Saturday, July 4, 2015


Aristide Maillol, Three Graces, 1930 - 1938

The San Ildenfonso Group (Orestes and Pylades?), circa 10 BC

Marriage equality in the USA (or anywhere) is astonishing and something I never thought I would live to see. We got to this point because the gay/lesbian rank and file wanted it. For a long time, LGBTQ leaders and the activists were too pre-occupied with emergency response and damage control; with AIDS, violence, discrimination, with one crisis after another.  The very idea of marriage wasn't even taken seriously.   Some activists from the radical edges wondered whether we really want equality at all, or if equality was enough.  They argued that we might want something particular and separate in a heterosexist world.  Gay and lesbian relations are indeed different, the radicals said, and that we should embrace what makes them distinct.  Why mimic heterosexual marriage and family life?  Why not find new and more workable ways of forming relationships? And why would any self-respecting sexual minority want to be part of a conventional society that rewarded greed and predation anyway? Radicals regarded marriage as a an antique, a proprietary patriarchal throwback to be consigned to the dustbin of history (and of course, they have a point; same sex relationships are distinct and that simply aping heterosexual models for living together ignores and diminishes what makes them unique).

History seems to have had other ideas. Radical re-arrangements of living together are fine when you are relatively young and come with the means and education to experiment. A lot of the gay-lesbian rank and file, especially older couples, felt discrimination directly in their attempts to form a life together and create a household, and not so much in matters of sexual expression. Law, society, and business were against them in so many large and small ways. The whole matter for them was less about redefining what it means to live together than about very concrete matters such as joint ownership of property, visitation rights and medical rights when one of them got sick or injured, inheritance rights when a partner died, and especially joint custody when children were part of the household.  These were the people who were the real force behind the push for marriage equality.  It turns out that contrary to the conventional image of white, male, and affluent couples with kids living in New York or San Francisco, places like Jacksonville Florida have among the highest numbers of same-sex households with children.  The majority of same-sex households raising children are women, black, working class, religious, and living in the South.
People like this who did not appear on the party circuit or in gay studies seminars created the demand for marriage equality.  The activists eventually figured out that far from a fond fantastical thing, marriage equality was integral to responding to emergencies such as AIDS, violence, and rollbacks of rights, or new penalties.  Couples needed access to hospitalized partners and power of attorney in the face of hostile relatives, hospital staff, and a state apparatus stacked against them.  Marriage equality involved the very matter that distinguished gays and lesbians from the rest of society, sexual attraction.  Couples denied rights and frustrated in their efforts to create lasting homes and families were being punished by society for their mutual sexual attraction.  A little late, but better than never, activists and activist organizations began to push for marriage equality.

 As far as redefining marriage, or even discarding it entirely, I think the heteros are way out front of the gay marriage equality activists. They rethought and remade the institution long before the gay community got a crack at it. The old Victorian Domestic Ideal disappeared in the 1960s with the Sexual Revolution. Over time, marriage as an equal partnership replaced the Victorian concept of the family as patriarchal hierarchy with the father at the head having absolute authority and domain over women and children.  Roles in an equal partnership could be interchangeable -- no longer would women be confined to the role of "angel of the household."  Now men could take on the tasks of child-rearing and home maintenance while women could go out and be the bread-winners.  The roles of provider and parent became so interchangeable to the point that the genders of those entering into such an equal partnership hardly mattered anymore. While the advent of no-fault divorce is blamed for the decline of traditional family life, the other side of the higher divorce rate is an even more dramatic decline in domestic violence rates. Many couples and families in Europe and increasing numbers in the USA question the need for any legal recognition of their family status.
When Bill Paulsen and I traveled to Oslo last year, we visited a lot of couples and families with children (most of them were Bill's relatives).  Out of all of them, the only couple that was legally married was the one gay couple who were our hosts in Oslo.

