Beau Biden’s tragic death of cancer and Joe Biden’s “Promise Me, Dad”


Joe Biden’s memoir, “Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose” intermixes the most productive years of Biden’s vice-presidency under Obama, with the tragic loss of his son Beau Biden in 2015 to an aggressive brain tumor.

The book narrative is often out of sequence, starting out on vacation and then shifting to his vice-presidential home near the Naval Observatory, before taking off with competing narratives.

Beau had served as Delaware attorney general, and had been quite supportive of progressive causes, including LGBT marriage equality. The family’s Catholic upbringing did not lead to any personal moralizing on the social issues.

Biden first notice symptoms around 2010, which went away until about 2013 when he was diagnosed with an aggressive glioblastoma. His genetics made the cell type particularly aggressive.  The physicians (including MD Anderson in Houston) tried a novel approach of engineering a live virus that would attach itself to the tumor cells and stimulate an immune response.  In the end, it seemed promising for a while but Biden suddenly deteriorated and died with family present on May 30, 2015.

I had an uncle who apparently died at age 60 of a similar tumor in 1976.  Even with genetic causes, its actual appearance is unpredictable.

Biden discusses his foreign policy work, especially with regard to ISIS, Russia, and Central America. He covers the second Obama term well, a history that took a shocking deadend with the election of Trump. He wrote the book just before we have a real understanding of the Russian “fake news” campaign and of the way Trump would be able to resurrect tribalism within “the proles”.  Biden is quite specific in his account of Putin’s cruelty with rebels in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics.

He also talks about infrastructure, and his work on improving natural gas lines and other critical infrastructure, some of which he says is made of wood. He does not seem to particularly oppose pipeline developments and on may economic and industrial policies he may have been more conservative than Obama.  But he would have supported aggressive policy on climate change (picture above: damage in Florida keys from hurricane Irma, my visit).

But he also talks about the depth of the financial crisis of 2008, and of the need to make work pay better in relation to capital.

Toward the end, he talks about the sudden decision not to run against Hillary Clinton, and about his reservations about superfund money in the Democratic Party primaries.

Beau’s story also reminds me of the narrative of Lee Atwater, who collapsed at a speech in 1989.

Somehow, I wonder about the “originality” of books by established politicians, who have made their names for themselves before taking up the pen.  Echo Hillary’s book.

Author: Joe Biden (Beau Biden)
Title, Subtitle: Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose
publication date 2016
ISBN  1250171679
Publication: Flatiron books, hardcover (airport purchase) also Kindle, 264 pages
Link: official

(Posted: Monday, November 20, 2017 at 10:30 AM EDT)

LGBT Showcase at DC Shorts 2017: “The Whole World” is the best film

Here is a rundown of the LGBT shorts program at DC Shorts 2017, sponsored by the DC Center for the LGBT Community and DC Center Global.

The Whole World” (“El Mundo Entero”, directed by Julian Quintinalla, Spain, 30 min, in Spanish) was the best and principal film.  This film is set in a town in southeastern Spain, set up in sunlit, exaggerated colors, almost as if animated.  The town itself looks like a glimpse of heaven. Julian, an attractive 30—year old, visits the cemetery where his mother La Chary (Loles Leon), who had died at 51 from breast cancer, materializes in her only afterlife form.  She relates how she protected him as different, from the bullies, and from a rogue psychotherapist.  Then Julian will meet Peter (Candido Gomez), who was another attractive gay teen when he was growing up, ten years older.  But the overriding idea is that Julian himself seems to be in a layered afterlife of his own.

Pool” (“Piscina”, directed by Leandro Goddhino, Brazil 20 min, in Portuguese).   Claudia wants to investigate the family’s past as it fled the Nazis, and encounters a German lady, Marlene, who has set up an apartment in an empty swimming pool.  Marlene recounts the past persecution of gays, while there is a parallel story of Claudia’s own lesbian marriage in which she is raising a child.

Dusk” (directed by Jake Graff, UK, 15 min), tells the story of gender-fluid Chris Winters in the hostile 1950s, a time that took Alan Turing’s life.

Little Potato” (directed by Wes Hurley, 13 min, USA/Russia) invites a young gay man to tell his story growing up in Vladivostok, Russia, at the time of the fall of the Soviet Union. His mother also contributes.  But the film anticipates the hostile 2013 anti-gay propaganda law in Russia, which has led to asylum seeking in the U.S.

The Real Thing” (directed by Brandon Kelly, 7 min) puts a new spin on the whole debate about the relationship between the LGBTQ community and the military.  A father returns home from deployment to his home in Texas, in fatigues, to find his child has transitioned to female. He hugs her at the end.

Better Known as Peaches Christ” (directed by Jeff Dragomanovch, 4 min) lets a drag queen tell his story. Is he more than just an entertainer? I knew a bartender named Peaches in Dallas in the 1980s, but he was very cis.

(Posted: Thursday, September 14, 2017 at 10:45 PM EDT)

Nathaniel Frank’s encyclopedia history of LGBT marriage equality

I’ve covered some of the argumentation about gay marriage in a review of a film about it here July 5.  But an encyclopedia-like book like Nathaniel Frank’s “Awakening: How Gays and Lesbians Brought Marriage Equality to America” (2017) can cover a lot more detail than a documentary film or video. Still, this particular issue seems to have both sides talking at or past one another, playing with the subtleties of language itself, like in “Paul’s” Youtube videos.

I have to admit  some distraction.  I had to finish reading the last chapter on Obergefell and then the philosophical Epilogue (Arnold Bax-like) just as the news exploded this morning with Donald Trump’s edict by twitter banning transgender troops from the military.  Different topic (I’ll come back to the military thing soon with another post) – and indeed a marriage with a transgender person can turn into a straight marriage but without the possibility of procreation, exactly like a heterosexual marriage when the woman is past menopause.  I guess that shows partly why tying marriage to procreation gets so problematic.

