Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Out and About – May 2011

May has definitely been a momentous month – a month of many challenging changes and developments.

At the State Capitol, in both the Senate and the House, a majority of legislators voted to allow the citizens of Minnesota to decide whether to limit in the state constitution civil marriage to heterosexual couples. The controversial "marriage amendment" will be on the ballot of the November 2012 elections.

In response to this development, Catholics for Marriage Equality MN undertook a number of pro-active measures – including maintaining a presence at the Capitol during both the Senate and House deliberations and vote on the amendment. In the picture above, for instance, I'm holding the Catholics for Marriage Equality MN banner and being interviewed by Fox 9 News. Holding the other end of the banner is my friend Mary Lynn Murphy, co-founder with her husband, Mike, and a number of other Catholic parents, of Catholic Rainbow Parents.

The month of May also saw a number of work-related and personal changes. I applied for and was offered a part-time position as site coordinator with a local Meal-on-Wheels program. I take up this position next Monday. I'll still, of course, be working with CPCSM, the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform and Catholics for Marriage Equality MN. On a personal note, I chose to end my nine-month-long dating relationship with Doug – for reasons which, I'm sure you'll understand, I won't be discussing here.

On May 1 filming began for Catholics for Marriage Equality MN's "video project." This particular initiative is modeled on the It Gets Better Project and involves the establishment of a YouTube channel on which a number of short but powerful "video vignettes" will be available for viewing. These videos will feature Catholic gay couples and parents of gay people sharing their stories and explaining why as Catholics they support marriage equality.

Above: My friends Brent and Lisa, parents of a gay son, share their story. To read their letter to Rep. Patti Fritz, click here.

Right: My friend Michael provides the voice-over for the videos.

Above: Also featured in Catholics for Marriage Equality MN's video project is State Senator Scott Dibble and his husband Richard Leyva. The project's producer, Mary Kay Orman, is at right interviewing the couple, while filmmaker Aleshia Mueller operates the camera.

For Nick Halter's Southwest Journal story on Scott Dibble and his stand against the efforts to ban civil marriage rights for same-sex couples, click here.

Above: Richard and Scott.

Above: On May 2 Catholics for Marriage Equality MN hosted an educational and organizing event in Columbia Heights, MN.

Entitled "A Catholic Case in Support of Same-Sex Civil Marriage," the event featured three speakers addressing the legal, psycho-social and theological meaning and implications of same-sex marriage. Time was also spent discussing, strategizing and launching the MN Catholic Campaign for Marriage Equality. This campaign aims to:

1) Oppose (in a respectful and informed way) the proposed constitutional amendment banning marriage for same-sex couples.

2) Advocate for marriage equality for all, regardless of sexual orientation.

3) Challenge the bishops' anti-gay marriage efforts and let Minnesota legislators and voters know that the bishops do not speak for the majority of Catholics on this issue.

For the 5-Step Action Plan of this campaign, click here.

Left: I was honored to be one of the three speakers at Catholics for Marriage Equality MN's May 2 event. As Executive Coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), co-chair of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR), and co-convener of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, I spoke on how we can support same-sex marriage from an alternative philosophical/theological perspective to that promulgated by the Minnesota Catholic Conference of Bishops.

Candace Mainville, MA (above center), a Hennepin County social worker, spoke from her professional experience and with references from psycho-social scientific studies about the qualifications and competencies of same-sex couples raising children as compared with opposite-sex couples. She also shared her professional perceptions and knowledge of the psycho-social adjustment of children raised by gay and lesbian parents in comparison with those raised by opposite-sex parents.

Phil Duran, JD (above at right), who serves as OutFront Minnesota's Legal Director, shared the legal implications and potential impact on LGBT families of any constitutional amendment banning civil marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Above: Candace Mainville responds to a question from the audience at Catholics for Marriage Equality MN's May 2 event.

Above: Members of the Minnesota Senate deliberating the marriage amendment – May 11, 2011.

For more on the events of this day at the Minnesota State Capitol, click here.

On the evening of Saturday, May 14, I hosted a gathering of members and supporters of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN at my home in St. Paul.

Left: With friends Mary Lynn Murphy and Paula Ruddy.

Right: With my friend Michael Douglas.

Above: From left: Joe Boyle; CPCSM co-founder and Catholics for Marriage Equality co-convener David McCaffrey; Darlene White; Marybeth Boyle and Tom White – May 14, 2011.

Above: Monday, May 16 saw over 600 Minnesotans gather at the State Capitol to protest the proposed marriage amendment and advocate for marriage equality for all.