Right wingers portray marriage as an unchanging timeless institution revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai.  Like so many timeless and unchanging institutions, the man-woman-child biological unit as family that they defend began in the 19th century with the Victorian Domestic Ideal.
Few institutions have been more malleable down through time than marriage.  For centuries, marriage was a strictly mercenary institution.  Among powerful and wealthy families, marriage was about keeping and expanding wealth and power.  Among the poor, marriage was about insurance for old age and labor for the farm or the shop.  The more children the better and the greater chances for survival for all.  Love was for children, not for spouses.  Marriage was most especially about begetting sons to inherit family lineages and fortunes.  Polygamy flourished among the great and powerful in the ancient world not just out of luxury and license, but to guarantee the generation of sons.  A king could not risk the dynasty on monogamy with an infertile queen.  It is no accident that all of the medieval romances (including Dante's infatuation with the sainted Beatrice Portinari) were adulterous.  For most of history, marriage was simply too important a business to be left to kids.
As for Christian marriage, Saint Paul only very grudgingly accepted marriage as a concession to those unable to stay celibate for the coming Apocalypse (in other words, most people).

People didn't start marrying because they loved each other in large numbers until the end of the 18th century, and even then, only in the West.  It took the three big formative revolutions that made the modern world (American, French, Industrial) to create a space for people to combine their longings and desires with the creation of families and households.  From that point on, as circumstances changed and changed rapidly and without precedent, so people's expectations in life changed, and ways of forming a life together began to alter rapidly.  That evolution will undoubtedly continue.

Andrew Sullivan once dreamed of a world where the distinction of "gay" no longer existed, that "gay" became part of "normal."  It seems at first glance that the assimilationist dream is about to come true.  I suspect that the reality of what is happening is much more complex.  Some radicals are in a state of inner turmoil now that society is embracing the very thing that makes gays and lesbians distinct from everyone else.  But their turmoil is nothing compared to the apoplexy of the homophobic legions at these changes.  The homophobes see in a way that the gay radicals maybe can't that in embracing and legitimizing same sex relationships through marriage that the larger conventional society itself is changing rapidly and dramatically, that heterosexuals are discarding the idea of "normal" and all things normative with as much enthusiasm as their homosexual counterparts.

Same sex couples and the recognition of their legitimacy by the rest of society through marriage is a major and unlikely accomplishment, and another victory for Love over the usual greed and fear that drive most of modern enterprise.
The Episcopal Church recently joined the ranks of churches that now recognize gay marriages and perform same-sex weddings as official policy.  The Christian understanding of marriage too is evolving into something far from Saint Paul's grudging concessions and from a kind of spiritual rubber-stamp on the old Victorian model.  I hope that it will soon become something like the Marriage at Cana where Christ changed the water into wine, into the best wine anyone had ever tasted, and more of it than the party could possibly drink; into Love and Grace unbounded and overflowing.

Paolo Veronese, The Marriage at Cana

Friday, July 3, 2015

Lafayette and Me

 Lafayette in 1791 as a Lieutenant General in the French National Guard, painted by Joseph-Desire Court 

Over the past year or so, I've been doing some serious rethinking of my relationship with the United States, my native country.  A long slow spiral of disillusionment that began with the Vietnam War descending all the way through the Iraq Invasion of 2003 came to a breaking point with the Senate Torture report last year.  What I found to be so shocking was not the report itself or what it said.  The world had known that the USA tortured and killed prisoners of war since the revelations and pictures out of the prison at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, and more revelations and pictures out of Afghanistan.  What shocked me was the reaction of many people to the report, including people that I consider old and close friends.  Here we were trashing the very Geneva Conventions that we initiated and drafted after our own POWs were treated so barbarically during the Second World War.  We proudly did the same things for which we hanged people in the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials after the War (the Japanese frequently water-boarded American POWs).  And people were just fine with it.  They were all for it.  Their reasons ranged from anything-to-find-that-ticking-time-bomb to "the bastards got what was coming to them."

The scales fell from my eyes and I realized that the country that commanded my lifelong loyalty and allegiance was an aggressive imperial state, and that it always had been.  It built an empire out of the North American continent upon conquest, slavery, and genocide.  The United States in the end was but one more empire in a long list, that it was nothing more than one big organized smash-and-grab like all the other empires before it.

So how to square this reality with the vision contained in its credal documents that still holds my very deep loyalty and affection?  Do I abandon the whole thing all together?  Should I pick up and leave my native country for someplace else, maybe better, maybe not?  Should I resort to sedition and treason?  Or, should I just give up, quit any kind of civic involvement (including voting) and let the whole empire slide into inevitable decline and destruction while I get on with my own life?

