What Bert and Ernie mean to me

The July 8 & 15, 2013 cover of The New Yorker features Bert and Ernie relaxing together on a couch, cuddling while viewing the Supreme Court justices on TV. Although one can argue that it is ambiguous (and I have, largely as a devil’s advocate), it is a commentary on the Supreme Court decisions this week about marriage equality, and is entitled “Moment of Joy.”

On one level, Bert and Ernie mean nothing to me, because I was too old for Sesame Street when it came along. I have no fond childhood memories. I haven’t seen any of the Muppet movies. I remember watching the Muppet Show on TV, I think, but I’m not sure Bert and Ernie were even on it.

But as an observer of popular culture, if not always a participant, I know that Bert and Ernie are both guys, that they are always mentioned together, and that they are roommates. At some point, I became aware that some people thought they were gay, and that some people started a petition for them to get married, to which the Sesame Street people responded by saying they’re just friends, meant to be models of how people who are different from one another can still be close friends. They also said that they are just puppets, without sexual orientation.

Well, be that as it may, Miss Piggy and Kermit, also “just puppets” certainly have a sexual orientation. I think it’s legitimate to consider that Bert and Ernie may have a sexual orientation, even in light of the Sesame Street people’s protestations.

Puppets are screens upon which we project what we need or want, individually. The creator doesn’t own, and cannot dictate, my projections onto the puppets.

I can see, but do not feel, the objections by some that a universal friendship is being forced to become particular. (I have a long aside about the parallelism of Ruth’s words to Naomi being sexualized by those who use them in marriages, which is actually just a rhetorical feint, so I’ll only mention it in passing.)

What I see is that Bert and Ernie, in the context of the Supreme Court of the United States saying that marriages between people of the same gender, lawfully recognized by the various states, must be recognized by the federal government, finally feel comfortable being themselves, being the people they really are, being the people they have always been. It makes me cry gentle tears of joy.

There is a long, long tradition of the heterosexual majority erasing gay and lesbian relationships. Jonathan’s love of David “surpassing the love of women.” The Roman centurion and his slave. No, we can’t say that all Boston marriages were sexual, but it seems entirely unlikely that none of them were romantic. Willa Cather and Edith Lewis. Eleanor Roosevelt and Hick and Tommy. Decades of couples being “just friends.”

It is in this context that I’m offended by those who resist the interpretation promoted by the cover. The worst of the complaints explicitly condemn gay relationships as other, less, or sinful. But even those who celebrate the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry yet are sad that a “universal” symbol is no longer universal are, from my point of view, perpetuating and defending a heterosexist status quo. I totally get that seeing Bert and Ernie as a universal symbol of friendship is a legitimate projection onto them. But resisting a new, and I would say deeper, liberating, symbol feels to me as though my reality is being made, once again, less than, less real than, less important than the heterosexual majority.

So sure, they’re just puppets. But they’re puppets that I can now see myself in, in deeply satisfying and healing ways, and I refuse to allow anyone to make me anything but delighted at seeing them that way.

Taking stock

I’ve not often done an end/beginning of the year look at the state of my life, but as I was sitting at the laundromat this morning it seemed like a good way to use some of the time. I’ve continued to muse over the course of the day. So here are some reflections on the ups and downs of my life over the past year, a little context, and some hopes for 2011.

2010 was a difficult year

  • It feels like it will be a laundry list of whining when I start off with “I’m dissatisfied with my job,” but, well, I am. I’ve been working on both attitude and actual job content for the last few months, but on balance it ends up in the negative column. Here’s hoping for a better 2011!
  • In mid-March the roof blew off my side of the three-floor apartment building I live in (on the third floor), sending lots and lots and lots of water pouring down my walls and through my kitchen. It was months before it was fixed. I do have very nice new walls and floor in the kitchen now, but it was nothing short of hellish.
  • One of my cats had a seizure during the whole kitchen chaos. I felt really helpless. The vet didn’t find anything, and she has seemed fine since.
  • Speaking of not finding anything: I had my routine half-century colonoscopy, and it was clean (as was an upper GI endoscopy).
  • I lost ten pounds (on purpose). Here’s to hoping I can continue the trend in 2011!
  • I took Wednesdays off work during August. What a great decision!
  • I spent less than in 2009. Never a bad thing.
  • Three really excellent trips: I had lovely, lovely visits with old friends in Minneapolis before and after working at the UUA’s annual General Assembly; I went to my friends Margaret and Alice’s home in Vermont for a longish weekend; and I went to California to see my family.

Changes in Second Life

In the spring I sold my last remaining region in Second Life. I no longer wanted to be a landlord, and the full cost of a sim was way out of line with my current enjoyment of Second Life. On the other hand, the year ended in absolute delight and pleasure in a gift from Wynx Whiplash for the 12th day of Wootmas in Raglanshire: a tiny reindeer. (A gift to anyone, not a gift just to me. All the more wonderful and generous for that.)

