30 April 2009

Frau Trude

I am reading Sibylle Birkhauser-Oeri's The Mother: Archetypal Image in Fairy Tales at the moment and there is this fairy tale that has appeared -- I first read the account of this tale from von Franz's Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales. I'd like to share it (Frau is German for Mrs):

A disobedient little girl says to her parents, "I've heard such a lot about Frau Trude, I'm going to see her." They forbid her to do so in the strongest terms, saying Mrs. Trude is an evil woman who does ungodly things. However, the girl still goes. When she arrives, she is shaking with fear.

"Why are you so pale?" Frau Trude asks her. The girl tells her she has seen a black man on the steps, then a green one, then a blood-red one. "Oh Frau Trude, I was so sacred, I looked through the window and didn't see you, but I saw the devil with a flaming head."

"Oh!" says Frau Trude, "You've seen the witch in her proper jewels!" She turns the girl into a block of wood and throws her into the fire. She sits down beside it, warms herself and says "Some light at last."

What fascinates me about this story is how the stubborn (and innocent) little girl acts like an inflexible block of wood and ends up participating in her own fiery death by refusing to be conscious. I feel like this story is similar to a few near-misses in my life when I insisted on seeing the devil herself and nearly got thrown into the fire by my own stubbornness.

What do you feel about this story?

27 April 2009

Render Unto Caesar That Which Is Caesar's

I found an interesting article in TIME Magazine on the insidious consequences on Christian churches across the U.S. and the world for jumping into the same-sex marriage struggle. Given the research in how the religious right oriented the LGBT movements towards seeing same-sex marriage as a legitimate goal, this is a strange turn of events indeed.

Marriage Existed Before Christianity and Independent Of It

Like Catholicism until the Council of Trent in 1545 (and subsequent Protestant actions), Buddhism does not consider marriage to be a sacrament. The protocol and enforceability of marriage was something left to the non-religious aspects of social and political life.

The Buddha did not make a judgment about the institution of marriage itself. It was a social institution, like every other social institution, it could help promote the cultivation of a more conscious awareness or it could promote more suffering for the individual. The Buddha's only instruction for lay people was not to engage in sexual misconduct -- that is, to be faithful and attentive to yourself and your partner if you are committed, and if single, to be faithful and attentive to yourself.

In Europe, religion did not get involved in marriage generally until the 1200s and not officially until the 1545 Council of Trent during the Catholic Counter-Reformation and subsequent actions by Protestant leaders. In fact, until the East-West Schism, most wedding ceremonies continued to use the Ancient Rome pagan marriage ritual or local pagan rituals for marriage. In some parts of countries which use the English common law system, a "common-law marriage" is still recognized by courts -- if a man and woman have lived together for seven years and held each other out to husband and wife, it is presumed by the court that they had married each other. But, how, you may ask, is that presumption possible if, in fact, they had no ceremony? Because until the 1600s, a man saying "I marry you" (in the present tense) together with wedlock (having sex) was the act of marrying -- that's all. From the 1545 onward, the Catholic Church insisted that legal canonical marriages required an ordained priest and two witnesses for a marriage to be legal. Protestant churches came around a little later.

However, by that time, the "common law marriage" was so ingrained in custom as a legitimate means of marrying that it persisted in Great Britain until abolished in 1753 by the Marriage Act. This did not apply to the colonies and so these kinds of marriages were still recognized in the United States, Canada and Australia until after World War II. At that time, there was a movement around the world to tighten regulation of family and many places eliminated recognition of a common law marriage.

So, its really hard to say that Christian churches were mistaken for 1500 years on the marriage question and then corrected themselves while they were slaughtering each other all of Europe during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. It is likely that then-current moral trends and understanding changed which changed the interpretation of Christian scripture.

Every religion has recognized the spiritual dimensions that the deepening of intimacy can bring to the soul of one in committed relationship based on love. Jesus made comments regarding the suitability of different lifestyle arrangements to different dispositions and characters of persons in Matthew 19 where he repudiates marriage in general -- like in Luke 18. This is similar to the Buddha's liberal view of sexual relations holding only that acts and intentions further suffering should be avoided. This is also similar to the thoughts of great teachers in the Chinese and Indian traditions.

Marriage is not a product of Christianity but something Christianity grafted itself onto during a time of major social upheaval in renaissance Europe. Marriage, throughout the world, until World War II continued to operate independently of even the government until the government began to more tightly regulate laws relating to family and property.

Religious Doctrinal Disputes Should Not Guide the Public Policy Debate

The TIME Magazine article above shows the real problem why same-sex marriage has been seen as a threat to certain Christian churches. The threat of same-sex marriage is that there are internal disputes within churches about the integration of gay identity and whether religious metaphors should be understood literally or metaphorically. But this dispute is not one for a secular government to be involved in. "Ibigay nga ninyo kay Cesar ang mga bagay na nauukol kay Cesar. Ibigay ninyo sa Diyos ang mga bagay na nauukol sa Diyos." Mat 22:21

There may be non-religious reasons for and against same-sex marriage. But the saving of "tradition" or "sacred" aspects of marriage are not among them. Marriage has historically been a social institution to control and stabilize society in service of the dominant economic mode of production at any given point. The real debate should be whether the current structure of marriage and family is adequate for the needs of society and social justice today.

