My First Religious Troll! 13 November 2006Posted by Todd in Blog, Religion.
It’s an auspicious day at the Hammer. Although I’ve had many Mormons responding to some of my posts (in general, they are respectful and engage me in argument), today I got my first religious troll telling me that I’ll get mine in the end! The comment was in response to one of my “religion and science” posts.
Disappointingly, it’s actually mediocre as far as religious troll comments go, but I’m excited to have popped my cherry. You know you’re doing something right if the wingnuts take the time to post. As usual, it’s full of creative spelling and barely discernable 4th grade grammar, and numbskull thinking.
Anywayz, I think you are too pragamtic and so you don’t really see the truth, about any huge religion such as christianity and Islam or Judheism. The similarities and all. Religion will and always will exist and common sense tells you that there is a reason why it exists and God is real and I am very insulted about the offhand way you speak about religion “At the same time , I do think there is something to religion that is worth saving” . As if you and anyone can change or destroy religion to “save”, excuuuuuuuse me. You will find out sooner or later as well as the rest of you pragmatics. It is through ignorance or misinterpreting the true meaning behind religion that has misguided you poor people, not to mention the people who influence you. May God help you all.
So precious. I really appreciate and welcome religious posters who want to engage in discussion, dialogue, debate…hey, that alliterated! But name calling and silly promises of eternal fire (albeit oblique in this comment) have only entertainment value.
The Trouble with Diversity (Review) 11 November 2006Posted by Todd in Capitalism & Economy, Cultural Critique, Democratic Theory, Inequality & Stratification, Race & Ethnicity, Religion, Reviews.
[This post has been getting a lot of traffic this week, so I've bumped it back to the top of the blog for people looking for it.]
A young Mexican-American couple live on the ground floor of my building with their baby boy, in a studio apartment. Neither speak English well enough to have a conversation with, although I try to be friendly and helpful when I can (last week I helped them move a couch out of their apartment, which was lots of fun accompanied by the broad grins and hand gestures of people working together who do not share a language). But ultimately, how much does it help this struggling couple for me to be friendly to them, to “respect” their differences as immigrants from Mexico? When I go into my apartment, they are still poor and struggling, whether I was ethnocentric or kind. What is the real disparity between me and them? What is the real inequality? And how exactly do we deal with it? Is multiculturalism enough?
When I started teaching a required undergraduate course on inequality in the United States, I came up against some kinds of resistance I hadn’t expected, not in my students, but in myself. I’d been educated in race and ethnic relationships, in cultural diversity and multiculturalism even as an undergraduate. In fact, these are pretty much the dominant culture of America today. But I kept feeling like something was missing or had gone terribly awry in the way we do multiculturalism. I have spoken at length about this here on my blog already, so I won’t go into details again.
Briefly, I find the multicultural obsession with difference to lead to some odd results: We tend to think of ethnic identities as being cohesive, consistent things that are easily identifiable and knowable; and we tend to create out of that notions of authenticity, that is, that there is such a thing as a real latino or a real black person. I object to this on two levels. First, it’s not empirically true. Ethnicities are social constructs that are inherently fluid and contradictory and change over time and from person to person. They are observable effects of social interaction, but they aren’t material or genetic or even heritable in any easy way. In short, there can be no ‘authentic’ qualities or aspects of an ethnicity, empirically; so to treat ethnicities as if they were real in that way is to enter into a world of make believe. Second, as a cultural sociologist, I’m inclined to want to describe who people actually live, what they actually do, and what they actually believe. Real people mix and match cultures (at least they do in pluralist societies) and move freely around and among them, and end up fully hybrid peoples. At the same time, they tend to, in our current way of doing multiculturalism, see themselves as being or having an ethnicity. Indeed, it’s more than a question of perception: it’s a deeply felt and experienced thing, down in the bones. Tell an individual who thinks of himself as “irish” that empirically, he lives like every other American middle class person, and you’ll have an empassioned battle on your hands.
