Saturday, June 30, 2007

Out and About - June 2007


Above: From Friday, June 1, to Saturday, June 2, I attended a retreat with other candidates for consociate membership with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet (CSJ). This retreat was held at the Sisters’ Timberlee Retreat Center on the shores of Big Fish Lake – not far from the town of St. Peter, Minnesota.

My time at Timberlee spent in community, prayer, and reflection, was a very appropriate way to prepare for what would be a very busy month.

Above: With others in attendance at the June 1-2 CSJ consociate retreat – including at far right (from left) Rita McDonald, CSJ, and Margaurite Corcoran, CSJ, my mentors or “companions” in my consociate candidacy process.

Consociates are women and men of diverse ages, ministries, spiritualities, faith traditions, and backgrounds. What we all have in common, however, is an expressed desire to live the Sisters of St. Joseph’s mission to love God and neighbor without distinction. In short, consociates live the vision and values of the Sisters within the framework of their own lives and responsibilities.

For more infrmation about the CSJ consociate program, click here.

For Sister Joan Chittister’s insightful reflections on associate/consociate programs, click here.

Above: Some of the wonderful women of WAMM (Women Against Military Madness) – one of the most influential justice and peace organizations in the Midwest.

This photo was taken at WAMM’s 25th anniversary celebration on Sunday, June 10, 2007. The event was held at the Minnesota Boat Club on Raspberry Island, located in the Mississippi River across from downtown St. Paul.

Above: At last year’s Annual Community Meeting of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), Paula Ruddy and Fr. Mike Tegeder were each honored with awards. At the time, however, neither could be in attendance to receive their awards.

Over a year later on Monday, June 11, 2007, members of the CPCSM board took both Paula and Mike out to dinner at the Black Forest Restaurant in Minneapolis and presented them with their awards. Better late than never, I suppose!

Paula received CPCSM’s 2006 Bishop Gumbleton Peace and Justice Award for her tireless efforts in helping defeat the proposed “marriage amendment” to the Minnesota Constitution. This amendment would have not only banned same-gender marriage in Minnesota, but all legal equivalents – including civil unions and domestic partnerships.

This particular award was created in 1997 in honor of Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton, retired auxiliary bishop of Detroit, and his tireless work as a advocate for peace and justice on behalf of GLBT persons and their families. The award also acknowledges his lifelong advocacy work against war and for social justice, especially in support of the human rights of other marginalized and voiceless groups throughout the world. The award is given by the Board of CPCSM to a special person or group whose work on behalf of GLBT persons and their families reflects the same commitment to the Gospel call for peace and justice as exemplified by Bishop Gumbleton. Paula Ruddy is, without doubt, a deserving recipient of this award.

CPCSM’s Father Henry F. LeMay Pastoral Ministry Award was created in 1984 to honor the memory of the late Reverend Henry F. LeMay, a priest of the Diocese of New Ulm and previously of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who co-founded Dignity/Twin Cities and was a local and national leader in the creation of a ministry to gay men and lesbians, and in championing their human rights.

Fr. Mike Tegeder received the 2006 Father Henry F. LeMay Pastoral Ministry Award for his “deep commitment to pastoral and social justice ministry for all – and [thus his] prophetic witness to the dignity and integrity of GLBT persons and their families.”

Above and below: On Wednesday, June 13, many of those in attendance at the weekly peace vigil on the Marshall Ave./Lake St. Bridge donned the orange jumpsuits and black hoods of the so-called “enemy combatants” being held by the Bush regime at Guantánamo Bay.

The aim of dressing up in this way was to raise public awareness not only of those being illegally incarcerated at Guantánamo Bay, but also of the Bush regime’s
illegal use of torture not only at Guantánamo Bay, but also in Iraq, Afghanistan, and any number of secret locations that collectively comprise, in the words of Amnesty International, a “global web of abuse.”

Above: That’s the skyline of downtown Minneapolis in the distance. The Lake St./Marshall Ave. Bridge spans the Mississippi River and links the “Twin Cities” of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Above: The “Transformation of Hate to Love, Fear to Understanding” action outside of military contractor Alliant TechSystem’s corporate headquarters in Edina, Minnesota – Wednesday, June 20, 2007.

For more images and commentary, click here.

Above: Marking World Peace and Prayer Day at Coldwater Springs – Thursday, June 21, 2007. (That’s my trusty Cannondale R400 Sport bike at left!)

For more images and commentary, click here.

Above: Standing at left and holding the “Inclusive Catholics” banner in the Twin Cities Gay Pride Parade – Sunday, June 24, 2007.

This banner served to unify the various “welcoming and affirming Catholic parishes and communities” that participated in this year’s parade.

For more images and commentary on this year’s Twin Cities Gay Pride, click here.

Above: Theresa O’Brien, CSJ; Bishop Thomas Gumbleton; and Myrna and Ron Ohmann were among the guests at CPCSM’s 2007 Annual Community Meeting, which took place on Thursday, June 28, at St. Martin’s Table Bookstore and Restaurant in Minneapolis.

The event served as a celebration of the recent publishing of
Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective, the book I edited as CPCSM executive coordinator.