26 April 2009

Book Review: God Hates Fags

I want to start off this review by unequivocally stating that I do not recommend buying or reading this book. I hesitated writing this review at first, but I decided I wanted to tell you what was so disappointing and my expectations for research into the discourse of anti-gay right-wing Christian fundamentalism.

Michael Cobb is an English Professor at the University of Toronto and is a very angry gay man. I picked this book up with the idea that it would be an update to Didi Herman's The Anti-Gay Agenda with a focus on the upsurge in media attention to Fred Phelps "God Hates Fags" church. The book does provide a little bit of research into the history of Fred Phelps church of hate. However, I'd recommend Ryan Jones' documentary Fall from Grace -- which includes unprecedented access to Fred Phelps and his madness first hand.

I was interested in how 11 Sept 2001 may have affected the rhethoric of religious hate speech towards gays. Right after 11 Sept 01, Fred Phelps came to Hawai'i and protested in front of Kawaiaha'o Church standing on Hawaiian flags saying "God Hates Hawaii" and "God Hates Hawaiians." In Hawai'i, the term Hawaiian only refers to people who descend from the native people living in Hawai'i before white people came, so Phelps protests were taken as anti-Native hate speech (although in his ignorant mind, he was attacking the state as a whole for having the Hawai'i Supreme Court be the first U.S. court to recognize a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in 1993 -- in the case Baehr v. Lewin).

Jasbir Puar's Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times showed a major and fundamental shift in American politics after 11 Sept 01 where mainstream "othering" moved from white gay men to non-white Muslim men. This dramatic and sudden shift in rhetoric regarding sexuality and exclusion has exploded in the courts and legislatures with more and more U.S. states recognizing same-sex marriage either through litigation or through legislation.

In God Hates Fags, I was looking for how the religious right has reshaped its discourse (if it has) since 11 Sept 01 in the way Didi Herman, in The Anti-Gay Agenda, showed how changes in the American politics (regarding race, the cold war, etc.,) affected how the religious right framed its anti-gay agenda from the 1950s until the 1990s.

I wanted him to analyze the function of hate. Hate is a negative compensation for need. We hate the people we need but have some kind of negative association with that need (including some negative association to the person) and cannot recognize it directly as need. If you didn't need someone, you couldn't possibly hate them.

Cobb didn't extend Herman's research into the 2000s, and he didn't analyze hate. Instead, he went into this very cerebral historical discussion in the American protestent preacher's rhetorical device of the jeremdiad -- which is a bitter, mourning rant about the moral decay of society -- before launching into his own extended, infantile rant (jeremiad?) about how much he hates the U.S. , straight people, the church, etc.,. Perhaps the hateful Fred Phelps and hateful Michael Cobb need each other, but it was a total disappointment for those interested in religious violence against LGBTs or religious hate speech.

If you are interested in the craziness behind Fred Phelps hate church in Kansas and its national prominence in the media, I'd watch Ryan Jones' documentary Fall from Grace.

The version I read was a 229 page paperback published by NYU Press (June 1, 2006), ISBN-13: 978-0814716694. It is written in English. I would not buy this book.

25 April 2009

Movie Review: Shortbus

When I put this in my Netflix queue a year ago, I had no idea what to expect. It seemed like an interesting concept from the trailer but forgot about it until it arrived in the mail. I'll start by saying, I have subsequently found out that the many sex scenes -- including auto-fellatio, orgies, threesomes, etc. -- are not simulated but actual sexual acts. Netflix's short summary for the film said:
Director John Cameron Mitchell delivers an unbridled look at the New York City underground, focusing on a group of hipsters who frequent a downtown club renowned for its lascivious ways. Through graphic polymorphous sexual couplings -- and using an ensemble cast composed largely of first-time actors -- the film chronicles each character's erotic journey of self-discovery in a raw and riveting fashion.
I think en.Wikipedia does a much more thorough job of describing the plot. There are two main characters, Sofia, who is a straight, married sex therapist who has never had an orgasm and James, a gay former prostitute who is in an unsatisfying relationship. The movie follows the searching of these two individuals for meaning in life through sexual exploration and/or sexual maturation.

There was a lot of sex in the movie (uncensored and unsimulated) yet John Cameron Mitchell was able to use the sex in a way to explore and develop aspects of the characters and their suffering. Perhaps some of the pornographers who use the gay indie cinema veneer to get their works out might consider looking to this film as a way of using sex to tell a story versus shooting sex and calling it a story. (Jay Altarejos and Lex Bonife, for example, have done a good job of using sex strategically as a story telling device. Others, however, could use some work to move from simply appealing to prurient interest to making art.)

