Uncivil Unions: June 2007: Archives

June 15, 2007

Icebergs And Identities: What Lies Beneath? genre: Hip-Gnosis & Nouveau Thoughts & Six Degrees of Speculation & Uncivil Unions

What Lies Beneath

We often hear the expression, "That's just the tip of the iceberg". The good news is that our familiarity with that terminology has probably prevented a few maritime collisions. The bad news is that the principal holds true for numerous other life situations...situations that go unnoticed or ignored because we really don't want to understand the depth and breadth of the issues we encounter and exactly what they might tell us about our choices, our beliefs, and our identities.

Let me ease into the topic with a story my dad has told for a number of years. My dad and my uncle were business partners for all of their working lives. At different points along the way, they entered into partnerships with other individuals. This particular story is about one of those partners...I'll call him John.

John was married when the partnership began but there were lingering questions about John's propensity to have outside interests. Eventually, John and his wife divorced and over the next few years he dated a number of different women...enough to catch my dad's attention. My dad, my uncle, and John spent a lot of time together discussing the business...which as we all know allows one an opportunity to see how people behave...to learn about their idiosyncrasies.

As the three of them were out and about, my dad and my uncle were always comfortable noticing and pointing out an attractive woman. As my dad says, "What's wrong with acknowledging what you see and what you think?" In other words, a pretty woman is a pretty woman...and noticing that reality is normal. John, on the other hand, never noticed or acknowledged an attractive woman. It was as if they didn't exist...never saw them, never gonna see them.

So I recall many nights when my dad would joke about the fact that John seemed to always have a new woman sitting next to him in his car...and my dad would ask, "If he never sees or acknowledges an attractive woman, how is that he always has a new girlfriend?" Of course he always answered his own rhetorical question...John had learned to lead two lives...the one he wanted everyone to see and the one he actually preferred...and he lived those two lives while he was married and while he wasn't. Somewhere in John's identity, he needed others to see him as a good family man...even if he couldn't actually live that life.

In the end, my dad's conclusion was that it is unhealthy to deny human nature...people are sexual beings that notice what they find attractive. If you accept that reality and make your choices mindful of that aspect of your human nature, you'll be able to make good choices...because you will better understand yourself. If you deny that reality, you will always be in the throes of a deceitful internal battle and your choices will lack clarity and your actions will betray the outward persona you present. Thus, you end up fooling yourself...perhaps the worst transgression one can commit.

I was reminded of icebergs and John's story while surfing the internet this morning. I came across an article discussing an organization called XXXChurch.com, a religious based group intended to help Christian men come to grips with their obsession with pornography.

Brian McGinness had an insatiable appetite for porn. Day after day, for more than eight years, he spent countless hours surfing the Web for it, usually on a computer that he used after business hours at his old job.

Because of his compulsion to view pornography, McGinness spent more time away from home, so he lied to his wife about having to work overtime in the evenings. He felt guilty about what he was doing, believing that it was morally wrong and knowing that it was keeping him from his spouse and their two young children. But he also felt unable to control himself.

All that started to change one Saturday morning in December after he attended a breakfast of "Porn and Pancakes" organized by XXXChurch.com, an online ministry created to get Christians talking about their X-rated addictions.

The December event attracted more than 500 men to Ada Bible Church, which McGinness attends. They ate pancakes and sausage while discussing how pornography had harmed their lives, including their relationships with God and their families.

Craig Gross, a pastor with XXXChurch.com, refers to the widespread use of porn as "the elephant in the pew" that many churches ignored for years because they didn't know how to deal with it.

First, I commend Gross and his organization for having the ability and the integrity to expose and address the issue. At the same time, I'm not surprised that the problem exists. One need only recall the many high profile ministers that have fallen from grace as a result of sexual indiscretions...the type of indiscretions that were often the subject of their sermons and that I would suggest result from this concept of dual identity.

Here's the equation. Religious beliefs often focus on sin and sex...virtually portraying sex as sin and creating an environment whereby one's proximity to god is premised on one's denial of sexual reality. Good men are family oriented, have sexual desires for only one woman...desires that are believed to exist in order to create Christian families...which are to become testaments to the established doctrine. Sex is packaged into a tidy formula and acting outside that formula is viewed as a betrayal of one's faith...a formula I believe to be both unrealistic and unhealthy.

