Category Archives: teh gay

Fred Phelps is dead

Fred Phelps is dead and the great marriage debate is all but over. I take no great cheer in either.

Phelps, as you probably know, was a former civil rights attorney who was later disbarred and who founded a radically conservative church, the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. If you don’t know what kind of church that is, then let me tell you that its website is not westboro.org or wbc.org but godhatesfags.com.

Oberlin College, 2000. Photo by Paul M Walsh

Oberlin College, 2000. Photo by Paul M Walsh

Phelps and his family — well, some of his family — were and are pretty much the entire congregation. They were known for years in the gay community for picketing the funerals of those who died of AIDS, or Matthew Shepard, or Coretta Scott King, but really only gained a national renown when they started picketing the funerals of soldiers, claiming that they died because America was too lenient to the queers.

I never had the pleasure of speaking with Phelps, but I did on more than one occasion chat with his daughter, the rabid Shirley Phelps-Roper, who is, I can only say, a piece of work. Shirley was not one of the several members of the Phelps family who recently (or not so recently, as is the case for son Nathan) parted company with the family business.

Phelps was not a pleasant man, and I can’t say that I’m sorry to see him depart this earth. But I’ll not dance on his grave or entertain fantasies of picketing his funeral. For one thing, the church says they don’t do funerals (wonder why that is?), but for another, it would be wrong.

Fred and his crew are genuinely are not happy people. Thirty seconds in the presence of Shirley told me that. She is angry, bitter and biting. Not at all stupid, but profoundly and deeply unhappy. Suffering, I would say. She would say that’s because of all us queers. But I think it’s more because she cannot abide in a world that frightens her, that doesn’t fit with her carefully constructed vision of how a world should be.

“Should” being the operative word. It’s a deadly word, one that has the power to completely kill joy. And without joy, life itself is stale, stagnant, ugly. Or dead.

So I’ll not be celebrating Phelps’ death. I am sad. I’m sad that his family has lost its patriarch, and I’m sad that he lived what looks to me like a sad and lonely life, one that many others have embraced. I can’t be angry at them for that, because even though it is a choice, it’s not one that they fully understand, or even realize they don’t understand.

I honestly don’t care what Fred Phelps or Shirley Phelps-Roper or anyone else thinks of Teh Gays. They can think whatever they want. Westboro’s picketing of funerals was shameful and cruel, in my opinion, but not illegal, in the opinion of the US Supreme Court, the same court that destroyed the Defense of Marriage Act.

Both of those decisions were correct, I believe. We can’t be legislating against protests we don’t like any more than we can legislate against marriages we don’t like. If we ban one kind of protest, we must ban them all, and the same is true for marriage.

Frankly, I’m all for banning marriage, at least as far as being a legal institution. It’s an artificial construct, originally designed to designate property. Love cannot be confined to a piece of paper and vows that can easily be broken.

Marriage, like religion, is a personal thing. They’re both about beliefs. Government has no place in beliefs, and beliefs have no place in government.

Of course, taking marriage out of government is not likely to happen, not for a long time to come. So the Supreme Court’s decision is a good one, and it takes the religious argument right out.

Now the new thing is a proliferation of laws to protect religious freedom, one thing that actually is in the Constitution, because the guys who wrote that understood that it is a personal thing. How you practice your religion, or what you believe, is your business and your business alone.

And there it is. Fred Phelps and family, Westboro Baptist Church, the anti-gay marriage folks and others like them seem to have forgotten that. Or maybe they never understood. Their religious beliefs should never touch me or anyone else who doesn’t share them.

It’s not hard to understand. But apparently the practice is too daunting for some. I can only conclude that they’re afraid, and need everyone to believe as they do to keep that fear at bay.

And that just breaks my heart.

Sneakin’ Sally through the alley

Back in June 1983, NASA did something rather unusual. A couple of things actually. For one, they sent a woman up into space, 20 years after the Soviet Union did it for the first time and a year after they did it for the second time.

For another, they set up a toll-free phone number for us space junkies to call and listen to the astronauts talk. I did that, several times. Just to hear Sally Ride. I mean, wow. The first American woman in space. Space, the final frontier. A woman astronaut.

