape Democratic opinion these days.  While I think having a good set of ethics is a positive thing, I feel like we tend to take things that are good ideas about ethics and morality and take them to an extreme.

If all this overthinking and over-moralizing is turning me off as someone who has considered myself extremely liberal on social issues for a couple of decades, then I can only imagine the backlash these things are causing among Americans who are even more moderate-leaning than myself.

I was recently reading a post where someone was debating whether it was okay for male artists and photographers to profit from photos and art featuring sexy women – examples included replicating World War II era pin-ups and so forth.  In some cases, the talk wasn’t even about real life women, but about cartoon art of women.  There was the usual talk about whether objectification was okay, but the post devolved into blanket assumptions that men are profiting off women’s oppression, whether sexy art is okay so long as the artist (or the viewer) has “pure” intentions that relate entirely to aesthetics and historical value (heaven forbid there should be a sexual element to such art), whether maybe some art is okay so long as it’s “body positive” art depicting “fat” women, and maybe sexy art is okay if it depicts people of color or is done by someone who is LGBTQ.

Ugghh… besides making blanket assumptions that women are automatically victims and sexuality is automatically bad, it’s so much overthinking and over-moralizing.  It’s honestly the same kind of debate that is going on about sex workers. Maybe I have a bias, as I’ve done male beefcake and swimsuit type photography for fun and profit in the past, but I’m just going to cut to the chase and say that I think as long as whatever arrangement made between the artist and model (regardless of gender, color, orientation, size, or background) is consensual and no one was forced to do anything they didn’t want to do, then what business is it of anyone else.  That’s my complete moral and ethical stance on the topic.  Yes, I know there are power differentials in society, but I also know there are a number of women and men who make money being models and they do it because they want to, not because they are forced to.  Some do it because the need to make money.  Others do it because they like doing it or because they want their good looks and sexuality validated.  The same things apply to sex workers.  If you think modeling is bad, don’t do it.  If you think profiting off sexy art is bad, don’t do it.  If you think sex work is wrong, don’t do it.  At the same time, don’t start trying to dictate what is right or wrong for other people.

The #MeToo movement is another one of those ideas that in principle I’m on board with, but in practice I keep finding myself disturbed by the extremes some people take it to.  It’s the part where some people don’t seem to be making distinctions between bad judgement and actual crime.  It’s where every come on from someone you’re not interested in is sexual harassment.  It’s where we’re digging up incidents from people’s distant past and holding them to today’s morals (the same applies to recent blackface scandals).  For me, it’s one thing if someone has a recent or continuous history of harassment or assault, but totally another if someone made mistakes in their past and have learned from them or otherwise moved past them. It’s also disturbing to me that people’s careers are ended because of simple insinuations that have not been proven or disproven in the court of law (or other investigative body).

I do get that many women (and men) have endured sexual assault, and that is a bad thing.  I get that many women (and men) get harassed and ogled in demeaning ways, and that’s also a bad thing.   I get that some women (and men) get hit on a lot more than others, and while that may be an inconvenience to them, I don’t think it’s criminal or immoral. I also get that many women were so hurt or embarrassed by a situation that they weren’t willing to talk or press charges at the time.  Talking now can give a sense of justice and closure.  At the same time, I’m turned off by the vindictiveness and mob mentality that seems to show itself so frequently in the #MeToo movement.  In spite of all the emotional harm these situations bring to victims, I still think the unfortunate burden is to prove the accused is guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt.  That’s how our legal system works, and it works that way to spare innocent people from vindictiveness and mob mentality, and to spare the guilty from mob justice.

Some fringes of the Liberal left are becoming so puritanical that I’m beginning to think we all just need to start wearing head coverings, veils, and bulky clothing that hides our shape and almost every inch of skin, like the women of some religions do.  But that would be cultural appropriation which is another thing I have trouble wrapping my head around.

