Thursday, August 26, 2010

One Man's Interpretation: Lady Gaga, Alejandro, and Redemption

A few years ago, I would have refused to listen to a song by anyone named Lady Gaga.   I think it was a spin class I went to last February, where they were blasting "Bad Romance", and the lyrics took me back a few years as Ms. Gaga described my first relationship with a man, and at that moment I forgave myself for my immaturity, and my lack of vision, while my quadriceps burned from the merciless pumping, and sweat overtook my once protective eyebrows, dancing closer to my eyeballs, teasing them with the promise of a slow and deep burn.  I found myself humming the song in the shower, and I realized, this woman can write music.

I came across, on Coptic Orthodox Liberal Thought (COLT) this interesting and absolutely brilliant interpretation of Lady Gaga's Alejandro.  It's pretty much a shot for shot look at her ability to use art and controversy to express her vision of redemption.

Lady Gaga's Alejandro: An Interpretation

If you haven't seen the video:

Monday, August 23, 2010

Bishop Suriel and the Gay Agenda

I have met H.G. Bishop Suriel once.  He's the kind of man that at first sight, would frighten you if you did not know him or his position.   He towers over a congregation with a height not typical for an Egyptian.  The man stands at least a foot and a half above my slightly below-average stature.  With broad shoulders and a stern look which melts quickly when you can get a smile out of him. He is a very kind man, and very well educated.
I recently heard an mp3 of a lecture he gave to a congregation in 2009, and while unlike many of the less than learned discussions initiated by clergy and sunday school teachers on the subject, it is researched and well thought out;  however, it contains not only the undertones and speech that foster the further shaming and degradation of LGBT people in our community, it also contains false information, in order to prove a point, which I am not so sure is solid to begin with.   While this is all in efforts to obey Jesus, how can one find God when the truth is hidden?    How can the people be edified when they're being, maybe unintentionally, manipulated?

To listen to the entire lecture, you can find it here:

I just wanted to talk about a few points and talk about some of the problems of these kinds of teachings in regards to its purpose as well as the effects it has on the church.

First of all, what is the purpose of this lecture?   If I could summarize it:  it is a warning to the community, to beware of both gay people and their agenda.   He paints a picture that gays are actually indoctrinated and brought into what is a very organized cult, a cult called "The Gay Agenda", one that targets not only every man and woman in the world, but also every little boy and girl, to join their ranks early.   He paints a picture that not only are gays and lesbians enemies of heterosexuals, they cease to destroy the human family and all that is decent in the world.

The Big Bad Gay Agenda Monster

A lecture like this presumes something very interesting.  It assumes that the "gay problem" being discussed is something not found within the walls of the church.   So subtle, but speaks volumes, His Grace begins the lecture as follows:
"Some of you may think: 'Why are you speaking to us about this subject [homosexuality], this probably doesn't relate to us.'   I hope it doesn't relate to you."
That last sentence, shows his desire that nothing so bad and vile, would ever befall the lives of the people sitting in that congregation, however, statistically speaking, quite a few gay people were probably in attendance, some very self-aware, and probably a few others in denial.    I wonder what it must have felt like to hear those words, which seem rather innocent in passing, but already set the tone of where a gay person belongs, if they belong at all, within the walls of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

However, His Grace mostly talks about the homosexual agenda, and not the homosexual person, removing the person from the picture, as if the issue has taken a life of its own, a large, manipulative, force, with a pink boa, consuming all in its way.    When you remove people from the issue, we all find ourselves on very dangerous ground, because the issue of homosexuality is as human as it gets.  It is an issue that deals with peoples livelihoods.  It is an issue that deals with ones choices in regards to love, partnership, and sex, and all these things that are so fundamentally human.   I don't believe one can or even should approach this topic if they intend to remove the person from the equation, however this is a tactic that makes it much safer.   We can empathize with people, but we don't need to empathize with a topic.   De-personification is safe and effective, when shaping the minds of masses.  And when it comes to creating an enemy, there is no room for empathy.

He goes on to talk about what human rights are, where he draws inspiration from the American Declaration of Independence.
"If you want to know what rights you have, you ask God.  If God is not hte originator of our rights, and if we can make them up as we go along, maybe one day someone will argue that they have the right to murder people just because they feel like it."
I cannot even comment on this, because to compare murder with homosexuality is like comparing a great tragedy with, oh, I dunno, gummy bears?

