Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Queens, drag queens, etc.

Another theory about drag queens has been suggested to me. Since drag queens are essentially comedians, maybe they are just parodying certain extreme personality types you find among gay men. Kind of the way Jeff Foxworthy portrays the redneck. This stereotype is not a real person, but a highly exaggerated portrayal of a particular kind of effeminate gay man you might run into in certain social circles.

Sure, I’d buy that. That would explain why drag shows appeal to some straights too. But to my mind it only raises the question of why those gay men exist. Couldn't it be said that those types of gay men are allowing themselves to become parodies of straight women in a half-serious, half-mocking way? So then we have come full circle to the first theory about drag queens I posted yesterday, that they are in some way poking fun at straight women.

Now about these kinds of gay men, “queens” as one of my friends calls them. (I don’t know for certain if that isn’t a derogatory term, but since my friend is gay I’d rather go with his term than the ones some of my straight friends would use.) I can understand this kind of campiness as a comedic act, so from that angle drag queens make some sense to me. But I have more trouble understanding how someone gets to absorbing that campiness into their personality. I don’t want to believe it is entirely put on. Maybe some gay men really do feel that being effeminate is authentically “them.” And even though I don’t happen to believe that homosexuality is about gender-blending for most people, seeing how little we know scientifically about the origins of homosexuality, I’m open to the possibility that maybe this is the case for a certain percentage of the gay population.

That said, whenever I see so-called “queens” doing their thing—the whole bitchy, vain, smart-alecky, swishy deal—I also see someone who is putting themselves in a situation where they can be either laughed at or dismissed. Because even if being effeminate is really “him,” it seems to me he is putting it out there too aggressively, as if daring someone to knock it. And for another thing he is putting up a wall. I know there’s a real person in there. Am I ever gonna get to meet him? I mean, if Mr. Queen and I were stuck with each other in a cabin during a Colorado snowstorm, so bored there was nothing to do but chuck little wads of newspaper into the fireplace and watch the sparks kick up, and by 1 a.m. we got to talking about the meaning of life, the prospect of death, and the existence of God, I would hope that I’d discover an actual person in there who has some serious things to say. I’d think it would be unfair of me to hope otherwise.

Monday, September 25, 2006

What's the deal with drag queens?

One of the big challenges I’ve tried to tackle is understanding so-called “gay culture,” particularly male gay culture (I’ve made less progress with lesbian culture, but that's for another post). Why are there certain gay male "types"? Why do some gay men act effeminate? Why is there a certain older generation that really digs stuff like operas and divas from the 1950’s? Because of some of the conservative social circles I've run in, I know I'm supposed to dismiss all this as evidence that gays are depraved and perverted and that the whole package is a part of their lifestyle choice, etc. But since it's pretty obvious to me that people don't choose to be homosexual, I figure there must be logical explanations for why certain phenomena crop up in gay culture .

I think I understand most of this stuff, except for one area. What is the deal with drag queens? When it comes to drag queens, that’s one planet that seems to have orbited off the chart of the known universe that I thought I shared with gay men. I’ve tried to ignore the phenomenon, push it aside as a bizarre interest for a bizarre sub-group within a sub-culture. But I’ve come to see that it’s a bit more mainstream than that. Just last week Andrew Sullivan was recommending a New York performance of drag queen Dina Martina to his readership, even though his readers are a largely straight male crowd. In 2004 Nia Vardalos made a movie (that I didn’t see) about a couple of women who posed as males doing the drag queen thing (women posing as men posing as women).

Then a few years ago I was at a gay and lesbian Christian conference with some friends and listened to a guy who mixed in drag queen humor while giving the most moving Christian testimony of the night. Before he got to the testimony part where I almost cried, I was laughing really hard. Then one of my friends who is about as straight-laced a person as you’ll ever meet leaned over and said, “Yeah, you should see this drag act he does called ‘Momma.’ It’s really good.” I looked at him and thought, “If B— likes drag, then this appeals to a broader gay crowd than I thought. And look at me. I’m laughing too and I don’t even know why.”

