Hillary Clinton, Gay Rights, and Cultural Relativism

12 12 2011

I’m not a cultural relativist. Sometimes customs are culturally relative, and sometimes, quite frankly, they are not. I don’t believe that sexism, racism, child abuse, animal abuse, rape, torture, murder, or homophobia are excusable depending on cultural context, because in each context these atrocities share the traits of hatred, violence, and exploitation committed against a sentient being. Let me get this caveat out of the way first: on some issues we are in no place to judge the practises of other cultures, and on other issues we most certainly are. In return, these other cultures are allowed to judge us on our faults. With that out of the way, LGBT rights are not an imperialist vision; they are a humanist one.

Given my wariness of cultural relativism, I was elated by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s amazing speech at the United Nations in Geneva. In her speech, Clinton declares that the Obama administration will defend LGBT rights as a part of its human rights and foreign policy, and that the President will command all government agencies operating overseas to defend LGBT rights through various diplomatic strategies. She makes several points about how and why the world community should end persecution of LGBT people: first, LGBT rights are human rights; second, homosexuality exists in all cultures; third, religious and cultural beliefs do not justify persecution of LGBT people; fourth, the world must confront persecution of LGBT people, not dismiss it; and fifth, we must employ practical means to obtain equality for LGBT people. All of these points are interesting and relevant, but the most provocative to me are the second and third points, which challenge the cultural relativism cited to defend persecution of LGBT people.

In her second point, Clinton challenges the assumption that homosexuality and LGBT rights are purely Western, imperialist conceptions being foisted on non-Western cultures. This is simply not true, Clinton shows, because homosexuality exists in every culture, and homophobia is a problem in every culture. It is, in other words, a human condition, and creating artificial cultural barriers to LGBT liberation would do a disservice to LGBT people:

Some seem to believe [homosexuality] is a Western phenomenon, and therefore people outside the West have grounds to reject it. Well, in reality, gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world. They are all ages, all races, all faiths; they are doctors and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes; and whether we know it, or whether we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends, and our neighbours.

And just in case anybody insists there are no examples of efforts to advance LGBT rights in non-Western cultures, Clinton deftly turns the tables:

Being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality. And protecting the human rights of all people, gay or straight, is not something that only Western governments do. South Africa’s constitution, written in the aftermath of Apartheid, protects the equality of all citizens, including gay people. In Colombia and Argentina, the rights of gays are also legally protected. In Nepal, the supreme court has ruled that equal rights apply to LGBT citizens. The government of Mongolia has committed to pursue new legislation that will tackle anti-gay discrimination.

Clinton has obviously done her fact-checking (which is to be granted, given that she is America’s chief diplomat): heteronormative sexualities, if not exactly ubiquitous, are well-distributed among the world’s cultures, hence LGBT rights are a relevant concern to all of the world’s cultures. It is now common knowledge among well-informed people that homosexuality, bisexuality, transsexuality, and intersexuality are not the product of a particular culture; they are a product of living organisms in general, from shellfish to human beings. It seems absurd, then, to say that these sexualities are the luxurious fad of one particular society (the West) of one particular species of animal (homo sapiens), hence it seems absurd to suggest that LGBT rights are relevant only to that society or species.

In her third point, Clinton criticises the notion that cultural or religious beliefs somehow justify persecution of LGBT people, and roundly dashes it to pieces. (I exaggerate, but still, she could have, and she probably would have if representatives of countries like Uganda, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Afghanistan weren’t present.) She does this by comparing LGBT rights to the rights of other persecuted peoples. Specifically, she draws an analogy between crimes against LGBT people and crimes against women, both of which derive from patriarchal hegemony:

[The justification for persecuting LGBT people] is not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation. Some people still defend those practices as part of a cultural tradition. But violence toward women isn’t cultural; it’s criminal. Likewise with slavery, what was once justified as sanctioned by God is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights.

Cutting off a woman’s clitoris is universally wrong because it causes unspeakable pain, stress, and health problems for the victim, whether she is from Sweden, Somalia, or Seattle. This is because every person of every culture possesses a common human physiology; the nervous systems of all human beings are basically the same. I suspect every woman feels immense pain when she is mutilated, burnt to death, or stoned to death, despite the cultural situation. And when proponents of cultural relativism cite reasons for their stance, those reasons fall nothing short of pathetic: women shouldn’t be allowed to have sex with men other than their husbands, women shouldn’t be allowed to experience sexual pleasure, or women shouldn’t be allowed to live if their husbands die. Forgive me if I find these justifications more solipsistic than utilitarian, and hence hardly socially beneficial. They’re just the laws of self-serving tyrants who view women as mere incubators. Similarly, every gay person experiences unconscionable pain and horror at being hanged or crushed to death for being gay. Opinions, insecurities, and concerns specific to a culture do not justify violence against women or gay people, because we all share the same basic human physiology despite cultural context. I think this is what Clinton was pointing at.

