Forget the dick pics – what’s your IQ?

•September 30, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I have this friend that does the Web thing. Y’all know what I’m talking about. That whole Black Gay Chat, Adams4Adams, I’m-gon’-send-you-a-three-word-message-and-hope- you-toot-the-booty-up thing. And just because I have nothing better to do, and because my computer is set up to display on my TV screen (dick photos are hard to ignore on a 27″ monitor), I look over his shoulder as he surfs these sites.

*shakes head* Damn, y’all, is this where we are as a community? What does it say about someone when the only pics they post are of their dick and/or ass? How about, “I’m afraid you won’t want to get to know me unless I show you the body parts you might want to sample”? With that in mind, isn’t it funny when their About Me section is a rant about how tired they are of meaningless sex and being used by people who don’t care about them? Dear ones, YOU were accomplices in your own objectification. Why get upset when somebody completes the job?

Then there’s the thug drag. This is not a holier-than-thou thing for me – I’ve tried the hardcore look too. You almost can’t be a Black man without slipping on that hypermasculine stereotype to see how it fits. But maybe curiosity is the root of the problem. Slipping the thug outfit on is easy – slipping out of it is the problem. Like Medea’s poisoned dress and Venom’s body suit, it has a tendency to weld itself to the wearer. Even if you claw free, the tiniest fragment remains a part of you, leaving potent, indelible memories of what it felt like to be the object of fear and fascination, desire and disgust, even if only briefly. A fitted with size 40 Rocawear jeans, an XXXL white tee and some Timbs is a sartorial haiku on the state of Black masculinity in America and beyond. In the photos people post to attract whomever, this style of dress becomes a guarantee, a quality control stamp; “I’m a real nigga [sic],” it says.
So I wonder – with the presentment of (presumably) desirable body parts and the process of manhood authentication by wardrobe, is there space to actually reveal oneself to another person on these sites? Back when people used to troll CollegeClub and BlackPlanet the way they do these sites, I used to try to get people to open up about themselves, to talk about more than top/bottom/vers, yourplace/myplace/theho-tel. The results were astounding – most of them were creeped out. I could gaze on the extreme closeups of their scrotums all I wanted – sidenote: MOISTURIZE the twins before the photo shoot; some of y’all’s nuts look like the damn Gobi desert – but a conversation deeper than “So wut do u get in2” was an invasion, even a violation. So I gradually learned to ignore those messages and showed no interest in the new sites when they appeared.

A few times I did get some real feedback from some guys, which led to some really hot phone/cybersex, which leads me to what I hope is a good final thought – why should an exchange so inherently impersonal end in actual physical intercourse? This is why so many of the kids are runnin around bowlegged and brokenhearted with the clap… if you’re going to provide fantasy for others and indulge in the fantasy they provide as well, why would you then make yourself available and vulnerable to them in the very real flesh? It takes a stronger psyche than most of us possess to do that and remain whole. Why not lift eroticism out of space and time completely and let it end as it began, a mindfuck?

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Re-membering: Ich lag in Todesbanden

•September 30, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The title is a reflection of a shift in my mindset when I sat down to parse this word. Memory is a reconstructive act, as if each moment detonates on expiration, leaving its several fragments to be gathered from the farthest recesses of our consciousness. It seems plausible – what else so elegantly explains the details about a person, a place, a moment that elude us when recollecting (again a word that smacks of reconstruction)? Might they not be in some particularly dark corner, waiting to be reclaimed?

This cobbling back together, imperfect and incomplete as it is, becomes a sort of mythopoesis – our memories are real, but not in the sense that they reflect our objective reality at a now distant point in time. Rather, they aid us in making sense of our existence and often explain those things about us we would be hard-pressed to account for by other means. I don’t mean to imply that these are their only functions, nor do I flatter myself that I’ve said anything that isn’t widely known. These are merely the breadcrumbs on the trail, a retracing of my steps that is primarily for me – I am, after all, writing a note on Facebook. A measure of self-indulgence is to be expected, no? I’ve been rifling through the files, re-membering crises, triumphs, loves and hates, reacquainting myself with who I think I have been. Here is a body of material that daunts the editor; it is more picaresque than epic. It hangs together only by the loosest of threads, a thicket of blind alleys, stillborn subplots and supernumeraries. Slowly, however, a coherent picture is taking shape. I acknowledge that it may not be a totally accurate one, but it functions as a psychic paperweight, to hold down a dizzying array of loose ends.

