Saturday, January 29, 2011

the gay thing

There is a whole lot of gayness going around these days, and I'm not too sure how I feel about what it's been doing to pop culture.

Gay characters are ubiquitous in books, magazines, film and all manner of television programs. This has, of course, changed the climate of public discourse in a lot of ways, many of them super-amazing. In the groundbreaking 1993 gay-rights(ish) movie Philadelphia, one of the protagonists (played by Denzel Washington) begins his character-arc as a guy who loves to talk with great passion about how much he hates "faggots," and the filmmakers had to start him there because at the time, that was the climate and the starting point of a vast majority of Americans. This is no longer the case, which I think is a very, very good thing.

But being somewhat doubtful of the wisdom of allowing moral discourse to be defined by pop-culture gurus whose primary goal is entertainment, I would like to quibble with one aspect of the change that I find particularly troubling. That is, the way in which anyone who has any kind of issue with homosexuality has come to be categorized as a stupid, backwards, intolerant, hate-mongering, redneck homophobe.

While I will be the first to admit that there are, in fact, a whole lot of stupid, backwards, et cetera-et ceteras in the world, I think the climate of discussion has swung the other way - to a point where I hear a whole lot of unthinking intolerance coming from the other side of the, er, rainbow.

Let me back up, first, and admit that I was raised in a conservative Christian community; and although pop culture today endlessly demands that I be apologetic and embarrassed about this, I experienced enough love, strength and grace in that community to be somewhat protective of its name and value. We all like to feel that we can live as islands, but life is experienced through corporately-constructed social structures and regardless of how you or I may feel about it, the North American Protestant Evangelical missionary Structure is a part of mine. Even when I try to disassociate myself from certain ideologies of this group, if I am being honest I have to admit that, even then, by defining myself in contrast, I am still making myself known in relation to those very same structures and modes of thinking.

Nonetheless, I will argue with them and say (as I have said many times before) that while I tend to feel that homosexual expression diverges from what (to me) seems would be the absolute best for sexuality, I also feel that heterosexual expression does the same. I can't speak for women, but I have to say that I have yet to meet one heterosexual guy who isn't, on some level, a bit of a selfish pervert. This is a bent world, and the ideal that I hazily yearn towards in the sub-cockles of my heart of a sort of perfect sexual expression that is fully-loving, community-affirming, committed and self-sacrificing is - I am fairly confident - just not going to happen in my lifetime.

I do know for sure, however, that I will never, ever live the best, most loving story I am capable of by parading around pretending to be better than anyone else. This, I think, is where the tremendously deserved horrendous reputation of the "Christian" community has arisen regarding sexuality. These people have (in their desperate attempts to posit themselves as being somehow qualitatively superior to those who do not hold their same belief systems) been forced to create a house of lies in which all sorts of truths are swept under the shiny, brand-new, steam-cleaned carpet.

This obviously does not work, but I understand the motivation. Faith is scary. Not-knowing is scary. So it is understandable that they would try to avoid the things they do not know by building castles of certainty within which they can hide. The walls are imaginary, though, so the fear grows and the lies keep piling up.

While this sort of behavior does annoy and sadden me, I have to say that I have not seen all that much of it in the Christian circles in which I, personally, tend to move.

This may just be because there has been such hostility for so long against homosexuals in this community that they have all gone elsewhere. The truth is, I can list the openly gay people I know on one hand, and I only have close ties to one of them - who is actually mostly-closeted for the very reasons listed above. I am not happy about this - not at all. I believe the richness of love is best explored and experienced by learning to know and love people who are in many ways different than myself. I am a bit of a homebody introvert, however, and I work at a North American Protestant Evangelical institution, so my opportunities are limited. I guess that might be part of why my current screen-writing project is a feature-length film in which the protagonist is a gay artist.* I don't want to be afraid anymore; so I am trying to learn, to understand, and to love the Other - to realize how very much he/she is exactly like me (and how wondrously, paradoxically different).

I think there is a lot of this sort of soul-searching and loving going on in the Christian community these days, but that it remains mostly ignored in the culture-at-large because it's not particularly dramatic or interesting.

As much as I may want to excise my own demons of fear, I feel that the archetype of the gay-hating Christian has come to loom so massive in the public imagination that pop culture has justified itself in taking up the very attitudes it is attempting to push against.

