It must be noted immediately that the title of the article is misleading in that it appears to include transgender persons in the study. However, the study itself dealt only with sexual orientation, and there is no mention of gender variant or transgender persons in the report. Nor did the study indicate any awareness of queerness. My guess is that were a similar study done for those categories there would be an even greater disparity of outcomes as regards employment and health. It seems clear that in the U.S. attitudes towards transgender persons are considerably more negative than those toward LGB persons. I doubt most people, outside the LGBTQ world, even know much about being queer (and of course, many within the community debate use of the term).
Despite legal gains and significant shifts in public attitudes, the reality remains that being, or being identified as, lesbian, gay, and bisexual carries considerable penalty and loss for many (and in some places, there even have been gains for transgender persons but the penalties are far more pervasive, often involving violence).
It is in the everyday interactions among people, among living and breathing human bodies, where deep, negative, often unacknowledged, attitudes and practices remain operative.
The study described in the article, led by Brittany Charlton, an assistant professor at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, confirms the results of earlier studies in showing that “overall, both male and female sexual minorities were about twice as likely to have been unemployed and uninsured over the prior year compared to straight peers. They were also more likely to report poorer health and quality of life.”
Charlton and her team also note that “Most of the study participants were white and their families had middle-to-high household incomes.” She says that this indicates “we may have underestimated levels of employment, being uninsured, and having poor health-quality of life.”
So, as always, race and class play a significant negative role.
I doubt many readers here will be surprised by the results of this study, although maybe some might have thought that later results would be less negative than those from 1996 and 2004. That does not appear to be the case. This would indicate the depth of resistance that remains in the U.S. towards LGBTQ equality. And this study does not include the social attitudinal and legal effects of the Trump administration’s overt negativity towards those in sexual and gender minority communities.
Indeed, reports indicate that anti-LGBTQ homicides in 2017 nearly doubled from the prior year. According to a report by NBC News, “People of color were disproportionately represented in the findings and constituted the majority of victims. In total, 37 of the 52 victims were people of color. Thirty-one of the victims were black and four were Latinx. Twenty-seven of the victims were transgender women, and 22 of those victims were transgender women of color. Cisgender (non-transgender) men accounted for 20 of the homicides, most of which were related to “hookup violence,” the report states.
So what is my point? Again, we know we have a long way to go—that gains are not enough, and that some gains are already undermined, and more may be.
My point in highlighting this survey and other reports is simply this: we have to find more ways to talk openly and positively about sex and bodies and spirituality.
It is especially important for us to link sex and bodies with spiritual life, if for no other reason than that so many retain old artificial divisions based on ancient understandings that the body is the site of unclean and even evil thoughts and acts while the spirit is pure and holy.
But frankly, we need to do this for a larger reason—namely that everyone will be helped when we, all of us, can see the divine in all things, including our bodies and sexuality. And we will not get there without also showing that the wide variety of bodies and sexual practices are good and blessed and holy (assuming there is always consent for any sexual activity).
I can say I am continually frustrated within my own faith movement, Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), because of deep unwillingness to acknowledge and share our various sexual lives and practices. Indeed, this blog began initially by me alone, in response to that frustration, to try to start conversation. Few seemed to notice, especially within MCC.
Then, Malachi joined me and thanks to his openness and courage the range of experiences and topics grew significantly. Still, few joined the readership.
My frustration is particularly acute because we promote each of our blog posts through various MCC social media fora, and have been doing so the entire time. Still, few join.
What is particularly vexing is that MCC was founded on sex, namely to overcome the reality that open and self-affirming lesbian and gay people were regularly denied full membership and leadership in Christian churches generally and were often hounded out and deeply damaged. It was because of sex that the Rev. Elder Troy Perry called the first service on October 6, 1868.
Yes, it will be 50 years this fall since that first service in living room of Troy Perry’s little pink house (isn’t that delicious?) in Los Angeles.
In the Jewish traditions out of which Christianity emerged, 50 years was the time of jubilee. At the end of seven cycles of Sabbath years, according to Leviticus 25:8-13, slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven, and the mercies of God would be particularly evident.
That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee to you. In it you shall not sow, neither reap that which grows of itself, nor gather from the undressed vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you. You shall eat of its increase out of the field. In this Year of Jubilee each of you shall return to his property.(11-12)
What will Metropolitan Community Churches celebrate this Jubilee year? Will it be how we have survived (right now more or less by the skin of our teeth)?
Or will it be to return to the original vision God had for Troy and us—to truly blow the trumpet of liberation for sexual minorities and all people who see the divine in our intimate, embodied relationships, to become the teachers of the Church universal, the beacons of hope and joy, and justice, in and for all bodies?
I remember my first Gay Pride event; it was Boston 1983. I was in awe—the crowds, the joy, the chants, the idea of marching for freedom where the Sons of Liberty had dared to defy the British Crown, the Faeries and other outrageously costumed folks, so much fun!
And I remember the religious service at the Arlington Street Church (UU); it was so moving to share worship with people of many faiths, sexualities, and genders, and to share our commitment to liberation and justice for all.
I don’t remember any festival after the march, although I am sure folks gathered to eat and talk and buy all the sorts of things that vendors make available at such events.
What I remember is the march. In fact, it is always the march that matters most to me. Pride, for me, is less a social event and more a movement for liberation, a political act, a joyful, powerful form of civil/religious disobedience.
This is why, although I faithfully attended every Pride while serving as Pastor of MCC Richmond, I was never very happy at the event. First, those in charge wouldn’t name it anything but Virginia Pride (does that mean we’re proud of our state?), and we did not march. Anywhere.
Block parties can be fun, but I thought, and still do, that we were in a struggle to change the world—to save not only our own bodies but those of countless others in our nation and around the globe. We surely need to celebrate ourselves, our fabulousness, but we need more. We need to march, speak up, act up, speak truth not only to power but to the entire world.