I decided that exile was futile.  There is no country on earth that doesn't have some measure of crime in its history that affects its present.  The very far right in this country seems remarkably eager to resort to sedition and treason these days (e.g. any number of secession movements from Texas to the Confederacy).  Since they can't get their way, they eagerly betray the country that they profess to so super-love.  Besides, I despise treason and betrayals of all kinds.  So that's out.  Simply staying at home on election day and avoiding all civic involvement is ultimately irresponsible; a negligence of duty to my neighbors, my communities, to my home, and to myself.

So, what to do?

Lafayette, the Hero of Two Worlds, rides to my rescue.  Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette I think shows me the path that I am looking for.

I'm not really interested in the Lafayette of the American Revolution, though that is an attractive and fascinating character.  He was one of the few Champions of Liberty from that time who was not tainted or compromised by slavery.  I relish the vision of the 19 year old Lafayette telling General Washington to free his slaves and to provide each of them with land to make an honest living.

The Lafayette I'm interested in is the Lafayette of the French Revolution and its long aftermath, an older more worn and frayed character than the fresh-faced young hero of the American Revolution.

Lafayette assumes command of the French National Guard at the Fete de la Federation, July 14, 1790.  The ceremony took place on the Champs de Mars in Paris where the Eiffel Tower now stands.  The child standing to the right is Lafayette's son George Washington.  The bishop on the far right is Talleyrand, then Bishop of Autun.

Lafayette enthusiastically embraced the Revolution in his homeland and eagerly participated in it.  He commanded the National Guard that defended Paris from monarchist reactionaries and Austrian invaders.  He designed the French Tricolor.  He introduced the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen to the National Assembly, a document that he helped to write with consultations from Thomas Jefferson.  Lafayette emerged as a born-again true believer in Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite.

And he continued to believe fervently in Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite despite finding his name on the death lists of both radical Jacobins and monarchist reactionaries.  He remained loyal to those principles despite fleeing to Belgium, capture by the Germans, and spending many years being passed around from one German prison to another.  When Napoleon finally sprang Lafayette from his last prison in Austria, Lafayette very ungratefully turned on Napoleon when he made himself dictator and eventually emperor.  Lafayette endured Napoleon's defeat, the Bourbon Restoration, Charles X, and came to life again in the July Revolution of 1830.  He supported the campaign to make the Duc d'Orleans king despite his republican sympathies.  Lafayette wanted to avoid the civil war that caused the downfall of the first Revolution, so he supported King Louis Philippe.  He turned on the king when Louis Philippe started becoming more and more autocratic and anti-liberal.

Lafayette spent most of the later part of his life in prison, under house arrest, or under police surveillance.  He remained deeply loyal to those original liberal ideas of the American and French Revolutions.  He remained a steadfastly loyal servant of France and of the ideas of Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite to his dying day long after France betrayed them, and betrayed him.

For me, he was a hero then and remains a hero now.
And so I remain deeply loyal to the credal statements of the United States; the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, Roosevelt's Four Freedoms, and ML King's Dream.  I remain loyal to them even when the American Empire wipes its ass with them.  I can still Pledge Allegiance to Liberty and Justice for All even in an empire made great by greed and racism.

"Loyalty to country always," said another fighting liberal Mark Twain, "loyalty to the government only when it deserves it."


A portrait of Lafayette in old age painted by Samuel FB Morse (the same one who invented the telegraph) commissioned by the City of New York during his triumphant grand tour of the United States in 1824 - 1825.

Monday, June 29, 2015

An Extra Happy Pride Parade in New York This Year

Two days after the historic Supreme Court decision making marriage equality the law of the land, New York and many other cities had their Gay Pride parades.
Gay Pride parades are always joyful uninhibited events, but this one was especially happy.  I was high-fived by scores of perfect strangers along the route.

Here are my photos of the 2015 Gay Pride Parade in New York.

Rainbow flags everywhere!

The exuberant man in the foreground is Weiben Wang.

It never ceases to amaze me how big the annual parade in New York is.  The parade was so big this year that it started at 12:30 and finally ended at 8PM.  This is how 5th Avenue looked from about 37th street at 6PM.  This year's parade was the biggest since 1994 (Stonewall 25 plus the Gay Games that year), and might have been bigger.

