Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Show some pride, gay people

crumbs from the table
Big news this morning is the fact that the official Catholic Church has decided at their little pow wow on the family that gay people have something to contribute to the church.

Well, whoop de friggin do.  Contribute to the church, you say?  Splendid.  Like I’ve been sitting around for ages now, wringing my hands and wondering if I had anything to contribute to you silly bunch of jewel-encrusted dandies.   How very very sweet of you to share some crumbs off your table.  Not.

It’s just plain embarrassing watching gay people fall all over themselves in gratitude over this latest concession, and the hint of possibility that maybe they might not rank down there with road kill.  Some are actually gushing over Francis’s latest efforts to right his sinking ship.  OK, Francis.  It is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but until I see a clear and unequivocal apology for your immediate predecessor’s slapping us with this intrinsically disordered  label, you can all eat my shorts.

For those of you who haven’t followed the story, here’s one source.  

What is it with gay people that they can grovel so?  One blogger of a group that "ministers" to LGBT people offered the “hope” that “future changes that are even more welcoming and accepting of lesbian and gay people and their families can develop down the road.”   Gee, golly, boys and girls.   If we keep our shoes polished and carry a handkerchief, they might someday, just maybe, possibly, be nice to us.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

Where’s my barf bag?

AP announces that gay groups are “cautiously cheering” a shift in tone.  Cautiously cheering?  Now there’s a concept.  A little bit of hallelujah goes a long way, I guess.  Clapping your hands in velvet gloves is better than not clapping at all, is that it?  Crack in the ice,” you say?  “First step?” 

Jesus, give me a break!  

Cardinal Raymond Burke
Have you people no pride?  Recognize this for what it is, a retrograde institution being brought kicking and screaming into the 19th century.  Churches are shutting down by the thousands because people are leaving them in droves.  They have no choice.  This isn’t a change of heart; it’s desperation.  Come on, guys.  Reality ain’t gonna bite you.

Those of you counting your chickens need to keep reading beyond the Vatican PR.  The conservatives still run the church, and they have come out clearly in opposition to this latest move toward reconciliation.   Raymond Burke, famous for gussying up in silks and satins like there is no tomorrow, claims the Vatican press was manipulating information about the debate, and hiding the true extent of the opposition.  Burke ought to know.  He’s head of the Vatican Supreme Court.

The protestant churches have long since left the catholic church in the dust when it comes to equality, fair play, and recognition of women and gays as people to engage with at eye level.  The Lutheran Church in Germany, for example, not only ordains women but for some time now has been headed by a woman.  Margot Kaessmann is her name.   She is a classic model for how the church wants you to separate the sin from the sinner, and then love the sinner.   Bishop Margot is divorced.  And she got into trouble some time ago when running a red light while under the influence.   But so popular was this very articulate voice for God’s love that when she resigned, they reinstated her with much acclaim two years later.  (She really is a breath of fresh air – I don’t want to sell her short.)  Bishop Käßmann’s views on women and LGBT people are clear.  In a public debate in St. Thomas’s Church in Leipzig, she made reference to an official church position paper which urges, she says, that whenever there are gay and lesbian relationships “characterized by responsibility, reliability and trust,” they should be tolerated.  That’s something long fought for, she adds, and “we evaluate (these gay partnerships) positively.”

Ah, yes.  That sounds to me like the official Lutheran Church in Germany got to about the same point some time ago that the Catholic progressives surrounding Francis reached today.  

I decided to check the exact wording of this document she cited.

In Section 6 we read that LGBT relationships are deserving of “recognition, respect, and protection.”  Fine.  Lovely.  Thank you.  But read on.  Just a bit further down, we also read that while blessings may be extended to individuals, “the blessing of a same-sex relationship cannot be allowed.”

Face it, boys and girls.  The Hebrew scriptures were written by people living in the iron age, and by a tribal folk desperately worried about becoming wiped out.  And Paul, the big daddy of the early Christian community, never checked The Joy of Sex out of the local library.   It didn’t take long before this “no sex unless you’re making babies” orientation got carved into stone.  The church will always carry the banner of homophobia.  It’s foundational.  Harder to root out than separating Americans from their constitutional right to shoot people.

