Monday, November 9, 2009

The 11/3 Project

Jon Stewart channels Glenn Beck: friggin hilarious.

"That's it man, finger his hole!"

I think I need to start a habit of blogging ever stupid thing that people yell at me and my husband in public. The phrase in the title of this post was yelled at us Friday night in Champaign, Illinois as we walked from the car to C's apartment, each of us with an arm around the other.

Other jewels we've had shouted at us:
  • "You're gay! Hey! You're GAY!"

  • "Keep that shit behind closed doors, fucking faggots!"

  • "FAGGOTS!"

  • "Oh my god! Did you see them? They were holding hands!"

  • "[unintelligible] ...sodom... [unintelligible]"
I remember the first couple of times we were yelled at, I felt kinda scared and concerned. Not any more. Now we just laugh. On one occasion (the "Gay! Hey! You're GAY!" occasion), we've responded (C turned to the yeller and calmly responded "yes. yes we are"). But the one from Friday night was so over-the-top hyperbolic that we kept mentioning it to the other throughout the weekend and busted up laughing each time. Hee hee :-)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Election Night

Munching dinner and hitting "refresh" on several websites offering the lastest vote tallies in Maine, Washington state, and Kalamazoo, Michigan. As of right now, I'm excited to report that the good guys are ahead in Maine and Kalamazoo, but we got lots of votes to count yet. No results yet from Washington, where I believe the polls have yet to close.

The big question is: how late am I willing to stay up tonight refreshing websites? LOL

Monday, October 12, 2009

New Maine Equality Ad

In case you haven't seen it yet, check out this new ad from Maine's No on One campaign. I like it. A lot.



Maine could very likely be the first U.S. state to popularly elect to have gay marriage. Please help this possibility become reality by donating and/or volunteering today.

Thanks :-)

(Aside: I would cry bucketloads of tears if one day my own mother would sit next to me and C and our kid(s) and say similar things.)

Monday, October 5, 2009

I'd Wish It on Everyone

A few weeks ago I read a short yet compelling story on I'm from Driftwood. I've been turning over what the author said ever since. I thought I'd share it with you and see what you think.
People don’t usually ask you what it’s like to be gay. They ask you how your parents reacted when you came out to them. They ask you when you knew. But they never ask what it feels like or what it means to you. When I tell straight people that I’m gay, sometimes they fall all over themselves trying to let me know that it’s okay with them. Sometimes, they get really quiet and end the conversation. Lately they’ve been asking if I got married before Prop 8 passed.

The only time I can remember anyone asking me what being gay means to me was in Paru Paru, Peru. I was working with a group of American teenagers and local Andean farmers planting potatoes. One of the teenagers started telling me about a friend of his who’s a lesbian.

“She’s awesome,” he said. “Really fearless. Like she walks around town barefoot. But she thinks being gay is the worst thing that’s happened to her. She wouldn’t wish it on anyone. What’s it like for you?”

There was the question I always wish people would ask. (And here it was coming from a sixteen year old.) In the least expected place, thousands of miles from my hometown and my current home, I finally got to tell someone what it feels like to me.

I got to tell this young kid that being gay has brought me an incredible relationship with my partner, a unique perspective on the world, a community of interesting people, empathy for those who are “different,” the comfort that my family loves me in spite of what they might see as unforgivable, and a whole lot of confidence in who I am. I finally got to say that being gay is one of the biggest blessings in my life.

“I would wish it on everyone,” I told him.

I wish someone had told me that when I was sixteen.
I've been asked before whether, given the existence of a magic pill, if I would choose today to not be gay. I've also been asked, if given the opportunity to live my life again and the power to choose my orientation, would I choose to be gay.

But I've never really considered the question of whether I'd choose for someone else to be gay.
I would wish it on everyone.
Wow. I didn't know what to think about this the first time I read it. I've been thinking about it for awhile now, and I definitely have some thoughts to share.

But first I'm curious to know what others think. Does this statement provoke any thoughts for you? For that matter, what would you say to the other two questions I alluded to above? Just to summarize, the questions on the table are the following:
  1. If you had the power to select your orientation from this moment onward, would you choose to be gay?
  2. If you had the power to live your life again and had the power to select your orientation, would you choose to be gay?
  3. If you had the power to select the orientation of others, would you choose for someone/anyone to be gay?
Happily mulling my own answers to these questions and eager to hear yours,

Joe

Don't be Gay. Don't Smoke.

The CDC has released a remarkably effective new ad campaign aimed at curbing teen smoking.



Hilarious. Funniest thing to happen in the War on Drugs in a long time :-)

hat tip: my buddy Bryce

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Ridiculously Cute

Baby dancing to Beyonce. Adorable. Amazing leg action. Must watch :-)



hat tip: my husband

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Heart Wrenching

I've become a big fan of the website I'm from Driftwood, where ordinary LGBT people tell stories of growing up in their hometowns. Some are rambling. Some are funny. Some are poignant. Some are moving.

Some, like this one, make me want to cry:

“So he stuck his middle finger to the world,” Nick’s ring back sang to me as I waited for him to answer. “Let it Rock” was unofficially our song, that’s why he made it his ring back tone, to find subtle ways to say I love you to me when we knew that often one or both of us couldn’t.

“Hello?” He answered.

“I’m here,” I replied, I knew he could hear the smile on my face.

“Awesome! I’m just outside the door by baggage claim,” he told me, unable to hide his excitement.

I flew in from Missouri, not even supposed to be there because I was attending a military school. I considered it a risk worth taking because the army pushed up Nick’s deployment and this was my last chance to see him for a year before he left for Afghanistan. As I rode up the escalator, we made eye contact and our smiles grew even bigger. I barely stepped off before he had in me in a tight bear hug and whispered into my ear, “I missed you so fucking much.”

“I missed you too,” I replied, and planted a kiss on his cheek; no one we knew was there to witness our public display of affection. We headed for the car for the drive back, holding each other’s hand and stealing kisses from each other. On the drive back, we held hands and sat listing to the radio, comforted by the other’s presence.

When we arrived home, it was late and we had to pack his bags. I sat in a chair and called off items while he stuffed them into his duffel bag. Between items we would kiss and confess our love to each other. I would tell him not to go because I wouldn’t know what to do without him. He laughed it off, as did I, because we both knew it was out of the question. I told him that I would wait right here for him to come back and it had better be sooner rather than later. He promised me he would, and we kissed and held each other some more. We finished packing and laid down in bed.

We made love.

Afterwards we laid naked in silence, listened to each other’s heartbeats and enjoyed the company. I wished the night would never end, but we drifted off to sleep entangled in each other’s arms.

The next day we woke up early and spent the day finishing up his last minute packing, holding each other, kissing, and getting in our final I love yous. Before we knew it, the time came to take Nick to the base where we would have to hide our love and say goodbye to each other.

I looked around at the crowd gathered in the parade field, all holding back their tears as they sat with their husband or wife in their final moments before boarding the bus destined to take them to the airplane going 7,000 miles around the world to Afghanistan. I watched the lovers hug, kiss, and hold hands silently enjoying each other’s company. I saw the fear in the eyes of those leaving and the impending loneliness of the ones staying. Children played around me, pretending to be their dad in combat, holding sticks as rifles and yelling war cries as they rushed an imaginary enemy’s position, no doubt destroying the target and becoming a hero. I watched a couple close by, a woman in pink shorts and a white t-shirt wiped tears from her face as her husband draped his hands around her neck swearing, “I will come home to you.” Another couple sat close by in silence watching their daughter roll down a hill and giggle, blissfully unaware that her father would be leaving her to grow up for a year without him.

