Monday, January 18, 2010

Today I Bear Witness

"May you live in interesting times" is as much as a Chinese curse as it is a blessing. Today on Martin Luther King's birthday I think about my own life and my own experiences as a gay man living in a time of rapid social change. That this battle for the full participation of African-Americans in the American experience continues as well for all minorities in their quest for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Today, I feel its important to bear witness to what gay men have endured in their own battles for equality. As reflect back on my own youth, my own "history", I can see how many of my experiences are vastly different from what young people may live today. Now, I can look back and see the systematic oppression perpetuated on gay people, gay men in particular. I can understand how hate crimes work, what bullying really is about and how legal codes were put in place to systematically intimidate and extract a price. Most importantly I can look back at age 42 and remember the death toll of the AIDS epidemic and the governmental apathy that lasted until the death toll reached of 50,000 men before the leader of ALL American's could even say the word AIDS.

I remember clearly in 9th grade at the "gay boys" who were systematically hazed and tortured. I saw a kid stuffed into his locker. Another beaten up every day after school. I don't know if these guys were gay or not, but they were different and it was made clear that they didn't meet the standard of "masculine". Nobody came to their defense, not the administrators, not the teachers, nobody. Slowly but surely they disappeared into the shadows of school life: sneaking out during lunch breaks. Working the school schedules so they could leave school early or wait till Senior year to take gym with the Freshmen, so they could avoid both physical and psychological torture. Or they just dropped out altogether. Today I want to bear witness to the lost potential of these boys. To the ones who dropped out or committed suicide. I want to bear witness to the years of pain they endured. This is part of my civil rights struggle.

When I was 20 I was arrested for "battery on a police officer" when I grabbed the ass of a undercover police officer wearing a red Speedo at a gay beach. He was muscular and male model handsome. He flirted with me. He invited me back to his place. We turned to leave and when we got to his car he arrested me and put me in a van with 20 other unfortunate individuals. Over the course of the day 50 men were arrested on various trumped up charges from battery to lewd activity. In each case the police officers entrapped the beach goers. We were offered a deal: $1000 fine or they would call the newspaper and print our names and the charges. For eight hours work, the police department made $49,000. I was the only one who fought the charges. Today I want to bear witness to unjust treatment of gay men by the authorities. This is part of my civil rights struggle.

Few outside the gay community care to remember the AIDS epidemic. Sadly, 300,000+ gay Americans perished in that epidemic. For men my age, the medical breakthroughs ended the previous decade of deaths. To this day, gay men in their late 40's and 50's are a very rare breed indeed. Today I want to bear witness to these men who died pointlessly because the larger society felt they were not worthy of one penny of additional funds for research and care. This is part of my civil rights struggle.

Of course its important to understand that much has improved in my lifetime. I just want to bear witness that the oppression was real. That many of my gay brothers never reached their potential for happiness and success because of it. That we as gay men, should never forget that we too have fought, sacrificed and died in the battle not just for equality, but for our very lives. That is part of my civil rights struggle.

Monday, January 11, 2010

I have fun there.

Recently I was having lunch with my colleagues and the topic of religion came up. Almost all of them had negative comments about organized religion. While I tried to explain my attachment to my church, which I love deeply, I was at a loss to defend my need for it. I couldn't express how I had found my church home, and that most of my interactions there brought me deep satisfaction. The best I could do was say "I have fun there."

Yes, I do have fun there. Now "fun" might be a bit trite for something as portentous as faith. Some might say you get "joy" or "deep satisfaction" or "peace" from church. I have fun.

Church fun? My church is about fun because for me there are some prerequisites for fun:
1. Safety, you can't feel fun if you don't feel safe. My church lets me be me, and trust me, that is a LOT of acceptance. My inappropriateness, my diarrhea of the mouth. My unfiltered comments, tight clothes and six inch heels. (sometimes I can't get home to change after the clubs - just kidding)

2. In the moment; you really have to be present to have fun. Yeah church is about being present: mentally and spiritually. Its working both your intellectual abilities and your spiritual self. You have permission not just think, but feel.

3. Connection, to have fun you're really connecting on a human level. You can have fun alone, but its like that tree in the woods, if there's no one to hear it, did it really make a a sound?

So yeah its fun. I enjoy the beautiful sermons while at the same time checking out my pastor's heels.....(there is a gay contingent at church that won't let her wear cheap ones). Losing control of the Sunday school with thirteen year old boys throwing Bibles, Bibles! at each other. Watching that stranger walk in on one Sunday and having a laugh with them, as a friend, a year later. Oh yeah, and the gossip, there's nothing so rich and satisfying as church gossip.

So organized religion, church, can be a good time. It can be fun. And that ain't a bad thing at all.

I am a member of Coral Gables Congregational Church.

Coral Gables Congregational Church

3010 De Soto Boulevard
Coral Gables, FL 33134-6317
(305) 448-7421