Freud described the concept of identity as a tube of toothpaste. If one allows one's identity to flow from the tube naturally by removing the cap, then the identity functions as it should. If one puts a cap on the tube and applies pressure, toothpaste will find weak points from which to escape...toothpaste being the dark corners of our unhealthy and unexplored identity that become pathology (bad behavior). I think the model explains the issue of porn addiction or obsession in these Christian men. Doctrine becomes the cap that places an inordinate amount of pressure on the capped identity...and in due time it escapes in unhealthy ways.

Let me be clear. I am not suggesting that pornography is sinful or evil (Isn't it actually just visual images of our sexuality?). The state of mind one brings to the viewing of pornography is the issue. We watch people act out other elements of human nature in movies and on television all the time and we're still able to use good judgment about our behaviors. Watching pornography needn't be any different so long as one hasn't given it far more power than it actually possesses.

I think it’s akin to the way alcohol consumption is addressed in the United States as opposed to Europe. In our Italian family, having a glass of wine wasn't just reserved for those over the age of 21...we were allowed to drink wine as children (in moderation) and it never became an obsession brought about by an archaic notion of denial.

We don't give children the keys to the car the minute they turn 16...we spend time teaching them how to drive and giving them an opportunity to gain some experience. Does it make sense to forbid a child to taste alcohol before they turn 21 and then turn them loose to drink all they can consume? Is sex any different? Does it make sense to tell children not to partake of this great thing...until we tell you its time...and then Katie bar the door?

I'm not suggesting parents ought to encourage their children to have sex...but I am suggesting that the model of denial is nothing more than the predecessor of an unhealthy perspective that is likely to haunt the individual well into adulthood if not indefinitely. Connecting sex with loving relationships ought to be a parent's focus because it will provide the proper motivation and avoid instilling a cookie jar binge mentality. We should rethink the current construct and I would suggest that an unhealthy obsession with pornography supports that argument.

"We're not going to shut down the porn industry," Gross said. "So, why even try? It's a $13 billion-dollar-a-year industry in the United States.

"The right-wingers say, 'Let's boycott this, let's all stop doing this.' Well, if the Christians would just stop consuming it, that would put a dent in it. To me, they (in the porn industry) have a right to do what they do."

McGinness, who has been married for more than 10 years and has children ages 8 and 3, said he is not ashamed of talking publicly about his former problem because he hopes to help others by doing so.

"I want other people out there to know there is a way to get away from this."

Look, sexuality is not extinguishable...but having healthy thoughts about sexuality is achievable. I agree with McGinness that banning porn isn't the answer. Unfortunately, the goal of XXXChurch is to extinguish the interest in pornography amongst Christians by reasserting the importance of religious doctrine and family values. I don't begrudge his efforts though I doubt it provides a lasting solution. It may, in the short term, diminish the obsession...but until the underlying realities of sexuality are addressed in a proactive and positive manner without the attachment of sin and judgment, there will no doubt be more Ted Haggard’s and more money spent on pornography.

An iceberg is not only what is visible, but it is also what exists beneath the surface. Life is no different. We can elect to only address that which is visible and on the surface or we can accept and embrace that which exists just beyond our view. When we choose to ignore the whole of our human identity, we run the risk of being torn apart by that which lurks below. We need not steer clear of who we are...the whole of our essence must be acknowledged and accepted.

If we turn and run, then the weight of what lies beneath will become an albatross around our necks and pull what little remains of our authenticity and awareness into the dark abyss of self-deceit. If we embrace our totality, it will be the ballast that allows us to endure the rough waters that lie ahead...but most importantly, it will be the anchor that firmly fastens us to the whole of our wondrous human identity.

Image courtesy of www.shiftingbaselines.org

Daniel DiRito | June 15, 2007 | 9:52 AM | link | Comments (2)
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June 13, 2007

Does Where You Go Depend On Where You've Been? genre: Gaylingual & Six Degrees of Speculation & Uncivil Unions

The Maze

I was gay when being a homo was a mental illness…when queer sex was illegal…when you didn’t discuss being a faggot with your doctor…when sodomites were chased down and thrown out of the military…when AIDS was god’s punishment for being a fairy. I was gay before being gay was remotely fashionable. Nonetheless, I was always just me.

Perhaps the most shocking part…I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to returning to those days if given the opportunity. Not because I enjoyed being a mentally ill criminal who was likely to die well before my time…not because it was easy to hide my identity and live in secret…not because I might find myself the victim of hatred and violence.

