Monday, March 24, 2014

The 323

DeBoer and Rowse
323 couples were issued marriage licenses and some 300 of those actually got to marry in Michigan before the stay went into effect.  These marriages are now technically illegal, so we’re going to hear a lot about sadness and disappointment.  There will no doubt be more pictures in the media of couples in tears and tales of depression and disillusionment, like the one on the left of DeBoer and Rowse.  [See yesterday's posting here.]

And anger, of course.  People have a right to be angry at the snakehandlers and child abusers in cassocks dictating how citizens not of their faith groups should conduct their lives.

But let’s remember that we knew this was going to be a long haul, that there were always going to be steps forward and steps backward.  And let’s not assume, either, that the stay will be the end of the story.  It could be lifted and this story could end well sooner, rather than later.  It will end well sooner or later.

What an amazing amount of work is going into these attempts to get the people of the United States to recognize that we put our hand on the Bible (if at all) and swear to uphold the Constitution, and not the other way around.  That animus toward gay people stems almost entirely from religiously motivated folk who lack the education or the decency to recognize we have a separation of church and state in this country.

And allow me a brief digression here.  I’m speaking in generalities, because there is no way to get through a discussion on how things work without letting a part represent the whole sometimes.   French make great lovers,  Russians support Putin, and the like.  When we observe that “the Russians have invaded Crimea,” we don’t stop to specify that not every Russian wears a uniform.  And when I refer to religious people as snakehandlers and cassock-wearing child abusers I’m being mean and sarcastic.  Most Christians are not snakehandlers or child abusers.

So maybe I should be more careful not to insult the majority of Christian folk by suggesting the outliers in their group represent them.

I’ll make a deal with the Catholic Church.  You stop officially designating gay people as “intrinsically disordered” and I’ll stop designating your kind as abusers in cassocks.  Most of us are normal healthy people.  No more disordered than the next guy.  So cut that shit out and I’ll temper my speech as well.

One thing is sure.  The animus behind the notion that gay people should not be allowed to form civil partnerships – and call them marriages – because it’s we who define language and not the other way around – comes from you.  You read your scriptures in such a way as to justify your classification of your kind as superior to my kind, and you cause us no end of misery in doing so.

We will get out from under this stay in Judge Friedman’s decision.  He declared that the right of gays and lesbians to marry is constitutional.  And he was right.  And the majority of Americans now agree with him.

So you religious people with religious reasons for being lousy human beings, do me a favor.  Stop being such bigoted dickheads.

photo credit:

Saturday, March 22, 2014


A Michigan family
The ban against same-sex marriage in Michigan has been shot down.  Two women in their fifties have gotten married in the grand state of Michigan.  I’m not being cute by revealing their ages.  It’s significant that they have been waiting twenty-seven years to do this.

And I waited all day yesterday for the decision in Michigan.  I was afraid it was going to be another “Yes, but…” decision.  Yes, it’s wrong to discriminate against gay people, but if that’s what the good citizens the state want, that’s the way it goes.  “It’s wrong, and unconstitutional, and yes, we should overthrow it, but we don’t have to do all this overnight!  We can give people time to get used to the idea.”

That line of thought has always bothered me.  I understand politics must be practical.  I also think there is some wisdom to getting as many people as possible behind the same-sex marriage idea before launching into a new social practice.  It cuts down on the chance of a backlash.  But if you’re on the receiving end of this justice delayed, it feels for all the world like justice denied.  And you get real tired, I can tell you, of listening to people tell you why they think they can do this to you.

How refreshing that Judge Friedman, who announced his decision today, did not then turn around, as others have done before him, and stay his own ruling so that people could “catch up with the sea change.”  He made a clear and unequivocal statement – discrimination against gays and lesbians is wrong and they/we should not have to live with it another day.  He left it for others to do the dirty work of delay.

Glenna DeJong and Marsha Caspar
Friedman took the same line of reasoning as fellow judges in Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah before him.  When the Supreme Court threw out DOMA, with it went the reasoning that discrimination against LGBT people is justified, and the same law that prohibits interracial marriage should apply here.     To be sure, the state’s Attorney General was ready to do the dirty work of flinging a spanner into the works and applied with the Federal Appeals Court in Cincinnati for a delay.  But it will take time to process that request, and in the meantime Glenna DeJong and Marsha Caspar of Lansing are married and the three kids in the picture above, if all goes well, will soon be able to say the same thing about their mommies.

