Written as a collumn for my local Gay & Lesbian Center newsletter
Butches & Queers & Drags --
Hearts & Crotches
Gimme An LGBT on Toast!
The Desire Question
The Celebration Of Shadow Selves
Truth Or Lies
The Chutzpah To Be Queer
What Are We Proud Of?
A Wound Wrapped in A Rationalization.
& Queers & Drags --
Callan Williams Copyright © 1996
In the world of gay people, breaking the rules of gender -- about what is right for men and what is right for women -- is something that has a long and distinguished history.
From George Sand to Gertrude Stein, manly-hearted women have a long history of being welcomed in the lesbian community. They may be writers & activists like Leslie Feinberg, a particpant in one of the growing number of "Drag King" shows, or simply the hot hunk at the bar, but they bring together a masculine energy with a woman's history to create a unique and powerful blend.
From Quentin Crisp to Paul Lynde, femme men have a long history of entertaining and motivating gay men. The queens standing up at Stonewall, Jose Sarria singing "God Save The Nellie Queens," Harvey Fierstein thanking his lover at the Tony Awards, all are heroes of the gay community, combining wit and freedom. It was the queens who stood up for their rights -- and who ecouraged others to do the same.
Yes, the history of gay and lesbian people who are gender transgressive is a long and honorable one.
That doesn't mean the history isn't also a controversial one. For many homosexual men and women, who simply want to blend into their community and be accepted as one of the crowd, the sight of drag queens and dykes with beards is something they want to avoid. They feel that the sight of all these gender transgressive people is simply something that the Religious Right can use to prove that gays are queer -- and that will impede their assimilation.
For people who break the rules of gender, it is exactly that assimilation that they want to avoid. At the moment of their birth, society has assigned them an entire gender path -- marriage, kids, hobbies and all. And that role doesn't fit them -- it is limiting and oppressive.
Every lesbian and gay person feels some of these limits. The rules in this society are heterosexual, and to live openly as a homosexual, we have to break the rules, break though the expectations of our parents and friends to live our own life. We each have to break strongly held taboos, to proudly stand up for who we are inside, and not for how we fit in.
One of the biggest heartbreaks for the parents of lesbians and gay women is that their children will not live out all of those gendered expectations they had for them. Shopping with your daughter-in-law, fishing with your son-in-law are not the same.
The question is: Why should people still honor, respect and love us even though we break the rules of gender by loving someone of the same gender? Is it because we only break that one little rule, or because that underneath all the externals -- including who we love -- we are simply humans, much more the same than different?
Gender is a system of desire. We want to be desired, all feel the pressure to shape our gender expression -- what we wear and how we act -- to attract others, and this is true if we are gay, lesbian or straight.
Some people feel so strongly about who they are, though, that they dress for themselves -- females who like to grow facial hair and pack, males who shave and wear pumps. These people break the gender rules to be themselves, to break free of all the expectations others have about them -- even the expectations of potential lovers.
Of course, this breaking of the gender rules is dangerous -- it can leave us alone and out of the group. So many of us feel the pressure to fit in, even in the gay community -- butch women who soft peddle their masculinity to fit in as a lesbian, drag queens who soft peddle their femininity to attract gay men.
That means that people who do transcend gender rules don't always identify as gender transgressive -- as transgendered. Most of them are many things -- a gay man, a lesbian, a mommy, a daddy, whatever -- and their breaking the rules of gender is only part of their life. They may even deny their own gender transgression just to fit in.
But their gender transgression is an important part of their life. It serves both their own finding of their full humanity, and for helping to convince other people that it isn't following gender conventions that make us a good and lovable person worthy of respect, dignity and full rights -- it is our essential humanity.
Many people break the rules of gender, each in their own way -- some small and some large. They may not all identify as transgendered -- but they all transgress gender.
And maybe that's why people who boldly and clearly break the rules of gender have always been an important part of the gay & lesbian community -- because they queer the culture, remind us of how those arbitrary rules about being a man and being a woman limit all of us. They, in their own way, help us feel courageous and proud about boldly breaking the rules -- about working to find our own humanity and our own center.
Our shared goal is simple. We want people respected for who they are and how they respect others, not what they do or how they dress. We want to be honored not because we were a good man or a good woman, fitting neatly into society's rules, but because we are a good human, caring and true to ourselves and to our creator.
