Tim Farron, bigotry, and Grenfell

Straight, white, cisgendered, non-disabled Christian man in officially Christian country resigns from public office citing persecution/suspicion* while poor people literally burn to death in tower block.

*“I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in. In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society. That’s why I have chosen to step down as leader of the Liberal Democrats.”

This has nothing to do with Jesus and everything to do with homophobia. Few people mind your Jesus (well, I mind your Jesus, but not Jesus per se, I’m a Christian after all). A lot of people mind your evasive reptilian bigotry.

Again: straight white Christian man resigns on grounds of persecution while poor people literally burn to death in tower block, and yet the failure of one homophobe to achieve his desired public office (Theresa May & the DUP indicate that other frothing bigots manage, Tim, maybe the problem is you?) is what should really be shaming our society.

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Advent Calendar Day 7: Charity!

The quintessential Christmas charity is probably the Salvation Army. Personally, though, I’m uncomfortable donating to the SA due to their historic (and contemporary) attitudes to LGBT people, and, of their militaristic, evangelical style of Christianity.

Christmas Charity Fun Run, 2011. Awesome (and unrelated to the SA...)

Christmas Charity Fun Run, 2011. Awesome (and unrelated to the SA…)

Enough hate. Today’s window opens on other and perhaps worthier causes (chosen in entirely idiosyncratic and incomplete fashion by me) to which you might like to donate this Christmas!

Of course, not everyone has spare cash for donations at the moment. So, here are places where just a few moments’ clicking or playing allows you to donate to charity without spending any money yourself:

“Born This Way” and the Sanctity of (all) Marriage

It doesn’t matter if you love him
or capital H – I – M
[…]
‘Cause you were born this way, baby

There’s nothing wrong with loving who are
she said, ’cause He made you perfect, babe

(this is a longer post than usual, and rather more discursive. Please bear with me, and/or flick straight to the end if you want some soundtrack)

Part 1: Born This Way

Some people who are LGBT (and, I presume, some allies) find the “born this way” argument is offensive because it excuses, rather than validates a queer identity. For them,”born this way” implies that gayness/queerness should be accepted because it’s inescapable, unavoidable, and something that person can’t “help”.

At best, the person “born this way” should be accepted by wider society, because that person’s sexuality is natural “for them”. At worst, someone “born this way” deserves tolerance because their queerness is not their “fault”.

Further dread of the “born this way” argument arises from the possibility of research into genetic causation/correlation with homosexuality. If there is a gay gene, they argue, what good can come from knowing about it?

Discovering a gene won’t accelerate real equality: tolerance on the basis of chromosomal inevitability isn’t the same as truly accepting diverse sexualities. Secondly, a “gay gene” is something for which parents could potentially “screen”, leading to the abortion of some fetuses with the gay gene.

Thirdly, in a world where queers really were “born this way”, what would happen to people who lack the queer gene but identify as queer?

I can follow all of the above, but personally – and with some shame, because questioning others’ sexual identity is, as one friend put it “very NO” – I find the anti-Gaga brigade unsettling.

This is not just because of how the aforementioned Gaga looks in the underwear, sorry, prison sequences of the Telephone vid. Many (even most) of us do experience our sexuality – gay, straight, bi, pan, asexual, queer, whatever – as innate, natural and something we were born with. For us, part of coming to terms with our own sexuality and desire is accepting that we were “born this way”; it’s natural for us, it’s “part of who we are”.

To many gays born before homosexuality was legalised and/or achieved a degree of acceptance, the idea that you’re not born gay is understandably offensive — the whole reason they persisted with difficult self-acceptance and coming-out was because they WERE born this way. They had no other choice. They fought for their rights; their sexual identity is hard-won, and to see younger queers saying otherwise – either that, like Cynthia Nixon, they “choose” to be a specific sexuality, or (more broadly) that they believe sexuality is fluid, playful, fun, a matter of jouissance – both denigrates that struggle and infers that those who “choose” to be gay could equally “choose” to be straight. An idea that many LGBTQ people know to be false, and at the root of problematic constructions of (e.g.) homosexuality as a “lifestyle choice” – LGBTQ Nation claimed that Nixon’s words would be “used as a brutal club against LGBT youth in Red State America”.

