Straight Ally

straight ally symbol

“A heterosexual and cisgender person who supports equal civil rights, gender equality, LGBT social movements, and challenges homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia.”

When I was in college in the mid 1980s, I was pre-law. I was put in charge of an internship program that was part of a free legal clinic. I was director with a small staff of interns and one of my duties was to recruit new interns. One day I was talking to one a young woman in my program about groups I could visit on campus, to speak about recruitment. She suggested the Gay and Lesbian Student Union. I said I didn’t know if I would be comfortable with that group. She said, “you don’t have any trouble being comfortable with me.” Yeah, I had no idea. Should I have? She hadn’t told me, but is it something of which I should have been intuitively cognizant? No, but that’s not the best question.

A better question is whether I would have treated her differently if I had known. I hope not and I seriously doubt it, but had just admitted to her that in my own mind, I had an issue with gay and lesbian people. They made me uncomfortable, in some way that I’m not sure I could have qualified.

Society’s attitudes were different then. It was in 1984 and I was only 23. I came from a small town with few, if any openly gay people. The Moral Majority was telling American that gay equaled AIDS, while the Reagan administration was busy not helping. So I was given a teachable moment, from which I took away, at the time, the certainty that I had a lot to learn about people and our lives together. But very little idea where or from whom I would learn it. So I promptly, conveniently, forgot about it.

In my 30s I joined what could unarguably be called one of the most conservative churches on the planet. I don’t mean purblind tight-ass, sanctimonious American conservative. (No offense.) I mean Orthodox Christian, the old church, the old calendar, liturgy in Slavonic. I didn’t go there looking for conservativism. I went looking for communion with God. And nobody there was saying anything political; no preaching against gay marriage or anything. I was just vaguely aware of the church’s stand on such matters, that homosexuality is sin.

The Orthodox Christian Church is beautiful in many ways; mystical, ancient and eastern. Completely insulated from American politics, in my experience. Conservative to the point of believing that righteous government is wielded by a God-anointed Czar. No matter how conservative you think American “Christians,” of the kind that can follow Trump and Pence, can act, they are still very liberal and humanist compared to some people I have met.

There were a few points of doctrine that I had a problem with. I believe that pets go to Heaven. I don’t believe that homosexuality is a sin. I believe that sins are acts that separate the sinner from God and arise from our own selfishness, not from states of being. Sins are not acts that piss off other people; nobody has the right to tell you what your sins are. And certainly love can never be a sin. Acts that piss off other people are called pet peeves and crimes, which is why it’s imperative that we prevent tight-ass people from legislating their sins into our criminal legal codes. I believe that whatever your church chooses to practice, the law of the land is equal protection of the law for everyone.

There I was, though, in that beautiful church with those kind and gentle people. In my 30s, my opinion about gay rights was that people should keep their private lives private and stop demanding that the rest of us endorse their proclivities. I think that’s exactly what  I would have said at the time. And of course, I was completely missing the point. I had more learning to do.

When I visited family in San Francisco in the 1990s, someone suggested we go to the annual Pride parade. I recoiled at the idea, partly because I wanted to go to Marin County, enjoy some peace and quiet and relax. There’s a place, or was, in Occidental, that makes some pretty damn fine waffles. Also I was a good Christian with no desire to watch people cavorting in the streets. It seemed to me that sexual and gender identity wasn’t a reason for a demonstration in public. After all, heterosexual people don’t do it. It didn’t occur to me that hetero people should be glad they don’t have a reason to demonstrate.

Two more decades have passed. I’ve made gay friends, transgender friends, I have a transgender loved one, and I have learned that not only was I wrong about LGBTQ people, I was wrong about the culture in which we live. “In the world there is, parallel to the force of death and constraint, an enormous force of persuasion that is called culture.”[i] That culture had persuaded me to think that some of us were normal, others not, and that I was being cool by saying that normal people should tolerate others – live and let live – and the others should fade into the background noise and be tolerated.

Culture wields power. Power is inherently paranoid and potentially destructive. “When somebody goes outside the cultural norms, the culture has to protect itself.”[ii] So the LGBTQ movement is cultural self-defense, not an uprising to overthrow the culture norms, though that may be necessary and may come at great cost. None of which would be quite so obvious to me if not for the great homophobic backlash of the Trump de-evolution.

Before Trump made America hate again, civil rights seemed to be improving. Ferguson notwithstanding, I was more relaxed. I didn’t feel like the rights and wellbeing of people I care about were in jeopardy from the society I life in. Things have gone very much awry and as always the issues of civil rights for LGBTQ persons are no less fundamental and compelling than those of persons of color. They are the issues of us all. And I’m forced to admit that my opinion of 20 years ago was really a subtle form of self-righteous apartheid.