24 April 2009

Movie Review: Rock Haven

First of all, I want to give a shout out to the Malaysian site, Filem Gay, for helping to catablog international gay cinema.

I have watched many many gay films in my life and with the recent advances in editing technology and its greater accessibility to the middle class, I have to say that I have been unable to be aware of every gay film that has come out in the last ten years (there is just too many). I was roaming through Filem Gay's blog and stumbled onto Rock Haven. Filem Gay summarized:

The coastal California community of Rock Haven is the perfect place for cute eighteen-year-old Brady and his loving mother to begin a fresh start. Their mission: to spread the word of the Lord. But while roaming the beach one day, Brady meets Clifford, a young man who is the complete opposite of him: outgoing and athletic as well as incredibly handsome. Their initial encounter stirs up feelings of homo desire that Brady has been suppressing. Once Clifford makes it clear that their attraction is mutual, Brady's conflicting feelings of religious obligation and natural impulse go into overdrive, and the two young men must navigate their confusion, lust and beliefs in order to come to a mutual understanding.

The film was well written and well shot. It was able to address the fundamental conflict of adolescence between remaining a child of our parents and becoming an adult -- using the lens of American Christian fundamentalism. It did a great job of that without painting the fundamentalist mother as a flat religious wacko (I mean, she's a religious wacko, don't get me wrong, but its not like a two dimensional cartoon character level of wacko.) The ending could have used some work especially on the mother-complex issue and the Clifford resolution, but overall the theme regarding spirituality and sexuality is well presented. There is no inherent conflict between spirituality and sexuality. The only conflict is with church control of spirituality through the realm of sexuality.

22 April 2009

Book Review: Metropolitan Lovers, the Homosexuality of Cities

Julie Abraham is an American professor of literature and LGBT studies. Abraham's book is an interesting look at the connection between the idea of the "city" and homosexual identity -- lesbian and gay.

I must admit up front that I found the book to be very Euro-American centric and failed to address the relation of the city and sexuality to colonialism and imperialism or test her theories of that relationship to the conscious city creating in colonized places. Because of this, I found a lot of the book boring and tedious to read. But, if you're into urban studies or European lesbian nineteenth century history or Oscar Wilde, you'll likely find this book much more interesting.

That being said, the book got me thinking of Benedict Anderson's highly controversial Under Three Flags and the questions he and Neil Garcia think about the possibility of Jose Rizal being gay. Because both that book and this one focuses on nineteenth century Paris, it occured to me that Abraham missed a great discussion over sexuality, urbanity and colonialism. While Anderson felt Rizal rejected anarchism with Ibarra/Simoun's death at the end of Fili, I always saw the shadowy figure rushing into the party and thwarting the lamp-bomb to show that Rizal had ambivalence about anarchism. It was a compensation for Simoun's fanaticism. Rizal was not yet ready for a cosmopolitan/urban sexuality and so Simoun dies in the arms of a provincial priest.

Abraham has the right idea of the connection between urban space and sexual identity communities. However, I think she focused only on white, Euro-American lesbians and gays and failed to address the racial or colonial dimensions that inform both urban development and sexual identity formations in former colonial nations.

The version I read was a 344 page hardback published by University of Minnesota Press (January 30, 2009), ISBN-13: 978-0816638185. It is written in English. Unless you are really interested in nineteenth century Euro-American lesbian and gay history or urban studies, I would not buy this book.

21 April 2009

Of Life and Suffering


Mugen wrote an interesting blog on reincarnation Sunday. Having been a Buddhist for most of my life and having studied the philosophy of my official religion formally, I thought I'd comment. There are some very strong popular notions of what karma is and what reincarnation is. I wrote:

The Buddha himself dismissed extended speculation of past-life and future-life matters. The importance of birth as a human is that it is only as a human that one has the proper faculties and context to find liberation. Intellectual speculation about the past or the future distracts us from our path -- generally.

Over the centuries, Buddhist thought has focused on reincarnation and karma primarily from the perspective of psychology and used the realms of existence (hell, hungry-ghost, animal, human, demon/demi-god, and god realms) to metaphorically describe the nature of suffering in its three categories: the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change, and the suffering of conditioned existence.

Liberation is coming to wholly understand the nature of reality (not just intellectually but also emotionally, etc.,). Form and nothingness are one and the same -- two aspects of the interdependent and conditioned nature of all things.

Karma is not divine retribution or punishment for past bad acts. Rather, karma is the action that is produced from our perspective on the world -- through the narrowing of our senses by our emotional conditioning, mental disposition, etc.,. If you see yourself as a victim, it will only be so long before you find yourself a persecutor. How we perceive the world is intimately connected into what we experience. Karma is this. When the perspective changes, the karma changes. In southern Buddhist thought, there are three types of suffering: the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change and the suffering of conditioned existence. We suffer in part because we are living beings, because we cannot accept the transitory nature of things, and because we cannot accept the fact that our own self-identity is transitory and conditioned.

