• Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 291 other followers

  • Blog Stats

    • 324,015 hits

Book Review: “Holy Women, Holy Men”

Like many Episcopalians, I’ve been using Holy Women, Holy Men (2009) for about three years now. It’s a book of saints, major and minor, whose “feast days” are observed every year during the Holy Eucharist, Morning and Evening Prayer.

The saints range from the world-famous to the truly obscure from the past 2000 years of Christian history. A large percentage lived prior to the Protestant Reformation; others lived through it and after it. They come from many traditions; the Undivided Church prior to the Great Schism of 1054, which split the Church into East and West, Orthodoxy and Catholicism; Episcopalians and other Anglicans; and, for the first time, worthy Baptists, Lutherans, Moravians and others. There are even a few Jews.

Holy Women, Holy Men is an update of prior works called Lesser Feasts and Fasts. The new book’s purpose is to provide a calendar list (which saint goes on what day), along with Bible readings and a prayer known as the Collect of the Day, which mentions the saints and what they are known for; that is, why we observe them. A thumbnail biographical sketch is included on the page opposite the prayer.

HWHM, produced by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, offers a great expansion and diversification of the saints recognized by The Episcopal Church. There are many more women now, including more Americans. The list of saints is also more international than ever and goes beyond a standard collection of Dead White Europeans.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer mentioned 67 saints, but gave no liturgical directions; by 1964 the American Church added a hundred new worthies, each with lessons and a collect. Now HWHM adds another hundred or so, including 20th century Americans like Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dorchester Chaplains of World War II, Julia Chester Emery, a great laywoman, and Jonathan Daniels, a seminarian who gave his life in the civil rights movement.

In broad terms this is a successful book; it holds up less well on any given day. After three years of trial use, the Episcopal General Convention decided, based on the Commission’s own request, that it wasn’t ready for prime time, and thus its trial use was continued for three more years in a vote last month.

Some of the saints chosen are controversial; I object to a few of them, for what that’s worth. John Calvin, the theologian of hellfire and damnation, is in there, including his proclamation that all humanity is guilty of “total depravity”; so is Sarah Josepha Hale, the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” (She also popularized Thanksgiving Day and helped make it a national holiday.) John Henry Newman gets a day, despite causing all kinds of uproar when he defected from the Church of England to Roman Catholicism – and then arranged to be buried next to his longtime “friend.”

Beyond the question of including or excluding someone, which is bound to be contentious, some people raise objections to the exact phrasing of the prayers; everyone’s a critic in this democratic Church. Some commenters want to substitute other Bible readings that accompany the Eucharist.

The Commission knows its work isn’t done yet, so I give them credit for that.

However, the production of the book itself is almost shocking in its flaws; like the Bible, the Prayer Book has to be letter-perfect, and HWHM, essentially a Prayer Book supplement, is full of typos and other mistakes. Sometimes it doesn’t even spell the saint’s name the same way from one page to the next. I don’t think The Episcopal Church has ever produced a book this sloppy. (I should know, having proofread the Psalms in Authorized Services (1976), the forerunner to the current BCP.)

The worst feature is the inclusion of unrelated saints on the same day. Apparently the Commission intends for some churches to observe one person and not the other, according to local preference. We’ve never had to pick and choose before, and the logic isn’t always obvious. On August 3 there are separate services for George F. Bragg, Jr., an African-American priest and Church historian, and W.E.B. DuBois, the African-American father of sociological science who studied the Black slums of Philadelphia. Could no one figure out a way to combine these two? Which one is a Black parish (or a White one, or any other kind) supposed to choose? They combine them, of course – or leave them both out.

On August 27, we observe two great priests and missionaries to the deaf, Thomas Gallaudet and Henry Winter Syle—with the latter given the slightly degrading treatment no other saint receives of being merely “with” Gallaudet. Unlike all other clergy whose days are observed, their priesthood is not mentioned in the day’s title; why not?

We have a day for “William F. Mayo, Charles F. Menninger, and Their Sons, Pioneers in Medicine,” with the years of death of the fathers. The sons aren’t named, nor are their death dates given; are they really included or not? The bio accompanying the day mentions that the Mayos were Episcopalians, but there’s no note at all on Charles Menninger’s faith; his son Karl, who comes up in the sketch but not the title, wrote an influential book, Whatever Became of Sin?, which emphasized holistic healing of body, mind and spirit – but what his old man believed, we’ll never know.

The book is great for including a lot more women than we’ve ever had, but with the simultaneous inclusion of a lot more men, the male-female imbalance hasn’t changed at all.

Beyond all this is the question of how any day can be special if every day is taken up with a saint. At dailyoffice.org, I’ve had to alter my policy on including artworks with Morning and Evening Prayer, to put the emphasis back on Jesus and the other figures of the Bible, so we don’t get caught up in observing every Aelred, Aidan, Alban, Alcuin, Alphege and Anselm that comes along.

The bios are especially problematic, along with the grandiose titles given most saints of the middle and later Church. If someone was a king, an earl or a rich man’s daughter we’re going to hear all about their wealth, prestige and stellar education; apparently the poor don’t have what it takes for sainthood according to this Commission. It’s the worst English class-consciousness I’ve ever seen in an American book. Jon Daniels gets his whole name spelled out like a baptismal certificate, when he was just a young guy in blue jeans.

For a denominaton that is no longer the Church of the Upper Class, that indeed is struggling at times for its ongoing life, the Standing Commission has no clue how to market these people as role models – the principal role of a saint. It’s as if this Commission takes all its meetings at Downton Abbey, while the rest of us carry the tea and pay for the lodgings.

