November 23, 2004
There is a thirteen-year-old boy in America who walks to school this morning. He believes he is a pervert because he is sexually attracted to a boy in his class. Undressing in the locker room for gym, he is terrified he will get an erection or his friends will notice him staring at the other boys and call him a homo.
At night, he lies in bed. He promised God he wouldn’t look at pictures of naked men having sex anymore, but he did it again after school. As a punishment, he pinches his penis between his fingernails until he breaks the skin. He believes the pain is good for him. It is only a fraction of the pain that sinners feel when they go to hell, or what Jesus must have felt on the cross.
He sits in church on Sunday and knows the priest is referring to him: deviants whose unnatural desire will keep them from entering the Kingdom of God. When he takes communion, he prays that God will heal the sickness inside him and make him clean and perfect like his Son. He promises to try even harder not to sin than he’s ever tried before.
After failing again, he decides he has no more tries left in him. He cannot stop the thoughts or change them. He believes God is disgusted with him and that He refuses to help. He stands looking in the bathroom mirror and wonders if he is what a homo looks like. He thinks of his youngest sister coming home from kindergarten with school papers tucked under her arm, and wonders if the boy from his class is in bed sleeping. He lifts his father’s gun and shoots himself in the head.
On January 2, 1997, 14-year-old Robbie Kirkland committed suicide after struggling with his homosexuality for four years. His mother said at the time, “Our family loved, supported and accepted him but could not protect him from the rejection and harassment he experienced at his Catholic schools.” On May 8, 1995, Bill Clayton, 17, took a fatal overdose after being hospitalized for depression. He’d been assaulted by a group of boys in his community because of his sexual orientation. Jacob Lawrence Orosco, 17, hanged himself on September 3, 1997, in his mother’s home. When Jacob and nine of his friends tried to form a Gay/Straight student alliance at his school, a group of students at a nearby high school formed SAFE-Students against Fags Everywhere.
Anna Wakefield, a lesbian in her 20’s from Virginia, hanged herself on February 27, 1997, after being rejected and estranged from her family; Private First Class Barry Winchell, 21, of Kansas City, Missouri, was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat on July 5, 1999 after rumors that he was gay spread around the post; Steen Fenrich, 19, was killed and dismembered by his stepfather in a homophobic rage, his body found March 21, 2000; Juana Vega, 36, shot in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 11, 2001 by her girlfriend’s brother, for “turning his sister gay”; Gwen Araujo, a 17-year-old transgender woman from Newark, California, savagely beaten to death on October 3, 2002 by a group of boys at a party; Sakia Gunn, 15, fatally stabbed at a bus stop in Newark, New Jersey, May 11, 2003 after her assailant was told she was a lesbian; Fred Martinez, Jr., a 16-year-old Native American high school student from Cortez, Colorado, found beaten to death, June 21, 2001, his skull crushed with a rock. His 19-year-old killer was heard to have said proudly, “I bug-smashed a fag.”
The presidential influence
A few days after Kerry’s concession, Bill Clinton gave a speech at a conference of the Urban Land Institute in New York. The Daily News quoted him as saying that Kerry could have made more of an impact with small-town voters by emphasizing his opposition to gay marriage. “He said it once or twice, instead of 3,000 times, in rural communities. If we let people believe our party doesn’t believe in faith and family, that’s our fault.” Clinton: our moral authority on marriage and sex. As a gay man in America, perhaps I am responsible for the unraveling of the moral fabric of this country, but I have never used a cigar in bed, and I absolutely draw the line at wearing a dress from the GAP.
America listens to its presidents, present and past. The president sets the tone for tolerance in the land. When a president proposes discriminatory legislation or supports it, however unlikely it may seem that it will be voted into law, the message he sends to the rest of the country is clear: these are the people you have my permission to harm. George W. Bush’s proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage is more than just a vindictive president’s desire to deprive gay men of bridal registry; it is the legislation of hate, and its direct consequence will be the sanctioned murder of America’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens.
I marvel at the vogue of hate today in this country; who you can freely hate these days and who you can’t. You can hate women, and gays, and fat people. You can hate poor people, and the homeless. You can’t, however, hate black people or Jews anymore, at least not on television or in print. (You can still hate blacks privately, but Jews are harder; some have blonde hair and it isn’t easy to tell if they are in the room.)
Black and white Christians have been revitalized by the same-sex ban, agreeing to suspend their hatred for each other in favor of a combined, galvanized hatred for gays. The GOP hates us all year round, but Democrats are “holiday haters,” reserving their hate for special occasions – like close elections. Holiday hate never counts as real hate, of course, it’s just politics, like little white (water) lies, and promises (fingers crossed) to pass legislation protecting gays in the military once voted into office.
