Saturday, December 21, 2013

Culture War Legacies: Ducks, Dynasties, and Denigration

PHOTO: This photo taken May 15, 2013 shows Phil Robertson posing for a photograph at his home in western Ouachita Parish, La.By now, I'm sure you've heard of the Phil Robertson (of Duck Dynasty fame) flap regarding his sentiments about gay people. If you're gay, you've likely heard it from Left-leaning media. If you're Christian, you've probably heard it from Right-leaning media, from Christian friends, or - coming to a Sunday near you - from the pulpit. If you're a gay Christian like me, you've probably been "lucky" enough to hear it from all over the place.**

Regardless where you've gotten the news, it seems to be almost impossible to resist making a comment about the whole debacle. Try as I might to live above the fray, I found myself dragged into the debate as well, and here I am making a whole post about it!

Except, I don't think the issue is all that important in and of itself. Is what he said offensive to gay people (and Black people too for that matter, which is getting surprisingly less press coverage)? Sure. Any more offensive than what is stated by millions of Americans every day? Not really. Is it worth debating? Sure. But should he lose his job for it (i.e., should A&E kick him and his show to the curb)? That's the key question for me. No, I don't mean "does A&E have the right to fire him?" That's silly. Of course they do! They're a private enterprise, and have the right to make whatever hiring and firing decisions they please with their employees. (That's actually a very conservative principle, so I'm a bit baffled why so many conservatives are so put-off by his suspension. But I digress...)

What I'm really getting at here, though, are the implications for this type of continued behavior. Martin Bashir makes offensive statements about Sarah Palin. Conservative pundits (including Palin herself) are shocked and appalled. They call for MSNBC to take action. Bashir leaves the network (leaving most of us to speculate that he probably didn't have much choice in the matter). But the examples are plenteous.  A Rightie says something stupid, the Lefties call for them to be punished in some nebulous way. A Leftie says something stupid, the Righties cry "Crucify him!" And back and forth it goes.

I would like to suggest something here. Could we perhaps call a truce? Can we end the Culture Wars? Because it has all devolved into a national gang/mafia mentality: You shoot my guy, so me and my boys go kill all of yours. And on and on it goes. Nobody wins. Everyone loses.

Many conservative Christians are starting to see the writing on the wall here. Cases like Phil Robertson's make them zealous. They wonder aloud "if this is what happens when someone stands for Biblical truth, it's just a matter of time before they'll throw us in jail just for being Christian!" They are angry, they are indignant, they are afraid, and so far it seems the overwhelming response is to dig their heels in further and take up the Culture War battle cry.

In all honesty, I think they're largely correct. The cultural tide has changed dramatically on gay issues, and saying anything that remotely equates homosexuality with sin is labeled bigotry, hateful, and homophobic. We can debate all day and night about whether that's fair or not, or about the merits and morality of gay love. But that's just more of the same. What I think is far more important to highlight with conservative Christians is this:

What exactly did you expect would happen when you proudly entered the Culture War, army in tow? In a case of mass narcissism, this entire tide change is interpreted as being "just what Jesus said would happen: we'll be reviled and rejected for His sake." Martyrdom syndrome.

I would like to offer an alternative hypothesis: perhaps you are now the victims of your own war-obsessed lifestyle. I think the more appropriate Scripture to describe the phenomenon is Matthew 26:52: "...for all who draw the sword will die by the sword."

Not long ago, those with minority religious views were oppressed and marginalized. It's part of the reason this nation was founded. Protecting religion is, for better or worse, part of the marrow of these United States. But there's this strange thing that happens when oppressed groups come to power: they have a proclivity to become oppressors.

To wit: Where were you, O Christian, when your gay classmates were bullied in school? Did you use the Word of God to chastise the perpetrators? Where were you, O Christian, when Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered in large part because of his sexuality? Did you hold press conferences to denounce this sort of hatred? Where were you, O Christian, when it became abundantly clear that the Anoka-Hennepin school district in Minnesota was a hotbed of gay teen suicides? Did you protest the school district until they did something about this injustice? Where were you, O Christian, when Jamey Rodemeyer committed suicide? Did you convene a Million Christian March for the lives of the thousands of young, helpless, tortured souls just like his?