I won’t mince words. Hillary Clinton is right, and the cultural relativists are wrong. Heteronormative sexuality is found everywhere in the world, and LGBT rights are no more culturally relative than women’s or racial minorities’ rights, because all are products of a common human mental and physical experience. For some reason, though, this is a sensitive topic for many anti-imperialists, who often happen to be from the West. It seems to me that a lot of this cultural relativist dogma stems from white, middle-class people who feel guilty about their colonial heritage, and they spout this disingenuous nonsense about relativism to soothe their own conscience. But think about it. Arguing that women’s or LGBT rights are culturally relative is basically discriminating against women and LGBT people who live in countries, like Iran, which don’t recognise their status, and that isn’t very feminist or pro-gay, is it? It isn’t even very pro-human, as Clinton showed, and I can’t help but respect her for sending such a bold, unapologetic message to countries which still use cultural relativism as a loophole to commit human atrocities. It was truly a satisfying vindication of LGBT rights.

Advertisements




What Does It Mean To Be A Drag Queen?

28 10 2011

What social purpose does drag serve? Do drag queens reinforce gender stereotypes, or challenge them? I would wager the latter.

I once took a women’s studies course in university called “Introduction to Gender Theory”, or something like that. Oh my god, I was in heaven. For me, it was like going to church and singing, “Hallelujah! I have reached the Promised Land, and it is full of all sorts of delicious fucking freaks.” The course was basically an introduction to, well, gender theory, but from a poststructuralist perspective. That basically means when you look at identities and what makes people who they are in a critical, sceptical light. Anyway, at one point in the course handbook the professor discussed drag and explained how some people see drag as reinforcing gender stereotypes by embodying what they think women should be, which is traditionally feminine. The flip-side of this argument, however, is that drag queens are actually challenging gender stereotypes by mocking traditional feminine expectations placed on women.

The latter argument makes more sense to me, and here’s why. Drag is an incredibly complex form of art. It sends out so many messages at once that it is easy for the untrained eye to miss the ultimate point. It is so sophisticated, so full of so many layers of meaning, and so wrought with irony that it is almost too difficult to distil its essence in words. You can’t simply say, “Oh, it’s a man with fake boobs and high-heels, so he must be saying, ‘This is what women are like'”. That kind of answer is just too pat, and it’s an intellectual cop-out. Drag deserves a more nuanced explanation. When men do drag, they do so with a subversive goal in mind: to satirise the crass feminisation of women.

OK, so there are many different types of drag, and each has a unique purpose, but I believe the one I described above is probably the commonest or most salient of them all. And while most drag queens might not be able to articulate what I have just stated, I think they’d probably agree. For them, it is a highly instinctive and subconscious act. It usually is with artists.

To illustrate my point, let’s take a look at drag queen Tammie Brown (who I believe was a contestant in the reality TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race). Do you really think she is saying, “This is what women should be like”? She looks like a cross between Tammy Faye Messner and Faye Dunaway’s version of Joan Crawford, for goodness’ sake. Tammie Brown’s art is so absurd that you cannot seriously think she is saying that women should have 1940s hairstyles, Joan Crawford lips, skin the consistency of puddy, and eyebrows in the middle of their foreheads. It’s satire. Drag queens are not stupid; they are socially savvy, culturally perceptive, and very streetsmart. I haven’t met an autistic drag queen yet (although that would be fucking awesome). What drag queens like Tammie Brown are doing is creating an over-the-top caricature of feminine standards of beauty placed on women. By embodying a cartoonish femininity, they are saying at least two things: “The feminine expectations placed on women are so aburd as to merit the sharpest satire” and “As a man, I will relieve women of this ridiculous ‘duty’ by placing it on my own shoulders”. Drag queens—at least the highly abstract and conceptual ones like Tammie Brown and Raja—are all about confusing people with regard to what men and women should be and do, and they achieve this by transferring traditional responsibilities from one sex to the other.