Where did I leave my champagne glass?

Also right up there with the immense satisfaction that comes with noting that rights have been extended now to an 18th state of the Union comes the satisfaction of hearing Judge Friedman express his views on the Regnerus study.  You remember Mark Regnerus, of the University of Texas.  Put out the most astonishingly badly constructed study, clearly manufactured to demonstrate the views of the religious right that gays and lesbians make bad parents.  The American Sociological Association and others, including Regnerus’s own colleagues at Texas spoke out against the study, but the right kept on touting it as “evidence” that gay people make bad parents.  And then, building on that false premise, made a clumsy leap of logic and claimed that because they don’t make good parents they shouldn’t be allowed to marry at all.  Because only people with kids should marry?

Risk of brain damage has been lessened all over the country now that people can stop slapping their foreheads in disbelief that this shill for the religious right, thinking he was doing the Lord’s work, was taken seriously as an academic.

Two reasons for champagne. 

I only really needed one, but two, as I say, is nice.

picture credits: 

AP photo of a Michigan family - April DeBoer, Jayne Rouse, and their three kids, Ryanne, Jacob and Nolan - Time Magazine 

DeJong and Caspar: Rick Pluta/Twitter Photo from 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

RIP Saint Fred

“The Lord works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform,” runs the 19th Century hymn by William Cowper.  The phrase ran through my head this morning when I heard the news that Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church is dead.

I know if you check the gay chat lines you’re bound to find thousands of people wanting to buy tickets to go to Topeka to dance on his grave.  But I find the vindictiveness unbecoming.  And, in fact, badly misplaced.  In the long run, Fred Phelps and his family church, of “GOD HATES FAGS” (invariably in caps) fame, did the LGBT world more good than harm.  Like Anita Bryant before him, the Phelpses failed to understand (or maybe they did understand – how can we be sure?) what a favor they were doing the cause of gay liberation.

All those people out there on the fence claiming not to know any gay people who had no reason to get involved.  All those folks outraged at the virulence of the Westboro Baptist Church’s claims to be speaking in the voice of God.  How could they not conclude that if Phelps was after you you couldn’t be that bad?   It also helped, of course, that they also stomped on the American flag and celebrated soldiers’ deaths as well the death of gay people. 

I remember hearing about them when Matthew Shepherd was murdered in Wyoming, and they picketed his funeral.  Something clicked when I went to their website – and found an image of Matthew Shepherd “burning in hell.”  He’s been burning in hell for 5639 days as of this writing, to be exact, according to the website.  How do I know?  The site is still up!  And I note, in passing, that Matthew's mother, Judy, also acknowledges how much Phelps' hatred helped to keep Matthew's memory alive.

This degree of troublemaking had to stem from a seriously disturbed mind.  Nobody could spend all their time, as Phelps evidently did, poking sticks at the whole world.  He took on the U.S. Marines, Jews (“Jews are the real Nazis”) Muslims,  and the entire Chinese nation.  After an earthquake there killed 70,000, Phelps prayed "for many more earthquakes to kill many more thousands of impudent and ungrateful Chinese."     His family even picketed the funeral of the kids killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

What puzzles me is not that there is a mad dog like Fred Phelps running loose – his kind are found in churches everywhere – although he obviously took it to an extreme nobody else I ever heard of could match.  What puzzles me is how so many of his family could go along.  Get law degrees and keep America’s primary hate institution going, like they did.

It used to worry me that some gay person thinking he was doing the world a favor would assassinate this kook and make him a martyr and set the gay cause back years.  Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and Phelps has found his way to his reward through natural causes.

Because he made the world see the irrationality of hatred of gays and others, I almost wish I could believe in a Maker who runs the world like the manipulator of a marionette.  That Phelps and his kin were all on strings and Big Daddy in the sky was giving his gay and lesbian children a helping hand.

I could then say a little prayer of thanks for taking his servant Fred home.  Welcome home, Fred.  Homophobia is much weaker now than when we first put you to work.  Come sit over here.  Your job is done.

I don’t know yet what work we’ll have for you to do in heaven.  I’ll check on that and get back to you within the next million millennia.  

Till then, sit tight in your seat, Saint Fred.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Von „Päpst*innen“ und „schwangeren Bürger*innen“

Citizens vote on January 26
I’m of the school of thought that we should take every opportunity to fight gender discrimination.  That means, among other things, that I go with the crowd who uses “he or she,” or (now much more frequently) “they” where once we allowed the masculine third-person pronoun to stand for both men and women.  I follow the convention now well-established in English-speaking countries and say, “Everybody is entitled to their opinion” (or his or her opinion) even though I learned as a kid that “everybody” was singular and that their is therefore grammatically incorrect.

