Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Orlando Atrocity As Teaching Moment for American Culture: Religious Roots of Toxic Definitions of Manhood, Homophobia, Transphobia, Misogyny, and Racism

I know that many regular readers of this blog are highly informed people who read and think about news reports on a daily basis. I don't mean to be an irritant in offering you these newsfeed-type postings following the atrocity in Orlando. I do think, however, that many people come to this site to get a feel for conversations going on about religion and issues of sexual orientation or gender. And for those folks, who may often hear only stale, one-sided representations of these matters in the mainstream media and at church-affiliated media sites, I want to keep offering some resources I'm finding as I read and think about Orlando.

It's a teaching moment in our culture, it seems to me. As I've stated repeatedly in the past several days, from the outset in its discussion of the Orlando atrocity, the mainstream media, many political leaders, and many religious leaders colluded to erase LGBTQ people from the story of what has happened — disrespecting our humanity and dishonoring our lives even in death. Perhaps this erasure will open the eyes of more people to what we who are LGBTQ and live in the United States experience on an ongoing basis.

Attempts are also being made to pretend that homophobia is solely an Islamic problem, not something of which Christians and Jews can be capable — though the very people promoting that notion are not uncommonly among the most viciously homophobic (and religiously so) religious and political leaders in this nation. Perhaps the mendacity of the response of so many Republican and religious right leaders to the Orlando atrocity will also open some eyes about how so many of us in this country have been played by people promoting, in the name of Christ, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, racism, and misogyny — to our detriment and that of the culture at large.

And perhaps this teaching moment will begin to open the eyes of more of us to the fact that we need not look to Islamic cultures to find the roots of homophobia in our world today. There's more than enough of that poison to go around right in our own culture, with homegrown U.S. Christian roots. 

And so some resources this morning for you to think about:

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, President of the USCCB, issued a statement that called the violence "unspeakable." Interestingly, his statement did not mention that the victims of this attack were gays and lesbians, nor that the attack, whatever else it was, was an exercise in homophobia. It did not happen at a Walmart. Of course, many bishops have a hard time even saying the words "gays and lesbians," preferring the offensive and bizarre locution "people who experience same-sex attraction." As my colleague David Gibson points out, after last year's attack on Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, S.C., Archbishop Kurtz had no reluctance in naming the victims nor in denouncing the racism that motivated the killing. Really: If you are so tone deaf that you do not realize that the refusal to refer to people as they refer to themselves is offensive, especially when that same group of people has just been the object of a violent and murderous attack, stop pretending to any claim to moral leadership in the society and just go away.

Bishop Robert Lynch of the St. Petersburg diocese penned a surprising op-ed for the Washington Post
"…sadly it is religion, including our own, that targets, mostly verbally, and often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence."

For the sake of mental health, I recommend avoiding the discussion of Bishop Lynch's comments in response to Brian Roewe's report about them at the National Catholic Reporter site. While some good people hang out there and make valuable comments, many others made by Catholics who claim they're the best of the best will turn your stomach with their insensitivity and downright cruelty. And they're allowed free rein to talk in these spaces — which are, as I told young queer folks seeking to form healthy self images yesterday,  not safe spaces for LGBTQ folks.

In fact, if anyone can tell me of any Catholic journal that has invited LGBTQ folks to talk about what we ourselves feel and think following the events in Orlando, I'd love to hear about it. I'm sick and tired of hearing my life as a gay man dissected by married, straight people of faith who speak on my behalf, but never talk to me — and who claim the astonishing prerogative to define my identity and the moral worth of my life without even knowing me.

Thirty-two people died, and many others were injured. Many of the people who died were unidentifiable, not only because the fire scorched their bodies, but also because, despite the celebration of gay liberation, many gay men were not out of the closet and used fake IDs and aliases in gay bars. Even their families didn’t know they were there. 
The UpStairs Lounge was not the only target of mass violence during the height of gay liberation in the 1970s. Arsonists set fire to gay churches in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Nashville and San Francisco in 1973 and 1974. Six months before the fire at the UpStairs Lounge, on Jan. 27, 1973, a fire broke out at the "Mother Church" of the M.C.C., in Los Angeles, where a gay Jewish group met for services.

