We Are the Mainstream

“There is broad public support for laws protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations and housing.”

Just a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how data from the General Social Survey, going back to the 1970s, showed that Americans have grown out of their fear and loathing of the LGBTIQ+ community and that the remaining residue of hating is coming from a minority made up mostly of Fundamentalist Christians.
Today, the Public Religion Research Institute released a report (http://www.prri.org/research/lgbt-transgender-bathroom-discrimination-religious-liberty/ ) that backs my argument. The headline – “Majority of Americans Oppose Transgender Bathroom Restrictions” – shouldn’t deter anyone from reading the report: it’s about much much more than potty paranoia. Here are some of the real takeaways:

• “There is broad public support for laws protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations and housing. Seven in ten (70%) Americans favor laws that would provide these protections to LGBT people, compared to roughly one-quarter (26%) who oppose such laws. … Majorities of all major religious groups favor nondiscrimination laws for LGBT people. … Even among white evangelical Protestants — the religious group that most strongly opposes same-sex marriage — a majority (56%) support laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination.”

• “Nearly two-thirds (65%) of Americans agree that the bullying of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender teens is a major problem in our schools.”

• “More than six in ten Americans say gay and lesbian people (61%) and transgender people (64%) face a lot of discrimination in the U.S. today. … White evangelical Protestants stand out as the only [religious] group in which less than a majority (46%) believe gay and lesbian people face a lot of discrimination today.”

• “Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Americans oppose allowing small business owners in their state to refuse to provide products or services to gay or lesbian people if doing so violates their religious beliefs. … White evangelical Protestants (56%) stand out as the only major religious group that favors allowing small business owners to refuse goods or services to gay and lesbian people on religious grounds.”

• “After plateauing in 2015, support for same-sex marriage has accelerated through 2016 and into early 2017. Today, more than six in ten (63%) favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally. As recently as 2013, only slightly more than half (52%) the public backed same-sex marriage nationally. … Same-sex marriage now garners majority support among most religious groups. Roughly two-thirds of white mainline Protestants (66%) and Catholics (68%), and more than eight in ten (84%) religiously unaffiliated Americans and members of non-Christian religious traditions (86%) favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally. In stark contrast, only about one-third (34%) of white evangelical Protestants and roughly half (47%) of black Protestants support same-sex marriage.”

• “A majority (53%) of Americans oppose laws that would require transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond to their sex at birth rather than their current gender identity. Nearly four in ten (39%) favor such laws. Notably, nearly one in ten (8%) Americans report no opinion on this issue.”

There’s much more in the report, but I just wanted to highlight these points concerning the real public attitude toward gender identity and sexual orientation amid so many moves in the opposite direction. Those who want to impose their rigid prejudices on the rest of us cannot claim that they do so to serve the public good.

Regina Noctis

O farewell sunshine bright,
Welcome Queen of the Night.

Memory like the glow
of a day long ago
of a child’s lonely play
on a long summer day
Solitary she sings
of impossible things
as she walks through the meadow
all alone with her shadowsummer01
The dark forest is near
It fills her heart with fear
Is there someone in there,
does she feel their eyes stare,
does she hear whisperings
of invisible things?

The shadows grow longer
The breezes blow stronger
The whispers sound clear now
She feels no more fear now
The twilight advancing
makes a girl feel like dancing
The darkening sky
unveils stars shining high
O farewell sunshine bright,
Welcome Queen of the Night.

luna01From the shadows they rise
Moonlight shines in their eyes
Pretty creatures of night
coming out to delight
in each other’s fair faces
and ecstatic embraces
welcoming all who love
the bright queen up above
Now they dance, how they dance,
falling into a trance
where this night lasts forever
and morning will never
put an end to the joys
of untamed girls and boys.hughes_fairies

But the circling moon
knows the sun will rise soon
and the harsh light of day
will chase love far away
And then memory’s glow
will be all we will know
of the long ago night
we danced in the moonlight.


No True Christian

This young woman’s parents (and their church) had been preaching to her that God will send all LGBTIQ people to hell, quoting all the usual Bible verses condemning these things.

Quite a few years ago, a transgender teen spoke up at a support group meeting I attended about her problems at home. She was very upset, understandably so. Her parents were part of that minority of Americans I wrote about last time who believe the Bible is “is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.” (Based on the wording of a question (code BIBLE) in the General Social Survey (GSS), a massive long-term, large-scale survey conducted regularly since 1972. (Data available online at http://sda.berkeley.edu/sdaweb/analysis/?dataset=gss14).

This young woman’s parents (and their church) had been preaching to her that God will send all LGBTIQ people to hell, quoting all the usual Bible verses condemning these things. The one that seemed to damn her most definitively for her gender identity was Deuteronomy 22:5: “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.”

The reason she found it so disturbing, she explained, was that she really wanted to be a good Christian, but she was being told that to be a good Christian, she must believe the Bible is literally true, and if the Bible really is literally true, then God must condemn her for wanting to express her deepest feelings about herself.