The mythic template is Ishtar (and Orpheus) in the underworld. Someone dear to me says often, “Hell doesn’t scare me – I’ve been to Hell,” or some variation thereof. He speaks of being dragged against one’s will to a place of torment and strife; the myth that I’m forming from various shards of reality has a different slant. I chose to enter the darkness in the hope that I could rescue one I loved. Orpheus could not bear the thought of Eurydice confined in that walking oblivion, and I couldn’t abandon my Beloved to the living death. Ishtar, too, chose to descend into the Underworld; at each gate She was forced to surrender something of Her majesty, Her power, Her very life-force and then afflicted with the “sixty miseries.” I can identify with the feeling of being totally stripped and sick unto death as well – the naked Goddess, ill, humiliated and imprisoned is a striking illustration of the point at which you feel you’ve given everything to no avail and are no longer yourself. It’s a moment where you find out who’ll harrow Hell for YOU and that’s always a revealing exercise.

As in every myth, there is a turning point, however. Orpheus’ song persuades Lord Hades to release Eurydice and all is well as he leaves the Land of the Dead – until he looks back as he has been forbidden to and loses her forever. The moment of doubt that unhinges the entire, delicately managed situation… been there too. Looking back is always hazardous in such settings. Unlike Orpheus, I managed to recover what I had lost, and so there the similarity ends. The avatar I choose at this moment is that of the Goddess re-emerging from desolate Irkalla’s seven gates. At each one the symbols of glory and might are restored to Her, ending with the crown on Her head. That’s where I am now – walking back into the light, a little sadder, a little wiser, but none the worse for wear.

Quia tacui or, The Strange Paradox of the Charismatic Homosexual

•September 30, 2010 • Leave a Comment

3 When I kept silent,  my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. (Psalm 32)

The first two words of the title come from the Latin Vulgate translation of this psalm. They translate to “When I kept silent”; the Hebrew word the Psalmist uses for “to keep silent” is charash, which carries several disparate meanings: to keep silent, to plow, to scratch, to turn a deaf ear and finally, to fabricate. I don’t remember what led me to this Psalm today, but it resonated with me even as I toggled back and forth between several translations of it and coverage of the Eddie Long lawsuits. The word charash kept floating back to the surface of my mind as I read about his alleged abuse of young men who reportedly loved him, revered him. It isn’t the first such story I’ve heard – a minister’s grandson gets most if not all of the church gossip in his particular circle of “the saints.” I began to wonder what creates the men who do these things. What did they endure that caused them to ultimately end up as predators rather than protectors? Charash began to tell me a story that may explain. I speak from my own experience and the knowledge of others’ experiences.

For the boy who realizes he is gay in a Charismatic environment (most Black churches fall under this umbrella to one degree or another, but I realize that the experience crosses color lines) the first lesson is to keep silent. He feels the love that truly dares not speak its name and thus many men tell stories of looking at other boys and men in their churches/families, wondering if they also felt the same desires, the same feelings, but never EVER asking. Perhaps the sermons about “speaking things into existence” and “the power of life and death residing in the tongue” play a part; in any case the gay Charismatic boy learns very quickly what not to say, even hint at about himself if he wishes to feel loved and safe in his environment.

From here it’s a short step to learning how to plow, to turn under and bury anything that might give him away. The lifted pinky, a voice just a trifle too high. The body that at puberty starts to betray him when in the company of other boys with surprise erections, palms that sweat and lips that go dry with fear and lust at the mere presence of the object of desire. He learns how to turn these reactions, these desires… really to plow his true self under and leave only the facade of complete willingness and usefulness behind. Like earth ready to be sown. And in many ways he is – Charismatic boys find the act of burying their true selves so destructive to the ego and any sense of self that exists that they are impressionable, easily led by anyone who gives them affection. Acceptance is our heroin.

