Sunday, January 31, 2016

We All Dance . . .

. . . to a mysterious tune.

And the piper who plays the melody
from an inscrutable distance –
whatever name we give him
– Creative Force, God –
escapes all book knowledge.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Soul of a Dancer
The Source is Within You
A Kind of Dancing Divinity
Unique . . . Yes, You!
In the Dance of Light, Eyes of Fiery Passion
Divine Connection
"Then I Shall Leap Into Love"

Image: Renan Cerdeiro (Photo: Leonardo Batista)

Friday, January 29, 2016

Israeli Policy, Not Anti-Semitism, at the Root of Disruption at Creating Change 2016 Conference

The above image by Micah Bazant accompanies a response by the group ‪#‎CancelPinkwashing‬ to those who have criticized its members for shutting down a January 22 reception at this year's National LGBTQ Taskforce's Creating Change conference.

This reception was hosted by A Wider Bridge, an organization that "fosters relationships between Israel and the LGBT community," and the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance. #‎CancelPinkwashing understands these organizations to be "Zionist" groups, and accuse them of "pinkwashing," a term that refers to the "cynical use of gay rights to distract from and normalize Israeli occupation, settler colonialism, and apartheid."

At one point in #CancelPinkwashing's response the group states the following:

A few of our goals were accomplished, namely that we shut down the pinkwashing reception and raised the national visibility of pinkwashing as a Zionist tactic. We also actively pushed back on the overall complicity of Creating Change and the Task Force. We should note that this is not the first time that the Task Force has been criticized for marginalizing people of color or cultivating racism at Creating Change. In fact, these criticisms and protests are commonplace at the Conference. Whether this year or in the past . . . We call on the Task Force to take a firm stand against colonialism, racism and apartheid and refuse to host pinkwashing events by Israel advocacy organizations.

To read ‪#‎CancelPinkwashing's statement in its entirety, click here.

But what exactly is pinkwashing? Well, here's how the author of a January 26 commentary at Now North Face defines it.

In Mark Joseph Stern’s op-ed about #cancelpinkwashing in Slate Magazine, he repeats a misconception that I’ve heard quite a bit. He thinks that when people complain about pinkwashing, what they’re saying is “All advances for LGBTQ+ people in Israeli society, all support for LGBTQ+ people among Israeli government or organizations, is a smokescreen created only to deflect or distract from criticism of Israeli treatment of Palestinians,” which would be anti-Semitic because of the implication that the world’s only Jewish-dominated government only does good things for insidious, malignant reasons, which plays to old anti-Semitic tropes.

That’s not what pinkwashing means. . . . Pinkwashing means the exploitation of Israeli support for some kinds of LGBTQ+ rights, or the vibrancy of Israel’s LGBTQ+ communities, for deflection or propaganda purposes. Do people think it’s anti-Semitic to think that Israel engages in propaganda? Israel certainly thinks Israel engages in propaganda.

The Israeli government, in fact, developed Hasbara Fellowships to train students in “public diplomacy,” in conjunction with Aish HaTorah, a homophobic Orthodox organization that has promoted conversion “therapy”. And those Hasbara Fellows, supported by this homophobic organization and the Israeli government, have developed campaigns to convince students to believe that supporting LGBTQ+ rights means supporting Israel, under the premise of benign educational events. That is pinkwashing.

In his January 28 commentary Scout Bratt says that it was a "good thing" that the debate over pinkwashing at the Creating Change conference was "agitational . . . uncomfortable [and] brought out tensions in our relationships, our values and our communities." He goes to say the following.

While others in the Jewish world are handwringing about the idea of “intersectionality,” we were striving to connect our struggles for liberation with those of others.

It’s because of this interconnected struggle that we can’t sit quietly and watch pinkwashing organizations like A Wider Bridge paper over Israel’s harmful policies toward Palestinians — policies that harm gay Palestinians in Haifa as well as in Ramallah. This pinkwashing is an integral part of Israel’s “Brand Israel” public relations strategy, which appeals to racist ideas of Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims as backward and intolerant in contrast to the supposedly enlightened Western liberalism of Israel. A superficial embrace of “gay rights” has been used as an effective way to advertise Israel’s Western identity, at the expense of Palestinians who are portrayed as needing to be “saved” by Israeli liberalism — even as they are simultaneously denied equal rights in the Jewish state. Pinkwashing erases queer Palestinians, or uses them as props for a savior narrative, while intentionally distracting from the oppression and violence that they face under Israeli rule.

Of course, not everyone agrees with the perspective, goals or tactics of ‪#‎CancelPinkwashing. An open letter to the Taskforce by 90 "members and leaders of the LGBTQ community," some Jewish, some not, denounced the actions of ‪#‎CancelPinkwashing. This letter noted, in part, the following:

It has been reported – and videos taken contemporaneously confirm – that the protesters chanted slogans like “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea,” which necessarily suggests that the State of Israel should no longer exist.

. . . Given the concentrated and organized hostility that is so often displayed against Jewish and Israeli LGBTQ groups, and the stark rise in global anti-Semitism, it is even more important that we as a community promote civil and respectful debate. It is intellectually, politically and morally dishonest to claim that in the name of freedom, liberation, or some other progressive ideal, there is a right to target and exclude Jewish/Israeli groups, to foment physical intimidation and harassment, and to encourage anti-Semitism.