I exaggerate; I know some of the Commission members, who are good people trying to do a difficult job. This book isn’t the only thing they’ve had on their plate; this year they offered, and General Convention approved, rites for same-sex blessings (which aren’t marriages, they hasten to add). There was a little arguing about it but the Convention okayed those new liturgies by a landslide, so the Commission gets kudos for that.

Pushing back final approval of this book was also the right thing to do. It isn’t finished yet, it’s kind of a mess—and we’re not used to that. Millions of people depend on what our official books say, but HWHM isn’t entirely dependable yet.

Let me also give credit to the Commission for engaging the Church and the public in the process of revising the calendar, with all its pitfalls. Anyone can comment on their blog at http://liturgyandmusic.wordpress.com – and people do. I was able to put the Commission in touch with the descendants of a new saint, Conrad Weiser of Pennsylvania, a colonial diplomat with the Native Americans of the Northeast. I’m proud of that, but find it sad that Weiser’s family, with their own website and frequent reunions, had no idea that TEC was elevating their ancestor, and that the Commission never even looked for his relatives. All it took was a Google search.

I expect better of The Episcopal Church; I expect the best human beings can do, and Holy Women, Holy Men isn’t it. Maybe it will be someday, but it isn’t now.

Howard Galley, General Editor of the Book of Common Prayer (1979), would have made sure it was before it was released, but he isn’t here anymore; I nominate him for sainthood.++

Sometimes saints get added from the ground up, not the Commission down; Thurgood Marshall, an Episcopal layman and the first Black Supreme Court justice, was recognized after his parish in Washington, D.C. began celebrating his life every year and talking up his candidacy. The same thing is now happening for Dr. Pauli Murray, a priest and civil rights leader in North Carolina. The Standing Commission’s guidelines for recognizing sainthood say to wait 50 years after a person’s death, but that didn’t stop Dr. King, Jon Daniels or Justice Marshall.

 

Thelma Glass Has Died; Lessons from Her Life

Thelma Glass (David Campbell/Alabama State University)

Professor Thelma Glass of Alabama State University has died. She was a principal organizer of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, the nonviolent action which propelled Martin Luther King, Jr. to world prominence. She was 96. Go here to read her inspiring story in The New York Times.

I want to focus on a detail we often overlook: people like Rosa Parks weren’t just forced to sit in the back of the bus. One hears that phrase so commonly these days that its meaning is weak tea.

Instead Blacks were told, “Sit in the back and give up your seat to a White person.”

Male, female, it didn’t matter; any White person. An able-bodied kid, even one who couldn’t sit still. This was the law.

In fact it was psychological warfare—brainwashing, programming, conditioning. “You matter so little that you have to stand up so a snot-nosed kid can sit down.”

The entire Jim Crow system of segregation was built to control people’s minds as much as their bodies. Colored drinking fountains—movie balconies—waiting rooms—swimming pools—all were intended to keep the people feeling down; worthless, helpless, confused, intimidated, separated, alienated and self-destructive.

If you can control people’s minds, their bodies follow.

There wasn’t a single White person, ever, who believed they would be harmed if they had to drink from the same fountain as a Black person. When you’re thirsty, water is water—and on the farm, it all comes from the same tin cup or gourd, and everyone cheerfully drank after each other without the least concern about hygiene. Remember when you were a kid? “Gimme a drink of that Co-Cola.”

No cooties to be found—including when a Black person got out of her seat on the bus and a White person plopped his butt right down where she’d been a-sitting.

It was largely psychological. But if you dared not to cooperate in your own brainwashing, they’d burn down your house, or bomb your Sunday School.

I’m still stunned by all the violence Whites were willing to commit to maintain their little advantages. I’d guess their self-esteem was pretty shaky too.

And it’s not as if the violence doesn’t continue, or the little mind games; just this week news bubbled up about a White Baptist church in Mississippi that refused to allow a Black, heterosexual couple to get married, purely for reasons of race. This couple had been attending there awhile, but when it came time to stand up in the White folks’ sanctuary, some of the members threw a fit—and the timid, “sensitive” pastor let them.

Thank God you don’t live in Miss’sippi. Or if you do, just slip out the back, Jack. There must be 50 ways to leave the Worst State Ever.

Now let’s bring it home to us. What did Prof. Glass do, and why did it have such an impact?

What does it mean for us today?

What she did, with Rosa Parks, Dr. King and the Montgomery Women’s Political Council, was remove one of the cornerstones in the edifice of racist psychological warfare.

Eventually, with a great deal of suffering and death, the rest of the structure fell down. Black folk stopped letting White people control their thoughts.

I think this applies directly to LGBTs.

The most homophobic people on earth are Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual. We’ve internalized homophobia; we’ve let Straight people brainwash us and control our thoughts.

We then turn around and use their weapons against ourselves, and each other.

I think we do this as much now as we ever did. Psychologically we’ve not made much progress at all. We’re outwardly more free, but our most casual, everyday conversations are laden with Straight people’s thought patterns.

Every “camp” remark ever made is homophobic, dividing the world into worthy Straight people and unworthy Gay people, or worthy men and unworthy women. (Because, you know, to be Gay and male really means you’re just a woman.)

Does this mean we give up our humor? Not at all. It means start being funny for a change!

My Jack was a wit; he kept everyone in stitches. He almost never made camp remarks. He liked Gay people, and fought for us.