Breaking the rules of gender and finding our own rules of humanity is the way to get comfortable in our own skin. And that is why butches and queers and drags help point the way for each of us to proudly claim our own unique and individual humanity.
Celebrating our unique lives, standing boldly and saying, "I'm queer, I'm here, and I'm going to have some fun!" is often the best way to come from a place of joy and happiness -- and bring joy into our world.
Callan Williams Copyright © 1998
Are we fighting for freedom to express ourselves in the bedroom or freedom to express ourselves in all facets of our lives? Do we just want the freedom to engage in any sex acts we want, or the freedom to be open and honest about who we are without discrimination?
The freedom to act the way we want in private is well accepted today. The attitude of "I don't care what they do behind closed doors, I just don't want to see it or hear about it, and I certainly don't want kids to see about it," is common among people who want to both give people freedom and maintain the absence of queer codes in the culture. "It's OK to be homosexual, but we cannot publicly support the gay lifestyle," some say.
As queers, we see how much heterosexual sex is exposed in the culture. From the easy acceptance of partners at office parties to the discussion of relationships over coffee, to the holding hands at the mall, public displays and assumptions of heterosexuality are all over the culture. These displays are transparent to people who say that they don't want queers to display their sexuality in culture, because they see these exhibitions of loving relationships rather than sexuality.
Many gay & lesbian activists argue that it's about sexuality, that we need to have the culture have a more open attitude about sex. I don't think that's true. I have no need to know what any couple did in bed last night, bi, straight or homosexual. I do, however care about the relationships of the people I am in relationship, in community with.
Homosexual behaviors violate gender taboos, the idea that women should be with men and men should be with women. Parents dream of raising gender normative children, and many believe that if their children see deviant models of gender behavior, their children will be seduced into non-normative behavior. They want to keep non-normative gender behavior silent and stigmatized to help make the children take a normative path.
Does seeing a range of choices lead us astray, or does it actually make it easier to be sure of the choices we need to make? Which is more seductive, the forbidden & silenced or the known & understood? The moment we throw anything into the land beyond the pale, we lose any way to control it. For example, a parent who says "No drinking until you are 21!" has no way to help their child learn to drink moderately and responsibly.
The freedom to be ourselves in every moment is the freedom to transgress gender norms and just be who we are. It means that we are free to find an expression that works for us, and that society is free to comment on and shape that expression, demanding that we take responsibility for our choices in a way it cannot if we exist only in shadows.
Demanding that people accept our sexual behaviors, what we do in the bedroom, is demanding that our sex become public. Demanding that people accept our gendered behaviors is demanding that we be allowed to be who we are in public, and allowing who we are to become a part of the wider community we live in.
To accept me, you don't have to accept what I do in the bedroom. In fact, I assume you don't want to know. You do, however have to accept who I am in the street, and that me you need to know. It's not about my sex, it's about my gender.
What does this mean? If we are a fag or a butch or a femme, we don't need people to embrace our sexuality, our crotches, but we do need people to embrace our hearts.
An LGBT on Toast!
Callan Williams Copyright © 1998
It's a mouthful, that acronym we keep pulling out. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, LGBT, or GLBT if you follow the CDG&LCC naming convention. Michaelangelo Signorile feels it sounds like a sandwich.
So what is in this sandwich? We can all tell you what separates us -- we know out tomatoes from our bacon in a heartbeat. We each have our own lifestyles, our own organizations, our own families and our own priorities. We know how we are different.
Some people would say that it is our sexuality that connects us, a common thread of same-sex love. Yet, we all have different kinds of people we desire and we pursue those desires in very different ways. Some of us want long term relationships, others need multiple partners. Some find romance leading to sex, others find sex leading to romance. In the case of bisexuals and transgendered people there is no guarantee of same sex or even same gender love.
There is no doubt that in a cruising situation, like leather night at The Waterworks, it is our common desires that bind us together, but those desires do not cut across all LGBT people. In fact, what cuts across them is that their desires are very different.
