May 10, 2006

The Perfect Activist

This article in "EDGE Boston" profiles Cholene Espinoza, whose spiritual service is an excellent example for any LGBT person who really wants to create change in the minds and hearts of straight America.

After Hurricane Katrina hit, Espinoza and her partner, Ellen Ratner, traveled to the Gulf Coast to help the victims. Moved by her experience to do even more to help, Espinoza wrote Through the Eye of the Storm (Chelsea Green, 2006), a memoir of their trip that laments not only the devastation of the hurricane itself, but also the difficult path to recovery.

The publisher says, "Proceeds from Through the Eye of the Storm will build and support a community/education center that will serve the Katrina survivors of Harrison County on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. It will provide young adults with GED, computer, and other job training that will give them the skills to participate in the recovery of their community. During non-school hours, the center will serve the children of the community as the only after-school facility in the area. Eventually, routine healthcare education and services will also be provided at the center."  Espinoza herself bought land the center will be built on and contributed $135,000. Her partner also is a donor. The two have raised additional commitments of $150,000.

Espinoza's courageous, compassionate, spiritually-inspired act is exactly the kind of "Voluntary Redemptive Service" I propose in Shirt of Flame (Goko Media, 2003).

The smartest LGBT activism focuses on building long-term relationships and good will--cultivating positive emotional connections with straight people in the 'moveable middle'--as opposed to protesting or demanding equal rights, respect and recognition. Those of us who want real change should all follow Espinoza's example and engage in--as Taoist as it sounds--"activism that is not activism."

Voluntary Redemptive Service like Espinoza's must genuinely come from the heart, and the positive impact on attitudes about LGBT people and relationships must be secondary to the service itself. However, like Whosoever.org's Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge says, "[this] exciting new strategy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender liberation will lead to not only a civil rights revolution, but also to a revolution of the human heart."

And isn't that the whole point?

February 01, 2006

Against extreme outing

Let's make it clear that Mike Rogers--of BlogActive noteriety--has taken outing too far. It's a rather embarrassing spectacle with the appearance of having been manufactured by a blogger in love with attention and his own power. He seems to want to speak for all gays, but he certainly doesn't speak me... or really for many of us at all, in my view.

Rogers has published a threatening and possibly illegal letter he wrote for a senator who he claims is an anti-gay hypocrite. What's enough to count as an anti-gay hypocrite? In a footnote to the letter (yes, this letter has a footnote), Rogers says that voting to confirm Alito for the Supreme Court is enough to qualify a senator as anti-gay. For this terrible crime, Rogers appoints himself judge and jury to execute the "nuclear option" of post-modern gay activism: outing.

But this is patently ridiculous. Hypocrisy cannot be reduced to any disagreement with Mike Rogers' personal political agenda for who should sit on the Supreme Court. (Note that I happen to agree with Rogers on Alito, but only arrived at this decision after careful deliberation. My decision ultimately turned on Alito's views on the unitary executive, and not at all on his supposed positions on gay issues. When I was evaluating Alito's record with an open mind, was I somehow a hypocrite, a sexual orientation traitor? Should I have been outed as a hypocrite? The very notion is insulting.)

Continue reading "Against extreme outing" »

December 28, 2005

Endings

I've been thinking a lot about endings recently.  Part of it is the season--one year is making way for another.  Part of it is the news that a friend's 4 and a half year partnership has ended.  I've also had a few chance meetings with people who belong to my "prior life"--the two years I spent in a Christian seminary, struggling to fight off lesbian temptations.  And, on a more abstract level, I've been reading Process Theology, which describes the essence of life as flux, and past moments as being incarnate in the present.  For Process, it seems like endings are a mirage.

But what are endings for the spiritual life?  And as gay and lesbians move towards marriage equality, what ethic will we develop for ending relationships?

Continue reading "Endings" »

August 24, 2005

What Is Truth?

I’ve noticed a recurring pattern among some of my fellow travellers on the spiritual path: an extreme reluctance to make a definite moral statement. I understand that in this postmodern age there is (supposedly) no such thing as absolute truth. And I can understand why many (especially in the GLBT community) are reluctant to make any definite moral statements: many of us have been abused or alienated by those who have used such “absolute” statements as weapons against us.

But it seems to me that if we never stand up for what is true – if we never speak our truth with conviction – we slip into a kind of moral vacuum, where every viewpoint is given equal weight, no matter how harmful the consequences of those viewpoints may be to others.

An example from the current news: Pat Robertson has called for the United States to assassinate the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez. As good liberal postmodernists who value tolerance and dialogue between those of differing paths, are we supposed to consider Pat Robertson’s viewpoint a valid one? Are we intolerant if we refuse to tolerate an intolerant viewpoint? Is it OK to call Pat Robertson (or at least his words) vile and loathsome, or are we judgmental and absolutist ourselves if we do so?