Here we are, in 2012, and we’ve still got Gay men signing up for non-existent cures. Evidently they can’t think straight – or Straight’s the only way they can think, and they hate themselves.

We’ve still got Tyler Clementis jumping off bridges. That should teach the camp crowd something – but instead they always blame someone else.

We still churn out devastating statistics on LGBT depression, smoking, alcoholism and drug addiction, and tons of new HIV infections.

We worry about children being bullied, instead of teaching them to fight back.

There is plenty of blame to go around for our personal problems and social problems – but we’re perpetrators too, and we never take responsibility for it. We’ve got more denial than all the rivers of Egypt.

You can’t watch 10 snippets of Gay porn without seeing 8 snippets of homo-hatred. “You like that, bitch?”

Um, no, I don’t. We are not female.

We’re just Gay, that’s all.

I would like us to stop oppressing each other and ourselves. We can’t do much, directly at least, about anti-Gay violence, but we can stop thinking like some Straight people do.

Remember, the oppressor’s as terrified as we are. Do you think those ’50s crackers didn’t know they were doing wrong, bombing churches, burning crosses, shooting people dead?

They knew, all right, and so do we.

It isn’t a crime, when you’re an oppressed person, to absorb the mind games and thought patterns drummed into your head.

But it is a crime to keep thinking that way once you lose your chains. And it’s a felony to make other victims keep feeling bad about themselves.

It’s the old programming principle; garbage in, garbage out.

We’re still putting out an awful lot of garbage, every day, in most of our thoughts and conversations.

“Pride” is supposed to be the antidote to this, but it takes more than marching in a parade or buying a T-shirt. It takes deep soul-searching to root out all the bad programming.

There’s nowhere to go to get a brain transplant. If there were, none of us would smoke, drink or get HIV.

What we can do, though, is act. Ms. Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, and got arrested. She knew she would; she’d planned it all out.

Then once the news of her refusal reached Ms. Glass, she acted too; the Women’s Political Council acted – and within four days all the buses were empty.

The Black folk who depended on the buses had to make other arrangements. Some walked and some caught a ride with a friend.

They all knew instinctively how important it was to grab onto that cornerstone and yank it.

They didn’t need to go to therapy to change the voices in their heads; they had a tremendous advantage over LGBTs in the support of their families, who always knew racism was wrong.

This isn’t to say there weren’t Black folk who were scared to death to challenge the system; there were. The longer the bus boycott went on, the more internal dissent there was. It’s hard to get someplace when you don’t have transportation.

But they acted, and within a year they won, and only later did they stop to think about what they’d done and what it meant.

The larger civil rights movement was rife with internal dissent; the historical record shows that Dr. King got stabbed in the back more often by fearful Black pastors than any other group. But still he kept it together, even as younger, more militant leaders emerged, without his principles of non-violence. They didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize, he did.

LGBTs have made remarkable strides as everyone now sees. We’ve been to the mountaintop and seen the promised land.

But if we want to be actors and not just reactors; if we want to have real pride and not just the kind you buy; if we want political change as well as inner peace and joy, we have to change our behavior and our thoughts.

We have to stop oppressing each other as a crooked way of showing/hiding how oppressed we still feel.

If you find it hard to change your thoughts, change your behavior; boycott Chick-Fil-A – and don’t be too quick to laud Target for running Gay ads and selling Pride trinkets just two short years after donating $150,000 in corporate money to a bigot running for governor of Minnesota.

Penney’s, Ellen’s sponsor, didn’t slip corporate cash to bigots first.

And don’t tell me that you can’t keep up with all the terrible companies, so therefore you don’t do jack shit.

Don’t tell us that you love Jesus or the pope or the Mormon church so much that you’re sticking with them no matter what – or we’ll come and pull you off the bus so you can walk. (You can still love your church, but don’t give them one thin dime as long as they treat LGBTs like the antichrist.)

Don’t tell us that you’re voting for Mitt Romney, “even though you disagree with him on this issue,” without expecting the rest of us to call you out. The only thing the Republican Party stands for now is greed – so we know exactly who your god is, the Almighty Dollar. You didn’t get the Gay gene without also getting the Gay compassion, the Gay empathy.

The more we act to liberate ourselves and others, the more our thoughts realign. (If we try changing our thoughts before our actions, it takes forever.)

Most of all stop oppressing other LGBTs with your idiotic remarks and pathetic humor.

Gay women are women; Gay men are men; and yes, you can play with those roles and gender boundaries all you want – as long as you don’t oppress others.

Bisexuals are real people with real feelings, so stop trying to make them fit your brainwaves.

Transgenders are allowed to be themselves – so hire one.

Imagine the world you want to live in, and your place in it; then act so that it comes true, and your thoughts will follow you. Create a world in which everyone is free.

That’s what Thelma Glass did, and she wasn’t much different from you or me.

But what made her different was that she acted. First Rosa, then Thelma, and suddenly it all went viral.++

New Art, New Computer, New Novel

Steve Tobin: River. It's 60 feet tall, made of glass.

I need to buy a new Macintosh. Some months ago my then-new Mac got fried in an electrical storm, and I got an insurance settlement (and a new surge protector). Up to now I’ve held up on buying the new Mac, making do with the older laptop I’m writing this on. But I’ll have to bite the bullet, because not having a new desktop unit is preventing me from completing my next novel.