For more images and commentary, click here and here.

Above: Saturday, May 21 – At the Capitol as the Minnesota House of Representatives debates the marriage amendment late into the night.

Above: Catholics for Marriage Equality MN at the Minnesota State Capitol – Saturday, May 21, 2011.

Left: My friends Tony and Chris – straight allies in the struggle for civil marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Above: Members of this Latino family asked at one point to help hold the Catholics for Marriage Equality MN banner.

House Democrats emerge from the House Chamber and are joined by Sen. Scott Dibble after the May 21 Minnesota House of Representatives vote on the marriage amendment. Standing next to Scott is Rep. Karen Clark.

Noted the Associated Press:

After nearly six hours of emotional debate, a proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman was approved in the Minnesota House late Saturday night. It was the last legislative step needed to put the question on the statewide ballot in November 2012.

State law already prohibits gay marriage, but supporters of the proposed amendment said it’s necessary to prevent judges or lawmakers from legalizing it in the future. Opponents said the constitution should be used to expand rights, not limit them, and predicted a long, divisive debate over the next 18 months.

The House voted 70-62 mostly along party lines in the GOP-controlled chamber, though four Republicans crossed over to vote ‘no’ while two Democrats voted in favor of the ban.

During Saturday’s debate, which drew hundreds of people to the Capitol, Rep. Karen Clark described her 22-year committed relationship with her female partner. The Minneapolis Democrat said they considered getting married in Iowa, where gay marriage is legal, so her ailing father could see her marry.

“Please don’t make me go off to Iowa,” she told her colleagues. “I was raised in Minnesota. I’m a child of Minnesota.”

After the vote, Clark said it was “a sad day for Minnesota.”

For more images and commentary on the events of May 21 at the Minnesota State Capitol, see
here, here, here and here.

Above: My friend Bob with Eddie!

This photo was taken at the lovely brunch that my friends Noelle and John hosted for me after I delivered the homily at Spirit of St. Stephen's Catholic Community on the morning of Sunday, May 22.

On the evening of Friday, May 27, members and friends of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN gathered at my home in St. Paul to watch the "rough cut" of our video project!

Above: Jim, Lisa, Grace and Janet.

Right: Standing at left with Tom and Noah.

Above: Sen. Scott Dibble stands with project producer (and cousin) Mary Kay Orman (left) and filmmaker Aleshia Mueller.

Left: With my friend Scott!

For The Wild Reed's coverage of the struggle for marriage equality in Minnesota, see the following chronologically-ordered posts:
Senator John Marty on Marriage Equality in MN: "We Can Make It Happen"
A Catholic Voice for Marriage Equality at the State Capitol
MN Legislators Hear from Supporters and Opponents of Marriage Equality
At UST, a Rousing and Very Catholic Show of Support for Marriage Equality
Minnesotans Rally for Equality and Love at the State Capitol
A Message for NOM (and the Catholic Hierarchy
Archbishop Nienstedt Calls (Again) for a Marriage Amendment to Minnesota's Constitution
Archbishop Nienstedt's Unconvincing Argument
Archbishop Nienstedt Has It Wrong
Distinguishing Between Roman Catholic Theology and Civil Law in the Struggle for Marriage Equality
Dale Carpenter on the "Win-Win" Reality of Gay Marriage
The Minnesota Bishops' Last Ditch Effort
It's a Scandal
The Minnesota Bishops' Unholy War
Exposing NOM's Shameful Behavior in Minnesota
A Catholic Statement of Support for Same-Sex Marriage
A Celebration of Faith and Family; A Call for Compassion and Fairness
Governor Mark Dayton to LGBT Advocates: "I Stand with You"
Disappointing but Not Unexpected: "Marriage Amendment" Bill Passes MN Senate Judiciary Committee
Rep. Steve Simon on Gay Marriage and the Arc of History
Winona Daily News Calls Proposed Marriage Amendment "Bigoted" and "Malicious"
Catholic Attitudes on Gay and Lesbian Issues: An Overview
Quote of the Day – May 5, 2011
Tips on Speaking as a Catholic in Support of Marriage Equality
Law Professor: Marriage Amendment is Divisive and Mean-Spirited
Opposition to the Marriage Amendment Grows
The Real Losers at the MN State Capitol Today
David Booth on What It Might Mean to "Let the People Decide"
At the Minnesota Capitol, Signs of the Times
MN Marriage Amendment Headed for House Vote
An Eventful Day at the Capitol
Protests Against the Proposed Marriage Amendment Continue
Day One of the Campaign to Defeat the Anti-Family Marriage Ban
Doug Grow on Republican Rep. John Kriesel's Anti-Amendment Speech
Quote of the Day – May 23, 2011
The Political Intrigue (and Money) Behind the MN Marriage Amendment
In the Struggle for Marriage Equality, MN Catholics are Making a Difference by Changing Hearts and Minds

Wishing Him Love

The latest in The Wild Reed series highlighting British pop/soul vocalist Dusty Springfield features a beautiful clip taken from the second season of Dusty's BBC television series. It was first broadcast on September 12, 1967, and features Dusty singing the Albert Beech and Charles Trenet standard, "I Wish You Love."

