August 31, 2010

Queer Issue: My experiences with religion.

When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’* And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’ John 8:10-11, New Revised Standard Version

Everyone has a different experience with religion, this post is going to be about mine.

When I was a child, I attended regularly the services at the Otego United Methodist Church. In 6th grade, I was confirmed as a member and continued attending until around my senior year of high-school. I then started attending, the youth services at a local Baptist Church. At one point, someone suggested that the Oneonta Unitarian Universalist Society would be a good choice for me. I have now been in regular attendance at the UU's religious services ever since.

When I was attending the Methodist Church, the minister that was there for most of my adolescence was Pastor Fred Albrecht or as most people called him, Pastor Fred. To put it bluntly, there are few people out there who had the kind of deep impact on my life that Pastor Fred had on me. I do not hold the religious beliefs that I had as a child, I don't call myself a Christian (but rather would describe my religious beliefs as Agnostic. However, the impact of his teachings and the example he set, had a fundamental and significant impact on my deeply held moral compass.

I remember that Pastor Fred's services often placed Biblical stories and lessons in a historical context. Something I found interesting and useful for understanding what was really going on in a particular story. For the most part, the emphasis was placed on parables such as that of the good Samaritan or the stories from the Old Testament. The "Rule Books" - Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy - were never really covered in sermons or Sunday school

I can recall that intolerance and bigotry were to be considered among the lowest forms of evil and that helping others were to be considered among the greatest goods. If people disagreed with you, you should still show respect for their beliefs, was a lesson I learned over and over again in sunday school.

It therefore came as somewhat as a shock to me, as I grew up, to discover that not all people who fell under the Christian umbrella felt that way. Finding out that there were those who used faith and religion to promote bigotry and discrimination came as something of a shock to me. Coming out to Pastor Fred was easy, coming out to the reverend at the Baptist Church was... a different matter. Churches that used Biblical passages to condemn GLBTQA individuals were so far removed from the church that I had been raised in, that I had trouble reconciling the two different versions of Christianity that seemed to exist.

While over time, I came to question the faith that I had been raised in, turning eventually to a position that abandons faith altogether, I believe that there is no reason to abandon moral principles. I cannot say what true Christianity is all about, but those who hide behind the Bible while promoting fear of those who are different are so far removed from the Christianity that I grew up with, that I almost hesitate to use the term. It also really, really bothers me, when I hear queer individuals express contempt of Christians (or religion of general) and lump all people of faith with those few who promote fear and hatred.

In any case, that is my experience and views on religion. I'm always curious as to what other peoples opinions and experiences are when it comes to religion and GLBTQA individuals.

August 29, 2010

Queer Book Review: The Skull of Truth

On one hand, we give high honor to truth. On the other hand, we know the social value of the little white lie, the not-quite true words spoken to spare someone's feelings, or avoid an unnecessary argument.

It's all very confusing.

Which is why I keep writing about it.

-Bruce Coville, The Skull of Truth, A Note from the Author

Bruce Coville is the rare type of author who is not afraid of putting in complex themes or addressing controversial issues in children's literature. His The Skull of Truth is about a boy, Charlie Eggleston, who manages to acquire the skull of truth, which goes by the name of Yorrick. The skull of truth an ancient artifact that forces anyone in it's immediate vicinity to tell the truth and only the truth. For Charlie, Yorrick has a special surprise in store, when he curses Charlie into always telling the truth, even when they are not near to each other.

Charlie, who is a compulsive liar, ends up with a bit of a problem on his hands. He finds himself in humiliated at school when he is forced to tell everyone exactly what he thinks about his classmates. The biggest problem occurs when he ends up being forced to leave Yorrick in the closet next to the dining room during a family gathering. This of course causes all kinds of havoc, particularly when his Uncle is forced to reveal to the whole family that he is really gay. Some good does end up coming out of Yorrick's stay with Charlie, such as when during a public forum Charlie uses Yorrick to force politicians to reveal the full extent of the environmental impact of a proposed construction project. If only getting polititians to tell the truth in real life were this easy...