In other words I’m being neurotic again. It’s very hard for me to spend $1100 on anything these days. My financial situation is very shaky and I feel a bit immobilized. It doesn’t help that my usual supplier MacMall has ripped me off in the past with rebate come-ons (though they’re prompt and accurate about shipping the main unit). I mean, rebates? All rebates are dishonest. Just give me the discount now, don’t make me mail something, wait and forget about the money you owe me.

(I once got a 23¢ rebate check, which promptly bounced and cost me $10 for depositing a bad check.)

There are other Mac resellers, of course, and I suppose I should go with the cheapest one. Still it takes a couple of leaps of faith, and I’ve been procrastinating.

But I’ve got to get this novel out; it’s pretty central to my identity, my mission, my vocation. The book’s about a Gay Christian marriage.

Gay marriage is a hot political issue, but this book goes farther than the headlines of the day, because it locates the relationship within a defined spiritual system (the Church) and a theology (mainstream Episcopalian).

One of my grooms is a nominal Methodist who goes to church weekly because “it’s a family thing; we go to church because, well, we always have.” Kent loves the Christmas holidays, but doesn’t think all that much about God or Jesus the rest of the year; he goes to church to see his cousins, aunts and uncles.

Jamie, the man he marries, doesn’t go to church as often, but thinks intensely about the fathersonandholyspirit. I hope you can see some conflict coming already!

This book, tentatively titled “The Centurion’s Boy” and available in blog form here, starts with a sex scene – or rather, it starts with a betrothal that leads to a sex scene.

This is because the book is a sequel to my 2001 novel “Murder at Willow Slough,” in which Jamie and Kent, a gorgeous young reporter and a hunky young cop, solve a serial murder and fall in love. “Slough” may be the first Gay novel ever written without a single sex scene. It does get steamy at points, but that book ends with declarations of love.

So it only makes sense that the next book should open with them tearing their clothes off. Even so, Jamie wants more than mere love, he wants commitment.

That’s why it’s a book about marriage; any marriage, Gay or Straight, Christian or atheist.

Jamie’s been married before, to a man who died young. (In some ways this tracks my own biography, but that was only a jumping-off point.)

Jamie’s the one who knows what marriage is. Kent just wants to get married because that’s what people do; his version of the normal family narrative.

Jamie has very little family, but Kent’s the center of a big, rich, even historic network of blood relatives.

Putting together two guys, two sets of expectations and two families is what the book is about – while also investigating another murder.

You can see already it’s a sprawling novel; that’s how I tend to write. I’ve got Civil War and Underground Railroad history in there, the whole thing could spin out of control if I let it – but I won’t.

In nearly every Gay male novel, the two protagonists are independent actors, footloose and fancy-free, living in a big glamorous city, having left behind their (homophobic) families in Costa Rica or South Africa or Utah.

I don’t blame those authors; real Gay life often happens just that way. But my characters are located in a particular place, smalltown Indiana, where one is very much involved with his relatives, who aren’t homophobic at all.

I like upending some of the usual conventions. I like that Kent is part of a big loving family for whom “church” is more habit than anything else.

And I like making him confront, through his lover, the reality of God. I think that’s a worthwhile thing to write about.

Meanwhile Jamie is stuck without a car, living in a giant old farmhouse that’s so historic it hasn’t been redone since it was built.

No matter how much today’s Gay people want to reinvent ourselves, we’re all tied to the families we grew up in, even if our relatives rejected us decades ago or we rejected them.

If your husband’s a family man, what can you do but join the family – and remake it according to your own understandings, needs and vision?

Do we have to reject all that came before us, including our religious background, because of idiotic things some profiteers of faith said and did on TV?

Do Gay Christians have boring sex lives, when the unofficial Gay religion is hedonism? Or does making a commitment and keeping it free up believers in surprising ways?

These are the questions I wrestle with. But I can’t come to any decision until I decide to buy a new Macintosh.

While I’ve sat here and stewed about this the past few months, my thoughts about Jamie and Kent have raced ahead. I’m constantly writing dialogue for them in my head, new scenes, disagreements, sexual episodes and religious ones too.

Jamie decides that if they have to live in the old family homestead, it’s got to be redone, even if that means criticism from the rest of the family. He’ll preserve the most historic features and not violate the spirit of the place, but everything else is up for grabs. He loves art, but the relatives never got past paint-by-number. They are Hoosiers, he respects that (and is one too), but since they’re rich it’s time to spend some money.

He’s also going to reform their sexual politics and replace the patriarchy all family relationships have been built on. Relatives who don’t like it can “blame the Gay guy,” which will leave Kent as popular as ever.

New generations have to renew the old ways of doing things; thesis, antithesis, synthesis. All while chasing after some bad guys.

The point of Jamie’s being religious isn’t so I can say, “This is how you’re supposed to be and do and believe,” but to illustrate which side God’s really on. It isn’t the side of the bogeymen who claim to speak for Christ on TV.

The fact that Kent and Jamie have a very sexual (and semi-kinky) relationship is also meant to make this point; God loves sexual love, that’s why s/he built it into our bodies. Gay or Straight, it’s all the same to her; what s/he cares about is the quality of the relationship – the faithfulness of it, which is a lot more than “who puts what in where.”

So these two guys set out to find ecstatic delight in each other.

All permanent, loving relationships are a new synthesis, even though as Tolstoy said, happy families are all alike. “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue…”

Steve Tobin’s art, which I’ve only recently discovered, makes me itchy to start writing again. Jamie’s going to fill that house with spectacular joy; that’s how he reflects the God of creative beauty, and how he loves his lover.++

Steve Tobin: Exploded Clay.

