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.

Social Musings

Confederate Statues, Flags, and Defunding Police

A toppled Confderate statue.In a blog post earlier this week, while supporting the peaceful protests for George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, I criticized the random rioting and looting.  My reasoning was that these don’t really attack the real problems or perpetrators, that they hurt innocent people such as minority business owners and neighborhoods, and that they lack any kind of strategy other than hoping the threat of violence would cause change.  With that said, I do (a little reluctantly because I still believe in doing things legally where possible) support the toppling of Confederate statues.  I’ve watched protestors toppling these on the news this week, and contrary to random rioting, this sends a directed and powerful message.  These symbols of the past no longer serve our country and it’s time to get rid of them.  The inclusion of these statues at city halls and seats of government in the South has been challenged before, and frankly most of these city and state governments have dragged their feet to actually remove them.  Two days ago, a statue was toppled in a city adjacent to my own, and this morning the Confederate statue in my own city was removed with cranes by our own city government.  Another nearby city announced official removal in early July.

For those cities removing these statues peaceably, I personally believe they should go to graveyards where Confederate soldiers have been laid to rest.  This allows for respecting the Confederate dead (even if we don’t agree with their cause), allows for these statues to remain historical reminders of the past (those who don’t learn the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them), and also symbolically marks their significance to our daily lives as dead and buried.  For those cities who refuse to remove these statues from government places, and where they aren’t toppled in protests, I heard someone suggest that counter monuments – perhaps memorializing Northern deaths or those victimized by slavery – would allow for counterpointing the Confederate statues with powerful teaching moments.

I was happy to hear that NASCAR banned the Confederate flag from their races this week.  That was a good step.  I personally view the Confederate flag as a flag of treason against our country and a lost Civil War for the South.  It has also been a rallying flag for racists and white nationalists. While many liberals share this view with me, it is actually more complicated than that.  I grew up in a rural Southern town and still have family and friends in that area.  The thing is that not everyone rallies around the Confederate flag out of hate or prejudice (even if that is the legacy of that flag).  A number of people in the South view the Confederate flag as a symbol of Southern heritage and not as a symbol of hate.  It is entrenched as a symbol of Southern pride for many rural Southerners.  Trying to convince many of them that it is a symbol of racism and hate, will just cause many to double down in their own positions.  What I really believe they need is a new flag to symbolize their heritage – something they can fly from the back of their pickup trucks and wave at NASCAR races – because gods know they like to do that kind of thing.

Lastly, I wanted to address things I’ve been hearing these past few weeks about defunding or even abolishing the police.  I’ve not read much on what this would entail, so these are only my initial thoughts.  My ideas might change if I see a really good plan.  I personally believe there is much reform that should be done with police departments and even some of the laws they enforce.  I don’t believe every cop is a bad cop.  Just an aside – my own father was a policeman, though he retired due to Vietnam related disabilities when I was young.  He and my mother taught me not to judge people by the color of their skin.  And while I can’t say for sure what he’d be doing in the current situation, I do believe that he would be standing the lines for law and order but would also criticize the cop who killed George Floyd.  I personally believe there is much room for reform in the police department – a return to the ethic of being peace officers to protect and serve their communities; a reversal of militarization of police forces; ongoing sensitivity training for a number of disenfranchised communities – African-Americans, LGBTQ folks, and many others; sensitivity training for domestic violence situations; accountability and intervention when it comes to bad cops; and perhaps increased participation in the communities they serve (so neither the community members nor the police are faceless others).  I believe it would be a good thing to put some money from police budgets (starting with the expensive military gear) toward the communities themselves.  I also believe that some laws and policies should be rethought or abolished – such as racial profiling; chokeholds; entry to arrest without knocking or announcing; and victimless crimes such as recreational drug use and sex work.

I do not believe police departments should be totally abolished — at least not unless there’s something comparable or better to replace them.  There are many situations in daily life that require a consensus on law and order and someone to intervene – whether this be police or someone else.   There are issues of theft, robberies, break-ins, domestic violence, escalated disagreements between people, gang violence, organized crime, and other concerns requiring immediate or ongoing intervention from someone. There are also little things that protect lives or an orderly way of life – someone to enforce speed limits and traffic laws.  The street on the way to work is not a NASCAR raceway and there are some places you shouldn’t U-turn.  People ignore these things now with the threat of getting a ticket.  What will they do without someone to enforce necessary rules and laws?  While I like to look for the best in people, I don’t trust all people to follow rules and laws, especially in the absence of enforcement. Many laws are in place to protect our daily lives from chaos and to protect us from those who would do harm.  Yes, there are also many laws that should be reformed or abolished, but not all of them.  If we abolish the police totally, I see us descending into anarchy or some kind of wild west lawlessness.  In such a society, without someone to intervene, might would make right and I suspect gun nuts will be stocking up on guns and shooting anyone they see as a threat.  This is already happening among the current rioting and looting.

Anyway, those are my thoughts.

 


Can’t We All Get Along: The Sequel

We can do better!Not long ago, I posted a three-part blog article titled “Can’t We All Get Along.”  I pointed out the division in this country, within the Democratic Party, and even within Doctor Who Fandom.  I had hoped to encourage folks to find common ground and not to be so polarized.  Early last week, in the midst of the George Floyd protests, I took a break from posting cat videos and inspirational music videos on Facebook to pose the question – “Can’t we all agree on some common ground?”  I asked the Liberals on my friend’s list (including folks from college, gatherings, and folks that I hang out with regularly) couldn’t we agree that rioting and looting are bad, even if the anger behind them is justified, and especially in light of the fact that most of the businesses being hit are small independent businesses already hit hard by the Coronavirus pandemic.  I pointed out to the Conservatives on my friends list (mostly family and folks from high school) that they’d be angry if the shoe were on the other foot and a white man had been killed in such a cruel way by a Black man.  I also pointed out that they needed to get their story straight on protests.  A few years ago, they were calling non-violent protesters against Trump, the Dakota pipeline, and other causes criminals, and calling for them to be arrested.  Then a few weeks ago they all started showing up at state capitals with guns to protest stay-at-home orders.  Now they’re condemning protests again.  I asked them all to recognize our common humanity and that there are bad apples on both sides of the political spectrum, but there are also folks with compassion and humanity on both sides.

I was actually quite surprised by those who responded – three Liberals and two Conservatives – so more or less equal numbers.  My post was mostly meant for Conservatives with a feigned slap on the hand to Liberals who I thought would agree that non-violent protest was for the best.

In the Conservative camp, one Conservative who is frequently spouting support for Trump, conspiracy theories and the like, responded quite rationally that “No, we can’t agree, but that disagreement doesn’t have to be the line in the sand that many people make it.”  Another Conservative suggested that all the rioters and looters should be shot for breaking the law and that the authorities really have no other choice than to shoot these folks to bring back law and order.  I pointed out that these are U.S. citizens and that there are all sorts of non-lethal tools and tactics in place for domestic disturbances.  He did later concede that he thought there was no excuse for the police officer who killed Floyd and he hopes the guy gets the death penalty.  At least he was consistent in his belief that shooting and killing people is the solution to all life’s big problems.

The Liberal camp shocked and dismayed me a little bit.  At least I expected the shoot first, solve problems later from the Conservatives.  After three years of Liberals staging non-violent protests against Trump and stressing the importance of non-violence in other protests and causes, it bothered me to see one of my Liberal friends suggesting that we should “Riot on!”  Another suggested non-violence was a Pollyanna concept and that rioting and rebellion are necessary for liberty.  Yet another sent a link to arguments on “How to respond to ‘riots never solve anything!’”  This was after I suggested that non-violent protest should be encouraged but rioting and looting not so much.

I see so much of each other in all this.  Perhaps if we can’t agree to aspire to the best in humanity, we can all at least agree to aspire to the worst.  While my earlier Facebook post was meant more for the Conservatives, this blog post is aimed squarely at Liberals because I still believe there’s hope, compassion, and reason within you despite whatever anger you may be feeling at this point.   While I still consider myself Liberal, due to recent polarizations both in our country and within the Democratic Party I find myself more middle of the road than I used to be.  For parts of this article, I’m still going to say “we” and “us” even though “we” and “us” in the Liberal camp is more divided than ever before.

After criticizing Conservatives only a few weeks ago for coming out to protest the Covid-19 stay-at-home orders with their guns and general talks of stoking another American Civil War (violent, if necessary), I cannot in good conscience look the other way when our own side comes out (during a pandemic, I might add) stoking talks of violent revolution.  While I believe, wholeheartedly, that the non-violent protests on behalf of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter are a good and necessary thing (and also that protestors should continue wearing masks and social distancing), it would be hypocritical of me to condemn violence and threats of violence by Conservatives only to rally for riots, looting, and violence to advance a cause (any cause) that I as a Liberal hold dear.

Dalai Lama quote on non-violence.Might doesn’t make right.  Right makes right (even if the results aren’t always immediate).  That includes right action.  Right action includes action (as well at thoughts and intentions) consistent with the ethics you believe yourself and that you believe the other side should follow.  Right action includes making sure that any action, protest, or even war is directed at the right enemies, governments, departments, laws, policies, or systems, and not just random people or organizations who may or may not already be on your side (or might be persuaded to join your cause provided you don’t make enemies of them).  In war, most folks consider it ethical to drop bombs on strategic military bases but not on civilian communities, schools, and hospitals.  Right action doesn’t necessarily mean to be “Pollyanna”, complacent, or even lawful.  Rosa Parks breaking the law prohibiting Black folks from sitting at the front of a bus is an example of a right action that wasn’t naïve, complacent, or legal at the time.  It was both a powerful statement and non-violent.

What bothers me about the rioting, looting, and protests, is that they seem more random and less directed at the people, organizations, and systems that led to this situation in the first place.  They lack any kind of strategy or goal other than maybe the threat of violence will cause folks to side with you out of fear of more rioting.  In fact, a study of Civil Rights protests by political scientist Omar Wasow argues that peaceful protests during the 1960s actually swayed white people toward voting for Democrats, whereas violent protests brought backlash and swayed white voters in the direction “law and order” Republican candidates (http://www.omarwasow.com/).  Isn’t law and order what we hear Republicans and Conservatives calling for in all this?  Law and order, even if it means killing looters and rioters?  I’ve seen stories about a number of small businesses hit with looting (many of them small Black, minority, or immigrant owned businesses).  There was an African American woman on YouTube who went viral for shouting at rioters and looters (mostly white college students) for making her neighborhood unsafe.  She shouted about the how people couldn’t safely get to their jobs or to get groceries, and how the homeless people in the neighborhood were affected too.  One young Black male protestor interviewed for the PBS News Hour last week, pointed out all the pallets of bricks left in neighborhoods near protest sites and claimed that it looked like “a trap” to incite violence.  From what I’ve seen across various media, most of the protesters on the front lines are adamant that the protests remain peaceful and non-violent.  Among all this we are also putting more Black lives at risk – whether from corrupt cops looking for an excuse to act out, from angry gun nuts protecting their businesses by shooting to kill, or from the possibility of a surge of Coronavirus cases in an already vulnerable community.

Martin Luther King Quote on Darkness and HateWhile I agree with the non-violent protests and the support for Black Lives Matter, there is another bigger issue that I’ve taken on in recent years – that is the overall division our country, communities, and political parties have fallen into.  While the divisions were there already, the 2016 election, the divisive rhetoric of Trump and his enablers, Russian bots, and the like have furthered these divisions.  In this day and age it is easy to dehumanize those we don’t agree with.  Trump dehumanizes people he doesn’t agree with on a daily basis by calling them “thugs”, “criminals”, and so on.  The policeman who killed George Floyd dehumanized Black people.  The police we see acting out badly in the news this past week or two have dehumanized the protestors.  For our part, many of us have dehumanized Republicans and Conservatives on the whole, even though many have left the party or spoken out against Trump and his abuses.  A Republican group called the Lincoln Project is even actively advertising against Trump.  We all have Conservative friends, co-workers, and family members.  In this situation, we have also dehumanized all policemen for the actions of some bad actors.  We’ve dehumanized the real people living and working in neighborhoods affected by rioting and looting in their neighborhoods because it doesn’t fit our agenda or narrative.  As someone once said, the best way to defeat an enemy is to make that enemy a friend or an ally.  Perhaps it’s naïve to believe that we are all human, that there are some common ethics that we can all agree to, or that we can change minds through discussion and debate rather than threat of violence.

Despite all the bad stories from the front lines of things like continued police abuse of protesters and reporters, looters being shot and killed by store owners, and trucks plowing through crowds, I’ve been heartened by all the good stories out there this past couple of weeks too.  Many police officers lay down their arms and joined the peaceful protests — some even “taking a knee.”  Non-violent protestors protected community businesses from looters.  One police officer separated from his troop, was protected from the angry mobs by other protestors.  There are people of all colors, ages, creeds, and backgrounds out protesting Floyd’s death and supporting Black Lives.  The events aren’t even limited to the United States.

During different times, I’d be out there joining in the peaceful protests.  Given the current pandemic, I’ve been practicing social distancing and social isolation to protect myself and others from a potentially deadly disease that medical experts don’t yet know enough about.  Despite this, I was proud to see on Facebook just the other day that my youngest niece, not long out of high school and who lives in a rural conservative area of Virginia, has been out joining the non-violent protests in her area.  She has been sharing her own beliefs, experiences, and photos despite receiving flack for doing so.

I’ll end this post with three quotes on non-violence from Martin Luther King, Jr.

“In spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace.”

“Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.  It is a sword that heals.”

“Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves.  For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.”

 

Mel has a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and is a seasoned LGBTQ community activist. To find out more, please visit his website: www.melmystery.com


Can’t We All Just Get Along? Part 3

I had meant to wrap up this thread a few weeks ago, but got sidetracked by all the Corona Virus business.  I hope everyone is staying safe out there!


