Stumbling Blocks to Gay Liberation
By: Don Charles
Ignorance - Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines ignorance as a lack of knowledge, education, or awareness. I agree with the definition, but it sounds benign. Ignorance is anything but! As we all know, it's the root of horrendous injustices. It makes pastors, imams and rabbis deny us marriage ceremonies. It makes Boy Scout of America officials ban us from Boy Scout troops. It makes school administrators ban information about us from school curriculums. It makes military recruiters disqualify us for armed service. It makes casting directors bypass Gay actors for certain film roles. It makes angry mobs lynch Lesbians and Gay men in the streets of Jamaica. It makes the Pope give some of the most inflammatory speeches imaginable. It's the reason for the whole bogus "ex-Gay" industry. It has driven an untold number of us to attempt or succeed at committing suicide. Ignorance is our first stumbling block: Ignorance about who and what we are, about our history, about what religion teaches about us, and about what it takes to have a successful Gay Rights movement. It's the mortar foundation for all the other stumbling blocks, so it must be dealt with first.
I believe the best way to do that is to discover what Gay identity really is underneath all the stereotyping and misperceptions. Are we sexual deviants? No. Are we moral degenerates? No. Are we spawn of Satan? Of course not. So what are we? There's no definite answer, of course, but we already know enough to reach an informed conclusion. Recent scientific research, years of personal testimony from LGBT individuals. and ancient legends from around the world all concur: LGBT folk are a gender-neutral people! Believe it or not, one such legend comes from Christian Scripture, found in both the Bible and Gnostic texts. It holds that LGBT folk (variously called eunuchs, virgins, free men and barren women) are links between Heaven and Earth, a priestly class that God created to carry out His divine will both here and in the afterlife! Quite a different perception than what organized church has of us, isn't it?
Fortunately, it's not necessary to believe legends in order to arrive at our true identities. All we really need do is listen to our transgender sisters and brothers, who've been telling us for decades that male and female gender can exist in the same body. It's the truth! Most available evidence suggests that Gay, bisexual and transgender human beings are all transgender to some degree or other. We've been encouraged to define ourselves by our sexuality, and that's wrong. What defines us is a variation of gender, a natural and normal human variation just like skin or eye color. Some of us (among them journalist Gabriel Rotello, historian Martin Duberman and Hip Hop singer Ari Gold) have already perceived as much about Gay identity. Don't pay attention to activists who warn that knowing and publicizing the truth will only give our enemies a new way to attack us. To be sure, they'll attack us regardless of what's revealed, but the truth will ultimately set us free from ignorance.
Denial – defined by Merriam-Webster as a psychological defense mechanism in which confrontation with a personal problem or with reality is avoided by denying the existence of the problem or reality. I agree with this definition 100%! Contrary to what you may have heard, Gay men aren't queens, but we are Queens of Denial! We're not the only ones, either. Lesbians and bisexual and transgender folk all make the same royal proclamations: I'm "queer" and proud! "Queer" is the only word that's totally inclusive of our community. The word "dyke" isn't a slur, it just means "strong woman". We have to endow "faggot" with alternative meanings that empower us. The tortured rhetoric, which reeks of internalized shame, speaks for itself. So does the idiotic idea that we can interface effectively with oppressors by presenting ourselves to them as stereotypical sexual cartoons!
We've convinced ourselves that the power structure takes our demands seriously, even though we encourage a carnival atmosphere around our primary political statement: The annual Gay Pride parade. If that isn't denial, I don't know what is! Denial about the epithets we use among ourselves is even more pervasive. For instance, the words "faggot" and "dyke" both appear to have been derived from insults directed at women. Etymologists have traced "faggot" to an older root word used to denigrate older women. It had the connotation of "hag" or "b*tch" (a slur that working class Gay men share with women). Contrary to what's widely believed, "faggot" is probably not a reference to the wooden sticks once used to burn Gay people at the stake. The word "dyke" has been traced to a vulgar expression for a woman's vagina (similar to "c*nt"). It may also be an abbreviation of the word "hermaphrodite", meaning a person with indeterminate genitalia. (This information was taken from the online etymology website http://www.etymonline/com.) Either way, it's a reference to something between a woman's legs; rude, don't you think? It's certainly not proper language to use around children. There's something else we can deduce for certain: Both of these slurs were coined by men for the purpose of insulting womanhood! Most, if not all Lesbians call themselves feminists. How can a feminist allow misogynist language to issue from her mouth, much less define her identity?