At the very beginning, Frank says that marriage law is important by indirection:  logically, those who are not married or do not have the benefits of marriage can be excluded from some of society’s benefits as a consequence of mere logic.  In fact, that generally describes how things were in my own life in a world that (until very recently) where being married usually meant having minor dependents that one had sired – but it didn’t always mean that.  And single people and same-sex couples have always had dependents.  But someone without dependents can find his life disrupted by the needs of others anyway – as I found out with my own eldercare situation. There is a “dynamic imbalance” in life (like in a chess position, say a Sicilian) between having fewer responsibilities and more disposable income, and at the same time being less welcome in some situations,

The debate over “gay marriage” has become sometimes interchangeable with “gay rights” or “equality”.  Or let’s say “the right to marry” is a tricky idea.  As a logical matter, anyone has the same “right” to marry a consenting adult member of the opposite gender (when gender is binary), but not the same capability to procreate or even enjoy penetrative heterosexual activity in a relationship.  Frank talks about discussions about marriage as early as 1963, and then about the Baker case in Minnesota in the early 1970s.  Frank also explains how marriage became a focus (among gay “activists”) as to whether gay people should assimilate (and share risks and responsibilities, including serving in  the military) or resist. Did liberation mean walling off the outside world and creating your own (like in the East Village and the Ninth Street Center, with its polarity theory, in the 1970s)?

Indeed, overseas, “gay marriage” as been illogically comingled with gay rights in general, as in Nigeria with its draconian law in 2013.

Frank indeed covers the history of gay rights in general, including Stonewall, Anita Bryant, the Moscone-Milk assassination in San Francisco in 1978, the Briggs Initiative in California that could have banned gay teachers (1978), the AIDS crisis and Reagan’s indifference, the sodomy law litigation (Hardwick v. Bowers in 1986 and Lawrence v. Texas in 2003), and the history of “don’t ask don’t tell” in the military.  In the 1990s, particularly in Hawaii, debate on gay marriage for its own sake as a marker for personal equality in general, started to develop, even as cases like Romer v. Evans (Colorado Amendment 2) grew.  Then, of course, Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, under political pressure.  Frank presents the 90s as more negative for gay people than it really was for me. Frank gives many side anecdotes that are important for other issues:  Dan Choi and don’t ask don’t tell as a valued Arabic translator needed for intelligence purposes; the fact that one of the important marriage cases involved a person who died of ALS;  the male couple in Florida who took care of foster kids with HIV.

Then , in the 2000s, the cascade of litigation started, with Massachusetts in 2004, leading eventually to Obergefell, with many steps along the way.  These included the idea that you could encourage the states to go their own way and experiment first, before solving it federally, although then you had the Full Faith and Credit issue (to be resolved in Obergefell).  Along the way came Gavin Newsome’s marriage day, and then the whole Proposition 8 saga in California.

Frank has a few juicy quotes that show how gay marriage became a cover for a bigger question about hyperindividualism and sexuality.  On p. 236 he refers to the risk that the “gradual transformation of marriage from a pro-child societal institution into a private relationship designed simply to provide adult couples with what plaintiffs say is personal fulfillment.  It was a sinister echo of the old canard that homosexuality was primarily about indulging individual selfishness, while somehow heterosexual pairing was about contributing to the greater good.”  When was this canard actually stated?  Is the greater good to be found in protective courtship and doting?  It strikes me that this is like a three-lane highway in Virginia (indeed, Marshall-Newman, 2006): it can be more challenging to raise adopted kids in a same-sex relationship that survives a few decades of aging than a conventionally heterosexual one with biological children.  If marriage is expanded to include relationships with no penetrative complementarity, will heterosexuals decide that it isn’t important to marry before having kids?  Indeed, the record so far is that gay marriage does not encourage heterosexual divorce or discourage heterosexual marriage.  (Baseball player Bryce Harper beamed his Mormon heterosexual wedding celebration on Superbowl Sunday on Facebook.)    Later, on p. 349 (in a chapter on Obergefel there appears, “While defenders of gay marriage bans in 2015 did all they could to avoid appearing anti-gay, the notion that letting gays marry would transform the institution from being ‘child-centric’ to ‘adult-centric’ fit squarely in the tradition of demonizing gay people as selfish and indulgent, and gay rights as the triumph of a narcissistic culture over a responsible and temperate one committed to the common good.”

In 2010, Nathaniel Frank had published “Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America” through St. Martins, about nine months before Congress approved the gradual dismantling of “don’t ask don’t tell”, the certification of which was completed in September 2011.

Related post on my “Do Ask Do Tell Notes”.

Legacy movie reviews about Proposition 8:  “The Case Against 8” (2014); “8: The Mormon Proposition

Author: Nathaniel Frank
Title, Subtitle: Awakening: How Gays and Lesbians Brought Marriage Equality to America
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-06774737228
Publication: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 441 pages, hardcover, 16 chapters, Epilogue
Link: Author

(Posted: Wednesday, July 26, 2017 at 2 PM EDT)

“The Freedom to Marry”: a chronicle of how same-sex marriage became legal in the U.S.

Freedom to Marry was the legal assistance organization, largely under Eva Wolfson, that helped steer the many courtroom victories that finally made gay marriage legal in the United States, under the Full Faith and Credit clause in our federal system, in June 2015.  Wikipedia has a detailed factual history of all of the separate cases here, finally leading to a cadence with Obergefell.

The Freedom to Marry”, directed by Eddie Rosenstein, is a relatively new documentary chronicling the entire achievement.  It ends with a happy shutdown – of the offices of the group at the end of 2015, when its work is done.  It makes a good companion piece to “Love v. Kentucky” (April 17).  There was some call for people to sponsor screenings of the film, but now it is available on Amazon and iTunes.

Of course, that was about the time that Trump’s campaign was getting going.  Donald Trump has even said that he views same-sex marriage as settled law, but Neil Gorsuch’s behavior in his first days as the new Supreme Justice replacing  Scalia leads one to be concerned.  Remember, back in 2003, in his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas, Scalia (“a peaceful man”, by his own self-description) predicted a coming legalization of gay marriage.   I want to take a moment here to note the passing of freelance writer Phil Chandler, who wrote many columns on gay equality, from ending sodomy laws to marriage.