Liberation does not come from speculating on your past lives or ignoring the present to secure a good future life. Humans are the only creatures that have the adequate faculties and context to find liberation. As the Tibetans say, being born as a human being is as frequent as a blind, albino turtle emerging from the great ocean once every hundred years and happening to emerge inside a meter-wide ring floating on the surface of that great ocean. It is so unlikely that one will be reborn as a human that one ought to spend this precious time with the mind and feeling toward liberation. Of course, this also is not a call to (necessarily) lead a monastic life -- although this point is disputed by the southern Buddhists.

The terms, techniques and language of the path is different for everyone. For every disposition of person, there is a unique path to liberation -- and discovering that path is an intimate and personal quest.

20 April 2009

Book Review: With Respect to Sex

Gayatri Reddy is an Indian-American anthropologist and gender studies professor. Reddy's book is an ethnography of the transgender hijra of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

Reddy carefully recounts the tensions in life for the hijra that are specific to the cultural context like the road from rural life to urban hijra identity in Hyderabad and some of the more seemingly universal aspects of transgender collective identity regarding how the hijra form into hierarchical adopted families that enforce norms for the hijra identity with an "old-timer" at the apex of the hierarchical family.

Her discussion of the negotiation between Hindu and Muslim identification is fascinating. (Hyderabad was a Muslim sultanate until after independence and if you ever go there, you can see its definitely not Delhi!) She uses this to then discuss the possibilities of how gender relates to colonialism in general and how man, woman and hijra relate to colonial suppression of indigenous cultural forms of sex and sexuality.

I found myself fascinated most by this aspect of the book, in part, because of the wholly undertheorized aspects of colonialism on mahu-identity, fa'afafine/fakaleiti identity and bakla identity, in general. Mark Johnson's ethnography, Beauty and Power, regarding the bantut of the Jolo community of Takut-Takut has a short discussion of the relationship between transgender identity and globalization, but doesn't really go too far with it.

Fenella Cannell's ethnography Power and Intimacy in the Christian Philippines also does discuss some of the aspects of bakla identity in relationship to globalization (both presently, colonial and pre-colonial periods) but this is primarily in conversation with aspects of folk beliefs in healing and the spirit world. (Both picking up on an aspect of Neil Garcia's Gay Philippine Culture discussion of the shaman role of the pre-Hispanic babaylan and the modern bakla.)

The extended discussion of religion, colonialism and the making of meaning for gender identity is worth the read. The hijra engage in a number of ascetic practices, like castration, based upon the collective interpretations of various religious texts and stories. She also discusses how the hijra identity relates (or doesn't relate) to the emergence of a separate gay identity in urban India.

The version I read was a 312 page paperback published by University of Chicago Press (July 1, 2005), ISBN-13: 978-0226707563. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was at abebooks and is for the same version printed in India.

18 April 2009

Paramilitary Police Tactics Against Protestors Are Not Good

As has been reported, Ian Tomlinson, paper vendor, was struck from behind by riot police in London during the G20 protests. Mr. Tomlinson was not part of the protests and was on his way home from his job when he was struck from behind by the police. The police had reported that he had died of a heart attack. However, it has turned out from a second autopsy (and first independent one) that Mr. Tomlinson died of internal abdominal bleeding caused by being struck. The police officer in question has been interrogated but not charged with any crime, yet.

The documentary, This is What Democracy Looks Like, was shot by cameras from over 100 independent media activists during the anti-globalization protests in Seattle in 1999. The documentary showed a disturbing trend that continued thereafter: the militarization of local law enforcement in the United States (and elsewhere). (For those readers that come from countries that were subjected to multiyear martial law rule, in countries where martial law was not the prevailing governing principle, local law enforcement organizations were not militarized.)

The tension between local law enforcement's increase in paramilitary activities and anti-globalization activists came to an abrupt end on September 11, 2001 when militarizing all aspects of domestic public culture in the United States and elsewhere became the prevailing public policy. This was granular martial law without the declaration of it with surgical disregard for the Writ of Habeaus Corpus.

In Honolulu, the protest-march against the Asian Development Bank in May 2001 was the last major organized protest until the world came together and marched against the U.S. invasion of Iraq in January, 2003. In those eighteen months, all hope was lost. The people I marched with in May 2001 had a sense of purpose and hope that their marching would help change the world. The people I marched with in January 2003 had a sense of resignation and mourning.

I hope that the officer who killed Mr. Tomlinson is prosecuted. However, I don't think that this event, which is a consequence of the militarization of local law enforcement, will change any of the underlying policies that contributed to Mr. Tomlinson's death.

17 April 2009

Book Review: Sex at the Margins

Laura Maria Agustin is a Spanish sociologist focusing on the intersection of prostitution and migration. The main thrust of her book analyzes how the "rescue industry" that has been created around migrant sex workers disempowers migrant sex workers stripping them of agency.

Agustin's book first takes a critical look at the history of tourism, prostitution, and the globalization of the service economy. Her look at the creation of the category of "prostitution" is very fascinating and the relationship that independent women had to their communities and how the creation of "prostitution" as something to remedy was a response to that independence.