I've been accused of "political correctness" for calling attention to inconvenient truths like this. "Political correctness" is bad . . . compared to what? Political naivete is far worse. How is it possible to win a political struggle (what we're engaged in) with politics that aren't correct? Denial rears its ugly head again! LGBT folk not only deny the negative effects our own actions can have, but also the crippling effects we suffer from ignorance and all the rest of the Stumbling Blocks. Refusing to accept these realities leaves us vulnerable to the forces that collectively seek to marginalize and disenfranchise us. Sadly, the denial is so strong within us that we actually participate in the disenfranchisement! Examples of self-disenfranchisement are Gay people who embrace one-dimensional media portrayals of themselves, who endorse radical political strategy that alienates instead of inspires, who actively oppose marriage equality, who are indifferent when Lesbians and Gay men are denied employment/membership in religious institutions, and who are as hostile to open military service for LGBT citizens as the Joint Chiefs of Staff! These kinds of incomprehensible positions pop up regularly in Gay political discourse. Of all the stumbling blocks, denial is the oppressor's greatest ally in perpetuating our oppression.
What Straight ally extraordinaire Jerry Maneker has to say about Denial cuts right to the heart of the matter: "The defense mechanism of Denial plays right into the homophobes' hands . . . you are confirming, not only to them but to many who might otherwise be your allies . . . that you are truly outsiders who wish to remain on the outside . . . recognize that there are many LGBT people who seek the very same rights as heterosexuals . . . your use of pejorative labels when you refer to yourselves, and the Mardi Gras celebrations you have when you're still on the outside looking in hinders and prevents (everyone) from acquiring those rights . . . you must be willing to move beyond your comfort zones . . . recognize your uniqueness as part of God's creation (and) insist at having the same place at the table as do your heterosexual counterparts."
Machismo – defined by Merriam-Webster as a strong sense of masculine pride and/or an exaggerated masculinity. This is a very conservative definition. Machismo, as I've seen and experienced it, is a rigid set of attitudes and behaviors imposed on men in patriarchal cultures. Machismo imposes on women, too, insisting on rigid interpretations of femininity and a subordinate role to men. It's the reason little femme boys are terrorized. It's the reason little butch girls are ostracized. It's the reason a California governor sees nothing wrong with going before TV cameras and spouting "girly man" putdowns. It's also the reason "dyke" and "faggot", two sexual slurs we naively embrace, both have misogynistic origins (research them at http://www.etymonline.com). In a culture dominated by Machismo, there is no room for persons of blended gender! We undermine the gender fascism that Machismo preaches. We contradict the world view that demands dominant men and subservient women. We will always be perceived as a threat to the concept of "pure" masculinity. Our sexual orientation alone guarantees that; as I've stated before, all it takes to qualify as a gender outlaw is to be a man-loving-man or a woman-loving-woman.
Jerry Maneker has a particularly incisive take on the prevalence of Machismo. He says: "It seems to me that one only takes his masculinity seriously enough to make it a core feature of his identity when that very masculinity is called, or can be called, into question! Then the Machismo becomes prominent, often resulting in verbal and even physical Gay-bashing. One's masculinity, in a sane world, wouldn't be any more important to his identity than would be any other feature of his multi-dimensionality . . . emphasis is placed on gender because so much discrimination is visited up on people who don't conform to gender 'norms' . . . and that appropriateness is largely defined by people who have gender issues of their own." In other words, even the architects of Machismo suffer from its tyranny! That's all the more reason to oppose it.