I have no answers, just concerns. I welcome your feedback.

July 12, 2005

Garrison Andropolis

I've just published the latest installment of Soulfully Gay, a sci-fi short story that tackles eugenics. It's called "Garrison Andropolis." Warning: High Creepiness Factor. Parental Discretion Advised.

The year was 2040, exactly 30 years since the genetic signature for homosexuality was identified by scientists and most heterosexual parents began to bring only heterosexual children into the world. Legislative efforts to make heterosexist discrimination illegal were defeated in the name of “parental choice,” and liberal abortion laws permitted what many feared would be the extinction of the entire future queer population.

Read the rest of "Garrison Andropolis"...

June 20, 2005

How To Change Hearts and Minds on Gay Marriage

I've been thinking ... and writing ... a lot about how to change hearts and minds on gay marriage. I know that very few people will agree with everything I have to say, but for those bold enough to adventure forth into the land of The Integralist, here are some recent posts:

April 28, 2005

Looking at Lookism

SOULFULLY GAY

By Joe Perez

You walk into a crowded bar and a dozen heads turn your way. In an instant, most of the men’s eyes avert. But some eyes continue to watch. They check out your clothes, face, body, and crotch. Looks are everything.

A while later, you are cruising through the bar. You are enchanted by one man’s delicious bedroom eyes and another’s hairy, rippling chest. You make a note of the cuties and hotties that you want to get to know better. Ah, you say, thank heaven for beauty!

Although this experience is a common one for gay men, the desire for beauty is suspect. Some say that admiring beauty is unjust or demeaning, and others say that it’s anti-spiritual. What is the truth about beauty?

Continue reading "Looking at Lookism" »

April 15, 2005

Meth, Depression, and Moral Choices

In this piece for The Desert Sun, Palm Springs' Desert AIDS Project CEO Allen Reese discusses the links between depression and crystal meth abuse in the gay community.

Reese writes primarily to make two points. The first is related to the importance of the harm reduction approach and to stress that it does not condone or promote the use of illegal drugs. The second is related to the need for greater understanding of the role of mental illness in contributing to the drug problems facing the gay community. Concerning this second point, Reese writes:

As stated in The Desert Sun, "Perry Halkitis, a New York University psychologist specializing in the study of HIV/AIDS and drugs, says the root cause of meth addiction for many gays is not sex or partying, but deeper problems of isolation and low self-esteem, particularly if they are HIV positive." Halkitis goes on to state that "users are often experiencing mental-health problems. You have this really vicious cycle - HIV, meth, depression."

Meanwhile, Joe Riddle at Ex-Gay Watch uses Reese's piece as a starting point for a discussion of moral values in the gay community. In a post called "Taking Responsibility for Our Lives," Reese says he's encouraged that folks like Reese are taking up the discussion about drug use, but he says that Reese emphasizes low self-esteem as a cause of the drug problems, whereas "I'd rather we emphasize self-control and personal responsibility".

Riddle concludes his post in this way:

If I thought my only options were to be a drug-addicted slut or ex-gay, I'd choose ex-gay every time.

I'm no prude, and I'm not saying that gay people need to hold to moral standards we find arbitrary--but I do think engaging in a dialogue about creating a more meaningful life is a great idea.  Let's have fun (life is fun! sex is fun!), while remembering to love ourselves, and each other, and act responsibly.

I want to make two points about Riddle's post: first and foremost, that it's an exemplar of the sort of courageous advoacy of responsibility in the gay community that I feel is so urgently necessary in our midst (e.g., as I wrote about in this column); second, that it's a step in the right direction, but it falls short of a truly integral balancing act that is most effective for shifting gay culture.

First, I want to applaud Riddle's post for striking a fair-minded tone and stressing values (self-control and responsibility) that often get shortchanged by gay writers. The blogger correctly notes that Reese identifies low self-esteem (among other mental health issues) as contributory to crystal addiction, and Riddle does not attempt to say that such issues are irrelevant or unimportant.

Second--and this is not so much criticism as it is a suggestion for further refinement of ideas--Riddle's post falls short of embracing all the relevant values that are important to shifting gay culture. Riddle emphasizes self-control and responsibility (fine and important values, for sure), but says little about self-esteem and pleasure-seeking (seemingly conflicting values that are every bit as worthy of consideration).

Riddle says: "Sometimes we out gays are reluctant to encourage responsible behavior in our friends because we don't want to be viewed as another moralizing voice." However, he then turns around and speaks negatively in reference to "drug addicted sluts," the sort of rhetorical flourish that is unlikely to persuade anyone that his is anything but another moralizing voice to tune out.