There is a long and ugly history of this kind of censorship where individuals with controversial ideas and viewpoints have been silenced in the name of the “greater good.” We should know by now that such censorship results in fewer (not more) good ideas and greater (not lesser) oppression of us all. Indeed, given that we come from a movement where LGBTQ people were effectively shut out from participation in the public discourse for so many years, what happened at Creating Change 2016 was extremely dangerous. If we as a movement really believe in the values we profess to hold dear, then it is time to put an end to this.

To read this open letter in its entirety, click here.

I have to say that I find it both troubling and problematic when criticism of Israeli policy is equated with anti-Semitism or efforts to "encourage" anti-Semitism. From everything I've read, it seems clear that those who disrupted the reception were compelled to do so not by anti-Semitism, but by their anger, frustration and concern around Israeli policy as it relates to the Palestinians and others.

Here's part of one response to the above open letter of denoucement that address this erroneous conflating of anti-Israeli policy with anti-Semitism.

We deeply disagree with any anti-Semitic language that may have been used during the protest. But focusing the conversation on the actions of a single person among several hundred is disingenuous, and an attempt to deflect and derail the conversation about why the protests occurred in the first place: which was to draw attention to the racist denial of basic human rights that Palestinians and other people of color face under the Israeli government.

We also understand that the protest chant “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is seen by some as a painful call for the destruction of Israel. For others, that chant does not conjure up the destruction of Israel, but instead simply speaks to the many human rights - including the basic right to freedom of movement - currently denied to Palestinians. We beseech others in our community to try to hear this chant differently, even for a moment. What if we heard the call for freedom as one in which we all got free? Where all the people of Palestine/Israel enjoyed equal rights? Where Mizrahi Jews, Ethiopian Jews, and Palestinians were all accorded the same rights and privileges as Ashkenazi Jews? Do we only stand for plurality when it expresses our own views and protects our own rights?

This same response also contains the following insightful observation.

Creating Change has always been a place of protest. Almost every year, protesters take over the main stage. This year alone, protesters interrupted the Black Institute and the Latino Institute. Yet there has been no national outcry over these protesters - only over the ones focused on A Wider Bridge’s event. These are also communities that face intimidation and violence daily, yet no one has attempted to shame those protesters. The reasons for this are simple, if not simply stated: When protests occur within communities of color, they are viewed within our community as reasonable critiques of beliefs or tactics. But when people of color protest against a largely white community, they are viewed as “intimidating,” and cause such fear as to “bring us back to the Holocaust.” This narrative also ignores the many of us that are both Jewish and people of color and leaves us as a community and a people divided.

Many aspects of this issue are not new to me. Following, for example, is my 2014 response to a Facebook friend who leveled the charge of anti-Semitism at me for, among other things, participating in a rally against Israeli militarism back in 2002.

First, let me say how much I appreciate your friendship and your willingness to engage with me in this highly emotional subject. Second, the sign I was carrying back in 2002 read "Criticism of Israeli Militarism is Not Anti-Semitic." I'm sorry if you found the statement offensive, but I continue to stand by it. Perhaps that difference in viewpoint is the big sticking point between us. Also, if you find that particular statement to be in some way an expression of anti-Semitism, then I have to question your labeling as anti-Semitic other statements, organizations and publications that you have also dismissed as anti-Semitic. Third, I don't support Hamas. I find this organization's anti-Jewish rhetoric, along with some of its actions, abhorrent. Yet I also find abhorrent the treatment of Palestinian populations by Israeli policies and military actions. The reasons the Palestinians in Gaza elected Hamas are complex, but I don't believe the group's anti-Semitic rhetoric was a major factor. From my reading, it was Hamas' dedication to liberating the people from the Israeli blockade/occupation, and its opposition to the corrupt previous government, that drew people to it. I don't believe that the desire to be liberated from the oppressive conditions of the blockade/occupation automatically translates into anti-Semitism. Again, my sense is that this is a sticking point between our differing perspectives. My hope is that once Palestinians have achieved their hoped for liberation, another group other than Hamas will be voted into power. Most Palestinians, like most Jews, want to live in peace, side by side. But for that to happen there must first be justice for all.

In conclusion, I share an excerpt from one of the most incisive and moving pieces I've read about this very complex and controversial issue: Rabbi Michael Lerner's August 4, 2014 Salon commentary, "Israel Has Broken My Heart: I’m a Rabbi in Mourning for a Judaism Being Murdered by Israel." I've shared the following excerpt from this commentary previously, but it's well worth sharing again.

In my book Embracing Israel/Palestine I have argued that both Israelis and Palestinians are victims of post-traumatic stress disorder. I have a great deal of compassion for both peoples, particularly for my own Jewish people who have gone through traumas that have inevitably distorted future generations. Those traumas don’t exonerate Israel’s behavior or that of Hamas, but they are relevant for those of us seeking a path to social healing and transformation.

Yet that healing is impossible until those who are victims of PTSD are willing to work on overcoming it.

And this is precisely where the American Jewish community and Jews around the world have taken a turn that is disastrous, by turning the Israeli nation state into “the Jewish state” and making Israel into an idol to be worshiped rather than a political entity like any other political entity, with strengths and deep flaws. Despairing of spiritual salvation after God failed to show up and save us from the Holocaust, increasing numbers of Jews have abandoned the religion of compassion and identification with the most oppressed that was championed by our biblical prophets, and instead come to worship power and to rejoice in Israel’s ability to become the most militarily powerful state in the Middle East. If a Jew today goes into any synagogue in the U.S. or around the world and says, “I don’t believe in God or Torah and I don’t follow the commandments,” most will still welcome you in and urge you to become involved. But say, “I don’t support the State of Israel,” and you are likely to be labeled a “self-hating Jew” or anti-Semite, scorned and dismissed. As Aaron said of the Golden Calf in the Desert, “These are your Gods, O Israel.”