One of the saddest things in the world to see is a Gay man adhering to the tenets of Machismo and suppressing every feminine trait. He often will be as vicious in his stance toward effeminate men as any Straight male bigot would be. He may even pursue (or fake) sexual relationships with women so that he falls more in line with traditional concepts of masculinity. Just as sad is the sight of a butch Lesbian trying to act macho: Picking fist fights, disparaging women like a Straight man would, exaggerating her natural masculine traits. Taken to extremes, this behavior can sometimes lead to spousal abuse. What a sin! God has blessed us with the ability to transcend gender. It's ridiculous to lock ourselves into hard butch and femme roles; that's just aping heterosexist society. Understand that I'm not saying it's wrong to strongly identify as male or female. I'm saying such identification should come naturally and not be a result of societal pressure.
Stereotypes – defined by Merriam-Webster as standardized mental pictures held in common by members of a group which represent an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment. This is an accurate definition that, like the definition of ignorance, downplays the great harm stereotypes do. Here, sketched broadly, are the main stereotypes that heterosexual society has of LGBT folk:
The prissy Faggot, a cartoon caricature born to do your hair, makeover your wardrobe and decorate your apartment! The depraved Leather/Fetish Queen, a certified sicko with a fully-equipped torture chamber in his basement! The hulking Bulldyke, a beastly figure who despises her own womanhood, sees men as a threat and is ten times more macho than John Wayne! The hedonistic Lipstick Lesbian, a Victoria's Secret fantasy who loves it when men watch while she has sex with her girlfriend! The outrageous Drag Queen, whose only purpose in life is to model the latest in femme couture and trick innocent Straight men into believing she's a biological woman! The AC/DC/screw-anything-that-moves Bi Guy, a promiscuous, sex-obsessed horny toad who by nature is unable to commit to monogamous relationships. The "radical" Gay Pride Marcher, a carnival clown with "I'm here, I'm queer" placard and pink feather boa in hand, gyrating to a Disco beat, bare breasts bouncing and genitalia swinging free. Each one likely to be a sexual predator; an advocate of public sex, underage sex, polygamy and incest; a danger to children, the family structure and every societal norm. I believe these twisted images of LGBT folk are more harmful than the Uncle Tom, Aunt Jemimah, Zip Coon and Stepin Fechit images that have historically plagued African-Americans.
Stereotypes will always be with us, but we need to beware of them, especially when they're as offensive as the ones I just mentioned. When such ugly myths proliferate, they undermine the goals of a Civil Rights movement. For reasons only psychoanalysts really understand, if you can reduce a person to a crude stereotype, then it's easier for you to mistreat that person and disregard his or her basic humanity. This is a strange-but-true fact of human nature that communities of color have known for a long time; that's why Latinos and African-Americans sometimes seem overly sensitive about their media portrayals. We need to be at least a little more sensitive.
We're careless about how we depict ourselves. Pick up a Gay publication (fiction or nonfiction), and more likely than not you'll see a sexually provocative cover. Usually, it's a naked or half-naked White man in a "come get me" pose. Otherwise, it's likely to be a cross-dresser whose make-up and clothing are over-the-top. Then there are the many magazine covers featuring celebrities (they don't even have to be Gay icons). These feed into another stereotype of Gay people as star-struck fanatics. Recently, The Advocate sold a cover that was both sexually provocative and worshipful of celebrity; it showed actress Kathy Griffin emerging from a car, her dress pulled up past her crotch and her legs sprawled open. The Advocate is supposed to be our premier Gay Rights periodical! What does this kind of cover have to do with Gay Rights?
We're not doing enough to limit negative imagery in mainstream media, either. GLAAD may have been founded to serve that function, but frankly, they're doing a lousy job! Just look at the recent crop of Gay TV shows: "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy," an insult. "The L Word," sexual objectification of Lesbians. "Queer As Folk", sexual objectification of Gay men. And what about I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry, a recent feature film that GLAAD saw fit to give its dubious stamp of approval? That stupid movie trivializes our relationships, exploits Gay stereotypes, and is riddled with sexual slurs. Of course, GLAAD raved about the overrated Brokeback Mountain (along with millions of Gay men), but overlooked the fact that Jake Gyllenhaal's Jack Twist character was a classic Bi Guy stereotype! Both Gay and Straight media seem to prefer depicting us either in a soft-core porn context or playing us for a limp wrist joke. African-Americans did not and would not have tolerated those kinds of portrayals at the height of the Civil Rights struggle. They recognized marginalization when they saw it. It's just pathetic, the way we consistently fail to challenge dehumanizing, one-dimensional images of ourselves. We pay a price for it every time a grade-schooler taunts one of his classmates with a "that's so Gay" putdown.
