Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The Truth About Same Sex Attraction?

A priest today posted a link to an article by Joseph Prever, a gay Catholic with orthodox Catholic views on sexuality, intelligence and good taste in his reading.  I was meant to be doing other things this afternoon but allowed myself to be side-tracked by the post.

The article is titled "The Truth About Same Sex Attraction".  I looked up "transgender" on the site (Catholic Exchange).  Obviously that's a subject important to me.  The first post returned was about how evil it was for a transgender woman to challenge a school that sacked him for insubordination (she refused to dress like and act like a man).  The second repeatedly called a transgender woman, Amanda Simpson, a man.  I can't blame the site - it's Catholic teaching, as expounded at length just 18 months ago by Pope Benedict XVI, that I am a man and live in sin every moment I live as a woman.  Another article accuses people like me of "impersonation" and "deception".

So I didn't hold out too much hope that I'd be in full agreement with an article on the site about sexuality.

I can respect Joseph Prever.  He's devoutly Catholic and lives that life to the full with all the joys and challenges that entails.  He's pretty firm and steadfast in his faith.  And he's chosen, as a gay Catholic, to live that challenging life of celibacy, in obedience to the teachings of the church and in the conviction that his churches teachings on homosexual relationships are entirely correct.  I believe too that he's right that celibacy is a perfectly acceptable choice and that our society - including parts of the gay community - greatly overvalues sex.  Too often celibacy is seen as weird, cranky lunacy rather than a decent way to choose to live.  Prever has chosen celibacy and while I may not agree with the faith that aided that choice I in no way criticise him for that choice.

If I met him I'd probably like him and happily sit and drink tea (or his beverage of choice) with him.  Prever is doing his best, and doing his best to live in love and service in the ways he believes are right.  And that's a lot better than most of us do.  There are plently of Catholics like Prever.  We can't ever forget that they're good people seeking to follow a path they believe in, and believing that path to be fully based on love.

But I'm an ex-Catholic.  And so can disagree with Prever too.  And he can disagree with me.  And probably we'll never come to any agreement on this issue.  He would continue, if we debated, to stand on the view that "the Catholic Church is right and what it says about the Bible is right and this is dogma given to the Church infallibly by the Holy Spirit."  I recognise that view - I used to share it, my Catholicism was serious!  I would continue to affirm a view that homosexuality is normal, part of the range of healthy humanity and that it's not a consequence of our being fundamentally disordered or subject to any kind of original sin.

I started to wonder whether the priest posted the blog as a recommendation or just to cause discussion.  It's hard to tell as he made no comment.  I guess he recommends it and I know he would go along with the teaching that gay people didn't choose to be gay but should always choose to be celibate.  I know too that he wouldn't call himself "anti-gay" in any way, and has been involved in gay pride celebrations.  Combining gay pride with the teaching of his church and his faith is at times a balancing act but he usually balances well with a compassionate balancing pole.

I started to wonder too whether the priest would also recommend the websites and books that Prever recommends in his blog post.  I clicked on the first of these and it claims on its front page to teach how to "resolve" homosexual feelings and lead to "our innate heterosexual masculinity".  It teaches how homosexual or same-sex attraction is an unwanted thing.  It teaches that homosexuality is caused by "a longing for a father's affirmation, perhaps, or a peer group's inclusion, or our own internal sense of just being "one of the guys"".

The site looks to people being able to talk about their "former homosexual condition."  In other words, it's a gay cure site.  Pure and simple.  Get therapy - psychological or spiritual - and find a cure.  Become a proper man with proper attractions.  The site even has a page called "Who Succeeds at Change in Therapy?" written by a "reparative therapist".

I'm sorry but this is blatant homophobia.  It's doubly sad because Catholicism - in her Catechism, many leaders, preachers, publications and a proportion of the laity - continues to teach homosexuals to be homophobic, to reject themselves rather than embrace themselves and to believe their homosexual attractions, whether physical, romantic, or emotional, are a disorder.  Being taught to be a homophobic homosexual is a terrible thing.

Joseph Prever in his writings points out a belief that homosexuality is something he HAS rather than something he IS.  It is very sad that he's been taught this and has accepted that teaching.  Our sexual attractions are part of who we are, they're not something like an ailment that we have and can fight with.  It's very sad that he refers to same sex attractions as "sexual dysfunction".  To believe that being gay means you have a dysfunction rather than that you are as fully functional as anyone else is to bear an unnatural cross placed on you by a dogmatic religion.  It's a cross Prever knows well.

The sooner the Catholic Church and other churches realise that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality and that it isn't gravely disordered the better.  I've heard Catholics talk of how the Catholic Church is "gay friendly" because it's attitudes are better than some churches.  True, some churches are far worse but that doesn't imply the Catholic Church has good answers.