Aside from saying that he prefers to emphasize responsibility over self-esteem, Riddle offers no persuasive case that self-esteem isn't every bit as important a consideration as the values he prefers to talk about. In fact, Reese's original post in The Desert Sun refers to studies, research, and expert opinion which point to the prevalence of mental health issues, especially depression among HIV positive men, which contribute to crystal meth abuse. In the face of this reality, if public health officials simply insisted on personal responsibility without addressing the underlying mental health issues, this would be, well, irresponsible.

The challenge before the gay community, and before writers tackling the issue of crystal addiction in our midst, is to walk a fine line by balancing multiple competing values ... and ultimately, to show how they may be put together. Can writers find a way to talk about morality without moralizing, and talk about the joy of sexual freedom without condoning self-destructive narcissism? Can the gay community enjoy exciting and exploratory sex lives ... and be responsible and sexually mature at the same time? These are among the challenges before us.

The direction that I take in my own writings is to bring conflicting values together through a progressive spiritual evolutionary perspective. My vision is of a world where we live with an awareness of the Unity of All Being ... and reach outward to embrace as much of the world as possible as a mirror of our higher and true Nature. In a fragmented world where everyone is convinced that their own values are the only ones worth taking seriously, embracing Spirit can mean walking a tightrope between seemingly competing values in the search for a higher Unity. This is a topic to which I will repeatedly return.

March 22, 2005

Republicans Undermine the Sanctity of Marriage

Candace Chellew-Hodge, the editor of the online LGBT Christian magazine Whosoever, raises some good points about the Terry Shiavo case in her weblog, the christian agnostic:

Instead of tackling the true problems of this country, they [our Congress and the Bush administation] will grandstand and pontificate about the life of one person. Instead of calling a special session of Congress to end the war, rollback the obscene tax cuts to the wealthy, feed the poor who starve to death every single day in this world, fully fund public education or medicare, or any other service that betters our country and helps “the least of these” - they will call a special session to showcase their “compassion” for this one person.

Click here to read Chellew-Hodge's complete blog post, titled "A sorry use of government power."

In all the media coverage and analysis that has overwhelmed the airwaves this weekend, there's one question I haven't seen answered:  By siding with Shiavo's parents and attempting to overrule the wishes of her husband, isn't the Bush administration undermining the sanctity of marriage?  This case has the potential to set legal precedent that would do far more damage to the heterosexual marriage contract than gay marriage could ever do.

February 15, 2005

Taking Responsibility

Continuing the interesting conversation Joe started on responsibility in the GLBT community, I found this article in today's New York Times of interest (free registration required).

What does it mean to be a responsible person in community with others?  I've been struck by how the language of safer sex talks about MSM -- "men who have sex with men."  I think it's much more gay to be a MLM, a man who loves men.  What we love we also strive to protect, right?

Is there something anti-pleasure or anti-sexual about this call to responsibility?  I sure don't think so.  Here's an article I've written elsewhere about sex-positive sexual ethics.

February 03, 2005

Responsibility: It's Not Just for Breeders

SOULFULLY GAY

By Joe Perez

Last year Bill Cosby made controversial public comments railing against low-income individuals for not taking personal responsibility for their lives. Lately I've been asking myself: where are the Bill Cosbys who are willing to speak just as courageously about the problems of the gay community?

Many were outraged by Cosby's suggestion that personal failures, and not merely external factors such as racism, are behind the problems facing low-income Americans. The popular entertainer took so much heat for his speech, it's no wonder more people don't step into the fire.

Although I feel Cosby could have spoken with greater thoughtfulness, I agree with much that he said. Turning to the problems facing the gay community, my own view is that we must confront them with a balanced approach that looks at both systemic problems (such as homophobia and public policy) and greater responsibility.

Continue reading "Responsibility: It's Not Just for Breeders" »

January 01, 2005

The Call to a Compassionate Response

The recent tsunami disaster in Asia -- which, as of this morning's count, has claimed 140,00 lives -- has prompted some serious theological questioning. Was God in This Disaster? asks a very thought-provoking essay on Beliefnet from Rodger Kamenetz, the Jewish-Buddhist author of The Jew in the Lotus. After a rather disturbing quote from the Talmud, and a more comforting one from the Dalai Lama, Kamenetz writes:

I don't believe that a mass disaster, in and of itself, tells us anything about God. I don't believe in a God who punishes through disaster. The disaster is. That is exactly the way I would understand it, without adding my own interpretation, without supplying a meaning or completing the sentence. The disaster is. The tragedy is. And I need to abide with it, and feel it, instead of seeking an answer, because the answers just make me complacent and take me away from the children on the beach, and the father with the dead child in his arms.

There is no God in the disaster.

