Tuesday, May 26, 2009


May 26

1647 - ALSE YOUNG (sometimes cited as ACHSAH YOUNG OR ALICE YOUNG) died (b. 1600); Another victim of Leviticus, Alse Young was from Windsor, Connecticut, and was the first person in the records executed for witchcraft in the thirteen American colonies.

Witch hunts are seen as an attempt to eliminate female midwifery skills and as a historical explanation why modern gynecology - surprisingly enough - came to be practiced almost exclusively by males in state run hospitals. In this view, the witch hunts began a process of criminalization of birth control that eventually lead to an enormous increase in birth rates that are described as the "population explosion" of early modern Europe.

1951 - DONALD MACLEAN and GUY BURGESS, British spies; No…both spies were not born on the same day. But it is the day that the two British Foreign Office Officials defected to Russia, setting in motion an English witch hunt as vicious as America's contemporary McCarthy investigations. Unfortunately for their gay brothers, and especially for their old Oxford classmates, Maclean and Burgess were homosexuals. Their actions brought new meaning to the dreaded term "security risk" and cost numerous innocent gay men and women their livelihoods and, in some cases, (as in the mathematician Alan Turing) their lives. No, Virginia, not all gay men are good gay men.

1938 – PAULINE PARKER, New-Zealandic murderess, born; A woman from Christchurch, New Zealand who, together with her friend Juliet Hulme, murdered her mother, Honora Parker, on 22 June 1954. It is believed that the two girls killed Honora because Juliet and her father were leaving shortly for South Africa and, though Pauline wanted to accompany them, her mother forbade it. According to their own accounts, Pauline and Juliet were devoted friends who collaborated on a series of adventure novels which they hoped would be bought by a Hollywood studio and made into epic films. The girls' friendship was documented in detail by Pauline in a series of diaries during her teenage years.

During their friendship, the girls invented their own personal religion, with its own ideas on morality. They rejected Christianity and worshipped their own saints, envisioning a parallel dimension called The Fourth World, essentially their version of Heaven. The Fourth World was a place that they felt they were already able to enter occasionally, during moments of spiritual enlightenment. By Pauline's account, they had achieved this spiritual enlightenment due to their friendship. Eventually, the girls formulated a plan to flee to Hollywood.

Shortly prior to this, Juliet had discovered her mother was having an affair and her parents were separating. This devastated Juliet as well as Pauline, who, due to having spent so much time with the Hulmes, thought of Juliet's parents as her own. Both girls were unaware of the fact that both sets of parents were collaborating at the time in an effort to separate the girls, viewing their close friendship as potentially unhealthy or homosexual (which, in 1950's, was thought of both as a crime and a mental illness). The girls' story was made into a film, Heavenly Creatures, by Lord of the Rings producer-director Peter Jackson, in 1994. Pauline was played by Melanie Lynskey and Juliet by Kate Winslet.

1954 – Alan Hollinghurst, British novelist and poet, born; Winner of the 2004 Booker Prize for The Line of Beauty. His poetry collections include Isherwood is at Santa Monica from the Oxford: Sycamore Press and Confidential Chats with Boys, Oxford: Sycamore Press 1982. He was the was The Times Literary Supplement's deputy editor from 1982 to 1995. In 1989, he won the Somerset Maugham Award for The Swimming Pool Library. In 1994, he won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction with The Folding Star.

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From White Crane issue #54 Marginality

Outside Looking In

Edward J. Ingebretsen

Forced to combat nature or the social institutions, one must choose between making a man or a citizen, for one cannot make both at the same time.

--Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The strident tone in church pronouncements about homosexuality since the mid 80s (Catholic, but not exclusively so) indicates the extent to which previously accepted dicta on this topic are not, any longer, being listened to. Indeed, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston found himself in an extraordinary position (again) when he was asked to explain why Catholics shouldn't attend Gay commitment ceremonies. Afterward one young Boston Catholic remarked that the prelate was treated with respect because of his status, "It's not because many of us support him -- because we don't." That the cardinal found it necessary to address, at length and in public, something that has no legal nor canonical existence, is remarkable; likewise the student's comments are typical of a wide range of Christian resistance to previously unchallenged church authority on matters of sex and intimacy.