I found it all pretty upsetting and disturbing, too, but for different reasons. At the time, I had already been studying religion and the history of religion for several years, and I knew that many of the claims that Christian Fundamentalists make about their teachings are simply untrue. And eventually, I told her so.

“You don’t have to believe that,” I said. “Most Christians don’t believe you have to interpret everything in the Bible literally. Many of the greatest thinkers of the early church didn’t believe that – they even taught that taking the Bible literally was just wrong in a lot of cases, and you have to look for the higher, spiritual meaning behind the surface meaning.”

All of which is quite true.

For starters, turning again to the GSS, among respondents to a question about what religion they belong to (code RELIG), only about two out of five people who identify themselves as Christians give the TWOG response (The Word of God) to the BIBLE question I wrote about last time. In other words, TWOGs are a minority not just among Americans but also among American Christians. The largest number, 50 percent, are what I call INSPs (“The Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally, word for word”) and about 10 percent even give the least Fundamentalist response (“The Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by men.”)

Of course, TWOGs/Fundamentalists regularly claim that if you don’t agree with them on this point, you’re not a “real” or a “good” Christian. Besides being an example of the classic “No True Scotsman” fallacy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman ), if this claim were true, it would mean that many eminent church fathers, including Clement of Alexandria, Saint Jerome and even Saint Augustine (beloved by Fundamentalists for formulating the doctrine of original sin) were not “real Christians.”

The real reason Fundamentalists preach Biblical literalism (though they don’t actually practice it consistently) is, I believe, pure authoritarianism and dates to the Reformation: rejecting the authority of the Roman Catholic church and especially the Pope, the Protestants embraced the Bible as the only sure authority for religious belief and practice – but authoritative only if interpreted according to their own teachings.

There are numerous problems with the whole Fundamentalist approach, but one of the most glaring is the fact that the effort to declare the Bible an infallible authority about everything in the universe boils down to another classic logical fallacy, the argument from authority (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_authority ).

What that boils down to is that it doesn’t matter who makes a statement, you still have to judge whether the statement’s content is true, i.e., corresponds with reality. Alas, in many, many cases, the Bible’s statements do not. Threatening people with eternal damnation for not believing things that don’t make sense isn’t “good Christianity,” it’s just bullying.

Non-Binary Binary

Instead of the biologically or anatomically determined model of gender that our society seems to prefer these days, I’d like to suggest something different, something non-binary though still, in a way, binary.

I’ve been working off and on for a long time with the I Ching, the ancient Chinese book of divination. It’s based on the concepts of yin and yang, which are more or less familiar to a lot of people today. Indeed, there are probably millions of people in America today who have what they think of as yin-yang tattoos, wear yin-yang jewelry and post yin-yang images to Facebook.

The familiar symbol of two circling fishlike energies, one black and the other white, is actually called the t’ai chi, which means something like “supreme ultimate.” (The slow-motion martial art that people call tai chi is actually “t’ai chi chuan,” or “supreme ultimate boxing”.) What it symbolizes is an interaction of forces that gives rise to all the phenomena of the world around us.

Those two forces are associated with all the varied dualisms or dichotomies that we humans are prone to see in nature, in society and in ourselves. Yin, “the receptive,” is associated with things dark, earthy, inward-tending, nurturing, passive. Yang, “the creative,” is assocciated with light, the sky, outwardness, activity and aggression. Culturally, yin characteristics have been associated with the feminine and yang characteristics with the masculine, but the association isn’t essential – within ancient Chinese philosophy the daughters and sons of the highest principles represent combinations of yin and yang; only the mother and father are purely one or the other.

Using the I Ching for divination involves casting coins or sticks to obtain combinations of six “lines,” each of which is either yin or yang, with the resulting “hexagram” defining a situation or moment that can then be interpreted according to the relative preponderance of yin or yang and their positions in the structure of the moment.

The reason I think this might be of interest in discussions of gender is because out of the 64 possible combinations of yin and yang in the I Ching, only two are pure yin or pure yang. That’s only about 3 percent. Pure yin amounts to just 1.5 percent, and pure yang likewise.

So if we were to look at the I Ching as a model for gender, we would expect to find only about 3 percent of the population expressing either pure masculinity or pure feminity, and the remaining 97 percent expressing some combination of yin and yang, including eight that are equally yin and yang.

None of these combinations is fixed or static; on the contrary, each easily becomes another with the change of even one line. That’s why the book is called I Ching, which means Book of Changes.

So I think it’s worth looking at this very ancient and very deep text for possible applications to the study of gender identity and to our personal individual circumstances. I think all of us have experienced fluctuations in how we feel about our gender, and the I Ching could provide us with some help in articulating what we feel, as well as a model of how duality or multiplicity or complexity can finally be the expression of ultimate oneness.

The Path Not Chosen

“Despite my strenuous efforts to be as boyish as the next boy, my peers never accepted me as fully masculine.”