Love God, if you will.  Be kind.  Be charitable.  Be generous and honest and true.  Find peace in meditation - or in Jesus - if that’s your thing.   Nurture your spiritual nature, by all means.

But please, women and gay people, for the love of Heaven, give up this servile, unworthy, undignified fascination with the power of organized religion.  The church moves closer by the hour to the trash heap of history.   Don’t stand in its way.

And for the sake of all that’s holy, don’t fall all over yourself thanking it for merely switching to slapping you across the face when once it used its nails to draw blood.

photo credits: Burke; crumbs from the table

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Itching and Scratching

available from Amazon
I’ve been tearing up all morning watching the news reports of Malala Yousafzai getting the Nobel Peace Prize, along with that wonderful Indian man, Kailash Satyarthi, who saved 75- or 80,000 children’s lives, if the news reports are accurate.  What a stroke of genius on the part of the six members of the Norwegian team to make the decision to split it between a Pakistani and an Indian.  To spit in the eye of the politicians running those countries and make plain what can be done, and is being done, by folk working in the trenches.

I hope you’ll forgive me for moving from the sublime to the ridiculous here, but I just couldn’t help juxtaposing this marvelous news with the (to me, at least) absurdist twist in the gender equality struggle in my part of the world that occupied my attention yesterday.

Malala wanted to be a doctor before fate laid out another plan for her.  If she had, she would have been restricted to treating only women.  Not that that wouldn't have been a wonderful thing - it would have made Pakistani women’s lives a whole lot better, no doubt.

It's just that here in the West, we aim a whole lot higher.

I think.

I remember the first time I took my pants down in front of a woman doctor.  It was time for a complete physical and when she got through thumping my chest and poking around in my eyes and ears, she told me to take my pants down so she could check my prostate.  I understand they don’t do that anymore, but this was then, and before I knew what was happening Frau Doktor Dickfinger had slipped on a blue plastic glove and was rummaging around in my basement looking for trouble.  I never had time to get embarrassed.  Not sure I would have been, actually.  She was a really cheerful grandmotherly German doctor, and the competence vibes were strong.

Yesterday I got another chance to demonstrate my sincerity in demanding that women should be able to do anything any man can do.  Ten years ago it was a female tiger in my tank.  Yesterday it was Gertrude (not her real name) staring at my family jewels.

I won’t go into more detail than necessary to tell the tale, but it had to do with itching in a place I knew I wasn’t supposed to scratch.  Not something one talks about at dinner.  Or lunch, or breakfast or tea.   I had phoned Dr. Hodenflicker in dermatology to try to get an appointment with that kindly old man I had gone to before, thinking he’d know what to do about the fact that the usual remedies simply weren’t working.   Kaiser, in its wisdom, insisted I go through my gatekeeper “personal physician” first.  She wasn’t in, but they substituted another lady.  And that meant I was going to have to do a repeat of putting my man parts in lady hands. 

Not a problem, right?   After all, women have been having male gynecologists raking their private parts for ages, so what’s the wuss, right?   Then why was I wondering at the fact that I didn’t have a problem with it?

In any case, Gertrude was as efficient as Frau Doktor Dickfinger had been, had a quick look-see and then actually phoned Dr. Hodenflicker (also not his real name) to come have a look – the man I had wanted to go to in the first place.

Henry Hodenflicker comes in with a Sherlock Holmes magnifying glass in his hand (no kidding), looks at the “affected area” and pronounces, “no fungus, just a normal itching that comes from sweating.  I’ll give you something to put on it and the problem should be gone in short order.”

Now this is good news.  It’s hell to itch where you’ve been told you’ve never supposed to scratch, at least in polite company.  But now I’m suddenly aware that I’ve had not one, but two medical professionals talking with me and each other about the fact that I’ve just made a doctor’s appointment over nothing more than an itch.  I feel I’ve taken the time of two people with maybe six years of medical school and decades of experience treating serious illnesses, over something no more consequential than a friggin hangnail.  I thanked them profusely and tried to slink away inconspicuously.   Did he really have to go on and on about how “we men” have to contend with such things, yada yada, clean, yada yada, dry, yada yada yada yada.  And Gertrude, did she have to type down every last word he said, "best to sleep in the nude,"  and enter it into my permanent record?  Which now, thanks to NSA’s cooperative efforts with the phone companies, is public information for all the world to see?