Surely, in a democracy people must have the right to create the kinds of identities they want to; and in an immigrant nation, our culture is always-already hybrid and blended, and new generations of immigrants will have new relations to the cultures of their parents’ sending nations. Surely, in a democracy, we must tolerate those kinds of differences.
One of the fundamental tenets of multiculturalism is the inherent equality among cultures, that is, that no culture is better or worse than another. This kind of equality seems like a no brainer to me, ethically, in terms of creating a democratic society where people of multiple cultural origins and blended cultural configurations can blend and work together and participate in the society. Benn Michaels sees the problem (and I agree) here: that if all cultures are equal in value, then none should be privileged over the other.
For me, the logical conclusion of a multicultural ethical structure is that there is then nothing wrong with people abandoning their culture or creating new cultures to fit their experiences or of blending, mixing and matching as they see fit. But problems arise when the diversity becomes an end in itself; or to say it another way, if maintaining the diversity becomes the purpose of the democracy, then you may have a problem. First, you have to decide what counts as the ‘culture’ you are trying to protect, and then you have to have rules about which people, practices, objects, and beliefs count. And then you end up drawing lines around cultures, which empirically cannot work. Human beings’ cultural interactions are far more complex than that. And so your left with the question of what the relationship to a democracy should be to the culturally plural lives of its citizens.
So I agree with Benn Michaels that seeing diversity as an end in itself creates major problems for the democracy, but I would criticize him for giving such short shrift to the ethical purposes of multiculturalism in the first place, which is as a mechanism for teaching tolerance. Where he and I agree, however, is that tolerance and respect do not mean the same thing in a democracy, and shouldn’t. Indeed, all cultures aren’t equal, and there are cultural beliefs and practices that are repugnant in a democracy working toward freedom and equality.
But Benn Michaels goes further than I have in my critiques of multiculturalism. Whereas I have seen the empirical contradictions of multiculturalism and the problematics within a democratic pluralism, Benn Michaels sees the effects of multiculturalism systematically as being the cultural mechanism whereby we let ourselves off the hook for the suffering around us.
In a nutshell, Benn Michaels argues that multiculturalism has done two problematic things: 1) it has located and reduced all social problems to questions of respect, so that 2) we think all that is necessary to fix social problems is to learn to respect people who are different from us. The problem here is that the real suffering in American culture today arises out of economic inequality, out of that great hiss and byword of American culture, class, not in our racial and ethnic difference. (I would say that Benn Michaels needed to more carefully connect the racism of the past with his argument, because race and class have been so intricately linked in American history and because there still are inequalities based on racism, ethnocentrism, sexism, etc.).
In America, he argues, we pretend like there are no real differences between being rich and being poor; we excuse ourselves from seeing the real differences by thinking of them as cultural differences that we must respect. In one of the most mordant passages in the book, Benn Michaels asks how exactly it helps a poor person to respect their culture, as if poverty were just another among many equal cultures. Says he, “I love what you’ve done with your shack!” In reality, our focus and obsession with diversity and difference has benefited the right wing (we no longer talk about economic inequality) and the left (who are off the hook for fixing it). In other words, multiculturalism in its effect serves to allow the right wing to ignore real inequality and suffering by covering themselves with their ‘inclusiveness’ or their ‘respect for diversity.’ (Think of all the companies who have diversity programs, for example.) And it serves to salve the conscience of a nation living with 45 million poor people, the highest infant mortality rate in the industrialized world (not to mention poverty, access to health care, homelessness, etc.).
Finally, Benn Michaels makes a vitally necessary plea to resist the urge to think of religions as analagous to ethnicities. He argues that religions are beliefs, not cultures, and that religions by their very nature are making truth claims. Truth claims by their very nature, in a democratic society, are to be debated and vetted publicly. So Benn Michaels argues not that we should exclude or preclude religious discourse from public dialogue, but rather that it must be stricken from our notions of ‘respect’ and that it must be engaged as any other faulty truth claim in debate in the public sphere.