This is a continuation of Can’t We All Just Get Along? Part 2

To all the Democratic political folks out there, this section is for you.

Democrats who stay home elect RepublicansI’m going to “Vote Blue No Matter Who” come November and I hope you will too. I would vote for a rock if it would get Trump and his nastiness out of the White House. All you Bernie supporters out there who choose not to vote in the 2016 election because you were sore that Sanders didn’t get the Democratic ticket or because you hated Hillary — I blame you all for the last three and a half years we’ve had to endure. Your vote for the Democrat on the Presidential ticket could have swayed the election. If we’ve learned anything in the time since the last election, it’s not that the lesser of two evils is still evil. It’s that the lesser of two evils is still less evil than what we’ve got. (Just for fun – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SAisWFutbw ). Also, if you don’t vote in the Primaries, then you have no room to complain if the Democratic candidate isn’t Sanders. If you don’t vote in the November election, then you have no room to complain if we get another four years of Trump. If Bernie wins the ticket, I’m going to vote for him. If Biden wins the ticket, I’m going to vote for him. If it turns out to be someone else come November, I’m going to vote for him or her.

“The lesser of two evils is still less evil than what we’ve got.”

I suppose I should also wrap up the Doctor Who thread, so this last section is for all the Doctor Who fans, haters, and writers.

I’ve not seen the latest season since I cut the cable cord, but plan to once it’s available on one of my streaming services or on DVD. I have seen a lot of spoilers and lots of hater headlines. I have to admit that my first reactions to both the new Master and the Ruth Doctor were WTF. Neither immediately conformed to my idea of who the Master or the Doctor is and has been. After over 50 years of white male Doctors and white mostly male Masters, a Master of color and a Black female Doctor was a bit of a shock, but I quickly got over that. The ideal Masters to me will always be the Roger Delgado and Anthony Ainley Masters. The clips I’ve seen of the new Master show that he has all the evil and treachery you’d expect from the Master, and I think I kind of like his sense of style too. The clips of the Ruth Doctor that I’ve seen show her to be the strong idealist that is the core of Doctor Who, so while I’ve not seen her in action, I think I might actually like her. I still have some concerns with gender and race swapping iconic characters with long histories (see my previous post “When the Doctor was Me” ), but Doctor Who is one of those weird possible exceptions because of the whole point of regeneration is that the Doctor changes into another person each time around.

My biggest problem with the way the new Doctor Who series is doing this is that they are doing this too fast and too in your face and that’s causing backlash, even from folks who want to give the new series a chance. They seem to be doing the same thing with Doctor Who canon and also the “wokeness” factor. Doctor Who has always largely been liberal and left leaning. The Doctor mostly advocates against guns and violence and for using one’s mind to solve problems. Some classic episodes had the Doctor taking down evil corporations that exploit people (such as the 4th Doctor episode “The Sun Makers”). There have been multiple story lines where the Doctor took down authoritarian leaders. There have been many episodes where the Doctor organized people to stand up to oppression. The thing about these stories is that they weren’t necessarily preachy or in your face about the values they professed (as many are complaining about the show now). It was subtle and built into the story lines. You empathized with the underdog, with the exploited, and with the downtrodden because of good story lines. You also had the Doctor as an example of someone doing good wherever he went.

This might be a good place to remind everyone that the diversity in the new series of Doctor Who isn’t all about me as a middle-aged white guy. One of the things I noticed recently when I went to a sci-fi convention that I go to most every year were all the women dressed up as the Jodie Whittaker Doctor. It was nice to see that female Doctor Who fans finally had a Doctor to cosplay. After the latest season, Black female fans also have a Doctor to cosplay, and I hope I see some at the con next year. The only other Doctor’s I saw this year were a few David Tenant Doctors (plus I was dressed as the 7th Doctor). There’s usually at least one 4th Doctor and a few 11th Doctors running around, but they were oddly missing this year. The Klingons were oddly missing this year too.

In conclusion:

Being woke is (or at least should be) about learning to live and let live. If you’re using your “wokeness” to further division or to fuel your hate for some other group of people, I’m not sure you’re actually that woke. It’s not all about you. Being woke is loving and supporting our neighbors of all backgrounds even if we don’t totally understand them. It’s realizing that we all have different life experiences and challenges that bring us to where we are now. Most of us have room to grow, and others are seemingly lost causes.

In society, we are primed to fear and distrust the “other” – those who aren’t like us or who don’t belong to our tribe. Ultimately, as the saying goes, “Haters are gonna hate.” Whether it be that friend from high school hating on the Trans folk, the receptionist at the dentist office hating on Democrats, Bernie supporters hating on the establishment Democrats (and vice-versa), Lesbian Feminist Separatists and Trans folks hating on “men”, or old school Doctor Who fans hating on the new series.

Can’t we all just get along?


Can’t We All Just Get Along? Part 2

In my last post, I talked about various examples of division. While I think differences across the political spectrum (such as Democrats vs. Republicans) are harder to remedy, we also seem to have major differences among those mostly on the same side (left-leaning Democrats vs. centrist Democrats, or the various “factions” within the LGBTQ community). We are so polarized right now that even subtle differences elicit strong reaction, division, and even hate.

In the examples given in the last post, I really don’t see much reconciliation with the Transphobic high school friend or the Trump supporting receptionist at the dentist office. I think our world views and life experiences are too different. Nothing I say is likely to change their minds. It’s not really worth adding the stress of argument to my already super stressed life. Sure, I could unfriend the high school friend. I grew up in a rural backwoods area of Virginia, so his comments are likely shared by a host of other high school friends. If push comes to shove, I could always delete them all too. I could change dentist offices or make a complaint. Maybe I will do these things. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I can hope that these people will glean some bit of enlightenment by seeing me and the things I say and post to my own page. Direct confrontation only leads to direct confrontation back and folks become entrenched even more in their own beliefs.

What I want to talk about and explore today is not the division across party lines, but all the divisions among folks who are mostly on the same side. Maybe we don’t agree on everything. Just because we are in different lanes doesn’t mean we have to be enemies. We can actually be allies and support each other, but still go off and do our own things. It’s an extremist and inflexible view to say that we can’t.

“Maybe we don’t agree on everything. Just because we are in different lanes doesn’t mean we have to be enemies.”

Since my college activist days, I have never considered myself an assimilationist. I believe we live in a pluralistic society. I think it is okay for us to have differing interests, cultures, ideologies, groups and so on. We can do this and still come together as allies on things that matter to us all. I don’t think everyone has to be exactly the same or to have exactly the same ideals and goals. I remember the days when the LGBTQ community (usually led by white middle-class gay men) put forth calls for diversity back in the 1990s. Back then “diversity” really meant including women and people of color who held white middle-class male values. These groups were often gentrified and didn’t really address the issues of women, people of color, or other groups of people. It’s a nice ideal for a utopia, but it really wasn’t a diversity of ideas or backgrounds. I supported the rights of Lesbians and women to form groups and events of their own. I also supported the rights of gay men to form men’s groups and events. I supported the sovereignty of African American LGBTQ groups. I supported the rights of LGBTQ folks not to follow the dictates of heterosexual society, as well as the rights of those who wanted to get married and live in the idealized house with white picket fences. I still support the notion of a pluralistic world rather than a monolith where everyone looks and thinks the same. Such monoliths breed dogma, as well as stigma to those who dare to be different. Isn’t that what we’re trying to avoid? I support a world where differences are celebrated, not denigrated. In a pluralistic society, there are niche groups, ideologies, and events; but there are also times when we form alliances and come together toward a common goal.

“Such monoliths breed dogma, as well as stigma to those who dare to be different. Isn’t that what we’re trying to avoid?”

I think our world is moving even more in the direction of pluralism and niches. Population increases and the capacity for very specific niche groups on the internet is helping to facilitate this. The weird thing is that the more niche and pluralistic we become, the more we seem to want the rest of the world to reflect our world view. We all live in our bubble and expect the real world to conform to our idea of an ideal world. We want every group, every event, and every television character to reflect who we are and what we believe. We have no patience that our goals take time, or that sometimes we have to make compromises.

What most folks don’t realize is that not everything is about “you”, nor does it have to be. My experience doesn’t invalidate yours. You’ve dealt with your unique challenges and I’ve dealt with mine. We’ve all come into this world with our own unique struggles and unique life paths.

“What most folks don’t realize is that not everything is about “you”, nor does it have to be. My experience doesn’t invalidate yours.”

The next section is dedicated to the women and the Trans folks who feel that men’s groups and identities somehow threaten them. This is a snippet of my own unique life path.

As a gay man growing up in the 1980s in a Christian household and Christianized society, I struggled to come out both to myself and to others. While I realized I was gay in high school, I really didn’t come out until college. I’ve had friendships end for coming out as gay. I’ve experienced harassment for being out and gay. I once even had my life threatened by a group of men holding tire irons in a parking lot (http://www.melmystery.com/index.php/about-mel/past-projects-involvements ) . In college, my car was vandalized because I had a pink triangle bumper sticker. I feel like subtle job discrimination in my early career probably kept me from having a better job and finances than I do now. I feel like as a gay man that I’ve had to work harder and do more to prove my worth at both work and in the world.

As a gay man, I also actually like masculinity (contrary to popular belief not all masculinity is toxic) and I like the company of other men. Throughout my life I have had to make a concentrated effort to be among other men. In childhood I lived out in a rural area without many other children around and I always yearned for a male best friend. Things got a little better from middle school onward, but the few close male friendships I formed were tenuous at best. Before I came out (and when I thought I had to like girls), I was always drawn to the masculinity of tomboy types. In my early teens, I thought I had a crush on Jo from Facts of Life (you know the one who wore the leather jacket and drove a motorcycle); and my favorite Doctor Who companion was the tough and tomboyish Ace. My point is that I’m naturally drawn to masculinity for whatever reason. In college, I got along better with the Lesbians than I did with other gay men. I’ve wondered if this were possibly because they were more masculine than my gay male peers. I know it’s a stereotype, but it was also true to some extent. There’s also this idea that gay men distrust other men, so maybe that was at play too. (I touched on this topic of gay men distrusting other men in one of my earlier podcasts, I believe it was in my review of the book “Gay Warrior” in Episode 5 — http://melmystery.podbean.com/ )

As a gay man, I also actually like masculinity (contrary to popular belief not all masculinity is toxic) and I like the company of other men.

As I got past college, my career has been in largely female dominated fields (education and libraries). When I first became involved in Pagan men’s groups in the early 2000s, it was very liberating for me to befriend and hang out with other men of all sexual orientations. Experiences and feelings of brotherhood with other men was something largely lacking in my life. Most were straight, but they were still very accepting. When I attended Coph Nia (a now defunct Pagan men’s spiritual gathering) in 2014 and 2015, I felt like I’d finally found my people. These people were gay men who are Pagan, countercultural and activist inclined, and welcoming rather than judgmental of other gay men. Shortly after I found them, the event ended.

That is my truth and my reality. As I said, it doesn’t invalidate your experiences or make us enemies. I support equality and justice and fairness for all, not just for gay men. I’ve done much over the years to advocate for all sorts of disenfranchised groups, not just my own.

Relatively recently, I ran an online “alternative” paper for a while. I tried opening it to LGBTQ folks across the spectrum as well as to Pagans, Polyamorists, and all sorts of folks living other “alternative” lifestyles. I tried to make it everything for everybody. I spread myself thin trying to make sure everyone was represented and happy, and very few people across any of that spectrum stepped up to write articles or to help even the load. I do appreciate the Trans folks, women, and People of Color who did help (notice again the relative lack of men and gay men involved in this endeavor). Ultimately, I realized that my path is niche, and that niche is easier to manage. I’m still involved in orchestrating an annual “Alternative” Pride Picnic that came out of the alternative paper. That event does draw a heavy Trans and Lesbian presence. As already mentioned, and as with everything else I involve myself in, there are generally very few men involved — straight or gay. This perpetuates my need to make a concentrated effort to be among other men.

I do support women’s issues and events. I marched in our local women’s march in 2017. In 2018, I also sat through several city council meetings in support of our local Lesbian bar that was being closed due to gentrification of its neighborhood. I also periodically attend our local Transgender Days of Visibility and Transgender Days of Remembrance. Unlike many of the haters I find on the internet, I don’t make these events all about me or my demographic group. I don’t attend the women’s events trying to fight the matriarchy or shouting that men’s rights matter too. I don’t go to the Transgender Day of Remembrance asking why they aren’t honoring Matthew Shepard who was killed for being gay (not Trans). I don’t make an *ss of myself asking why they are being exclusionary for not including him or other gay and Lesbian folks who may have died to homophobia. These events aren’t about me or my specific demographic, but that doesn’t mean I can’t or don’t show my support. I also know that sometimes I need to step back or out of the picture altogether. It’s not always about me. In a Pagan setting a few years ago, I was considering going to an OBOD Druid event. I consider myself a Druid, but I’m not an OBOD Druid. I ultimately decided not to go because it looked like they had all sorts of initiation rituals and other private OBOD events going on. Unlike many of the “woke” people on the internet calling for total inclusion at all events, I didn’t send them a nastygram asking them why other types of Druids weren’t represented (let alone Wiccans, Witches, or other Pagans). I realized this event, no matter how interesting, wasn’t about me and moved on.

In the last post, I mentioned the Female-to-Male Trans person who attended our men’s retreat last spring. He was the first Trans person to attend one of our events, and this was also his very first men’s event since his operation. He proudly went shirtless at our event and you could still see the fresh scars from his breast reduction surgery. He was welcomed with open arms and at our main ritual he broke down with emotion because it was such a powerful experience for him to be welcomed into a brotherhood of men. Our men’s events aren’t necessarily all-inclusive, but they are not meant to be exclusive either. A Male-to-Female Trans person probably wouldn’t enjoy our men’s retreats, though perhaps might gain something if welcomed into a sisterhood of women. To call our men’s event Trans-exclusionary might fit someone’s narrative or maybe their own hatred or distrust of men and masculinity, but that is a prejudicial judgement that doesn’t fit with actual reality.

