Saturday, May 31, 2014

Saturday Video

I am not going to post the lyrics to this song. A trigger warning is posted for sustained physical violence and strong sexual conduct. The ending is not meant to justify brutality by transposing gender. Rather, this is a warning to everyone of what happens when violence is unchecked and not resisted.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Mixed Allegiances of Southern Queers

Southern queers have a long tradition of being passed over in their native region. One such example is Truman Capote, who was born in New Orleans but moved as a child to the small South Alabama town of Monroeville. There he met his close confidant Harper Lee. It wasn’t until Capote’s literary successes made him a household name that he was praised for his writing skills. Until then, his homosexuality was a liability in his home state.

Capote is only one such example.  Fannie Flagg wrote the book Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café in 1988. Three years later, the book was made into a successful screenplay and movie. The movie took some liberties with the original text, deliberately toning down the lesbian subtext. The film was an unqualified success in Flagg’s hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, but one crucial detail about her work was always left out. Underneath the surface, which few could bear to pierce, was the truth. Flagg is a lesbian and had once been the partner of fellow writer Rita Mae Brown, of Rubyfruit Jungle fame.

In the current day, the transgender activist Laverne Cox, also an Alabama native, has boosted her profile considerably. Much as before, her fame and profile has grown elsewhere. To this day, many would register their complaints to her gender non-conforming ways and her unwillingness to hide or at least severely downplay who she is. Though born in Mobile, a port city on the Alabama Gulf Coast, Cox attended high school at the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham, a liberal oasis in the state’s largest city, the city where I grew up. Cox came to fame through her role in the Netflix show Orange is the New Black.

In a conservative area of the country, LGBTs from the South have to make a decision of how visible they choose to be. In this regard, acceptable attitudes in the city must be balanced by rural ones. If I’d chosen to remain in Birmingham, I probably would have chosen to live in two distinct parts of town, either on Southside or Crestwood. The former is a place for libertines and misfits, the latter of which is the official unofficial part of the city where queer residents live. Unlike Midtown in Atlanta, the so-called Queer Mecca of the Southeast, no proudly waving rainbow flags confirm the identity of this part of town and it is not advertised in slick brochures by clever advertising firms.

I shouldn’t overstate the intolerance. While it is true that a different standard of privacy is in force for those not heterosexual, no acts of violence or lynchings are found. At most, being gay and proud is cause for extreme discomfort for many heterosexual residents. Upon my first visit to the city’s longest lasting and most heavily attended gay bar, the bartender made special effort to let me know exactly into what I’d just walked. Unsure if I was able to handle it, and perhaps unsure of my sexual orientation, he felt he needed confirmation on my part. In large lettering, a sign affixed to both doors let me know that if I couldn’t handle the “alternative” (a euphemism) orientation of the club, I needed to leave.

How many people walked in and found it wasn’t to their liking? If that had applied to me, I would have beaten a path to the door and gotten out as soon as I could. I have to admit that the thought did come to my mind, inhabiting a strange environment where the demographics of regular life had been flipped inside out and upside down. I’d never seen so many queer people in my life. The fight or flight response kicked in and I could feel my pulse racing.

And yet, I stayed. I heard a familiar voice calling to me at the darker outskirts. It was a lesbian friend of mine, who had set up shop in a dark corner, chain smoking cigarettes as was her habit. In those days, I was a half a pack a day smoker, and found myself quickly trading one-liners with my friend. Though she rarely engaged with any of the club-goers, it made her feel better to be around other gay people. In a self-deprecating sort of way, she often referred to herself as “a gay girl”, the way I’ve observed Sarah Silverman and other Jewish comedians reference their cultural and religious tradition as a kind of running joke.

Until recently, it was said that LGBT people stuck to the cities for a reason. Had I grown up in a small town, the very real threat of physical violence might have existed. The queer kids I knew who were from the country might never have been roughed up, but they experienced many indignities like walking through the cafeteria and having ice cubes thrown at them from all angles. Most that I encountered at gatherings like Gay/Straight Student Alliance had experienced some form of harassment and threats unfulfilled, though they were utterly incapable of distinguishing bluffing from reality.

There is much about the region of my birth, my home state, and the city I grew up that I love. The other day, I recognized that I cannot find the proper cornmeal to make cornbread. Silverqueen corn is impossible to find within a 750 mile radius. I’m a rabid Alabama football fan, part of a generation of boys who on the playground imagined themselves in the roles of the players playing in front of a huge, screaming crowd. College football is so culturally ingrained that even the television above the bar in the gay club is set to the game on Saturdays. Every so often, I feel homesick, though I am thankful for where I live now.

I know that I am not alone in these mixed feelings. Instead of Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, I am a Stranger in a Friendly Land. People here take much for granted, not realizing that things could be very different elsewhere. I feel the same way when talking to what we call birthright Quakers, those who find the traditional worship I experienced in my young life off-putting and who have always eaten a steady diet of organic food and quinoa. At the risk of being preachy, they have no idea how good they’ve had it.    

Thursday, May 29, 2014

It's Over

Pack my bag, I'm going away
It's over
Going home

Thank you people,
but its too much to stay
It's done now, I'm going home

Now I feel like I'm warm
Now I feel like I'm tuned
Spent my time and some fun
And for that I thank you

It's over, it's over
It's over. I'm going home.

It's over, it's over
And for that I thank you

Now I feel like I'm warm,
Now I feel like I'm tuned
Spent my time and some fun
And for that I thank you

Its over, it's over
It's over. I'm going home

It's over, it's over
And for that I thank you

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Underground Railroad: Pacifist or Warlike?

Yesterday was Memorial Day. Pacifist religious groups like my own are more inclined to celebrate the acts of those who sought to circumvent war and warlike behavior, instead of their bravery in armed conflict. Ironically enough, I am a descendant of many brave men whose valor in combat would appear to be a perfect example of everything the holiday purports to be. My last name, Camp, means soldier. Around ten centuries ago, blood relatives were part of the Norman French invaders who in 1066 conquered England at the Battle of Hastings.

With a rich history of fearless fighters in my family tree, it is curious that I have cast aside everythingk that they held dear. Not entirely, of course. I became a member of the Religious Society of Friends, having lost my taste for blood. That fighting spirit lives on in ways we do not always acknowledge. After all, Quakers took a fundamental role in maintaining the Underground Railroad and turning their Meetinghouses into smuggling points.

For a pacifist sect devoted to non-violence, I have long wondered if smuggling slaves through the North into Canada was not an act of war. It may have been a less direct method of aggression, but under laws in force at the time, those who opposed the peculiar institution were deliberately stealing property. Friends were risking a considerable amount, putting their necks on the line to support that which they saw was an inhumane system. Quakers are justifiably proud of their role in this elaborate system of civil rights, but it stretches our definition of lawful and unlawful.

The most eloquent black voice of the time was Frederick Douglass. Having escaped from slavery himself, he became a prized speaker and activist. He was, however, skeptical of the Underground Railroad. Douglass spoke out against it in his well-received autobiography.

"I have never approved of the very public manner in which some of our western friends have conducted what they call the Underground Railroad, but which I think, by their open declarations, has been made most emphatically the upperground railroad."
Douglass went on to say that, although he honors the movement, he felt that the efforts serve more to enlighten the slave-owners than the slaves, making them more watchful and making it more difficult for future slaves to escape.

As a Quaker, I take the same pride in the bold acts of those who came before me. Though I certainly believe that slavery was a blight in the face of fairness and justice, something doesn’t quite sit right with me. Many Quaker Meetinghouses hollowed out their floors, making space for compartments to hide runaway slaves. Ingenious strategies like these were a testament to the marriage of creativity and social justice.

The Underground Railroad was a triumph of grassroots activism, highly coordinated and heavily reliant on cooperation between whites and freed blacks. Without freed blacks and the cover they produced for their runaway brethren, the Underground Railroad would have never functioned. It was audacious and risky, motivated by those whose had been persecuted themselves within the past couple of centuries. If anyone understood what it was like to be denied basic freedoms, Friends did.

We return to the troublesome matter of whether the Underground Railroad was unforgivably illegal or an example of justified Civil Disobedience. Desperate times call for desperate measures, as the old saying goes. Many modern-day Friends may go their whole life never holding a firearm and might even discourage their children from that experience. The famous Quaker paper trail has kept many young Friends from serving in active military service, serving instead as a conscientious objector.