Our celebration began with a wine and cheese reception followed by a selection of readings from Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective. In a number of cases, those who contributed testimonials and reflections to the book read their own contributions. One of these contributors was retired Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit, who shared with the fifty people in attendance the foreword that he had penned for the book.

Part of Bishop Gumbleton’s foreword reads as follows: “Prophetic words and deeds shine through this text. And like all prophetic words they speak of justice, inclusiveness, and a vision of the world that is bigger, more encompassing than the one we may be prepared to embrace. Yet the call remains. It rings forth from these pages – offering a catalyst for transformation.”

This year’s CPCSM Father Henry LeMay Pastoral Ministry Award was given to Catholic Rainbow Parents Myrna and Ron Ohmann for their “faithful, courageous, and loving efforts in promoting the full civil and ecclesial rights of LGBT persons.” For example, as was documented in Out and About – April 2007, Myrna and Ron played a crucial role in the recent establishment of a support group for Catholic parents of LGBT persons in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

Unfortunately, the 2007 recipient of CPCSM’s Bishop Gumbleton Peace and Justice Award was not able to be present at our Annual Community Meeting to receive his award. His identity will remain secret, as we hope to “surprise” him with his award at some point in the near future! Let’s hope it won’t take over a year to present him with his award – as was the case with Mike and Paula! (See fourth photo and commentary above.)

Above: CPCSM treasurer Paul Fleege (left) stands with CPCSM members Michael Douglas and Rick Notch at CPCSM’s Annual Community Meeting – Thursday, June 28, 2007.

Above: The inaugural Prayer Breakfast for Hope and Justice – Friday, June 29, 2007.

Organized by a coalition of Twin Cities Catholic justice and peace groups – including Call to Action Minnesota, the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), and Pax Christi Twin Cities – the June 29 Prayer Breakfast for Hope and Justice saw over 100 people gather in St. Paul for a Eucharistic liturgy followed by a continental breakfast and a round table discussion - the focus of which was on ways of finding and sustaining hope in the context of both the contemporary Catholic Church and wider society.

One of those in attendance at the inaugural Prayer Breakfast for Hope and Justice was retired Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit, who is pictured above offering his thoughts and insights during the round table discussion.

Above: At one point during the morning’s proceedings, Bishop Gumbleton was presented with a “Lifetime Achievement Award for Justice and Peace” by a coalition of groups, including the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), Call To Action Minnesota, Dignity/Twin Cities, Justice Commission of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and Consociates, Inclusive Catholics, Twin Cities Peace Campaign: Focus on Iraq, Pax Christi Twin Cities, and the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

Above: Standing back row, far right, with other members of St. Stephen’s Catholic Church and with Bishop Tom Gumbleton (center, in black jacket) at the conclusion of the June 29 Prayer Breakfast for Hope and Justice.

Representatives from several Catholic parishes and organizations attended the Prayer Breakfast – an event which organizers, myself included, hope in the future to offer three or four times a year to the Catholic community of St. Paul/Minneapolis.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Out and About – May 2007
Out and About – April 2007
Fasting, Praying, and Walking for Immigration Reform
An Energizing and Spirited Weekend
Back in the USA

“Seven Wonders”: My Theme Song for 1987

It’s Friday night – and that means “music night” at the Wild Reed!

Here for your enjoyment is Fleetwood Mac’s 1987 hit, “Seven Wonders” – with Stevie Nicks on lead vocals (and in at least three different outfits!).*

This particular song has special significance for me, which I’ll talk more about shortly. But first, here is the music video for “Seven Wonders” . . .

. . . If I live to see the Seven Wonders
I’ll make a path to the rainbow’s end
I’ll never live to match the beauty again.

So long ago, it’s a certain time, it’s a certain place
You touched my hand and you smiled
All the way back you held out your hand
But if I hope and if I pray
Ooh, well it might work out some day.

In 1987, at the age of 21, I feel in love for the first time. Unfortunately, the friend I fell for was straight. Up until that time I had this deluded idea that I’d live happily ever after with the first man to whom I found myself deeply attracted. It was a given that my feelings for him would be reciprocated. Yeah, I know: the folly and self-centeredness of youth!

Discovering that, more often than not, this is not the case was a rude awakening – and the beginning of a very difficult time for me. For I soon realized that all the hopes and prayers in the world would never make it “work out some day” with this particular person.

Perhaps the worst aspect of this experience was that I had (or believed I had) absolutely no one with whom to share what I was going through – except for God, of course. It would be another six years before I came out to those around me.

I’m long over that first disappointment in matters of the heart – though Fleetwood Mac’s “Seven Wonders” can still bring the memories flooding back and even a tear to my eye!

Recently I read an insightful reflection by Gordon Livingston in his book, Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now. Entitled “Unrequited Love is Painful but Not Romantic,” this particular reflection has helped put this experience from 1987 (and a few subsequent ones!) into perspective.

Following are two brief excerpts:

At its heart, unrequited love is a longing for what we cannot have. Who among us has not felt its sting? Childhood and adolescent crushes that are not reciprocated give way to adult searches for the perfect partner. What we are looking for is someone we imagine will complete us and affirm our worth, and whose love will warm us in our old age. It is a powerful fantasy, seldom realized.