The new film does give a useful history, particularly of the 1990s, when there were pioneering cases in Hawaii and Vermont while the parallel debate over the military “don’t ask don’t tell” got going (and when Romer v. Evans was resolved).  In 1996, President Clinton signed DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, meaning that the federal government itself would recognize only heterosexual unions as marriages, even if states wanted to experiment on their own.  In my 1997 “DADT-1” book, I even encouraged this approach, that it had to start with the individual states to go anywhere.  My own “29th Amendment” has proposed that.  I did not see how quickly the tables could turn, starting in 2004 in Massachusetts, even with George W. Bush (the “sanctity of marriage”) in office.  I remember those times.  In the summer, Rick Santorum had tried to propose a federal marriage amendment limiting federal marriage to “A Man and a Woman” (like the 1966 French film), while Diane Feinstein excoriated Santorum for wasting the Senate’s time when it needed to pass an anti-terrorism bill.  I recall the C-span program, with a Bruckner symphony playing during the intermission.  Earlier that year, then editor Chris Crain (“global citizen”) had penned his famous editorial in the Washington Blade, “Piddle Twiddle and Resolve”.

The film also shows the vigorous counter-demonstrations at the Supreme Court in 2015 (the film has shown the countdown of days until oral arguments, to maintain the impression of suspense), even the Westboro Baptist Church.  There seems little doubt that what they object to is not just gay marriage but the permissive practice of homosexuality (and now gender fluidity, which is something different) itself. The opposing sides seem to talk past one another.  There is one passage where an anti-gay group makes no apologies for demanding abstinence from people who find only homosexual attraction interesting.  For several years, the conservative paper “The Washington Times” always used quotes this way: gay “marriage”.  Earlier arguments against gay marriage in conservative periodicals frankly talked about babies.

The arguments for marriage have always centered around “Equal Protection” rather than “due process” (the latter was more relevant in the sodomy law litigation). There is a tendency to divide society into affinity groups, and especially define suspect classes of people who have rights abridged by being members of the group (or of a “people”).  I am not very comfortable personally with arguing things this way.

Of course, it is true, if you have, for example, an elderly same-sex couple and one depends on the other for eldercare, or one dies, and then the couple is hot treated the same by the courts as a heterosexual couple would have been, this is a personal problem for the survivor and represents unequal treatment. (I can remember sitting next to a lawyer on a plane in 2006 whose legal specialty was this problem.) But I also recognize that, at an individual level, talking about “equality” as an absolute concept gets one running around in circles.  One can say, for example, that all of us have the same equal right to marry a member of the opposite sex (assuming sex is always binary, which it isn’t, even in most of nature).  But then I am left with the idea that I get much less reward from the prospect of heterosexual intercourse (which could have led to procreation earlier in life) than a “typical” male. So my life takes its own individualized course.  Equality becomes very situational.  My parents are deprived of a lineage since I as an only child.  I develop the ability to find a lot of satisfaction in the projection of certain fantasy material, which can have artistic and expressive value.  I take on fewer responsibilities (not having kids) and less debt, so I have more disposable income even if I am in a sense “less than equal”.  But I can be called upon to make sacrifices for those who have kids – that might happen in the military (it didn’t, but it could have), or I could wind up having to raise a relative’s child (again, it didn’t, but the “Raising Helen” scenario has happened in other families).  What does equality really mean in this interpretation?  It seems that personal morality encompasses a lot more that owning up to one’s own choices in the narrow libertarian sense.

Name:  “The Freedom to Marry
Director, writer:  Eddie Rosenstein
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Amazon 2017/7/4, also iTunes
Length: 88
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Roco
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, July 5, 2017 at 11:30 AM EDT)

“Love v. Kentucky”: How the Bluegrass State worked its way into marriage equality

Love v. Kentucky” (2017), directed by Alex Schuman, documents the litigation by six same-sex couples in Kentucky and the role these cases would play in the final Obergefell v. Hodges opinion at the US Supreme Court in 2015, making recognition of same-sex marriages among all states the laws of the land.

The couples were often elderly.  At least one or two had raised children, and one had survived non-Hodgkins lymphoma of one husband, with the other shaving in sympathy.  One of the couples was Timothy Love and Lawrence Ysunza (USA Today story).

The state tried to use arguments based on “tradition” (Robert Schuler’s old idea from the “Hour of Power” at the Crystal Cathedral in CA back in the 80s), which amounted to nothing.  Then the state tried to make a connection to the need for reliable procreation.

But there was little said about how heterosexual couples were “injured”, other than the fact that their social supports didn’t stand out or identify them (as reproductively heterosexual) as clearly once gay marriage was legal.

The film doesn’t get to the narrative of Kim Davis, the Rowan County clerk who went to jail for refusing to sign her name to same-sex marriage certificates, until the end. The governor pushed through a law saying that clerks don’t have to sign their own names to certificates if their religious beliefs are affronted (by lawful duties in their public employment which normally uses their names).  NBC News has a good summary of the story here.

The justices in Kentucky noted how quickly same-sex marriage had evolved in public opinion. In 2006, neighboring Virginia had tried to shut down same-sex marriage (and even civil union) with the Marshall-Newman amendment.

In the 1970s, I once reported to a manager whose last name was “Husbands”.

Wiki on same-sex marriage in Kentucky.

Wikipedia image of downtown Louisville KY, similar to film.

Fact table:

Name: “Love v. Kentucky”
Director, writer:  Alex Schuman
Released:  2017
Format:  HD video
When and how viewed:  Amazon instant; also YouTube is available $3.99 to $4.99
Length:  87
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Gravitas Ventures
Link:  official

Picture: My trip to Cumberland Gap, Aug. 2016
(Posted: Monday, April 17, 2017, at 11 AM EDT)

 

“Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight”: thorough history of gay psychological culture (2nd edition)

I received by mail a review copy, an “Advance Uncorrected Gallery”, of the second edition of the book “Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight”, by psychiatrist Loren A. Olson, MD, with a Foreword by Jack Drescher, MD The first edition had been published in 2011, with Karen Levy, by the InGroup Press. The new edition is due from Oak Lane Press on April 1, 2017.  The review copy was supplied by FSB Associates.