Perhaps you were there and supportive, but only a minority of you were (outside the Progressive wing of Christendom anyway). Because my Facebook News Feed hasn't blown up with your support during any such similar events. But when Robertson opens his mouth and lets all sorts of jackassery fall out, you are quite vocal indeed. Do you really think the message the Church is passing along to gay people is truly one of love?

The problem here is that for too long, Christians have been on the same side as the general culture which proscribed homosexuality. As society oppressed LGBT individuals, Christians were more than happy to oblige, in many instances leading the charge. But now an increasing number of people are beginning to grant LGBT people the dignity that they deserve. And in no small part, this is actually the fault of Christians themselves. People young and old began to consider the hypocrisy concerning "God's people of love" and their treatment of LGBT people.  You are complicit in the disillusionment of the masses.

But now the sands are shifting. Did you really expect the LGBT community to simply forget your hateful words, your blind eyes, your mute mouths, your taunts, your torture, and your condemnation? Did you think they would simply say "Oh well, that was in the past, water under the bridge, let's be friends now!" especially when so many of your leaders continue to deny them fundamental rights and protections? Is it really surprising to you the vehemence with which many in the LGBT community go after you when you publicly declare (your version of) Biblical truth? These are the wages of warmongering, my friends, and not the "reviling" for Christ's sake that you may suppose that it is. (If you want to understand being reviled for Christ's sake, try speaking a message of love and acceptance of God's gay children without qualifications or caveats to a conservative Christian audience.)

If you don't want your doomsday scenario (being tossed in jail for having a negative opinion about homosexuality) to come to fruition, maybe consider raising the Peace Flag. Not letting go of your convictions, but simply letting go of the need to go to war over them.

I do not mean to insinuate that you do this simply because you're currently losing this war. I urge you to do so because it is right. I urge you to do so because turning weapons into ploughshares was always God's vision for humanity, and you are his hands and feet here to accomplish it. You have given the LGBT community no reason whatsoever to be kind to you, to tolerate you and your views, or to see what great "love" you have for them. Christ has given you every reason to walk justly, humbly, and peacefully with all men. You have given the LGBT community no reason to quit fighting. Christ has given you every reason to recognize that "eye for an eye" is outdated, ineffective, and off the mark. Now is the time to cease fighting a community, and fight instead the principalities and powers of injustice and mean-spiritedness.

I know what you're thinking: "BUT GAY IS SIN! It's SIN, goshdarnit! What if being nice to The Gays and no longer fighting them makes them think they're not hell-bound?!"  Honestly, I think you're jumping the gun here. I have no great expectation that you're going to just spontaneously see (or be coerced into believing) that gay love is good love. You may keep your "sin" label if you please. But try building some bridges while you do it. Try really understanding and walking in the shoes of the people you are sure are sinning. Try to find ways to fight for them (simple things like taking bullying of gay teens seriously as evinced by social action, or holding vigils for gay people who commit suicide) and see how that changes the landscape of America. You might be quite surprised by the results. And if you've got a great imagination, consider what the sociopolitical atmosphere would be like right now had this been the Christian response all along.

Finally, to the LGBT community, I want to offer a reminder. I reiterate that when oppressed groups gain power, they are in danger of becoming oppressors themselves. Consider this the next time a conservative Christian minimizes your experiences and expresses his displeasure with your "lifestyle." Consider this the next time a Christian decides not to bake a cake for your gay wedding. Put yourself in their shoes. What might you feel like if everything you believed and held dear, everything that made your world feel ordered and safe, came crashing down before your eyes. You think their refusal is because they hate you? Perhaps in some cases, but not likely in most. Their refusal has more to do with their cosmology and sense of well-being than your sexuality. It just so happens that your sexuality causes a very uncomfortable wrestling with sacred words and beliefs. I understand that to you this is about civil rights and good ethics, and no one should get a free pass on civil rights. Again, I am no more suggesting that you forego your moral convictions than the conservative Christian should. I'm simply suggesting that in the process, you try to imagine the lived experience of being a faithful follower of Christ's with a particular (often literal) interpretation of Biblical living. Just walk in their shoes for a bit. How do you think this all feels? I think some tough dialogue about the contrasting world views would be far more beneficial to all than a long drawn out legal battle over some damn cake! Yes, yes, "it's the principle of the thing". I get it. I really do. But consider how your principle applied feels to others who are different from you. It may not change your conclusion, but it might compel you to modify your approach, and that can make all the difference in the world.

