Tag Archives: religion

Why I had to un-friend my favorite aunt on Facebook today

“I don’t understand it, but I accept it.”

Those words would have to rank near the top of my list of the most annoying things straight people say about gay people. What they’re really saying: “You’re sinners, but you’re here and you’re queer, so what choice do we have but to put up with you?”

Despite serious misgivings, I decided to let it go when my Aunt Juliet did the whole song and dance at my brother Jeff’s wedding 11 years ago. I had just introduced her to my then-boyfriend Khleber, and I was so determined not to ruin Jeff’s big day that I let it pass when she started talking about how sad she was that I would miss out on a spouse and kids, all the things that heterosexuality would have supposedly granted me that she herself was living without.

Come to think of it, Jeff’s wedding day wasn’t the best moment to be gay. The stench of homophobia was in the air, and my Uncle Achille, who was performing the ceremony, made an even bigger stink than Juliet.

I was best man, and I was so nervous about getting it right that I totally missed the thing Achille said about two men in the Garden of Eden. Being the fire-and-brimstone Bible thumper I’d always known him to be, he couldn’t just leave a tender moment alone. He had to drop in some judgment, which, in hindsight, I realize was totally for my benefit and for that of my brother Alexi, who is also gay.

He made some crack about how God created Adam and Eve, not “Hemp and Shemp” …or something to that effect. The names are not as relevant as the intended message: God hates you, faggots. Fortunately, both the words and the message went over my head because my head was elsewhere.

Wait, where’s the ring?…Oh, there it is.

When my mother repeated her former brother-in-law’s comment later at the reception, her voice dripping with disgust, she was furious. It was actually my first time hearing it, and I wasn’t sure if her reaction was about what Achille had said or the forum in which he’d chosen to say it. I decided she was angry for me and for Alexi, and I loved her for it.

As for my uncle, I had only one personal encounter with him at the wedding. It was when he walked into the men’s room and caught Khleber and me in a warm embrace. He glared at us but didn’t say a word, not even when I directly addressed him and asked how he was doing. I bit my tongue and let his silent treatment go. He’d always been my least favorite uncle, and I knew I’d probably never see or speak to him again after Jeff’s wedding day.

Now I can say the same thing about Juliet, who today became the first family member ever to be un-friended by me on Facebook. The deal breaker arrived on the morning shortly after I learned that the U.S. Supreme Court had declared gay marriage legal. It was wrapped in big box of hate and re-posted on Facebook:

The post itself isn’t even worth debating. It’s passive-aggressive drivel, hate dressed up in Sunday church clothes. If you think I’m a sinner who is going to hell, if you don’t support me or marriage between my kind, I have absolutely no use for your “love” or “friendship.” As for the alleged name-calling and stereotyping, if you’re going to walk the homophobic walk and talk the talk, be prepared to be taken down for it.

But on a more personal level, why would a woman who has at least three gay nephews spread this message in a place where she knows they’ll likely read it? Was she trying to douse a celebratory occasion with some good old-fashioned negativity, just as my uncle did on my brother’s wedding day?

Here’s the thing about homophobia. Like racism, it doesn’t always carry a pitchfork and twirl its moustache. My Aunt Juliet would probably never openly criticize me or my life. The last time I spoke to her, we had a perfectly pleasant conversation. But at the end of the day, she thinks I’m defective. She can hide behind “love” and the Bible all she wants, but she’s homophobic. I have as much use for homophobes as I do for racists. As the kids say (or at least used to), deuces.

Alexi, who tends to take this sort of thing better than I do, may or may not agree with my reaction to the latest incident of homophobia within our family ranks. But I’m pretty sure he understands and accepts it. That’s a lot more than I ever got from others who have called me family.

I can do better…and I already have.

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Filed under gay, homophobia, racism, religion

O Little Town of Bethlehem: A Place That Revolves Around the Two Things You Should Never Discuss

I crossed the Israeli-Palestinian border into Bethlehem expecting a religious experience, and what I ended up having was a surprisingly political one. When my driver — a 41-year-old Kuwait native who now considers the State of Palestine, what’s left of it, to be his home and homeland — asked me if I knew about the significance of Bethlehem, I couldn’t believe the question. Who doesn’t know about the significance of Bethlehem?!

“Of course, I do,” I answered, as we arrived at Bethlehem’s reason for being for most tourists: the Church of the Nativity. To be frank, the Church’s entire set-up seemed so arbitrary. How would anyone know that is the exact spot where Mary gave birth to baby Jesus, or that was where Mary and Joseph placed the manger, a few meters away?

I’m assuming that birth certificates weren’t filed at the dawn of the first millennium, so no details about the birth of Jesus (from the date to the baby’s weight) are indisputable. Unless someone at the birth scene was aware of baby Jesus’s future significance, no X would have marked the spot where this and that happened. But I got it: It’s more about what it represents than what may or may not have transpired there, hence the woman bawling right outside the birth area and the tourists caressing the overlay on the ground where Jesus supposedly entered the world.