If it’s not obvious by now, Benn Michaels was preaching to the choir in me as a reader. But with his wry humor and good logic, he got me over my objections (mainly, I wanted a lot more substantive evidence for his positions, but that’s just me being a sociologist) to go along with his general thesis, which frankly, is so obvious I don’t know why i hadn’t seen it before, especially someone like me who is still a subconscious marxist. I will probably adopt this book next semester in my inequalities class and see how my very diverse bunch of Bay Area students will react to his arguments.
More on “Sexual Purity” 10 November 2006Posted by Todd in Christianity, Commentary, Gender.
A few months ago, I mentioned this growing evangelical phenomenon of “Purity Balls“, where daughters and daddies make creepy abstinence bonds to each other. Here’s a promotional video from Care Net for the 2006 Purity Ball program. I’m stupefied by the sexism, infantalism, paternalism, and bald wingnuttery of the whole thing:
Open House Jerusalem, the city’s GLBT organization, agreed to cancel their Pride Parade, and will have an enclosed ralley at a university stadium instead. In return, the Haredi (ultra-conservative sect) have agreed to cancel their protest and planned violence. The city says they didn’t have the police necessary, the army had refused to send help (they’ve just started a major offensive in Gaza), and they cited a fear of terrorists using the parade as cover for suicide bombings.
I’m all in favor of keeping my Israeli/Palestinian brothers and sisters safe from hateful, violent wingnuts, but I can’t help but feel like this is another loss for gay men and women, on the heels of the major losses for gay men and women in the United States this past Tuesday.
The Evangelicals who petitioned the Israeli government; the Vatican who denounced the parade as “offensive to the faithful”; the haredi Jews who threatened to murder gay leaders; and the Muslim leaders who threatened violence to draw police away from protecting the marchers have won in Jerusalem. And conservative Christians and Catholics, evangelicals and republicans have succeeded in enshrining homophobia into nearly every state constitution in the United States.
One bright spot: Mexico City instituted Civil Unions for same-sex couples today. I’m not sure, but I think this is the first form of gay marriage offered in Central and South America.
Sacré Pénis du Pape! 8 November 2006Posted by Todd in Christianity, Democratic Theory, Gay Rights, Religion, Sexuality.
The Vatican Joins Conservative Jews and Muslims in Hating Gay Israelis! Will the Miracles Never Cease?
The vatican has joined with the ultra-conservative wingnuts in Jerusalem (on both sides of The Wall) in denouncing the planned Gay Pride celebration, scheduled for this Friday. Apparently, the Pride celebration is offensive to believers of all three monotheisms, and should therefore be cancelled. Although the Vatican’s statement contains no overt call to violence, the mere fact that they are aligned with those who are promising to shed the blood of gay men and women this week speaks volumes about the fucked up values of one of the so-called “religions of peace and love.”
Among the more wrong-headed ideas in the Vatican’s statement, the Holy See insists on its apalling misunderstanding of free expression:
“The Holy See has reiterated on many occasions that the right to freedom of expression … is subject to just limits, in particular when the exercise of this right would offend the religious sentiments of believers”
I’ve said it here before, and I’ll say it again: Offense is not a violation of the democratic harm principle. I must adamantly insist on this point: It is not a democracy’s responsibility to protect people from being offended. It is the democracy’s responsibility only to ensure the free exercise of an individual’s rights. The purpose of free speech is for individual’s and the society at large to vet ideas and evaluate them. Inasmuch as religion is, by its very nature, a truth claim, it must be subject to this public vetting process of examination and argument. It may be offensive to a Christian (or Jew or Muslim) when I tell them that they are simply wrong on the issue of homosexuality (and that there is no god, and that their religions are not divine); but it is not and must not be illegal to do so.
The right of “believers” to say that homosexuals are sinners must not be abridged; neither must the rights of those homosexuals to express themselves and fight for their rightful place as full and equal citizens in the democracy.
Holy Sodomophobia, Batmensche! Ultra-Conservative Muslims and Jews Find Common Ground at Last! 7 November 2006Posted by Todd in Democracy, Democratic Theory, Gay and Lesbian Culture, Gay Rights, Homosexuality, War & Terrorism.
