Friday, November 28, 2008

Gay Rights Revolution: How Women Treat Their Children

“That's why I suspect the revolution will come not from the male church but from how women treat their children, and whether or not women are willing to reject their children.”

I’ve followed Richard Rodriguez’s work with great interest for some time now. I admire him for his ability to do what has come to seem well-nigh impossible to me: to hold together a religious commitment and an open, unashamed statement of his gay sexual orientation. Richard Rodriguez is a practicing Catholic. And he’s gay.

I like Rodriguez’s thinking because he refuses to let himself by boxed in, diminished, by ideological currents that dictate to him how he should think, feel, and act as a gay man. A gay Latino man. A gay Latino Catholic man.

It has always seemed to me that one of the most hideous things we permit to happen to ourselves in American culture—all of us, gay and straight, black and white, male and female—is to be labeled and put into our places by strong ideological currents that need to label and place (and use and dismiss). It is an act of political defiance—it is an act of humanity—to refuse to be used and dismissed in this way. To live successfully in our image-driven culture, we must insist on being more than we are told to be.

It is an act of humanity to insist that one’s humanity is more complex, varied, rich than any label can suggest. What Richard Rodriguez succeeds in doing, it seems to me, is to hold onto the richness beyond classification (and dismissal). To hold onto his own personal richness as a gay Catholic Latino man.

It certainly takes effort to live large and beyond the boundaries imposed on us. But that effort, with all the tension it comprises, is worth it. It provides those who live this way with perspectives that many of us, in our little boxes, need to see, because we can’t attain these perspectives inside the tiny prisons we have chosen at the dictate of the various ideological groups that need to place us.

I was delighted this past week to see Richard Rodriguez’s analysis of the proposition 8 battle gaining attention on many blogs. This analysis is found in an interview he did with Jeanne Carstensen at Salon.

Employing the multiplicity of critical perspectives that his multiplicity of commitments (as a gay Latino Catholic man) provides him, Rodriguez probes the “real issues” at stake in the battle over gay marriage—the issues that all too often get short shrift in analysis of this cultural battle. In his view, the attempt of some communities of faith to scapegoat and marginalize gay persons by removing rights from the gay community is the “last or continuing gasp of a male hierarchy in religion.”

Rodriguez notes that the religions of the book, all of which were born in the deserts of the Middle East—Islam, Christianity, and Judaism—are uniquely male-centered, and uniquely hostile to women’s rights. Rodriguez links the emergence of gays onto the stage of history with the emergence of women onto that stage: the women’s movement and the gay movement are, in his analysis, crucially connected—particularly so, in the minds of male church leaders who resist critiques of their dominative power.

In resisting gay rights, the churches are resisting the rise of women to positions of power in cultures around the world. Gay marriage galvanizes male-dominant communities of faith because it becomes a last-ditch symbol for these communities, the final line these communities think they must draw in the sand, if they are going male-dominant forms that they have come to believe are part and parcel of their message to the world:

The possibility that a whole new generation of American males is being raised by women without men is very challenging for the churches. I think they want to reassert some sort of male authority over the order of things. I think the pro-Proposition 8 movement was really galvanized by an insecurity that churches are feeling now with the rise of women.

The fight against gay marriage serves a valuable utilitarian purpose in many communities of faith, then. It permits those communities to ignore the real threat to traditional marriage: the dissolution of traditional heterosexual marriages. And the role that male violence towards women plays in that dissolution:

But the real challenge to the family right now is male irresponsibility and misbehavior toward women. If the Hispanic Catholic and evangelical churches really wanted to protect the family, they should address the issue of wife beating in Hispanic families and the misbehaviors of the father against the mother. But no, they go after gay marriage. It doesn't take any brilliance to notice that this is hypocrisy of such magnitude that you blame the gay couple living next door for the fact that you've just beaten your wife.

The battle against gay human beings and gay marriage also permits churches to deflect attention from the ugly role they have played in bringing the nation to the socioeconomic crises it now faces at the end of the Bush administration. By targeting gays, the churches are “insisting on their own propriety” after that propriety has been radically called into question by their complicity in all that has taken place in the Bush administration for the past eight years:

To my knowledge, the churches have not accepted responsibility for the Bush catastrophe. Having claimed, in some cases, that Bush was divinely inspired and his election was the will of God, they have failed to explain why the last eight years have been so catastrophic for America. Now I think evangelicals are falling back on issues that have been reliable for them in the past.

Hope? Rodriguez sees hope in the continuing emergence of women to full personhood within faith communities and cultures around the world. In his view, the “revolution” in consciousness that will lead to the full acceptance of LGBT human beings “will come not from the male church but from how women treat their children, and whether or not women are willing to reject their children.”

Which implies, I think, that the male church must stop acting like a father intent on punishing errant children and more like a mother concerned to embrace them, if the church expects us to take its claims seriously. Mother Church cannot effectively proclaim its gospel message of God’s salvific love for all when it continues to act in ways that directly counter that message, as it fights to maintain male dominance in the name of God.