To the Point Radio Reflection

Yesterday I took part in the Public Radio International program, KCRW’s To the Point, with the topic To Be or Not To Be…Gay. Other guests including Dr. Jack Drescher, a gay-affirming psychiatrist from NY, Richard Wyler, the founder of a group called People Can Change and Richard Cizik, VP for Governmental Affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals.

You can listen to the program here. (The first half is about the stock market’s recent troubles, then they move onto to the gays).

First off I felt like I was surrounded by some heavy hitters. Thank goodness that Dr. Drescher was there to debunk the Spitzer study. I know Daniel Gonzales would have been disappointed with my answer if I had to address it myself :-). Drescher had some great points about how ex-gay ministries are not regulated by anyone yet they are doing therapies of all sorts. And his lottery analogy was brilliant.

Here are few thoughts.
Richard Wyler claims that his group is secular (sort of like NARTH claims they are secular and therapeutic) yet in the Philosophy and Values section of Wyler’s site it states,

Change may be possible with or without a belief in any particular religious faith, spiritual tradition or deity, but we believe that often those who are able to yield to the will of a “higher power,” or to a higher good or higher spiritual purpose, may be more successful at change.

I find the name of Wyler’s organization to be curious, which prompted the question I asked him about the people he is seeking to help. He calls his organization People Can Change, but on his site it states,

The mission of People Can Change is to offer other men who seek similar transformation a pathway of healing, by providing information, training, coaching and support. People Can Change also provides information to and support for family members and concerned friends of men struggling with unwanted homosexual feelings.

So using my advanced powers of deduction, I infer that according to Wyler’s site, women are NOT people. Or perhaps they are not nearly as important as men. Wyler, on the show and on his site claims that they do not have enough volunteers to straighten out the women yet, but it is one of his plans for the future.

If same-sex attraction is wrong, a sin, a sickness, unhealthy or whatever the language these change groups like to use, why do they mostly target and serve men with same-sex attractions? Perhaps this reveals that the church and these “secular” groups believe a man to be a more important save than a woman.

Lucky for the ladies, well of course unless you marry a “recovered” homosexual. Wyler’s organization does offer support for the wives of these recovered/recovering men. I don’t doubt that some of these partnerships “work” for a season or more, but it seems like they are asking an awful lot of these women to give up so that these men can explore their dreams of heterosexuality.

On this blog I have featured the stories of several heterosexual wives of gay and “former” gay men. Just yesterday I received a comment from another wife who read the post My Gay Husband–Another Spouse Speaks Out. She writes,

I have just in the past few months found out that my husband may be gay. I urge a man who has doubts about his true attraction to a woman not to continue in the relationship. The hurt and lack of trust are unforgivable.

Wyler and the folks at Exodus and other places may respond, well, this husband did not attend one of our programs. That I do not know, but of the many “ex-gays” I know who have married, most of these marriages have ended in divorce. So many people get hurt along a man’s road to recovery.

Wyler’s teachings sound like they have a lot to do with reclaiming masculinity and manhood. Of course for some of us men, manhood has often manifested itself as selfishness. We are the men and we get what we want. Women may understand this all too well. If you are working with a man or living with one or friends of one, you know we demand our own way in thousands of instances everyday. Men have been trained by a sexist society that our needs, our opinions, our desires trump those of others beneath us, and surely society taught me that women are beneath men.

So here we have men demanding change. They do not only seek change from sexual addiction or low self-esteem or bad relationship skills, but change in sexual orientation. Instead of courageously accepting our same-sex desires, too often we have sought the get-fixed-quick (or slow) route to escape the inevitable–we may be gay in a homophobic society.

No doubt men with same-sex attractions should seek relief from unresolved childhood conflict and other life controlling issues, and if in that process they begin to develop healthy and natural attractions for women, that is great, they have discovered a new side to themselves. But to go into the process with the stated desire that we want to change, does not only set ourselves up for failure and discouragement but also harms the others we drag along with us in our quest for “manhood”.

Richard Cizik as a national Evangelical leader of 30 million people seems confused about oppression. After he referred to the Bible and heterosexuality as a norm, I told him how the Bible has been used to oppress specific groups–people from Africa used as human slaves and women denied the place to preach in churches, even today. I alluded to how the Bible is also used to oppress LGBT people.

Cizik distanced himself from people who hold up signs that say God Hates Fags. (He felt so strongly about it that he couldn’t bring himself to say the word fag.) But I don’t see protesting with signs like that as a form of oppression. It is simply ugly and hateful.

  • Oppression is when you won’t let queer people be full members of your church and staff.
  • Oppression is when you repeatedly tell lies about LGBT people and our “lifestyle”.
  • Oppression is when you force young people against their will into ex-gay programs.
  • Oppression is when you hold up heterosexuality not only as the norm, but the only God-approved form of coupling, “God’s institution”; anything else is unholy.
  • Oppression is when you use your power and influence (and lies) to deny citizens their rights to marry, to keep their jobs and to be protected on the streets.
  • Oppression is the thousands of pulpits across this country that broadcast a message of intolerance and hate wrapped up in words like love and truth.

And the list can go on and on. Feel free to add to it in the comment section.

What I heard in Cizik’s remarks was FEAR. Fear of change, fear of the change of order of life as we have known it or as it has been promoted. Fear that we will not have families with the husband as the head of the household. Fear that this change will cause us to question the way that power is distributed. Fear that if the church admits it is wrong about the gay issue, that all hell will break loose. Fear causing respected Evangelical leaders to hold the line at any cost while all the time refusing to listen to the people they oppress and other victims in tow. As an Evangelical myself, I had known those fears all to well.