Some context

My life is really pretty cushy when contrasted with those in Haiti and Chile dealing with earthquakes and those in Pakistan dealing with floods. Not to mention the horrific environmental devastation caused by British Petroleum (and our collective addiction to oil) in the Gulf of Mexico.

Along with most everyone else, I wept and wept when the epidemic of GLBT teen suicides came to our attention. And I weep a different kind of tears when I see the “It Gets Better” videos created by people from all walks of life, right from GLBT teens to the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. As one of my favorite bloggers, Andrew Sullivan, often ends his posts, “Know hope.”

It didn’t seem possible the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was actually going to be repealed. I could hardly believe when it was. I’ve never wanted to serve in the military, and I believe violence is evil even when it is the least bad option that we can see. But it’s hard to express the depth to which the repeal of DADT (and the eventual end of the policy) affects my sense of being an actual, equal citizen of the United States. It is a constant assault to have something as personal as one’s sexuality constantly paraded through the news as a political and cultural football. What a relief to have taken one more step to putting that discussion to bed.

Looking ahead

I have a few things I’d like to do in 2011.

  • Go outside every day. (The days I work at home, and sometimes on weekends, I may spend the whole day inside.)
  • Sit still every day for ten minutes. Not just sitting and reading, or sitting at the computer, or sitting and listening to music. Just sitting. A long overdue response to my ongoing spiritual drought.
  • Take lunch to work at least once a week. Yes, that will be a change, sad to say.

Happy New Year to everyone.

Why I won’t be contributing

I contributed several times during the last presidential election. But I won’t be contributing to the national Democratic Party or national candidates unless they come up with, at a minimum, passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA):

Of course, Democrats have an overwhelming majority in the House. In the Senate, Republicans can only filibuster if all 41 vote in unison, but ENDA has two GOP co-sponsors, Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine. If Democrats were committed to it, ENDA would be passed.

via Independent Gay Forum — The ENDA Blame Game.

Blog Swarm on DADT

I left a message on the HRC website. It took 30 seconds.

[C]ontact the Human Rights Campaign on behalf of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”


Publicly demand that President Obama take the lead in getting DADT repealed this year.

1) That means the President needs to state publicly that he wants Congress to repeal DADT this year; and

2) The President needs to take the lead in working with Congress to make sure the repeal happens.

HRC Front Desk: (202) 628‑4160
TTY: (202) 216‑1572
Toll-Free: (800) 777‑4723

HRC Web site comment page.
General membership email at hrc: membership@hrc.org

via Take Action on DADT — Join Our Blog Swarm: Call HRC Today — Towleroad, More than gay news. More gay men.

Watch: Obama Dances Around Same-Sex Marriage at Town Hall — Towleroad, More than gay news. More gay men

[I]t makes sense for us to take a leadership role in ensuring that people are treated the same. —President Barack Obama, January 28, 2010

(via Towleroad.)

So, if a state’s laws say it is legal, and a couple’s church says it’s moral, and a same-sex couple gets married, why isn’t their marriage recognized by the federal government? And why aren’t you working to change that?

No H8

I can’t be at the protest today (I’m having muscle spasms in my back, but even if I were well, I would be celebrating my friends Chris and John’s wedding instead). So this small contribution to visibility will have to do.

The election of Barack Obama was such a wonderful thing. But on the same day, four states approved anti-gay measures. It fills me with sadness and anger.

Fine article on Lee Hays

A really fine article on Lee Hays, singer and songwriter, a favorite of mine from The Weavers. The People’s Singer

At the end of 1955, the Weavers held a reunion. Their manager beat the blacklist by renting Carnegie Hall for a nameless quartet and then selling it out before anyone could complain. Their opening number was “Darling Corey.” If you’ve ever wondered what the Left once was in America — the Old Left that organized American labor and did FDR’s heavy lifting and fought fascists in Spain in 1936 and in Peekskill in 1949 — listen to “Darling Corey” as the Weavers sang it in 1955. It’s a ghost, a memory even then, but still it’s more thrilling than anything that played on the radio that year — or last year, for that matter — a punk battle hymn for four voices. Pete tears it open with a single note, spitting bullets out of his long-necked banjo. He was mad and proud and bitter, playing for the fallen and the falling, for Leadbelly and Woody — who was two-thirds gone now, dying of Huntington’s Disease in Brooklyn — and for the Weavers themselves. It was a new sound for Pete, Woody’s sound. Not the jokes, but the anger. The difference between Pete and Woody could be seen on their instruments. In a neat circle bordering his banjo, Pete wrote, this machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender. Across the hips of his guitar, Woody scrawled, this machine kills fascists. That night in 1955, Pete turned his banjo into Woody’s old killing machine. The first spray of notes is followed by a plummeting spiral like a man stepping — leaping — off a cliff. Enter four voices: Wake up, wake up, darling Corey!