Much of this site focusses on LGBTQ spirituality - but as the accompanying blog illustrates, this topic can often meander into many directions.
Casslan's nonfiction has appeared in Out Now, Entre Nous and El Tecolote, and she has published a chapbook of poems entitled 24th St. and Other Poems which highlights the Lower 24th St. corridor in San Francisco.
Casslan also published two books which are reviewed on this website. The first chronicles the life and death of an openly gay priest - Father Richard Purcell OFM. Purcell lived with Native American for 20 years in the Arizona desert, and their beliefs and culture formed much of his own sprituality. In addition to working with Native Americans, Purcell ran a homeless shelter for men with AIDS for two decades in San Francisco's Mission District. As he slowly died of Lou Gherig's disease over a five year period, many of the men who he onced housed and cared for, ended up caring for him.
By Susan Casslan | December 27, 2013 at 08:53 PM EST | No Comments
So, it's okay to make homophobic slurs and call it free speech. Never mind the connection between such speech and violence - of LGBTQs everywhere, including children.
So... a boycott of A&E makes sense. Better still, a boycott of television in general except for Russian and Link TV and anything else you can find that is not just filler for advertisements - or part of the ongoing efforts to dumb down America.
I'm still wondering what happened to the history channel. Wasn't that where we were supposed to learn about history?
But c'mon people... there are a lot better things to do than to watch TV and alternative ways to find news. One way we can start is by talking to each other - the sane people that is.
By Susan Casslan | November 12, 2013 at 02:34 PM EST | No Comments
Ignoring & Attacking the Pope
By Sean Winters, November 12, 2013. Distinctly Catholic Fall Bishop’smeeting 2013
There are a variety of different ways to attack the pope, or to minimize what he has to say, or otherwise ignore the direction in which he is trying to guide the Church. Over the Catholic thing, John Zimirak joins the list of conservatives attacking Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Madariaga, for his speech at the University of Dallas. Zmirak's comments are just as vicious as those of Fr. Dwight Longenecker which I called attention to last week. No one should be confused about what is going on here: The conservatives do not want to attack the pope directly, so they are attacking his most prominent advisor. It is an old tactic.
So democracies like ours are “neoliberal dictatorships,” which the Church will help reform through the “globalization of mercy and solidarity,” that is, by helping governments to seize wealth from some people, skim its own share off the top, and distribute that wealth to others. Those “others” will doubtless be grateful, as Hugo Chavez’s supporters were in Venezuela; indeed, they will form powerful voting blocs dependent on state redistribution of wealth, as directed by humble clergymen.
Yes, Cardinal Rodriguez discerns a dictatorial quality in modern neoliberal economies. I would suggest that one has to be blind not to see it. Indeed, the strangest thing about this particular brand of serfdom is that it does not flow from the wishes of a particular tyrant. It flows from “the rules.” Even good people must seek to maximize their profits at all costs in order to stay afloat. You get penalized in the modern, hyper-financialized economy if you pay your workers more than your competitors, or decline to re-locate to a “right-to-work” state because you support union rights. But, the alternatives are not spread eagle capitalism and full blown socialism. The invocation of Chavez is a strawman.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone spoke to the body of bishops yesterday about the workings of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, which he chairs. No “who am I to judge?” from His Grace of San Francisco. He spoke harshly against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, which seeks to bar discrimination against gays and lesbians in the work place. Cordileone suggested such laws help lead to same-sex marriage laws. Then, strangely, he chose an example from New Mexico, which does not allow same-sex marriage, but did have a recent court ruling that a photography studio cannot discriminate against a gay couple who sought the studio’s services. (Taco Bell anyone?) I would like Archbishop Cordileone to explain why those who offer public services should be permitted to discriminate against anyone? I thought we had that fight in the 60s when the nation passed the Civil Rights Act? To recall, there were religiously based objections to letting blacks eat at the same lunch counters as whites also.
Cordileone, however, was just warming up. He said that the Church had not lost the fight against same sex marriage, and that young people would come around just as they did on abortion. Now, to be clear, Cordileone was not explicitly comparing abortion to same sex marriage, only the way young people react to the two. But, apart from lacking any real empirical data to support his claim, did he really have to mention the intentional termination of a human life with the aspirations of gay people to have the security in their relationships that civil marriage confers? That is the kind of tone deafness that not only keeps bishops fighting the culture wars but keeps them losing them. And, not a word about the pastoral care of gay and lesbian Catholics, which is one of the exact questions asked in the questionnaire for next year's Synod.
We will see what today brings. If the bishops as a group want to thumb their noses at Pope Francis, they will elect one of the culture warriors as their new president. My money is on Archbishop Kurtz to move up from the VP slot and I do not discern much of the culture warrior in +Kurtz. I am hearing a lot of conflicting buzz about who will be elected VP: Some think Archbishop Jose Gomez is the man for the job, but worry that leading a 4.4 million member archdiocese is enough for one man, to say nothing of the grim prospect of six years of red-eye flights to D.C. Others think Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati is the leading candidate because he could clean up some of the dysfunction within the USCCB secretariat. And, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo’s name is being floated because there is a sense that there should be a cardinal in the top ranks of leadership, although more often than not, this was not the case.
So, stay tuned. The question before the bishops, in both their elections today and in the various issues to be discussed tomorrow in executive session, is a simple one: Are they going to let them warm to the new pope’s call to be a less judgmental Church, one hunkering in the bunker and whining about secularization, or will they, like Francis, confront the forces of secularization, not with law suits and culture wars, but with the sweet mercy of the Lord Jesus? I share the concerns of many about a culture that has become forgetful of God and in which the forces of secularization hold sway. Against those forces, I do not think lawsuits and culture wars stand a shot. But, I think the exciting example of Pope Francis’ leadership is already cutting off secularization at the knees
By Susan Casslan | August 04, 2013 at 04:40 PM EDT | No Comments
From LGBT Nation
Article by CHRISTOPHER CARBONE
New York City-based Writer and Columnist
Sunday, August 4, 2013
Gay 25-year-old U.S. Army private Bradley Manning stood trial for supposedly aiding the enemy by passing classified information to Wikileaks, including several hundred thousand pages of army reports, diplomatic cables and information that detailed the killing of civilians by American soldiers.
Manning was found not guilty of “aiding the enemy,” but was found guilty of six counts of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 and faces a potential sentence of 136 years in prison.
The trial, which ended last week, was marked by government intimidation of the media and comes after Manning spent almost a year in solitary confinement in Quantico, Virginia, prompting international outrage.
One of the interesting factors is that two of the largest and most well funded LGBT rights groups in the U.S. have stayed quiet about Manning, his reprehensible treatment in custody and his trial. Why has Manning, whose revelations about the U.S. Army’s actions epitomize social justice in action, gotten the cold shoulder from the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD (formerly known as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation)? The silence of these groups has been deafening.
First, Manning is the opposite of everything that these groups seek to portray as the image of “gay Americans.”
I use those quotes because the majority of LGBT Americans don’t conform to these upwardly mobile, white, polished, virile male stereotypes. Manning doesn’t look like CNN anchor Anderson Cooper. With his slight frame, lower-class background, questioning of his gender identity, inability to hold down a typical job, general dorkiness and dysfunctional family life, Manning does not fit the poster boy image that GLAAD or the HRC would hold up and promote.
It’s bizarre because Manning is actually what many, if not most, LGBT people have been at one point or another – an outsider, a loner, a person who does not fit in or conform.
Second, organizations like the HRC, which had net assets of over $32.7 million at the end of last year and claims more than a millions members and supporters, happens to have the financial backing of major military industrial corporations, including Lockheed Martin, which is sponsoring the HRC’s upcoming national gala in Washington D.C. and Booz Allen Hamilton, a corporate partner for the national event, as well as Northrop Grumman a sponsor of their Los Angeles gala.
U.S. government contracts account for at least 85 percent of Lockheed Martin’s work, Northrop Grumman is intricately tied to our military and Booz Allen Hamilton is wrapped up in Washington’s lobbying morass – kicking into high gear now that legislators are finally considering limits on the NSA’s surveillance capabilities.
There was no quid pro quo, however, the HRC and GLAAD know exactly where their bread is buttered. The Human Rights Campaign spent millions of dollars and countless volunteer hours to lobby for the repeal of Don’t ask, don’t tell, ensuring that patriotic and law-abiding gays and lesbians can continue to serve in the US military and fight its wars in far-flung places.
Each of these defense organizations depends on federal money; therefore, the more able-bodied young men and women who sign up for the US military, the better. The more the American war-making machine expands, even if shrouded in utter secrecy, the better.
GLAAD has had Goldman Sachs (that bastion of awesomeness) as a patron of its media awards in the past and Verizon (remember those agreements with the NSA?) as a supporter while doling out awards to men like Anderson Cooper, who came out at the height of his career after following in the footsteps of other journalists, and Bill Clinton, the man responsible for DADT and the Defense of Marriage Act.
Self-censorship is a beautiful thing. It can’t be proven. It occurs as a matter of course and is a great example of the banal, duplicitous intertwined relationships between the military industrial complex, the U.S. government and corporate nonprofits.
Why would the Human Rights Campaign risk offending the sensibilities of Lockheed Martin, Booz Allen Hamilton and Northrop Grumman? Because these and other defense companies, drowning in profit, might turn off the “diversity” spigot that sustains the Human Rights Campaign.
Why wouldn’t GLAAD support a frail, maladjusted young queer man whose efforts exposed U.S. military malfeasance? It’s much easier – and requires no courage whatsoever – to honor those who are privileged and already at the very top of society.
Abandoned by these mainstream rights organizations, who will speak up in defense of Manning?
By Susan Casslan | July 13, 2013 at 11:03 AM EDT | No Comments
Taking a Chance on Francis
By Eugene McMullan
Lumen fidei is not an anti-gay document, despite what has been reported by gay journalists who are wary of Francis because of what has been reported of his record as a bishop in Argentina—under Ratzinger. Times and dynamics have shifted, or so I choose to believe several months into the new papacy and arguably a new era for the Catholic Church. Here I will roll the dice and offer not only a defense of Lumen fidei, but a pro-LGBT reading.
Criticism of the document hinges on 52, which describes the way faith illumines the human city. Benedict and/or Francis writes: “I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan.” That’s it. There’s the smoking gun, according to panicked interpreters who want to scoop the news that Francis would continue Benedict’s vigorous anti-gay theology and activism. To be fair, these are not brilliant lines, and they strike me as rather old-fashioned and unhelpful. They are not, however, anti-gay. They may not even be anti-feminist, depending on whether you tilt more toward Judith Butler or her French colleagues.
Then why the outcry? These lines seem to reproduce three points that have been elaborated ad nauseumby anti-gay activists: 1) marriage can only be a union of one man and one woman, 2) marriage unites not just a particular man and a particular woman, but“the two sexes,” and 3) marriage effectuates an organic bodily union that is only possible between a man and a woman. On closer
inspection, however, that is not what the document says. On the first point, Benedict/Francis (B/F) writes “I think first and foremost,” meaning there could be other examples, though they might not be as important or universally relevant. He does not say marriage could only be a heterosexual union. The use of the example makes sense to me, and does not strike me a particularly heterosexist. Since most people are not gay, most of the world’s marriages have been and will continue to be heterosexual. The world’s religious traditions have until recently defined marriage as heterosexual (even the ones that permit polygamy). And there are other differences between Lumen fidei and the pervasive anti-gay template: B/F refers to a union of “man and woman” rather than “one man and one woman.” He also refers specifically to thestable union of man and woman, thus seeming to admit that not every marital union between a man and a woman is stable. This could hint that B/F acknowledges the impermanence of some marriages that result in separation and/or annulment/divorce.
Point two: “Sexual difference” is an anachronistic term for many of us. I confess I am a Butlerite, so I find this language problematic. More generously, “sexual difference” implies a positive valuation or even a rough equality of “the two sexes,” both of which are necessary—in all of their fullness, with all of their gifts—for the general flourishing: Women hold up half the sky. But let’s back up. Did B/F actually refer to “sexual difference” or “the two sexes”? No, that would be the anti-gay ideologues, riffing on the hopelessly uninformed and nostalgic notion of “sexual complementarity” developed by Pope John Paul II. B/F refers to the “goodness of sexual differentiation”with respect to “spouses.” Let me ask boldly: Why should I interpret this as excluding me? I am a cisgender male married to a cisgender male; strictly speaking we are “the same sex.” In another sense—like every other couple—we perform and embody our sexuality in distinct ways that change through time. Sexuality is relational, and since relationships evolve, so can and must “sexual differentiation.” I am not the other, and yet I am constituted by the other in ways that I can never fully understand or control.