I once heard actor Harvey Fierstein say it didn't matter how LGBT folk were depicted, as long as depictions of us were out there to be seen. With all due respect, I couldn't disagree more! Our depictions need to be diverse and reasonably accurate. Many Gay people act like they think they're comedians. Exaggeration and shock value aren't bad when you're doing a comedy routine; they may even get a bigger laugh, which is what a comedian wants. We're not doing comedy routines, though. Last I heard, we were doing an equality struggle, and in that case, laughter is definitely not what we want. Nor do we want to shock people just for the Hell of it. We want, and need, to be respected. Not ridiculed. Not objectified. Not feared. Respected! Concern about media imagery is a surefire sign of a people who want respect. A sign like that will do us ten times as much good as one that reads "we're here, we're queer, get used to it."
Bibliolatry – defined by Merriam-Webster as excessive reverence for the letter of the Bible. A related term is Legalism, strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code. I define Bibliolatry differently: The practice of worshipping the Bible as a substitute for God. As a Christian, I consider it sinful in the extreme. It's the antithesis of genuine faith. God and only God is worthy of our devotion; there can be no substitutes! Deifying religious icons is forbidden in the Bible itself! It's right there in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20: 4-17). I've written numerous essays about the sin of Bibliolatry. Many others have written against this idolatrous practice, too, and yet it persists. Nobody knows this better than LGBT folk do; ever since Biblical times, Bibliolatry has been used to demonize us.
The sad truth is that most Christians are Christians in name only! They worship the Bible. They do so because of fundamentalist miseducation. They're taught by their spiritual leaders to believe that every single word in the "Good Book" came from God. Untrue! The Bible contains correspondence, poetry, genealogy, fictional narratives and a great many things other than God's word. Not all of them are good things, either! After I finished re-reading the entire Bible last year, I felt I'd never read a book so filled with sexism, racism, adultery, lust and love of barbaric violence. If those are Godlike qualities, Heaven help us all! Yet, to most people, the Bible is God. A little while back, I argued with a Lesbian Christian blogger about the way she saw her sexuality in relation to the Bible. From reading her blog, I had perceived that she practiced Bibliolatry. She thought of herself and all other Gay people as sexual sinners. I told her how mistaken she was. I tried to share the true teachings of Jesus Christ with her, but my attempts to focus her attention on the Gospels were met with extreme hostility. She chose to cling to her false God (the Bible) and live in shame rather than feel the pride in Gay identity that she ought to feel. A tragedy, to say the least!
Conservative evangelicals try to counter charges of Bibliolatry with reminders that "Christians must follow the Law." True, but which Law do we follow? It's not the Holiness Code, that body of Old Testament law where the infamous restrictions on same-gender intimacy are found. Nor is it the pronouncements of the Apostle Paul, whom many evangelicals seem to regard as the doctrinal equal of the Messiah. Christians follow Christian law. Jesus Christ laid down Christian law, and those laws are found in the Gospels; specifically, the 19th chapter of Matthew. It's extremely important for LGBT Christians to familiarize themselves with that chapter, not only because it contains the specifics of Christian law, but also because it contains the name used to identify Gay men in Scripture: Eunuchs! Eunuchs from birth. In the Bible, we are given that special designation. In ancient times, there were men, there were women, and there were eunuchs: A separate gender identity. Men who were born eunuchs were not castrated and had no reproductive limitation of any kind. They simply were men who, by nature, had no sexual desire for women and were known to be homosexually inclined.