In case you haven’t been following the hooplah, last summer, Jerusalem’s World Pride day was canceled because of the brief war in the Lebanon. This fall, Jerusalem’s gay pride organization applied for and received a parade permit for a later Pride Celebration in the capitol city. A few weeks ago, the ulta-conservative, ultra-orthodox wing of the religious in Israel began protesting the upcoming parade and have threatened violence. The police comissioner requested that the parade permit be rescinded (because caving to extreme hatemongers is always the right answer!), but Israel’s human rights minister (I believe that’s his title) said “Absolutely not! This is a democracy and we do not accede to threats of violence” (paraphrased). So yesterday, these conservative wingnut rabbis have–wait for it–but out a $500/per dead body bounty on any gay or lesbian people killed during the parade. But wait, there’s more! The ultra-orthodox, ultra-wingnut branch of muslim clerics in the Palestinian side of the city have called for a day of unrest and violence behind the old wall of the city–wait for it–to pull police and military away from the Pride Parade, in order to facilitate the violence against the gay men and women in the parade on the part of the wingnut ultra-conservative Jews.
Peace in Israel-Palestine: Could it be this easy? Just get them all to hate gays enough to cooperate? Why didn’t we think of this in 1948?
Click here for the latest development.
Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights (Review) 6 November 2006Posted by Todd in Democracy, Democratic Theory, Gay and Lesbian Culture, Gay and Lesbian History, Gay Rights, Homosexuality, Law/Courts, Queer Theory, Reviews.
[Note: This is actually less a review than me trying to get Yoshino's arguments straight as I think about their implications.]
As the United States becomes more and more diverse culturally, the questions raised by multiculturalism in the past 50 years become all the more pressing, as we try to rethink what a pluralistic democracy could and should mean for a population of people so widely different from each other. Europe is facing similar dynamics, but their history of immigration and cohesion is so much longer and so much more recent that their experiences are and will continue to be different. But on both sides of the pond, we’re trying to grapple with protecting people’s rights to “be” their cultural identity, while at the same time balancing that with the rights of others. As a gay man, I’m often confronted with these kinds of dilemmas, as I feel the erosion of gay cultural spaces and practices by the encroachment of the dominant culture into gay neighborhoods (for example). For all minorities, the tensions between assimilating (in it’s most basic sense of becoming more like the majority, or mainstream, culture) and remaining or reaffirming one’s difference can be vexing, to say the least.
Kenji Yoshino’s book, Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights, locates the problem in a new kind of cultural pressure, where individuals are protecting in being different, but not in acting different. Borrowing the term from the important American social-psychologist Irving Goffman, Yoshino argues that minorities are required to cover their cultural differences in order to maintain their position in the public sphere, keep their jobs, avoid violence, gain social acceptance, or avoid conflict in day-to-day activities. Yoshino uses the gay experience in the 20th century of working toward civil rights as a kind of prototype of the experience of other kinds of minorities who move through the kinds of assimilation required in different phases of acceptance: conversion, passing, and finally covering. Here, the history of gay rights reflects the individual’s process of moving from trying to be something he is not (conversion), to trying to pass (knowing he is gay, but trying to avoid acting in anyway that would give away his hidden status), to covering (being openly gay, but trying to act in ways required by the dominant culture to avoid offending).
Yoshino deftly interweaves history with personal experience with legal decisions and analysis to demonstrate what is problematic in the dominant culture’s attempts to force minorities to assimilate, to become like the “mainstream.” On a personal note, I have to say that Yoshino’s experiences of his sexuality were so parallel to mine as to literally in some places take my breath away. Conversion is basically the idea that heterosexuality is normal and natural, and that gay individuals should (must) convert into heterosexuals (Yoshino rehearses the long and vexing debates in American psychiatry and psychology in this regard; and then completely botches a critique of the biological/medical evidence of homosexuality’s origins). In contemporary America, Yoshino sees the vestiges of conversion in the “no-promo-homo” laws around the country, where you are allowed to be gay in public, but you are not allowed to act gay (whatever that may mean). This distinction has been continually held up by the courts for the past 30 years or so, especially in the work place. Yoshino argues that the revolution of the Gay LIbbers in the early 1970s was to argue that “gay is good,” to argue for the validity of homosexuality per se, rather than to argue for the immutability (the naturalness) of homosexuality, which is where the law resides. Yoshino is basically wrong in the history (ONE magazine was arguing that gay is good in the mid-1950s, and the San Francisco gay community was making similar public arguments 8 years before Stone wall), but that doesn’t detract from the salience of the argument. Regardless, the problem is the continued efforts in the public sphere to force gay men and women to change their behavior to conform to social ‘norms.’