My Brush with Fame & Scandal

I call this blog a Gay Spirit Diary. My goal is to integrate sex, love and faith in God, ideally through Christian same-sex marriage. I’m (slowly) writing a book about it, and here I explore some ideas — which is all a bit of buildup to telling you about my chat this afternoon with a famous Gay porn star of the ’80s and ’90s, Jim Bentley.

If sex, love and faith can be integrated, Bentley is as good a place to start as any. I have no idea of his religion; he may not have any. But he’s a nice guy, intelligent and cute. He’s retired from the biz now after a prolific 20-year career, living in the 805 and at last report raising figs. How biblical.

Any number of Christian commentators (heterosexuals all) will tell you that pornography is the root of all evil, and sometimes they’re right; sometimes it’s exploitive, maybe most of the time. But I lived through the AIDS crisis, baby, and porn kept a lot of Gay men alive. So it can’t be all bad. Self-love is always better than promiscuous, destructive sex.

If Jesus were around now and living in Southern California, no doubt he’d have a few porn stars as buddies; he always went where the need was greatest and the people were most real.

Jim Bentley, whose real name is James Bending II, is not someone I ever fantasized about. Yet he impressed me the first time I saw him; he’s smart. He gives off a good vibe. He’s someone you’d want to know outside the studio or the dirty bookstore. He’s sexually uninhibited, and that’s sometimes a sign of an integrated personality. He had wonderful grandparents who raised him, and somehow that shows onscreen.

We talked on the phone today because he’s written a book, which got a very favorable review in the Bay Area Reporter, a San Francisco Gay newspaper. I wanted to order the book, because I want to know more about that personality I’ve seen on video; what makes him a whole human being, when most porn stars are as deep as a sheet of paper?

I suspect he’s that outstanding, although you never know what you’re going to get in any porn clip. Usually it’s the product of a director who has no idea what he’s doing; thus we expect very little of the actors, much less that they actually show some pride in themselves.

Jim Bentley always brought class to his shoots. That’s why I learned his name.

Fact is, “cute” is a dime a dozen in pornland, and so are big dicks; they’re commodities, like soybeans or sorghum. But here was this boy who consistently stood out; he likes sex but there’s more to him, and you can see that onscreen.

He has a website, which is here. To buy the book you call his number, and he answers. He immediately put me at ease. He told me what to do to obtain the book, which is available by PayPal. If you don’t do PayPal (and I don’t), just write him an e-mail. He signs all his books.

I like that, and as an author I do the same thing. Every paying customer deserves a personal thanks.

The odd thing is that I’ve never particularly responded to his body. Never fantasized, “Gee, I want to boink Jim Bentley.” No doubt it would be fun, but I’ve always been more interested in the rest of the story; his background, his history, how he lives now in his young middle age.

His natural hair color is brown, but the day he went blond, he became a star. He’s the ideal smooth boy, with a slim athletic build. I guess he has a big dick, too, but I never really paid that much attention. What I noticed was how much he loves sex, and how open he was with his personality.

You don’t see that in porn; what you see is the closed personality, the fake, the whore who does whatever the director says so he gets paid and rehired, no matter how stupid the director.

Jim Bentley was different; a clip I saw today showed him in a tuxedo, slapping ass with a hunky brunet (J.T. Sloan). Bentley was “elegant,” the director said; in porn terms what does that mean?

More than a tuxedo, I’d say. It meant he was fully there, in the moment, having sex — which is what my fictional characters Jamie and Kent, who love each other, aspire to.

I’ve always been more interested in Bentley the man than Bentley the porn star. Personality outweighs dick size, buds, it’s the biggest turnon of all.

Here’s what I think about Gay marriage and morality. I have to take a breath here before I push on, so that God will guide my fingers and my thoughts.

We have, in the Song of Songs, wonderful imagery of marriage as a glorious gift of God.

O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,
in the covert of the cliff,
let me see your face,
let me hear your voice,
for your voice is sweet,
and your face is lovely.

Song of Solomon 2:14

There is nothing wrong with appreciating Jim Bentley’s face — or any of the rest of him.

The big challenge is really simple, whether it is possible that two men or two women who love each other have a moral equivalence with a woman and man who love each other. Is it love that prevails, or heterosexuality?

God is love, after all, so what are we to make of Jim Bentley and his lover?

Well, you can figure out what I think; love prevails over heterosexuality, not in my terms but God’s. This is my belief.

Of course I could be wrong, but God is love, and Jamie falls for Kent, it can’t be helped. He falls head over heels for Kent.

Ought they not to be married?

My point about Jim Bentley is this, he’s someone you could fall in love with, and take home to mother, and stand up in church with, and care for as much 40 years from now as you do today.

That is the value of his open and loving personality.

His book, I’m sure, is full of sexual exploits and nude photos, but what I really want to see is the rest of him, the brain, the heart and soul. I want to know the boy who became a proud man.

I want to know how he did it, and how to replicate that for the rest of Gay men who are living unfulfilled lives.

I think we do pretty well as a people, oppressed and murdered in half the world; but spiritually, we’re still pretty hard up.

We need to know that God loves our love — even if that’s Jim Bentley, a foggy picture on a computer screen. God loves love.

I hope to get Mr. Bending’s book, to find out what makes him tick, and to show something of how a Gay boy who grew up in Fresno, the product of a broken home, still managed to come out unscathed after stardom.