Remember the riddle,

A man is driving his son to school.  They get into an accident and the man dies.  The son is rushed to the hospital, but when he arrives for emergency surgery the doctor says "I can’t operate on this boy.  He is my son.”

How is this possible?

The answer is that the doctor is the boy’s mother.  The reason the riddle works is that when most people hear the word doctor they think of a man.  It takes extra brain power to recognize doctors can be women.  For that reason, children’s book publishers now make efforts to include pictures of women when they portray doctors.  Switching from the “universal he” to “he or she” or “they” is part of the same process of moving away from gender bias.

Outside the English-speaking world, in other countries with a highly developed feminist consciousness, the same kinds of linguistic and other changes may be noticed.    Sometimes this leads us into a minefield of complications and unforeseen consequences.  In German, the complications begin with the fact that not just pronouns are gendered, but nouns as well.  English has one word, student, for both males and females.  German has Student for a male, and Studentin for a female student.  The plural of Student is Studenten.  The plural of Studentin is Studentinnen.   The convention, when addressing “dear students” in German is to use both forms, and the feminine form first – “Liebe Studentinnen und Studenten.”  Clumsy, but most people feel worth the effort for the sake of gender equality.

Similarly, “Dear Voters” would be “Liebe Wählerinnen und Wähler” (masculine singular nouns ending in –er have the same form in both singular and plural).  And so on: investors: Anlegerinnen und Anleger; foreigners: Ausländerinnen und Ausländer; forklift drivers: Gabelstaplerfahrerinnen und Gabelstaplerfahrer.

In other words, the problem we once had of subsuming the feminine under the masculine has largely gone away.  We no longer say “gays” for both men and women.  We say “lesbians and gays.”  We no longer say “chairman” for a woman, but “chairwoman” – or “chairperson” or “chair”.  We’re on our way here!  But the problems are not over.

For one thing, we have become more aware of other folk that have long been “subsumed.”  Transsexuals, for example.  And, more to the point for linguistic purposes, people who resent being labeled with either gender and see themselves as “intergender.”   “Gays” became “Lesbians and Gays,” became “Lesbian, Gay and Bi,” became LGBT, became LGBTI.  And because these issues are often contested, some prefer queer as a portmanteau word covering a wide range of “non-standard designations for sexual identity.” So LGBT became LGBTQ (or even LGBTQI). Some go with I, some insist on using both to cover all the bases.  Australia, for example, has an organization called the LGBTI Health Alliance.    In the U.S., there is a publication called LGBTQ Nation.   And it should surprise no one that there are people who would expand that even more to LGBTQIA, where “A” can stand for either “Asexual” or “Ally”.  Sometimes “Allies” may include “cisgender friends,” “cisgender” being the word for people for whom gender and biology match.

As with all social change, progressives try to keep up with the evolution in consciousness and respect the desire to be recognized in a world accustomed to a limited number of boxes.  Conservatives recognize the boxes male and female but, depending on the degree of conservatism, begin to balk as one moves down the line all the way to LGBTQIA.  (“What the hell are “allies” doing in there!?”)

And just as lots of people once felt free to laugh at gays and lesbians – and of course retrograde folk still do ­– now there are people who don’t, but still laugh at transgender people.  The farther down the line, the more the ridicule and the slower the resistance to recognition and change.

I had a falling out some time back with a person born female who wanted henceforth to be addressed as “he.”  I accepted that, believing one should be entitled to determine one’s own gender and not be boxed in by traditionalists.  But he went further, and resented my personal questions.  I was curious about this change, and in my search for understanding asked some impolitic questions about sex and gender.  My bad.  I was willing to apologize for that.  I also suggested that insisting the world give up the use of third-person pronouns entirely was going to go nowhere, that it might evolve in time, but certainly not overnight.  This person was young, impatient, and quick to see hostility. That marked me in his eyes as an Uncle Tom in the LGBT world.  I couldn’t apologize about that in good faith, so I’m sad to say we simply had to go our separate ways. 

Ridicule is very familiar to lesbians and gay men, and even more to transsexuals.  The current willingness of LGBT people to fight back against it is long overdue, in my view.