So now I will make a better effort to try to rope that planet back into the rational part of my known universe. Here is one explanation about drag queens that I’ve heard of. Only one, because only one brave soul has ever tried to explain it to me.

Imagine yourself as a gay male growing up in this heterosexual-dominated world. There you are standing on the sidelines looking with frustration at all the great-looking men who will never pay any attention to you. Why? Because they are hetero and they are too busy chasing after women. And who are these women anyhow? Strange creatures with their high heels and heavy make-up and big hair and busty dresses and swishy walk. Yet the straight guys are inexplicably going ape over them. Meanwhile you are a man, you don’t have all the “accessories,” and so they will never go ape over you. So while you stew in a mixture of frustration and envy and puzzlement and disgust at the whole situation, along comes the drag queen. The drag queen makes a mockery of all that. He is a mixture of a gay man’s fantasy of “why can’t I be like that?” and his disgust of “why would I want to be like that?” and makes grosteque fun of the whole kettle of soup with his exaggerated femaleness. And now you get to laugh at the drag queen, at yourself, and at the whole ridiculous situation.

I consider that a good, rational explanation. However, it doesn’t explain everything. Like, why its popularity among gay men grows and grows. I mean, after awhile wouldn't people settle down with their partners, buy a house, get some pets, live a quiet life, and eventually get over the antics of those crazy straight women? Why the need to keep up the perpetual mockery? Nor does it explain why some straights apparently are getting into it. What does drag have to offer that they can relate to? I remember laughing at the conference, but I can't pick apart why I thought the humor was so funny. Will renting the Nia Vardalos movie help to explain it?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

How Christians and gays talk past each other, part 2

Christians and gays are so good at talking past each other, it would be impossible for me to talk to both groups in the same room. I’ve written some articles trying to explain homosexual issues to conservative Christians, but I can’t post them on this blog or on my website because gay readers will probably take offense at the way I put things. Likewise, when my former denomination discovered my Musings On site in February 2002, they took offense at the way I chose to address my mainly gay audience.

When I talk to conservative Christians, the first thing in order is to try to convince them that being homosexual doesn’t automatically make someone a morally bankrupt person. That’s why it is important for me to share with them about the gay and lesbian people I’ve met who have tried very hard to change their orientation, who would agree that their homosexuality is a part of their sinful or fallen nature. If I don’t tell fellow Christians about these types of gays and lesbians, they will continue to buy into the idea that most gay people choose to be homosexual for the purpose of indulging in a “homosexual lifestyle.”

But this is exactly where many gays take issue with me. Why do you present us as if we are all ashamed of who we are? We’re proud to be gay. We’re not self-haters! Then I have to explain. Sure, not everyone feels ashamed of their homosexuality in the way a religious person might. And sure, many people who have started out that way often reach a place where they learn to overcome depression and destructive behaviors and become positive contributors to society. I get that. But what I’m trying to do is “Homosexuality 101.” Getting into why gay people put such a premium on self-acceptance and “pride” is graduate level stuff, and the fact is a lot of people will never fully understand all that. You have to start where people are at, and even though it may be scary to realize that it is at such a basic level, that is often the reality of the situation.

The same happens when I address a gay audience. Christians have taken issue with me because they hear me using words like “admirable” and “courageous” when I’m giving encouragement to people who are trying to deal with their homosexuality in a morally responsible way. How can you say such things? Do you approve of sin? Whose side are you on anyhow? Then I have to explain. No, I don’t approve of sin. But as long as people can’t help being homosexually oriented and they are stuck having to deal with this reality about themselves, they can do it in either a responsible or an irresponsible way. Shouldn’t the person who chooses to live celibate, for instance, be commended over the person who chooses to live in wanton promiscuity? As long as we are going to criticize the gay community for their promiscuity, we are obligated to commend those individuals who are siding with us in that criticism and trying to seek out more moral options. Aren’t we?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

How Christians and gays talk past each other

When I first began reading “coming out” stories by gay and lesbian people, the ones that were most helpful to me as a Christian talked honestly about something that is considered practially taboo by most gays, namely the subject of self-hatred. Now, I understand that self-hatred is not a good thing. Obviously. It is never a good thing to be headed on a path toward suicide. Nor should people have to be depressed all the time, or addicted to drugs to numb themselves from inner pain. And now that I’ve gotten to know the stories of many gay and lesbian people who have described to me their personal struggles with self-acceptance over many painstaking years, I can appreciate the triumph they feel in being able to put away their self-hatred. I can understand what an accomplishment that is.