As the church employee who had helped me avoid the long line of tour groups led me from the birth area to the exit, he was unconcerned with my impression of what I’d just seen. He was in a U.S. state of mind, expressing his appreciation of the American way as it encompasses two things: President Barack Obama and black people.

“Can I tell you something?” he asked, moving closer, as if he was about to tell me a deep, dark secret or commit the ultimate act of blasphemy and was afraid that God might hear.

“Of course,” I answered, bracing myself for anything.

“I love people with skin like yours, but I hate white people. F**k the white people!” He continued on his up-with-blacks/down-with-whites tangent, throwing in words of praise for Barack Obama, as if I should consider his accomplishments to be my own, until we were outside, surrounded by the very people he was disparaging. I was too stunned to say anything, but I was as horrified by his pronouncements as I was by the fact that he had made them while we were in the holiest of places.

Alas, Barack Obama and black people would end up being the recurring theme of the day. Apparently, black is the new black, as both the color and the most prominent political representation of it since Nelson Mandela are high on the Palestinian “In” list. One of the first things my driver said to me after I revealed my nationality was that I reminded him of someone he knew.

“You have the face of this guy from New York who is my friend on Facebook.” I cringed in my shotgun seat, where I’d parked myself after he insisted that I sit in front of his taxi instead of in the back. I knew what he meant. His Facebook friend wasn’t my doppelganger, just another black guy. My driver seemed disappointed when I told him that I am not an athlete nor do I have any interest in sports, but he was nonetheless pleased to be in the company of an African-American. Let the politics begin!

“I hate George Bush, but I love Barack Obama,” he said, before launching into a tirade about the sins of the father (George Bush Sr.), which, in his eyes, went back to when what he perceives as the former U.S. President’s oil interests led him to launch the 1990 Gulf War to save the driver’s native country from the clutches of Iraq. So much for gratitude, I thought to myself, though I agreed with pretty much everything he said.

So, apparently, did the man who stopped me as I exited the Bethlehem University campus.

“Are you from the U.S.?”

“Yes.”

“George Bush. [He made a thumbs-up gesture with one hand and a blow job one with the other.] Barack Obama [Two thumbs up].”

Got it. Clearly today was going to be all about politics. I knew it from the moment my driver and I arrived at the tourist information center across from the Church of Nativity, and he launched into a monologue about Israel vs. Palestine while using a map that showed how much the State of Palestine dwindled between 1948 and 1967 as exhibits A through D (for the four periods represented on it).

He left me alone for a couple of hours to ponder everything he’d said so far while I walked around Bethlehem’s city center. By the time we got to the wall separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem, I knew exactly what he’d meant when he had asked if I knew the significance of Bethlehem. Because of the Israeli-constructed barrier separating Jerusalem and Bethlehem, which keeps Palestinians out of the capital city unless they procure special permission from the Israeli government to enter it, the birthplace of Jesus Christ is also a symbol of the ongoing political tension between Israel and Palestine.

I listened intently as he spent nearly one hour explaining to me why he is a man without a country (referring to his adopted homeland), how he can’t freely enter his own capital city (Jerusalem, considered to be the capital of Israel or the State of Palestine, depending on which country you’re from) and other key Palestinian cities like Hebron and Jericho, and how he hopes to live to see the dawning of a separate-but-equal peace, one in which the two countries can co-exist harmoniously. He’s waiting for the day when Palestinians can travel freely between the State of Palestine’s cities without having to deal with checkpoints going in and out of the Israeli territory that separates the plots of remaining Palestinian land. He name-dropped Nelson Mandela, comparing the plight of Palestinians to that of African blacks during South Africa’s Apartheid era, and called the Israeli-built barrier their own Berlin Wall.

It was a lot to process, and I wanted to be sympathetic without completely letting Palestine off the hook because I’d been conditioned by the media and by Palestine’s own actions over the years to think of the country as one that approved of terrorism. The truth, though, is that, like most Americans, I don’t know enough about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I was happy to be learning more about it, but before drawing any conclusions, I wanted to hear the Israeli point of view, which, I imagined, likely would have described the wall as security insurance against Palestinian attacks. (Naturally, I kept this idea to myself, not wanting to offend my driver.) Not one person I’d met in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem had ever spoken of it, but for obvious reasons (I watched a man I presumed to be Palestinian being escorted off the bus on the way back into Jerusalem when the woman checking passports took issue with his), it seemed to be the hottest topic in Palestine.

Thankfully, my day in Bethlehem wasn’t all about politics. Walking through the old city solo was a highlight of the time I’ve spent in the Holy Land, if only for the fact that it all seemed so real. Outsiders generally visit Bethlehem in tour groups to cross the Church of the Nativity off of their to-see list. So once you move away from the birthplace of Christ and enter the actual city, what you get is the flip-side of a place like Venice, 95 percent real life.