There was also a brief and humorous mention of how Spongebob Squarepants is a tool of manipulation by gays, in order to lure children, and as proof, His Grace gave couple of pieces of evidence.   One form of evidence is that Spongebob toys are found in gay shops.   Um, ever heard of Kitsch?  (or would it be Camp, in this case?)    Either way, we love the stuff.    The other piece of evidence is that Spongebob is known to hold hands with his starfish friend.

Men Holding Hands:  an effective tool in
 brainwashing your children to become homosexual
I enjoyed mostly hearing him say the words "Tinkly-Winkly", with his very proper deep Australian-accented voice.   It turned my look of concern into a smile for a brief moment.

His Grace talks about Sara Michelle Geller's girl-on-girl make-out scene in Cruel Intentions, as if it was part of Hollywood's attempt to homosexualize America.   Now, let's get real here.   Girl-on-girl make outs on screen, especially in a film like Cruel Intentions are generally born in the fantasies of and entertainment for heterosexual men.

He also speaks about a questionnaire given to students in Framingham, MA.   His Grace claims this questionnaire was given to students to undermine their heterosexuality, and an attempt to make heterosexuality seem abnormal, while homosexuality is the norm.   The questions were as follows:

1. What do you think caused your heterosexuality?
2. When did you first decide you were heterosexual?
3. Is it possible heterosexuality is a phase you will grow out of?
4. Is it possible you are heterosexual because you fear the same sex?
5. If you have never slept with anyone of the same sex, how do you know you wouldn't prefer it? Is it possible you merely need a good gay experience?
6. To whom have you disclosed your heterosexuality? How did they react?
7. Why are heterosexuals so blatant, always making a spectacle of their heterosexuality? Why can't they just be who they are and not flaunt their sexuality by kissing in public, wearing wedding rings, etc.?
I think the questionnaire is brilliant.   It is not an attempt at ostracizing or even debasing heterosexuality, but it's an interesting point to make regarding how the world sees, and questions homosexuals.  In an attempt to understand what it is like to be gay, asking heterosexuals these questions, I feel can show the truth about sexual orientation of those who are not in the majority.   Why do we not have the capacity or right to be understood?

But I would say the most troubling part of this whole lecture, is the association His Grace draws between homosexuality and pedophelia, by quoting passages from the North American Man / Boy Love Association, a pro-pedophelia organization, that His Grace presents to the congregation as a mainstream gay thought and ideas.  NAMBLA is condemned by the gay community!  Just have a conversation, I'm sure most do not know it exists, and if they did know the organization existed, they would be as opposed to it as you are.
Today, almost all gay rights groups disavow any ties to NAMBLA, voice disapproval of its objectives, and attempt to prevent NAMBLA from having a role in gay and lesbian rights events."
Gregory King of the Human Rights Campaign later said that "NAMBLA is not a gay organization ... They are not part of our community and we thoroughly reject their efforts to insinuate that pedophilia is an issue related to gay and lesbian civil rights." NAMBLA responded by claiming that "man/boy love is by definition homosexual," that "man/boy lovers are part of the gay movement and central to gay history and culture," and that "homosexuals denying that it is 'not gay' to be attracted to adolescent boys are just as ludicrous as heterosexuals saying it's 'not heterosexual' to be attracted to adolescent girls."
In 1994 the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) adopted a "Position Statement Regarding NAMBLA" saying GLAAD "deplores the North American Man Boy Love Association's (NAMBLA) goals, which include advocacy for sex between adult men and boys and the removal of legal protections for children. These goals constitute a form of child abuse and are repugnant to GLAAD." Also in 1994 the Board of Directors of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) adopted a resolution on NAMBLA that said: "NGLTF condemns all abuse of minors, both sexual and any other kind, perpetrated by adults. Accordingly, NGLTF condemns the organizational goals of NAMBLA and any other such organization."
Wikipedia entry on NAMBLA 
To draw the association between gay people and NAMBLA is about as fair and about as truthful as quoting Nazi propaganda while giving a talk about Germans.

