Monday, December 1, 2014

All this church going is having an effect on me.  I don't know if it is making me harder or softer but I think it is making me stronger.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Dear SLU, are you racist or just a bunch of privileged assholes?

That moment when someone close to you, someone who works with you every single day, has a son who dies - actually dies - but you are too sleepy/ bored/ busy/ racist to stand up and offer him some community support. Yes, that moment.

That was you, last night. We made it easy - we came to you at a time when classes were over and you were doing nothing that couldn’t wait. You know, smoking weed, watching that shitty Teen Titans show or sitting on the toilet with your dick in your hand. You could just as easily have waited until tonight to stain the tiles but you have your priorities.

A lot of you came to the rally and participated, felt the love and left feeling like better people. A few of you might have even learned something. But more of you stayed in whatever sad little space you were in and cranked out intellectual turds on YikYak.

Dear SLU, after seeing these rivulets of racism trickling out from under your front door I can only imagine what a seething mass of horribleness must lie within.

  •         Stop protesting and make something of your lives
  •        I want my concealed carry license. Asap.
  •        They are waiting for the new Nikes to drop and SLU has nice grass to sit on.
  •        Protest at the police station. They won’t go near a police station. lol its called warrants.
  •        Sitting around a clock tower disrupting a college campus instead of getting a job.
  •        There are 2000 ex or future cons at the clock tower
  •        It is such a shame these protestors have made so many people uncomfortable and lose their pride in SLU.
  •        Shouldn’t these people be at their job or school??? Oh wait.
  •        If you’ll notice all those tax deductions from your paycheck…
  •        SLU was SO FUCKING STUPID for letting these people in.
  •        Fuck these protestors
  •        We gotta give these boys a good lynching
  •        You can’t ‘axe’ me anything
  •        Way to be late for your own event. Just like a ...
  •        I blame the BSA
  •        My thoughts? Leave our campus
  •        I feel truly sorry for all the freshmen who have this tainted view that this is normal for SLU
  •        Get the fuck off my campus cause you dont pay tuition
  •        This is bullshit and they should be off our campus
  •        I did not leave the south side for this
  •        I hope nobody at the clock tower brought a sandwich
  •        This is just a time bomb waiting to happen
  •        Why the fuck are there so many SLU kids standing in the crowd? Why the fuck are you even there?
  •        I have pepper spray and I’m not afraid to use it.
  •        SLU gets free attention for being not racist, but whatever.
  •        I paid to go to private school for a reason.

Alright I’m going to stop right here because I’m tired and I feel sad. This is just the entries from 3 hours.

Old folks might not know about YikYak. It’s a 100% anonymous social media platform that exists only to ruin reputations and allow cowards a safe place to express their most shameful thoughts. College students seem to love it.
Tweeting protest @on_detonty

Sunday, October 12, 2014

What I learned when #FergusonOctober came to #Shaw

This is a (hopefully) ordered explication of what went down last night, why every person in Shaw should have been there and why Vonderrit Myers doesn’t have as much to do with it as we think.

What I thought before: Watching the news closely for the past few weeks I had developed a picture of the protests as disorganized and violent and characterized by lawless elements doing awful crap. Then I started watching Twitter and that impression was only reinforced by the flood of emotion-laden tweets that included “they do this because…” “they are racist because…” etc. Sorry, but making blanket statements about things going on inside other people’s heads doesn’t convince me. You might be right but you might be wrong too.

News coverage from the Post Dispatch and local TV stations has been incomplete. Even a casual reader with the intelligence of a Q-Tip might suspect that much of the real stuff is not getting reported. We all know only the most salacious details get featured, the violence, the crying, the drama. That’s just how they do that thing they do to sell ads. Even so, my overall impression of the protests was not a favorable one - probably because the messages coming from alternative media are too diverse and chaotic to present an intelligible counter story.

When I headed down to the protest early in the evening I wasn’t feeling it. I was going to see what might happen and to help keep some of the more fearful neighbors informed through the security committee. I was a little apprehensive but was determined to see what was going to happen in my neighborhood. What happened was this:

The protestors assembled and marched straight out of Shaw. They reassembled at the QuickTrip on Manchester, over on the edge of the Grove, had a sit in, marched back to the store at Shaw and Klemm, had a quiet debrief and went home.

