Let’s Talk about Sex: 10 Common Misconceptions about Gay People, part 4

Three months ago, a very small percentage of the registered voters in North Carolina managed to pass an amendment to the state constitution that illegalized gay marriage. In the weeks leading up to the vote, I started a series of posts about some of the more common and frustrating myths about gay people. I got discouraged for a while and didn’t finish but I just got my second wind.

For those of you who missed the first 5 myths, here’s a quick recap:

1 – Being gay is a choice. Because somewhere between 2 and 10% of the general population so love being social pariahs, we’ve chosen to become lifelong targets of bigotry and hate.

2 – Lesbians want to be men. There are some people who are so enamored of their own exterior plumbing that they, and their followers, seem to believe that there are just 2 kinds of people in the world – men and the rest of us who are just sad that we don’t have a penis, too.

3 – Lesbians hate men. The rationale seems to go like this: Some women are so upset about not having a penis that they become angered with all men and sleep with women to spite the men. Or something like that. Bottom line is, women couldn’t possibly love other women. It must have something to do with the penis. (For the long version of the first 3 myths, see part 1 of this series, I Used to Be a Tomboy)

4 – Being gay is a mental illness. In spite the fact that the American Psychiatric Association defines homosexuality as a normal variant of human sexual behavior, there are a lot of people out there who just “know” that gay people are sick, just like they “know” the earth was created 6,000 years ago and all the fossils in the world are just an elaborate hoax and proof of a vast conspiracy against God-fearing, extremist Christians. (For the long version, see part 2, Who’s a Heretic?)

5- The Bible says that being gay is morally wrong or evil. To borrow a line from Shakespeare, “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose,” and it would appear that he does, every day, from the pulpits and altars of churches all over our country. (See part 3, The Bible Tells Me So)

So moving on. Here’s another of my favorite myths to hate:

6- Being gay is just about sex. Now doesn’t this seem a teensy bit like the pot calling the kettle black?One of the best ways to undermine an opponent, apart from demonizing them, is to minimize them, as this little myth tries to do. It separates sexuality and romantic, spiritual love. But only for gay people.

So when the subject is heterosexuality, sex and love are two sides of the same coin. And the fact that so many of straight people spend their single youth doing it like randy bunnies with anyone who will get into bed with them, that breaking faith with one’s wife or husband just to have sex with someone new is commonplace in our heterosexual culture, or that the huge pornography industry was built mostly on the desires of straight men – none of this refutes that notion that heterosexual sex is all about choosing and remaining dedicated to a spiritual soulmate? But being gay is just about sex. Gotcha.

7- Gay people are promiscuous. Yes we are. As a generalization, I accept this one. Now that I’ve just pissed off some of my fellow lesbians out there, let me explain why:  Because people in general are promiscuous. I know it. You know it. We all know it.

Really, Ted?! You’re talking to your children!

That’s why popular American culture is steeped in sex. That’s why these TV shows like Friends, Sex in the City, and Two and a Half Men were so popular. There’s even a popular show with the unabashed premise that the main character is telling his future children about the sexual exploits of he and his friends as a necessary preface to the story of how he fell in love with their mother. I’m not judging here. I loved Friends and I like How I Met Your Mother. (Well, except for that telling it to the kids part.)

But these shows aren’t really about friendship or love or family or the complexities of modern living. They’re about sex. (And call me a prude, but I can’t believe what they can say on prime time TV now.) Whatever else happens in each episode, sex is the tent pole that holds these shows up. (Who thinks that’s a phallic reference?) Without the pretty people having sex or talking about sex, the whole thing collapses.

Got to admit I love the irony of an actor who is gay and a committed family man playing a straight man whore.

My point is, human beings (especially young ones) are obsessed with sex. Our lives revolve around it. Except for maybe food, it seems to be the single most motivating force in our lives. And that makes sense. Nature designed it that way so we wouldn’t die off. But let’s get real here. Gay people are not any more (or less) promiscuous than straight people. We just prefer different partners.

A note for the romantics:  This generalized view of human promiscuity does not call attention to the inevitable exceptions. They’re called women. Okay, feminists, that was a joke. Kind of. I’m not trying to minimize the female libido. I’m sure there are plenty of randy women out there, too.