The third point is closely related to the second. If I may read a gay relationship into “sexual differentiation” in a way that would’ve been more difficult had B/F used the term “sexual complementarity,” may I not also take a broad view of which unions constitute “one flesh”? The original citation is from Genesis, and the creation story has been used mercilessly by anti-gay activists who have popularized the slogan “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”But does the story of Adam and Eve necessarily exclude Adam and Steve (or Ada and Eve)? Some Catholic sexual ethicists think not. Their accounts of just love (Sr. Margaret Farley) and holistic complementarity (Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler) show the way forward: homosexual and heterosexual couples may treated the same, consistent with Catholic tradition updated to take sexual orientation into account. It is useful that B/F does not elaborate whether “one flesh,” might refer more to a “conjugal union” that can only be effectuated when a man places his penis in a woman’s vagina (Robert George), or a unity of sexual persons (Salzman and Lawler).
Because of the “goodness of sexual differentiation,” spouses are “enabled to give birth to new life.” Certainly B/F had a heterosexual example in mind, but the careful choice of words (“new life” rather than “a child”) and a closer look at the notion of reproduction even in the same document show that homosexual couples need not be excluded. As I stated, this is not an anti-gay document, but “sounds” like one to those of us who have been drowning in the anti-gay rhetoric of the previous papal era and various ant-gay bishops in the U.S. and elsewhere. Here “new life” could refer to the new relationship, or the new life that Christians are always to be bringing forth in the world through evangelization. Later in 52 B/F makes it clear that he has primarily “the begetting of children” in mind, and then immediately provides an example that could be interpreted more broadly. He cites the faith-precipitated pregnancy of Sarah. In a related scripture concerning
Abraham which Francis interpreted at the daily Mass at Casa Santa Marta on June 26, the pope spoke of spiritual paternity: “Fatherhood is giving life to others, giving life, giving life… For us, it is pastoral paternity, spiritual fatherhood, but this is still giving life, this is still becoming fathers.” OverallLumen fidei is much more concerned with spiritual than biological reproduction. In 5 B/F writes: “For those early Christians, faith, as an encounter with the living God revealed in Christ, was indeed a ‘mother,’ for it had brought them to the light and given birth within them to divine life, a new experience and a luminous vision of existence for which they were prepared to bear public witness to the end.”
There is a lot of Benedict here, and I feel more than a little strange defending this document. As the title of this essay indicates, I am taking a chance on Francis, based on my close reading of what he has said and done in these short months since he was elected. On the same day this document was released, the Vatican announced that John Paul II and John XXIII had both been approved for canonization, which could come before the end of the year. Although I am not in the habit of praying to popes, the symbolism here is significant: culture one and culture two Catholics (Eugene Kennedy) are full and equal members of the same communion. The “culture wars” has no place in the church. This would signal progress for LGBT and allied Catholics, who were marginalized under Joseph Ratzinger.
It is important for all of us to come out, and bring the fullness of who we are to our diverse belongings in the Roman Catholic Church. As B/F writes, “Only to the extent that love is grounded in truth can it endure over time, can it transcend the passing moment and be sufficiently solid to sustain a shared journey. If love is not tied to truth, it falls prey to fickle emotions and cannot stand the test of time. True love, on the other hand, unifies all the elements of our person and becomes a new light pointing the way to a great and fulfilled life. Without truth, love is incapable of establishing a firm bond; it cannot liberate our isolated ego or redeem it from the fleeting moment in order to create life and bear fruit” (27).
We may be entering a spiritually productive season of fermentation in the church, to supplant the season of purification that was sought under Benedict. The church is not to be leaner and meaner, a militant cadre of elites committed to the letter of the law and its universal imposition. Rather it is to be a dynamic, diverse, big tent gathering in which we ask together how it is that we will be a church of and for the poor, a vessel of the Holy Spirit, a people that follows Jesus. In the end we may find that fermentation generates more of Christian transformation than Benedict’s misguided program of purification.
By Susan Casslan | June 01, 2013 at 05:42 PM EDT | No Comments
I witnessed history when the San Francisco organizing committee met with community members last night around the parade Grand Marshal debacle involving gay Army private Bradley Manning.
Manning, who is accused of leaking 700,000 classified government documents to Wiki Leaks, was originally voted to serve as Grand Marshal, but the vote was later rescinded by the pride board. Many in the community have cried foul, claiming that Manning’s ouster was political – and perhaps spurred on by gays in the military, or corporate sponsors. The board received further criticism for refusing to meet with concerned citizens, and making this decision behind closed doors.
An open meeting was held last night, after city Supervisor David Campos urged the board to meet with community members, and to make their decision processes more transparent. The Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in the Castro offered their space for the meeting, and the place was packed – standing room only.
For two and a half hours, people lined up for two minutes at the microphone, mostly to express their disdain with the board (only three speakers spoke in the board’s favor). The protesters’ arguments had some major themes. Most saw Manning as a gay hero – for whistle-blowing on the abuses of our government’s military. In fact, as one speaker stated, Manning is pretty much seen as a hero throughout the world. This same speaker said that the fact that he is gay is no accident or irrelevant to this situation. He was able to see the military abuses more clearly, because Manning himself is an outsider.
Steven Funk was present. Funk is a gay man and former Marine who went to prison for refusing to go to Iraq. He told the audience, that because Manning is gay, he is certain to experience abuse in his current state of incarceration in a military prison.
Others present criticized the Pride board’s rhetoric, in describing Manning in the same way the media has been presenting him – as a traitor (before he’s even gone to trial). One speaker said that the press has framed Manning as a misguided, confused homosexual, when in fact he is a very intelligent person who struggled long with his decision before releasing the government document. His conscious guided him in the end, and as one speaker stated, this was much in line with a quote from Charles Schurz, a senator during the Civil War: “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”
Another theme that came up was how corporate and meaningless pride has become. Veteran gay activists spoke of what pride stood for in the beginning – true liberation from oppression, and that pride joined forces in the old days with other groups, such as the Black Panthers, Cesar Chavez, and opposed issues like the Vietnam war.
One 21 year old speaker said he came to San Francisco to come out, but he was terribly disappointed to go to Pride and find it just one big drunken party. He felt a sense of hope when Manning was named Grand Marshal, but that hope was quickly extinguished when the board rescinded the vote.
I was so proud of my community. Never have I heard such intelligent eloquence and passion at what was essentially a huge gathering of queers (with many straight allies). I thought “this is pride! Who needs a parade?!”
The board could only sit, stoned faced, listening. When they finally got a chance to speak, their responses were pretty lame. The board president Earl Plante said that Manning’s recall had to do with “policy, not politics” and this was met with resounding boos.
The board is supposed to reconsider their decision (after heavy pressure from the crowd) and come back with a new decision on Manning in seven days. But whatever their decision, one thing is clear. Manning is the Grand Marshall whether they like it or not. And the Bradley Manning contingent at the parade is going to be huge.
But more than Manning, this whole incident has cracked open pride itself. It’s about sometime somebody took on what has become such a benign event. It’s about time that the people demanded more out of this celebration.
Did the board hear the people? Who knows. One member of the board actually threatened the crowd – saying something to the effect, “people have asked for the board to resign. If that happens, there may be no pride.”
The man received guffaws for this. As if the people couldn’t take two the streets with their own kind of pride – just like they did decades ago.
It reminded me of a story about an English king. He was ousted by the people and was being chased out of town under the threat of a hanging. On his way out, he stopped on a bridge over the River Thames. He tossed the royal seal into the water and was audacious enough to ask, “Now, how will they be governed, without the royal seal?”
By Susan Casslan | May 22, 2013 at 01:55 PM EDT | No Comments
By Glenn Greewald
Published in the gaurdian.co.uk, March 26, 2013
A couple wait in line to get married in New York, but the US government continues to deny them equal marriage benefits under a law being contested before the Supreme Court. The US Supreme Court this morning is hearing oral argument in two cases challenging the constitutionality of laws that discriminate against same-sex couples. It is expected that the Court will at least strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, as multiple lower courts have done, on the ground that it denies equal government benefits to same-sex couples (such as immigration rights). Over the past two weeks, numerous national Democratic politicians, led by Hillary Clinton and joined by other centrist to conservative senators, announced that they have changed their minds and now support marriage equality, a move tellingly perceived as an attempt to get on "the right side of history". All of that was preceded by a reliably right-wing GOP Senator, Rob Portman, doing the same by citing his gay son. Marriage equality is a position the US president and his party formally endorse, and polls continue to show dramatic increases in public support to the point where it is now a position affirmed by a large majority of Americans. It's conventional wisdom that national gay marriage is inevitable; the tipping point has clearly been reached.
It really is a bit shocking how quickly gay marriage transformed from being a fringe, politically toxic position just a few years ago to a virtual piety that must be affirmed in decent company. Whenever I write or speak about any of the issues on which I focus, I always emphasize that a posture of defeatism - which is a form of learned impotence: a belief that meaningful change is impossible - is misguided. This demonstrates why that is true: even the most ossified biases and entrenched institutional injustices can be subverted - if the necessary passion and will are summoned and the right strategies found.
I don't want to overstate the lesson here. There are reasons why such radical change on this issue is easier than on many others. Social issues don't threaten entrenched ruling interests: allowing same-sex couples to marry doesn't undermine oligarchs, the National Security State, or the wildly unequal distribution of financial and political power. Indeed, many of those ruling interests, led by Wall Street and other assorted plutocrats (including Obama's donor base), became the most devoted advocates for LGBT equality. If anything, one could say that the shift on this issue has been more institution-affirming than institution-subverting: the campaign to overturn "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" continually glorified and even fetishized military service, while gay marriage revitalizes a traditional institution - marriage - that heterosexuals have been in the process of killing with whimsical weddings, impetuous divorces, and serial new spouses (as Rush Limbaugh might put it: I'd like you to meet my fourth wife). And these changes are taking a once marginalized and culturally independent community and fully integrating it into mainstream society, thus making that community invested in conventional societal institutions.
Independently, as gay people came out of the closet, large numbers of Americans realized that anti-gay discrimination directly harms family members and other people they love and thus began to care about those harms, so a perceived self-interest was triggered that is lacking with other injustices (that's what CNN calls the "Portman effect": 57% of Americans now say they have a family member or close friend who is gay or lesbian). And for a variety of reasons, gay Americans and their close supporters were able to assemble substantial financial and political clout (a redundancy) that remains unavailable to opponents of other types of injustice.
Still, this is a momentous change in both public opinion and law that affects - and improves - the lives of millions of people (DOMA is what prevents me, and thousands of other gay Americans, from living in the US with my spouse, while the legal and social stigma of officially sanctioned inequality is, by itself, devastating for gay children). The discrimination has been rooted in centuries of intense social and religious indoctrination. That this is now being uprooted is a testament to how core political liberties - free speech and free associational rights - can enable all forms of political change. That same type of rapid and previously unthinkable change is visible with other unjust laws: oppressive drug prohibition being the leading example. But one can easily find all sorts of examples from American history and the recent history of other countries which reflect the same truth: radical, positive, and relatively fast political change is always possible, no matter how formidable the obstacles seem.
Defeatism is more often than not a psychological instrument designed to relieve one of the responsibility to act (if change is impossible, then I have no reason and no obligation to work or take risks for it). That is bolstered by the effort of all ruling interests to instill a sense of powerlessness and hopelessness in those they suppress; systemic power abuses are, above all else, designed to persuade people of the futility of opposition, to adopt a defeatist mindset. But it is a mindset that finds little to no support in political history. The rapid and relentless dismantling of the anti-gay legal and societal framework in the US is yet more proof for that proposition.
By Susan Casslan | May 17, 2013 at 06:02 PM EDT | No Comments
By Victoria A. Brownworth
Originally published on Advocate.com May 10 2013 5:00 AM ET
It’s hard to believe what’s happening in San Francisco only a month before the 44th anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion. Two weeks ago Bradley Manning, the whistle-blower being prosecuted (many, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International, say persecuted) by the Obama administration for leaking documents about America's role in Iraq, Afghanistan, and several covert wars while an Army specialist, was named grand marshal of the San Francisco Pride parade.
Then the honor was withdrawn. San Francisco Pride president Lisa Williams issued a statement from the board attacking Manning as a traitor who put thousands of lives in jeopardy. She also said the choice of Manning was made without the board’s full consent and that service members and veterans had protested the action.
Protests about rescinding the honor followed.But this wasn’t just a little local flurry of discontent among a handful of activists and the corporate pride organization. Manning’s notoriety catapulted the incident from a local LGBT story to a mainstream press news item.
S.F. Pride fought for damage control, but Wednesday, 20 San Francisco activists led by David Waggoner, former president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, as well as five organizations, including San Francisco ACT UP, filed a complaint against S.F. Pride with the San Francisco Human Rights Commission.
Also among the notable signatories is Lt. Dan Choi, himself a grand marshal in 2009. Choi, a 2003 graduate of West Point, served in combat in Iraq. Choi supports the choice of Manning for grand marshal.
The five-page complaint alleges that the S.F. Pride board’s action violated a series of city codes as well as the organization’s own policies and also, because S.F. Pride receives city grant monies, violated the provisions of that funding as well.