. . . What gives love its power is that it is shared. When experienced alone, the feeling we are having may be intense, as is any form of loneliness, but it is not likely to persist or result in any useful behavior and is limited interest to others.

I may well never live to “match the beauty” of that fantasy of 1987. But there are experiences and relationships of far greater complexity, beauty, and truth. I’ve known several of them and hope (and pray) to one day touch, embody, and share with another that special type of relationship that is marked by mutual attraction and connection, and capable of being expressed and experienced both sacramentally and sexually.

* Check out too the interactions between Stevie and her former lover, Lindsay Buckingham. Though fleeting, they’re nevertheless very telling of what’s been described as a “love/hate relationship.”

Yet note how towards the end of the video they’re shown being quite playful and tender with one another. It’s quite touching, and obviously speaks of some degree of reconciliation.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Many Forms of Courage
Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Gay Catholic Men - A Discussion Guide
Trusting God’s Generous Invitation

And for more music on The Wild Reed visit:
Crackerjack Man
All at Sea
Actually, I Do Feel Like Dancing
“And A Pitcher to Go”
The Living Tree
Soul Deep

Monday, June 25, 2007

Inclusive Catholics Celebrate Gay Pride


Yesterday (Sunday, June 24) I participated in the Twin Cities Gay Pride Parade with a contingent of “welcoming and affirming” Catholic parishes and organizations.

We call ourselves “Inclusive Catholics,” and received quite a warm reception from the thousands of people who watched as the parade made its way along Hennepin Ave. in downtown Minneapolis, to nearby Loring Park.

As in previous years, the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) had an informational booth in Loring Park for the duration of the Twin Cities Gay Pride Festival – Saturday, June 23 – Sunday, June 24, 2007. It was heartening to see so many faith communities represented by other informational booths in Loring Park.

People sometimes ask me what I think of the whole “gay pride” concept. It’s not an expression I generally use. I mean, I don’t go around telling everyone I’m “proud” of my sexuality. It seems rather strange. We don’t, after all, announce that we’re “proud” of our spirituality, physicality, or our personality. These things, like one’s sexuality, are simply part-and-parcel of who we are.

I think “gay pride” is actually a reaction to the negative messages that aspects of our society and, sadly, some of our faith traditions still send to anyone who does not conform to a heterosexual ideal. Such messages are the product of ignorance, fear, and/or bigotry. Thankfully, however, they’re being increasingly countered by more reasoned and compassionate messages - messages of understanding, respect, and acceptance of difference.

Yet many remain deeply oppressed and/or hurt by those negative messages, and “gay pride” provides people – gay and straight – a very powerful and public way of standing up to and rejecting such messages.

I have no doubt that there’ll come a day when “gay pride” events are a thing of the past – for the simple reason that the reality of sexual diversity will be fully accepted by society and by our faith traditions – including my own Catholic faith tradition.

In their own way, the various “Gay Pride” events that take place around the world in the month of June, serve to help usher in such a day. Many of these events (or aspects of them) educate and enlighten the wider community about the reality of non-heterosexual lives and relationships. They put a recognizably human face onto issues and concepts that, for some, may be perplexing or even frightening. Such humanizing endeavors are what build bridges of respect and understanding.

Above: My friends Lily and Mari Ann prepare to participate with other “inclusive Catholics” in Sunday’s Twin Cities Gay Pride Parade.

Above: CPCSM treasurer Paul Fleege and Catholic Rainbow Parents Georgia Mueller and Mary Lynn Murphy staff the CPCSM/Inclusive Catholics informational booth in Loring Park – Saturday, June 23, 2007.

Above: CPCSM president and Catholic Rainbow Parents coordinator Mary Lynn Murphy with her son Ryan at the CPCSM/Inclusive Catholics booth – Saturday, June 23, 2007.

Above: Standing from left: Michael Douglas, his partner and CPCSM co-founder David McCaffrey, former CPCSM board member Aimee, CPCSM executive coordinator Michael Bayly, and CPCSM president and Catholic Rainbow Parents coordinator Mary Lynn Murpy – Saturday, June 23, 2007.

One of the great aspects of Pride is the opportunity it provides to catch up with friends one hasn’t seen for a while – maybe even not since the previous year’s Pride! CPCSM members and longtime partners Jeff and Jack are pictured above visiting the CPCSM/Inclusive Catholics booth on Sunday, June 24, 2007.

One thing reaffirmed for me at this year’s Pride is the fact that gay folks really like their pooches! There were many individuals and couples strolling through the park and perusing the 300+ booths with dogs of all shapes and sizes in tow. As you can see, Jeff and Jack were no exception.

Above: Lois Swenson, Jane McDonald, Rick Notch, and Paula Ruddy at the CPCSM/Inclusive Catholics booth – Sunday, June 24, 2007.

You might remember that I recently posted on the Wild Reed an interesting and thought-provoking commentary by my friend Paula. It can be viewed here.