If it's not a common sexuality that binds us together, what does? In my eyes, the battle we each fight is to follow our heart in a society that tells us it is wrong to love what we love, to be who we are. We break the rules for what people should do by not happily playing out the gender role assigned to us at birth and settling down with someone of "the opposite sex" and having a family, and demand that society accept us as we are.
What LGBT people share in common is the experience of being shamed into hiding their nature, face the stigma of growing up and living in a way that society has chosen to see as deviant. We share the problems in having to hide who we are or being faced with both legal and social attacks on our character and our choices. We share the fear and the pain of facing a world that wants to erase our very existence to keep things nice and simple.
What we share is the need to stand up and say "Humans are beautiful and complex creatures, and they are beautiful as their creator made them, not just because they fit neatly into boxes." LGBT people are the spice of this world, the straw that stirs the drink, the sparks of glitter that reveal the beauty of all humans. LGBT people bring a creative approach to humanity by breaking out of the rules and claiming full humanity.
There is a word that is used for people who break the rules, break out of gender boxes and bring a new vision to the world. That word is queer, as in the process of queering, twisting an old notion to see a new face of it. You don't have to be homosexual to be queer, and not all homosexuals want to claim their own queerness. Some people just want to follow the rules, to nicely fit in and some want to claim their own humanity. It is the difference between those who see their role as being normal and those who see their role as being exceptional.
Society grows because of people who see beyond the expected into the possible, and their sexuality doesn't matter. The people who break the rules and create new models of being human are the ones who form the cutting edge, who queer the world. We face the stigma and the challenge of being queer, out of the norm, and gain the rewards of being ourselves, being true to our nature and our hearts.
That's why I use the word queer to define the community I belong to, and why it's important for me to accept anyone else who calls themselves queer into that group, no matter what their sexual practices, as long as they acccept me. It is the people who are ready and willing to break the rules to become more whole and make the world a better place for all who I want to be associated with.
Callan Williams Copyright © 1998
It's the constant question from gays and lesbians: "So, who do transgendered people want to sleep with anyway? How do they identify?"
It's a hard question because when fixed gender roles are gone, homosexual and heterosexual make less sense. Do you desire a man or a male, a gender or a sex? That's an easy question when all men are male, but when some men are born with vaginas, the questions are tougher. Mike Hernandez, who identifies as a gay female to male (ftm) transsexual, or a "transfag," says that men have trouble believing that this little bear, short, bald and bearded, still has a vagina. "I tell them I'm not male and they don't believe me, but I know that if they probably aren't going to find what they are looking for in my pants.
Politically, most transpeople identify as bisexual, if only because they demand their partners accept both the male and female, masculine and feminine parts of them. That doesn't mean that they have an equal desire for all other gender presentations, for each trans person's desire is as unique as they are.
For many transpeople, holding on to desire means holding onto a fixed gender role. Many butch lesbians, for example, hold onto their own lesbian identity no matter how manly they become, because they don't want to become straight men and leave the lesbian world. When a female impersonator, who was on hormones, had long hair and electrolysis and even breast implants, was asked how long she was living as a woman, she replied that she was still a gay man. She did that because she knew that losing that identity would mean becoming a straight woman and losing her community. Male crossdressers, no matter how much they love wearing women's garb while being with their female partners, identify as straight men because if they didn't they would have to become lesbians and live by a whole new set of rules. Most drag queens are also very clear that they are gay men.
This goes so far that many of these people who definitely transgress gender rules choose not to identify as transgendered because they don't want to cloud their primary identification, the one they base their partnering on.
What al this comes down to is simple: Sex, Gender Identity/Aspect, Gender Role and Sexual Orientation are all separate issues. One may be male, feel feminine, live as a man and love women, may be female, feel masculine, live as a man and love men, and on and on in a wide variety of combinations.
Transgendered people express gender to express their own gender identity, how they feel inside, rather than creating a gender expression, a look and behaviors designed to attract a partner. While transgendered people may want some hypothetical hetero/opposite partner who contrasts with them, or some hypothetical homo/same partner who is the same as them, the odds are that their desire is more rich and complex than that.
The challenge for transgendered people, as it is for every human, is to balance the expression of their own unique heart with the demands of community and others we are in relationship with. They need to both be wild enough to show themselves and tame enough to get the love, money and others things they need from the world. This balance is very hard, because the world has put transgender expression beyond the bounds of normalcy, so transgendered people rarely learn to be accepted and loved for themselves, and lose the opportunity of being shaped by culture into a harmonious role that is both self satisfying and effective in society.