I think that it’s inevitable that cultures are going to influence each other, especially if they overlap or exist very close to each other.  I don’t think that all forms of cultural appropriation are bad.  I think some of these things might better be labeled “cultural synergy”.  It’s like that old commercial where someone eating a chocolate bar and someone eating peanut butter run into each other…. “You got your peanut butter in my chocolate!”  “You got your chocolate in my peanut butter.”  The next thing you know, you’ve got peanut butter cups… mmm!  Cultural appropriation  synergy brought us southwest grills, food truck fusion items, Taco Bell, Hawaiian shirts, Zen Buddhism, and eclectic Paganism.

I do think there are cases where cultural appropriation is bad, but as with all things we of the liberal persuasion seem to be taking our moral quandaries to the absurd extremes.  I think there’s a difference between being inspired by a culture that is not our own on the one hand, and being demeaning or offensive on the other.  I remember reading a story a while back about an American woman who wore a traditional Japanese inspired dress, and she was lambasted for cultural appropriation even though I think she wore it because she was inspired by the fashion of the culture and not because she intended to be patronizing.  In Pagan circles, folks are starting to discourage folks not of Native American descent from using sage for smudging and purification because that’s a Native American thing and not what the Europeans used.  That may be so, and if you’re a strict reconstructionist you definitely want to use whatever your ancestors did.  On the other hand, if you’re eclectic Pagan, why not use what works and what is readily available.  When folks in the past moved to new lands, they often had to substitute indigenous herbs for those they were accustomed to from their own land.

I think there are some things where we do need to draw the line on cultural appropriation.  These include using demeaning caricatures of people from any culture, gender, orientation, or background for logos, mascots, art, and so forth.  Goodbye Frito Bandito, Mammie and Sambo statues, black face, and so on.  I’m not sure these are exactly what we mean these days by cultural appropriation, but they’re definitely something left behind in days past.

I believe some things are sacred in various cultures and religions.  That’s a more sensitive area for most, but I really look at intent here.  If someone profanes something that is sacred by making it mundane, that’s demeaning.  As a Pagan, I also draw the line at just plugging deities that aren’t your own from different cultures into spells and rituals without offering the proper respect and background research on those deities.  That’s disrespectful to the deities, not necessarily the culture they came from.  On the other hand, if someone has a sincere interest in a deity, spiritual path, or spiritual practice that isn’t directly related to their ancestors, I think the sincere interest outweighs ancestry.  Also, who knows, maybe you belonged to that religion or culture in a past life, or maybe there’s some other spiritual reason you’re drawn to it.

I know even in the LGBTQ community we feel like things have been appropriated from us – awesome dance music, leather culture, metrosexual fashion sense, rainbows, and drag brunches.  I think in most cases we should take this as flattery and a sign of progress and greater social acceptance rather than be affronted by it.  On the other hand, I’d condemn politicians who use LGBTQ symbols and events to gain LGBTQ votes, but then vote against LGBTQ issues. I’d also opt to out any anti-gay politician who is caught in a gay sex scandal, the same as I would for any other politician caught doing anything majorly hypocritical.  I also draw a line on commercialism of gay culture by straight culture, and I’d apply that standard to any other culture commercialized by another.  While I know many LGBTQ folks are offended when a straight celebrity “teases” at homosexuality, I’m okay with it as long as they really do support LGBTQ issues and LGBTQ people in real life. By the way, I’m totally willing to give out my personal number to any male celebrity who wants to call me up and tease me personally.  Please read this Nick Jonas, Zac Efron, and Channing Tatum.

I think we should also be more outraged by the opposite of culture appropriation.  I’m not sure what the term is or would be, but this is where mainstream culture, privileged culture, or dominant culture imposes its values and ways onto a smaller, less-privileged, or marginalized culture. It’s those Christian missionaries (past and present) who go into indigenous areas and destroy the culture and beliefs by trying to make the people more Christian. It’s those – whoever they might be – who are trying to make LGBTQ culture more sexless and straight-washed rather than those who are trying to make mainstream culture more gay and more sex-positive.  It’s all those trying to assimilate all those other cultures into the mainstream culture and values rather than respecting those cultures where they are.

