Thursday, September 23, 2010

Gays as Self-Indulgent: A Meme Unsupported by Reality

To link to what I have just posted, using liberation theology's analysis of how the socio-economic, political, or religious centers of society treat some human beings as non-persons: it's important to note that the center turns some human beings into non-persons (and shoves them to the margins) through the use of rhetorical devices designed to deny humanity to these non-persons.  And through rhetorical devices that diminish the humanity of those the center wishes to designate as non-persons unworthy of humane treatment.

One of the persistent ways in which the political and religious centers of our culture justify abusing gay and lesbian persons, treating LGBT persons as if they are not quite human, is by seeding in mainstream rhetoric the notion that gays and lesbians are immature and self-interested, and give nothing back to society.  And so when those who are gay are denied rights accorded to every other human being in a society--because those other human beings are human--we often encounter claims that, if LGBT persons demand more humane treatment, they are not waiting their term in line.  They don't understand how real life and the real political world function.  They know nothing of delayed gratification.

They are like self-indulgent and spoiled children, unlike other minority groups who have learned to make sacrifices in order to attain their rights.  In one of the reports about the papal Mass to beatify John Henry Newman last weekend, for instance, I read a comment by a mainstream British Catholic journalist to the effect that the protesters of the day before were absent from the Mass, because they were all enjoying lazy cappuccinos while everyone else was at Mass.

The remark was, of course, homophobic, and it was intended to play on homophobic prejudices of readers.  It seeks to play on the conventional theme that gay men, in particular, are narcissistic, caught in adolescence, and far more inclined to engage in frivolous Sunday-morning behavior like congregating at cozy coffee bars than worshiping with sober citizens.  And so incapable of concerted political action and undeserving of rights . . . .

In January this year, when I addressed the claim of Archbishop Victor Sanchez Espinoza of Puebla, Mexico, that gay unions are of interest only to those who are gay and offer no contributions to society, I noted that this rhetoric flows directly from the pastoral letter the current pope, Benedict, wrote in 1986 as Cardinal Ratzinger when he headed the Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

That letter, which purports to offer a pastoral path for dealing with gay people within the Catholic church, characterizes the "disorder" of a gay sexual orientation as, in and of itself, "essentially self-indulgent."  The current pope has argued--and this argument has now entered the highest level of magisterial teaching in the Catholic church through his theological writings--that simply being gay is an act of self-indulgence. 

The "inclination" towards being gay is disordered.  And as a disorder, it turns the person so inclined inward, making him or her desire what pleases himself or herself and unable to contribute to the common good.  Ipso facto, those who are gay and lesbian ought not to be allowed legally or ecclesially sanctioned unions, because those unions are incapable of doing anyone any good.  

Gay unions are, as Father Gonzalo Miranda, a bioethics professor at the pontifical university Regina Apostolorum University in the Vatican, informed a Mexican audience recently, like decaffeinated coffee: all the robust flavor of the coffee, but none of its punch.  Incapable of delivering the punch, because they are by their very nature self-concerned and barren.  Binary is primary!  Caffeinated coffee trumps decaf every time.  Game, set, match, Ratzinger!

I think of this rhetoric--which runs everywhere through some Catholic communities in the U.S. into the public square: Catholic politicians opposed to same-sex marriage routinely argue that gay unions contribute nothing to society--when I read about the very real, easily demonstrated gifts that gay and lesbian people offer the social mainstream.  Every day.  On an ongoing basis.  

Even though those gifts and the people offering them are invisible.  Because mainstream reporters, including--shockingly--those who claim to represent faith communities use their reporting to feed ugly prejudices that gays are merely lazy louts sitting around sipping their (presumably decaf) cappuccinos.

And I thought of these discussions all over again this week when I got a message from a group Steve and I have joined in the past year, which is designed to assist down-and-out, struggling people around the world, in a direct, hands-on way.  The organization offering this assistance is called Kiva.  It's centered in San Francisco, and it connects those who want to offer loans to people struggling to get on their feet--through a small business, small farm, etc.--with the people needing assistance.

This posting is not a commercial for a particular social-service organization, though I do find Kiva a fine organization, and Steve and I have been delighted to be able to loan money to particular people and groups through this organization.  What I want to point out in this posting, though, is this: Kiva encourages those offering assistance to form "communities" of assistance that swap ideas about helping, about gaining new members, about locating those who need help, etc.

And several of these are explicitly LGBT communities.  Shortly after Steve and I began making Kiva loans, we joined the group, GLBT Kivans and Friends.  And this week--just as the Senate has voted to inform gay Americans that we will continue to be denied a right to serve that is given to other Americans, and as bishops in Minnesota and Iowa have begun a stepped-up attack on gay and lesbian families--I got an email message from this group.

The message informed group members that the GLBT Kivans group now has 2,500 members.  It ranks 4th of all Kivan "communities," and is 7th in terms of the loans its members have made.

And when I see data like these--which aren't hard to find, though the mainstream media seem to have difficulty locating these data: we're everywhere, and we contribute all the time--I wonder how people of faith and political leaders expect to be believed, when they keep trying to paint gay and lesbian people as self-indulgent and self-concerned.  And gay unions as non-productive and incapable of giving back to society.

Those making these claims seem not to have met many real-life gay folks, or seen us gay folks in action, as we give to those in need.  (It was, by the way, a wonderful Catholic lesbian e-friend and reader of this blog who told me about Kiva.  And a warning to anyone who may consider signing up for Kiva after reading this posting: you'll get hooked.  Loan money to real folks in need through Kiva, see the money paid back, and you'll quickly learn that it's impossible to stop reinvesting that money and more as it's paid back.)

P.S. And yes, I know some spectacularly self-indulgent gay folks who do their level best to live up to the lazy cappuccino stereotype.  But I also know some spectacularly self-indulgent straight folks.  And I don't conclude that because the latter are self-indulgent, all heterosexuals are intrinsically disordered and bent to self-indulgence.  Or that straight folks are decaf to gays' caffeine.  In my experience, the coffee shops I've frequented have had just as many lazy Sunday morning straight habitu├ęs as gay ones, and the former are no more less likely than the latter to be slurping decaf cappuccinos.  The problem with the Catholic approach to sexual ethics, in general, is that it flies in the face of reason, common sense, and what any of us with a brain in her head can see with his own eyes.

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