The book is monumental in its coverage of the cultural, moral, and particularly psychological history of “the gay community” and particularly of the value of gay men born in earlier generations. The author was born in 1943, the same year as me, even before the “Baby Boomers”. So, like me, he is a “Traditionalist”.

The book at first focuses particularly on gay men who have married and had children, and then “come out” in mid-life or later (and move out from “living straight”, often leading to divorce and custody issues). Olson introduces the acronym MSM, “men who have sex with men”, as not always synonymous with “homosexual” or “gay”.

Olson covers he vitriolic anti-gay societal attitudes immediately after WWII, that loosened in the late 1960s, leading to Stonewall. He notes that earlier generations had accepted homosexual men without naming them as such. But in the early 20th Century, the idea of eugenics became somewhat popular, along with the idea that sexuality (even to the point of considering masturbation and fantasy) should be completely dedicated to create and raising “better” future generations. We can certainly connect that with fascism. Olson presents McCarthyism (in line with the hypocritical FBI director J. Edgar Hoover) as a “conflation of cowardice, homosexuality, and treason” in an era of pinko-phobia (my own take). He also relates this to his own upbringing in Nebraska (he practices in Iowa), where his mother implied that a boy who couldn’t manually start a lawn mower was a sissy. He traces the gradual change in attitudes up through the 1990s (living through the AIDS epidemic) and mentions the 1982 movie “Making Love”, as dramatizing the issue of a married man’s coming out.

Olson covers the issue of intergenerational gay relationships. He shows surprising candor in discussing the body image problem for gay men (sometimes it becomes “body fascism”), but maintains that a certain subset of young adult gay men are attracted to older men, even when overweight, bald, and hairy. The term “chubby chasers” gets mentioned. He describes the physiology of male sexual arousal, and relates it to age: young men have the greatest testosterone levels from about age 15 to about 30, with some variations; after about 35 or 40, most men drop off slowly. He does discuss the opportunism of pharma on this. He notes that men who come out later in life, after marriage, would not have experienced being “in the market” when their bodies were likely to be perceived by some people as the most “desirable”. He notes that agism has more effect on women and gay men than on straight men (even after divorce); men tend to care more about the visual satisfaction that their partners provide than women do, but then again, not always.

He also discusses the moral and legal issues concerning illegal relations between some men and underage teens. He distinguished between pedophilia and pederasty, but he might well have introduced “ephebophilia”. Since this book is in final revision, he might have the opportunity to discuss the “fall” of provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos over the latter’s reported videos on this matter (my further comments).

The last two chapters do discuss briefly recent advances in gay history: the end of “don’t ask don’t tell”, and the Supreme Court victories in gay marriage. He also discusses hate crimes from enemies who remain, especially the horror of the attack on the Pulse disco in Orlando. He also mentions the arson at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans in 1973 (film review Feb. 16).

He also discusses the needs of gay seniors, often living alone, with widely varying degrees of independence and health. Many were prudent enough three decades ago never to become infected with HIV. He notes that never married gay men and women, especially, as they get older, are more likely to wind up taking care of other relatives, out of filial piety. He does provide some discussion of genetics, epigenetics, and gender expression and sexuality. A gene that makes a male brain predisposed to more sexual interest in other men would reduce births fathered by homosexual men, but might increase childbirth from women with the gene, and therefore result in a net gain in population.

He also has an interesting mathematical definition of self-esteem,, as a reciprocal of the difference between the ideal self and actual self.

My own take needs to be mentioned. As I have written before, I “came out” a second time, in 1973, after a listless but interesting period of heterosexual dating without sex. In my novel, “Angel’s Borther”. I introduce a 40-year old man, still at the end of his biological summer, married with children, with a day job as a history teacher but also as a covert intelligence agent, who is suddenly sent to the site of Auschwitz where he meets a mysterious, precocious male college student with whom he falls in love. Previously, he has avoided homosexual activity (partly out of “public health”) except for some “rite of passage” sessions when in college, which he feels need some sort of culmination.

Mentioned In the book:

Met Life’s Study “Out and Aging: The MetLife Study of Lesbian and Gay Baby Boomers” (link)   (2006) And sequel “Still Out, Still Aging” (link) (2010).

Author: Loren A. Olson, MD
Title, Subtitle: Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight
publication date 2017/4/1, second edition (first ed. 2011)
ISBN 978-0-9979614-3
Publication: Oak Lane Press, Des Moines, IA; 286 pages, paper, 9 roman; Foreword, Preface, Introduction, 12 Chapters, Endnotes, indexed
Link: Publisher, author

(Posted: Thursday, February 23, 2017 at 5:30 PM EST)

“No More Heroes”: Jordan Flaherty argues for mass movements and against individual right-sizing; saviors think they are better than the people they help

Remember how all the episodes of “Smallville” on WB started with Remy Zero’s song “save Me?”, back starting around 2001? (just before 9/11).  For years we were treated a cleancut extraterrestrial-born and alien but very attractively human teenager Clark Kent using his “powers” (manipulating space-time around himself as if he were an Alcubierre drive) to save people.  And except when influenced by red kryptonite, he was always a great person, almost Christ-like, an angel.  And he is European-white (although one of his best friends, in whom he first confided that he is an alien, as if he were “coming out”, is black).

Or, more recently, in 2012, I watch a short film video at a local church of teenager running a mission at Double Head Cabbage in Belize.  A tall blond high school teen, who looks like he could toss no-hitters now for the Washington Nationals, lets kids, mostly of color, climb all over him.  This is an experience in bonding with people who look “different’ from you and are maybe less fortunate, at least economically and with infrastructure.  The intimacy in the film is rather unprecedented.  It belongs in DC Shorts (a short film festival), I tell them.