It appears that certain elements of today’s society – I’m referring, of course, to Trump and his allies – think they can substitute an imaginary reality for the real one as a way of cramming their dehumanizing, anti-democracy agenda down the throats of Americans. I think this is wrong in every sense of the word, and also debasing and destructive to our whole culture.

At its core, this strategy aims to make opposition to Trump’s policies impossible by denying the existence of any facts that would demonstrate the malignancy of those policies, and asserting the existence of “alternative facts” that allegedly demonstrate their virtue and even necessity. So we see things like Trump ordering government workers to “disappear” data on climate change, presumably to replace the real, scientific data with the kind of phony, biased research that right-wing and oil company-funded outfits like the Heritage Foundation have been churning out for years.

Of particular concern to me right now is the circulation of falsehoods about the nature of sexual orientation and gender identity (and gender in general) by people who just want to discredit the advances in understanding of these matters that have been achieved in recent decades. Opponents of same-sex marriage and LGBTQI equality simply want to silence us so they can turn the clock back and force us back into the closet and the shadows, or prison.

Just in the last few days, for example, it seems that a ridiculous lie has been spewed across the internet to the effect that transgenderism is a sort of “fad” that was “made up” by social media site Tumblr. Clearly, what this breathtakingly stupid claim is meant to achieve is the delegitimization of all of the abundant evidence showing that transgenderism or non-binary gender is, in fact, a reality, and is not something people adopt voluntarily the way they might decide to get a tattoo. (Some people, of course, have claimed for years that homosexuality is a matter of choice, despite the blindingly obvious idiocy of the claim.)

I’m well into my seventh decade and can tell you from personal observation that transgenderism or non-binary gender is a “real thing” and has been around a lot longer than Tumblr, other social media, and the internet as a whole. As a term describing a certain state of being, it may be relatively new, but the state of being it describes has been around for probably as long as human beings have existed.

I can only vouch personally for the time from the late 1950s to the present. It was back then, when I was just 5 or 6 years old, that I began to realize that though I was told I was a boy, I had a definite preference or inclination toward things considered “feminine” and a definite disinclination toward things “masculine.”

My inclination was strongly discouraged by my parents whenever I tried to exhibit it in any outward way, and my father in particular pushed me hard to act more like boys were supposed to act, and take an interest in the things boys were supposed to like. By “pushed hard,” I mean that he (and my mother, too) used every means at their disposal to encourage, persuade, punish, shame, and even beat me into conforming with their ideas (and society’s) about what a boy my age should be.

But here’s the thing that makes me convinced that gender identity is not the either/or matter, determined by birth anatomy, that so many people think it is: With all the incentives I was given to conform, I naturally tried very hard to meet my parents’ (and society’s) expectations in this regard. But despite my strenuous efforts to be as boyish as the next boy, my peers never accepted me as fully masculine.

Somehow they knew that there was something “other” going on with me, and throughout my youth, from grade school to high school, I was more or less continuously taunted, insulted, harrassed, abused and even assaulted. Starting with “You walk like a girl, you run like a girl, you throw like a girl, you fight like a girl, you cry like a girl” – because, yes, that kind of thing did sometimes drive me to tears. And later on: sissy, queer, homo, faggot, and all the other terms that creative haters have come up with over the years.

What this proved to me, in sum, is that my gender identity is not something that I initiated in any way or have any control over. It is an objective reality that I have to live with in the same way as the color of my eyes or the size of my feet (or, indeed, the shape of the moon). I might be able to disguise these things for a time, but I can’t make them go away. And for someone to assault me or deprive me of my rights because of my gender identity makes exactly as much sense as insulting or attacking me about the size of my feet.

It took me a long time to accept the reality of it. For years, I oscillated between being strongly driven to live and express what I was feeling and being just as strongly driven to deny and reject it (i.e., I experienced dysphoria, as it’s called now). But I understand now that it’s real, and it’s really part of me, and to eradicate it would be as much an act of self-mutilation as cutting off my feet, and just as pointless. So to any transphobes out there who still want to insult me, then insult away, and be damned. You won’t change me.

Philosophical Realism

“The fact that the moon exists and is spherical is independent of anything anyone happens to say or think about the matter.”

“There are two general aspects to realism, illustrated by looking at realism about the everyday world of macroscopic objects and their properties. First, there is a claim about existence. Tables, rocks, the moon, and so on, all exist, as do the following facts: the table’s being square, the rock’s being made of granite, and the moon’s being spherical and yellow. The second aspect of realism about the everyday world of macroscopic objects and their properties concerns independence. The fact that the moon exists and is spherical is independent of anything anyone happens to say or think about the matter. Likewise, although there is a clear sense in which the table’s being square is dependent on us (it was designed and constructed by human beings after all), this is not the type of dependence that the realist wishes to deny. The realist wishes to claim that apart from the mundane sort of empirical dependence of objects and their properties familiar to us from everyday life, there is no further (philosophically interesting) sense in which everyday objects and their properties can be said to be dependent on anyone’s linguistic practices, conceptual schemes, or whatever.”

Miller, Alexander, “Realism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2016/entries/realism/&gt;.