Passing is much more common than conversion now, as we’ve left behind increasingly the notions that an individual can and should try to change into a heterosexual. Passing is like wearing the ‘albatross’ of truth around our gay necks, Yoshino says, a weight that presses against you as you try to move through your life without revealing your secret. Again making basic historical mistakes, but nonetheless making a valid point about passing, Yoshino argues that the internalization of the imperative to be straight causes gay people to despise what they see in the mirror and to try to appear “normal” at all costs. One of my pet peeves about gay history, especially in the popular imagination, is the reliance on Stonewall as a marker. But Yoshino explains, interestingly, that Stonewall is our communal coming out story, the marker of our refusal to convert.
It’s really in Chapter Three that Yoshino hits his stride. Here we see a gay community divided by the issue of covering, where status within the community and vis-a-vis the dominant culture are measured in the ability or desire to cover one’s sexuality. The “normals” (e.g., Andrew Sullivan) are the ‘pro-covering’ crowd, those who want to downplay or eliminate gay cultural difference; and the “queers” (e.g., Michael Warner), those who want to emphasize their differences. Both sides are openly gay, but have a different orientation to assimilation. I appreciated Yoshino’s openness to both arguments as valid decisions within American culture (a stance I myself take in analyzing 1960s gay male culture in my upcoming book on that topic); Yoshino argues ultimately that what matters isn’t an individual gay person’s personal choice regarding covering, but rather the context of their making that decision. Covering becomes bad when it is coerced and not chosen, when it is imposed rather than a personal decision of preference for cultural style.
The problem comes from the structural coercion toward covering. Moving to race and gender covering, Yoshino points to a series of court cases wherein cultural differences are seen as something you “do” and not something you “are”, and because the civil rights tradition in the U.S. has focused on protecting what is immutable in the individual, the courts rule almost always against what you “do”. So a woman who wears cornrows to work (race), or another woman who has a baby (sex), can legally be discriminated against because these are “choices” not immutable qualities of the individual. Yoshino criticizes these court decisions, arguing that the standard is actually wrong: the employer (or state) should have to demonstrate a reasonable explanation of why the individual should cover. In other words, the question isn’t whether or not a person can cover, but whether or not a person should cover in a given context. Again demonstrating his flexibility, Yoshino argues that there may indeed be compelling reasons to require covering (one example he gives is of a muslim woman being required to unveil for government identification photographs), but that often the cases that actually go to court don’t amount to compelling reasons for covering (e.g., why *should* an African American woman be required to take her hair out of cornrows for work? why should a female bartender be required to wear makeup?). With sexual covering, Yoshino also demonstrates an interesting contradiction: Women are required to ‘reverse-cover’, as they are often required to act out the feminine role rather than cover it up; indeed, women in the workplace are often required both to cover their femininity and to enact femininity at the same time, creating a kind of cultural double-bind they cannot escape.
In both the race and the gender chapters, I couldn’t help but recall the arguments I’d recently read by Michael Benn Walters about race and gender inequality. And I also couldn’t help but be horrified by Yoshino’s facile use of ‘race’ as a gloss for something that is unitary and consistent, especially with things like cornrows: He treats such cultural practices as immutable, even as he criticizes the court for requiring immutability for protection. Ultimately, he pulls himself out of those problems by making his argument: That the burden should be on the state to demonstrate a compelling reason to foreclose a cultural practice, rather than on the individual to demonstrate that their practice is immutably part of their identity.