The worship of the state makes it necessary for Jews to turn Judaism into an auxiliary of ultra-nationalist blindness. Every act of the State of Israel against the Palestinian people is seen as sanctioned by God. Each Sabbath Jews in synagogues around the world are offered prayers for the well-being of the State of Israel but not for our Arab cousins. The very suggestion that we should be praying for the Palestinian people’s welfare is seen as heresy and proof of being “self-hating Jews.”

The worship of power is precisely what Judaism came into being to challenge. We were the slaves, the powerless, and though the Torah talks of God using a strong arm to redeem the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, it simultaneously insists, over and over again, that when Jews go into their promised land in Canaan (not Palestine) they must “love the stranger/the Other,” have one law for the stranger and for the native born, and warns “do not oppress the stranger/the Other.” Remember, Torah reminds us, “that you were strangers/the Other in the land of Egypt” and “you know the heart of the stranger.” Later sources in Judaism even insist that a person without compassion who claims to be Jewish cannot be considered Jewish. A spirit of generosity is so integral to Torah consciousness that when Jews are told to let the land lie fallow once every seven years (the societal-wide Sabbatical Year), they must allow that which grows spontaneously from past plantings be shared with the Other/the stranger.

The Jews are not unique in this. The basic reality is that most of humanity has always heard a voice inside themselves telling them that the best path to security and safety is to love others and show generosity, and a counter voice that tells us that the only path to security is domination and control over others. This struggle between the voice of fear and the voice of love, the voice of domination/power-over and the voice of compassion, empathy and generosity, have played out throughout history and shape contemporary political debates around the world.

Related Off-site Links:
Yes, Our Anti-Israel Protest Disrupted LGBT Conference – That's the Point! – Scout Bratt (, January 28, 2016).
Israel Advocates Falsely Claim Chicago LGBTQ Protest Disrupted Jewish Prayers – Ali Abunimah (The Electonic Intifada, January 26, 2016).
If I Am Not for Myself: Addressing Misconceptions About Creating Change and #CancelPinkwashingNow North Face (January 26, 2016).
Hating the Occupation, Not the Jews – Gideon Levy (Haaretz, January 27, 2016).
Israel's Image Issue – Roger Cohen (The New York Times (January 28, 2016).
Tyranny of the Israeli Majority? – Daniel Sokatch (The World Post, January 28, 2016).
"Pinkwashing" and Israel's Use of Gays as a Messaging Tool – Sarah Schulman (The New York Times, November 22, 2011).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
For Some Jews, Israel's Treatment of Palestinians is Yet Another Jewish Tragedy
Quote of the Day – August 12, 2014
Thoughts on Prayer in a "Summer of Strife"
Something to Think About – July 18, 2014
"We Will Come Together in Our Pain"
Prayer and the Experience of God in an Ever-Unfolding Universe
In Search of a "Global Ethic"

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Integrating Cernunnos, "Archetype of Sensuality and the Instinctual World"

I recently came across the above image by Amdhuscias. It's quite beautiful, don't you think? It depicts the antlered (or horned) god Cernunnos (KER-noo-nos) of Celtic mythology. Upon seeing it I was reminded of something I read of this god (or archetype) in my friend Ed Sellner's book The Double: Male Eros, Friendships, and Mentoring – From Gilgamesh to Kerouac.

Shortly after, while researching my post on the pagan origins of All Saints Day, I came across an insightful perspective on Cernunnos by feminist neo-pagan Starhawk in her book The Spiral Dance.

I share the insights of both Ed and Starhawk this evening, starting with the following excerpt from Ed's book, The Double.

Ancient peoples, including the Greeks and Celts, were convinced that eros is a unifying power, a source of creativity and meaning, an opportunity for spiritual growth. It is definitely associated with attractions and needs, both physical and spiritual, which often overlap, especially when people are intimately involved or living in close proximity with each other. For warriors, as we've seen in the stories of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Achilles and Patroclus, and Cú Chulainn and Ferdiad, the battles and wars in their lives brought them closer together than probably any other situation might, and because of their deep friendship as well as their crucial dependence on each other for survival itself, many of them responded both emotionally and physically.

The ancients, especially the Celts, thus knew the power of eros, acknowledging the inherent mystery of attraction and celebrating it in stories, rituals, and dance. They knew that attraction contains all sorts of elements – from childhood experiences, dream figures, fantasies, to the basic human need to touch and be touched. They knew too that, among both women and men, some might be more strongly pulled to the opposite or to the same gender as themselves, while some might be drawn to both. This, the ancients thought, was a matter of personality and taste, like the preference for red wine rather than white. They didn't divide people nor themselves as we do today into strict categories labelled "heterosexual" or "homosexual." They simply acknowledged erotic feelings in relationships when they became aware of them, and were grateful for them as a sign of genuine love. They recognized that although eros can be expressed genitally, and at times self-indulgently, its presence is also a manifestation of the deeper levels of the soul, and of the soul's needs for wholeness and meaning, friendship and community. They did not seek to demonize eros or erotic attraction as the later Christians did by turning the god Cernunnos into Satan himself, replacing the stag horns of the Celtic god of fertility in art, icons, and spiritual literature with demon's horns, tail, and cloven feet.