Above: St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral. I look forward to the day when the nearby Catholic Basilica of St. Mary is similarly draped in rainbow colors in honor of the annual Twin Cities Gay Pride celebrations.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Worldwide Gay Pride
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
Trusting God's Generous Invitation
Our Catholic “Stonewall Moment”

“Gaydar,” “Gendermaps,” and the “Fundamentally Social Purpose” of Homosexuality

My friend Mike recently pointed me in the direction of a very insightful piece by David France in the June 25 edition of New York.

Entitled The Science of Gaydar, this particular article serves as a highly informative (and at times humorous) survey of the latest thinking and research on the biological origins of sexual orientation.

It’s a fascinating read and one that is a timely reminder of just how complex and wondrous the realities of human sexuality and gender are. For instance, as one researcher notes, “It might be that there is no single thing called homosexuality—that there are instead dozens of homosexualities, scores of potential outcomes in terms of personality, and endless potentials for describing them.”

Of course, I look forward to the day when Catholic teaching on human sexuality acknowledges and reflects the complexities of gender and sexual orientation. As internationally-renowned researcher and lifelong Catholic Simon Rosser has noted: “Church teaching is at its most progressive when it engages in genuine dialogue, especially with experts and those most affected, to advance its theology. In turn, theology is like life - it’s liberating when it is healthy, challenging, and based in reality. . . . I think the first step is for the scientists and the bishops to sit down at the same table and talk.”

Following are excerpts from David France’s “The Science of Gaydar.” (Note: I’ve added the headings within the text.)


“Gaydar, “Gendermaps,” and the
“Fundamentally Social Purpose” of Homosexuality

Excerpts from “The Science of Gaydar”
By David France
New York
June 25, 2007

I once placed a personal ad in which I described myself as “gay-acting/gay-appearing,” partly as a jab at my peers who prefer to be thought of as “str8” but mostly because it’s just who I am. Maybe a better way to phrase it would have been “third-sexer,” the category advanced by the gay German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld 100 years ago. The label fell into disrepute, but lately a number of well-known researchers in the field of sexual orientation have been reviving it based on an extensive new body of research showing that most of us, whether top or bottom, butch or femme, or somewhere in between, share a kind of physical otherness that locates us in our own quadrant of the gender matrix, more like one another than not. Whatever that otherness is seems to come from somewhere deep within us. It mostly defies our efforts to disguise it. That’s what we mean by gaydar—not the skill of the viewer so much as the telltale signs most gay people project, the set of traits that make us unmistakably one.


The late psychologist and sexologist John Money famously called these the details of our “gendermaps,” which he believed are drawn primarily by life’s experience and social conditioning. Money planted some of the earliest flags in the nature-versus-nurture war by claiming that dysfunctional parents, not inborn biology, is what produced “sissy boys,” tomboys, and other gender variants. But today, the pendulum has swung just about as far in the other direction as possible. A small constellation of researchers is specifically analyzing the traits and characteristics that, though more pronounced in some than in others, not only make us gay but also make us appear gay.

At first read, their findings seem like a string of unlinked, esoteric observations. Statistically, for instance, gay men and lesbians have about a 50 percent greater chance of being left-handed or ambidextrous than straight men or women. The relative lengths of our fingers offer another hint: The index fingers of most straight men are shorter than their ring fingers, while for most women they are closer in length, or even reversed in ratio. But some researchers have noted that gay men are likely to have finger-length ratios more in line with those of straight women, and a study of self-described “butch” lesbians showed significantly masculinized ratios. The same goes for the way we hear, the way we process spatial reasoning, and even the ring of our voices. One study, involving tape-recordings of gay and straight men, found that 75 percent of gay men sounded gay to a general audience. It’s unclear what the listeners responded to, whether there is a recognized gay “accent” or vocal quality. And there is no hint as to whether this idiosyncrasy is owed to biology or cultural influences—only that it’s unmistakable. What is there in Rufus Wainwright’s “uninhibited, yearning, ugly-duckling voice,” as the Los Angeles Times wrote a few weeks ago, that we recognize as uniquely gay? Does biology account for Rosie O’Donnell’s crisp trumpet and Charles Nelson Reilly’s gnyuck-gnyuck-gnyuck?

“These are all part and parcel of the idea that being gay is different—that we are different animals to some extent,” says Simon LeVay, the British-born neuroscientist who has dedicated himself to studying these issues. “Hirschfeld was right. I support the idea that we’re a third sex—or a third sex and a fourth sex, gay men and lesbians. Today, there’s scientific documentation behind this.” . . .

“Something we’re born with”

[T]he cumulative findings support the belief now widely held in the scientific community that sexual orientation—perhaps along with the characteristics we typically associate with gayness—is biological. “We’re reaching a consensus on a broad question,” says J. Michael Bailey, a psychologist at Northwestern University. Is sexual orientation “something we’re born with or something we largely acquire through social experience? The answer is clear. It’s something we’re born with.”

Because many of these newly identified “gay” traits and characteristics are known to be influenced in utero, researchers think they may be narrowing in on when gayness is set—and identifying its possible triggers. They believe that homosexuality may be the result of some interaction between a pregnant mother and her fetus. Several hypothetical mechanisms have been identified, most pointing to an alteration in the flow of male hormones in the formation of boys and female hormones in the gestation of girls. What causes this? Nobody has any direct evidence one way or another, but a list of suspects includes germs, genes, maternal stress, and even allergy—maybe the mother mounts some immunological response to the fetal hormones.