So who do transgendered people want to sleep with? You can't tell just from looking at them, because their gender expression tells you more about who they are than who they desire. There is one sure-fire way to know though -- just ask them.
Celebration Of Shadow Selves
Callan Williams Copyright © 1998
It's that time again, the time when the veil between this world and the underworld is close, and the shadow selves come out and dance. It's our last real public celebration, Halloween, where we disguise ourselves so that the spirits won't consume us. By putting on a mask we conceal our everyday identity and we put on a mask that reveals the spirits that lurk inside of us, in the shadows.
Carl Jung was very big on the idea of shadow selves, that every human is whole but that some of our parts are concealed in the shadows. Jung felt that by learning to embrace those parts of us that we keep hidden we learn to be more in balance, more centered, more whole. Halloween is the time to let those shadow selves come out and dance, to acknowledge that the shadows that can destroy us are the ones that live inside of us.
For gays and lesbians, Halloween has always been a special day of play, the day to drag out the pumps or to stuff that rolled up sock in our levis. It is a chance to explore the edges of who we are, and though that exploration, feel more complete.
The first question asked of many transgendered people is "Why do you have to actually show your transgender? Can't you just keep it inside, think & feel anyway you want, but not show it?" The answer to that question is simple: if we keep our self in the shadows, never symbolize who we are, we can never learn about what we really feel. By expressing our secret desires we learn what parts of them we love, and what parts of them are just shadows. David Hare said "the act of writing is the act of discovering what you believe," just as the act of symbolizing any of our feelings is the act of discovering what is true.
The difference between a costume and an outfit is that it is clear that their is disconnect between someone and their costume. Our business suit may be a costume, but it is a well fitting and well tailored outfit that fits us well, thereby looking natural, rather than the harem girl costume which only represents a part of us and doesn't fit us quite as well. Teenagers understand this difference, as they go though many costumes in trying to find outfits that both fit well and well represent who they are in society.
This Halloween, though is a good time to play with costumes that show parts of us that we don't let out everyday. We can claim our inner drag king or drag queen, a stylized character, having a good time exploring parts of us that we have learned to keep hidden in the midst of the "normal" expectations of everyday society. We can swing the pendulum wide, going past where we fear going beyond what a good woman does, or what a man does, and finding new ways to be human that use other tones and values from the full palette of humanity.
The proclamation is clear: The Official Celebration Of Shadow Selves is declared! On All Hallows Eve, you are fully empowered to let out the spirits that live inside you, to explore parts of you that you have kept hidden! You can perform in a new character, a new persona, a new role, and though that performance, you can both show a new part of you and find out something about yourself. It is a time for play, a time for freedom and a time for growth.
Have a good time on Halloween . If you really indulge yourself, embracing the shadows inside you, you just might find that you not only had fun, but that you also feel a little better about yourself too.
Truth Or Lies
Callan Williams Copyright © 1998
So, when you see a transgendered person, do you think that they are trying to lie about their body or that they trying to tell the truth about their heart? Is crossing gender lines about trying to fool others or fool yourself, or is it about trying to enlighten people about the fact that the contents of our mind, heart and soul may not match the expectations that they get from out body?
At the 1987 CDG&LCC//NCBI "Building Bridges" workshop, our small group trainer chose to call me, a visibly transgendered woman, "he." I asked her why she did that. Was it the dress, the earrings, the tights, the shoes, the makeup, the hair or something else that told her that I saw myself as a man?
I was putting out lots of messages that I do not see myself as a man, or at least that I am not very good at being a man, because my heart is in a more feminine place. Yet, she quickly determined that I had gone though puberty as a male, was born with a penis, so to her, I must be a man. "I loan my dresses to friends who dress in drag, and they want to be seen as men," she said. I noted that I was not wearing her dress -- i was wearing my dress, a woman's dress. I may have been born male, but I was making the choices of a woman, and I wanted my choices to be honored, not the accident of my birth. I was trying to tell the truth about who I am.