Contrary to the religious formation many of us received which made us wary of anything related to sexuality, certain of our friendships, including male friendships, will have an erotic quality to them – as the ancient Celts realized. They were grateful for this life-giving energy, expressed in their pagan devotion to Cernunnos, the archetype of sensuality and the instinctual world. As that powerful archetype, Cernunnos can be found in all of us: in our desire at times to shed our cloths and be naked in the rich presence of nature, to be one with the landscape; to be naked, like our first parents who walked the earth, naked as when we were first born, naked as when we had our first sexual intimacies. To demonize Cernunnos, or to repress him into unconsciousness only gives him extraordinary power to erupt unexpectedly and perhaps inappropriately at times or to hurt us with a poison in our system that makes us ever more self-destructive. Cernunnos needs to be integrated into our spirituality and daily lives.

The ancient Celts did not limit the erotic to the human body alone. Their eros included the beautiful landscape in which they lived which caused them to be filled with wonder and awe at its mysterious beauty and power. They believed that the rivers and trees had a melodious voice and that one could hear music in the moving waters and rustling leaves. The positive side of their erotic traditions included a profound appreciation of physicality, of natural beauty – whether in nature or in the feminine and masculine expression of beautiful bodies. Above all, their sexuality was perceived as a sacred phenomenon, including even when Celtic men expressed themselves with one another as bed-partners or simply as friends.

We today can learn from them, or we can try to contain our eros, as St. Kevin and later Celtic saints did, with cold baths, sparse diets, sleepless nights, and immersion in our work. For many of us, however, our struggle is not to suppress our passions, but to somehow find ways of channeling them into creative expressions of our love and spirituality, of our soul.

If a man had been created in
the horned God’s image
he would be free to be wild
without being cruel,
angry without being violent,
sexual without being coercive,
spiritual without being unsexed,
and truly able to love.

Excerpted from The Spiral Dance

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
The Devil We (Think) We Know
The Pagan Roots of All Saints Day
Edward Sellner on the Archetype of the Double and Male Eros, Friendships and Mentoring
In the Garden of Spirituality – Diarmuid Ó Murchú
In the Garden of Spirituality – James B. Nelson
Sex as Mystery, Sex as Light (Part 1)
Sex as Mystery, Sex as Light (Part 2)
The Dancer and the Dance
Manly Love
A Fresh Take on Masculinity
Rockin' with Maxwell
Learning from the East
The Pagan Roots of All Saints Day
Celebrating the Coming of the Sun and the Son

Recommended Off-site Links:
Concerning Cernunnos (Part 1)Musings from Gelli Fach (July 23, 2011).
Concerning Cernunnos (Part 2): Accessing the Fruits of the WildMusings from Gelli Fach (July 27, 2011).

Image 1: Amdhuscias.
Image 2: Artist unknown.
Image 3: "Cernunnos Rising" by Ceruleanvii.
Image 4: Valerie Herron.
Image 5: "Lord of the Woodland" by Helena Nelson Reed.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Friday, January 22, 2016

In Wintry Minnesota, An Australian Afternoon Tea

Earlier this week I hosted an afternoon tea for a number of my friends at Hare House, my home in south Minneapolis. My good friend and housemate, Tim, co-hosted.

It was an Australian afternoon tea as, well, I'm Australian . . . and because it was inspired by the afternoon teas I experienced as a child growing up in rural Australia.

I also like to say that my gathering was a way to "reclaim the tea party" from the fascist movement that has emerged in U.S. politics in the past few years, the members of which call themselves the Tea Party.

Monday's afternoon tea was the third I've hosted in the Twin Cities, For images of the first, click here. For images of the second, click here.

Left: Some of the tea cups and saucers from my collection. Each has a story as I always try to acquire a new one when visiting an antique store in every new place I visit.

For instance, the front cup and saucer (second from right) was bought for $6.00 at an antique store in Brainerd, when Brent and I recently visited Gull Lake.

After I shared these images on Facebook, some of my Australian family and friends teasingly questioned just how authentic an Australian tea party it was, given that I served no jam and cream scones, lamingtons, fruit cake, cucumber sandwiches, sponge cake, jam drops, lemon meringue pie, or ANZAC biscuits. And it's true, the treats I served – including pie, coffee cake, cookies, and brownies – are all common to the U.S. I guess I'll just have to try better next time.

My friend Andrew, however, came to my defense, noting that my afternoon tea was "a laudable effort in a country where tea drinking is largely unappreciated."

Above: With Tim, his girlfriend Colleen (left) and my friend Kathleen – Monday, January 18, 2016.

Right: Friends (from left) Barb, Rita, and Brigid.

Above: Friends (from left) Mary, Rick, Tim, Kathleen, Kate, Florence, and Lisa.

Above: Colleen, Tim, and Kathleen.

Above: Kate, Mary, Brigid, and Florence.

Above: Brigid, Rick, Tim, Colleen, Kate, and Florence.

Above: Rita, Lisa, and Kathleen.

Above: With friends Brigid and Barb.

Above: Brigid, Kathleen and Rita, leading us in a rendition of "Sentimental Journey." Kate's accompanying them on the piano.

