tehgay

Stuff I don't want to say a second time about being a gay

People I’m Tired of: Part 4

Straight people who tell me about their gay friends.

Like, when some of them think that I’m just being persnickety, and not recognizing how awesome and wonderful and special they are for being an ally, and so they think they should tell me that they have dozens and dozens of gay friends who love them! And those friends aren’t mean to this straight ally like I am.

Whoa. Whoa. Hold up. Hold up for a second. You know other gay people? I thought I was the only one! I’ve never in my life met another gay person. I didn’t realize they were out there. And… You say… That gay person disagreed with me? But, I thought if we were gay, we shared the same hive mind, and wouldn’t develop separate consciousnesses until the prophecy of Cher was fulfilled.

No.

A fun twist on this is when older, straight, self-proclaimed allies tell me about how bad things were for their gay friends in the 80’s, so I should just be happy now. Because I have no idea how bad it was.

Oh my God, you’re right. Whenever it’s possible, but not actual, that things could be worse, we should never concentrate on making them better. We should just be content. By that reasoning, my not having bludgeoned you to death is an accomplishment! Because that’s certainly worse than what I’m doing right now, so things could definitely be worse. And since things could be worse, you don’t have to be so intent on making me “better.” Go on, now, and be content with our relationship.

Whatever’s left of it. Because I’m not so confident that we’re friends. If I’m just some stamp you put on your neat card (The progressive card, the NALT card, the hipster card), I really don’t want much to do with you.

See, here’s the big irony. You’re arguing that you cannot possibly be wrong about something – cannot possibly be subjugating LGBTQ* folk – because of your proximity to LGBTQ* folk. And you’re giving out this litany of names of people who you saved from AIDS or something, which, in my mind, is kind of using them for your own benefit. They exist as nothing else than a card to play in an argument. Their identities are compromised because you want to prove how much you don’t subjugate such people. By doing such, you subjugate your “friends.”

I’m also confused why somebody would think playing that card does anything, given that a good portion of the general population is LGBTQ*. Why would you think that knowing somebody who identifies as such is so special? It’s statistically improbable that you wouldn’t. It’s statistically improbable that Christine O’Donnell wouldn’t. It’s statistically improbable that Fred Phelps isn’t. (Ooo! BURN!) Can you imagine in the 1920’s a bunch of men going around saying “I can’t be discriminating against women: I have a MOTHER!” So does everybody else, Sugar-pea.

This is even more ridiculous when you consider that proximity is not only assured, but is pretty much ineffectual. How many white people had black servants taking care of their children, but believed in segregation? How many men were married to women, and fathered daughters, only to be completely against women’s suffrage? How many LGB folks are there that resent Trans people for complicating their desire to assimilate more fully into a straight-approved, gender-rolled society?

In the end, playing your gay friend card is ineffectual.

It’s also really annoying. Take it out of the deck.

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When Your (Brown) Body is a (White) Wonderland

When Your (Brown) Body is a (White) Wonderland.

 

Perhaps the best commentary I’ve seen on the Cyrus performance and its troubling racist undertones.

Ad homosexual and the Wounded Strawman

Billy’s parents are at a loss. Their little elementary school darling used to be so outgoing and extroverted. But now he keeps to himself. He doesn’t talk about school, and doesn’t talk about his friends. He does his homework sullenly, and his grades have dropped.

At dinner one day, Billy’s mom asks him gently if anything has changed at school. And then she and her husband discover that he has few friends and even those few he can call his friends are dwindling in number. The kids aren’t talking to him any more. They call him names. They say that he’s mean. Billy begins to cry.

Well, Billy’s parents are very upset. His father hugs him and tucks him in for an early bedtime, letting him skip his homework this night. They schedule a meeting with his teacher so they can discuss what’s happening at school, and how they can make it better.

—-

Billy’s teacher was not young, and was not old. She was something in between. She was neither thin or wide, tall or short. Her hair wasn’t brown, but it wasn’t quite any other color either. Her dress wasn’t casual, but neither was it quite professional. Her manner wasn’t exactly friendly, but it wasn’t cold. Billy’s teacher was a very in-between teacher. But this was not a very in-between meeting.

As Billy’s parents sat in the classroom, she walked down the hall, not too fast, not too slow. She walked in to the room and closed the door, not too firm. She sat down at her desk and faced Billy’s parents and drew in a slow breath. And then she paused. And the pause lengthened and became very long, and very awkward. It was not a very in-between pause.

“Billy hits people.” She said.

Billy’s parents were aghast.

Billy’s teacher explained that Billy found humor in punching other students in their pudgy, little faces. So these other students no longer liked him, and called him “Billy-goat,” likening him to violent livestock. (Though this explanation was mere speculation on the part of Billy’s teacher. He was held back two grades, so the children may have been implying he was as stupid as a barnyard animal. Billy also kind of looked like a goat.) Billy’s parents determined that they would do something to help Billy make friends: They would teach him not to punch.

—-

Billy doesn’t like these lessons. Billy doesn’t understand how people who are friends would stop being friends on account of a little punching. Billy thinks friends are friends all the time, and they love you no matter what. Billy’s parents are torn. Because they really do love their son unconditionally, but they also know that so long as he continues hitting other kids, he’ll have no friends. Already, this has led to their son acting out more at home and having lower grades.

So they explain that though they love Billy unconditionally, if Billy wants friends, he will have to change the way he behaves. Billy can no longer hit people without their express permission. He will have to modify his behavior so that he can be in the company of others. He can know that his parents love him unconditionally, but it’s also important that he himself love unconditionally as well. Because that’s just how things work.

***

My freshman year of college there was a very conservative Christian. He debated with a gay person via facebook chat about the sinfulness of homosexuality. As you can imagine, it didn’t go very well for the conservative Christian. It’s difficult to try to talk about the sinfulness of behavior that’s normal and healthy. In the end, Mr. Conservative became so frustrated that he just said “Whatever. You’re going to hell anyway.” And then he clicked out of chat, with relish. Almost as if he were happy that bothersome gay person was hell-bound.

And, I mean, he was. Because if that person is hell-bound, then that means that anything the hell-bound person says is a lie worthy of the devil. The Evangelical isn’t losing the argument because he’s confused, or worse, really wrong. It’s that he’s fighting against evil. Behold, my brethren. We wrestle not with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers of darkness that are so going to hell.

Sending people to hell is the only place left for them to go in such debates. Logic fails them. They only have pseudo-psychology. Nobody who’s anybody cares about their arguments, because it’s now in the collective social consciousness that those arguments are bunk. Over 50 years ago, studies showed that the children of gay/lesbian couples were as well-rounded as those of heterosexual couples. We’re done with that topic. Everybody knows somebody who is gay, and can see that they’re leading pretty normal lives. There’s no correlation between homosexuality and pedophilia. There are LGBTQ* folk that aren’t atheist*. There’s really nothing on these fronts that Evangelical Christians can say without living in an alien and foreign world. Hell is the only place left for them to go.

For hell is alien and foreign. It is based on belief. It’s subjective, non-empirical, and virtually anybody can be sent there.The only thing to do is say that LGBTQ* folk are going to hell, and to claim that all hell-bound people sound perfectly reasonable until you realize that they’re going to hell. Luckily, God has shown Evangelical people the hell-bound nature of the gays, and now these Evangelical Christians can be reassured that the real reason LGBTQ arguments are so alien to them is because they’re coming from hell. Logic reigns, so long as it only comes from Christian minds. Wherfore they take unto themselves the whole armor of God, with the mighty spear of damning-folks-to-hell.

Behold! Ad homosexual. It was useful in its natural state, without any modifications or accessories. You could just say that somebody was going to hell because they were gay, and that was that. Being hell-bound, clearly they would mix logic and reason with lies from Satan, so it would sound impressive to anybody who wasn’t Christian enough. No need to listen to those gays! Trying to use logic will just get you all confused in your brain. Unfortunately, as you progress to more intellectual circles, ad homosexual is not really useful undiluted. Hell’s no longer in vogue. It needs something else. Something kinder.