She shows how the "rescue industry" regarding migrant sex workers is an outgrowth of the nineteenth century movement of the upper-classes to discipline women bodies into "proper jobs" and "proper roles" that "better" regulated every aspect of a woman's life for women. This reminded me of Anne McClintock's Imperial Leather which goes into the nineteenth century history of regulating women's bodies and colonial space in much more detail.

Agustin points out that stereotyping all migrant sex workers as being "trafficked" is inaccurate and inadequate in describing their lives. Agustin shows that many migrant sex workers make rational choices to migrate and work in the sex industry. She also demonstrates that the "rescue industry" that targets these kinds of sex workers deprives these men and women of their agency and that such "rescue" groups do not act without self-interest.

Agustin calls for international efforts aimed at migrant sex workers to move from a charity/rescue model to solidarity for social justice. This book is a fascinating look about this under-researched and under-theorized aspect of sexuality and globalization.

The version I read was a 224 page paperback published by Zed Books (August 7, 2007), ISBN-13: 978-1842778609. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was at abebooks.

15 April 2009

Book Review: The Trouble with Normal

Michael Warner is a professor of English at Rutgers University. He is one of the founding thinkers in "queer theory" starting with his edited book Fear of a Queer Planet. When first published, The Trouble with Normal was seen as a response to Andrew Sullivan's book Virtually Normal and the move in sexual minority and dissident communities towards a stable LGBT identity community and same-sex marriage as the ultimate goal of such a community.

Until the 1990s, the U.S. did not have a clear and stable notion of an LGBT community -- there were transgender communities, gay communities, lesbian communities and some overlap. This is still true about a global LGBT community. This unifying of different groups of people into an LGBT community produced a unified political agenda. For Warner, this political agenda was same-sex marriage.

Warner identifies himself with the cause of sexual dissidents and analyzes what he considers to be anti-democratic and in-grouping same-sex marriage does to the notion of public space, the revolutionary potential of sex, and how such a political agenda re-creates the same problems of marginalization that occurs to what we now know as the LGBT movement. He shows how public discourse over public sex was transformed by the emergence of claims for same-sex marriage. Traditional gay and lesbian spaces where sexual difference and experience once existed were being removed under the same philosophy that supported same-sex marriage.

His main point is that a political programme that positions itself to align sexual minorities to be a version of "normal" ends up requiring that those that cannot be normalized are thrown out of the community. The book was written ten years ago and quite a few things have changed but his argument regarding the political programme of recognition as normal coming at a price remains true.

Subsequent work by authors like Jasbir Puar in Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times have shown that after September 11, 2001, LGBT claims in the U.S. for same-sex marriage has become intimately linked to new forms of marginalizing and excluding male Muslim bodies from public discourse and space.

The version I read was a 227 page paperback published by Harvard University Press (November 1, 1999), ISBN-13: 978-0674004412. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was at abebooks.

12 April 2009

What Is Bainimarama Thinking?


As was reported a few days ago, Fiji's Court of Appeals ruled conclusively that Commodore Bainimarama's military coup was unconstitutional and invalidated his position as prime minister. Fiji's President Ratu Josefa Iloilo immediately re-appointed Commodore Bainimarama as interim prime minister and sacked the justices of the Court of Appeals. Commodore Bainimarama has expelled foreign journalists and has reimposed martial law.

Organic due and fair process in the determination of equities of parties when there is a dispute, in my humble and uneducated opinion, is the one of the only methods by which a ruler of men can justly rule. Sacking justices in this manner is never due or fair process in determining the equities of the parties. Instead, Bainimarama is taking a few tactics out of the playbook of the colonial powers. We have seen these moves acted out by other colonial puppets General Ne Win of Burma, Ferdinand Marcos, General Agusto Pinochet, General Suharto, etc.,. Sadly, Bainimarama's power complex can't be connected to any colonial power.

This does not bode well for the region.

Book Review: Straight to Jesus


Tanya Erzen is an American anthropologist and professor and identified herself as a "straight woman." She interviews and observes an ex-gay community south of San Francisco, California over the course of a year and does a bit of historical research of ex-gay faith communities, the media and political movements.

In the late 1990s, the religious right in the U.S. began heavily promoting ex-gays as a political maneuver to deny LGBT claims for anti-discrimination laws or equal protection under the law. The LGBT community responded with an attack on ex-gays -- the 1999 movie But I'm a Cheerleader is a classic example.

Yet, Enzer doesn't focus on either of these two opposing movements, the LGBT political movement or the religious right's political movement. Instead, she focuses on the suffering of the ex-gays themselves. She dispels the misunderstanding of both of those movements regarding ex-gays -- who do not seek a "cure" for their homosexuality but rather make it compatible with their understanding of their born again Christian faith. They treat homosexuality as Alcoholics Anonymous treats alcoholism -- as an incurable disease who progression can be halted by following their method but not cured (as in "once a drunk, always a drunk.")