Above: Kate, tinkling the ivories. That's the complete collection of Winston Graham's Poldark novels (now a successful TV series) on top of the piano!


I mentioned at the beginning of this post that my afternoon tea was inspired by the morning and afternoon teas I grew up with in Australia.

Above: The oldest photo I have of an Aussie afternoon tea! It shows my Mum (right) in 1981 with family friend Gwen Riordan and Gwen's youngest daughter Diane.

Right: Gwen (center) with her sister Barbara (left) and daughters (from left) Diane, Wendy and Denise – January 2009.

The Riordan family lived on a property at Kelvin, about 18 kilometres northeast of my hometown of Gunnedah. I have very happy memories of the tennis parties they'd host and the delicious morning and afternoon teas that were always an essential part of these gatherings. I also have happy memories of hiking through the nearby Kelvin Hills with Gwen and members of both my family and the Riordan family. For more images of the Kelvin area, the Riordan family, and our times hiking in the Kelvin Hills, see here.

Above: I can't believe how thick my eyebrows were back in 1987! Anyway, here I am, pictured second from right, with (from left) Bruce and Lynne Riordan, Peter Newbury, and Dad & Mum. We're at the kitchen table of my childhood home in Gunnedah. It was Easter break from uni and my friend Peter and I must have traveled up from Canberra (where we were both studying that year) to Gunnedah.

Above: Mum, Aunty Phyllis and Nanna Smith partaking in the great Aussie tradition of afternoon tea! – January 1994. This photo was taken just a few days before my relocation to the U.S. from Australia.

Above: During an April 2014 visit to Gunnedah, family friends Peter and Delores Worthington put on a wonderful morning tea for my parents and I. Pictured from left: Dad, Mum, Delores, and Peter.

Do you recall how I mentioned earlier in this post about my friend Andrew coming to the defense of my tea party? Well, Peter and Delores are his parents. Andrew recently said on Facebook: "I'm a stickler for homogeneity, but used to give my mother different Royal Doulton/Albert cup and saucer sets as presents for birthdays, Christmas, etc., and she always said she liked the variety."

Just think, in the photo above we're probably drinking tea from some of Andrew's presents to his mother!

Right: The one Royal Albert cup and saucer I have in my collection. It's actually my latest acquisition. I bought it not last weekend but the weekend before for $6.00 at an antique store in Brainerd, when my friend Brent and I were visiting Gull Lake.

Above: Afternoon tea with Mum and Dad at Tea and Treasures, "the best Tea House in Port Macquarie" – Friday, March 27, 2015. (For more images of my March 2015 Australian Sojourn, click here.)

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Christmas 2015: Reflections and Celebrations
Turning 50

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Quote of the Day

Mercy, it seems to me, is not the door that LGBTQ people need opened to them. Mercy is an act of love, compassion or service given to those who sin or are afflicted in some way. LGBTQ people, same-sex relationships, and transgender persons are not sins or afflictions.

. . . The truth is, gays and lesbians do not need mercy for falling in love with someone of the same sex. My transgender friends do not need the church's mercy for striving to become the persons they believe God made them to be. LGBTQ couples do not need forgiveness for being in loving relationships. These are not sins. There is nothing to forgive.

If LGBTQ persons need mercy and forgiveness, it is for reasons that are no different from the reasons heterosexuals need mercy, like when we fail to be generous, patient, supportive, respectful, kind, compassionate, or faithful.

The irony here is that if anyone should be asking for mercy, it is the Catholic hierarchy. The institutional church should seek forgiveness from the LGBTQ community for failing to speak out when we are killed, beaten or imprisoned, for taking our jobs and our livelihoods, for denying us access to Jesus' Eucharistic table, for attempting to thwart our movements for equal protection under the law, and for promoting teachings that have estranged us from our faith, our communities, our families and, in some cases, even our own beloved partners.

LGBTQ persons do not need mercy from the church. We need justice. We need an institutional church that has the courage to admit that all people, regardless of sexual orientation, relationship status, or gender identity, have the same potential for goodness, wholeness and a sacramental life. Until that day comes, we will not achieve true dignity and full equality in our church.

– Jamie Manson
Excerpted from "LGBTQ People Need Justice,
Not Mercy, from Pope Francis
National Catholic Reporter
January 20, 2016

For more of Jamie Manson's insights at The Wild Reed, see:
Quote of the Day – July 29, 2015
More Progressive Catholic Perspectives on Ireland's Historic Gay Marriage Vote
LGBT Catholics Respond to Synod 2014's Final Report
Quote of the Day – August 1, 2013

See also:
How the Pope's Recent Remarks on Evolution Highlight a Major Discrepancy in Church Teaching on Sexuality
James Alison on the Likely "Really Big Deal" of Synod 2015
Beyond the Hierarchy: The Blossoming of Liberating Catholic Insights on Sexuality
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
Same-Sex Desires: "Immanent and Essential Traits Transcending Time and Culture"
Getting It Right
Remembering and Reclaiming a Wise, Spacious, and Holy Understanding of Homosexuality
Sister Teresa Forcades on Queer Theology
Quote of the Day – August 22, 2013
Beyond Respectful Tolerance to Celebratory Acceptance

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

David Bowie: Queer Messiah

News last week of the death of David Bowie has generated a lot of comments from people about how, in the 1970s and '80s, the singer and entertainer had helped them accept themselves as LGBT and/or queer people.