My response is as follows:

Your Grace,
I am disappointed that a man of your stature and ability, one I respect greatly, has settled for fear-mongering and fact twisting in order to shape public opinion on a very human, sensitive, and controversial topic.    I cannot say I blame you completely because maybe your sources lead you in the wrong direction.  
  As a gay man who has struggled his whole life to find answers to why he was so different, and has found a place of peace in regards to his faith and his relationship to God, I can honestly say that I am completely misrepresented in your lecture and I don't think I would be out of line if I said that I do not just speak for myself.  
  I am afraid for the people in your congregations who are gay, who will hear lectures like these and think "this is how the church sees me, this is how my family will see me."  There are few options if they believe these things:  1) to hide and repress, only to express their God given desires in very unhealthy ways.   2) to cut off completely, becoming vulnerable to true evils, and to very unhealthy behavior.
  How many people have left the church, not because their homosexuality has made them lose interest in faith and in God, on the contrary, it is their church who has lost hope in them.  It is their church who has told them there is no place for them within her walls.   The result of such disconnection is far worse than you can imagine.   Some like me have been lucky to have maintained close ties, especially to faith, while others have felt they needed to walk away completely for safely.   While for others there have been some great casualties, and preventable disease and anguish, if understanding was sought, and love and compassion were given.  
   To the average gay or lesbian, it is clear that sexual orientation is not a choice, nor is it something that can be changed, that it is as natural and as it can be.  While it may not be the majority of what humans feel in regards to sexuality, as one myself, I can assure you that I did not choose this, nor has embracing it taken me further from God or from what is true, on the contrary, my life has improved for the better, and I only have God to thank, and I truly feel lucky that I was not one of the many causalities of being both Coptic and gay.
  Your Grace, I urge you to reach out to gay people and ask them questions about their lives, build relationship and have dialogue, I assure you that what you will find in the process may surprise you.   Gay people are not an agenda, in fact most of us just want one thing: to be safe to find love and companionship in this world, that is all.   We don't want to brainwash people, we don't hate heterosexuals, we don't even want to rape children.   Many of us feel afraid, and many of us suffer both emotional and physical harm, not just in the USA but throughout the world, and it is for this that people are fighting for equality, so that such atrocities cannot occur.  Injustice is something that we are taught to fight against as Christians, so why is the church only adding to this injustice?
Yes, the gay community does have a lot of pain and and carries scars due to the decades of having to build a culture without role-models or approval, completely in the shadows, and we often have become reactionary to the world around us, but the time of reaction is over, and the time to build and self-accept is now.  The imperfections of the gay community is also a result of being human, there are imperfections in the church, and it is also easy for the gay community to de-personalize Christians and talk about "the church" and withhold compassion because of fear.   Do you not see the parallels?  Instead of dealing with our shortcomings with more misunderstanding, why can't we start having compassion for each other?
  Your Grace, I am just a gay man, son of heterosexual parents, friend to several, brother to many, and boyfriend to one, who is seeking truth for my life, and justice for those who are suffering at the hands of men; those who are suffering not for the sake of truth or justice, but who are needlessly suffering vain.

I also want to say:

Dear LGBT Coptic Brothers and Sisters,

  One man's voice, and often many people's voices are not the truth of how God feels about you and where you belong in this world.   Above all things you are loved and accepted.   Do not allow the imperfect voices to tell you who you are.   This verse is for you:
"Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven" Matthew 5:11-12
My hope is that truth can find you, and love can embrace you.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Place To Call Home

While I often attend the Coptic Church, sometimes I need to be in a place that's mentally and spiritually safer for me.  While we hold onto our traditions and the way we worship as something familiar and beautiful to us, it is also important to experience God's love in a community that recognizes and blesses us as well.  I'll never forget the first time I stood in a church where there were other gay people around, and they weren't crying and praying to be straight.   It impacted me for life.

We need to find community.  That is the intention of the gospel, to experience God with each other.    It's hard to be silent, although sometimes it is absolutely necessary.  Make sure you find a place where you can be safe, and trust me, the clubs and bars aren't the only places to find that safety.

For locals who are looking to worship in a place that's able to acknowledge and bless your existence, check out Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.   Check out their worship schedule.