I doubled back to the neighborhood during the sit-in but rejoined the group about twenty minutes later. During the march I was impressed with the calm, collegial atmosphere that was all around. I did not see a single person who was violent, there was no haranguing of the police and I did not see any negative behavior directed towards the neighborhood. My view of the protestors as volatile and potentially violent was challenged by every moment I spent with them.  The most interesting part of the night was the debriefing and it put it all into perspective for me. By “all”, I mean #Ferguson, #Handsup, #MikeBrown, #Shawshooting and #FergusonOctober. But first, this:

I started getting really interested in the Twitter feeds around the protests a while back. As mentioned, lots of that is over the top but a few individuals really popped out of the flow as level headed, passionate and whip smart. When I walked down to the protest yesterday I already knew that four of them were on their way to Shaw and Klemm and I made up my mind to try to find and meet them if the crowd seemed approachable in general. I’m not going to gush about personalities because that’s stupid but, as usual, my intuition was dead on. These folks were exactly as I had hoped - focused and clear headed, but also nicer than I had expected. As I talked with them my mind went back to the leaders and organizers I worked with in #ACTUP way back before there were @ and #’s. I was still a little apprehensive about what the night had in store for the neighborhood but as I accessed old memories about the world of direct action I could see the signs of planning all around. Nothing was left to chance. This was not a riot.

In my previous post I voiced confusion about why the previous protest in Shaw seemed so disconnected from the death of Vonderrit Myers. Why is he already barely even a ghost? This might be the biggest thing I got from last night. The protests are not about him. This protest wasn’t even about Michael Brown. This was about the living, about us. The organizers chose the QuickTrip, not Shaw. We were the staging area. The police were ready but the protesters had them outflanked before they even came to Shaw. People in the crowd were from Shaw, from all across our city and from elsewhere. I met people from many states, of various ages and races. The organizers kept it clean and calm and let the police demonstrate their intimidation and brutality for all those people to see. It worked. Apparently the reporters on the scene don’t understand but I totally get it. I wish all my neighbors could have seen that too. You might feel some of the admiration I felt for those kids last night.

When I got up this morning I read the Post Dispatch just for kicks. Wouldn’t you know it, they did it again. They talked about the arrests, the sit-in, but there was almost no sense of who the protesters are and what the night was like overall. Reading the article I couldn’t recognize my experience in that “news”.  There was that glaring blank spot in the middle of the article too. To paraphrase:  cops said move, protestors chanted, police advanced on protesters, protesters were detained.

So what happened between the advancing on the protestors and the detentions? The police chief said rocks were thrown. Plenty of videos and photos from the event are out there and I don’t see any rocks. Of course no one can see everything at once in a big event like this and I wasn’t there at the moment so I guess anything’s possible. What I do know is this:  If you can watch that and not be upset I don’t know what to say. I also know that before and after QuickTrip the crowd was calm and the atmosphere was one of solidarity and love. That’s amazing after what happened at the QuickTrip.

When I rejoined the group the arrests were in progress. The protestors were walking back to Shaw in several clusters. They were still calm, moving quietly and staying on the sidewalk, not chanting. The organizers were in control and were managing the crowd. The police presence was tremendous though and very intimidating. I would not be honest if I didn’t say this was the worst of the night for me. I heard that marching sound and the chatter of their batons striking boots from the top of the Manchester bridge, long before I caught up with them at Vandeventer and Sarah. The armored formation was marching the protestors out of the Grove. This much was viscerally clear: leave now or we are ready and able to fuck you up. Pretty basic. That message was in no way proportionate to the spirit of the protest and I can’t logically defend any other conclusion: we’re not as free as we want to believe. This is the message the organizers wanted to demonstrate. They set it up and the police did the work for them. My moment: All the burned flags in the world can't protect us from our own police.