Sometimes, the drag community’s mockery of sexism is accompanied by a mockery of racism, too. This is a delicate subject, and it deserves the utmost sensitivity, but I do think some forms of racial drag actually satirise racism. Consider Shirley Q. Liquor, a.k.a. Charles Knipp, a white man from the American south who dons blackface in drag. Now, she’s controversial. She’s been on CNN, and leaders in the black community have vilified her as racist, but other black people have defended her in praise of her mockery of racism. One of these is RuPaul, who included Shirley on her album RuPaul RED HOT. In RuPaul’s own words, “[c]ritics who think that Shirley Q. Liquor is offensive are idiots.  Listen, I’ve been discriminated against by everybody in the world: gay people, black people, whatever.  I know discrimination, I know racism, I know it very intimately. She’s not racist, and if she were, she wouldn’t be on my new CD”. Now, just as one woman cannot speak for all women, one black person cannot speak for all black people, but it helps to know that some black people see a certain satire in Shirley Q. Liquor’s art. And I think RuPaul sees the sweet irony in Shirley Q. Liquor’s absurdist blackface. From my perspective (and please correct me if I am misguided), Knipps mocks racism by donning blackface and showing how absurd racial stereotypes are. And when it isn’t clear that he is mocking racial stereotypes, I sort of think he is expressing a deeply human affection for the quirks he recognises in the black women he knew growing up. That said, I highly recommend against doing blackface unless you are absolutely certain of the purpose and context of your art and you have support by a sizeable contingent of the black community, and if you fail to heed this warning and proceed to do blackface in a messy, thoughtless way, you are probably an ignorant fool.

Just in case some of you still think Charles Knipps is racist, let me share with you a horribly beautiful video of him impersonating Barb, the stereotypical “narthern” Great Lakes housewife with an obnoxiously twangy, vowel-fronted North-Central American English accent:

I know. Now he’s doing drag in whiteface. So that’s just in case you think his racial drag is mere racism, and not an ironic mockery of racism. Now, we might be able to say, “Oh, look. He’s racist toward white people, too.” But I don’t think we have to say that he’s racist toward anyone. In every face he does, he is mocking some stereotype or another by exposing its absurdity as plainly as possible. It’s hard to take patent bullshit seriously.

Drag queens are inscrutable creatures; they create a disturbingly comical image of beauty, challenging our assumptions about what is pretty, who should be pretty, and why. The simple-minded philistines among us, with their intolerance for irony, will view drag queens as horribly sexist, racist monsters, but those of us with a capacity to think critically and apprehend the intent behind the art will think the exact opposite—they will view drag queens as highly perceptive cultural critics of sexual and racial stereotypes, as people who have been to hell and back and have something to say in defense of the underdog. The purpose of drag is to mock feminine expectations placed on women, it is to toy with our cherished notions about who can be feminine—women, or men?—and it is to defuse racist stereotypes through crass caricature. At the same time, though, drag queens seem to exult in a certain bizarre, twisted, exaggerated beauty in the very femininity they satirise, perhaps because they value it for its own sake regardless of which gender is performing it. You can have crazy eyebrows or an overdrawn lipline whether you’re male or female. It’s all supposed to be messy, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. At any rate, drag challenges our deepest assumptions about who we are, who we should be, and who we can be, and this is an invaluable tool for deepening and enriching our understanding of what it means to be human.





8 Reasons Why Homophobia Makes No Sense

26 08 2011

I’m usually pretty hard on gay men, because I think they tend to be a little bit vain and self-conceited. It’s one of those cases where minority members exploit their position by bemoaning their fate and eliciting pity through loud, obnoxious mirror-gazing antics. I even get a wee bit Ann Coulter-ish towards the gays sometimes, and that’s very hard for me to do. So you like dick? So what? The world doesn’t revolve around you and your crying penis. For these gays (for certainly not all gays are like this), everything is reducible to their own problems, which they constantly brood over in a desperate attempt at self-validation.

That said, gay people are still discriminated against in the United States and are bumping up against a particularly scary group of right-wing Christian dominionists campaigning for the presidency. Even though some gays act like whiney little bitches, none of them deserves to be denied their deceased partner’s Social Security benefits, equal treatment under the IRS tax code, or equal spousal immigration rights, among the many other federal protections they do not receive because they are attracted to members of the same sex.

