Sunday, June 26, 2011

Life, epiphanies, and the people who give them to us


Proceed with caution.

There are two types of epiphany in my book. Public and Private. A public epiphany is one where you realize something that has a profound impact on the world at large, and leads to a great discovery that helps people, communities, nations, or just your neighbors and friends. There is also the private epiphany. This epiphany is harder to grasp because there is less tangible product at the end of it. But you can feel it. I have had two such epiphanies in my life.

1. It's ok to be gay. Believe it or not, this one was the hardest to accept, and I spent close to seven years vilifying every other gay man I met because of my own self-loathing. This past year has been incredibly liberating, which leads me to the second one:

2. The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.

I recently started a relationship with a beautiful, vivacious, and absolutely wonderful man. Because I like anonymity and delightfully archaic pseudonyms, I'm calling him Ovid. You can ponder why, but I guarantee it's not the on-the-surface apparent connection between my love for him and the fact that Ovid wrote love poems. There's a much deeper meaning that you will only grasp if you know the kid. But I digress.

I have spent the first month of our budding relationship feeling inferior, desperately seeking his approval because of a great iniquity I felt within myself. Here he is, someone that has made me feel in such a way that I have never felt before, looking at me with true acceptance of me as a human being of actual value when I don't deserve it. I have done more to fuck up my life than anyone else could have possibly hoped to do to me or themselves. I have done drugs, both soft and hard, I have lied and cheated and stolen, and right when I decided to get my shit together, I squandered the one chance I had to redeem myself in the university system. Now teetering on the bare minimum of my GPA and facing the end of everything I have ever wanted, I am finding out that love conquers all. And not just my love for Ovid, but love for myself.

It began with an HIV test. Ovid is perfect for me, and I felt this going in to this test. Friends will tell you how nervous I was about it. Having been sexually active far less over the past twelve months than I've ever been, you would tell me I shouldn't be. But in the weekend running up to last Tuesday, literally a week before our one-month anniversary, my anxiety was such that I woke up crying every day and used every ounce of strength to get through the day. Because Ovid deserved to know the truth, and as much as a positive result scared me, I had to do it if I love Ovid the way I say I do. So I did.

It came back negative. Though the counselor didn't see it, my heart jumped farther and higher than it has ever jumped before. I almost sang out loud. Why? Because a part of me believed, deep inside, that Ovid would leave me if I came back positive. But even if that was the case, if I loved Ovid the way I said, it was something I had to do.

Fast forward to Saturday night. This is the first time Ovid has spent the night in my bed. The tenderness of simply sleeping next to another human being, a human being for whom I have such strong feelings and such strong emotional ties, was beyond explanation. I was genuinely bittersweet that I had to take him back to Columbus so early the following day. But I get to see him Tuesday. And though I will only get to see him for a short time before I have to head back to Columbus for work, it will be absolutely worth it. Because he has taught me to love myself.

How did he do this? Well...I can't explain it. It was when I looked and saw that, after seven years, I will be graduating in June of 2012, that I realized all of my self loathing (see point 1 above) had finally melted away. Believe it or not, this realization has little to do with my graduation, but it was the realization that, no matter how much I've fucked myself, I am genuinely achieving what I set out to do that finally crystallized in my mind that I haven't done anything wrong. I may not have the GPA to jump straight into grad school, not by a long shot at any rate, but nothing will stop me from setting money aside to pursue another two year bachelor's in a related Slavic field. Nothing is stopping me from pursuing my research in comparative linguistic history. Nothing is stopping me from pursuing my dreams.

At the core of this is the knowledge that Ovid loves me. And I love him. And it is not that he is deigning to love me, but that he and I look at each other and see equals. We each see a person worthy of dignity and respect. Neither of us is deserving of scorn or reproach. My graduation just helped me see it a little clearer.

So here's to you Ovid. And here's to us. And here's to private epiphanies that wash over you and keep you on an emotional high like you've never known. Even when you're away, I am happy. I am so happy. And since I've started ending my blogs with appropriate Gaga lyrics, I'm going to run right to, to the edge with you, where we can both fall in love. I'm on the edge of glory and I'm hanging on a moment of truth, I'm on the edge of glory and I'm hanging on a moment with you.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Pride Protesters and Why I Love Them

First things first, Columbus Pride 2011 was awesome. It was also a time to reflect on a couple of issues. First and foremost, Columbus Pride turned 30 this year, the same year we (unfortunately) celebrate 30 years since the first diagnosed case of HIV/AIDS in this country. The same year funding from the federal government may get slashed, right when we are on the cusp of finding a cure and/or a vaccine. Bittersweet, but that's a political diatribe for another time.

