Thursday 16 May 2013

IDAHO Day 2013

Today is IDAHO day - International Day Against Homophobia 17 May. 

Last year on this day, I wrote an extensive piece on my thoughts about homophobia: its relationship to patriarchy, sexism and misogyny and a personal anecdote to explain that we none of us are immune from its hateful clutches (you can still read the post on the BGBC Blog)

This year I want to write about two other points about homophobia.

The first is the oft-thrown allegation that it should not be called homophobia because a phobia is a fear and dislike of gays is not a fear. 

The uneducated red-neck homophobe says, "I ain't afraid of no faggot,"  while the educated middle class homophobe says, "I am absolutely not bigoted but I do not accept homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle and it is most certainly not because I am afraid of gays." At the conclusion of last year's IDAHO post, the following comment was made (sic) - "Phobia means fear and not everyone is afraid of Gays. They may be ignorant but they don't fear. And to use the word education doesn't solve anything. People have the right to opinioniate what they feel. If a person doesn't like baseball does that mean they have a phobia of baseball? It all comes down to respect".

Now notice the attraction to the semantics of the word phobia meaning fear. There seems to be an implied sense to these sorts of statements that the idea of fear is something to be ashamed of. Or to put it another way, any real man ought not be afraid of anything, that fear should not be part of his emotional repertoire. Fear would be a shameful thing in this context. Which is just plain silly because of course, all humans are capable of fear and to suggest that men don't fear just because they are men is just patriarchal nonsensical stereotype. Yet you do come across this notion quite a lot and indeed I spoke at length about patriarchy and its effects on both men and women in the former Blogpost on this topic.

But to the crux of the commenter's statement. The gist runs thus: everyone is allowed to have their own opinions and just because you don't like something eg., baseball or gay people, that does not mean you are afraid - of baseball, gay people. So it's not a phobia. Now leaving aside that he gives moral equivalence and value to baseball to the same degree as he does to gay people, is he right? Just because I don't like gay people doesn't mean I am afraid of them or have a fear of them. That's right isn't it?

Well, there is more than one way to have fear and there are also degrees of fear. Those such as our commenters draw a picture of fear as a person frightened or cowering with fear or terror. But that is not the type of fear we are talking about when we use the word phobia in homophobia. No, it is more subtle than that.

Australian anti-homophobia television commercial
The fear that is produced is the fear that I might be seen to be gay too. It is the fear that I as a straight man might be lumped together with those gay people over there by a society that does not accept or understand gay people and I might be thought of or judged to be gay too. 

Some simple everyday examples. I don't wear a jumper which has yellow in it because it is too bright and might look a bit girly (real men only wear varying shades of grey, brown and black). People might think I'm gay. I don't sit with my gay mate in the cinema (as happened to my partner once) because I wouldn't want people to think that we're together as a couple. If I'm walking with another guy down the street, I walk at least one metre away from him lest anybody think we're walking a bit close for two straight guys and they think that we're gay. I would love a glass of white wine to go with my fish but I order a beer because there are other men here too and they might think a white wine is a bit girly. I don't get my hair cut too short even though I love it short especially in summer because people might think I'm lesbian. I don't go on the bike ride fund raiser for breast cancer with my lesbian friend, because people might think we're together. There's no fear here, is there?

All these examples and thousands of other little everyday things stop us from being who we want to be, talking to the people we want to talk to, being with the people we want to be with, acting the way we want to act - all because we fear being tagged as gay. When I am straight, one of the most challenging thoughts I can have is that people might think I am gay. Watch how quickly, people correct the misinterpretation or even the possibility. I often wince when people use the word 'partner' about someone they're in a business association with and then quickly add, "business partner" lest anyone think they're gay.

This is fear pure and simple. The straight world fears being thought of as gay. I think we gay guys see it more often (but I could be wrong) and more easily. Male homophobia, even perpetrated by friends or family, is pretty hard to miss.