For this reason, I would like to provide a comprehensive refutation of eight common arguments launched against homosexuality. These arguments, which I shall attempt to destroy one-by-one, can be summarized as follows: homosexual marriage goes against tradition; homosexuality is a choice; homosexuality is condemned in the Bible; homosexuality is unnatural; homosexuals cannot procreate; all men can marry women, and all women can marry men; if gays can marry, what’s next?; and what shall I tell my children?

1) “Marriage should be between a man and a woman, because it has always been this way.”

This fallacy is called an argumentum ad antiquitatem, or an appeal to tradition. It states that a thing is good because it is traditional, and bad because it is novel. But a thing is not necessarily good because it is traditional; it is good because it makes sense. At one time black people couldn’t marry white people in the United States, but this wasn’t right just because it was traditional. The law didn’t make sense, so we changed it to allow interracial couples (such as the current U.S. president’s parents) to marry and be happy together. Similarly, homosexuals cannot marry each other in most places, but this isn’t right just because it is traditional. The law does not work for homosexuals, so we should change it to allow same-sex couples to marry and be happy together. So, no, just because marriage has traditionally been a union of one man and one woman does not mean that it should be.

2) “Homosexuality is a choice.”

Usually you’ll argue, “The gay rights activists say that there’s a gay gene”. This is a big, fat straw man argument. Nobody with the faintest understanding of biology is arguing that there is a gay gene. What they are arguing is that there is no single gene for any sexual orientation. Rather, all sexual orientations are determined by a complex interaction of polygenic traits, with no single gene acting as the “signal” for whether you like fannies, pee-pees, or both. At the same time, I will concede that sexual orientation might have some environmental cause, because I am not a biological determinist, but, then, this would apply to heterosexuality too, right? So, no, you can’t say that homosexuality is a choice any more than you can say that heterosexuality is a choice.

3) “Homosexuality is condemned in the Bible.”

So what? The Bible is full of horribly offensive things. The Bible says you can sell your daughter into slavery to pay off a debt (Exodus 21:7). It also says you can execute people who cheat on their partners (Leviticus 20:10). But you wouldn’t do these things, would you? No, you wouldn’t, because these things are barbaric, tyrannical, and entirely incommensurate with the “crime” committed. Why, then, should you believe that homosexuals should be executed (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13)? “That was the old covenant”, you will say, but the new covenant required a human sacrifice in the form of Jesus Christ the avatar, so some form of blood-sacrifice and recompense is required to propitiate God. That’s just ruthless and bloodthirsty. And, besides, it still implies that dues need to be paid for the sin of homosexuality. And in the meantime, two adult women or men could be having the most loving, fulfilling consensual sex imaginable. Why, then, should we abide by such sanguinary, blood-soaked scriptures?

4) “Homosexuality is unnatural.”

This fallacy is an appeal to nature. It states that a thing is right just because it is natural, and a thing is wrong just because it is unnatural. But a thing is not right just because it is natural, and a thing is not wrong just because it is unnatural. Clearly, rape and murder are a part of human nature, but we don’t say that these things are right, because they harm people; similarly, aeroplanes are unnatural, but nobody goes around protesting against aeroplanes, because they are helpful to us. Besides, a great deal of evidence suggests that, in large part, homosexuality is natural. We see it everywhere in nature. Penguins do it in the zoo, lions do it on the savanna, and Ellen Degeneres does it with Portia de Rossi in the bedroom of their Beverly Hills flat while their dogs and cats watch. Oh, and bonobos practice lesbianism as a way to cement social bonds. Human beings have practised homosexuality all throughout history, all around the world, in almost every culture. On top of that, do you know how many species of animals are hermaphroditic or transsexual? The permutations are mindboggling. Just watch one of Isabella Rossellini’s strangely droll and artistic Green Porno or Seduce Me short documentaries about mating habits in nature. How can it all be heterosexual?

5) “Homosexuals  do not procreate.”

True. Homosexuals do not procreate. Neither do sterile couples. Or post-menopausal women. Or hysterectomised women. Or couples who simply choose not to have children. Seriously? You don’t think that any of these people should have sex just because they don’t make babies? That’s just ridiculous. You may as well pass a law which states that couples must procreate within a certain number of years following their marriage or else their marriage will be annulled—and they will be banned from having any kind of sex afterward. Sounds fascist to me. Obviously people don’t just have sex to make babies; they also have sex for pleasure. Having sex for pleasure can help forge vital social bonds and nurture social stability. It also creates personal happiness, which has a positive trickle-down effect on the larger community. In a world verging on 7 billion in population, homosexuals have sex for love and pleasure, not to make more people, thus they play a vital role in creating social and demographic stability. So, no, homosexuality is not wrong just because it does not result in babies.