***

There are more non-traditional ad hominems. You know, the ones that accuse of you something that isn’t technically a pejorative. It’s amazing how “You’re just saying that because you’re black, a woman, gay, trans” can change the entire conversation. No matter how you re-phrase things, conversation now takes place in a limiting dichotomy based on those traits, wherein the victim of said ad hominem must simultaneously state that they did not argue their point because of x, and that there’s nothing wrong with being x in the first place, and further that just as they may or may not be influenced by x, the other person in question may or may not be just as strongly influenced by y. It goes from being a circle, with infinite diameters, to one line. One scale. Black/notblack, woman/man, gay/straight, x/y. Just like that. **

I remember arguing with several sexually repressed gay men on the Gay Christian Network Forums (The place where many gay Christians go to get their honorary straight cards stamped) about my sex life. I’d had sex, and this really bothered them for whatever reason. And then they told me that I only thought having sex was okay because I was young. (Ho boy. How to break it to them that I’d slept with men in their 40’s and 50’s? Maybe those 40-year-old men only disagreed with the GCN people because they were too young as well!) Veering past the irony of receiving unsolicited advise from men who accidentally got married to women and spawned several children before they figured out that being gay was okay, and the psychologically disturbed projection that led some of them to tell me I was driving my sex partners to suicide, the chief annoyance was that I could no longer participate in the discussion in the same way. The more I talked about how not-immature I was, the more childish I sounded. I started doubting myself. Maybe I really was childish. Distance has given me more objectivity, and I don’t doubt myself anymore. I had just suffered from a non-traditional ad hominem. In their mind, I would have made compelling arguments were my arguments not so childish. They made perfect sense to a child, but not to an adult. And there’s no use explaining to a child what adults know, because children are childish and incapable of understanding adult things. And if you try to explain it to them, they get all childish on you. Kids, man. What’re you going to do?

These non-traditional ad hominems are pretty bad. However, there is one more fallacy that is of particular interest. It has a lot to do with Billy. It is a most refined form of non-traditional ad hominem, a specific kind of ad homosexual. It is another fallacy that just happens to be the title of this post: The wounded strawman.

***

My Sophomore year of College, an old church friend of mine began arguing with a college friend of mine who was agnostic. They were discussing the Bible. After my church friend was presented with some pretty persuasive arguments and facts about the Bible, she accused my agnostic friend of something quite unusual: Being hurt by the church.

“I’m so sorry, Clarice, that the church has treated you the way it has. It’s clear that it’s cut you deep, and if you’d ever like to talk about that, I’m here for you.”

A weird thing happened. As with these types of ad hominems that postulate something about somebody that isn’t necessarily bad, the more the person under attack protests, the more true the ad hominem feels. Clarice responded kindly, but sounded hurt. Not because she was. But because now there was no escaping this dichotomy of hurt/not hurt. The more she argued about how objective she was being, and that she had positive experiences with churches, the more it sounded as though she were emotionally distraught.

And then the magic really started. Because this church friend began re-constructing my friends arguments in the context of somebody who was “hurt.” It was a strawman. And that strawman was wounded. You just felt so bad for the strawman, out there being sad by itself. All of her arguments were tinted with pain and suffering. Of course she said that about genocide in the old testament. Because she’s been so hurt by the mean Christians who didn’t care about Darfur. See, she’d feel completely different about the genocide in the Bible if she had met nice, socially conscious Christians.

If you’ve experienced the wounded strawman, you have my sympathy. It’s one of the most trying circumstances there are in a debate/argument/facebook-thread-gone-terribly-terribly-wrong. However, it’s especially tough to deal with when it’s related to homosexuality. In those cases, once the fallacy is cast, you have to fight all sorts of presuppositions about gay people and how we’re all hurting, and how we need homophobes to wear shirts saying that they’re sorry at our pride events. You have to challenge their notion that their church is the church, the way they subtly imply that your gay-affirming church isn’t part of the real church-with-a-capital-C. And that kind of deconstruction takes a lot of time. In the midst of a debate, nobody wants to confront all this head on.

I do. Let’s sit a while and talk of these things. Of why the wounded strawman exists, and how it’s ridiculous.

***

It exists in the same way that hell exists. Because facts and logic are not on the side of Evangelicals. Like sending somebody to hell explains away how those liberals can seem so right while being so very, very wrong (Angels of light! Angels of light! They’re sent by Satan to confuse us, sounding all intellectual, but really destroying our souls!), saying that somebody is hurt also completely dismisses what they have to say.

So they weep when looking upon the lesbian woman empowered to own her sexuality, tears running down their face as she displays agency in choosing sex partners based on her own ideals. They grit their teeth as gay men raise children together. After my finding a boyfriend who was successful in his job and with a supportive family, these people poured ashes on top of their head and tore their sackcloths. Dear God, the humanity! I must be so miserable, living an aimless existence of attending church and serving homeless people at a local shelter. My music can’t possibly buoy my heart after I hefted those chains of sin upon it. I cook a meal for my boyfriend at his place, as he opens a bottle of wine and lights some candles. THE SHAME OF IT ALL! I’m so miserable, I don’t even know I’m miserable. The saddest part is that I’m so deceived that I actually think I’m happy. I can’t see my soul bleeding its murky, sinful blood out into the ether. I think that “joy” is having a job I love. That fulfillment is making the world a better place. That life consists of nothing but learning, growing, loving, and living. If only I knew. IF ONLY. They beat their breasts and sob.

Though, like ad homosexual, the wounded strawman makes the person using it sound slightly deranged, it does have some additional benefits.

For one, moral superiority. Clearly, if somebody thinks they’re happy while disagreeing with a Christian, it’s that Christian’s job to teach them how miserable they really, secretly are. Now the Christian has a mission, as well as a reason not to listen to those uncomfortable things a person may be saying. The Wounded Strawman not only helps dismiss a person’s arguments, but grants a seemingly benevolent countenance to the person using it. They’re just so concerned about you, is all. They hope that you soon feel better, and come to feel the love that Jesus has for you. They’ve hopped on a train to pious-ville, and their ticket was one-way. There’s no getting them back.

Additionally, The Wounded Strawman manages to cast every argument into a different light retroactively. When you say somebody is going to hell, that’s a conclusion that you’ve reached from their disagreeing with you. But when you say they’ve been hurt by the church, well, that’s different. You act as though you’ve concluded it from what they’ve said, but in reality, people can now read a fake back-story into it, starting from when you introduced the Wounded Strawman and working backwards. Unlike hell, which doesn’t exist on our plane of existence (Or anywhere, arguably), pain does. We may not understand the motivations of evil angels of light sent from Satan, but it’s human nature to assign causality to events, and to people. That’s how all of us create meaning. “This person argued” is not a story we can tell ourselves. “This person argued because they’re sad” is such a story. And we, as humans, live for such stories. Even people agreeing with the victim of the wounded strawman may begin to “see” such hurt and pain in their friends’ eyes. It works backwards. Which is part of what makes it so hard to disentangle from the initial argument when you reconstruct it later asking “Dear God, why? What happened?”

In Evangelical/gay discussions, in order to progress in a dialogue, one must challenge the preconceived notion that gays are intrinsically hurt. That gays are wholly other. That we need to be ministered to. Further, one must argue that having an untroubled history with the church is not an accurate indicator of objectivity. And, actually, defining what on Earth the “Church” is wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

Let’s take another look at Billy, and change some details.

***

Sam (Short for Samantha) is coming home with bruises. Her parents question her and discover that a child named Billy is hitting her. They decide then and there that they will call Billy’s parents to work things out.

While Sam’s dad tucks her in, Sam’s mother calls Billy’s dad. She explains to him that Billy was hitting Sam and other children while at school, and that she expects Billy’s parents to ensure such would never happen again. And maybe afterwards, Sam and Billy could go on a nice playdate, wouldn’t that be lovely?

But, no, Billy’s father argues. Billy is just boisterous. The other children are just namby-pamby wimps who are too sensitive because they’re raised by weak parents. Billy is perfectly fine to hit other children; it will build character, he says. Billy’s father hangs up.

Well, Sam’s parents are very upset. They agree, that they should let her skip school the next day, and schedule a meeting with her teacher so they can discuss what’s happening at school, and how they can make it better.