Fact: not everyone who thinks homosexual sexual expression is not right is a hater.

Fact: tolerance is not about never disagreeing with anyone - it is about loving people with whom you disagree.

This is hard. It is hard to love unconditionally and with great patience, believing that in time love will win and the truth will out - even in yourself. It is a lot easier to paint your detractors as villains - to assume they are morally inferior to you because they hold an opinion that you find repugnant.

The truth, however, is that we are all frickin' horrible people, mean-spirited and arrogant. And we are all, in the exact same breath, wonderful and amazing and kind and good - bearers of a lovely, creative nature that can, if we let it, override our nastier bits. The greatest inhibitor to this, I believe, is the belief that we are better than others, and I am sick and tired of everybody painting everybody else as two-dimensional, caped and mustachioed villains.

Christians need to stop being idiots, yes. But it seems to me that the pendulum has swung. As one very small example, I exhort you to go watch the movie "Easy A," a wickedly clever movie that explores all sorts of moral questions without ever really moralizing. Almost. The metaphorical whipping boys of the whole film are a ridiculous little cluster-cuss of Evangelical Christians, who are as two-dimensional as any movie characters... ever. This is not seen as a creative flaw by the film-critiquing community because, as everyone knows, "Christians are all just like that."

While I don't like many "Christian" attitudes towards homosexuality and tend to think that there's waaay too much speck-searching going on these days, the sanctimonious, judgmental and yes, intolerant attitudes of those who disagree with them are starting to get on my nerves.

Whenever anybody purports to be better than anyone else, everybody loses**.


*By the by, if you are gay and grew up as I did in NAPE society and are willing to talk with me, I would LOVE to talk with you about your experience. Drop me a line. We'll chat.

**I received an anonymous comment to this post that brought up some important questions. While I responded in the comments, for those who don't read comments I thought I would paste my response to this person here as well, as a clarification:

While it is tempting to react to your comment that my message is caring "on the surface" and the implication that you believe that I am, beneath the surface, ignorant and hateful, I am going to try instead to first address the specific reasons that you say cause my argument to dissolve.

What I was trying to say (but apparently did not quite communicate) was that I do not feel that homosexual expressions of sexuality are in alignment with the impossible ideal towards which I yearn. You will recall that I called myself a selfish pervert, and said that you are a selfish pervert as well (that is, if you are a man). My point was that things happen in life that are less than ideal, and that this is a fact and we ought to focus instead on loving each other without thinking our particular perversions are any less perverse.

There may also be a disconnect between us in our definitions of the phrase "not right." You said that if I substituted the word "Chinese" in this sentence - "not everyone who thinks homosexual sexual expression is not right is a hater" - my argument would fall apart. But instead of "Chinese," I could just as easily substitute the word "palsied." I think that it is not right that some people are palsied. This does not mean that I hate them, or that I feel like their lives are worth any less than mine, or that they are responsible for their palsy, or that there is less room for love or grace or beauty or creation in their lives. 

I can't really completely skirt the nature/nurture question though, can I? So let me just add that the existence of hermaphrodites has led me to believe that human sexuality and human gender is complicated and varied. I have very little idea how anybody comes to be what they are. I cannot read the mind of God, or pronounce ultimate truth on anyone. I am confused, as a Christian, about what the Bible does and does not say. What I can do is have my opinions about what would be the most healthy way of being. 

My best friend who lives near me smokes cigarettes. I think this unhealthy and I have told him that. I can say this because he knows that I love him and because pretty much everyone (even him) agrees with me, and while it is possible that at times I'm insensitive or obnoxious in the degree to which I nag him about it, no one is going to call me inherently ignorant and hateful because of it.  

I realize there is a difference between who you're attracted to and what you choose to put into your lungs, but I still feel that your supposition - that I am ignorant and hateful because I think (contingently, with humility... I hope) that homosexual sexual expression is as warped as my own heterosexual tendencies - is intolerant. 

Finally, I would say that it is possible to not hate Chinese people while still believing that they are by nature "not right." It would be harder to do, and hopefully time and attempts at loving interaction would show me how wrong I was to think that. But I would never get that opportunity if all Chinese and all people who knew the truth about Chinese (that they are awesome!) immediately assumed that there was something about my inherent make-up that was intolerant and hateful.

Love and time changes people, not smug superiority.

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