6) “All men can marry women, and all women can marry men. Therefore there is no inequality.”

This argument is a sophistry—it deliberately misses the point by setting up a straw man. The point is not whether all people are allowed to marry members of the opposite sex; the point is whether all people are allowed to marry members of the sex that they are attracted to. The injustice is in the fact that women cannot marry other women and men cannot marry other men, while women can marry men, and men can marry women. This means that gay people cannot marry the people they are attracted to, but straight people can marry the people they are attracted to. Thus, all people cannot marry the person they are attracted to. That is where the inequality lies. Obviously, the whole point of marriage equality is the right to marry a member of the sex you are attracted to, not a member of the sex you are not attracted to. So, no, it isn’t clever or valid to say that all men can marry women, and all women can marry men.

7) “If we legalise gay marriage, what’s next?”

This is the classic slippery slope argument. It makes me want to ask, well, if we legalise miscegenation, what’s next? Mulatto offspring? Sex with donkeys? Barack Obama? They were singing the same tune, I’m sure, in the United States back in 1967 with the ruling Loving v. Virginia, which legalised interracial marriage. Back then, too, I could have asked, what’s next? child molestation? Seriously, if you think that letting gays marry will lead to people having sex with children and donkeys, you haven’t heard of a little thing called adult consent. And if you compare sex between consenting adults with sexual abuse, there is seriously something broken inside your head. The requirement for morally sound sex is adult human consent. Period. Therefore gay sex between consenting adults is morally sound, while sex with children and donkeys is not. (Animals can’t really consent, can they?)  So, no, none of that nasty, scary donkey sex stuff will happen, dears, because it isn’t between consenting human adults. So just relax.

8 ) “What will I tell my children?”

Tell your children that Pam and Sally, the two ladies who have lived in the mysterious house across the street since before your own family existed, live together because they love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together, in peace and happiness. That is what they want. And that is what you should tell your children. I know—isn’t it so simple?

And those are the eight reasons why homophobia doesn’t make any sense, and why the U.S. federal ban on gay marriage should be repealed. I hope I expressed my points in the most trenchant prose possible. The federal ban on gay marriage destabilises loving unions, families, and children. If one truly cared about marriage and family, one would want to maximise the potential for lovingly committed adults to raise children in healthy, loving environments which nurture dignity, cooperation, and social cohesion. The current U.S. federal law falls short of this goal, but for some reason I have an inkling that this will change very soon, and when it does, it will be as a much-welcome torrent bursting forth over a dam on to a long-parched field, tended naively by the very people who built the dam in the first place.





Sometimes It’s Hard To Be A Drag Queen

3 07 2011

I’ve always been preoccupied with gender theory, but I’ve never been able to distil the mechanism of homophobic sexism into as few words as RuPaul. She has such a down-to-earth, unpretentious, matter-of-fact style of stating things, and such a cutting perspicacity, that I simply had to write a blog entry on what she had to say about the way the world views feminine men. In a word, she slams patriarchy square in the jaw by exposing the way it reacts to drag. Patriarchy reacts negatively to drag and homosexuality because these are heteronormative, in the same way it reacts to feminists because they are heternormative, hence drag queens and gay people have something in common with feminists.

Let me start by explaining the way homophobia and sexism are related. Both homophobia and sexism are products of a patriarchal society. A patriarchal society is a society in which males dominate females through a strict set of biologically-justified sex roles. In this system, the man conquers the woman socially, legally, economically, and sexually in order to keep her as his own private incubator, so that the genes of other men don’t compete with his. (I know. How barbaric. Who would want to have those genes?) Obviously, if a man is not interested in sexually conquering a woman (and thus not interested in conquering her in any other way, insofar as sexual conquest is inextricably intertwined with other forms of conquest), he cannot fulfil his role of taming women and maintaining dominance. Well, gay men cannot fulfil this role, since they are not sexually attracted to women, therefore, in a way, they are traitors to the patriarchal cause of dominating women. In other words, gay people and feminists share a cause—the dismantling of traditional sex roles—hence both groups are scorned by the patriarchy for failing to preserve the patriarchy, which is essentially a sex-based hierarchy contrived by heterosexual males.