The complaint asserts that the board’s action "has caused embarrassment, discord, and outrage in the community and has resulted in scathing criticism from San Francisco to London to Cairo. We therefore respectfully request that the Human Rights Commission take immediate action to ameliorate the Board’s prejudicial, discriminatory and unlawful action against those members of the Electoral College who nominated and voted for Bradley Manning."
The debacle has put a harsh spotlight on queer politics in this era of mainstreaming LGBT issues. If all politics is local, then the small but very queer town that is San Francisco is providing a litmus for what activism means in 2013 and what direction that activism should take.
About 125 activists showed up for a meeting hastily convened by the S.F. Pride board Wednesday night. But only 20 were allowed in as other protesters chanted "You say court-martial, we say grand marshal."
The situation devolved quickly. San Francisco activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca said that police were called on the protesters, but that they were more reasonable than the board of S.F. Pride. There were no arrests, but Avicolli Mecca said a tense situation was exacerbated by the way the community was treated by the board.
As someone who has detailed the inhumane treatment of Bradley Manning for three years — his third anniversary of incarceration is next week — I have been personally stunned by the ignorance with which his case has been met within the LGBT community. I’ve received dozens of emails from gay men — some former service persons — attacking me for detailing Manning’s plight. True progressives and especially LGBT activists must recognize that Manning has been unjustly imprisoned and penalized for an act of heroic dissent that has benefited all Americans. Manning’s actions provided a level of transparency that has been withheld by the Obama administration, which pledged to be the most transparent administration in history.
Instead the draconian Espionage Act of 1917 was revived nearly a century later, specifically to quell dissent about this president’s overt and covert wars and stifle whistle-blowers like Manning. (Obama has prosecuted several whistle-blowers under the Espionage Act.)
The LGBT community has embraced President Obama for his belated comments in support of same-sex marriage (after spending nearly four years filing numerous court cases in support of DOMA); acceptance of whatever Obama says regarding wars or Manning has also been given tacit approval. Daniel Ellsberg, Pentagon Papers whistle-blower from 1971, was an early supporter of Manning. A haunting photo of him at the protest last week in support of Manning and against the S.F. Pride board shows Ellsberg, now 82, holding a hand-lettered sign reading "I Am Bradley Manning."
Ellsberg was Manning 42 years ago, doing exactly what Manning did. But he wasn’t prosecuted and instead was on the cover of Time magazine. With that sign, however, Ellsberg has made clear that any dissenter to the Obama (formerly Bush) war machine will be viewed through the prism of Manning’s actions.
Ellsberg, who was one of the few allowed into the meeting Wednesday, explained to me, in contradiction to Williams’s and S.F. Pride’s early and vituperative condemnation of the young gay soldier, that "Manning’s release to WikiLeaks of a State Department cable revealed U.S. knowledge that an American atrocity which the government had denied had actually occurred, without leading to any prosecution of the perpetrators. That publication forced [Iraq prime minister Nouri] Maliki — who had been inclined to allow President Obama to keep 10,000 or more American troops in Iraq beyond the end-of-the-year deadline agreed by Bush — to insist that there be no immunity from prosecution by Iraqi courts for American troops remaining. Obama couldn't keep American troops there — to be accused, perhaps correctly, of atrocities — without immunity. He had to pull them all out." Ellsberg explains that Manning saved lives, rather than causing harm to thousands, as Williams had claimed. Photos of the meeting called by the board tell a sordid tale. The transparency promised by Williams et al was rendered moot by the setting. Many people were crowded into a tiny space. Ellsberg described the room to me as "the size of a closet," which he found an unsettling metaphor for the LGBT community.
Speakers were restricted to a minute’s time — literally 60 seconds — to speak. Rainey Reitman of the Bradley Manning Support Network attended the meeting and noted that the board said in unison that no "indecorous" speech would be allowed.
Initial talk of moving to a larger space was immediately quelled. Ellsberg joked that perhaps it would be a secret location like where Dick Cheney had been holed up during the post-9/11 period.
San Francisco activist Lisa Geduldig, who had organized the original protest with Avicolli Mecca and Michael Petrelis, described the meeting as farcical and said the use of a Sharper Image speakerphone by the board’s attorney was more reminiscent of the set of a Charlie’s Angels episode than addressing serious complaints from an activist community.
Geduldig noted, "In the one minute I was allotted for public comment I said that the Pride parade used to be more political. It was more about gay politics and gay freedom, and I think we should stay true to that. Bradley Manning represents me more than someone from The L Word does."
Where Geduldig used her minute to plead for a return to activist pride rather than an increasingly corporate pride, Ellsberg used his to defend Manning.
"There were 10,000 to 20,000 American combat troops who would be in harm's way in Iraq at this moment, and some of them would already have died, if our president had had his way. It was due to Manning's revelations that they are not in Iraq right now. And hundreds of thousands of American troops had been put in harm's way. Over 4,000 had died, along with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis because no Bradley Manning in 2002-03 had existed at a high level to do what he did in telling the truth about ongoing policy, which was then lying us into a wrongful war."
Under Williams’s direction, S.F. Pride has tried to quell dissent over the Manning pick just as the Obama administration has tried to quell the dissent Manning’s actions instigated.
As Waggoner’s complaint reads, "The Board’s invalidation of a democratic vote by executive fiat is unconscionable. Moreover, it’s illegal. The Pride Board must reinstate the will of the Electoral College. Failing that, the Human Rights Commission should investigate this complaint of discrimination and take whatever steps necessary to ameliorate its harmful effects as soon as possible." In a statement released after the complaint was filed and just before the meeting to discuss the issue, Williams said the choice of Manning violated the board's policy because no one outside the community could be grand marshal.
Really? That’s what you came up with a full week into the furor and months after the vote was first presented? Had this San Francisco-only clause actually existed, then the first statement from Williams would have said that and only that — those who nominated Manning were unaware that the bylaws stipulate that only San Franciscans be grand marshal. Period. There would have been no slanderous accusations about Manning, no self-righteous statements about "disciplining" those who had chosen Manning. It would have been simple and straightforward.
And there would have been no controversy.
But the controversy continues and likely will until Manning is either reinstated solo or made co-grand marshal with a member of the San Francisco LGBT community. As Avicolli Mecca said, "This is not going away."
The story of S.F. Pride versus Bradley Manning and S.F. Pride versus the activist community of San Francisco is an ugly one that illumines the maggoty underside of assimilationist politics and policies. In the quest for straight acceptance that has propelled the LGBT community headlong into the arms of two of the most historically repressive institutions, marriage and the military, dissent has become anathema. The values of ads that used to pepper the personals in queer newspapers and magazines "seeking straight-looking, straight-acting, no fats, no fems" have become internalized within the community.
The controversy over Manning highlights what has happened in the juggernaut move toward equality — there’s no room for outliers. Either you are a Lisa Williams-style straight-acting, straight-looking martinet with no temper for dissent or you are like the people who signed the complaint — activists all — who recognize that our queer story is not going to be told simply through marriage equality and being able to enlist openly in the military.
Marriage and military equality are important, but they aren’t our only issues. Manning took the actions he did because of his outrage over DADT, which was still in effect throughout his deployment. But he also acted like so many patriots have over our nation’s history — out of loyalty to American democracy. Manning thought the government was lying to the people.
So he told them the truth.
S.F. Pride has been unable to tell the truth to the LGBT community in San Francisco. It denied access to the community in what was billed a community meeting.
The problems in San Francisco are problems we face as a minority community. What are our objectives 44 years post-Stonewall with another state validating marriage equality the same day as the fracas in San Francisco? Is straight tolerance so important to us that we are willing to throw any gay man or lesbian under the bus who doesn’t adhere to that singular goal?
The debate in San Francisco began over Bradley Manning but has become about the very roots of our movement: Where do we go from here?
Manning exposed the government for who and what it is. In San Francisco, Manning has exposed the LGBT community as riven — are we a community of activists or a community of assimilationists?
Carol Queen may have answered that question with her comment at the board meeting. Queen, who was a grand marshal in 2001 and 2008, saw the board’s recent actions as conservative and concerning. "I came out in 1973, and I just want to say on an historical level that this is a more conservative community than it was when I came out."
In 1973, at the tail end of the Vietnam War, Bradley Manning would have been our unequivocal hero — like Ellsberg was. If an 82-year-old straight man who stood up against another war can identify with Manning’s actions and fight for justice for him, shouldn’t LGBT people be doing the same? That’s a question not just for San Francisco but for us all.
VICTORIA A. BROWNWORTH is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist who has won the NLGJA and Society of Professional Journalists Awards for her series on LGBT issues. She is the author and editor of more than 30 books, including the award-winning Too Queer: Essays From a Radical Life. She lives in Philadelphia. Find her on Twitter at @VABOX.
By Susan Casslan | November 30, 2012 at 03:49 PM EST | No Comments
By Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Uganda’s infamous "Kill the Gays" bill, which would impose the death penalty on certain people convicted of having sexual relations with a person of the same sex, seems poised for passage soon.
The Associated Press reports that Rebecca Kadaga, Uganda’s Parliamentary Speaker, announced yesterday that the bill will be going forward for a vote in the next few weeks:
"Ugandans ‘are demanding it,’ she said, reiterating a promise she made before a meeting on Friday of anti-gay activists who spoke of ‘the serious threat’ posed by homosexuals to Uganda’s children. Some Christian clerics at the meeting in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, asked the speaker to pass the law as ‘a Christmas gift.’
" ‘Speaker, we cannot sit back while such (a) destructive phenomenon is taking place in our nation,’ the activists said in a petition. ‘We therefore, as responsible citizens, feel duty-bound to bring this matter to your attention as the leader of Parliament … so that lawmakers can do something to quickly address the deteriorating situation in our nation.’ "
The Advocate notes that the bill can be put to a vote in a matter of two weeks.
The San Diego Gay and Lesbian News provides some background on the criminal status of homosexuality in Uganda, as well as what the proposed law would mandate:
"Even without the law, Uganda already has laws that criminalize homosexuality and is one of 76 countries where it is illegal to be gay. The proposed law would broaden existing laws, and includes the death penalty to those convicted of aggravated homosexuality and life imprisonment for those convicted of the offense of homosexuality.
"Aggravated homosexuality is defined as gay acts committed by parents or authority figures, HIV-positive people, pedophiles and repeat offenders.
"Offense of homosexuality is defined as same-sex sexual acts or being involved in a same-sex relationship."
Shamefully silent on this bill have been the Catholic bishops of Uganda, a heavily Catholic nation. Indeed, earlier this summer it was reportedthat the Catholic bishops reversed their position from quiet opposition to the bill to outright support for it.
Catholic leaders in the U.S. have spoken in opposition to the bill, including Ambassador Thomas Maledy, the former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican. President Barack Obama has called the bill "odious."
More Catholic voices will be needed to defeat this horrendous law. Indeed, in July Ugandan LGBT rights advocates called on the international community, including religious leaders, to lend their voices to oppose the bill.
Catholic bishops here in the United States and Vatican leaders in Rome need to lend their voices to international opposition to the proposed law. Silence is not an option at this point. Too many innocent lives hang in the balance.
By Susan Casslan | September 01, 2012 at 08:56 PM EDT | No Comments
Guest Opinion by Eugene McMullan
Bay Area Reporter, August 30, 2012
Last weekend the incoming archbishop of San Francisco was arrested in San Diego on suspicion of drunken driving. Prior to that, he gave a radio interview to KCBS in which he basically said that he wants to set aside stereotypes and get to know us on a human level, so that he can then educate and lead us into holiness. The problem is that he conflates holiness with intellectual assent to the doctrinal pronouncements of church officials. The rest of us meet holiness in the human, in our failings, in relationships, in graced encounters with those who are different from ourselves. We also find it in community, especially in the sacramental life of the church. We all depend on grace. I am praying that the bishop will use the occasion of his alleged DUI to enter more fully into communion with ordinary people, especially those who happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
Heretofore the Catholic approach in San Francisco has been to bracket human sexuality, or to tentatively raise it as one of a host of peace and justice issues. If now-retired Archbishop John Quinn was occasionally forced to defend the anti-gay tradition, he usually exercised a more pastoral approach. Our beloved "queer sanctuary" at Most Holy Redeemer is a testament to Quinn's pastoral sensitivity. Though he caved to Rome on domestic partners, Quinn, "the people's bishop," stood watch with us during the AIDS crisis, opposed anti-gay violence, and was in most instances supportive of LGBT civil rights. He helped us defeat the Briggs initiative.
Cordileone is no Quinn.
The first question Cordileone fielded at his St. Mary's debut concerned Proposition 8 and sex abuse. He elicited nervous laughter when he affirmed that he was for marriage and against abuse. I admit I was also startled by the question. Marriage and sex abuse do not belong together. In the big picture, however, the hierarchy's dysfunctional and misguided responses to both issues reveal its culpable incompetence to deal with issues of human sexuality.