Sex, love and God are all of one piece; that’s the Song of Songs, the Song of Joshua and the Song of Bentley.++

Maine Catholics Lobby Against Gay Marriage

UPDATE: The legislature in Maine passed the Gay marriage bill May 6 and Gov. John Baldacci signed it. Whaddaya know, Democrats who act like Democrats. Hooray for Maine!

richardmalone

Richard Malone, Bishop of Portland, Maine.

I guess it’s no surprise, the Catholic Church hates Gay people, and calls us such charming phrases as “intrinsically disordered.”

In your being, you’re no good.

No surprise, Gay people hate the Catholic Church right back.

The state legislature in Maine is about to pass a Gay marriage bill, recommended forthrightly by the Episcopal Diocese. (Thank you, Bishop Lane.)

The official Catholic position is against the bill, and the bishop is paying lobbyists to fight it. No rights for queers!

Sure is good news, huh? Some kind of Gospel. Let’s all follow Jesus, that well-known Gay hater who never said a word about it.

Down is up and wrong is right. God is love but Jesus hates. Priests can never have sex, but meanwhile they’re abusing every child in sight.

How did the Church go so wrong? What can be done about it?

What does God really think about sex? Any kind of sex, not just my kind; whuzzup, God?

How can we tell people that Jesus is the incarnation of love when your alleged followers are so full of hate that they want to deny human rights to non-conformists? It doesn’t work. They don’t believe us.

To save their own skins they’re running as fast and as far away from the Catholic church as they can get.

How can we sing a new song in a foreign land?

St. Peter was married, but his alleged successor in Rome, who calls himself Pope, is the world’s leading crusader against sex.

Priests must never have sex. Of course they do it all the time like everyone else, but only in the closet.

It’s what my pal Leonardo calls the Land of Let’s Pretend.

What does God have to say? Everybody gather round, listen hard, keep still; maybe we’ll hear God’s little whisper.

Or maybe God’s shout; if I were the King of the Universe I’d be shouting about now.

What does God say?

“I love you just the way you are,” in your maleness, your femaleness, your queerness, your Straightness, doesn’t matter. “I love you just the way you are.”

“I love you.” Get used to it.

I am very, very proud of the Episcopal Bishop of Maine. He’s doing what he can to spread good news, and I love him for it.

I am equally ashamed of the Catholic Bishop of Portland, using church dollars in a hate campaign.

Here’s what’s going to happen, I think. The Maine Legislature will pass the bill. The governor may or may not sign it; he’s no friend of Gay people and he doesn’t know what to do. In fact he’s a minor player because even if the bill becomes law without his signature, the Catholics in Maine, along with all the other haters, will gather names on petitions to try to get a “people’s veto” to nullify the law.

Every dollar of that campaign is a dollar that doesn’t feed the hungry, but Catholics won’t care. They’ll tell themselves the Virgin Mary made ’em starve people to death to prevent same-sex marriage.

Every Gay person in Maine will run screaming out of their churches, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican, it won’t matter—ALL churches will be suspected.

Jesus will wonder what happened to his congregation. But then he’ll know, and he won’t be pleased.

The atheists will be; they love to poke fun at the comic-book God. And who can blame them, when the Catholic Church itself promotes a comic-book God?

This is the same church that has ruined its reputation in Europe, and it’s fast approaching here. No one goes to church in Europe anymore. All those cathedrals? Empty. Tourist attractions. “Remember when.”

Only when the Catholic Church is faced with imminent collapse—financially, nothing else will get their attention—will it decide, “Maybe priests can have sex after all. Maybe, in limited circumstances, with permission from the bureaucracy, at certain times, experimentally, every other Tuesday, maybe.”

Whereupon every priest in the world will petition the bureaucracy to get married, for it is better to marry than to burn, and better to have sex in the bedroom than the closet.

God made your gonads, and gave you raging hormones for a reason: sex is a little taste of heaven.

Humans are constantly misusing sex, but the impulse itself is divine.

God is love, and humans get to make love. See how this works?

God wants us to make love.

As Norman Pittenger said, there is sex that is good, better and best, and God wants us to do it the best way; but sex is good.

Which is why priestly celibacy is so destructive, stifling, even murderous. The Catholic Church is exactly wrong on every sexual issue. Completely, totally, dead wrong.

Gay marriage, like Straight marriage, is a holy, wonderful thing, a blessing, an act of God.

What is the distinguishing mark of holy matrimony? Two people stand up, in public, and promise to love each other. They say all this where everyone else can hear.

There is no other act like that. Promises made, given and received, in public, “I will love you forever.”

Wow.

Let me end now with a personal note. I am finally working through, after five decades, my understanding of Gay love, sex and God. I have finally been given some integration of personality, spirituality and physicality. I am very grateful for this one-ing.

The universal Church teaches that God should be at the center of every marriage. But I didn’t know how that could happen; if I have lust for my husband (and I do, believe me), how can I love God more than Mr. Right? Does God demand that he get between us? What kind of God would do that?

But no, my thinking’s been all wrong. God is at the center of the one I love. I may or may not perceive God there, but in my loving, God’s right there.

The one I love is the one God loves. What I love about my man is what God loves about him too—so much, that God lives inside his body.

When I love my man’s body I’m doing just what God intends, for both of us. God so loves Derrick that God wants him made love to; and God so loves me that he gives me Derrick to love.

Thus if we are open to God at all, we cannot help but have a holy marriage. And this prefigures the bliss of heaven itself.

When we die our soul will be one’d with God. In the meantime, my body is one’d with Derrick’s. We use our bodies to one with each other in heart and mind and soul.

There is nothing greater than standing up in public and saying, in front of God ‘n’ everybody, “I will love you forever.”

