How many colors in the rainbow?

There has been some controversy recently in some corners of the LGBTQ community when group in Philadelphia introduced a new variant on the rainbow flag. This time there were 2 new stripes added – a black one and a brown one.

Morecolormorepride.com

I don’t object to this addition by any means. There have been a lot of variants on the rainbow flag over the years. And in light of how in many cases LGBTQ people of color are less visible than white people – particularly cis white gay men – I understand the desire to add those extra colors as a way of adding visibility.

It surprised me though – and not because I think of the rainbow flag as a symbol of something colorblind. Quite the opposite. As I have been reflecting on it, I had specific experiences around the time that I came out that very clearly cemented the rainbow flag in my mind with inclusion of people of different races and ethnicities.

My coming out process proceeded quickly after I arrived at college in 1987. Being outside my parents’ house and on my own in a liberal environment meant that within 2-3 months, I was coming out to many people in my daily life and learning about everything involved in embracing my identity as a gay man, including the ideas behind the rainbow flag.

Another major cultural force in the United States was using the rainbow as its symbol at the time – the presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson. Jackson had run in 1984 for the Democratic nomination and again in 1988. In that second campaign, he was the second-highest vote getter for the Democratic nomination, behind the eventual nominee, Mike Dukakis.

Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition (later merged with PUSH to form the Rainbow PUSH Coalition) was a politically inclusive movement built very explicitly on racial and ethnic diversity. And I believe that Jackson was the first and only major party nominee addressing LGB audiences around the country (sadly, I can’t vouch for the inclusion of Trans people at this time). I saw him speak at the MCC (Metropolitan Community Church – an expressly LGB Christian denomination) in Minneapolis. And he was standing underneath a giant rainbow flag. The symbolic power of this candidate combined with this rainbow was huge – even if ultimately the Reagan/Bush version of conservative America was the one that voters chose.

Since these two uses of the symbol of the rainbow were combined in my consciousness, the Rainbow flag has always been – without any doubt – a symbol of inclusion of people of all races and ethnicities, as well as being a symbol of inclusion of LGBTQ people. And I think I’m just realizing that maybe that strong link is more personal for me than anything that is communicated to most people viewing the rainbow flag today.

Let’s be honest: there is a huge problem with racism within the LGBTQ community. Of course there is. There’s a problem with it within our society, and LGBTQ people are raised in and exist within our society. We learn all the underlying racist attitudes and bias that everyone else does. They don’t just go away. They need to be challenged all the time – by ourselves and within our communities.

Here in Chicago, for example, some of the most visible gay neighborhoods are largely white. This is a very segregated city. There have been longstanding tensions between white property and business owners in these neighborhoods and young LGBTQ people of color who are seeking out a community that purports to welcome them. Unfortunately, many of these young people of color are met with suspicion and prejudice instead of a welcoming attitude.

If adding a couple stripes to the flag address this in some way or help to bring awareness to the lack of representation of people of color in the LGBTQ press and within our community organizations, I will welcome it. Sorry, if it’s going to just take me a minute to get used to the fact that I see a meaning in that rainbow that nearly everyone else doesn’t.

Brotherhood, Fellowship, and Transformation

As my readers know, I have been involved with the Brotherhood of the Phoenix for a number of years and I have recently been in positions of leadership – Magister (President) of the Chicago Temple and Bursar (Treasurer) for the national organization.

We have had some major changes bubbling inside our Order for a while now, and they are just starting to break the surface, so I think it is time for me to start writing about them here.

We were founded in 2004 as a neopagan order for men who love men. Since I have been involved, that has meant inclusion of gay, bi, trans, and queer male identities. Our cosmology, our deities, and our rituals specifically avoid the forms of heterosexual male-female duality that is common in many Pagan traditions. Some of our Brothers have had a strong interest in “male mysteries” and explorations of masculine sexuality as it relates to and embodies the sacred. To be honest, this aspect has not been central to my experience of the Brotherhood.

It has become increasingly clear to us that many people who don’t identify specifically as men are interested in our tradition. Women, non-binary, and genderqueer people have been supporters and close allies. At the same time, many of us have become uncomfortable with drawing the line which leaves these seekers outside of our group. There is a value in exploring and celebrating the spiritual dimension of male sexuality – but the mission of our group is larger than this. Many of us have experienced this message from our deities. There are even those within our group who have stepped away from identifying as “men”, which has brought the challenge of inclusion to the fore.

At the same time, two of our long-time Brothers recently moved to Seattle and are dedicated to expanding our group there. However, they wanted to start that group without the gendered limitation that we’ve had in Chicago. They wanted to be – from the beginning – open to LGBTQ/Queer people of all gender identities. And with a lot of discussion, the national organization is supportive of that. But it meant, among other things, figuring out a name for the organization that doesn’t limit/define gender.

