Dec 052012
 

What moves us?

As human beings, what makes us happy, gives us joy, causes us to grow, shift, change, to care for one another, to desire, to dream, to live?

What binds us together, regardless – or because of – our differences?  Love does – but when speaking of the word, I don’t just mean that of a person for their lover or a parent for their child. Nor even do I mean for it to be limited by those a person would say “I love you” to and mean it with conscious thought and interest.  Love is larger than that; it is a manifestation of the interconnectedness of all people.  “Love is the life energy that animates everything that exists” (Ó’Murchú 200) – from the smallest subatomic particle to people and the movements of the stars. Love is the radical and tangible notion that we are all worthy of respect.

For the self, love is crucial – otherwise we fall to the lessons of a capitalist world: that we are not good enough, pretty enough, skinny enough, rich enough, smart enough. We give in to those doubts and fears that are pounded into us from day one. Ó’Murchú writes: “Our current travesty, as a human species, is that we have largely lost the capacity to love and to be lovely…. we are children of an unloved and unlovable ‘God’ which, in the West, we label civilization” (199). Without love, we become inured to beauty, happiness, kindness. Our highest priority becomes excessive self-interest, which differs from self-love in that one’s highest priority becomes self-gratification through the manipulation of existing institutionalized structures through competition with and subjugation of others.  In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. touches briefly on Jewish philosopher Martin Buber’s theory of othering. He explains that segregation substitutes an “I it” relationship in lieu of an “I thou” relationship, thereby relegating individuals to the status of things.  In the case of segregation, this meant that people of color were denied their personhood – the practical applications of which translated to denial of access to the same education, jobs, healthcare -  respect – as people perceived as having skin that was white enough. And while segregation has legally ended in the US, the institutionalized hatred and prejudice directed towards people of color is still very much alive.

We relegate people to thinghood whenever we refer to them as a label. The bum; the junkie; the slut; they are no longer people; their right to life, to love, to respect, has been negated. Why do we do this – how do we do this?  How is it that indifference has become the coin of survival in this world? If love connects us all, it follows that we are all worthy of love. This means that none of us may be denied that love. It becomes, then, our duty to treat everyone with the same respect and caring – ourselves included (Noddings).  The Dalai Lama invites us to do so, saying “If you can, try not even to think of yourself as better than the humblest beggar. You will look the same in your grave” (Bstan-ʼdzin-rgya-mtsho 237). Even when we do not – or cannot – genuinely act out of love, it is our responsibility to behave as if we were. Respect should not be a privilege reserved for a select few; it is a basic human right, although often denied.

Cruelty

I am hesitant to use the words good and evil; too often they become the province of religion, ascribed qualities of holiness and hellishness, placed at a remove from our human experience. Likewise, sin is a troublesome word, denoting a fall from grace which can be remedied by a few Hail Marys or other ritualistic penance. My primary concern is how we live in this life now, and how we treat ourselves and others.  Too often, terms like good and evil and sin and holy and hell remove the immediacy of actions perpetrated in this life now, intellectualizing their consequences and separating them from our experience. Ó’Murchú observes: “Love is a central concept in all the great religions. But it always tends to be personalized, attributed to God(s) and people, but rarely to other species and scarcely ever to the forces of universal life itself” (198). An atrocity is something that happens to me, to my neighbors, to those I love. If that act happened to those outside of my circle, it may be a shame, but certainly none of my business. I am not compelled by love or duty to take responsibility for them because it is none of my business.

Sin, if it is anything, is separation. The act of othering, the denial of responsibility, the lack of respect for others: that is where cruelty comes in.  By othering, we place a valuation of ourselves as better-than. To value oneself more highly than others or to value others more highly than oneself is a disservice.  When such a valuation is created and maintained, fear, pain, and repression become dominant over honor and mutual respect.  This creates a power disparity, resulting in cruelty (Hallie) – often institutionalized and enduring. Philosopher and historian Phillip Hallie, while studying the Holocaust, came to this realization:

Institutionalized cruelty, I learned, is the subtlest kind of cruelty…. in a persistent pattern of humiliation that endures for years in a community, both the victim and the victimizer find ways of obscuring the harm that is being done. Blacks come to think of themselves as inferior, even esthetically inferior (black is “dirty”); and Jews come to think of themselves as inferior, even esthetically (dark hair and aquiline notes are “ugly”) so that the way they are being treated is justified by their “actual” inferiority, by the inferiority they themselves feel. (337)

Cruelty, then, is the end result of a denial of our interconnectedness with one another; the denial of love.  And it most often occurs as the result of institutionalized behaviors and attitudes – things which we, as individuals, believe we can do nothing to change.  We have been taught that we can do nothing to change institutions because we are not enough – not smart enough or tough enough or savvy enough – because we have been taught to deny our ability to love and be lovely.