Nick and I sat as close together as we could without raising any eyebrows, chain smoking Marlboro Reds in silence. Occasionally he and I made eye contact and mouthed the words, “I love you,” to each other, after checking for witnesses. Then we went back to our cigarettes and silence. On the outside I showed no emotion, I was just a friend here to see him off because no one from his family made it. I wore sunglasses so no one could look at my swollen, red eyes. Nick did the same. He wore his hat too high on his head because it was too small and perched his rifle over his left boot so it would not get dirty. He had on a pair of my pants, the ones with a small hole in the knee, which were a little too big on him. Somehow, though he still looked like a professional Soldier, and every time I looked at him, my love grew deeper. With that my impending loneliness and my resentment for the couples around me that were allowed to hug and kiss grew. The lovers allowed to publicly cry and bemoan the absence of their loved one. The lovers who did not have to hide their hatred for the army at their fate. The lovers who were allowed to beg the other to come back to them in one piece. I had already done that with Nick, behind closed doors, several times, but I wanted to tell him just one more time in person, “Come back to me. In one piece. I’ll be here, while you’re there, waiting… For you.” Instead, I smoked and silently mouthed I love you while I held back the tears that I’m not allowed to show the world.

Buses crept up to the loading area. “Ten minutes,” Nick told me, though I already knew. Couples around us began to stand up to say their final goodbyes. I watched a couple pull each other into a tight hug, kiss, and just hold each other tight as their tears spilled into each other’s shoulders. Understanding fell on some of the children and they ran up to hug their daddy’s leg one last time before he left. Husbands held their uniformed wives and assured them that they would hold down the fort until they came back. Around Nick and I, hundreds of people said their I love yous and goodbyes. Hundreds hugged. Hundreds kissed. Nick and I mouthed, “I love you.” Then we shook hands. And he boarded the bus. I snapped a picture of him and walked back to the car.

When I turned on the engine, Lil Wayne sang, “I wish I could be as cool as you…” That’s when I lost control and the tears finally came. I drove home, missing Nick.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My Parents

This past weekend, I had not one but two phone conversations with my parents about the two DVDs I recently sent them: Through My Eyes: An Eye-Opening Experience and Bridging the Gap: Conversations on Befriending our Gay Neighbours. They have now watched both DVDs. To my great pleasure they are enthusiastic about both, especially Bridging the Gap.

In fact, my parents can't stop talking about Bridging the Gap. Mom has now posted a quote from one of the speakers in the video on the board in her classroom at school. Dad has discussed the video with their pastor and has encouraged him to watch it. They already ordered a copy of their own, and they shared with me their hope--pending their pastor's approval--to begin hosting "showings" of the DVD and discussions of its subject matter with couples in their church.

!!!

This is amazing! I am so eager to see how widely they are able to present and discuss this DVD among their conservative congregation in small town, Texas. My hat is truly off to the good folks at New Directions for their labor of love assembling the speakers and producing this video. What a joy to be able to share this resource with my family without a drop of reservation and to see them latch on to it so enthusiastically!

With Through My Eyes, my parents were somewhat less enthusiastic, but discussing the video did bring up a (for them) emotional conversation topic. My parents' voices became shaky--almost weepy--as they broached the topic. They noted that several of the gay Christians who told their personal stories in the DVD expressed a sad sense of "missing" the evangelical churches they were once a part of. My parents put to me the question: Joe, do you miss the evangelical church?

While there were many topics we might have discussed that could have been emotional for me, this one actually wasn't. Or isn't. I shared with my parents that I did know people with stories similar to the ones the referenced in the video--people who parted with the evangelical church not because they disagreed on theology but because they just didn't want to continue the exhausting fight against their orientations. I have had friends do this, and honestly it makes a lot of sense to me why: trying to live counter to your orientation is a crushing task for many.

But if living counter to ones orientation is difficult, living counter to one's faith presents it's own difficulties as well. While living in agreement with your orientation can bring relief for a time, true peace can only come from--to borrow a term from my friends at New Directions--living in congruence with one's faith.

I shared with my parents that I did not part ways with the evangelical church because I'm gay. When the evangelical church I had been attending when I began dating C asked me to leave, I left without argument because I had come to the realization that I was not evangelical. In particular, I came to understand that I and evangelical Christians view the Bible very differently.

I reiterated to my parents that my orientation is not what keeps me out of evangelical churches nowadays--rather, it's my faith. If I were not gay, I wouldn't return to the evangelical church. I do miss some of the relationships I had while I was part of evangelical churches, but I don't miss the evangelical church per se or long to be reunited with it.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Glee

I think I have a new favorite TV series: Glee. Here's a quick teaser (Hulu will disable it in 3 days...):



You can see the complete first two episodes online at Hulu here:



and here:



Enjoy :-)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Not Meaning to be a Tease

I apologize that I have not yet blogged about my parents' responses to the two DVDs I sent them--Bridging the Gap: Conversations on Befriending Our Gay Neighbours and Through My Eyes: An Eye-Opening Experience. It's just that, when I spoke to them on the phone a week and a half ago, they had just finished Through My Eyes and had just started Bridging the Gap. They did tearfully discuss one topic raised by Through My Eyes that I thought was poignant, but I have been waiting to blog about it until they had seen Bridging the Gap and we had a chance to discuss it as well.

Unfortunately, that opportunity has still not occurred. I usually call my folks when I am driving back to Peoria on Sunday nights after spending the weekend in Champaign with C. But disaster struck this past weekend. C and I got stuck in the worst traffic jam I've ever been in in my life--on I-39 in the middle of nowhere on the Wisconsin/Illinois border. A terrible accident brought both lanes of traffic to a complete standstill for what seemed like ages. As it happened in a construction zone, we were all sandwiched between miles of concrete barriers on one side and miles of guardrail on the other. Nowhere to go. Miles of bumper-to-bumper stopped traffic literally as far as the eye could see in either direction. No vehicle movement. Everyone standing around on the interstate outside their cars, milling around, chatting and getting to know the neighbors-by-happenstance. At one point I peed on the otherside of the embankment beside the interstate. At another point the lady in the car next to us begged us for some water to give to her parched dog. At another point the lady in the car behind us complained that she needed to use the bathroom; I told her I had just done so on the other side of the embankment and we laughed together as I suggested she do the same.

I climbed the embankment next to the interstate several times to see what I could see. Such a bizarre sight. The increase in elevation only allowed me to see more traffic in front of and behind us (we never saw the accident until after the traffic began moving again). The whole experience reminded me of the hurricane evacuation traffic snarls in Texas and Louisana the week after Katrina just before Rita made landfall.

By the time things finally got moving again, our schedule was completely off. We realized I could either (A) drop C off in Champaign, head straight back to Peoria, and still arrive past bedtime or I could (B) spend the night with C but have to get up obnoxiously early and drive directly to work in Peoria. Either way I knew I would lose sleep, but the latter option at least offered the opportunity for more cuddles.

Guess which option I chose ;-)

So I missed my phone call to the parents this week. Tried calling them yesterday and got their machine (I think they were at their church's Wednesday night services).

I did, however, receive a voicemail from my Mom saying she and dad were really moved by Bridging the Gap.--so much so that they asked if they could keep the copy of the DVD I sent them to show to their friends. They promised to order me a replacement copy.