Besides, as a man, why would I want to control a woman? How could I live with myself, knowing the smug tyranny that has infected my soul? It is a repugnant pride in one’s own sex, a need to create an identity, to forge a sense of being in contrast with others. It is an act of the ego. How could I be comfortable with that? To be so arrogant towards half of the human population, I would have to be a truly ruthless, heartless person—or else extremely scared and insecure. Why would I want to be like that toward my fellow human? And straight men have no more reason to participate in this nonsense than gay men do, because it shouldn’t make a difference whether or not you want to put your penis in a vagina.

(Disclaimer: I love men and straight people, and most men are not like this, but most people who are like this probably are men. There is a difference between “most men do this” and “most people who do this are men”. Most men don’t rape, but most rapists are men.)

Now that I have shown how both gay men and feminists threaten and thereby stoke the wrath of patriarchy, let me give you RuPaul’s refreshingly concise and conciliatory spin on the topic. In a gay.com article, she attributed antagonism toward drag queens to patriarchal expectations: “In our culture, lesbians, because it’s a masculine culture and a patriarchal society, it’s okay for them to behave in a masculine way”, she says, “but it’s not okay for men to behave in a feminine way.  In fact, even among gay people, it’s looked down upon.  So, will there ever be a day where people won’t look down upon men who act feminine…I don’t think so. (Laughs).” I hope there will be, if only for the sake of all of those poor little sensitive intelligent boys who are savaged and reprimanded daily by their overbearing fathers for being too “girly”—whatever that’s supposed to be. But the point RuPaul makes is that patriarchy embraces masculine people because they fit the mould of what is considered ideal human behaviour, but reject feminine people because they do not fit this mould.

Let’s look closer at this point. Femininity is associated with nurturance, weakness, and submissiveness, whilst masculinity is associated with discipline, strength, and aggression. In patriarchy, masculinity, not femininity, is the prototype for human behaviour, because patriarchy values discipline, strength, and aggression over nurturance, weakness, and submissiveness. On top of this, women are associated with the feminine role, and men, with the masculine role. (Even if these roles do not accurately describe their respective sexes—what matters is that these roles are believed to describe their respective sexes, even when they actually don’t, because people can persecute others based on entirely fallacious assumptions). That women are associated with the feminine role automatically means that they are not the human prototype. When women assume the aggressive role, they are transgressing, and when men assume the submissive role, they are transgressing. Women must always be the “feminine” non-prototype, and men, the “masculine” prototype.

So, in a patriarchal society, in terms of power and respect it is easier to be a man, or to be like what a man is believed to be (even if he isn’t), because patriarchy values masculinity, and men are associated with this valued virtue. Well, drag queens are a slap in the face of this system. As RuPaul said, they toy with the ego and identity, which means they also toy with masculine identity, and this scares the living daylight out of people who take their identity seriously. It’s easy for a woman to wear a pair of pants, because she is exemplifying the supposed “masculine” role, but it is hard for a man to wear a dress, because he is exemplifying the supposed “feminine” role.

Ultimately this double standard is rooted in misogyny. Again, to be clear, this does not mean that women actually are feminine—it only means that they are expected, obligated, or perceived to be feminine, even though many of them are not. Many women don’t wear makeup, but they are treated as though it is their wont to do so. In other words, it is enough to believe that women are supposed to be feminine in order to persecute them accordingly. (Analogously, a person can be bullied for being gay even if they are actually straight.) Given this, any man who assumes a feminine role, which is reserved for women, is a “traitor” to his sex, for he is abandoning the masculine prototype for something feared and abhorred—the underprivileged opposite. It is precisely this irony that drag queens embody.

It is very important that drag queens mock ego and gender identity the way they do, because it forces people to confront their fears and surmount them. It also challenges traditional notions of what it means to be a man, and what it means to be a woman. RuPaul accomplishes this feat with particular panache—and she has the philosophical wit to justify it. We should also remember how gay men and feminists both suffer from patriarchy by challenging it—this is a reason to celebrate solidarity. Why is drag such a fundamental horror to us? Why does a man donning a dress and wearing lipstick scare people so much? Why are we so obsessed with preserving our identity, with focusing on who we are? Why not experiment a little? We are who we want to be. What in the world could a drag queen do to you and your cherished nuclear family? Teach them a lesson on reason, humour, common sense, and humanity? Watch re-runs of She-Ra: Princess of Power with them? Oh, I feel so sorry for you. Maybe you should take your spouse and your children to a drag show some time and undergo a very long-overdue paradigm shift. I don’t mind if you have to pull out a nipple to feed baby, either—I’m all for public breastfeeding. In fact, public nudity should be legalized. (It already is in Seattle.) See? I support everyone.