One might think that Quakers are pushovers, deluded believers in a standard of conduct that is out of touch with reality. And yet, we channel our aggression in very different forms. Pacifism might not be for everyone, but those willing to make it work have displayed astonishing resourcefulness. Roughly 100,000 slaves successfully escaped, only a fraction of those held in bondage, but this should hardly be considered a disappointment.

I wish that the Religious Society of Friends would undertake an ambitious project like this again. In fairness, slavery had been a controversial issue for nearly a century. The nation had been moving towards Civil War for decades, and passions and tempers flared well before men on both sides lined up across battle lines from each other. It was a single issue that was easy to understand, not easily beholden to nuance and complication. Blacks were either human beings on equal standing with whites or inferior and fully subordinate to whites.

Did we wage war or wage peace? I suppose it’s all in how one looks at it. The Underground Railroad might be seen as a humanitarian mission. True pacifism, as expressed by Jesus, can be tricky to nail down. In the Sermon on the Mount, we are told to turn the other cheek and to pray for those who persecute us. But we’re also told that those who tempt new believers ought to have a large stone tied around his or her neck and be thrown into the sea to drown to death.

Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address uses the passage that follows to great effect. Here, he speaks of the issue, slavery, which divided the country into factions and caused a great war.

Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! 

The Quakers and other religious peoples who threw their efforts into conducting the Underground Railroad might have believed the same. Lincoln believed that slavery was such an evil that only a war could wipe away the stain of it. Quakers believed the slavery was indeed evil, but most did not pick up arms in defense of the Union or the bondsman. Those who did often found themselves read out (disowned), no longer welcome even in the places where they had grown up.

We may not have been ready to live in peace, in defiance of our warlike impulses. It remains to be seen how we have progressed in 150 years. Should we undertake another crusade, what form would it take? I am not certain if any pressing societal ill would capture anyone's attention the way slavery did. Before war broke out, even many slave owners confessed that the practice was morally wrong, yet they did little besides setting their slaves free upon their death. Drawing parallels across time is not always a useful exercise, but it may do us well to examine the decisions we once made.

You Gotta Feel It

You gotta feel it
Yes, you gotta feel it
To get it right even one time

You gotta feel it
Don’t take notes
Just clear out your mind
Let go your pride
Feel it inside

It’s a it’s a it’s a

You gotta feel it
or I suspect
You’ll wind up
where you don’t want to get

It’s a long way home
when you’re trying to find your way
With a bag full of books
The notes that you took

A compass and stick
And the sevenths and sixths
It’s a it’s a it's a

To feel it
To feel it, yeah
You gotta feel it
Oh you gotta feel it, yeah

Oh you gotta feel it alright
Oh you gotta feel it alright
Oh you gotta feel it alright

Monday, May 26, 2014

Privilege Cuts Both Ways

Privilege is in force in a multitude of ways, whether we are conscious of them or not. It can work for us, work against us, and sometimes both in tandem. I benefit from male privilege because I am treated as male by the outside world. Even decades after women's liberation, I’m taken more seriously in the workplace than a woman would be and, statistically speaking, paid more than women. Furthermore, I benefit from white privilege because of the color of my skin. To cite only one example, I’m less likely to be jailed and severely punished by our flawed criminal justice.

This problem, in part, is economic in nature. Should I be a person of color, it’s entirely possible that any wealth and influence passed down from my parents to me might simply not exist. As a result, it could not come to my aid and assistance to further my education and get a job. Necessary funds that would open doors of social advancement are simply not present to many.

In both instances, I get cut a break that many do not. Even though I am proud of what I have accomplished on my own, what I have accomplished has been tethered tightly to my ability to lean on my parents and other family. Areas where I am not privileged involve my sexual orientation and gender identity. I’ve been told my whole life, either directly or indirectly, that something is very wrong with me because I’m not straight. Because I’ve identified heavily as feminine rather than male, I’ve been led to believe that some innate part of me is terribly askew.

I’ve begun my post this way in order to now introduce a comment from a reader to a post I recently wrote. In it, I had been writing about what it is to be genderqueer, the benefits and the drawbacks.

Thank you for sharing. I can't understand your situation as I am cis-gendered, but I am trying to learn to be open and compassionate, and to learn the best ways to interact with people who are "different" than me. Articles like yours help me to grow, and I appreciate it.

This is a kind comment and I appreciate it. Clearly this ally wishes to learn more and wants to fully understand people me. Remarks like these are the very reason I take the risks I do to share who I am with others. Labels like transgender, genderqueer, or even bisexual have never been a good fit for me, but I use them when necessary for the aid of translation. I haven’t always felt that I was different in every way, but there have been situations where I did feel very much like a fish out of water. Being different for difference's sake has grown very old with the passage of time.

Unlike some, I’ve been very fortunate. Never once was I told that I was going to hell for being who I am. The most prominent instance during which I’ve faced discrimination was in grad school. I made a professor uncomfortable with my honesty. I introduced a book into seminar discussion that described being gay in the South. After my presentation, the professor refused to sit next to me during seminar, moving all the way to the other side of the table. He thought better of it three class days later. Though he never apologized, he did at least recognize that his reaction was not acceptable.

I could have been more offended, but I was equally uncomfortable with myself the way that I was. So far as I was concerned, this response was somehow my fault. I had no remaining energy to file a complaint or register my disapproval. I had allies within the university, but part of me was shocked into inertia that someone would object as highly as to me as he had. I got enough of it at home. My father’s homophobia is legendary. He won’t even go to a movie by himself because he’s convinced that doing so would somehow indicate that he is cruising, fishing to obtain a male sexual partner.

It makes sense, then, at how much effort it’s taken to write about these parts of myself. Until I met others with similar stories, I saw my own as eccentricities, certainly never to be shared with others. I believed I was strange enough that I had every need to cover up certain parts of myself. This was a behavior of which I had lots of practice. A high school friend cut ties with me completely when I revealed to him that I was queer.

His mother was virulently homophobic herself. I had a cassette tape copy of the Neil Young song "A Man Needs a Maid," which she had mistakenly thought read "A Man Needs a Man."

I'd felt different before the question of LGBT identity was even present. I’d been a severe bedwetter as child, and was afraid to sleep over at the houses of friends. In addition, I’d had a severe anxiety disorder and a speech impediment. Acting as though nothing was amiss with me was how I coped. I wanted desperately to be whatever normal really was.

One might think that I’d still be in the closet, not writing this down today or at time of my lifetime. For some reason, I felt I needed to open up frequently not long after coming to terms with it myself. Those my own age were tolerant almost to a person. It was those a generation or two prior who gave me problems.

I never would have dreamed we’ve made such progress as a society in a short period of time. I thought perhaps I’d only converse with complete honesty about such things with people my own age, and keep silent with those older. My reader who left a comment seeks to put forth extra effort to learn who I am. It is especially conspicuous how much she is trying to be a good liberal.

I imagine I have come across the same way in my own ally work, on the other side of the table. The author of this comment wants me to know how she has made careful preparation towards figuring me out, crossing all the T’s and dotting every I. While I appreciate anyone with the right attitude, I’d mostly want to be treated as no different as anyone else. It is true that I have some distinguishing characteristics that set me apart from others, but I have no real need to be anyone’s study in inclusivity.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus encounters a rich young man who wants salvation and to reach heaven. He also comes from a place of great privilege.

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "Why do you call me good?" Jesus asked. "Only God is truly good. You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.'
"Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy." Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"

Those who have much will always be at a disadvantage when it comes to fair and equitable arrangements of wealth and privilege. In this story, the young man will always place a premium upon the luxuries of his life first and foremost. Those truly devoted to an unselfish cause must be willing to see through their own trappings of great riches, or, in this case, the privilege they hold over others.

And furthermore, those who need their assistance most do not have a lot of money or power themselves to spare. As Bob Dylan notably wrote, “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”

I’ll continue to educate others based on my writing, my vocal ministry, and my conscious decision to speak about myself in a public forum. But at the end of the day, I’m the very same as everyone else. I have never seen much need in pandering for sympathy or pity. I would much rather who I am be a sideshow, a secondary diversion, not the main event. Or, as a wise person once put it, there are two sorts of queer people: Queer professionals and professional queers. I much prefer the former.

