Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Sexy Sermon





I gave in to the temptation when I was 17.  I had invited a friend to church that night, and we were walking home through the little town that I lived in.  I had been questioning my sexuality for more than a year.  Being gay definitely wasn’t in God’s plan for me…just ask the Nazarenes.  Yet there I was suddenly strolling down a dark alley with someone who obviously didn’t accept Jesus during the evening service because all he wanted to talk about was SEX.  By the time he got around to asking me to blow him, how could I resist?

I left the church when I was 19. By then I had started attending a predominately black Baptist church where I sang in the choir and moved when the spirit moved.  I was also still struggling with my sexuality—praying the gay away and getting nowhere.  Dark alleys had become a sort of second sanctuary to me.  I had no idea what the Baptists thought about the gays, but I was sure it wasn’t any better than the Nazarenes.  And that’s when I saw him.  One bright and sunny Sunday morning, the guest pastor with the fiery eyes and brimstone in his voice…

My hookup from last week.

As I left the service, he and I shared a handshake and hug that was this awkward mix of knowing—wasn’t I just biblical with this guy?—and fear.

Religion has a rich history of making us fear sexuality, that is, unless it is done in the strictest of guidelines.  Jesus had to save a woman from being stoned to death just for having a little afternoon delight with a man that wasn’t her husband.  Beyond that, the bible is full of divine dos and don’ts, along with their consequences.  Spoiler alert:  it’s always stoning. 

Even so, sexuality didn’t become the ticket to hell it is today until St. Paul stuck his nose in to everybody’s sexy business.

The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Corinthians 7).”

Good old Paul—getting married couples hot and bothered for more than 2,000 years.  While Paul’s dirty talk might leave something to be desired, the message went on to be analyzed by the likes of St. Thomas Aquinas, who focused on the Creator’s “natural order” of things.  He failed to account for many of the natural curve balls nature tosses into the human gene pool.  Oh, and he viewed sex as a necessary evil.  Still evil, but necessary to his whole insert tab A into slot B philosophy.

“…as regards the perfect degree of virtue…that which is not a sin, but a lesser good. On this way sexual intercourse casts down the mind not from…the perfection of virtue.  Hence Augustine says: "Just as that was good which Martha did when busy about serving holy men, yet better still that which Mary did in hearing the word of God: so, too, we praise the good of Susanna's conjugal chastity, yet we prefer the good of the widow Anna, and much more that of the Virgin Mary."

Pretty high standards for the ladies there, Tommy. 

I wish I could say something like, “Oh, what did those old coots know?  It was the 12th Century and people still thought the earth was flat.”  Unfortunately, remnants of these philosophies are still seen today.  One only needs to look at the legislative chastity belt they’re strapping on vaginas everywhere, or the religious freedom (discrimination) laws people are fighting for, or the trans bathroom fear evangelicals are so concerned about while they’re cramming glory holes everywhere with their piety.

Of course, evangelicals aren’t the only ones with strict views on sexuality—though I admit I’ve been the hardest on them.  Catholics and Christians hold many of the same ideas on adultery and abortion and queer issues.  Not long ago the Pope decided to welcome divorced people back into the fold, but don’t ask him to budge on the gays.  In Islam, premarital sex (zina) and masturbation (istimna) are sins against one’s body the Qur’an orders you flee.  Thankfully Islam allows temporary marriages for those hard to flee urges.  But as for being gay…a hundred lashes if you’re the top, death if you’re the bottom.  After all, is there any greater sin than taking it like a woman? 

Judaism at least sees sexuality as a pleasurable gift of God to be celebrated, though only in the marriage bed (mitzvah).  They also permit birth control a lot more often than their Christian and Islamic counterparts, and their views on abortion could lend a few lessons to certain state governors.  However, the sin of Onan (jerking thyself) is still forbidden, and the gays are still condemned because, well, Leviticus.

Now, I am not generalizing entire groups of individuals.  For the most part people want to worship their God the way they choose, and the rest of us can fuck right on off.  It is the devout amongst us, toting religious authority from ideas most probably haven’t delved into beyond what their pastor, imam, or rabbi has told them.  Because of this, they lack the empathy to understand such a natural function of the human condition, and one their God calls GOOD. 

Religious leaders everywhere need to understand the responsibility they have to those who follow them—that an idea like “sexual purity” only hinders people from experiencing real fulfillment in their relationships and in their sexual lives…not to mention the confusion it breeds.  Purity pledges are a staple in evangelical circles, as if signing a piece of paper and slipping on a ring is enough to detract those biological urges we have.  Research actually indicates these pledges are just as effective if you toss the ring and certificate into the trash:

"Eighty-two percent of pledge takers denied (or forgot) they had ever taken such a vow. Overall pledge takers were no different from non-pledge takers in terms of their premarital sex, anal and oral sexual practices, and their probability of having a sexually transmitted disease."

