Sunday, June 19, 2016

Feels Like Dancing


OK, so this is a puff piece for Father's Day, put out no doubt by the royal handlers to give the British royal family some positive PR.  I know, I know.  Media manipulation.  One of my biggest pet peeves.

Until it hits home.

I have a distinct memory of watching Elizabeth - Queen Elizabeth - get married.  They put a television set (yes, we had TV in those days) on the stage in our elementary school auditorium and they brought the whole school in to watch the ceremony from London. This was in Winsted, Connecticut, not Uxbridge or Somerset.

Then I remember the pictures from the Weekly Reader when I was in third grade and Prince Charles was born.  I had heard my Scottish grandfather use the word "bonnie" before, but now here was everybody using that word - Bonnie Prince Charlie. I remember that.  I really do.  I know it used to be used for the Stuart king, Charles Edward, pretender to the Scottish throne, but we didn't know that guy.  We knew Elizabeth's little feller.

Then you get in your car and zoom back to the future and suddenly here's Bonnie Prince Charlie's little boy William.  Growing up gorgeous.  Diana's little boy.  Where does the time fly off to?

And now, today, this bit of spam? comes across my screen, a notice from People magazine about how young William is out and about with the common folk, sitting in a coffee shop and talking about father/son relationships on Father's Day.

grannie scolds
And he practices what he preaches. There's that picture of him being scolded by his neon grannie for bending down to pay attention to his kid when everybody knows he's supposed to remain ever tall and monarchical.

He's a lot balder than the last time he caught my attention.  Sitting there with an open shirt, hairy chest and all, and exchanging opinions with kids and their fathers, telling the world that his little boy George's and his little girl Charlotte's mental health are important.

Wow.

I've seen future shock.  But this is real!

I know it's PR.  Twice this week I've seen Prince Harry, once clowning around with grandma, once in a top hat.  They've whipped those kids into shape and are trying to regain royal dignity lost, looks like - Fergie - Diana's boyfriend - failure to lower flag, "annus horribilis" etc. etc., although Harry still complains a bit.

Not a friend of royalty or nobility.  But I've got a thing for daddies and their kids.

On Father's Day, what a coincidence.

William has been out and about doing good works for a while now.  You might say it’s overly cynical to call it just PR.   You could just call it “work,” you know.  Part of a king-presumptive’s job to spend the taxpayer’s money on things other than pomp and circumstance.



"It's all about being inclusive."
Here he is, for example, on the cover of Britain’s gay magazine Attitude.  The story inside features his views on the importance of addressing bullying.  “No one should be bullied for their sexuality or any other reason.”  His mother took the initiative of addressing AIDS victims.  He’s following in her footsteps calling attention to LGBT issues, even inviting an LGBT group to Kensington Palace, complete with photos, of course, to show his support.  





Sometimes when they jerk you around it feels like you're dancing.

And sometimes, when you feel like you’re dancing, maybe the thing to do is enjoy the music.

Happy Father's Day.



source:
Prince William in People magazine (top photo)
Prince Harry in hat 
Grannie scolds

Thursday, June 16, 2016

There's danger in pursuing gun control


Careful, careful.

Things are looking up for Hillary’s campaign.  Not because she’s turning people around who are less than enamored of her – although I think that’s happening too – but because Trump continues to shoot himself in the foot so reliably.  It’s still about negative numbers.  People are far far less put off by her than by him not because she’s so good but because he’s so bad.

This would be the place to argue that she’s had a bad rap, that she is not as bad as so many people think she is, that she’s been smeared by the Republicans' very well-oiled machine.  It would be an argument to get into if arguments were what is called for. 

But it’s clear by now that arguments are not what Americans are interested in.  No presidential candidate has ever been this willing to stand before massive crowds and tell bare-faced lies.  It might have worked before, but so far nobody else has tried.  Trump's trying it and it’s working.  I just heard a Spiegel journalist express his incredulity that Trump claimed Obama is opening the floodgates and letting in all those Syrian refugees.  This scares the uninformed, who make up a critical mass of the American public, because it’s hard to persuade people that countless numbers of terrorists are not smuggling themselves in in their number.  That’s what has threatened Angela Merkel’s position.  People are furious, convinced her open door policy has increased the risk of terrorism to an even more alarming level.  But scarcely more than two thousand Syrian refugees have been taken in here in the U.S., a fact that we ought to hang our heads in shame over.  Huddled masses yearning to breathe free, my ass.  And people still line up behind Donald Trump.

