The Australian newspaper marked World AIDS Day last Friday by publishing a commentary by Melbourne writer John Heard.
Yet far from offering an informed opinion of the state of HIV/AIDS in Australia, Heard’s commentary served merely to promulgate his own ultra-conservative views on male homosexuality. Even by the “New Right” standards of The Australian, Heard’s piece seemed over-the-top – conveying more ideology than insight.
According to Heard, “It is time to clear away the politically correct nonsense, to stop focusing on fripperies such as gay marriage and other diversions and start focusing on something that will really assist gay men and the wider community: an intense campaign aimed at HIV/AIDS prevention.”
This “campaign” of prevention, says Heard, should be fueled by “personal and collective shame” over reported increases in HIV infections in Sydney’s inner city gay population. Furthermore, the “notion of gay pride” (presumably for all gay people across the nation and perhaps even worldwide), along with discussion of “fripperies” such as gay marriage, should be suspended until those “bug-chasing” inner city gay guys in Sydney, along with their “homo-activist” allies, get their act together.
On numerous levels, Heard’s commentary is, to put it politely, problematic. Leaving aside the legitimate questions and concerns some scientists have raised around the origins and cause of AIDS as determined by the AIDS establishment, what I found most disconcerting about Heard’s commentary was his failure to disclose his obvious bias around the issue of homosexuality. After all, homosexuality, not HIV/AIDS, was the real focus of Heard’s December 1 commentary.
For a start, what exactly are Heard’s credentials in the HIV/AIDS community? Why is he so fixated on gay men when the HIV/AIDS community extends far beyond this particular group?
His narrow focus conveys (no doubt mistakenly) very little real concern for those living with HIV/AIDS. Accordingly, it’s difficult to picture Heard “in the trenches” with those dedicated to genuinely attempting to address the problems and questions associated with our brothers and sisters living with HIV/AIDS.
Indeed, if the style of Heard’s commentary is anything to go by, I hope he’s not in regular contact with those living with HIV/AIDS, as his words do nothing to encourage or inspire; they merely blame and shame. But perhaps that’s all he’s really interested in doing.
After all, Heard’s mish-mash of selective statistics and rhetoric fail to disguise the fact that his December 1 commentary shamelessly uses World AIDS Day to cloak a vulgar ideological cudgel with which he takes broad swipes at legitimate issues facing the gay community (such as gay marriage) and at crudely-drawn caricatures – all of which are to do with gay men.
His self-identification as “same-sex attracted,” rather than “gay,” offers a clue to the ideological agenda behind Heard’s diatribe. The phrase, “same-sex attracted” was coined by the largely discredited U.S.-based National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), and has been increasingly employed by reactionary elements within the Catholic Church, including the U.S. Catholic organization, Courage – which likens homosexuality to alcoholism, and promotes the Vatican’s teaching that lifelong celibacy is God’s will for gay people.
A quick perusal of John Heard’s blogsite confirms that he proudly aligns himself with ultra-conservative Catholicism, its warped views on homosexuality, and its arrogant dismissal of many gay people’s experience of God in their relational lives.
Shouldn’t acknowledgment of such bias accompany such a prominent editorial in The Australian?
Should not Heard himself have disclosed his presuppositions and their narrow theological basis?
Recently, Heard has added to his “Dreadnought” blogsite findings from a Dutch study which claims that currently in Amsterdam “86% (range 74-90%) of new HIV infections occur within steady partnerships.” The report concludes by saying that “most new HIV infections among homosexual men in Amsterdam occur within steady relationships. Prevention measures should address risky behaviour, specifically with steady partners, and the promotion of HIV testing.”
At first glance, such findings would seem to provide more ammunition for Heard’s crusade against gays and what he considers to be their innate promiscuous ways. Yet the methodology and conclusions of this particular study have been roundly discredited by Jim Burroway. His critique can be viewed here. (Another useful resource is Burroway’s How to Write an Anti-Gay Tract in Fifteen Easy Steps.)
