Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Conversations of the Catholic Center about Gay Folks: Still Dangling after All These Years

Back at the end of 2009 and start of 2010, I blogged about an important manifesto Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong released in October 2009.  The manifesto is entitled, "The Time Has Come."  As the two postings to which I've just linked at the head of this statement indicate, my take on Bishop Spong's manifesto is as follows: when movement towards justice in struggles for human rights reaches a point of critical mass, the attempt to argue nay-sayers on board with the movement begins to be counterproductive.  A time comes when one must simply make critical decisions to move forward and leave behind those who refuse to understand and accept the appeal of a marginalized community for human rights and justice.

And so the endless discussion, the parsing of this and that niggling distinction, the "paralysis of analysis," to quote Martin Luther King, the attempt to persuade those who still just can't quite see the point (because they don't ever intend to see the point): these become a drag on the movement towards justice.  In my view, Spong's 2009 manifesto quite correctly recognizes that this time has come in the movement for LGBT rights--the time has come to stop engaging the arguments of the nay-saying religious right, and above all, of centrists whose real values are deeply rooted in the positions of the right, though they like to pretend that they are "open-minded," "tolerant," and "reasonable" in a way that those of the fringe right clearly are not.

Spong's declaration has been on my mind this week as I read with total incredulity yet another going-nowhere blog discussion at one of the leading American Catholic centrist blog sites, in which a blogger who has persistently sought to dynamite productive, reasonable conversations about homosexuality, and who has a demonstrated history a mile long of homophobic attacks on those promoting such conversation at this site (me included), tries to frame a promising conversation about the Catholic church and homosexuality with remarks about NAMBLA--the North American Man-Boy Love Association.

And, when this happened, though a number of thoughtful and courageous contributors to the conversation called the bluff of the blogger seeking to frame the conversation in this way, one of the journal's associate editors (!) stepped in and tried to give the homophobic blogger cover and to legitimate the "questions" to which he's pointing--as if the attempt to link homosexuality and pedophilia is, at some level, still unresolved and legitimate, and deserves serious consideration.  And further discussion.

When it has long since been proven and proven again that the vast majority of those sexually abusing children are heterosexual males.  So that the attempt to frame discussions of the morality of homosexuality with cautionary tales about pedophilia is an attempt grounded entirely in prejudice, and is all about stopping and deconstructing those discussions--not promoting discussion in the least.

I had a very strong sense of déjà vu as I read this interchange, and noted the persistent (and, I'm convinced, deliberate) use of the term "homosexual" rather than "gay" by the journal's associate editor as he sought to provide cover for the blogger linking NAMBLA and homosexuality.  The conversation reminded me very much of the final point at which I tried with any seriousness or constancy to participate in discussions at this Catholic blog site--when another blogger with a demonstrated history of homophobia tried precisely the same tactic in another thread, as she sought to frame a discussion of homosexuality with remarks about gay bathhouses, AIDS, and promiscuity.  I offered my reflections on that conversation, which caused me to bow decisively out of discussions at this blog when it appeared no one at the site was willing to defend me as I challenged this blogger's prejudice, last year in the following postings: here, here, and here.

And I noted the penchant of this journal at its top editorial levels to refuse to use the term "gay" when it speaks of gay human beings, but to substitute instead the clinical, sexually reductionistic term imposed on the gay community by 19th-century scientific researchers, and long since questioned by many of us who are gay--the term "homosexual--in this follow-up statement.  (For Colleen Baker's wise and typically funny remarks about the very recent attempt of the hugely anti-gay bishop Salvatore Cordileone of Oakland, California, to impose the same linguistic usage--gays are now to be called homosexuals, by episcopal fiat--in a loyalty oath Cordileone is now trying to impose on a group in his diocese, see here.)