Erzen does spends a little bit of time focusing on how both the religious right's appropriation of ex-gay ministries and the LGBT movement's response to that appropriation deprived ex-gays of their own humanity and stripped them of any social recognition of the conflict and suffering they experience. I myself felt a bit of remorse about my ignorance of the entire matter and comments I made in my youth. Many non-Western LGBT-like groups throughout the world, engage in a number of non-normative ascetic practices in the name of the spiritual meaning they bring to their LGBT-like gender or sexual identities. Ex-gays faith communities are apparently the U.S. contribution to that subfield of ethnography.

Erzen's objectively written but deeply empathetic account of the struggles of ex-gays puts them in the same light that other anthropologists put other marginalize LGBT-like communities elsewhere. Erzen leaves the reader to make her own conclusions about ex-gay faith communities.

I happened to see the 2007 Sundance film Save Me right after reading this book -- it just happened to come out on DVD at that time. I found Save Me to be in stark contrast to But I'm a Cheerleader in terms of the nuance and depth it portrayed the ex-gays and the LGBT communities involved. Without telling you the ending of Save Me, it comes to the same conclusions most readers of Straight to Jesus will come to: contrary to the religious right's or CBCP's collective opinion, sexuality and religion are not incompatible experiences of human existence and can coexist. And, in the final analysis, it is church organizations' collective opinions about who and how God is that causes tremendous suffering in many -- like the ex-gays.

The version I read was a 293 page paperback published by University of California Press (June 27, 2006), ISBN-13: 978-0520245822. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was at abebooks.

10 April 2009

Book Review: How the Religious Right Shaped Lesbian and Gay Activism

Tina Fetner is a sociology professor in Canada and identified herself as a "straight woman." She reviewed documents from both the religious right and gay and lesbian sources and made a simple claim. The modern American LGBT movement was primarily shaped by the forces of the religious right. The religious right had better organization and way more money to contribute to opposing LGBT claims-- at least, how they saw those claims. This ended up, in LGBT organzing terms, putting significant resources and time into responding to that opposition, even if the area of battle was not a priority for the LGBT movement.

As has been discussed at length in other scholarship, until the religious right started organizing against the mild anti-discrimination laws the LGBT movement had gotten in a number of cities, same sex marriage was considered assimiliationist and rejected by most people in LGBT communities. However, because of the intensification of capital and the nationalization of the LGBT movement (in response to the national efforts of the religious right in the late 70s/early 80s), same sex marriage became the issue.

Fetner tells us how that exactly happened and uses each sides own documentation to show the shift. Queer theorist scholars like Michael Warner have opposed same-sex marriage on these terms -- that it is assimiliationist, it necessary will further exclude other forms of sexual expression, and because it was thrust upon LGBT communities by the religious right.

One of the most interesting points of Fetner's book -- and its buried at the end -- is that the religious right's active opposition to LGBT communities and the organizing has actually backfired from the stated goal of unifying the U.S. against LGBT claims. In fact, it has had the reverse effect over time because there was a media blackout of LGBT issues until the religious right made it their issue. (This is familiar to anyone in media, any press is good press.)

Two areas Fetner articulates but does not connect are her sections on that and on the philosophical orientation of persecuted separateness of Christian fundamentalism in America and how their "re-entrance" into political life and the persecution of LGBT communities has ended up marginalizing the fundamentalists themselves and triggering a re-separation from political life.

The book is quite short and worth reading for anyone who does serious organizing in any social justice cause because it concretizing opposing movement theory and the consequences of unequal opponents in social justice causes.

The version I read was a 200 page paperback published by University of Minnesota Press (July 14, 2008), ISBN-13: 978-0816649181. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was at abebooks.

06 April 2009

Movie Review: The Ballad of Narayama

I have no idea how this movie got into my Queue (on Netflix.com), but it did. I watched it this evening avoiding taking a break from my work. Here is the Netflix summary:

Stricken by famine, the residents of a 19th-century Japanese village decide to banish its elderly population to the top of Mt. Narayama, where they will be left to die. One year shy of her exile, the 69-year-old Orin (Sumiko Sakamoto) must settle some old scores. But her top priority is finding a wife for her eldest son (Ken Ogata). Director Shohei Imamura's multilayered lyrical drama won the Palme d'Or at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival

The movie is interesting in itself (since I know almost nothing about 19th century peasant life in Japan), but what struck me, and I decided to write a short blog about, was the figure of Orin and that of the old man that was also left to die in on the Mountain. Orin spends her final year tying up all the loose ends of her responsibilities in life. The old man, however, spends his final year tied up by his children who starve him.

Orin is carried up the mountain per village ritual by her son. She is quiet and helpful. When they get to the top, she sits on a mountain top and begins praying. Her son goes down the mountain and watches (in the trees) the old man struggling not to let go of his son, who has also carried him, bound, up the mountain. The son unable to break the old man's grip easily, ends up pushing him off a cliff where for 12 seconds we watch what looks like the bound old man roll down a cliff side. It begins to snow and Orin's son runs back up to her spot to check on her. She waves him away.