His talking points are not entirely original. The Vatican letter that forms the basis for the anti-marriage activism of church officials today ("Considerations regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons") was written in 2003, just two years after the abuse scandal broke in the United States. The Vatican itself is the authoritative source of the false and hateful argument that same-gender marriage harms children. Is it going too far to suggest that the hierarchy began saying these things in order to draw attention away from its own culpability in the abuse crisis? That would be cynical.
Yet I cannot avoid the feeling that we have been scapegoated. While the institutional church has distanced itself from early efforts to blame the problem of sex abuse on gay priests, the church has since launched a crusade against the visible LGBT community. At the same time, Catholic support for LGBT rights has topped 70 percent according to one poll, and LGBT-allied Catholics are finally speaking out. We no longer buy the anti-gay pronouncements of church officials. As Kathleen Kennedy Townsend put it, marriage equality is consistent with what the church has been trying (and in some respects failing) to teach for two thousand years.
The teaching of the church is love.
So what does Cordileone mean when he says that he loves me and wants to help me?
Let's review: Cordileone used his religious office to help engineer the overturn of marriage equality in California in November 2008. Even though it was frequently couched in positive, sweet-smelling rhetoric, Prop 8 was a stinker motivated by anti-gay animus (as the court ruled). It was in no way a defense of marriage, and in no way helped traditional families. It did, however, hurt non-traditional families. In that sense it was a "hateful" measure, and not consistent with the love he claims to feel for us. He has not to my knowledge repented of that hate, and continues to advance it through his role as the head of the U.S. bishops' Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage. I will say no more here about his anti-gay activism, which has also been reviewed in an essay by Jamie L. Manson in the National Catholic Reporter (http://tinyurl.com/chnskdw).
We are all too familiar with the Christian admonition to love the sinner, hate the sin. The problem, of course, is that the Catholic tradition considers the genital expression of my sexual personhood in a committed, monogamous relationship categorically sinful. But on a more basic level, the problem is our preoccupation with the sins of others.
Love the sinner, hate the sin imposes a moral judgment on the other, resulting in the most pathetic and patronizing pseudo-love imaginable. It is the same love a benevolent master professes for the slave, or the abusive husband for his victim-wife. But if you actually love me and want to help me, by all means stop your anti-gay activism. Don't refer me to the Courage apostolate. When you have lifted your foot from my neck, then by the grace of God I will stand up and tell you as a free person what I think of your alleged love. If I sound angry, that is because I am angry.
But I will not hate you, and I will try my best to love you. Not because I can claim as some Christians do to have achieved the ability to love everyone. Yet I may love you, and declare here that as God allows I will love you. That is a choice I am free to make, consistent with my dignity as a child of God and my calling as a Catholic. I have found love, and am growing in love with my husband, in my community, and at the table of my beloved church. Love is a place where everyone is welcome, even the "Father of Prop 8."
Eugene McMullan is a parishioner at Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church.
By Susan Casslan | August 01, 2012 at 12:11 PM EDT | No Comments
by Jamie L Manson on Jul. 31, 2012
The National Catholic Reporter
If last week's elevation of Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of Oakland, Calif., to archbishop of San Francisco proves anything, it's that attacking marriage equality puts a man on the fast-track to promotion in the Roman Catholic Church. A quick survey of the hierarchy's most recent, high-profile appointments reveals a common denominator.
The trend became apparent in March, when Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., was given his papal orders to take over the reins in the historic Archdiocese of Baltimore. Lori, the longtime chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, no doubt earned his reward as chair of the USCCB's Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty.
Although the religious freedom battle has been widely associated with contraception, the bishops have always included same-sex marriage as a clear threat to their First Amendment rights. Of the committee's six signs of attack on religious freedom, two relate to marriage equality: the Department of Justice's refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act and the "narrow religious exemption" in New York State's same-sex marriage bill. Lori, still seething from the successful passage of the marriage equality bill in Connecticut in 2008, was no doubt delighted to take up the cause.
Just weeks after Lori's promotion, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle made national news for exhorting pastors in his diocese to use their parishes to collect signatures in support of a repeal of Washington state's newly passed marriage equality law. Only 10 days after this headline, Sartain practically became a household name when he was tapped to head the "reform" of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Given the backlash the LCWR crackdown created, it might be a dubious honor, but it is nevertheless a powerful and high-profile position.
Before their respective appointments, each of these men publicly declared himself a culture warrior ready to do battle with lesbian and gay couples who seek to formally honor their commitments and protect themselves legally.
There almost seems to be an element of retribution in these promotions. Lori's anti-LGBT zeal was unleashed on a state in which the Catholic governor, Martin O'Malley, was instrumental in passing Maryland's marriage equality. Sartain was charged with leading the hostile takeover of women religious who were in trouble for (among only a few other reasons) not pushing the church's agenda against same-sex marriage.
It is possible to interpret the elevations of Lori and Sartain as payback by the Vatican. But the Cordileone appointment is downright combative. For years, Cordileone has quietly made his mark as the USCCB's fiercest opponent of same-sex marriage. Last year, his labor earned him the role of chairman of the U.S. bishops' Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage. And now he has been tapped to be the chief shepherd of a city known for its prominent LGBT population and its historic role in the LGBT liberation movement.
Cordileone's tussles with gay and lesbian Catholics made headlines in NCR just weeks ago. In his June 25 article, Brian Roewe charted  Cordileone's ongoing investigation into Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry, a small organization of diocesan, parish and campus-based ministries dedicated to pastoral concern and support for lesbian and gay Catholics, their parents, families and friends. Since the group has its office in Berkeley, Calif., they operate under the watch of Cordileone, who has served as bishop of Oakland since 2009.
Among Cordileone's concerns was the group's use of the words "gay and lesbian," which he said are "not in the church's vocabulary." Yet a glance at the official websites of the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, not to mention Cordileone's own diocese of Oakland, shows a clear use of the term "gay and lesbian ministry."
The inquiry culminated in the bishop's attempt to force each CALGM board member to sign an "Oath of Personal Integrity in Belief and Practice Regarding the Teachings of the Catholic Church." According to Roewe, the oath "included a series of 'I affirm and believe' statements regarding the definitions of marriage, purgatory and hell; the belief that Communion is available only under a state of grace; and church positions on chastity and cloning, among others."
The board of CALGM refused to sign the oath, and that's where the Cordileone story left off until Friday's announcement of his promotion across the Bay.
Cordileone's struggle with CALGM seems minor compared with his extraordinary efforts against marriage equality during the time he served as auxiliary bishop in his hometown of San Diego. In an August 2009 cover story  for the East Bay Express, journalist Chris Thompson chronicled Cordileone's labors against marriage equality in California, which are so extensive that the paper dubbed the bishop the "Father of Proposition 8."
"As an auxiliary bishop in San Diego, Cordileone played an indispensable role in conceiving, funding, organizing, and ultimately winning the campaign to pass Proposition 8," Thompson writes.
If Thompson's journalistic investigation is accurate, it was Cordileone and a small group of Catholic leaders who decided to push for a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, which would later be known as Proposition 8. It was Cordileone who personally called Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage, to aid in the effort to collect signatures. It was Cordileone who not only created partnerships with Evangelical churches -- he even helped to craft the Prop 8 campaign's rhetorical strategy and messaging.
Perhaps most disturbing, Cordileone did all of this by insisting his approach to gays and lesbians is pastoral. Charles LiMandri, the general counsel for the marriage organization's California chapter, credited the bishop's air of compassion with the success of Proposition 8.
"He tried to approach this in a loving way, and I think this made a real difference," he told Thompson. "He wasn't judgmental. Gay and lesbian people are children of God, and he has always welcomed them into the church."
But the company Cordileone kept through the Prop 8 movement has not been so sensitive to the LGBT community. On the night before the November 2008 election, Thompson writes that the bishop attended a fundamentalist revival at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, which included appearances by Focus on the Family leader James Dobson and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council as well as numerous testimonies from "ex-gay" men and women.
After Prop 8 passed, Cordileone appeared on the Catholic radio show "A Body of Truth" and practically gloated about his victory and the way in which activists for LGBT rights were "caught sleeping": "They didn't realize until after we had collected a couple hundred thousand signatures that we were up to this," he told Fr. Thomas Loya, the radio host.
At the conclusion of the show, as Cordileone reflects one last time on same-sex marriage, even his rhetoric begins to sound fundamentalist.
"The ultimate attack of the Evil One is the attack on marriage," he tells Loya. "And again, the evangelicals, they understand that. They understand this is an attack of the Evil One at the core institution."
It's very likely Cordileone's role as the "Father of Proposition 8" landed him the position in Oakland, the role as chairman of the USCCB's subcommittee on the defense of marriage and, ultimately, his elevation to Archbishop of San Francisco, a city in which 75 percent of the population voted against Prop 8.
With this latest appointment, the Vatican solidifies its "pack mentality" approach to promotions. Nowadays, a man earns his stripes and proves his loyalty to the hierarchy by attacking a group the hierarchy perceives as a threat to survival, even if the threat is based on nothing more than fear and paranoia.
That paranoia, however, might also be giving way to delusion. I'm sure there are some within the Vatican and the laity who believe this appointment will demonstrate the Roman Catholic Church's commitment to robust, uncompromising, "we'll-show-them-who's-boss" leadership. But in reality, for the majority of Catholic laity in this country who support marriage equality, Cordileone's promotion is only further, glaring evidence of the hierarchy's deepening descent into meanness, spitefulness and pastoral insensitivity.
Jamie L. Manson received her Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School, where she studied Catholic theology and sexual ethics. Her columns for NCR earned her a first prize Catholic Press Association award for Best Column/Regular Commentary in 2010.
By Susan Casslan | June 30, 2012 at 11:36 AM EDT | No Comments
by Jamie L Manson in Jun. 27, 2012 Grace on the Margins
It was no surprise when, last week, Bill Keller's New York Times column declaring that progressive and liberal Catholics should leave the church, received a seemingly endless screed of online comments, as well as Facebook shares, tweets and recurring spins on blog rolls.
It was easy for those feeling demoralized by the hierarchy's condemnation of nuns, its thinly veiled political campaign for religious freedom and its ongoing, unhealthy preoccupation with matters of the pelvic zone to resonate with Keller's disappointment and despair.
The hostile takeover of the church by archconservative forces, best summed up in the rants of Bill Donohue, is a fait accompli, Keller concluded, and things are not going to change.
I share Keller's assessment that church officials seem to want Catholics who dissent from some, if not all, of the church's teachings related to sexuality -- the ordination of women, support for same-sex marriage -- to leave the church. How else can one explain the unpleasant, reactionary atmosphere the hierarchy is straining to cultivate within the church's walls?
But what seems to elude Keller, as it does many of those who comment on this topic, is that the ability to leave the church is a luxury afforded only to Catholics in the West.
Catholics in the United States and Europe can leave the church. Few have to worry about bringing shame on their families or being ostracized from their communities. They don't believe the decision will affect the fate of their souls or God's disposition toward them. They are free to shop in the vast spiritual marketplace, offering everything from zen meditation to the prosperity gospel, vying for their attention, devotion and money.
In the United States and Europe, the doctrines of the Vatican have little influence over legislation, culture or individual moral decision-making. According to a recent study, as few as 8 percent of Catholics in the U.S. think the bishops' advice is very important when deciding how to vote.
But Roman Catholics in the U.S. and Europe make up only about a third of global Catholic population. The rest, who live mostly in the global south, are not as free to walk away from their religion. And even those who have left Catholicism for Evangelical or Pentecostal churches still live in countries in which the Vatican still wields significant political influence. In some of these countries, the Roman Catholic Church's power has proven to be downright destructive.
In the Philippines, for example, overpopulation has put an extreme strain on the nation's food supply. Countless starving children are born into slums with little hope of getting out. The overfishing from the demand of so many hungry people is destroying coral reefs.
The best solution to this mounting crisis is state-sponsored contraception programs. But more than 80 percent of the Philippines is Roman Catholic. The hierarchy has threatened with excommunication the president and other government officials who support making birth control accessible and affordable.
For several years now in Uganda, some members of the Ugandan government have tried to pass a draconian bill that would demand a seven-year jail sentence for consenting adults who have same-sex relations, a life sentence for people in same-sex marriages and imprisonment for anyone who doesn't report suspected gay people within 24 hours.
Forty-two percent of Ugandans are Catholic, making it the largest denomination in the country. Top religious leaders, including Ugandan Roman Catholic bishop Cyprian Lwanga, have asked Parliament to speed up the process of passing the anti-homosexuality law to prevent what they called "an attack on the Bible and the institution of marriage."
Throughout the world, the hierarchy's refusal to allow the use of condoms in preventing HIV/AIDS has been a major contributing factor to the continuing spread of the pandemic. Most new cases affect women, some of who then give birth to babies with HIV.