I know some LGBTQ folks out there want to overthrow the idea of gender altogether. I don’t think that’s the answer. I think the answer is respecting our differences whether they be gender or other factors. That’s not something we’re particularly good at in this day and age. I think many Trans folks are just as attached to their inherent (not birth) gender as many cisgender folks are. As evidenced in the story above, I believe that gendered events can be very powerful and affirming to at least some Trans folks. The real problem is when we start suggesting that someone is something less because of their gender identity – whatever that may be.

Part 3 of this post will be coming out later this week.


Can’t We All Just Get Along? Part 1

It’s been a weirdly divisive week across the board. I first noticed it on Monday when a high school friend on Facebook posted a transphobic article on his page trying to link bathroom rapes to Trans folks. The article made me really angry. I started to write a response, but then stopped myself because these things never end well. Experience has shown me that nothing I say will change closed minds and that if I were to respond then all the other transphobic trolls on his page would come out and attack me in mass. I have friends who are Trans and I worried that by not responding I was letting them down, but I also felt like responding would be a metaphoric suicide mission. With everything else going on in my life this week, I really didn’t have the time for a Facebook showdown anyway.

Then I went in for a dentist appointment on Tuesday. Yes. It was Super Tuesday and that’s probably what got the receptionist there talking about politics. She’s a Trump supporter and has apparently drunk the Trump and Fox News Cool-Aid. Since my dentist was running behind with another patient, the receptionist felt the need to use the waiting time to talk about how senile Biden is — even though everything she said could just as easily applied to Trump. I’m honestly not sure Biden isn’t senile, so I just laughed nervously (my defense mechanism) trying to diffuse the situation rather than start an argument. She went on to insist that Michele Obama is actually a man. She showed me a Fox News clip on her phone as ‘proof.” I continued to laugh nervously while changing the subject to recent renovations I’ve had done to my house (all the while debating in my head the need to change dentist offices).

Wednesday, there was all the Democratic Primary fallout. The Bernie supporters were blaming the establishment Democrats for Sanders’ less than stellar wins. Primary participation was actually up this year showing fervor among the Democrats, but youth participation in the Primaries was down and the youth are Sanders’ biggest base. In an online spiritual forum that I frequent, one young Bernie supporter was lashing out at Biden supporters and Boomers. Bernie supporters elsewhere were blaming Black voters for not having enough information about Biden’s record because they overwhelmingly supported Biden over Bernie. And then, of course, there was the response article from Black Democratic voters calling out Bernie’s white liberal base for not voting “the way outraged, left-leaning white liberals wanted.” (https://www.theroot.com/an-open-letter-to-white-liberals-blaming-low-informatio-1842100419 )

As for my own Primary choices. I was all in for Mayor Pete before he dropped out of the race. Before he did, I saw posts on Facebook from gay men bashing him and saying he looked like a “rat” in the face. These were gay men who should have been excited about a gay presidential candidate even if he wasn’t their candidate of choice. I personally admired Pete’s moderate approach, his calmness in the debates, and how well-spoken he is. Yeah, the Christian thing bothered me a little bit, but I also saw someone who could take on evangelicals on their own turf and maybe change their minds about gay people with his seemingly squeaky-clean image. With Pete out of the race before Super Tuesday, I was sure going into the polls that I was going to vote for Biden since I believe we need a moderate in office to heal the divisions in our country. I’m proud to say that when I got to the polls I voted for Warren, even if she didn’t win and dropped out of the race on Thursday. She was my second choice. As a Virgo, I really liked that she had plans for everything and I also liked her spunk. She wasn’t as divisive a Bernie or as boring as Biden.

On Thursday, I decided take a break from politics to post an announcement across several (mostly gay Pagan men’s) Facebook groups about two upcoming Pagan men’s retreats I’m involved with – Brotherhood by the Bog Pagan Men’s Retreat and the Arcadia Gathering for Queer Pagan Men. (http://www.olympuscampgroundresort.com/ – both events are listed under the “Events” tab). In the past, the idea of men’s groups and retreats sometimes elicited backlash from women (who ironically totally supported women-only groups and Goddess retreats). In today’s woke world, such events are being lambasted as Trans-exclusionary. And in one group I posted in, a solitary member felt the need to label our events as such and to call all men’s events “rubbish” with the same disgust for men and men’s groups seen from Lesbian Feminist separatists in an earlier time. Never mind that it says all over the site that while the focus is on Pagan men, we welcome anyone who feels they would benefit from attending including folks of all sexual orientations, Trans folks, and even women. Never mind that last year, we welcomed our first female-to-male Trans man to one of our retreats. Having just had his surgery, attending a men’s event and being welcomed into a group of men was a profound and emotional experience for him (more on that in my next post or the one after that if this turns out to be a three part article). We also welcomed a masculine identified straight woman to the same event.

On Friday morning, I read an article about Elizabeth Warren’s interview on Rachel Maddow from Thursday night. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/03/06/warren-sanders-maddow-bullying/) In the article, Warren “calls out Sanders for ‘organized nastiness’ and ‘bullying’ by his supporters.” She claimed that some of Bernie’s followers sink to the same level as many of Trump’s supporters including questionable political tactics and online bullying. In the article, Warren advocates that “Democrats cannot ‘follow that same kind of politics of division that Donald Trump follows.” On Trump she claims, “He draws strength from tearing people apart, from demonizing people.”

That same demonization is going on not just across political divides (like the high school friend on Facebook or the receptionist at the dentist office), but within the Democratic Party itself (leftists vs. centrists, young vs. old, Black vs. white) and even within the LGBTQ community (Lesbian Feminist Separatists vs. men, Trans folks vs. cisgender gay men).

In my down time, I’ve been spending a lot of time on YouTube watching pick-a-card Tarot readings and listening to 80s music from my youth. This helps me cope with the stress in my personal life and the stress and division coming from the world at large. As I scroll through the videos, I see all the haters hating on the latest season of Doctor Who. They are usually complaining about the in-your-face “wokeness” of the latest series along with the diverse choice of cast members. Seeing that most of videos are from middle aged white men, I just roll my eyes. Sure I’m a middle aged white man myself, but I’m at least trying to give the series the benefit of the doubt. Since I cut the cable cord last spring, I can’t comment on the quality of the current season but from the spoilers I’ve read it does appear that the show is also riddled with bad writing and major changes to the show’s 50 year canon that could be disturbing to long-time fans.

I come to the end of today’s post but hope to pick up the threads with another post in a few days. The upcoming post will be a deeper exploration of these divisions and what it all might mean in a pluralistic society such as ours.

Part 2 coming soon…


Emissary

Last night I was talking to one of my Pagan friends about the need for more Pagan representation in my local LGBTQ community.  She practices Santeria and commented that there weren’t that many LGBTQ “priests” like me in the local community that she knew of.  I thought her comment was quite odd since I’ve never identified as a “priest,” though I have led Pagan events, workshops, and even the occasional ritual in my local community.  Recently, another Pagan friend of mine, a Druid, differentiated that he’s not a “priest,” but is instead a “minister.” He said a priest mediates and officiates for the gods, whereas a minister takes care of the needs of the people.  Basically, a priest would make sacrifices, lead rituals in honor of the gods, and develop a relationship with a deity or deities; and a minister would lead rites of passage (marriages, funerals, etc.) for other humans and also provide counseling and spiritual guidance.

I don’t feel like I fit either role.  I don’t feel I’ve been called by any particular god or goddess, though I have a few favorites and do sometimes seem to get an occasional message from one or another.  If anything, I feel like I get more messages from animal totems than from deities.  I’m an introvert who often feels overwhelmed by people, especially those who are working through their own life issues, so I don’t particularly feel called to “minister” either.  After being labeled a priest (and not feeling particularly comfortable with the label), I decided to meditate on the issue (FYI — I’m normally content to just call myself a Druid).  The message came loud and clear, “You are an emissary.”  Since that’s not a label that’s often used in Pagan (or other spiritual) communities, I decided to look it up.  “Emissary – a representative sent on a mission or errand.”  Related words include: a messenger, an intermediary, an ambassador, an agent, a delegate, a go-between, and some others.

I tried to do more research on what emissary would mean in a Pagan or spiritual context, but not much came up in a basic internet search.  The best I was able to get (and these were mostly one off sources) were that an emissary has a powerful bond with the divine and serves as a messenger of divine inspiration; an emissary is entrusted by the divine to do their will; many spiritual emissaries have spiritual amnesia about their divine purpose, but often work toward their mission on a kind of autopilot nonetheless; and spiritual emissaries are often misunderstood, though they often see the world more clearly than those around them.

I mostly like the title “emissary” and I like it much better than “priest” or “minister”, and I think it fits me better too.  I’m still not entirely sure about the title. I think “messenger” or “champion” might be a better fit, but the gods seem to have spoken.  When I was younger, I idealistically liked the idea of being a “hero.”  I much more realistic these days – for better or worse.

Most of my adult life, I’ve been on one mission or another – always striving for what I believe to be the common good. In college, I was an out and proud LGBTQ rights activist and people I didn’t even know told me how they’d been inspired by me.  I’d been equally inspired by some who came before me.  Later on, I championed the cause of Paganism.  More recently, I’ve made it my mission to stand up and bring visibility and provide a voice to less mainstream folks within and without the LGBTQ and Pagan communities.  This includes women, people of color, polyamorous folks, the fetish communities, and others.  I’ve also integrated some of my causes like bringing visibility to LGBTQ issues in the Pagan community and promoting Paganism as a valid spiritual option in the LGBTQ community.  I’ve done podcasts, blogs posts, published an online paper, and held classes, retreats, and gatherings.  While I prefer a quieter life these days, I’ve been on the front lines of activism (especially LGBTQ activism).  I’ve been on the front page of the newspaper and had my say on the television news.  People often initially scoff at my visionary and sometimes out-of-the-box ideas, but I often find them pronouncing those same ideas as their own unique inventions later down the road.  Years ago, on a Shaman led prayer walk I was told my task in life was to be an oasis of light and hope and inspiration for others.  This seems to be my “mission” from the divine – not to be specifically a priest or a minister.  I still have much to think about with this “emissary” thing, but it seems to build on who I’ve been and what I’ve done before.  I suspect I’ll just continue to call myself a Druid, though I’m likely to think more on my role in terms of an emissary for the Divine, or at least for the greater good.

I really hope we can find more roles and titles in the Pagan community.  I think those we have can be limiting to those who don’t fit them.  Not everyone is a priest.  Not everyone is a minister.  Not everyone is an emissary.  We all have our roles in life and in spirit.  I hope you find yours too.


Pagans Who Abuse Hospitality

Many Pagan traditions encourage the virtue of hospitality.  Hospitality in its most basic form is the idea that a host will treat a visiting guest fairly and generously.  In ancient times hospitality extended to offering food and an overnight stay to travelers (often strangers).  In some climates, having a meal and a warm place to sleep could have meant the difference between life and death.  Many Pagans have even extended the idea of hospitality to giving money to beggars on the street.  The idea, put forth in many mythologies, is that the beggar could actually be a deity in disguise.  Hospitality can extend to other areas of life as well. Hospitality has been often written about in Pagan blogs.  I’m assuming the reader is at least somewhat familiar with the concept or can easily find a relevant posting about the concept.

What’s not always talked about are the responsibilities of the guest not to abuse that hospitality.  While the host has the responsibility to be a good host, the guest also has the responsibility to be a good guest.  Hospitality is a two-way street and requires certain things from the guest as well.  Standards of politeness and humility would suggest that a guest shouldn’t be greedy when offered a meal and should retire early if staying overnight so as not to impose on the host’s time and obligations.  Often the guest is responsible for providing good conversation too.  At the same time, the guest shouldn’t abuse or overstay their welcome.  Anyone who has ever hosted family for an extended stay can relate to these general guidelines.  Benjamin Franklin famously quoted that “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.”

So what about modern Pagans who abuse hospitality?

Pagans who abuse hospitality include that Pagan friend who raids your refrigerator and cupboards whenever they come to visit.  “Yes, I made up some tea for your visit, and could even whip up a batch of nachos if you’re hungry, but I never said you could have a slice of that apple pie you just grabbed, and by the way it’s not mine to give, you seem to have forgotten that I share my fridge with a roommate, and have always had roommates the decade or more that you’ve known me.”  I know.  That’s a very specific example.  Names have been omitted to protect the… um… innocent.    Pagan friends who abuse hospitality also include those visitors who can’t take a hint when it’s time for them to leave.  You have to go from hints like “It’s getting late.  I have work in the morning.” to “Here’s the door.  Don’t let it hit you on the way out.”

Pagans who abuse hospitality include the diva special guests at retreats and gatherings who wield their sense of entitlement.  Maybe they want… scratch that… Maybe they expect the finest spring water and full course meals during the event.  Maybe they treat all staff as personal attendants with nothing else to do.  Maybe they don’t talk to the “little people” and I’m not talking about the Fey.  Maybe they want to dictate the entire event and not just their part of it.  Sure special guests deserve special treatment as honored guests, but there is such a thing as taking things too far.  Most Pagan events are running on a shoestring budget and operating with a shoestring staff so that’s something for good guests to keep in mind.

Pagans who abuse hospitality include those who attend Pagan events and do all the taking, but never any of the giving.  Sure most Pagan events are geared toward attendees – whether it’s a Pagan ritual, a gathering, or Pagan Pride Day – and some events make up a difference by charging for events.  At the same time, most Pagan groups and events that I know of need way more planners and volunteers than they actually have.  Hospitality is about reciprocity and doing your part.  What’s even worse than Pagans who don’t get involved in their communities are those Pagans who say they’ll do something and then go missing in action when you actually need them.