And yes, maybe I lust after your body and yes, maybe I don’t; but regardless, “I will love you forever, because I see God in you.”

A public promise; a vow, a sacred thing.

Jesus loves it when people get married. He hopes and prays for the best, that everything works out; he knows it doesn’t always happen, but he prays and blesses our vowing.

He knows they’re going to go home and screw like rabbits, but that’s how God made ’em and it’s private, so let ’em go at it.

God made them to worship each other’s bodies, because that’s the closest we’ll ever come to knowing what real worship is.

Derrick isn’t God, but he’s real, real close. God loves it when people love each other.

By giving me Derrick, God develops my capacity to love. Marriage is the training ground for heaven.

Stupid Catholics; Episcopalians have more fun.

As for all the screaming people fleeing, look up; you’re running right past an Episcopal church, and the people inside are learning at last to be students of loving. A few of them, like Stephen Lane, are getting pretty good at it.

From Episcopal Life Online:

Lane said that the church “long ago, concluded and publicly proclaimed through its own legislative body that gay and lesbian persons are children of God and, by baptism, full members of the church.

“We have also concluded that sexual orientation, in and of itself, is no bar to holding any office or ministry in the church, as long as the particular requirements of that office or ministry are met,” he added. “And we have repeatedly affirmed our support for the human and civil rights of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered persons. In many of our congregations, both here in Maine and around the country, faithful same sex couples and their families are participating in the life of the church and sharing in the work of ministry and service to their communities.”

That’s the Jesus I know, and proclaim, and defend, and love, because he first loved me.++

bishop_lane

Sex & Intimacy: Paired & Learned?

I wish there were a Gay sex blog that takes the subject seriously, especially in these days of legal Gay marriage.

I like eye candy as much as the next guy, but I’d like to find a forum that deals with the sexual issues I think about:

• How do two guys make a relationship?

• What makes relationships last?

• How do lovers overcome sexual incompatibility? What do you do when your lover wants something you find icky? Or painful? Or humiliating? Or boring? What strategies work best and allow you to keep and improve the relationship?

(Advice columns are as superficial as the people who write them and read them. Thanks, I already know about lubes and toys.)

• What are the data on monogamy vs. “open” relationships? I haven’t seen any new work on that since McWhirter and Mattison in 1984.

• Does it help us or hurt us to separate commitment and sexuality?

• Do 3-ways ever work? Or does one guy get jealous when the trick prefers his lover?

• How do we mature emotionally beyond assessing every other guy’s “hotness”?

• Youth is generally attractive, but can we learn how to sexualize guys our own age, whatever that is? Twenty-somethings get older at the exact same rate as everyone else. Nor does “aging” seem the central issue; what do two 25-year-olds do when they fall in love?

• What are the connections between sexuality and spirituality? If they’re connected in good ways, how do we bring more spirit to our sex?

• What is the difference between having sex and making love?

• What can Gay men learn from women?

• What can Gay men teach women?

• Sexuality is progressive over our lives; as teens we may be attracted to any kind of sex, but as we progress, we develop ever more specific wants and fantasies. How can we bring those into an ongoing relationship? What does it take to do so?

• We celebrate our sexual liberation, but aren’t we often just as shy and reluctant to talk about our real feelings with our partner as Puritan Straights are? Do we create artificial barriers to intimacy?

• Are there LGBT religious groups or community centers that sponsor such discussions? If not, why not? (I found one online in Bellingham, Washington, and news of a weekend retreat last year in upstate New York.) Is there a need for such discussions BEFORE people go crazy and need therapy? Does anyone write books on these topics geared to intelligent laypeople rather than professional counselors?

• How do custodial children change a couple’s sexual dynamics?

• Can people be taught how to be intimate? Some people seem to be incapable of it; what about the rest of us?

I have my own ideas about these questions, but please, if something here strikes a chord in you, leave a comment.++

Jack T. Dawson, Activist and Lover

Jack Dawson and Josh Thomas, wedding night, Dec. 6, 1990

I have written two pieces on the final illness and death of my lover and husband, Jack Dawson, a eulogy and a thank you letter, but I’m struck by how inadequately I describe him. I’m a professional writer; can I not apply my wordsmithing skills to a subject I know better than any other?

What was it about him that made him special; that made me marry him?

Why, on his last day on earth, did ten people go to him, none related by blood? How is it he touched so many people with his goodness?

Some of the gang from Simon Says, a Cincinnati Gay bar, were there that last day; he worked there in some minor capacity, counting the money, making bank deposits. When he was done he would hang out awhile; the crowd at Simon’s became a substitute family, for which I thank them all.

But even being “family” isn’t enough to get most barflies into the hospital room of a man who’s dying; Americans avoid the dying, we don’t go and sit with them. Yet several friends from Simon’s were there, and the owner sat with him till the end.

I’m very grateful; I couldn’t or wouldn’t be with him. I was told he wasn’t conscious, “heavily sedated.” I wasn’t going to go for one last look at him if I couldn’t do anything for him. Something about that just strikes me as obscene. He would not have liked being on display when I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years—though I’m equally sure he was glad his day-to-day friends were there.

The necessary elements for me to visit him were beyond his power: looking into each other’s eyes; holding each other. If we couldn’t do that he wouldn’t want me there.

The last time we saw each other a few years ago, I was shocked by the tenderness we felt for each other; it was almost confusing, disorienting, how dear we still were to each other. I remember a thousand gentle touches and whispered thoughts. We clung together and spoke softly. We hadn’t lived together in ten years, we’d both “moved on with our lives,” and yet… there he was, and I loved him; there I was, and he loved me the same way.