IDAHO Day is a great reminder to add the necessary corrective to the traditional view - that there is nothing wrong with being gay and that to be thought gay is not a fearful thing. I like some of the straight stars of screen and the sporting field who are comfortable and confident in their sexuality and who know they are admired by gay people as being a 'bit of alright.' They exemplify the kind of thought I speak of here: that they can be with gay people, that they can even be admired by gay people as good looking and they are perfectly okay with it. After a dinner party once, I was leaving the house and the hosts, a lovely straight couple, both gave me a kiss on the cheek and a hug. The guy was as surprised as I was and we just smiled at each other. No fear. No silly retraction. Just a lovely bond between the three of us.

The phobia in homophobia is real because the fear is real. The stain on the lives of gay people is real because of it.

The second point I want to make about homophobia is this. It can manifest in two ways. 

I call them overt homophobia and covert homophobia.

cabbages and kings blog
Overt homophobia is the one we all avoid as gay people. It is the angry guy calling us faggot or poof with hatred in his eyes. It is getting sacked because you're gay. This is illegal in Australia now, but wasn't always. And there are still places around the world where such prejudice is permitted to thrive. Overt homophobia is in your face. It's out there and open. It's forceful and combative. It is belligerent. It is violent. It is scary. It is ugly. And it feels horrible, a gut wrenching emptiness in the pit of your stomach, if you're a victim of it. There is often a sense of incredulity after being victimised by overt homophobia, a sense of "I didn't deserve that. I was just being me".

Cate Faehrmann website
And then there's covert homophobia. This is more insidious. This is not in your face. This is where warmth and friendliness are withdrawn from you. This is where affection is clandestinely removed. This is where people are passive-aggressive because you are gay. This is where everyone else gets asked to the party but you don't. This is where families or friends freeze you out because they cannot handle your sexuality. One of the most subtle but powerful versions of this is where there is tacit agreement between members of a family or group that your gayness will not be talked about. There is a deafening silence around all things gay including your own sexual identity. Out people have been forced back into a closet where with some people, they are 'not allowed' to speak of their real lives. The pressure not to speak is never articulated but is there and is powerful nevertheless. So we speak about everything else, just not that part of our lives. There is no shouting. There is no argument. There is no obvious pin-point time of estrangement. No, it just happens around you and after a while, you begin to notice. Things don't feel the same. Things are not the same. I feel more isolated in my own group, in my own workplace, in my own family. Covert homophobia can easily be denied. "No, of course we didn't exclude you from the office party. How could you possibly think that?" It's harder to pin down. But it is just as real. When you finally do recognise it for what it is, it hurts just as much as the more obvious type.

If you are a gay person, you need to look after yourself and your mental health by not placing yourself in harm's way. You deserve better of course and some people, when challenged about their homophobia, will grow and abandon it. Others unfortunately will never get it. 

If you are a homophobic person, I challenge you to face your fear and stare it down. Go and talk to a gay person. Get to know someone gay. You will see that that person is essentially just like you in all the important ways that really count.

Image courtesy: ©2009 Jupiterimages
IDAHO Day is a day when we speak about homophobia, when we single out a certain kind of prejudice, the prejudice against gay people for just being gay. All prejudice is an assault. All prejudice is ugly. All prejudice grows in fear. All prejudice grows in ignorance. It others the hated group and turns them into monsters. But gay people are not monsters. We are like every other human being, with a dignity and value and worth that is integral to all human nature. We are capable of great good and great love. We understand the gift of family very well. And we understand that the most powerful force in the universe is love, the very opposite of hate. For those of us who are of faith, we believe that love is the essence and nature of the Divine. And that is why we believe that love conquers all. On this IDAHO Day as we ponder the nature and effects of homophobia, tell someone you love them. And be loving to those around you. Change your small part of the world by love.

Pax et Amor - Stuart

Thursday 9 May 2013

The Apology

Here is the apology that the Christian Church needs to offer the gay people of the world. It doesn't seem to be forthcoming at the moment from the Church, so I have penned one myself on the Church's behalf to give it an idea of how this might go. To give credit, there are some in the Church who do feel this way, but still not enough. So share it with your Christian friends. Share it with your pastor, your priest, share it with your bishop. The church needs to change its view of gay people and its treatment of gay people. We too are part of God's incredible human family.