Pagans who abuse hospitality include those folks who live on Pagan standard time.  We all know the folks who you feel you have to tell them to be there an hour earlier than you tell everyone else if you have any hopes they’ll be there on time.  Well maybe you don’t know those folks if you are one of them.  Someone once said, “There’s Pagan standard time and there’s just f*cking late.”   When you’re relying on these folks, it’s almost as bad as the folks who say they’ll be there but aren’t.  At least those on Pagan standard time do eventually show up, but they’ve disrespected everyone else’s time and schedule in the process.

Pagans who abuse hospitality include the trolls in the online Pagan forums who go to great lengths to share their opinion that you’re wrong.  You make an innocent post or share an event, and then the Pagan haters come out in force.  Sure everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but these folks are on the attack – sometimes for the smallest things.  These folks aren’t showing hospitality to strangers.  They’re out for the kill.  Speaking of sharing events, Pagans who abuse hospitality includes those folks online who go out of their way to tell you how to run your groups and events even though they’ll never attend, let alone show up to share their thoughts during the actual planning meetings.  What’s worse than the online trolls are those friends who call you out publicly – when you really are wrong about something -rather than pull you aside privately.  Friends are supposed to have your back.  Despite what some folks say or believe, no one likes to be corrected or told they’re wrong, especially not publicly. Sometimes correcting a friend is the responsible thing to do, but it also must be done responsibly.

For me, hospitality is about treating folks with kindness and generosity, about reciprocal relationships in our communities, and also about not taking or expecting more than your fair share.  I also believe in safety and having healthy boundaries.  If a stranger shows up on my doorstep looking for a place to sleep for the night, I’m not going to let them inside and will instead refer them to a local help agency.  When I was young I was very naïve and not very street smart.  I ended up in a lot of compromising situations for trying to be nice and help people.  That included being scammed out of money and even once having someone inside my car demanding money when I thought they needed a jump start to their own car.  Because of my previous bad experiences, I usually don’t give money to beggars on the street and I certainly don’t give rides to strangers.  I often wonder if I am turning down a deity in disguise, but if any really are deities then they should also see where I’m coming from.

Despite these possible shortcomings to the ideal of hospitality, I try to be friendly to strangers on the street; I open doors for people; I let people merge in traffic; I smile at the cashier at the supermarket.  Rather than giving out money to strangers on the street, I donate to a local food bank that I know helps people in need.  Online I’ve learned to just pass over posts I don’t agree with, though I do defend myself and my opinions if someone goes on the attack.  I also get involved in my local communities.  Sometimes that’s a hard thing to do since I feel a part of a handful of communities and because I have limited free time.  The Pagan and LGBTQ communities are my primary communities, but I belong to and support other communities as well. Sometimes I’m involved in my communities as a host of some kind – whether it’s hosting a workshop, a ritual, a retreat, or some other event.  Other times I’m involved in my communities as a participant or guest.  I attend events hosted by others and occasionally I’m a special guest at an event.

I hope I’m both a good host and a good guest.  I hope you are too.


Latest Podcast Available — Episode 17B: The Conspiracy Show, Part 2

My latest podcast episode is now online.

This is a continuation of the “conspiracy” episode.  Part one came out in January.  In this episode, I’ll be talking more about the Web Bot and possible biases in the algorithm.  I’ll be exploring why conspiracy theorists are so obsessed with pedophilia.  And I’ll be explaining my own system for evaluating conspiracy theories.

You can listen to this episode directly from my website (below) or through iTunes or Podbean.

http://www.melmystery.com/


Mega MAGA Wimps

Many Trump supporters who spent their entire lives never questioning their societal privilege are finally learning what it’s like to be an unpopular minority, and many are not handling it very well.   Back last June, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave the Red Hen restaurant because of her role in the Trump Administration.  She left gracefully, but then complained about the restaurant not treating her nicely.  In January, following a confrontation between teens from a private boy’s high school and a Native American elder, one of the teens who was seen in viral videos wearing a MAGA hat is suing CNN for misrepresentation saying that he was falsely accused of escalating the situation when he was actually trying to “defuse” it.  Earlier this month, a man in Arizona reported that the tire on his SUV was slashed because he had a MAGA hat in the window.   Another Trump supporter was kicked out of a New York City restaurant for wearing a MAGA hat.   It’s apparently gotten so bad for some of these people that there’s now an app where Trump supporters can find “safe spaces” free from liberals and where they can also bring their guns.

It’s really a misnomer to call these Trump supporters a “minority” since they have societal privilege and since their guy is in power in the White House, but that hasn’t stopped them from claiming “victimhood” and outrage for being treated the way real minorities are treated every day.  There was a time when African Americans and other People of Color weren’t allowed in “white” restaurants, to go to “white” parks, or sit in “white” sections at the front of public transportation.  And in recent years many conservatives have rallied around the “right” of cake shops and other businesses to deny service to LGBT individuals.  There was a time when LGBT individuals had their names posted in newspapers after police raids on gay bars thus destroying their reputations, careers, and lives.  A certain “faux” news network still makes its fame and fortune by misrepresenting marginalized communities – Muslims, People of Color, LGBT folks, immigrants, and so on.  In college, my car was keyed because I was active and vocal in my campus LGBT group, and many others have had their cars or homes vandalized for being LGBT.  LGBT teens have deservedly sought out safe spaces because of unaccepting parents and bullying peers.

If these aren’t enough to make the MAGA complaints at least seem like karma or poetic justice, other things that minorities deal with make these complaints seem just trivial.  Just last week there was the mass shooting at a Mosque in New Zealand.  In 2016, there was a mass shooting at the gay Latino Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  In 2015, there was a mass shooting at a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina. I really haven’t heard about any mass shootings at MAGA events or in conservative venues.   In addition to these mass shootings, many minorities live in real fear of being targeted for being who they are.  In 2017, there were at least 29 Transgender deaths due to violence against them.  That number doesn’t include how many who suffered violent attacks and lived.  Trans People of Color are especially prone to be victims of violence and hate crimes.  Matthew Shepherd is just one of many gay folks attacked and even killed for being open about who they are.  And, of course, suicide among LGBT teens is much higher than suicide among the general population.

Many minorities live in fear of violence, harassment, being denied service, being fired from their jobs, or being challenged for who they are or what they believe.  Fear is often used as a tool to keep minorities in their place.  Being in a place of fear is not something that most MAGA supporters are used to.  While I believe there is some karma involved, and while I’m a big fan of poetic justice, I really don’t think we liberals should be slashing MAGA folks’ tires or escalating violence against them.  For one thing, a crime is still a crime no matter who commits it, and for another, we really don’t need to be fueling the fires of their “victimhood” and indignation.  One thing I’ve learned both through my college activism and because my Dad was a cop, is that you don’t really want to be the one to throw the first punch in an argument.  The moment you throw the first punch, you become the attacker and you’re legally liable as such.  It doesn’t really matter how much the other party provoked the attack or whether they started the argument.  When we throw the first punch, it also just looks bad on us.  As liberals, we promote diversity and non-violence, and we really need to walk the talk.  At the same time, if you are attacked, I definitely support your right to fight back and defend yourself.  Just don’t throw the first punch.  Also be aware, that many professional conservative trolls are trained to provoke you to the point of violence, so they can make an incident of it – whether a legal incident, a viral social media incident, or a news media incident.  Don’t fall into the trap.

I don’t support violence against MAGA supporters (unless it’s self-defense). And while I find their views distasteful, I do support their right to wear their red hats, sport conservative bumper stickers on their cars, and share their views on Facebook and their personal blogs.  I think denying prominent Trump supporters service at restaurants and other businesses is more of a grey area.  I definitely support calling out conservative politicians and those in the Trump White House for their views and complacency.  It is their job to listen to citizens, even if they would rather hide or insulate themselves from those who disagree with them.  What I also support is civil discourse and calling out individuals on their negative and harmful ideologies. You might be able to change the minds of at least some middle leaning folks.  While you may not be able to change the hearts or minds of extremists, if they’re called out enough, perhaps they’ll at least think twice about being so vocal about their unpopular views.


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.

 


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.


Latest Podcast Available Now — Episode 17A: The Conspiracy Show Part 1

My latest podcast episode is out.

The newest episode is all about conspiracy theories — why we love them, some of the more popular theories, and how right-wing conservatives are a hotbed of conspiracy theories during the Trump presidency.  We’ll also explore my friend David’s wild “conspiracy” theories about North Dakota.

This is part 1 of a two part episode.  Part 2 will be out in the near future.

You can listen to the newest episode on my website at: http://www.melmystery.com/

It is also available on Podbean and iTunes.


Gay Voices and Gay Coded Villains

Villain

From the Wikimedia Commons.

Why do so many animated villains have stereotypical gay voices and mannerisms?

That’s something you may have noticed but not really thought much about.

A 2014 documentary titled “Do I sound gay?” by David Thorpe explored a surprising number of animated villains with gay voices and mannerisms, and apparently a thing for extravagant hats. Disney films were mentioned specifically, but Disney isn’t the only studio to do this.  Some of these villains include King Candy from Wreck-It Ralph, Jafar from Aladdin, Governor Ratcliffe from Pocahontas, Hades from Hercules, Scar from The Lion King, Captain Hook from Peter Pan, and Shere Kahn from The Jungle Book.  The Little Mermaid’s Ursula also fits this stereotype – not as a female villain, but as a drag queen stand in.  She is vain, has a husky male voice, and wears excessive make-up.  She was supposedly modeled after the famous drag queen – Divine.  Lesbian inspired villains do exist, but are harder to distinguish.  Some have suggested Maleficent, Cruella DeVille, and the Evil Queen from Snow White fit Lesbian stereotypes.

According to Thorpe, effete, aristocratic, effeminate men have been depicted as villains for a very long time. Even before the animated films, Hollywood’s effeminate villains have included Waldo Lydecker in 1944’s noir film Laura and Addison DeWitt in the 1950 drama All About Eve.

Gay male stereotypes used in depicting villains include femininity, talking with a lisp, being flamboyant, being vain, sassiness, and being sensual or sexual. Lesbian stereotypes include masculinity, deep voices, and brash personalities.

Depicting villainous characteristics as gay has been a film trope since at least the 1940s. In a way, it’s a kind of social coding.  The “sissy villain” is a sign of immorality which in turn assigns real life people with these traits as villainous. Since these stereotypes are introduced to children at an early age, since they are repeated often, and since there aren’t as many counterpointing gay acting heroes, the idea of gay people being villains is reinforced in society.  These stereotypes can also reinforce internalized homophobia in gay youth.


Are you Guilty of Bi Erasure?

Bisexual Pride Flag

Bisexual Pride Flag

Bisexual erasure is the tendency to deny the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality and bisexual individuals. The most common forms of bi erasure include simply ignoring bisexual identity, and also believing that bisexuals are going through a phase and that they will eventually realize they are either homosexual or heterosexual. Extreme forms of bi erasure involve denial that bisexuality actually exists, removing or falsifying evidence of bisexuality from history, and ignoring bisexuals the news media (even from LGBT media).

Bi erasure is furthered by the misconception that sexuality is a binary with only homosexual and heterosexual orientations. For some folks, it is inconceivable that there are people out there attracted to both men and women (the idea that gender is a strict binary is perhaps a topic for a later article).  Believing in the binary model validates the experiences and perceived legitimacy of many who identify strictly as either heterosexual or homosexual. Gay people can be just as guilty of bi erasure as straight people.  Many bisexual people feel pressured and ignored by both the straight and gay communities.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Alfred Kinsey and other sex researchers interviewed thousands of men and women about their sexual attractions and practices. Out of their research came a tool known as the Kinsey Scale (also called the Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale).  Kinsey and his colleagues discovered that sexual orientation falls on a spectrum rather than a strict binary.  This spectrum is often visualized as a bell curve.  This curve can be skewed for a variety of reasons, such as social conditioning and peer pressure, which affect whether someone identifies as or acts on their bisexuality, homosexuality, or heterosexuality.  Heterosexual people have the most support and affirmation from society.  Those outside factors aside, most of the population falls into varying degrees of bisexuality regardless of whether they acknowledge or identify their bisexual attractions and regardless of whether they act on them.  For many, sexuality is fluid and attractions can change at different points in one’s life.  Bisexual people are not necessarily attracted to both sexes and genders equally either.  They can fall at various points on the Kinsey scale and not necessarily at the exact center.

Some examples of bi erasure and misconceptions that support this erasure include:

  • Believing that bisexuality is a phase and that the bisexual person will eventually choose to be gay or straight.
  • Believing that bisexuals are simply straight folks experimenting with their sexuality.
  • Believing that bisexuals are actually gay, but not ready to admit it.
  • Omitting a person’s bisexuality from historical reports or media stories.
  • Leaving bisexuals out of discussions on LGBT rights and not giving them a voice in LGBT organizations.
  • Assuming that all same-sex couples are completely gay or that all other-sex couples are completely straight.
  • Assuming someone’s sexual orientation as either gay or straight based on the gender of their partner.
  • Believing that bisexual people are protected by passing privilege.
  • Believing that bisexual people are indecisive or confused.
  • Assuming that bisexual people aren’t affected by same-sex marriage debates.
  • Assuming that all bisexuals are in polyamorous or open relationships, but also assuming that some bisexuals are not.
  • If you are bisexual, calling yourself gay, straight, queer or some term other than bisexual because it’s less complicated than calling yourself bi.

How Gentrification and Mainstreaming Hurt the LGBTQ Community, Part 2

Mainstreaming is the act of incorporating a social or cultural group into the mainstream society, but it is also the adopting of mainstream values and sensibilities by that same social or cultural group.