This is looking back up 5th Avenue from where we were.  We were toward the end of the parade, but where that is here, I don't know.

What's a Pride parade without spectacle and extravagance?

From the float of a Brazilian contingent

Fierce!  From the Colombian contingent

A freelancer marching in the parade

More Brazilians

Part of the Caribbean contingent

Sometimes the best show at these Pride parades is the spectators.

Lots of people climbed things to get a better look, until the cops told them to get down off of there.

Where else but at a Pride parade would you see a morass of glitter?

One of many emcees.

 Marble Collegiate Church where Adlai Stevenson once said he found "the Apostle Paul appealing and the Apostle Peale appalling."  Norman Vincent Peale would hardly recognize the place now.

Norman Vincent Peale with a rainbow flag.  He would not be amused, but who cares.  Everyone was thinking positive on 5th Avenue that day.

 The Empire State Building with the Episcopal float in the foreground.

 The Flatiron Building

 And the sun comes out!  I thought the weather was perfect with highs in the 70sF.  This was one of the few years where I wasn't dripping with sweat and prostrate with heat exhaustion at the parade.

 A lot of big corporate contingents in the parade this year; I saw Target, Google, Microsoft, Goldman-Sachs,  H&M, and others.  They all had huge contingents of employees and their own original floats, many with lots of tech gadgets like jumbotrons featuring animated productions made for the parade.  The Google float had one kick-ass DJ who really got the crowds going.

I'm not sure what I think of all this.

Big Gay is watching.
Part of a large boom camera broadcasting the parade on someone's live feed somewhere.

 Christopher Street

 The Stonewall where it all started.
The original Stonewall included the building on the right under scaffold.

 Our little contingent from Saint Luke in the Fields

 Some Episcopalians love their church because their church stood up for them and didn't back down despite a lot of international scorn and pressure.

 The Episcopal Church float this year.  All the bishops were at Convention in Salt Lake City.

 The always friendly people at Ascension with water for the marchers.  The Presbyterians and the Reformed Church folks up the Avenue ran out of water (the parade was bigger than expected), so this was very welcome.  Leave it to Episcopalians to put lemons in their ice water.

 A colorful bouquet with Pride bunting in Saint Luke in the Fields.

The World Trade Center lit up for Pride Day that night from Williamsburg in Brooklyn.

The Empire State Building from Williamsburg in Brooklyn that night.

I read a lot of complaints on Facebook about the media limiting their coverage of Pride to celebrities and what they think;  Governor Cuomo performing a marriage for a couple of rich white guys and the latest on what Caitlyn Jenner or Taylor Swift thinks about anything.
The real story is the thousands upon thousands who showed up to celebrate a major revolution in their relationship to their own country and to society.  I think the most interesting tales (which have yet to be told as far as I know) are of towns and cities and states where Gay Pride was observed by anyone for the very first time.
All of those people you see in the photos above marching in the parade or watching it are the real stars of this show.

I never thought I would ever see marriage equality anywhere, let alone spreading around the world, and now finally in the world's last imperial super-power; all of it.

I'm thinking that maybe this will be my last Pride parade (at least for marching).  At my age, standing waiting for our section to join the parade for hours is murder on my back, and my 57 year old bladder is not as capacious as it once was (New York is getting even less generous with facilities; no more free porto-potties in the age of terrorism and budget constraints).  My dogs were barking when I went to bed last night.

And yet, I had so much fun!  I always have fun at the parade!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

An Especially Happy Pride to All!

Everyone goes on and on about how fast public opinion has changed on gay marriage since about 2010.
We know better.  We know that what has come to pass came after 150 years of hard struggle with a lot of deaths.  I remember when people (who were usually not gay) wondered where our leaders were, who would be the be prophetic leader who would take us all over the Jordan into freedom.
It turns out that we had lots of leaders, millions of them.  Everyone who ever came out of a closet is a leader.

An especially happy Pride Day to All!