But sooner or later the scratching begins, from within and without. The sting of the pastor’s words in the pulpit, of the whispers and rumors, the jokes (whether directed at them or at gay men in general) – these things threaten to uncover what he’s so carefully buried, raking at his carefully concealed secret. And as if it feels the scratching outside, the secret inside him starts a scratching of its own. A clawing towards daylight, towards freedom, an urge to rebel.

But to rebel is to be lost forever.

So the silence continues. The true identity is plowed further beneath the surface. But the scratching does not stop.

All this is done as if in a vacuum, because any plea for understanding and real acceptance goes largely ignored. Friends and relatives ignore anything about him that does not fit into their image of him. The straight, holy, GODLY him. The one who was born even before he was in the daydreams of grandparents and parents who see football games, a pretty young wife, a position of honor in the church, and at least one grand/greatgrandchild reflected in the newborn baby’s bleary eyes. They turn a deaf ear to all the subtle things that say, I can’t do this but I try for you. Release me. Love me for who I am so that I can get the hell out of this prison.

The crisis that eventually comes is terrifying. Maybe he is caught in the arms of another boy. Or a letter intended for one person falls into the wrong hands. It can be any number of things. But the person who “corrects” him thinks of him/herself as kind. I won’t tell anyone else about this, but you need to repent. Pray and be cleansed. We could never get over it if you continued down this path. The gauntlet is thrown – conform or be forsaken. Live the life we planned for you and we’ll surround you, beaming with joy. Live the one your entire being screams is truly YOUR life and you will live it without us. Faced with such a decision, the young man quickly realizes there is another way. Another, older man who has crossed this particular bridge usually teaches him; as long as it all looks good on the surface, he can conceal another “self” and even give it the desires of its heart. But the surface must be perfect, more perfect than the lives of the straights around you. It’s not enough to simply be holy; he needs to radiate ANOINTING. A walk with God so much bigger than life that no one notices what peeks from behind the glowing exterior. And so the young man fabricates with great care two “selves” – a church self and an Other self (often he cannot bring himself to say a “gay” self – he still believes that silence is golden… to do is one thing, but to give it a name…). Neither one is really him. They cannot be – they both lack the fullness that characterizes a whole person. The church self must be sexless at least, or better yet, rabidly heterosexual and macho, yet so full of the Lord’s grace that every aspect of life is spiritualized. He seems immune to earthly lust because he behaves as if one foot is already in Heaven. The Other self has no characteristics, no thoughts, no feelings, only hungers. Hungers for actions. Actions with no faces, no names, nothing to become attached to or fall in love with. He is faceless; like ancient statues of Priapus, the Other self’s primary feature is his throbbing hard-on, constantly demanding satisfaction.  He is sewn carefully into the underside of the church self, a lascivious lining, like an outlandish reversible garment.

And when the seams are satisfactorily concealed, the young man dons his coat of many colors with its dark, intense underside, and steps onto the platform with lifted hands to speak to the screaming, cheering multitude.

Pluto in Capricorn: Waking Up in A Burning House

•August 3, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The last few days I have been tending to the various threads of my life that seem determined to unravel. I’ve moved (become semi-nomadic really) and am about to try my hand at freelance writing and teaching. I fear I shall shortly be an embodiment of the starving artist. At least starvation will have a salutary effect on my figure…

The transit of Pluto through my natal fourth house in Capricorn began in January and I guess this is the energy I’ll be learning to accept on one level or another for quite some time. If that sounded like Klingon to you, bear with me and I’ll try to explain.

Despite what sun-sign newspaper astrologers and their detractors would have us believe, astrology is in reality a rather complex way of mapping past, present and future energy patterns in the cosmos and attempting to understand the ways in which these configurations of energy might manifest. Each planet is the “ruler” of a specific form of personal or transpersonal energy. The signs of the zodiac are representations of particular patterns into which any energy might fall. The houses of the zodiac (twelve of them, one for each sign) are representations of twelve major “areas” of human life that manifest the energy signified by the planets as they move through the signs. The result is a rich symbolic language for forces that are not always subject to modern science’s analyses.