But there are still those of us who prefer the romantic notion that sex is just a part of the whole love thing. I am one of those. I was never promiscuous, am completely convinced that I’ve spent the last 12 years with my soulmate (a woman with whom I share much more than a sex life), and have no desire to sleep with anyone other than her for the rest of my life.

The Bible Tells Me So: 10 Common Misconceptions about Gay People, part 3

5- The Bible says that being gay is morally wrong or evil. Let me set the scene. It’s Saturday morning and I’m relaxing over my third cup of coffee and just ridiculously happy that I didn’t have to drive a carpool to school. My family is still asleep and I’m celebrating the solitude by reading my favorite blogs and posting goofy, fun things on Facebook (Star Wars for my boys, photos for Mom). It’s gloriously quiet. I can hear the birds singing.

Our dogs go nuts at the front window. I tell them to hush which they do and I walk over to congratulate them on being good puppies. They wag and whine to express their fervent desire to continue their barking frenzy. I shush them and we look out the window together. And then I kind of wish I had let them keep barking.

An unfamiliar car is parked in front of our house and four people are getting out. They are all dressed in their Sunday best and toting Bibles. Great, I think. They all head down the street, and I suppose their intention is to work their way back to the car. At least I don’t have to deal with them right now. I call the dogs to the kitchen to get a treat.

Have you ever tried to debate a Bible-toter who came knocking on your door to spread the Word of God as they see it? I did once about 20 years ago and never will again. Why? You know why. Zealots of the kind who will actually go door-to-door in their eagerness to preach at people can’t be debated for two reasons that I can see. First, because they believe in a way that has nothing to do with logic or evidence that theirs is the one true way. And second, because they have no respect at all for your right to believe something different. You can talk until you’re blue in the face. It won’t matter. They’ve come to your door to preach at you, not to listen.

Nothing you say is going to change that. You can point out that the word “Bible” does not refer to one text agreed upon by all Christians – that not only do the content and order of the individual books vary among versions, the Biblical canon (the books actually included in the Bible) differs as well. The contents of complete Christian Bibles vary from 66 books to 81 books. “Which is the true Bible?” you might ask. Your zealot will simply answer, “Mine is.”

You can dispute the idea that the authors of the Bible were divinely inspired and therefore infallible. What evidence do you have, you might ask, that God guided the authors to write down his word? “Look,” your visitor will say, opening his Bible and pointing. “It says so right here.”

You can ask about the translators. Were they divinely inspired too? Most of the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic. Early Christians wrote the New Testament in Greek and translated the Bible into several other languages. St. Jerome by order of the Pope translated the whole mess (with help) into Latin. Much later, after the Protestant revolution there were an incredible number of English language translations. Seems like a lot of room for error there, doesn’t it?

And, you might ask, how about the scribes who hand-copied the early books complete with errors and edits? Over time, different versions (each with their own set of omissions and additions) evolved in different regions. Were they all divinely inspired? “The Bible,” your self-righteous visitor might tell you, “is the word of God and free from errors in spiritual matters.”

“So let’s talk interpretation,” you might say to your uninvited guest. To understand any written work, the reader must have some understanding of the context in which it was written. That’s why an average American can’t just read through one of Shakespeare’s plays without being terribly confused. Unless you have some really good footnotes and a primer on the history of Elizabethan England, you aren’t going understand the original intent or meaning. And you’re going to miss out on all the good jokes. But your guest won’t laugh, only smile beatifically.

You can argue that Old Testament contains more murder, rape, depravity, general cruelty, and wanton violence than a Quentin Tarantino movie and how a strictly literal interpretation of such a text is dangerous and a bit like your kid continuing to believe in fairy tales once he’s grown up. You can point out that the harsh God of the Old Testament who seems to either perpetrate or instigate much of the violence and demands unquestioning obedience and sacrifice from his subjects doesn’t seem much in line with the forgiving God of the Gospels at all. And you can note that the Gospels themselves were written until decades after the fact, that the original texts were lost, and that other apocryphal gospels have been found that were left out of the Bible altogether. Your porch-preacher will just smile and tell you that you have obviously misinterpreted the word of the Lord.