Furthermore, this “purity” myth is steeped in the quagmire of systemic racism.  In the documentary Give Me Sex Jesus, director Matt Barber touches on this with a tidy little timetable of sexuality views here in the good old U.S. of A.  In the movie, Amy Frykholm, Associate Editor of The Christian Century, says:

“I don’t think we can talk about purity in American culture and not be talking about race…in America, when you begin talking about purity, about rigid social norms that need to be reclaimed from the past, then you’re talking about race.”

We can’t forget—though a lot of people do their best—that before slavery was abolished people of color were treated as breeding stock while others were kept in human zoos.  After the Civil War, propaganda swept across this great nation advocating for the “pure” race.  Movies like Birth of a Nation (1910) portrayed African Americans as savages waiting in the shadows to rape our white women and overtake our governments.  The Tuskegee Experiments, in which black syphilitic men were denied treatment lasted for 40 years and looked more like an experiment in eugenics than any kind of helpful medical science.  By the time The Civil Rights Movement rolled around, people were touting their God as a reason to segregate.  It was their religious freedom, after all.

Meanwhile, black churches don’t seem to have such rigid beliefs about sexual purity.  While it is widely believed sexuality is somehow more oppressed in black culture, especially around ideas of queerness, E. Patrick Johnson (2008) suggests that isn’t necessarily the case.  In his book Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men in the South, Johnson writes:

“The point here is that the social mores of the South dictate a passive aggressive stance toward any transgressive behavior, especially the activities, behaviors, and indulgences that undermine its religious philosophies—drinking, gambling, adultery, and homosexuality…men and women who have a ‘friend’ on the side are careful not to bring any offspring from extramarital affairs around the legitimate children so as not to ‘embarrass’ the family; and homosexual liaisons between supposedly straight men and known gay ones are treated similarly to heterosexual extramarital affairs:  it’s allowable as long as the indiscretion is not flaunted (4).”

In retrospect, I wonder what it was my hookup from all those years ago—the preacher with the brimstone voice—was more worried about:  being outed or having his sexuality dragged out in front of the whole congregation the way mine had been once upon a time.  Either way, I like to think he found his own sexual niche along the way, and that he grew in his faith as well as himself.  

As for me, I no longer consider myself religious.  Religion, as far as I’m concerned, is like an ex boyfriend I once had—too many control issues, and not enough sex.  I still see the importance of faith groups, though there is a responsibility there that is being shirked.  Sexuality should be celebrated and enjoyed.  People should know how to communicate with their partners, how to navigate their own sexuality or lack thereof, and they need the resources to do it safely and critically in an environment free of judgment or guilt-slinging deities.  Because let’s face it…the standards of the Virgin Mary are unrealistic, if they even existed in the first place.     

Until next time my prayerful pretties,

Cheers!

Cited:
Johnson, E. Patrick.  Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South.  The University of North Carolina Press, 2008.  Print.

And one more thing...

I wrote this weeks ago, long before the tragic incident in Orlando.  Something about the discourse I watched unravel in the wake of that atrocity persuaded me to post this now.  Sexuality is a beautiful and scary thing.  The queer community is testimony to that, as it challenges the sexual norms many of us have been force-fed our entire lives.  And fear, as we know, is a tremendous motivator.  But we shall rise from the ashes like phoenix ready for flight, our flames brighter and stronger than ever.  So until next time, here's to you Orlando.  

Cheers.



Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Queer AF


Queer as Folk aired at a pivotal time in my life.  I was 20 years old.  I’d come out of the closet and jumped back in again before finally breaking the damn door off the hinges.  I was in my first real relationship when I was introduced to the gang on Liberty Avenue.  Not having Showtime myself, I watched QAF every few weeks or so in two or three episode bursts on VHS tapes a friend recorded for me.

Yes, I said V-H-S.

From Justin’s very first rimjob to the melancholic finale that saw Michael and Brian dancing together against the backdrop of a burnt out Babylon, queer people everywhere flocked to this groundbreaking new show.  Queer as Folk brought the plight of queer life to the forefront of viewers’ attention at a time when Will and Grace were playing to hetero expectations.  It also laid the groundwork for other shows like the L Word, Noah’s Arc, Looking, and Modern Family—all tremendous milestones in queer television.   

It had its downfalls…something only time and the privilege of retrospect (not to mention that I’m currently rewatching the entire series) can afford.  

First of all, Queer as Folk is as white washed as a Trump rally.  The only people of color are either “tricks” or sex workers.  Women and their roles in the show are also limited.  Besides a couple of lesbians, Justin’s mom (she's barely seen after Season 1), and Debbie, QAF was a real sausage fest. 