From time to time, we will all make mistakes. We will say things that might even be insensitive out of our own ignorance. I usually go lightly on all but those who plainly intend to be hurtful. Much of the prejudice I have experienced was never intentionally meant to inflict pain. I do believe that we’ve turned a corner from the hurtful, hateful attitudes of another time.

A minority view in opposition to tolerance may yet remain, but what was once radical has become downright ordinarily. Despite the problems, it’s a good time to be alive.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Quote of the Week

"The more closely the author thinks of why he wrote, the more he comes to regard his imagination as a kind of self-generating cement which glued his facts together, and his emotions as a kind of dark and obscure designer of those facts."- Richard Wright

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Saturday Video

Chain, chain, chain
(Chain, chain, chain)
Chain, chain, chain

(Chain, chain, chain)
Chain, chain, chain
(Chain, chain, chain)
Chain of fools

For five long years
I thought you were my man
But I found out
I'm just a link in your chain

You got me where you want me
I ain't nothin' but your fool
You treated me mean
Oh, you treated me cruel

Chain, chain, chain
(Chain, chain, chain)
Chain of fools

Every chain, has got a weak link
I might be weak yeah
But I'll give you strength
Oh, hey

You told me to leave you alone
My father said, "Come on home"
My doctor said, "Take it easy"
Oh but your lovin' is much too strong
I'm added to your

Chain, chain, chain
(Chain, chain, chain)
Chain, chain, chain
(Chain, chain, chain)
Chain, chain, chai-i-in
(Chain, chain, chain)
Chain of fools

One of these mornings
The chain is gonna break
But up until the day
I'm gonna take all I can take, oh hey

Chain, chain, chain
(Chain, chain, chain)
Chain, chain, chain
(Chain, chain, chain)
Chain, chain, chai-i-in
(Chain, chain, chain)
Chain of fools

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Genderqueer and Other Difficult Concepts

"If you wanna know something and he won't tell you, cut off one of [the manager’s] fingers. The little one. Then tell him his thumb's next. After that he'll tell you if he wears ladies' underwear."- Reservoir Dogs

The passage above is from director Quentin Tarantino’s critically acclaimed first film, Reservoir Dogs. It is a film that I estimate I've watched at least one hundred times, though the passage included above doesn't make the same impact today as it did upon first viewing. I've included it here because it includes as its epigraph why I have been very reluctant to share certain aspects of myself. The movie quote questions the masculinity of a man whose style of dress is not effectively male enough, a dark secret he hides.

We may live in a time where homosexuality or even that which is conspicuously non-heterosexual is accepted, but I’m not exactly sure about how deeply this tolerance takes root. I’ve consciously held fast to an important part of myself willingly, though I’ve longed for the day that how I dress is a completely unimportant detail. It may be sooner than I think, but for the duration it causes me pain.

I don’t want to be seen as a freak of nature, which is honestly how I have viewed myself at times. I don’t want to feel ashamed or belittled. For a time, I believed that I was simply mentally ill and that my behavior was due to a kind of harmless insanity. Now, I look at things very differently, and I’m thankful for the groundbreaking men and women that came before me. I could not speak my truth without their courage. Words alone, nor actions cannot express my gratitude

I wear women’s underwear and sometimes other aspects of clothing designed for women. I’ve dressed like this off and on since my teens, but it has become a daily routine for at least the last decade. I stopped completely once before because a particular relationship partner did not approve. Where I fall is somewhere underneath the the transgender umbrella. This is made even more confusing because I decided, after long debate, not to pursue transition and have never stated a particular preference towards one gender or the other.

Evidence of increased visibility for genderqueer people is beginning to regularly show up everywhere. One particular person arrived a few weeks ago at my Meeting’s Worship wearing a skirt. We were, at their request, to refer to said individual as “they” and we did.

I’m somewhere in the same neighborhood as such people, though I feel much more comfortable being referred to as he. If I lived in a commune or an isolated, close-knit community, there’s no telling to what lengths I’d explore gender. I know I would make sure all my toenails and fingernails were painted. I might even be bolder with my choice of garments, asking others to suggest how I might wish to look. Part of my reluctance goes back a few years.

I lived at home during part of college, and my mother deliberately threw away every piece of clothing I had purchased, with my own money, no less, that was normally worn by women. Every pair of underwear was thrown into the trash can as well as the glossy pornographic magazines I purchased at one of the city's two major sex shops, magazines that gave me the opportunity to understand the logistics of homosexual sex, a very new thing for me at that time.

At a conference, long ago, I lost twenty pounds in a matter of days because of the high elevation of the site. We were close to two miles straight up and the effect kicked my metabolism into high gear. Now my pants drooped and sagged, enough that I mistakenly flashed other people the straps of my thong underwear while bending over. This caused a dramatic increase in gossip and good natured laughter. I had outed myself as genderqueer without even meaning to do it. No one was hurtful and everyone was respectful, but I’d never intended to make my gender identity a topic of conversation.

The shame was considerable. If the same thing happened today, god forbid, I know I’d feel identical to the way I felt back then. Gender-wise, I feel somewhere in between male and female, but I choose to embrace no particular gender pronoun. It doesn’t matter what other people believe about me, or at least it shouldn’t. I’m comfortable this way and have reached a resolution within myself, even if I’m still unsure whether sharing it more openly is a good thing. Though in some respects this is a secret I largely continue to keep within myself, I'm sure that most of my friends wouldn’t think of me any differently if they knew.

Having now admitted this in a public forum, I intend to reach others who feel the same way, if I can. As I’ve written about before, I realized how surprisingly commonplace are the behaviors and presentation that take similar form to my own, especially so among queer men. At an LGBT conference, the man I bunked with wore a slip and a nightgown to bed, having told me earlier in the day that that he had never fit well into anyone’s definition of what a man was supposed to be. I observed him make a phone call to his wife while clad from head-to-toe in feminine sleeping attire, a slip concealing female underwear underneath.

For the first time in my life, I knew I had absolutely nothing to fear. Instead of waiting for everyone in the entire cabin to leave before I changed clothes, showered, and then put on new clothes, I boldly made my way to one of the showers wearing women’s undergarments, even carrying a fresh pair in my hands. Walking there and back, no one batted so much as an eyelash. My relief was considerable.

In a perfect, ideal world, this would be how issues of gender would always manifest themselves. But in the outside world where everyone is not queer, nor gender bending, I make sure to keep the straps of my underwear tucked reassuringly into my pants. I worry about bending over when my belt is not tight enough. Men’s pants now ride as low as women’s pants have for a while, meaning that baring underwear every now and then is to be expected unless one is obsessive about it.

I already have to regiment my life enough due to chronic illnesses. It annoys me that I have to do extra work where my gender identity is concerned. I know that I get off relatively easy for some, particularly the people who do go through transition and then struggle mightily to pass. Nevertheless, I am normally shy and disinclined to reveal a vulnerable part of myself, one which by turns torments me and elates me. Others who feel this way have nothing to fear, though my advice to them would be to nevertheless share this information with as much discretion as they find comfortable.

Transgender identity and presentation is poorly understood, even today. Trans folks can expect to be thought of as unforgivably weird, a description that has been applied to me from time to time, for related, but somewhat different reasons. I do not court those descriptions and have tried to avoid them whenever possible. Nothing hurts me more than to be called eccentric and strange. Though I may not have sought to clothe myself in terms of strict normality, I never want to be thought of in such strongly negative terms at any time, for any reason.

One of the questions I asked myself, when this whole thing began, was whether or not I could live with myself as I was. Even though I experience feelings collectively called gender dysphoria, I feel that I pull a little from column A and a little from column B. I admit, as well, that I sometimes I've looked longingly at a female close friend or two, wishing I was her, though I would never tell her that. I admit as well that passing random women on the street does usually make me envious. Though I want to look like they do, I know never will. But I can finally live with it.

Maybe in my next life I’ll be born into female form. For now, I’m something close to male, though not exactly. Relationship partners have been understanding at times, but have also been made uncomfortable in my company for being who I am. I’m not willing to hide it anymore. This is my life and if I’m strange or crazy to someone else, then I guess that’s how it’s going to be. This doesn't need to be anyone's deal breaker, and I do encourage men and women both to not feel threatened by the complexities of sexual orientation and gender presentation. Be yourself.