As coincidence would have it, I tuned in later in the day to a German talk show, and there was Germany’s Environmental Minister, Barbara Hendricks, calling former head of the Free German Party Martin Lindner “the biggest ball scratcher in parliament.”  [actual quote available here.]

She said what?

Sometimes I love the world of politics.   Discussing this outburst on the talk show, and making the point that women get away with murder these days, Lindner comments, “If a man had said something equivalent about a woman, he would have been not only kicked out of parliament, he would have been kicked out of the country.”  To which another member of the talkshow panel, Jutta Ditfurth, one of the founders of the liberal Green Party (and, one assumes, more in tune with Barbara Hendrick's Socialist Party)  responded something like, “You guys are just finally getting a taste of your own medicine,” leading me (and I’m sure lots of viewers) to wonder when we’re going to reach the level of power equality between the sexes when this “ballscratcher” comment will be taken as unacceptable, rather than as payback.

In Malala’s part of the world, girls are struggling to go to school and dreaming of one day becoming a doctor.  In my part of the world, an openly gay liberation activist, lesbian and parliamentarian, Barbara Hendricks is telling a fellow parliamentarian he’s not only a ball scratcher but “the biggest” ball scratcher in parliament, leaving the clear implication there are others. 

I did some digging on these two characters.  They are both practicing Roman Catholics, even though she’s completely out as a lesbian and he is twice married.   (And what that says about the diminished power or the official church/increased power of the people's church in Germany is another story).  The animosity between them may be personal, but I assume it more likely stems from their party differences – she is a socialist, he’s from the FDP, known as the capitalist businessman's party (now grown too small to be in parliament anymore, by the way), and they have a history of bitter conflict.

But ball scratcher?  Where the hell did that come from? 

Maybe my hesitation to show and tell with Gertrude and Henry has some grounding in reality after all, despite all the advances in gender equality and years of confidence building on a personal level.

A linguistic note.  The German verb “kraulen” translates not only “crawl” (as in do the crawl stroke while swimming), but also scratch,  tickle, ruffle, finger, fondle or stroke, depending on the context.  You “kraul” (scratch) a dog between the ears; You “kraul” a cat (ruffle its fur);  you “kraul” (tickle) somebody’s chin or “kraul” (run your fingers through) somebody’s hair.  You can also “kraul” (finger) your own beard.

Germans use the word “eggs” (Eier) for “balls.”

So you tell me what Barbara Hendricks was after when she called Martin the biggest “Eierkrauler” in parliament.

And does this prove we are centuries ahead of the folks in Pakistan and the rest of the Muslim world?

photo credit

Friday, October 3, 2014

Catholic University Shoots Self in Foot

Headlines: Catholic University of America postpones screening of 'Milk'

Sometimes, with the Catholic Church, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  It’s in the hands of such dunderheads that, much as you’d like to push a button and make them all disappear into thin air, you know it would be a waste of effort.  They are self-destructing before our very eyes.

It’s a wretched organization.  Retrograde (Galileo’s reputation was restored, yes, but it took 400 years), insensitive (you’ve got AIDS?  You want to make love to your wife?  OK, but no condoms!), and stupid (read on).  There are good folks within the institution peddling as fast as they can to save it, but they are not making much headway, seems to me.  Not if this latest attempt by the Catholic University in Washington, D.C. to assure that its students remain ignorant of history is any indication.  As a “pontifical institution,” when it gives you an ecclesiastical degree, it does so in the name of the pope.    Both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI visited the campus when they made state visits to the United States.  This is not a fringe organization.  It represents the very heart of the church itself.

A political group, the College Democrats, had planned to host a “milk and cookies” event, and had invited a political science professor from the campus and a member of a neighboring Montgomery County (Maryland) Democrat Club to speak on the effect of the gay rights movement on the Democratic Party, after which they planned to show the film, Milk, the biopic on the life of gay activist Harvey Milk.