So, the first announcement is that our national organization will be changing its name to “Fellowship of the Phoenix”. It is going to take some time to figure out all the official things that need to be changed in order to make that happen. The Seattle group will be using that name from its inception. Their first public ritual will take place on August 19, 2017.

For the moment, our Chicago group is still processing this – the cauldron is still bubbling. We will have a vote next month about adopting both the name change and changing our definition of who is invited to all public events, our novitiate program, and to apply for membership. I don’t want to tell you that Chicago will definitely adopt all these changes. It will be the decision of the group. But I do know that many of the active members are ready for these changes to be adopted. Others feel like there is something special that we will be giving up by changing our focus and broadening our target audience. Emotions have run high at times. Letting everyone have a voice in the process can be frustrating, but it’s necessary.

So, for now, we will have a “Seattle Fellowship of the Phoenix” and a “Chicago Brotherhood of the Phoenix” under a national umbrella called “Fellowship of the Phoenix”. At least for the moment.

The Phoenix is a symbol of transformation. This concept is central to who we are. I am personally happy that this transformation is finally starting to manifest. It will take some time and processing for this phase of transformation to be complete.

A Terra Sol Story

Once upon a time, there was a child named Quin. Quin lived in a beautiful sheltered Valley that was full of fruit and nut trees for food, clear streams of water, and plenty of wood for a fire, although, to be honest, it was almost never cold. There were other people in the Valley, kind people who helped Quin, but it was always clear that these people were not Quin’s family.

Quin began to turn into an adult, and the curiosity about their family grew stronger. Quin had a distant memory that told them “you are a child of Terra” and “you share your family with Sol”. Quin did not know Terra and Sol, but assured that these were their family, a quest began.

Quin asked the people of the Valley where to find Terra. They hummed and scratched their chins, but finally, they said that the best place to look for Terra was in the deep cave at the far North of the Valley.

Quin set off to this place, which was on the very edge of the little world they knew. The cave was dark and damp, but Quin persisted inward with the help of a torch. The tunnels wound back and forth, and sometimes they were a tight squeeze, but finally, the cave opened into a chamber lined with glistening crystals and stalactites.

At the far end, there were two people, one was a Youth, perhaps just a little younger than Quin, and the other was an ancient, stately Elder in robes and a crown. As Quin approached, the Youth was on the ground, looking at their own toes as if they had never seen them before – wiggling them, sniffing them, playing with them. The Elder was sitting on a ledge, still and with eyes closed, but with a sense of alertness.

“Hello, friends.” Quin started. They were not used to talking to strangers.

“I was told that I may be able to find Terra here.”

“Yes, definitely” said the Youth, excited to share this bit of information. “This is an excellent place to find Terra.” And after a pause, “But you can also find Terra wherever you came from.”

“I believe that I am the child of Terra.” Said Quin, filled with confusion. I am trying to find my parent.

The Youth giddily blurted out. “You are a child of Terra, as are we, as are all the trees and animals and rocks.” At that, the Youth got up, grabbed Quin’s torch, and ran over to the crystals on the wall and began waving the torch back and forth and seeing how the crystals catch the light.

The Elder finally spoke. “You are surely the child of Terra. Everything in your being is made of Terra. Our bones and flesh are Terra. Every part of your body and everything that nourishes you is Terra. Terra is mud and rock. Terra is grass and bird wings. Terra is the very substance that makes us possible.”

“Oh. I was hoping for a breathing, speaking kind of parent. One that might tell stories and give hugs.”

“Terra can be that. There are many stories and messages contained in Terra, contained within yourself. And every act of connection is the touch of Terra. This is the source of your very being. You must treasure it.”

With some convincing, the Youth gave up the torch, and Quin found their way out of the cave and back to the Valley. Not really satisfied by the first part of the quest to find family, Quin went back to the people of the Valley and asked if they knew where to find Sol.

“Sol isn’t another rock, is it? I don’t think I want to find out my whole family is a mud puddle.” The people of the Valley laughed at this, but again they puzzled over the best place to find Sol. Eventually, the answer was that Sol could be found up on the top of the high mountain at the south end of the Valley.

So, again Quin journeyed to the very edge of their known world. The climb was difficult and tiring. Quin climbed through the night, with the light of the Moon, and as the Sun began to rise, Quin passed the tree line and saw the top of the mountain, an open windy space with a view for miles in all directions.