The modern LGBTQ movement is said to have begun with the Stonewall Riot that started on June 27, 1969. At the time, it was common for gay bars to be raided by police and it was also common for those who frequented those bars to have their lives destroyed when their names were printed in the newspapers the following day.  On that particular night at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York, a handful of Drag Queens, Transgender people, sex workers, and other folks resisted the police and a movement was born.

While they may have been overly idealistic and utopian in their ideas, the early LGBTQ movement was not just about freeing the world from homophobia, it was also about making the world a better place for everyone. They challenged sexual puritanism and sex-shaming; the concepts of marriage and enforced monogamy; patriarchal institutions that held back women; classism and racism; and a host of other concerns.   Their aim was never to be “normal” or status quo, but to remake society in such a way as to end the oppression of all communities and so that people could be who or what they were without shame or censure.

Over the decades these ideals were sidelined by folks in the movement who just wanted to be seen as normal and who wanted to be accepted in polite society. Additional factors, too, have had an impact on the mainstreaming of the LGBTQ movement and culture. These include more positive portrayals of LGBTQ folks on television and in the movies and the embrace of LGBTQ employees and customers by large corporations.  While this mainstreaming has helped us make gains in such things as the right to serve in the military, same-sex marriage, and a growing acceptance of LGBTQ folks by society at large, these gains have only really been extended to the “right” type of people – those who can pass in polite mainstream,  heterosexual, white, cisgender, monogamous society.  The mainstreaming of LGBTQ culture helps those who are white, cisgender, male, affluent, and vanilla, but it does little to address rights and privileges denied to the more marginalized parts of our community – LGBTQ People of Color, Lesbians and Bisexual Women, Transgender folks, Drag Queens and Kings, the LGBTQ working class, folks in open and polyamorous relationships, fetish communities, and sex workers. The mainstreaming of LGBTQ people only perpetuates the inequalities, assumptions, and sexual prudery of the larger society and incorporates these into our own.

Another downside to this mainstreaming is the diluting and “de-gaying” of LGBTQ identity and culture. Our community used to have a fire in its belly and a strong idealism.  We had many things that held us together as a community – shared experiences (like coming out), a need for safe and secure alternative spaces (like LGBTQ bars, bookstores, and community centers), common causes (fighting homophobia, discrimination, and harassment), empathy and solidarity with other marginalized communities, and even an appreciation of divas and campiness.  As LGBTQ people and institutions are becoming more mainstream, we are losing those institutions that have helped us and defined us.  LGBTQ folks are getting more of their LGBTQ news from mainstream media, so we are losing LGBTQ papers and publications.  Along with those, we also lose an LGBTQ-centered perspective.  LGBTQ folks are meeting people and finding dates and hookups online and through apps like Grinder.  As we do so, LGBTQ bars, community centers, and social organizations are getting less patronage.  The combined effects of mainstreaming and gentrification are pushing many LGBTQ institutions out of business.   Many of these LGBTQ institutions were once strong and thriving in our community.  They provided safe secure places for us to be ourselves.  They especially provided shelter and safety to those of us who are less likely to pass in mainstream society. Institutions such as LGBTQ Bars, community centers, and papers also provided us places to share our unique history, culture, sensibilities, and values and norms that sometimes diverge from those of mainstream heterosexual society.

Gentrification and mainstreaming are complex issues. They have both their positives and their negatives.  Ultimately, they end up benefiting only certain privileged demographics within the LGBTQ community at the expense of the poor and the marginalized.  For better or for worse, gentrification and mainstreaming are also decimating longstanding LGBTQ community institutions and sensibilities.


Making Sense of #MeToo, Part 3

This is a continuation of my last post: Making Sense of #MeToo, Part 2

The other problem I see with #MeToo, at least as it currently stands in the media, is that it’s divisive – whether or not it is intended that way.  It’s largely pitting women and men against each other.  Instead of being everyone against rape and sexual assault, it’s coming across as women against men who have or show any kind of sexual interest.  I know… I know… patriarchy has put women in that position for years… correction… centuries.  I get that, but two wrongs don’t make a right and two extremes don’t make for a fair, balanced, and equal society. It also raises everyone’s fears and anxieties over sexuality.  For women this might mean raising fears that there are predators and pedophiles around every corner. For men it raises fears that any outward expressions of interest or sexuality could lead to public shaming, even job loss.

When the movement starts ousting men for the slightest expressions of sexuality because they don’t hold up to the highest ideals of sexual purity or for past incidents that maybe they’ve grown from, eventually you’ve got a lot of men on the outside. When it gets to that point it really does become a battle between women’s sexuality and men’s sexuality – rival sexualities and possibly rival moralities. Keeping on task and showing forgiveness for minor or unintended transgressions (especially if the accused makes a public apology) would mitigate some of this and ensure that the movement doesn’t lose its male allies. Right now, even seemingly sincere apologies are being met with hostility.  A total zero-tolerance, zero-forgiveness stance will only lead to ongoing backlash against the movement.

While women are less likely to hold positions of power over men in our society, the #MeToo movement should also hold women accountable for sexual abuses against men in the workplace.  It may not be as common, but it still happens.  And just look at all the female high school teachers accused of sex with underage male students in the news. By shining the spotlight on women, not just men, such an action would show that the movement isn’t just a witch hunt against men. Right now almost all of those accused in #MeToo stories are men.  They might be straight or gay, but they’re almost exclusively men.

Perhaps a problem too with the movement is that #MeToo isn’t really a proper movement per se, it’s really a large number of people telling their stories.  Those stories are mainly about abuses and alleged abuses by celebrities and public figures. There is value in that because it raises awareness of the challenges that women endure in our society.  It might also provide many with relief that their story is finally being told and heard. Seeing all these cases also raises awareness that men, even the “woke” guy next door, might not be immune to the impulses of their sexuality or to the institutionalized differences of sex and power between men and women in our society.

If #MeToo is to become a real movement and not just a means of revenge and shaming, I feel like the #MeToo folks should come up with some kind of unified platform or policy.  Such a policy could keep the media from fully dominating the dialogue on these issues where the media currently interviews people and picks stories that are likely to provoke controversy and increase their ratings.  Such a policy could outline levels of sexual abuse from the severe to the trivial and decide what actions are appropriate for each.  The movement should also have a designated spokeswoman to weigh in on the issues.  That would also help alleviate many of the mixed messages about the movement coming from media interviews with random women. Even prominent female celebrities and public figures might have different views on the movement and each case brought forward. Perhaps the movement could start a legal fund to help women who are currently or recently victims of abuse; and perhaps too the movement could work toward helping mitigate counseling costs for those who have been traumatized by sexual abuses.  Perhaps the movement could host workshops on better communication about dating and sex for both men and women. Hopefully, the movement would distinguish between positive sexual expression and negative sexual abuse.  Hopefully too, the movement would extend forgiveness to well-meaning men who have made trivial offenses or who made larger offenses in their past, but have since learned and grown from them.


Making Sense of #MeToo, Part 2

This is a continuation of my last post: Making Sense of #MeToo, Part 1

Another thing that has been thrown around a lot by #MeToo advocates is that victims of sexual assault, harassment, and even those less heinous sexual infractions are traumatized by their experiences.  There’s no doubt that some things are inherently traumatizing – rape, assault of any kind, being the victim of violence.  On the other side of things, being publically shamed, or losing one’s job or career can also be traumatizing, though perhaps some people deserve that trauma.  There have been others who have argued that that you can’t really put a degree on trauma and that all trauma for victims of sexism is equal.  In this view, it doesn’t really matter whether someone was raped or traumatized because another person got a little handsy or flashed out his privates.

I can’t buy that for a number of reasons.  The main thing is that trauma is subjective and individual.  What traumatizes one person might not phase another.  I think emotional trauma is often caused by the crossing of one’s own individual issues and boundaries by another person.  It can’t always be predicted, and sometimes the offender is an external mirror of one’s own shadow and subconscious fears.  I had a co-worker once who was traumatized by the thought that the folks mowing grass outside on riding mowers were chasing her.  I suppose they could have been, but they were likely just a little reckless and going the same direction.  If our legal system saw all traumas to victims of crime as the same, someone might get the death penalty for jaywalking.  Our courts of law weigh the trauma of the victims along with the rights of the accused and the severity of the crime.

I’m not a woman so I can’t weigh in on women’s experiences of sexism in our society, but I am a gay man and I can draw some parallels with my own experiences of homophobia.  I don’t weigh all instances of homophobia as the same, nor can I say that all instances of homophobia were inherently traumatizing.  Ironically, “innocent” uninformed homophobia from family, friends, and loved ones might have been more traumatizing for me than incidents that involved threats of violence.  I once had my life threatened for being gay by a group of men standing outside my car with tire irons.  That’s been far less traumatic for me than some friends I’ve lost because of their anti-gay religious beliefs.  That doesn’t mean I believe these former friends should be publically shamed for being party to a homophobic religion, though perhaps the religion itself should be.  I’m not even sure the guys with the tire irons should be shamed 30 or so years later.  After all these years, I’d like to hope that both the guys with tire irons and the former friends have evolved on these issues and become more tolerant.  I guess if they were still chasing LGBT folks with tire irons or if they were running for public office on a platform of hate that might be different.

This might be a good time to bring up my own story of being on the wrong side of a harassment claim.  I’ve told this story before in my podcast in an episode on ageism in the gay community.  I had just turned 30 and had been working for only two, maybe three, years as a staff person for the university where I graduated.  I’d also been heavily involved in the gay student group on campus as a student and upon returning as a staff person I’d gotten back involved in the LGBT community on campus including showing my support for the student group.  There was this guy in the group that I developed a sincere attraction toward.  I’ll call this guy John. I made the mistake of mentioning my interest to another guy (I’ll call him Mike) who was involved with the group, and asking if he’d help set me up on a date with John.  Mike was a graduate student and he was appalled because there was an age gap between me and John.  Apparently all older gay men who are interested in younger ones are predators or so seemed to go the narrative going around at the time.  This narrative was also used to shut down talks of an LGBT mentoring program. All the younger gay men needed to be protected from the older ones. To put this into perspective, I was 30 and John was in his early 20s.  John was of legal age and at worst a decade younger than I was. When I was his age, I dated men in their late 20s and early 30s. The ironic thing was that Mike was dating a faculty member who was probably 20 or 30 years his senior, though I’m under the impression they started dating before coming to the University.  After I let Mike know I was interested in John, I started feeling less and less welcome at events, some things I was doing for the group like updating their web page were pulled from me, and John’s friends seemed to block any efforts I made to just try to get to know him better.

Things got even more complicated when I wanted to go to an LGBT conference with the student group that was taking place in a faraway city.  I was denied transportation with the group in the bus they were taking so I ended up driving the entire 700 mile trip on my own to attend the conference.  I’d see John here and there and usually I got a smile and a friendly hello. At one event he even sat down across from me and we had a friendly conversation.  I knew that he knew that I was interested.  I had sent him a few e-mails enquiring about going out sometime.  As someone kind of shy and awkward, e-mail was my preferred method of communication. I know I didn’t say anything lewd or make any kind of sexual references.  That’s always seemed a bit crude to me, and I was interested in dating and not just sex.  The e-mails and other messages were never answered so I didn’t know whether he was being coy, not interested, or if he was just a person who didn’t check e-mail.  Looking back, I can see that I was somewhat persistent, but I don’t believe I did anything inherently wrong.  I felt like his friends might have been pressuring him not to interact with me, but I don’t know whether or not he was actually interested.  He never said he wasn’t and never himself implied that I was bothering him.  I totally admit that I’m terrible about reading people.

The crashing culmination to this story was when I was called in to talk with someone at the Human Resources Department at the college.  The resource officer repeatedly talked down at me for having an interest in a student, despite the fact that I was literally only a few years from being a student myself.  At the same time, despite the harsh condemnation, she affirmed a number of times that I’d done nothing wrong.  I wasn’t in a supervisory position over the student.  I hadn’t forced myself on him.  I hadn’t said or done anything inappropriate sexually. She justified her condemnation by saying that the college looks down on relationships between staff and students.  Things might be different at an isolated rural college, but at an urban institution where there is so much overlap between the university and the community that doesn’t even seem a reasonable thing to say.  It’s very common for staff to have spouses, family, and friends who attend as students.  Our college has a number of older and non-traditional and returning students. There are also plenty of opportunities for folks to meet in the outside community and then discover that one person is staff and another person a student.  Such condemnation would be different if one party was a professor or supervisor and the other party was a student in their class or an employee under their supervision.  None of this applied to me.

The thing about this situation is, if John had simply been upfront and direct, if he had told me in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t interested, I would have moved on.  Perhaps I was expected to be a mind reader or to pick up on unspoken signals.  Aside from not being good at that in the first place, this situation was complex and I do feel at times I got mixed signals from John, even if his circle of friends seemed hostile toward me.

This experience was extremely traumatic for me.  I felt humiliated and shamed.  After all these years, I have the maturity to understand that ultimately it was miscommunication between me and John that led to the event, and I have enough respect for him (and even his close circle of friends) to change their names for this post.

It was after this that I dropped out of all my involvements with the LGBT community on campus and even off campus.  It was over a decade before I’d even went back to a gay bar or gay event.  Even now, I probably err too far on the side of caution by rarely asking anyone out at all.  I have a friend who frequently suggests “what’s the worse” that could happen if I ask someone out that I’m interested in, that maybe they’d say “no.”  I know it can get far worse than that.

As someone who’s introverted, socially awkward, and a little geeky, I also know the toll it takes on one’s self-esteem to be rejected on a regular basis by people I’ve taken a romantic interest in.  For many this could lead to desperate attempts to get their emotional and sexual needs met.  While I’ve never forced myself on anyone sexually, I do admit that in my past (especially in my 20s) there were many awkward attempts to win someone over that I’m not especially proud of.   Mostly I was just overly persistent because I bought into those movies about the socially awkward guy winning his love interest in the end.  Sometimes I let my imagination run loose when trying to impress someone (Justin, I’m not really a Timelord… or am I?).  And because of my shyness, there were lots of notes and e-mails expressing my interest, often before I’d developed a real connection with the person I was interested in.