Separating Friend from Foe

Recently, I experienced something unexpectedly hurtful. I left a comment on a feminist website explaining the particulars of my religion, Quakerism. My intention had been to show where religion and feminism met. In feminist parlance, I was putting on display the intersection between two related disciplines and schools of thought. A comment I received shortly thereafter entirely missed my intention.

"This comment comes dangerously close to proselytizing and should come with a warning”. I felt that this was both unfair and ridiculous. I’ve never knocked on doors with the intention of spreading the Good News, nor have I thought that behavior was even my place. The language of this warning implied that any religious expression was noxious and harmful. He or she was assigning far too much credit to me. I only wish I had the power to be as destructive as this person assumed I was. In reality, I’m just one person with his own interpretation and convictions, hardly a danger to anyone.

In a recent issue of Friends Journal, Mariellen Gilpin writes about Religious Wounding. This took the form of a Friend who enjoyed invalidating her perspective during Worship, denigrating her own truth and the vocal ministry she shared.

After any message that used Christian metaphors, she would stand up almost immediately and reduce our words to their least common denominator. If more than one Christian happened to speak, she would speak more than once—she was an equal opportunity denigrator of Christian language. I think she liked me and wished the best for my recovery, but she was allergic to God—the “G-word”—along with the sonorous phrases of the King James Version and those old familiar hymns.
For her, there was truth in every religious tradition except Christianity. No matter how relevant or helpful the messages might have been, she would dump her feelings about God onto Friends who loved God. She wounded me emotionally. She chose to banish the God of her childhood, and wished to orphan me as well.

The Reverend Dan De Leon, minister of a liberal United Church of Christ in College Station, Texas, discussed this same problem in a slightly different setting. It was the focus of last Sunday’s sermon.

Taken out of context, suddenly words of comfort are transformed into words of entitlement and exclusion. That verse taken by itself has been used as a means of proving that Christianity is the best religion there is, and that out-of-context interpretation has led to elaborate doctrine that says, “Because I believe in Jesus, I am going to heaven. And because you don’t believe in Jesus, you are not going to heaven,” assuming that’s what Jesus was talking about when he says that he is the way.
I've seen that Bible verse on t-shirts: Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” –John 14:6. I imagine that verse is put on t-shirts in an effort at evangelism, but evangelism is good news. That’s what evangelism is: good news. Evangelism is not a debate. If someone is standing in line at Chipotle and they notice someone standing in front of them with a shirt that says, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” –John 14:6, that person reading the shirt is not going to go, “I’d better give up Judaism then.” “I’d better stop being a Muslim then.”  “I’d better stop not believing in God and get to church. Thanks for wearing that shirt, buddy. Bullet dodged.”

The point is that taking that one verse out and having it stand alone changes the entire chapter, changes the entire discourse from a message of comfort to a message of exclusion. And exclusion does damage. Exclusion hurts. Is that the message that we Christians want to share with the world? I’m in. You’re out. Is that the message that Jesus left with us on Easter?  You’re in. You’re covered. Everybody else is out. Even for us who do trust in God and trust in Jesus Christ, where’s the comfort in a message like that?

It’s traditional in Quaker Worship to second or wholly agree with a previous speaker. What one says is, “Friend speaks my mind.” Though Dr. De Leon is not a Quaker, I second his argument in spite of it. My father always used to tell me that God granted us two ears and only one mouth, so that we might listen more than we talk. I take no offense to the vast amount of listening that has gone into being a male ally. I only ask that when I add my own intersections between disciplines that I am treated with respect, not fear. I could have very easily sought first to put aside the anxieties of others, regardless of how ridiculous they might be in reality.

Minorities of all shapes and sizes make strong claims that they shouldn’t have to be responsible for educating others, especially those in positions of privilege. I tried this approach, and found it made my life easier to put my professor hat on and explain myself. Even then, I’m not sure everyone was willing to listen, but I have found that I at least carved out space for myself. There I was not always put on the defensive. We must listen to each other on equal terms.

Whoever claimed I was dangerous had a very active imagination, and perhaps even fantasies of persecution. True enemies never have to be rooted out. Instead, they let everyone know directly their malicious intention and their intended target well beforehand. Think of how many prospective allies have been turned away by those with an ax to grind, forever fearing the worst. Determining friend from foe is a life skill, and one we cannot afford to overlook anymore.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Blow Out

In my mind and nailed into my heels.
All the time killing what I feel.

And everything I touch
[All wrapped up in cotton wool]
[All wrapped up and sugar coated]
turns to stone.

And everything I touch
[All wrapped up in cotton wool]
[All wrapped up and sugar coated]
turns to stone.

I am fused just in case I blow out.
I am glued just because I crack out.

Everything I touch turns to stone.
Everything I touch
[All wrapped up in cotton wool]
[All wrapped up and sugar coated]

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Beyond the Gay Gene

Twenty years ago, it was all the rage to discuss the possibility of there being a gay gene. Predictably, this became a matter of great debate with neither side willing to budge. It made the cover of more than one weekly news magazine. One side was convinced that LGBTs were biologically predisposed and the other believed that queer identity was strictly environmental in nature. Seeking to split the difference, the official line became this--biological and environmental aspects were responsible, a compromise decision designed to please everyone, while it pleased absolutely no one.

I have explored this issue for myself, in ways that everyone who is not strictly straight does. Bolstering my case is the fact that one of my sisters is also bisexual herself. She’s partnered mainly with men in her life, but while not in a monogamous relationship, she consistently returns to women. During one of our last conversations, she noted that she’s had long-term, though sporadic lesbian sexual relationships for years. Her exact words were, “I guess I still need it.” I’ve felt the same way myself with my own homosexual relationships.

In sixth grade gym class, I was required to dress out in front of other boys my age. Puberty had arrived with great fanfare, and I imagine my testosterone level registered through the roof. At a locker nearby was a boy my age that seemed to be looking at me out of the corner of his eye. As for myself, I made a silent note of what color underwear he had on every day, but gave myself plausibility denial should I ever be caught staring back. Everyone else was too busy trying to dress out before the bell rang, signifying we should now be ready to line up for roll call.

The crucial element in this biological detective story is likely my maternal grandfather. Immediately after birth, he was given up for adoption to the Catholic Church. Birmingham, Alabama, in the early Twentieth Century was a melting pot of immigrants who arrived to work in the steel mills. From what I do know, it is my theory that his birth parents knew the likelihood that the child would struggle with severe mental illness and might not be heterosexual. In those days, it was likely that any child born would be cared for by his or her parents, so there must have been a strongly compelling reason they felt they had to give him up.

Finding records of his adoption have been fruitless. Some years ago, I went as far as to contact a Catholic priest in charge of genealogy and birth records. He told me that if any information remained, the best I could hope for was confirmation that he’d been illegitimate, but not much beyond that. I waited for months for a reply and never received it. Educated guesses remain, but indisputable proof remains elusive.

Personally, I think that everyone who does not identity as heterosexual has a strong genetic history to back up who they are and what they are. Though this is not a hard and fast rule, many gay men and gay women share a particular physical look, vocal tone, and mannerisms. They may even find family members and other relatives in their immediate environment who confirm who they are. It should be noted, as well, that many LBGTs do not have these distinguishing characteristics and can competently pass for straight without much issue. Unless they closely observed my behavior and interests, few could pick me out of a lineup. I could always deny who I am for the sake of self-preservation. I’m certain other bisexuals have done the same thing.

Much of my mother’s family is closed off and not willing to discuss matters like these. I wonder how many of them harbor secrets regarding their sexual orientation. Bisexuality can be concealed in a way that homosexuality cannot. What I have already figured out is the manner by which my close relatives conceal their mental illness. Many are heavy drinkers, using alcohol to conceal their fears and phobias. My uncles are products of the rugged masculinity of the 1950’s, a time where every trace of effeminacy was to be hidden and never shown to others.