Over the past year or so, I’ve exchanged a few e-mails with John Heard. I also occasionally visit his blogsite. Visually, it’s a dark and bleak corner of cyberspace, and it’s opening image of a pair of dangling legs, ostensibly from a figure sitting on a high wall, yet conceivably from a hanging body, isn’t exactly an encouraging sight.* Perhaps it could be seen to serve as an unconscious acknowledgment on Heard’s part of the hopelessness of the position which he and the Vatican are offering to gay people; a position that denies any possibility of sexual fulfillment.
Heard frequently opts for a writing style which borders on the insufferable in its patronizing arrogance and pomposity. He seems unable or reluctant to allow much of his humanity to shine through his writings, which is perhaps an indication of the terrible price a gay man (or, more accurately, a “same-sex attracted” individual) must pay when all is surrendered at the altar of unquestioning obedience to the Vatican’s dysfunctional sexual theology.
In identifying as this type of Catholic, Heard finds nothing about being gay of which to be proud. My sense is that he similarly expects other gay men (he rarely acknowledges lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons) to be self-loathing individuals, stricken with “same-sex attractions” and reliant solely on the Vatican for insight and direction in how to exist accordingly.
The Allure of Inflexibility
As could be expected, his writings display, to paraphrase Cardinal Manning, the allure of inflexibility. Heard’s attitudes and words mirror those of the oak in the fable of the Oak and the Reed. This is because he is unbending in his support of a type of theological imperialism which, as author and theologian Darmuid Ó Murchú notes, is both “arrogant and oppressive.”
In Reclaiming Spirituality (Gill and Macmillan, 1997), Ó Murchú defines theological imperialism as “the Christian claim (to which Judaism and Islam also subscribe) that our religion contains the fullness of revelation, in the light of which all other religions are deemed to be somehow inferior” (p. 29).
A theology that proclaims it has all the answers is, understandably, fearful and dismissive of those whose experiences reveal new, or rather, ever unfolding insights into God and the human condition.
Such experiences and insights are neither respected nor welcomed by the self-appointed guardians of theological imperialism, as evidenced by Heard’s disdain for gay Catholics who, in good conscience, feel called to facilitate dialogue and reform within the Catholic Church as a result of their experiences of God’s transforming presence in their lives and relationships.
Ironically, in dismissing and maligning such lives and relationships, Heard and his ilk deny the incarnational God at the core of our Christian faith, and the incarnational engagement which, as Ó Murchú reminds us, was “central to Jesus’ own life.”
What we’re left with is a pretty dismal, dare I say dreadful, interpretation of what it means to be a Catholic follower of the way of consciousness and compassion modeled by Jesus. Heard’s rejection of “gay” seems to include every possible meaning of the word, which makes sense given his denial of Jesus’ joyful and liberating “good news” in the lives and relationships of those who don’t subscribe to the Vatican’s brand of religious imperialism.
And if that’s the type of Catholicism that comes with being “same-sex attracted”, then I’ll stick with being “gay.”
* Postscript (12/20/06): Since the posting of this commentary, John Heard has changed the opening image of his blogsite - though not before he wrote to me explaining the significance of the pair of dangling legs. Here’s what he had to say: “For the record, the banner image is called 'Ascension' and was taken after a sermon preached by a Jesuit poet/scholar at my college about depictions of the same. He focused on the Lord's feet in paintings/representations of the event and marvelled at the way artists had fixated on those sure signs of Christ's humanity even as His divinity was made plain to all with eyes.”
See also the Wild Reed posts:
Be Not Afraid: You Can Be Happy and Gay
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
The Real Meaning of Courage
The Many Forms of Courage
Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Gay Catholic Men - A Discussion Guide
Who Gets to Be Called Catholic - And Why?
This “Militant Secularist” Wants to Marry a Man
Vatican Stance on Gay Priests Signals Urgent Need for Renewal and Reform
When Guidelines Lack Guidance
A Catholic's Prayer for His Fellow Pilgrim, Benedict XVI
Reflections on the Primacy of Conscience
The Question of an “Informed” Catholic Conscience
The Non-negotiables of Human Sex
Keeping the Spark Alive: A Conversation with Chuck Lofy
Somewhere In Between
Recommended Off-site Link:
Dreadlocked - a commentary by “gay advocate” Rodney Croome.