Proud, Loved, and Lucky

There are three parts of my identity which I have had to work to realize and assert. I am a gay man. I am a Pagan. I am a Vegan. These are just three of many aspects of my identity, but these are special since they have required swimming against the flow, discovering parts of myself, and finding communities that support who I’ve become.

Inklings of all three started in my early teens. I analyzed and rejected the Catholic faith of my upbringing. I realized that the central story of Christianity – Christ dying to redeem my sins – had no real personal meaning for me. I didn’t feel like I needed someone suffering for sins I never committed. Perhaps I was too privileged in my middle class white American upbringing to feel the need to be “saved”. I certainly didn’t feel the idea of Original Sin and I was too young, too protected and too introverted to have done anything really bad out in the world.

Also, there was the growing realization that the Church disapproved of and even condemned the sexual identity that I knew I had within myself. It took a while for me to figure out that what I felt toward boys was the kind of attraction that most of my peers felt toward the opposite sex, and even longer to figure out how to express that. By my senior year in high school, I was poised to “come out”, and all I needed was the accepting (and less supervised) environment of college to push me over the edge.

In January of my Junior year of high school, I stopped eating meat. I was influenced by statements I had heard from some of my pop music heroes at the time – Annie Lennox, Howard Jones, The Smiths, and even Madonna. It empowered me to make a choice for myself – to allow my distaste for the very idea of chewing on a dead animal’s flesh to manifest into a change in behavior.

Also during high school, I began to read about the Occult. I came across Starhawk and Margot Adler, whose works resonated. I began reading Tarot cards. The beginnings of my Pagan path were set, even if those books had to be stashed away, out of the sight of my family.

Through college and my early post-college years in Chicago, my developing gay identity took center stage. I was the coordinator of a campus LGB group (awareness of Trans issues was just not really there back then). One of the reasons I moved to Chicago was to enjoy the lively gay-positive scene in Boystown.

My spiritual identity was not much of a priority during these years. I remained mostly vegetarian but ate seafood on and off. It wasn’t really until I was in my late 30’s that I began to revive my progress on both of those issues and connect to my spiritual path and also to make my move toward Veganism.

Today, there’s no one in my life who doesn’t accept my identity as a gay man. My close family is supportive. I have encountered occasional problems with being gay in the workplace over the years, but it has been rare and certainly not recent. My veganism is much the same. People in my life accept it, and although some are still a little puzzled, anyone who knows me at all knows they won’t change my mind or habits by arguing.

My Pagan path is still developing. I feel like I have grown in my own practice and knowledge. I am more and more comfortable with my own spiritual self and I have found people who support and guide me. I am still unsure of how to discuss it with people from other aspects of my life – family, old friends, co-workers. I take it on a case-by-case basis, but there are lots of people in my life who have no clue about this part of me.

I realize that with all of these, visibility promotes acceptance, and I should strive to be honest and visible. It helps others come to terms with their own identities. I am not out to convert anyone, but I am still in a process of becoming visible as the person I am – and that includes being a gay man, a Vegan and a Pagan.

Taking in Summer Solstice Energy

Yesterday was the Summer Solstice, Midsummer, the longest day of the year. This time of year the sun shines until quite late in the evening. The trees are fully green and leafy. A few of the early crops are even showing up at the farmers markets – greens, berries, radishes.  The summer festivals have started around here and there are free concerts in the parks. There’s the association with the childhood summers with few obligations and lots of time to explore the world. Our long, bitter winter is just a distant memory now.

It should be time to celebrate, right? Yes and, because I am who I am, no.

I don’t appreciate the heat, the baking sun or the oppressive humidity that we have in the summertime. I burn easily, so if I’m out in the sun, I have to slather myself with sunblock, which always feels greasy and often makes me break out. Those street festivals often revolve around an unshaded street and include a large crowd. Neither of these things is good for my mental well-being. I used to go to a couple each year. Now, I’m not too interested.

I don’t have a place for a garden where I live now, so I can’t enjoy the first-hand process of helping plants grow. This is something I really want as a part of my life, but it’s blocked for me at the moment

The warmer weather brings a spike unpleasant activity to my neighborhood, too. Gang activity, street fights, noise (blasting car stereos that can be heard for blocks) and vandalism always increase in the warm weather.  There are a lot of idle young people around, unfortunately. The economic and political climate mean that there’s a lack of summer jobs for inexperienced young people as well as cuts to various programs that provide activities for teens

I am going to try to set those complaints aside, though.

For the first time, I celebrated the Summer Solstice with a group of Pagans, specifically The Brotherhood of the Phoenix’s event called Terra Sol. We had workshops, a ritual and potluck. I was looking forward to a bonfire (a rare thing for this city-dweller), but unfortunately a torrential rainstorm came and drenched that area before I could hang out by the fire. We had fire in a cauldron at the (indoor) ritual, though.