Immunological response is the ascendant theory, in fact. We know from a string of surveys that in any family, the second-born son is 33 percent more likely than the first to be gay, and the third is 33 percent more likely than the second, and so on, as though there is some sort of “maternal memory,” similar to the way antibodies are memories of an infection. Perhaps she mounts a more effective immunological response to fetal hormones with each new male fetus. To determine whether the fraternal birth order might also suggest that baby brothers are treated differently in a way that impacts their sexual expression, researchers have studied boys who weren’t raised in their biological families, or who may have been firstborn but grew up as the youngest in Brady Bunch–type homes. In every permutation, the results were the same: What mattered was only how many boys had occupied your mother’s uterus before you.

The history of sexual orientation research

At the dawn of gay politics a half-century ago, the government treated gay people as a menace to national security, and much of the public, kept from any ordinary depictions of gay life, lived in terror of encountering one of us. It was routine, and reliably successful, for defendants in murder cases to prevail by alleging they were fending off a gay assault. (If confronted by the pathology of homosexuality, jurors believed, force was not only appropriate but utterly forgivable.) Back then, many psychiatrists treated homosexuality with shock therapy, detention, or a mind-twisting intervention called “aversion therapy”—a practice that was still in vogue in the late seventies, when a lumpy-faced psychiatrist put me through a regimen of staring at Playboy centerfolds.

The groundwork for change began when Evelyn Hooker, a UCLA psychologist, was approached by a gay former student in the fifties. He had noticed that all research on homosexuals looked at men and women who were imprisoned or institutionalized, thereby advancing the belief that homosexuals were abnormal. He proposed that she study men like him as a counterpoint. Over the next two decades, she did just that, proving that none of the known psychological screens could detect a healthy gay person—that there was no clinical pathology to sexual orientation. Of necessity, research at the time was focused on demonstrating how unremarkable gay men and lesbians are: indistinguishable on all personality inventories, equally good at all jobs, benign as parents, unthreatening as neighbors, and so on. On the strength of Hooker’s findings, and a Gandhian effort by activists, the APA changed its view on homosexuals 34 years ago.

Thereafter, the field of sexual-orientation research fell dormant until 1991, when Simon LeVay conducted the very first study of homosexual biological uniqueness. . . . If LeVay’s research suggested that biology—not environment, vice, or sinfulness—was likely responsible for male homosexuality, the geneticist Dean Hamer, an author and molecular biologist at the National Institutes of Health, hoped to pinpoint the exact biological mechanism responsible. He scanned gene groups in pairs of gay siblings looking for sites where the relatives had inherited the same DNA more frequently than would be expected on the basis of chance. In 1993, he located a region in the human genome, called Xq28, that appeared to be associated with gayness, a finding that has generated some controversy among researchers who have not fully confirmed the results.

A large-scale study within the next year is expected to determine more conclusively if a gene (or genes) is linked to sexual orientation. Alan R. Sanders, a psychiatrist from Northwestern University, is enrolling 1,000 pairs of gay brothers in one of the largest sexual-orientation studies ever undertaken. With the experiment, funded by an NIH grant of over $1 million, Sanders will attempt to map genes that influence sexual orientation. . . .

[E]very discovery in this field ignites a new discussion of morality. Politically, there is something very powerful about the notion that sexual orientation is a matter of biology, not choice. In poll after poll, of the one third of Americans who believe homosexuality is socially influenced, in other words “a choice,” about 70 percent think being gay is “not acceptable.” But for those who believe it is biologically mandated, the statistic reverses, and four out of five Americans find gayness “acceptable.” . . .

The “fundamentally social purpose” of homosexuality

[H]omosexuality does not make a whole lot of sense biologically. It lacks an obvious purpose. That’s the reason evolution-theory scholars call it “maladaptive” and radio shock jock Laura Schlessinger labeled it a “biological error.” But Stanford biology professor Joan Roughgarden points out in her book Evolution’s Rainbow that most homosexual activity in the animal kingdom serves a fundamentally social purpose. Japanese macaques, for instance, live in female-only societies, arranged in rigid hierarchies. Power and cohesion are established through lesbian couplings, which can last up to four days and seem to prevent violence and aggression. Among many species, in fact, gayness seems to facilitate complex societies. One species of bird has males, females, and “marriage brokers” of a third gender, there to keep the species perpetuating. As adolescents, male bottlenose dolphins perform a kind of oral sex on one another—or in threesomes or foursomes—in rituals that create lifelong friendships and defense partnerships against sharks and other predators.

. . . Fewer studies have focused specifically on lesbians, perhaps because AIDS didn’t provide the same urgent impetus for studying female sexuality. But the research that has been conducted has yielded some interesting, though decidedly cloudy, results. According to some studies, lesbians are more likely to have homosexual relatives than nonlesbians. They also have notably longer bone growth in their arms, legs, and hands, hinting that they had greater androgen exposure during development, according to James Martin, a physiologist with Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California. Another indicator comes in a 2003 study in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience that measured something called “prepulse inhibition,” which is the part of our startle mechanism that’s believed to defy practice or training—something hardwired, in other words. Men tend to blink less than women in such experiments; gay and heterosexual men had similar responses, but lesbians, it turns out, were more like men than not.