—-

Sam’s teacher was not young, and was not old. She was something in between. She was neither thin or wide, tall or short. Her hair wasn’t brown, but it wasn’t quite any other color either. Her dress wasn’t casual, but neither was it quite professional. Her manner wasn’t exactly friendly, but it wasn’t cold. Sam’s teacher was a very in-between teacher. But this was not a very in-between meeting.

As Sam’s parents sat in the classroom, she walked down the hall, not too fast, not too slow. She walked in to the room and closed the door, not too firm. She sat down at her desk and faced Sam’s parents and drew in a slow breath. And then she paused. And the pause lengthened and became very long, and very awkward. It was not a very in-between pause.

“I will not let Billy hit people. You may be assured that no matter what his parents think, he will not be allowed to hit students in my classroom.” She said.

Sam’s parents left elated. When they arrived home, they told Sam that Billy would not be able to hit her again.

—–

Billy, of course, tried to hit Sam. But when he did, his teacher pulled him aside, and put on a stern face. It was one that she used only on the gravest offenses. It was not a very in-between face. She told Billy that he would not be going to recess today, and that if he wanted to be able to play with the other kids, he would have to stop hitting them. If he wanted other kids to like him, he would have to stop hitting them. If he wanted to do much of anything in life, he would have to stop hitting people. He would have to modify his behavior so that he could be around the general public. Thought it’s tough, that’s just the way things work.

—–

Billy’s dad later meet Sam’s mom at a playdate. Billy’s dad starts talking about how it’s a shame that children today were so weak, none of them tough. Sam’s mom says that she doesn’t think that such an opinion is very accurate; after all, her daughter Sam was plenty tough. Billy’s father shakes his head, talking about how disappointing it is that somebody like Sam’s mother could be so blind. She asks him what he means, and he says that she was the one who had to talk to the teacher to change everything in the school, just to protect her sensitive child. Billy’s father shakes his head, saying that it must be hard to have such a group of sensitive children who must live their whole lives being afraid of any kind of pain, not getting toughened up like they should. How sad those children must be, being coddled all their lives. Sam’s mother is having none of this, and says that her daughter is not sensitive just because she doesn’t want to get hit in the face. But Billy’s parents soon leave, saying that they will pray for Sam and her parents, hoping that they will toughen up and stop taking things so personally.

***

Notice how this works. When there is a wounded strawman, it’s never about actual physical damage (i.e, bruises from being hit in the face). No, it’s about some intangible concept like “Holiness,” or “Toughness,” that somebody is lacking. Billy’s dad gets to decide that it’s impossible to be happy without “Toughness.” And only Billy’s dad, the person constructing the wounded strawman, can grant “toughness” or take it away.  Convenient, no?

Also see how Billy’s dad constructs things so that Sam’s mom is subjective. Because she and her husband specifically went in to talk to the teacher to change “Everything” at the school. It’s a false equivalence. It supposes that Sam’s “sensitivity” is her parents’ primary motivator, and that such is wrong, and that he’s somehow not motivated by a similar desire to protect his son. It supposes that Billy’s parents’ investment in letting their son hit people is “objective” and just the way things are. You cannot argue with it. You can’t argue about anything until you lay that notion to rest: The notion that it’s normal to hit people, and that people who think otherwise are “subjective.”

But there’s even more! How this manifests in “dialogue-creating” groups is probably the most infuriating part of the wounded strawman. Because ultimately, who is wounded? I mean, most bridge-building organizations are postulating that gay people are. And not the actual wounds, either. You know, teen homelessness, trans-phobia, inability to have government recognize our marriages, no job protection, and many more. No no no. What they acknowledge is how hurt queer folk are by – wait for it – … the Church. Because church people hurt our feelings. And we’re a sensitive bunch. Every sign-holding, t-shirt-wearing Christian who wants to apologize for only the most blatant and crazy, small-scale homophobia (Just thinking about Westboro makes me so angry) thinks that they’re ministering to LGBTQ folk. And while that seems helpful, it’s actually othering. Because the reason they think we need help is because we just need Jesus SO MUCH! We, by the virtue of being LGBTQ, must, be “sensitive” and “sore” and “raw” from our relationship with the “church.” Even if we grew up in a normal, gay affirming church. Somehow the “real church” hurt us, and they want us to come back, into loving arms, so that we may be whole again.

That’s not a two-way street. That’s horribly condescending. Yes, gay people are hurting. Some are even hurting because SOME church people hurt them. But to consider that the primary means of ministry is stupid when there is so much actual, tangible harm being done to LGBTQ folk. And to use it as a means of invalidating the experiences of queer folk (You’re just saying that because you’re hurting so much) is dishonest, and completely defeats its initial “purpose.” That’s not reaching out to the “other.” That’s maintaining privilege. And it’s ugly. Even more, it’s harmful, and I don’t just mean to LGBTQ* folk.

***

Billy’s parents are at a loss. Their little elementary school darling used to be so outgoing and extroverted. But now he keeps to himself. He doesn’t talk about school, and doesn’t talk about his friends. He does his homework sullenly, and his grades have dropped.

At dinner one day, Billy’s mom asks him gently if anything has changed at school. And then she and her husband discover that he has few friends and even those few he can call his friends are dwindling in number. The kids aren’t talking to him any more. They call him names. They say that he’s mean. Billy begins to cry.

Well, Billy’s parents are very upset. His father hugs him and tucks him in for an early bedtime, letting him skip his homework this night. They schedule a meeting with his teacher so they can discuss what’s happening at school, and how they can make it better.

—-

Billy’s teacher was not young, and was not old. She was something in between. She was neither thin or wide, tall or short. Her hair wasn’t brown, but it wasn’t quite any other color either. Her dress wasn’t casual, but neither was it quite professional. Her manner wasn’t exactly friendly, but it wasn’t cold. Billy’s teacher was a very in-between teacher. And she was sure to make this a very in-between meeting.

As Billy’s parents sat in the classroom, she walked down the hall, not too fast, not too slow. She walked in to the room and closed the door, not too firm. She sat down at her desk and faced Billy’s parents and drew in a slow breath. And then she paused. However, it was a very in-between pause.

“Billy hits people. And they don’t like being hit”

Billy’s mother gasped.

“However,” said Billy’s teacher, “I’m doing my best to facilitate a dialogue between Billy and the children he hits. Hopefully they’ll come to understand that just as they don’t want him to hit, he wants to hit them without consequence. All viewpoints are welcome in my class, and hey! There’s got to be a spot for violent children too. Otherwise, that’s not very tolerant of me, now is it.” She said.

Billy’s parents are pleased, and go home and give Billy some ice-cream!

—–

During his first year of high-school, Billy is arrested for breaking and entering, as well as assault with a deadly weapon. After spending time in Juvie, he returned to his parents place. He had picked up drugs while he was there, and used his new found freedom to start dealing them. After violently pursuing a client who owed him money, Billy ended up in prison again. After leaving prison, he met his girlfriend that he met online and began an abusive relationship with her. One time, after beating her, he attempted suicide. Billy’s parents were shocked and dismayed.

—–

Sam visits home from college. It turns out, her mother tells her, that Billy – does Sam remember little, violent Billy? Billy-goat? Yes, that poor kid with the negligent parents – Well, he attempted suicide.

Sam feels a stir of compassion. While Billy is responsible for his own actions, given his horrible upbringing, he had a lot more to overcome than she did. So she slowly starts to visit Billy, keeping a slight distance, but helping him find a therapist he connects with, driving him to Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and lending an ear when he needs somebody to talk to.

Eventually, Billy realizes the source of his wrong doing and finally, over the course of two years, learns to modify his harmful behavior.

***

So, Billy is being taught that his behavior is fine. When the person in charge of facilitating his relations with the other kids – his teacher – tries to be “in-between” about the harm he’s doing, it reinforces a behavior that costs him dearly. Billy was taught by people some very horrible lessons. And while he and his parents may have pitied the weak, namby-pamby children, it was he who was left alone with his horrible behavior, not the other kids.