Berlin 1920s

New York 1970


Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Death of the Confederacy

Watching the video of the bereaved relatives' statements at Dylann Roof's bail hearing is almost unbearably wrenching.  And yet, it was a supreme teaching moment for all of us.  I doubt that I could pass the test the bereaved endured here.  Instead of calling for vengeance and despite their grief and anger, they asked for mercy upon the very person who killed their loved ones and wrecked their lives and those of so many more.  The violence and destructive passions end with them, so they each and all publicly declared.  This was an act worthy of the very good and conscientious people murdered so pointlessly at Emanuel AME Church that evening, and of the faith that they professed.  As I say, I very much doubt that I could pass a similar test.

Dylann Roof killed nine people in cold blood after enjoying the welcome and hospitality that they offered.  He killed the members of a small Bible study group in Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC after sitting with them for about an hour.  He killed them for no other reason than that they were Black and that they were in front of him at that moment.  Even in a brutal age of suicide bombers, videoed beheadings, and a grade school gun massacre, this act was exceptional in its coldness and obscenity.

In that horrible act, Dylann Roof may well have dealt the coup de grace to the very cause he espoused, the cult of the Confederacy.  Confederate flags are coming down all over the South and citizens groups and city councils are arguing over what to do with Confederate war memorials on courthouse squares in all the states of the former Confederacy and in the old Border States.

My dad hated the old Confederacy.  He was no liberal and agreed with the idea of states' rights, but he agreed with Sam Houston on the issue of the Noble Cause.  My dad like Houston believed that Texas should have stayed in the Union, that slavery and supremacy were not worth the price of treason.  He never thought that the Confederate Cause was noble.  For this reason, he hated having to travel in East Texas where the joke is that Texas was once part of the original Confederacy and most of East Texas still is.  We kept a photo of Lincoln hanging in our house in dear old Texas.

The Confederacy was a kind of cult for white Southerners.  For them the Noble Cause was about freedom, independence, and a "way of life" unique to the Southern USA which always seemed to be under threat.  White Southerners persuaded themselves that slavery was a kind of benevolent paternalism, that they even "spoiled" their slaves.  The South lost not because of a lack of will or virtue, but because of the superior numbers and industrial might of the North, so they believed (impoverished rural New Englanders from that time might not agree).  The tremendous bloodshed of the Civil War transformed the defeat into a kind of sacred martyrdom for Southern whites.  We should also remember that the South is the only part of the USA to experience military occupation.  Those memories had a powerful influence on subsequent history down to the present day.  Every reform, every effort to modernize was seen as another intrusion by outsiders.  The partisans of the Old South kept a hammerlock on Southern politics, intimidating into silence all who might disagree with their reading of history and of the present day.

Just a few days ago, Paul Thurmond, the son of  Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond, called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina State Capitol, and even more so, publicly rejected the heritage for which it stands for so many Southerners.  "I am not proud of this heritage.  These practices were inhumane and wrong, wrong, wrong!" he declared from the floor of the state senate.  It is hard to imagine anything more powerfully symbolic coming from the state where the Confederacy began.  The Confederacy stood for slavery and against the idea of common humanity.  It deserved to lose, and was not worth the fight.  Poor men fought a war and died in the thousands for the interests of a few wealthy plantation owners getting rich off supplying cotton at little cost to textile manufacturers in Britain and France.  That wealth was built on backs of enslaved Africans and protected by poor whites who shared in none of it.

What an irony that a Confederate zealot with a cold blooded massacre of people in church probably drove the last nail into the coffin of the cult of the Confederacy after 150 years.

Richard Norris Brookes' painting of the memory of the Noble Cause

Dylann Roof's self portrait showing its current reality

Liberals and the Left have always had their national loyalties questioned.  Their internationalism and cosmopolitanism caused people to question their patriotism.

And yet, it's only the ultra-nationalist very far right that resorted to sedition and treason time and time again.  I'm thinking of the French generals who decided that they would rather live under Hitler than take orders from all those Jews in the Third Republic, and so opened up the gates of Paris for the Germans in 1940.

Those folks calling for Texas to secede are hardly a cross section of the population of that state.  Nor do they have any intention of sharing Texas with people who do not look like them, talk like them, and believe like they do.  They would rather betray and leave the USA than be part of an America where they are no longer in charge and deferred to.

And there is always this:

No tree-hugging politically correct libturd here.