Throughout the global south, women suffer disproportionately from poor access to health services, discrimination, gender inequality and victimization by harmful religious and cultural traditions. While in most cases the hardships of women were not created by the Roman Catholic Church, the hierarchy's position on women helps reinforce these social ills.
The magisterium teaches that, because of a woman's genitalia, God is unable to call a woman to the priesthood. It also insists that any woman who "simulates" the consecration of the Eucharist commits a "grave sin" against the sacrament (equal to pedophilia). How can women ever achieve true empowerment and equality in a country where its religious leaders declare that even God views a woman's body as inadequate and invalid?
Those in the U.S. and Europe can roll their eyes, shake their heads and throw up their hands at the hierarchy's arcane teachings on sexuality, but in many parts of our world, these doctrines have life-or-death consequences.
For these reasons alone, regardless of how we personally feel about the Roman Catholic hierarchy, it is important to remain in solidarity with Catholics worldwide and to continue to dedicate our activism to reforming the church's teachings.
The ability to dissent from the institutional church's teachings and to live lives free of the church's teachings is a privilege. But it is a privilege that can bear fruit for the wider church if we use this gift well.
We must think differently about what leaving the church looks like now. The traditional line in the church justice movement has been that "one can only change the church from within." But I think the hierarchy has made it clear there is little if any room left for the prophetic voice within the institutional church.
So while there are some who can still manage to be prophetic voices within their parishes or church-based institutions, we must accept that authentic, prophetic, Catholic work is also being done in intentional eucharistic communities, in Catholic communities led by Roman Catholic Womenpriests or ordained members of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion, and in groups that have been ejected by the institutional church, like Spiritus Christi or Dignity USA.
Although these groups technically stand outside of the institutional church, they still maintain their Catholic identity through their love of Catholicism's sacramental life, social justice teachings, and mystical and spiritual tradition. They are "working out" in the present what an inclusive, Catholic community might look like in a reformed church in the future.
This is why, in addition to offering a spiritual home to Catholics who are psychologically distressed by the hierarchy's treatment of the LCWR, women and LGBT persons, these Catholic communities continue to have a vested interest in reforming the teachings of the magisterium. They recognize that, though they may have chosen to dissent from some of these teachings, the hierarchy's doctrines about sexuality still have a profound impact in our world.
If the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church were realizing their prophetic potential, they would muster the courage to be a living witness to the equality of women and the dignity of LGBT persons in our world. They would use their intellectual power and pastoral sensitivity to apply sophisticated, ethical discernment in matters related to the life-saving use of contraceptives.
We know that the hierarchy isn't doing this, but that doesn't mean that Catholics with the resources and privilege shouldn't be. Ministering on the margins, questioning religious authority and speaking truth to religious power do not equal "leaving the church." In fact, as our own faith history has taught us time and again, these are most important steps to becoming the church that the world most deeply needs.
[Jamie L. Manson received her Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School, where she studied Catholic theology and sexual ethics. Her columns for NCR earned her a first prize Catholic Press Association award for Best Column/Regular Commentary in 2010.]
By Susan Casslan | April 29, 2012 at 11:35 AM EDT | No Comments
Some may describe Stefan Salina’s new creation A Parade in June: Brief Encounters with a Closeted Gay Christian as a "comic book." Salinas himself, a San Francisco writer and artist who immigrated here from Houston, calls it a "graphic novella." However defined, the book is indeed a remarkable work of art.
This is a beautifully written story about a young gay man’s journey into Catholicism, and each frame of illustrations is a stunning feast of color and design. Salinas received his BFA in art at the University of Houston, and what a blessing for all of us that he’s utilizing his education and gift.
Salinas shares a story and perspective that is seldom told – that of a gay Christian. He does so in a manner that is compelling and easy to read. It will certainly appeal to a broad variety of readers, regardless of their age, orientation or background.
This is a tale that needs to be told – a view of gays that is not based on tired old stereotypes. Salinas’s work is honest and touching, and much to the delight of any San Franciscan, the book vividly describes gay life in SF. This includes the protagonist’s encounter with Father Donal Godfrey, a local Jesuit priest who is much admired by many gay Catholics, and who has taken a brave stand against homophobia in the Church.
A Parade in June is worth picking up, and hopefully it will be widely read. It will undoubtedly serve as a force against ignorance, and also help LGBTQs who are trying to find their own spiritual path.
The book can be purchased at: www.stefansalinas.com/parade.htm
By Susan Casslan | February 21, 2012 at 08:02 PM EST | No Comments
Netflix has blessed me again with a few more gems to share. I speak of The Way, starring Martin Sheen and directed by his son Emilio Estevez. The second is Le Quattro Volte, an Italian film directed by Michelangelo Frammartino.
I was reluctant to see The Way, since it got some bad press, but then I talked with two friends who recently had walked El Camino de Santiago, the subject of Estevez’s work. The El Camino, which stretches through the Pyrenees from France into Spain, has been followed by spiritual pilgrims for centuries. It ends at a cathedral where the Apostle James is apparently said to be buried.
After hearing my friends’ stories, I wanted to at least check out the scenery in the film (The Way was filmed on location). I was pleasantly surprised. Sheen’s character (an American physician who is grieving the death of his son), is quite believable, as are the fellow pilgrims he meets, when he decides to make this 500 mile journey on foot. These people are authentic and amusing, and the film lacks the schmaltziness that I encountered in Sheen’s previous "Catholic" movie about Dorothy Day where he played Peter Maurin.
The Way leaves us with no profound moralism – other than the fact that we’re all on a journey in life. And absolutely none of us knows where this road is leading. But one thing is certain – things will go a whole lot smoother if we connect with one another along the way.
Le Quattro Volte was a little more difficult to follow, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who is heavy into action or dialogue. In fact, the film has absolutely no dialogue. Zero. The film starts out by focusing on an old goat herder who seems seriously ill. For many scenes we get to see him coughing, and perhaps dying. Not an attractive sight, especially when you keep asking yourself, "Where the hell is this movie going?"
It is going… possibly nowhere. Just like our own lives, as we are all also dying, and in the end, there is little that separates us from this old man. Or even from his goats.
The film zooms in on the slow evolution of nature… life, death and the seasons. It is the dimension of time that we may sometime catch glimpses of when involved in meditation. There are other things going on in the film – other people; villagers who we see and hear in the distance. They take part in festivals and religious processions. They engage in activities that seem to give their life meaning, but only for a while. For eventually, something much louder (although silent) steps forward.
For example, the villagers cut down a beautiful living tree and make it into a long pole. Then they use it for some piñata-like game. After all their joy and excitement around this game passes, the pole lies lifeless on the ground. And then some wood cutter comes along and cops up the pole for fuel. He brings it back to the villagers so that they can stay warm.
The movie speaks of change and impermanence. Change that is silent and unseen, but constant, and in the end, so much greater than anything else we can imagine or perceive.
Le Quattro Volte is not light entertainment, but thought provoking and well worth sitting through.
By Susan Casslan | August 20, 2011 at 12:14 PM EDT | No Comments
The 1% Problem
By Eugene McMullan
When we think of social problems, we tend to think of problematic individuals. Homelessness, for example, is the problem of the homeless individual. Solutions also focus on the individual. The "socially conscious" individual exercises the privilege of sharing a usually quite insignificant percentage of his or her resources with "the less fortunate."
Solutions billed as social often hinge on "changing hearts and minds" and patterns of individual behavior. When enough of these are changed, it is presumed, social reform will follow. But is that how it works? What if the social is by definition unresponsive, or responds to collective shifts in "consciousness" in partial, misleading and irrelevant ways? It is true that the falsehoods of homophobia are abhorrent, for example, but what if the effort to dispel one set of lies serves to imbue or mask a larger set?
The Black civil rights movement did not demand first and foremost a change of hearts and minds, I would argue. It demanded moral outrage, yes; a sense of the unfairness of the status quo, yes. But it did not prioritize ridding millions of Americans of their racist assumptions and attitudes. It prioritized concrete reforms. Many of the white legislators and politicians who supported those reforms, and even the more idealistic whites who went to the South to register voters or march with King, remained—however indefensibly—racist.
A few weeks ago Lt. Dan Choi spoke up regarding the Senate committee hearing on the Respect for Marriage act, pointing out that all of the witnesses were, or appeared to be, white and privileged. There were also no bi-national couples represented. I watched the webcast live, and had a similar reaction. I also noticed that the speakers kept talking about taxation, inheritance, home ownership, and providing for children. I felt for their personal struggles, yet few of their examples were particularly relevant for my partner and me, as we are not yet in a position to consider buying a house or supporting children. For so many of us, the dream of what often counts as a middle-class class life remains just that—a dream.
Individual-oriented approaches abound, and they are almost always misleading and inadequate. Taken together they reinforce the sense that something—however changeable and elusive—is wrong with individuals. Maybe on an unconscious level society (the ruling class) recognizes in the disease of individuals, the "dis-ease" of the many who are so uncharitably dominated by the powerful few.
Eugene McMullen is a Ph.D. candidate in History at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, and the lead organizer for Catholics for Marriage Equality in California.
By Susan Casslan | August 01, 2011 at 06:43 PM EDT | No Comments
In his new book, The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty, Simon Baron-Cohen takes a logical look at issues that have long been primarily placed in the hands of religion. The author asks: Does empathy (or lack thereof) have a biological origin? And if so, is it possible to measure and/or alter the level of empathy in humans?
As a professor of psychopathology at Cambridge, Baron-Cohen suggests that genetics and brain circuitry can strongly influence whether individuals possess disorders such as autism, Asperger’s disease or narcissism. All of these diagnoses are associated with reduced levels of empathy.
With some people, zero empathy can manifest in destructive (but not always dangerous) ways. I’m thinking of some of the very high functioning individuals we might encounter at work – people who do their jobs well but have no social skills. These people might figure into the autistic spectrum of disorders, and are what Baron-Cohen calls "zero positive." In other words, their behavior might be annoying or misunderstood, but they themselves are not intentionally cruel.
Baron-Cohen labels sociopaths (including serial murderers) as "zero negative." They have no empathy and they are dangerous. In fact, some even take pleasure in cruelty (hurting others may actually stimulate pleasure centers in their brains).
The author does not use science to explain all degrees of human empathy. He also cites cultural influences and psychological causes such as child abuse. In fact, he claims that the levels of human empathy may be decreasing in the world (perhaps due to a global deterioration in moral values – or because of what so many people must do now to simply survive).
Baron-Cohen contends that levels of empathy form a bell curve. Most people lie in the middle. They have average quotients of empathy (women tend to score higher than men, and economically depressed individuals score lower than those who have money). The outliers on this scale include the zero-negative and zero-positive contingents: psychopaths, narcissists and those who possess autistic traits. Other outliers are people with excess empathy: saints or heroic do-gooders.
The writer claims that the vast majority of people adapt to reality by lowering their empathy quotient. Having too much empathy might be too painful. One could suffer too much around the pain of others, and it could also set us up to be victimized or abused.
Baron-Cohen’s book also left me wondering… how do any of his theories intersect with theology? After much thought, I believe that there is an intersection.
For one thing, Baron-Cohen’s ideas take the sting out of the eternal question: Why do some people behave in evil ways? They behave that way because they lack empathy. I am less likely to curse at someone when they cut me off on the freeway – if I realize that this is just what these kinds of people do. Likewise, if a clerk or co-worker is rude, it is helpful to know that their behavior is more about them, than personally about me. With this perspective, even Jesus was right when he said, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." They really don’t.
Baron-Cohen does not propose that levels of empathy are static. On the contrary, they fluctuate with states of mind and life experiences. For example, when intoxicated of physically ill, someone might have less empathy. And we might also gain empathy with age, maturity or after experiencing physical or emotional pain (which would make a person more aware of the pain of others).
If we could measure empathy or identify individuals who lack empathy, we might be able to help these people or prevent them from doing harm. And if we could teach empathy, we might make the world more empathetic. This is not rocket science. Jesus taught empathy and so did so many other spiritual leaders. Parents teach empathy to children. On our jobs or in other realms of our lives, we all have the opportunity to create more humane environments and thus spread or teach caring.
Baron-Cohen’s theories do not preclude religion. In fact, he describes a situation where these two disciplines, religion and science can easily work hand in hand.
By Susan Casslan | July 06, 2011 at 01:43 PM EDT | No Comments
I'm a little slow on the uptake as far as films are concerned. I rarely go to theaters anymore. Too expensive and I don't like hearing ads for Coca Cola or joining the army. So I've grown very fond of Netflix.
In sifting through its titles last night, I stumbled up on a gem from 2007 - Save Me, directed by Robert Cary and written by Craig Chester (story) and Robert Desiderio (screenplay). It's about this gay guy, Mark, who is addicted to alcohol, cocaine and sex. He bottoms out and his family sticks him in a recovery/half-way house to "straighten" him out – (clean and sober-wise and also in terms of his sexuality).