With that in mind it should be a fairly easy task to parse my earlier statement and discuss the ways in which it describes an active energy in my life at the moment. Let’s begin with Pluto.

Named for the Roman God of the Underworld, Pluto is the planetary ruler of regeneration energy. This is all well and good until one remembers that what is regenerated has to first DEgenerate. Pluto destroys to build anew; whatever is weak will crumble at his touch and whatever is still vital and functioning for our Highest Good will survive. Since Pluto is one of the outer planets (or at least it used to be), the effect is transpersonal, impersonal, like natural disasters.

Capricorn represents the status quo. Its key phrase is “I establish.” Capricorn is the sign of structure and order – self-discpline, tradition, hard work are all part of this pattern.

The fourth house is called the Imum Coeli in Latin, “the bottom of the sky,” and the area of life it rules is one of the most private: the home and family. By extension it rules our upbringing and psychological foundations, our sense of security.

So in layman’s terms Pluto moving through Capricorn in my natal fourth house is like waking up to discover my house is on fire. The panic, the desperation one feels when a place with so many comforting associations (and even painful ones – on some level we become our pain but that’s another topic) and such a deep connection to our sense of self is destroyed or taken away is the manifestation of this energy. Who I am is in question right now; who I want to be even more so. Where do I feel at home, what undergirds my soul: these are all questions that Pluto expects me to answer as he spends a good sixteen years in this sign and house. Resignation seems to be the best strategy in dealing with Pluto – I am doing my best to let what isn’t fireproof go up in smoke.

The Cult of Warrior Jesus: Postmodern American Christian Jihadism

•July 29, 2009 • Leave a Comment

 

2009 fundamentalist marketing materials

2009 fundamentalist marketing materials

“I am driven with a mission from God’. God would tell me, ‘George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan’. And I did. And then God would tell me ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq’. And I did.”

– George W. Bush, 43rd president of the United States

What you see in a terrorist — that’s called the invisible enemy. There has always been an invisible enemy. What you see in Iraq, basically, is a manifestation of what’s going on in this unseen world called the spirit world. … We need to think like Jesus thinks. We are in a time and a season of war, and we need to think like that. We need to develop that instinct. We need to develop as believers the instinct that we are at war, and that war is contending for your faith. … Jesus called us to die. You’re worried about getting hurt? He’s called us to die. Listen, you know we can’t even follow him unless you are willing to give up your life. … I believe that Jesus himself operated from that position of war mode. Everyone say “war mode.” Now you say, wait a minute Ed, he’s like the good shepherd, he’s loving all the time and he’s kind all the time. Oh yes he is — but I also believe that he had a part of his thoughts that knew that he was in a war.

– Ed Kalninis, senior pastor of Wasilla Assembly of God and Sarah Palin’s former pastor

“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.”

“Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right”

– Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States

The above quotes are juxtaposed in an effort to begin articulating what promises to be a defining phenomenon in 21st century American Christianity. The distance between the Lincoln quotes and those by Bush and Kalninis is much larger than it may first appear. Lincoln seems aware of the possibility that he has failed, even if he succeeds by secular standards – the War Between the States was in full swing when these quotes were made, and it is clear that he is anxious that he do the right thing. He sees the catastrophic results of the war all around him, and even though he states elsewhere that he believes the war is God’s judgment on America for the sin of African slavery, he seems ambivalent as to whether the war is within the bounds of God’s will. “Am I doing the right thing?” he wonders.

Contrast with the certainty of the two men from our era. Both speak with no hesitation of the divine endorsement, nay, the divine mandate to wage war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The “terrorists” and “tyrants” are a stand-in for the unseen spiritual forces that plague the world, and as such, they are less than human. They are unadulterated evil, flat and one-dimensional, and sufficiently vexing to Almighty God to make Him re-enter the smiting business with American troops now functioning as the camouflage-clad lightning of His terrible swift sword. Moreover, Kalninis urges his hearers to be vigilant against the nameless foe that is waging war on their faith by thinking “like Jesus thinks.” The Christian is urged to confront the world in “war mode” in emulation of a martial, masculine, conflict-ready God whose most recognizable manifestation is popularly known as Warrior Jesus.