My belief grows out of my awareness of how political and social change is achieved, and even more from my belief and practice as a Queer liberation theologian. Real change, deep change, transformation that is sustainable, requires great passion, long-term commitment, and ceaseless organizing. I agree with the sentiment often attributed to anarchist Emma Goldman’s, “If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution,” but I also know, and know she knew, there will be no revolution if all we do is dance.
My belief in and commitment to activism was confirmed when I met Craig Rodwell. Beginning in September 1987, I worked for him as a sales clerk for eight months at the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop on Christopher Street in the Village (Greenwich). Founded in 1967 by Craig, two years before Stonewall, this was the first bookshop in the world to be devoted to gay and lesbian literature.
Craig was not the best boss I ever had, but the books were great, some notable people came in, and I had the opportunity to hear many stories that confirm that he was, or should have been and still should be, an icon in the LGBT movement. The truth is that we might never have heard of Stonewall if Craig had not rushed to a phone and alerted the New York Times to what was happening at 53 Christopher Street on the evening of June 28, 1969.
In November, 1969, Craig and three others at the meeting of the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations (ERCHO) proposed an annual demonstration on the last Saturday in June in New York City to commemorate the 1969 spontaneous demonstrations on Christopher Street. They also proposed that the annual event “encompass the ideas and ideals of the larger struggle in which we are engaged—that of our fundamental human rights . . . .”
Fundamental human rights. That’s the struggle they saw then, and I and many see today. That means LGBTQIA Pride events are political, they are about social change.
Of course, they also are about personal change and affirmation, and it is wonderful when we see people newly out celebrating with joy and love. This year, a friend of mine from church went to her first Pride march and festival in D.C. and was transformed by the experience. So, we still need LGBTQIA Pride.
But others in the community still find themselves on the margins. Some of them blocked this year’s Capital Pride Parade (notice it is a parade, not a march, and actually someone from outside would not know who was being proud of what). The group No Justice, No Pride, objected to sponsorship of the events by several major corporations. One member of that group who is Native American said, “Capital Pride’s list of sponsors reads like a who’s who of Native genocide: FBI, NSA, CIA, Wells Fargo, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Federal Bureau of Prisons.” Others objected to the presence of uniformed policemen marching in the parade. “We deserve to celebrate Pride without being forced alongside the police who kill us,” said another participant (read more here).
Many transgender people continue to feel invisibilized in these events as well. And D.C. Black Pride continues to be held in late May, in part in recognition of the white racism that has for so long been a significant component of community life.
I know many parade participants were angered by the protests, which caused a re-routing of the main parade. Some shouted “Shame” and other angry words. I do not see it that way. To me, these protests are in the very best tradition of the Stonewall rioters and the early activists in the 1950s and 60s, even before Stonewall. And certainly they are in line with ACT Up and other HIV/AIDS activists.
I have not attended LGBTQA Pride celebrations for several years, having grown bored with the lack of political consciousness by those who organize most of the events. I feel some guilt about this. I know it is important to participate in community events.
However, I would have been very interested in the protests, had I known about them in advance. I am going to pay more attention during the year and see if Pride organizers make an effort to get events more in tune with our need for a powerful political movement and our need to claim the work we, as a community, still have to do. If they do, I will be at Capital Pride.
If not, I will be there, too, joining others in speaking truth to the community we love. Craig died in 1993; otherwise, I have a feeling he would be joining me—if he had not already been fomenting rebellion long before most of us understood the need.
I have mixed, complicated feelings about Pride. On one hand, of course, it’s wonderful to be in a space where we are able to openly celebrate who we are- our sexuality and sexual orientation, our gender identities (to some extent) and families and the ways in which we build and show and create love. That being said, however, I somewhat detest pride and what it has become.
The first pride rallies and marches were built on the momentum of the Stonewall riots. They were a time queer people could come together and stand in solidarity against the police brutality constantly perpetrated against the queer community. It was a time where we released ourselves from shackles of fear and embraced all of who we are, regardless of social messages.
Pride was dangerous. Going meant you could lose everything- your home, your family, your kids, and possibly your life. Of course, it is a result of years of pride festivals and parades that have helped push LGBT…well, L/G rights, anyway, through to where that concern, while still present for some, is not as pervasive as it used to be.
And now, instead of protesting the police, we hire them to protect our marches and rallies and block parties. In this, we have forgotten, of course, that police brutality is still a massive problem for people of color, particularly trans women of color, for sex workers, and for non-assimilation queers, especially non-binary folks.
So when I went to Baltimore pride, I wanted to be overwhelmed and astonished at how white it was, how incredibly…normative it felt, but instead, I felt a sense of resignation. Baltimore is a predominantly black city, but here was our pride: overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly male, overwhelmingly…normal looking, minus the plethora of rainbows.
Oh yes. The rainbows. Regular ROY-G-BIV rainbows, no black or brown stripe present. If you haven’t read the controversy around the Philadelphia pride flag (you can read it here), it appears that the rainbow is sacred and should not be altered to include black and brown stripes (we’ll just ignore all the variations of the pride flags we have had over the years, ok? See hereand you can read a piece, “Is the Rainbow Enough?” from Robin several years ago about it here).
Perhaps I’m a bit cynical. But never has it been more clear to me that we need intersectional analysis around pride. We make pride unsafe for the very people who were our founders. It has become a large block party, and that’s fine… we should have block parties and dance and celebrate and wear rainbows… but to me, that’s not pride. That’s just another night at the club.
To me, the whole purpose and intent of pride is that it is a time to come together against those things that threaten our communities: police brutality, homelessness, drug addiction, homophobia and transphobia, loss of healthcare, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, etc. We still have so far to go, and it feels like pride is a celebration of winning one battle when the war wages on around us.
