Who Is Declaring This “War On Gender?”

What’s with this trend on the right of fighting against the wars we’re supposedly waging on the left? Every year, the viewers of Fox News are treated to Bill O’Reilly’s insane antics over his made up “war on Christmas.” Those of us who want equal protection under the law are constantly accused of waging a “war on religious freedom.” Now, in the midst of the raging debate over Trans people using the washroom, a bunch of very vocal people are fear-mongering over a supposed “war on gender.” A war on gender? What?

It’s pretty easy to tell who knows what they are talking about and who doesn’t when it comes to gender issues. For example, if you think we are all born as one gender or another, you are confused about the difference and relationship between gender and sex. If you think that all Trans people identify as the gender opposite their assigned sex and seek physical transition, you have obviously never bothered to learn anything about Trans identity; and if you think there is a war on gender, you have failed to listen to those of us who have been trying to explain this to you ad nauseum.

I’m going to take a different approach to this today, by saying that the acceptance of Trans identities, and the openness with which we listen and understand, reveals a beautiful truth about humanity. What the right has failed to realize, perhaps what many of us on the left don’t even realize, is that our movement is changing conventional wisdom on the human condition. What we have always thought, or known, about ourselves is not diminished by this, rather it is enhanced by the realization that we are much more complex than we ever imagined. As LGBTQ+ people become more emboldened, more confident in coming out and living their authentic selves, we learn more about our species. The movement sweeping our world is not a war on gender, it’s a revolution of discovery!

The bible, used by the right to justify opposition to progress, is not a textbook. It does not speak truth to the human condition, and the view(s) of humanity contained within its pages is simple and rudimentary, with little nuance. We are more complicated than that, and to embrace humanity is to try to understand that complexity. Passing judgment is something we do naturally, but when we depend on an ancient text to pass judgment in the ‘now,’ we do ourselves, and those we are judging, a terrible disservice. To insist upon this method, and to ‘double down’ on what we know, or even suspect, to be insufficient, is the very embodiment of willful ignorance. This is the problem in the church today. Too many people just don’t care enough. Too many people prefer to cast aspersions instead of seeking truth, because seeking truth, and attempting to understand it, is hard. It’s much easier to take what they have believed for so long and cling to that as infallible. What a horrible injustice it is to reject the fulfillment of discovering more about the world around us.

So I ask those who say we have declared war on gender: who is declaring this war on gender? I am what many of you would mistakenly call a “gay activist,” am I declaring war on gender? The only war on gender is the one you have made up. Just like Bill O’Reilly and his war on Christmas, you are fighting a figment of your imagination. There is no war on gender, we are merely learning. We are embracing new knowledge, preferring not to sit stagnant with ancient beliefs. Refusing to accept the ever-expanding library of knowledge about who and what we are, in favour of a belief that diminishes our complexity is, quite frankly, insulting. Why are you so threatened by the rejection of gender roles? Why are you so threatened by the notion that a person can be born in the wrong body? Why are you so threatened by a person who is biologically one sex, but whose brain is organized as both male and female? Why do you refuse to even try to learn about the reality of a gender identity that doesn’t fit the male-female binary at all?

Do you know how much we suffer? We live on edge, constantly having to check our words for fear of what we might let slip, and to whom. At 34 years old, nobody should be afraid to come out to their parents … but I was. Do you know how demeaning it is, how utterly dehumanizing, to be afraid to show your true colours, to be afraid of physical attack that too often ends in the deaths of our peers, and do you know that the suffering we endure is entirely your fault? Ideas based on religious beliefs and convictions, picked like low-hanging fruit from the pages of scripture, have been applied to social conventions with devastating effects. Those who hold these are to blame for the pain we endure. If those ideas were not pushed and insisted upon, if everybody embraced the beautiful diversity of the human condition, we wouldn’t have these problems. The issues we face are not internal, they are brought about by the exclusionary and restrictive norms and practices of tradition. My struggle, for example, is not with myself; it’s with the consequences of living openly as myself.

Think about that last statement for a minute. If you still can’t imagine any reality other than the make-believe one where me and my cohorts have declared war on gender, you’re not worth wasting any more time on.

My Testimony

It recently dawned on me that although I’ve been very open about my life, I’ve never written an actual “testimony,” so to speak. I gave a fair amount of background when I came out on August 2nd, and little bits and pieces here and there, but I feel that with so much bad news on the daily, a good news story can brighten our spirits. A story about coming out of homophobia, into advocacy, and eventually into the realization and full acceptance of self, deserves to be told. So here it is, my “testimony.”