The point is that Americans are not being reasonable.  They are letting themselves be jerked around by their fears. Trump is playing on their suspicions as he would on a Mighty Wurlitzer.  There is no way to explain why suggestions like a wall the length of the Mexican border or a ban on all Muslims entering the country were not shot down instantly as immoral and illegal, never mind undoable.  But they weren’t.  The crowds cheered, and Trump kept it up until he found the next fear he could massage.

The presidential election was sidetracked for a few days by the massacre in Orlando, even though Trump managed to get the last of the jaws that had not already dropped to drop. His first response to the news coming out of Orlando was not “how horrible” but “see, I was right, and they’re thanking me for being right.”  They love me.  The usual refrain.  I’m the greatest.

What’s worrying me at the moment is what might happen next, now that we appear to have reached at long last a sufficient level of outrage over the insane number of deaths by guns in this country.  If the filibuster in Congress by those two senators from Connecticut is any indication, and the fact that it appears to have worn down some Republican intransigence, we might be at the point of actually doing something about it.  Hurray for that.  Proud of my home state.  Have always squirmed at the “thoughts and prayers” proclamations and the moments of silence.

I’m concerned that this nod to rational thought could mean we win a battle but lose the war.  What if we get enough support to actually impose some restrictions?  At least maybe we could make it possible to prevent people we don’t allow on airplanes because they’re suspected terrorists not to buy guns, either.  Assault weapons, at least.  Maybe we could still allow them to shoot an individual here or there.  But not an entire class of children or a bar full of revelers.

Whatever changes get made will be small.  There is no way to change this many hearts and minds overnight.  Almost half of all Americans are convinced of what the big money gun lobby is putting out there, the thought that the government wants to take our guns away so they can then come in and have their way with us.

All common sense has been flushed down the toilet on this issue.  More Americans have died from being shot since 1968 than have died in wartime – in all the wars in American history.  Way more, since those figures only go up to 2011.  We spend trillions of dollars to fight terrorism, and next to nothing to fight death by guns in America.  Number of deaths by terrorism in the last decade: 24. Number of deaths by guns: 280,024.

Those numbers are discussed along with a fact check performed by Politifact, an independent nonprofit project.  According to something called the Gun Violence Archive, there were 12,562 gun deaths in 2014 and 9,959 in 2015 up until October 8, when Politifact put out the numbers.   That’s a grand total of 301,797 firearm-related deaths in the past decade, compared to 71 deaths from domestic acts of terrorism.  Note that the numbers differ significantly, because different sources and different years are being used.  But the proportions are accurate.

Americans are violent.  Seven times more likely to die a violent death than the rest of the modern world.  Six times more likely to be killed with a gun.  The total firearm death rate per 100,000 population in Holland is .5.  In Germany, the Scandinavian countries, Ireland, the UK and Spain it’s around 1.  In Japan and Korea it’s less than 0.  Only in France, Austria and Finland does it creep up a bit – to 2.8 in France and 3.6 in Finland, the highest in Europe.  In the United States of America, it’s 10.2. 

No sense banging on with these statistics.  Or with facts like when Australia eliminated semiautomatic and automatic rifles and shotguns their homicide rate went down by 59%.  They’re everywhere available and everywhere deemed irrelevant.  Because arguments are irrelevant.  People are going to believe what they want to believe.

And that’s why I’m concerned that when we do finally take actual steps to cut down on the amount of gun violence, we might be winning a battle only to lose the war.  If laws get passed between now and November, Trump and Company might well turn this into a scare.  “See, I’m right.  I told you they were coming for our guns!”