I dedicate this song to Doug and the beautiful and brilliant times we shared.

Goodbye, no use leading with our chins,
this is where the story ends,
never lovers, ever friends.

Goodbye, let our hearts call it a day,
but before you walk away,
I sincerely want to say . . .

I wish you bluebirds in the spring
to give your heart a song to sing.
And then a kiss,
but more than this,
I wish you love.

And in July a lemonade
to cool you in some leafy glade.
I wish you health.
and more than wealth,
I wish you love.

My aching heart and I agree
that you and I could never be.
So with my best, my very best,
I set you free.

I wish you shelter from the storm,
a cozy fire to keep you warm.
But most of all,
when snowflakes fall,
I wish you love.

Marriage Equality: Simple Answers to NOM's Complicated Lies

Jeremy Hooper and Alvin McEwen have developed a number of excellent talking points in response to the misinformation and outright lies promulgated by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). McEwen (pictured at right) is the author of Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters: Exposing the Lies of the Anti-Gay Industry.

Much to the dismay of many Catholics, most members of the clerical caste of the Catholic Church have aligned themselves with NOM (see here and here) and are actively working to deny gay couples the rights and benefits of civil marriage.

Yet as Hooper and McEwen point out:

There is no justifiable reason to deny the gay community (and we're speaking about lgbts in a colloquial sense) the right to marry. However, what the gay community seems to be lacking is a way to break this issue down into simple, true points which demonstrates the necessity of marriage equality in spite of organizations who mobilize people (through ignorance and fear) against marriage equality. By refuting the points of one of these groups – the National Organization for Marriage – with accurate, simple information, we can not only prove the need for marriage equality but also show the basic emptiness of arguments against marriage equality.

On McEwen's blogsite, Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters, the authors give permission for their talking points to be shared. And so I post them today at The Wild Reed.


As evidenced by its talking points, the National Organization for Marriage is taking a highly deceptive tone in its supposed "defense of marriage."

The idea that "marriage has to be defended" is nothing more than a cynical talking point designed to take attention away from the true issue – the lives of same-sex couples and especially the livelihood of children in same-sex households.

And it is a talking point which fuels NOM's tactic of creating division on many levels – same-sex households vs. heterosexual two-parent household, the lgbt community vs. the heterosexual community, the black community vs. the lgbt community and so on. This "divide and conquer" strategy, created via a passive/aggressive subterfuge, is designed to appeal to people's fears, jealousies, and ideas of religious superiority rather than their belief in basic fairness.

The truth of the matter is marriage is not "under attack." It has never been "under attack."

But what is under attack is truth, integrity, and basic fairness for the hundreds of thousands of same-sex couples and especially their children who seem to be nothing more than chess pieces in NOM's game of exploitation and manipulation, as evidenced by the following talking point:

NOM – "Gays and Lesbians have a right to live as they choose, they don’t have the right to redefine marriage for all of us."

Truth – Allowing gays and lesbians to marry does not "redefine marriage" for the entire country because they are not forcing heterosexuals to engage in gay marriage. It's 100% false. And the gay community don't have a right to live as they choose, per the currently unequal laws of this nation in terms of employment, housing, etc.

Unfortunately, generalizations and straw man arguments encompass more of NOM's talking points. The following are the list of said talking points, as well as logical answers which refutes them:

Answers to NOM's "Frequently Asked Questions"

NOM – 1. Are you a bigot? “Why do you want to take away people’s rights?” “Isn’t it wrong to write discrimination into the constitution?”

A: “Do you really believe people like me who believe mothers and fathers both matter to kids are like bigots and racists? I think that’s pretty offensive, don’t you? Particularly to the 60 percent of African-Americans who oppose same-sex marriage. Marriage as the union of husband and wife isn’t new; it’s not taking away anyone’s rights. It’s common sense.”