My story is an increasingly familiar one. I’m a former Christian, the evangelical Anglican kind, who also grew up in the charismatic movement. In my younger years, I was one of the worst behaved homophobes I’ve ever met. Hateful and proud of it. The word “Gay” was an insult, and as far as I was concerned homosexuality was a sinful and deplorable choice. I am profoundly ashamed to say that I viewed gay men in particular as almost sub-human. As for Trans people, I thought that was a myth. Every chance I got, I used my words to humiliate and degrade LGBTQ+ people, and if the chance didn’t present itself, I would bring it up anyway. I was everything I now fight against.

After graduating from High School, it was eight years before I decided to attend University. Five of those years were spent at sea. As a crew member on oil tankers sailing the Atlantic, I learned about loyalty, inner strength, hard work, emotional fortitude, and courage. I joined in 2001, a cocky immature child of 20, and after five years of a 73-days-on-73-days-off rotation (that never quite worked out that way), I had grown into an adult. At the age of 26, I was accepted into university. While there, I became more moderate, less hateful, more … tolerant. I played music to earn part of my income, and one night I landed a gig at the local ‘gay bar.’ The moment I walked into that nightclub, I felt at home. I’ll never forget that feeling. It’s not that I assumed LGBTQ+ people were less judgmental, but for some reason I felt like I was surrounded by people who weren’t concerned with who or what I was. The bartender greeted me as you would a friend. Nobody knew if I was LGBTQ+ or not, and it really didn’t matter. If there was negative judgment from anybody, I wasn’t aware of it. In contrast to other bars, I didn’t feel like I had to watch my back. That experience helped me on the path to becoming an ally.

A year after my university graduation, my wife and I were driving down the highway on a sunny afternoon. My wife, a brilliant educator, had already become an ally and active advocate for LGBTQ+ equality. During the course of our conversation that day, I used the word “fruit” as a slur. I didn’t realize what I had done until she called me on it. The loud and spirited argument that followed ended when I finally admitted fault, and I realized then that change was in order. A short time later, following a homophobic incident perpetrated by some Christian fanatics in a nearby town, I became an outspoken ally.

I now specialize in the relationships between traditional Christian doctrine, the LGBTQ+ community, and pop culture. In university, I earned a degree in cultural anthropology, with minors in religious studies, history, and Spanish. I understand the religious foundations of hatred on a personal level, and thanks to my education, I understand it on an academic level as well. After a couple of years writing as Outspoken Ally, I went through a period of internal turmoil and struggle as I came to realize and embrace my own gender identity. I came out as Queer in August 2015; and living in an extremely phobic area of Canada’s east coast, I’m beginning to understand things on a whole different level still.

I am not simply an advocate for equality. I am personally affected by the ignorance I fight against. Until I can walk into a business in the next town over without being met with rolling eyes, or shop in “women’s” clothing sections without getting angry looks from male patrons, my work isn’t done. My testimony, to ironically use some Christian lingo, is that I once was lost but now I’m found. I struggled through life pretending to be something I wasn’t, because I was taught that who I was was wrong. Having broken the shackles of that God-based fear, having embraced humanity for what we are, having found myself … my testimony is a happy one. It’s not that it got better, it’s that I gained knowledge, and with that came self-realization and acceptance. I have found the experience very freeing, very uplifting. I feel fully human for the first time.

Embracing my true self in public is the hardest part now, but it gives me confidence to know that if I can do it, LGBTQ+ youth might learn from that example. Then again, it might not help anybody at all; but it’s worth talking about, and knowing we aren’t alone is a powerful thing.

 

Religious Freedom And Education

I feel like I’ve written about religious freedom ad nauseam, and with all of the information out there – the articles, the discussions, the actual laws available for the public to read – the lack of understanding of this topic is truly astonishing. It’s a well defined idea, but it bears repeating given the outlandish statements I keep hearing from people who just don’t get it.