Many of us know what it feels like to be surfaced, erased, silenced by stereotypes, by expectations based on our body rather than our heart. I told some people at the workshop that I had imagined having a cassette on stage, playing "People," coming out and beginning to lip synch, then looking quizzical. I would leave the stage, coming back with a sledge hammer and smash the tape player to bits, and then, regaining my composure, would say to the audience, "Excuse me. For a moment there, I thought I was a drag queen."
"That's really powerful," said one black man. "I always think of transgendered people as drag queens, and that surprises me. " I appreciated his understanding, but wondered if he ever had the desire to tell people that as a black man he wasn't a drug dealer or janitor. This is someone who knows what it is to be confined by stereotypes, to have his truth erased by social expectation, yet he was ready to put expectations on others.
The truths that transgendered people, that queer people, and other marginalized people attempt to speak in this world often appear contradictory. We try to express our own inner nature, and people see that nature as a lie because it contradicts their expectations and assumptions about the boundaries between people, says that the separations that they think exist between sexes, genders, colors, races, and so on are not true, are unfair and unjust limits.
The one thing that I would ask people to understand about transgender expression is that it is an attempt to tell the truth about part of ourselves, part of us that doesn't fit neatly in the gendered expectations assigned to us when people saw our crotch at birth. It doesn't matter if that expression is just a costume we wear one night that shows one of our shadow selves, an inner persona, or if that is a fully developed and natural expression that we have tailored to fit ourselves smoothly and neatly.
Transgender expression is the attempt to tell a truth that society would rather we keep hidden, just like claiming our own sexual nature is telling a truth that many would prefer be kept in the bedroom. It is claiming the call of our heart in a world where the demand to be like everyone else, to meet expectations, even when those expectations are limiting and destructive, is key. We lie about parts of our past to tell the truth about our heart, to claim the right to transform and be all we can be.
Neils Bohr said "The opposite of a truth is a lie, but the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth." We tell a profound truth about who we are, even though it contradicts the expectations that society has written on our body. We claim our truth back from those who seek to hide it for their own comfort, and isn't that the challenge all marginalized humans face?
Callan Williams Copyright © 1998
"The big problem with the community here seems to be a resistance to actually enjoying each other. There is very little celebration and joy here. People just don't smile at each other, thank each other, have fun and laugh with each other." This was the summary of one of the NCBI trainers during the September 1997 "Building Bridges" workshop.
Is laughter actually the key to building a community? Does joy work better than suffering at finding common ground? Humor is, after all, the only known effective social lubricant, that shared moment of dropping our defenses and seeing that underneath we are all just humans who were once children, and still are, in our hearts full of childlike pain and joy.
The opposite of laughter is earnest engagement, a sort of dull and heartfelt engagement of the pain and suffering that we, as queer kids, have suffered. For many of us, we have learned to be our wounds, to feel so pained and oppressed that laughter and smiles are a betrayal of the suffering that has brought us to this place. We play small, honoring each others pain, ready to snap at any insensitive remark, at any hint of misunderstanding.
Is joy inherently undignified? Do we give up our right to feel pain when we choose to laugh and celebrate? Do we dishonor the suffering of others and ourselves when we show our own happiness? Does our own delight betray the oppression that still exists in this world?
There is a great tradition of oppressed people who have seen that humor is the best way to face a difficult world, who have chosen to bind together in joy and celebration rather than in pain and suffering. From the joyous notes of a Black church to the delight in a Jewish festival to the rich humor that grew out of queer traditions, laughter has often been the secret ingredient that lightened the heart and revealed the absurdity of the people who choose to keep us down. Humor has sweetened the message of resistance and sent it into the hearts of many who could not hear it otherwise.
Is RuPaul a queen of queer liberation or a clown who allows people to laugh at the suffering of queers? Your response to that question is a good indicator of how you feel about the value of humor and joy as a part of our common struggle. While a movement needs a wide range of people, and a movement of all RuPaul and no Urvashi Vaid or Barney Frank would not get anywhere, we each play our part in our own way. It's easy to say "I am doing it right and they are doing it wrong," but doesn't that miss the point of true liberation? Our challenge is to do our own work right so that others are free to do their own work in own their way.