Above all, remember that it is the nature of power to ebb and flow. LGBT people may be gaining more social influence and respect (as I think it ought to be), but it may not always be the case. Consider how you might want your enemies to treat you should you suddenly find that all the gains are losses anew.

**Disclaimer: I recognize that much of this essay dichotomizes Christians and the LGBT community, when in fact there is overlap between the two. I also recognize that there are many, many Christians out there who are strong champions for LGBT people. Further, I recognize that I make sweeping assumptions and stereotypes throughout. Forgive me for the caricatures. It is merely a response to the polarization I've witnessed on my Facebook News Feed over the past few days because of the "Duck Dynasty Debacle." And sometimes, not qualifying every statement one makes can be beneficially provocative. I'm hoping this is one of those times...

Thursday, March 28, 2013

How Chief Justice Roberts Helped the Pro-Gay Marriage Cause in the Hollingsworth v. Perry Case

It was a simple enough question, but honestly one that I hadn't thought about (and given the fumbling response from Solicitor General Donald Verilli, one he hadn't thought about either). In fact, I don't think I've heard anyone from the pro-gay side bring this up in quite this way:
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Can I ask you a problem about -
GENERAL VERRILLI: Sure.
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: -- I -- it seems to me that your position that you are supporting is somewhat internally inconsistent. We see the argument made that there is no problem with extending marriage to same-sex couples because children raised by same-sex couples are doing just fine and there is no evidence that they are being harmed. And the other argument is Proposition 8 harms children by not allowing same-sex couples to marriage. Which is it?
It's a really brilliant question. A crucial one.  Especially in light of the *only* near-legitimate social science study to date to to show harm for children raised by gay parents: Mark Regnerus' The New Family Structures Study. Now, I don't want to get into the myriad reasons that this Regnerus study was flawed (the good folks at Box Turtle Bulletin have done a more than adequate job of picking the study apart in several posts). But I want to venture something that very few people have been willing to say about the study: I think it's a very important study whose results need to be heeded. The reason I think it is goes back to Chief Justice Roberts' line of questioning. The study, I believe, is the smoking gun that all but proves why gay marriage ought to be the law of the land. Given that so few of the (study participant) children raised by gay parents were in stable homes of gay married people, it is obviously a bit of a "no shit, Sherlock!" conclusion that these kids faired worse than children in stable homes where the parents were heterosexual and always married.  In other words, the study compared kids in homes with stable heterosexual marriages, to kids primarily in broken homes where the parents were in some way same-sex identified at some point. That includes homes where the gay biological parent divorced their opposite sex partner and came out later in life; homes where the gay biological parent lived with a same-sex romantic partner never, for a short while, or perhaps a long while (but I don't know if any were actually gay-married); and homes where the same-sex parent stayed in their opposite sex marriage, which obviously can cause some marital stress of its own which may have a profound effect upon children.

In short, when there is no gay marriage, there is no stabilizing institution which grants gay couples the proper home and protection to raise children such that they have a chance at fairing as well as children raised by heterosexual married parents.

So I thank Chief Justice Roberts for helping to make the case that the social science to date really cries out for us to have gay marriage - even the one study largely touted by the Right as the proof that kids need a mom and a dad.  I hope that SCOTUS will make wise decisions on this case (and the DOMA case), recognizing that gay marriage ought to be Constitutional...if not for the freedom and happiness of gay couples, at least to give the kids with gay parents a fighting chance at a healthy life. I trust that they recognize the blatently obvious: gay marriage is  (as Jonathan Rauch suggests) "good for gays, good for straights, and good for America".

Monday, January 07, 2013

Vulnerability



I'm not sure exactly when it happened, or how it happened.  I just know that it happened.  There was a period in my life (the "ex-gay" days, actually) where I was profoundly aware of the need to be not only open about the goings-on of my inner world, but vulnerable about it to boot.