I guess what I’m really trying to suggest in this post is that people are human on all sides of this issue.  We all have potential for trauma, and it’s not always rational.  And sometimes the real issue is miscommunication and differences in expectations.

To be continued…


Making Sense of #MeToo, Part 1

I’ve been watching the #MeToo news over the past few months, and I have to confess that I have mixed feelings about the movement.  While I tend to consider myself very liberal on social issues and a supporter of women’s rights, I also believe in finding a fair, rational, and balanced view of things.  I’m also a strong supporter of sexual freedom so long as one’s sexual expression is consensual and everyone involved is of legal age. Where my views tend to differ from a number of feminists (but not all feminists) is that I don’t believe sexuality and expressions of sexuality are inherently negative or to be repressed or closeted.  I don’t believe that appreciation of naked bodies is necessarily objectification. And I also believe that it’s okay for men and women to have separate groups and events (as well as coed groups and events) so long as these groups aren’t about bashing the other gender and so long as we live in a free and pluralistic society.

On the positive side of the #MeToo movement, a number of really sleazy and predatory men (and possibly even a few women) have been called out for some pretty heinous things like rape, sexual assault, predatory behavior, and using positions of power to force women (and some men) into having sex with them.  On the negative side, there has been the public shaming of men for minor (and sometimes unintended infractions) and for just being having an interest in sex and beautiful women (and again in some cases – men).  I’ve seen a number of denials that #MeToo is about shaming men for such minor transgressions and declarations that it’s only about going after the big and monstrous cases.  But for every denial, there’s also a news story shaming a male celebrity or public figure for something like putting his hand on a coworkers leg during an television interview, being a little touchy feely, being overly insistent about going on a date or sex, or not picking up on signals that a woman (or man) isn’t interested in more.  And, of course, what happens when you have someone who generally supports women’s issues, but then gets called out for something that wasn’t rape or assault, but still involves following their sexual impulses?  Is it unfathomable to believe that a man can support women’s rights and still be interested in sex, not to mention fallibly human?

The good thing about the #MeToo movement is that it’s opening up dialogues between men and women about what’s appropriate behavior, except I’m not sure it really is.  Any disagreement with aspects of the #MeToo movement is seen (and shamed) as defending sexism and sexual assault, preserving a sexist patriarchal system, or as being on the same level as our conservative and not so enlightened social and political adversaries.

I’m not so quick to turn every man accused of something into a monster, nor am I quick to discount the stories and experiences of women as nothing more than overreaction and hysterics.  At the same time, some of these men are monsters, and some women are jumping on board #MeToo over seemingly trivial offenses.  Reality often falls somewhere between the extremes.

One of the criticisms I have of #MeToo is that it comes across as a mob mentality.  The politically incorrect comedian, Bill Maher, even dubbed it #MeCarthyism. We live in a country where people are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, but #MeToo shames alleged perpetrators, even destroying their reputations and careers, based on accusations and hearsay.  Admittedly in some cases, patterns of abuse come out, but in others only a few accusations stand.  There’s also the point brought out in my recent “Trouble with Normal” post that there are differing attitudes about sexual morality and even rival moralities.  Not all views of sexuality involve puritanical and heterocentric ideas involving monogamy, family units, or the idea that sexual expression in and of itself is negative. While we might all agree that rape and assault are bad (not to mention illegal), we might not all agree that patting someone on the leg, appreciating someone’s beauty, being a little persistent, or being attracted to someone in a different age group (so long as they are past the legal age of consent) is necessarily predatory behavior.

As a gay man (and as someone who hangs out with poly folks and fetish people), I’m very sensitive to the public shaming of people for their sexual inclinations.  There was a time when LGBT folks were shamed.  Many poly and fetish folks still worry about being shamed. Such shaming was part of mid-20th century McCarthyism that sought to root out not just communists, but homosexuals and sexual “deviants.”  This included crusades against a number of Hollywood celebrities at the time.  Often an accusation, regardless of hard evidence, was enough to cost someone their reputation and career.  Back in the day, LGBT folks were also shamed in lists in the newspapers as criminals and sexual deviants after police raids of gay establishments.  Many lost their jobs, families, and reputations. Compare this to some #MeToo lists of alleged predators that have sprung up on the internet. As a Pagan, I’m also aware that many folks had their reputations and lives destroyed during the Witch Trials, often based on flimsy or unsubstantiated accusations.  Often these rumors included accusations of sexual deviance. Some of these folks even paid the price with their lives.

One of the big questions I have about #MeToo is: Are we really that surprised that men like sex and will go to great lengths to get it?  Or that men like looking at naked women (and sometimes men)? Likewise, are we really surprised that women have different expectations about sexuality than men?  Back in the 90’s there was that book claiming “Men are from Mars, and Women are from Venus.”  And of course, there are differences in expectations and socialization for men and women.  Men have been traditionally socialized to be the initiators in dating and sexual relations; while women have traditionally been socialized to be on the receiving end of date requests and so forth.  Men have traditionally been given greater freedom and encouragement to have more sex and more partners, while women have traditionally been expected to save their virginity for the one special man they marry.  Of course, women with multiple sex partners are shamed as “sluts”, while men who have multiple partners before marriage are seen as “virile” and to have a positive sexual prowess. Popular culture – including television, movies, and music – often even reflects these expectations.  How many romantic comedies show the unlikely, but persistent, guy winning over his reluctant female love interest?  How many songs talk about winning someone’s love?  How many romance novels (even those written by women) portray women swooning over the strong, masculine, aggressive, virile, and possibly even dangerous male?

What is at issue too is that men and women have never really learned to communicate with each other, especially over issues of sexuality.  Some have, and they probably have great relationships, but many others have not.  There are a great many men out there who have no clue when it comes to communicating with or attracting women.  There are a great number of women out there who never learned to set boundaries or to assertively say “no” when needed.  Then, of course, there are even more folks who never learned to read body language and subtle signals.  If they had, perhaps there would be fewer women who find themselves in compromising situations and more men who could pick up that a woman just isn’t interested.

I’ve often thought that maybe there should be a class in high school where folks learn appropriate behavior for dating and interacting.  I remember getting the sex education part describing all the biology and mechanics, but don’t remember learning the ins and outs of dating behavior.  Maybe some folks had these kinds of classes.  Some folks might argue that teenagers get this through extracurricular activities like dances and formals, or just learning to date each other.  Perhaps early dating is an indicator of being better able to date and interact as adults, but not everyone gets this experience.  As a gay person, I really didn’t have the opportunity to start dating until college and by then dating was even more complex.  I was also the nerdy and socially awkward bookworm in high school, so even if I’d been straight, that’s not a guarantee I would have been dating.

That brings me to another point in this conversation about the #MeToo movement and sexuality.  Sexism has largely come to the forefront in this movement, but what about other –isms related to sexuality. Some have argued that things like ageism and lookism have come into play in the accusations. I’m not sure there’s a word for it, but there’s also a prejudice against the nerdy, geeky, and socially and sexually awkward. While things like sexual assault and predatory behavior might be more cut and dry, there’s also this idea of “unwanted advances.”  Aside from the fact that one cannot truly know if an advance is unwanted until one makes it and the other party clearly indicates they aren’t interested, “unwanted advances” can also indicate general undesirability on the part of the person making the advance.  One can be undesirable if he is too old, not fit enough, differently abled, another race, socially or sexually awkward, or any other number of other subtle and not so subtle factors.  I’m not at all indicating that someone should accept the advances of someone they are not attracted to or interested in, only that certain portions of the population are more likely than others to receive harsh contempt for simply making an advance or being assertive about dating or sex in the first place.

Too be continued…


Review: The Trouble With Normal

While The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life written by Michael Warner was first published in 1999, I believe many of its core messages are still valid today.  They are valid not only for LGBTQ people, but also anyone with non-mainstream ideas about sexuality or who otherwise doesn’t fit what is considered “normal” by society.

Warner starts with the premise that people like to control the sex lives of others and for many this is where their sense of morality begins. But Warner argues that controlling the sex lives of others is not only unethical, but that this attitude is actually moralism rather than any kind of ethics or true morality. Our culture governs sex, not just harmful sex like rape, but all sex by legally regulating what is and isn’t acceptable, prohibiting some forms of victimless sexuality and by restricting access to and information about sexuality. Society also claims one set of sexual values and practices as normal while vilifying all others. Those who fall outside the sexual norms might be humiliated, beaten, jailed, or stigmatized as deviants and criminals. Warner argues that what many would take for granted as immoral, criminal, or pathological might just be harmless difference and a rival morality. And society’s repression of sexuality may be the basis of pathology rather than sexuality itself.

Attitudes about sexuality have been tainted by the early Christian church’s fear and repulsion of the flesh and the belief that sex is only about procreation. As such, society dictates that certain things aren’t permissible and should be controlled including: homosexuality, sex outside the Holy institution of marriage, promiscuity, masturbation, group sex, casual sex, sex with someone outside your age group, public sex, pornography, BDSM sex, and virtually any other sex that doesn’t include the possibility of insemination. Traditionally, this even included birth control, and if you’re Catholic it still does.

All of these things are vilified and shamed by our society. LGBTQ people are particularly vulnerable to this shaming because we grow up in heterosexual families and with heterosexual peers who all assume we’re heterosexual. Our schools and religions assume the same and indoctrinate us to grow up to be normal, responsible heterosexual citizens. To those who grow up realizing they’re gay, this leads to a sense of estrangement and secrecy that further perpetuates those feelings of shame. Is it any wonder that many gay adults and even the gay movement itself seek validation and acceptance from the mainstream rather than sexual autonomy and difference?  To embrace our difference and our sexuality would be to invite shame and our own feelings of inadequacy – of not being “normal.”

This creates ambivalence for many gay people. They want to feel normal and connected to the heterosexual world that includes their parents and family, but they’re also part of the gay world and the stigma associated with it. They may feel that their own feelings and actions are honorable, and so must blame this stigma on others in their group especially those that are further from straight norms and those who act in stereotyped ways. They may also feel a need to repudiate sex and to desexualize themselves, others, and the gay movement as a whole. This ambivalence plays out in the gay community with assimilationists seeking respectability and normalcy on the one end; and sex radicals embracing their sexual differences on the other end. Those seeking respectability are the most likely to be harboring sexual shame.

The trouble with normal according to Warner is many-fold but boils down to this. By trying to be “normal” we are only feeding into larger society’s stigma toward sex and sexuality and that when we take this attitude on as a movement the result is to reproduce a hierarchy of shame within our own community. Embracing normal throws shame on those further down the ladder or respectability including those who are effeminate or otherwise don’t act “straight,” those not in monogamous relationships whether bachelors or polyamorists, those into BDSM, sex workers, drag queens, those who actually admit to liking pornography, and so on. We do a disservice to ourselves and to society when we try too hard to win acceptance and respectability rather than challenging the faulty assumptions and ethics of the dominant culture. For gay people to disavow sex and sexuality in an effort to fight stigma is to reject the very thing that defines us.

Warner also points out that what we think of as normal is really what is statistically normal. People didn’t start worrying about normal until polling and statistics came into popularity. Being normal is not really a good reflection of desirability. It’s normal to have health problems and to be in debt.  It’s not normal to be a genius or to be well endowed. People have come to see normal as meaning to be certified or approved, but in essence to be normal is to be common with nothing too special about you.

Warner spends an entire chapter with a compelling critique of gay marriage. This was long before same-sex marriage became legal in the U.S.  Warner argued that while many believed same-sex marriage would somehow erase all the hate and intolerance existing in society toward LGBT people, it doesn’t address the real root of the problem which is society’s stigma and intolerance of sexual variation.

Opponents of gay marriage want their marriages to be holy at the expense of someone else. But that’s really the problem with the institution of marriage as a whole, and that doesn’t change much with the legalization of same-sex marriage. Marriage sanctifies and gives legitimacy to some relationships at the expense of others. It commends and privileges those who are married. It makes them special. If you don’t have it you and your relations are less than worthy. It’s kind of like being a single person on Valentine’s Day. Marriage confers a number of social and governmental benefits and privileges to married couples that are denied to single people, people in non-traditional relationships, and other types of cohabitating households.  Warner argues that applying strict definitions of marriage onto same-sex relationships provides less freedom to LGBTQ people, not more.

Marriage might not be the right choice for gay people for other reasons as well. Historically marriage has been designed to define lineage and to perpetuate families by having and raising children, not to mention to indoctrinate and carry on a family’s religious beliefs – that’s why mixed religion marriages have traditionally be frowned upon and are still an issue in some families even today.  As many feminists would point out, marriage has also historically been a way of dominating and trafficking women. A carry over from this can still be seen today when a bride’s father gives her away to the groom. Marriage allows the state to regulate and enforce the dictates and rules of marriage, as well as regulating and enforcing restrictions on sex in other contexts outside of marriage. Marriage gives power over to the state and third parties to legitimize and affirm the status of a relationship rather than letting that come from within the relationship itself.

Instead of gay marriage, Warner offers other solutions. These include extending the special legal privileges currently defined narrowly within marriage into wider contexts including domestic partnerships, common law marriages, and alternative forms of families. Rather than trying to force the plethora of gay relationships and even many straight relationships into the mold of marriage, it might be better to take the forms of relationships already existing and extend benefits and rights to those making them available and accessible to gay and straight people alike. Rather than trying to make gay relationships more straight, perhaps we should be trying to allow straight relationships to be more queer.