All I have going for me are educated guesses. If societal taboos had been less prominent in an older age, I might have more evidence. Like a scientist, I run my experiments and record my results, even if I’m not sure what they really mean. If the pace of acceptance towards those who are LGBT continues at a rapid clip, we might be farther along in our collective understanding. I can’t conclusively rule out environmental factors, but I believe in something close to a gay gene. There might be multiple gay genes in sequence, because easy answers regarding human biology are rare.

The Nazis tried to genetically eradicate homosexuals along with others they dubbed social inferiors. I was once afraid the identification of a gay gene might be used to isolate it and remove it from DNA sequences. We have never firmly established why homosexuality in any form even exists, though some have proposed it as a particularly persistent genetic mutation. The real reason may never be known, but I hope we have scientific confirmation with our own lifetime. Until that day, myself and others live our lives in a more tolerant age, although in no less perplexing fashion.

Monday, May 19, 2014


Is it getting better
Or do you feel the same?
Will it make it easier on you
Now you got someone to blame?

You say
One love
One life

When it's one need
In the night

It's one love
We get to share it
It leaves you baby
If you don't care for it

Did I disappoint you?
Or leave a bad taste in your mouth?
You act like you never had love
And you want me to go without

Well it's too late
To drag the past out
Into the light

We're one
But we're not the same
We get to carry each other
Carry each other

Have you come here for forgiveness?
Have you come to raise the dead?
Have you come here to play Jesus
To the lepers in your head?

Did I ask too much
More than a lot?
You gave me nothing
Now it's all I got

We're one
But we're not the same
We hurt each other
Then we do it again

You say
Love is a temple
Love a higher law
Love is a temple
Love the higher law

You ask me to enter
But then you made me crawl
And I can't be holding on
To what you got
When all you got is hurt

One love
One blood
One life
You got to do what you should

One life
With each other

One life
But we're not the same
We get to carry each other
Carry each other



Sunday, May 18, 2014

Still a Man's World

A big story last week was the firing of Jill Abramson as executive editor of The New York Times. Accusations of discrimination based on gender shocked many who felt that issues like these were long ago resolved. In seeking to make sense of it, I was moved to reevaluate my own response to the women who have been my co-workers and bosses during my career. I find I have to look through eyes and perceptions not my own to seek real understanding. I was raised in the middle of a household of women, and judging my mother and sisters by a different standard never came to mind.

Even after years of deliberate study and examination, even with my upbringing, I must cede that my understanding of women remains frustratingly limited. In situations like these, women often take one view and men take the other. We’ve made a lot of progress, for sure, but biology does complicate matters considerably. Though I have discarded gender essentialism, the belief that all gender differences are inborn and inescapable, it is the honest truth that men and women are hardwired very differently. I find nothing inherently wrong with this view, but it requires that we take particular intangibles on faith alone and learn to trust one another.

I cannot entirely escape the lived experiences given to me upon birth. As we know, most of the earth’s population is heterosexual. Sexual attraction is a very powerful force that brings men and women together, in spite of their innate differences. I’m not sure if many heterosexual men and heterosexual women would do the hard work of daily face-to-face interaction if sexual desire was not a factor. It gives everyone an ulterior motive, male or female, but this presents problems as well. There have been times myself where I have made a mistake and viewed every opposite-sex interaction through through purely sexual terms, even though this is hardly unique to me.

It’s astonishing sometimes that men and women can even communicate with each other. In recent years, gender segregation at the workplace has become less prominent, which has led the way towards greater understanding and productive dialogue. Abramson’s troubled time at the Old Grey Lady, as some have discussed, might reveal the latent sexism of our society. Answers here are few, and as feminist writer Ann Friedman has revealed, Abramson (and the rest of us) may never learn the real reasons for her termination.

Because clear cut answers are not present here, theories have to suffice instead. If sexuality and gender are indeed a factor, we ought to take both under consideration. Even so, this is purely speculation and conjecture and likely only one part of a very complex matter. Men are very visual and sometimes more literal minded in their sexuality and in their daily dealings with everyone else. Women, as I have been taught, often process their interactions with men by a more indirect approach, one within the confines of fantasy and idealization. Those in same-sex relationships, either platonic or romantic, workplace or private life, may well escape this conundrum and confusion, which is likely much to their advantage.

Even if men and women learn only how to cater to another’s whims, this might be a good start, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone's comprehension is exact and precise. Though I admit to being a believer in a Utopian, genderless worldview, I know that strictly masculine and strictly feminine identities in some form will persist. If we could eradicate every cultural and societal problem based on misunderstanding tomorrow, we’d still be left with the biological differences. Respecting each other as we are is not the same as completely understanding each other.

I have a familiarity with Mid-Atlantic culture, six years into my life bordered by Maryland and Pennsylvania, but the Southern mores and customs that dictated who I am today are part of me. To me, meaningless chitchat in the supermarket line with complete strangers is expected and anticipated. Where I live now, most people keep to themselves except in the company of friends or close relatives. This is an example of a relatively harmless regional disparity, but it underscores how unconscious we are of distinction and difference. I seek not to excuse the behavior of the intolerant, but I will say they have farther to go than some of us. None of us have the ability to choose our starting point.

Each of us are shaped by the familiarity and comfort of home, however we define it. I wish that I was raised by a father who wasn’t threatened by women’s rights and didn’t feel that they came at his expense. His beliefs and conduct pushed me farther and farther towards feminism. My mother was raised by a mother who was very masculine, and in response she became ten times more feminine. Women in business leadership learn that they have to conform to a similarly unwritten standard that must be seen and directly observed to be addressed.

Communication is key. The deck may yet be stacked against women. Part of the modern-day feminist movement is convincing people that there is need for new reforms. Until allegations of sexism arise, many are satisfied that sufficient progress has been made. Though social movements may wish to make themselves eventually redundant, no massive problem is ever put aside completely in the first round. This is where we stand today, in a country where women continue to earn less per hour than men, its promise of equality for all unfulfilled. It shouldn't take psychology to keep conflict away, but sometimes it does.

Quote of the Week

"The statistics on sanity are that one out of every four Americans is suffering from some form of mental illness. Think of your three best friends. If they're okay, then it's you."-Attributed to Rita Mae Brown

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Saturday Video

I've got a right to sing the blues
Got a right to moan and sigh
I've got a right to sit and cry
Down along the river

A certain girl in this old town
Keeps dragging my heart around
All I see for me is misery

I've got a right to sing the blues
Got a right to moan and sigh
I've got a right to sit and cry
Down along, along the river

Soon that deep blue sea
Is gonna be calling me
Call it love, say what you choose
I've got a right to sing the blues

I've got a right, got a right
Got a right to sing the blues
Got a right to moan and sigh
Got a right to sit and cry
Down along, along the river

Soon that, that, that deep blue sea
Is gonna be calling me
Call it love, say what you choose
I've got a right to sing the blues
The blues, the blues
I know, I know I've got a right to sing the blues

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Book Review: Redeemer, The Life of Jimmy Carter

In his new book, Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter, author and Episcopal priest Randall Balmer discusses the former President’s religious faith in context with his life story. Previous biographies have taken a more authoritative approach, but this one has a very different intent. The book shows Carter first and foremost as a man of God, revealing the strongly religious motivations behind every significant decision. Balmer’s portrayal is sympathetic, though not sycophantic, as he clearly identifies with his subject’s Progressive Evangelical beliefs.

Though Carter’s born-again Christianity made many Americans uncomfortable in the late Seventies, these views were rooted in a very different tradition than some might have feared. Since leaving office in 1981, the former Georgia governor has revealed himself to be an unapologetic liberal, willing to take stances he might have been reluctant to embrace earlier. Since the election of Ronald Reagan, the word Evangelical has become associated with a strongly conservative political leaning, but as Balmer shows, this is a relatively recent construct.