Truth – This an unfair generalization of the argument for marriage equality. However, if one was to go there, one could point to the many instances of those claiming to protect marriage making homophobic comments which belie the claim that they simply believe that "mothers and fathers matter to kids."

For example: Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage has called homosexuality “an unfortunate thing” which represents “at a minimum, a sexual dysfunction.”

Jason McGuire of New Yorker’s Family Research Foundation (NYFRF) has compared marriage equality to child abuse.

Alveda King, a conservative African-American activist, called marriage equality "genocide."

National Organization For Marriage of Rhode Island executive director Christopher Plante called same-sex families "tragic situations" akin to families with divorced or even dead parents.

The Minnesota Family Council (who is partnering with NOM to stop marriage equality in Minnesota) recently pushed information on its web page linking the gay community to bestiality, pedophilia, and the consuming of urine and human excrement.

NOM – 2. Isn’t the ban on gay marriage like bans on interracial marriage?

A: “Bans on interracial marriage were about keeping two races apart so that one race could oppress the other. Marriage is about bringing two sexes together, so that children get the love of their own mom and a dad, and women don’t get stuck with the enormous disadvantages of parenting alone.” “Having a parent of two different races is just not the same as being deprived of your mother—or your father.”

Truth – Racists believed that interracial marriage would create genetically inferior children. Some opposing marriage equality claim that it would create conditions placing children in danger.

But neither view is backed by science. Children born from interracial relationships are not inferior. In that same vein, the majority of studies which look at children in same-sex households have found that they suffer no adverse effects.

NOM – 3. Why do we need a constitutional amendment? “Isn’t DOMA enough?”

A: “Lawsuits like the one that imposed gay marriage in Massachusetts now threaten marriage in at least 12 other states so far. We need a marriage amendment to settle the issue once and for all, so we don’t have this debate in our face every day. The people get to decide what marriage means. No-end run around the rules by activist judges or grandstanding San-Francisco-style politicians.”

Truth – Organizations like NOM favor voter referendums where they pour millions of dollars into commercials and flyers which rely on inaccurate studies or the repetition of false horror stories designed to scare people into voting against marriage equality. NOM brags about how people in states like California and Maine voted against marriage equality, but the organization always omits the part about how these voters were manipulated by fears of the "gay agenda coming for their children." NOM and other organizations opposing marriage equality are probably fearful of defending their arguments in court because as lawyer David Boies said, "the witness stand is lonely place to lie." We saw this in the 2010 Proposition 8 trial when no one from NOM testified for the California law banning gay marriage.

NOM – 4. What’s the harm from SSM? “How can Adam and Steve hurt your marriage?”

A: “Who gets harmed? The people of this state who lose our right to define marriage as the union of husband and wife, that’s who. That is just not right.”

Truth – What about the rights of same-sex couples? Also, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, 33 percent of female same-sex couple households and 22 percent of male same-sex couple households reported at least one child under eighteen living in their home and no doubt, that number has increased. And according to Gary Gates, a demographer at the University of California, Los Angeles, Black or Latino gay couples are twice as likely as whites to be raising children. What about the rights of these families?

NOM – “If courts rule that same-sex marriage is a civil right, then, people like you and me who believe children need moms and dads will be treated like bigots and racists.”

Truth – This is a distortion. Same-sex households are not in competition with heterosexual households. Children need family environments which give them love and support.

NOM – “Religious groups like Catholic Charities or the Salvation Army may lose their tax exemptions, or be denied the use of parks and other public facilities, unless they endorse gay marriage."

Truth – No religious group (or any individual for that matter) will be forced to endorse anything. Those are just words used to scare people. And tax exemption controversies have nothing to do with marriage equality, but rather how far should religious exemptions go if religious charities demanding these exemptions are using tax dollars. For example, is it fair for Catholic Charities in Illinois to have the right not to allow gays to adopt children they care for even if these charities are receiving over $30 million in tax dollars (after all, the gay community does pay taxes).

NOM – “Public schools will teach young children that two men being intimate are just the same as a husband and wife, even when it comes to raising kids.”

Truth – This is a lie. The nonpartisan webpage Politifact found that this claim was inaccurate. In Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legal, same-sex intimacy is not in the curriculum. Even those who oppose marriage equality, such as Marc Mutty – who helped lead the charge against it in Maine – said that this claim is hyperbole geared to motivate people through fear.

In reality, conversations about same-sex households probably happen already in schools amongst the students themselves. Again, according the 2000 U.S. Census, 33 percent of female same-sex couple households and 22 percent of male same-sex couple households reported at least one child under eighteen living in their home. It's safe to say that a vast number of these children attend public schools. Is it fair for them not to be able to talk about their families?