When the Doctor was Me

I’ve been a long-time fan of Doctor Who since long before it was cool.  I started watching the adventures of the 4th Doctor back when I was 9 or 10 years old in the late 1970s.  I followed him through his 5th, 6th, and 7th incarnations and also at some point caught up on Doctors 1 through 3.  When the show went off the air, I followed the Doctor’s adventures through books and audio adventures.  I watched the 8th Doctor’s television movie in 1996, and have followed every episode of the show since it’s revival in 2005.  Doctor Who and one other show, Knight Rider, were defining and pivotal shows of my youth that have forever had an impact on my life and values.  Doctor Who fights injustice wherever he goes.  He doesn’t use guns, but uses knowledge, intellect, and technology instead.  Knight Rider was similar in its own way – fighting injustice with intellect and technology rather than guns.

When I saw Sunday’s announcement that the upcoming Doctor will be a woman, I’ll just be honest and say I have mixed feelings.  I’m not in the camp that the Doctor shouldn’t be a woman at all, but I’m also not in the camp that the Doctor should be female solely in the interests of diversity and representation either.  I fall somewhere in the middle.  I don’t feel that everyone against a female doctor is a misogynist bro-flake.  In fact, some of my female friends also have mixed feelings about the Doctor being a woman.  I don’t think everyone who wants a female Doctor is a left-wing, radical, hippie extremist either.  I think some women want a Doctor who can be their own role model.  As a male, I’ve experienced what it’s like for the Doctor to be like “me,” and I know many women want to have the same experience. The same could be said for folks of other ethnicities and backgrounds looking for regenerational representation.

The reasons for my mixed feelings are complex.  Doctor Who has always been male and essentially British.  In the classic series, the Timelords were portrayed as stuffy, traditional, and sexless, so the idea of them changing gender seems a bit of a stretch to me.  It’s only been since Missy showed up a few seasons ago that we even got the idea that Timelords could regenerate into the other sex.  I was actually rooting for her to be the Rani, a strong female villain Timelady who showed up a few times in the classic series.  The Rani was a good character on her own, so why not take her character and run with it instead of taking a classically male character and turning him into her.  In my own opinion, Missy would have worked much better as the Rani – everything from the life-after-death experiments from Season 8 to the fact that her character was more amoral than outright evil.  The Doctor himself while being of the male gender, has mostly been portrayed as sexless, being above relationships and sexuality – whether by choice, temperament, or necessity.  Sure there was once that fling with that Aztec woman in his first incarnation, the 8th Doctor’s kiss with Grace in the television movie, and many of the new companions such as Rose, Martha, and Amy have had crushes on the Doctor, but time and time again he’s deflected focus away from his own sexuality.  There was also that dance between the 9th Doctor and Captain Jack. In the series, I’ve enjoyed a number of strong female companions – Romana (a Timelady of equal stature to the Doctor), Ace, Donna, Amy, Riversong, and others.

So why exactly do so many people want the Doctor to be female? I think essentially it comes down to the Doctor being like “me.”  That’s also the reason so many folks want a female Doctor.  Many of the female fans want a Doctor they can relate to and can internalize as a part of themselves (not to mention cosplay). The same applies to fans of color or other demographics.  The Doctor’s regeneration has always been about change and about bringing in someone different (sometimes radically different) than the one before.   We balance out old with young, reserved with brash, serious with fun, humble with self-important, and so on and so forth.  In that tradition, it’s really not that big a stretch to replace male with female.

As much as I loved David Tennant and Matt Smith in the role, I’m actually glad they didn’t bring in yet another Tennant-Smith clone.  Those two Doctors were more alike than different, especially in the way they looked. That said, David Tennant, Matt Smith, and even Christopher Eccleston drew in a larger female audience to the show, and many of those young women weren’t interested in being the Doctor per se.  They wanted to date him.  I won’t lie.  As a gay man, I did my own swooning even though I never thought of the Doctor sexually or romantically in the classic series – Peter Davison maybe, but not so much the other Doctors.  As a man, the Doctor could be me.  As a gay man, the Doctor could also be that mysterious, handsome, heroic, and unavailable stranger I could crush on.  The same reasons attracted many young straight women who joined the fandom, but they couldn’t claim a male Doctor was like them.  Therein lies the problem.

When I saw the announcement for a female Doctor, my biggest fear is that I won’t be able to relate to her and also that many of the show’s straight male fans may have a harder time relating than I do.  If male viewers start turning off the show, will there be enough viewers to keep it going.  Also, will the many straight female viewers who called for a woman Doctor be disappointed that the Doctor is no longer crush worthy?  I know I will be, but the Doctor remaining male doesn’t guarantee this.  Look at the falling demographics under Peter Capaldi.  He wasn’t as sexy as his recent predecessors. Many of the women who liked Tennant and Smith and the borderline romantic relationships they had with their female companions tuned out under an older Doctor.  With a female Doctor, I hope we’ll at least have some cute male companions or go back to a larger TARDIS team that is both male and female.

The biggest problem to me isn’t whether the Doctor is male or female.  It’s why there’s such a call for him to be female, a person of color, etc.  For me on some level it just bothers me to start changing demographics on an iconic character.  It bothered me in the 2008 Knight Rider remake when they allowed KITT to transform into a truck.  I wasn’t bothered that the new KITT was a Ford Mustang and not a Pontiac Trans Am.  With a car, it really isn’t about race or gender, though I do have to point out that KITT has always been black. Changing types of car was fine for me, but there was something about KITT being able to change into an F-150 pickup that just felt wrong somehow. I have the same feelings about making Doctor Who a woman, or when they made Starbuck a woman in the new Battlestar Galactica.  To me, it was about taking an iconic character that I’d grown up with and making them into something they weren’t originally.  At the same time, I was pleasantly surprised by the all-female Ghostbusters remake, and I was able to totally crush on Chris Hemsworth’s “Kevin” character in a way I really didn’t feel about anyone in the original Ghostbusters cast.

As I was saying, the problem isn’t the gender or color of the Doctor, but why there are so few iconic and successful shows featuring female characters (or characters of color).  We had Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Charmed Sisters, Xena, Wonder Woman, Captain Janeway, and Agent Carter, but I really haven’t been able to think of that many sci-fi and fantasy shows that were carried by a central female character.  The numbers are less when you start looking at spacefaring and time traveling heroines.  Of course, the gender of these strong female characters was an important part of their charm.  Buffy wouldn’t have been as strong or complex a character if she’d been male, Xena would have been just another sword and sandal warrior, the Halliwell sisters might not have cut it as brothers, and Wonder Woman wouldn’t be the same if she was a transgender male.

Instead of rewriting classic characters as someone of a different gender or color, why don’t we have more original female and ethnic characters leading their own shows?  I thought Star Trek did this wonderfully with Star Trek Voyager.  They didn’t remake Captain Kirk as a woman.  They created a new show in the Star Trek universe with a strong, original female lead.  I loved Voyager and Captain Janeway brought something to the franchise that wouldn’t be there if they’d simply recast Kirk as a woman.  Deep Space Nine brought in a strong African American lead in the form of Commander Sisko.  These characters added to the Star Trek universe and the unfolding Star Trek story in a way that recasting the original characters never could have done.  The same could be done in the Whoniverse.  I’d love to see the adventures of Romana in her own TARDIS, or what about Riversong, Clara and Me in their stolen TARDIS, or some of the other new series companions, or even classic series companions. I loved the Sarah Jane Adventures.  Could something similar, but unique in its own right, be done with other female companions?

Regardless of the gender, race, age, or other characteristics of the Doctor, I will continue to watch the show and give each new actor / actress the chance to win me over.  I’m looking forward to seeing what the new Doctor and the new producer bring to Doctor Who.  Hopefully it will be something good.

Mel and Peter Davison

I once met Peter Davison, the 5th Doctor, at a sci-fi conference.


Liberal Bubbles, Political Correctness, and Identity Politics: Finding the Middle Ground

I consider myself fairly left of center when it comes to social issues. I believe in LGBTQ rights and sexual freedom.  I believe that people of color face systematic oppression and that should be fixed.  I believe women deserve equal pay and equal opportunities to men.  I don’t believe it’s my choice, the government’s, or anyone else’s whether a woman has an abortion.  I also believe that teaching sex education in the schools would prevent not just abortions, but the spread of STD’s.  I believe folks’ religious beliefs should be respected regardless of religion (so long as those beliefs aren’t predatory or used to put down or oppress others).   I believe marijuana is no more harmful to society than alcohol and should be legalized.  I believe that most porn is okay and that sex work and sex workers should be given legitimacy so long as we’re talking consensual adults. I believe in “reasonable” gun control measures. I also believe that the working class should be given a break and that the super-rich should be taxed more.  I believe that small local businesses should be held to different standards than large national and international corporations.

I don’t relate to the idea of a liberal bubble as has been put out recently in the media, but I believe there are some at the extreme left who are out of touch with reality.  I believe the same about folks on the extreme right.  There are liberal bubbles, conservative bubbles, urban bubbles, rural bubbles, religious bubbles, and so on and so forth. I think most of us surround ourselves with people of similar beliefs and interests.  I also think that it’s human nature for us all to tend to watch news that supports our own biases and to balk at news that challenges our beliefs about the world. The problem with bubbles is that we lose touch with the needs of those who aren’t like us, if we even understood them to begin with.  The rural dweller who has never experienced being the victim of a hate crime is clueless about why there’s so much animosity against the rebel flag, just as an urban socialite is clueless about the deep rooted affiliation a rural Southerner has toward the same flag.  Many against the transgender bathroom issue are truly afraid of sharing the same bathroom, but what they don’t realize is that transgender folks are afraid too.  What we need to be doing is looking for solutions that are fair to all and that break down the fears and biases we have against each other.

President Obama recently remarked on the concept of “political correctness.”  (http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/obama-suspect-trumps-definition-political-correctness-mine/story?id=44274981).  This article underscores the deep division about what political correctness means.  Like Obama, I’ve always believed political correctness was about calling people what they want to be called, avoiding calling people derogatory names, showing courtesy and good manners to others, and being thoughtful that not everyone has the same background or beliefs as I do.  I grew up in the rural South and to me this doesn’t seem a far stretch from the concept of good old-fashioned Southern manners.  There’s this idea that you may not like the person you are talking to, but you treat them with courtesy and respect (at least publically).  Of course, for conservatives, “political correctness” is a code word for hypersensitivity and a feeling of victimization among minority groups. It doesn’t matter that minority groups are systematically oppressed in our culture, and maybe they have legitimate reason to be sensitive about being treated badly or being called certain names. Somehow they should be quiet about it and not get upset when it happens. Ironically, many on the right are also hypersensitive and cry discrimination and victimhood whenever someone challenges their beliefs.  Religious fundamentalists are especially prone to crying “persecution” such as when they are expected to bake wedding cakes for same-sex couples.

According to Dictionary.com “Identity Politics” is “political activity or movements based on or catering to the cultural, gender, racial, religious, or social interests that characterize a group identity.”  Conservatives seem to see this as only applying to liberals who rally around minority identities such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and so forth, but the truth is most politics are based in large part on the beliefs one has based in their identity. The coal miner’s identity is based (at least to some extent) on their job and the values and norms of others with the same job.  Rural Southerners have a group identity built on guns and the Rebel flag (among other things). Christians see Christianity not just as a set of beliefs, but part of their identities.  The list goes on. For most LGBTQ people, our identities necessitate rallying against anti-gay policies and laws.  People of color fight against racism. Many women fight for gender equality, because… guess what… it affects them. Many people have multiple identities and roles, so that’s why sometimes you see a gay Republican or a liberal Redneck (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTHsQd-vRXK1bp4vpifl6yA) .

Conservatives can be quick to label and shame, but so can we.  I’ve been reading a lot of liberal media sites (especially since the election).  While I’m in agreement with most of what is put forth on these sites, I have seen a disturbing tendency from some corners to quickly label folks as racist, misogynistic, or homophobic for holding differences of opinion and in some cases for being the wrong identity.  I’ve seen white Liberal allies labeled as racist with little or any real justification.  I’ve seen gay men and masculinity in general labeled as misogynistic and anti-woman for wanting to spend time among other men.  Sure sometimes opinions and actions are built on hateful beliefs and unjustified biases.  Other times you have people trying to live their lives, find the middle ground, or who mean well but just don’t have a full grasp of the issues. When we call out bigots for their racism, sexism, and homophobia, it’s often well justified.  When we start throwing around these terms all willy-nilly at ourselves and our allies who have a subtle difference of opinion, we might be turning off well-meaning people from our cause.  This also has an effect like crying “wolf.” If every minor thing triggers our name calling, it has less substance and impact when something major comes up that needs addressing.

Part of our challenge – especially in this new era of Trump – is to help folks understand (and agree with) our ideologies and not just our politics.   We also need to be looking at the middle ground and not the extremes. Political correctness and Southern manners may be very similar in many ways, but getting folks past political rhetoric, ideology, and even simple misconceptions takes work and a real desire to find solutions that work for all and not just the extremes. Most people who are against political correctness don’t really want to go out calling Black people the “N-word” or gay people the “F-word”.  Some do, but others have bought into the idea pushed by conservatives (and sometimes validated by liberals) that the “political correctness police” are out to punish them if they say the wrong thing, even a minor thing.  They feel they have to walk on eggshells or fear being shamed.  Many are afraid that if they call a Native American an “Indian” or an African-American “Black” they might be judged harshly even if they didn’t mean any harm. I will point out that many conservative Christians also get sensitive when you start talking about religion and they have their own brand of “political correctness” about what can and can’t be said about Christianity or their identities as Christians.   The bottom line is that we need to be looking for shared values of civility and respect beyond our politics. If we do this, we might make greater progress than trying to push the politics themselves.

When seeking solutions we need to look for solutions that respect the rights of all, but also their fears, and also the cross-section of where everyone’s differing identities and ideologies meet. The Confederate flag is part of the identities of many Southern Americans who feel it represents their heritage.  At the same time it is used as a symbol of many racists to promote their hateful cause.  There’s probably no easy solution to this one, but perhaps there’s some kind of middle ground on this issue.