If you're a fan of the Jesuits, you can also check out Blessed Sacrament Church in Hollywood

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hold My Stones

Pat Robertson, ProtectMarriage, and NOM: this one's for you.  Aside from the cheesy music at the end, this was kind of brilliant.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Road Less Traveled

I've been told by a few folks that homosexuality is a struggle, and that it is my cross.  That it is the thing that God gave me to test my faith.   I've been told that everyone struggles.   Some people struggle with poverty, some people struggle with disease, some people struggle with not knowing what to watch on TV (which is why they invented TiVo™), and in my case, my struggle is with homosexuality, and if I am to "give in" to it, then where is the struggle?  I will have none, because my life will be easy.

When has a gay man ever had an easy life?

Growing up in the coptic church, I learned the importance of appearances.  I guarantee you, sometimes it is much easier to bottle up who you are, in order to maintain the acceptance of a society that has surrounded you from birth.    People do it all the time, just ask the girl who looks around at the club to make sure no one is there from church that she knows.   Ask the man, who oppresses his family and beats his children, but is kind and affectionate with strangers.  All to maintain acceptance by the people around them.

We can ask those people, or let's rewind 6 years and talk to yours truly, when he was a sophomore in college.   I never really understood why my friends had such a hard time abstaining from sex with their girlfriends, it was a breeze for me.   It was easier to focus on the fact that I was just a "good guy", rather than a "gay guy" (well, they don't have to be mutually exclusive).    Girls always found me to be very nice, and safe, and many even fell for me over the years, and I promise you, I wasn't giving them any signals intentionally.    Every once in a while, I'd find a girl I could hang around who was not only beautiful but fun to be around, and I'd call her my girlfriend.   Lust was not one of the things I had to worry about. Being gay was just not an option for me.  It was a choice that people made, as I was taught, why would I be steered wrong?   Why would I choose something like this? I mean, obviously people who aren't gay would know more about being gay than I would, right?

I had it all, parents who were proud of me, a church community I was active in, a track record that was decent enough I could walk around heaven with my head held high and give high-fives to the saints, young and old.   I had friends who were fun.  Every once in a while,  I'd find myself wanting to be much closer to my male friends than I actually was, to the point of even frustration and heartbreak for me, but I figured all guys went through this, so, let it be, right?   The occasional dream where I was making out with a dude that I knew.  Yes I'm sure all straight guys experience this.

The idea of facing and even accepting that my sexuality was bent towards men, was something I was not prepared to do.   I could not even imagine what my parents would think.   How many nights do I remember watching the news with them, when a report of a gay parade would come on, or some celebrity would come out of the closet, and they would shake their heads and point their eyes upwards and ask the good Lord about how he allowed this country to get so weird and "disgusting".   I'm not sure they ever got an answer, although I should probably double-check.    I couldn't imagine them looking at me, the same way they looked at those people on the television.  It was as if the word gay, would suddenly put filters on their eyes, and whenever they'd look at me, they'd see a dancing man in a speedo atop a float.    I couldn't risk that.

And my friends.   There wasn't a gay man among us, so it was safe to call each other names like "fag", "queer", or the occasional and passé, "that's so gay" without offending anyone, because deep down, my group of friends had a non-verbal agreement that homosexuality was weird, maybe even a bad thing, so we could tease each other with bad words, and it's funny.   What would I lose if I held my hand up and say, "uh hey guys, I'm actually a queer, too."

Above all, it was the sense of guilt I had started to feel in relation to my spiritual life.  Everything I had been taught thus far didn't make sense in light of what I was experiencing.   If being gay was a choice, and homosexuality was not innate, then why am I an exact copy of all the people in my life, except one thing: my desires for companionship and intimacy were targeted towards certain members of my same gender.  If the devil made me do it, and the devil was suggesting I try something so bad, why did I not already have desires for the opposite sex, because that would be from within me.   If the devil is feeding me information, it would only make sense that I already had some sense of "normal" sexuality already, and this gay stuff was just a wicked bonus.  Maybe the devil wasn't suggesting anything at all?    The thought of being cursed by God was definitely something I was not willing to risk.

However, inside I began to hurt, and it was a pain that started to break me down ever so slowly.   The pain of not knowing who you are, is something that no person should ever have to go through, because it is probably the most dangerous and self-destructive forces that can plague a human being.   I had a few options, I could either come out, or I could find some other way to deal with this mess.