NOM – “When the idea that children need moms and dads get legally stigmatized as bigotry, the job of parents and faith communities trying to transmit a marriage culture to their kids is going to get a lot harder.”

Truth – Allowing same-sex couples to marry does not "legally stigmatize" two-parent heterosexual families as "bigotry." Same-sex couples with children are not in competition with mother/father couples. And to infer this is saying that families should be subjected to a caste system where one family is inferior to another simply because of make-up. That is un-American.

NOM – “One thing is for sure: The people of this state will lose our right to keep marriage as the union of a husband and wife. That’s not right.”

Truth – What about the rights of same-sex couples or same-sex couples and their children? Don't they have a say in this matter?

NOM – 5. Why do you want to interfere with love?

A: “Love is a great thing. But marriage isn’t just any kind of love; it’s the special love of husband and wife for each other and their children.”

Truth – Giving same-sex couples the right to marry does not interfere with anyone's marriage or the love of their children. And love in a same-sex household between partners and between parents and children is no different than in a heterosexual household. Here, NOM is trying to define love, something they often accuse gay activists/ the state of doing.

NOM – 6. What about benefits? Don’t gay couples and their kids need the benefits and protections of marriage?”

A: “If medical proxies aren’t working, let’s fix that problem. If people need health care, let’s get them health care. Don’t mess with marriage.”

Truth – It goes beyond medical proxies. Why should gay and lesbian tax-paying citizens have to jump through hoops to get the same benefits as heterosexual marriage couples? And often these extra burdens are extremely costly. Plus they are not easily recognized like the currency of marriage is. Imagine having your partner of 20 years in the hospital with a serious injury, and having to explain why, exactly, you qualify to be by his or her bedside.

NOM – “The issue isn’t benefits, it is marriage. Local folks can decide benefits. This is about the meaning of marriage, our most basic social institution for protecting children."

Truth – There have been instances in which organizations that claim to be simply "protecting marriage" have interfered with local communities deciding these issues of benefits on the claim that granting these benefits is a "backdoor way" to gain same-sex marriage. In Wisconsin, a "morality group" is trying to overturn the state law which allows gay couples to have hospital visitations. Also, marriage in itself does not protect children from abuse, neglect, etc. However, the denial of marriage rights harms children. Not only children of gay parents, but also children who have gay family members, who constantly hear how controversial their loved ones supposedly are.

NOM – 7. Isn’t divorce the real threat to marriage?

A: “High rates of divorce are one more reason we should be strengthening marriage, not conducting radical social experiments on it.”

Truth – Denying same-sex couples the right to marry does not hinder the high rate of divorce. Nor does it strengthen heterosexual marriage. Also, it's highly offensive to say loving, tax-paying couples make up a "radical social experiment."

NOM – 8. Are you saying gays cannot be good parents?

A: “Two men might each be a good father, but neither can be a mom. The ideal for children is the love of their own mom and dad. No same-sex couple can provide that.”

Truth – The ideal environment for raising a child is one that provides love and support. No one is bashing the heterosexual mom/dad dynamic by pointing out the simple fact that this dynamic is not the reality for a lot of families. Also, multiple studies demonstrate that children in same-sex households are not harmed by this environment. NOM's definition is not only offensive – it's intellectually vacant. Under NOM's definition, single mothers and fathers are just as "bad." Lastly NOM's point is very contradictory. There are many households where children are not with "their own" mom and dad, i.e. adoptive households.

NOM – 9. What about older or infertile couples? If they marry why not same-sex couples?

A: “Every man and woman who marries is capable of giving any child they create (or adopt) a mother and a father. No same-sex couple can do this. It’s apples and oranges.”

Truth – Again, not all families have a mother and a father in the household. If we base the worthiness of families based on this dynamic, how soon will it be before we start bashing single-parent households or heterosexual married couples who choose not to have children?


All in all, NOM's talking points are nothing more than smoke and mirrors. They are a perfect example of the saying – "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Furthermore, they are also strategically worded to take all onus off of what NOM, as an organization, actually does on a daily basis. NOM's talking points are also deeply offensive to many (LGBT people and supporters alike). And perhaps most of all: They do not come close to matching the reality of the world.