Do we lead with a sigh and a moan, or with a smile and a laugh? Do we open our hearts to humor, or does laughter betray the real suffering that we face? How do we respond to big, smiling, laughing and funny people?
The Capital District is known for being an earnest and flat place, where queer humor doesn't go over well. The sense of play and joy that allows us to laugh at ourselves and our challenges just seems to be missing. "We are able to laugh when we achieve detachment, if only for a moment." said May Sarton. To laugh is to be able to see the world in context, to step out from behind our pain and open to the other possibilities, if only for a moment.
Linda Ellerbee, a breast cancer survivor, said "Most of all, I've learned that a good time to laugh is anytime you can."
Are you ready to laugh, open yourself up for a moment, and find the joy that connects us? It seems to be an important question.
Chutzpah To Be Queer
Callan Williams Copyright © 1998
To be queer requires one thing: that you stand up for what you believe in the face of a society that doesn't agree with you. If they agreed with you, your choices would be normative and not transgressive, straight and not queer. Being queer is inherently confrontational, confronting systems, structures and attitudes that are designed to keep order by keeping contrary opinions silent and demanding your right to be an individual, to follow your own calling, your own beliefs, your own heart.
I was watching a number of the leaders of the transgender community, out people like Leslie Feinberg, Kate Bornstein, Riki Ann Wilchins and Rachel Pollack and I suddenly felt the urge to become trans-hebraic, to embody some of the chutzpah that let them lead. With a tradition of being a minority culture, the Jews have a history of confrontation, of talmudic arguments where active intellectual engagement is rewarded, of encouraging their children to question and challenge the limits, to become more than their parents, a love of education that allows the mind to be sharpened though debate, an embracing of diversity. Many Jews believe that their children must be exposed to a wide ranging culture, and have been instrumental in campaigns for human rights and fair treatment though the ages, making trouble in order to make good. To Jews, engagement of wrongs is a scared and high calling.
I mentioned this to one of the board members of Society For The Second Self, a group of self diagnosed heterosexual crossdressers who advocate effective assimilation as a man while expressing transgendered nature only in a limited way. They argue for keeping primarily a normative sex-gender linked role and fight any intimation of queerness, being built on a foundation that defines clear and explicit separations between crossdressers, transsexuals and homosexuals.
"Funny," this board member said. "I don't know any Jews on the board of SSS." Is it odd that while Jews lead in queer causes, they don't in causes that argue for assimilation? Probably not, because the issues of assimilation and passing, hiding our identities, histories and beliefs to fit in, are issues that have always been hotly debated in the Jewish community. Jews know that passing, hiding, destroys communities, destroys families, and ultimately allows others to destroy you because you cannot stand up for your own rights and freedoms.
In the GLBT world today, we can often see the line between the pleasers, who avoid conflict, and the people who have the chutzpah to confront issues and ideas, even to confront the ideas that give them comfort. Pleasers want to make changes quietly, invisibly, and often end up using manipulation and convert control behaviors to get what they want rather than being open and confronting the ideas, issues and challenges. For many, we learn not to trust these pleasers, who are trying only to figure out how to tell us what we want to hear, no matter what their actual beliefs are, or what they will fallow though on. We long for the refreshing, if challenging, honesty of the people who speak their mind, who don't try to avoid confrontation, but to deal with it in straightforward and fair ways, trying to find solutions and answers that are consistent and that can get mutual agreement.
Of course, too much of anything is too much. People who are too confrontational can easily learn to fight everyone, not trusting anyone who agrees with them, or doubting themselves if people don't argue with them. People who avoid confrontation also create problems, where trust, resiliency and honesty are eroded by conflicts left to fester rather than agreed upon, by manipulative techniques that appear duplicitous or insincere.
To be queer, though, demands the chutzpah to be honest and confront the hard issues. To be effective and queer demands both that and the grace & openness to be sensitive and understanding of other people's issues, looking for shared solutions that can be effective and not just demands that are divisive.
For me, who grew up in a home where going along to get along was the norm, where the possibility of getting what we need and want by standing up for ourselves was seen as asking for our own destruction, I keep finding I could use a little more chutzpah. I learn from people who stand up for themselves, who have learned to engage others in conflict gracefully, to fight for their position, and to believe in their right to be a unique human.