I worked on the campaign against Prop. 8 in California in 2008.  Went in to headquarters in San Francisco and made dozens of phone calls urging people to vote against it, because it would remove the rights of LGBT people to marry, a right which had recently been granted by the California Supreme Court.  After all those efforts, we went down to defeat.  Prop. 8 passed by 52%.  A majority of Californians who voted on that issue believed the lies put out by the Mormon and Catholic Churches (others too, obviously, but they were the biggies) that taking away this right would somehow make stronger families.  It was a painful defeat.  

What came out of this crushing disappointment was the recognition of how money talks in this country, but is under no obligation to tell the truth.  People had skipped right over well reasoned arguments and tons of evidence that gay marriage would only strengthen the institution of marriage, and certainly do it no harm.  What they responded to instead was the old line that gays were a danger to children and God would be mad at them if they chose to "spit in His face." They voted their fears. 

Following the defeat, gay rights advocates began a campaign of getting out less heady reasoning and more "plain folk" information about gays and lesbians as ordinary people, people who simply wanted to form families and be recognized by their neighbors and their government.  In time we began telling each other that reason, at long last, had prevailed.  Only I don't think it was reason that prevailed.  It was that people who had previously claimed not to know any gay people got up close and personal with gay people and came to understand what was pouring out of the churches was a lie based on a prejudice.

Somebody has to figure a way to address the emotional side of this anti-gun campaign out there.  A message or series of messages that would make it clear that nobody’s coming for your guns.  Only for the guns that kill children.  Assault weapons.  Guns in the hands of people known to be a threat.  Insane people.  Irresponsible people.

Less careful reasoning.  More instant messaging, maybe.  More images like the ones on this page, maybe.

Something to counter the scare tactics that work so well in this country.



photo credits



Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The power of hate

Christopher Isherwood tells of the time he tried to bring his German lover back into Britain with him.  Just off the boat from the continent, in Harwich, he writes of the customs officer: "As soon as I saw the bright-eyed little rat, I knew we were done for. He understood the whole situation at a glance — because he’s one of us."

In days gone by, when we had to contend with far more serious and widespread homophobia than today, a self-hating gay could cause unspeakable misery to other gays as he projected his self-hatred out into the world.

What am I talking about – “in days gone by”?  Very likely it was a man struggling with sexual demons within himself who went off the deep end and killed those 49 men and women in the Pulse Bar in Orlando the other night.

The Orlando massacre is a story still being told.  ISIS appears to have a new policy of getting sympathizers to forgo coming to the Middle East, but stay at home and wreak havoc locally, instead. Whether that's part of the story is only a guess.  And if it is part of Omar Mateen's motivation, that still leaves open the question of whether that's foreground, and the choice to kill LGBT people is background, or whether it's the other way around.

I’ve lived my life as a gay man in an intensely homophobic environment, so you know why I’m inclined to think this is primarily about homophobia.  Forgive me if the blood starts to boil when I take note of church spokespeople and other religionists who insist on downplaying the sexual orientation of most or all of the 49 people in a gay bar in Florida as coincidental.  When synagogues are bombed, it's about anti-semitism.  When four little black girls were killed in a black church, it was about white supremacist racism.  

There are always people, apparently of good will, quick to stress this is not just a Jewish/African American/fill in the blank tragedy.  It’s a human tragedy.  And why can’t we all just get along?
Such misplaced attempts at solidarity do a disservice to the people involved who have lost their lives for a quite specific reason.  To dilute that message dishonors the victims.  And it takes away the need to track down the particular sources of that hate.  I willingly grant you that I’m making a case from a particular vantage point.  I hope you’ll allow me to make that case.

As the investigations continue into what made Omar Mateen tick, investigators are discovering that he had apparently spent a considerable amount of time in the Pulse Bar.  He also had a gay meet-up phone number in his cell phone.  Evidence is coming together for calling this primarily a hate crime, not a political one.  And that holds whether Omar was projecting internalized homophobia or simply acting out what was to him the logical next step in ridding the world of gay people.

There may never be a definitive answer in Omar Mateen’s case.  But there is no doubt that whatever motivated the killings, he was working with a powerful conviction that these people deserved to die. 

And don’t come at me with the bullshit explanation that he’s simply crazy and that’s that. There’s a much simpler explanation right at the surface, an explanation the churches and rightwingers are working hard to push aside.  Far more often than many are willing to admit, it takes religion to create the will to kill and to die, both to commit suicide and to take others with you.