The problem is, when gay and lesbian people talk about things like pride and self-acceptance in such strong terms, it does not at all connect with most Christians in a meaningful way, and in fact may even deepen the ill-feelings and misconceptions many Christians have toward gays. Here’s what I mean. When I was brand new to this whole subject and I heard people talking of “gay pride,” I wondered why on earth someone would feel proud of their sin. You often hear from certain preachers that homosexuals are more “depraved” than the average person, and this business about “gay pride” seemed to confirm that accusation. Not only are they sinning, but they’re proud of it! Now granted, at that time I was working from the assumption that people were responsible for their homosexuality in some way. Maybe they chose it or maybe they let things get out of control by feeding or indulging unnatural sexual urges, was my theory. But even if someone was absolutely, positively not in any way responsible for finding themselves homosexually oriented, I still thought it was weird to hear people talk about gay pride. Because even if you can’t help it, shouldn’t you at least make some effort to combat it? It made me think gays must have no moral sensibility, as many teachers in the church claim.

I was lucky. I stumbled upon the right testimonies that told me many gay people do go through periods of “I don’t want this” in dealing with their homosexuality, especially early on. Whether they were expressing “self-hatred” or just “I would have preferred to have gotten a different lot in life,” I really don’t know. But let me tell you, it really, really helped me to learn that people actually do go through those feelings, not because I want gay people to hate themselves, but because at last it helped me to make sense of their stories, and it made them come off as real people I can relate to. Because that’s how I imagine I’d feel if I had to deal with being homosexual. It undermined the accusation that homosexual people are so morally far gone I couldn’t possibly relate to them.

It was a strange thing, then, for me to learn that when someone who is gay makes such an honest admission, they are practically shouted down by fellow gays for “self-hatred.” The very admission that helped to open up my mind and heart, just enough to encourage me to keep on digging, is considered a heresy in the gay community. Again, I understand why that is. I myself have spent many a sleepless night worrying about whether some gay friend of mine was sitting somewhere alone and depressed with a gun in his hand, and all I could do was pray. So I understand what people are trying to guard against. But such strong vigilance against any admission of self-hatred also hinders the kind of honesty that might make the most difference in connecting with an outsider. All I know is that if it weren’t for certain people willing to be honest with me, I would have never gotten as far as I have in trying to figure this thing out.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Save the Republican party: Vote Democrat

I voted for George W. Bush in 2000 because I thought his vision of "compassionate conservatism" would be about trying to make peace in the midst of this culture war, similar to what I was trying to accomplish with my Musings On website. I also voted for Bush in 2004 because I am in favor of the war against terrorism, the ousting of murderous dictators like Saddam Hussein, freedom for the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, and doing away with the oppression that women and gays suffer in Muslim theocracies. (And frankly, it didn't help that John Kerry came across to me as a big phony.)

Now here I am looking at the 2006 election in a much more disillusioned state of mind. To explain my current sentiments about my party . . . well, just take a look at these articles by Republicans who are hoping the GOP will lose big time this coming election.

(Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

My friend Buddy

Whenever the anniversary of 9/11 comes around, I am reminded of a small drama that was taking place in my life on the sidelines at that time. My friend Buddy (about whom I wrote an article on my site, as some of you may already know) was less than two weeks from his death and I didn’t know it. After the terrorist attacks, the days that followed were for me an emotional haze. Then Buddy sent me an email on September 19 reporting that he had been waking up at nights with chest pains and pains shooting up his arms, yet he was dismissing these symptoms as part of his history of gastrointestinal problems. Thinking he was just stressed out like me about 9/11, I wrote back and said, “Sure, keep taking that Mylanta” and then shortly after that he was dead of a heart attack. You’d think that since my dad is a physician I would’ve recognized the clear heart attack warning signs and ordered him to get his rear end into a hospital now. But on September 19 my head wasn’t completely in the game.

What was so amazing about Buddy was the firm grasp he had on his self-worth, which was rooted in his firm conviction that God truly loved him in Christ. This in spite of being gay, growing up in a church so conservative they thought Jerry Falwell was a liberal, being told all homosexuals were going to hell, getting kicked out of his family, trying to do the ex-gay thing and leaving that scene, and being estranged from the rest of the gay community because he still believed his homosexuality was sinful. Whatever the extent of his personal failure, whatever the severity of rejection he suffered from the people around him, he always kept his eyes fixed firmly on the cross of Christ, and that was all the hope and comfort he ever needed to keep his head screwed on straight and his feet firmly planted on the ground. He moved out of state, telling his parents that when they were ready to talk to him in a civilized fashion, they could get in touch with him through a friend’s email address. Although his parents and brother wrote him off as a hell-bound pervert, he still attended a conservative church even after his move, refusing to allow their perverse behavior to throw him into a reactionary, self-destructive mode. His father had raised him to believe that getting a college education was “for liberals” and a waste of time, yet at the late age of 37 he enrolled in college to get his Associates degrees, figuring it was better late than never.

One time I confided in him doubts about my website, lamenting that I was “just a housewife” so what difference could someone like me make? Buddy wrote back and said something like, “Oh sure, maybe you’re just a housewife. Or just a rocket scientist, or just a pharmacist, or just a graphic designer, or just a garbage man. Look at President Bush, he’s ‘just the president.’ Either way you’re only one person trying to make a change for something you feel is important, so what does it matter whether you’re ‘just a housewife’ or ‘just the president’ except that you’re at peace with what God has laid on your heart?” I tell you, that guy was the coolest.

Whenever I read through his old emails like I did this morning and see how he signed off with, “Saved by grace, Buddy,” I regret that he is gone, but I also know he’s in a far better place. As a gay man he believed in the grace of God against all the odds, and he made it safely home.

If you're interested in reading more about Buddy, you can check out “My Friend Buddy and the Conservative Church” on my website.

Friday, September 08, 2006


Sorry I didn't get around to posting this past week. Taking care of a 4 month-old takes its toll some weeks, especially when the doctors' appointments pile up. I hope to be back on track by Monday. Have a great weekend, everyone!

(Update: Make that Tuesday, since Monday is the 5th anniversary of 9/11.)

Sunday, September 03, 2006

"Father, Son and Holy Rift"

One of the biggest evangelical names here in Southern California is Pastor Chuck Smith. “Papa Chuck” founded the Calvary Chapel movement that reached out to the hippie generation of the 1960’s, combined conservative Bible teaching with contemporary style worship, and over three decades has spawned 700 affiliated Calvary Chapels in America and overseas. Yet the movement has recently suffered a generational rift. For according to an article in yesterday’s L.A. Times, Chuck Smith Jr., who pastors a church just 25 miles away from his father, was forced to sever his ties with Calvary Chapel last year for drifting too far from some of the hard line stances of his Pentecostal father, including his views on homosexuality.

During the 1980’s, as an AIDS pandemic exploded, Smith Jr. embraced members of the gay community from nearby Laguna Beach.

The father on homosexuality: ‘It is the final affront against God.’

The son: ‘I met homosexuals who were trying to live celibate lives or be heterosexual, and I heard all about their struggles, and I never wanted to exacerbate that. My heart went out to them. Listening convinced me that homosexual orientation is not something people chose.’

It’s another example of how each successive generation tends to have a more enlightened understanding of homosexuality than the previous one. Even within the conservative church.