In the last section of the book, Yoshino’s argument becomes the most compelling, as he moves from a problematic analysis of religious freedom (again, I couldn’t help but scream to myself, “But religions are truth claims that must be debated in the public sphere!”) to an analysis of how we might go about protecting against covering demands. In a nutshell, Yoshino argues that we move from a Civil Rights model (which focuses on protection of groups) to a Human Rights model, which universalizes our needs and desires as people living together in American democracy. Interestingly, Yoshino suggests that the more diverse we become in America, the more exhausted we grow of multiculturalism and the more evident our shared humanity. The recent Lawrence v. Texas decision overturning sodomy laws is a prime example: The rationale for the court decision was not that gay men should be protected in their practices as a group, but rather that all individual adults in America should have an expectation of privacy regarding their consensual intimate sexual acts and choices. He also sites Tennessee v. Lane, wherein a wheelchair-bound woman sued the state of Tennessee because she couldn’t get into court buildings and perform her job. The court ruled that all americans have a reasonable expectation of the ability to enter into public buildings, especially courts, and ruled in her favor. This is a universalization of the rights argument, where when an issue of covering or passing comes before the court, the court rules based on human rights of the individual rather than on protected group status.
Most disappointing in Yoshino’s book was the lack of historical depth or accuracy (but to be fair, he’s functioning off of dominant narratives) and too often sliding into a kind of racial and ethnic essentialism that makes me extremely uncomfortable. What I find most hopeful about Yoshino’s formulation is that it allows for the diversity of actual practice, for individuals to chose the cultural afflilations and practices that work for them, allowing for example, both the normals and the queers to exist in the U.S. without either being privileged in the public sphere.
Religion as a Failure of Moral Reasoning 4 November 2006Posted by Todd in Christianity, Ethics, Gay Rights, Religion.
[Note: I wrote this as a riff on morality after reading a post about Haggard's hypocrisy over on Positive Liberty, a great libertarian blog. Yes, I read a libertarian blog. I have a great respect for conservatives who are intellectually honest and who work in good faith to make a better, freer democracy. I usually agree with most of their civil liberties arguments—we just part ways on their interpretation of property rights and their view of the purpose of a government.]
In some ways I think that the moral failings of the religious boil down to a failure of intellect and a misfiring of imagination. I’m sure that most of them are perfectly capable of rational thought, yet they choose to fall back on the “known” moralities of their religious traditions. This is a fall back, especially in a pluralist democracy, because they are constantly exposed to the public dialogues about morality, but willfully choose to ignore the knowledge of their society in favor of ready-made moralities. It is further a failure of intellect in its simplicity: Religious morality is, more often than not, devoid of all complexity, seeing the world in stark binary terms. There are no difficult moral questions or conundrums, because all is obvious. I like to think of this as a perceived “moral clarity”. I see it often in my students who, in their late teens and early 20s, see the world in these terms. But part of the joy of being a professor is watching the students over the course of a few years come to shatter that clarity and see the world in its complexity and to choose to follow the more difficult paths of moral reasoning that the real world demands. In Christians, this moral clarity is a failure of intellect, a failure to deal with the world as it is and to use their reason to discern moral choices in the world they actually live in, as opposed to the world of their imaginations.
But it is also a failure of imagination. Surely, evangelicals have vivd imaginations, with their horrifying demons jumping into their bones by merely walking by an immoral act. But here the failure is an imagination gone awry, an imagination that, rather than being employed to discover solutions to real problems in the world, has been set on autopilot, to see things that aren’t there. The marvelous result of human brain evolution is that our minds are able to project into the future and imagine a different world than the one we’re in and fix our own world. This mechanism is harnessed and constrained by religious imagination, which says the world as it is is an inevitability, and the solution is obvious and given (e.g., in the sacred text). The religious imagination can no longer practice basic human empathy, because it is no longer capable of taking the role of the Other, because the Other is already known through the religion. That is to say, the religious world has already told them what the Other is, so there is no way to actually employ their imaginations to experience empathy or compassion, which is already clouded by their religious imagination.