A few things are clearer now than they were in the halcyon days of Obama: First, that a reformation is necessary to secure the blessings liberty to those whose civil rights are every bit as morally imperative as those of hetero and gisgender people like me. The reformation must profoundly change this culture. Second, the culture has it coming, by God. Third, people like me have a moral duty to take sides and speak out, and the reformation will go better for everyone if we do. “Normal is just the average of deviance;” it doesn’t exist.[iii] All life is a spectrum, and if people like Trump and Pence, and the alt-right zombie army they’re building are normal, I want no part of their part of the culture.

I’m not suggesting that churches should be required to perform gay weddings. I’m as much for freedom of religion as freedom from religion. I’m saying the right to marry is a civil right and the government should make no law prohibiting its free exercise. I’m saying that no religion or cult should have the power to legislate its creed and impose its beliefs on anyone who doesn’t freely accept that creed. This culture has been poisoned by fear and tied back to to dogmas of fear, prejudice, protectionism, and doublethink. A reformation of compassion and unequivocal inclusion will do us all a world of good.

I said that after college, I had a lot to learn. I think it’s ironic that I learned as much from the people who hate people who are different than from people who in the crosshairs of that hatred. Fascists never seem to realize that hatred and paranoia (homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia) sow the seeds of their own destruction. Even bystanders can watch bullying for just so long. Now I wish I knew then what I know now, and I wish I knew now what I don’t know yet. “All kinds of sadness I’ve left behind me. Many’s the day when I have done wrong.”[iv] But I know that everyone deserves respect and equality. Our law demands it. And while any person doesn’t have equality, no person who does should go quietly or rest easily.

pooh piglet wind

[i] Albert Camus.

[ii] Robert Pirsig.

[iii] Rita Mae Brown

[iv] Jethro Tull

J. Kyle Kimberlin
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The Mystery We Attend

In Light in August, Faulkner wrote, “Man knows so little about his fellows. In his eyes all men or women act upon what he believes would motivate him if he were mad enough to do what that other man or woman is doing.”

We who attempt to enter the Universe by means of words have a lot of explaining to do. Here we are, suspended in air and light, in grass, in hundreds of billions of galaxies, and in each other’s tears. How do we find the words to describe all that, and also the sound of frogs and the taste of peaches?
 
So often what motivates us is almost impossible to understand or describe, even if we most ardently and earnestly try. Our reasons for acting or failing to act remain obscure, even – perhaps especially – to us.
 
So much of what makes us human defies exegesis. The high and craggy altitudes of faith and the thorny gardens of love come to mind. But so does simply dealing with life’s seeming chaos, one day at a time.

“… because here we were dealing with the pit and prune juice of poor beat life itself in the god awful streets of man.”
– Jack Kerouac

Based on Faulkner’s maxim on motivation, I believe you write, carve, paint, compose – by some means and in some matter you create – because you find yourself attending a mystery that eludes you. There is a thread of music in the night, across the lake or down the block, and you feel a need to find the source. It may take until morning; this I understand.
 

“Until we accept the fact that life itself is founded in mystery, we shall learn nothing.”
– Henry Miller

Doesn’t this mean that the creative process is an irrefutably mystic endeavor, that the artist is called into the desert of his/her making for a consultation with their Higher Power? I think so. I believe creativity is an act of faith, not unlike prayer, undertaken by means of solitude and submission to a process we don’t really understand. On a good day, anyway. Other times, it’s clear I’m stuck in my own despicable will. Or, as Anne Lamott puts it, “stuck in the shit again.”

So where do we go from here, from being stuck? Out into the desert, I suppose. Or up to the mountaintop, or – this is my favorite metaphor – down to the bottom of the lake. It’s hard for non-artists to understand, but it’s take a long time – falling deeper and deeper and deeper on down – to reach the creative state of mind. And all it takes (ask Samuel Taylor Coleridge) is one knock on the door to bring me popping back up to the surface, bobbing around in the flotsam, driftwood, and the rubber ducks.
 

“So okay – there you are in your room with the shade down and the door shut and the plug pulled out of the base of the telephone. You’ve blown up your TV and committed yourself to a thousand words a day, come hell or high water. Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want.”
– Stephen King

 

Bonus Advice from Anne Enright

  1. The first 12 years are the worst.
  2. The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page.
  3. Only bad writers think that their work is really good.
  4. Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand.
  5. Write whatever way you like. Fiction is made of words on a page; reality is made of something else. It doesn’t matter how “real” your story is, or how “made up”: what matters is its necessity.

Two Ponderables from Antonio Machado

 

I love Jesus who told us

the heavens and earth shall pass away.

When the heavens and earth pass away,

my word will remain.