That's encouraging :-)

So I'm looking forward to discussing both DVDs with them this weekend. I'm planning to break tradition and call them tomorrow night on my drive away from Peoria. I promise I'll eventually blog about our conversation. Sorry for the delay, guys.

Cue the Family Drama

So, the news of my brother J's upcoming proposal has brought up some old, painful, family drama. :-/ J even mentioned it specifically during his phone call today.

A bit of background. For those of you keeping track, there are 4 Moderate sons; in order from eldest to youngest: S, Joe, T, and J. Next month (October 2009) will mark an unhappy anniversary--3 years since I've seen or been in contact with my next-younger brother, T.

Shortly after I began dating C in 2006, T informed me that he believed his God was telling him to cut off all contact with me. T cited the following passage from a New Testament letter from the Apostle Paul to the church in Corinth (I Corinthians 5):
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife. And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord...

I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.

From this passage, T believed he should "put out of fellowship" and "not even eat" with me because I had fallen under the category of "sexually immoral person who calls himself a brother [Christian]". He mentioned that phrase in particular to me when he called me to say he would not be in the same place as me or respond to written or electronic communication with me until I either (A) renounced Christianity or (B) stopped dating C.

As neither (A) or (B) has happened yet, I haven't seen or heard from T in three years. When I have returned to Texas for family Christmas or Thanksgiving celebrations, T has left before I arrived and spent the duration of my visit elsewhere. I used to send him Christmas and birthday gifts and cards, but the silent treatment finally became too painful. I used to follow his blog online, but that got too painful too--especially one blog in particular where he talked about his family and mentioned his parents and all of his brothers... except me. :-/

Back to the present: J is planning to propose to his girlfriend has soon as she's back from Europe and has recovered from jet lag. Granted, she may say "no." But banking on the assumption that she's gonna exuberantly say "YES!", our family is sailing into some drama.

Over the phone today, J said he forecast a wedding in 4-6 months. If T maintains his obedience to what he believes God is telling him to do to me, T will miss out on J's wedding because I will be there. There's simply no conceivable way I'd miss J's wedding (he was, after all, he was the only member of my family to attend my wedding to C; not even my parents came).

On the other hand, if T decides to make an exception for J's wedding, our family will be faced with the now-unusual experience of seeing me and T in the same place at the same time. Wow, my heart races and my emotions flare up at the thought of it--joy, hurt, elation, anger, compassion, fury, the full gamut. How would I respond if I see T again? So many complicated feelings to sort through. I dunno.

*sigh*

drama.

I need a pick-me-up. And I know just what this situation calls for: Alanis Morisette's masterful reinterpretation of "start some drama" as written by the Black Eyed Peas:
You can look but you can't touch it,
If you touch it I'ma start some drama,
You don't want no drama,
No, no drama, no, no, no, no drama
Take it away, Alanis :-)


(you gotta click to see the video; I searched for ~30 minutes. Doesn't seem any site will allow embedding of this video)

Exciting

So last night I found myself thinking about my youngest brother, J. He's been thinking a lot recently about proposing to his girlfriend. Actually, that's an understatement.

J's definitely a member of the Moderate family; we all waaaaaaaaay overthink things*. I remember my older brother, S, worked himself literally into depression from overthinking his engagement for, oh, about a year. Srsly. In fact, the most unhappy I can recall ever seeing S was right before he proposed--he was so vexed that he might make the wrong decision. (S, by the way, is the only person I've ever heard of who sought out multiple sessions of couples' pre-engagement counseling that he and his girlfriend attended together months before he actually proposed! :-O)

J has stressed out about his engagement less than S, but only a little. I think he's only been debating whether to propose to his girlfriend for about 6 months now.

At any rate, the last two phone conversations I've had with J have been on this subject and it had been awhile since our last chat. So last night my thoughts drifted back to J and his deliberations about marriage. I recalled that his girlfriend was headed to Europe for a three week evangelical mission trip this month, and I wondered if J might come to a decision and be waiting for her with a ring when she got back. I made a mental note to call J Friday as I drove back to Champaign.

Today he beat me to it. I got a call from J on my cell a little after 1pm. Though I was at work, I grinned thinking about what news might possibly prompt him to call me in the middle of the day. I took the call.

And I've had a stupid grin on my face ever since :-) His girlfriend took off for Europe yesterday. Today he visited a jeweler in Houston.

The ring should be ready about a week before she returns. I'm so happy for them!

...

*Note 1: I am probably the worst of my brothers when it comes to overthinking things. Why, before I proposed, I went through 5 years of therapy, became clinically depressed, and held weekly book studies with my boyfriend for 9 months... all before I felt peace about just dating him, let alone getting engaged to him! LOL We Moderates are an overly-cerebral bunch.

Note 2: Hmm. I just realized that the little clipart I used for this post may very well be the first portrait of hetero affection I've ever posted on this blog. Hmm. I gotta say, though, the guy's hair in this photo is just rad. Looks like mine :-)

Monday, August 31, 2009

Joe Highly Recommends: Bridging the Gap

Now this is cool. Very cool. New Directions, a unique evangelical Christian ministry based in Toronto, has put together an absolutely incredible DVD called Bridging the Gap: Conversations on Befriending our Gay Neighbours (that's right, neighbours; it was produced in Canada, so they can write stuff like that). Of the three resources that I reviewed this summer, this was far and above the best.

Not that I knew I would necessarily like it from the outset. New Directions is an evangelical Christian organization--its staff espouse a faith I once embraced but whose core tenets I no longer believe to be true. Some things evangelicals believe I disagree with; some I strongly disagree with. But more to the point, I've rarely had good experiences with evangelical literature addressing LGBT people. There seems to be no shortage of evangelical material designed to inform or "equip" evangelicals for "understanding" and relating to LGBT folks. But almost without exception, these resources seem to consistently misrepresent, distort, dehumanize, and (sometimes) outright lie about people like me.

Wow, is this resource ever different.

Again and again the content of this video surprised me. First of all, the video is not just about gays--it includes gays. You'll find conversations in the DVD with openly gay people. Real gay people. I'm not talking weepy, miserable, sex fiend, my-life-is-a-wreck gay people. We're talking ordinary, typically-adjusted, normal gay people talking casually about their lives and dreams and spiritual convictions.

Moreover, the gay people in this film hold a diversity of spiritual convictions. More than one side is presented; some believe God blesses relationships between two people of the same sex; some believe such relationships are immoral. Refreshingly, none deny the attractions they themselves have to people of the same sex. It's all out on the table. And these people aren't just interviewed alone. In this film, you'll find them having conversations with one another, laughing together, acknowledging where they disagree and where they agree. Incredible.

The DVD alternates between conversations between gay people and cutaway interviews with prominent evangelicals, who provide commentary on the current state of church-LGBT relations. Some of these speakers reiterate with little deviation the traditional evangelical conviction that gay relationships are immoral; a few, such as Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo, offer deeply nuanced insights into the lives and spirituality of LGBT people--perspectives that have clearly come from personal friendships with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender folks.

One discussion topic tackled by these evangelical luminaries stood out to me: several of these men challenge evangelicals to consider that gay-affirming Christians might actually be right--that people who say God has led them to believe gay relationships are wonderful gifts from him might actually be telling the truth and that maybe--just maybe--it is the traditionalists who have it wrong. Wow! I can hardly imagine a more respectful message that could have been communicated.

...