A woman astronaut who got asked ridiculous things like, “do you cry when things go wrong on the job” by my beloved colleagues after she was named to STS-7, never mind she had a Ph.D. in phucking physics. From fucking Stanford. And she helped develop the robot arm. My colleagues can be such idiots.

OK, but that was 1983 you say. How really different is it now? Quite, actually. For one thing, the United States doesn’t even have a shuttle program anymore, and depends on the Soviet Union … erm, I mean Russia, to get astronauts to the space station. And my colleagues pretty much ignore the whole thing anyway. I can probably count on my two hands how many know that Suni Williams is up there right now, and probably on only one hand the number who know she’ll be the station commander in September.

But Sally. Sally Ride. The name, the woman. Space. Sally was the ground communicator for the 2nd and 3rd shuttle flights, flew for a second time in 1984 and was set to fly for a third time when Challenger — the very shuttle she flew in both her space missions — exploded. NASA named Sally to the commission to investigate the accident, and then later to do strategic planning in Washington.

But politics and science don’t mix very well. Kinda like religion and science, actually, so Sally left and went off to do science, with a particular aim at bringing more kids, particularly girls, on board. She still worked with NASA on the side, and was named to the commission investigating the Columbia accident in 2003 — the only person to serve on both.

Oh, and she was a lesbian. We found out about this because the obituary that she and her 27-year partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy (also a scientist) wrote mentioned Tam as her first survivor. Hell, we didn’t even know Sally had cancer, and now we find out she was a lesbian too?

Good thing they wrote that obit, though, because NASA used its own. It doesn’t mention Tam.

But damn, some of us said, why the hell did she wait until after she was dead to let us in on this secret? Isn’t Sally Ride the very kind of person we want to show the nutjobs that we are not only just like everybody else, but in some cases we are way better than everybody else?

Well, yeah. But Sally didn’t see it that way. I don’t know what discussions went on behind closed doors between her and Tam (although I’m sure there were plenty), but I can guess at what kinds of things may have helped her decide not to come out publicly. Do you cry when things go wrong at work?

Sally wanted to do science, not give lessons on how it is that a lesbian can be America’s first female astronaut and be so fucking brilliant the rest of us should just fall down at her feet. Sally wanted to promote science in a country where half of it — oddly enough the same half that would condemn her to hell for her “lifestyle choice” — doesn’t get that science isn’t a matter of what you decide to believe. Sally wanted to get more little girls interested in science, not fend off ridiculous accusations that she’s a dyke child molester — accusations that my colleagues were bound to take just as seriously as anything she could say to the contrary.

In short, an out lesbian Sally Ride could never have accomplished what she accomplished because she would have been too busy dealing with both the idiots who think lesbians are women who hate men and those of us on our side who think famous lesbians should spend all their time in the spotlight talking about how great it is to be gay.

And that, my friends, is just so fucking sad it hurts to think about it.

On lifestyles, agendas and recruiting

Ever since the extremists have taken hold of the Republican Party for good, we’ve had a new influx of fear mongering about “the gay agenda.” Hey, I’m down with that. Some of what my fellow queers have in their “to do lists” scares the living daylights outta me, too, although none, that I know of, is hellbent on destroying the institution of marriage or indoctrinating children into the gay lifestyle.

And that’s another annoying thing. The gay “lifestyle.” What the hell is that? As comedian Liz Feldman so aptly put it,

It’s very dear to me, the issue of gay marriage, or, as I like to call it, “marriage.” You know, because I had lunch this afternoon, not gay lunch. I parked my car, I didn’t gay park it.

Yeah, and I like to grill out. I don’t gay grill. I also read a lot, but I don’t gay read. I just read. I just grill. I just park the car. I just have lunch. And were I to get married (which, incidentally, is not something I would do), I would just get married.

Maybe that’s why I don’t like nouns. They get adjectives attached to them. I don’t like to call myself a writer, because it too often gets “gay” or “lesbian” or “political” or “bad” attached to it. Yes, I am a lesbian, and yes I am a writer, but the two aren’t very related, you dig? I prefer to say I write, because that’s something I do. I am a lesbian, and I write. Verbs, they get adverbs attached, but it’s not the same. I do, actually, gaily write sometimes.

I’m fine with being a lesbian, because that’s something I am, not something I do. It doesn’t come with a lifestyle or an agenda. It just signifies that I’m gonna find intimate companionship among members of my own gender, if, of course, you buy it that there are only two, but that’s a whole ‘nother column.