Progressive Evangelicals like Carter were never a rare breed, though in recent times we have forgotten that fact. Once, born-again Christians took an isolationist approach to politics and policy, fearing being unduly influenced by a corrupt, immoral society. Evangelicals turned out in droves in the 1976 Presidential election partially out of novelty, finally casting their votes for one of their own. Only four year later, however, they completely abandoned an unpopular Chief Executive and supported his opponent instead. Though its impact would only be felt later, this was the beginning of the so-called Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition, and a strong association between Christianity and the Republican party.
Jimmy Carter not only fit the definition of evangelical, he embodied a particular, activist strain of evangelicalism called progressive evangelicalism. Harking back to the Hebrew prophets, progressive evangelicals in the nineteenth century interpreted the prophetic calls for justice as a mandate for racial reconciliation and gender equality. Progressive evangelicalism, at one time the ascendant strain of evangelicalism in American, also took its warrant from the New Testament, especially the words of Jesus.
Jesus even said that those who refuse to show compassion “will go away to eternal punishment,” whereas the righteous will inherit eternal life.
Believers in a more liberal interpretation of Scripture may have become less prominent in the past three decades, but they have never completely died out. Balmer hopes to reinvigorate the Religious Left, no small task among many progressives, who have in recent years grown skeptical of organized religion. In that respect, he has added his voice to the few, but decidedly vocal purveyors of liberal Christianity.

The book discusses one such facet to Carter's religious beliefs. His official policy on abortion was that he was personally opposed, but did not have any right or authority to reverse established precedent. As a Southern Baptist, he was raised to believe in a strict and unwavering separation between church and state. Conservative Christians hold no such distinction, believing it is their duty to intercede directly into shaping policy, even in defiance of the rule of law. To this day, this is an opinion to which they hold fast, one that has recently led to fruitless attempts to repeal Obamacare and overturn Roe v. Wade on the state level.

In our increasingly noisy national discourse, Progressive Evangelicalism fights for oxygen. It resents being mischaracterized, while recognizing that it is not a large enough target to draw fire. Many Americans might find they have much in common with the movement, if they can put aside their judgments for long enough to be fully enlightened. President Carter’s conduct after leaving office, as a private citizen, has shown that it is indeed possible to use the language of the Christian church in combination with a traditionally progressive concern for the underprivileged.

It remains to be seen if we truly have moved to a Post-Christian society, where all we have left are shadows of former rituals and beliefs. The Right holds stubbornly fast to a reductionist view, one that is as political as it is theological. The Left is more reluctant to mix the two, or to vocalize the conflict between private convictions and public display. In order to co-exist with a dramatically different interpretation of religion, every believer must not, as it is written, allow his or her light to shine under a bushel. Instead, they should let their light shine for everyone to see.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


One day Roger came home from work very upset.

"I can't go on!" he cried. "I can't go on! I can't go on!"

The next day was Wednesday. Roger woke up, put his pants on, and went to work.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Notice

I will be at a Young Adult Quaker conference at Pendle Hill, Pennsylvania, from Friday, June 6 to Wednesday, June 11. I'll be conspicuously off the grid for about a week. I figure I might as well take advantage of these conferences while I'll still qualify as a young adult, which is until I turn 35.

Almost certainly I'll write about my experiences, which I hope are rewarding. Gatherings of people my own age have created lasting Friendships with people spread out across the country. Many of them I still talk to and we help each other out as resources.

Baby, It's You

It's not the way you smile that touched my heart
It's not the way you kiss that tears me apart

Many many many nights go by
I sit alone at home and cry over you
What can I do, can't help myself
'Cause baby it's you, baby it's you

You should hear what they say about you
(cheat, cheat)
They say, they say you never never ever been true
(cheat, cheat)

Wo ho, it doesn't matter what they say
I know I'm gonna love you any old way
What can I do, then it's true
Don't want nobody, nobody
'Cause baby it's you, baby it's you

Wo ho, it doesn't matter what they say
I know I'm gonna love you any old way
What can I do, then it's true

Don't want nobody, nobody
'Cause baby it's you
Baby it's you, don't leave me all alone

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mutually Assured Destruction

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

The descriptions and depictions of the Second Coming have long frustrated many seeking solid answers. Jesus describes the signs that will appear in descriptive, but vague terms. Surrounding a corpse, we’re told, are always vultures. The moon will darken and the stars will fall from the sky. It sounds dramatic and impressive enough, but what does it really mean?

Without solid facts to support a case, we can only concede that we’ll know it when we see it. Each of us has experienced times where God seems distant. I’ve always been skeptical of believers who claim that God conveniently always agrees with them. Put that way, there are no periods of spiritual famine or reason for doubt. The evocative language of these verses boils down to this: regarding the presence of God, we’ll know it when we see it.

I recognize that my own comprehension is limited and that much exists that I will never understand, no matter how old and wise I grow. Each of us tries to live a pure life that is often contrary to our impulses. Society’s priorities make demands on everyone, religious or not. This is why I cannot understand the need for bickering and conflict, on a one-to-one basis or as a group.

Our basic nature is up for debate, but many of us have begun to believe that ours is evil, not good. If that were the case, we really would live in an Orwellian police state. We would dwell within a grand conspiracy theory. We may have lost our innocence, but if we have, what comes next? Are we only a star slowly dying out, moving ever closer towards eventual collapse? We ought to be allies, not adversaries. We make decisions every day to either violate or to hold fast to our values. Life requires some compromise, but we’re in charge of when and where we ought to compromise or stand firm.

How will we know when we’ve struck the right balance? We’ll know it when we see it. Words alone are insufficient markers for progress and understanding. Some may not share my understanding of a higher power, but everyone has to make peace with the unknown. The most miserable people I have ever met are those who have not surrendered to mystery. They keep spinning their wheels looking for answers, and finding none.

Believing that one is subordinate to greater forces does not imply surrender. Christians routinely talk about giving their insecurities and fears up to God, the only being powerful enough to bear 100% of the burden. I wonder whether non-religious people have similar coping strategies. Anger, disappointment, and fear are constantly problematic for everyone. There was a time in my life where I tried to tackle them myself, and found I could not.

The task reminded me of going deep sea fishing as a child and managing to hook a huge red snapper. I struggled for twenty minutes with my reel, trying to pull the huge fish, through force of will and effort, into the boat. Eventually the line broke and I was left disappointed. Fighting with ourselves and others produces similar results.

The activist mantra is that if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. There was a time in my own life where I uttered much the same thing. But it’s such a lonely sentiment. Back then, I wanted to snap people out of their private reveries, to get them to see the Truth. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve seen others as lost sheep, not enablers of profiteers or charlatans. That’s a great leap forward for most of us.

As our planet continues to grow in population, we’re going to be faced with unprecedented challenges. We will be forced to cooperate, not fight, over scarce resources. We can take the opportunity to make war, or we can opt for peace. War is easy. I see war every day in the comment section or on the roadways. Our fascination with the End Times takes a secular and religious context. The end of the world may be sooner than we think. Our destruction will be mutual.  

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Quote of the Week

"If you want to make enemies, try to change something."-Woodrow Wilson

Saturday, May 10, 2014

My Religious Beliefs

Some readers are, no doubt, unclear about my religious sensibilities. They notice that I use odd terminology, a language informally called Quaker-speak, spoken by fewer and fewer these days. I’ve been known to use passages from the Bible to reinforce my arguments. But I would never consider myself an Evangelical, a pulpit-pounder, or a born-again Christian.

I am a Christian, but a progressive strain. My religious background was somewhat more conservative than my beliefs are today, but I had skeptics for parents. Southerners like me went to church for lots of reasons, least of which was that everyone else did. There I was baptized at the age of 12 and confirmed in the Methodist church. I was engaged enough as a child to focus on my Sunday School teachers and to learn verses of Scripture.

Today, I live in an urbanized setting full of religious seekers, where the focus on individualism leads to a great diversity in expression. Quaker theology by its very formulation gives us five Testimonies (Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, and Equality) upon which to base our own inward work. Each Testimony has a looser, more generalized message, but varies from person to person.

For example, 19th Century Quakers used the Testimony of Equality to stand firm against slavery and turned their Meetinghouses into stops on the Underground Railroad. Our work with Peace won us the Nobel Prize in 1947. A Quaker emphasis on Simplicity would not seem out of place with any socially conscious young liberal buying clothes from a thrift store, rather than a department store. Groups of Friends (Quakers) have been moved to work together when leadings and causes from person to person were similar.

I’m reminded again of how crucial words are and especially those we assign to ourselves. As a member of the Religious Society of Friends, I could throw out any one of a thousand vocabulary words or descriptive phrases, most of which are hundreds of years old. I like the clever construction of our language. They were a result of how someone or a group of people interpreted a particular passage of the Bible. Every Christian faith emphasizes or subtly de-emphasizes individual sections of Scripture. We’re no different from anyone else.