When experiencing the wounded strawman, perhaps the best thing we can do is ask just who is wounded. Because it is here that we find the fundamental ridiculousness of the wounded strawman and the bridge building organizations that use it. Because there is something very sad about an evangelical who has no friends. A person whose own bigotry hurts the people around them so much that they soon are left standing alone. I hurt for those people, because I know there are times where I have had similar attitudes about other issues. And for that reason, I do think there does need to be reaching out to that other: Billy goat. He needs people to teach him how to behave so he can have friends and function in society.

What’s so bizarre is that what’s considered the “other” in these situations, in these bridge-building organizations, is almost always LGBTQ*. Queer folk are treated as though we’re the ones who need a lot of help.

So the wounded approach the whole and attempt to bleed on them in Christian love. This does not work. I don’t really stand something to gain. Being bled on is not something I do for funsies. In fact, it’s quite annoying. And in this way, the wounded Strawman damages any chance of dialogue the lonely evangelical has; and he’s only doing it because he’s being told by his teacher to let his fluids ooze on people like he’s some sort of sadistic petri dish.

So who stands to gain from dialogue about these matters in which LGBTQ* folk are intrinsically wounded? Only Evangelicals, and evangelically-identifying queer folk. They’re the ones that want approval and love from the church, who somehow feel great about these conversations that to me seem meaningless. I just wish they’d acknowledge that it’s irrelevant to everybody else. Why pretend to help the “LGBTQ*” community when it’s just an Evangelical feel-fest? It’s not helping queer folk. And it’s fine that it’s not helping queer folk. But let’s just be honest about that, shall we?

For real dialogue that I actually care about, we’d approach the Evangelical, who’s world is changing fast while they pretend to try to catch up, and befriend them. Never once accepting their own hurtful friendship, but offering them companionship. So they can start the slow process of remembering what friendship is like.

We would be clear instructors, teaching the hard, painful lesson that we teach children: That though some will love you unconditionally, you cannot pretend that you do the same so long as you keep up that behavior. That’s just how things work.

Let’s do that for their sake, before they turn chronically annoying and irrelevant. Because that can’t be fun. They need some compassion.

Because they’ve been really, truly hurt by their Church.

————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

* Not that there’s anything wrong with being atheist. It’s merely wrong to assume that one is based upon their sexuality.

** I do see a difference between this non-traditional ad hominem and calling somebody out on a privilege they have. However, that’s a topic for another post.

Decoding the Alan Chambers Apology:

Alan chambers apologized.

Reactions were mixed, and, to be frank, a bit sensationalist. Shouldn’t we applaud this first step? Is this enough? Doesn’t this take courage? What will become of him? Isn’t this the first time he’s called himself gay? Is Exodus shutting down? (It is) Is Alan Chambers a liberal? Can we forgive him? Why did he wait a year to apologize, whilst he kept saying “Stay tuned?” Does Lisa Ling film all of his apologies?

All of these questions bypass two important ones. Like this one: What is it?

What is this apology? No really. What is it? What is it saying? I recently posted about the need for translation often from Evangelicals, and I could not have asked for a better example. This apology is at best ambiguous, and at worst, double-speak. Please read what questions he does not, in actuality, answer for certain, before you start applauding him. Because I really don’t think he’s saying what a lot of you think he’s saying.

As I’ve linked to the full apology, you can judge for yourself if I’m taking things too far out of context. I don’t believe that I am. For those who didn’t read the full apology, I’m selecting quotes from it that fail to answer many questions — quotes that I think many people are misreading as a wholesale endorsement of gay rights.

***

“Recently, I have begun thinking again about how to apologize to the people that have been hurt by Exodus International through an experience or by a message.”
The phrase “an experience or by a message” is weird. Does this include the damage he’s done in legislative stances, in voting against gay rights, in any testifying, talking, or in any way promoting viewpoints that resulted in people taking harsh stances on gay-rights legislation? What does this mean? What is it? Is he sorry about fighting against gay rights? In the US and other places, or only in Uganda?

“And then there is the trauma that I have caused. There were several years that I conveniently omitted my ongoing same-sex attractions. I was afraid to share them as readily and easily as I do today. They brought me tremendous shame and I hid them in the hopes they would go away. Looking back, it seems so odd that I thought I could do something to make them stop. Today, however, I accept these feelings as parts of my life that will likely always be there. The days of feeling shame over being human in that way are long over, and I feel free simply accepting myself as my wife and family does. As my friends do. As God does.”
Does that acceptance also mean accepting that we could be in a relationship with somebody of the same sex? Or does God only accept our sexualities if we refuse to act on it? Or does God only accept our sexualities if we refuse to act on it and we marry an opposite-sex spouse? Because God requires that we be more than human, right? So doesn’t accepting your homosexuality as “human” mean that you accept it the same way you do all sin, as evidence of a fallen world? Is acting on homosexual desire a sin?

“Never in a million years would I intentionally hurt another person. Yet, here I sit having hurt so many by failing to acknowledge the pain some affiliated with Exodus International caused, and by failing to share the whole truth about my own story. My good intentions matter very little and fail to diminish the pain and hurt others have experienced on my watch. The good that we have done at Exodus is overshadowed by all of this.”
Is that the only harm he’s done? Not acknowledging sexual abuse and failing to share that he’s still attracted to men? Does he know that there are other ways he and Exodus ministries have harmed people? If he didn’t harm people by intention, does that mean that he accidentally fought against gay rights? Does he acknowledge that he’s done more harm? Does he think that he shouldn’t apologize for that other harm?

“I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change.”
But he’s not sorry that they ended up in mixed-orienation marriages? Is he only sorry that they felt shame and guilt while being abstinent and/or married to an opposite-sex spouse, instead of feeling happiness and joy while being abstinent and/or married to an opposite-sex spouse?

“I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents.”
Are the only beliefs about parenting and parenthood that he’s sorry for the ones that stigmatized parents? Is he only apologizing for saying “If a man is gay, his father was absent?” Is he not apologizing for teaching that parents must fill specific gender roles?

“I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse.”
Is he sorry for calling gays “broken?” For not standing up to people publicly who called us “broken?” Is he not sorry for saying “the opposite of homosexuality is holiness?”

“I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know.”
Capable of being amazing parents means what? Like, I’m capable of being an amazing parent because I can marry a woman and raise them in a traditional household with the same gender roles Exodus has promoted? Is that the only way I’m capable of being an amazing parent? Or am I capable of being an amazing single parent? Am I capable of being an amazing parent with another man? Will Chambers share that two husbands can be amazing parents together? Or can I only be an amazing parent by marrying a woman? Is Chambers only apologizing to gays who are in mixed-orientation marriages?

“I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart.”
Does this mean that he’s not sorry for implying that gay people must come to Christ in a way that straight people don’t have to? Is he sorry that he’s implied that surrendering their sexuality to Christ means being abstinent or marrying an opposite-sex spouse? Is he sorry for likening somebody’s gender identity to their sexual orientation? Or is he only sorry that he celebrated the end of relationships while celebrating the good of surrendering homosexuality to Christ?

“I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine.”
Is he sorry for communicating that families with same-sex parents are less than families with opposite-sex parents? Or is he only sorry for communicating that mixed-orientation marriages are less than “real” straight marriages? (In this scenario, he’d be apologizing to people who couldn’t change their orientation, but were still married to opposite-sex spouses – apologizing for saying that their marriage wasn’t good enough because they hadn’t changed their orientation all the way, 100%. In this scenario, he would not be apologizing to LGBTQ folk that actually lived out their relationships and gender identities in their families) Does he even consider two moms and children a family?

“More than anything, I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection by Christians as God’s rejection.  I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives. For the rest of my life I will proclaim nothing but the whole truth of the Gospel, one of grace, mercy and open invitation to all to enter into an inseverable relationship with almighty God.”
Does this inseverable relationship with God extend to gays who actually have sex with people of the same sex? Why doesn’t Firefox recognize inseverable as a word? Are all relationships with God inseverable? When aren’t they?