Mark's pissed at first, but really has nowhere else to go. So he goes into alcohol and drug withdrawal, and then emerges remarkably bonded with the people who support him through this difficult process. As the weeks wear on, he finds himself emotionally connected with his housemates and with the couple who runs the recovery center. Ted (Stephen Lang) and his wife Gayle, (phenomenally played by Judith Light) are anti-gay born-again Christian types - but they're also very caring people. They are sincerely devoted to the "boys" they are trying to save. As Mark cleans up, the film beautifully conveys the kind of metamorphous a person goes through in early sobriety. Mark has the kind of intense spiritual awakening that so many addicts grab hold of when they first abandon alcohol and drugs. Mark's recovery and his newfound love of Jesus are real. He reads the Bible in church and lovingly reunites with the family that had him committed.
All of this seems rosy, but as part of this journey, Mark also needs to deny his sexuality and turn straight. That's when things get complicated. Especially when Mark falls for another guy in the halfway house (Scott, played by Robert Grant). And we also find that Gayle has a secret. She once had a son who was gay and the boy OD'd on drugs when he was 17. Not exactly a suicide – but an untoward death that could have been prevented. Gayle suffers from buried grief and guilt and she hopes to redeem herself by rescuing other gays from what she perceives as a deadly lifestyle. She especially sees her son in Mark, and this relationship opens up a Pandora’s box that begins to topple Gayle’s rock solid demeanor and unquestioning Christian belief system.
I'm not sure how I missed this movie when it first came out; or how the film itself missed out on some of the praise and recognition that it truly deserves. The acting, especially by the film’s lead, Chad Allen is extraordinary, and the story itself was extremely thought provoking.
Especially interesting was the lack of "black and whiteness" between those in the story who view homosexuality as natural and healthy and the Christians who try to condemn it. Cary demonstrates that the differences between these groups may not be as polarized as we might perceive. There may be more potential for connection between these people than we realize.
Perhaps. And if not, Save Me is still worth seeing, if only for the questions that it lays on the table.
By Susan Casslan | May 02, 2011 at 01:10 PM EDT | No Comments
Too many questions on the morning after the announcement that Bin Laden has been killed. I will leave it to writer David Sirota to offer some of his thoughts:
“USA! USA!” Is The Wrong Response
By David Sirota from UP, as appeared in Salon.com, May 2, 2011
There is ample reason to feel relief that Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat to the world, and I say that not just because I was among the many congressional staffers told to flee the U.S. Capitol on 9/11. I say that because he was clearly an evil person who celebrated violence against all who he deemed "enemies" -- and the world needs less of such zealotry, not more.
However, somber relief was not the dominant emotion presented to America when bin Laden’s death was announced. Instead, the Washington press corps -- helped by a wild-eyed throng outside the White House -- insisted that unbridled euphoria is the appropriate response. And in this we see bin Laden’s more enduring victory -- a victory that will unfortunately last far beyond his passing.
For decades, we have held in contempt those who actively celebrate death. When we’ve seen video footage of foreigners cheering terrorist attacks against America, we have ignored their insistence that they are celebrating merely because we have occupied their nations and killed their people. Instead, we have been rightly disgusted -- not only because they are lauding the death of our innocents, but because, more fundamentally, they are celebrating death itself. That latter part had been anathema to a nation built on the presumption that life is an "unalienable right."
But in the years since 9/11, we have begun vaguely mimicking those we say we despise, sometimes celebrating bloodshed against those we see as Bad Guys just as vigorously as our enemies celebrate bloodshed against innocent Americans they (wrongly) deem as Bad Guys. Indeed, an America that once carefully refrained from flaunting gruesome pictures of our victims for fear of engaging in ugly death euphoria now ogles pictures of Uday and Qusay’s corpses, rejoices over images of Saddam Hussein’s hanging and throws a party at news that bin Laden was shot in the head.
This is bin Laden’s lamentable victory -- he has changed America’s psyche from one that saw violence as a regrettable-if-sometimes-necessary act into one that finds orgasmic euphoria in news of bloodshed. In other words, he’s helped drag us down into his sick nihilism by making us like too many other bellicose societies in history -- the ones that aggressively cheer on killing, as long as it is the Bad Guy that is being killed.
Again, this isn’t in any way to equate Americans who cheer on bin Laden’s death with, say, those who cheered after 9/11. Bin Laden was a mass murderer who had punishment coming to him, while the 9/11 victims were innocent civilians whose deaths are an unspeakable tragedy. Likewise, this isn’t to say hat we should feel nothing at bin Laden’s neutralization, or that the announcement last night isn't cause for any positive feeling at all -- it most certainly is.
But it is to say that our reaction to the news last night should be the kind often exhibited by victims’ families at a perpetrator’s lethal injection -- a reaction typically marked by both muted relief but also by sadness over the fact that the perpetrators’ innocent victims are gone forever, the fact that the perpetrator's death cannot change the past, and the fact that our world continues to produce such monstrous perpetrators in the first place.
When we lose the sadness part -- when all we do is happily scream "USA! USA! USA!” at news of yet more killing in a now unending back-and-forth war -- it’s a sign we may be inadvertently letting the monsters win.
• David Sirota is a best-selling author of the new book "Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now." He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com. More: David Sirota
By Susan Casslan | April 12, 2011 at 12:34 PM EDT | No Comments
Tammy Baldwin, Democratic Congresswoman from Wisconsin, is the first non-incumbant openly gay person to serve in congress. She has been there since 1999 and has recently taken on an important battle to try and expose election fraud.
The following statement by Andrew Beckett appeared on Wisconsin Radio today:
Baldwin Calls for Federal Investigation in Waukesha by Andrew Beckett on April 12, 2011
The Waukesha County Clerk last Thursday announced 14,000 votes from the City of Brookfield went uncounted in the race for Supreme Court, nearly two days after the election. Wisconsin Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) is asking the U.S. Attorney General to investigate how and why that happened.
Baldwin says an objective review of the error is needed in order to assure the public that Wisconsin elections are fair, accurate, and transparent.
Officials with the Government Accountability Board are already carrying out a review of the voting results and the error. However, Baldwin says the redundancy of a federal investigation would be welcome.
Baldwin says “sunlight is the greatest disinfectant” and more impartial observers would serve the state well. She says the move is needed to restore voter confidence.
Several liberal advocacy groups have also called for a federal investigation in Waukesha County. The clerk has maintained the numbers were left out by mistake, due to a database entry error.
By Susan Casslan | March 29, 2011 at 01:59 PM EDT | No Comments
Before he died, Dominic Dunne admitted publically that he was "bisexual." To those of with even the most minimal gay-dar, this was no revelation. I always figured the guy was queer, but until I saw the 2008 documentary Dominic Dunne - After the Party, I had never given much further thought to this man. However, after renting the DVD, I suddenly discovered a modern day hero. And Dunne embodies so many of the unsung qualities that we as gay individuals fail to see in ourselves.
Dunne was effeminate as a child, a quality his father, a successful heart surgeon, despised. The father so berated Dunne for being a "sissy" that even in his old age, Dunne still carried scars from the abuse. "It's awful to hurt a child," he tells us in the film. "It's a terrible thing."
Such a sissy was an unlikely hero in World War II, but Dunne managed to win a Bronze Star for bravery during The Battle of the Bulge. This was one of the many twists and turns in a life that a gay person is not supposed to have. But Dunne shows us, that despite stereotypes and labels, human beings can be complex and their paths can lead them to unexpected places.
Dunne's life lead him to a heterosexual marriage where he deeply loved a woman knew the joys and heartaches of fatherhood. Two of his children died in infancy and his one daughter was murdered.
Dunne's career as a movie producer paralleled his maniacal obsession with celebrity and gossip. Such an obsession might have appeared shallow on the surface, but I feel it reflects a deeper trait in so many gay men. Gossip is a way to delve deeply into the subtleties and weaknesses of human nature. And who better to explore this in than the rich and famous? These are people we envy or put up on pedestals. Gossip and innuendo bring them back down to earth.
I realize this on the rare occasions I pick up a People or Us magazine. This is usually at the hairdressers where there is no shortage of this type of reading. I catch up on what JLO or Mel Gibson or Jennifer Aniston are up to. And as I read I think, "This stuff is really the only journalistic truth that's out there." I mean, we can't find truth in our morning newspapers or the evening news. No wonder people find refuge in the Ellen Show or Entertainment Tonight. At least hearing about how some star got busted for drugs or is screwing somebody else's wife is information we can trust. Hillary Clinton discussing the Middle East or Fox News talking about illegal immigration certainly isn't.
So that became Dominic Dunne's professional niche - the trials and tribulations of the rich and famous.
From a spiritual point of view, Dune shines in this movie. He not only digs up celebrity dirt (a high form of truth-seeking), he is unabashedly honest about his own life. "I used to be an asshole," he tells us simply and he probably was. He was also an alcoholic, smuggled pot over the Mexican border, and he admits shooting up cocaine with an individual, who on that same occasion, actually died of an overdose. Dunne doesn't hold back. He speaks as a man who has nothing to lose. And when you hear of his losses, you realize that this is probably the case.
Dominique, Dunne's daughter, was strangled in 1982 by an ex boyfriend. By then Dunne had bottomed out on drugs and alcohol and had lost all his money. He was living alone in an isolated, one room cabin in Oregon. Just when he thought he could lose nothing else, his daughter died and then his world truly seem to end.
By then in his 50's, and perhaps as an act of redemption, Dunne began to write. A chance meeting with editor Tina Brown, led him to write about the trial of his daughter's murderer for Vanity Fair. Prior to that trail, Dunne had never set foot in a courtroom. He was devastated by the injustice he witnessed, especially when his daughter's killer walked away with only a two year sentence.
Dunne spent the rest of his life exposing other alleged killers of women such as OJ Simpson, Claus von Bülow and Phil Spector. They were celebrities and worthy of selling books and magazines, but probable killers just the same. Dunne was garnering money and attention, but he was still on a lonely crusade to convict these men, if only in his books or the press.
Dunne is elderly and grey in the film, but still snooping around places like the Spector mansion. He doesn't quit until bladder cancer finally slays him at the age of 82.
The only thing Dunne isn't honest about in this movie is his own sexuality. He never mentions it. He revealed his bisexuality, mostly in his last book Too Much Money, a semi-autobiographical novel which was released posthumously. Dunne wrote in his book: I just don't talk about it (homosexuality). It's been a lifelong problem." His son Griffin claimed that it was just like his Dad to "finally come out and then leave."
Dominick Dunne may seem like a B-level writer. He's also accused of having a skewed and uneducated take on the legal process. But this film shows a man whose brutal honesty about himself eclipses other criticisms. He's also been to hell and back and he emerges with an extraordinary tale to tell. This documentary is worth watching, and Dominick Dunne should have come out a long time ago. He had much to be proud of and we should be proud to call him one of our own.
By Susan Casslan | March 24, 2011 at 02:32 PM EDT | No Comments
As we approach the 31st anniversary of Oscar Romero's death, this article about Obama's recent visit to El Salvador is worth reading:
Barack Obama, Oscar Romero and Structural Sin By Greg Grandin | March 23, 2011, The Nation
In El Salvador, on the last leg of his Latin American tour, President Barack Obama paid a highly symbolic visit to the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero, shot through the heart as he raised the Eucharist chalice during a mass, in March 1980. His assassination was ordered by Salvadoran military officer Roberto D’Aubuisson , a School of the America’s graduate.
As El Faro —an important online source of independent Central American news—put it, Obama’s homage to Romero is a “truly extraordinary” gesture, since D’Aubuisson not only ran private-sector financed death squads but was a founder of ARENA, an ultraconservative political party that until 2009 had governed the country for two decades and enjoyed excellent relations with Washington.
Today, El Salvador is led by President Mauricio Funes, head of a center-left coalition government that includes the FMLN, the insurgent group turned political party Ronald Reagan wasted billions of dollars and over 70,000 lives trying to defeat in the 1980s. By lighting a candle for Romero, Obama, it might be said, was tacitly doing in El Salvador what he wouldn’t—or couldn’t—do in Chile: apologize for US actions that resulted in horrific human tragedy.
Obama in San Salvador focused on trade and immigration and celebrated Central America’s transition away from the civil wars of the 1980s and early 1990s. But hope, in reality, is in short supply; it would be difficult to exaggerate the crisis that today engulfs Central America, one that might very well turn out to be as bad as the 1980s.
Squeezed by Plan Colombia to the south and Mexico’s disastrous War on Drugs to the north, Central American violence has skyrocketed. Whole regions in Honduras and Guatemala are either overrun by narcos, or militarized by security forces, themselves deeply involved in criminal activity, including drugs, illegal logging, car theft and kidnapping. The explosion of biofuels production and the intensification of mining (particularly gold mining) has created an ecological disaster and generated widespread social dislocation. Protesting peasants, especially in Honduras and Guatemala, have been checked by a revived planter-death squad alliance, though now “death squads” generally go under the euphemism “private security.” An increasing number activists are turning up dead. In February, the bullet-ridden bodies of four Q’eqchi’ Mayan community leaders—Catalina Muca Maas, Alberto Coc Cal, Amilcar Choc and Sebastian Xuc Coc —were found in a river.