And finally, the passive-aggressive haters know a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage based on religious belief is wrong, not to mention unconstitutional, but since we are not “personally” affected by it, we’ve decided to watch from the sidelines. Newsflash: there are no sidelines in America anymore. Civil liberties in this country are an endangered species. We may not care that the Texas red wolf is almost extinct in North America, but, living in the same ecosystem, it might be worth noting, as we may be next.
Jesusland, can you honestly say, with all that is wrong in the world today, with millions of people infected with HIV and thousands of new infections each year, with record unemployment, families with no healthcare and billions spent on war, that the greatest moral challenge we face in America today is symbolized by a wedding cake figurine of two grooms?
Homosexuality is not contagious
Is homosexuality contagious or reaching epidemic proportions? How else can the sexuality of one section of the American population singly decide the outcome of an entire presidential election? Only one conclusion can be drawn: Gay people in the heartland are doing some serious fucking. I only wish someone had let me in on it. I thought we were supporting Kerry by voting for him. If gay sex is really that powerful, screw the oil in Iraq, Halliburton should be hooking us up to generators.
Is homosexuality so irresistible that straight men and women are leaving their homes, mesmerized and in droves, to join the gay ranks? The few straight friends I tried to seduce in my post-coming-out insecurity remained politely, but resolutely, straight. To all those who tried to manipulate me into being heterosexual to further their agendas (my mother), I remained resolutely, sometimes impolitely, gay. One might conclude from this that people are what they say they are and we can all get on with things.
Not in Jesusland. Three little words, one tiny sentence, and the best friend’s face closes forever, the child is lifted from the lap of the favorite aunt, a mother sends her son his baby pictures with a note saying she no longer has a child, a girl runs away from home to escape her parents’ attempts to “beat the devil out of her”, a boy is forced see a psychiatrist and take medication to fix his “problem”, a transgender teen hangs herself to avoid being ridiculed at a school assembly the next day.
Don’t throw LGBT in the garbage
America: you do not have the right to throw your lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens in the garbage. You have a responsibility to protect us whether you like us or not. If you do not approve of gay marriage, do not attend gay weddings. It is not your prerogative to decide who is worthy of your care, or to deny protection to anyone. As American citizens our protection is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.
We are in a holy war, a fundamentalist Christian jihad, where the possibility exists as never before that Jesusland will finally become Jesusworld. (I wonder what the rides will look like.) With a faith-based president who doesn’t respect the Constitution as separate from his belief in God, there is no difference between extending democracy and extending Christianity. Once you free a citizen for elections, you have to free a soul for salvation.
Accosted by Christians on subway cars when I first came to New York City, I never ceased being amazed at the chutzpah of a stranger suddenly asking me about my relationship with God; not to mention being deeply insulted by the lack of subtlety that announced the intrusion. “That chocolate ice cream looks delicious; do you have a relationship with Jesus Christ?” I knew that no one would ever have the audacity to say to me, “Excuse me, Sir, how much money is in your bank account?” or “Pardon me for asking, how many times did you make love this week?” Yet somehow just anyone can demand to know on the spot what your relationship is with Jesus, which, if you have one, is arguably the most intimate relationship of them all. I admit it crossed my mind on more than one occasion to reply, “Why yes I do, actually, a pretty good one, and fuck you for asking such a personal question.”
The most exasperating religious experience ever may be the attempt to convince a born-again Christian that God will allow someone into heaven that isn’t “saved” through Jesus Christ. After a brief exchange, I inform the stranger that while I was “saved”, or at least baptized as a child, and my grandfather was a minister of his own church, I have no intention of being part of a religion that doesn’t accept me because of my sexuality. My inquisition on the A-train ends and my Jesus interrogator trots off to his next victim, reminding me that “we’re all sinners.” He hasn’t achieved a new convert, but he’s watered that seed of insecurity in me that maybe homosexuality is evil, that gay people do end up in hell and because of what I am, God doesn’t like me anymore. It’s a child’s fear, like dark closets and monsters under the bed, but it can rule a life and last a lifetime.
During the six months after college that I ran around cracking people over the head with my Bible, I remember the extraordinary relief that came from finally having the Answer to Everything. No longer circling endlessly on the parking ramp of life, I had finally found a space. Trying to forge a gay identity on my own was too rangy and uncertain, and if I didn’t succeed, what could be more disheartening than failing at being a pervert? The world was much easier to understand with my new faith and broken down into two distinct groups; those who were wrong, and us. I did exactly what they told me to do: love God, accept Jesus, and, like courting Santa Claus, try not to be naughty and always be nice.