In such a world, silence is valued over self-expression. We are encouraged to keep the peace, not rock the boat, be normal, be quiet, don’t make waves. By keeping silent, the majority implicitly validates the perpetuation of institutionalized cruelties. We say that it’s okay for women to earn less than men on basis of their sex (NOW); that queer people deserve to die because of how they love (Becker); that anyone who is different than us is not a person at all, but a thing. That they, as things, are undeserving of love and respect.

It is clear that “hatred is not the opposite of love; indifference is” (Ó’Murchú 206). Indifference, separation, silence: they are all symptoms of our disassociation with love, the outcome of living in fear.  Dr. King lamented: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people” (368). In order to change that, not only for others but for ourselves, we must free ourselves from fear. We must give in to love.  Ó’Murchú says that “love is an interdependent life force, a spectrum of possibility, ranging from its divine grandeur to its particularity in subatomic interaction. It is the origin and goal of our search for meaning” (206). It is that which connects us together and keeps us whole. In many critical ways, the old axiom is true: love shall set us free.

 

 Works Cited

Becker, John M. “BREAKING: LGBT People Should Be Put to Death, Says Aussie Salvation Army Major.” TWO. Truth Wins Out, 22 June 2012. Web. 21 Nov. 2012. <http://www.truthwinsout.org/blog/2012/06/26448/>.

Bstan-ʼdzin-rgya-mtsho. Ethics for the New Millennium. New York: Riverhead, 1999. Print.

Hallie, Phillip. “From Cruelty to Goodness.” Ethics: The Essential Writings. Ed. Marino, Gordon Daniel. New York: Modern Library, 2010. Print.

King, Martin L. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Ethics: The Essential Writings. Ed. Marino, Gordon Daniel. New York: Modern Library, 2010. Print.

Noddings, Nel. “Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education.” Ethics: The Essential Writings. Ed. Marino, Gordon Daniel. New York: Modern Library, 2010. Print.

Ó’Murchú, Diarmuid. Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics. New York: Crossroad Pub., 2004. Print.

“Women Deserve Equal Pay.” NOW. National Organization for Women, n.d. Web. 21 Nov 2012.

 

Jan 122012
 

Have you ever been in the situation where your identity makes you the automatic authority on all things related to that facet of yourself? It’s something I experience fairly often at school, as the resident openly queer queer.  I’m certainly not the only one there, but the on-campus presence is small enough that I am often the most vocally (and arguably radically in certain aspects) queer-identified individual present.  Between that and a belief in enacting the change I want to see in the world, this means that I can’t let myself bitch about the lack of infrastructure for support of queer people and let it go at that. I’ve got to do something about it.

And it’s not because my school is not accepting and welcoming; that is far from the case. There are more non-gendered single occupancy bathrooms on campus than you can shake a stick at — and if you think this is unrelated, just consider what it’s like to go into a public bathroom as a transgendered person in fear of assault from people policing your gender when all you want to do is pee in peace. The university, while being Catholic, is also progressive, rooted in social justice, dialogue and active acceptance of a diversity of perspectives.

The problem is that none of this is explicitly stated where queer people are concerned. There exists support for students with disabilities, veterans, returning students, older students — there is a food pantry, a prior learning program, ESL integration, and the list goes on — but nothing for queer students. Nothing.

Now, this is not unusual for a university of this size, especially considering that it is a non-residential private university with religious roots whose primary student population is over the age of thirty and often resides at distance. In fact, one of the ways in which the school I go to is unique is that it does not bar or place restrictions on an LGBTQ Alliance. There is, in fact, an officially recognized – but presently inactive – LGBTQ Alliance in existence at the school. So the difficulty lies more in the fact that not enough students have consistently voiced a need for actively queer-accepting support and resources or that perhaps no one has assembled a tool kit of existing community resources and made them available to the student population at large.