The other thing that made me reflect on what it means to be an out and proud gay man were the protestors. I was saddened that I didn't get to see them march in the parade of drag queens, topless women, and men in their underwear (and the dozens of cute couples on "Anniversary" floats celebrating anywhere from 25 to fifty years of partnership. So cute! <3.<3). But I did get to see them at the corner of High and Goodale streets shouting about how "filthy" and "vile" we are, holding their signs that said things like "G.A.Y.: God Abhors You" and "Jesus' Blood is not HIV" (I wonder if they knew I'm Catholic and found the transubstantiation joke hiding in there) and "No Parking in the Rear: Penal Code Lev. 18:22" (my personal favorite!). I also saw the gaggle of children they had brought along, teaching them to be some of the most intolerant people on the planet at such a young age.

I also saw several people baiting them, shouting at them, treating them the way they were treating us. One man was yelling about how being "a faggot is better than an idiot". The fact that the security people standing between us and them were so relaxed made me feel better. There hasn't been a history of violent confrontation at Columbus Pride, and there was no reason to expect one this time. In fact, once the man with the megaphone was done yelling about how much "gay sex has no future" and "leads to extinction", they quietly and politely packed up their things and embarked on the walk home. Peaceful assembly for us, and peaceful assembly for them. Nice.

Now, the question is, who offended me more? The sign-toting Christians who said "Homos Need Help, Not Rights" or the half-naked man trying to bait them into a confrontation? I'm really disappointed that I need to say that it was the half-naked man.

For thirty years, Stonewall Columbus has been organizing this event so that we as a community can express how proud we are to be who we are. For thirty years we have fought to be treated as equal on every level. But do we really know what that entails? What is Pride? What is gay pride? Do we wear our sexuality as a badge of honor? A badge to be flaunted and thrown in the face of anyone we pass? Or does it imply something bigger? Something less flashy? (OMG, a gay man saying that something needs to be less flashy! Abomination!)

Pride to me is less that I am proud of my sexuality and more that I am proud that I can be gay and still contribute on an equal level in society. I can volunteer at a hospital or animal shelter and not have to hide who I am. I can attend the same university as everyone else and receive the same healthcare at the hospital without fear. It also means I can proudly enjoy an event that is all about my community, and know that people who disagree with the morality of the whole thing can stand there and simultaneously express their opposing view.

Pride is not a lifestyle. It is a community. Pride is a community that does not discriminate, though I think a large part of this message has been lost. As homosexuality becomes more and more ubiquitous, the question of the relevance of Pride comes to the fore. Why do we do it? If it's simply to show off that we're gay, we have no pride. We have self-indulgent attention-seeking complexes that should be examined by a professional. But if it's to celebrate diversity, and I mean TRUE diversity, and all it entails, be it black, white, gay, straight, atheist, christian, tolerant, or intolerant, and we allow everyone their voice no matter the message, then I think we have a great deal of pride because it shows we are mature enough to handle what it means to demand acceptance. If we can demand it, we can dole it out when the picketers decide that calling us names is the right thing to do.

So, to all you half-naked men and women who think it's your civic duty to shout down the protesters--you have no pride. You defeat the purpose of what our struggle has been about. You set back to the clock to the days when the only way to get anyone to even look at us with any degree of seriousness was to get violent. 1981 is a long time ago. Lessons have been learned on both sides. But to what degree these lessons have been internalized and retained by the community at large? That's a completely different question that we have to answer ourselves, and then put the right answer into action.

So here's to an amazing (and violence-free) Pride 2011. May there be many more, and may the protesters always be there to remind me that their protest and their right to protest legitimizes our right to stand up, speak out, and be heard. We're here. We're queer. And we support your right to say and be anything you want, cuz, baby, you were born this way.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Dr. Who and the Crisis of Faith

Firstly, you're going to ask, what does Dr. Who have to do with the crisis of faith? We'll get to that.

Second, I'd like to say something to all the "Original" Dr. Who fans who like to criticize the new series with snide comments like "I liked the first season as well...of the original". Get over yourselves. You win no converts by being snide and petty. The new series is not replacing the old. It is reviving the overall story arc. This is why the Dr. Who canon says there have been nine doctors, and only three of them since 2005. Nothing has been rewritten, references to the series that ran in the '60s are made frequently, and the continuity remains the same. The difference? It's not as campy, but neither is the rest of the BBC anymore. It's a little quirkier, but so is the rest of the BBC and British humor in general. And you know what? It's still a delightful show. So to all of you Dr. Who "purists"--GET. OVER. IT.