The memory of that Uncle Tom label I got slapped with (“Gay men are the worst offenders!”) came rushing back this morning when I came across an article in the Berlin paper, Der Tagesspiegel.  The headline ran:

Von „Päpst*innen“ und „schwangeren Bürger*innen“

Ignore the asterisks for a minute.

An English translation might run something like this:

            On “Popes” and “Pregnant Citizens”

But you see immediately the problem with this translation.  The grapheme (as opposed to what once was simply called a “word”) means the reader has to choose which parts apply.
So what the sentence

Von „Päpst*innen“ und „schwangeren Bürger*innen“

actually means (still ignoring the asterisks for the moment) – and you can see the absurdity – is:

            On male or female popes, as the case may be, and pregnant male or female citizens, as the case may be.

  • “Pope” in German is “Pabst”  – plural “Päbste.
  • Now “Pope Joan” may be a fictitious character, but real or fictional, she would have to be referred to in German as “Die Päbstin” – the (female) pope.  And if there were more than one female pope, they would of course be Päbstinnen.
  • Bürger is the German word for (male) “citizen” – plural forms are Bürger (male citizens) and “Bürgerinnen.

Remember that Germans are accustomed to having agent nouns that distinguish between males and females.  (Agent nouns usually mark a person by what he or she does or some cause he or she identifies with – actor, editor, pianist, dealer, raconteur, Marxist).  And while I said that it’s customary to put the female form first when addressing people publicly, in dictionaries, they are usually listed in the masculine, with the feminine form as an optional suffix:


And in print, evidently to save space, instead of typing Bürgerinnen und Bürger, or using the hyphen, it’s common to push the two words into one, and capitalize the i.  


And now there’s yet another way to go, at least in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, one of the districts of Berlin.  Instead of a hyphen or a capitalized mushed-together feminine ending, they’re using an asterisk. What has happened here is that advocates of language change want language to reflect newfound recognition that intersex people are left out by this binary, by having to choose between the –er and the –innen word endings.  So they have inserted an asterisk.  This new concoction,


is understood to include 1) Bürger, 2) Bürgerinnen, and 3) * (neither).

Not so much a “word” as a “grapheme” with parts to be chosen as they may apply.

Because of my bad experience in trying to caution advocates not to expect too much too soon, I’m more willing now to err (if that’s what I’m doing) in the opposite direction.  I’m climbing on the bandwagon here, hoping to make amends.

But that only brings me back to the next question – whether or not this headline was meant as ridicule.  I say no, that it was simply pointing out a logical absurdity created by the complexity involved.  What Der Tagesspiegel has done is to poke fun at the absurdities which can come out of what conservatives would call “politically correct language.”  (And note, here, that you don’t have to go very far to the right to be called ‘conservative’ in this instance.)

But that risks my getting slapped with the Uncle Tom designator once again.  I might, of course simply say this struggle is not a joke and we should all get behind the folks who identify as intersex, period.

My problem is I think “popes or popesses, as the case may be” is funny.  And so I laugh.  “Pope persons” would be funny, as well.

Much as you want change now, some things are going to take time.  My guess is this attempt to legislate change in the German language will work itself out.  We'll laugh for a time, and then we'll begin to take it in stride.

Think back to the early days of the move in English toward eliminating the “subsumed feminine.”  Remember the example of such constructs as

This coupon is good for a 20% reduction on all brassieres.  A customer may select the brand of his  his or her her choice while the supply lasts.

was a three-step learning process.  Step 1, the traditional grammatical, gave way to Step 2, the politically sensitive/correct, which then gave way to Step 3, reality.   Ditto for things like using “chairman” when we know the person is male, and “chairwoman” when we know the person is female.  The solutions don’t get legislated.  They evolve eventually.

The asterisk in Bürger*innen may or may not catch on.  There is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  No need to say Päbstinnen und Päbste.   And one day we will not feel the need to indicate the possibility of an intersex pope.  We can just say Päbste, and accept that hell will freeze over before this patriarchal institution will have a legitimate female pope, much less an intersex one.  If I'm wrong, we can make changes then.

And there is no need to say schwangere Bürgerinnen und Bürger.  We can leave off the masculine form Bürger when referring to pregnancy.

In the meantime some of us old fogeys (male and female) will have a chuckle now and then, like the Tagesspiegel did, while things sort themselves out.

And those impatient for change will call us Uncle Toms.  (Or should that be Uncle Tom persons?)

It will all be fine one day.

Picture credits: