Friday, July 7, 2017

As I'm Interviewed by National Project Collecting Stories of LGBTQ Pioneers, Thinking About "Humorless Puzzle" of Hate

I'm to be interviewed tomorrow by folks from a national project collecting stories of what the project calls "LGBTQ pioneers." I will say more about this interview after it takes place. For now, after I filled out a questionnaire sent to me by the interviewers, I've been preparing for the interview by thinking about what I can possibly say about my own minuscule contribution to the national movement to secure rights for LGBTQ human beings.

To be specific, I've been thinking about hatred, about the role that dealing with hate plays in the lives of everyone in the world who is LGBTQ – simply because it's there and is unavoidable. We cannot wake up in the morning and plan our day without remembering that it's possible that in some way, on any given day, in our interactions with other folks, we'll rub up against raw hatred and prejudice. (And this is not an experience exclusive to LGBTQ folks; it's one that many other communities, notably people of color, also have on a routine basis in many societies including the U.S.)

Hate is simply there, and pretending it's not there is not a realistic option for us. We have to arm ourselves daily against the possibility that we'll encounter it, often in entirely unexpected places and/or right in the bosom of our own families, which is where LGBTQ people experience hate close at hand in most instances, in the form of familial rejection, as young people who are LGBTQ are put out of their families and forced to live on the street, as we are sent off to "reparative" "therapy" programs, as we're brought to our churches to be "exorcised," as we’re excluded from family gatherings and told we don't belong when "real" family celebrates holidays, or in some cases, as we're beaten by family members for gender non-conformity when we're young and can't even truly understand what we've done to attract such abuse, etc.

I've been thinking of all of this as I prepare for tomorrow's interview since raw hate chose to knock on my door several times this week, and I have had no choice except to confront it and think about it. So in preparation for this upcoming interview and in response to the experiences life/the universe/God has chosen to hand me this past week, I've been revisiting a folder full of insightful observations I've gleaned from books I've read over many years now: I’ve been looking, in particular, at some of the observations that focus on what Maya Angelou calls “the humorless puzzle of inequality and hate” (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings [NY: Random House, 1969] p. 169).

That phrase seems to me a very good place to start a reflection on hate: hate is, first and foremost, puzzling. Stand outside the circle of someone else's hate, and it's often puzzling to understand precisely why the hate is there. I was brought up as a white Southerner, from the time I was tiny, to view people of color through an ugly lens of prejudice. I was not brought up to do the same thing in the case of Jewish people, and so anti-Semitism has always mystified me.

How can they possibly see what they claim to see in Jewish folks? I have asked myself over and over about anti-Semites. The gross, bowdlerized representation of people I know in the flesh who are nothing like that representation simply puzzles me. And then I remember how I myself have been shaped to respond in exactly that same way to people of color, and so part of the answer to this puzzle is clearly that hate is taught and learned. We don't have it inside ourselves unless someone else takes the time to put it there, unless someone teaches us to hate.

Though that's no less puzzling when all is said and done, isn't it? Why would those who shape the lives of children make a point of misshaping them, twisting them, teaching them to hate targeted others? If hate is a kind of infection that does as much harm to the hater as to the hated, why would any loving adult deliberately infect children with this illness?

My close relative who chose to attack me on my Facebook page this week as she informed me that "you queers make me sick" and then told me that Jesus shares her revulsion and she and her kind own Jesus and the bible and I don't: the difference between us really goes back to how we've chosen as adults to deal with the racial animus instilled in us from the time we were very young, in our white Southern evangelical family. The word "hate" is often overused, but it does very aptly describe how this unfortunate relative of mine thinks and feels about the Obama family and the period of Obama's presidency.

She rocked with hate — there's no other word for what she vocalized — all through the Obama presidency, and I honestly could not understand what she was talking about as she said she wanted Arkansas to secede from the United States as long as Obama was president, as she ranted about all the lazy, immoral people of color in her community receiving handouts — from the hard-earned money in her pockets, she claimed, though the bulk of her money was inherited, not earned — because an African-American man was in the White House. 

I just didn't get the hate, because the Obama she was describing, the man she hated intensely, is nothing at all like the man I see when I look at him. What she thinks of as "facts" to prop up her hatred are just not there at all when I look at the Obama family. They're what this relative's mother described, in conversations challenging her daughter to try to see more clearly and understand better, as "made-up s—." (That older relative of mine who has now gone to her eternal reward was onto faux news before the term "faux news" was a gleam in anyone's eye.)