I’m going to leave this post with one final thought.  Yesterday, I was browsing through my Facebook feed when I saw a meme aimed at all this current political divisiveness.  It said something to the effect of “So many people have gotten so wrapped up in whether they are Democrat or Republican, that they forgot how to be decent.”  It stuck with me and reminded me of a book I once read called “Everything I needed to learn, I learned in kindergarten.”  In a nutshell the book suggested, “Share everything.  Play fair.  Don’t hit people.  Put things back where you found them.  Clean up your own mess.  Don’t take things that aren’t yours.  Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.  Wash your hands before you eat.  Flush.  Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.  Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.  Take a nap every afternoon.  When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.  Wonder… Goldfish… hamsters… and white mice… all die.  So do we.  Remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”  After suggesting these life lessons, the author goes on to suggest, “Everything you need to know is in there somewhere.  The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation.  Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.  Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds clear and true and firm.”

Anyway, if people in both parties (and everyone else) lived by these principles, we’d be living in a much better world.

 

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Division, Mob Rule, and the Erosion of Democracy

I used to consider myself a far left liberal – at least on social issues.  I didn’t always agree with the whole platform and ideology, and sometimes I agreed, but for totally different reasons than those set out by the base to justify their case.  Of course, these days I’m considering myself more of a moderate.  I don’t know if this is because the far left has shifted further and further to the edge, whether I’m just seasoning as I get older, or if I just want to try give all sides a fair say.  Regardless of the reasons, I’m seeing more division and more self-destruction than ever before of our democracy, and this seems to be coming from both sides of the political spectrum.

It still bothers me when I read the comment sections after news articles and some conservatives are railing out against the democrats and liberals.  Of course we do it too, and all this back and forth negativity from both sides is perpetuating a cycle of political division and even hatred for the other party in our country.  Sometimes I wish folks would attack the issues and not the people or even entire parties who have different values, beliefs, and ways of looking at the issues.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that I believe everyone is above being criticized, just not blanket statements about entire parties or whole demographics of people.  I do believe elected officials and public figures should be accountable for their words, actions, and legislation.  I do want to clarify that I’m talking about recent words, actions, and legislation – at least unless they have an entire recent and past history that paints an unbroken picture of their character and voting record.  I’ll get more to that later.  The thing is you really can’t make blanket statements about Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives, or any other party because everyone is an individual.  I might support LGBTQ rights, a woman’s right to choose, and a number of other liberal ideologies, but (while I might find it in poor taste) also support someone’s First Amendment Right to fly a Confederate Flag. Another person might consider themselves liberal, but have issues with abortion.  Someone who is conservative (I actually have a specific former House of Representatives politician in mind) voted the exact opposite of what I would have on every issue I checked up on, except he did vote regularly in favor of LGBT rights and even came to LGBT events when the Democratic politicians were missing in action.  Of course I did vote against this politician in his bid for reelection, because… well all the other issues I cared about.  LGBT rights are a big thing I care about, but it’s not the only issue I care about.

The thing is you really can’t make blanket statements about Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives, or any other party because everyone is an individual.

The 2016 Presidential elections were particularly divisive – not just the Democrats versus the Republicans, but also within the Republican and Democratic Parties.  Speaking to the Democrats, this Hillary and Bernie thing was particularly divisive.  Rather than supporting the party candidate, many Bernie supporters either voted a third party candidate or didn’t vote at all.  If all the Bernie supporters had towed the line and voted for Hillary, we wouldn’t be living in this nightmare dystopia that we are in now.  It was Trump and the Russians who benefited most from the Hillary- Bernie division, not the Democratic Party or the American people.  Some people argued that the lesser of two evils is still evil.  That may be so, but there is always a better and worse candidate, and we got the worse elected candidate by a long-shot.

