Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Partners in the Culture Wars

Never – I mean never – would I have guessed when I was a kid that homosexuality would someday figure in what we would come to call the Culture Wars. Up until my twenties, figuring out what sex was all about was totally personal. I shared it with no one. Even into my thirties I was just getting used to the idea that I was part of a minority of folk who got turned on differently from most people and it might help to band together to try to figure out what the hell was going on. All I knew for certain – and that’s one certainty that has never wavered – was that much of the world that called the shots got things terribly wrong.

The categories simply didn’t exist to list the many ways the United States would line up on two sides to duke it out over cultural values. Politically, we are red and blue, and red and blue works largely to map the cultural divisions as well, although it’s easy to run too far and too fast with the assumption they overlap perfectly. Progressive and conservative is another shorthand catchall. Clumsy terms people use struggling to put a name on the great divide.

The San Francisco Chronicle has carried an interesting story the past three days on the fate of St. Brigid’s Church, that grand old building on Van Ness and Broadway with more than a century of history serving San Francisco’s Irish Catholic community. They shut her down some time ago. Sold her to an art school for half price to pay for some of the church’s sexual abuse cases. It’s quite a sad tale. For more than a decade, loyal parishoners have met weekly with a series of leaders to fight for their community home. It will make a great movie someday, I’ll bet. Has all the elements of the good fight. Small potatoes catholics want to keep their treasured home. Corporate catholic hierarchy bad guys like Law of Boston, who cost the church much of its fortune, and Levada of San Francisco, who had to sell off St. Brigid’s (the same fellow who sold out gays he knew to be great adoptive parents) to be rewarded, if not in heaven, with cushy jobs at the Vatican. The three-part story is available on the SFGate website, http://sfgate.com/. Type in St. Brigid in the search box.

Elsewhere in the news, black churches are splitting up over whether the struggle for gay rights should be seen as a civil right, a struggle matching the impending split-up of the American Episcopal Church over the same issue.

It sure was simpler when gays stayed in the closet. Since they’ve come out, all hell has broken loose. Or at least that’s how the conservatives /red state folk /traditionalists/ absolutists/ authoritarians (damn, when will we get the proper name for this category?) tell the story. From a gay perspective, the problem isn’t the gays any more than it is women or any of the minorities that have gone before. It isn’t even religion, really, but the kind of religion that puts institutional power structure interests over the interests of the little guy. When folk who argue reality is a never-ending process of reinterpretation get religious, they can be quite friendly.

Most gay people can tell the story of the long march to freedom…

Stage 1: Denial – Queen Victoria supposedly declared she saw no need for a law against lesbianism as part of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 because she did not believe sex between women was possible.

Stage 2: Distancing with Extreme Prejudice – “I thought people like that killed themselves;” “They’re after your children;” “We’ll put them in the warehouse district on the edge of town, with the whorehouses.”

Stage 3: Tolerance – “It’s none of my business what you people do in bed;” “I just love my hairdresser, but I don’t think he should be allowed to teach school;” “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell;” “My mind gets it, but it still makes me sick to my stomach.”

Stage 4: Acceptance – “Some of my best friends are gay. Gay is cool.”

Stage 5: Real acceptance – “Do you have a significant other?”

Note how quickly the modern world raced through those five stages. Remember that 60s bible by Charles Reich – The Greening of America? Reich divided America into three consciousnesses – the frontier individualists, the organizational men and women, and the hippies. The book is now pretty much discredited because he called Consciousness 3 all wrong – the hippies were not the harbinger of a new civilization. Reich went out on a limb and the limb broke off, and I wonder constantly if my assumption of progress will meet a similar fate. I don’t think so, because the status of gays in Europe, a place not sodomized by the broomhandle of narrow religion as the United States is, suggests we need not assume America’s social history is all there is to consider.

The inevitability of progress aside, there’s no doubt that society doesn’t move as a solid block, and the troglodytes of Stage 1 will still be around even if and when the center has reached Stage 5 and full civil rights have come to gay Americans.

In the meantime, though, gays’ concerns will probably continue to be iconic of the progressive movement. With acceptance comes a new look at the justice of gay marriage and gay adoption claims. And a greater awareness of just how ignorant and ideological are some of the religionist efforts to bring gays down – up to and including this last effort by a Southern Baptist twit to nip homosexuality in the bud – er, womb. Glad there weren’t Baptists around when Tchaikovsky’s mama first entered the prenatal clinic.

I left the story of the fight at St. Brigid’s hanging and you may be wondering what it has to do with gays at the center of the struggle between progressives and self-proclaimed traditionalists. I hate to spoil a good movie by revealing how it comes out, but you should read the story for the details of how the LOLs of the church ended up marching in the Gay Parade to find support for their cause.

This sort of thing is useful to rein in my urge to slam at the Catholic Church. I have to remember the Levadas on the one hand, and the LOLs in the parade on the other. The Anglican communion being yanked by Nigeria and Uganda into demonizing gays on the one hand and the American Episcopal Church appointing a gay bishop on the other. The lips of McCain and Romney on the butts of Falwell and his ilk on the one hand and the Desmond Tutus and South African recognition of gay marriage on the other. Culture wars, like civil wars, cut through institutions, and even families.

“Those people” still kill themselves, especially when they are teenagers, in far too many numbers. But they also work to keep catholic churches open, become congressmen and women, and emcee the Academy Awards. The Culture Wars are going to be around for some time. And we’re playing at long last as full partners.

Hooray for that.

March 27, 2007

black churches splitting over gay rights: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/27/us/27churches.html?ex=1175659200&en=29b21eabb1c1910e&ei=5070&emc=eta1

Southern Baptists in the womb:

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