This despite the fact that, as Tasmin Wilton notes in The Queer Encyclopedia of Music, Dance and Musical Theater, Bowie's significance for queer culture is deeply contradictory."

For one thing, writes Wilton, Bowie's "claims to be gay or bisexual were almost certainly never anything other than a publicity-seeking gambit."

Continues Wilton:

It seems to have been Bowie's then manager, Ken Pitt, who decided to play the gay card. He arranged for Jeremy, the only gay publication in Britain at the time, to publish an article about Bowie in January 1970. This was followed in 1972 by an interview for Melody Maker in which the singer stated, "Yes, of course I'm gay, and always have been." In a 1976 Playboy interview he declared himself bisexual rather than gay.

Such published statements were combined with onstage antics such as fellating Mick Ronson's guitar [right] and some very public homoerotic partying with Mick Jagger, Lou Reed, and Iggy Pop. But Bowie's appropriation of a gay persona always existed alongside explicit warnings from the star himself that nothing he said was to be believed.

In 1971, he cautioned, "My songwriting is certainly not an accurate picture of how I think at all." This is just as well, since close analysis of Bowie's "gay" lyrics reveals little gay pride. Lady Stardust sings "songs of darkness and disgrace"; the gay seducer in "Aladdin Sane" has a "tongue swollen with devil's love," and after he "smelt the burning pit of fear" (you don't need to be Freud to spot an anal metaphor here!), the protagonist knows he will never "go down to the Gods again."

Wilton believes that it was an "indication of the repressive invisibility of gayness in 1970s Britain that, however cynical and (arguably) homophobic Bowie's flirtation with queer sexuality, it is remembered as liberating and exhilarating by many gay [people] in both the United Kingdom and the United States."

I can't say that I personally found any aspect of Bowie's musical career to be liberating. This was because in the singer's heyday I was too young to recognize, let alone appreciate (or rather project a liberating message onto) either his music or his various stage personas. I would, however, discover a sense of authentic liberation (as both a gay man and an aspiring integrated human being) years later in the music of Kate Bush, Dusty Springfield and Buffy Sainte-Marie.

That being said, it's undeniable that for many, many people, David Bowie was very much a queer messiah. The following testimonies bear witness to this.

The death of David Bowie feels somehow apocalyptic. I'm sure this is true for many queers for whom Bowie was the first outspoken and shameless sexual libertine in the rarified pop culture strata. He was the embodiment of glamour, talent, and a new kind of personal expression. Bowie inspired countless people to take personal risks which led them to their own forms of self-actualization. In the same way Holly, Candy, and Jackie – the Warhol Superstars – helped to liberate many trans feminine persons of that era, David Bowie liberated the gay, the bisexual, and the androgyne. Bowie was not an activist in the traditional sense and it's important to keep in perspective that it was the real disenfranchised trans women of color, flamboyant queens, dykes and gay men who brought the fight to the streets and changed the world on our behalf. But as a visionary and groundbreaking artist, Bowie provided a soundtrack and visuals which reshaped our world. He was a true Rock God.

Justin Vivian Bond
January 11, 2016

In the days since his death, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender fans have shared how the rocker influenced their lives and helped bring queer culture into the mainstream in the 1960s and 1970s. In essays, interviews, on Twitter and on Facebook, they told how his rise gave them strength.

Many saw a kindred spirit in Mr. Bowie’s various characters and gender-bending style, beginning with his first androgynous persona, Ziggy Stardust, in 1972. Not only had he made a glittery, alien-looking creature look cool, he had helped pioneer a sexy (and marketable) form of otherness that mainstream artists have tried to replicate in the decades since.

“In high school, Ziggy Stardust blasted confidence into my ears and said, ‘See, it’s O.K. to be different and strange and you are wonderful,’” wrote John Barlow, a Times reader from Atlanta. “Feeling those sentiments was important, especially as a gay youth who was not out at the time.”

The edginess of Mr. Bowie’s style earned him fast stardom and the freedom to play with gender and sexuality. He retired the Ziggy character, but continued to play with his image in a way that forced his viewers to rethink ideas of gender.

– Katie Rogers
Excerpted from "Was He Gay, Bisexual or Bowie? Yes"
The New York Times
January 13, 2016

It may seem odd to a generation now – for whom gay pride comes with its own multi-letter acronym, LGBT – that a pop star could so radically collide and shatter traditional norms around sexuality and gender. But David Bowie did just that in the early 1970s and the challenge that he set, in terms of confronting definitions of sexuality and images of masculinity, prove as fresh today as they did then.

Coming out as I did in Britain of the late 1980s, gay men in their 30s and 40s would talk about what a revolutionary marker, a personal lightning strike, Bowie had been for them as boys and teenagers in the 1970s. Lou Reed walking on the wild side had also had his effect, but Bowie, as Ziggy Stardust, had quite literally beamed in from another planet.

According to author and cultural critic Mark Simpson, Bowie’s appearance on UK primetime institution Top of the Pops in 1972 singing ‘Starman’ “and his calculated draping of his fey arm around his gorgeous guitarist Mick Ronson was probably the most important ‘Gay Parade’ that ever happened in the UK.”

– Tim Teeman
Excerpted from "How David Bowie Sexually Liberated Us All"
The Daily Beast
January 11, 2016

[My girlfriend] introduced me to her love of Bowie while hanging out at her place in Columbia Heights. Posters of his 1995 tour with Nine Inch Nails adorned the walls, and her Facebook profiles featured pictures of her at Bowie-esque Glam-Rock costume parties. She'd shared a ton of music with me before, but this went in a different direction. She had me lay back, close my eyes, and listen from the beginning that was "Space Oddity."