This lack of diversity is problematic because the queer experience is so vast it can’t be portrayed as a bunch of white guys hitting the bars while on their search for love and sex. 

The show is also ageist as shit, insisting anyone over the age of 30 is “gay dead.”  Ah, to be gay alive again!  And if you aren’t donning a six pack, a bubble ass, and a nine inch cock, you’re as insignificant as the 30-somethings. 

Still, Queer as Folk encapsulated what it meant to be queer at the tail end of the AIDS crisis, when much of the country still feared and/or misunderstood the queer movement.  And for those of us who had our feet in both the hetero and queer world, the show provided some long-overdue education to the masses. 
Allow me to count the ways:

Coming Out

Coming out is one of the hardest things a queer person can do.  Whether you’re gay, bi, trans, asexual, or sexually fluid…coming out can seem like stepping onto a high dive with only a tarp held beneath you supported by family, friends, and coworkers—any or all of which could let go at any time.

Coming out can be scary and beautiful and it should never be forced on a person before they’re ready to make that leap. 

Queer as Folk exploited various avenues of this rite of passage.  Whether it was Justin coming out to his mother and homophobic father, Brian outing Michael to his work “girlfriend,” or Hunter telling his adopted dads that he’s actually straight—“Have you tried not being straight?”—QAF gives us a glimpse into that uncertainty and fear, as well as the consequences coming out can sometimes entail.

Parenting and Family

Parenting is tough no matter who you are.  I can only imagine what it’s like to be a gay parent and constantly having to defend that paternity.  On a recent episode of Savage Love, Dan Savage ranted at the beginning of his show about queer parents giving hetero people a break.  I agree; baby brain is real and sometimes makes us forget ourselves.  How else do you explain grown men and women cooing at infants as their vocabulary grossly deteriorates?

Queer as Folk depicted not just the “who’s the mommy/daddy?” questions queer parents are often berated with, but everything from the role of those parents in the child’s life to circumcision, and even divorce. 
It also showed us the different ways families look—from Brian’s strained relationship with his father and sister, to Justin crashing with Debbie after his father refuses to let him come home, to Michael and Ben’s adoption of a young sex worker.  The role of friendship and community can’t be dismissed.  Sometimes blood isn’t thicker than water.  Sometimes family is just the people we meet along the way.

Homophobia

Whether it’s Justin getting bashed after prom, a mother calling her HIV Positive son a “faggot” during a custody battle, a drag queen getting the shit beat out of her in a dark alley, or a bomb going off at the happening gay bar—QAF gave us a raw look at the way bigotry has and continues to affect the queer community.  The beauty is in the way characters handle their victimhood.

Justin, for example, continues his pursuit of art despite nerve damage from his bashing.  Later, when he confronts his attacker, Justin has the power of life and death over the man who had caused him so much pain over the years.  His choice to walk away from his attacker breaks the chains of his victimhood, reminding us we still have choices where once they might have been stripped away; that it isn’t our victimhood that defines us—but what we do with it. 

Forgiveness isn’t the only way to heal, and it may not even be in our repertoire.  Sometimes time is the only tool we have.  Still, we can live a life that shines for others.  And that is where true healing begins.

Sex

One of my favorite quotes from the show is from Uncle Vic:

“Sex isn’t careful, and if it is you’re doing it wrong.  It’s messy, and it’s human.  And it’s mixed up with other things.  It’s a genie that won’t stay in the bottle.”

Queer as Folk gave us an honest glimpse at human sexuality that is still lacking in television and movies.  From Brian Kenny’s backroom fuckery, to BDSM and sex work, to the different ways people navigate monogamy and non-monogamy alike, QAF didn’t just dole out the sex scenes, it educated us about this vast spectrum that is human sexuality.  Safety and consent are always a theme, whether you’re in the backroom at Babylon, getting fisted on leather night, or just hooking up. 

Oh, and the cock shots peppered throughout the series are something more shows could learn from.

I’m looking at you Game of Thrones.

Pride

These were my favorite episodes.  After all, Pride is what Queer as Folk was all about.  Being proud of who we are, the love we have for each other, the communities we build and the changes we elicit—Queer as Folk celebrates it all.  From Uncle Vic, whose very presence reminds us we wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for the sacrifices of others, to baby Gus, a symbol of hope and tolerance for a future that seemed a never-ending uphill battle for equality, especially in post-9/11, Bush-era America.

Today, marriage is the law of the land.

We won.

But the struggle is far from over.  Not when queer people the world over are still at risk of suicide, assault, and execution just for existing.  Here, America is finally making significant strides for equality.  So today, let’s stand with queer people everywhere—beneath that great big rainbow of ours—and ask ourselves:

What have you done today to make you feel proud?


Happy Pride!