There were two figures on the highest spot. One was a lovely person with beautiful skin and long hair, scented with flowers. Quin was immediately drawn to this Lover, whose welcoming gaze beckoned. The other one was harder, harsher, carrying the sword and shield of a Warrior and with a look of determination.

Quin, a little nervously, giggled a little and then spoke to the Lover. “I was told that I could find Sol here on this mountaintop.”

“Yes, of course you can. Sol is rising there in the eastern sky.” The Lover gestured to the spreading purples and pinks of the sunrise.

“Oh no. That’s not what I thought. Sol is supposed to be my family.”

“Sol is your blood, your breath. Sol is everything that makes you move and think. Sol is the force that animates us all. It’s what makes the leaves turn green. It’s what makes the wind blow. And it’s what makes the heart beat.” The Lover reached over and touched Quin right over the heart. And Quin’s heart beat a little faster looking into those beautiful eyes.

The Warrior now spoke up. “Sol is motivation, strength. Sol is what gets us moving and keeps us alive. It’s love and it’s anger and it’s purpose. It takes your flesh and bone and it makes it into a living person.

“You have lived a sheltered life in the Valley, but now that you are grown, you must meet the world and know it for what it is. You must know the power of Sol and use it to both celebrate life and to fight to protect it.”

Quin, thoughtfully and a bit reluctantly, left the mountaintop and returned to that corner of the Valley that had been home. But now that Quin knew that they must explore the world outside the narrow confines of what they know. Terra and Sol were their family – they were what they came from and what they are made of. The raw stuff of Terra is animated by the power of Sol – that’s what makes each one of us who we are.

So, Quin set off to see the world and explore, to find joy and to find purpose.

And so the story continues. Did Quin live happily ever after? That part hasn’t been written, yet.

What lies ahead looks like what I have seen before

As I was reading this article about the incoming Cabinet appointees, I couldn’t help thinking that I see what is ahead of us. It looks a lot like a place where I have been before.

I came out in 1987, in Reagan’s America. Only a handful of states had non-discrimination laws for employment or housing. No one even dreamed of legal same-sex marriages. A major epidemic had taken hold because the Federal government thought it only affected gays and drug addicts, who frankly deserved to get sick.

It was a common fear for children to be disowned by their parents or forced into therapy for coming out as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. It was common for people to lie to themselves and their spouses and live lives that looked like everyday American families, but were really a kind of silent hell.

For Trans people – well, it’s hard for me to even imagine. There was so little hope for support from home, school, work – so little awareness and so little sympathy for their identity that they knew in their hearts.

For LGBTQ people of color, who faced multiple intersections of discrimination around sexuality, race, ethnicity, and religion – the challenges and complications went far beyond what I ever experienced.

And so many brave and beautiful souls persevered.

 

It won’t look like it did before. The 1980’s didn’t look quite like the 1950’s, even if that’s what many in power aspired to achieve. LGBT communities had become established during the freer years of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Anita Bryant took her anti-gay crusade around and succeeded in getting quite a few places to roll back anti-discrimination laws (including St Paul, MN, my home at the time I came out). But the community still existed and grew stronger in spite of the disasters it faced.

The “Moral Majority” was in full swing – as was the “Satanic Panic”. There was a backlash against the open religious exploration of the 1960’s as well as the increasing secularism of American culture. Here, too, the counterculture was established enough that it held on, even if it was only in casual, personal ways. Neopaganism continued to develop, although it took on a “New Age” cast that was more about self-improvement than creation of an alternative spiritual community.

 

I was too young to really understand it at the time, but the 1980’s were also a time when environmental progress was rolled back. The move toward energy conservation through the 1970’s was reversed. Protected lands were opened to logging, drilling and mining. The EPA was weakened in favor of “business friendly” policies allowing more pollution. See more about Reagan’s environmental record here

The 1980’s saw a dramatic step up in the War on Drugs, which meant increasing incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders. Of course this had a racial component – much of the enforcement was in communities of color, even when drug use was just as prevalent in primarily white communities. See more about the War on Drugs here.

It was also the time when standards of honesty and integrity of the press was eroded. Reagan played a critical role in rolling back the “Fairness Doctrine” and other safeguards to hold media responsible for their reporting. This deregulation, along with the proliferation of cable news and then the internet news sites, has led to most news outlets being highly partisan and in many cases portraying opinion and sometimes even lies as news. See more about the changes to media in the 1980’s here.

 

 

We seem to be facing all these social currents again (or, in some cases, still): Anti-LGBTQ legal actions; Religious xenophobia and fear; Environmental protections being rolled back; An increase in racialized policing; A news media system that continues to fail in bringing reliable and balanced information to the American public.