You might be thinking, "so Joe. You're out, you're content, you're married to fantastic guy, you feel your life is in congruence with your faith. Why the heck are you reviewing evangelical resources about LGBT people?"

Well, it's like this. While I may no longer be evangelical, many of the core people in my life (e.g. the members of my immediate family) are. Unfortunately, for many of those dear people,I'm the only gay person they have ever known. Often I feel like my one voice is overpowered by a litany of voices in their evangelical circles that, in my estimation, are telling them twisted, inaccurate, and wrong information about LGBT people.

Ever since I came out, I've been searching for a resource--by evangelicals for evangelicals--that depicts LGBT people in an honest, respectful, accurate light. I've longed for something I can wholeheartedly recommend to my (conservative Christian) family that (1) is created from their perspective and (2) can accurately educate them about LGBT people. I've read dozens of books, and I've watched a handful of videos. Time and time again I've been disappointed. I've found the liberal stuff--including the documentary I myself appear in--overglorifies gay people or unfairly demeans conservative convictions; the conservative stuff, on the other hand, usually seems to present twisted caricatures or reductions of the lives of gay people.

I've never found a resource that respects conservative Christian convictions while simultaneously presenting an accurate portrayal of gay people.

Until now.

And so, last week, I found myself packaging up my copy of Bridging the Gap (along with my copy of Through My Eyes) and mailing it to my parents in Texas. Teaser: they called me over the weekend while in the middle of watching the videos; in a future post I'll share what we discussed.

Monday, August 24, 2009

On Understanding and Being Understood

This is cool: After a long back-and-forth in the comments of one of his blog entries, Andrew Marin and I have come to an understanding of each other on the whole "gay identity is sexual behavior" issue I had with his book. Turns out that I misunderstood Andrew's convictions and what he was trying to teach. Turns out Andrew understands why I misunderstood that based on what he wrote in his book.

Me to Andrew:
As I now understand your perspective, you do NOT believe that all in the LGBT community define their identity as sexual behavior. You believe that some do–in fact, many of the LGBT people you have spoken with over the years have verbatim told you gay identity is sexual behavior. However, my understanding is that you recognize there is diversity within the LGBT community in how we define our identity–that many LGBT folks in fact do NOT define their identities as sexual behavior. And, in fact, you yourself do not believe gay identitiy is defined as sexual behavior.
Andrew to me (and others):
this discussion has made me clearly start to understand the power of “most” “many” “some” “not all” etc as qualifying statements to bring perceived generalizations down. I also re-read chapter 2 and I can totally see where you’re coming from.
rest assured that the definitive language I have previously used will never come out of my mouth, or out of my writing again. Qualifiers are key! This discussion has brought forth a valuable lesson to me, and hopefully my readers as well.
Man, what an awesome feeling to understand and be understood. I think we just built a bridge :-)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

New Maine Marriage Equality Ad

Beautiful :-)

Joe Recommends: Through My Eyes

Now this is cool. Gay Christian Network has put together a fantastic resource that is simple and powerful. Their new DVD Through My Eyes: An Eye-Opening Experience is a collection of interviews with over two dozen college-aged Christians who happen to be gay.

I loved this video because there is no narration, just these young people telling their own stories in their own words. I also appreciated that the video did not advocate any particular conviction; some of the gay Christians interviewed believe it would be immoral to pursue relationships with people of the same gender, others believe God blesses gay relationships. I loved how the video pronounced no judgment on either view and just let these people share their lives.

Also cool: I've met three of the people in the video--we were all in the same ex-gay ministry together years ago. Wow, it's a small gay world ;-)

Check out the trailer below:



Stay tuned: I've saved the best for last! My highest recommendation goes to Bridging the Gap: Conversations on Befriending our Gay Neighbors, which I'll review next.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Joe Does Not Recommend: Love Is an Orientation

Note 1: this is a revision of my previous post, with most of the changes occurring in my first two criticisms. I think you'll find most of the rest of the post similar to the first, although I have worked to "tone down" some of the raw emotional word choices I made in the first go. Thanks to everyone who commented and spurred me to give some more thought to these criticisms and praises.

Note 2: someone else has expressed shock over Andrew's assertion that "gay identity is sexual behavior", which has kicked off a discussion with the author over at Andrew's blog.

I’m sure everyone has had the experience of being let down, of being disappointed when high hopes go unmet. Such was my experience reading Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community by Andrew Marin.

Andrew is a conservative Christian who holds the traditional evangelical conviction that gay relationships are immoral. Andrew is no ordinary evangelical, however. During college he was stunned when all three of his best friends came out to him over the course of a month. Those jarring experiences prompted Andrew to do something I’ve never heard of another evangelical doing: after college, he immersed himself in the LGBT community. Andrew and his wife presently make their home in Boystown, a gay neighborhood on Chicago’s North side.

Andrew has spent years making friends with LGBT people and learning about their lives, their spirituality, and their experiences with evangelical Christianity. For years he has taught a Bible study class that is attended almost exclusively by LGBT folks. He writes a thoughtful blog where he posts a lot of stuff you might never find on the electronic pages of most evangelical Christians, including several posts by one of my best friends, who happens to be a gay Christian.

While Andrew’s traditional evangelical conviction that LGBT relationships are immoral has not been changed by his experience, he has nevertheless developed a wide circle of LGBT friends, developed a strong rapport with people in Chicago’s LGBT community, and seems to have amassed a wealth of experiences with LGBT folks that most folks in the traditional evangelical church have no knowledge of.

For these reasons, I had high hopes when I picked up Andrew’s book. This is a book by an evangelical for evangelicals with an excellent stated aim: to “elevate the conversation” between conservative Christians and LGBT people. I opened the book expecting to find a fresh perspective on LGBT people, see widely held Christian misconception of LGBT people cleared up, and see a new way chartered for relationship between the evangelical and LGBT communities.

I was disappointed.

Mind you, there are some glimmers of fresh perspective in the book, and I will give these special treatment to these in this review. However, I found much of the book to be nothing new as far as advancing the evangelical understanding of the LGBT community. It was disillusioning to find in Andrew’s writings many of the same distorted caricatures of LGBT people that have been presented to evangelical Christian for decades.

After reading the book cover to cover (including the Introduction and the Appendix), I passed back through the book and transcribed the notes I had made in the margins and the statements/passages they pertained to. I wound up with a 9-page Word document, and that's before I got my motor-mouth going with commentary! ;-) So I worked to prioritize my comments and have decided to present for you the parts of the book that I found most offensive/incorrect and most praiseworthy. I've included some direct quotes as well. Rest assured, there is more that I could write, but yeesh, this post is going to be long enough as it is!

Conflating Identity and Behavior/Ignoring Gay Romance, Companionship, and Love

Sexual Behavior is Gay Identity

The above is not a random sentence lifted carelessly from some obscure part of the book. This is the subtitle of an entire chapter of the book.

Chapter 2: We Are Not Your Project: Sexual Behavior Is Gay Identity

With this loaded title, Andrew kicked off the chapter of the book I found the most inaccurate and offensive. The most outrageous statements in my estimation are the following:

their sexual behavior is who they are. (p 38, emphasis in the original)

if someone were to take away their [gay people’s] sexual behavior, they would be taking away all they are as people. (p 37)

I originally got very bent out of shape over these comments. I was frustrated that Andrew seemed to be doing what so many evangelicals have done before: reducing gay people’s lives to nothing more than sex. I initially railed at this unfair caricature that completely ignores gay love, romance, affection, and companionship.