So Shaw neighbors, why should you have been there? The protestors were not violent. It was as much a community event as any I have ever been a part of in Shaw. I have wondered why some people have taken their children to the protests. What I saw last night was a family friendly environment (aside from the police action). I wish you had all been there and had brought all your kids to see and be a part of that crowd. That crowd was our neighbors, not thugs defending dead criminals. That got redefined for me last night because I was there, I participated, I felt it all. 

The fear you feel is real but in my opinion it is not based on our city's reality. Our peace and property is not threatened by a handful of smart and organized young people who will undoubtedly transition into political leadership soon. Our security is threatened by the inability of our police protectors to know us and love us the way we need to be known and loved. I’m still a law-and-order guy. I don’t want bad guys with guns running around Shaw. These folks aren’t - and that is not what they are defending. They are defending us and we need to find some way to be a part of that effort.

What I learned when #Ferguson came to #Shaw

Here’s what I learned when #Ferguson came to #Shaw last night.

  1. #Ferguson will likely spawn some political leaders who will be elected to regional offices during the next decade. There are some really passionate individuals who also have charisma, good judgement and determination. That’s a winning combination for electability. I hope some of them transition successfully beyond #Ferguson. Keep your eyes open for @Nettaaaaaaaa.
  1. The #Ferguson movement is fizzling. It  now lacks an identifiable focus. It is all over town, its mainly about the fear and anger of the participants and all the haranguing of those in my Twitter feed has begun to sound desperate and pleading. Bassem Masri wasn’t able to get a single supporter to help him storm SLU hospital where @HotepTNT was being held “hostage” despite      multiple emergency tweets. Also, in the middle of the march on South Grand the Cardinal protests organizer and live streamer Mustafa Hussein (Theodore Barrett) was exposed by @ChuckCJohnson to be a registered sex offender, child molester and all around psychopathic bad guy. Ouch!
  1. #Ferguson is unable to fully capitalize on new events. They showed up in Shaw but if you hadn’t heard the news you wouldn’t have learned ANYTHING about Vonderrit Myers at the protest. Vonderrit is already a ghost, the coda for #Ferguson.
  1. My respect for the St. Louis Police Department went through the roof last night. They were cool and professional under some really stressful abuse. I’m a law abider for the most part so I don’t usually have a problem with the popo but I do get the issues. I was young once with waist length hair and I know exactly what it means to get locked up for walking home late at night after work with long hair. Twice. And that was even with me remaining calm and respectful, not      talking back or resisting. I get it.
  1. I love my neighborhood even more. We were solid last night. Mostly people stayed in but some folks were out at local drinking establishments, others were out walking, some paying respects, some looking. There were several church services and the one I attended (I know, right?!!!!!!) was inspirational, loving, thoughtful. We did good and we looked good y’all.
  1. Even with the incredible Twitter storm of misinformation and incitement from some in the #Ferguson crowd very little actually happened. I walked around much of the night and there were protesters. There were people from Ferguson looking to create a situation. But there were lots of locals out watching the show, looking for some late night entertainment in 3-D.
  1. I made the right decision when I bought into St. Louis. I already knew that though.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Becoming a gay Pentecostal atheist