It's debatable, whether or not Hebrew law criminalizes eunuch sexuality (how can one lie with a man as with a woman if one never sleeps with women?). However, Christian law does not criminalize it; there can be no debate. Furthermore, neither Hebrew nor Christian law criminalizes sex between women. How can this be possible if the Church believes otherwise? Think about some other things the Church has believed over the years: That people of color are inferior to White people; that women can't lead congregations; that sex education and contraceptives are sinful; that pedophile priests should be allowed access to children. Not such an impressive track record, is it? Still, you may ask: "What about the story of Sodom and Gomorrah?" When was the last time you visited a city where every man was not only Gay, but also a rampaging rapist? "What about denunciation of male temple prostitutes in the Old Testament?" Where's the evidence that every Gay man in Biblical times was a hustler? "What about the story of David and Jonathan?" Well, yeah . . . what about it??? This church-supported notion that Scripture condemns us is the biggest lie ever told! Even if it were true, the Bible isn't God, and that's what everybody needs to remember.
Bibliolatry is so deeply ingrained in our culture, it even influences non-religious Gay people. More often than not, in the course of defending themselves from the Religious Right, LGBT atheists and agnostics will concede that Christianity forbids homosexual relationships. This is an example of the blind leading the blind! Both Jesus Christ and His LesBiGay children get trampled on in the process. If you don't know anything about the Christian faith, don't assume that a Bible bigot is the expert. Never assume that! Bible bigots aren't experts on anything but Scriptural distortion. Take the time to read the Bible (in a scholarly translation, not the horrendous King James Version) and understand what it really says about our kind. Learn the ancient definition of the word eunuch (a good place to start is Faris Malik's Born Eunuchs web pages). Stop giving heterosexists the right to interpret religious texts, and stop pretending religion has no place in the Gay Rights movement. It should have a very prominent place! Bibliolatry is a major tool of LGBT oppression. Combating it is a necessary task for all of us, no matter what our belief systems may be.
Shame –defined by Merriam-Webster as a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety. In regard to LGBT folk, I would say shame is a cripplingly painful emotion. This is our greatest stumbling block. Why do we feel so ashamed? For the answer to that question, we have to go back thousands of years in world history. First, religious leaders condemned us. Then governments codified those condemnations as punitive laws. Later, mental health professionals declared us sick. All the while, a hate-inspired mythology was growing around LGBT identity. It depicted us as vampire-like sexual predators who molest children, destroy families, undermine national security, recruit unwilling heterosexual folk into our depraved "lifestyle" and just generally pollute whatever culture we live in. Fold demonizing superstition into religious bigotry, government persecution and pathological definitions, mix well, simmer for several millennia, and voilà! You've got a recipe for shame that endures through generations.
Over many centuries, the message that we are unnatural, abnormal and immoral has been pounded into us, mainly by the upholders of Machismo and Bibliolatry. There are those who'd have you believe that this centuries-old process of indoctrination was overcome in just three or four generations, since the Stonewall rebellion. Well, if you do believe that, there's a lovely suspension bridge in San Francisco I'd like to sell you!
Evidence of how deeply we've been infected by shame can be gleaned from our self-destructive behavior: The preponderance of substance abuse among us, the increased tendency to engage in risky sex, the vicious infighting inside our advocacy organizations, the eagerness to define ourselves and encourage others to define us as "queers", "faggots", "trannies" and "dykes", the willingness to cede Scriptural interpretation authority to religious bigots, and of course, the still-widespread existence of the LGBT "closet." The latest manifestation of closeted behavior (although it's really not new) is the so-called down-low phenomenon: Men pursuing homosexual affairs while maintaining a macho, woman-chaser façade. All of this behavior stems from a core belief that we're inferior to Straight people and not deserving of equal treatment. LGBT shame sits on a platform of oft-repeated lies. Toppling it necessarily involves demolishing that platform and exposing those lies; there's no other way to do it! It can be done, and what's surprising is how easily it can be done. What's evidently not so easy is mustering the courage, ambition and effort to undertake the task. God will make a way, though, if we ask Him.
A different version of this essay appeared on the blog Christ, The Gay Martyr
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