I was hooked then and there on that song about isolation and separation sung by a fellow queer person. As I continued to listen to song after song, I tried to guess when each was released. 1979? No, 1975. 1983? No, 1979. After missing the same way again and again, I realized that where Bowie went, pop music followed several years later. He struck me as a Nikolai Tesla-like figure: a genius in his field so far ahead of everyone else that no one could see it until many years later.

Still, this wasn't the important part.

She walked me through the personas of his early years. "I love how he plays with androgyny," she often commented, "there's something really beautiful and attractive about it." I refused to see at first, but as my own internalized transphobia ebbed a bit, it opened a window enough that I could see it too.

It wasn't just beautiful, it was amazing. Sexy and empowering in a way that said his bucket of fucks to give was empty long ago. From there, it wasn't that far a leap to accepting that queerness itself, in all its million shades, can be beautiful, sexy, and powerful too. Coming from a place where queerness was the antithesis of love, acceptance, and beauty, this paradigm shift was nothing short of radical and life changing, because I felt I could be all of these too.

– Brynn Tannehill
Excerpted from "David Bowie and My Queer Awakening"
HuffPost Gay Voices
January 12, 2016

Bowie, in sound and vision, was the consummate outsider; a rock star who redefined what a rock star could be.

Bowie demonstrated that a man could grow his hair, wear a dress and face full of make-up, and still be regarded as the coolest pop star on the planet.

Bowie talked about being bisexual and his career didn’t bomb. Bowie not only demonstrated that it was OK to be different, he was living proof that it was positively advisable.

It’s difficult today to grasp quite how powerful a message that was when he first rose to prominence in the 1970s, or the life-affirming influence it had on generations of LGBTI youth: Keep changing and pushing at boundaries; experiment and dress up; ignore those who tell you how you should live; don’t be afraid to re-invent yourself.

– David Hudson
Excerpted from "David Bowie Not Only Showed That It Was OK
to Be Different But Positively Advisable
Gay Star News
January 11, 2016

It’s true that for me as a teenager growing up in Iowa, Bowie embodied the archetype of the misunderstood queer messiah . . . although the salvation he promised was based on rock music (Ziggy Stardust) or alien technology (in The Man Who Fell to Earth). The inspiration that I found in Bowie became the foundation for my later understanding of the queer Christ.

My vocation now is to write about LGBTQ spirituality and the arts, and Bowie had all three aspects when I was a teen searching for role models: a cool queer persona, an artistic sensibility and strong visual style, and what I perceived as a subtle spiritual quality.

– Kittredge Cherry
Excerpted from "RIP David Bowie: Queer Messiah Figure
of LGBT Liberation, Music and Art
Jesus in Love Blog
January 14, 2016

For so many gay men, the first pangs of childhood shame have actually nothing to do with an attraction to other boys and everything to do with the emergence of certain traits often described as "feminine." Not all gay men are "girly," that’s true. But I was. I remember drawing on my hand with pastel bubbly pens before a particularly joyless middle school Latin teacher pulling me aside to tell me that that’s something that only girls do, and ordering me to wash it off. I scrubbed my skin so furiously with hot water that it hurt.

For so many, it’s only much later in life that you discover that feeling girly – indeed feeling all shades of the gender rainbow – can be wonderful, no matter who you choose to sleep with or how you were born. If you’re like me, the eventual embrace of the traits that you were once told to hate was helped along, in no small way, by David Bowie. When I discovered Bowie a little later in high school, he was the first person I can recall doing the opposite of what that teacher did: he made being a girly boy seem not just brave, but pretty cool, too.

. . . If gayness were a church, I’d say we make Bowie one of its anointed saints. I cannot quantify precisely the effect he has had on the increasing visibility of gay and trans peoples throughout the world, but there are few figures, at least in the influential world of pop culture, that I’d give more credit to for expanding the boundaries of what we think of as beautiful.

Through my sadness, I keep remembering that he does not have to be alive for some fresh new 16-year-old boy – or girl, or girl wanting to be a boy, or boy wanting to be a girl, or some person who in fact has no gender at all – to discover Bowie, and help whomever needs it to reimagine that not so long after that part of queer life that seems like hell, it will feel like heaven.

– Alex Frank
Excerpted from "In Memory of My Great Gay Saint, David Bowie"
January 11, 2016

[w]e for whom queerness is not a phase seem to have two options in terms of how we deal with Bowie’s fraught relationship to our name and our stuff. We can be pissed off and view his career as, at least in part, an act of sly cultural appropriation – one of many that pop has committed at our expense over the years. Or, more generously, we can allow that even if Bowie was not really sexually queer (gay, bi, or otherwise), he was one of the most culturally queer artists to grace this earth.

I’m partial to the latter view. As I wrote at length in 2015, I believe that cultural gayness is something that can and does exist apart from homosexuality. Gays may have developed the set of cultural practices that define gayness, or what some call the “gay sensibility” or “gay aesthetics,” but they need not be its only practitioners. Indeed, straight people (or whatever Bowie might have been) are theoretically just as capable of doing cultural gayness as gays are – and indeed, some may do it better. As a veritable innovator of gay style, Bowie would seem to be a natural fit in this category; you can’t appropriate what you help create. He may have bucked or played coy with identity labels – presaging our modern situation quite well – but, especially at the beginning of his career, he was recognizably “gay.” Culturally speaking, I think it’s a label he deserves.