“I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex, but I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them.  I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage. But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek. My beliefs about these things will never again interfere with God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself.”
Is he saying that he will no longer lobby against gay rights? Does this mean that he doesn’t support legislation that infringes upon the rights of LGBTQ* people? Does this mean he supports marriage equality? Does he support job protections for sexual orientation and gender identity? Does he believe that gays should be able to adopt? Does his refusal to fight against gay rights mean that he will fight for gay rights? Or does it mean he’s going to pull a Marin?

“You have never been my enemy. I am very sorry that I have been yours. I hope the changes in my own life, as well as the ones we announce tonight regarding Exodus International, will bring resolution, and show that I am serious in both my regret and my offer of friendship. I pledge that future endeavors will be focused on peace and common good.”
Whose common good? What is the common good? Is that list of gay rights I made just a second ago part of the common good?

“Moving forward, we will serve in our pluralistic culture by hosting thoughtful and safe conversations about gender and sexuality, while partnering with others to reduce fear, inspire hope, and cultivate human flourishing.”
Does reducing fear mean reducing homophobia? Or would he say that gay people are also afraid of Christians, and he wants to reduce Christian-phobia?

***

I’ve seen too many first steps that double as last steps. And I’m skeptical. Especially having actually read his apology in depth and realized how much ambiguity there was in it. Some people may think I’m splitting hairs, but I promise you that these ambiguities exist to people who thought that it was a good idea to tell gay men that they must marry a woman and have sex with her.

I’m further doubtful after reading the preface to his apology, in which he says that he disagrees with the “vocal majorities” of gay people. That, to me, means he disagrees with the activists that are currently giving much of themselves to ensure equality for queer folk. Marriage equality, job protection, adoption rights, etc. This, to my mind, demonstrates how very little distance he has traveled. I’ve never heard somebody who is for gay rights refer to a “vocal” majority of queer folk as a bad thing.

I’ve no doubt that he’s sorry, that he feels dismay at the pain of queer folk. But I don’t think that he’s really apologized, that he’s taken responsibility for his actions and changed them dramatically to repair what he can of what he’s done.

But perhaps I’ve over-reacted. Perhaps he really does have a good answer to all of the questions I’ve posed. Perhaps he has a great attitude, is eager to learn, and wants to clear the air. Maybe he didn’t realize the ambiguity in his apology. If that’s the case, then I’m sure he’ll respond here, because I’ve messaged him, hit up some Exodus PR people, and put this on the Exodus page where they posted a link to his apology. If he does have good intentions, I’ve no doubt he can clear up this important question about his “apology”: What is it?

***

I hope that he’ll also answer the remaining question, an important question that I think may be the most telling of all. (Or it’s totally conspiracy theorist and wrong.) It’s one I haven’t seen people ask, in any case.

How much legal liability has Exodus and/or Chambers (by proxy) been released from because of Exodus’s dissolution? Because I’m pretty sure that if a psychologist admitted that he had severely harmed his patients in a publicly issued apology, he’d be liable for a lot of damages. But if he’s dead, there’s no way to hold him accountable. Likewise, with Exodus dead in the water, it seems that the brand new organization “ReduceFear,” and Chambers may be off the hook.

Let’s see that question answered. I imagine it could answer my other question as well.

It Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means: Translation and the Reclamation of Power

It seems that Senator Flake is in trouble. He wrote to the mother of a shooting victim from Aurora, and said he was for Strengthening gun background checks. Except, awkwardly enough, he voted against them. Now, he has a very, very low approval rating.

Well, this is easy to parse. He’s a craven flip-flopper, right? He lied to her, because he wanted to sound good, but then he voted against a bill he said he supported.

Now, that’s what normal people think. And they’re absolutely right to think so. However, he would say that he technically didn’t lie. Technically, he told the truth. He said that “Strengthening background checks is something we can agree on.”

See, all of those liberal people don’t have the properly nuanced view of what he said. What does the term “background check” really mean? While some might assume that “background checks” are a pretty universal idea encapsulating policy that would ensure background checks for all gun sales, in actuality, he’s just talking about beefing up existing checks that only 60% of people have to take. Mental illness, man. If there’s anything we can agree on, it’s restricting the rights of those crazy people.

This is more irritating than lying. It’s as if elected Republicans fancy themselves creatures of faerie from western mythology. They speak naught but truth, but the truth can be devastating – They grant you eternal life, but not eternal youth. Wording is very important with the Fae folk. In the end, when our feeble and decrepit protagonist screams at the fairy “But you promised!” the fairy gets to point at his clever wording, and then disappear. Ha ha. Should’ve wished more carefully, mortal.

Of course, elected Republicans aren’t fairies. The reason they rely on misleading wordage is that they’re unpopular. Things they stand for are unpopular. So, like any other unpopular people who support unpopular things, they try to repackage themselves, to change the words. People who were Republicans now call themselves Moderates and Independents and Libertarians. People who support Voucher-care hate vouchers. Fundamentalist Christians are Orthodox. People are for going to war in Syria, but against arming the rebels. Why? Words.

This is nonsense.

But most importantly, it is a power struggle. Sen. Flake doesn’t have to admit to misleading anybody, because he claims that the fault actually lies with the people who, silly enough, believe that words mean what words mean. He’s making an appeal to authority that the words “background check” mean something that he likes, and anybody who thinks differently is wrong. And in being so wrong, they may misinterpret his statements, which are themselves faultless and honest and true. But just who gets to choose what words mean? Who gets to decide what’s important? Those in power. And this is a struggle over something far more important than power over academia, or the rules of dialogue. This is a battle over meaning, and who gets to decide it. This is a war over words.

***

When I first came out, I was convinced that gay people hated Christians. I felt torn in the middle, being rejected by Christians for being gay, and being rejected by gay people for being Christian.  It was just so dang hard. Does that sound familiar?

It sounds familiar because I think a lot of gay, Christian people think that when they come out. (Some of them write entire books about it.) And then they learn and find out that the middle is a creation of their own making. At least it was for me. Because, actually, in my experience, I’ve found that the LGBTQ* community is very open to dialogue with Christians, even the Evangelical ones. As it turns out, I really wasn’t torn between two worlds at all. Once I matured, I was really fine with being friends with people who believed differently than me. My initial discomfort with such people was the real problem.

In fact, the “worldliest” gay people, the ones least exposed to Evangelical thought and culture, are the ones most likely to talk with Evangelical people, in my experience. Which is great. Everybody talks; everybody learns.

Except, homophobic Evangelicals keep finding out that their ideas sound horrible. It’s kind of hard to say “I’m against gay marriage because your marriage will end society as we know it” to a gay person. Similarly, it’s hard to say “I’m really grateful that my church has the right to fire you because you’re gay.” So these Evangelicals, instead of analyzing their ideas, immediately just associate such discomfort with gay people. So they only spend time with evangelicals. They only read Evangelical books about dialogue and gay people. And they only feel comfortable dialoguing in contexts that are suitably Evangelical for them. And in these contexts, they learn how to lie. And they call it “sensitivity,” or “engaging the other.”

Great, right? Except LGBTQ* folk get the wrong idea, I think. Because they aren’t familiar with the significant re-branding these Evangelicals have done, when they speak with these Evangelicals, they think many Evangelicals are saying things and promising things that those Evangelicals aren’t actually saying or promising. I mean, to a normal person, you’d think they were. But if you know their sensitivity training, you realize they’re actually completely skirting questions and even being homophobic. They’ve just learned how to be quiet about it, how to use language to mislead as much as they can without technically lying.

Many “dialogue-creating” organizations actually see this as a good thing – Because after all, those close-ended “Yes or no” questions only hamper dialogue. What’s really important is that we all affirm each others’ experiences; that we listen to people, and hear where they’re coming from. However erroneous I find that, I would find the entire concept much more palatable if they were at least completely honest as such. But, often times, such “progressive” evangelicals are not honest as such. Rather than saying that they won’t, as a matter of principle, answer yes or no because they believe such is bad for dialogue (Which is problematic enough), they will insist that they *are* answering yes or no. They pretend to say yes, and when you realize they haven’t said yes, they blame you for misinterpreting them. Ha ha! Should’ve listened more carefully, gays.

