Sunday, July 9, 2017

My Interview with OUTWORDS Project: The Importance of Hearing LGBTQ Stories As Foundation for Defining LGBTQ Humanity

I mentioned here some weeks ago that I had been invited by a national project collecting the stories of LGBTQ leaders (and, in cases like mine, not so much leaders, but ordinary people down in the trenches) in communities around the nation to do an interview for the project. That interview took place yesterday, and I confirmed with the interviewers that I can share more specific information about it now. 

The person who contacted me a number of weeks ago is Mason Funk of the OUTWORDS project. As the project's website states

OUTWORDS is the first-ever national effort to capture the LGBTQ community's remarkable evolution over the past several decades, through on-camera interviews with the people who led, participated in, or simply witnessed it; and then to organize these interviews into a searchable online database for use by filmmakers, historians, activists, and all those interested in how oppressed peoples rise up and cry freedom, for the betterment of their lives and the world they live in.

About Mason and the inspiration that lies behind the OUTWORDS project, the website adds,  

The son of a journalist and a historian, Mason woke up one night in 2014 feeling compelled to document the remarkable changes that he has witnessed in his lifetime for LGBTQ people. This was the birth of OUTWORDS. While many LGBTQ pioneers have already passed away, there remains a thrilling opportunity to capture professional quality, in-depth, on-camera interviews with those still here. This is the mission of OUTWORDS.

Mason and OUTWORDS knew of me, I believe, via this blog and the way in which I have told my story on this blog for a number of years now. In addition to the database of filmed interviews that OUTWORDS is generating, a book will be published based on the interviews.

I'm happy and honored to have been asked to participate — and frankly, a bit shocked that someone would think my story belongs in such a project. Mason and his amazingly skilled photographer Natalie Tsui were wonderful folks to work with. I'm more than a little abashed that this overweight, rambling and soft-spoken old Southern gay man gave them little that was scintillating or photogenic to work with — but as I said when the interview was ending, it seems to me very important that LGBTQ young folks see a wide range of role models among the elders of the community, since, the more stories and faces they can encounter as representational for our community, the more likely it is they will encounter at least one story and one face that resonates for them and makes them feel less alone.

I will admit to feeling deep sadness that projects like this are not being conducted within the context of churches, including, notably, the Catholic church in the U.S., where there's much chatter about building bridges between the LGBTQ community and the pastoral leaders of the church, and about the need for both sides to learn to know and respect each other — but where there's absolutely no overture at all from the side of the Catholic community (including the so-called "liberal" and LGBTQ-affirming wing of the church) to hear, gather, and act on the kinds of stories OUTWORDS is collecting. Robert Shine writes about this lacuna again just this morning at Bondings 2.0. 

It's tragic, really — a tragic indictment — that this kind of project is not being undertaken by the Catholic church in the U.S. even as the chatter about bridge-building gets shopped around at various news sites to suggest that some real breakthrough has occurred for LGBTQ Catholics under the papacy of Pope Francis. It's tragic that we who are LGBTQ and have had ties to the Catholic community have to continue facing hatred and opposition on an ongoing basis without the affirmation and support of our community of faith (or, in many of our cases, our former community of faith).

The hate does not stop. Only yesterday on this blog, I had to deal with a hate-tinged comment by a man who enjoys heterosexual power and privilege, a white heterosexually married man who is a priest in a non-Catholic church, who was offended when I spoke recently of the hopelessness many of us who are LGBTQ feel vis-a-vis the Catholic church and what it offers for us or intends for us. With all his heterosexual power and privilege, this minister of the Christian gospel belittled me, using the very tired and hateful old meme suggesting that gay men are narcissists stuck in perpetual adolescence, and accused me of distorting the Christian gospel.

Which, he implied, he owns in some exclusive way as a straight, white, heterosexually married man . . . . 

We who are gay encounter much of this kind of hatred right within the bosom of the Christian churches in the U.S. One reason it's important that our stories be told is to counter the hate, to demonstrate to those transfixed by hate and prejudice that their hate and prejudice do not accurately sum up our complex, grace-filled, love-oriented lives. I'm grateful that Mason Funk and OUTWORDS asked to hear my story for that reason.

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