 Slowly, over the last 4 years, I've reverted back to the self-contained version of myself.  I think it's no good.  It's probably got something to do with this incessant pressure to be successful: successful in my career, successful in my behavior and emotional management, successful in every sense of the word as it relates to my public image.  I decided to embrace my sexuality and marry the man I love, so now I must prove to the world (but particularly my previous church friends and ex-gay companions) that I am in a perfect relationship and am fully whole. False! I'm not and I'm not.  Maybe it's also got to do with how simply excruciating it is to be vulnerable to people - even when you know it's the secret to meaningful relationships.


Regardless the reason, I've had this pestering little voice in the back of my head for some time which scolds me a little bit when I somehow manage to get off of the phone with my dearest friends from whom I've managed to extract their deep emotional struggles, but have failed to divulge in kind. I am extremely adept at it.  My good friends (P and S in particular) soemtimes manage to call me out on it.  Not forcefully, just a simple acknowledgment that they felt like I hadn't shared much, and then I promise I'll do so in our next interaction, but I rarely ever do.

I think it's time to change that. I think I just need to be a bit more honest about myself and my struggles.  For example, my last post (over 4 months ago) was a start in the right direction.  I mentioned how I have been struggling to conjure a sense of meaning and purpose in my life.  That struggle continues - perhaps more so than before.  I am riddled with self-doubt and outright deprecation sometimes: "What makes you think you could possibly get into a grad school like UMCP?", "Why can't you get to the gym a little more, fatty?", "Why can't you manage to care about anything you're doing?", and on and on the little tape player goes.  I need to tell the world about these thoughts.  I need to get them out of my own head and into the hands of friends and family I know can help me gracefully speak sense and truth to them.

In between my leisurely obsession with reading the Game of Thrones series (currently on book 3: A Storm of Swords), I've also picked up Brene Brown's Daring Greatly, a great little book that builds on her TED talk about the power of vulnerability. The TED talk is wonderful, and so far, so is the book.  I highly recommend them, though there is no small amount of pain to discovering how incredibly crappy I've become at vulnerability. Here's to growing...



Saturday, September 01, 2012

33

Yesterday marked a milestone in my life, apparently.  Yesterday, I turned 33.  This is my "Jesus Year", so named for the the estimated age of Jesus when he died. It symbolizes the transitional crossing over from young adulthood (which - from a personality developmental stance - is marked by the need to find love and companionship) into adulthood (marked by the need to make our lives generative, meaningful, and fulfilling).  It's purported to be "the happiest year of my life."

If we haven't spoken, then the words and tone of the above paragraph should give you some clue as to what has been going in my life since last I've written. (Yes, Chrissy Jo-Jo, too long! I know!) You may have gathered that I'm somewhat pessimistic about this being the best year of my life.  And thus, you've probably intuited something about my prevalent life struggles of late: I am feeling unhappy and unfulfilled, and I am searching for meaning and purpose.  You've no doubt at this point recognized that implicit in this struggle are questions and concerns about work, marriage, family, spirituality, etc.

You also may have noticed that I dropped some Psychosocial Personality Theory (a la Erikson) on you, from which you have no doubt deduced that I finally followed through on that commitment to getting myself out of pharmacy and into the psychology/counseling arena.  And you would be correct.  I have, in fact, been admitted into the MS/PhD Pastoral Counseling program at Loyola University Maryland, and did start an early course last summer in Human Development.

What you probably could not have surmised, however, is that the fine folks at Bravo (my previous employer) - despite being supportive of my desire to go part-time so that I could go back to school full-time - decided last-minute that I could not go part-time because of "company policy". Instead of crying foul and calling out "BULLSHIT!", I graciously accepted my lot in life, and (unsuccessfully) began a search for part-time work elsewhere.  Not finding any, and being completely done with this awful experience at Bravo, I chose instead to accept a job elsewhere (Xerox of all places!) where I will be helping the State with a new initiative to decrease expenditures on antipsychotic medications.  This of course sounds like a dream come true for a pharmacist: a job which perfectly weaves the breadth of my experience and training in psychiatric pharmacy practice and managed care pharmacy.  But, you have no doubt been keeping track of my struggles, so you already know that there could not be a perfect pharmacy job for me because I am completely unfulfilled as a pharmacist.  How bright you are!  So yes, you guessed correctly...this is simply a layover.

A new full-time job, of course, means that I cannot take a full-time course load.  The best I was able to manage was taking one course in Family Therapy which meets on 5 Saturdays for 8 hours per class.  Eesh! But a man's gotta do what man's gotta do...to pay the bills.