Maybe that seems melodramatic. We have come a long way from the social climate of the 1960’s, but I worry that we have been so single-minded in our approach that we start to view our queerness in a vacuum. And yet… queer POC still face systemic racism every day. Queer homeless youth (and queer youth in general) have a heartbreaking suicide rate. Queer sex workers are still victims of assault and violence from the police with no recourse to deal with it. Trans women are still murdered at an absurdly high rate. And this doesn’t begin to touch the intersections of these things: queer homeless youth who are sex workers. HIV positive POC trying to access medical care. And so on.
So, what exactly are we celebrating? I think that’s well-reflected in the demographics of our pride parades… yes. We can get married. Those are celebrating have, in many regards, “already arrived.” But I found myself wondering where these faces and bodies are when there are protests against police brutality and ending stigma around sex work and…and…
This evolution of pride does not bring me joy. It brings me a lot of sadness and grief and anger because I can see the lines of division and privilege so poignantly. This pride was not built for people who do not (or cannot) assimilate to the mainstream queer dream. This pride was not built for non-white bodies. This pride was not built for trans and non-binary bodies. This pride was not built for sex worker bodies. It was not built for these bodies… but it was built on the backs of these bodies.
My pride? My pride sees color. My pride recognizes that we all face different struggles, some individual and some systemic. My pride recognizes that, until we are willing to see color, willing to see sex workers as human, willing to see trans people as worthy of respect, willing to see one another as whole people, willing to be just a little bit uncomfortable, then we still have work to do. I’ll show up for the work. I’ll show up for the intersections. I’ll show up for the grit and the grime and do the best I can, and it won’t always be right, and I hope someone has the emotional capacity to inform me that I’m doing it wrong, and I hope I have the grace to hear it and honor the work it takes to be a constant educator because of the color of someone’s skin or the shape of someone’s jawbone or the way someone makes money.
My pride is uncomfortable. My pride is loud and unashamed and talking about hard issues that no one else will talk about. My pride may or may not have rainbows, but it has a diversity of ideas. My pride is intersection.
We Want to Hear from You!
Help Make this a Conversation!
What are your feelings about LGBTQIA Pride? When was the first Pride you attended, and how did you feel? How satisfied are you with our progress in combatting homophobia, bi-phobia, transphobia? What more needs to be done? Do Pride celebrations have a role in this work? What would you change about Pride in your community, if anything? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.
Join Us Third Thursdays!
Please join us THURSDAY, July 20th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components. If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.
This is the time to reach out in support, to create new networks, to open spaces and create something new.
Bodies are always at risk in the world. But it feels to me that many bodies, and in some ways most bodies, are under attack in the United States these days.
Here are a few items in the news that create that reality for me:
Trans Bodies. In one of his first acts as the new Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions has alerted the federal appeals court in Texas that the government will no longer appeal the ruling af the district court judge who blocked, nationwide, Obama Administration rules protecting trans students in public schools. Read more here This raises concern about how the new administration might position the government (or if it will try to do so) in a case, involving an appeal from the Gloucester County, Virginia, School Board already scheduled for hearing at the Supreme Court (the board appealing an appeals court ruling granting the right to Gavin Grimm to use the boy’s restroom at the county high school). Every trans public school student and their parents are facing great risk, not long after the Obama Administration raised hopes for real change.
Immigrant Bodies. In the past few days, there has been reports of a marked increase in the number of ICE raids and arrests of immigrants who are without the necessary papers and those with criminal records. The targets have centered on eleven states, including California, New York, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Illinois. Some of this continues Obama Administration practice of expelling immigrants with criminal records, but it also seems more people than under Obama have been deported for not having papers. The actions seem clearly focused Mexican nationals and other Latin Americans living in the United States. Articles in various foreign-language local media outlets have reported on widespread fear. Read more here and here. Who knows where this will all end, but it is safe to say that millions of bodies, not just those who are deported but also those left behind, are likely affected.
Refugee Bodies. Closely connected are others from foreign lands, especially those fleeing horrible violence in their own land who, according to the President and others in the government, allegedly want to wreak it here. Clearly, we do not know how far the current government will be able to go, but in the meantime it is pretty scary–tens, nay hundreds, of thousands, at least, are at risk. .
Bodies Needing Healthcare. The continuing uncertainty about whether there will be any realistic replacement of the Affordable Care Act (after its almost certain repeal) leaves many facing not having health care that is affordable and accessible. The legislation to repeal seems stalled at the moment, as apparently those rabidly opposed to the program are realizing that though they belittled it many people depend on it for adequate health care. What does not seem to be going away however, is the determination of the Republican Congress and the President to end the Obama version even if they cannot agree on what the new one should look like. The anxiety for many with clear and ongoing needs for care is real—millions of bodies are at risk.
Women’s Bodies. Connected to the future of health care is the effort to defund Planned Parenthood. The bodies of at least two million low-income women are at stake if Speaker Paul Ryan and Vice President Mike Pence succeed in doing what the Trump campaign promised last fall: take all federal Medicaid funding from Planned Parenthood and give it to local community health clinics. Even if that does not happen, the health of many other women will be impacted due to the high proportion of women’s services, other than abortion, provided by Planned Parenthood clinics all over the nation. Read more here.
LGBT Bodies. And even one bad action averted is not fully reassuring. After public pressure, and according to some sources, the intervention of the President’s daughter and son-in-law, the rumored Executive Order to rescind protection of lesbian and gay persons in federal employment decisions was withdrawn. Read more here. The White House even publicly announced the change, touting the President as supportive of LGBT rights. Read more here. Still, the Administration has not yet issued an expected order about religious freedom that would undermine LGBT rights, and Vice President Mike Pence has a long record of championing anti-LGBT causes. These factors leave many nervous about how far protections for LGBT will be undermined and rolled back. It seems clear there will be no forward movement—queer bodies again in jeopardy.