I do experience my sexual orientation as innate. For a bit I definitely identified as bisexual. I’m not. I don’t think I was being dishonest when I thought that, but I don’t think it was accurate either (nor do I think it’s helpful of Nixon to claim to have “chosen to be gay” because “nobody likes the bisexuals“). It upsets me when discussions in queer circles (especially radical queer circles) invalidate the “born this way” position (along with other positions/wishes such as the desire for equal marriage rights).

But then I tend to focalise how I see LGBTQ issues through an historical awareness – I have problems with straight people claiming the label “queer”. “Queer” was a slur against lesbians and gays: accordingly I’m uncomfortable with anyone using it in a reclamatory sense outside the group originally persecuted. In fact, I have problems with the label “queer” as an umbrella identity (i.e., when people use “queer” to mean “LGBTQ”/sexual identities other than straight) because I know that a lot of older gay, lesbian and bisexual people register the term as a slur and can’t feel part of it. I’d rather find new words and stay in a continuum with our history. This discomfort with vocabulary does make me twitchy in radical-queer-discussion-situations, but on the flipside I’ve always been lucky enough to know older lesbians and gays, and it’s an excellent payoff.

I understand that other LGBTQ people don’t experience their sexuality as something innate, and as a choice, and that it goes against every tenet of equal rights to want them to shut up and prop up my arguments and identities, rather than embracing theirs. From experience, observation and my limited understand of genetics, I still think that most people do not experience their sexuality as a “choice” – coming-out, (hopefully) yes; behaviour, yes; orientation, no. But some do, and that’s okay (but baby, I was born this way. &c).

Part 2: The Sanctity of Marriage

Re-examining the “born this way” argument (which probably also appeals to me because of my Christianity – but that’s another post) has also got me thinking about some of the other pro-equality arguments I see floating through dialogue & also cyberspace. These include the following graphics:



NOW! Cousin-marriage is PROBABLY NOT THE GREATEST, given the potential for pre-existing abuse and future-existing webbed feet, hairy backs, genetic issues (&c – although we don’t veto other couples whose genetic combinations are problematic, do we?) to the power of however many times the pattern is repeated. Chinlessness may have made Britain great, but a quick glance around Oxford tells me we now have enough of it. ON THE OTHER HAND, the potential silliness, rashness and corn-chewing inadvisibility of pro-cousin marriage has NOTHING to do with the desirability of gay marriage.

I understand the the impulse behind all of these graphics. I am a lover of satire and a believer in laughing stupidity into change. Neither do I mean to bite the hand that feeds me and/or my eventual right to marry. But I have a problem with the message that it’s wrong to say that gay marriage will threaten the “sanctity of marriage” because marriage has no sanctity left to threaten. Equally, I reject the idea that Newt Gringrich’s pronouncements on “respecting the sanctity of marriage” are misguided or shouldn’t be heeded because of his track record.

If every marriage since the dawn of time had been “sacred” – made in covenant with a deity, subject to vows which both partners believed and upheld at the point of undertaken, and utterly faithful and happy since – then that wouldn’t make gay marriage less desirable. Gay marriage isn’t “more OK” because the institution of heterosexual marriage is in a parlous state. The existence of 55-hour marriages, multiple divorces, bigamy, forced marriage, acrimonious custody battles, Las Vegas and the Kardashians does not create a precedent for gay marriage, not a matrimonial space in which gay marriage has the “right” to come and become joint-worst of a thoroughly bad bunch.

Gay marriage is OK because people of all genders deserve the right to form loving unions of equal legal, social and religious validity, regardless of their individual physical or genetic make-up. Newt Gingrich’s shameful personal behaviour (while she was recovering from CANCER, people) makes his statements against the freedom to marry hypocritical as well as offensive – but he’d have no greater credibility even if he’d always been faithful.

This post has been brought to you by Lady Gaga, Cynthia Nixon and discussions at the Oxford Queer Studies Circle earlier this year; not a bad combination. Popular movements such as breast cancer awareness are happily starting to reappraise the media used to send their message (go here for more on why all the pink games aren’t helpful, and a viral graphic that’s actually useful in raising awareness). Obviously, gay marriage needs all the affirmation it can get. I still think it’s time to look more closely at some of the arguments that supposedly “support” our cause.