What was your word, Jesus?

Love? Pardon? Affection?

All your words were

one word: Arise.

 

– Antonio Machado

 

~~~

 

In my solitude. I have seen things very clearly that were not true. 

 

– Antonio Machado

Zen and Fanaticism

“When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kind of dogmas or goals, it’s always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.”

– Robert M. Pirsig

Pirsig wrote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a philosophical novel I read during my college days. If you read the book – which I recommend – you’ll find that Pirsig knew a lot about doubt.

Zen was personal reading, not assigned for a class. In fact, I remember it took some effort to convince the professor of a Modern Novels class that it was a novel at all, so that I could write a paper on it. He said I should save Zen for a philosophy paper, and choose a nice novel – something actually fictional – for the assignment. Though he was right, he let me do it anyway. But in order to make his decision, my professor had to read the book, which he did overnight. Over one night.

One of the things I loved about college was that I was surrounded by people far smarter than me. (Or is is smarter than I? …Me. “Smart than I” sounds so pretentious.)

Me still meet smart people, but me don’t feel surrounded anymore.

The prof was Lennis C. Dunlap at Chico State, who co-wrote The Forms of Fiction with the novelist John Gardner. Both brilliant men and that book are, sadly, long since out of print. And my dust jacket is getting a little tattered too.

Another thing I liked about college was that there was very little dogma going on. Within the religion of the double space type and the one inch margins, we were encouraged to put our own twist on Knowledge.

Once we were discussing religion in one of Prof Dunlap’s seminars, and he invited us – optionally – to tell what religious group we belonged to, if any. When it came my turn, as I joke I said, “I’m a Druid – Reformed.” I made that up on the spot and thought it was pretty darn funny. Without missing a beat or blinking an eye, Dunlap said, “Is that a local coven or back home?” It’s been 30 years, and that still makes me smile.

OBE

I used to work at a company where some of the guys in engineering and tech pubs (my department) frequently went to lunch with people from nearby companies. The reasons aren’t important, but it was a cool community of friends.

One day we got an email from one of the group saying he couldn’t make it to lunch. He said, “OBE.” The next time I saw him, I asked what those letters meant. He said, “Overcome By Events.” I thought that was pretty funny, because when I was studying metaphysics in college OBE was the abbreviation for “Out of Body Experience.” (Yep, my minor in philosophy included coursework in topics such as telekinesis, bilocation and astral projection. It was a hoot.)

Separation of the cognitive from the corporeal is not what’s been keeping me from blogging. I’ve been overcome by events. Busy. Distracted. So it goes. I’ll try to settle down now and think of something to post, something for us to think about.

Have you ever felt that you are not yourself, or not in yourself? It’s possible, don’t you think? Apocryphal teachings of the Christian Church include tales of pious people who were in two places at the same time, or who traveled great distances at impossible speeds, without vehicles. Such are supernatural events, and it’s hard to believe in God and dismiss the paranormal. And if we accept that our bodies are ours but we are not in them, or that we transcend them at death, then perhaps we can transcend them in life as well.

Anyway, like I said, I’ll sit down soon and try to think of something for us to ponder.

Peace. Kyle out.

Heaven

How often do you wonder about it? Are you planning ahead for the trip?

Maybe we will cross a Rainbow bridge, where we are greeted by all of our lost and beloved pets. They were always the first to greet us in this life, and the best at doing it, so why not? And we will live there forever with everyone we’ve loved … In the popular image of Heaven, not much is mentioned about God. But isn’t He supposed to be the point?

StJohnClimacus

In today’s Writer’s Almanac, there’s a nice little poem called Heaven, which says that we will live in the past there – that Heaven is the past – and we’ll live there with

“Everyone we ever loved,
and lost, and must remember.”

Sweet. Everybody gathers up and goes back in time, and entry is automatic, based on love, loss and memory. But it doesn’t make much sense, from a theological perspective. What about, you know, Judgment? God will not be mocked.

And if we gather up at a point in time and go back in time, what about everybody who lives on, remembering and missing us? Do they show up on a later bus?

I imagine we are like Billy Pilgrim, stuck in time now but not stuck in time always. So it goes. And heaven exists outside – beyond – the stream of time. It’s not past, present or future, it’s forever.

What Dreams May Come

What do you think?

Come And Around Me Stand

 

The song of the day is Angel Band by The Stanley Brothers. It’s a soul-sobering old hymn, of which there might be better renderings, but this is a classic. The Dead have covered it beautifully, as did Old And In The Way.

Look, everything living is on it’s way to being something else. And God will not be mocked; He gets the last word on how we have invested our lives. But the Bible warns of false prophets, and clearly says that no one but God knows his schedule. So I can say emphatically that today is not the day of The Last Judg