I'm working on an autobiographical thingy. Some of the old stuff I wrote impresses even me. I used to write a column, From Outside the Gender Prison, for the Arkansas GLBT newsmagazine Triangle Rising. I've posted some of those columns in my Gender Workshop series. But they weren't all strictly about gender. This is one of those others.
Though the pieces may be a bit dated, they are also timeless. Let's hope not. Maybe some day this won't need to be said.
From Outside the Gender Prison: Controlling Shame
[first appeared in Triangle Rising Newsmagazine, Little Rock, AR, December, 1997]
I have seen the face of the beast.
The not-so reverend Fred Godhatesfags and his entourage were in Little Rock this past Sunday, picketing the church that President Clinton used to attend when he lived here. I don't know that I have encountered a motlier crew during this lifetime.
They carried the usual assortment of gay bashing placards, claiming that AIDS was God's vengeance on homosexuals (by extension, I guess he hates people living in sub-Saharan Africa even more than he does queers), that Bill and Hillary are "fag lovers" (I didn't quite catch exactly which biblical verse makes loving someone queer a sin), and that the Bible calls for queers to be put to death (this is apparently supposed to come from the book of Romans, but for the life of me, I can't read Romans and find even a hint that this is how the book is to be interpreted).
Alicia and I were there as part of a counter-protest, along with a couple of parents and other straight allies from PFLAG, several lesbians from the community, most connected with the Women's Project, a few gay men, and some straight allies from the more tolerant portion of the religious community. The cold probably kept our numbers down to the 25 or so of us that were there, but still we outnumbered Fred and Company by nearly two to one. Also there, of course, were the members of the congregation, who expressed distaste for Fred and his tactics upon entering their church, and some policemen, there to keep the peace.
All in all, I truly believe that Fred does us more good than harm, for most people will find his message disgusting in the extreme. I have this feeling that mostly what Fred wants is attention and this is what he has found that enables him to get that attention. And you know what? I think some of his followers understand that.
Alicia spent her time at the demonstration trying to make eye contact with one of the Fred-women. The more she looked into the woman's eyes, the more the woman became obviously uncomfortable, until finally the woman held her placard in front of her face. They know what they are doing is wrong! But they do what Fred asks anyway (I can only wonder if that's because of the patriarchal power given to Fred by their religious beliefs). They do it, but you can read in their eyes that they are ashamed.
Well...we spent about 30-45 minutes showing our signs to them. The sign I carried said,
|Bigotry is Immoral|
|Hate is not a Family Value|
See that gay man over there? If he had a chance, he'd molest you.
Then they said something about having other places to picket, loaded up in their truck and drove out of town for locales unknown.
I was left with quite a foul taste in my mouth. I was especially concerned about the children they had in their retinue. What stunted lives will these childrens have when they mature, should they continue follow this path? I consider what these "adults" have already done to their kids to be the worst sort of child abuse.
When Alicia and I arrived home, there was a message on our answering machine from Alicia's sister Arlene, which was strange to me because Alicia and her sister almost never communicate with each other and especially not over the phone. Bear with me a bit. This connects with Fred eventually.
Arlene was a "special ed" kid. I guess she still is in most respects. She lives in Florida in a retirement community because Alicia's mom and her new husband have two condos there, living in one and letting Arlene live in the other. As far as I can tell, Arlene has little in the way of community, relying almost entirely on her family for human contact. She is what most people would call a "shut-in." I think, though, that the truth of the matter is that Arlene more aptly should be called a "shut-out." By the way she was raised and the way she was treated in school, she has been effectively "shut out" from participation in most phases of human society. To be sure, she has participated in shutting herself out to some extent, but I imagine this is a case where one has to live the experience to see what it is like.
In former days...and for many people like Arlene, even in the present...people were supposed to be ashamed for being in Arlene's situation or for having a child like Arlene. And so it was important to hide that shame. Hence people like Arlene were separated from the rest of us and in many cases not even discussed outside the family.
So there's the common thread: Shame. Fred Godhatesfags thinks GLBT people ought to be ashamed of themselves. At least some of his followers seem to be ashamed of themselves for what they are doing. And shame is Arlene's nemesis.
The struggle for gay rights, indeed for the rights of all people to be who they are, is a struggle for control over the concept of Shame. That's what the phrase "family values" is about when used by the religious right. They believe that queers need to be ashamed of themselves for who they are (their claim that we should rather be ashamed of "what we do"...i.e. "hate the sin, but love the sinner"...is ludicrous on the face of it, since they haven't the foggiest notion of what nearly 100 percent of us actually do that would qualify as sin). In recent years, many of us have rejected being ashamed of who we are. We aren't like Arlene anymore...we don't lock our lives away from people to keep their worlds tidy.
We speak out. And from their point of view, if we are allowed to do that uncontested, then there is no telling where this could lead. Why, they'd be seeing all sorts of people whose existence and worth they don't wish to acknowledge, all asking for a fair shot at having a good life, something which they must think is in such short supply that it needs to be rationed...available only to those who they believe to be "truly Godly" (meaning that the person plays the game of Life in strict adherence to the rules of their particular religion).
Viewed from that perspective, we won the struggle as soon as we abandoned shame for being who we are. It's now only a matter of time until those who believe that they are our opponents realize that fact.
© 1997 Robyn Elaine Serven