In many other studies, though, lesbians have appeared less unique than gay men, leading some people to wonder if their sexual orientation is innate. Michael Bailey—who, as a heterosexual researcher, is a minority in this field—even doubts the existence of female sexual orientation, if by orientation we mean a fundamental drive that defies our conscious choices. He bases this provocative gambit on a sexual-arousal study he and his students conducted. When shown pornographic videos, men have an undeniable response either to gay or straight images but not both, according to sensitive gauges attached to their genitals—it’s that binary. Female sexual response is more democratic, opaque, and unpredictable: Arousal itself is harder to track, and there is evidence that it defies easy categorization. “I don’t yet understand female partner choices very well, and neither does anyone else,” Bailey wrote me in an e-mail. “What I do think it’s time to do is admit that female sexuality looks in some ways very different from male sexuality, and that there is no clear analog in women of men’s directed sexual-arousal pattern, which I think is their sexual orientation. I am not sure that women don’t have a sexual orientation, but it is certainly unclear that they do.”

He contends that what they have instead is sexual preference—they might prefer sex with women, but something in their brains can still sizzle at the thought of men. Many feminist scholars agree with this assessment, and consider sexuality more of a fluid than an either-or proposition, but some don’t. “I think women do have orientations, but they don’t circumscribe the range of desires that women can experience to the same degree as men,” says Lisa Diamond, a psychology professor at the University of Utah, who is writing a book on the subject. “For women, there’s more wiggle room. You can think of orientation as defining a range of possible responses, and for women, it’s much broader.” . . .

“The comfort of self-knowledge”

I suppose the main upside to this kind of work, besides any impact it might have on securing gay rights, is the comfort of self-knowledge. The secrets lurking in the hypothalamus (and the ring finger and the hair whorl) aren’t just about who we desire but about a more fundamental organization of our personalities, individually and collectively. Still, some have dismissed all this field-guide work as wrongheaded. Gaydar can no more be proved than a sixth sense, they say. What’s being classified as fundamentally gay is nothing more than cultural signals that vary so much from one part of the world to another that they’re worthless as clues to anything. It is surely true that gaydar has its blind spots. When I traveled through Nigeria a few years ago, I was unable after nearly a month to say with any conviction that I had encountered any gay people along my way. No knowing eye contact, no species recognition. (Then again, it’s not as if I was able to measure index-to-ring finger ratios.)

Where were they all? In Lagos, the morning newspaper offered an answer. According to a tiny news squib, a court had just convicted a young man of sodomy and sentenced him to death by stoning. Two other death sentences were handed down to gay people in the few days before I boarded my airplane. I paid a visit to one of the top human-rights agencies in the country and asked why they weren’t protesting these cases. The director looked at me dumbstruck. “Because sodomy,” he said as if speaking to a child, “is illegal.” To survive, they were hiding, even from me—they had edited down their gendermaps to the barest minimum and disappeared.

Still, [one researcher] Dr. [Richard] Lippa [a psychologist from California State University at Fullerton] . . . is publishing a paper in the Archives of Sexual Behavior later this year that seems to prove the existence of gay-typical behavior across the globe. Lippa is looking at a 2005 BBC Internet survey, part of a BBC documentary project called Secrets of the Sexes, which included more than 200,000 respondents in 53 countries answering questions about everything from their occupational interests to their sexual histories and personalities. Lippa, a tall and slender man who came out to his parents in his thirties, analyzed the data first along gender lines, then compared straight people to gay people. What he found, he says, is a cross-cultural confirmation of what amount to stereotypes.

“It probably comes as no shock to you that on average men say they’re interested in being mechanics, or electrical engineers, or construction workers, whereas on average women are more interested in, say, being an interior decorator or a social worker or an artist,” he tells me. “Similarly, the differences between gay men and straight men are pretty large. On average, gay men are interested more in what you would consider female-typical occupations and hobbies than straight men. Same with women. It’s not universal. Some gay men like football games and like working on cars and are electrical engineers. But a large majority answer this way.”

It could be that his study says more about the limited number of vocations where gay men feel comfortable expressing themselves, and we might be equally drawn to construction sites if we thought we might be accepted there. It could be that the study says as much about the globalization of culture as the biological nature of gayness.

Even Lippa hesitates to say that gay people are essentially different from straight. “Essentialism,” he explains, “is the enemy of a lot of academics,” because it shuts down inquiry into all the possible influences. Perhaps there are a dozen possible routes to homosexuality, any combination of which might produce a number of the traits being catalogued now. It might be that there is no single thing called homosexuality—that there are instead dozens of homosexualities, scores of potential outcomes in terms of personality, and endless potentials for describing them. “For example, do gay men who have older brothers show more or less feminine? Do gay men with counterclockwise hair have more masculine traits? One cause might create a more feminine homosexuality than another.”