Homosexuality, in particular, is so central a crisis in modern Catholicism (indeed in Christianity more generally, as well)--that in some circles what one believes about homosexuality supersedes, in practice, what one thinks of Jesus, the crucifix, or other "Catholic" things. Cardinal James Hickey, formerly of Washington DC, made this precise point in 1997 when he criticized Georgetown University for permitting a theological discussion on homosexuality to be held on campus. Condemning the "too visible" homosexual presence at Georgetown, Hickey took the occasion to inveigh, at the same time, against the shortage of visible crucifixes on the campus. Hickey's remarks and Law's plaintive insistence that "anything else that calls itself a marriage isn't a marriage, from our perspective" underscore how significantly "the homosexual question" has become the loyalty test of the contemporary Catholic.

Even the Pope weighs in. Speaking from his Vatican balcony on the eve of the millennial year John Paul II decried what he termed the "offense" of homosexuality "to Christian values."' No surprise, then, that other ranking church authorities can speak intemperately about Gays. Knowing that they are backed by Rome, prelates can lash out at homosexuals in the clergy and decry the "homosexual- type Problem" that, they maintain, is the source of all church woe. Like baseball player John Rocker their violent rhetoric is guaranteed by a system of homophobia that sanctions such speech, even though it may not wish to seem complicit in it. The deflections fool very few.

Such public visibility has its consequences. A generally liberal American media have clearly enjoyed, and profited from, the public whipping of homosexuals by Catholic authorities- -understanding such whipping to be high irony, coming from an organization that is popularly thought to be even more a bastion of homo-social life than the military. Both institutions come by their homophobia naturally, in other words, and in both the symbolic homosexual body, although tossed to the margins, is crucial to authority that has the most invested, it seems, in repudiating it.

Rethinking the margin

Marginal notes are often more interesting than the texts themselves. For one thing only on the margin can readers argue back against the text. A similar dynamic is at work in society. Margins--and the social boundaries they represent--are never secure. Indeed, the continuing loud rhetoric about the naturalness of gender (or sexual expression, or the characteristics of race--to name only three "set" borders) --demonstrates not their strength, but, to the contrary, how weak the borders are, and how they must be propped up at every possible occasion. Take one example: The perceived (feared?) collapse of gender and sex roles in the US during the last quarter of the 20th century partly explains why the shape and content of public intimacies are, through law as well as drive-by media, policed with such ceaseless vigilance.

Things we throw away or repudiate are as symbolically important as the things we keep and cherish. Margins, that is, are connected to centers --indeed, are necessary to defining the center. Contests for power rarely take place at the centers, there where no movement is possible. To the contrary, margins are the places of contest and challenge. Where boundaries can be approached from both sides, access to power is up for grabs and therefore the place of pitched and sometimes violent battle. For this reason the periodic redistricting of political wards causes such a stir.

Symbolic redistricting happens, too. The homosexual may indeed be "marginal" but no one should mistake this marginality as being unimportant. Margins never are. On the margins, old maps say, monsters lie. Indeed. Holding that boundary secure, staking the monster outside the civilized by policing approved social boundaries of gender or race or class is a fulltime civic task. Citizens are asked to perform this work every day. Read any newspaper. Listen to any sermon. Watch any news broadcast. "Uppity persons" or those who contest the socially-approved lines meet unpleasant social fates. Lynchings do not just occur down south, nor are guns and ropes the only weapons that can be used.

What is therefore so interesting about the intensity of church rhetoric about homosexuality is the way Christianity seems to be talking to itself about its own, historically verifiable marginality. Even John Paul's charge of "offense" was first used about the early Christians-- whose marginality defined them as a community. Early believers were dismissed from the Jewish synagogue in Jerusalem on charges of blasphemy. Adherents to the sect were deemed so offensive that they were offered up to civil authority by Jewish leaders, who were eager to deflect Roman attention from themselves. With this precedent sent, for years the Christians would become the socially sanctioned, convenient victims of Roman civilization' s imperial lust for violence. These "quintessential outsiders," as one critic calls them, provided the state with fodder to support a constant need to engage in social lynching; defending borders, defining and constructing imperial identity, then as now, is never completely finished.

If this sounds familiar to the social contests enacted around the homosexual in church and state, it should. Indeed, interesting comparisons can be made between gay persons and the early Christians: The first Christians were thought to be sexually promiscuous, subverting the society from within, dangerous and abusive to children. Read the Testaments, or the Roman historian Josephus. Such charges, commonplaces of the New Right, were already stale two millennia ago.