My Problem with Christian Theology

11 05 2011

I’m not an atheist. I know. I’m sorry. Maybe a pantheist? A theistic-agnostic? An apatheist? A Gnostic? A mystic? A pagan-feminist? An explorer? A miscreant? Maybe I’m a permutation of the above. But I’m not religious either. For me, religion and spirituality are two separate things entirely; to confound the two constitutes a false equivalency. Spirituality is the practice of learning about and communing with the dead, the afterlife, and the nature of the universe from a personal and largely but not exclusively intuitive perspective; it is mysticism. Religion is the organized governmental or ecclesiastical control of these tendencies for a base, mundane purpose, such as social control, wealth, or power. Religion is the exploitation of spirituality.

Based upon my readings a posteriori, reflections a priori, and personal experiences, I consider the theory of life after death plausible–even reasonable (cf. Susan Blackmore vs. Pim van Lommel). I also believe strongly in the theory of evolution. So, there you go. Try to wrap your heads around that clusterfuck, bitches.

That disclaimer aside, there is a long list of problems I have with Judeo-Christian theology. This is already so obvious to the average free-thinker that I almost feel silly saying it, but I shall forge ahead nevertheless.

I had problems with Christianity very early on. I remember getting a paper-back edition of the New International Version (contemporary retard version) of the Bible for my birthday in 1986 (I would have preferred a dusty old volume commissioned by King James himself—but, unfortunately, it probably would have been made of vellum and leather, and I am pescatarian going on vegetarian). To the delight of my keen and lustful child’s eye, it came with tiny little gold stickers with which to mark noteworthy Bible verses. After playing around with the stickers (I loved stickers and even had a sticker-book with unicorns in it), I quickly grew disturbed by the things I read about in this most revered of tomes. I began to annotate the margins with statements showing my contempt for and indignation over the commandments made therein. How dare they! There was no way I was going to demand that women submit to me just because I had a penis. I was irate. How arrogant! That is the last man on earth I want to be. (I like to think I was rather precocious for an eight year-old boy.)

But that’s not all. As I grew older and developed more sophisticated thinking skills, I centred my attention on the core doctrine of evangelical Protestantism–salvation through blood sacrifice. Yes. You heard me right. Blood sacrifice. Basically, like the Jews, Protestants believe that Yahweh (God) requires blood to be drawn in order to forgive humans their sins. Originally, the Israelites had to slaughter animals in order to propitiate Yahweh and mollify his wrath, because recompense had to be made somehow. After a couple of millennia, Yahweh decided to incarnate as a human being named Yeshua, or Jesus, and have himself sacrificed instead of an animal. Humans would go to heaven if they accepted this sacrifice, and they would go to hell if they rejected it. And there were no good deeds other than this deed that one could perform to please God, no matter how hard one tried. One had to accept the sacrifice of the Christ-avatar. And, ooooh, you HAD to believe this, everybody at church said. You HAD to!

Put in these terms, the doctrine just plain sounds barbaric, and the attitude of its defenders primitive, desperate, anti-rational, and cult-like. But let us deal one-by-one with the problems underlying this doctrine.

The first problem is with the whole idea of blood sacrifice. Christianity is inextricably intertwined with it. Whether the sacrificial victim is an animal or an avatar (god-turned-human), it is still a victim of blood sacrifice. Only once the Hebrew war-god Yahweh’s appetite for blood is sated will he overlook the human transgression for which the slaughter was performed. It doesn’t matter to Yahweh that the animal being slaughtered is totally innocent, and that the sinner gets away scot-free. Indeed, the fact that the victim is innocent pleases him even more– the whole idea is that the victim has to be faultless and perfect for the sacrifice to have any currency. In essence, Yahweh is a vengeful and blood-thirsty sadist who gets a kick out of seeing innocent things slaughtered. But even if the sinner is guilty, why require of them a sacrifice rather than a reform in their behaviour? Oh, that’s right, because blood, pain, and fear are more exciting for sadistic Bronze Age war-gods. Why did we ever give up the whole blood sacrifice thing? Oh, wait, that’s right. Christians still require it–it’s just that the deed has already been done for them.