Of course, biology doesn’t determine everything. And some critics of sexual-orientation researchers blame them for minimizing the role of experience in determining our affectional course in life. The feminist biologist Anne Fausto-Sterling has waged a constant battle against their research, which she calls “a big house of cards” that ignores the power of environment in creating personality. Nurture, she argues, can and should be studied as a link to sexual orientation. The baby penguin raised by her two dads is a potential case study—though genetically unrelated to either parent, in the last few mating seasons she has mated with another female.

The rush to declare a biological mandate is motivated by a political agenda, says Fausto-Sterling, the author of Sexing the Body, who is married to a woman after a marriage to a man. “For me and for any feminist, I think it’s a pretty fragile way to argue for human rights. I want to see the claims for gay rights made on moral, ethical, legal, and constitutional bases that don’t rely on a particular scientific view of sexual development.”

Especially if that view invites the opponents of gay people to consider dramatic interventions meant to stop the development of homosexual orientation in a fetus. What if prenatal tests were able to show a predisposition to gayness? How long would it be before some pharmaceutical company develops a patch to regulate hormone flow and direct the baby’s orientation? Michael Bailey, for one, isn’t troubled by the moral implications any more than he would oppose fetal screens for potential birth defects, though he quickly adds his personal belief that homosexuality is “a good” on par with heterosexuality. “There’s no reason to ban, or become hysterical about, selecting for heterosexuality,” he says. “That’s precisely what parenting is about: shaping the children to have traits the parents value.”

It’s bizarre to think some value systems might lump gayness in with—say—sickle-cell anemia or Down syndrome. As Matt Foreman from the [National Gay and Lesbian] Task Force put it, “It’s not playing with the number of toes you have; it’s really manipulating your very essence. So many people see gay people only in terms of sexual behavior, as opposed to what sexual orientation is really about, which is how you fit into the world. I don’t want to get mushy, but it’s about your soul.”

To read “The Science of Gaydar” in its entirety, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
One of These Boys Is Not Like the Others
A Lesson from Play School
Coadjutor Archbishop Nienstedt’s “Learning Curve”
The Catholic Church and Gays: An Excellent Historical Overview
Our Catholic “Stonewall Moment”

Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Beer Ad with a Difference

Now here’s a beer ad with a (cute) twist. Those Brits sure know how to make great advertisements. The French too.

I wonder when we can expect to see something similar to this particular beer ad on network TV in the States? Hey, maybe during the next Superbowl!

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Those Europeans Are At It Again
A Humorous Look at Internalized Homophobia
The Real Gay Agenda
The Changing Face of “Traditional Marriage”
Naming and Confronting Bigotry
Truth Telling: The Greatest of Sins in a Dysfunctional Church
On Civil Unions and Christian Tradition

Friday, June 22, 2007

Worldwide Gay Pride - 2007

All around the world, throughout the month of June, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people, their families, friends, and allies, are affirming and celebrating the gift of all forms of non-heterosexual orientation and identity.

Here are just a few images gathered from the Internet of these global Pride events of affirmation and celebration. Happy Pride!

Above: Thousands march during the annual Gay Pride Parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, June 10, 2007. (Associated Press Photo/Andre Penner)

Above: The Gay Pride flag and the Israeli flag are held high during a gay rally in Jerusalem, 2006. Israeli police have given the green light for a gay rally in Jerusalem and for religious Jews to demonstrate on the same day against what they consider an outrage. (AFP/File/Gali Tibbon)

Above: Gay rights activists attend a protest in Moscow May 27, 2007. Russian police detained gay protesters calling for the right to hold a Gay Pride parade in central Moscow on Sunday while nationalists shouting, "death to homosexuals," punched and kicked the demonstrators. Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin (Russia)

Above: Demonstrators hold up banners during a protest in front of the Russian Embassy in Berlin, May 28, 2007. More than one hundred people gathered to support human rights in Russia and to protest against the ban of the Moscow Gay Pride parade in May. Reuters/Pawel Kopczynski (Germany)

Above: LGBTI people and their supporters pass in front of the ancient Colosseum during the annual Gay Pride parade in Rome. Tens of thousands Saturday staged the Gay Pride parade in Rome, urging the Italian government to fast-track plans to grant homosexual couples legal status and override Vatican objections. (AFP/Andreas Solaro)

Above: Participants wave a giant rainbow flag in front of St. John Lateran Basilica during the Gay Pride parade in Rome, Saturday, June 16, 2007. Tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of Rome Saturday to demand legal rights for same-sex couples. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Above: A couple kisses as members of the Israeli LGBTI community and their supporters march in a Gay Pride parade in downtown Jerusalem, Thursday June 21, 2007. Under heavy police guard, hundreds of LGBTI people and their supporters marched in a Gay Pride parade, sparking a noisy counter demonstration by ultra-Orthodox Jews and denunciations by some Muslim and Christian leaders. There were no incidents of violence during the short event. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
A Simple Yet Radical Act

"Take, All of You, and Eat" (Part III)

My sharing of excerpts from Lisa Nilles’ paper, “Take, All of You, and Eat”: The Recent History of Catholic Clergy Denying Communion to Baptized Catholics, concludes with Rainbow Sash wearers’ hopes for how the Church might address the issue of homosexuality in the future.