The Church could start by asking for forgiveness. It could start with an apology.

To Gay People the World Over

We the Christian Church, while professing that our reason for existence is to spread the knowledge of God in the manner of Jesus of Nazareth and to show God's love and compassion for all humanity by our lives, with Jesus as our exemplar, most especially to the down-trodden, the weary, the sick, the old, the widow, the orphan, the prisoner, the weak, the oppressed, the poor and the marginalised, acknowledge that we have fallen so far short in our attitudes toward and our treatment of one marginalised group - gay people - that our actions can only be described as sin. And sin of the gravest kind. We have called that which God has created good, evil. We have contaminated the worth of your lives with toxic shame and presented you to the world as reprehensible and filthy, as the epitome of moral repugnance.

We know that one of the earliest words in the Scriptures for sin was an archery term, the Greek word hamartia (ἁμαρτία) describing an arrow 'missing its mark.' As the Church of Jesus Christ, we freely acknowledge that we have completely missed the mark regarding gay people from the very beginning and that two thousand years of history has not seen us grow any more enlightened. To this very day, we continue to judge you, deny you, reject you, pillory you, vilify you, denigrate you, condemn you, besmirch you, denounce you and exclude you and we do this for one reason and one reason only - your sexual orientation.

We do humbly and abjectly apologise for our actions. We acknowledge our mistreatment of you. We ask for your forgiveness even though we know we do not deserve it.

We own this great transgression of Jesus' first and only commandment of love. We have been anything but loving. We have been the antithesis of loving. We have been an organ of hate.

For these sins we are truly sorry.

Artist Unknown
We have clung to out-dated interpretations of Biblical passages. We have refused to openly explore modern scholarship that brings to light so much about the Bible, Jesus and his teachings that we never knew before. We have been openly belligerent towards you and have acted in pride as we shot you down in flames and pronounced judgment over your lives as an abomination. We have behaved towards you in dialogue from a place of hubris where we haughtily saw ourselves as the saved and you as sinners. We have ignored your feelings as if they did not matter; that only our precious pronouncements mattered. 

For these sins we are truly sorry.

We have told the world that your life is not natural, that you are set against nature and in so doing, you are set against God. We have told the world that you are sick and disordered and sinful, that you are deviant and that your love is not real but is only lust. And we have told the world that lust is evil. We have told the world that your whole lives are 'inclined to moral evil,' a statement so grandiose in its language and so all-encompassing in its reach that you gay people are left reeling because such language is usually reserved for despots and tyrants, the cruellest of the cruel. 

For these sins we are truly sorry.

Artist Unknown
We have pitted parents against their gay children. We have caused untold damage in families. We have stopped you from ministering in our churches. We have sacked and dismissed you from legitimate posts because of your sexual orientation. We have impeded your promotion and even put up barriers for your housing. We have refused the communion service to you. We have forbidden you to remain in our fellowships because of your lives. We have persisted in calling your life a ‘lifestyle’ and your orientation a ‘preference,’ knowing full well that those words are not only illegitimate but are also heavily loaded emotionally and politically. 

For these sins we are truly sorry.

We have ignored the wisdom of science. We have refused to acknowledge that you are born gay. We stubbornly declare to the world that your 'sexual preference is a choice,' despite knowing the fact that science has been able to show definitively that there is a substantial genetic component determining all human sexuality. But we haven’t cared about that. That does not fit our ancient world or mediaeval worldview, so we just ignore the research and dismiss it out of hand, acting as though it does not exist. And we continue to trot out our worn-out arguments and pronouncements with divine certitude while we argue with one another as to which of us has faith the most right. And while we're busy arguing among ourselves, we trample you underfoot with carefree abandon as we pour out rejection and judgmentalism from our bile-filled mouths. 

For these sins we are truly sorry.