No, I would return to those days to remind me why I must still fight today…why it isn’t enough to no longer be a mentally ill criminal destined to die young…why it isn’t enough to be allowed to serve in the military if I just keep quiet and conceal my lifestyle…why it isn’t enough to be an acquaintance that hip heterosexuals get to namedrop at a dinner party like a new pair of Pravda shoes…why I don’t want to abandon my gay culture in order to have a place at the insiders table…why I don’t want to replicate the marriage model that is held over my head as if it were the Holy Grail.

I don’t accept that my destiny is to assimilate myself into heterosexual culture such that I no longer create discomfort for those who demand homogeneity over homosexuality. I don’t want the music I hear in gay clubs to be the same music I hear everywhere else…I don’t want my sense of fashion to be identical to that of my straight counterparts…I don’t want heterosexuals to understand everything I say…I want gay slang to remain gay slang. I don’t want to have a party that is so nondescript that the neighbors can’t tell that a gay man lives on the same block.

Let me be clear. I don’t say this to reject heterosexual culture or to assert the superiority of gay culture…I appreciate and honor the validity of all cultures. I say it to remind myself and my gay brethren that acceptance need not come with capitulation…the world is large enough for every cultures to exist…and the world ought to be educated and enlightened such that acceptance equates with the ability…no, the desire and the demand to embrace and celebrate them all.

If society is akin to the palette of an artist, then it is essential that all the colors remain…lest we become a canvas absent contrast…imbued with the blandness born of banality. America may be the proverbial melting pot but our greatness results from the soup we serve from that pot…a complex soup that maintains an array of distinct flavors…all perfectly blended such that each maintains its identity and each is enhanced by the presence of the others…not overwhelmed or masked such that the independent flavors are indistinguishable.

The need for acceptance is no stranger to trepidation. How one responds to that anxiety may define the degree to which the achieved acceptance is authentic or, conversely, it may define the distance one has traveled from one’s authenticity in order to obtain enough acceptance to mitigate the trepidation. The distance between the former and the latter may well describe a journey of betrayal that is predicated upon the need to extinguish discomfort at the expense of preserving identity.

That which is authentic need never become inauthentic to achieve acceptance. Any society that expects as much becomes a faceless, colorless canvas which consumes itself while feeding upon its fears. The same is true of any subset of that society which would accede to those expectations.

The issue of gay marriage is an excellent case in point. Marriage has become the gauntlet upon which the war for acceptance of homosexuality and the associated authenticity of our existence and our relationships is being waged. I reject that premise. So long as we allow marriage to define the legitimacy of our relationships, we enable the opposition to defile us.

Are we entitled to the rights afforded by marriage? Absolutely. Should we wage the battle for gay acceptance on that platform? I don’t think so. Let me explain. At the core of a large share of the opposition to gay marriage is an inherent bias and prejudice against homosexuality. The message sent by those opposed to gay marriage is that we refuse to give your lifestyle the legitimacy afforded by such state sponsored recognition…your relationships are lesser than ours and we intend to maintain the institutional constructs to demonstrate as much.

Simultaneously, the dialogue that opposes gay marriage is couched in the argument that it would represent an affront to family and longstanding societal and religious traditions. By design, this is intended to steer voter debate around and beyond the realm of civil rights and the basic notion of equality. It also leaves gays on the outside asking to be let in…and nothing communicates the perception that I’m not as good as you as demanding another admit, acknowledge, and accept that I am.

An example is warranted. If you’ve ever watched a group of children playing, you’ve seen the situation where a couple children form an alliance that excludes another child or group of children…and they often flaunt a possession or a privilege…telling the outsiders they have the newest Game Boy or their parents take them to the country club on the weekends. The goal is to establish a distinction of inequity whereby those on the outside long to be included.

Fortunately, circumstances can change and the excluded can become a sought after commodity…maybe it results from a discussion about animals in a science class whereby it is exposed that one of the outsiders lives on a farm with horses…and the teacher elects to take the class on a field trip to the farm. That can lead to realignments such that some children choose to befriend the child with horses in the hopes of being invited to go riding after school. You get the picture.

Coming back to gay culture and the issue of gay marriage…beginning in the early nineties, society became fascinated with all things gay…gay music, gay fashion, gay theater, gay television characters, and many of those elements were mainstreamed…or If I may gently suggest…they were co-opted by society at large.