Four years later I came out.   What happened in those four years is another story for another day.

Coming out as a gay man actually ended up creating more struggle for me than I had anticipated.    Life didn't become easy and struggle-free.  It was tough!  Dealing with family and having to see the pain in their eyes as they saw their dreams for me crash at an alarming rate.  Having to tell certain friends, and having some embrace me, and having some shun me.  Straight people have to deal with these things in regards to a particular person whom they may choose to date or love, or maybe in regards to an entire race they may be attracted to, but never in regards to the entire gender that draws their attention and love.

Forget about other people, how about my own dreams, of having a wife and biological children, and the idea that I can continue my generations and traditions in the way that was laid out before me.  It was a dream that took a while to die to.

Oh but the struggle doesn't stop there. I started to understand the struggle people go through in regards to having integrity in dating, especially in regards to physical intimacy. In fact I started to realize I wasn't much different from my straight cohorts.   I started to feel, dare I say, normal.  Feeling normal was something I knew I could never take for granted after spending so many years looking in the mirror and seeing a freak.

I was also facing the struggle of entering into a world with few role models of the kind of life I wanted to live, and I realized that it had nothing to do with the nature of homosexuality but rather the byproduct of the development of a subculture that had been forced into secrecy without boundaries or borders; but if "Tuesdays With Morrie" taught me anything, it was that if necessary, you must create your own culture, and so I am :)

So struggle is there, hardcore, in fact!  However what makes it worthwhile? It is the peace I feel within that is unshakable! It is the peace that comes from being transparent with oneself and in front of the Divine, that makes me stand strong in light of all these things. It is the healing I have experienced and the fact that my sexuality is not a mountain of an issue anymore, rather it is a part of a rather rich and full life, just like it is for other people out there.

While my road is not so straight, it is most definitely narrow.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

So, why am I doing this...

To walk, to jump... to fly.
Photo Credit: Omar Eduardo.  Used under Creative Commons License

There are a number of reasons why I decided to start this blog:

1) There is a lot of misinformation out there about what it means to be gay, and what it means to be a gay christian, and there is even less information on what it means to be a gay orthodox christian, and there is ZERO information out there about what it means to be a gay coptic christian.  I am hoping to share my own experience to help offer another view to those who may be looking for answers or a shared experience

2) When I was younger, unfortunately, I had nobody to turn to during the time I realized I was gay.  All that was available to me was what I could find on the internet, which needless to say, can be troublesome.  I was too afraid to reach out to friends, because of all the cultural brainwashing I had experienced growing up, about how shameful and wrong it was to be gay, I was certain those I knew would have abandoned me.   As a result, I was steered in the wrong direction of reparative therapy in an attempt to change me, in order to conform my psyche and sexuality to that which was acceptable to the church, as well as to certain christian views and opinions about what it means to be gay.   I wish I found something like this when I was younger, an honest story from someone I could relate to.  I know there are LGBT youth and adults who are struggling with their own identity, and I wanted to let them know that they're not alone, and there are answers for them out there.

3) For those who would not classify themselves as a LGBT person, but may be the parent of a gay child, who may be the child of a gay parent, or who may be a priest, sunday school teacher, or just someone who is curious and had nothing better to do than to search for "orthodox" and "gay" in their favorite search engine: I'm writing to you as well.     I'm writing to let you know that LGBT people are humans, with the same hearts, same spirits, same desire for love, and the same desire for meaning, whether it be through spirituality or otherwise.   I'm writing to those who may be shocked, confused, intrigued, angered, or even humored by the knowledge of a loved one who is gay, to let you know that your reaction is honest, but to keep in mind, there is more to a person than what you have characterized him or her to be.  Hopefully the spirit of this journal is one that can bring about dialogue and trust.

Which leads me to:  What is this blog NOT about:

1) This blog is not intended to claim to have all the right answers.  I am not here to convince anyone of anything.  I am merely offering a perspective that is rarely discussed.

2) This journal is not intended to represent the official teachings or leadership of any church

3) As this is a sensitive subject, as with all sensitive subjects, emotions can become heightened.  Hostile language or behavior will not be tolerated in comments or postings.

Well, that was my first post, let's see what happens next...