Black Bodies, Poor Bodies, Elderly Bodies. The confirmation of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General causes a rising concern among African Americans, and other racial minorities, about federal protections. It seems clear that the Justice Department will slow down, or even end, efforts to help, and certainly stop suits against, local police departments to end racial profiling and other racist practices. In addition, voting rights seem likely to be under threat, and that involves not only African Americans but also poor people and elderly people of all races.
It may be then, that white straight men (WSM), at least those not poor, have little to fear, especially in their bodies. Those who want to grab pussy can still do so—just don’t talk about it in the locker room (someone might take you seriously), and their voting is not at issue.
I am old enough to remember days like that, the days when America was really great, at least for middle- and upper-class WSM. I don’t want to go back there. I doubt you do either.
Malachi and I usually write more obviously about bodies as connected to sex. However, he and I know that patriarchal constructions of society are never far removed from sex. And bodies are always at risk—even, potentially, some of those male bodies that look secure (e.g., men with LGBT children or siblings, friends and neighbors or business associates or co-workers who are Black or LatinX or Muslim, etc.).
The theological truth is that every body belongs to God, is part of the family of God, and deserves not only respect but also tender care and opportunities to thrive and glow, each in their own way. I am at a loss to explain how people who say they are conservative can so easily not engage in conserving each and every one of these glorious creations, and even more, actively engage in opposing efforts to care for every single body.
I shall resist as best I know how all anti-body rhetoric and activity. That begins with writing the truth as I see it, and asking you and others to join me in more truth-telling, marching, writing letters to Congress, and agitating wherever and whenever we can, being the “angelic troublemakers” (St.) Bayard Rustin called up decades ago.
My childhood minister (prior to Rev. Robin), Rev. Gill Storey, told me once that “patriotism is the birthplace of racism.” That phrase has stuck with me throughout the years and has greatly influenced and informed my perspectives and beliefs on patriotism (particularly post 9/11) through adulthood. Right now, though, I think that it’s a particularly poignant message, as we have seen an uptick in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids behind the banner of “Make America Great Again.”
Indeed, how can we not see the link between patriotism and racism right now? But beyond racism, we see an assault on all bodies that do not conform to the accepted “all-American” look. We see, as Robin has linked, article after article in which different groups are being actively targeted because of their (actual and perceived) race, gender identity, sexual orientation, gender, religion, ethnicity, and/or country of origin.
Today, I don’t come with facts and figures, theory and substantiation. Today, I come with stories. Memories. Moments in my life that resonated so strongly that, when I see the echoes of them today, they make me shake with rage and fear.
I remember being trans in high school. I remember going by the name “Tony” on days where I wanted to be a boy. I remember, in acts of solidarity (as we understood them at the time), guys from band sitting with me on the bus and explaining which pocket you put your wallet in and which wrist should carry your watch. I remember, for the most part support. Except for that one day, when I needed to pee, and went into the bathroom, and freaked out a younger girl coming out of the stall. When I told this story to my friends, they looked at me and said, “Well… duh. You should have used the men’s room.” I didn’t know how to explain my fear of what would happen if I did, and instead tried to avoid using the bathroom at school, ever.
I remember changing band uniforms on the bus- they had a boys bus and a girls bus, and I was never sure which I should be in, which half my friends telling me one thing, and the other half saying something different.
I was on a trans panel a few years ago, and I listened to a friend talk about
being in a chronic state of dehydration because he didn’t want to navigate the public bathrooms on a college campus. I was floored, realizing that I, too, don’t drink nearly enough water and live in a chronic state of dehydration as a subconscious method of avoiding bathrooms. This is not a particularly good thing for me, as an adult, but it’s significantly worse for children and teenagers, whose bodies are growing and changing. It’s one small side effect of these bathroom bills and anti-trans laws that is rarely talked about, but we (as trans people) are doing violence to our own bodies to mitigate the fear of violence being perpetrated onto us.
Compared to what kids are facing now (and what many other kids faced when I was in school), my experience coming out as trans in high school was positively charmed. But I also remember the tension, the fear, the anxiety, the nervousness I felt in an environment that was, for the most part, fairly safe. And then I think about what these laws could do, the impacts they could (and do) have on kids who are struggling to figure out everything from who they want to take to prom to where they want to go to college to how to explain to their parents about why they missed curfew, and it makes me sick with rage and fear and concern. I want to be there, to be able to support these kids, to take something off the stress they are feeling from every other part of their lives. I see high school teachers struggling to connect and wanting to support their students, but not knowing how to.
I have friends that are undocumented, who are struggling to figure out next steps for themselves, their partners, their families. I have friends directly impacted by the ICE raids, struggling to figure out where to go to get away from the threats and realizing that there is nowhere to go. I have other friends talking about trapdoors to basements and who has enough space to house a family for a little while.
I have known someone whose visa ran out, and she and her partner had to figure out next steps because her partner, who was chronically ill, was as a vet and received all medical care through the VA. Leaving wasn’t an option for her partner, staying wasn’t an option for her, and being apart was an option for neither.
I have known black and brown bodies, black and brown friends who have been targeted by the police and civilians because of the color of their skin. I have known queer women who have committed suicide because of sexual assault. I have known sex workers who have been threatened with “outing” and prosecution unless they provided services to the police.
These are not abstractions for me. These are my friends, my people, the ones that I have potlucks with and watch their dogs while they’re away. These are the people whose postcards cover my kitchen wall and whose heads I have held while they cried. This is not statistics or figures or even something new for me. These are the people that I stand beside at protests, watching their courage as they hold signs and claim their lives and identities.
