Tuesday, May 17, 2011

To Jim Wallis and Sojourners: Welcoming Gays Is a Social Justice Issue

You've probably read on the news that Believe Out Loud, a project of Intersections International, attempted to purchase ad space on the Sojourners website for a short video. The ad's message was elegantly simple -- see for yourself:

Sojourners decided to turn them down. In a statement posted on the group's site, Sojourners founder Jim Wallis said that, while the group does support civil rights for GLBTQ people, and calls for churches "to be loving and welcoming to all people," the issues raised by the ad "have not been at the core of our calling." Sojourners has always been recognized as a social justice ministry, and has never shied from being controversial before. If this video showed an interracial family, or an obviously impoverished family walking into an affluent church, would this ministry have remained silent? So why now?

I'm thinking -- and hoping -- that the reason for this decision is that the folks at Sojourners have yet to wrestle with the issue themselves. Yes, as many have pointed out, this ad isn't about same-sex marriage or the ordination of openly gay clergy. But it's also been raised that raising one issue inevitably leads to the other, and that's very true. The real question that the folks at Sojourners needs to ask is whether it's consistent with their faith and calling to avoid having that discussion.

When Paul affirmed that Gentile converts should not require circumcision, the early church did not avoid the issue. They heard him out, debated the matter, and made a decision. Perhaps they considered when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman, or commended the faith of a Roman centurion. Or Phillip's baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch. Perhaps Peter recounted the vision he had before a group of Gentiles was introduced to him, eager to hear the Gospel message.

Margaret Chase Smith pointed out that the right way is not always the easy way. For Jim Wallis and Sojourners, having this discussion is not going to be easy. But it is a discussion that Christian communities across the country are already having, because it's the right thing to do. And it's time for Sojourners to join in.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

In Praise of SlutWalks

When I was in college, there would be a Take Back the Night March every year. Simple idea -- women walking together to protest sexual violence, and to assert their right to go where they choose and when they choose.

Now, a similar action is being done: SlutWalks

It started in Toronto, in response to a police officer's comment: "Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized." And women responded by marching together against both sexual violence and the flippant victim-blaming attitudes which hinder real efforts at dealing with the problem.

Since then, there have been SlutWalks all over Canada and the United States -- and more to come, including London, UK. It's also prompted commentary, both print and online. Unfortunately, some of that commentary has consisted of old-school feminists decrying the reclamation of the word "slut." The most noted of these is an opinion piece by Gail Dines and Wendy Murphy, in which they tsk-tsk the women leading this effort. Their rote ideological justification is that the word is so beyond redemption "that trying to change its meaning is a waste of precious feminist resources."

With all due respect to Dr. Dines and Ms. Murphy ... Balderdash!

Words are what we make them to be. Otherwise, a whole host of words would remain off-limits. And let's not forget that, just as language and culture are complex realities, so is the definition of words. Just open any dictionary and see how many have multiple, nuanced meanings.

Besides which, you are ignoring the core message of this movement: It does not matter how a woman dresses, or what she chooses to call herself, or even how many sex partners she's had. What matters is her right to say yes or no at any given moment -- and the responsibility of men to hear and respect that.

Keep marching, women. Keep getting the message out, even when some continue to try to silence or dismiss you. Even if Dines, Murphy and others don't get what you're saying, there are those of us who do -- and who will stand with you every time you don your fishnets and stilettos to take to the streets.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

What's In A Name?

Guy Baldwin, an iconic figure in the Leather/BDSM community, has been making waves recently, first with a speech at the Leather Leadership Conference, and then another keynote for the National Leather Association International. There's been much discussion and debate about the remarks he's said at those events. This post is a respectful disagreement to one of his statements.

At the annual meeting of NLA-I, Baldwin pointed out that none of that organization's founders used a Scene name. He then remarked about the number of people he'd seen at leadership events who did go by Scene names, and posed the question: "How can you lead from the closet?"

Now that's where I have a problem -- the automatic presumption that the only motivation for taking a different name is shame or fear. And since no one who is ashamed or frightened can be a leader, then soon we'll be disqualifying for leadership anyone who prefers to be known by a name other than what's on their birth certificate or driver's license.

Let me offer a counter-example. A woman given the birth name of Miriam Simos is well-known as an author, speaker and activist in Pagan, ecofeminist and social justice circles. Thing is, she prefers to be called by her craft name: Starhawk. And while one of the reasons why many Pagans adopt craft names is protection from discrimination, she doesn't hide her legal/birth name. She has simply chosen a name which reflects her spiritual and political identity. She's hardly in the "broom closet" -- but the logic of those who insist on "legal names only" for leaders would reject that reality.

Similarly, many in the BDSM community embrace Scene names to affirm the sense of transformation they experienced. Some people's Scene names were simply nicknames bestowed by others. Meanwhile, I've also known folks who never took Scene names, but who are definitely closeted about their kink. And let's not forget people who change their legal names out of genuine fear for their safety, or shame over being related to someone nefarious.

Not good enough for other kinksters, however. To them, you're either completely out or you're totally in hiding. There's no continuum, no freedom to choose -- it's as simple as black and white. Which, unfortunately, is the same mentality of those who oppose us. Just as right-wing religionists would deprive us of civil rights for not adhering to strict rules about sexuality, so there appear to be some in our own community who would deprive others of the opportunity to serve for not adhering to their own narrow beliefs about names.

I understand the need for our leaders and spokespeople to be honest and unashamed. But one can do that and embrace a new identity as well, just as Starhawk has done. To reduce leadership qualifications to a simplistic "either-or" test, without any concern for the person's actual talents and energy, sounds too much like the employers who would fire or refuse to hire someone just for being kinky. In our fight for freedom and dignity, the last thing we should be doing is behaving like our opponents -- especially towards our own people.