Most shameful of all (and I know this because I lived in New Orleans when this atrocity occurred): almost every church in New Orleans refused to bury those who died in this fire. I knew the courageous Episcopal priest who took it on himself to defy his bishop and be punished for daring to hold funerals for a number of those killed in this fire. I reported about this in June 2013 when the 50th anniversary of the fire occurred — here, here, and here.

Somehow, the massacre in Orlando struggles to be recognized as a homophobic act. Although the laws of some Western countries have evolved, hatred of gays, lesbians, bi and transgender people remains a widespread and poisonous phenomenon in the three monotheistic religions and beyond. 
At the Nuremberg trials, no mention was made of the mass murder of "pink triangles" (a badge gay prisoners were forced to wear in Nazi concentration camps). And for good reason. The victors who put the Nazis on trial were still pushing highly homophobic policies and politics in their own countries. The gay victims of the Third Reich were ignored and appeared on no monument or memorial. The surviving deportees would get neither recognition nor compensation. . . . 
Unfortunately, it's not surprising that a religious fundamentalist perpetrated the Orlando attacks. Jews, Christians and Muslims all have propagandists of radical homophobic hatred in their ranks.

In a tweet that went viral after Sunday’s attack on an LGBT nightclub in Florida, ACLU staff attorney Chase Strangio wrote: "The Christian Right has introduced 200 anti-LGBT bills in the last six months and people blaming Islam for this. No."

Brandon Ellington Patterson at Mother Jones

They say it when pushing discriminatory legisation but won't say it now.

Guess what "it" is.

No matter how hard leadership to hide them, the anti-gay crusaders in the House of Representatives refuse to quit trying to limit the rights and isolate the LGBT community.

And as he goes on to note, Representative  Sean Patrick Maloney observes that these GOP legislators  go out of their way to be hateful to LGBTQ people, and no amount of tragedy and suffering changes their behavior. It's about following Christ, after all.

Aside from ignoring the ongoing efforts to battle ISIS terrorists and making false claims about the U.S. tax money going to Iran, Cruz said that liberals are too cowardly to condemn those who call "for the murder of gays and lesbians," absurdly suggesting that U.S. leaders haven’t already condemned terrorist atrocities and ISIS’s ideology. 
We wonder why Cruz himself didn't display such heroism when he spoke at a conference late last year where the main speaker, Kevin Swanson, a long-time and notorious advocate of the government instituting the death penalty for gay people, said repeatedly on stage that the Bible calls for gays and lesbians to be put to death and argued that America should introduce capital punishment against unrepentant homosexuals once society is moved in that direction. 
That conference was also attended by Cruz's father and his then-rivals Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal.

News has now broken that the Orlando shooter Omar Mateen had apparently been to The Pulse bar — as a patron — prior to his shooting rampage, and was using a gay dating service. Right-wing anti-gay types will try to twist this information to make it appear that what happened in Orlando was an insider attack by a sick gay man targeting other sick gay people. Just the kind of sick stuff sick gay people do to each other, they'll maintain.

Here's what I make of this information: it's not in the least surprising. The person thought to have set off the fire at UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans had also visited that gay bar, and was known to be an angry, violent person who toyed with attraction to gay people and gay life, while apparently hating that aspect of himself — enough to murder those who represented that life to him by going to this gay bar.

Mateen's father, Seddique who has made numerous anti-gay statements, dismissed suggestions that his son was gay. "If he was gay, why would he do something like this?"