As Democrats, I think we are really doing a good job of shooting ourselves in the foot these days.  The Hillary-Bernie thing was one really big example of this, but we do it in so many smaller ways too.  Shortly after Trump was “elected”… the quotes are just a reminder that he lost the popular vote, but won the Electoral College… shortly after the election and the beginning of the #MeToo movement a number of Democratic politicians voluntarily stepped down for things they said or did a long time ago in their past that might have been construed as sexual harassment or assault.  While I admire their virtue for doing so, many Republican politicians including our President have done far worse to women and remain in office.  I think the fact that these Democrats were self-aware and reflective of their misdeeds makes them far more suited to remain in office than many of their Republican counterparts, especially if their voting record is and has been positive on women’s issues.  We’re all human after all.  We make mistakes, and hopefully we learn from them.

Our democracy is self-destructing and is being damaged by Russian influence and we care more about what someone did 30-40 years ago than what they are doing today.

Another case in point, I live in Virginia and this past week has been another case study in self-destruction and Democrats shooting ourselves in the foot.  This time it’s in the state government and not the federal.  Last week our Governor Ralph Northam was called out for a photo found of him in his 1984 college yearbook.  In the photo, Northam is wearing blackface and standing next to someone dressed as KKK member.  It has been debated whether either of these figures is actually Northam, but he did admit to dressing as Michael Jackson and wearing blackface to a costume party.  We really don’t know the context of the yearbook photo or whether this was a onetime thing.  This photo sparked outrage with many calling for the governor to resign.  Besides mobs of angry, offended protesters, this included many in both the Democratic… and get this… the Republican Party.    Yes, the Republican Party who confirmed Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court last year despite decades old allegations of sexual assault and drunkenness while he was in college, and yes, the Republican Party where a number of Republican politicians (such as Steve King) remain in office while keeping actual ties to white supremacist organizations.

Regardless, Northam’s blackface incident was 35 years ago, the culture was different then, and the photo doesn’t seem indicative of his views or support of African Americans in the present day.  Also, while it may have been insensitive and tasteless, it wasn’t an actual crime (compared to Kavanaugh’s sexual assault allegations).   I’m not African-American so I can’t claim to know how this revelation set with the African-American community, but I can at least try to make an analogy based on what could be a similar thing in the LGBTQ community.  If we had a politician who wore an anti-gay t-shirt in a 1980s yearbook photo, but has since changed his views and even become supportive of these issues over the decades, I’d look at who the person is now and not the person he was back then.  If we had a politician who wore an anti-gay t-shirt in a 1980s yearbook photo, and has a continued history of speaking out and voting against LGBT issues, that would be something different entirely and I’d stand out against them.  Since the Northam revelation, Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring has also admitted to dressing as a rapper and wearing blackface to a party in the early 1980s (it must be Southern thing).  Our Lieutenant Governor, Justin Fairfax, has received renewed allegations that he committed sexual assault at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. The Virginia state government is in chaos this week.

While I get that we are trying to hold ourselves to a higher standard, I feel that the Democratic Party is really doing the Party, their constituents, and the American people a disservice.  During a time of such national divisiveness, all-out war between the parties, and the erosion and destruction of democracy under a corrupt President and his henchmen and Republican enablers, not to mention Russian interference, we really need all the Democrats we can in the political field trying to restore balance and to fight the good fight on our behalf.

In this chaotic time, we could unite and go after our true enemies and adversaries and also fight for legislation that reflects our values, or we can foster more division even within our own party by pointing fingers at our own people for mistakes they made decades ago that don’t reflect who they are now, for not being the perfect candidate we had hoped for, or for being the lesser of two evils.  In many ways over the past couple years it seems that our country has devolved from a democracy and a land of laws and legal justice into a land of mob rule and guilty until proven innocent.  We need to look at the ways we are at best standing in our own way and at worst contributing to such a vindictive and divisive culture.