I'm not happy about it.  In fact, I'm quite displeased with being completely unhappy with my career.  Part of this, I understand, is my ongoing struggle with not being able to be content with the present.  I'm working on that though... slowly, but surely.  The whole reason I'm blogging (and hope to continue blogging more regularly) is to help ground me in the present, so that I'm not constantly fantasizing about the future, or numbing myself with HGTV so that I don't have to think about the here and now. (Yes, I am 100% addicted to all things HGTV...And what? This surprises you? I am still gay, you know...)

But the other part of this is that I do think I am genuinely stuck right now - stunted.  I'm not doing what I was made to do - I'm not being who was put here to be.  I'm not living out of passion and heart, out a sense of purpose and authenticity.  Instead, I've just been hopping from job to job to get away from the previous horrible job.

After a probing discussion with my best friend P a couple of weeks ago, he really challenged me to think about why I was not fully pursuing my dreams.  I was forced to face myself and come to the stunning conclusion that *I* am the culprit.  Not my training, not my mortgage, not Bravo...me.  Just me.  And so, I've decided that if I'm serious about being tired of my unhappiness, I need to do something drastic...

If I can't find a part-time job by this time next year, I will quit my current job and start full-time in a program that offers tuition remission and a stipend (Loyola's program requires me to pay tuition, thus the need for the part-time job so that we don't go bankrupt).  One way or another, I will be starting full-time in school by next fall.

This fall, J will be applying to several PhD programs, and I will be applying with him to schools in similar geographic areas.   So by next year, we'll either stay here in Maryland, or transplant ourselves to the Charlottesville area, the Princeton area, the Boston area, or the Ithaca area. So if you live in one of these areas, we could be neighbors :)

In case the options have gotten too confusing, here's the recap for next year.  Either I...

1.) Find a part-time job and continue the Pastoral Counseling program at Loyola. 
OR
2.) Quit my current job and start full-time in the counseling psychology program at UMCP.
OR
3.) Quit my current job, and J and I start programs (English for him, and either counseling, clinical psychology, or counseling psychology for me - depending on the program) in another locale.

So pray for me!  Or wish me luck!  Or do whatever it is that you do to send good vibes someone else's way!



Saturday, February 11, 2012

"Social Experimentation"

One of the primary fears espoused by anti-gay activists is that gay marriage is dangerous because it will lead to the downfall of Western Society.  Psychologically speaking, I think this is rooted in an innate aversion to risk-taking, change, and "icky" things. 


Conservatives should no more be judged for this than gays should be judged for falling in love with people of the same sex.  As I said, it's innate.  They can't help that they feel icky about certain things.  And it's no surprise that their political response to icky emotions leads them to  to moralize whatever puts them off.  It's ultimately about disease prevention.  I know this because I live it.  The types of studies that have shown a link between  icky-ness and political ideology strike me as true because I have a high ick factor, and despite my being gay, I am at my core a very traditional person who is wary of things that have even the slightest risk of eroding the fundamental foundations of society and culture.  You heard that correctly.  Most people who know me (or rather, who don't know me all that well) are shocked to discover how conservative I tend to be...just as they are shocked to discover that I am an *extreme* introvert. 

Some of the more articulate anti-gay conservatives have begun to show their cards and verbalize their fears about "social experimentation".  "It's too risky to start socially experimenting with an institution as foundational as marriage," they say.  And I think if they were more honest about their internalized fears, they'd restate their objections as follows: "I'm very afraid that changing our traditional ideas about marriage this way may lead to some unintended consequences, and I'm terrified about what those might be...please let's not do this!"

Putting aside the absolute fact that "the institution of marriage" has had innumerable permutations over time (Mrs. Bowers does a superb job of summarizing the Biblical ones below), I think it's odd that Christian conservatives in particular are suddenly worried about "social experimentation."  In fact, I think it's downright hypocritical, because they have been dangerously socially experimenting with us gay Christian folk for a long, long time - and they've yet to formally admit it's been an utter and egregious failure (though there are signs that "ex"-gay leaders are perhaps starting to rethink things a little).