But Seddique's question is not at all hard to answer. Some of the most violently homophobic men in the world are men who sense that they may have something gay roiling about in their innards, but have been raised in repressive religious environments by brutal fathers who knock women about and threaten gay men. When men raised this way begin to sense that they themselves may be gay, they often react with terrible violence to other, open and self-affirming gay men who they see as enticing them and tempting them to act on their gay impulses. And they very frequently use religion as a justification for their violence against those gay men— often because they were raised by their fathers to do so.

In the video posted [on Facebook] early Monday, Seddique Mateen says his son was well-educated and respectful to his parents, and that he was "not aware what motivated him to go into a gay club and kill 50 people." 
The elder Mateen says he was saddened by his son's actions during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. 
He then adds: "God will punish those involved in homosexuality," saying it's "not an issue that humans should deal with."

In light of what Mateen chose to do at the Pulse club in Orlando, I think that, having heard his father's testimony, we have to ask: What does this testimony tell us about the kind of household in which Mateen was raised? What does it tell us about the image of masculinity his father modeled for him?

And for all those right-wing Americans so eager to blame all of this on Islam, it might be a salubrious thing to uncover the mirrors in your own houses and take a good look in them. How many American Christian fathers have said something exactly like what Seddique says here to your own children, quoting the Bible and not the Quran?

One of Mateen's former coworkers, Daniel Gilroy, told the Miami Herald that Mateen often bragged about his relationships with other women while he was married to Yusifiy. "All he wanted to do was cheat on his wife," Gilroy said. "He had very little respect for women." 
This news is unsurprising to people who work on issues related to domestic violence, sexual assault, and gender roles. There's a lot of evidence that men who hurt their female family members often go on to hurt other people.

Nor is this news surprising to people who have encountered the kind of twisted, self-hating men who suspect they may have a gay side — and who act out their hostility, which is ultimately hostility towards something in themselves that they perceive as soft, in exaggerated acts of domination and violence directed towards women and other gay men. 

For obvious political reasons, conservatives are hustling as fast as they can to make this about "radical Islam,”" which is to say they are trying to imply that there's something inherent to Islam and not Christianity that causes such violence. This, of course, is hoary nonsense, as there is a long and ignoble history of Christian-identified men, caught up in the cult of toxic masculinity, sowing discord and causing violence in our country: The gun-toting militiamen that caused a showdown in Oregon, the self-appointed border patrol called the Minutemen that recently made news again as their founder was convicted of child molestation, men who attack abortion clinics and providers. 
Toxic masculinity aspires to toughness but is, in fact, an ideology of living in fear: The fear of ever seeming soft, tender, weak, or somehow less than manly. This insecurity is perhaps the most stalwart defining feature of toxic masculinity.

Given the psychological-religious profile emerging in these news reports, does it surprise you in the least to learn that Omar Mateen was "a knockoff rent-a-cop"? (Remember — and this is hardly unrelated — George Zimmerman's fascination with imagining that he was a para-police officer, how he made himself a nuisance at his local police force by showing up at the police station, walking the halls of the police station and asking to be taken on rides in the police cars? Remember how he appointed himself a kind of one-man vigilante posse in his neighborhood?)

Men who feel they are small, who feel their masculinity is threatened, very often demonstrate a fatal attraction to guns — big ones, big-phallus-projecting ones — as well as a propensity towards violence against minority groups and women, those they consider "weak" and vulnerable, raw material for proving the bigger phallus and greater masculinity of the man engaging in this kind of toxic behavior.

This is a moment for unequivocal black church and queer/ LGBT solidarity because antiblackness and homophobia and transphobia are interconnected. More still, in the face of Trump's doubling down on anti-Muslim rhetoric in the wake of the shooting, it is a moment for a solidarity that refuses Islamophobia. 
That is to say, Emanuel AME and Pulse, Charleston and Orlando, must be understood together.

Antiblackness and homophobia and transphobia are interconnected.  That's right. And they're joined at the hip to misogyny and toxic definitions of manhood.

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