I know that what I say is not always what people hear. Right-wing Christianity has tried to co-opt and substitute its own interpretation for my own. We’ve found ourselves divided in the same ways that every other left-wing ideology or group has. Sometimes I think we’re too busy finding ways to break ourselves apart for the supposed sake of diversity. I think that diversity is a good thing, but it has to be done responsibly.

Learn from our example. For such a small faith group, we have divided ourselves into three primary branches. What is called cross-branch work is very difficult. It’s at times like talking to a Republican when you’re a Democrat. Factions and rivalries have sprung up. Conservative Friends all face forward when seated on benches for Worship. Unprogrammed Friends like me sit facing each other. And these are only the most prominent outward signs. Every decision in Worship or in how we conduct our affairs was made for a reason, and that reason was very important to someone.

So be careful with words and how you pick them. Division exists everywhere, even within my own faith tradition. It’s difficult to get opinionated people to agree. At a Meeting level, every First Day (Sunday), I see the same 100 people. Making progress at even a very small level like this shows the difficulties present. For my feminist sisters and brothers, observe how difficult it is to have Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, and Equality. If you can get those five down, I think you’ll do fine.

Saturday Video

"In the Mood", Glenn Miller

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Home, Home on the Range

Reproduced from

Casey Jones

Driving that train, high on cocaine,
Casey Jones you better watch your speed.
Trouble ahead, trouble behind,
And you know that notion just crossed my mind.

This old engine makes it on time,
Leaves Central Station 'bout a quarter to nine,
Hits River Junction at seventeen two,
At a quarter to ten you know it's travelin' again.

Driving that train, high on cocaine,
Casey Jones you better, watch your speed.
Trouble ahead, trouble behind,
And you know that notion just crossed my mind.
Trouble ahead, Lady in red,
Take my advice you'd be better off dead.

Switchman's sleeping, train hundred and two is
On the wrong track and headed for you.
Driving that train, high on cocaine,
Trouble ahead, trouble behind,
And you know that notion just crossed my mind.

Trouble with you is the trouble with me,
Got two good eyes but they still don't see.
Come round the bend, you know it's the end,
The fireman screams and the engine just gleams

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Straight is the New Gay

I recently watched the 2009 documentary Butch Factor. It is predominately a study of gay men who pursue vocations and hobbies that would seem to be the exclusive purview of heterosexuals. One interview subject plays rugby, another participates in rodeos, and a third wields authority as a Sherriff’s Department Officer within a prison. Audiences might find their assumptions challenged, even those who are not straight.

As a means of comparison, the stories of two men who never had the fortuitous ability to fly under the radar are introduced. One of them has since tattooed the often pejorative word “sissy” on his upper bicep. Another was mercilessly bullied in school for years. Experiencing enough torment, he deliberately dressed and acted the queerest he possibly could. His unexpected transformation stunned into silence those who had earlier pelted him with thrown objects and left death threats in his locker.

Even in a community with an understood and generally accepted sense of gender fluidity, masculinity is valued most. I’m different that way. The men I find most appealing are very effeminate. Some of them embrace their effeminacy as a defense mechanism, and others recognize the futility of playing a role they could never plausibly pull off. One such boy in my past was the subject of exceedingly cruel and vicious gossip. A perceived momma’s boy, he was said to have no penis, which was a way of saying that he wasn’t really a man.

I played sports for a time, but I did not consider myself a jock. My queer identity was consigned to my own mind, my own studies. In the days before the Internet, I frequented the local library. There, I would find books on LGBT topics, but I never had the courage to check any of them out. I read them on a table far away from prying eyes, and left them there when I was done. Only a few years later, I had access to resources and information no lending library could ever touch.

In private, we all do our research and reconcile who we are with who we’d like to be. I am bisexual, which adds an additional layer of confusion and complexity. In particular, I have been caught for most of my life in a quandary of how I ought to present myself to the outside world. One medium is my writing. The other is discourse among trusted friends and others who identify as LGBT. This self-selected sample has become my cheering section, but even conversing with them can be an unintentionally mortifying experience. Though I have made lots of progress, I’m petrified of admitting to myself who I really am.

One principal player in the film I related to quite extensively. He noted that, as an African-American, men are supposed to be hyper-masculine in black culture. They’re supposed to be jocks and rappers, but neither soft-spoken, nor gay. Though no one would ever be able to guess who and what he is, he is similarly confused and conflicted. Adding to the confusion is the fact that he was raised in a very religious setting, which meant he could not be honest with his parents and his church community. Nowadays, he is selectively out, though I imagine considerably less so now that the film has been released.  

Though I found the film compelling, my central concern is that the film focused primarily on the city of San Francisco, which is perhaps the most LGBT friendly section of the country. The city who produced Harvey Milk could expect nothing less. Even a legal mandate is in place to hire gays, lesbians, and others, even those who do not fit the stereotypical profile. Most of the movie challenges assumptions of queer behavior and presentation. Most of the men to which we are introduced pass easily as straight.

Though the filmmakers may not have had the budget to expand their focus, I think it only fair to see attitudes towards LGBTs in the rest of the country. I grew up in the Deep South, where it was only acceptable to be quietly out, and only then to people one was perfectly sure were tolerant. I came out when I was 19, a bundle of nerves and fears. Older out members of the community helped me through a painful process. As the film shows us, there were no gay flag football players, gay rugby leagues, or gay baseball teams nearby. Had there been, I might have had a network to guide me and encourage me.

I didn’t fit with the preening queens who fantasized about drag and Madonna. Though I went to several shows at the local gay bar, I knew that I had no desire to replicate what I saw on stage. I was not into leather and had no interest in bad disco or dance music. I often wondered if the mass conformity I saw was a result of finally fitting in when most of life had been spent isolated and alone.

I became the fetish of a few men now and again. Though I have never seen myself as a tough guy, some saw me that way. I have an athletic build and am physically prominent. I became a fantasy fulfilled, sex with what to all intents and purposes was an unattainable straight guy. This was not really what I wanted, but I suppose any bar has the same sort of sketchy clientele. Even though I felt totally out of place, I enjoyed sitting in a dark corner, chain smoking, and observing the going’s on.

As we grow ever more tolerant, will LGBT culture become less and less a subversive act? We’ve already sought same-sex marriage, defining it in terms of the status quo. As we move to the middle, will we emulate heterosexuals to accomplish our goals? I think that for the queer men who cannot deny their sexual orientation, it would be foolish to think this is any easy option. But for men who have the ability to not be easily pigeonholed or who do not present as inescapably queer, it is entirely possible that straight is the new gay.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Addressing Sexual Assault on College Campuses

Five years ago, I became actively involved within the currents and fixations of young feminists my own age. I quickly noticed that one of their strongest, if not the strongest chosen causes was an all-out crusade against sexual assault. I felt as though I was at a tent revival lobbying for the passage of Prohibition. I still have this same sensory response today. It surprises me how relatively few feminists identify as religious, even though their zeal is religious by any other name. One almost expects them to be singing in unison the old hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers."

I was in completely sympathy and solidarity with those who experienced their own trauma through that particular kind of abuse, though the experience was not my own. It never was and it never will be. The brutality I observed came from other boys. Male on male bullying is hierarchical and has existed for so long it's difficult to know where to begin. The older boys bully the younger boys and younger boys bully those even younger than they are. It’s almost ritualistic, a routine each of us goes through when it is our turn for punishment and to mete out punishment ourselves.

In the earliest years of my life, I never directly observed any woman being physically or sexually abused by a man. To reiterate, in those carefree days, punishment like that was almost always directed towards other men. In an eternal competition for who was the toughest and most physically imposing, women would have never been allowed to participate. One of my sisters tried it, a born tomboy, but was immediately rudely pushed away to told to leave the boys alone.

Having said that, I have never directly observed myself any instance of sexual assault or physical violence committed by a man against a woman. The closest thing ever to happen to me in my own life was the time I wrestled roughly with the female cousin of a friend of mine. I have to say I don't understand why we took such an immediate dislike to each other. Our momentary tumble in the grass of the backyard didn’t last more than a few seconds. It was never repeated.