***

Common Evangelical Skirting:

  • What they say: “I believe that nobody chooses to be gay.”
  • What it means:  “Right. No one chooses it. Environmental factors, such as a distant father or overbearing mother, make somebody gay. And through ex-gay therapy, you can process that hurt and fix it so that you’re heterosexual. Nobody chooses bi-polar disorder either, you know. But you’ve got to think positively until you reach recovery.”
  • What they say: “I believe that you can’t pray away the gay.”
  • What it means: “Because you have to have therapy too.”
  • What they say: “I don’t believe it’s possible to ever be 100% straight.”
  • What it means:  “Every day is a struggle with homosexuality. Most days I’m only 94% straight. But, we all have our struggles. And my opposite-sex partner is really understanding.”  (Ahem. Alan Chambers)
  • What they say: “Ex-gay therapy doesn’t work.”
  • What they mean: “But though it’s wasteful, it doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t have the choice to do it if they want to. So we should present them with that option. I mean, what are we afraid of?”
  • What they say: “Ex-gay therapy is harmful and doesn’t work.”
  • What they mean: “Gays shouldn’t seek out therapy. They should just remain celibate.”
  • What they say: “Sure, you’re gay.”
  • What they mean: “You’re gay. I’m an alcoholic. Thomas over there beats his wife. We all have our issues, you know?”
  • What they say: “I mean, psychologists say _____”
  • What they mean: “Sure, that psychologist was actually somebody who just got a masters in Christian Counseling and a Doctorate in Theology. But that’s the same as somebody who has gotten a PhD in Clinical Pyschology, right? And that academic, that psychologist? They totally said ______”
  • What they say: “Being gay is not a sin.”
  • What they mean: “I mean, having a gay partner or in any way acting on being gay is wrong. Like alcoholism. If you’re an alcoholic, that’s okay. You just shouldn’t drink. So, being gay isn’t wrong. You just have to be celibate.”
  • What they say: “I think we should all have equal rights.”
  • What they mean: “Which is why I’m super glad that we all have the right to marry an opposite-sex spouse.”
  • What they say: “I don’t think being gay should be illegal.”
  • What they mean: “I think that gay sex should be illegal. Like, that stuff in Uganda? That’s terrible. No, we should not prosecute people for who they’re attracted to. We should just prosecute the people who act on their desires and have gay sex. Because it is icky.
  • What they say: “I think, though, we shouldn’t persecute churches for their beliefs either.”
  • What they mean: “The suffering of churches is equal or greater to that of LGBTQ* folk. And LGBTQ* folk who don’t believe so are being mean. It’s very important that your recognize my suffering.”
  • What they say: “Gay people are welcome at our church.”
  • What they mean: “They are welcome to observe us, until our love converts them. Until then, however, gay people must not be involved in any leadership positions.”
  • What they say: “Ours is the first study of it’s kind; it’s been peer reviewed, will be published as an academic book, and will be in some journals.”
  • What they mean: “Unlike other studies, ours was not backed by an institution of higher learning or any other kind of respectable grant-awarding institution. Unlike other studies, we will not be held to the same ethical or practical standards. Unlike peer reviewed journals where people not selected by us objectively review our work and decide if it’s fit to be published, we selected our own friends, our “peers” and had them read over it. Unlike Yale’s academic press, ours will be coming out in a Christian press; it’s an academic book because we say so, and it will be published in Christian journals.” *
  • What they say: “Tolerance is a two way street.”
  • What they mean: “I’m white.”
  • What they say: “I’m against this bill because it’s against religious liberty.”
  • What they mean: “I’m against this bill because it allows gays to marry. But that doesn’t sound as good as “it’s against religious liberty” so I’ll go with that.
  • What they say: “Gay people should be nicer in order to get their rights.”
  • What they mean: “I only become a good person for nice people. And I’m not going to help gay people at all with their rights. If I weren’t so speshul, I might not even care at all because those gays have been mean to me!”
  • What they say: “That gay people can’t get married isn’t fair!”
  • What they mean: “However, life also isn’t fair, and I’m not about to end that.”

(That last is actually based on a very real quote from a blogger from a bridge-building organization. In it, he posts about gay marriage, saying that his friend says “It’s not fair that I can’t get married.” And while his friend cries, the blogger posts lyrics from a sad song, and seems to agree that it isn’t fair. That’s all. There’s no actual stance on marriage equality, even though the blogger references this blog post several times later to show how much support he gives to gay marriage sympathizers. Convenient, no?)

* Seriously, stuff with the asterisk is inspired by that Marin guy. It’s on his website and blog. For real.

***

Heaven knows, there are many more. I’ll post “Translations” as a series, and post new installments from time to time. But these are probably enough to illustrate what is happening.

This is an important phenomenon. Because those in power – Those with privilege in our society and within Christian circles – are changing the language in order to retain their power. There’s no good intention here. It’s all about morphing the language so that homophobic people can more easily attempt to convert LGBTQ* folk to their way of thinking. Or, morphing the language so that they can talk to LGBTQ* folk enough so that they feel like it’s ontologically impossible for them to be homophobic. They’ve decided that it’s really important that you talk to them, even though you have your own litmus tests for doing so. And because they cannot pass your litmus tests, they’re going to attempt to bypass them altogether so that they may talk to you on their terms. Because they know better than you do what dialogue you need. Your litmus tests are at fault, and they, supreme chancellors of dialogue and language that they are, know exactly what to say to you so that you grow as a person. Having such limitless knowledge, they want the power to make you spend time with them. But more than that: They want the power to silence you. Because it’s only when you’re silent that they can speak in the pretense that they are not oppressors.

This kind of silencing manifests for three reasons, listed in the order of their seriousness of ethical violation: Cognitive Dissonance, Privilege Distress, and Tone-policing. You can assume at least one of these things is happening when you hear people re-branding themselves, and needing a translator.

Cognitive Dissonance is inconsistency of thought or belief. Many evangelicals actually know that what they’re saying is oppressive and pretty un-Christian, but it makes them feel bad to acknowledge this, because if they did, they’d have to dramatically revise their other thoughts and beliefs, and that would be scary. So in order for them to satisfy their need for comfort, they try not to say what they really mean, and pretend that these two beliefs (Gay people are inferior; gay people are equal) can actually mesh together. Because they can’t even admit it to themselves. You know how when you’re alone with other people who are all like you in certain ways, you may say some magnanimous things about people who use wheelchairs. You might talk about accessibility issues and how horrible it is that somebody in a wheelchair can’t get into a certain building. But the minute you start talking about such topics with somebody who is in a wheelchair, you feel self-conscious, and realize that some other things you said were actually patronizing, even discriminatory. And you feel bad. You think, Wow, man, I spoke really freely just then about something I don’t know that much about. Or, whoa, that sounds really horrible when I think about saying that to that man in the wheelchair. That joke doesn’t seem funny at all now. Well, Evangelicals feel this too, I think. Only they don’t realize it’s happening because the fault is with them. They blame language, and accuse LGBTQ* folk of misappropriating it and “tricking” them into saying mean things. Or, better yet, “misinterpreting them.” In truth, they still believe these mean things, though. And this cognitive dissonance is one of their own making. It really is hard to fear your gay friends. I experience cognitive dissonance over that too before I dealt with my internalized homophobia. Cognitive dissonance, man. I’m a Christian, so I shouldn’t fear people. But I’m afraid of gay people. In the end, this results in sometimes authentic utterances of their desire for equality when they’re with their gay friends. They really do want us to be able to experience marriage. But these feelings almost always fleeting; they dissipate at the slightest sign of an actual change-of-heart. Eventually they leave their gay friends, and find themselves with the other group of conflicting thoughts. They are a leaf in the wind.