And if Christians were an offense, the founder of the sect was even more so. John Meier's titles his biography Jesus, a Marginal Jew. The argument can be made that Jesus's marginality was calculated, intentional. Jesus knew that there is no movement at the center, that one can only write back to established authority on the margins. Accordingly, the gospels repeatedly note how Jesus "called his disciples away" from the centers and towns, taking them alone into the desert; only there could they find spiritual freedom. Likewise Jesus directly confronted the Pharisees. Whited-sepulchers he called his religious leaders, dried bones. They were tombs, painted, showing where life had been, but no longer was.

Jesus's offense was self-chosen, a strategy not unlike Act Up politics. Offense was a teaching moment, and Jesus was, above all, Teacher. He let others claim the religious titles. The Scriptures portray Jesus as constantly giving scandal--evidenced in things he did and the people with whom he associated-- but doing so with ironic forethought. Blessed are they who are not offended in me, Jesus said--knowing full-well that he intended offense and that only the obtuse missed the point. Epiphany--what Christians would later call "grace"--is only possible when one is forced out of old habits, forced to review, revise, resee. Blind guides, he dismissed the Pharisees, for their resolute and systematic refusal to see, or accept, the scandal of the mercy politics to which he invited them.

"Blessed are you when they heap scorn upon you for my sake," Jesus told his disciples &endash; this time no irony intended. Jesus had reason to speak. Despite a Eurochristian sentimental whitewash, the historical Jesus was at best a religious renegade and at worst civilly lawless and criminal. The gospels tell us this if we read them right: Jesus was born out of wedlock, in scandal (Joseph thought to put Miriam away for the illegitimate child she was carrying); he lived a short life in public forcing provocation and causing offense. Jesus may not have died for our sins, as sentimentally we have it; on the other hand he surely died for his public affronts to Jewish religious authority.

If anything, the means of his dying compounded the scandal of Jesus. His death, was mors turpissiima, the most shameful of deaths, reserved only to the lowliest of slaves. (Nero used the cross --and Christians-- to great effect, lining the roads to Rome with their burning bodies, blaming them for the great fire that devastated Rome in 64 CE.) So great a scandal was the cross that Paul, the Jewish convert, made it his first task as Christianity' s front-man to smooth over Jesus's offensive reputation among the Jews. They were Jesus's own people, after all.

The Pope's remark about offense, then, tells as much about the church's own uneasy life on the margins of society as it does about the homosexual. So perhaps here, too, margins might teach the center: Perhaps there is something homosexual persons can tell Christianity about its own roots in scandal and offense--and thus about its potential for epiphany and grace. Statements of Vatican documents, inflamed pronouncements by church leaders, demonization by left and right in the Christian tradition: for something so unspeakable, homosexuality produces nonstop talk, polemic, shock, outrage, dismissal, repudiation. Why all this energy, one thinks, for something that isn't supposed to exist in the first place? Clearly the symbolic homosexual body--so deviant, so marginal, so, well, offensive -- speaks to something deeply part of Christianity, and which domesticized Christianity has long forgotten.

And not only church. Homosexuality, despite its constant demonization by church and so much culture, is nonetheless crucial to the way each sets the boundaries of the "normal." Not only is it centrally important to Christian practice, as many critics point out; it also makes possible various civic fantasies as well. That is, the homosexual becomes a civic object lesson, or sex for sale, or even can be used to drive the lubricious pleasures of public deviancies (someone else's). Last but not least, where moralizing substitutes for morality, the homosexual fantasy body, in a kind of public show, makes money; homosexual persons, as object of straight gazes, in effect perform sex for a culture so in denial about its own sexual addiction.

More importantly, however, perhaps our offense is something deeper than cheap moralism or media voyeurism. Perhaps homosexual persons threaten because we ask churches and other institutions of higher morality--including political institutions- -to divest themselves of ceremonial entombment and dead spirituality; we ask that they abandon an enervated, lifeless pursuit of power and teach, again, an interior life of freedom and grace. The truth, Jesus remarked, will set you free, even if it does offend your neighbors, your families, your state.

Perhaps, being outsiders so long, we know exactly what needs to be done. Spirituality has got to start here, on the margins, where the wind blows free and movement across boundaries is still possible. Come to where the freedom is. Make the margin, that place of trouble and offense, a place to begin. The original text of the Jewish-Christian testament begins: In the beginning the spirit of god "troubled" the waters. God saw the troubling was Good. Homosexual persons must take charge of troubling the waters again.

Rev Edward J. Ingebretsen teaches at Georgetown University.

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Gay Wisdom for Daily Living...

from White Crane
a magazine exploring
Gay wisdom & culture http://www.Gaywisdom.org

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