I think there is God in the response, in the human hearts of those who are feeling and responding to this, the families and neighbors of the victims, and the rest of us, the bystanders, and us, too. The whole world is feeling it.

I agree wholeheartedly that we can see the hand of the God in the response to the disaster, in the overwhelming display of compassion and support from people all over the world. (Two of the many fine organizations providing relief and assistance to the tsunami victims are the Rainbow World Fund and Episcopal Relief and Development.) And I agree with Kamenetz that we often search for meaning in such tragic events in order to distance ourselves from the victims. If I can find a reason for peoples' suffering, I don't have to deal with the suffering people themselves. The search for a reason takes us away from our hearts and puts us in our heads, trying to figure it all out.

But I don't agree with Kamenetz that "There is no God in the disaster." As a panentheist, I believe that all things are in God, and God is in all things. So I do believe God was in the tsunami -- but that doesn't mean that God caused the tsunami. I believe God can bring good out of bad events, but it doesn't necessarily follow that God caused the bad events in order to bring about the good.

The search for meaning in tragic events, or in the face of outright evil, is as old as the books of Job and Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Scriptures. There will always be those who seek to find blame for disasters -- as Jerry Falwell did following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when he said: "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'" (Later, of course, Falwell "apologized" and said he didn't really mean what he had said.)

Jesus himself was confronted with those who sought to find such blame, even from among his own disciples:

As he [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man's eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. (John 9:1-7, ESV)

Jesus' disciples assumed, wrongly, that since this man had been born blind, someone must have sinned -- either the man (before birth?) or his parents. They had to find someone to blame. But Jesus didn't buy into their blaming. He didn't have time to engage in finding blame but emphasized "working the works" of God who had sent him. In other words, action -- compassionate response -- is what's needed, not blaming. Using the elements of the earth, Jesus healed the man. Jesus calls himself "the Light of the World" in this story, but elsewhere (Matthew 5:14-16) he reminds us that we -- all of us -- are the Light of the World. And we are all called to let that divine light within us shine forth, and to respond to events we can't understand with acts of compassion, not reasoning or blaming.

September 29, 2004

Outing: Exposing hypocrisy or simple cruelty?

In an opinion piece in The New Republic online (free subscription required), Andrew Sullivan attacks the practice of outing. While outing may on the face seem to be a justified act of exposing hypocrites, Sullivan asks:

If Congressman Ed Schrock is seeking gay sex on phone lines in Virginia, it's probably hypocritical for him to be calling for stringent enforcement of the military's ban on openly gay servicemembers, or for banning marriage rights to his fellow homosexuals. But the key word there is: probably. There is an obvious disjunction between Schrock's public statements and his private alleged actions. But is it hypocrisy?
Sullivan then argues that the reality is more complicated than that. Gay men who have lived in shame and denial have complex psyches, and it is difficult for outsiders to judge them accurately. For example, they may believe that they are not gay or that they are doing the best they can while trying to keep their dysfunctional lives together.

Continue reading "Outing: Exposing hypocrisy or simple cruelty?" »

September 26, 2004

What is 'heterosexual supremacy'?

In this recent exchange on another blog, I realized that my use of the term "heterosexual supremacy" was a cause of confusion. Once in a while I think it's useful for me to do a post just to clarify where I'm coming from.

Heterosexism is a sick belief (or belief structure) that I will sometimes call "heterosexual supremacy. " In its essence, it is a belief in the superiority of heterosexuality over homosexuality, and it typically includes as its inevitable correlates moralistic denunciations of homosexual sex as "intrinsically disordered," etc. In short, it is the position of the orthodox Roman Catholic institution and most conservative religions (that is, religions in the mythic-membership stage of development). See this piece in What is Enlightenment? to learn more about the primary stages of development in religions and cultures.

Continue reading "What is 'heterosexual supremacy'?" »

August 25, 2004

How to Respond to Anti-Gay Moralizers

SOULFULLY GAY By JOE PEREZ

One of the hazards of writing about homosexuality in the public eye is that sometimes my views get attacked by religious moralizers. Here’s how I respond to them.

"It’s just as wrong to put a penis into an anus as it is to put food into an anus," one such moralizer told me. "God intends the anus for only one thing: shitting. Any other use of the anus is a violation of objective, universal principles of morality."

I’m convinced that there’s all too much attention paid to moralizing about gay sex, and not nearly enough attention directed towards efforts to appreciate and understand the actual lived experiences of gay people’s attempts to make meaning of sexuality.

Defensiveness leads many anti-gay conservatives and sex-positive gays to claim they know answers about morality and homosexuality. There’s all too much effort exerted at trying to persuade others to one’s point of view, when an undertone of desperation or fear suggests to me that the one who needs convincing is the person making the argument.

Continued...