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not here to say that a fear of social experimentation is a bad thing.  Nor am I suggesting that it's silly of Christians to have promoted ex-gay ideology and "reparative therapy." I'm just confused about why Christians continue to handle "the gay issue" so poorly by decrying social experimentation on the one hand, while conveniently forgetting about the social experimentation in which they are constantly engaging.

But let's look at why the "Ex-gay Movement" is social experimentation.  You see, when your theology dictates that the Bible is true, and your interpretation of it suggests that homosexuality is a sin, and your belief is that Jesus is the healer of all sins, then it's quite natural to assume that Jesus will heal homosexuals of their homosexuality.  So it's not unreasonable that people like myself would "deny" their gay feelings for so long, and then upon finally acknowledging them, seek to be healed by Jesus.  I'm convinced that this summarizes (perhaps crudely, clumsily, or ineloquently so) why so many of my friends voluntarily submitted themselves to the pseudo-scientific, and ultimately torturous, path of ex-gaydom - and why myriad Christian adults and youth continue to do so to this day.  But you know, the Bible never talked about becoming an ex-gay.  The Bible doesn't have much to say about being gay at all, because there was really no equivalent conceptualization of it then.  So when gay civil liberties were vaulted to the forefront of the American Conscience in the 1970's, Christians were force to respond.  That response started in the late 70's with the emergence of various ways to force oneself not to be gay.  And this, my friends, was a great Christian experiment - a social experiment - because it had never been done before.  We thought we could treat this like alcoholism, or promiscuity, or lying - in short, like any other sin. So when the leaders of Exodus - who have literally put everything they have on the line for this social experiment - start to admit that once gay, pretty much always gay for "99.9% " of people, you kind of have to believe that this isn't simply capitulation of weak people, or faithless people who only want to indulge in lots of immoral sex.

You can't not be gay. It's that simple.  And what has this little experiment of ours cost us?  Countless lives of desperate youth (yours truly was almost among that number), and immeasurable amounts of depression and anxiety that many have yet to recover from, even after years away from the ex-gay machine.

The new trend among the more advanced, conservative Christian types is celibacy (or, as those involved with the gay Christian debate are calling it, being "Side B").  It's rooted in the same sort of theology undergirding ex-gay theology, but admitting a little defeat, in that changing orientation doesn't seem to be what God cares about.  The celibacy social experiment goes something like this: God says being gay is sin, so even if you can't beat it, you still can't be it (at least not relationally).

Again, I'm not knocking the fact that Christians are engaging in these sorts of social experiments. I think conservatives are correct: allowing gay marriage is indeed a social experiment.  So I boldly admit that I engaged in the ex-gay social experiment, dabbled a bit in the Side B social experiment, and have ultimately landed in an alternative experiment (Side A): gay marriage.  And I'm not shy about the fact that all three experiments for me were grounded in my deep respect for the "Living Word", and an attempt to stay faithful to God.  I happen to believe that the Side B experiment is just as erroneous, and perhaps even as destructive (albeit in a more insidious way) than the ex-gay experiment.  Eventually, Christian thinkers who have successfully abandoned ex-gay ways of thinking are really going to have to contend with that little verse in Genesis where God says "it's not good for man to be alone."  They're going to have to stop and wonder why a God would allow people a sexuality that they could not escape, but respond to it bey decreeing that they should just learn how to be alone without an appropriate help-meet.  (Yes, I'm aware that there are many single, lonely people out there - some who never have and never will find a mate - but the issue isn't about a few unhappy people who I readily admit have had a band hand dealt to them, but rather it's about an entire class of people who are relegated to loneliness by virtue of the fact that they love who they love.)

So there you have it.  Social experimentation.  I hope that conservatives will stop using their fear of it as an excuse for opposing gay marriage, because the fact of the matter is, they're already engaging in social experimentation whenever they tell gay people what they ought to do with their lives.  For us modern-day gay folks, we've been experimenting with all sorts of different things for years.  So I hope conservatives recognize that falling in love, settling down, making a commitment, and building a life with their beloved is exactly the kind of social experiment that heterosexuals began about 2,000 years ago (i.e., monogamy).  They should be utterly proud to know that they've been so convincing in their arguments about the benefits of the best social experiment of all time, that even some of us gays are willing to try it.  Gay marriage...it's the ultimate conservative value! :)