A while ago someone said to me that she’s “had it with the whole gay thing.” The woman who said this is one of the nicest people I know, willing to go out of her way to help anyone, anytime, and even when we talk about things about which we disagree, she is ever gentle and respectful. However, it seems that something about “the whole gay thing” has set her off.
“Has someone insisted you start having sex with women?” I asked.
“Of course not,” she said, “But they’re everywhere! They’re imposing it on me.”
Huh. I wondered if in truth it might not be the other way around. I mean, I imagine if you’re gay you might feel like straight people are imposing their sexuality on you, no? After all, everywhere you look — movies, television, heck, just walking down the street — heterosexual people are pretty much everywhere, kissing and holding hands and hugging each other and so forth. Doesn’t seem to have turned any of the gay people I know straight, though.
Through further conversation with my friend I gleaned that her point is that gay people are not only too visible, they’re too strident, too loud, too in-your-face. I wondered if there was a gay Rush Limbaugh out there I’d overlooked.
“I would have voted against Proposition 8 a while ago, but now I think I’d support it,” she said.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because they’re pushing all that homosexuality in my face.”
Now, I didn’t want too many details about what, precisely, had been pushed in my friend’s face or by whom, but the obvious anger in her voice was surprising. I had expected her to quote some Old Testament Bible passage, or perhaps something by Paul, but now, her argument seemed to be that gay people are too demanding, too aggressive.
She said something about nine-year old children in school being forced to learn about gay families and being told that such families are acceptable.
“And you don’t feel they are?” I asked.
“No, I guess I don’t. And I certainly don’t think I should be forced to have that conversation with my nine year old.”
“But what if there is a child in the school who is being raised by two mums, or two dads, or some other family variation? Is it acceptable for that child to be told his or her family isn’t acceptable?”
I can’t remember exactly what my friend said to that, but it seemed to amount to a request that such people be as discreet and as invisible as possible.
I must say, I am always astonished at the similarities between this perspective and the old white-establishment perspective on black-folks. I am old enough to remember when people talked about African-Americans fighting for their rights in similar language. If only they wouldn’t be so loud about it. If only they would be like the ‘good’ Negroes — meaning the quiet, mostly invisible, subservient folks who knew their place, and didn’t get all riled up and take to the streets. If only they would ask nicely, instead of demanding. If only they wouldn’t offend me with their obviousness.
Of course, ex-slaves had been asking for quite a while and politely, too, but the white guys in power kept saying no. And so people like W.E.B. Dubois, A. Philip Randolph and Malcolm X, raised their voices, and when that still didn’t work, some of them raised their fists. I’m not surprised black people got noisy and demanding about it. I’m only surprised they didn’t get noisier and more demanding… I can’t imagine how white people would react if they suddenly found themselves in such a position.
On that same note, I must say as well, I am likewise astonished at the similarities between this perspective and the old male-establishment perspective on women’s rights. I am old enough to remember when men (and some women, alas) talked about women fighting for their rights in similar language. If only they wouldn’t be so loud about it. If only they would be like more lady-like –– meaning the quiet, polite girls who didn’t get all riled up and take to the streets. If only they would ask nicely, instead of demanding. If only they wouldn’t offend the delicate male sensibility.
Well, the ladies had been asking, and asking, and politely, too, but they kept getting turned back. So Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and a few other iron-jawed angels got noisy and demanding, and paved the way for women like Germaine Greer and Bella Abzug. Can’t say I blame them.
In truth, in the case of both racial minorities and women, I am eternally grateful for the risks the pioneers took in order that I might live in a more inclusive and compassionate world.
It never seems to occur to the people who are offended by other people’s demands for equal treatment and opportunity that it’s just possible they’ve been…oh, just a tad insensitive themselves by denying other people rights they so easily enjoy. The right to vote, to live where they wish, to talk about what they choose, to love — openly — the person they love.