If you think that is twisted beyond imagining, consider the whole trinity thing. For most Christians, God and Jesus are literally the same being, along with the Holy Spirit (which is supposed to be some kind of entity that is active in people’s daily lives). God simply became Jesus to perform his earthly duty and get sacrificed so that the Jews wouldn’t have to keep slaughtering goats. (The only difference is that the victim is now a human. Wow. What an improvement.) But if God is Jesus, and God is all-knowing and all-powerful, then God basically committed suicide when Jesus was sacrificed on the cross. But isn’t suicide wrong for Christians? And don’t their Ten Commandments teach them that killing is wrong? If so, God isn’t setting a very good example by committing suicide to redeem humans. On top of that, Jesus is constantly referring to God his “Father” as if God is somebody else. But if Jesus and God are the same entity, wouldn’t this mean that Jesus is slightly schizophrenic? And yet Jesus, or God, is supposed to be perfect. So, basically, God had himself tortured to death so humans would pity him, so that he would thereby propitiate himself (???) and satisfy himself that those who lavished him with attention should go to heaven.

Doesn’t that seem childish and manipulative? Like throwing a temper tantrum? It’s a bit anthropomorphic—like a sublimated expression of human insecurities. But I thought God was supposed to be better than that. Oh. Wait. That’s right. We are all made in God’s image. Which suggests God is a petty war-god just like us. So what is the point in believing in him?

On top of that, we have the whole doctrine of grace thing, which states that God accepts redemption not through good deeds, but through his own charity, so long as the individual accepts the blood sacrifice. Belief in that sacrifice is the only deed the individual can perform to appease Yahweh. Nothing else they ever do–no matter how noble–will match in value the acceptance of a blood sacrifice of an innocent being, and good deeds are only a by-product, or the “fruits”, of the ultimate good deed—propitiating Yahweh’s bloodthirst. But, if we think about it, this is not exactly charity, is it? If God requires a blood sacrifice, he still requires payment of some sort, so he is not exactly showing the sinner clemency. He is still stipulating a condition for redemption. What of true magnanimity? In addition, why shouldn’t God require the sinner to pay for their sins by performing good deeds? Of what use to anybody is a slaughtered goat or man? The most logical way of repaying a transgression is by performing its opposite act, thereby replacing what has been lost. For example, if I steal something from somebody, I can correct that wrong by replacing the stolen item or performing some act which returns things to their better state. And this does not happen when one does something totally irrelevant and slaughters a goat or tortures a Jewish spiritual teacher on a cross.

On top of this, just to bring the bile to the very tip of your tongue, the Roman Catholics still cling to a rite that recalls cannibalism and vampirism. It’s called the doctrine of transubstantiation. While the Protestants believe you get to heaven solely by accepting the blood sacrifice of the Christ-avatar, the Catholics believe you can get to heaven by this as well as several other rites, called sacraments. One of these sacraments is the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, the parishioner consumes a piece of bread and some wine. For Catholics, during this ritual the bread literally turns into the flesh of Christ, and the wine, the blood of Christ. The logical conclusion is that the parishioner is consuming the flesh and blood of a human being—the sacrificial lamb, which is Christ, who is God. So, for them, God became a human being whose flesh and blood one could consume to gain eternal life (go to heaven and escape hell). Does this not seem savage and bizarre?

I won’t mince words. Christian theology, as it is normally taught, is based on bloodlust, violence, misogyny, slavery, animal cruelty, death, and torture. (And the only way Christ miraculously rises from the dead, as Christians often point out he does, is by being tortured to death in the first place.) Christianity devalues altruism and extols as the only good deed the validation of blood sacrifice, for its god is appeased only through the performance or acceptance of such sacrifice, and not through anything like feeding the hungry or giving to the poor. These are merely subsidiary to the prime act—to shed blood in order to appease an angry, sadistic god. In addition, it requires the subordination of females to males, to which I can never assent. Certainly there are Christians who believe this is hogwash, and who emphasise all of the good things Jesus did and taught, but for the most part, the prevailing doctrine of this religion is the acceptance of the tortured death of their leader to pay for their sins. I don’t know about you, but I cannot be a part of such a religion. I find it abominable.

I believe in life, love, beauty, happiness, liberty, equality, pleasure, gentleness, empathy, and compassion. It is this constellation of virtues that should be the common denominator for every act we perform. I hope I can find other people who hold these values for their own sake.