Warrior Jesus is a figure whose modus operandi is to conquer rather than convert, to pulverize rather than persuade. In the LaHaye/Jenkins novel, “Glorious Appearing”, the Son’s return and its bloody aftermath mark him more as Butcher than Savior:

“Men and women, soldiers and horses seemed to explode where they stood. It was as if the very words of the Lord had superheated their blood, causing it to burst through their veins and skin. Even as they struggled, their own flesh dissolved, their eyes melted and their tongues disintegrated.”

This vision of Jesus is in the tradition of the warlike God of Israel whose role as Lord of Hosts is to subdue the enemy and liberate the children of God through bloodshed (as in the destruction of Sennacherib’s army before the gates of Jerusalem) and on occasion to punish the wayward Chosen People (as in the deeply shocking account of Jerusalem and Samaria as the sisters Oholah/Oholibah, a graphic portrayal of God’s judgment as brutality and misogynistic sexual violence). However, aside from the incident where Jesus drives the moneychangers from the Temple courts – no one is hurt, merely embarassed – and the episode where he withers a barren fig tree on the way into Jerusalem, there is no trace of this martial Jesus in the Gospels. How does Warrior Jesus come to be, then, and what is his influence on his flock/army?

The image of Jesus seems to being undergoing a crisis of masculinity. Depictions of him as meek and mild are decried as unscriptural and sentimental, even maudlin; adherents of Warrior Jesus cite the incident with the moneychangers in the Temple courts (which is related both in the Synoptics and the Gospel of John) and other episodes in Revelation as evidence that while Jesus was relatively pacifist on his first visit to Earth, his return will be as Judge and Executioner, a Jury being unnecessary by most accounts.

During the earliest Christian era, world renunciation was at its strongest in the infant religion, with people expecting the imminent if not immediate return of the Lord and the beginning of his Kingdom. Celibacy and nonviolence were encouraged, and no one thought of himself as a combatant except in the most allegorical and symbolic of terms. As years slipped into decades and then centuries, however, it became disconcertingly apparent that the Lord would take his sweet time coming back and meanwhile, Christianity received official imperial sanction and eventually became the official religion of the Eastern Roman Empire, which would outlive its ill fated Western counterpart by some 1100 years. Bishops and church officials amassed wealth and political clout in the name of God, and increasingly his approval was assumed or explicitly invoked when battling a pagan enemy (Scythians, Huns, Magyars, Persians, Osmanli Turks, etc.). As the Church became more entangled in the machinery of government, God began to be remade in the image of a feudal sovereign, with the Christ as Crown Prince and Defender of the Realm, becoming conflated with the Archangel Michael, the angelic soldier who led the expulsion of Lucifer from heaven in the very first war. Bernard of Clairvaux ended the fiery sermon that sparked the First Crusade with the audacious peroration, “Deus lo volt!”

God wills it.

God wills it.

Even now those words have a spine-tingling authority, a seductive facility for falling from the lips that almost disguises the horrific uses to which they can be put. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Wars of Religion… atrocity after atrocity because God wills it. 17-year-old Dona Isabella of Seville tortured and burned at the stake while pregnant for attending a Protestant house church. She was a heretic. God willed it. Joan of Arc, burned as a witch after leading the charge in several bloody battles to seize the French throne for Charles VII. When questioned, Joan and her executioners would have provided an identical rationale for their actions – God wills it. Likewise the Christian abortion-clinic bomber, the Muslim mujahid, the Israeli soldier would all fervently respond, “God wills it!” when their motives for causing pain and death are questioned.

Herein lies the danger of Warrior Jesus. When the cry of “Destroy the evil one!” is louder than the voice that murmurs, “Love thy neighbor,” we are in trouble.