Every time religious privilege is taken away, people get their backs up in a panic. By religious privilege, and my perspective is culturally conditioned for North America in particular, I mean preference for Christianity in various institutions – namely schools. So for example, when prayer was taken out of schools, the churches lost their minds. Every time the teaching of Intelligent Design is denied by the courts, social media blows up. The uttering of “Happy Holidays” actually spurs outrage. People are taking their children out of school and putting them into Christian schools (or homeschooling), to keep them sheltered from exposure to the fact that LGBTQ+ people exist; and are not disordered or sinful, but just perfect the way they are. Some even go so far as to claim that us fighting against this is tantamount to a hate crime. (*As a disclaimer here, I am NOT saying that homeschooling is bad. I am saying that homeschooling for religious purposes is not a good idea.*)

People removing their children from public schools for biblical reasons is increasing in popularity in the area I live in, and often when it’s talked about, the issue of religious freedom comes up. I’ve broken the argument down into two parts. The first goes something like this: the public schools are “denying Christ,” teaching a “false morality,” and exposing our kids to “those sinful gays.” The solution: Put our kids in the basement of a church and teach them about the world from a biblical perspective. The result: We know from research into the ‘Bible Belt’ areas of the U.S. that strictly Christian teaching results in many social problems, including increased teen pregnancy, higher than usual porn use, domestic violence, drug use, and family discord within the evangelical community. It’s not even hard-to-find information; a quick Google search reveals this, and yet more and more people are doing it. It’s an exercise in futility. These negative effects are not true for every individual, but the mass social effects can’t be denied.

The second part of the argument sounds something like this: the examples above are the method for taking away religious freedom. You have to respect everybody’s beliefs, but now we have a society where anything goes. In addition, you’re committing a hate crime by trying to advise people against this. So, the removal of privilege does not equal the removal of freedom, and respect for one’s beliefs is NOT required. As I’ve said time and again, beliefs do not deserve respect just because they are held. If you believe that “the gays should burn in hell,” I am free to disrespect that belief, and because I feel very strongly about it, I’m going to tell you so. We do NOT have a society in which everything goes, nor do we want it. There are restrictions on our behaviour, laws that we have to follow, so that those who do harm to others are held accountable. Is it a perfect system? No, but we have it and it’s worth improving upon; and that’s what we fight for. If you mean anything goes morally, well that’s an interesting conversation. The moral decay argument is one that I wouldn’t dare to tread if I were in the anti-gay camp, and as far as hate crimes are concerned … the idea that I am committing a hate crime by fighting to stop religiously fuelled discrimination and social division is just wrong.

Religious freedom IS worth fighting for … but only when it’s actually in danger. Legalizing same-sex marriage, banning hate speech, and taking God out of schools, moves us toward equality. Fighting for those things does not qualify as a hate crime, nor does it qualify as the removal or denial of freedom. Christians are not being persecuted against here in North America. They are losing their privilege, and that has to happen for equality to be possible. If the government tries to deny religious freedom, I will march against that. Religious freedom is vitally important. I will not, however, stand idly by and say nothing when a community considers their desire to persecute and misinform a matter of that freedom. If your religion requires you to reject other human beings and keep your kids away from “those sinful gays,” perhaps you should question whether or not it’s worth following in the first place. In truth, the Christian religion does NOT require that, at least not scripturally anyway, but sadly people are being taught otherwise.

 

“It’s Just A Joke. Don’t Be So Defensive”

For this post, I was planning to write about the Christy Mack case. For those of you unaware, entrepreneur, model, and adult film star Christy Mack was recently beaten beyond recognition by her psychotic ex-boyfriend, UFC fighter Jonathan “War Machine” Koppenhaver. Enraged by the online victim blaming and support for Koppenhaver, I was going to talk about misogyny, patriarchy, and the ongoing need for Feminism in a world where domestic violence and the dehumanization of women seems to be getting worse. That’s what I was going to write about. Then a post appeared on my Facebook news feed, and my plans changed. As important as the Christy Mack case is, and as much as that discussion will be had in a soon-to-be written Outspoken Ally piece, I feel compelled to prioritize the hurtful ignorance of the phrase “it’s just a joke. Don’t be so defensive.” It’s not that I’m downplaying the importance of domestic abuse awareness, but thousands of people are writing about that every day. I have seen relatively little about the harmful messages in seemingly harmless phrases, and the urgency of the issue is apparent as LGBTQ people continue to suffer; and too often die.