Talking points developed by Jeremy Hooper and Alvin McEwen. Feel free to link to or copy and paste these points.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Tips for Speaking as a Catholic in Support of Marriage Equality
A Catholic Statement of Support for Same-Sex Marriage
Responding to Bishop Tobin's Remarks on Gay Marriage
In the Struggle for Marriage Equality, MN Catholics are Making a Difference by Changing Hearts and Minds
Catholic Attitudes on Gay and Lesbian Issues: An Overview
A Message to NOM (and the Catholic Hierarchy)
At UST, a Rousing and Very Catholic Show of Support for Marriage Equality

Related Off-site Links:
NOM, Family Council Register to Begin Fundraising for Minnesota Marriage Battle – Andy Birkey (Minnesota Independent, June 1, 2011).
NOM Showing Large Scale Hypocrisy in Minnesota – Alvin McEwen (Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters, June 1, 2011).
As Expected, Anti-Gay Groups Preparing Propaganda Blitz In Minnesota – Carlos Maza (EqualityMatters.org, May 25, 2011).

Quote of the Day

The rapid and terrifying acceleration of global warming, which is disfiguring the ecosystem at a swifter pace than even the gloomiest scientific studies predicted a few years ago, has been confronted by the power elite with two kinds of self-delusion. There are those, many of whom hold elected office, who dismiss the science and empirical evidence as false. There are others who accept the science surrounding global warming but insist that the human species can adapt. Our only salvation—the rapid dismantling of the fossil fuel industry—is ignored by both groups. And we will be led, unless we build popular resistance movements and carry out sustained acts of civil disobedience, toward collective self-annihilation by dimwitted pied pipers and fools.

Those who concede that the planet is warming but insist we can learn to live with it are perhaps more dangerous than the buffoons who decide to shut their eyes. It is horrifying enough that the House of Representatives voted 240-184 this spring to defeat a resolution that said that “climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare.” But it is not much of an alternative to trust those who insist we can cope with the effects while continuing to burn fossil fuels. . . .

– Chris Hedges
"The Sky Really is Falling"
May 30, 2011

Related Off-site Links:
Deadly Tornado Crashes Through North Minneapolis – Bill McAuliffe, Randy Furst, Paul Walsh and Heron Marquez Estrada (Star Tribune, May 23, 2011).
Joplin Tornado Leaves Thousands With No Place to Call Home – Kevin Murphy (Reuters, May 30, 2011).
A Link Between Climate Change and the Joplin Tornadoes? Never! – Bill McKibben (The Washington Post, May 23 2011).
Ocean's Acidification is Latest Manifestation of Global Warming – Robin McKie (The Observer, May 29, 2011).
Global Food Crisis: Counting the Real Cost of Biofuels – Alex Evans (The Guardian, May 31, 2011).
Vatican-Appointed Panel Warns of Climate Change Associated Press (May 10, 2011).

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A "Truly Queer Theory" on Sex

Although I didn't agree with everything the late D. Stephen Heersink wrote (both on his Gay Species blog and in comments here at The Wild Reed), I nevertheless appreciated and respected his erudition and prolificacy as a writer.

I also found much of what he wrote to be very insightful and helpful, in particular the following – parts of which I've previously shared in my Wild Reed post "Dew[y]-Kissed." This particular piece by Heersink is excerpted from his September 19, 2006 Gay Species post, "Sex, Erotic Play, and Love," and I'm curious to hear how it resonates with my readers – gay and straight, male and female.

Unleashing the repression of Puritanism has not made many of us much happier. Watching some documentaries about the Seventies where sex was the national obsession, I find it utterly demeaning to have sex with three or seven different people in the course of a single day (assuming male virility can perform that often), and then have an orgy that night. Sex is unquestionably pleasurable, perhaps one of the highlights of life itself, but so many different partners in so little time suggests no one was really getting off, except on the idea of getting off. Parading in the shadows of the bath houses, the street yards, the parks, the bars, with a different "member" in play every hour seems to have made sex less satisfying, not more. And the less satisfied, the more one pursues it, of course. I suspect many of us, gay and straight, have become obsessed with the idea of sex, so that no amount of actual sex is ever satisfying.

Now I have a truly queer theory about this sort of thing. Mechanical Sex, the kind that sex manuals teach their readers to enjoy with abandon, quickly becomes pedestrian, indeed mechanical. Get it up, get it in, and get off. On the opposite side of the spectrum is sexual, or more accurately, "erotic" love. These extraordinary occasions are pregnant with meaning, intimacy, caring, sharing, mutuality, and immersion. But this requires an investment in the other, and some measure of self-control by one's self. The "significance" is when the eyes, lips, and breath of the Other is itself so captivating that one is not aware of any of the mechanics.