If you were given one year to live, what would you do? Would you tie up the loose ends or would you have your loose ends tie you up?

03 April 2009

Let's Say That I Were Jennifer


Stainedheart wrote a fascinating blog on gay relationships at the Rainbow Bloggers Philippines website. He poses a question about whether gay relationships are more difficult than straight relationships. He ended up focusing mostly on when jealousy in a relationship is warranted. I, of course, answered the question and then addressed the question of jealousy second. I want to expand on my answer as a separate blog and talk about the figure of Benicio in the 2006 ABS-CBN teleserye, Sa Piling Mo, in relationship to the question of warranted jealousy and some postulates on its function. Let me first quote, at length my comment to Stainedheart's blog:


I would answer the question yes for a number of reasons. If we look at the long-term part of a relationship after the initial falling in love projections have receded, it is about strengthening intimacy. There is a very long well tested path for straights that has been worked out through myths, fables, fairytales, etc.,. Yet, this is not the case for gays. We haven't got many myths, fables or fairytales. Even in cinema, it is only the very very recent explosion of indie cinema where the conflicts are being worked out.

Intimacy involves trust and honesty. However, these two functions in someone who is gay can be operating at less than optimal levels because of upbringing and discrimination. How can you be honest with your partner if you could never be honest with your mother or father? Not very easy. How can you trust your partner if you could never trust your mother or your father? Not very easy.

These are things many straight people have in common with gays. However, the difference is that there is a long cultural-historical tradition of rituals and rites of passage that attempt to subvert the problems of childhood -- like civil marriage and the many many political, economic and social benefits granted to a couple. The birth of a child also has this effect.

Now, if someone is jealous, the problem to identify is not whether it is warranted or not, since that makes another person responsible for one's own feelings. Rather, the question is what is amplifying my feelings of distrust? (When was the first time I felt this, etc.,) It is likely that the relationship demands a deepening of intimacy and that something in the unconscious is panicked about trusting someone more. This is especially true at the very beginning of the relationship when we are still projecting our fantasy onto the other person and haven't really met them yet. Then, when they act as they are and it does not conform to our fantasy, our less-optimal trust function has evidence that we are being deceived. Yet, as it would turn out, it is our own ego that is deceiving us by not seeing our partner for who they really are.

It is possible that when the fantasies recede there is nothing more for the two. There should be a short while to think about how one entered into the relationship and what it all means. Then, break up. It requires a bit of self-honesty. However, this doesn't always happen. Instead, people suffer themselves and make their partner suffer through a power-complex where the fantasy recedes and then domination and control appear. In my mind, that is a total disaster for love or any two individuals. Jealousy at this point can only be resolved by breaking up and stopping the abuse.

I disagree with the blog insofar as there is a belief that jealousy is ever warranted. If someone has cheated on you and been dishonest, the question should be why did this happen? What is my responsibility in being in a relationship where infidelity and dishonesty were afoot. Jealousy can only be warranted from the perspective of possession and domination.

In Sa Piling Mo, Benecio is the tragic devil figure. He wants Jennifer. Instead of just accepting the possibility that she is not interested in him, he coordinates a series of events manipulating her life to imprison her in his control. However, this is not enough to have her love him. Synchronistically, Adrian reappears in their life as the financee of Benecio's business partner, Nicole. Nicole is Benecio's double because she does the same thing to Adrian -- although the problem is slightly different for Nicole. The tension comes to the first attempted resolution when Jennifer rejects the imprisonment and turns herself into the police. Yet, there is no record of charges against her and so she leaves the prison. Benecio, however, now forges his father's last will to manipulate Jennifer directly into marrying him. In the interim, he has sex with Nicole. She does so, but not because she loves him. They unsuccessfully attempt to have a child for two years -- highly symbolic because of the legitimating of a marriage in Philippine society. But this is not a stable situation, Nicole and Adrian's marriage is a disaster based upon Nicole's manipulations and lies and Jennifer and Benecio's marriage is a disaster based upon Benecio's manipulations and lies. Finally, Adrian rejects the marriage and this destabilizes the entire field since Benecio and Nicole somewhat indirectly had begun to coordinate the separation of Jennifer and Adrian.


Near the end, Benecio everyone turns against Benecio to help Jennifer and Jeremy escape with Adrian. The two hired hands of Benecio are incapacitated by sedative laced coffee by Russell, Benecio's son. The two cousins are distracted by Adrian and Shirley, Jennifer's friend, while Russell has baited Benecio away from the house and Marissa and Norma help Jennifer and Jeremy escape to Jason, Adrian's friend, waiting elsewhere.


They are able to escape except that Benecio again uses the law to prevent them from starting life anew outside the Philippines. Jennifer and Adrian go to Benecio to confront him and ask for his release. He does so, but simultaneously, Benecio's thugs have kidnapped Jeremy and returned him to Benecio. Jennifer and Adrian again go to Benecio and ask now for Jeremy's return and release. Benecio breaks down and finally allows Jeremy to go -- he finally gives up everything that he has control over.