So I’m not going to talk about the Bible because it just won’t matter. I’m not going to argue that for every seeming admonishment against homosexuals in Leviticus, you will also find prohibitions against tattoos, eating rare meat, wearing clothes made from a blend of textiles, or eating pigs, rabbits and any seafood that doesn’t have fins and scales. It’s all a part of a Holiness Code that is no longer used by Christian churches. I’m not going to mention passages in Deuteronomy or Romans or others that are also used as truncheons to bash gay people in God’s name, or point out the problems with the translations and interpretations of those passages. I won’t remind you all that a true study of the Bible must involve an attempt to understand the languages and historical context. If you approach the Bible with a preconceived idea of what you will (or want) to find there, you will likely find it. So I won’t ask, “Is it a ‘Christian’ thing to do, to weaponize the Bible?”

None of this really matters, anyway. What really matters is how you decide to treat the people you share the planet with. And if you really want to use a Christian Bible as your moral compass, it seems best to me to focus on the parts that define a Christian – the words of Jesus as reported by the Gospels. Turn the other cheek. Treat others as you would be treated. Compassion, tolerance. This seems pretty straight forward to me. So don’t you think it’s time for Christians to take the Bible back from the bigots and the haters?

When “Well-behaved” Just Won’t Do

“Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

Cover of "Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make ...
Ulrich used her famous line as the title
 for her latest book.

You’ve probably seen it on a bumper sticker or a coffee mug, but do you know who said it? Do you know why? She’s Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, an historian, Harvard professor, and Pulitzer Prize winning author who once used the phrase in a paper she wrote as a graduate student.  As an historian who has spent a lifetime writing about the role of women in American history, I think she nailed it in one simple sentence.

I’ve noticed that the older I’ve gotten, the more well-behaved I’ve become. You’d think that would be a good thing, right? Most of us do, especially once we have children and become models for behavior. But there’s a difference between courtesy and complacence.

For years now, my partner and I have told ourselves that just living honestly and openly is the best way to advocate for our family (and other “nontraditional” families). We don’t “advertise” ourselves as a lesbian couple, but we don’t hide anything either. We hope that as people get to know us, even like us, they’ll find that we’re pretty much just like everyone else. We pay our taxes, love our children, honor our parents, help out our neighbors and our friends when we can. We’re nice people. And we don’t make waves. What’s to hate?

It’s just a yard sign, but
it’s a beginning.

On May 8, the voters of North Carolina will consider a proposed amendment to the state constitution to ensure “that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.” There’s already a law against gay marriage in North Carolina, but it seems some of our state legislators (of the Republican persuasion) felt that it wasn’t illegal enough. They want an actual amendment.

For years now, I’ve told myself, So what? What do I care if the state or the federal government tells me I can’t marry B? We love each other. We’re raising a family together and plan to spend the rest of our lives together. What do we care if we can’t legally marry? (Actually there are some very good reasons involving health insurance and my non-existent legal rights as her partner. But this essay isn’t about that.)

It’s about our kids. By telling us that we can’t marry, the state of NC is telling our sons that their family is not legitimate. And we just can’t have that.

State Senator Daniel Soucek, the Republican who sponsored the bill for Amendment One, warns us that the amendment is necessary to defend the existing law against “activist judges” who may not agree with the “majority” of the voters and overturn the law. So voters should have the last say. All the voters. I’m sure that was his intention when he and his fellow sponsors of the bill arranged to place it on the ballot on the same day as the Republican primary.

Recently, Soucek had this to say to the Huffington Post, “It’s not just the term ‘marriage.’ It’s all of the societal communal building blocks that make up traditional marriage. We think that’s the healthiest way to raise children.” And there it is. This isn’t just about marriage. It’s about our children.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard or read similar words from people with the power to do a lot of damage. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of being referred to as perverted, immoral, mentally ill, evil, unnatural, or maybe worst of all, unfit as a parent. I’m tired of trying to “nice” the bigots and the haters into their right minds. I’m tired of being well-behaved.

So I’m setting up my soap box on this blog for the next three weeks until the vote on May 8. Expect to see a lot about basic human rights, about ordinary people who happen to be gay, about family values and why the Republican version of that phrase is an oxymoron. It won’t be “nice.” It won’t be “well-behaved.” But it will be true.

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