Obviously, not all intimate encounters can be so pregnant. Those occasions require the right chemistry, the right mood, the right person, the right idea, and something more than getting off. But there seems to be an intermediary position that most of us, straight and gay, are ignoring. Sometimes "erotic play" is just the touch we want, no deep commitments, no heavy intensity, no mechanical sex, just a sense of mutual interplay without the seriousness of love, but without the recklessness of hedonistic or raw sex. In this twilight one simply "plays" in the truest sense of the word. Conversation, stroking, laughing, erotic pleasures, but only tinged with a hint of actual sex. . . .

– D. Stephen Heersink
"Sex, Erotic Play, and Love"
The Gay Species
September 19, 2006

Heersink's acknowledgement of a spectrum of sexual experiences/encounters reminds me of Thomas Stevenson's observation in Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Gay Catholic Men.

There is a difference between losing oneself and losing oneself. On the one hand, [many gay men] are concerned with the ways in which promiscuous behavior can leave one with a sense of emptiness, or destroy one’s self respect or even one’s life. These are very real possibilities of losing oneself. On the other hand, there is the losing of oneself in an ecstasy of giving and receiving persons. Whereas the first way of losing oneself tends to lead, in matters of degree, to nothingness, the second tends to lead, in matters of degrees, to fullness and bliss.

Now the question is: Can such a "queer theory" on sex be incorporated into the Roman Catholic Church's understanding of human sexuality?

Actually, I think it already has. Not yet at the "official" level, mind you (that's always been a bit slow when it comes to such things), but definitely among the church as "people of God." One only has to look at the non-reception of the clerical caste's ban on contraception. It seems clear that straight Catholic couples recognize that there is more than one purpose of sex; that sex isn't just about making babies.

And in the academic sphere, too, some very important work is being done by Catholic scholars, theologians and writers to develop a sexual/moral theology that acknowledges and takes into consideration the experiences and insights of all of us – gay, straight and everything in between. I think in particular of the pioneering work of John McNeill; the invaluable insights of Daniel Helminiak, Daniel Maguire, Margaret Farley, Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler, Joan Timmerman, Mark Jordan, and Mary Hunt; and the important contributions that Thomas Stevenson makes in his book Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Gay Catholic Men, and that William Lindsey, Colleen Kochivar-Baker, Joseph O'Leary, Terence Weldon, Jaydon Cameron, Karen Doherty, Phillip Clark, and many others make through their online writings.

I think Heersink's "truly queer theory" on sex is actually a "truly human" one. And I'm happy to see that the formulation and articulation of such a reality-based understanding of human sexuality and its expression is taking place within the Catholic church – with or without the support or approval of its clerical caste.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Sex as Mystery, Sex as Light (Part 1)
Sex as Mystery, Sex as Light (Part 2)
Human Sex: Weird and Silly, Messy and Sublime
Real Holiness
The Non-Negotiables of Human Sex
Joan Timmerman on the "Wisdom of the Body"
Quote of the Day – April 11, 2011
Relationship: The Crucial Factor in Sexual Morality
The Standard of Sexual Ethics
Jesus, Sex and Power
The "Wild Gaiety" of Jesus' Moral Teaching
Italian Cardinal Calls for New Vision of Sexuality
What Is It That Ails You?
The Prison of Pornography

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Remembering the "Brave and Brilliant" Gil Scott-Heron

In a moving piece in The Guardian of London, publisher Jamie Byng pays tribute to the "godfather of rap," Gil Scott-Heron, who died May 27 in New York City.

I'll share an excerpt from Byng's piece shortly, but first a little something from another Guardian article on the death of the Scott-Heron, one written by David Sharrock who reminds us how in the 1970s and '80s, Scott-Heron's spoken word recordings "helped shape the emerging hip-hop culture." Indeed, "generations of rappers cite his work as an influence." Continues Sharrock: :

He was known as the Godfather of Rap but disapproved of the title, preferring to describe what he did as "bluesology" – a fusion of poetry, soul, blues and jazz, all shot through with a piercing social conscience and strong political messages, tackling issues such as apartheid and nuclear arms.

"If there was any individual initiative that I was responsible for it might have been that there was music in certain poems of mine, with complete progression and repeating 'hooks', which made them more like songs than just recitations with percussion," Scott-Heron wrote in the introduction to his 1990 Now and Then collection of poems.

He was best known for "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," the critically acclaimed recording from his first album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, and for his collaborations with jazz/funk pianist and flautist Brian Jackson.