These laws enshrine an attitude in this culture that many have tried to deny for years. Yet as the days pass and executive order followed by cabinet appointment followed by misinformation continues to come from the White House, more begin to see the atrocities and we are banding together.
This is the time for community. This is the time to reach out in support, to create new networks, to open spaces and create something new. Now is the time that we must persevere, and the intersections of our identities give us different abilities and privileges to work within toward that goal.
If patriotism is the birthplace of racism, what then is the birthplace of freedom? Extending our communities to those of different experiences. Inviting refugees and welcoming immigrants. Holding hands on the street. Stopping and witnessing when the police have stopped and questioned a person of color on the street. Actively working against rape culture.
These executive orders and lawsuits and appointments are dire, and they are an assault on bodies- all bodies. So perhaps, those of us with more privilege can use our bodies- our whiteness, our straightness (or straight-passingness), our American citizenship, our maleness- to protect those who might otherwise be killed in the onslaught. We build community and protect others against this assault on our bodies, our beings, our existence. And through community, we are able to truly find freedom.
We Want to Hear from You!
Help Make this a Conversation!
What are your thoughts and reflections on Ruth 4:7-17? Have you had any experience with non-monogamy and unconventional relationships that have brought you joy to think on? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.
Join Us Third Thursdays!
Please join us tomorrow, THURSDAY, February 16th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components. If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.
Workshop description: Non-Monogamy 2 continues from where a previous workshop ended. On December 15, 2016, Malachi and Robin delved into non-monogamy. Malachi described its various forms in contemporary culture and offered observations from personal experience. Robin commented on some of the positive aspects and understandings he has gained through learning more about non-monogamy and reflected on his own feelings (which are more positive than he would have thought). There was a good discussion among those participating on the call, and questions were raised. Malachi and Robin plan to offer more information, and specifically some responses to the questions. If you were unable to be present on December 15, we are hoping a video of the presentation (but not the discussion) will soon be available.
We are a nation that has made the gold-star standard of beauty one that is based on racist ideals.
Nowhere is the power of white supremacy more evident than in the industry that thrives by producing, marketing, and selling products to bleach dark human skin. An article in The New York Times about the practice in West Africa, and the action of the government of Ghana in creating a ban on these products alerted me to the practice there (see “What Is the Color of Beauty?”), but the author was quick to point out that this is not limited to West Africa.
Indeed, a look online yielded many products that claim to remove blemishes and dark spots, although I found almost none offered by major retailers and companies in this country that encouraged their use to reduce the darkness of overall skin tone. At the same time, some of them did use the term “freshening” which, in the African context, is sometimes used in preference to “bleaching.” There are products which claim to whiten black skin without saying so in so many words.
This is in line with historic validation, through advertising for example, of white skin as preferable to darker, most especially African or black, skin. In other ways, too, the bodies of people who are seen as more African are devalued, for example big lips among men and women and big hips among women are often viewed negatively.
The underlying ideology—that dark skin is less beautiful than light, or white, skin—is very troubling. It surely is a product of European colonialism, not only in Africa and Asia and Latin America, but also in North America, especially the United States—and here made even more powerful through our history of enslavement of Africans and Native peoples.
This shows up not only in these “skincare” products but also within communities of color, where “colorism”—favoring lighter shades of skin over darker—can create hierarchies of value and even privilege (see, for example, “Skin Tone Prejudice Troubles African-American Heritage”). I am reminded of earlier years—during the 1960’s with the rise of “Black is Beautiful” and later—when there was great energy expended by many individuals to stop straightening their hair in order to let it grow in its natural, gloriously Afro styles, a welcome development away from white cultural domination.
What causes us—and not just Africans and African Americans or other darker-skinned people—to treat our bodies, or the bodies of others, as sites to be manipulated in order to conform to socially constructed standards of beauty? Why do we let others determine our relations with our own bodies?
Is this not abuse?
I ask the question, aware that it is a term that can be overused. However, I don’t think it too strong to say about various social mechanisms the help create in us negative feelings about God’s great, some would say God’s greatest, gift to us, our human bodies—especially when these feelings lead us to do things to our bodies, or condone things being done to others (female genital mutilation, for example), that not only demean us but also do us harm. For example, a chemical used in many of the skin bleaching products, Hydroquinone, can decrease the production, and increase the degradation, of melanin pigments in the skin, thus increasing the skin’s exposure to UVA and UVB rays and raising the risk of skin cancer.
I write as an older person, an elder, who is beginning to notice how there are some places on my body I don’t like so well. Regular readers here will know that I struggle with genital size issues, but in this instance I am referring to wrinkles and loose skin on my thighs. For the first time in my life, I bought capsules online that promised to change my body, in this case, to tighten my skin. After using for a few weeks, I observed no change. And I realized that this was my version of having a skin “tuck.” Ouch. I threw out the remaining pills.
I admit to sometimes feeling judgmental about women who have breast implants or tucks to remove wrinkles, yet here I was taking pills that promised that I would look better, that is, I would not look like me any longer. Elder abuse takes many forms, including horrific violence, and I am not claiming that my feelings of embodied negativity constitute such abuse. But I am claiming that the social validation of youthful, slender, tight- and light-skinned, well-muscled (but not too much muscle) bodies often leads to serious emotional and even physical harm for those whose bodies do not measure up. For example, in my case, cannot wrinkles be beautiful, at least as signs of experience and even wisdom?
But back to the people, women and men, in West Africa. They are paying a huge price for centuries of white colonial domination. “We” white people not only took their bodies for slavery in the “New World,” looted their minerals, and continue to hunt their diminishing mammals and other native creatures for sport, we also stole their embodied dignity—and that theft continues today in the form of social values that violate their natural, God-given beauty, and support and encourage them to engage in self-violation.