Conventional thought argues that familiarity breeds contempt...but on the contrary, with regards to being gay, I would contend that familiarity brought a degree of tacit acceptance on the part of society which was followed by complacency on the part of the gay community. In the wake of our perceived assimilation, we ran for the cover of conventionality…embracing many of the means and measures of conformity…which included the traditional model of marriage.

Sometimes, in order to understand one’s own progression (the place at which one has arrived)…whether that be individually or collectively as a group…one must consult the perceptions of those with whom we now consort. During the most recent airing of This Week with George Stephanopoulos, I was struck by a comment made by George Will as the panel was discussing the issue of gays in the military. Mr. Will remarked, “The culture is moving anyway…I have a daughter…26…in her cohort…being gay is just like being left handed…it’s just boring".

In terms of acceptance, perhaps that is a good thing which will ultimately, by default, manifest itself in the full granting of recognitions…including gay marriage. Call me a skeptic, but while many heterosexuals worry that including gays will diminish the integrity of marriage, I worry that our acceptance of marriage as the means and the measure by which we define our relationships may in fact diminish the fundamental premise of those relationships.

Perhaps loving someone in spite of society’s validation of that love is an added demonstration of love…a love that must be found and fostered absent the endorsements and benefits that society grants when recognizing an announcement of marriage. Frankly, I’m not convinced that marriage, in its current iteration, requires much more consideration than we bring to bear on the purchase of a new automobile. It seems to me that marriage has become another commodity in this zero-sum equation that typifies our consumption crazed society.

As such, when gays bestow idyllic attributes upon the acquisition of marriage rights, do we not endorse a failing system and in the process begin to minimize the relationships we chose to form in spite of their rejection by society? I, for one, reject the notion that society, in its current form, represents the best we can do and I believe that the state of marriage no doubt supports my premise. Gays should not accept the role of villain with regard to the state of marriage and they should not seek its sanction if it simply becomes a vehicle for their ongoing victimization.

If acceptance and the affording of full participation in society were to require we give up portions of our cultural identity...or if we were to succumb to the premise that it does in order to best achieve our objectives…then I would opt to remain detached but whole. Unfortunately, I’m worried our history and our heritage may be slipping into the abyss…exacerbated by the loss of a generation to HIV….a generation that facilitated so much of the progress we’ve made by standing strong and living large.

At the same time, I’m inclined to reject the current state of America’s morality…a morality that is worn as an external badge upon hollow human holograms of holiness. Our proximity to hallowed temples on Sunday is not a measure of our piety any more than another’s absence is a measure of their dedication to the devil. Morality cannot and should not be reduced to a sexual preference scorecard, a campaign slogan, or policies that deny or impose.

The state of grace must be our goal. It holds the power to promote change and to heal hearts. Graciousness is a conscious choice that is elected when innocence has been lost…an innocence that has long since evaporated but remains forever valued and painstakingly imitated. It is not an emblem we acquire…it does not flow to the winner of an election…it is an endeavor of example whereby words are not sufficient…it must be lived.

Our gay authenticity is no different and it mustn’t be wagered or mortgaged for any imagined or perceived prize. We must never accept that homosexuality and morality are mutually exclusive. Morality is an internal state; not a litany of state installed mandates. Morality maligned by the majority is nothing more than the manifestation of institutionalized immorality.

One’s love for humanity requires no higher being, no promise of salvation, no threat of damnation…it should be unconditional and absolute. It need not elevate nor annihilate those who are similar or dissimilar. It honors humanity simply because it is humanity. It seeks no special treatment nor does it require one to adopt any specious identity in order to find acceptance. We humans share the same origin but we also possess different identity’s…which is as it were intended. We mustn’t forget.

I love beauty queens and drag queens…I love girls who are cowboys and boys who are cowgirls…I love tin soldiers, toy soldiers, and our soldiers…I love rednecks and red lipstick…I love drama whether it’s on the big screen or just plain old big drama…I love cry babies and babies crying…I love hetero sexy and homo sexual…I love girls with big boobs and boobs that are big girls. They give us our texture, our color, and our depth.

I’m reminded of an old song that has always spoken succinctly and eloquently to these issues that I hold near and dear, “Don’t make me over, now that I’d do anything for you…Don’t make me over, now that you know how I adore you…accept me for what I am…accept me for the things that I do". May I suggest that there is no finer song to honor the sanctity of our shared humanity?

