I helped support the production of the first safer-sex pamphlet in San Francisco as part of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. I grew up in a nonreligious and nonspiritual home, but while in college began exploring personal spirituality. This led eventually to becoming a gay male nun and to meeting SPI sisters. When I moved to San Francisco, I joined the order and was involved until not too long before I moved away.
The early history of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (before my time) included protesting nuclear power in the wake of Three Mile Island and fundraising for gay refugees from the Mariel boatlift. While I was a member we raised money to produce Play Fair! as well as continuing to do benefit fundraising in the community. We were involved in antiwar protests against US involvement in Central America and rarely missed an opportunity to subvert archetypes with a goal of releasing people from shame and guilt and “promulgating universal joy.” Some of us were involved in gatherings of the radical faeries.
Today the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence around the world include members of all genders, but at that time in San Francisco it was all men. And today most members wear “white face,” a practice I disliked back then when only a few did it and dislike even more today. Some sisters, when they put on the habit (and makeup), became larger than life and bloomed into wonderfully strange flowers. A few of us became more focused and contained. The reasons for becoming nuns were individual to each, but I felt there were three major elements reflected in varying degrees by each of us: drag, politics, and spirituality.
My interest in drag has always been minimal (and it’s all drag: we’re born naked), but critical engagement with politics and spirituality continue to be important 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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Most New Yorkers seem to have their heads on straight about Cordoba House, the Islamic community center proposed in downtown Manhattan. Mayor Michael Bloomberg (via the Cordoba Initiative):
If somebody wants to build a religious house of worship, they should do it and we shouldn’t be in the business of picking which religions can and which religions can’t. I think it’s fair to say if somebody was going to try to on that piece of property build a church or a synagogue, nobody would be yelling and screaming. And the fact of the matter is that Muslims have a right to do it too. What is great about America and particularly New York is we welcome everybody and I just- you know, if we are so afraid of something like this, what does it say about us? Democracy is stronger than this. You know, the ability to practice your religion is the- was one of the real reasons America was founded. And for us to say no is just, I think, not appropriate is a nice way to phrase it.
I couldn’t agree more.
But the ADL, which says it “fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all” had this to say on Friday (reported by the NY Times):
The issue was wrenching for the Anti-Defamation League, which in the past has spoken out against anti-Islamic sentiment. But its national director, Abraham H. Foxman, said in an interview on Friday that the organization came to the conclusion that the location was offensive to families of victims of Sept. 11, and he suggested that the center’s backers should look for a site “a mile away.”
“It’s the wrong place,” Mr. Foxman said. “Find another place.”
Asked why the opposition of the families was so pivotal in the decision, Mr. Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, said they were entitled to their emotions.
“Survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational,” he said. Referring to the loved ones of Sept. 11 victims, he said, “Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.”
That is, in a word, bullshit. Irrational and bigoted anguish is still irrational and bigoted. Is that really the way he wants us to live together as a nation, captive to everyone’s irrational and bigoted emotions? Or are some irrational and bigoted emotions privileged?
Thank God not everyone agrees with him:
“The ADL should be ashamed of itself,” said Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, which promotes interethnic and interfaith dialogue.
Here is what the anti-American “tea party” is like:
First, Islam is NOT a religion, it is an ideology — the religious portion only encompasses 11 % (the qur’an) the rest is the Sira and Hadith and the closest parallel to Islam is the Ku Klux Klan — if that is Six Flag’s idea of ‘appropriate’ then by all means, hold your day on September 12th but don’t plan on expanding any time soon because not only will we ensure that you don’t grow, we’ll make sure that your parks become a thing of the past.
This, and the verbal attacks on the Islamic community center in downtown Manhattan and the resistance to building a Mosque in Temecula make me wonder what country I’m living in. This is certainly not what I was raised to believe in as an American.