For Part I of “‘Take, All of You and Eat’: Communion and the Rainbow Sash” (including background information about this series of posts) click here.

For Part II, which explores Rainbow Sash wearers “emotional and intellectual responses” to being denied Communion, click here.

The image that accompanies this third and final installment was taken at this year’s Pentecost Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota.


What is your hope for how the Church (worldwide and at the diocesan level) might address [the issue of homosexuality] in the future?

• I hope the Church officials will read and reflect on the life and teachings of Jesus and imitate and follow him and his teachings about loving and welcoming people and not judging. I also hope the Church will talk to leaders of other churches that are open and affirming to GLBT persons and learn from them. I hope the Church will call together people of all ways of life and listen to them about their lives and be moved by them to have compassion and understanding and respect and honor persons’ consciences and integrity.

• The Church must go through a metamorphosis regarding its views on married priests, women priests, birth control, and human sexuality in general.

• I believe that it is essential for the Church to begin to listen to the “real” stories of GLBT people and their parents. There have been studies made by responsible agencies on the unique genetic design of GLBT people, the quality of child-rearing in same-gender homes, the psychological effects on children with two moms or dads vs. single-parent homes. Were it admitted that GLBT people had a unique chromosome (which I believe has been proven) the debate for equality would be over. God made our daughter, and all that God made is good and worthy of acceptance and dignity.

• Start from love and hear the wisdom and claims of GLBT people that flow from their experience.

• My hope for the Church is that it will eventually wake up and accept that they are hurting a large segment of our community. We are all made in the image and likeness of God whether we are gay or straight. It is a sad commentary on our society when the Church founded by Jesus Christ does not embrace those who are marginalized by society. The Church founded by Jesus Christ should be safe, loving, and peaceful – peace filled. It should be a haven. As it is today, it is not. And that is very sad.

• Think seriously about what Jesus would do. Welcome everyone to the table, admitting that priests and even bishops are unable to judge the hearts of those who approach the table. We need some serious dialogue. What is the hierarchy so horribly afraid of? We who are GLBT Catholics are not scary folk. We genuinely want to belong and to contribute. We love the Church or we wouldn’t be trying so hard to be part of it.

• I do not hold out much hope that the Church will address this or any of the sexuality-related issues in a healthy, loving, or meaningful way. That is a shame because the Church offers so many wonderful messages in the area of social justice for the poor and minorities, etc. – on issues of war and the application of capitalism, etc. They waste so much of their leadership and moral authority on genital issues (like many of the fundamentalist churches). It is a pattern which has not changed much over the years, and pretty much looks like it is here to stay.

• I would hope that at the diocesan level, the priests and bishops would change their stance on this issue. The scientific evidence is there that being of non-heterosexual orientation isn’t “chosen.” Therefore, to demand celibacy from these people goes against there nature. Why should my son have to live life alone because of who he is? I think if each diocese stood up and said they weren’t going to follow the “party line,” people would respect them more. There are positive changes going on in other faiths all over the world. We need to stand up and be counted.


Following is an excerpt from Lisa’s conclusion to her paper.

In all cultures, at any moment of history, the ultimate act of hospitality is sharing a meal. Generosity at the table satisfies at once our physical, social, and emotional needs. It binds us together. Jesus of Nazareth charged his disciples to do this “in remembrance of me.” For the Catholic Church to deny, at times, its members participation in the Eucharistic meal is utterly serious. This paper has attempted to explain the theological reasons for this sanction. But reason alone is not sufficient. This is not a matter of pure logic, of justice without mercy. This is an experience that touches people in the deepest way possible – as they were created to know and love God.

Rainbow Sash wearers have a great love for the Church and its traditions. Their conscience and integrity leads them to view Church teaching in a new way. Rather than considering it scandalous to give Communion to “sinners,” they consider it scandalous to not give Communion to “sinners.” Further, many consider it a scandal of worldwide proportions that in 2007, with access to social and scientific research, the Church continues to teach that the “homosexual inclination” is “objectively disordered.” Rather than considering homosexual acts morally sinful, they consider it sinful to not physically love who you were created and called to love. This is in accordance with the Vatican II teaching The Dignity of the Human Species (1965), “For man [sic] has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged.”

Image: Paula Ruddy

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
“Take, All of You, and Eat”: Communion and the Rainbow Sash (Part I)
“Take, All of You, and Eat”: Communion and the Rainbow Sash (Part II)
My Rainbow Sash Experience
“Receive What You Are, the Body of Christ” – Reflections on the Eucharist
Trusting God’s Generous Invitation
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
Truth Telling: The Greatest of Sins in a Dysfunctional Church
Thoughts on Authority and Fidelity
Reflections of the Primacy of Conscience
The Question of an “Informed” Catholic Conscience
Voices of Parental Authority and Wisdom
Who Gets to be Called “Catholic” – and Why?
Comprehending the “Fullness of Truth”
The Many Forms of Courage
Take This Bread

Recommended Off-site Links:
The Rainbow Sash Alliance USA
What Happened at the Cathedral of St. Paul on Pentecost Sunday 2007 – A Statement by Brian McNeill, Rainbow Sash Alliance USA