Of course, Bowie’s legitimacy as a gay artist may not quell misgivings about his politics: As much as he enjoyed our clubs, he was apparently not terribly interested in gay liberation as a political project in the 1970s. And his typical swagger sometimes produced a strange blend of homophobia and misogyny when applied to real “queens” – particularly in that Playboy interview, in which he jokes about knowing “how to keep happy” in prison, treating his boys “like real ladies,” and having a predilection for young Japanese men who “are all queens until they reach 25.” However much of this you are willing to forgive as working-class-rock-star-before-PC bluster is a personal call; it complicates my feelings to a degree.

But then, artists as visionary as Bowie are necessarily complicated – they probably wouldn’t be very good otherwise. For myself, I think I will choose to remember Bowie as a peculiar – and incredibly effective – drag queen. The flood of obituaries and remembrances today form a chorus of praise for Bowie’s shifting self-presentation, his chameleon-like ability to revise his artistic identity in conversation with the zeitgeist. These are all nice ways of saying he understood drag—an art form arising from the fundamental (and hard-learned, for queer people) principle that we are all always performing and that masks are often a necessity in this life. Drag also draws its power from the world-changing potential of juxtaposition, of the jolt that’s generated when fishnet swaddles hairy thigh, when rock ‘n’ roll rigidity reclines upon chaise lounge, when expectation stumbles over reality.

– J. Bryan Lowder
Excerpted from "Was David Bowie Gay?
On the Singer's Complicated Relationship with Queerness
January 11, 2016


Although I can't say I was ever a huge fan of David Bowie, I can say I have a favorite song of his. And that's "Ashes to Ashes," from his 1980 album Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).

Related Off-site Links:
"Thank You, Mr. Bowie. You Changed Our Lives" – Sona Patel (The New York Times, January 13, 2016).
David Bowie, as Remembered by Deborah Harry, Kate Bush, Carlos Alomar, and OthersThe Guardian (January 17, 2016).
"When I Joined the NME in the '70s, Bowie Was an Obsession" – Neil Spencer (The Guardian, January 17, 2016).
David Bowie: Invisible New Yorker – Steven Kurutz (The New York Times, January 16, 2016).
Vatican Marks David Bowie’s Passing By Praising Him – Bob Shine (Bondings 2.0, January 12, 2016).
David Bowie Had Sex with Underage Girls. Is That Creepy or Cool? – Julie Burchill (The Spectator, January 15, 2016).

Monday, January 18, 2016

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Democratic Socialism

Zaid Jilani has an important piece at The Intercept today in which he highlights Martin Luther King, Jr.'s critiques of capitalism and militarism. As Jilani points out, this aspect of King's activism is often overlooked in celebrations of his life and legacy.

Following are two quotes by King highlighted in Jilani's article. I share them today at The Wild Reed to mark Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

I imagine you already know that I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic. And yet I am not so opposed to capitalism that I have failed to see its relative merits. It started out with a noble and high motive, viz, to block the trade monopolies of nobles, but like most human systems, it falls victim to the very thing it was revolting against. So today capitalism has outlived its usefulness. It has brought about a system that takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes.

– Martin Luther King, Jr.
(in a 1952 letter to his wife, Coretta Scott King)

There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism. Call it what you may, call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all of God’s children.

– Martin Luther King, Jr.
(in a 1966 comment to staff at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference)

Above: Martin Luther King Jr. is accompanied by, among others, renowned pediatrician Benjamin Spock, Father Frederick Reed, and union leader Cleveland Robinson during an anti-Vietnam War demonstration in New York City on March 16, 1967. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

Related Off-site Links:
Martin Luther King Jr. Celebrations Overlook His Critiques of Capitalism and Militarism – Zaid Jilani (The Intercept, January 18, 2016).
Martin Luther King Jr.: One of the Nation's Great Democratic Socialists – Peter Dreier (Common Dreams, January 18, 2016).
The Uncompromising Anti-Capitalism of Martin Luther King Jr. – Obery M. Hendricks, Jr. (HuffPost Religion, January 18, 2016).
Three Social Justice Issues MLK Fought For Outside of Racial Equality – Lilly Workneh (HuffPost Black Voices, January 18, 2016).
Black Lives Matter Would Like to See a Little More Help from Congressional Black Caucus – Tyler Tynes (HuffPost Black Voices, January 18, 2016).
Black Lives Matter Protesters Block San Francisco's Bay Bridge as Part of a Long Weekend of Protests Aimed at Reclaiming Martin Luther King Jr’s Legacy of Radicalism – Julia Wong (The Guardian, January 18, 2016).
How the World is Proving Martin Luther King Right About Nonviolence – Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan (The Washington Post, January 18, 2016).
Martin Luther King’s Words Call LGBT Catholics and Allies to Action – Bob Shine (Bondings 2.0, January 18, 2016).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Quote of the Day – November 25, 2016
"We Are All One" – #Justice4Jamar and the 4th Precinct Occupation: Photos, Reflections and Links
Rallying in Solidarity with Eric Garner and Other Victims of Police Brutality
Quote of the Day – June 19, 2015
"Say Her Name" Solidarity Action for Sandra Bland
In Minneapolis, Rallying in Solidarity with Black Lives in Baltimore
The Same Premise