Or, in September 2015, at a National Book Festival sponsored by the Smithsonian at the Washington DC Convention Center, journalist Nicholas Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn present their books “A Path Appears” (also a video series) about how to help people, both in rural Appalachia and in Africa.  Kirtof also promotes a video, KONY, about a Ugandan warlord.

So now we have this book by Jordan Flaherty, “No More Heroes: Grassroots Challenges to the Savior Mentality”, challenging the whole premise of global do-goodism, that you can make your karma better by volunteering to help others, on your terms, when you get to look good and impress the people you help that you’re really better than them:  you’re richer (like Trump, or Zuckerberg, or Bill and Melinda Gates), whiter, taller, bigger, stronger, smarter, have a higher IQ, more gifted, more desirable.  You get to rule the world.  “They” do as you say.  Of course, you’ll be benevolent.  You’ll take care of everybody.  As Trump says now, everybody can buy insurance again, because I say so.  (I don’t think Trump had better try to deport real aliens.)

Flaherty loads up his book, especially the first eight chapters, with examples of self-serving “generosity”, going back to European colonialism and US manifest destiny, even the “we are the world” globalism of the 80s. He quickly gets to the topic of nearly mandatory volunteerism, as when (p. 25) he mentions George W. Bush’s call for every American to commit to two years, or 4000 clock hours during the rest of your life, to community service.  (I also remember Bush’s saying at Ohio State about that time, a person without responsibility for others is truly alone).   Some of his most telling examples center around New Orleans after Katrina (and even New York after Sandy), both with the ineffectiveness of hit-or-miss volunteer trips, and with the pretentiousness of Teach for America.  I was rather shocked at the degree to which teachers had to deal with the most intimate aspects of kids’ lives.

We tend to talk about “giving back” as something to get our karma right, become right-sized, and go back to feeling we individually “deserve” what we have.  It’s as if life was about getting a grade or accumulating non-monetary “life points” (a term killer James Holmes actually used).  Authoritarian politicians can easily take advantage of this idea.

In fact, consider Maoism in the 1960s. where Communist China forced intellectuals to “take their turns” becoming peasants.  I can remember those on the Left in the early 1970s (like the People’s Party of New Jersey) who used this example to argue that Chinese Communism was ideologically purer than Soviet style.

Flaherty wants us to realize that, as pastor Rick Warren argues in “The Purpose-Driven Life”, that it “isn’t about you.”  (He doesn’t mention Warren, but he should.)  It’s about your tribe, your team, well, no, its about the people, your mass movement.  He wants people to join up, become like Eric Hoffer’s True Believers. The mass movements will make things right for your group, especially if you’re among “people of color” or, less often, LGBTQ (or maybe both).

He traces the history of the Occupy movement (which Steven Bannon trashed in a 2012 film, reviewed here Jan. 9, “Occupy Unmasked”). He builds up Black Lives Matter (without mentioning the factual problems particularly with Michael Brown’s narrative that led to Ferguson) and takes the usual offense at “all lives matter” which is actually more demanding than it sounds.

Flaherty, when describing how to “change” (and shake off the moral liability if inherited privilege) says, “Instead of shaming people for their mistakes .. .appreciate and lift up principled action when you see it.” (Catalyst Poject).  Then, “This transformation demands moving from individual focus to collective action. Instead of asking ‘How can I be the single best white antiracist activist with the sharpest critique, most specialized language and busiest schedule?’ ask ‘How can I find ways to bring more and more people to social justice work, from lots of entry points, to grow vibrant mass movements?’” In other words, win converts, not just win arguments.  In fact, recruit people.  Pester them until the sign up. Well, there’s a contradiction in that, because that sounds like trying to save them.

I do recall a time at an MCC campfire in June 1979 in Texas when a particular guy into saving souls put his arm around me in a prayer and considered me one less able than others as someone special who needed saving.  Wow.

Clark Kent, in Smallville, used to say, I’m not special, I’m just different.  But Clark didn’t try to create a mass movement. But he didn’t need to.

Curiously, Flaherty poohs traditional efforts at gay equality, like gay marriage and the “right” to serve openly in the military (e.g. oppose “don’t ask don’t tell”) as accommodating “neoliberal violence”, by emphasizing individual station in life as the most important political objective.

But once the “people” get control with their mass movement, what kind of a world do they forge?  Without individual egos and meritocracy, people don’t accomplish much.  Flahety would have people surrendering all and living in moneyless or shared income intentional communities, maybe after a period of revolution, expropriation and collective moral purification.  It’s true that people who have the most to lose will take the fewest or smallest risks for changes that benefit others, but they may also take the least risks in stepping up in individual circumstances (as in Chapter 6 of my DADT-III book).  That’s the “Rich Young Ruler Problem”.

Author: Jordan Flaherty
Title, Subtitle: “No More Heroes: Grassroots Challenges to the Savior Mentality”
publication date: 2016
ISBN 978-1-84935-266-6
Publication: AK Press, Baltimore; 248 pages, paper (e), 11 Chapters, endnotes, indexed
Link:  author site

(Posted: Monday, January 16, 2017 at 11:45 PM EST)

“Soldier of Change”: A gay Army officer lives through DADT, repeal, and the fight for marriage equality even in the military

Book review:

 

Soldier of Change: From the Closet to the Forefront of the Gay Rights Movement” (2014), by Stephen Snyder-Hill, with a Foreword by actor George Talei, is one of the most contemporary and thorough and up-to-date books on the history of the military gan ban and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, taking it through the repeal in 2011, told as a personal account by an Army captain who was eventually able to marry his male lover and legally hyphenate his name in Ohio.

Hill (born about 1970), raised near Columbus, Ohio,  first joined the Army in 1988, seeking skills and a career, and wound up fighting in the Persian Gulf war in Iraq and Kuwait (recall Matt Damon’s 1995 film “Courage Under Fire”). He recalls being “asked” if he “took it” when joining, and “lied”.  After the war, but while he was still on active duty, President Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue” was introduced. He was honorably discharged in 1996 and went to college and eventually became a medical dietician.