The other day I logged onto Facebook, and saw a post that said “Ladies, if your boyfriend ain’t excited about huntin’ season, it’s probably time you both see other men.” A close friend of mine commented with “just because you don’t hunt doesn’t mean you’re gay,” and was promptly told “it’s just a joke. Don’t be so defensive.” Now, I reacted to this on three levels (only two of which are relevant, but allow me to briefly indulge). First, I find the idea of sitting in a tree stand and waiting for a deer to walk by, the preferred practice of this particular individual, to be a lazy activity not worthy of the term “hunting” (there, I said it). Second, the stereotype of gay men being effeminate, dainty, and apparently afraid of firearms, is frankly absurd and without foundation. Third, and this is the most important one, is that the dismissive attitude toward those offended is a big part of the problem surrounding homophobia in general. To say “it’s just a joke” is to say that it’s okay to make fun and laugh at people based on demeaning stereotypes that invalidate their personhood. To say “don’t be so defensive” is to make you feel guilty for taking it seriously. What this means is that people think they are justified as long as they qualify their ignorant mockery as a “joke.” With the added guilt trip, this is worse than hiding behind bigotry disguised as an “opinion.”

When I was growing up, I was picked on from time to time. Grades 7, 10, 11, and 12 were particularly difficult for me, although not unbearable. Whenever I took offence to a verbal attack of insults and slurs, I was told to not be “so defensive. It’s just a joke. Seriously, what’s wrong with you?” Apparently it was okay for these people to say whatever they wanted to me, and the offence taken was my fault. As long as they masked their hurtful intentions under the guise of a “joke,” I was seen as the bad guy when I retaliated; and a lot of us suffered this kind of treatment at the hands of the “popular kids” in school. Now, think about how that made you feel, and try to imagine enduring those same taunts as a minority person. Imagine being an LGBTQ teen and being called a “faggot” on a daily basis. I’ve been called that, and I can guarantee that although I was hurt by it, it’s a hundred times worse for teens who are actually LGBTQ. You see, I was having gay slurs hurled at me because being gay was seen as a shameful thing … but I’m actually heterosexual. Had I been LGBTQ, my very personhood would have been under direct attack. Those slurs are meant to hurt, provoke, and degrade their victims. Jokes are funny, ridicule is not. When you say something that causes offence, you do not get to tell the offended party that their feelings are invalid. Your intent to joke is irrelevant, what matters is the outcome. You tried to say something funny, somebody got offended, and it is now your responsibility to hold yourself accountable, understand where you went wrong, and apologize.

This is not a difficult concept, yet so many people remain unable to grasp it. I have to add, because it’s relevant to the overall issue, that the person who posted the aforementioned hunting post is an evangelical Christian. The reason I bring this up is because there is a widespread belief among liberal Christians that the conservative evangelicals are not true Christians. It is true that for all of the preaching they do about love and compassion, evangelical Christians are the first to bear false witness. Where the reasonable thing to do when you don’t know something is to seek out the information, the evangelical churches encourage proselytizing bigotry and ignorance, and condemning the proverbial speck in their neighbour’s eye. Hypocrisy is the order of the day. Those who claim that these are not true Christians, however, are forgetting that their hateful counterparts have just as much Biblical support for their hypocrisy and ignorance as they do for their love and compassion. You may point to the Sermon on the Mount and say that Jesus was full of love and acceptance, or you may point to the Sermon on the Mount and say that Jesus exercised hypocrisy when he said that “not a jot or tittle” of the law would be changed, before going on to change several laws. The point is that scripture can be used to justify love AND hate. No one denomination has a monopoly on biblical truth, they are all equally valid in the scriptural sense. This subjectivity is why Christian belief is not benign, and the same applies to bigotry masked as a “joke.”

Minority people are often held down and denied equal opportunity by way of cultural attitudes. These attitudes are kept alive by the hidden ideas and biases in our everyday discussions. This includes thinly veiled “jokes,” “opinions,” and “figures of speech.” When hateful ideas are promoted to the level that we currently have, disastrous results begin to occur. Every time an LGBTQ teen commits suicide, it is the result of this system. You see, your actions may not be causing death, but the ideas you’re relaying are responsible for it. Attacks, murders, suicides, and beatings, are all made possible by the spreading of hateful ideas. Your “joke” may have been the last straw that caused a boy to hang himself in his bedroom closet. Your “joke” may have been what made three teenagers think it would be funny to film themselves raping a drunken classmate. Your “joke” may have been what convinced Shawn Woodward that it was okay to beat and permanently disable Ritch Dowrey on an otherwise regular Vancouver night in 2009 … all because Mr. Dowrey offered to buy him a drink.

I’m going to leave you with a link ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYSVMgRr6pw ). This is the song “Take Me To Church,” by Hozier. It portrays the scary extremes of homophobia, extremes that are daily realities in many parts of the world. Those extremes are only possible because of the ideas behind them … ideas often spread by “jokes.”