Because my homosexuality, however, is dictated not by fashion or trend, but biology and DNA, I couldn’t warp or mutilate myself into the desired new result. My naughtiness eventually outweighed my niceness and I was in deep shit. I wasn’t told to leave, exactly, but knew that if I wanted to, I could stick around for a sort of exalted pervert status; the old “God loves you, homosexual, because He loves us all – even child molesters, rapists, and serial killers” line that some Christians think is generous.
Certain minds are vulnerable to fundamentalist thinking. Closet gays, immigrants, poor blacks, rich white women with philandering husbands–it draws so many. It’s not easy to talk about why fundamentalism is attractive, why a heart might crave it. There comes a time in a life when the world simply becomes too painful for nuance, when it’s freezing out and you just want to come inside and have someone say, Relax, we’ll take care of you; in fact, we’ve been waiting for you. Here is the rulebook, no need to ask any questions: just sign here.
There isn’t an oppressed person alive who at one point or another hasn’t felt the seductive gravity of capitulation. The decision to resist always means thrusting oneself into the vast, unknown and dangerous wilderness of truly being free. One is tormented, at the same time, by the grim suspicion that while a secure existence may never be found in self-determination, a designated place always awaits one who will succumb to the State.
The violence against gay people, religious, emotional, physical or political, has done what social violence is supposed to; it’s driven us underground, afraid to demand our rights or protect them when they are threatened. One good, well-publicized, gay murder can do wonders. Those of us who aren’t brutalized or obliterated in elaborate campaigns by strangers or our families, are perpetually trapped in nets of chronic shame; our internalized hatred simplifying the work of the bashers by beating them to it.
A gay killer
I was astonished the day I discovered that I was a gay-killer. Indignant over the nationally publicized murders of Matthew Shepard and Brandon Teena, I’d demand a stop to gay bashing, leaving the rally or dinner party for a bashing session of my own with unsafe sex, alcohol and drugs. I had to finally consider the idea that my self-destruction wasn’t fabulous or gloriously tragic; it was predictable, and (this hurt the most) not very imaginative. I was complicit with the anti-gay agendas that were aimed at me with the precision of a sniper’s bullet; an accomplice to my own gay assassination. I made a decision that although I wouldn’t be able to save every gay life, I could definitely save the one I’d been given. (I’m still saving it; the mistaken assumption being that you only have to save your life once.)
I was a thirteen-year-old boy in East Lansing, Michigan on his way to school in 1983, attracted to a boy in my class, and flooded with the shame and terror that I was gay. My father also kept a Smith & Wesson in his closet. I don’t believe I would have used it on myself, but a gun in any house has an aura of potential, waiting for the fatal chemistry of an escalating argument or a very, very bad day. What I did have was a lesbian friend in high school, who, one could say, “died for my sins.” She came out of the closet first and when I saw that the coast was clear, I came out after her.
She was humiliated daily by notes shoved in her locker or jokes made as she walked down the hallway. Girls came up to her in groups during lunch and asked, “Are you gay?” to which she replied, “Why, are you interested?” Leaving a gas station one night, a boy, spurned by her refusals, called her a dyke and punched her in the face. She didn’t allow the violence to derail her. I don’t think Jesusland would have approved of her – a sassy, courageous, I’m-scared-to-death-but-you’ll-never-know- it, 17-year-old black lesbian – but Jesus himself might have.
Stop dragging Jesus into it
If Jesus is with us, I think he stands beside the black man who faces the lynch mob, the midwife who is brought before the church for being a witch, the bewildered and naked prisoner cowering against his cell wall in Abu Ghraib, the transgender teenager who has decided to dress as herself, no matter what her parents or the kids at school do or say. Jesus stands with all of us, but He especially knows what it’s like to be innocent, to be
violated and murdered for telling the truth, to face a violent mob and be alone.
America. If only you would purify your hate. When we walk into someone’s country and wish to take what they have, let’s just take it. Why call it liberating the Iraqi people or Operation Iraqi Freedom? Call it stealing and steal it. If you want to kill someone, don’t refer to pre-emptive strikes or wars on terror. Kill them.
And if you want to hate homosexuals, Jesusland, just hate us. But don’t call it a “moral” or “family” issue, or try to legislate it and say, “I still support civil unions.” And for Christ’s sake, please stop dragging Jesus into it. Hasn’t that poor man been through enough? Whether we believe He was the Savior or not, I think we probably all agree that He was a pretty nice guy that loved all kinds of people and never meant harm to anyone.
If He were alive to see this land today, I don’t think He’d claim it.