Postmodern American Christianity is undergoing a crisis – Warrior Jesus’ masculinity-as-might issues are merely a symptom of that deeper crisis. After all, he is only a symbol and no more represents the actual Jesus than the flaxen-haired, blue-eyed male models with flawless skin and dainty hands who adorn many a stained-glass window. The real Jesus – what we know of him from what sources we have, espouses a Gospel much more complex and disturbing in its approach to power and control. He seems to repeat over and over that service is true strength and that evil must not be repaid with evil. God alone decides when vengeance is appropriate and dispenses it himself. We must be careful not to christen ourselves the vessels of divine wrath simply because the thought of being an arrow in the quiver of the Lord of Hosts makes our pulse flitter. Adrenaline is not to be confused with the Holy Spirit. In fact, we are to bear every indignity as he bore it, and if you believe the Gospels are true, he was mocked, beaten, tortured and killed all without ever trying to escape or retaliate.

So why are we saying we need to go to war? Why are we stripping people of their personhood and declaring them mere manifestations of spiritual evil? This is happening in liberal and conservative Christian circles alike – people are declaring each other to be demonic forces and “strongholds” (what the hell does that even mean except, “Put another dollar in the offering because I used a word from the KJV?”). When did we decide we could make the call on who to love and who not?

Will our American drive to succeed and be acknowledged as the best triumph over our charge to serve and love? It looks that way right now, and if it does we will be more like the rich man than Lazarus. We’d better pray that one day, eons from now, we aren’t asking that Muslim/gay/Democrat/Republican/Methodist to wrench him/herself away from the loving embrace of Father Abraham and bring us just a drop of water to cool our tongues.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

•July 29, 2009 • Leave a Comment

1. I normally hate these chain things and have been known to delete people from my phone/MySpace/life for sending too many.

2. I love fresh avocado to the point where I’ll just mash one up and eat it on bread with lettuce and tomato.

3. I routinely refer to God as “She” (or “S/He” in print) – the resulting discomfort in my readers/hearers makes me warm inside.

4. I chew every pen I touch – you’ve been warned.

5. I drink a glass of water with a tablespoon of vinegar in it semi-regularly – it’s good for ya.

6. I make a mean chicken korma and roti from scratch.

7. My favorite drink is Wild Turkey 101 and Diet Dr Pepper.

8. Over the past 3 years, my bartending prowess has gotten over 400 people slizzurred and ready to act a fool. Contact me for info on how I can help make your next party a loud, disorganized fun fest.

9. I’ve always wanted dark skin – the flawless, velvety-looking bittersweet chocolate kind.

10. I have OCD tendencies and they’re getting stronger. If I don’t remember locking the door, I will turn the car around, go back home/to my store and check. I continually resituate my drinking glass for fear of knocking it over. And so on.

11. No matter how off the beaten path you think your love life is, 10-to-1 odds I win in that department.

12. I love Jesus but His fan club is a little much sometimes. Jerry Falwell, I’m looking at you.

13. I have no problem correcting strangers’ children in public if what they’re fucking up directly affects me, and DARING their lazy-ass mama or daddy to say something.

14. I was born on the same day as General Stonewall Jackson AND Christian Dior and Cristóbal Balenciaga.

15. “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” is the only opera aria that consistently moves me to tears, but only when Leontyne Price sings it.

16. I like to invent characters and then roleplay as them during conversations for my own amusement. I let people know what I’m doing and that it’s all in jest, though.

17. I once won 5 dollars in high school for knowing that Ouagadougou is the capital of Burkina Faso. Yeah, I was surprised that useless tidbit was worth that much, too…

18. I have a weakness for men with aquiline noses.

19. The various events of my life have convinced me that there is some truth to astrology.

20. My dog’s name is Gryffydd (pronounced GRIF-ith with a soft “th”) but most people are hellbent on calling him Griffin.

21. I sang a song in Mandarin Chinese on my senior recital just to fuck with the voice faculty.

22. I talk to myself and make really random noises for no reason when I’m by myself.

23. Barbecued goat or the promise thereof renders me totally susceptible to manipulation.

24. My cellphone must be pink no matter what brand it is.

25. I sometimes listen to several (read: 30) singers present the same aria back to back for research purposes.