Just last week, as the Canadian human rights group Rights Action reported , over the course of three days—March 15–17—hundreds of police officers, soldiers and private security forces entered fourteen Mayan communities in the municipality of Panzós shooting live ammo and firing tear gas in an effort to displace peasants to make way for African palm and sugar plantations. Peasants futilely begged soldiers to allow them to harvest some of their crops. At least one person was killed, many wounded, others arrested, and thousands are now living in makeshift shelters on the side of the road. The plantations are capitalized by the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, as part of the larger multilateral lending that supports the production of biofuels , to be sold in the United States. This social catastrophe is just one of the more recent expressions of the counter-insurgent neoliberal “security corridor,” running from Colombia through Central America to Mexico, I’ve written about here .
In his memoir, Obama says  he came to political awareness in the 1980s, opposing what he called Ronald Reagan’s “minions.” If so, he no doubt had some exposure to the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, or CISPES, perhaps the most prominent of the organizations that worked to fight Reagan’s Central American policies. CISPES still exists, and it is still doing great work.
Most recently, timed to coincide with Obama’s trip to El Salvador, CISPES has launched  a campaign opposing the Canadian-based gold mining corporation, Pacific Rim, which under the terms of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) is suing El Salvador for $77 million. That figure corresponds to the profits Pacific Rim expected to earn had the Salvadoran government not revoked its operating permit (in response to an impressive, cross-class protest movement made up of environmentalists, progressive religious folk and peasants concerned with the high level of heavy metal contamination of water and soil and rocketing infant morality rates that resulted from similar mining operations).
That’s right, under CAFTA’s Chapter 10, private companies can sue countries for projected future profits lost as a result of national laws or regulations. But you might ask how a Canadian corporation can sue under the terms of CAFTA, since Canada isn’t a party to the treaty. Simple: Pacific Rim purchased in 2007 a Reno, Nevada, shell company to act as front. Forget that bugaboo of the jingoist right, so-called “anchor babies.” What we have here are “anchor corporations,” foreign businesses that get a toehold in the United States to secure their right to plunder. The suit will be arbitrated by the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, a shadowy appendage of the World Bank (more than half of the suits launched by corporations in the ICSID are against Latin American countries, and to give a sense how CAFTA has locked Central America into the neoliberal “security corridor,” Brazil has never joined the ICSID, Bolivia and Ecuador have withdrawn from its jurisdiction, and Venezuelan has announced its intention to pull out. Nicaragua, too, has threatened to withdraw, but it is unclear it can do so under the terms of CAFTA). As CISPES puts it, “As a candidate Obama promised to remove the rights of corporations to sue governments from trade agreements—it’s time he takes action.”
We can only hope that Obama finds inspiration in Oscar Romero’s life: Romero, after all, started his public career as a cautious moderate who believed he could quietly work with El Salvador’s ruling class to coax needed reform. The reality of Salvadoran society forced his conversion into an outspoken, confrontational leader who directly attacked those who perpetuated what he called “structural sin:” “When the church hears the cry of the oppressed,” Romero wrote  before his murder, “it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises.” If Romero was alive today, he would recognize CAFTA’s Chapter 10, along with the broader, disastrous policies Washington is pursuing in the Mexico-Central America-Colombia security corridor, as prime examples of “structural sin.”
By Susan Casslan | February 01, 2011 at 12:51 PM EST | No Comments
The following article appeared on January 29 in the New York Times
Remembering David Kato, a Gay Ugandan and a Marked Man By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
NAIROBI, Kenya — It was late at night and totally dark when I first met David Kato. He had been described to me as “the most out” gay Ugandan and the country’s leading gay rights crusader, reviled by many, revered by a small few — but definitely well known. So I was a bit surprised when he suggested that we conduct our interview in an empty lot behind a disco, down a dark gravel road.
“I’m really sorry about this,” he said to me, sitting just a few feet away but barely visible. “This is Uganda, after all.”
At the time, December 2009, Uganda’s Parliament was considering whether gay people should be executed. A Ugandan politician had crafted legislation, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, after a visit from American evangelicals who advocated a program to “cure” homosexuality. The evangelicals later disavowed any intent to inspire the bill.
In fact, as soon as it was put forward, many human rights groups were forecasting what would happen next. They said that just the notion of the government’s seriously considering the death penalty for gay people would spur lynch mobs and spell open season on Uganda’s gays.
Last October, a Ugandan newspaper published a diatribe against homosexuals with Mr. Kato’s picture, and another, on the front page under the words: “Hang Them.” On Wednesday, he was attacked in his home during the day and beaten to death with a hammer. The police called it a robbery. Mr. Kato’s friends were emphatic: He was killed because he was gay.
However the investigation turns out, Mr. Kato felt certain that he had placed himself at terrible risk. That’s why we met in a vacant lot. That night he told me about his life — how he had gone to Uganda’s best schools, had become a teacher and had lived for several years in South Africa, one of the most progressive countries on the continent.
So I asked him the obvious.
Why come back to Uganda?
“We are few people who are out here,” he said. “Me, I’m a professional teacher, I went to nice schools. My role is to fight and liberate.”
He was a small man with thick glasses and thin wrists. He said police officers had broken his arm and cracked him in the nose after he held Uganda’s first gay rights news conference several years ago. He talked fast, constantly scanning the darkness. He struck me as clearly brave and deeply frightened.
Uganda, which Winston Churchill famously called the “pearl of Africa,” doesn’t feel like an especially intolerant place. Most people here seem free to say what they want, even regarding President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power 25 years straight.
But beneath the mild surface is an intensely strong current of religion. And in March 2009, the American evangelicals came to Uganda to discuss what they called “the gay agenda — that whole hidden and dark agenda,” and to assert that gay men often sodomized teenage boys.
Many Ugandans have told me that gay people, historically, had been tolerated in their villages. Perhaps they were looked at a little differently, but they were not viewed as a threat. But now, that had changed.
The Rev. Kapya Kaoma, a Zambian who attended the antigay meetings, said the Americans had underestimated the homophobia. “They didn’t know that when you speak about destroying the family to Africans, the response is a genocide,” he said. “The moment you speak about the family, you speak about the tribe, you speak about the future. Africans will fight to the death. When you speak like that, you invite the wrath.”
Don Schmierer, one of the evangelicals who visited in 2009, called Mr. Kato’s death “horrible” and said, “Naturally, I don’t want anyone killed, but I don’t feel I had anything to do with that.” He added, “I don’t spread hate.”
On Friday, Mr. Kato was buried in his home village. Several hundred attended, including a priest who told the mourners to repent. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill is still being discussed and may become law this year.
By Susan Casslan | January 08, 2011 at 01:41 PM EST | No Comments
On January 6, a Francis D. Vardamis from Carmel wrote to the San Francisco Chronicle. He complained about the removal of Captain Owen Honors from his post at the USS Enterprise. Honors was recently fired following the expose a of some crude videos he made which degraded gays and women.
Vardamis comments “The personnel (watching these videos) were going to war. How dare the prudes in this country begrudge them a chuckle?” Vardamis blew the videos off as just “salty sailor tales.” “The videos are off color, but so what?”
Perhaps Vardamis should tell this to the mother of Seaman Allen R. Schindler. In 1993, while in the Navy, Schindler was beaten to death by some homophobic sailors. Or perhaps Vardamis doesn’t realize that by some statistics, 4 out of 10 women in the military are sexually harassed or assaulted. As long as our leaders don’t speak out against these abuses then they will continue to occur. I applaud the Navy’s action around Honors and maybe with the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, it is a prelude of policies to come.
As far as Vardamis is concerned, I doubt that he is a member of any oppressed minority.
By Susan Casslan | December 30, 2010 at 02:00 AM EST | No Comments
One great proponent of the gay community is Michael Kimmel. A sociologist at State University of New York, Kimmel has written extensively about men end gender. He has done serious research into the roots of bullying of gay kids, and he also sees homophobia as one of the basic props of sexism. He feels that if homophobia were dismantled, sexism would fall apart. This is not unlike the reasoning of Suzanne Pharr (1988), in her classic work Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism. In this book Pharr tries to imagine a world without homophobia and comes up with these and other images:
• People will be able to love anyone no matter what sex. • Affection will be opened up between women and men, women and women, men and men, and it won’t be centered on sex. • If affection is opened up, then isolation will be broken down for all of us, especially for those who generally experience little physical affection, such as single or old people. • There will be less violence if men did not feel they have to prove and assert their manhood.
Kimmel (2008) refers often to what he calls “The Guy Code.” He feels that from early on, boys and men learn this code of behavior which includes such things as “Boys don’t cry, nice guys finish last, and he who has the most toys when he dies wins.” Under these guidelines, kindness or compassion are not an option.
Kimmel doesn’t suggest that all or even most men believe in the logic of the Guy Code. But that doesn’t mean that they are not psychologically hampered or silenced by it. Kimmel does contend that more than anything, men worry about what other men think.
Kimmel (1994) quotes psychiatrists Willard Gaylin who cites that men commit suicide three times more often than women and it is usually due to social humiliation. Galylin writes “Men become depressed because of loss of status and power in the world of men. It is not the loss of money, or the advantages that money can buy… It is the ‘shame,’ the ‘humiliation,’ the sense of personal ‘failure’... A man despairs when he has ceased being a man among men” (p. 105).
Kimmel (PBS, n.d.) goes on to claim that one of the biggest fears men have is to be considered gay. This is because being homosexual means being weak or a passive receptor. This is much of what fuels homophobia. Another cause of homophobia according to Kimmel is the fact that homosexuality inverts the gender order. One of the most common questions that straight people ask gay couples is “Who is the guy and who is the girl?” With a straight couple the gender inequality is clear. Men have more power in society (although this doesn’t always translate to more power for individual men). Knowing that this power exists in the culture offers comfort to men, whether or not they personally feel powerful.
In gay relationships, this power imbalance is neutralized. Some men may view this as a threat to what they have been raised to see as their own entitlement. It’s very similar to what happens to white men when they see minorities or women breaking through the glass ceiling.
Kimmel notes a growing acceptance of gay people in society, but he also sees a tremendous backlash. In times of dramatic change, many will cling to the rock of what feels familiar. Anti-gay backlash often reveals itself through religious fundamentalism, anti-gay jokes, hate crimes or hate speech on right wing radio. Kimmel definitely sees it in the behavior of boys and young men when they bully.
Kimmel (1994) goes on to say that feminism has made some serious mistakes when it comes to understanding men. Feminism is based on the premise that women have less power, that the power imbalance in society needs to be changed and that women need to learn to empower themselves. This is all correct according to Kimmel, but men often don’t buy these precepts because so many of them don’t feel powerful. They’re slaving away at brutal jobs or they feel under the thumb of their wives or the financial needs of their kids.
Kimmel uses the analogy of a chauffeur driving a car. If you see a man as a chauffeur, it appears that he’s in control. He’s driving. But in reality, he works for somebody else. But through social conditioning, men, especially white men, learn throughout their lives that they are entitled to power - that they are better than women, gays, and people of color. So when they see any of these people get something that the men feel is rightfully theirs, the men get angry. They feel cheated. Kimmel gives the example of a man calling into a radio program complaining that “A black woman took my job.” Kimmel remarks that a more realistic comment would be, “A black woman took a job.”
Kimmel believes that this is one problem with young white men these days. Many parents and teachers complain that boys are not keeping up with girls. They’re falling behind in school and in their careers and much has been written about this phenomenon. Some experts blame schools. They claim that boys are being “feminized” by women teachers. Schools aren’t set up for the rambunctiousness of boys (this accepted belief that boys will be boys). Kimmel has another argument. He feels that since boys learn from society that they are entitled and superior, then they don’t have to do the grunt work that so many women and minorities accept as part of what it takes to not only succeed, but survive.
So many of these boys also have unrealistic expectations of themselves and their futures. Kimmel writes that they feel they’re going to be rich have some incredible career, but they refuse to do any of the leg work involved in sometimes simply leaving their parents’ homes.
These men’s sense of entitlement is even more preposterous in the face of today’s economy. Nobody can find jobs lately, so men’s disappointment with reality vs. their ideals has the potential to make them even angrier. Often this anger is directed at women, minorities or gays.
Getting back to the chauffeur analogy... Kimmel (1994) suggests that if the chauffer looked in the rearview mirror, he would really see who is running the show. It would be men or another man. Because ultimately, systemically, its men who have power over all of us. There are women in positions of power, but realistically, if you look at any state legislature, most CEOs or corporate boards or board of trustees, the majority of those people are white men.
But instead of really seeing where power and often oppression comes from, many individual men assert their power by practicing “the politics of exclusion.” This, Kimmel claims is “... The manhood of racism, of sexism, of homophobia... that is so deeply frightened of equality that it must ensure that the playing field of male competition remains stacked against all newcomers of the game...