When I was a child I was very involved with Jesus. Pentecostal children are expected to obey their parents and avoid sins that would embarrass the family in front of church members. Other than that, intensive participation in the church is not really expected until you grow up, get married and start having kids of your own. There are plenty of counterexamples of course, and those few children who are especially tuned in to Jesus are often encouraged to begin “preaching” at an early age. I was tuned into Jesus but, thankfully, my parents didn’t push me to preach. Instead I was allowed to follow my own interest in the piano and by the time I was in my teen years I was the church pianist.
While other children were barely able to sit still in church I was listening to sermons, singing hymns, praying with fervent intensity and actively seeking a meaningful relationship with god. I was a bit different from the other kids around me. Even outside of church I was overly engaged with spiritual pursuits. At school I hid in the library during breaks and study hall. As the librarian's aide I took advantage of my private office to play gospel music on my little cassette player and gather spiritual strength to get me through the school day. I occupied my time on the bus with reading the Bible. If I’m being honest, this was as much an attempt to avoid interacting with the other kids as an exercise in piety but you can digest a fair amount of religious content during twice daily one-hour trips. After school I spent afternoons and summers exploring the woods, running with the family dog, reading books and doing homework, all the while in some form of prayer or meditation. Prayer was a constant for me and I probably didn’t go more than a few hours without talking with god during my entire childhood.
I didn’t know it then, but I wasn’t a preacher or church musician in the making. I was just gay. Gay people usually have a mystical side to their personality and many cultures make great use of that quality. Sadly, ours does not (yet). Instead, people all along the queer spectrum are excluded from religious life in multiple ways. In my case I was told, and believed, that being gay was a demonic possession that would separate me from god, family and a meaningful life. This falsehood was so central to our Pentecostalism that it blinded me to my true nature for many years. This violent belief still permeates Pentecostalism and American society in general. The result is wounds so deep and lasting that thousands and thousands of young people lose their lives while struggling to be authentic to themselves.
Over the years I have miraculously avoided much of the sexuality shrapnel while watching friends and acquaintances fall all around. I don’t enjoy evoking war imagery but it seems authentic to my experience. Today the noise around queerness has quieted considerably, at least for me. I know what I believe and I’m comfortable with my existence in the world. It doesn’t hurt that the world itself is becoming a bit more sane with respect to sexuality and gender issues.
My childhood was a blessed time. I loved Jesus and he helped me through the troubles of adolescence and the teen years. And then, unexpectedly, my spiritual life was shattered in the process of coming out. I lost the ability to really talk with god because I lost trust in god. My most fundamental relationships fell apart - my parents deserted me, friends rejected me and the authority figures at my college indicted me. More importantly, the relationship I had with god could not absorb the challenges posed by my emerging identity. In the process of figuring out how to be an authentic adult I found that I had to leave god behind.
Perhaps things would have turned out differently if I had encountered good role models. I did know a couple of Pentecostal people who were gay but I didn’t want to be like them. They were laughed at and scorned and were tolerated only because they pretended to be straight. Everyone joined in the pretense when they were present and later laughed at them behind their backs. I knew I could never live like that, denying reality, pretending to be other than what I am, pretending that no one else knows who I am. Most of all I didn’t want to be part of a community of believers who acted like that. The role models I saw around me were untenable and my solution was to create my own brand of atheism.
My atheism has always been a Pentecostal atheism. By that I mean that I've continued to seek truth and authenticity. I do that through an introspective and recursive interior conversation that is a lot like the prayer process I used as a child. In fact, I still pray once in a while but I don’t really believe that there is anyone listening. I pray when I need to. I pray when I need that kind of comfort. I pray because I still believe in the value of some of the religious experiences of my childhood. I can’t inhabit those experiences in the same way I did as a child, but I don’t run from them. Instead I take what I can defend and what I can use and discard the rest. Learning to pray in this new way has been a blessing and it has been on my terms.
Pentecostalism is much more than a religious experience. It is a culture that emerged from the working class struggles of the late Nineteenth Century. Once you peel off the anti-science foolishness and the political bullshit of the culture wars it is easy to see its roots extending back to Colonialism and the Enlightenment. At the core of Pentecostalim are the principles of self determination and personal agency. The struggle of my life has been to use those principles to bend that culture towards my experiences of biology and personality.
Anthropology tells us that every culture has its shortcomings and contradictions. Each culture has imbedded within it rules that produce designated winners and preordained victims. Our saving grace is that all cultures change and individuals can shift the rules. None of us gets to live in the Garden forever. We must make the future out of what we are given.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I was kicked out of Rhodes College for being gay

Well, sort of. I was kicked out in an unofficial way - the "we hate you and we will make your life hell until you go" kind of way. But it was Rhodes College and I was fully and completely gay.

To be fair, it was a long time ago. 1991 is (doing the math) -- OH SHIT -- that's 22 years! Correction: it was ages ago.

I often think about my experience at Rhodes but it rarely occupies my mind for long. Today was different. It came up in conversation with a friend this morning. I don't know what we were talking about but it was apropos to the conversation and for some reason the pain of this old event seemed particularly fresh to me and I have dwelt on it off and on all day.