I understand some people feel the cause of gay, lesbian, transgendered and bisexual (I do wish someone would come up with a shorter phrase!) rights is DIFFERENT! That it is not the same as racial rights, or gender rights, because the issue of GLTB rights goes to the heart of their religious beliefs and threatens everything they hold sacred in terms of family and society and so forth. Well, I would ask those folks to do a little historical research into the arguments put forth by those who opposed racial and gender equality. In each case, the Bible and other religious books were used as proof that if women or people of color were given their rights it would mean the end of the family and society. The Rev. Prof. H.M. Goodwin, in the New Englander and Yale review, Volume 43, Issue 179 (March 1884), pp. 193-213, gave quite a rousing argument against a woman’s right to vote and stated that a woman voting was against nature. Colossians 3:18 was often hauled out: “Wives, submit yourselves until your own husband
s, as it is fit in the Lord” as was 1 Corinthians 14:35: – for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
The Virginia Baptist minister Thornton Stringfellow (1788–1869) wrote the best-selling proslavery tract of the era and was probably the most widely distributed antebellum southern writer of any kind. In his Brief Examination of Scripture Testimony on the Institution of Slavery (1841) Stringfellow authoritatively cataloged the scriptural proslavery references that antebellum southern evangelicals quoted throughout the Civil War.
Other proslavery ministers constantly pointed out that the God of the Old Testament had sanctioned slave-holding. After all, his prophets, patriarchs, and chosen people held slaves: God chose Abraham and blessed him while he held slaves, two of the Ten Commandments affirmed the master-slave relationship, and Leviticus 25 gave license to the holding of foreigners in perpetual bondage. Like all subsequent biblical proslavery writers, Stringfellow gave greatest emphasis to Paul’s letters (the slaves for this reason labeled the period of their enslavement “Paul’s Time”). Paul’s letters acknowledged that slavery was consistent with Christianity (Ephesians 6), thus creating a New Testament link to the innumerable Old Testament passages. Proslavery ministers reasoned that although he preached in a slave-holding society, Jesus never condemned slavery. In Luke 7, after curing the Centurion’s servant, Jesus commended the Centurion, who, southern ministers pointed out, was a slave-holder. In the economic boom and spread of evangelical profession in the antebellum South, ministers thought they again saw the Savior commending and blessing righteous men who held slaves.
Proving once again that you can justify any amount of nonsense by quoting the Bible. Still, I wish you wouldn’t. It does, in my opinion, rather taint the text.
As Bishop Eugene Robinson of the Episcopal Church in New Hampshire says, with a twinkle in his eye,”I refuse to discuss Deuteronomy with anyone who doesn’t keep kosher.” I mean really, there’s all sorts of things in the Bible that we don’t adhere to literally, including the law which states disobedient children should be stoned. I don’t think many readers would literally adhere to every wee thing in the Bible, and if you would, well, you probably haven’t bothered reading this far anyway.
Still, for those of you who have read this far and, like me, see the Bible as a splendid piece of sacred literature, full of wisdom and glimmers of spirit, let me offer this:
Mark 12: 28-31
28And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? 29And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 30And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. 31And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
That seems about as simple an instruction as I’m likely to get, and an all-encompassing one.
I would love to live in a world where someone who is denied a right I enjoy could tap me lightly on the arm and say,
“I don’t mean to disturb you in any way, but I can’t help but notice someone has provided you, and all the people like you, with a delightful pitcher of cool clear water from which to drink. It appears quite magical for it never runs dry and there’s enough for everyone in all the world. Oddly, however — and I’m sure it’s just an innocent oversight — no one seems to be passing it to me and my friends over here who, I agree, wear flowerpots on our heads and you don’t, but still, we’re just as thirsty as you. So, would you be so kind as to pass the pitcher of delightful water from which you drink to us, so that we may drink as well?”
And I would love to live in a world where, if asked that question, I and everyone I know, would respond,
“Oh, how thoughtless of me! Of course, please share this delightful cool clear water and in fact, let me pour it for you. I can’t imagine how you were left out! And never mind about the flower-pot on your head thing, it wouldn’t suit me at all, but on you it’s ever so fetching!”
I’d like to live in a world like that, especially because I’m pretty sure that’s what Jesus intended when he talked about being really, really good to each other and loving each other and so forth. However, apparently the world hasn’t quite caught up to the teaching of that nice rabbi who — until someone who didn’t quite get the whole inclusion thing, nailed him to a cross — wandered around telling tales about how the poor and the mourning and the hungry and those who are persecuted for righteousness sake and the merciful and the peacemakers and the pure in heart will be blessed.
So until the world catches up, I understand the need for those denied the rights I enjoy and take for granted every day to raise their voices occasionally, to be what some might call strident, and if necessary to take to the streets. I only hope we all see that there really is no threat, there’s enough love and grace to go around, and that no one’s taking anything away from you… they’re only asking for you to share a little of what you were freely given, in an infinite amount.
If, after all these years we haven’t learned how to share the infinite abundance, well, I suggest we ought to be ashamed of ourselves.