We're now a year down the road, a great deal has happened to move the culture at large and faith communities in particular towards a greater awareness of the claims of gay persons to justice and of the appeal of gay people for human rights, and at its top editorial levels, this prominent centrist Catholic publication seems to have moved nowhere at all.  It's stuck precisely where it was a year ago,

  • with top editors seeking still to give cover to rank homophobia in its blog's discussions of the response of the Catholic church to gay and lesbian people,
  • with a seemingly intransigent refusal of the same top editors to question their prejudicial use of a stigmatizing term to denote a marginalized community,
  • and with a similar and also seemingly intransigent refusal of those same editors to open discussion of what clearly most needs to be discussed here: the way in which the Catholic church unjustly privileges straight human beings over gay ones, and, above all, straight men above everyone else.

The blogger who sought to frame the discussion of gay people and gay issues with ugly remarks about bathhouses, promiscuity, and disease quickly self-destructed not long after I challenged her at this particular blog site and was finally banned from the site, but that self-destruction didn't open the door to renewed discussion of these issues--and as I have also noted in a posting about that critical discussion in which I decisively bowed out of the dialogue at this site, my own sense of unwelcome certainly wasn't helped when one of the blog's leading lights, a Catholic deacon, invited me to continue the discussion with him, and then never responded to the email I sent him after he issued that invitation.

Meanwhile, this blogger continues to represent himself (and to be regarded in this blogging community) as an outstanding representative of what Catholicity is all about in the 21st century.

Here are some conclusions I can't avoid reaching as I reflect on these aborted discussions, and as I think about how strongly prone centrist Catholic blog sites continue to be to protect and even promote bloggers who employ tactics like trying to frame discussions of homosexuality with frames of pedophilia, promiscuity, and disease:

  • There simply aren't many academy-grounded journals or blog sites with any academic credibility at all that would tolerate these kinds of tactics, let alone give them cover--from the top levels of a journal's editorial leadership.
  • Much of the world has long since moved on, while Catholic conversations--and this is true in the best of Catholic venues, among leading academics and journalists--remain stuck, fixated on red-herring issues like pedophilia and disease, unable to recognize the toxic prejudice that deeply imbues many Catholic understandings of gay and lesbian people.
  • For these centrist Catholic groups, being stuck is all about being ensconced in heterosexual power and privilege--in unearned heterosexual power and privilege that makes straight men the pinnacle of everything in society, the norm by which everything else is to be judged and found lacking.
  • It's ultimately self-defeating and futile to try to carry on conversations with so-called enlightened people--who are also believers representing a church that claims, in its very title, to be about including everyone--when these enlightened people don't want to admit the large extent to which their beliefs and attitudes are rooted in unenlightened prejudice and unexamined presuppositions that privilege them at the expense of others.

Conversations in which a minority group is asked, over and over again, whether and when it has stopped beating its wife are conversations designed to go nowhere at all.  And to keep that minority group in a permanent state of subjugation.

And when people don't want to be honest or to welcome movements for greater inclusion and justice for those shoved to the margins, perhaps the only sane response, after one has tried to talk reasonably with those behaving this way, is to shake the dust from one's feet and move on.  Since the bright horizon of justice always demands far more attention than trying to convince the invincibly recalcitrant, doesn't it?

P.S. It goes without saying that I think the choice of the journal to publish a reflection by contributor Lisa Fullam about gay pride is a step in the right direction.  My critique is directed quite specifically to the continuing defense of indefensible rhetoric about gay and lesbian people by some of the top staff of the journal.  The unacceptable attempt to frame Catholic conversations about gay folks as all about pedophilia, promiscuity, or disease needs to be ruled off limits, once and for all, by the managers of these blog sites--not defended.  In the past, I myself unsuccessfully called out the homophobia of the blogger now throwing around NAMBLA slurs on this blog, but without any support from the blog's managers, or, even, at the point when I was pushing back against him, without support from the blogging community at the site.

The graphic is German artist Uwe Henneken's 2001 "Dangling Conversation" from Rossana Novella's Beech Grove Studio blog site.

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