In early October, I showed up to the first student governance meeting.  While I’m sure that there were other queer-identified people there, I was the most vocal about making sure queer perspectives were included.  By virtue of that fact, I became the Resident Queer Activist almost by default.  I’ve spent the intervening time between now and then looking at the areas that the university could offer support and considering what that would look like.  There is definitely room for positive change – and the good thing is that it seems that the student population is interested in helping make it happen.

Today, I spent the afternoon being a professional homo (in the I’m volunteering my time sense) at a Club Rush event for my school.  It was pretty epic, as we were without power for the first half of the event, and only got lights back as it was too dark to see and we were ready to pack it up.  I saw two students who were unaffiliated with any clubs during the entire time, but both of them were interested in the as yet non-existent LGBTQ Alliance Club.

Even with such a light turnout, I am actually cautiously optimistic about the club – or at least creating *some* sort of infrastructure that is explicitly welcoming and supportive of queer students.  There were some fabulous activist-minded folks affiliated with other groups and the Student Leadership Council, and there is definitely room to build something that will be self-sustaining as a resource for queer students – and, possibly just as importantly, the communities and families from which they come.

Every person who came by my table had a story to tell: a relative who was transitioning despite a desperately conservative and deeply religious family; a gay daughter expecting her first child; friends, cousins and siblings who were queer. Every person who came by the table today identified as an ally, and every person evidenced a desire for the presence of a club or something queer-focused so that they would have a safe space to learn and help create positive social change. And while the queers were not out in force today, they have responded via an interests survey.  It is clear to me that there is a need for something to serve not just the queer population at my school but also our allies – something which is inclusive, and provides a space for education, dialogue, and support.

In fact, it may be our allies who need this resource the most: people whose children have just come out, or whose co-worker is in transition. While not queer themselves, these are people who still experience an identity shift; they have to change the way they think about a person, and it may bring up issues around religion, politics and morality. There’s a lot of change that happens when a person that comes out of the closet, and a lot of it happens in the community in which the person lives. Their friends, acquaintances and loved ones have to learn new ways to think about the world.

Where, though, exists the safe space for people to learn about what a queer or transgendered identity means? The university is a natural choice; it is a place of learning which welcomes a diversity of experience and works to foster positive social change through dialogue and mutual respect.  The university has the potential to provide space to learn in a safe way that doesn’t involve finding the nearest gay friend and asking them potentially inappropriate or disrespectful questions. Given the unique considerations of my school, queer visibility and support is crucial not just for the LGBTQ populations but for their allies as well.

Sep 082011
 

Over the last month or so, the way people read me has changed. Where I used to consistently get feminine pronouns, confusion, or stumbling over my preferred pronouns, now I’m being called “sir” without a moment’s hesitation.  I’m wearing the same nerdy button-down shirts, have the same chunky glasses, tattoos and almost-flyaway haircut that does little to conceal a receding hairline. I have the same short stature, small hands and wide hips, and a habit of gesticulating as I talk.  I still like glitter and rainbow powered unicorns.

So what has changed?

On the outside, not much. But on the inside, in my life, everything.  I’m single again, in a space that I didn’t think I would be ever again: when you say those words forever, they mean forever, right?

Lesson learned: the only constant is change.

I’m carrying around anger, tension and sorrow in a tight bundle that translates as a firm step, a determined set to my shoulders, a way of speaking into my voice, which is deeper than longtime friends remember. My jaw is tight, and I make decisions without prevaricating, since the only person I can ultimately count on to make ends meet is me. My cat, however cute he may be, will not help me pay the bills.

All of this, I think, translates to others as the assurance that comes from a cisgendered man being raised with male privilege – and that, for me, is the key to passing.  Confidence and an unquestioning assumption that I deserve to have my needs met and my voice be respected.  It’s another piece of a more feminine identity falling away, and that is a complication not without sorrow.