But after some thought, my emotional reaction to these statements have drained away. Why? Because these statements just don’t make any sense.

If these statements were true, then I am only gay when I am having sex with my husband. That’s silly. I identify as gay all the time. I’m no less gay when I am at work, preparing dinner, watching an episode of “the Office” than when I am making love to the man I love. Gay identity is not about sexual behavior; in fact, I would say it has almost nothing to do with behavior. In my mind, gay identity is all about attraction—or to use a buzzword, it’s all about orientation. I am attracted to/oriented towards guys, therefore I identify as gay.

But there’s more here. To be sure, gay attraction includes sexual attraction, but it’s so much richer than that. I am also romantically attracted to guys. A core part of my being desires companionship with another person, to care for and receive care from another person, to share the difficult and tender moments of my life with another person—another guy. That’s what makes me gay.

My gay identity and my sexual behavior are not the same things. My identity is not a result of my behavior; rather my behavior is a result of my identity. My sex life with my husband is a natural result of the fact that we are emotionally, romantically, and sexually attracted to each other, as well as the fact that we fell in love three years ago, dated for two years, and were married last summer. My identity is point A, my behavior is point B. They aren’t the same things at all.

Oh, and you could totally remove my sex life and I would still be gay (gay and freaking pissed off that someone was preventing me from being intimate with the man I love)! The idea that eliminating sexual behavior destroys gay identity or “all I am as a person” is just ludicrous.

I would hazard to guess Andrew would never write that his heterosexual identity "is" the sex he has with his wife or that to remove his sexual behavior would remove all he is as a person. Such a statement would be a bizarre conflation of attraction and behavior as well as a horribly unfair reduction of his multifaceted relationship with the woman he loves. Yet Andrew spends an entire chapter of his book confusing and reducing of the lives and identities of LGBT people.

Criticism #2: Factually Incorrect Claims about Scientific Literature

There are hundreds of books and academic research articles that claim they have found the final, definitive answer in proving or disproving that same-sex attraction is either genetic or environmental. (p 39)

This sentence—at least insofar as it addresses books and articles claiming proof that orientation is either genetic or environmental—is simply untrue. Further, I would argue that this sentence is provably untrue.

I once held a similar opinion of the academic literature. Then, I started reading it for myself. I spend 9 months in university libraries reading some five decades worth of research on LGBT people. I’ve read the famous and controversial works of Kinsey, Hooker, Bailey & Packard, Spitzer, and many others. To the best of my knowledge, no academic book or paper published in the last 50 years makes such a claim.

although there has been a historic push over the last decade to complete a research study that infallibly shows a link from homosexuality to a specific gene(s), none have been able to be successfully duplicated to validate that claim." (p 75)

Again, this is simply untrue. Provably untrue. No peer-reviewed scientific work I am aware of has ever made such a claim, therefore there have been no vain attempts at duplication these nonexistent studies.

Perhaps Andrew is aware of references I am not, but I strongly doubt it.

My conclusion from reading the statements above is that Andrew has not read the academic literature. Why does this matter? Because his audience doesn’t know any better. Andrew presents himself as an expert on orientation and mentions multiple times in the book that he is himself conducting “a unique research project—the largest of its kind—looking into the religious convictions and experiences of the GLBT community throughout the United States." (p 22) I imagine that the evangelical audience reading Andrew’s book will accept as accurate his statements above which misreport the academic literature.

Why do I care what evangelicals think about science on LGBT people? Well, for one, I personally labored for years in academia and I know the blood, sweat, and tears that researchers go through to collect and analyze data and prepare papers and then to endure the oftentimes grueling peer-review process. I believe Andrew’s statements above unfairly misrepresent and maligns the hard work of many, many people. For a researcher, I believe this is unethical. For a Christian, this is bearing false witness.

But there’s more. The statements above do more than misreport the scientific literature. In these sentences, Andrew seems to dismiss the research on LGBT people that has been conducted to date, as if to say there is little or nothing of use that the decades of legitimate, scientific study of LGBT people can offer to the “conversation” between evangelicals and gays. This is simply not the case.

Academic research has cleared up many myths about LGBT people that some evangelicals continue to hold today. Like the ideas that LGBT people are mentally ill, that LGBT orientation is the same as pedophilia, that the children of LGBT people are worse off than children of heterosexual parents, and many others.

I see a great opportunity for “elevating the conversation” here. I would love to see Andrew dig into the scientific literature and read the source material for himself. The information he finds would be a fantastic resource to share with the evangelical church.

Furthermore, I am longing for someone to explain to the evangelical community that heterosexual orientation is every bit as complex as LGBT orientations are. Just as no study has shown that gay orientation is defined by genetics or environment, so also have no studies been able to find a source for heterosexual orientation.

Criticism #3: LGBT Portrayed Almost Exclusively as Miserable

I noticed a bizarre trend as I read the book: almost every personal story Andrew chose as illustrations for the book involves a miserable LGBT person. Seriously; I think I counted one or two stories total in the entire book that didn’t involve a gay person crying.

This feature of the book reminded me of similar literature exclusively depicting unhappy LGBT people that I read while growing up in the evangelical church and during my five years in ex-gay ministries. Illustrations such as these paint a single, monolithic portrayal of LGBT people as tortured, miserable souls. I'm not sure if this was Andrew's intent in selecting only sad stories for the book. I think his primary intention may have been to illustrate the pain that Christians and society have inflicted on gay people—and if so, he certainly accomplishes that. But I fear the effect of his stories may go further than that.

Because his stories are almost exclusively dark, sad, and miserable, I left the book wondering if Andrew actually feels deep down that LGBT people are sad, miserable people. I wonder if evangelicals reading the book will leave it with the conclusion that all LGBT people are tortured souls.

I fear the nonstop stories of loneliness, abadonment, disease, and death in this book may illicit pity, not compassion, from the audience. I'm not so sure that's a good thing.

Criticism #4: Conflating "LGBT Community" with LGBT People Reared in Conservative Christian Environments

Throughout the book, Andrew makes statements about the "LGBT community" (or, for accuracy’s sake, Andrew always writes "GLBT” not “LGBT”. For some reason I'm more accustomed to the L and the G being the other way around so I always write “LGBT”. Whatever. No biggie. I just wanted to make sure I quoted him accurately.).

As I hope I've made clear so far, I took issue with many of the things he claimed were true of the LGBT community. However, at one point in the book, he makes a statement about the community that makes me think his definition of LGBT community and mine may be different.

The GLBT community feels a constant unnamed pressure from both sides--an invisible Christian ideal that they can't see themselves living up to, and an overt push from the gay-friendly culture to just 'come out' and be OK with it. (p 48)

Originally, I made a note about this because I felt this was a myopic view of the LGBT community. I think many in the community never feel a pressure to live up to "an invisible Christian ideal." Why? Not everyone grows up in Christian families or communities. Not everyone grows up thinking the Christian ideal is, well, ideal or something to be lived up to at all.

But as I've thought about this more, perhaps this statement is a clue to understanding some of Andrew's claims about the LGBT community elsewhere in the book that I find so untrue. Perhaps Andrew is friends primarily with (only with) LGBT folks who come from conservative Christian backgrounds.

I wonder what it would be like if to re-read Andrew's book and replace "LGBT community" with "those in the LGBT community who were reared in conservative Christian environments." It’s clunky, but it might make more sense.

However, this is far from all of the LGBT community. The community is as religiously diverse as the world is. I think Andrew understands this, but the statement above left me wondering.