When I entered high school and then college, I would at times hear rumors about sexual assault. The alleged attackers in these situations happened to be of the sort of men I avoided whenever possible. Though I had once been an athlete, I quit midway through high school, partially because I loathed crude jock behavior. And yet none of my former teammates, to the best of my knowledge, were the sort to take illegal liberties with women. They may have been dense and boorish, but they were not malevolent.

By the time I had enrolled in college, a fifteen-year-old early admission student who had been home-schooled signed up the same quarter I did. Because we were in the same English Comp class, I peer evaluated her paper, as instructed.

She seemed to me to be a slightly precocious, albeit highly sheltered high school student, with no business being in college at so young an age. I'm not questioning her academic prowess, but rather whether she was emotionally mature enough to have skipped high school altogether. She was extremely naïve and unaware of the world, which eventually proved to be her undoing.

In the middle of an unrelated conversation, during a brief pause during class, she volunteered that she usually dated black guys. I wasn't sure why she told me that, but I would eventually learn, along with everyone else when rumors began to fly and details became known. Months later, despite the fact that she was a minor and several years underage, we'd learned she’d become the plaything of most of the football team. She had stopped going to class, started using drugs, and began being passed around from player to player.

If Brittany had been lonely from day one on campus, she felt absolutely isolated during those first days in Blazer Hall. [Brittany's parents] say in their complaints that, because the school didn't offer her another RA for a roommate, they chose a single room for Brittany. They say they preferred Brittany living alone to her sharing space with female students who might have beer in the fridge and boyfriends staying over.

On her third day in Blazer, Brittany says, she entered the elevator and encountered a mountain of a man, a Blazer football player with a bushy afro and hands as thick as cinder blocks. Brittany tried to avoid making eye contact, but the man faced her as the doors shut. "Whussup, shorty?" he huffed, according to Brittany. She remembers feeling the blood drain from her face. He said he knew her; she was that child genius. He asked if she'd help him with a paper. Brittany panicked and stammered: "I'm 15."

"Well, you don't look it," she says he told her.

Brittany's emotions swirled as she stepped off the elevator. The comment about her appearance transformed her initial fear into a feeling that surprised her: acceptance. Maybe she belonged in this strange place after all. "That made me feel a lot better," Brittany says. That night, she says, the player brought his paper -- and a six-pack of beer -- to her room.

Brittany says she had never had a beer -- or any kind of alcohol -- but felt compelled to accept when she was offered one. According to Brittany, one led to another. And another. Brittany got wasted. She'd never even kissed a boy, and now she was making out with the player. Then they had sex.

The university I went to, UAB, had a minuscule Greek presence that was almost laughably limited. If I felt any compulsion to join a fraternity, I could have signed up for every single one. Had I gone to Alabama or Auburn, the two big state schools, fraternity boys and sorority girls would have been in copious quantity. In elitist fashion, certain Greek organization would have pushed me aside for not having the right credentials or for having an acceptable last name.

Aside from smuggling alcohol and other drugs into the dorms, it would be difficult to create easy circumstances where sexual abuse could take place. In those days, only the poorest students and athletes lived in campus in ancient dorms long past their prime. It wasn’t until I had graduated that they revamped the campus and built brand new dorms. Most students lived off campus in apartments, in those days. This created a problem not for the university, but instead became a matter for the local police.

Every report I read about a young woman who has been raped appears in a college setting seems to take place during a massive party held on school grounds. I have no way of knowing if this is the truth or not. I never experienced such a thing myself. Without frat houses, we were forced farther downtown to loud bars blaring bad music. Upon arrival, women displaying strategically ample cleavage implored me to buy overpriced beer on ice, while guilt tripping me into tipping them.

Girls feeling appropriately daring and coordinated danced on the bar, if not on the dance floor. Anyone who wanted to commit an act of sexual assault would have had to be very daring, this is to say stupid. I suppose cars might be an option, but the lots were supervised by the physical presence of someone and by way of surveillance tape. mostly to prevent petty theft. This is to say that aside from one very glaring incident, I never was aware evidence of either stranger or acquaintance rape, as a fifteen-year-old cannot legally consent to sex.

Almost every instance of rape or sexual assault that I know of seems to begin at a bar and concludes elsewhere. I’m sure that numerous instances of date rape happen behind closed doors and are never vocalized, but naturally I never saw them myself. Most of the high profile cases are a question of stranger rape, no less excusable, but much more rare. That's what grabs the attention.

Feminist ire falls most heavily upon sexual assault that is out in the open, rape that could be stopped if someone spoke up. It’s understandable, but we need to have a dialogue regarding the particulars. Not every college campus is the same, nor does it have the similar dynamics. Schools with especially hard-drinking cultures may well lend themselves to more frequent allegations of sexual assault. But I don't want to make judgments before knowing the facts.

I don’t feel that the sort of man who would rape a woman would surround himself with moral, upstanding characters. They serve as accessories to these crimes and are complicit due to their silence. Women at times even believe it was somehow their fault. I met a woman once in college who had been drugged and violated at a college party. In her mind, it was her fault for not being more cautious, and being raped was what she deserved. She was almost blasé about it, which left me flabbergasted.

In the end, we wonder where to direct our focus to address sexual assault. Is this simply a matter of universities and colleges protecting their cash cow scholar-athletes? Or, is it evidence that universities don’t want to police major offenses like sexual assault and/or rape? Everyone has passed the buck on numerous occasions. I’ll be honest. I’m not sure where real reform begins. It seems to me that men must keep their own in line. Feminists, who are mostly female, can agitate as much as they wish, but those sadistic enough to resort to inexcusable crimes like these may never listen to them.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Quote of the Week

“I never truckled. I never took off the hat to Fashion and held it out for pennies. I told them the truth. They liked it or they didn't like it. What had that to do with me? I told them the truth.”- Frank Norris

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Saturday Video

Comb your hair and paint and powder
You act proud and I'll act prouder
You sing loud and I'll sing louder
Tonight we're settin' the woods on fire

You're my gal and I'm your feller
Dress up in your frock of yeller
I'll look swell but you'll look sweller
Settin' the woods on fire

We'll take in all the honky tonks,
tonight we're havin' fun
We'll show the folks a brand new dance
that never has been done

I don't care who thinks we're silly
You'll be daffy and I'll be dilly
We'll order up two bowls of chili
Settin' the woods on fire

I'll gas up my hot rod stoker
We'll get hotter than a poker
You'll be broke but I'll be broker
Tonight we're settin' the woods on fire

We'll sit close to one another
Up one street and down the other
We'll have us a time oh brother,
Settin' the woods on fire.

We'll put aside a little time to fix a flat or two
My tires and tubes are doin' fine
but the air is showing' through

You clap hands and I'll start bowin'
We'll do all the laws allowin'
Tomorrow I'll be right back plowin'
Settin’ the woods on fire

Friday, May 02, 2014

Beautiful Trouble. Activism Flaws and Advice

This passage comes from the recently released May issue of The Sun. A few weeks back I discussed activist culture and protest culture. The article discusses many of those same concerns. It is edited by Andrew Boyd with help from Dave Oswald Mitchell. Naturally, each of these subject headings is described in greater detail should you wish the read the full article.

How to Plan and Execute Successful Protest Actions




People often get discouraged because they take part in a communicative action and expect a concrete outcome.


Art invites us to think rather than telling us what to think. This is one of its great strengths


Too often the people doing the most to take care of the world do the least to take care of themselves. and a dedicated activist prudently burns out and disappears from public view. Whether we like it or not if we are exhausted, frustrated, unhappy, or overwhelmed most of the time, we make a life of activism look extremely unattractive. Virtually every activist has struggled with the question to get beyond preaching to the crowd.


People don't care about protesters: Oh, there goes those silly protesters again. What are they protesting this time? Look, the police are hitting them over the head. Well, they must have done something to deserve it.


Don't use antiquated language that favors workers over bosses. Instead of workers of the world, we now have debtors of the world.


The idea is simple: en masse, we stop paying our bills to the banks until they agree to come to the table.


Not every target is vulnerable in the same way. What works once may not work a second time. We need to figure out where out targets are weakest, and where we are strongest.


Some people who are attracted to protests have issues with authority. Losing their temper in the face of opposition is rarely a successful approach.