How does one fill masculine shoes with the expectation of what should be basic respect for every human being, regardless of gender identity not becoming an expectation of privilege? Because we do not live in a world where every person is respected on basis of humanity alone; we judge on gender, race, ability, age, religion, sexual orientation, and so many other things.  If one regularly experiences privilege – in my case, getting read as a white guy, a demographic with one of the highest regular occurrences of privilege – how does one refrain from taking that privilege for granted?

Acceptance and respect are the right of every human being; they should not be limited to a choice few.

Feb 172010
 

It’s been a long time since I’ve had ashes painted on my forehead, and yet…

The rich smell of incense and ritual, rolling over me, as I stand in communion with other worshipers, repenting my sins and celebrating salvation. Resolving to set temptation aside, I receive the priest’s blessing in the sign of a cross.

Give up the present to further purify the body, mind and soul for the hereafter. Deny thy body, deny thyself, that you may come to a fuller understanding of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Pray for forgiveness for your many transgressions, and know that God the Father will forgive and absolve you (so long as you aren’t gay, don’t have premarital sex, don’t have protected sex, aren’t trans, or otherwise so sinful you automagically go to hell do-not-pass-go-do-not-collect-two-hundred-dollars).

This year, I’ve decided to put aside putting this world aside, and work at being more fully present, and to move from guilt to grace.  Each and every one of us deserves to know how beautiful we are, how we deserve to be free of shame for being the unique people we are, and how we each have the right to create, love, and be loved in return.

Easy to say, but hard to do, and something which will take more than forty days – but it’s a start.

 

 

 

Feb 272005
 

Life is change. (breathe)
Sometimes change is pain. (breathe)
Challenges are gifts to be learned from. (breathe)
Failure is a lack of understanding. (breathe)
Boundaries are to be broken. (breathe)
Don’t forget to breathe. (breathe)

 

 

Nov 262004
 

I’ve been thinking about fear as both a motivator and an inhibitor lately.

I’m not sure if there are different kinds of fear or if it’s how we let it affect us that makes the difference.

When I was growing up, I let fear affect me in all sorts of negative ways. It stuck me in a box, and I worked very very hard to wear makeup and have long hair and shave my legs and act like a normal good straight little christian girl.

…at least where everybody could see me.

Fear motivates people to stay within boundaries — most people obey laws not out of respect for the rules that define society and allow us to interact in safe spaces, but out of fear of the consequences if they disobey – the wrath of the law, censure of others, becoming other – no longer accepted. Habit is also a powerful reason to obey the laws – “we have always done it this way; it is tradition” – but fear will generally keep most individuals who ascribe to a fairly mainstream path of ethics and the accompanying social mores to the straight and narrow.

…at least where everybody could see them.

As a very base motivator, fear can be healthy stimulant – so long as somebody’s looking. Fear generally roots in the reactions of others to an individual, not out of the individual’s desire to do better or different for themselves. Fear is an outside stimulant that comes of an individual in some way going contrawise to the rules… whether it be the fear of falling off a building or coming out as queer or cutting ones hair without their parent’s permission. Fear does not come from an inner inspiration of rightness or a desire to become truer to oneself; instead it prompts us to work better because we’re afraid our boss might can us, not because we want to improve ourselves.

The outer manifestations of fear and inspiration can be the same in some cases — an increased work performance, a moral way of living ones life, good hygiene. But to live solely with fear as a motivator makes someone somewhat of an animal, living only to please others and never themselves.

One of the more difficult things to do is to look beyond that fear — utterly disregard it in reference to society’s expectations — and reach for that which makes one happy. Then, having found that path, to follow it and stay true to it as it winds the treacherous and uncharted vistas to self knowledge. Even if it means bucking society’s expectations by refusing to shave ones legs or not going to church or presenting oneself in a different manner.

The truth of the matter is that society doesn’t give a flying fuck about what one does to make oneself happy for the most part. The colour that is provided by individuals living true to themselves is a needed component that allows people guided by fear and living behind facades of their manifestation of society’s expectations to dream. The path to self realization may be more difficult than following the straight and narrow to normalcy, but it is also richer and far more beautiful. One only experiences the great beauties of life by also being open to the great sorrows.

To face fear and live above it doesn’t mean that one ignores fear entirely — just that one recognizes it for what it is and makes a conscious decision whether to rule or be ruled by it.

 

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