Privilege distress is what we call the moments when somebody wants not to be a good person, but rather, wants to have been a good person forever and always. It’s very similar to Cognitive Dissonance, but whereas cognitive dissonance is trying to resolve two equally-believed notions with oneself, privilege distress attempts to resolve discriminatory notions with the need to be perceived as non-discriminatory. There’s no authenticity in their re-phrasing when they do come close to acknowledging fundamental inequality for LGBTQ* folk, unlike people with cognitive dissonance. They genuinely believe that LGBTQ* folk are inferior, without question. So they really are attempting to bypass litmus tests so they can have a gay friend. Having a gay friend helps mitigate the damage their unpopular views cause. It makes them feel better about themselves. It helps them feel that they are not oppressors, and that they have always been good people.  They are easily wounded, and very concerned about proving that they’re good people in other respects. To them, it makes perfect sense to respond to the accusation of homophobia by saying that they volunteer at a homeless shelter. These Evangelicals believe they are good people. And since the whole world is against Christianity and makes Christians feel like bad people when they express their homophobia, they have to argue that they aren’t bad people because what they expressed isn’t, in fact, homophobic. Because they are good people, they cannot believe that gay people are inferior. Instead, gay people are taking offense at small things, and must not be open to dialogue. This kind of distress can lead to the worst thing on the list.

Tone-policing.

***

Tone-policing is a red herring designed to silence the oppressed. It’s a distraction, and is contingent on denying both inequality, and the importance of inequality-if-it-existed-though-of-course-it-doesn’t. The purpose of dialogue becomes not ensuring that human beings are equal, but, instead, ensuring that unequal human beings are nice. So, then, everybody talks, and everybody’s views are treated as equal, and everybody is nice. Who decides who’s nice? The Evangelicals. And that’s where it gets interesting. Because calling homophobia homophobia is not nice. So you’re not allowed to use that word. You’re preventing dialogue if you do use it. No, no, no. Homophobia is what Westboro Baptist Church has. It’s mean to compare people to WBC. Don’t say the word homophobic. These tone-policing evangelicals have stolen the word “homophobic.” It’s theirs now. You can only use it by their rules. It’s a testament to the heights of their entitlement that they believe they should be the ones to define such words. Even empowering queer folk by letting us define our own words is too much! Because it’s not just the word “homophobia;” this extends to pretty much any word, phrase, or sentiment that expresses the inequality that exists. Because in these nice discussions, inequality is the real red herring. Inequality distracts everybody from being nice to each other. Teh mean gays are hurting the Evangelicals’ feelings by talking about inequality. (This is further exacerbated if said Evangelicals are experiencing privilege distress or cognitive dissonance) So queer folk try to find nice, polite ways to discuss inequality. But to no avail. Here’s a hint: There are none.

You may not realize it at first. In the group, the Evangelicals will keep assuring you that they really do want your perspective. But no matter how you re-word yourself, or clumsily attempt the kind of re-branding they’ve pulled off, you will never be nice. Because it’s not your wording, it’s your very perspective that’s so offensive. They would hear what you had to say if only you’d not say it.

But see, they’ll say, this dialogue is mostly for evangelicals. This is how evangelicals learn, because evangelicals (Which usually aren’t as speshul as the speshul evangelicals arranging such dialogue), won’t talk to gay people otherwise. It absolutely must happen in terms that validate their already validated prejudices, or else they’ll not talk at all. And gay people will be forever shunted to horribly liberal, affirming churches.

So, this most necessary dialogue necessarily comes mostly from Evangelical Christians, reasoning about how they are good people, and how they are misunderstood and misinterpreted. Even as LGBTQ* experience actual discrimination and inequality, in government, in many Evangelical churches, and in everyday life, the goal of the discussion is to assure homophobic Evangelicals that their own perspectives — Those of the oppressors — are heard. Not only will they require equal time to discuss their feelings, but they often request more than equal time for their feelings. Because, after all, it’s for evangelicals. That’s how evangelicals learn — Talking about themselves in front of gay people. It’s all for you, actually. It’s all about helping you help yourself by making you nice enough so that the other evangelicals that aren’t as speshul will understand.

This kind of dialogue is only reactionary. It is a negative response to positive social change. It is an attempt to ameliorate bigotry.

It is nonsense.

This peculiar form of politeness, of redefinition — this war over words: It does not help queer folk. When we assume that people already know the truth of inequality, we speak less on inequality. We share less about our truth, our honest, lived-in experience of the world. And our truth is the thing that is most important to convey. That truth sheds light on bigotry. It is necessary for true dialogue. And in this “polite” and redefined nice dialogue, this truth is absent. In a conversation where we should be empowered, we are disenfranchised. Without words to express our truth, we are silenced. We are left with lies.

I’ve been dangerously close to such dialogue. I’ve seen a straight ally made to rephrase herself after she said that legislation against gay people – specifically justified with fear tactics in this particular conversation – was homophobic. I’ve also seen LGBTQ* folk asked to respect what the evangelicals were putting at stake by talking with them, because they may have to keep the meeting quiet for the sake of their reputations. I’ve seen leaders of “bridge-building” organizations respond only to Evangelicals online, while systematically ignoring every single comment from people more liberal. I’ve seen these same leaders decline to publicly support marriage equality because it would threaten their job security at a conservative Christian institution. I’ve watched as the LGBTQ* stories featured in a dialogue-creating group treat discrimination as though it comes from the air around them, carefully avoiding laying the blame at the feet of oppressors, many of whom are the self-same Evangelicals participating in such dialogue. And I’ve seen oppressors leave more empowered than before by these interactions. I promise you: If this is dialogue, it does no good. With no truth to tell, the only way LGBTQ* folk can resist being silent is to lie, to tell the lies that such Evangelicals want to hear. They must speak untruth to power.

Because that lay at the heart of tone policing, this heinous tactic in a war on words. The reason that you cannot be polite about inequality is because dishonesty is intrinsic to their definition of polite. That is why they mislead so often about their thoughts on marriage equality and job discrimination. They are “polite,” not despite such dishonesty, but precisely because of it. They expect you to lie in turn. To use “homophobic” in their sense. To use the phrase “background checks” in specific ways. In this framework, it is only by lying about standing inequalities that LGBTQ* folk can participate in such honest discussion. And while there are people who stand to gain from this, they certainly aren’t queer.

Read it:

That book that changed your life? About the homosexual next door? Yeah. I’ve read that.

That film about AIDS? Yeah. Saw it.

That one pseudo-study by an irreputable Christian organization that the APA has disavowed? I read that one.

That argument that seems beautiful in its simplicity and charm? I invented that when I was eight years old.

The problems that come when I don’t believe the Bible the way you do? I saw them first-hand when I stopped.

And that gay person that committed suicide? Yeah, I’ve had my own friends do that.

That Bible? I have read it. And I wish you would too.

And those apologetics? Came across those in highschool.

The great debate? Read it, disagreed with it, and left those people when I was eighteen.

What are you hoping to accomplish? Do you really think you have a perspective on this that I don’t? That you’ve stumbled across the one book I just never found in my years of studying? Do you think that because I’m not making random emotional appeals – talking about how I “cried every night wishing I was straight,” or “always felt I was different,” or “went to seminary to become a pastor and understand the Bible,” – Do you think that because I don’t do this, I didn’t study, didn’t learn, and didn’t come to an entirely different conclusion than you did?

I’ve read your stuff. Read mine, please.

Start with Whistling Vivaldi. Move on to Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria and Can We Talk About Race. Steer clear of Marin and “bridge-building” organizations. Next, you may search JSTOR, EPSCO, or your local library’s bookshelf for studies on homosexuality and mental health, and the formation of identity. You can also just go to the APA, AMA, WHO, or ASA’s website for their official statements on the topic. You might look into the civil rights movement, see how faith was used then, and draw some parallels. You might watch any of several documentaries, like Before Stonewall, After Stonewall, Fish out of Water, or For the Bible Tells Me So. You might read a little about the real formation of the Bible; John Hayes has a great textbook out about it. About the Gospel’s, there’s a great book by Paula Fredriksen called From Jesus to Christ. God’s Problem addresses how the Bible actually answers the question “Why do we suffer if there’s a just God?” Actually, you might read up on Theodicy in general, with CS Lewis’s The Problem of Pain. You might take a class or two at a local college that isn’t Christian affiliated.

Why don’t you do that, and then get back to me with all of your charming arguments? It would save us both so much time. Because I’m beginning to lose my patience.

An Apology, A promise, and Gratitude:

Hi again.

I just wanted to say that I’m really sorry for earlier. I said something wrong, and in a way that may have hurt you. This is not to say that you are hurt, or that there’s anything wrong if you are. However, if you are, I acknowledge that I had a hand in that. And I’m sorry about that.