We set up our own idols. Men usually. We follow their every pronouncement and treat them as celebrities. Hatemongers who are either ignorant, prejudiced or have some personal axe to grind about sexuality. But also the Church. We construct its systems as though they are set up by God and use the weapon of bureaucracy against you. The Bible. Some of us worship the book instead of seeing it as a pointer to the One. 

Idolatry. Ecclesiolatry. Bibliolatry. We listen to homophobes and misanthropists and share their words while we worship a book instead of the God that it speaks of. And we hide behind church governance instead of relating to you as fellow human beings. And from our book and from our churches and from our God, we exclude you. We other you like we have othered no other group in history. We have resolutely painted the picture as us and them. We have done this for centuries. We are the us. And you are the them. 

For these sins we are truly sorry.

Artist - oldshuck
We have even told you that you had to change, even though we know in our heart of hearts that there is no change. We have set up ministries to lie to you to tell you that your lives are worthless as they are. You must change, that you are not good enough as you are. You must turn yourselves into heterosexual people. Against all evidence, we have told you that you can do this by the power of God and with our support. We did not tell you that should you succumb to our ministrations you would forever be in limbo, a no-man's land where you will never be straight and you cannot call yourselves gay. And even if you do marry an opposite sex partner and even have children, we will still never quite accept you. We do never quite go the full distance to full acceptance. We have ignored the signs from around the world after some of you have committed suicide because you couldn't cope with what we did to you in these ministries. However despite the deaths, we have continued on, referring young vulnerable gay people, mostly brought up in the church and in Christian families, to these ministries at a time when they are emotionally defenceless and the power differential between them and us is gargantuan. We have harmed you. We have killed you. We are responsible. 

For these sins we are truly sorry.

In our realisation of the grotesque distortion of the Christian Gospel that we have offered the world, a distortion that the world rightly rejects, we abjectly apologise to you. We have debased the Good News and driven people away from God and from life in the Spirit. We have put before the world a false dichotomy between the sacred and the profane and we have put sex and desire in the profane. It is no wonder we have rejected you for you have had to go on a spiritual and emotional journey to be able to accept yourselves at the sexual level. We are frightened of this. We are frightened of sex, of desire. We always have been. We fear you and your comfort with sexuality. We have placed celibacy as the zenith of human conditions and even mandated some of our clergy to live this way against all inclination for the rest of their lives. And we tell young gay people that they too must be celibate and deny an integral part of their identity for the rest of their lives too.

For these sins we are truly sorry.

Contrition in the Grass - T. Caperton
We are mortally and grievously at fault here. Like the old Latin words we say contritely, 'mea cupla, mea cupla, mea maxima culpa - through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.' We are stripped and laid bare and our transgressions are unveiled for all to see.

Our sins have been grievous and manifold. We have not acted like Jesus at all. We have not shown love or compassion. We have been quick to occupy the divine judgment seat and speak with hubris as if the plank in our own eye were not big enough already.

In apologising and asking for the forgiveness we do not deserve after perpetrating so much hurt and so much harm, we seek to redress our sinful actions. We need to make recompense. We need to change.

We will be the followers of Jesus we were always meant to be. We will have love and charity as our foremost test of everything we do and everything we say. We will seek out and ask for your views and value your opinions. We will include you in our liturgies and as part of our clergy. We will happily employ you. We will desist from calling you unclean, disordered and evil. We will abandon such language forever. We will stop using the Bible as a weapon against you and start reading the scriptures in the light of modern scholarship. We will be big enough and strong enough in our faith in God to say where we think the peoples of the ancient Biblical world got it wrong, such as with slavery, women, the death penalty, and gay people, among other issues. We will have a strong and robust faith that is partnered with reason so that our God and our faith are not mocked and laughed to scorn by an educated, literate, post-enlightenment humanity. We will speak out for equality for all human beings and denounce homophobia specifically. We will be strong advocates for gay people so that you feel welcome, valued and loved as part of the family of God.

We will do our best to make up for the centuries of trauma. We do not know how long it will take for you to trust us and to forgive us. But we openly and honestly offer you our sorrow, our contrition, our apology for our actions past and present.

For these and all our sins against you we are truly sorry.

Pax et Amor - Stuart