I hope the cultural shifts of the past 20 years around all these issues will be enough to hold us together through the next decade. I am worried that if I get fired from my job because of my sexuality or my religion, the Federal legal system is not likely to help me out. I am even more worried about the climate of religious and ethnic discrimination that seems to be rising. And I am most worried about the fragile balance of the environment and the climate, which already seems to be on the verge of tipping.

My Big Gay Pagan Agenda

It used to be a common refrain from the Religious Right that we as a country shouldn’t give in to the Gay Agenda. With the increasing acceptance of different sexual and gender identities, that phrase was starting to seem rather silly.

But I am here to admit that with the changes that seem to be facing us, trying to move past despair and fear, I am starting to make up an agenda. Unfortunately, most of these are not things I can do on my own. These are all things we need to pull together to accomplish, and as of January 20, 2017, we can count on very little help from the federal government to support any of these goals.

This isn’t a complete list of what I want, but it’s some of the more realistic areas where we can take action in the political climate going forward.

So, in the spirit of being the change that scares the crap out of the religious right, here is My Big Gay Pagan Agenda.

 

My Big Gay Pagan Legislative Wish List:

Enact laws to ban Conversion/Reparative Therapy (State and Local)

Conversion Therapy is a damaging and debunked practice that attempts to “convert” people with same sex attractions to heterosexuality. Our new VP, Mike Pence, is an advocate for this infamous practice. Several states (California, Illinois, New Jersey, Vermont, and Oregon) have already banned this. If you can push your state and local politicians to enact a ban, I heartily encourage this. http://www.hrc.org/resources/the-lies-and-dangers-of-reparative-therapy

 

Enact laws to ban “Gay Panic” and “Trans Panic” legal defenses (State)

At this point only California has banned the use of “gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses in cases of murder and assault. In the rest of the country, a bad reaction to someone’s sexual or gender identity can be used as an argument for justification or mitigating circumstances for the crime. We need to acknowledge that this is pure discrimination and malice. It should not be allowed as a defense in crimes against LGBTQ people. http://lgbtbar.org/what-we-do/programs/gay-and-trans-panic-defense/

 

Enact laws to protect LGBTQ people from employment and housing discrimination (State and Local)

A lot of people thought that after same sex marriage went nationwide, the Gay Agenda had been completed. Far from it. In many states, people can be legally fired from their jobs or kicked out of their homes because they are LGBTQ. Efforts to push a national bill through Congress have been stalled and we are almost certainly not to see any progress with the incoming Congress. The game is at the state level. If you live in any of the states that do not have such protections, put the pressure on your elected officials. https://www.aclu.org/map/non-discrimination-laws-state-state-information-map

 

Change policies to de-escalate police violence against Communities of Color

This is a huge and complex issue, but Campaign Zero has a lot of concrete and useful suggestions about ways to change and de-escalate policing that too often ends in the deaths of people who pose no significant threat, and are very often not even involved in criminal activity at all. http://www.joincampaignzero.org/#vision

 

I wish I could add issues around environmental protection and immigration reform, but those are questions handled federally, and I’m afraid there’s little hope for progress there, only a wish that the most radical proposals fall apart or are opposed so vigorously that they can’t move forward.

 

My Big Gay Pagan Personal Wish List:

Be Out

Visibility helps, when it comes to sexual and gender identity and when it comes to religious diversity. People are less likely to support discriminatory policies if they know that it would hurt their friends, family, and neighbors. I know not everyone feels safe doing this, and different places can have different levels of safety (out with friends and family, but not at work, for example), but try pushing the envelope. Talk about and normalize your family or romantic situation. Challenge gender stereotyping and gender essentialism. Respectfully challenge the idea that “we all believe in the same god”. Talk about the sacredness of natural places.

 

Strengthen our support and solidarity networks

Don’t let despair prevent you from connecting with friends, local groups, and support networks. I found this article below from Gods and Radicals to be very thought-provoking and full of ideas to keep moving forward, even if/when there are new repressive actions from the government. Although I don’t advocate illegal actions at this time, I think it’s very important to ask ourselves where the line is. Mass deportations? Religious tests for US travel? Suppression of the press? The justice system turning a blind eye to racial violence?

https://godsandradicals.org/2016/11/12/solidarity-networks/

 

Stand up against harassment and violence

As has been reported in many parts of the country, violence and intimidation against Muslims, immigrant communities, and many other groups have been on the rise since the success of the Republican nominee’s campaign. Many people are noting that bigotry has been emboldened.

https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2016/11/15/update-more-400-incidents-hateful-harassment-and-intimidation-election

 

Support the resolve of Sanctuary Cities

My home city of Chicago is a Sanctuary City, which will not cooperate with Immigration enforcement and will not even request the immigration status of people who interact with police. Otherwise law-abiding citizens who are undocumented are not subject to local law enforcement. The incoming administration has threatened to take away federal funding for such cities who defy the new immigration enforcement protocols.