After 9/11, he re-enlisted and became an officer, rising to Captain, in food service.  He became part of Operation New Dawn in Iraq in 2010 until President Obama began to withdraw troops from Iraq (which we can speculate as to whether that made way for ISIS, but Hill never goes there). During his long second stint, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed, starting with a law at the end of 2010, and “certified” by September 2011. (my posts are here (look at December 10, 2010 and September 20, 2011).  He asked a pointed question online of socially conservative Senator Rick Santorum (“It Takes a Family”, his 2005 book) in the 2012 GOP presidential debates, and help fight for the repeal of DOMA by participating in litigation, and then fought for equal benefits for same-sex spouses in the military.  He ran full circle.

He really covers a lot of ground.  Back in Ohio as a civilian, he had dealt with “change your sexuality” probes by evangelical Christians (I recall the group “Love and Action” in the 1990s).  In the Army, he faced constant intrusiveness from other soldiers over the lack of girl friends, and the culture of sharing so much (like letting people borrow cell phones during his second stint) made civilian expectations of privacy impossible,  Back in 1993, recall, the main arguments against lifting the ban had been the lack of “privacy” in military living, and in the idea of “unit cohesion”.  The privacy issue was often viewed in terms of seeing other men nude, as in showers, and noticing differences (circumcision, or traits like body hair that could be related to race), but the real problems is that tightly cohesive units don’t respect privacy the way gay singles who live alone or in privatized relationships expect. Hill makes the valuable point that sexual cues from gay men in intimate environments are only picked up by other men with gay identity (although I personally think more men “notice” than he wants to admit.)   But the unit cohesion argument ran into another Waterloo;  it had been used before, in 1948 when President Truman integrated the military by race (as in the HBO movie “Truman” with Gary Sinese).

I’ve never bought the “identity politics” idea of “gay rights”.  I think that sexual orientation is a more complex issue than race (and more complex in many ways than gender identity).  Colin Powell had gone into this point in his 1990s book “My American Journey”. A more logical comparison would be to “religion”, because the practice of religion is “behavior” more than it is “genetics” or “biology”.  The question in my mind was always, why did others make my sexual orientation their business, but one answer used to be, they expected me to participate as a “male” as “part of the group” able to protect women and children, sometimes.  That was a bigger part of the issue when I was growing up (in the 50s and 60s) than it is for young men today, at least more affluent young men.

The need for absolute legal and nominal equality in his marriage and personal relationships may seem over the top.  But consider, that to walk in others’ shoes sometimes and really belong to the larger community, one needs to be recognized as fully an equal.  Hill often mentions be thanked for his service and exposure to sacrifice by people who did not recognize the inconsistency of their own attitudes (and sometimes even, as he says, irrational group hatred).

It’s interesting to me that Hill’s narrative is different from mine in that he did not actually deal with conscription as I did (in the 1960s). But he mentions that the Army relented on enforcing DADT when it needed people deployed, and in fact, before DADT, the military often simply avoided bringing up the topic – to the point that the politicization of gender issues in the military under Clinton only added to people’s desire to “ask”. Back in the 1960s, in fact, the Army stopped “asking” on draft physicals, fearing people would use the ban to avoid Vietnam.

Hill mentions SLDN (Servicemembers Legal Defense Network), now called Outserve, and talks about meeting the parents of Barry Winchell, murdered in a hate crime on base in 1999, at a dinner in 2012, which I attended.  In fact, I attended all the dinners from 2003 to 2012 except 2011, when I had the flu but had made the donation for the ticket. That year I had to use other people’s YouTube to cover the event on my blogs. I remember the menus, ranging from vegan to “Cornish game hen”.

Hill’s book (like Daniels and Le Blanc, June 23, 2016) will be important ammunition if the Trump administration, with Mattis as Secretary of Defense, wants to erode the gains for non-straight men and all women in the military.  Mattis’ own book (Dec, 7) had questioned the national security implications of “social experimentation” in the military, but, as Hill says, it is all too easy for this ruse to hide animus.

Author: Stephen Snyder-Hill
Title, Subtitle: Soldier of Change
publication date: 2014
ISBN: 978-1-61234-697-7
Publication: Potomac Brooks (University of Nebraska Press); 198 pages, paper, 15 roman, 22 chapters with Foreword and Epilogue
Link: author;  Advocate

(Posted: Tuesday, December 27, 2016 at 6:45 PM EST)

New guide for evangelical Christians with “gay friends”, an odd use of the phrase “Do Ask, Do Tell”

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Author: Brad Hambrick
Title, Subtitle: Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk
publication date 2016/3
ISBN 978-1-941114-11-7
Publication: Cruciform Press, 124 pages, paper
Link: Publisher

“I don’t notice men’s bods.” A young coworker, whom I had usually beaten in lunchtime blitz chess games, said to me one morning back in 1972, before my own “Second Coming (out)”.  He, although engaged to marry “traditionally”, was already becoming a plump butterball.

You don’t hear men deny they feel same-sex attraction, or “SSA”, today as much as they did then.  But denial or recognition of SSA (not the Social Security Administration) is a cornerstone idea of this curious little book “Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends”, by Brad Hambrick.

The title uses the same wordmark that I use for my own book series (now three), which had originally been motivated by the history of the (now repealed) “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gays in the military. I’ve never thought that a politically charged word moniker like this should be monopolized commercially (like the name “Trump”, perhaps).  But this work is written to sell to a narrow niche audience – evangelical Christians, and is laid out as a handbook, with spaces to enter notes. Curiously, it ends with a sketch of a dialogue for a Christian’s responding to a gay friend’s asking him to come to the friend’s future same-sex wedding.  That could make a “ten minute play” (a concept in some small towns, like a summer festival in Chestertown, MD) or a short film.