Where did he get such sweetness? It was a gift from God, which can’t otherwise be explained. It was Jack’s own personality that attracted so many people, and when I consider the hard knocks he got growing up, that “personality” also seems a decision, a whole series of choices he made along the way. He would be himself; he would be considerate of others; he would listen; he would care—and he would act.

Everyone from the bar who traveled to that hospital room was on the receiving end of Jack’s caring at one time or another; multiple times.

And so was I on the receiving end of it for eight great and miserable years. He put up with a lot from me. Life with Josh was exciting and maddening, either easy or hard, no in between; he called me “high maintenance,” but for eight good years he maintained.

We never fought, not once. We disagreed plenty of times, but we kept talking; we were fair to each other. He raised his voice to me twice in eight years; both times I dropped what I was doing and rushed to him, because if Jack was yelling at me I had to have screwed up bigtime.

By yelling I mean two sentences at most, not a prolonged screamfest. The minute he got my attention he went back to a reasonable tone. That was a very good thing about our discussions; we were always fair and considerate. I had to do most of the emotional work when we were young, but he would cooperate, he would answer, he would help move us to a resolution.

The illness that resulted in multiple amputations was of course a huge challenge for us. He probably wasn’t as disclosive as he could have been, but half the time he was just struggling to survive. When you’re sick you’re not up for relationship therapy, you want to go to bed.

The illness, vasculitis, not only messed up his body, it screwed with his head. It scrambled his sexuality in ways I’m not sure he understood. I didn’t either. I was 35, young and halfway cute when he got sick; no matter how much I begged (he was the same guy; why would we not?), he’d never have sex with me again.

It seemed like shame working on his mind. I’m told he eventually got over it, but not with me.

Despite no sex, the last year we were together was the happiest year of my life; I didn’t see the separation coming, and I was devastated. But he wanted to go back to Cincinnati, and he needed to be independent, if he was ever going to regain a sense of self. He never said it that way, but that’s my conclusion. He was getting way too comfy in that wheelchair, having me do things for him. I’m proud of his independence since then.

Our separation was the most amicable one in Gay history. We worked everything out in one night, then we took our time. I was able to set him up in his own apartment back at the Roanoke, the same fleabag apartment house I rescued him from years before. He loved Clifton and did very well there for years.

We kept in pretty close touch, although our contact diminished as the years went by. All his friends know that when he was hurting physically or mentally, he tended to isolate himself.

When a person is depressed and will not say so to the closest people he has, there isn’t much you can do. It is horribly depressing to watch your body parts get chopped off; he went through that 8 or 10 or 12 times, we lost count. He went from being a good amateur athlete to being a “crip” in one year. It’s a hard adjustment and it does play on your mind.

So I suppose he did the right thing and cut loose the high-maintenance, high-ambition lover; if it saved his life I’d have voted for it too. It’s not his fault I was never the same; I’m not sure he was prepared for the permanent commitment I brought.

The thing I am proudest of and take no credit for is his advocacy for people with disabilities. He made it his mission to tear down the barriers for others with mobility problems. It came from the same place in his mind and his values that gave rise to his earlier Gay activism. Not only was he not going to suffer in silence as his rights were denied, he spoke up for everyone else. He led his city as he’d led his community. As LGBT people we’re very aware of our pain and suffering, and how they’re derived from politics and big business; we’re not so aware of the pain and suffering of others, the people even less visible than we are. Jack was aware. Jack was a leader.

I need to linger a moment on a word I just wrote; about his values. They were what made me fall in love with him.

My probing questions on our first official date, at that restaurant on Ludlow Avenue as I “measured him for loverhood,” revealed what made Jack Dawson tick. I’m a liberal Democrat; he was a liberal Democrat. I’m an Episcopalian, he was, uh, not. He was raised Catholic and saw through it before he was ten. But still when we came to be married, he was cool with my faith, especially if his pal Wayland Melton could officiate.

Jack was openly Gay and believed he had a responsibility—that we all have a responsibility—to make things better for the next generation of LGBT people. He wasn’t interested in material goods or the latest pop culture. He wasn’t, in short, the kind of fag you see portrayed in fag fiction, superficial and heartless and selfish. He knew better than that; he saw better than that even in the bar crowd at Simon Says. He looked for the good in people, and he found it.

He also understood evil and worked to prevent it. And though doctors might remove his toes and feet and ankles and shins, they could not remove his backbone. He kept that to the end. He had courage from his brainstem to his ass.

He was loyal to me, protective of me, kind to me, loving; and in my horrible grief which runs deeper than I can fathom or write about, I will always cherish our last visit with all our tenderness. We sat together in the same church where his memorial will be held. We went to a restaurant afterwards, snuggled and whispered. The next day we went to Simon Says and had a few drinks so I could see the new life he’d built, the friends he’d made, so we could have a few last hours together before I drove home to Indiana. I picked him up at his apartment to go to the bar, and while he was getting ready I noticed a piece of mail with his new name on it; I knew he’d changed his last name from Ferguson back to Dawson after his adoptive mother Kitty died, but I didn’t know he’d added a new middle name. I asked about it.

“Oh,” he said, “I didn’t tell you? It’s for you.”

No, mister, you didn’t mention it, when it’s only the most important fact in my Gay life.

We separated, but we never broke up; he named himself Jack Thomas Dawson to show he was still married to me.++