More information on Sanctuary Cities

 

Support organizations that advocate for the embattled groups and the environment

I’m sure any of these organization will be happy to receive donations of time and/or money. Again, this is a very incomplete list.

ACLU

Campaign Zero

GLAAD

Lady Liberty League

Lambda Legal

Mercy for Animals

NAACP

Pagan Pride organizations

Planned Parenthood

Sierra Club

Southern Poverty Law Center

Wilderness Society

Immigrants’ rights groups, trans advocates, food pantries and homeless shelters, anti-defamation leagues, local LGBTQ organizations, Muslim aid societies, independent press organizations

 

My Big Gay Personal Challenges:

I am introverted by nature, but I am pushing myself to feed and strengthen my support networks at this time. I will continue to grow my involvement with Brotherhood of the Phoenix, an organization for men who love men (gay, bi, trans, queer). This Brotherhood can be a resource and support for the vulnerable among us.

I have limited financial resources, but I will try to help support organizations doing good work in whatever way possible – publicity, volunteering, etc.

I need to remain strong, physically and mentally. Friends and strangers may need a sympathetic ear. They may also need someone to help protect them from abuse or harassment, which is a far more physically demanding challenge.

I am going to seek out a self-defense class at some point in the near future. I am not a person who has a background in physical confrontation, but I fear there may be a time when such confrontation comes to me. I need to be more prepared than I am today.

One of my gifts is that I love to cook for people. Food is an immediate way to give people a bit of support, and it provides an occasion for gatherings and network building. I need to continue to use that gift.

I will continue to refine this Agenda and to keep myself strong enough that I will not be overwhelmed by the challenges ahead.

Ecstasis Event October 8th – Brotherhood of the Phoenix

In the cosmology of the Brotherhood of the Phoenix, we are in the season of the Divine Androgyne. I think the Androgyne has many things to teach us about accepting parts of ourselves and finding a way to keep a dynamic balance, particularly in times of change.

Ecstasis is our celebration of the Androgyne, and it is open to people of all genders and sexual identities (ages 18 and over). Because it is open to everyone, we typically get a nice crowd, filled with our friends and supporters. I would like to welcome you, too. It is the evening of October 8th, at a location just west of Chicago’s Loop. We will have a ritual followed by a potluck. Find more details at one of the links below.

Facebook Event Page

Event information on the Brotherhood of the Phoenix website

Attacks Against LGBTQ Spaces

For years, I was a regular at one of the largest, and most visible gay nightclubs in Chicago’s “Boys Town”. I had a whole group of friends that I made there, and several nights each week, I would be there for hours. I was also a frequent visitor to many of the other local dance clubs, as well as a regular attendee of festivals, street fairs, and the Pride Parade.

In spite of the festive atmosphere, dance music, and colorful décor, large gay clubs – and LGBTQ bars in general – represent not just a constant party, but a “safe” place to embrace identity. It was a place where same sex attraction and affection is embraced, and unfortunately for most people, safe places for such expression are rare in everyday life. In a place like Chicago, there are a number of organizations that provide alternatives for people who aren’t interested in drinking or loud music, but even so, bars and nightclubs remain the most visible presences of the LGBTQ community in many places.

This creation of safe space can be very imperfect, and not all LGBTQ identities are equally accepted and celebrated in particular places. We all still live in this culture, and being LGBTQ doesn’t immediately erase racism, sexism, transphobia, ethnic and religious biases. Many gay clubs can be a hostile place for men who are older, overweight, “femme”, or who otherwise don’t fit into narrow stereotypes of “hot gay guys”. I wish the “coming out” process just erased those ugly attitudes, but I’ve been around too long and seen too much to believe that. But, for all these problems, they represent a striving for that safe space, imperfect as they may be in practice.

 

I did not know any of the victims of the attack in Orlando. I have never even been to Florida. But the setting of this attack is very familiar to me. In part, this familiarity is why this tragedy struck me so hard. The shooter chose this place specifically because it was an LGBTQ identified place. He wanted to destroy these people, this place, these lives, these expressions. Their very existence offended him and he struck out with the most effective tools of destruction that he had on hand.