It was a wonderful experience to be there with a group of creative and nurturing people. I went to workshops on Fairy Tales, defense against the Dark Arts and using the voice and breath for spiritual work. They were all interesting and I wanted to dive more deeply into all the topics than time allowed.

For the voice workshop by my friend Matthew Ellenwood, I really realized how much I have blocked my own voice. I used to sing frequently. I was even Choir President in high school, but I rarely sing anymore. I almost never speak publicly. I have spent most of my adulthood shutting off my voice. It has been a somewhat conscious decision. There’s so much cacophony in our world and I don’t want to add to that. I do believe in the power of listening, and opening the mouth often closes the ears. I also don’t feel that I have much power to change things in the world through my voice

The ritual revolved around the turning of the seasons and with using the fire of the Sun to burn away what holds us back. These are powerful themes for me, and the idea of burning away the negative is especially timely for me at the moment. There was drumming and chanting and it transformed my state of mind, as the best rituals do. The stresses and dull anger that I’ve felt lately went into the fire. I came away feeling cleansed and freer to act.

I need to try to hold onto that as this season proceeds. I need to hold this version of Summer in my heart – the dancing, clean, happier version of summer that burns with creativity and love.

Gut Reactions, Hidden Biases, and Jonah Hill

Warning: This post contains language that some readers may find offensive.

Jonah Hill, who generally seems like a pleasant and amusing fellow (and who is, somewhat bizarrely, a two-time Oscar nominee), recently used a homophobic slur toward a reporter who was harassing him. This is not earth-shattering news. Entertainment news outlets like TMZ regularly follow celebrities around airports and outside restaurants, baiting them with provocative questions and sometimes insults just to get reactions for the cameras. Jonah is part of a long tradition of celebrities losing their cool and using this kind of anti-gay language. Recent examples that spring to mind are Alec Baldwin and Kobe Bryant.

Jonah has been making the rounds with his apology. It is heartfelt and he acknowledges that language can have an impact far beyond the intention of the speaker and that his words hurt many more people than the reporter who was the specific target.

Many gay bloggers have praised his apology, and justifiably so. Others have even gone so far as to admonish TMZ for reporting the remark and labeling it as homophobic. If we don’t like TMZ’s tactics, then we probably shouldn’t be following them as a news outlet, and perhaps even stage a boycott. They don’t make much of a pretense of fair or balanced reporting. They present stories in a personal, opinionated and petty way – that’s basically their brand. I find TMZ’s sensationalism unsurprising, but I think that calling Jonah’s remarks homophobic is justified, even if the reporter’s actions that prompted the outburst may not have been.

What is more interesting to me about this and such similar incidents is what is unstated and what insults like this reveal about societal attitudes about men who love men.

“I wanted to hurt him back, and I said the most hurtful word that I could think of at that moment.”

This is what Jonah Hill said in his apology, and this is frequently how such incidents are described. The words were products of irrational anger, gut reaction, not careful consideration and not reflective of his beliefs. But let’s think about that.

He has displayed that his gut, no matter what his thinking self says, believes that the worst, most insulting term that he could throw at a person he hated in that moment was “faggot”. Not only did he use that derogatory word for gay men, but he further illustrated that he was not blindly groping for a random insult uncoupled to its meaning. He illustrated it by including “suck my dick”. The most humiliating action that he could wish this reporter do is to have sexual contact with another man. The most shameful punishment for this man’s harassment is that he should suck a man’s penis.

He didn’t call him a “bully”, a “stalker”, or a “troll”. He didn’t go with the incest implication of “motherfucker” or the child-born-out-of-wedlock implication of “bastard”. He didn’t go with the anatomical insults of “asshole” or “shit-head”. Nope. His gut reaction was to reach for the most shameful, hurtful thing that came to mind, which was “Suck my dick, you faggot”.

Whatever his views in his calm and rational moments, Jonah Hill very clearly displayed a basic bias. And it’s a common one. It’s one that even many people who feel same sex attractions feel. Somehow we’ve learned that sexual contact between men is shameful and it’s dirty, and even the most enlightened, open-minded people have some part of themselves that believe that. But somehow, sadly, we also realize that the bias is so common that we would rather applaud people for mostly overcoming it, rather than question why it’s there in the first place and root out its source.

Beliefs held at gut level are very hard to change. They probably are formed by messages from family, school, churches, television and peers at an early age. Many of them are learned without us even knowing that the learning has happened. We probably shouldn’t personally shame or point out Jonah. He’s just happened to have a camera in his face when he openly displayed a problem that lies just below the surface in so many people.

As I gay man, I must always keep in my mind that the hidden attitude is always there. It may come out at any time, even from unexpected sources. Sadly, it seems like the best we can hope for is that those in power manage to keep those gut reactions in check when they’re making important decisions.