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I’ve seen niche “handbooks” for gay rights before.  In the 1990s,, there was a pair of books, with red “Do Ask, Do Tell” buttons on the cover (but not part of the title) by Bob Powers and Allan Ellis, two guides on sexual orientation for managers, and then family.  I don’t personally write this way, because it seems to pander “baby talk”, but maybe my own saying that sounds a little contemptuous of meeting “real need”.

First, let me credit the author for some political libertarianism.  He says that some behaviors that religion regards as immoral according to scripture should not be legislated as crimes (and indeed Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 made sodomy laws unconstitutional). He also gives a short biography of Alan Turing, recognizing Turing’s accomplishment (probably saving western civilization from Nazism) and laments how the British government subsequently treated his homosexuality in 1952, with chemical castration, leading to Turing’s suicide.  He seems to understand that Turing had his own unusual kind of personal charisma. S I hope he is contemplating voting for Johnson-Weld in 2016.

He also volunteers the disclaimer at opposing an association with homosexuals is not his own personal “hill to die on”, to use a (Vietnam-era) military metaphor. One wonders why anyone would expect this of him.

For the rest of this review, I would like to play the role of that “friend” in his book, somewhere between what he would call “Christian” and “non-Christian”.  As I indicated in a review of Bass’s “Grounded” on Sept. 4, I don’t experience Christianity in a personalized, emotional way of many evangelicals, but match it up with physics and cosmology.

Hambrick views men with SSA (and probably lesbians and transgender) as “suffering” because of the “fall”.  He also spends a lot of space in the middle of the book analyzing some scriptures.  Most pastors know that even within denominations, various churches or synods interpret specific scriptures differently.  The Baptist denomination exists largely over the interpretation of adult v. child baptism, and with the denomination in the US there has always been major divisions over political questions (beginning with slavery and race). Within Christianity, there are many ways of viewing homosexuality that mainstream scholars view as academically defendable.

I can understand that people want to find guides for behavior and attitudes in specific scriptures. One way to comprehend this is to realize that with secular intellect alone, one can rationalize almost any social or political system according to what one otherwise fantasizes he wants to do.  One can even, with secular thinking, rationalize fascist values, which brings up the question of the actions and caring needed from all of us to support the value of all human life in the future – although life that does not yet “exist” (not yet conceived, as with far future generations or lineage) does raise a philosophical question of its own.  On the other hand (as we see with radical Islam) authoritarian religious dogma can be handed down in such a way as to justify horrible behaviors, too.

But my own SSA does not unfold as “suffering” but as an enticing, self-completing world of fantasy or alternate reality.  The “suffering” came from the ostracism and discrimination early in my adulthood – being thrown out of William and Mary as a freshman in November 1961 for telling the Dean of Men that I am gay, and then undergoing “therapy” at NIH in 1962 while the Cuban Missile Crisis raged “on the outside”.

Evangelical Christians have been concerned with scriptural admonitions about the expression of sexuality, but I can provide a perspective on “what people want” from a practical perspective.

I think that Hambrick is right, that male homosexuality can be a mixture of biological influences and imprinting of cultural values.  It’s more common for second sons to be gay, and this could happen because of epigenetic womb influences (but not because of Original Sin).  In some cases the younger son is actually physically stronger than the straight older son.  But I am an only child, so that doesn’t apply to me.  I was frail and fell behind my peers physically.  So I tended to equate the combination of both smarts and physical presence and various secondary sexual characteristics as equivalent to “virtue”.  Again, this is rationalism for its own sake.  But that “imprinting” led to my awareness of sexual arousal in the presence of a small subset of young men.

So what did people really want from me?  Well, for one thing, my being an only child highlights one aspect of my circumstances: I was likely never going to experience sexual intercourse with a female and give my parents a lineage.  The family would die with me, for all eternity.

What we call “homophobia” is a sliding phenomenon, rather like referred pain or vague nausea in neurology.  It’s a combination of concerns about the welfare of the family, tribe or herd, considered as a whole, not about the individual.  “Tribal” cultures facing external threats indeed are more likely to follow authoritarian leaders, religious teachings, and impose invasive rules on the behaviors of their members, “for the good of everyone.”  As societies get richer, the need for mediating individual tastes and behaviors becomes less. But societies can lose sustainability  and particularly resilience.

At its heart, objection to homosexuality has a lot to do with a perceived threat to procreation for the group.  There is a fear that less secure males will decide that it is not important to have children, if homosexuality is acceptable.  That seems to be driving the anti-homosexual propaganda law in Russia (that has a dwindling population problem).  There is also a fear that women will get the idea they do not need to receptive to men.  When I was a young adult in 1972 and had already tried some passionless heterosexual dating, I was aware of the desire to “have” a family life, but I did not recognize an inherent personal value in fathering and raising my own children — in fact, I may have harbored some “reverse eugenics” in my own thinking. I had no grasp of the intimacy that could be required to tend to an expectant spouse, and remain erotically interested in her (for a lifetime) despite constant physical appearance changes.

The “demographic winter” argument has been articulated in the US among some socially conservative circles, such as by Philip Longman in his 2004 book “The Empty Cradle“, who has even written that childless adults (probably LG often) are “too preoccupied with themselves” to want or need their own children, but then it becomes harder to become socially relevant to others in times of real need.

There is also a fear that, in a smaller group, homosexual males will “scope” other men and make other men conscious of themselves.  This was a concern (along with unit cohesion) in the early days of the debate over gays in the military (a mix or privacy and unit cohesion concerns), but over time it tended to fade, partly because soldiers are better educated and society as a whole is “richer”.

The idea that everyone should be expected to confine their personal experience of sexuality to traditional marriage (“until death do us part”, with openness to procreation, the traditional Vatican idea), could be viewed as an “equalizer” of sorts, even if this idea seems to be a paradox. Society might be viewed as more stable and meaningful to the otherwise disadvantaged if everyone is exposed to some of the same risks of responsibility for others. But that mediates the meaning of marriage, as much more about the community than just the couple itself.