This is of course a justice issue—the health authority in Ghana is clearly trying to right an injustice and save lives—but also it is a moral and theological issue. We remember Dr. King saying, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” How well we do this tells us about our character. And it is not limited to Africa.
For many years, whenever I say or sing the Lord’s Prayer, and I come to the part of asking forgiveness for my debts/sins/trespasses, I bring to consciousness images of slaves raped and beaten and killed, Native peoples slaughtered and forced to live in closed-in enclaves, women beaten and denied good jobs, children dying of malnutrition and starvation, etc. Now, I will also call to mind the faces of African women and men whose complexions are altered in obedience to ugly social rules and values.
I know I am not causing this, actively. I know my parents did not do this, or even my grandparents. But what I do know is that I continue to benefit from social values that raise white over black, especially when it comes to skin colors and body typologies, and every moment that I am not engaged in opposing, undoing, white supremacy and white privilege, is a moment when I am not involved in the resistance to them. When I am not in resistance, I am complicit.
And here’s a real and very painful irony. In parts of Africa there are campaigns to rid the populace of what some claim is the scourge of homosexuality. Those campaigns are often encouraged, supported, funded, by white Christians from the United States. The claim is often made that this form of sexual being and living is not native to Africa but was imported in colonial times.
African friends and colleagues of mine, both homosexual and heterosexual, tell me that African life has always included a variety of sexualities. It is one of the sexual gifts God has made, and still makes, available in every corner of the earth.
So, instead of promoting the murder of gay men and lesbians, those U.S. Christians could be doing a real service by helping to overcome a genuine foreign import: the devaluing of black skin.
We must all can learn to celebrate our bodies, all bodies, ourselves. Until we do, God and God’s creation are mocked.
This week, after recovering from a wonderful Thanksgiving, Rev. Robin shared an article, “What Color is Beauty?” with me, related to the practice of skin-bleaching in West Africa, particularly in Ghana. The practice, although now technically illegal, lightens the skin tone of people- particularly women- by attacking the molecules that produce melanin in the skin.
This practice was recently banned, but the article discusses the inherent tension between the formal laws and the informal social custom which, in this case, amounts to an inherent belief that lighter skin tones are more beautiful. At several points in the article, the preferences of men are stated- and in almost all cases, men state that they are more attracted to women with lighter skin tones.
It’s a disturbing article and a powerful exposé of racial identity and bias in West Africa- a geographic area that is categorically perceived as a “black” area. As a white American, it’s difficult for me to wrestle with the ideas of racial beauty preferences toward whiteness (or lightness) in West Africa- and I have to ground myself in the reminder that this is not an “over there” problem. We face much the same racial dichotomy in the United States.
In this article, the author discusses many ways in which America’s beauty
standards are inherently racist. Among them, the author notes that a Google search of “beautiful skin” gives fairly monochromatic results. I decided to do my own search and found that, yes, those results are all eerily… whitewashed. (Check out beautiful skin and flawless skin google searches. And yes, while it is possible to put a “dark” “tan” or “African American” filter on the google searches, it doesn’t change the fact that the default results are predominantly of white women.)
We see, over and over again, how black women are expected to adhere to the beauty standards of white women. Moreover, white appropriation of historically non-white traditions, actions, and aesthetics are often the route through which those things become mainstream (see: locs (dreadlocks), twerking, yoga, cosmetic surgery for butt implants and enhanced lips, etc.) Something isn’t considered fashionable, trendy, or beautiful until it is done on a white body, even if it’s something that originated in POC communities.
Juxtaposed with these pervasive white supremacist ideals of beauty, I also see models like Khoudia Diop, who is one of the darkest-skinned models. The Senegalese model is part of The Colored Girl campaign, aimed at encouraging women to embrace their skin color and affirming the idea that darkness is beautiful. But although she has grown to love and embrace her skin tone, she also discusses being made fun of extensively in New York City for the darkness of her skin, and faced some familial and social pressure to use lightening creams, even in the United States.
We are a nation that has made the gold-star standard of beauty one that is based on racist ideals. From body shape to facial construction to hair texture, we are all encouraged to aspire to whiteness. Unearthing these stereotypes to then battle these ideas is difficult. They are so pervasive, such an inherent part of our culture that it can be difficult to be a white person and see how they manifest.
Yet I think of something like pronounced lips, and recall that it is seen in a negative way on black women, but in a positive way on white women
(Angelina Jolie, for example). I also can’t help but notice that these features are often sexualized (e.g. “She’s got blowjob lips”). The same is true with the tendency of black women to have a more pronounced butt, something that is incredibly sexualized.
So there is an interesting tension in our own culture between our ideals of beauty and our ideas of sex appeal. On one hand, “whiteness” is clearly the standard to which all people are expected to aspire (this used to be called “civilizing” people, because non-whiteness = savage from a colonialist perspective. This has not gone away; it has simply been called something else.) Yet on the other hand, we dehumanize, objectify, and sexualize the aspect of women’s bodies that don’t necessarily adhere to white standards.
It reminds me, in many ways, of the experiences that trans women have talked about in trying to date straight men. One friend put it very directly: “They will fuck me all night and tell me I’m the most beautiful person they’ve ever seen,” she said, “and then they leave the room and refuse to hold my hand in the daylight.”
We are told what we should be attracted to: thin, white, cisgendered. Any deviation from that attraction and it becomes a taboo, and we dehumanize and fetishize people to meet our own desires. The craigslist ads alone show this: “white man for black woman; casual sex only” “masculine white man for black woman; cannot host” “married man wants friends with benefits- black girls only” and “White 4 Black” (these are all lines from a local craigslist today). The gist of these ads are, “I’m a white guy looking for casual sex with a black woman, but I can’t have you around my home).
