Talking about religion 

Discussing religion has always been a bit tricky for me, mostly because an old American saying that has stuck with me: “The quickest way to clear out a room is talk race or religion.” 

  

My parents were from two separate branches of Christianity, my father was a Catholic and my mother was Baptist. (I should add that they both frowned upon Pentacostal theatrics.) This created somewhat of a conundrum for them when it came to what branch I’d be raised in. What they came up with was what I’d call “Commercialist Protestantism” although that wasn’t what they called it.

“Commercialist Protestantism,” is basically “Christmas = Santa Claus and presents” and “Easter = candy and the Easter Bunny,” with a belief in The Golden Rule and that you can always talk to God. 

To their credit, they wanted me to establish my own spiritual relationship with the world, although my mother often worried that I was never baptised (oddly enough, Baptist liturgy says that children shouldn’t be baptised as it is a choice one should make on one’s own without pressure). 

I mention my religious background because one of things I have encountered a lot as a gay man are other gay men for whom religion was wielded as a weapon of fear and intimidation. It’s something I really cannot comprehend:  how can any faith sustain itself when it scares others into such trauma? 

Personally, I have no ill will towards any religion, and I believe that there are not necessarily bad belief systems, but rather people who seek to use faith to serve their own biases and selfish ends.

And in case you are wondering if I still subscribe to Commercialist Protestantism? Well, I do…with a bit of a twist:

  

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What does gay look like?

The rainbow flag, sometimes called 'the freedo...

The rainbow flag, sometimes called ‘the freedom flag’, has been used as a symbol of gay and lesbian pride since the 1970s. The different colors symbolize diversity in the gay community, and the flag is often used as a symbol of gay pride in gay rights marches. It originated in the United States, but is now used around the world. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Something historical happened today: The US has its first active openly gay athlete in professional sports (story via Rod2.0), with Jason Collins being the proverbial trailblazer–he’s actually a Wizard (pun intended).

 

What I find particularly interesting is his coming out statement: “I’m a 34 year old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.” He identifies himself by job (and it’s a really good one), ethnicity, and then orientation. That I think says a lot about the gay community and how it struggles to really deal with those of us who are multiple minorities.

 

It is no secret that most of the English-language developed world has a White middle-class majority. To its credit, it’s also good that the English-language developed world is also trying to correct it and get towards a post-racial state of affairs.

 

In my experience, I have occasionally wondered whether I’m really included or not, particularly in the gay community because I don’t fit the perception in the media sense of being gay.

What’s that perception?

 

Well, when you turn on the news or read a newspaper and see something representing the “gay community” it is most often a white gay male in his late 30s to 40s.

Now, while it is great to have any representation, but I think it’s time that we start thinking about the effects of having the rainbow community represented in a largely monotone shade.

 

Here in Australia, we are fortunate to have Senator Penny Wong,  who is Asian, as one of the most prominent openly gay people in the media, because she causes people to think twice about that old ridiculous chestnut that “I can’t be gay because I am XYZ ethnicity.”

 

In the US, we’ve had ever increasing minority males and females come out, and yet there is still this perception that ethnicity trumps sexuality. We need more people to come out as being proud of both their ethnic background and their sexual orientation.

 

This where being a role model does matter, because being a role model, allows you to start changing minds on a larger scale.

 

While I wish that I had grown up seeing successful black gay men in media, I am glad that generations after me will be able to.

 

 

 

Life is not a movie…no matter how much we want it to be

I can count on one finger how many times I have ever read the New Yorker. I’m not ashamed to admit that to me at least, because the attending baggage of being a New Yorker reader is much larger than the content.

Rally for Marriage Equality

Rally for Marriage Equality (Photo credit: vpickering)

For whatever reason today, one of my news aggregators popped up with this opinion piece from The New Yorker.

The article talks about the relative tranquility and unremarkable atmosphere in the recent US Supreme Court hearings about the Defense of Marriage Act & California’s Proposition 8.