Event organizers got approval, they say, and advertisements were sent out.  But then somebody hit the panic button.  One of the school officials began objecting to the size of the rainbow flag on the brochures, and the fact that October is LGBT awareness month.   The brochure read: “Kick off LGBT Awareness Month!”  Now it began to look to the school official like advocacy, and not information, and since the school’s charter prohibits advocacy of gay awareness – or anything at all that would suggest being gay is OK - pace Pope Francis and his famous declaration, “Who am I to judge?” – the event had to be canceled until they could do a jesuitical number on the event to assure that it was purely “educational” and did not involve advocacy.

You can see it’s not the old days, when the church preached hatred and everybody simply bowed in submission.  Today the church has to reckon with a new and healthier morality – not one that requires submission of women and disparagement of a healthy sexual life.   The church, as usual, drags its feet.  As usual they’re trying to have their cake and eat it too. 

They’re using reason, at least.  But it’s the sort of reason they used when they came up with the idea that a good approach to the child molestation epidemic would be to pay off the victims and bury the story.  All the logical synapses are firing, but they’re missing the big picture, going for immediate solutions to what they define as problems and not understanding the world is out ahead of them when it comes to human rights.  The Catholic church is one of the main sources of animus against LGBT people in this country.  That’s always been the case, just as it has always been a patriarchal force for the subjugation of women.  But now the country is onto them.

Instead of following the common sense dictum that when you find yourself in a ditch you should stop digging, they’re grabbing the shovels yet again.  I trust somebody will whisper in the ear of the dodo in charge of this fiasco that gay people have broken free.  The shackles are gone.  The Dixie flag has been taken off the state house.  Pick your metaphor.  The Catholic Church no longer has the power to teach hatred and tell lies about gay people.  We are not sinners, you sweet hypocrites, you.  We are people with a God-given sexuality that is what it is and we are done done done with your attempts to turn us into lepers.  Stick that bony finger of yours in your ear, and get out of my face with the “naughty, naughty” crap.

What blows my mind is not that this Catholic institution is anti-gay.  It’s that it is anti-education.  So what if the folks putting on the event – all twenty of them or so (I’m told it was a small group) – crossed the line between “information giving” and “advocacy.”  Do you think a Cinco de Mayo group meeting on campus would fail to make plain they thought being Mexican was a great thing?

The film Milk recognizes the status Harvey Milk has acquired in history.  He is a hero to LGBT people and that fact is not going to go away.  I know you are not to be blamed directly for the views of your defenders, any more than Christ is to be blamed for the despicable institution you run in his name, but you do share considerable responsibility for the way they've taken their cue from your leadership.  Just look at some of the comments of these folks convinced they are rushing to your defense.  Missing the woods for the trees entirely, several of them point out, for example, that Milk has been charged with having had sex with underage kids.  They all fail to mention, please note, that the “kids” were sexually mature teenagers, and not prepubescent altar boys.

Would you have your students remain ignorant of the contributions of Martin Luther?  He certainly did more damage to your institution (arguably by making it more Christian) than Harvey Milk did.  And he, like many clerics of his day, was a raging anti-Semite.  Note that Martin Luther King was known to have had extra-marital affairs.  Note that Gandhi had some seriously wacko ideas.  Note that Nelson Mandela had serious problems in his immediate family life and admitted in his autobiography, “I led a thoroughly immoral life.” 

You may doubt that Milk is up there with Mandela, Gandhi, Martin Luther or Martin Luther King, but you cannot deny his impact on American life and the lives of millions of LGBT people was overwhelmingly positive, even heroic.  And you really ought to know that your effort to make sure that knowledge is kept from your students will only be seen over time as another example of the ugly Catholic hand of censorship.  It will only backfire, in the long run.

We will remember this event, many of us. 

Even more of us will remember that Harvey Milk died at the hands of Dan White*, who was described as a "good, Catholic boy" who always went to church.

Where he learned from you bastards to hate.

If I were a praying man, I’d pray that your path to oblivion might be unencumbered.

photo credit: shooting self in foot

*From Wikipedia on Dan White:  "As a supervisor,  White openly saw himself as the board's "defender of the home, the family and religious life against homosexuals, pot smokers and cynics."