In "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," first recorded in 1970, he issued a fierce critique of the role of race in the mass media and advertising age. "The revolution will not be right back after a message about a white tornado, white lightning or white people," he sang.

. . . Scott-Heron's 2010 album,
I'm New Here, was his first new studio release in 16 years and was hailed by critics. The album's first song, "On Coming From a Broken Home," is an ode to his maternal grandmother, Lillie, who raised him in Jackson, Tennessee, until her death when he was 13. He moved to New York after that.

Following, with added images and links, are excerpts from Jamie Byng's tribute to Scott-Heron, "My Brave and Brilliant Friend."

. . . At one point in [our 2010] interview, Gil says: "If someone comes to you and asks for help, and you can help them, you're supposed to help them. Why wouldn't you? You have been put in the position somehow to be able to help this person." That undeniable truth and his simple expression of the importance of taking care of those around you who need help and ask for help was not some empty statement. Gil lived by this creed and throughout a magnificent musical career, he helped people again and again, with his willingness and ability to articulate deep truths, through his eloquent attacks on injustices and by his enormous compassion for people's pain.

. . . Hundreds of thousands of people saw Gil perform live over the decades, always with remarkable bands, and few came away untouched by his magnetism, humility, biting wit and warmth of spirit. He was the most generous of bandleaders, inspiring great loyalty and love in his fellow musicians, infecting everybody on and off stage with his singularity of vision, his charismatic personality, his moral beauty and his willingness to take his fellow travellers through the full range of emotions.

Just listen to "Work for Peace," from his penultimate album Spirits, to be reminded of just how consistently relevant and incredibly sharp his vision was and will remain. If you want to relive the joy and empathy he felt towards people and music, just play "Lady Day and John Coltrane." If you want to hear again his railing against social injustice, replay "Johannesburg." Who else was decrying and condemning apartheid in 1974? If you want to remember his lyrical genius and profound understanding of his own country's tragic and troubled history, then Winter in America is essential listening. If you want to appreciate his withering assessment of the perpetually bankrupt politics of Republicanism, then listen to the "H2O Gate Blues" or "B Movie," two remarkably prescient records that not only put Nixon and Reagan in the dock and found them guilty as charged, but do so with dark humour and wickedly barbed putdowns that few people can match. "B Movie," like his top 10 hit "The Bottle," also manages to be a very heavy dance groove to which I have seen whole dance floors erupt.

"Pieces of a Man," "New York is Killing Me," "We Almost Lost Detroit," "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," "We Beg Your Pardon, America," "Ain't No Such Thing as Superman," "Jose Campos Torres," "I Think I'll Call it Morning," "Whitey on the Moon," "New York City," "Is That Jazz?" . . . the range and quality of the Gil Scott-Heron songbook will only come to be fully appreciated over the years to come.

If one good thing comes out of his death, it might be that it sends people back to his music quicker than they might otherwise have gone and his body of work will be properly assessed, enjoyed and shared.

Jamie Byng
The Guardian
May 29, 2011

I'm gonna take myself a piece of sunshine
and paint it all over my sky, yeah.
Be no rain.
Be no rain.

I'm gonna take the song from every bird
and make 'em sing it just for me, yeah.
Bird's got something to teach us all
about being free, yeah.
Be no rain.
Be no rain.

And I think I'll call it morning from now on.
Why should I survive on sadness?
And tell myself I got to be alone?
Why should I subscribe to this world's madness,
knowing that I've got to live on?
Yeah, I think I'll call it morning from now on.

I'm gonna take myself a piece of sunshine
and paint it all over my sky, yeah.
Be no rain.
Be no rain.

I'm gonna take the song from every bird
and make them sing it just for me, yeah.
'Cause why should I hang my head?
Why should I let tears fall from my eyes
when I've seen everything there is to see?
And I know there is no sense in crying.
I know there ain't no sense in crying.
Yeah, I think I'll call it morning from now on, yeah.
I'll call it morning from now on, yeah

'Cause there ain't gonna be no rain
Be no rain, be no rain,
be no rain from now on, yeah.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Musical Pioneer Gil Scott-Heron Dies in New York at Age 62 – David Hinckley (New York Daily News, May 28, 2011).
Music World Pays Tribute to "Godfather of Rap" – David Sharrock (The Observer, May 29, 2011).
Gil Scott-Heron: Paving a Black Road to the White House – John McTernan (The Telegraph, May 28, 2011).
A Legend's Rough Road – Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly, January 29, 2010).
A Review of Gil Scott-Heron's 2009 release I'm New Here – Jude Rogers (The Guardian, November 19, 2009).