And he was effective, horrifyingly so. Armed with multiple firearms, he killed 50 people and injured 53 more. He was more effective than his long line of predecessors, from the arsonist at the Second Story Bar in New Orleans in 1973, to the serial bomber Eric Robert Rudolph in 1996, to the heavily armed young man from Indiana who was apprehended on his way to Pride celebrations in LA on the very same day as the Orlando tragedy.

These attackers are drawn to those who openly express their sexuality, their love, their community. They set out to destroy those people and those expressions. It’s a pattern that repeats, even now as we think that our country has gone through a revolution in thinking about same sex relationships and gay/lesbian identity (when it comes to Trans identities, I think we’re still in the early stages of revolution there).

 

I rarely go to large nightclubs anymore, and I haven’t been to the Pride Parade for the past couple years. My tolerance for crowds has shrunk dramatically over recent years. That is no longer my world, but for years, it was. It was something I needed – something that provided community, acceptance of my identity, a chance to connect.

This attack, and this whole pattern of attacks, is deeply personal. I have stood in the spot of those victims, tuned out to the potential danger, feeling safe. This attacker has succeeded, not only in cutting short those beautiful lives, but terrorizing the rest of us, and sowing the seeds of distrust in places that we perceive as safe. I don’t want to “give in” and allow the terrorism to take hold. I will try not to allow that.

For me, those types of places no longer fill the need I once felt, so I don’t feel the need to run out just to conquer the fear. The outpouring of support for the LGBTQ community over this has been enormous, and for that I am grateful. Gay clubs will get plenty of support in the near future.

What I feel like we need, even more than that, is to bring safe spaces to express love, sexuality, and gender plurality into more places in the world. LGBTQ identities and expressions need to be celebrated and defended, again and again.

Queerness and Othering: Identity vs. Description

My friend Theo at the Queerwitch blog wrote a piece about the use of “Queer” as a identity and a descriptor. I appreciate the perspective on this question, one that I think about frequently. I was writing some of my thoughts as a comment, and then, well, it turned into a rather long blog post of my own.

I don’t entirely trust in the objective power of description, especially when it comes to questions of social identity. I’m not saying these descriptive categories aren’t useful – they certainly can be when we are trying to understand our community. But they can also be a problem.

Racial categories can be slippery. In this country for example, with our fraught racial history, we often think of race in terms of Black and White, with Asians sometimes acknowledged as a population. Who falls into which category has changed over time. Those with a quarter or even an eighth part of Black ancestry were considered Black, even though clearly a majority of their genetic makeup may have been from European roots. And that doesn’t even address the shifting preferences for the terms “Negro”, “Colored”, “Black” and “African American”. Irish, Italian, and Jewish people were not really considered White by Americans in the 19th and early 20th century, until each of those identities were later folded into the White American identity. I sometimes wonder if actual Caucasians, as in a people from the Caucasus, who often have olive skin and dark hair, would be considered White in 19th century America. Latin and Hispanic people pose an even more complex set of issues. Many Latin American and Caribbean countries are as racially diverse as the United States, and yet often people of entirely European descent or entirely African descent are called Latino/a as a racial identity, rather than an ethnic/cultural/linguistic identity.

Clearly, the rules change around racial categories.

Religious identity is even slipperier. Is religious identity based on belief, as most Protestant Christians would assert? Is it based on birth and the religion of your parents, or even a specific parent (i.e. Judaism is inherited through the mother)? Can you shop for Churches in the American way, and pick your religion like you would pick a car or refrigerator? Do you need to follow certain rituals to claim your religious identity? Once you choose, can you change your mind (an offense punishable by death in many branches of Islam, for example)? How about all the different traditions that claim that they are the true followers of a religion/prophet/tradition, while others are false – while competing groups may make the exact same exclusive claim to the same identity?

The ability to use descriptive categories that may contradict the chosen identity of those who are being identified is a position of power, of privilege. Governments, institutions, poll takers, businesses, media outlets – they are the ones that choose the categories, the boxes to check on the multiple choice forms. Sometimes, there is an attempt to accurately and inoffensively use “descriptions”, even as they realize that self-identity may be more complicated. This process can be useful, certainly, but it still has the problem of putting people into categories that the categorized may not agree with.

So that brings us back around to the label “queer”. The reclaiming of the insult started in the 1980’s and became a part of common discourse in academia in the 1990’s. Advocates of the word claim (rightly) that it provides a catch-all term for gay, lesbian, bi, trans, intersex, and a list of other non-traditional/non-straight gender and sexual identities. It is inclusive of many “others”.