Missing the Point Entirely: Jerry Falwell

Now this caught me completely off guard. In the first chapter, Andrew tells the story of when he watched the cable news coverage of the death of Jerry Falwell, which included denunciations of the late evangelical pastor by many LGBT leaders.

I anticipated Andrew would immediately explain that the LGBT community was and continues to be deeply hurt not only by Falwell's vitriolic statements about LGBT people but also by the powerful political movement Falwell helped assemble that continues to oppose LGBT rights long after his death. I thought Andrew was setting up a teaching moment in which he would counter Falwell's acerbic, antagonistic relationship to gay folks with his own friendly, live-together-learn-together approach.

Instead, Andrew wrote the following bizarre sentences:

the majority of people negatively talking about Jerry Falwell that night had never met him. But there is an undercurrent of preexisting negative perceptions of Christianity's traditional belief system that utterly repulses gays and lesbians. (p 31)

Huh? "Preexisting negative perceptions of Christianity's traditional belief system" are the reasons why LGBT people don't like Jerry Falwell? Wha?

This seems to so completely misunderstand the reasons why LGBT opposed Jerry Falwell that I don't know what to say. Perhaps I'll let Wikipedia explain it using Falwell's own words:

Falwell told one crowd, "Gay folks would just as soon kill you as look at you."

When the mostly gay Metropolitcan Community Church was almost accepted into the World Council of Churches, Falwell called them "brute beasts" and stated, "this vile and satanic system will one day be utterly annihilated and there'll be a celebration in heaven."

Falwell also regularly linked the AIDS pandemic to LGBT issues and stated, “AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals, it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.”

Amongst many remarks over the years he is probably most known for statements attributed to him about a Teletubby being a gay role model for homosexual recruitment and stating that gays and lesbians were amongst those in some way responsible for the September 11 attacks.

I am flabbergasted that Andrew seems to have completely missed the point on Jerry Falwell--especially given the context of a book calling the evangelical church to repent of its past sins against LGBT folks and engage in friendly, respectful dialogue.

Excellent Step in the Right Direction: Begin Conversations about Morality with a Discussion of Beliefs about the Bible

On pages 67 and 68, Andrew recounts a stunning conversation with a nasty-tempered pastor. Meeting ostensibly to discuss the morality of LGBT relationships, the pastor surprised Andrew by opening the conversation with a statement of his belief that entire sections of the Bible "are not correct, not inspired" (p 67). Andrew titles this section "The Words I Never Thought I'd Hear from a Pastor" and devotes several paragraphs to explaining his utter shock that a Christian pastor might not believe the Bible to be infallible.

This stunning revelation appears to have been helpful to Andrew, however, and eleven pages later Andrew advises his readers to begin discussions of LGBT morality in a similar manner: couch discussions of morality in the larger context of overall biblical theology:

Find a gay church with a gay pastor; ask to get together with them so you can listen and learn. The best approach to doig this is to open with something like the following: "Can you please tell me what you believe the Bible says about same-sex sexual attraction and how you arrived at your conclusions?" (p 78)

I feel Andrew is absolutely on the right track here. So much of evangelical Christian's opposition to LGBT people is wrapped up in the interpretation of a few verses of the Bible that very often the arguments about morality start and end with splicing and dicing a few sentences. However, the better place to begin is with a bigger-picture view.

I would argue that the best place to begin is perhaps one step beyond what Andrew has presented: begin with an entirely separate discussion of the nature and significance of the Bible. I actually believe the first question an evangelical Christian should ask a gay Christian should have nothing whatsoever to do with morality of gay relationships. Instead, I feel the opening question should be "what do you believe about the Bible? Is it infallible? Is it inerrant? Are the words of the Bible the words of God?"

The second person I came out to in my present job is a devout Mennonite Christian. He was stunned to learn I was a gay Quaker and asked if we could meet outside of work to discuss. We agreed to meet up for dinner one evening… but it turned out that our discussion didn’t need to go into many small details. Instead of starting with Romans 1 or Leviticus 18, we started our discussion by laying out what we believe the Bible is and its relationship to God and people. Realizing that we differed at the very high level, we avoided entirely any need for quarrelling over minutia.

Andrew has absolutely identified the right angle here; shifting the discussion from minute details to a bigger-picture is an excellent way to "elevate" a conversation. In the LGBT-Christian conversation, the big-picture to start with is beliefs about the Bible as a whole.

Right On: Claim to the Term "Christian" Is up to the Person Who Claims It

My final praise for the book references Andrew's discussion of the terms "gay" and "Christian" and whether the two make sense together.

On pages 69-72, Andrew tells the life story of Tim, one of his friends who is employed by a large evangelical church in Chicago and who happens to be attracted to men. Tim's story is related in his own words, and concludes with his expression that he would like to one day be married and raise a family (although Tim is careful to say that getting married and having kids would not indicate his gay attractions had dissipated or that he had been "healed".)

Following Tim's story, Andrew had this to say:

What if Tim didn't want to get married and instead remained celibate? Would he be a gay Christian in your eyes--because I know many people in Tim's exact situation who still call themselves gay Christians. What about men and women who are actively involved in the GLBT community and profess to be Christians? Are they gay Christians as well? If they are, are they the same gay Christian that Tim calls himself? Does he still identify with them--is that even OK? These are all question for Tim, not for those of us who do not feel same-sex attractions. Christians should not be answering these question for them, but living life with those who have them. [emphasis Andrew's]

Embedded in the paragraph above are some of the most generous words I've ever seen written by an evangelical Christian about gay Christians. Let me just repeat them again

These are all question for Tim, not for those of us who do not feel same-sex attractions.

Amen.

I'd add my own comments, but I fear I'd detract from the power of this simple thought.

(Aisde: It's kind of fun to point out that Tim happens to be one of my friends, too :-) Tim and I met when we were involved in the same ex-gay ministry in the early 2000s. Ironically, I'm writing this blog entry in the central Illinois city where Tim grew up. But I digress...)

And on these two positive notes, I'll draw my review of Andrew Marin's Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community to a close. Phew! Congratulations to all of you who made it this far without falling asleep :-) Never fear, my next two reviews will be far shorter. Until next time...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Joe Does Not Recommend: Love Is an Orientation

I’m sure everyone has had the experience of being let down by someone, of being disappointed when high hopes go unmet. Such was my experience reading Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community by Andrew Marin.

Andrew is a conservative evangelical Christian who holds the traditional evangelical conviction that gay relationships are immoral. Andrew is no traditional evangelical, however. During college he was stunned when all three of his best friends came out to him over the course of a month. After college, Andrew did something I’ve never heard of another evangelical doing: he immersed himself in the LGBT community. Andrew and his wife presently make their home in Boystown, a gay neighborhood on Chicago’s North side.

Andrew has spent years making friends with LGBT people and learning about their lives, their spirituality, and their experiences with traditional Christianity. For years he has taught a Bible study class that is attended almost exclusively by LGBT folks. He writes a thoughtful blog where he posts a lot of stuff you might never find on the electronic pages of most evangelical Christians, including several posts by one of my best friends, who happens to be a gay Christian.

While Andrew’s traditional evangelical conviction that LGBT relationships are immoral has not been changed by his experience, he has nevertheless developed a wide circle of LGBT friends, developed a strong rapport with people in the LGBT community in Chicago, and seems to have amassed a wealth of experiences with LGBT folks that most folks in the traditional evangelical church have no knowledge of.