So not only do we set whiteness as the beauty standard, but when we are attracted to people who don’t fit that, we try to hide, minimize, or deny that attraction. Not only is this dehumanizing, but we are then perpetuating the same racist myths and stereotypes that hold up white beauty as superior in the first place.
The racism in the United States is pervasive and deeply rooted in systematic ways. The only way we can begin to combat these ideas is to first recognize that they are there. It’s easy to feel outrage, shock, and horror at women across the world bleaching their skin and risking skin cancer through damaging melanin in the blistering heat of West Africa, but we must also remember and feel that outrage that young women in the United States are often also pressured to lighten their skin so they can be beautiful. We must see it to fight it. We must fight it to end it. And we absolutely must end this dangerous, damaging belief that the value of a person is intrinsically tied to the color of their skin.
We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!
What do you think influences your sense of your own body, your relationship with your body? And what influences how you see and evaluate the bodies of others? What bodies are most sexy for you? Is your own body sexy for you? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.
Join Us Third Thursdays!
Please join us THURSDAY, December 15th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components. If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.
Sacred, Not Secret, Part 2: Beyond the Norm
We invite you to join us on Thursday, Dec 15th for the second part of the series, “Sacred, Not Secret” where Malachi Grennell and Rev. Dr. Robin H. Gorsline continue to discuss alternative expressions of sexuality and intimacy from a Christian perspective. On December 15, they will begin to explore non-normative relationship structures, focusing on non-monogamous relationships. This one-hour workshop will examine different aspects of non-monogamy, as well as discuss ways that we can be more open and inclusive to non-monogamous families in our churches and communities–because do not doubt that you know and interact with such families, in church and elsewhere.
As Metropolitan Community Church strives to move forward and maintain relevance with shifting social mores, the MCC Office of Formation and Leadership Development offers Sex, Bodies, Spirit online on the third Thursday of every month at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. This workshop is approved as a continuing education course for MCC clergy (.5 credit for each session) and focuses on equipping and empowering leaders to bring these conversations to their communities. Although a primary focus is on clergy education, everyone is welcome to attend and participate.
. . . people who are assigned female at birth, or AFAB) are often taught to associate their own self-esteem with their attractiveness . . . .
Malachi: I recently wrote about two different experiences I had while picking my goddaughter up from school. In one instance, a group of men in a car slowed down and began oogling, jeering, and catcalling, and I responded with an indication that they needed to keep moving. In the other, I was followed for several blocks on my way to her school by someone on a motorcycle who was repeatedly trying to get my phone number. When I had picked her up and was walking back home with her, he reappeared, and I did the best I could to shield her from any additional inappropriate comments.
These stories are not isolated incidents. This is just the reality of Parenting While Trans. Or simply just the reality of Being Trans.
When Robin and I were talking about what we wanted to write about today, these experiences were on the forefront of my mind, and he was talking about his experiences with bullying. I was reminded that I was spared a lot of bullying in my childhood years. I can never stop being grateful for that, given many of the horror stories I have seen, heard, and read about.
But as we continued to talk, my mind started going. “Bullying” is one form of harassment, one that many people (across gender identities and expressions) face. It’s a form of harassment meant to denigrate someone, made to make someone feel “less than,” or “not worthy” of kindness. It’s a brutal and atrocious tragedy that leads to instances like Columbine and increased risk for suicide (especially among LGBTQ people).
I didn’t get bullied through much of high school. But I do remember when I started getting harassed- right around the time I started having sex. And it occurred to me that harassment tends to take two distinct forms, particularly when it comes from men.
Bullying is something I see men doing to other people (they perceive as)
male. Again, this is not to say that women are not bullied… but when I think of bullying, I think of a young man being called “fag” and “sissy,” being mocked for not exhibiting traditional masculine traits. Often the bullies are bigger, stronger, more masculine (the incredibly stereotypical, iconic jock image). In short, the “purpose” of the bullying, if you will, is to tear other men down.
Women (or those perceived as women), tend to receive harassment based on their sexuality. It’s supposed to be a “compliment” that she would catch someone’s interest. Where men are expected to fight back against the bullying, women are expected to graciously accept and take it as a compliment.
I was pretty queer in high school. Blatantly, outspokenly, rainbow-wearing, gender-neutral pronoun-using queer. I was also a particularly awkward teenager and not viewed by my peers as a sexual being. My body wasn’t commented on because it wasn’t the type of body that it would occur to many people to make comments about. I wasn’t so unattractive that I was picked on, but I wasn’t attractive in the way that people noticed.
When I started to portray more elements of “mainstream” attractiveness, I found myself the target of catcalls, people stopping me on the sidewalk to ask for my number, people asking me if I was an escort (I confess, at that point, I had no idea what that was or what they were talking about). In short: when I began to be viewed by others as a sexual object, I began to receive more attention… and some of that attention was most definitely harassment.
The next logical step here is that women (and people who are assigned female at birth, or AFAB) are often taught to associate their own self-esteem with their attractiveness, and their attractiveness with the
external affirmation they receive. But that attention is not always (or often) desired or requested. It becomes a mixed bag of emotions that boils down, “That person is creepy, but I still got it!” It’s an affirmation that we are still attractive and, because our value is predominantly tied to our attractiveness, it implicitly states something about our value and worth as human beings.
It starts young: “He pulled your hair? He must have a crush on you.” equates physical abuse with signs of affection, and it escalates from there. People who are AFAB have learned to equate harassment and abuse as signs of affection for most of their lives, and it is a deep sociocultural lesson that is incredibly difficult to unlearn.
There is, for me, another element of the story that further complicates matters. The people who harassed me on the street were (both times) men of color (of different ethnic backgrounds).