It is in this moment where the power complex, which is wholly autonomy, and fueling his possession of other people as though objects, collapses. It is only in the terrified cries of Jeremy in Benecio's restraining grip, Adrian and Jennifer's son and Benecio's semi-adopted son, that Benecio finally let's go. He is only able to find wholeness when he gives up his attempts and possessing and controlling other people he believes he loves. This is true because: "Where love rules, there is no will to power, and where power predominates, love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other." C.G. Jung.


Benecio experiences an inability to dissociate from the innocent cries and involuntary, fear based self-urinating of Jeremy while Benecio is physically holding him hostage, that he is able to see the monster that has gotten autonomous in him.


Looking at it from this angle, it is hard to find a justification for jealousy-in-itself. It is a good internal signal for the moment where the movement to deepen intimacy hits up against the old wounds of trust -- or that there is simply, perhaps, a discrepancy between the self-deception needed to perfect a projected fantasy onto another and the other's truth. And, if infidelity and dishonesty do occur, the question returns to, how exactly has one deceived oneself so that such a thing has happened. A pinch of playful jealousy isn't a bad thing, perhaps. But, I do think Jung has it right here: where love rules, there is no will to power and where power predominates, love is lacking!

Follows the Flag


One hundred years ago, a startling debate was raging in the United States about whether the constitution "followed the flag" when the United States acquired new territory. This had never been a problem because until 1898, all territories acquired by the United States were either uninhabited, inhabited by white people or inhabited by Indians who were seen as a dying race. These territories were always seen as, one day, being incorporated into the United States as a state. However, when the U.S. bought Spain out of its possessions and claims to possession, there was no intention of having Guam, the Philippines, Puerto Rico or Cuba ever stepping on the path to statehood. With the taking of Hawai'i the same year, there was ambiguity over its incorporation -- especially since the government was controlled by whites.

This dilemma created a series of case law known as the Insular Cases in which the business friendly U.S. Supreme Court determined that control or possession by the U.S. government or its armed forces did not mean that when they operated outside of the "incorporated territory" of the Union, they were subject to the limitations and enumerations of the U.S. constitution. Yes, a highly peculiar decision since such organs of the U.S. government draw their life solely from the document. Hawai'i was incorporated, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Samoa, were not. The decision lay with the U.S. Congress over incorporation.

This incorporation doctrine was used in the 1950s to prosecute a U.S. civilian spouse of a soldier under a military court martial as opposed to jury trial for murder. The U.S. Supreme Court indicated that the "territorial incorporation doctrine" and its consequences were inapplicable to U.S. government's dealing with U.S. citizens (at least in this instance) and the woman was returned to the U.S. to stand for trial by jury.

Another legal footnote was that Germans landed spies in the U.S. to engage in domestic terrorism. Although they looked and sounded like every other white person on the East Coast, they were discovered and executed as "enemy combatants." They were not prisoners of war because they were engaging in terrorism which is always stateless (and only states can be at war with one another) and did not have uniforms on engaging in the "proper conduct of combat" -- unlawful combatants.

The territorial-incorporation doctrine became a strange academic curiosity in legal scholarship until the U.S. War on Everyone started on October 7, 2001. Suddenly, U.S. government lawyers had crafted an apparent legal blackhole in which Muslim prisoners of war were dumped into -- dumped into an unincorporated remnant of the Spanish-American War of 1898. As has been extensively written about, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected the deprivation of any access to U.S. due process by the Executive and Legislative branches.

However, the U.S. government apparently has also been holding people in detention in its control in Afghanistan itself for at least the last six years. U.S. District Court Judge John Bates ruled today that prisoners in U.S. custody abroad do have the right to petition for the Writ of Habeaus Corpus (for the time being, at least if they are being held in a country other than their country of citizenship). A stunning victory for due process advocates across the world and the rule of law. A stunning blow to the Insular Cases and the so-called Doctrine of Territorial Incorporation.

01 April 2009

Chenrezig Wang Tenzi Gyatso Yi


As you may or may not have known, the government of South Africa recently denied HH Dalai Lama a visa to attend an international peace conference. This triggered the canceling of attendance by several other Nobel peace prize laureates.

The communist-party ruled capitalist/market-economy country known as the People's Republic of China has taken another captivating step outside of the traditional classical Marxist-Maoist position and has begun showcasing its pick for the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama to be the symbolic leader of Tibetans in Tibet! Imperialism, handpicking of reincarnated Buddhist saints seems to now go hand in hand with liberation of the workers and peasants and the liberation from exploitative capitalist modes of production.

HH Dalai Lama also thanked India for fifty years of refuge.


Gang Ri Ra Wey Kor Wey Shing Kham Dhir
Phen Dang Dey Wa Ma Lu Jung Wey Nay
Chenrezig Wang Tenzin Gyatso Yi
Shab Pey Si Tey Par Du Ten Gyur Chig