For these reasons, I had high hopes when I picked up Andrew’s book. I was expecting to find a fresh evangelical perspective on LGBT people, see widely held misconceptions cleared up, and see a new way chartered for relationship between the evangelical and LGBT communities.

I was deeply disappointed.

Mind you, there are some glimmers of wisdom and fresh perspective in the book, and I want to make sure these receive credit (I will give these special treatment momentarily). However, I want to be clear when I say that the lion’s share of the book is not new. Over and over as I read the book I recalled scores of ex-gay books I have read who said identical things—incorrect things.

Misconceptions about LGBT people common in evangelical churches and ex-gay literature are sadly reiterated in Andrew’s book. Further, on two occasions, Andrew completely misreports the academic scholarship on LGBT people—a fact that deeply disturbs me coming from a man who claims to be himself conducting research, “a unique research project—the largest of its kind—looking into the religious convictions and experiences of the GLBT community throughout the United States." (p 22)

This book, I am afraid, does little to “elevate the conversation with the gay community” as its subtitle aspires. Rather than elevating the conversation, I believe with few exceptions Andrew’s book leaves its Christian audience in the same spot he found them, while reinforcing misinformation about the LGBT community they have probably heard before.

I have a lot to say about this book. My raw notes on the book total 9 pages in Microsoft Word—far too long for this blog posting! If you want my full download, just say so in a comment and leave your email address for me. Here on the blog I'll do my best to whittle my thoughts down to the most important topics.

Criticism #1: “Sexual Behavior is Gay Identity”

This is not just a sentence lifted from some obscure part of the book. This is the subtitle of an entire chapter of the book--the second chapter at that.
Chapter 2: We Are Not Your Project: Sexual Behavior Is Gay Identity
With this dubious title, Andrew proceeds to kick the book off to a decidedly bad start. In fact, Chapter 2 is so full of misinformation about and reductions of gay people that I initially concluded the book was doomed to be just another rehash of the standard evangelical misinformation rubbish about the gays. After reading the following statements, I decided I would not continue reading the book:
if someone were to take away their sexual behavior, they would be taking away all they are as people. (p 37)
their sexual behavior is who they are. [emphasis Andrew’s, not mine] (p 38)
This is horrific. These words are so dehumanizing and so misrepresentative of me and the LGBT people I know that I couldn't bear to read any further. What an unfair reduction of the lives of LGBT people.

I’m a guy. I’m an engineer. I’m a brother, a friend, and a son. I’m a husband. I like to teach. I like to read. I like to landscape, and hike, and spend time with friends.

I happen to be gay. Without question I enjoy making love with my husband. Hell, "enjoy" is too mild a word--I absolutely and unapologetically love making love to the man I love :-) Gay sex is a wonderful part of my life. But it is just that--a part. Sex is far, far, far from being all of me or being the core of my identity! You could easily remove the gay part of my life and you’d still have a person who is all the roles I mentioned above and who likes all the things I mentioned above—just minus the gay part. That’s all.

But there's more to be said here. Gay sexual behavior is far, far, far from being all of my gay identity. Andrew deeply disappointed me by never once addressing gay romance. I mentioned above that my husband and I share a wonderful sex life, yet sex represents by far the minority of the time we spend together. If I were to define "gay identity" it would start with loving, caring for, and being attracted to a person of the same gender. Sexual attraction is in there, to be sure. But my understanding of "gay identity" includes romance, companionship, caring for my husband and receiving care, pursing common goals and dreams—all these things are a part of my gay identity.

I daresay Andrew would never write that his "heterosexual identity" "is" the sex he has with his wife. That would be a horrible reduction of his multifaceted relationship with the woman he loves.

Yet Andrew has devoted an entire chapter of his book on "elevating the conversation with the gay community" to a similar unfari reduction of the lives and identities of LGBT people. As I mentioned before, I was so deeply offended by Chapter 2 that I put down the book never to return again.

As chance would have it, though, I happened to be trapped in the car with the book on a 1000 mile trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. So, somewhere in the boredom around Saginaw, Michigan, I reluctantly reopened the book and continued reading. It turned out that Chapter 2 was the worst of the book. To be sure, I have a few other major disagreements with what Andrew had to say after Chapter 2, but I nothing struck me as being quite as grievous as that Chapter.

Moreover, I also found Andrew wrote some things that I felt were steps in the right direction. I'll get to these momentarily.

Criticism #2: Factually Incorrect Claims about Academic Literature
There are hundreds of books and academic research articles that claim they have found the final, definitive answer in proving or disproving that same-sex attraction is either genetic or environmental. (p 39)
If only I had a nickle for every time I've heard statements similar to this. This sentence is simply untrue. I have read dozens of academic studies of orientation, including the famous and controversial works of Kinsey, Hooker, Bailey & Packard, Spitzer and others. I am not aware of any academic book or paper published in the last 50 years that makes such a claim.

Unfortunately, Andrew appears to be unaware of this. However, rather than admitting his unfamiliarity with the academic literature or simply remaining silent about this matter, he voices myth:
although there has been a historic push over the last decade to complete a research study that infallibly shows a link from homosexuality to a specific gene(s), none have been able to be successfully duplicated to validate that claim." (p 75)
Again, this is simply untrue. No work has made such a claim, therefore there has been no vain attempts to duplication. Arrrrrrrrrggggghhh! This is so frustrating. Statements like this are vintage Exodus; stuff like this are flippantly tossed around in session after session at ex-gay conferences (just ask me, I've been to four) by people who have never once read an academic journal article. Arrrrrrrrrrggggghhhh. I had honestly thought Andrew was better informed than this. What a huge let-down.

The average layperson—evangelical or not—does not whether the statements above are true. But Andrew does not present himself as an average layperson. In fact, he states that his foundation is currently conducting the research study of its own "the largest of its kind". It disturbs me that someone heading such a project would so completely misrepresent the existing academic literature on LGBT people.

Criticism #3: LGBT Portrayed Almost Exclusively as Miserable

Whereas my first and second criticsm are of things Andrew wrote that I simply believe are untrue, this third criticism is more along the lines of something I found strange and ill-advised.

I noticed a bizarre trend as I read the book: almost every personal story Andrew chose as illustrations for the book involves a miserable LGBT person. Seriously; I think I counted one or two stories in the entire book that didn’t involve a gay person crying.

This feature of the book reminded me of literature about gay people I read growing up in the evangelical church as well as during my five years in ex-gay ministries: these illustrations paint a single, monolithic portrayal of LGBT people as tortured, miserable souls. I'm not sure if this was Andrew's intent in selecting only sad stories for the book. But, by the same token, I'm not convinced that this was not his intent.

Because his stories are almost exclusively dark, sad, and miserable, I left the book wondering if Andrew actually feels deep down that LGBT people are sad, miserable people. His nonstop stories of loneliness, abadonment, disease, and death illicited pity from me. I'm not so sure that's a good thing.

I’m puzzled that a person like Andrew, who apparently has interacted with hundreds of LGBT folks over the course of many years, couldn’t choose more emotionally balanced stories. Is it possible that all—or almost all—of his gay friends are miserable? I find this very hard to believe. And if it is the case, I’d love to introduce him to my friends so he can have he pleasure of knowing some happy LGBT folks :-)

I am also aware that some evangelical readers of Andrew's book won't know many (or any) gay people themselves. While this is increasingly rare, for some Andrew's stories may be all they know of the lives of LGBT people. I feel a more emotionally balanced mix of stories would have helped to highlight that fact that some LGBT folks live peaceful, fulfilled lives. I find that awareness of the dignity of a people cause tales of injustice done to those people to illicit righteous indignation and corrective action, not pity. If corrective action is Andrew's goal, I feel more emotionally representative illustrations are advised.