On March 13, 1974 one of my closest friends committed suicide.  In fear and dread, I got on the phone shortly afterwards with the sister who raised him.  “I suppose we’ll never know what made him do it,” I said, fumbling terribly for words.  “Oh, I know what made him do it,” she responded.  “It was drugs and the Mormon Church.”

His name was Merrill.  We had become close friends in our army days a decade earlier.  I was just waking up from a nightmare, fighting with everything in me against the ever increasing evidence that I was probably gay.  When Merrill told me he was homosexual (I don’t believe we used the word gay back then), I responded, “I have those tendencies, too, but I’ve been able to fight them off so far.”  Merrill laughed out loud.  “You’re only fooling yourself.  You’ll see.” 

Merrill then became my mentor in the coming-out process, took me around the gay bars of Berlin and taught me how to hold a bottle of beer.  I fell immediately in love with him, of course, back then before I learned to fall in love with people who might love me back.  But we bonded over the secret and shared an apartment in San Francisco for a time. 

Once back in the States, things took a different turn, however.  As I began living on my own for the first time and timidly began coming out – more from a shell than from a closet –  Merrill, my “big brother” in matters of the flesh, to my astonishment, began moving back into the closet.  He found himself a girlfriend and struggled mightily to make that relationship work.  The evidence that it wasn’t working led him, as it did and still does with so many others, into alcohol and drugs.

I tried to tell that story to a much younger gay person recently.  He stared at me in disbelief.  Why, he wondered, would anybody go back into the closet once he’s out?  Why indeed?  I had to laugh at the naiveté. You have to understand the power of homophobia to make sense of the question. Go to a place where they throw gay people off of buildings, for example.  Or go back to the America of pre-Stonewall.  Merrill killed himself less than five years after the nelly queens of Stonewall took their stand during a police raid on their bar in the Village on June 28, 1969, and fought back.  It would be decades before their efforts would be recognized fully, before they might have been able to persuade Merrill that someday everything would be all right, that being gay would some day no longer be an unbearable burden.  But at the time, so ingrained was the self-loathing that the lived reality was not unlike living today in Uganda or Russia or Afghanistan.

I remember my response to the drag queens of Stonewall at the time.  I begrudgingly admitted theirs was an act of courage.  But that didn’t stop me from feeling terribly uncomfortable around men in heels and dresses.  I was still new at the game and knew nothing about theater or irony or the power to thwart the efforts of others to define me.  I bought into the explanation du jour that these were “men who wanted to be women,” realized that didn't apply to me, and saw no reason for a sense of solidarity.  It took a long time before I made the connection, and when I did I sat down and bawled like a baby in shame over the disgust and loathing I had directed all those years at drag queens and at men with feminine mannerisms.

You know that clever Steve Weinberg quotation: “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”  I wasn’t a bad guy.  But I had no trouble pointing the finger and condemning what I had come to believe was sin.  The self-loathing Merrill felt may have been put there originally by the church he was raised in.  But it was people like me, all too quick to protest that religion no longer had any power over me, who helped create the atmosphere of disapproval of anything but the authorized norms of sexual behavior, which pulled the rug out from under Merrill and others struggling with serious self-doubts. So strong was my early indoctrination into the belief that homosexuality was evil that the after effects would take many years to shed.  The homophobia that had its source in religion has seeped into the broader American culture.  And just as many of us lose sight of who our ancestors were, it’s not uncommon to hear from religious people that “it’s not religion – it’s culture.”  That blurring of origins then becomes the new reality. It can be seen today in those who would deny the fact that the victims in Orlando were a religiously-persecuted minority.