Prever writes of the sufferings of gay people, "Put the sexual aspect together with the other things that homosexual men and women often experience — depression, low self-esteem, loneliness, a sense (however false) of being utterly different — and you have a heavy cross."

The question is, why are these things so often experienced?  I believe the answer does not lie with homosexuality.  It lies with the way people treat homosexuals and homosexuality - and thus with the way homosexuals are taught to treat themselves.  It is not gay people who need to change.  It is a world that makes gay people feel second class, dirty, stained, disordered, for being gay.  It is not gay people not need to deal with a "sexual dysfunction".  It is religious people who need to stop calling homosexuality dysfunctional.   A banner at church here reads "Fabulous and Beautiful", two words taken from placards from the Stonewall protests nearly 50 years ago.  It is so sad that people still need to be told today that they are beautiful, having been told by religious people that they are not.

The cross is caused by the Church, not by the individual.  It is caused by the society the Church has helped to create, not by the individual.  The individual is fine.  The individual is healthy but so often has become convinced that he is not healthy or believes herself healthy but is weary from being told that she is unhealthy.  The Church imposes the cross, imposes the suffering.  The Church is the one that needs to repent and change, not the individual.

Gay people do not need to change their sexuality, their same sex attraction.  Churches need to change.  Political parties need to change.  Anyone and anything needs to change when they tell gay people their sexuality and attractions are bad things that need to change.

It will happen.  It is happening.  But even here there in our fortunate society where LGBT people have legal protections there is much homophobia.  A survey just published showed that only 73% of UK football fans would be comfortable with their national team including an openly gay player.  The Guardian article rejoices in the worldwide support for gay players to come out.  But consider, that's over a quarter of football fans who care more about a player's sexuality than their footballing skills.  Football fans were questioned in a number of nations.  The UK came third, behind Sweden and Denmark, but in the USA only 52% of people would be comfortable with an openly gay player on the team.

There is still such homophobia and such stupidity as to care about the sexuality of a football player.  Churches should be leading the way in the journey away from such homophobia and indeed away from any prejudice - another survey today revealed that 30% of the UK population consider themselves to be racially prejudiced in some way.  Nearly a third of us here thus admit to being racists.  That's a rise.  It's doesn't take much imagination to see why that rise exists - and that white British people hold the bulk of the blame rather than people of any other race, nationality or culture.

Churches must lead the way else they deserve the fate suggested in the book title "Why Christianity Must Change or Die".  Some churches are helping lead the way.  Too many are not.  And too many are proud of not doing it, blinkered into a view of their own rightness, blinkered into a view that regarding same sex attraction and so many other things they have "The Truth".

Come on Church:   Change.   Or just die, as is inevitable and deserved.

Monday, 26 May 2014

IDAHOT 2014 - International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, Newcastle event

Last Saturday was IDAHOT, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.  A day to stand in solidarity with all those around the world who suffer mistreatment through homophobia or transphobia, whether socially or legally.  It's taken me a while to write about it.  Then again I've still got to write about the May Day march that happened weeks ago.  I'm a bad blogger!

There was an event organised in Newcastle.  Two years ago this took place at the Monument.  This year it was more out of the way, outside the Civic Centre.  I don't know if that was by choice or because the main city centre was having a busy day with a march by the English Defence League, a counter protest by groups including the Anti-Fascism League, and the Orange Order picked the same day to march through the city as well.  Unfortunately the one thing the Civic Centre lacks on a Saturday lunchtime is passers by so the event was preaching just to the gathered crowd, all of whom knew much of what is going on round the world, all of whom were firmly against homophobia and transphobia, and most of whom were somewhere within the LGBT communities.

The event began with the ceremonial raising of the gay pride rainbow flag.  It's an amazing thing that such a flag can fly at Newcastle Civic Centre.  It would have been unheard of here in the past.  And in many nations around the world such an act would be illegal, punishable by imprisonment or hard labour rather than arranged hand-in-hand with the city council.

The rainbow flag flies in Newcastle.
Our host for the event was our very own Rev. Cecilia Eggleston of MCC (Metropolitan Community Church).

I was talking at the event with an atheist.  He said he loves and admires Cecilia greatly and that if he was a Christian then she is the sort of Christian he'd want to be.  Many people - whether atheist, agnostic, Buddhist, Christian or whatever - would share that view.

It is sad that even in the UK there is still a place for MCC to be what it is and that in other nations that place is more urgent.  Then again in many so-called Christian nations such a church would be illegal.

