Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Footnote to Last Posting: I Cherish Straight Allies Who Push Along with Queer People to Open the Heterosexist, Male-Entitled Club Catholic to People God Has Made Queer

I've been away from my computer for a number of hours and have just recently logged back in. I realize, due to the good conversation that developed in response to my last posting, that I need to be sure the point I wanted to make in it is crystal clear.

My point is most definitely not to criticize or demean the valuable straight allies of the queer community who have long stuck their necks out for me and other LGBTQ folks. Their voices are desperately needed, and are — from where I stand — very welcome and esteemed in the queer community.

My point is to cast a critical light on an ongoing pattern in Catholic institutional places including Catholic journals to speak on behalf of queer people without ever asking those of us who are LGBTQ to speak on our own behalf. This is, I hope you can see, not in the least unrelated to that shocking pattern of erasing queer people from events that definitely do involve us, which I've discussed for the past two days here.

The head of the U.S. Catholic bishops' conference could not bring himself to say the word "gay" or the phrase "LGBTQ," even when he issued a statement talking about an atrocious act of violence done to LGBTQ people. Ditto for the Vatican. 

We who are queer do not even exist in statements lamenting our murder.

Something is wrong here, from a moral standpoint. And it's more than a little wrong.

Because this is how things work in the Catholic context, institutionally speaking, from the very top of the church, it's still — even now, even as the Orlando atrocity is under discussion — considered acceptable in some of the best and brightest Catholic journalistic circles to talk about the murder of LGBTQ people without asking those same people to speak about how what happened in Orlando affected us.

It's still considered acceptable in leading Catholic journals to have statements about events drastically affecting queer people issued by heterosexual people, as if the voices of queer people matter not at all when the subject being discussed is the lives (and deaths) of queer people. 

Something is wrong here from a moral standpoint. And it's more than a little wrong.

Part of the problem, I suspect, is that people are often not inclined to think about their own power and privilege as long as they live within structures that foster their power and privilege. An analogy may help explain the point I'm making: I grew up in a strictly segregated and very racist culture. For longer than I care to admit, I never even thought about the fact that my culture was racist — because that culture worked to my advantage.

I did not have to raise critical questions about racism, because my life experience did not require me to do so. My taken-for-granted power and privilege insulated me from those critical questions. 

Analogously, I suspect that more than a few (but far from all) heterosexual Catholics never give much thought at all to the fact that the Catholic institution qua an institution works very much to the advantage of those made heterosexual by God. But not so much for those not created heterosexual . . . .

I can remember at least one occasion in the past when someone who sometimes comes here to make comments stated that she feels this is a "gay blog" and that she is an outsider as she comments here. That commenter prefers, I've noticed, to take part in conversations at a Catholic site that strikes me — and very strongly so — as a heterosexual club, by contrast, a place in which my voice as a gay Catholic is not welcome. 

I've thought for a long time about the criticism this contributor leveled against this site, and have asked myself why any straight participant in discussions here might conceivably feel unwelcome. Adding to the criticism, there was the experience that when a number of us started a collaborative Catholic blogging venture a few years ago — most of us gay, but not all — someone connected to that venture got email feedback from fellow progressive Catholics slamming the new blogging venture as a big gay blogging venture. All gay all the time — something to that effect . . . .

Because most of those contributing to it were gay and much of the discussion had to do with gay issues . . . .

After giving a lot of thought for several years to both of these responses to Bilgrimage and blogs like it, which do discuss queer issues frequently, employing a faith-based perspective, I have concluded that these critiques reflect a lack of comfort with openly gay voices in Catholic religious conversations. I've decided that they do not reflect a valid criticism of this blog as a place that makes non-gay people uncomfortable in discussions. It's perfectly apparent — or it should be apparent — to anyone following the discussion at this site over a period of time that this is more than a big gay blog, though it's a blog maintained by a big gay person.

In the past weeks and months, I've written obsessively about researching Loyalist ancestry, about finding lost stories of women in early Christian Rome, about the disaster that Donald Trump represents, about racial matters including the Black Lives Matter movement and Ta-Nehisi Coates's powerful book Between the World and Me

I've talked frequently here about food and cooking — big gay topics, I'm sure, perhaps especially when discussed in my big gay voice, but topics that also engage a lot of non-gay people who have important things to say about them, too. I certainly do not sort my cookbooks and food books into gay and straight categories as I shelve them. It matters very little to me whether M.F.K. Fisher did or did not have a thing for Eda Lord (though I find it interesting when people who admire Fisher state dogmatically that it's not possible that she could ever have had a lesbian relationship).

I read Fisher primarily for her lively, beautiful, intelligent prose and her rich recreation of meals she enjoyed in France and elsewhere — not because she may or may not have had a lesbian fling. I read Craig Claiborne and Richard Olney despite their gay voices, to be perfectly honest. I suspect both men may have been the kind of brittle, elitist gay men who have often exasperated people outside brittle, elite gay circles —including not a few gay people.

I read Michael Pollan or Adam Gopnik with relish knowing full well that both are heterosexually married men with children who write wonderfully about meals and food. I do not, to repeat, sort my cookbooks or my novels or my histories or classics into gay and straight shelves, any more than I look exclusively at paintings by, say, George Tooker or Thomas Eakins or Leonardo da Vinci while averting my eyes from ones painted by Hans Holbein or Rembrandt, both of them happily married. To women.

I hope very much that both gay and straight people feel as at home in the discussion space I've tried to create at this blog as M.F.K. Fisher and Michael Pollan feel at home (I hope) side by side on my bookshelves. I do also feel it's high time — it has been high time — for the heterosexist and male-entitled club that is Club Catholic to open its doors to human beings God, in her infinite wisdom, has not made straight.

And I cherish the many heterosexual allies who have pushed and continue to push along with me and other queer people to try to see those doors open.

The footnote photo is by Callie Widman, who has generously made it available for sharing under Creative Commons License at Wikimedia Commons.

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