Owen Jones, who writes for The Guardian, The New Statesman and other publications, walked out of a TV interview  yesterday when it became obvious to him that the interviewer was trying to hide the fact that the killings in Orlando took place in a gay bar.  It’s not just LGBT people who can see this effort for what it is.  Others with the eyes to see are taking note that this interviewer is by no means alone.  All you have to do is run down the websites of the Catholic Church, for example.  Check out the last several postings of my friend and catholic blogger (and friend) Bill Lindsey the past couple of days to see how applied homophobia is revealed in the church's efforts at silencing.  Check out the Republicans leading the anti-gay charges, the Santorums and the Ted Cruzes who cater to their right-wing Christian base.  It’s not something you have to dig for.  It sits there right on the surface, this need to demonize homosexuality.  In their case it’s an authoritarian form of Christianity.  In Mateen’s case, it's likely to have been an authoritarian form of Islam.  Poison from the same well.

I’m struck with how widespread the push still is in the media at present to make this story mostly or all about Mateen’s acting as an agent of ISIS.  I’m thinking of Rachel Maddow’s extended piece on the shift in ISIS policy from getting volunteers to come join them in Syria and Iraq to staying put and wreaking havoc at home.  Note, however, as you watch that coverage, that she’s leaving open the possibility of a shift of focus to Mateen’s internalized homophobia.  At least she leaves the back door open and suggests there is more of the story to unfold.

The fact that Omar Mateen was Muslim does not make this an act of Islamic terrorism.  Islamicist thought may well have figured large in his anger and sense of alienation, but when he lashed out, it wasn’t against a bank or other symbol of capitalism, or a synagogue, or a military target.  It was a gay bar.

Nor was it a spontaneous act.  Mateen had hung out in a gay bar for some time before his planned massacre.  One person told the Orlando Sentinel that he had seen him there a dozen times.   And his father told the press he was probably motivated by seeing two men kiss some time back.  The signs are there that milady doth protest too much.  Another source reports Mateen was actually actively dating gay men and showing up regularly at the Pulse bar.  

“Have you ever noticed,” a wise man once asked me, “that people comfortable with their own sexuality seldom concern themselves with the sexuality of others?”

Yes, I had noticed actually.  Just as I have noticed the open secret that one of the major sources of homophobia around the world comes from the Catholic Church, where estimates are that as many as half the priesthood is comprised of men who have a same-sex orientation.  And as long as such feelings are taboo, the church will continue to provide a haven for them.  I noticed too that Ted Haggard, who had weekly access to George W. Bush as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, regularly preached the homophobic party line while engaging in sex with men, providing evidence that sexual hypocrisy is by no means the exclusive purview of the Roman Catholic Church.  In the political arena, an article in The Advocate some time ago took note of sixteen antigay leaders who, it turns out, were gay themselves.  Projection of internalized homophobia is clearly alive and well in Washington.

Love the sinner but hate the sin, the churches preach to us.  It sounds at first like a reasonable slogan.  But think about it for a while and you come to see that somebody is still defining the core act of expressing physical desire and emotional attachment to a person of the same sex as sin, and then declaring that expression of love and affection is something one should hate.  That twisting of love into hate didn’t come from nowhere.  It came from the religious teachings of the three abrahamic religions that undergird the civilization in which we live.  Ancient prejudices.  Those same scriptures once supported our culture’s acceptance of slavery, the suppression of women, the bashing against the rocks of the heads of the children of those from another tribe.  We’ve managed to root these prejudices out, most of us, as we struggle to embrace the new humanistic and egalitarian morality of the modern world.  But some ancient practices remain.

As always, it is necessary to distinguish between religion as a locus of our better hopes, dreams and instincts on the one hand, and the toxic varieties in which the Bible or the Qur’an are used as a hammer, on the other.  It’s the toxic brand I’m referring to when I use the word religion obviously.  Criticize me, if you will, for the ellipsis in leaving out the word toxic when I mention religion.  But only if you do the same for those folk who leave out the word non-toxic when trying to persuade you that “religion is the answer.”

Getting rid of hate is like pulling weeds.  It’s like pursuing democracy.  It’s a terribly ambitious project, an elusive goal, and a constant struggle.  You don’t want to be one of those people who never stops to smell the flowers.  But neither should we miss an opportunity to pull some weeds.

Watch closely as this story about the Orlando massacre continues to unfold.

And when you can, like when you hear somebody tell you this was a human tragedy, not a gay tragedy, give a good yank.




 photo credit:  from the website of the non-profit organization REVEL & RIOT