Criticism #4: Conflating "LGBT Community" with LGBT People Reared in Conservative Christian Environments

Throughout the book, Andrew makes statements about the "LGBT community" (or, actually, he always writes "GLBT". for some reason I'm accustomed to the L and the G being the other way around. whatever). As I hope I'm made clear so far, I took issue with many of the things he claimed were true of the LGBT community. However, at one point in the book, he makes a statement about the community that makes me think his definition of a LGBT community and mine are different.
The GLBT community feels a constant unnamed pressure from both sides--an invisible Christian ideal that they can't see themselves living up to, and an overt push from the gay-friendly culture to just 'come out' and be OK with it. (p 48)
Originally, I made a note about this because I felt this was a myopic view of the LGBT community. I think many in the community never feel a pressure to live up to "an invisible Christian ideal." Why? Not everyone grows up thinking the Christian ideal is, well, ideal.

As I've thought about this more, perhaps this statement is a clue to understanding some of Andrew's claims about the LGBT community elsewhere in the book that I find so untrue. Perhaps Andrew is familiar only with LGBT folks who come from conservative Christian backgrounds.

However, this is far from all of the LGBT community. The community is as religiously diverse as the world is. I expected Andrew would understand that, but the statement above has left me wondering.

I wonder what it would be like if I were to re-read Andrew's book and replace "LGBT community" with "those in the LGBT community who were reared in conservative Christian environments." It might make more sense.

Completely Missed the Point: Jerry Falwell

Now this caught me completely off guard. In the first chapter, Andrew discusses watching the CNN coverage of the death of Jerry Falwell, which included denunciations of the late evangelical pastor by many LGBT leaders.

I anticipated Andrew would immediately explain that the LGBT community was and continues to be deeply hurt not only by Falwell's vitriolic statements about LGBT people but also by the powerful political movement he helped assemble that continues to oppose LGBT rights long after his death. I thought Andrew was setting up a teaching moment in which he would counter Falwell's acerbic, antagonistic relationship to gay folks with his own friendly, live-together-learn-together approach.

Instead, Andrew wrote the following bizarre sentences:
the majority of people negatively talking about Jerry Falwell that night had never met him. But there is an undercurrent of preexisting negative perceptions of Christianity's traditional belief system that utterly repulses gays and lesbians. (p 31)
WTF? "Preexisting negative perceptions of Christianity's traditional belief system" are the reasons why LGBT people don't like Jerry Falwell? This so completely misses the point that I don't know what to say. Perhaps I'll let Wikipedia explain it using Falwell's own words:
Falwell told one crowd, "Gay folks would just as soon kill you as look at you."
When the mostly gay Metropolitcan Community Church was almost accepted into the World Council of Churches, Falwell called them "brute beasts" and stated, "this vile and satanic system will one day be utterly annihilated and there'll be a celebration in heaven."
Falwell also regularly linked the AIDS pandemic to LGBT issues and stated, “AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals, it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.”
Amongst many remarks over the years he is probably most known for statements attributed to him about a Teletubby being a gay role model for homosexual recruitment and stating that gays and lesbians were amongst those in some way responsible for the September 11 attacks.
I am flabbergasted at how Andrew has completely missed the point on Jerry Falwell--especially given the context of a book calling the evangelical church to repent of its past sins against LGBT folks and engage in friendly, respectful dialogue.

"Preexisting negative perceptions of Christianity's traditional belief system"? Unbelievable.

...

While I found most of Andrew's book to be disappointing, he did include several solid concepts that, if implemented, I feel would greatly improve the interaction between LGBT folks and conservative Christians. They are as follows:

Step in the Right Direction: Begin Conversations about Morality with a Discussion of Beliefs about the Bible

On pages 67 and 68, Andrew recounts a stunning conversation with a rather ill-tempered pastor. Meeting ostensibly to discuss the morality of LGBT relationships, the pastor surprised Andrew by opening the conversation with a statement of his belief that entire sections of the Bible "are not correct, not inspired" (p 67). Andrew titles this section "The Words I Never Thought I'd Hear from a Pastor" and devotes several paragraphs to explaining his utter shock that a Christian pastor might not believe the Bible to be infallible.

This stunning revelation appears to have been helpful to Andrew, however, and eleven pages later Andrew advises his readers to couch discussions of LGBT morality in the context of the Bible:
Find a gay church with a gay pastor; ask to get together with them so you can listen and learn. The best approach to doig this is to open with something like the following: "Can you please tell me what you believe the Bible says about same-sex sexual attraction and how you arrived at your conclusions?" (p 78)
I feel Andrew is absolutely on the right track here. So much of evangelical Christian's opposition to LGBT people is wrapped up in the interpretation of a few verses of the Bible that very often the arguments about morality start and end with splicing and dicing a few sentences. However, the better place to begin is with a bigger-picture view.

I would argue that the best place to begin is one step beyond what Andrew has presented: begin with an entirely separate discussion of the nature and significance of the Bible. I actually believe the first question an evangelical Christian should ask a gay Christian should have nothing whatsoever to do with morality of gay relationships. Instead, I feel the opening question should be "what do ou believe about the Bible? Is it infallible? Is it inerrant? Are the words of the Bible the words of God?"

Andrew has absolutely identified the right angle here; shifting the discussion from minute details to a bigger-picture is an excellent way to "elevate" a conversation. In the LGBT-Christian conversation, the big-picture to start with is beliefs about the Bible as a whole.

Right On: Claim to the Term "Christian" Is up to the Person Who Claims It

My final praise for the book references Andrew's discussion of the terms "gay" and "Christian" and whether the two make sense together.

On pages 69-72, Andrew tells the life story of Tim, one of his friends who is employed by a large evangelical church in Chicago and who happens to be attracted to men. Tim's story is related in his own words, and concludes with his expression that he would like to one day be married and raise a family (although Tim is careful to say that getting married and having kids would not indicate his gay attractions had dissippated or that he had been "healed".)

Following Tim's story, Andrew had this to say:
What f Tim didn't want to get married and instead remained celibate? Would he be a gay Christian in your eyes--because I know many people in Tim's exact situation who still call themselves gay Christians. What about men and women who are actively inovled in the GLBT community and profess to be Christians? Are they gay Christians as well? If they are, are they the same gay Christian that Tim calls himself? Does he still identify with them--is that even OK? These are all question for Tim, not for those of us who do not feel same-sex attractions. Christians should not be answering these question for them, but living life with those who have them. [emphasis Andrew's]
Embedded in the paragraph above are some of the generous words I've ever seen written by an evangelical. Let me just repeat them again
These are all question for Tim, not for those of us who do not feel same-sex attractions.
Amen.

I'd add my own comments, but I fear I'd detract from the power of this simple thought.

(Aisde: It's kind of fun to point out that Tim happens to be one of my friends, too :-) Tim and I met when we were involved in the same ex-gay ministry in the early 2000s. Ironically, I'm writing this blog entry in the central Illinois city where Tim grew up. But I digress...)

And on these two positive notes, I'll draw my review of Andrew Marin's Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community to a close. Phew! Congratulations to all of you who made it this far without falling asleep :-) Never fear, my next two reviews will be far shorter. Until next time...