“Exclusion and escape have been the dominant methods American men used to keep their fears of humiliation at bay,” Kimmel states, but “Neither exclusion or escape has ever brought us the relief we sought... Peace of mind, relief from gender struggle will come only from the politics of inclusion, not exclusion, from standing for equality and justice and not running away” (p.108-109).
By Susan Casslan | December 28, 2010 at 07:28 PM EST | No Comments
Wayne Muller is a therapist and an ordained minister. He’s worked with AIDS patients and with a relief organization called Bread for the Journey. In his audio book The Spiritual Gifts of a Painful Childhood, he talks about the names that Indians give their children, such as the color of the sky or the way a bird flies or an animal walks. With such names, if a person becomes frightened, lost or confused, they can easily remember who they are.
Muller claims that therapists often give people diagnoses such as “adult child of alcoholic.” Those aren’t names, they’re labels. And how small such labels must make people feel in the spiritual course of thier evolution.
I've been thinking about the labels of gay, lesbian or transgender. In so many ways, they do not describe who we are. And they have the potential to separate us from everything else that we’re a part of. On the other hand, maybe being nadle, (the Navajo name for an LGBT person), is sacred within itself. Maybe we are just another color of the sky.
Who we are, Muller says, is something that will not break. Yet when we face trials or sorrow, we have the opportunity to be broken down or broken open. That is why sometimes such tremendous peace comes to people who are about to die. “They remember who they are and feel the sanctuary of their own nature.”
According to Jesus, we will have tribulation. This is in line with the Buddhist noble truth that life is suffering. But Muller notes that the words “Be not afraid” are written over 300 times in the New Testament. And he emphasizes that these words were written by men who were being chased, arrested and crucified. He then quotes Gandhi who said “When we are afraid we lose our spirit.” Because we look outside of ourselves to control the world, and then we lose touch with who we are.
We must have faith, Muller states, but faith (or faithing) in the gospels, especially in the gospel of Mark is often written as a verb. To “faithe” is to walk as if the kingdom of God inside of you.
Muller, W. (1994). The Spiritual Gifts of a Painful Childhood. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.
By Susan Casslan | December 11, 2010 at 09:52 PM EST | No Comments
On Thursday, the Senate voted to maintain Don’t Ask Don’t Tell by a narrow margin. Perhaps even bigger news however, is the recent stream of support for gays in military from such unlikely sources. Everyone – military leaders and even Republicans are lining up to applaud the acceptance of LGBTs in uniform. These are the same people who have viciously attacked this idea for decades. Shows you what two wars and declining recruitment levels can do.
I have never stressed out too much around Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Perhaps part of me appreciated the fact that it was one excuse for gays not to have to go to war. I do however feel sorry though for the service men and women whose careers have been ruined by this discriminatory policy. I also surmise that if gays were accepted in the military, it would go a long way in acceptance of them everywhere. But the whole idea of the military and the military industrial complex ultimately leaves little to celebrate no matter what happens.
If people really want to get rid of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, I think one thing should occur. Every service member who doesn’t wants to be deployed, or wants to get out of the military, needs to immediately pretend that he or she is gay. It’s a no brainer and a win-win situation. Those wise souls would get to go home and eventually the law would change. Because if recruitment is dwindling now – imagine what this action would do to troop levels.
But the above scenario won’t happen. Or at least it hasn’t happened as far as my own research has proven. (If someone else has found otherwise, please let me know). I haven’t heard of one straight service person, at least in our two recent wars, who has pretended to be gay in order to get out. I guess it’s too shameful. Much better to be shot at or lose a limb.
What else is new this week? Amber Yust, a San Francisco transgender woman was contacted by a DMV employee by mail and told that she was going to hell. Man, does she have a lawsuit on her hands. This was a major violation of her privacy and it must have been pretty distressing, but at the same time... go Amber! Sue the bastards! Perhaps it’s great that this has happened as it shows just how ludicrous homophobia can be. And one of the biggest government bureaucracies has sure been caught with its pants down. It will be so sweet to see a transgender woman get some of those DMV fees that we’ve all been endlessly gouged for over the years.
By Susan Casslan | December 04, 2010 at 03:19 PM EST | No Comments
I was talking to a gay friend of mine who visited his family over the Thanksgiving. His sister said something to him and although on the surface, his sister's words might have seemed well meaning, my friend had a serious emotional reaction. He became very angry and depressed and his story reminded me of Deborah Tannen's (2001) book, I Only Say this Because I Love You: How the Way We Talk Can Make or Break Family Relationships Throughout Our Lives.
According to Tannen, when talking to family, words can become an emotional minefield. Dialogue has many dimensions; first of all the words themselves, which if taken verbatim, can be entirely benign. But because of our long shared history, what we say to our family members can have hidden meanings that can be interpreted or misinterpreted in a multitude of ways.
For LGBTs, this minefield is especially treacherous. This is because so many of us, especially in relationship to family, have felt like exiles. In his book The Mist Filled Path: Celtic Wisdom for Exiles, Wanderers, and Seekers, poet and shamanist Frank MacEowen (2002) claims that family in a Celtic sense, should be a "warm hearth and downy nest." Unfortunately, families can also be the "fiercest of blades that slash the peace of our souls."
When not accepted for who one is, MacEowen describes a condition known as "soul loss." MacEowen writes that soul loss occurs when we are exiled "... from the flowing awareness of peace that is our birth right. Our lives are meant to be steeped in peace, yet when we are living within a state of soul loss, our destined enfoldment toward a life of peace is postponed until we are whole again. We feel 'beside ourselves' until we have reintegrated after a harsh experience or trauma. This is as true for whole groups that have survived trauma as it is for individuals" (p. 5).
Because the Christmas holidays are often so much about family, LGBTs feelings of exile at this time can be especially acute. We may be estranged from family get-togethers, or if we attend, may feel safe to talk openly about our lives or to bring our partners.
One friend told me, "My family seems basically accepting. They have never openly rejected me or made homophobic comments in my presence. But what really gets to me during family gatherings is the silence. They don't ask me about my life because they feel uncomfortable with the topic or perhaps they don't want to pry. But it really makes me feel that they don't care as they are never seem interested in what I'm doing. They don't ask me about my relationships or any of the other things that they ask of my siblings."
John R. Ballew, a licensed counselor in the Atlanta area, has some tips on how gay people can cope with the holidays:
"Stop and take a breath. First, know that if you’ve got the blues, you’ve also got lots of company. Feeling melancholy during the holidays doesn’t make you some sort of freak, even if everyone else looks happy and …gay. One of the things that make the holiday blues more painful is feeling like you shouldn’t feel that way! This doesn’t mean seasonal stress is something insignificant. Far from it. Here are some suggestions:
Manage your expectations. Decide for yourself what’s important and set priorities for yourself. Pace yourself. Do the holidays have spiritual meaning for you? Celebrate that, not trite holiday glitz.
Don’t try to shop yourself happy. Overspending yourself into debt is like having a hangover that lasts for months. Making a budget and sticking to it is giving yourself a present!
Practice good mental hygiene. Nostalgia is fine up to a point, but this is no time to dwell on past disappointments. Practice cultivating a grateful heart. Focus on what you have, not what you don’t have. Look for ways to help out someone who is less fortunate – serving meals at a soup kitchen or visiting a nursing home, for example.
Watch your diet, sleep and exercise patterns. Watch the carbs. Don’t skip your exercise routine; exercise helps you stay emotionally resilient. And don’t drink too much. Drinking and party drugs can deplete your brain’s supply of serotonin, making you more vulnerable to depression.
Be with people. Touch base with friends you’ve not heard from in a while. Spend time with people who care about you. If you know others who will be by themselves, consider having a potluck dinner together.
Be alone and love it. What would pampering yourself look like? You might catch up on your reading. Schedule a massage or a day for yourself at a spa. If it would make you happy, you can decorate the hell out of your house or apartment even if no one else will see it!
Set boundaries with your family. Many of us love our families, but for others the trip to the ancestral home is a test of our sanity. Assert yourself. Don’t let others make demands on you if compliance will lead you to feel resentful. If you find yourself feeling attacked or disrespected, remember that you’re a grown-up now. No one can make you feel small without your cooperation. Don’t give in.
One of the joys of life as a gay human being is that we get to be creative in how we design and structure our lives.
We don’t let others impose their expectations on us during the rest of the year – why should we let it happen during this season?
Be imaginative, take great care of yourself, and celebrate the gift of life."
Wisdom well taken. Personally, I'd like the skip the holidays altogether. In fact, I told my partner, who is Jewish, "Let's follow the Jewish tradition and order Chinese food and go to a movie." She thought that might be a good idea.
By Susan Casslan | November 25, 2010 at 03:41 PM EST | No Comments
I’ve been eagerly awaiting the DVD release of The Kids are Alright, this purportedly five star film about a lesbian couple with kids. The duo includes Annette Benning as Nic and Julianne Moore as Jules (neither actress is a lesbian in real life). They have a boy and a girl with a sperm donor named Paul, who is played by Mark Ruffalo. Paul unexpectedly surfaces when the children are teenagers. His presence disrupts and changes some of the dynamics in a family (which as in most families) could use some disrupting.
The film’s director, Lisa Cholodenko, deserves significant praise for her previous works; Laurel Canyon and High Art. Thus, when she took on the task of making a mainstream production about lesbian women (Cholodenko is gay herself), I expected more out of her.
What’s wrong with this movie? A lot. First, there is absolutely no believable connection between Jules and Nic. They look like two straight actresses pretending to be lesbians, and what is more, their characters are downright cartoonish. In the script, Nic is flawed in that she is uptight and controlling. But she supposedly has some redeeming qualities that both Jules and her children love. The audience is not let in on the redeeming qualities. It’s impossible to even like her.
Likewise for Jules. She’s a space case who ends up sleeping with Paul midst the dissatisfaction of her marriage. Could something like this happen? Yeah, I guess, but it’s a bit of a stretch if you’re trying to portray a solid lesbian couple that’s been together for decades.
Another stretch is the fact that Jules and Nic watch gay male porn. I know of no lesbian in her right mind who would get off on two gay guys going at it. It’s one thing that Jules is so enthralled with Paul’s penis (which would be wierd for most lesbians I've met), but I’m not sure what planet Cholodenko was coming from when she shot this porn watching segment.
The only believable characters are the two kids, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutchenson) and Paul himself. Mark Ruffalo is gorgeous in this part and so lovable that one can’t understand why Jules and the children don’t just don’t dump Nic and move in with him.
Paul is the kind of heterosexual man who I’m sure exists, but is definitely rare. He so rare in fact, that this is probably why so many lesbians prefer women. He is sensitive and thoughtful, states “I love lesbians,” and even listens to Joni Mitchell. In one scene, he actually sings “Blue” with Nic at the dinner table. This scene is so excruciatingly embarassing, that I had to grab the remote control and fast forward.
What is really painful about this film, at least from this gay person’s perspective, is that it gives such an unflattering illustration of lesbian life. Cholodenko claims that she wasn’t making any social statement in The Kids are Alright. She said it was simply a story (a comedy) about people and their nutty relationships.
But if somebody has the resources to create one of the first mainstream and widely viewed images of a lesbian family, how could you not see this as some form of social responsibility? Are there lesbians as messed up a Nic and Jules? Yeah, sure. Lesbians are people and all people have problems. Our families are not models of perfection, but a lot of recent studies reveal that children raised by two women are doing extraordinarily well. Cholodenko may have been trying to say this with the movie’s title and ending, but in other ways, she constantly undermines this message. The kids need a Dad, the movie seems to say, and Paul is the perfect image of what that Dad would be.
Cholodenko also takes the stance that lesbian families are, (as A.O. Scott describes in the New York Times) “an established social fact.” Unfortunately, in most places, we are not. Nic and Jules live in a white picket world where they own a nice Volvo and house and Nic works as a doctor. Yes, there are some lesbian doctors and many other lesbians make big bucks; but in truth, most of us are struggling. Statistically, women make less money than men and when you tack on the social stigma and isolation that comes with two women together, you’re not going to see a lot of us breezing through Jule’s and Nic’s reality.
Even Paul, who is supposed to be a big slacker, has a great pad and a beautiful organic restaurant. Chokodenka is not alone among directors when she loses me these days. When I see a movie, I want it to be a genuine replication of life, and life for so many Americans right now, is not rosy. People can’t pay mortgages or put food on the table, and it’s the stories of these real people I would prefer to listen to.
The movie ends as Jules and Nik drive their daughter off to her first year at college. It’s a beautiful campus and Joni is definitely a privileged lass. She will be well taken care of and probably not far from home, and yet the entire family desperately weeps as they all say goodbye. Give me a break.
So... most people know little about lesbians and their families, and now they know even less. I feel like I’ve been waiting for forever for a decent movie that captures who we are in a respectful and authentic manner. I guess I’ll have to keep waiting.