On the other hand, for many gay men and lesbians of my generation (I’m in my mid-forties) and older often object to being called queer. It is still the insult that we learned about when we were younger. Theo refers to an article from the HuffPost presenting one such perspective. The use of the term may not be “triggering” as Theo surmises – that terminology is definitely from a younger generation – but it still may offend. If some preacher on the street condemns the “Sodomites” or “perverts”, I may find being described this way as offensive, even if it’s not associated with a personal incident of abuse. It is the terminology of an entire hate-filled worldview and I refuse to allow them to choose my descriptions.

Now for me, I sometimes identify myself as queer, and I really appreciate being thought of as part of a queer community. I like a community that embraces trans, genderqueer and poly identities. I like a community open to discussions about kink and asexuality. I feel privileged to be considered part of a diverse and fascinating group. I have embraced the “otherness” that is part of me, and not just because of my sexuality.

This is not the perspective of many of the gay men and lesbians who are voicing this objection to being called queer. The thinking for many of my peers is that being attracted to a person of the same sex was just an uncontrollable characteristic, like having blue eyes or being left handed. It should not count to make someone other – it should not make them queer. They want their sexual identity “normalized” – to be considered just one of the many characteristics that are in the range of the “regular”.

If you ever have the occasion to look at gay men’s dating ads, they often include phrases like “just a regular guy”, or even more telling “straight-acting”. There are also gay men who go out of their way to say they’re “not stereotypical”, which usually means they embody the stereotype of a “normal” man of their age, race and class, rather than what they think of as a stereotype of a gay man. It almost never means that they actually defy stereotypes.

It has always struck me that “normal” and “regular” are unappealing descriptions to embrace. Perhaps it’s good to be normal in some ways – like having your blood pressure in the “normal” range, but I can’t embrace it as a social aspiration. But this is my perspective, and perhaps my own bias of preferring the company of people who are more unusual. But I should be more generous. I suspect nearly everyone has something unusual about them, but they shouldn’t be encouraged to hide it in order to appear “normal”.

Challenge Gender Essentialism

My friend Theo has a new blog called Queerwitch, which is well worth checking out. A recent post is a rant (of sorts) against gender essentialism. I whole-heartedly agree with this critique.

If you’re a little lost on what the term means, there’s actually a nice write up here. That author has some great insights about how it affects sexuality and relationships, but gender essentialism can creep into almost everything.

 

There are so many examples of needless stress on gender identification that we encounter in our daily life. One subject that has gotten a lot of attention lately is the “boys’ toys” vs. “girls’ toys”. It seems pretty obvious to me that you should let your child play with whatever toy interests them, regardless of gender assignment.

how-to-tell-if-a-toy-is-for-boys-or-girls

Here’s a helpful meme that I stole from somewhere

 

Why is it that on so many forms, from the vital to the mundane, one of the first questions asked is “M/F”, with no opportunity to avoid answering, or to provide any nuance? I can understand why your doctor’s office may ask – it may be relevant to certain medical conditions – but they should be ready to accommodate an answer that is more nuanced than these two simple categories. But why exactly is this important for a Drivers License or a Sweepstakes entry? Why is it the first question that people ask when someone has a new baby? How exactly is sex/gender important in those situations?

 

There is a vegan author of some note. I have met her and she is a very pleasant person. I own one of her books. I love that her work is to make veganism more mainstream and accessible. She has a podcast that I started listening to, but I had to stop. Virtually every guest, every person that she spoke about was praised as “a perfect Lady” or “a real man’s man”, or some such gender-based compliment and descriptor. It began to really annoy me. This constant refrain of praise of people because they manifest some type of gendered ideal began to wear on me. If that is so praiseworthy, then isn’t the implication that people who don’t fit into her nice gender roles are somehow less praiseworthy? I’m fairly sure that wasn’t her conscious intent, but the messaging around gender was so persistent.

 

Even people who should be more aware of gender issues – LGB people, self-described Feminists – do this kind of gender coding and shaming. There’s a horrible meme going around now showing a bearded, plaid-wearing man (a “lumbersexual” in certain circles). The punchline includes something like “if you don’t know how to change a tire, then you have to shave”.

amfar

Is Conchita going to change a tire?

I don’t even think that people realize how ridiculous it is that they are somehow offended that some guy with a beard may not fit their expectations of “manly” skills. A skill like changing a tire has absolutely nothing to do with gender and it definitely has nothing to do with facial hair (and frankly it has nothing to do with being a lumberjack). What is the point in policing this?

 

I have already written about respecting people’s self identity around gender and sexual identity. This is a closely related topic. Trans people frequently deal with gender based shaming and harassment. Some people feel the need to police gender identities and frankly, there’s no real justification other than the harasser’s preconceived ideas and invasive sense of entitlement to pass judgment on others. The issue of public bathrooms can be huge – and not because trans people are causing trouble in any way.

