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
Creative Commons Licensed

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The Center of the Universe

And then I explained to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remain silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.

– Elie Wiesel
Acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize

The marginalized people of America are afraid, and for good reason.

I am reminded of a story my priest told me once, from Russia in the years before the revolution. In those days, it was common practice for people to travel to monasteries to celebrate feast days and ask advice from monks, especially from certain elders.

On one occasion, a group of people were taking turns speaking with an elder who was giving them advice on keeping the fast – Lent. One by one they went up and ask his blessing – Batyushka Blagoslave – Father, bless me – and he would bless them and help them and send them on their way. He might tell them certain vegetables to eat, or tea to drink, or maybe for health reasons absolve them to eat eggs or cheese on days when they wouldn’t otherwise.

Finally a man stepped up who was very rich and influential; a man who had spent his life amassing a fortune. He asked for a blessing and the old priest, being insightful and wise, took one look at him and said:

Oh you, I know you. Don’t bother keeping the fast; eat anything you want. Just for the love of God stop eating people.

The people on the margins of American society are afraid because they are the most vulnerable to the people-eating machine that our divided and hate-steeped culture has become. I speaking of the immigrants, minorities, LGBTQ, the disabled and sick and homeless, and the list goes on. They know they’re not alone, but it must still feel that way. They don’t know if anyone – the Congress, the Courts, the churches and their neighbors – will stand with them as the machine grinds on.

It is not morning in America anymore; it is dusk. But the lamps are lit and the streets still belong to us. It is for us, every woman and man of conscience, to stay awake and vigilant. And when we hear that grinding sound in the night, we have to go out, and bring our brothers and sisters into our homes. Let no one be left outside. I’m saying we must keep speaking out.

The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.
– Robert M. Pirsig

That Man is a Success

When I was young – a teenager – my parents gave me the quotation below – framed – for the wall of my room. It has lived on in my mind for 40 years. I only wish that Emerson had made it gender-neutral, because I have known just as many admirable women as men, to whom its enlightenment applies.

While the day’s calamity for Trump may leave many of us feeling vindicated, outraged, or sickened, I also feel sad. So much that is beautiful and kind, gentle and true about human life is so often and so wantonly demeaned. It goes light years beyond the fact that he is no gentleman. Power is still consistently given to men who think people are possessions, that women and children, the poor, the sick and weak, the marginalized and the outcast, are subject to domination. That is sad, and it’s even sadder that some targets of their twisted, onanistic self-gratification seem to accept this, even to support this particular contemptible and toxic troglodyte.

We may not get another chance to teach such evil, insentient men – once and for all – that they are wrong. And to show the women and girls of America that they are awesome and equal, that their value in the world is intrinsic and inalienable. So no one has the right to grab them or bring them down.

Peace to you Reader, and to the women in your life who have taught you love and strength, intelligence, courage, and dignity.

 

That man is a success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much;
Who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of children;
Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
Who leaves the world better than he found it,
whether by an improved poppy or a perfect poem or a rescued soul;
Who never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it;
Who looked for the best in others and gave the best he had
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Memorial

As we Americans once again commemorate our war dead, and pay respect to the families of those who “gave the last full measure of devotion,” I wonder:

Will we ever come to terms with the fact that many of their deaths were preventable?

They not only died for us, they died because of us and our pride, arrogance, and nationalist ego-centrism.

We Americans are sure that we can do anything we set our minds and collective will to do. Why not peace?

Why can’t we learn to treat other people with respect, and so to gain friends instead of making enemies? We are so hell bent in self-righteousness, so mired in fear of others – and so completely confused about who they are – that millions of us want a dictator in our highest office.

Our dead didn’t die so that America would be weak and terrified, but we are. After 9/11 we raised flags and were defiant and strong for a while, until Bush-Cheney told us to be terrorized, and so we were and so we remain.

History will not be kind about the fall of the American Empire. For 15 years we have declined into willful ignorance, the victims of fear and selfishness. Trump is the distillation of that consciousness.

We don’t deserve a new birth of freedom if we deny it to each other.

We don’t deserve safety unless we stand up for the refugees and give them refuge.

We are not worthy to consecrate a moment, let alone a day, in honor of our dead, until we pledge in our hearts and minds that no more shall die in vain.

 

The Internet is Forever

I read on a couple of blogs that UC Davis paid people to try to expunge the Net of all traces of the pepper spray incident that happened there in 2011. This seems ridiculously futile to me, but I like to play. So lest we forget, here are a couple of links to posts I wrote on another blog, on the day of that brutality.

Students Attacked by Cops at Davis

  • November 19, 2011

Open Letter to the Chancellor of UC Davis

  • November 19, 2011

“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.”
― George Orwell, 1984

The Moaning of a Dog

The new cover of Charlie Hebdo is out and you’ve seen it. It’s poignant. I won’t post it here. It’s not that I don’t feel defiant, or sorry for the mindless violence and waste of life that touched Paris recently. I just don’t feel – for lack of a better term – the right to post that. I’ve simply got things too good.

As an American in a relatively progressive part of the country, with a liberal education and technical resources, I enjoy almost unqualified freedom of expression. So for me to act like I should don my beret and join my fellows at the barricades would be … disingenuous and impertinent.

I should acknowledge that my freedom of speech has been defended with some struggle, though let’s not invoke “The Troops,” if you don’t mind. God bless them one and all, but no. The First Amendment protects us against censorship by our own government. One might argue that the government is protecting the people from the government by fighting extremism abroad, which is a threat to our way of life, including our rights to defend ourselves against our government. And I would say give it a rest, Mr. Cheney.

Freedom of expression in the United States has been defended by journalists, writers and artists, pornographers, outcasts and misfits, whose books have been banned and who have spent time in jail for defending their sources. They’ve had to stand against monoliths ranging from the US government to the local PTA; ignorant jackasses bent on keeping the likes of Mark Twain and John Green out of the schools.

Sometimes the persistent leakage of industrial grade Stupid in this country raises quite an unpleasant smell. But the air is pretty fresh where I live, is my point. So my moral imperative to speak out against censorship, though incontestable, does not give me license to imply that I’m one of the oppressed.

Have I digressed?

Then by way of condolence and sympathy, I offer a poem by the Sufi poet Rumi, and a link to see – free gratis – the stained glass of the Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris. I was there once, you know, and it was beautiful.

Je Suis Charlie, frères et sœurs.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Love Dogs

One night a man was crying,
Allah! Allah!
His lips grew sweet with the praising,
until a cynic said,
“So! I have heard you
calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?”

The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.

He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage.
“Why did you stop praising?”
“Because I’ve never heard anything back.”
“This longing
you express is the return message.”

The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.

Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.

Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.

There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.

Give your life
to be one of them.”

― Rumi

The poem, read by Coleman Barks

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Windows of Notre Dame.