This leads me to the crisis of faith. Very often we are in search of the "true" faith, the "original" faith, the way the Church functioned in its earliest inception, free of novelty and innovation. These things detract from faith, right? Well...yes and no. There is a trend in non-denominational communities to rely very heavily on the Acts of the Apostles to model the way they live their faith. This is good. To an extent. There is also a growing trend in the Catholic Church to contract and weed out the liberal, post-Vatican II elements. While I agree that many abuses of the Divine Liturgy and sacred worship have occurred, as with anything else, a contraction is best done in moderation.

When we have a knee-jerk reaction to innovation, we invariably fall back on the "tried and true", that which makes us feel safe. When it comes to faith and the pursuit of objective and absolute spiritual and philosophical truth, it becomes hard to accept that not all interpretations of truth are universal throughout time. Innovation is not only necessary to apply the faith to a dynamic world, it can, in its own way, enrich the faith. But, as with contraction, when done in moderation.

Let's point to some non-biblical "innovations" of the Catholic Church. Starting with Papal Infallibility. This dogma was not formally established until the nineteenth century at the First Vatican Council. However, the nature of Catholic dogma is that it is not innovative. It is issued to combat heresy and reaffirm something that has always been believed. Because of dogmatic law, "whatsoever you hold true on earth" etc. etc., it is reasoned that the Successor of Peter has always been infallible, but it went without saying until the First Vatican Council.

Secondly, the Marian Dogmas. These are quite difficult for people not raised in the Catholic faith to get their heads around, much as the Trinitarian Mystery and Hypostatic Union are difficult concepts for non-Christians to understand. But there are four of these Marian Dogmas, and they are requirements of the Catholic faith to claim one is a Catholic and be true to that statement (as are all the articles of faith issued as dogma). They include her divine motherhood as the Theotokos or Mother of God, her immaculate conception, perpetual virginity, and bodily and spiritual assumption into heaven. What does this all mean for Catholicism? Mary is the roadmap to Christ who points the way to the Father. As my dear friend Alyssa has told me, who better to get in touch with someone than their mother? A pithy phrase, but awesome at the same time. The "cult" of Mary developed in a time when Christianity was embracing the European pagans, and there was a serious need to connect with them. The worship of the divine feminine was strong, even in the early Church converts (check out the Collyridians for more information), and instead of exiling them all as heretics, adoration of Mary was turned into a positive that enriched the faith and added another layer of mystery to a mystery religion already steeped in mystery.

Fast-forward to the Twenty-First Century. The Catholic Church, which recently under two successive Popes (Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI) have had to defend the Church's position in relation to science--that they are NOT in conflict, despite a wonderful article by George Johnson at Columbia University ( exploring the relationship between the Church and modern science and how the latter was impossible without the former. That being said, the Church is in reaction. Vatican II brought much that was good, but opened the doors for much that was terrible. The mystery of the Church was ripped away and the Church began to look to a more pragmatic outlook. Gone were the days of blind adoration and "don't ask questions, just accept what we tell you!" (an attitude born out of the counter-reformation). Now people could seek and find, and due to a long history of "just accept", the faithful were ill-equipped to properly understand what they found. An exodus of biblical proportions from the Catholic Church began.

Arise the non-denominational churches of the 1960's, 70's, and 80's. A call to pure Christianity, an end to innovation and a new beginning. The faith is in crisis as the great Rome crumbles! Doomsday is nigh, and we, the Pure Christians (tm) will inherit the earth! Well, not really. Nothing happened. Catholicism still makes up about half the Christians in the world, bolstering Christianity and maintaining its number one spot on the religion chart. But all of Christianity is in flux right now. The promised end has not come. Nor did it come 2000 years ago as the Apostles thought it would. Innovation has been seen as something evil to be avoided, and, like the Dr. Who purists, we are deriding what is new and turning back to the old. Maybe the way we did things a hundred years ago will galvanize everyone. Maybe, if we could only turn back the clock...




We can't. I believe in absolute, objective truth. But so did the early Church when they said money-handling was a sin and was therefore the sole purview of the Jewish people. Today, millions of Catholics and Christians in general are bankers. I am homosexual. I am Catholic. I do not approve of much that came from Vatican II, but I do approve of its sanctioning of asking questions. There is absolute truth. There is also subjective truth. The Church and the world are in flux, and just as the Church has adapted and survived through innovation, it can do so again. Let the Protestants leap forward with their innovation just because it's popular to do so at the time. Let the non-denominationals continue pushing for the purest, narrowest road because Acts is the only source. Let Catholicism examine innovation and adapt as necessary, without reckless abandon, and with the cautious optimism that has steered it for 2,000 years of unbroken history.

If Catholicism can do it for 2,000 years and still draw a plurality of the world's population, I think Dr. Who can survive a revival and still be pretty good.