The first MCC began because there was no place that gay Christians could worship without being told that their sexuality was sin.  It is shameful that even today, in the UK, many churches still preach the same thing.  I look forward to a day when no church, beyond a few fringe elements, preaches against those who are gay or trans and that we'll think of such preaching much as we think of that preaching in the past that claimed that black people were cursed - because Noah cursed them.  We'll look back and wonder how Christians could have been so stupid, arrogant, judgemental and hateful.  That time has not come yet.  As it approaches then the reason MCC exists round the world will cease to be a reason to exist.  I'm sure it will continue to adapt and continue to preach, as the T-shirt proclaims, "God loves LGBT" and indeed that God loves all people.

Three speakers spoke at the event.  The first was Tara Stone, chair of Tyne Trans, the local support group for Transgender people.  Some people need a lot of support, some very little.  Tara works hard for the group and for acceptance of all transgender people.  Her vision, in part, is for a society where everyone can be who they are and what they are, without fear of persecution or abuse by individuals or media - with the usual provisos of course of being who you are based on love and respect.

It's a message of living, of being, of doing.  It's a message of freedom and even in the UK it needs saying because so many gay and trans people are afraid to be openly who they are and hide in shadows.

There are challenges in this of course.  To be openly transgender, especially if you're not cis-normative can be hard and I do find that trans people can be judged on a harsher scale than cis people, even by those who are our allies.  If a cis woman has a "bad clothes day" it can pass without comment.  If a trans woman does the same she will be criticised.  If a trans woman doesn't look enough like someone's picture of "a woman" then she is criticised.  If a trans man doesn't look like "a man" the same happens.  And if you're trans and don't really identify as "man" or "woman" and live as yourself then people can make things difficult for you - even people who are LGB.

And this photo shows another problem trans people have:

LGB people forget us.  Frequently.  In Newcastle we celebrate IDAHOT.  Here's a big UK poster from UNISON, advertising the website IDAHO.  Other sites are named "dayagainsthomophobia" and so on.

So often trans people are forgotten and LGB people fight for their own rights and leave us out - sometimes even actively standing against trans people.

This needs to change.
Our second speaker was Abraham, representing Rainbow Homes, an organisation for LGBT asylum seekers, many of whom have had quite horrific experiences in their countries of origin.  Some of them can show you the marks of torture they have received for being gay.  27% of votes in the UK European Election last week went to a party that wouldn't want to let these people into Britain.  But they are real people, with real stories of terror and suffering.  They are not demons - whatever newspapers and politicians repeatedly tell us.

Abraham spoke about Africa which he called the most homophobic continent and the lives of LGBT people in the 20-something nations there were being gay is a crime.

Also from Africa we had the FODI African drummers performing and supporting us.

Our final speaker was Janet, who works for an LGBT organisation in the city.  She spoke mainly about life in Russia.  Its anti-gay policies were much in the news during the Winter Olympics.  The media have gone.  The policies remain and life is getting harder for gay and trans people
To follow our speakers we made a noise.  A minute of noise.  Loud noise.  We did it not for ourselves but for those across the world who could not do what we have done.

In 81 countries, same-sex relationships are illegal.  In 10 countries the death penalty applies.  This represents 40% of the world's population.
70% of people live somewhere where freedom of expression is limited for sexuality and/or gender.  They couldn't gather peacefully as we gathered.  They couldn't speak out.  They couldn't be sanctioned by the Council to raise the flag, watched by one friendly policeman from a force with LGBT liaison officers working against any hate crimes.

So we made a noise for those people who cannot make a noise.  We made a noise, a cry for justice.  For freedom.  For people to be allowed to be people.

And then there was cake.  Tasty cake.

There are better photos of the cake - and indeed better photos of the whole event - by a Newcastle media project called "Look Again".  They can be found on their facebook page.  There's also a 25 minute interview with Cecilia that they did a couple of weeks ago when visiting and filming at MCC.

Cake.  Always a good way to finish any event.

We were fortunate.  The weather was warm.  The sun shone.  Apparently it poured with rain two years ago at Monument.  And a passer-by called Cecilia the daughter of the Devil.  I'm sure there are plenty of Christians who would agree with that.  But like Jesus, Cecilia is more the friend of sinners than the friend of the self-righteous judges.

And people came and said hello.  People from the trans group.  People from MCC.  A couple of Green Party activists I'd met briefly at the start of the month - after the May Day march mentioned at the beginning.  And a woman I completely failed to recognise who I'd met once at the Unitarian church which I really should pay another visit to sometime. 

A good day.  A peaceful celebration.  And thankfully the marches and protests and parades elsewhere in the city remained peaceful - thanks in part to the large police presence.  We had one policeman.  The EDL had rather more!