No individual…no sexual orientation…no skin color…no party…no religion…no nation…has a monopoly on goodness. We’re all at our best when we embrace the best our identity has to offer. I am not an opinion poll…I am not a debate question…I am not a threat to marriage…I am not that queer homo fairy faggot sodomite gay guy who blogs. I have always been first, foremost, and forever human. I should not need to tell you and you should not need to ask me…I have always been me. I will always be me. Wouldn’t it be grand if we Americans could find a way to embrace and celebrate the simplicity of that which connects us…our humanity?

Daniel DiRito | June 13, 2007 | 10:41 PM | link | Comments (0)
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June 4, 2007

The Rabbit Test genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation & Uncivil Unions

The Lion And The Lamb

Nope, it’s not what you think. In actuality, it’s a follow up to my prior Thought Theater posting, Getting The Giggles When The Right Eats Its Own. In that posting, I talked about the need to do more than what’s convenient and self-serving…in essence that is encompassed in the concept of authenticity. As I thought about it further, an example came to mind.

My younger sister and I share a number of the same beliefs and we often engage in lengthy conversations on the phone…both of us looking to better understand this life and to determine the direction of our own behavior in relation to a world filled with people which we often find to be inauthentic. Both of us are emotional…in the fullest sense of the Italian stereotype…though my sister still has me bested by a good margin.

While talking on the phone last week, she began telling me a story. She has a backyard garden and over the years she has often commented that the wild rabbits are adept at savaging her garden…such that she tries different methods to protect her plants from their busy bunny teeth.

Well, she continued telling me that many times she has wished ill will upon the rabbits…they made her mad and she wanted them to be gone. Life…with its infinite ability to bring insight by shining a spotlight on our thoughts, feelings, and wishes…often brings forth tests that force us to examine the validity of those thoughts, feelings, and wishes.

In the process of preparing breakfast for her two sons, she happened to look out the kitchen window into the back yard. She quickly noticed a cat carrying a furry creature which it set down in the corner next to the brick wall of her barbecue pit. I could hear the emotion in her voice…something one learns to recognize with an amazing acuity.

As she tried to finish telling her story, her voice began to break and before she could complete the following words, she was clearly crying…she said, “I’ve hated those rabbits for years and the minute I realized that the cat had a baby rabbit in its grip, I felt terrible and I wanted to save it. About that time, the boys saw the cat and they said, ‘mom, that cat killed a rabbit’...so I didn’t know what to do. I’m pretty sure the rabbit wasn’t dead but I didn’t want the boys to know that so I agreed with them…and I felt even worse. All I could think about was whether the mommy rabbit was watching as her baby was being killed by a cat…and how awful that would be."

By that time I’m fighting back tears because I know how kind and loving my sister is with her children and I understood the source of her pain…and I wanted to make it better for her just as she wanted to do with the baby rabbit.

As we both gained our composure, she went on to say that while she was fighting back her tears at the window, she remembered that our dad has often talked about the reality of nature and that death is a partner of life…whether we like that notion or not. At that point she rhetorically asked why she would let herself get upset by the situation.

I told her that it wasn’t necessarily about the rabbit. Our human emotions often lead us to empathize with misfortune…sometimes it happens while watching a movie or listening to a song…other times it’s a story of tragedy heard on the news…but that empathy is real regardless of who or what invokes it and who or what it is conferred upon. It is an acknowledgment of our human capacity for kindness and compassion…and our responsibility to use it for good in a world that is often predisposed to the infliction of heartache.

At the same time, a good heart is not a perfect heart…but in those times that it falls short…it is still inherently a good heart…and that is what ultimately makes all the difference. All too often we leap to judgments and we look for opportunities to impugn the worthiness of another’s heart…long before we’ve taken the time to look further than the moment and deeper than the instance.

This simple premise is often lost in the need to be righteous…which can lead us to abandon our authenticity in order to enhance our ego. When we subjugate goodness to the practice of judgment in an attempt to elevate our own measures over that of others, we negate the potential of our collective authenticity and we set in motion a hierarchical apportionment of our shared humanity.

When we embrace this dangerous dynamic, we turn a blind eye to the rabbits in need amongst us and we begin to succumb to our more distant predatory instincts…all the while moving further away from the unique promise of our human identity and its abundant capacity for goodness. Whether one believes in a higher being or not, it seems to me that we would be wise to understand that our heavenly existence will only be achieved when the lion lies down with the lamb.

Image courtesy of www.the-cats-meow.com

Daniel DiRito | June 4, 2007 | 6:07 PM | link | Comments (0)
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