And to end on a musical note — Maria Aragon, aged 10, sings Gaga (and then ends up on stage with her…):

Phelps & daughter banned from UK (an unexpectedly religious post)

leading madman f phelps

leading madman f phelps

Further to my earlier post – result. Fred Phelps and Shirley Phelps-Roper (his daughter) have been banned from entering the United Kingdom. It’s good news, but not great – actually, as the Westboro website (I refuse to use the words ‘Baptist’ or ‘Church’ since the Phelps’s appropriation them demeans all other institutions with the same title) was making clear earlier today, they never intended to send Phelps over anyway, saying that it would be ‘sending our pastor […] into a lions’ den’ (warning – the site is written by crazy bigots and is full of hatespeech). Also, my God, the Phelps clan use smilies. SMILIES. SMILIES AMIDST THE HATE. Do they have mouse-trails made of sparkly kittens? Do the Phelps children have Myspaces with pink backgrounds and winking, glitzy avatars? Is irony dead?

Um, yes. At least in poor Shirley Phelps-Roper’s world. From the BBC article —

Mrs Phelps-Roper told BBC News Online the decision would “bring great wrath upon your heads”.

I do feel sorry for her, really. Sorrier for all the innocent people of all faiths and none that the Westboro mob have hurt over the years, but still sorry for this woman (by her siblings’ account an abused child) who just cannot be happy. I don’t see how any ‘faith’ that preaches so much hate and violence – the antithesis of what Christianity & Jesus Christ is meant to be about – can bring anyone any peace or happiness or grace.

What Westboro says is appalling, but it’d be so much worse if we believed it. The thing is, Phelps isn’t right about homosexuality and God, or America and God, or anything and God, and we know this; we all know this. Even if sometimes we have scared moments about our own status before God, if we apply Phelps’s logic to our friends or our lovers or anyone we know, we judge, you know, less harshly and with more love and common sense than we judge ourselves. We know this guy is wrong. Sane quiet readers of the gospels, and anyone who listens to the still small voice of calm – not the world, not hysterical ranting fundies, not anything, we don’t need anything to know – knows that Jesus would never, ever, ever have been a homophobe, have been anti-gay, have, ABOVE ALL, wanted us to worry about this. He would never have wanted us to waste a moment of our lives worrying about this, because he made us (all of us) in his image. I think it goes beyond religion – the ‘still small voice of calm’ doesn’t need to be about God, only your own conscience, whatever name or word a person gives to their own sense of determining what is right.

I do believe that dangerous and hateful people like Phelps – of all faiths and none – will eventually disappear. I do so wish he could be stopped by something more immediate than the steady and unturnable tide of human goodness and intelligence (and again: of all faiths and wrong), but he’s wrong, and I know he’s wrong, and he has no real power as it is. And given the sway that similar vile and despotic views on human life have held and could hold, I can only say, thank God for small mercies.

Disclaimer: I don’t talk very much about my faith in real life. The incoherence of this post (first written, in part, for another audience and about another nutjob) should tell you why. Be gentle.

Fred Phelps plans to come to Britain & boycott The Laramie Project

Oh what, WHAT. Who are these disgusting, DISGUSTING people? Well, obviously I know who they are – they’re Fred Phelps, the Man Who Just Won’t Die, and his brainwashed cabal of relatives. I don’t want them in my country. I know America just got SUBSTANTIALLY COOLER (oh, Michelle Obama, you are so inspiring, I have never used that word without irony before), but that is no reason for all their loonies to start heading over here. We’re not responsible for maintaining some geographical, Special Relationship Average of Crazy.

Why on earth are they coming now? To Basingstoke, of all places? The Laramie Project premiered in 2000 – although I see they’ve already picketed one production in the States. I wonder if they also ‘visit’ productions of Rent, The Rocky Horror Show, Avenue Q, The History Boys, Taboo, pretty much anything by Mark Ravenhill, Rattigan, Joe Orton, half of the Edinburgh Fringe, The Invention of Love – because if so, that sounds like a fun night out. They could even go to London and wave their silly little flags at La Cage Aux Folles. Is Milk still showing in the cinemas, anyone?

(i hesitate to tag this entry under the label ‘Christianity’ because that’s got nothing to do with what Fred Phelps is practising. But, on the other hand, it has everything to do with Michelle Obama)