Conservative writer George Gilder had expressed some of these ideas in a couple of now forgotten books, “Sexual Suicide” (1973) and “Men and Marriage” (1986).  Gilder regarded (young) men as largely fungible (fodder for conscription) outside of marriage with kids, and presented women as inherently “sexually superior” to men because they don’t have to prove themselves by “performing”.  It’s pretty heavy stuff.  But he dismissed homosexuality with a phrase “the perils of androgyny” as if transgender did not exist. Gilder coined a term that describes my own psychological strategy, “upward affiliation“.  That is, it is a “fatal flaw” in me that I don’t find emotional value in bonding with people who need me for adaptive purposes.

Gilder’s writing also suggests a certain herd effect in the supposed self-discipline and “opportunity cost” involved in men’s restricting sexuality to procreative marriage. If everyone else can be counted on to honor the the same rules, then the committed, life-long marital experience has more psychic value.  But that also suggests the “Pharisee” problem:  preoccupation with rules and order for their own sake, as a source of meaning and sometimes a sense of superiority to others in a social hierarchy.

The “herd effect” and public health concerns (about gay men) leveraged by the far right in the 1980s when AIDS exploded have been largely forgotten.  But I’ve documented all of this in a few specific postings from a “McCarthyism” label on my “Do Ask So Tell Notes” blog:  1, 2, 3.

 

“Love Unites Us: Winning the Freedom to Marry in America”: anthology of the history of same-sex marriage

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Author: Kevin M. Cathcart; Leslie J. Gabel-Grett, editors, many contributors
Title, Subtitle: Love Unites Us: Winning the Freedom to Marry in America
publication date 2016
ISBN 978-1-59558-550-9
Publication: The New Press, Hardcover and e-book
Link: Publisher’s

Love Unites Us: Winning the Freedom to Marry in America”, edited by Kevin M. Cathcart and Leslie J. Gabel-Brett, is pretty much a definitive compendium of the history of the legal and cultural development of same-sex marriage. ‘

The book comprises seven big sections, each with many small chapters and sidebars. Contributors are many: William Eskridge, Thomas Stoddard, Paul Ettelbrick, Evan Wolfson. Suzanna B. Goldberg, Mary L/ Bomauo, Anne Stanback, Matt Coles, Adam Polaski, Jeffrey S. Ttrachtman. Camilla Taylor, Shannon Minster, Karubn Wang, Francisco Duenas, Kate Kendall, Gary d. Buseck, Janson Wu, Marc Solomon, Thalia Zepatos, Sharon Lettman-Hicks, James Esseks, Hayley Gorenberg, Peggy A. Tomsic, Paul D. Castillo, Nadine Smith, Alphonse Gerhardstein, Susan Sommer, Jon W. Davison, Beverly Tiverly, M. Dru Levasseur, Guatam Raghavan, Scott A. Schoettes, Andrea J. Ritchie, and a conclusion “Shields not into Swords” by Jennifer C. Pizer.

The narrative starts with a curious case (described by Eskridge) in Minnesota in the early 1970s, when James McConnell and John Baker were denied employment from a University of Minnesota library when they tried to get a marriage license – with a court going along with the idea that their private choices had not been violated because of their public “activism.” All of this happened just before a period in my own life when I repeated visited Eagan, MN (just south of St. Paul on 494) to work on benchmarks for Sperry Univac, and sometimes visited “Gay House” and bars like the Gay 90s and the Noble Roman.

But back in the 1970s there was a debate as to whether gay liberation was really about total abandonment of the measures of the straight world. Thomas Stoddard (whom I remember from the early days) argues for marriage equality even though writing “in its traditional form, marriage has been oppressive, especially (although not entirely) to women..  Ettelbrick quotes an inevitable epigram, “Marriage is a great institution … if you like living in institutions.”

The book gives a good history of gay rights outside of today’s narrower notion of marriage equality. There is ample attention to the role of sodomy laws, and especially the fact that the change of heart at the Supreme Court between Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) and Lawrence v. Texas (2003) occurred in a nanosecond in Court practice, reversing a “mistake”.  The AIDS epidemic in the 1980s certainly made gay issues more visible, like the need for hospital visitation – and also increased the obvious societal value of promoting monogamy among people biologically homosexual (the Kinsey Sixers – who were becoming more accepted as biologically inevitable – following the work of Chandler Burr’s epic 1996 book “A Separate Creation”.  The book covers the “civil union” debate, and the early history particularly of the Hawaii (or “Hawai’I”) and Vermont litigation, as well as the Romer v. Evans decision on Amendment 2 in Colorado.  The political debate over gays in the military, which I cover in so much detail in my own books, did not become important to the authors until after the DADT repeal.

We know that a landmark was made in Massachusetts in 2004, in the middle of the Bush administrations.  Bush and the GOP (especially Rick Santorum, “It Takes a Family”, reacted by wanting to pass a constitutional amendment to guarantee the “sanctity of marriage”  – I recall those silly hearings in July 2004 on C-Span, with Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony playing in the intermission, whose triumph mocked the whole side-show.) The progress was stunning, through Obergefell v. Hodges, making the overturning of the Clinton-era DOMA seem like an incidental, optional prelude.

The last chapters consider the war half won, as the “enemies” tried to come up with new arguments, like the “religious freedom” bills and “bathroom bills” aimed at transgender people.

In retrospect, it seems to me that “being married” had served as a proxy moniker for reigning in on affiliative sexuality and disciplining it to complementarity, and to opening oneself to providing for dependent others.  Before the 2000’s, “gay” (especially for men) tended to mean “unattached”, more focused on the meaning of one’s own individual expressions.  Now, we don’t have a single institutional word that expresses the commitment to that physical complementarity – but we do have the bigger concept, as Paul Rosenfels had descried back in the 1970s, of polarity. Ponder, again, however, what the subtitle of this book means.

I think its well to point out that “Love” has been used in a sense of aesthetic realism in the past by anti-gay groups, like “love won out” or “Love in Action” which in the past, at least, had its own approach to AIDS (someone approached me about the group in 1990).

(Published: Saturday, August 6, 2016, at 11:15 PM EDT)