Because they choose to ignore their reason and choose to run away from the real world, they are unable either to see homosexuality for what it is (a mere part of human variation (and in my opinion, very likely biological in origin)) nor to see the homosexual as they experience life (the costs of the ‘closet’ and of regular suppression of their basic freedoms). The religious are unable to see or understand the effects that their faulty reasoning and broken imaginations have on their fellow human beings, and so continue to perpetuate a violence, for which they take no responsibility, because they perceive their actions as being Moral and Good, regardless of their consequences.
A former hustler by the name of Mike Jones went on the air in Colorado yesterday and accused the Rev. Ted Haggard — founder of a megachurch and current president of the National Association of Evangelicals — of using his services for the past three year (that is, paying him for sex). [See this Denver Post article, which pisses me off because of its equivocating and burying the evidence nearly half-way down the article; the paper bent over backward to make Haggard look innocent and honorable.]
Another example of why I’m in favor of public outing: Individuals who actively fight against homosexual freedom and equality, or even who seek to maintain the cultural hold over homosexuality by teaching that it’s immoral, must have no expectation of privacy. This is not a question of simple hypocrisy. This is a man who uses his position of immense power and influence (he’s the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents millions of people) to work positvely for the oppression of an entire class of people. Although Barney Franks’ recent ascent to “Elder Statesmanhood” still confuses me, I have to agree with him on this issue: When you are part of an organization and/or you yourself are actively working to oppress the people who are like you, your self-hatred and your sexual behavior are public issues and reason for scorn and derision and for losing your job. I am absolutely in favor of public outing in this case, as I was in the Foley case.
I agree with Dr. Myers on Pharyngula, however, that these are not the rationales given by either the NAE or the DNC for why either Haggard or Foley are unethical and/or corrupt men. The evangelicals, when/if they accept that Haggard is a self-hating closeted gay, will simply see this as evidence that they are right, that gayness is indeed a moral disease, that gay people are deceitful and untrustworthy, and that they are justified in their campaign of bigotry. Similarly, the Democrats and liberals are using the Foley case to say that the Republicans are corrupt because they have closeted gay men in their ranks. This is a bit more subtle, but in its subtlety, may even be worse than the rather straight-forward homophobia of the NAE. The Democrats in their approach to using the Foley scandal are perpetuating the same association of homosexuality with deceitfulness and untrustworthiness. Mr. Franks has been the only congressman I’ve heard speak about this who, for obvious reasons, gets it.
There is also a problem with the liberal critique of the outing itself, which is that Haggard’s (or Foley’s) sexuality is a “private” matter. This is, albeit probably unintentionally, a subtle reinforcing of the Closet, something we’ve been trying to destroy for years. One’s homosexuality is as much a part of oneself as another’s heterosexuality. And when one is in a position of public power, one’s sexuality may very well be of issue in one’s actions in the public sphere. To insist that (homo)sexuality is private is to miss two important points: 1) our sexuality is always intimately public in the way we regulate sexual behavior, legally, morally, and socially; and 2) forcing homosexuality into the “private” is a coded way of insisting that it be hidden from view. The effect of taking the position that homosexuality is “private” is to maintain its position of shame; it says that in the public sphere, you can be gay as long as you don’t act gay (which is called “flaunting”). This is the oppression of the closet in our world where many gay people are openly gay: Their acceptability from context to context depends on their ability to “cover” their gayness. [I'm currently reading Kenji Yoshino's analysis of this phenomenon, of which I'll post a review later this weekend. Here's an article-length piece by Yoshino in the New York Times Magazine on the same topic.]
In both the Evangelical and the Democratic critique of these two men, homosexuality is the culprit, the reason for their downfall. Both critiques miss the reality that it is the hatred of homosexuality, homophobia, and the social pressures of the closet (one must pass as straight to maintain social status and power in a homophobic culture) that created the corruption, not the desire to have sex with another man nor even the sex itself. Even Haggard’s adultery must be considered and evaluated in light of the demands of homophobia and the closet. It is not the same act of adultery as a straight man, who is not penalized for merely having the desire, and even when shamed for the adultery, it’s nearly always with a wink and a grin.