The night I got home after the motorcycle incident, my partner decided to order some food, and asked me if I wanted anything. I wasn’t hungry, so I said no. About half an hour later, I was sitting on my stoop, doing some work on my computer, and a car pulled up on my block, idling right outside my house and the driver (a young man of color) nodded at me.
I felt my stomach drop and my face got defensive. I glared at him until-oh! I remembered my partner had ordered food!- and stuck my head inside to let him know his food was here.
That moment stays with me, though, because it was a moment where my recent experience was coloring my reality, and I realized that I have some work I need to do to deal with my own racism.
As someone who was AFAB in a country with such deeply-held racism, I recognize that, even now, so much of my socialization has taught me to hate and fear black men. I don’t want to believe that that is true, but I know
that it is. I grew up in the South, and racism is very much not dead. And there is a part of me that must recognize my socialization taught me that black men will rape white women.
It’s a brutal, difficult, ugly thing to face about myself. Particularly when I want, so badly, to be angry. I have these warring factions between my own oppression and harassment as a trans person, and my own privilege and prejudice as a white person living in a predominantly non-white city.
I have no idea how to reconcile these things, but I cannot pretend that they are not there.
And so we are left with this incredibly mixed, jumbled up discussion of harassment, gender, race, social expectations. If ever there was an argument for intersectionality, I think this would qualify. Because these things are not simple, and I have not unlearned so much of my own social conditioning.
I think it comes down to this: we are all broken. We lash out from brokenness, we buy into stereotypes from brokenness, we allow our fear to control us from brokenness. Healing is a long, slow process. It’s a hard process, but I do not want to view the world from a broken place any longer.
Bullies I Have Known, and Know
A bully is as a bully does, from kids
to politicians and other famous people
to the guy on my high school bus
who talked tough, bent others’ fingers
and arms behind our backs,
until we cried out, begging him to stop.
I want to ask a couple of bullies these days
to stop—not being sure they are older
emotionally than the guy was on the bus
fifty-plus years ago (whose name I remember
but will not say)—even though their names
are on the front page every day,
one of whom could become
Bully in Chief, succeeding a long line
of less aggressive Commanders
in Chief from Washington to Obama.
Bus bully was actually a nice guy when he grew up,
apologized in his twenties—imagine that,
a bully apologizing, admitting his error without
being forced or shamed, simply because he knew
he had been wrong, he had done wrong.
I do not remember his explaining
why he had been so mean—perhaps, as so often,
his father or mother, or both, had been
bullies or overly aggressive, or he was reacting
to too much passivity at home, or maybe
he was hiding a secret, though I doubt
he was hiding homoerotic feelings or desires
toward me and others. Or was he just scared
of changes in his life and his budding body, like National
Bullies seem to fear change in our society.
Queers, immigrants, Blacks, Muslims—all pretty scary
to those accustomed to feeling (not necessarily being,
depending on economics) in charge,
though he who seeks to be Bully in Chief
is used to having his way, telling others where the line,
or wall, is drawn, who will design it, who will pay for it.
And then there are women, and trans people, and gender queers,
those whose bodies are pawns to be moved or touched
or groped or fucked or cut or dumped or shot at will
(or all of the above),
depending on what the aggressor feels he needs
to prove. He may want to show off before an audience
or he may feel insecure and act when no one
is looking, or his need for control may be satisfied
by talk alone, boasting what he can do, or wants to do—
and will do when he feels threatened enough to act.
But let’s not be fooled. Talk costs.
A woman or girl, women and girls, walking,
as well as those who defy gender norms,
on the street, cat-called names that presume a relationship,
pay dearly in the insecurity that stalks and ridicules
claims of a so-called free society.
Or maybe it is the leers in classrooms by professors
or cops on beats, subtle but clear, poking innuendo
by salesmen, or dissing of bodies by the powerful.
Is it any wonder that women have to try harder
to speak up in boardrooms and science labs,
other male domains, risking drawing ire and attention,
violation of their spirits, minds, and bodies?
Nor is it only women who pay, though they pay the most.
Boys and young men have to be brave to push against
the Master Bullies and bullies-in-training in their school
and neighborhood and town,
to resist the National Bullies and he who would be
Bully in Chief; and we who are men, especially white men, grown in this
angry, fearful, putrid soil, must stand too,
in solemn, fierce resistance, not only for our sisters,
mothers, daughters, female and trans friends and neighbors
here and across the globe, but also to be sure
sons, brothers, nephews, male friends and neighbors
here and across the globe learn to live in soulful,
beautiful human wholeness that does not depend
on domination, violating others to feel safe.
I do not like bullies.
But I no longer cower in fear. I will stand
and I will resist. If you stand with me,
and I with you,
we can stop them.
We and others can, and will, be free.
We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!
What was (or is) your experience will bullying and harassment? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.
Join Us Third Thursdays!
Please join us THURSDAY, October 20th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online: Session 3, “The Roots of Sex-Negativity in Western Christianity: Part 3” from 3-4:00 EST. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components. If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.
Workshop description: In this session, Robin and Malachi continue to lay out some historical context of sex within Western Christianity, exploring how a faith whose origin rests on incarnation has become known for a deep anti-body and anti-sex bias. In this session, we will move beyond early church fathers and what might be called the social construction of early Christianity to later medieval and Reformation eras, and perhaps into more modern times. There will be time for questions and discussion as well.
As Metropolitan Community Church strives to move forward and maintain relevance with shifting social mores, the MCC Office of Formation and Leadership Development offers Sex, Bodies, Spirit online on the third Thursday of every month at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. This workshop is approved as a continuing education course for clergy (.5 credit for each session) and focuses on equipping and empowering leaders to bring these conversations to their communities. Although the primary focus is on clergy participation, everyone is welcome to attend.