God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind, and perfect love drives out fear. Cizik spoke about the love of Jesus. What I see in the Evangelical church is a lot of Love Inaction. If you really love us queer folks, don’t just say it, show it. Faith without works is dead.

Here is an example, for too long many of us white Christian folks (liberal and conservative) have been saying stuff like, “I have nothing against Black people. Some of my best friends are Black. I love Black people” yet we do little to nothing to undo institutional racism that exists in this country as we cash in on the power and privilege we possess as a direct reslut of our skin color. Big deal that we “love” people of color. Folks don’t need our declarations of love and harmony, they need equal opportunities for employment, education, housing and safety.

I believe that racism is much more severe in the US than homophobia, but how the people in power view the issues is similar. We look in our hearts and think that if we don’t have anything ugly to say, then we are okay, job done, and we can move on and feel good about ourselves. That is not the message I see in the words attributed to Jesus. His Gospel is one of action, of true love in action. Anything short of that is a loud gong or a clanging cymbal. And by the time Cizik finished talking about love and tolerance, I had a headache.

Now a little of my behind the scenes to the radio program. I had just arrived at a Sheraton Hotel in Syracuse after a 4.5 hour drive, I then ate a huge lunch that included wonderfully greasy eggplant fries (I kid you not), so I was very sluggish during the show. Then on the floor above my room they were sanding the floors (or digging for buried treasure). The entire time I was on the phone listening and speaking, I had this loud grinding noise above me.

Before we went on air, I called my Friend, Liz Opp, a fellow Quaker. We spoke briefly then moved into silent worship on the phone. For several minutes we just sat in the silence, being still before God, then we both prayed aloud. Also all this week I have asked people at the Hartford Friends Meeting, on the listserve of the Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns and the Gay Christian Network to pray for me. And throughout the week with loads of travel and many moments before cameras and microphones, I felt calm in knowing that I was held by my community and Friends. So thank you all.

When people hear that I am a Quaker and non-violent, they may assume that I do not get angry and that I avoid conflict. Being violent and being angry are too different things. One can feel anger and not give into violence. How can we live in our world today and witness the injustices that exist all around and not feel angry? Similarly, I do not see Quakers as shrinking away from conflicts and confrontation. We are called to speak truth to power, to witness against wrong and lies and injustice and all the while hold out the belief that that of God is still alive somewhere in our opponents.

We can attack someone’s teaching and ideas, expose them for being false and harmful, while not attacking the person. This week I have been challenged by opportunities where I was setup to attack my opponent. In one case a program host created an ambush for an ex-gay leader and wanted me to go in for the kill. It would have been easy and it probably would have felt good at the moment, but to do so, I would have to give up something of myself. I resisted and felt grateful for the many people holding me in the light, helping me to love those who hate me and to feel kinship with those people who cannot yet come to call me brother.

This post has 4 Comments

  1. Dharmashanti on March 2, 2007 at 8:55 pm Reply

    As is often the case, Peterson, I simply stand in awe and gratitude for the chance to read what you have to say. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. We need more voices like yours.

    I believe that as we learn to stop defending walls, and to instead learn to build bridges, we can find the peace we all long for.

    Bless you, my friend.

    Peace,
    Dharmashanti

    Come out to where the Blogosphere meets the Dharm-iverse.
    http://dharmashanti.blogspot.com

  2. Peterson Toscano on March 3, 2007 at 9:07 pm Reply

    Thank you so much dharmashanti, and thanks for getting through such a LONG post. I should have posted it before I went to bed that night. I ended up thinking about it all night as I slept and then woke up pregnant with the words.

  3. Liz Opp on March 4, 2007 at 3:13 am Reply

    Peterson–

    So I’m finally taking the time to read the whole post! I’m struck by this part:

    But to go into the process with the stated desire that we want to change, does not only set ourselves up for failure and discouragement but also harms the others we drag along with us in our quest for “manhood”.

    What sort of internal foundation does the man carry when he says “I want to change”? If he feels ashamed of himself, or feels like there is something wrong with him, or feels like his attraction to men isn’t right, I would say that’s a problem with cultural indoctrination.

    …When I was growing up, and I knew I was telling myself, “I want to be a boy,” it wasn’t because that thought was a self-generated innate understanding of myself. It was because something in society was telling me–through media images and soundbytes–that boys and men had more opportunties and had greater value in society than girls and women. So I internalized the message that I’d be better off if I were a boy.

    Back to the impulse behind “I want to change.” On the other hand, if the man comes from a foundation of moving towards self-acceptance, his desire to change is more likely to be an innate and natural call, rather than an unconscious response to society’s message (i.e. that straight men, or men who are attracted to women, are more highly valued and accepted than gay men). And that call is far different from wanting to change who one is at a core level.

    The difference is subtle and hard to put into words, but it’s there. The first instance is shame-based (“I am not enough as I am”); the second instance is esteem-based (“I am enough as I am”).

    Blessings,
    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

    P.S. I have found it very powerful to say “I’m angry” and then respond to what is going on with appropriate assertiveness, rather than with violence and aggression. I forget where I heard recently that too many people–and Quakers in particular–mistakenly think “pacifism” is spelled PASSIVISM.

    P.P.S. I also have found it transformative to think of people who get under my skin as my sisters and brothers, rather than as my enemy or even nemesis. Thinking that way, I become required to consider how to respond out of love rather than anger or hurt. I become required to stay connected…

  4. Willie Hewes on March 4, 2007 at 6:13 pm Reply

    I hope the delivery wasn’t too painful, Peterson. It was certainly worth it. Very good post.

    I can’t seem to get the radio program to work though, it keeps skipping.

    [em] Thank you. [/em]

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