Coville takes care to show both the upside of telling the truth and the downside, such as when Charlie ends up making a very hurtful comment to a friend who lost their hair while undergoing chemotherapy. Like all of Coville's other works, this one is funny and witty, yet with a touch of pathos to keep it grounded. Highly recommended for all ages who can grasp the ideas that Coville is presenting here.

August 16, 2010

Queer Book Review: That's Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation.

Whatever item I may be reading, I try not to base my opinion or how much I like/dislike what I'm reading based on how much I agree/disagree with what the writer is saying. So, let me put out a disclaimer first, I do not agree with everything that was written or said in That's Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation.

However, this is precisely the sort of book that is worth reading - not in spite of - but rather, *because* it represents a radical position that many people are not going to agree with, at least initially. However, it is powerfully written, so much so that it could end up changing some peoples' minds. The essays are all very well written, thought out, and informative. Some of them are shocking, some may even be described as vulgar and offensive. All of the essays are worth reading.

The central premises of That's Revolting! are as follows:
-That the LGBTQA movement, in its fight to promote Gay Rights and universal acceptance, has destroyed queer identity and along with anything that made being queer special and in the process created new kinds of discrimination.
-It is the assimilation and the acceptance of dominant institutions, such as marriage, that ultimately ends up destroying Lgbtqa identities and anything that made being queer special.

Humor,insight and provacative ideas are all found between the covers. Essay topics range from attempts to gain gender neutral bathrooms at one campus "Calling All Restroom Revolutionaries", to how racism can be present even within queer organizations.

Again, not everything that was said in That's Revolting! I agreed with nor do I expect that many people are going to agree with the conclusions the writers come to. However, in spite of the fact that this book is hard to find - it's currently out of print - those who take the extra time to track it down, will find their efforts well rewarded.

August 4, 2010

Queer Review: Querelle

Querelle, the 1982 film from R.W. Fassbinder, is about the most surreal film I can recall seeing. It takes place in Brest, France, but there is no clear indication as to the time period. There are some props from the 1980s, including a video game I have strong memories of playing with as a kid and a tape recorder. The costumes, particularly the outfits worn by the sailor, point to an earlier time period, indicating that the filmmakers didn't want the movie to be set in a specific time frame. The novel takes place in the 1890s.

The plot revolves around Querelles', a sailor, murderer, and drug dealer, as he explores his sexual desires with other men. These include his "brother" Robert, the bartender Nono, and Gil (played by the same actor as Robert). Lieutenant Seblon, Querelles' superior, also displays desire and longing for him.

I'm not sure I'm up for a more detailed plot synopsis than that, much of it only made sense to me in the most abstract way. This is at its' most basic, a 1980s art film and is also pretentious as hell. The complicated plot moves at a glacial pace while the characters wax all poetically about The Human Condition. Querelle in particular is very articulate and has a vocabulary above and beyond what one might expect from a sailor from any time period. Although, to be fair, Lieutenant Seblon is the greatest offender when it comes to spouting way too much purple prose. To put it bluntly, people in this film talk like most of their lines were stolen from the sort of angst ridden poetry many people write when they are teenagers.

The imagery also contributes to the surreal nature of the film and is highly sexualized. There's a little nudity, but nearly every shot contains some sort of artistic rendering of male genitals or at least an obvious phallic symbol. Anyone who might doubt that Fassbinder was primarily attracted to men, might consider that there is only one significant female role in this movie, who is always stately dressed, while many of the male characters wear skimpy tight fitting outfits, emphasizing their bulges, muscular and otherwise.

There exist people and critics out there who might like this film, but I would not count myself among them. Instead, the whole thing grated on my sensibilities. I wouldn't recommend this film to anyone except those bold few who wish to experiment with alternative forms of cinematic storytelling.