My relative who vented anti-gay hatred against me this week hates in other ways and other directions, unfortunately, and her racial hatred is even more foundational to her litany of hates than her homophobic hatred is. She vented her animus against me as a gay person primarily because I dared to challenge her racial hatred during the Trump campaign, when she came to my Facebook page and tried spreading that hatred in my Facebook feed. 

This relative is the only person I have heard in recent years casually using the N- word to refer to people of color. She will not get over her bitter hatred of African Americans. This is, as far as I'm concerned, a "humorless puzzle," indeed, this choice to hold close to one's heart a noxious presence that only dehumanizes the one clutching it to one's heart — not the one targeted by hatred. Maya Angelou is right in describing hate as a puzzle, when it harms the one who hates so much more, in many cases, than the one it targets with hatred.

It should also be noted that, for people who hug hate close to their bosoms, hate links to hate: people who revel in hating others seldom confine their hatred to one particular targeted group. As Beverly Wildung Harrison tells us in her classic book Making the Connections: Essays in Feminist Social Ethics (Boston: Beacon Press, 1985), people and cultures that are misogynistic are almost always also homophobic, racist, xenophobic, and militaristic. One form of hostility to a group of targeted others links to another form, so that hate directed against one group inevitably spills over to other targeted groups, as those energized by hate seek to eradicate or put into their "places" groups of demeaned others.

As I leaf through my folder of observations gleaned from books I've read over the years, I come across the following insightful statement from Derrick Jensen's book The Culture of Make Believe (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2002):

Several times I have commented that hatred felt long and deeply enough no longer feels like hatred, but more like tradition, economics, religion, what have you. It is when those traditions are challenged, when the entitlement is threatened, when the masks of religion, economics, and so on are pulled away that hate transforms from its more seemingly sophisticated, "normal," chronic state — where those exploited are looked down upon, or despised — to a more acute and obvious manifestation. Hate becomes more perceptible when it is no longer normalized. Another way to say all of this is that if the rhetoric of superiority works to maintain the entitlement, hatred and direct physical force remain underground. But when that rhetoric begins to fail, force and hatred waits in the wings, ready to explode (p. 106).

To those living with hatred held close to their bosoms, hatred does not always appear to be hatred at all: it appears to be normal, an unbiased reading of the world as it simply is. Hatred can be wrapped up in tradition, economics, and religion, and in this way it can be normalized — which is to say, it can be hidden.

It can be hidden even from ourselves. Jesus hates you just as I do, people like my relative routinely inform people like me, twisting everything all of us can plainly see in Jesus' words and in his life to a use that is absolutely antithetical to everything he said and stood for.

When religious groups allow this twisting to go on and on and on for generations, as many Christian communities have done with hatred of LGBTQ folks, it's not in the least a surprise that people who vent hatred against LGBTQ folks in Jesus' name today imagine they are standing with Jesus and on the side of the angels — though what they're doing betrays in an obvious and crude way all that we know about Jesus and his life from the testimony of the Christian gospels.

Many of us who are LGBTQ and living in the U.S. today have no choice except to distance ourselves from anything at all that carries the name "Christian" and has the Christian brand, since Christianity has for a long time now become a vehicle for obtrusive hatred of people like us, and we do not see those who claim to represent a kinder and gentler Christianity standing up in any effective way against this betrayal of the legacy of Jesus and of the gospels by fellow Christians who use Jesus and the gospels to foster hatred of LGBTQ folks. Read a discussion thread at any Catholic journal site in the U.S., where the topic is LGBTQ people and LGBTQ lives, and you'll find in abundance both raw, open hatred masquerading as Catholic orthodoxy, and so-called "liberal" Catholics participating in these online discussions refusing to stand up in any open, effective way against this gross abuse of Catholic teaching and of the Christian gospels.

When the entitlement that has normalized hatred is challenged, then hatred unmasks itself and comes out into the open: this part of Derrick Jensen's analysis seems very correct to me, too. As people like Robert P. Jones have been reminding us over and over again, white evangelicals went to the polls in 2016 and voted in historic percentages for Donald Trump because they felt that their entitlement — their sense of ownership of the U.S. — was threatened in a never-before-experienced way by the Obama administration, and they intended to reassert that entitlement.

They intended to reassert that entitlement, and those they choose to target in Jesus' name (my relative who attacked me on Facebook this week is a committed though non-churchgoing evangelical Christian) had better learn their lesson and bow down before the lords and masters of the universe. Or else.

Or else there will be overt repression of targeted others, as the lords and masters of the universe, citing Jesus as their rationale, shove them back into the demeaned social spaces allotted for them in a white-run, male-dominated, heterosexuals-first world that talks about Jesus as the rationale for such an arrangement. It's probably no accident at all that my relative issued her hateful statement to me on my Facebook page the day after the Fourth of July, a holiday that, this year, was tinged with out-in-the-open hatred as many Americans celebrated their victory in the Trump election as their newly attained right to vent open hostility to minority groups, after the years in which they had to shut their mouths during the Obama presidency.