As many of you may have heard, the halloween celebration in the Castro got ugly this year with the shootings of 9 people as the police were herding the crowd out of the neighborhood. This is just the most recent Halloween fiasco, which has been on a downward slide for the past 5 or 6 years. In 2002 and 2003 there were gay bashings, so the police and city stepped in to try to control it, but the vandalism and violence have continued year after year.
Gay men in San Francisco started holding impromptu street parties on Halloween shortly after World War II. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, they were in North Beach, usually in front of the Black Cat bar across the street from Vesuvius and City Lights Bookstore, the cafe where the Beats were hanging out at the time. There were similar goings on in Polk gulch and eventually by the early 1970s, they had moved to the Castro as the gay men moved into that neighborhood. There had always been a smattering of straight folks at these street parties (think: fag hag hangers-on), but starting in the late 1990s, the Halloween party got co-opted by that “cool” or should I say “hip” crowd of straight people who were sort of tourists in San Francisco while they lived the go-go days of the bubble, hopping from neighborhood to neighborhood, getting the local “culture.” By 2000, young straight kids from around the Bay Area were crashing the party and by 2002, there was violence. This year’s apparent gang shooting was just the last straw.
Obviously, I’m concerned about the violence, which in years past has been anti-gay. But it’s kind of a cultural thing for me to: This is not gay male culture any more. This is the cooption of a gay male tradition in San Francisco, turning into something that reflects neither gay male culture at large (gay men in the U.S. have the lowest criminality rates of all males in America) or of San Francisco (with its self-identity of inclusiveness and respect for all its bizarreness). Realistically I know that you can’t control who participates in public cultural practices; nonetheless, I mourn the loss of a particularly gay celebration, which had in the past always included the joy and subversion of camp and drag and leather dress-up, and men kissing each other (and not in that bizarre way that only privileged straight frat boys do on halloween, but in the way that gay men do).
The loss of the castro to straight white yuppies is increasingly eating away at the cohesiveness of San Francisco’s gay community. It’s been a long and slow process, like a disease that doesn’t kill you right away, but takes years to have its nuisive effect. The lesbians trickled away from Duboce Triangle and from the city altogether through the late 1980s and early 1990s; the working class and young gay men have been forced out by the gentrification; the land lords have canceled leases on gay businessnesses, slowly but surely over the past few years; and the only people who can afford to buy housing are professional couples, nearly all straight.
Some argue that it’s just a sign of our acceptance in the city that the neighborhood is dissolving. Maybe so. But I feel it as an assault on the geographical social space that enables gay men to maintain a culture of their own. Without it, or something like it, we revert back to the 1950s culture of skulking off from our straight neighborhoods to bars for a quick fuck. Gay neighborhoods afford the opportunity for more complex cultural depth, that takes our shared gayness and allows a proliferation of meanings. It is hard to estimate the loss of the social space, or even to feel it, as it has been happening so slowly (it’s not like the police came in and rounded us up and moved us out). But ultimately, I fear that the loss of gay neighborhoods in San Francisco can only have the effect of widdling away at the culture, because empirically, people need regular and normal social interaction to generate the meanings that make up a culture. If gay men are dispersed into the population again, like we were before WWII, then we have lost the dazzling work of our gay ancestors’ who worked tirelessly to create spaces for us to *be* (to use 1960s parlance).
For me still, 10 years out of the closet, I have an enormous sense of relief and calm when I enter a gay space. Still in San Francisco, being around straight people too long takes its toll, even when they are accepting, because there is still the unspoken expectation that I the gay man won’t make them uncomfortable by saying something wrong or ‘too gay.’ Some gay men accept and even desire this burden, and want to pass and integrate. I have no problem with that choice, as long as it doesn’t lead to the foreclosure of my choice to live in a gay space.
Afterword: As if to pour salt in the wounds, there have been a series of gay bashings in the Castro over the past couple months, where three gay men and one lesbian have been attacked, beaten up and raped by a gang of straight men. The community is currently organizing neighborhood patrols, like they had in the 1970s, to ensure our safety in what used to be our neighborhood.