I burst out of the closet like a tiger through a flaming paper hoop. My idea of gradually introducing the idea was to show up in Russian History II wearing shiny teal polyester pants, a burgundy red button up shirt and matching red eye liner. Fair dues though, I had been working up to it for nineteen years and this was, to me, just another small step towards self-realization. Window dressing, if you will.

That was the spring of 1989. By that fall I had tired of shiny polyester and was growing impatient with eye liner as a means of self expression. I was reading The Advocate and going to the sad, sad gay bars of Memphis on the weekends. I was also searching for allies on campus. I found a few potentials but scared them off with my brash openness, my inability to blend in. I didn't lose much sleep over that though.

Probably the smartest move I made was to seek counseling services on campus to help me sort through the major issues I was having around the need to cram my Pentecostal self, my gay self, my blue collar self, my high-academic-achieving self, my searching self and my lonesome self into one consciousness. This worked well for me. I could talk to someone and they got paid to listen. In the process I came up with the questions that lay beneath my growing pains and I figured out the answers to a lot of them.

My next smartest move was to fall in love with a guy old enough to be my dad. Jay was HIV positive and didn't bother to let me in on that secret until we had been dating for several months. I decided we should get married. I am typing this as a nearly 45 year old man and, yes, I am cringing as I type. Back then I was 19. Don't even ask what was going on in my head. If you imagine the worst cluster fuck of co-dependency, insecurity and naivete, you're on the right track. That isn't the point of this story though. I've worked through most of that. The point is my decision to marry led me to the campus chaplain, Steve.

Steve was not ready for me. He was open minded though and, after some prayer and study, agreed to enter into a period of couples counseling with us both. He didn't promise to marry us. He said he would work prayerfully with us and see where that led. Over a period of a couple of months he learned a lot about gayness and we learned a little about couples counseling. Steve took us at face value, never judging, never disrespecting in spite of his inexperience. In the end he agreed to perform our commitment ceremony in the Voorhies Chapel.

It was Fall semester, 1990. We dressed and drove to the chapel. Our guests arrived early. My dear sister Rebecca was there. The chaplain arrived fifteen minutes early with a grim look on his face. The college president, James Daughdrill, had summoned him and delivered the news that if we were married he would be fired. Jay and I made the decision in less than a minute. Steve has stood by us through this process and grown with us. We would not be responsible for the loss of his job. The wedding party followed us back to Jay's apartment in Midtown where we ate the wedding cake and had drinks. It was not a celebration.

Since coming out I had faced several threats and confrontations on campus. My dorm mate moved into a different room. My dorm room was vandalized repeatedly. After our wedding was scuttled the abuse intensified. Obscenities were hurled down to me from windows as I walked across campus. A couple of times things were thrown at me. I was a leper in the Refectory. I received death threat phone calls late at night.

At some point I requested a meeting with Daughdrill to discuss the difficulties I was facing on campus. He refused to meet with me and instead sent a dean to run interference. I was told that no one had committed any crime but to let them know if that happened. The dean informed me that Daughdrill was very busy and would not be able to meet with me.

My grades took a nose dive. I was unable to study, concentrate, couldn't physically relax on campus. I was unable to get an appointment with my advisor, the chair of the Political Science department, until I caught him in the hall and pushed the point. When I explained my situation he did not seem surprised and was not helpful. In fact, the air in his office had a distinct flavor of disdain. I got the message.

As my life became less comfortable on campus I spent more time off-campus. By Christmas Break I had moved into Jay's apartment and my transition away from school was complete. That is how I went, in five semesters, from having high hopes of academic success at a highly regarded private college to being a college drop out. That is how I was kicked out of Rhodes College for being gay.

According to their website, Rhodes now has an LGBT Working Group and a nice little anti discrimination policy here. The school is still affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and that denomination has recently published a lengthy and carefully constructed statement about same sex marriage.

Apparently there has been some growth within the denomination and on the Rhodes College campus. I would like to visit again some day and see whether the on-the-ground reality matches the online presentation.

I would also like to reconnect with Steve. Aside from a couple of boyfriends, he was the first adult man I interacted with on an equal footing. His practice allowed me to see myself as a man. I hadn't gotten that previously from my dad or from men at church or school. That meant a lot to me then and it still does today. I would like to thank him for that.