I promise that I didn’t mean to. I didn’t think that what I was saying was offensive, that you would disagree so strongly. But I also know that just because I didn’t mean to be offensive doesn’t mean that what I said was not offensive. Words spoken with no ill-intent can also be words that are spoken without intention or thought at all; such words can be hurtful or offensive.

But even as I ask for forgiveness, I am asking for more, if you will hear me out. Because I didn’t know that what I was doing was wrong, and I still don’t understand it. This is not to say I don’t believe you – I’ve known you for a while, and in all that time I’ve learned that you’re a reasonable person. You’re smart and fun to be around, and we’ve agreed on so many other things. No, I think that the problem lies with me. But, the thing is, I don’t know what my problem is, precisely.

I’m not asking you to “prove” that what I said is harmful. Obviously I did something wrong. But I’m asking, and you may of course say no, if you will educate me.

You could do this by talking to me some more, if you’d like. I’d be honored if you did. It’d be a very kind thing, given that I’ve already said offensive things to you. However, I know that in my experiences, I get very annoyed at having to educate people about things they should already know. So, instead of having to do all the leg-work yourself, do you know any books I should be reading? I did some searching on Google about this topic, and I wanted to know if there were any blogs or websites I should seek out? Avoid?

I know that you risk, in doing this, that I will not change my mind. That you will have gone out of your way to educate me, expending what may be a tremendous effort, and I will stay the same, or become more firmly entrenched in something you think is really wrong. But still I ask you if you will.

Regardless of your answer, I do promise you that I will continue to search, to read, to attempt to educate myself. Because you are important to me, this is important to me. Further, because you are a moral person who I respect, and I may have acted less moral than you, this is a moral issue I care about on its own merits.

I know it would have been best for me to start this self-education twenty years ago. But I also know that the second best time is today.

So I’m starting.

And regardless of whether you’ll be coming through it with me, I thank you for starting it out for me.

A Quick Note on Intersectionality:

If being black = 333.

And if being gay = 100.

Being black and gay does not equal 433.

Being black and gay does not equal 3330.

Being black and gay does equal 7333.1002.

The take away is that you cannot add “black” and “gay” together to find the amount of prejudice they’ll encounter. You cannot multiply them either. There is no quick and easy mathematical relationship between them. Instead, there is a large number that looks confusing but for the presence of the digits “333” and “100.” You can see those properties of “black” and “gay” in it, but it is its own entity with its own rules.

So stop assuming you’ve figured “black” out because you’re gay. It’s different, I promise.

Similarly, guys, if you’re gay, you still haven’t experienced transphobia.

Different people have different experiences. Yes, to a point, you can generalize. Being male, I can pretty much assume I have privilege in that respect virtually anywhere I go. However, I cannot translate that “maleness” to “black maleness” and find out what it’s like to be a black male.

End lesson? Different things are different.

People I’m Tired of: Part 3

People who use the term “homophobia-phobia” or “christian-phobic” to describe LGBTQ* people.

Do Christians often get kicked out of their homes as much as LGBTQ* youth? Do Christians get violently attacked in the US as much as LGBTQ* folk?  Are Christians denied the right to marry who they love as often as LGBTQ* folk are?

Do Christians get fired often just for being Christians? (And I’ll stop you right there – I mean the boss goes “Oh wow. You’re a Christian? Pack up your desk; you’re fired.” I’m not talking about some stupid “stand” a Christian takes because they refuse to stock the library shelves with Harry Potter or something like that.)

The answer, dearest, is no. They do not. Not with near the same frequency as LGBTQ* folk.

So stop treating your hurt feelings at being called out on your privilege as though they’re equal to the violences dealt to LGBTQ* folk. And stop thinking that my calling you out on your privilege is “homophobia-phobic.” And stop using those words at all. Seriously, you’re naming a phenomenon that consists of you whining over imagined hurts? And we’re supposed to take that seriously?

Some guy goes to Liberty college and comes away with a burning desire for nobody to think that Falwell is evil. Here’s the deal. That’s not homophobia-phobic. That’s saying “Falwell is likely against my civil rights, and probably wouldn’t hire me someplace just because I’m gay.” Which is homophobic. Saying that a homophobe is homophobic is not “homophobia-phobic.” Sorry.

I’m tired of this entire conversation. Some evangelical gets hurt feelings and all of a sudden the entire world has to stop and acknowledge how they didn’t “mean” to be homophobic. Meanwhile, systemic injustices continue and gay people get bashed. But no matter! We can’t continue until LGBTQ* people and our allies realize how much nicer some homophobes are than other homophobes. As though being nice is a big deal if you’re still homophobic.

I’m sorry, homophobes. Being a homophobe makes you wrong, and that makes people not like you as much because you’re being wrong. That’s not restricting your free speech, and it’s not being unfairly prejudiced against you. It’s called good judgement.

Can you imagine saying “Well, I mean, I think that inter-racial marriage is bad. I think it should be illegal, and if somebody shared with me that they were dating somebody of a different race, I’d lovingly put them in therapy?” That’s racist. But, see. It’s nice racism. People who don’t understand the difference are being racist-phobic.

Sadly, actually, that thing happens all the time. White people are convinced that people of color are super emotional and hurt and would be more successful if they were nicer to white people… Right.

I don’t know what bothers me more; the unwarranted sense of being attacked when in actuality you’re just being educated, or the resultant victimhood and self-righteousness that says that such hurt feelings are so important that they should be recognized by actual legitimately marginalized segments of the population.

Whichever ends up bothering me more, I’m tired of the whole thing.

Get some scissors, and cut it out.

People I’m Tired of: Part 2

Coffee-drinkers. I’m so over them.

Not people who drink coffee. Goodness, I drink coffee. It’s a wonderful little contribution to my soon-to-be ulcer. No, coffee isn’t the issue.

It’s those people who think I’m too mean in print, so they think if we go out to coffee I won’t call them out on their entitlement so much. Or those people who have got so much reading to do they can’t possibly read a book I recommend to them, so they invite me to coffee. Or those people who just ask me out to talk to me about all of my gay experiences.

Geez, man. You’re so mean on Facebook. This isn’t how dialogue happens. Let’s get coffee some time and talk about it, okay.

Man, I’m so out of time. And I’ve already done a lot of reading like, “God’s Love and teh Homosexual Next Door” and “Torn.” Let’s talk about this over coffee, man, and you can tell me all about those books you wanted me to read.

Man, I’m really trying to reach out to the other, and I really want to know if you’re a “militant” gay, a “moderate” one, or a “repentant” one. (I learned about these terms in a really great book I surprisingly had time to read) Can we go out to coffee so you can convince me that you aren’t like those really mean militant gays?

No. No thank you.

Beer?

Still going to pass. I might say yes to hard liquor, but even then you can count on me pre-gaming.

Here’s the deal. There’s nothing in person that’s going to go better for you than what happens online. So, when I write out a big lengthy response, you had best read it. If I link to something, read it. If I recommend a book, read it. Educate yourself.

I know that I’m really cool, and that talking to a person is really engaging.

But I also know that you aren’t really interested in educating yourself if you can only talk to me about these things in person. See, I know why you won’t read a book, or read my online posts. Because in those mediums, for however long you are reading, that is time you are unable to formulate responses in return. Because what you really want to do is talk at me over coffee, not talk with me. That’s what coffee is to you – An opportunity to buy a chance to share all of your super important experiences with “growing as a Christian” and “wrestling with the Bible.”

I’m tired of you saying offensive things, and then me telling you it’s offensive, and then you asking to go out for coffee so you can talk about how I’m just finding offense where none was meant (As if not meaning offense means that you can’t give it) because it wasn’t actually offensive. I’m tired of you wanting to discuss books well off the mainstream with me over coffee, even as you don’t have time to read the ones I give to you. I’m tired of you equating our experiences as though I need to hear yours as much as you need to hear mine. Pretty much, I’m tired of conversation that involves you.

We’ll talk online, the one place I can be sure you’ll shut up long enough to hear me. If you don’t like that, we don’t need to talk at all.