Life is not a Hollywood film, and yet, we, particularly in the media and in the public try to organise real world events in that matter.

It’s understandable, because one of our greatest teachers growing up is the entertainment industry.

Take a look at your average long-feature news report, much like a bit from a reality show, it will have music that will steer you emotionally one way or another. (This is nothing radical, Dateline NBC did a feature about this, and even poked fun at itself. For further reference, read this report from UCLA & Carelton University)

Still, that’s the great thing about the US judicial system: it asks people to take away the emotionality and make a judgement on the facts.

This is why the rather subdued environment in the Supreme Court is remarkable. The facts are that DOMA is unconstitutional.

It’s also why I wonder what will happen to the activist machinery that has been set up around the marriage equality debate.

It’s time to think beyond marriage, beyond the happy endings.

And after marriage…?

Let me just get the following statement done and dusted:

I believe that the right to marry and the benefits that come with it should not be prohibited on the basis of sexual orientation.

The US Supreme Court is currently hearing two cases that could potentially legalise same-sex marriage in the United States. One of which would look at the legality of California’s Proposition 8, which overturned the California’s same sex marriage legislation. The other one, which is the big one on a national level, is looking at the legality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prevents federal benefits being sent to same sex partners, as well states that the federal government will not recognise same sex marriages and says that US states are not federally required to recognise a same-sex marriage performed in another.

What concerns me most about the tone of the same sex marriage debate is how little of it (particularly in gay media) is concerned with life after marriage equality.

Why aren’t we talking about gay divorce? Because it’s not legal?

Why don’t we talk about the ins and outs and hard, and yes boring work of relationships and the fact that not all of them will end well.

Actors Mike White & Justin Long appeared in this particular ad when Proposition 8 was on the ballot in California. It’s “realness” was breath-taking:

I think that was a brilliant ad, because that is what the reality of married coupled life is. It’s not fabulous, it just is.

I would like to hear more stories about how boring and mundane married life is in addition to how fulfilling it can be. (Indeed, research has shown that there are health benefits in being married.)

Without a doubt, I see myself being married as opposed to just being de facto*, and I don’t look down upon those who opt not to do either. If you’re not a relationship person, then don’t get in one, and vice versa.

But in reading and observing the gay media and gay-oriented social media conversation, the marriage equality conversation, I believe, obscures another debate that the gay community in particular seems a bit scared to have, which is where does gay culture go afterwards?

There are some who feel that we, as gay men, will lose our “specialness” by being forced into the same monogamous relationships as heterosexuals, and that “gay culture” will end.

Personally, I think gay culture will shed any residual Peter Pan complexes as a result, and that is a good thing. (It’s equally ludicrous to think of the heterosexual community as this being monolithic bastion of monogamy.)

But part of that growing up process means thinking about relationships that don’t go smooth and things that aren’t romantic:

It means addressing issues like the suicide rate amongst the LGBT-identified, providing safe spaces for LGBT-identified homeless, HIV/AIDS education, bringing LGBT identified seniors into the greater LGBT conversation, getting rid of social homophobia in media and in day-to-day life.

Same sex marriage may go some ways towards working to resolve this issues, BUT the absence of same sex marriage DOES NOT PROHIBIT US from working on them now.

Rather than reading yet another post or article about  how “everyone should have the right to marry, because it’s the right thing…” I’d rather read about how steps are being done to get rid of homophobic language in film.

I’d rather be doing my bit, not by agitating for marriage, but by helping create a better life for all, and marriage equality might be the remaining legal barrier, but there’s a lot of societal work to do, and we are all up to the task.

We owe it to ourselves and more importantly, to those who will come after us.

*In Australia, there is legislation providing for “de facto” partnerships, which confers many of the rights, benefits, and responsiblities of marriage in any long-term relationship, regardless of sexual orientation. The closest thing the US has to it–and legal recognition differs wildly by juristiction–is common-law marriage.  Where it differs from civil unions is that there is no need to publicly make a declaration of your relationship.

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