I felt like the only foreigner in a sea of local authenticity, walking through the marketplace, watching middle-aged Muslim women checking out hoodies with pictures of cats on them as well as the FOX logo (as in the American TV network). In an environment completely dominated by Arab life — from the music coming out of speakers everywhere, to the CDs and DVDs on sale, to the language used in the menus in the eateries, to the holy prayers I heard coming from some unseen place — it was the sole evidence of any awareness of U.S. pop culture beyond Obama.

I felt guilty taking photos, like an auspicious interloper, a tourism paparazzo. After snapping a few shots, I put the camera away. I wanted to enjoy the magic moment, experience it, appreciate it, and, most of all, live it.

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The Thing That Really Bothers Me About Religion

Actually, there are several things. This beautiful morning in Bangkok, however, one thing in particular is working me, and like so much that has been bugging me lately, it involves Chick-fil-A‘s No. 1 fan.

In her August 16 exit tweet explaining her reason for closing her Twitter account, the actress formerly best known as Days of Our Lives costar Melissa Reeves, said a lot (by Twitter standards), yet she didn’t really say anything at all. But as usual when it comes to the written (or tweeted) word, the juiciest stuff was between the lines: What isn’t said is often as telling as what is said?

Reeves tried to rationalize her reason for leaving the Twitter party — death threats and nasty comments against her and her family, the inability to express opinions in any meaningful way on the Internet — but the one thing she didn’t do, the one thing she never did in the weeks since this controversy began, is actually explain the meaning and motivation behind her original tweet.

What exactly was she trying to say? Why tweet a message in support of an organization on a day specially created to acknowledge said organization’s right to push an anti-gay agenda? How does she feel about gay civil rights, gay marriage, gay people? Doesn’t she owe some kind of explanation, some acknowledgement of her many (now-former) gay fans, the ones who have supported her and followed her (not just on Twitter) since she was a teen actress on Days in the mid-’80s?

Since she’s the one who broached the subject with her Chick-fil-A-supporting tweet, opened the proverbial can of worms, this is what we want to know, and she does not have to explain herself on Twitter in 140 characters or less. Look at me now: I’m expressing yet another of my many opinions in far more than 140 characters. Twitter is not the only forum of online communication.

I suppose that in the bubble Melissa Reeves calls home, freedom of speech applies only to the one-way exchange of cryptic ideas. Apparently, the way Reeves and many of her supporters interpret the First Amendment, it does not extend to those who choose to disagree with those ideas or question them. I’m not talking about the idiots who issued death threats, but the people who respectfully challenged Reeves’ initial post (like The Young and the Restless star Greg Rikaart, who personally responded to Reeves on Twitter and also wrote an excellent counter-argument for The Huffington Post) and were blocked by her for their efforts. And if she’s so gung ho about First Amendment rights, why not exercise them to stand her ground rather than crawling under a rock?

As a journalist, I’ve spent my career dodging insults hurled at me by people who disagree with what I’m saying. Back when I reviewed albums for People magazine, I used to receive threatening letters from readers who couldn’t believe I would dare criticize their favorite artists. This was back in the day before readers could communicate with writers in online comment sections. I couldn’t fight back, but I didn’t crawl under the covers and hide from criticism either. I continued writing. I continue writing.

Melissa Reeves, though, will not. And I suspect it is because she has no excuse, no defense for what she wrote. Rather than simply saying, “I’m sorry. I didn’t understand the full implications of my actions,” she’s chosen to bury her head in the sand, and she’s going to keep it there. But not until she got in one final word, with which she closed her exit tweet.

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Mark 12:30”

What does that even mean, and how is it relevant to the Twitter shitstorm? Look, I’m not big on religion, but I support people’s right to believe in whatever god they want to believe in (freedom of religion) as much as I support freedom of speech. That said, I’m always suspicious of people who end monologues, tirades or outgoing answering-machine messages with religious sloganeering or by quoting a scripture from the Holy Bible. To me, it comes across as patronizing and self-righteous, especially in the case of a woman whose “God-honoring” words ramble on about love while failing to actually exhibit any.

What about loving others with all your heart, soul, mind and strength? Do the powers that be at the organization that Reeves holds in such high esteem (that would be Chick-fil-A)? Perhaps if the folks who use God as an excuse to damn gay people harbored even a fraction of the love they’re always preaching about, their arguments would be more effective. But all I hear is fear and judgement and hate. According to one Twitterer, Reeves conveniently left out the crucial following Biblical verse, Mark 12:31 — “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” As I said at the beginning of this post, what isn’t said is often as telling as what is said.

Coming from such sources, this particular brand of religion becomes harder for me to buy, and the God they speak of as real as any of the 12 who reside on Mount Olympus in Greek mythology. I never believed Zues, Hera or any of their immortal kin existed, but I’ve always gotten a lot more enjoyment out of reading about their antics than I ever did out of listening to any church sermon. That’s probably because no one has ever tried to use them as a tool to arouse my fear and denigrate my life, as a weapon of mass destruction to prove me — me, not just my beliefs, me — wrong.

Where exactly is the love in that?

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Filed under Bangkok, Entertainment, gay, religion, Television