On the same day that my relative told me that queers like me make her sick (and that Jesus shares her revulsion), I had to delete a hate-filled comment from the comments thread of this blog. A man whose commenting history on various sites tells readers that he's Catholic and Polish-American left a comment here two days ago which said, "Not only should LGBT whatever be fired they should be burned at the stake."

Scroll through the Disqus feed of this man and you'll see that he routinely calls women he dislikes c—ts, calls for Dan Savage to be burned alive, calls for Catholics United and James Salt to be burned at the stake, spreads filthy lies about Muslims, says Angela Merkel should be strung up and praises Russia as the savior of Christian values, and tells Professor PZ Myers, "You are a scumbag, may your insides rot, may your neck be snapped by an iron boot against a curb, I hope for a world without liberals, we can start with you."

All the while appealing to Jesus and the bible (as my cousin did in venting her hate) . . . . 

But that humorless puzzle again: though many of those who voted for Donald Trump in the last election now tell us that they feel blessedly free to vent their hate openly again, after they had to shut their mouths for a long time under the Obama presidency, venting their hate in this open way is obviously not enough. It’s not enough to make them feel satisfied that they have attained their object and gotten even with the queers or the n——rs or the c—ts (fill in the blank) that they hate.

Their hate is a bottomless well. It's never satisfied. There's never enough hatred in the world to satisfy their appetite for hate. This is part of the puzzle of hatred, isn't it — its inability to be satisfied even when social occasions exist for it to vent itself in the most open, unchallenged ways possible? Tony Kushner, Angels in America, a Gay Fantasia on National Themes, Part One: Millennium Approaches (NY: Theater Communications Group, 1992):

What AIDS has shown is the limits of tolerance, that it's not enough to be tolerated, because when the shit hits the fan you find out how much tolerance is worth. Nothing. And underneath all the tolerance is intense, passionate hatred (p. 90).

It's always there underneath it all. And it's a mistake to call it something other than intense, passionate hatred. Given the chance to reassert itself, it will show its face all over again. Those who say that they were curbed in expressing their "feelings" and "ideas" openly during the Obama presidency have only been waiting for the opportunity to express their hatred of targeted communities in an open way again. And that open expression of hatred will inevitably — it always does — lead to actions, to laws and regulations, that channel the open hatred and assist in the project of placing hated, targeted others back into the demeaned spaces that those engaging in the hatred imagine Jesus has designed for these folks.

This is what those who voted for Donald Trump have accomplished. This is what those who voted for Donald Trump have done to their family members and friends who are LGBTQ, who are African American, who are female, who are immigrants and from the "wrong" ethnic communities, who are poor and in need of healthcare coverage. Those who voted for Donald Trump have colluded in hate and should not be allowed to forget what their votes have accomplished.

Finally, there's the testimony of Richard A. Isay in Being Homosexual: Gay Men and Their Development (NY: Avon/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1989):

Most important, this term [homophobia] is inaccurate, because this hatred of homosexuals appears to be secondary in our society to the fear and hatred of what is perceived as being "feminine" in other men and in oneself, and not, it seems to me, of homosexuality per se . . . . Homophobia is also commonly found in groups in which a value is placed on the individual's "feminine" qualities, but where "being a man" is prized within the structure of the institution or as part of the public image of the institution (pp. 78-9).


The roots of homophobia . . . lie in the hatred of what is perceived and labeled as feminine in men.  In societies where women are subjugated, feared, or discriminated against because men feel contaminated or polluted by them, "feminine" characteristics in males will be despised (p. 128).

This seems right to me, too. What set my relative off and caused her to post her hateful statement about me on my Facebook page was that I had written, in response to David Badash's report about Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who says that, like him, Jesus would not bake a cake for a gay couple's wedding, 

As Mary Daly told us a long time ago, straight white men imagine that they own God, and that God is made in their image — turning them into gods themselves, vis-a-vis the rest of us and the rest of the world. 
Any concept of God that has any meaning functions around the notion that God is radically different from us, and that it is hubristic and irreligious to imagine we are little gods running the world on behalf of a big god made in our own image.

To which my relative replied, "You queers make me sick." And then she went on to talk about Jesus and the bible and how she and people like her and Jack Phillips own Jesus and the bible. And how, if people like me forget who owns Jesus and the bible, we do so at our  peril, and will earn a big slap upside the head, now that Donald Trump is president and God is in charge of the U.S. again . . . .

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