Transgender folks, like everyone else, need to use the restroom.  They want to use the bathroom that conforms to their gender identity. They also risk being assaulted for using the “wrong” bathroom.  Many straight folks truly fear sharing the bathroom with trans folks and also fear that bathroom laws will open the way for predatory behavior, not necessarily from trans folks, but from unscrupulous people using bathroom policies as a loophole. I honestly think the best solution (at least short term) is for public facilities to have individual bathrooms for folks with special needs.  Many places already have individual bathrooms for disabled people; a number have “family” bathrooms which are basically unisex bathrooms anyway; so why not just extend their use to one more community.

Another issue that is often thrown about is why can minority groups celebrate their heritage or have special interest groups, but if someone from a majority group does so it’s shamed.  A prime example often given is that folks can celebrate Black heritage or Gay pride, but not White heritage or Straight pride.  While I think there is often more of a need among minority groups to celebrate their uniqueness in an often oppressive world, I don’t see why anyone should not be able to celebrate who they are as long as they are doing it in the spirit of history and heritage and not in the spirit of hate.  Often the “White heritage” and “Straight pride” groups form from a spirit of hate and mocking rather than to share a positive history or identity to the world.  Truth be told, there are a number of groups out there that do celebrate a mostly white or European heritage that don’t get shamed at all (at least not for celebrating their heritage).  Examples include Irish Americans celebrating their Irish heritage; Italian Americans celebrating all things Italia; and there’s an annual Greek festival in my area that highlights Greek food, music, and dancing.  These folks celebrate their unique foods and culture, not hating folks who aren’t white or who aren’t of their nationality.

It doesn’t always have to be all or nothing, sometimes the best solution is a compromise.  Later on when folks are comfortable with the compromise, additional adjustments can be made if desired or necessary.

One last thing I’d like to talk about before wrapping up is how conservatives often take our language or make up code words and twist the meaning against us.  I’ve already talked about how political correctness can be seen as either civility or oversensitivity.  I’ve also talked about how most everyone’s politics are based around their identities.  Conservatives have made these code words that they’ve twisted and injected with negativity.  I’d like to suggest in this age of Trump that we start calling out their identity politics and their own versions of political correctness.  We also shouldn’t fear not being “politically correct” when we call out racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and the like in the Trump era. Just make sure it’s justified and make sure it counts!


We must be Vigilant

I woke up to the news of the 2016 Presidential Election results this morning with horror.  I was not the only one.  Many other LGBT folks, women, people of color, immigrants, Muslims, and other minorities have reacted with the same horror and a very real fear of what a Trump presidency might bring about.  Already bastions of hate and intolerance, including the KKK, the Alt Right movement, and other groups, have come out of the woodwork feeling validated by Trump’s rhetoric during his campaign and his unexpected election to President.

I rewind the clock to just under a year and a half ago when same-sex marriage was legalized in the U.S. by the Supreme Court decision on June 26, 2015.  As LGBTQ people we felt we had finally arrived.  Many LGBTQ advocacy organizations shut down claiming their work was done.  The average, mainstream gay or lesbian person became more interested in wedding planning than in activism.  Those already privileged in other areas of their life, ghosted themselves from coalitions and organizations of people fighting for other causes – women’s rights, the rights of people of color, trans rights, sex worker rights, religious tolerance, helping the poor, LGBTQ youth, homelessness, and many others. Once we received some semblance of rights, many of us didn’t care to continue fighting for the rights of others. Those issues were someone else’s problem not ours.

Up until a today, the biggest LGBTQ concern on most LGBTQ people’s minds was the Trans bathroom issue.  Little did we concern ourselves that the achievements we’ve made in the past decade could possibly come tumbling down. Progress only moves forward, right?  We have marriage equality, gays in the military, record numbers of LGBTQ characters on television, and droves of LGBTQ celebrities and even sports figures coming out of the closet or in support of LGBTQ folks.

The mass shooting at the Pulse Orlando nightclub last June was a shock and a wakeup call suggesting that prejudice still exists against LGBTQ folks, against people of color, and against Muslims, but did we really heed the call? Sure there were vigils and speeches and the forming of LGBTQ gun control groups, but a month or two later after the hubbub and after all the summer Pride festivals died down, how much have we really done to address the underlying issues that caused such a tragedy to happen in our country in the first place? How many of us have gotten involved in any kind of actual cause as a result of the tragedy?

LGBTQ folks are not the only ones who became complacent under the eight years of Obama’s presidency.  Many believed with an African-American serving as President, that racism was a thing of the past.  While we’ve never adopted the Equal Rights Amendment for women, many folks believed women’s rights were also secure.

With Trump’s election and his pending presidency, we live in fear.  Will he reverse same-sex marriage? Will he close down Planned Parenthood?  Will he deport immigrants and Muslims, and close the borders? Will he give huge tax breaks to the rich, while the poor get poorer? Do we really want someone that unstable to have control of military forces and of nuclear weapons?  Will he continue to incite the anger, hate, and divisiveness we saw in his campaign?

What about all the people who voted for him?  Does approximately half of the country really hate and look down on LGBT folks, people of color, women, immigrants, Muslims, and anyone else defined as other? Were they just reacting to calls for sensible gun control and political correctness?  Were they feeling frustrated and left out in a time when a number of minority groups celebrated increased visibility and increased rights? Could we really miss the subtle racism, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia brewing just below the surface of American society?

While I’m not looking forward to a Trump presidency, I hope we as a people can learn from the circumstances we’re faced with.  Perhaps we will feel compelled to get involved, not just to secure our own rights, but to look out for others.  Maybe we will learn to work together among our different disenfranchised or potentially disenfranchised demographic groups.  Perhaps we’ll learn that an injustice to one group is an injustice for all. Perhaps the younger generations who grew up feeling they were totally accepted by society, will learn what the older generations already knew about prejudice and intolerance. Perhaps somehow they will become better people for it.  Perhaps all those who voted for Trump will realize their mistake, when the people they love – their friends, their neighbors, their co-workers, and their family members, start being affected by his policies.

It is a dark day, and we do not entirely know what a Trump presidency will bring us.  Until then, we must be vigilant. We must stand together and we must not go quietly into the night!


In Defense of Men’s Groups and Spaces – Part 1

mensymbolOver the years, I’ve been involved in a number of groups – some of them coed and others catering to a single gender, in my case “men’s groups.” I’ve also been aware of many women’s groups – whether Lesbian groups or Pagan women’s circles, among others. In college, I was part of the gay and lesbian student group (later we added more letters like “b” and “t”) and a gay youth group made of young gay men, women, and a few folks in-between.  After college, I belonged to a few coed sci-fi clubs and also a gay men’s group and later a couple of Pagan men’s groups.   Living in a pluralistic society, I’ve always seen room for groups of all kinds and niches.  While I’ve heard the occasional cry of why can’t we have a club where everyone is “welcome” and everyone is represented, the very nature of clubs and groups is to segment around a particular topic or niche.  This can be a hobby, religion or spiritual path, cause, orientation, gender, or any additional topic area or combination thereof. You don’t often hear the bowling league suggesting they need more basketball players to be representative, but when groups start forming around a specific identity ideas of representation are more fluid and open-ended.

As a human being, I’m part of many tribes and groups.  There’s my tribe of birth made up of my family and extended family, my tribe of choice made up of my closest friends, the tribe of my profession made up of coworkers, the tribes associated with hobbies and various other groups I’m a part of.  Each of these tribes play a role in my life and I might go to each tribe for different things – emotional support, professional development, intellectual stimulation, or because we enjoy the same activities.

Most of my adult life, I’ve been a part of one men’s group or another and sometimes a few.  My reasons for being interested in an all-male environment might be different from someone else’s.  As a gay man, my heart and soul long for a closer connections and bonding with men, and not just sexually.  For me personally, I feel the need to actively seek out men’s groups and men’s spaces.  Left to the natural order of things, I’d be surrounded completely be women.

In college, most of my very close friends were Lesbians.  I love my Lesbian friends.  I actually felt more of a connection to my Lesbian friends than I did to my gay male brothers.  While most of the gay men around me seemed to be interested in only clubbing and the current fads.  My Lesbian sisters were out there being activists and trying to make the world a better place.  At least, that was the dichotomy I saw in the gay and lesbian community in that particular time and place in my life. Besides that, there was none of that sexual tension between me and my Lesbian friends.  We weren’t sexually attracted to each other.  We weren’t threatened by each other or too shy to communicate.  We weren’t competing for the affections of the same gender. Life was generally uncomplicated, and if I had to sit in the back seat in the name of feminist equality, well that was just the way things were.

As a Pagan, most any Pagan circle or group (other than male specific groups) I might want to join are something like 80% women and 20% men, if not more women.  Paganism is largely a feminine, Goddess oriented religion, though at its best it recognizes a need to balance the masculine and feminine energies.  At its best, despite discussions of polarity, it also recognizes gender as a spectrum and not a binary.

I also work in a library, which is largely a female dominated field. Out of a staff of 70 or so people, there are about a dozen men in my workplace.  This is actually more than it was even a few years ago.

As I said earlier, without a conscious effort on my part, I’d be completely surrounded by women.  As a gay man, that just won’t do. I love women as family and friends, but the company of men completes me in a deep and profound way.

For gay men, men’s groups can provide a great deal of room for growth.  In one of my podcasts, I mentioned how a number of gay men have ambivalent feelings about other men (I believe this might have been in Episode 5 related to my review of the book “Gay Warrior”).  We’ve been taught to distrust other men.  They’re our competitors, the people we fear most will judge us, and the people we’ve likely been damaged most by – whether it was a homophobic straight guy, an ex-lover, the catty queen at the bar, or even our own fathers. For many, it’s much easier to hang with our non-threatening female friends than to risk opening up and exposing ourselves to other men who have more potential to hurt us.

Both gay men and straight men have ambivalent feelings about “men’s groups.”  Gay men are often concerned that men’s groups are full of macho super masculine homophobes.  Straight men often believe that men’s groups are full of gay men having orgies at every gathering.

For straight men, men’s groups can also be an opportunity for growth. They can provide opportunities to share experiences, concerns, and even dare I say feelings in a safe environment among other men who might better understand where they’re coming from.  It’s been said that “women are from Venus, and men are from Mars.” While that may not be the literal truth, men and women have been socialized differently and often have different concerns or may come at their concerns from different directions or with different perspectives about the world and their place in it. Men’s groups can also help men to become better.  When men come together for spiritual or self-reflective purposes they can begin to disassociate negative, patriarchal ideas of masculinity and manhood like control, aggression, competitiveness, and domination, and replace these with more enlightened masculine ideal such as assertiveness, confidence, cooperation, and nurturing.

 

To be continued…


Co-Dependent God?

Not too long ago I was in a conversation with a Christian co-worker about life challenges and struggles.  She’s a very genuine person and often has well thought things to say about life from a Christian perspective.  In this particular instance, she said something both interesting and disturbing.  She suggested that God gives us challenges and struggles because if we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t need “Him.”

The idea stuck with me, not because I agree with it, but because I found the mindset disturbing.  If we’d been talking about a relationship with another person – say a boyfriend, spouse, friend, or even a relative – the reaction would be “This person keeps you down so he can feel better about himself and to keep you hanging on and ‘needing’ him?  You need to get away from that relationship or at the very least go through counseling together if the relationship is important.”  Since this is God, the omnipotent ruler of the universe, of course this is different. It’s okay. I don’t actually buy that, but many Christians are willing to accept behaviors and conditions from their God that aren’t acceptable from people in their closest relationships, let alone from a mortal ruler.  If someone ruled by keeping their people down, there’d certainly be a rebellion and in Christian mythology there supposedly was. If one is to accept Christian mythology as fact (as many Christians do), it makes one wonder about the other side’s version of things, since history is usually written by the victor and demonizes the opponent – in this case, literally.  I’m not going to go down that line of reasoning, but I will leave it as food for thought.

Of course, being a co-dependent ruler who needs human worship and approval is not the only image of the Christian God.  In fact, this idea of God is very medieval and feudal, coming from a time where feudal lords ruled, protected, and likely exploited the common people, and the people were happy to give up some freedom and perhaps even dignity because the system was still better than going it alone. Modern conceptions of God are more that of a loving parent, though often a strict disciplinarian.  God wants what’s best for us, though we don’t always know what’s best for ourselves and we often have to accept His judgment.  We are children, after all, or perhaps sheep.  The loving shepherd is also a Christian God archetype.  Still a parent who loves us, but keeps us down for his (or her) aggrandizement or to keep us needing them, doesn’t mesh with the concept of unconditional love, and again, I think we’d question that love if it was all about the other person and left us wanting.

For the Christians out there reading this, you’re welcome to justify your life challenges and struggles in a context that makes sense to you, and I know there are other ideas on this matter.  As a Pagan and a polytheist, I feel free to pick and choose Gods, Goddesses, and even other spirits that resonate with me and with my conception of the world.  I wouldn’t willingly choose a deity who kept me down, abused my trust, or exploited my struggles.  For you monotheists out there, Christians and others, you only have one choice.  You have to accept or to justify, your One deity’s actions and commands.  If you don’t like it or it doesn’t mesh with your beliefs or your view of the world, you’re the one who has to adjust, adapt, and accept, or else risk going to Hell.  I don’t believe in Hell.  I actually believe in reincarnation.  For me, struggles and challenges are part of a learning process.  My struggles and challenges weren’t put there by “the devil” to trip me up nor were they put there by any god or goddess to keep me needy.  If they were put in my path, it is so I can grow and so I can learn to fish for myself as the saying goes, rather than relying on handouts from the fisherman. Teach a man to fish… and all of that.  In the grand scheme of things, struggles and challenges teach us and test us. I’m learning to be the best soul I can be, though it may take me several lifetimes to get there.