A lifestyle tends to be something chosen. You know, like living in a cabin on top of a mountain or living in a cute little house on the beach and all the attendant lifestyle matters that come with those choices. But I could be gay or straight living on top of the mountain or on the beach, and very little else would be different. Oh, sure, maybe I have more k.d. lang on my iPod than the average heterosexual woman, but so what?

Being a vegetarian is another lifestyle choice, as are having an iPod and dressing in drag. So is religion. Yes, religion. Religion is 100 percent a choice, and your choice about that is 100 percent protected by the constitution, unless you’re Muslim. Of course, it doesn’t actually have a Muslim exclusion clause, but it’s the standard interpretation among the otherwise strict constructionist extremists who think the constitution only deals with things that were available and in use in the late 18th century. Except of course for Rick Perry, who thinks the Constitution was written in the late 1500s.

But religion. Man, that’s a lifestyle. This group doesn’t eat meat, that group doesn’t drink coffee, this group doesn’t dance, this group doesn’t drink alcohol. And all the groups think they’re right, and everybody else is wrong.

I happen to think that as well. I’m right, y’know, that religion is quite possibly the source of all our problems, right after money, although religion and money do tend to go hand in hand. For some, money is religion. But the whole idea of an invisible god … well, let’s just say there are an awful lot of contradictions. And then there’s the deification of human beings. That’s a little much in my book. I bet I could get a buncha fools to follow me around and then declare I’m holy if I gave them enough wine and fish. I’m just sayin’.

But religion, man. Those religionists like to say we queers “recruit.” Seriously? Please. But what the hell is proselytizing if not recruitment by an unspellable name? And what about all this religionist effort to impose some arbitrary “moral” code on us all if not an agenda? And don’t even get me started on what’s “moral” and what’s not after the state of Kansas decriminalized “light” wife-beating.

See, I’m thinking all this bullshit about the “gay agenda” and the “gay lifestyle” and “recruiting” is just one big example of projection, because nobody does those any better than unthinking religious fanatics.

Now, I know that not all adherents of religions are like that, nor do all religions require stupidity as a prerequisite for membership. Buddhism, for example. In my limited experience with Buddhism, actually, I tend to think of it as less of a religion and more of an experiential philosophy. There really aren’t any deities to speak of, just as far as I can tell some interesting symbolic characters, some guy who lived a long time ago known as “the Buddha” who told everybody he taught not to believe a word he says until they’ve experienced it for themselves and a bunch of really peaceful, calm practitioners, some of whom have experienced more of what the Buddha talked about than others and spend a lot of their time teaching what they’ve learned. And saying not to believe it unless you experience it for yourself.

Not at all the same as some of the Christianists who encourage others to experience Lord Jesus in their lives and who, in my humble opinion, are just a tad bit delusional about what that experience was.

It is a bit of a lifestyle, although unless you consider peace and harmony with the universe an agenda, there’s not much of one of those. I know, some people do, mostly the aforementioned religionists. Me, I tend to think of peace and harmony with the universe as The Way Things Were Meant To Be before humanity got a little carried away with the free will thing.

I do have a personal lifestyle. It involves reading a lot, watching cop shows On Demand, being outside as much as possible, keeping my car in decent working order, keeping the cats fed and their litter boxes clean, some travel, staying up late because I work late, visiting friends and seeing the Buddhist Girl, who tells me not to believe a word she says unless I experience it myself, as much as possible. Oh, and gadgets. I love gadgets. And coding, which is poetry. I also like flying kites and running radio controlled boats. Very little of that has anything to do with my being a lesbian.

I also have a personal agenda, or, as I like to call it, ulterior motives. Those have nothing to do with you and never will. Some are directly connected to my being a lesbian, but again, not gonna mess with your life.

That whole “agenda” and “lifestyle” idea is just so foreign to me, really. It makes no sense, complicates things way too much. Involves too many people sticking their noses in things that have nothing to do with them. I’m not particularly fond of marriage, so I’m not gonna do that. Maybe you do like marriage, but don’t like gay marriage. Fine. Don’t marry someone of the same gender. Problem solved.

And please, don’t gay park your car or have gay lunch. It’ll just confuse people.