 

If you are tempted to tell someone to be more “ladylike” or to “man up”. Stop yourself and think. If you are correcting this person, does it have to be about policing their gender? Would that behavior be acceptable in a person of a different gender identity? If the problem really is about behavior and not a gender expectation, then frame the comment appropriately – and fairly. If you are making decisions for yourself or others and you are basing it on “women like this activity” or “men like this activity”, stop for a moment and think. Isn’t it possible that people may have broader interests that aren’t just defined by sex and gender? Do yourself and those around you a favor and let go of those narrow confines.

Some thoughts about the Brotherhood of the Phoenix

Between writing about the Brotherhood of the Phoenix on my blog (and dealing with the questions and comments) and meeting some of the Seekers looking at our tradition with their questions, I wanted to address a few misconceptions about the Brotherhood of the Phoenix.

Keep in mind, I am not one of the leaders or founders of the Brotherhood of the Phoenix. I am speaking for myself here, and according to my observations. This is not an official Brotherhood statement. I have run these thoughts past some of the other Brothers and they agreed with the ideas presented here.

 

Is the Brotherhood an ancient tradition?

We are influenced by various traditions and histories. We look to certain spiritual heroes and ancestors. But we do not claim to be inheritors of any ancient lineage. To us, in this time and space, what it means to be a man who loves men is the result of a certain set of cultural circumstances that form our gender and sexual identities. The cultural advantages and limitations of being a “man” do not necessarily translate to other cultures and other times. The cultural meanings of being “homosexual”, “gay”, “bisexual” or “queer” are also specific to this time and this place.

We are an emergent tradition – one that fits a need to serve a specific population. We feel that the binary male-female fertility rites that formed the centerpiece of certain Neopagan traditions do not feel central to our experience. We seek out (and have found) powers and deities that resonate with our own experiences and stages of life.  We are not a Reconstructionist tradition – we realize that those from the past, and particularly those in ancient cultures, would not see or experience deity through the particular lens that we have.

 

Does the Brotherhood limit member participation in other religious traditions?

I personally know of Brothers who have personal practices that includes Norse, Kemetic, Greco-Roman, Celtic, Hindu and Buddhist traditions. We have Ceremonial Magicians and those who practice traditional Witchcraft and Hoodoo. We even have those who come to our rituals who consider themselves practicing Christians. Nothing in the Brotherhood requires our participants to renounce or abandon their own beliefs or practices. Since our celebrations don’t tend to coincide with other Neopagan observances, we don’t usually force Brothers to choose between commitments.

 

Does the Brotherhood exclude participation from friends and visitors?

Yes, we do limit many of our events and membership to the Brotherhood to self-defined “men who love men”. A couple years ago, I discussed my own thought process about this limitation here.

At least twice per year (and likely more often in the future), we invite all people aged 18 and over to participate in our public rituals, regardless of gender or sexual identity, and these rituals are some of our most well attended events. We also do outreach to the larger community. For example, we will be leading one of the public rituals at Chicagoland Pagan Pride this year. We do reach out to a larger community and we are glad to engage in a constructive way with those outside of our group.

 

Are Brotherhood events a place to hook up?

Brothers and seekers at our events come together for spiritual teaching and experience. We also offer fellowship and some social time – particularly during our potlucks that happen after our public rituals. We offer a place to meet others that you may not encounter otherwise. But the goal is not specifically about dating or sexual encounters. In fact, one of the core values of this organization is that we see value in one another beyond dating and outside of the often competitive and objectifying world of sexual desirability.

This is not to say that dating and sexual partnering doesn’t happen – it does and we don’t have any rules against it. We don’t exclude it. But it is not the purpose of the gatherings or the Brotherhood.

 

Will the Brotherhood be my new best friends?

You will probably meet some people at Brotherhood events that are not like people you would meet in other contexts. They are interested, or at least open to, Neopagan spirituality. Some of them will be free-spirited and quick to encourage and show affection. Some of them may have quirky commonalities with you. But remember that here, just like anywhere else, true friendship must be earned.

If you approach with an open heart and a willingness to be honest and share, you will be in a better place to allow bonding to flourish. But remember that we are all individuals with our own interests, tastes, commitments, tolerances, and sets of existing friends. Friendship bonding outside of Brotherhood events may not happen.

 

If you want to see what the Brotherhood is, please visit our website, our Facebook page, attend one of our events, and check out our blog posts featuring writing by Brothers. Feel free to reach out to us with questions. But mostly, we encourage you to come to one of our public rituals, if you are able (posted on the webpage and Facebook). The experience that we create will be the most powerful statement about who we are and what we do.