When I lived outside of NYC as a kid, I saw the ads with the Native-American eating a slice of rye bread, and the slogan "You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's." NYC was always a pluralistic culture, where diversity was honored, where Irishmen loved kosher delis and Jews ate Chinese food. It was a place where people learned from each other, and everybody had little rainbow in their heart. To be queer requires we stand up for ourselves, and for me, that means that "You don't have to be Jewish to have chutzpah."
"Growing up gay and Jewish in a
small Southern town
made my condition as an outsider very clear.
Like most gay people, I encountered a lot of homophobia.
Like most Jewish people in this culture,
I come from a tradition of proud declaration of my identity.
Being Jewish taught me how to be gay and
being gay taught me to be Jewish."
--Angels in America playwright Tony
to Minneapolis' Star-Tribune, April 15.
We Proud Of?
Callan Williams Copyright © 1997
What do we have to be proud about? Why are thousands of people standing out here on this hot and sunny day, proclaiming their pride?
Are we proud that we can have sexual relations with another person? Is this the message that we want to send to the world that we are out her to claim pride in our sexual prowess, our abilty to copulate?
I don't think so. After all, our love for other humans is not particularly rare or special -- people have been loving other people, building families and building communities since the beginning of time. And since the beginning of time, that love has both been between members of opposite sexes and between members of the same sex.
Are we proud of engaging in homosexual acts? We are no more proud of that than people who engage in any form of non-procreative sex. Today is not a day when we claim pride in homosexuality.
If we are not out here to claim extraordinary pride in our being gay or lesbian, or even bisexual, what are we out here to claim pride in?
I believe that each and every one of us is here to show our pride in one thing. That one thing is claiming our own uniqueness, claiming our own heart, from a society that wants to make us all normal.
We stand here together on this June day not claiming pride in sexuality but pride in boldly singing the song that God taught us, as Brian McNaught says. Everyone, from the dykes on bykes to the P-Flag members, the "straight-but-not-narrow" people who join us today, can claim this simple pride: the pride in simply being who we are, in following our hearts, no matter how much many in this culture want us to march to another tune.
The message we hear from conservatives is simple: "If we don't approve of it, don't follow the love in your hearts! God may have put queerness in your hearts, but to be good, holy and righteous citizens, you must deny that love, you must swallow it, must lock it away!"
Conservatives tell us that we should be ashamed of who we are, ashamed of the way we were made. They tell us that the love we feel in our hearts is simply a burden we must hide away for the good of the culture and for our eternal salvation. They tell us that our desire to be who we feel we are inside is shameful and must be hidden.
Today, we stand together and proclaim that we will follow the love in our hearts. We will be the people we were created to be, no matter how uncomfortable that makes some people.
It is wrong to hurt other people, this is true. Is it wrong to shock, offend or disquiet other people? I would argue that it is not -- it's simply free speech, free expression, the rights this country was built on and that so many died to protect. We stand today to express our love, while many of those who claim to love us, claim to love their fellow humans want to say that we should not show our love -- that our love should be silent, the love that dare not speak its name.
Gay pride is not about gay sex, not about what is done furtively and clandestinely in darkened rooms.
Gay pride is about the pride in following the voice of our heart, about letting our light shine in the world. It is about celebrating the diversity, the queerness that exists in each and every one of us.
That is why this Pride parade is not called "Gay Pride," just Pride. It is not about pride in being gay, it is about the pride we hold in claiming our humanity, in celebrating the diversity of humans, in following our own hearts and encouraging others to follow theirs in the face of a culture that wants us to deny our shining rainbow of diversity just to fit in.
Whoever you are out there, whatever you do, today you can stand in the sunlight and be proud, not of having sex, but of claiming your own unique humanity. Whoever you love, however you love, whoever you are and however you live, be proud that you have taken charge of your own life. You have faced the naysayers and simply decided to be yourself.
We are family, and the love we share is not just sex, but the love of family, the love of community. We do not come together to claim our own separate love, to cut ourselves off, but rather to claim our place in the broader community. We invite anyone who is willing to open their hearts, both to their own call of love and to the love of other humans, to join with us, as we join with all that truly seek to empower others to be all that they can be.
You don't have to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered to have to face the limits of gendering that society lays down, to be forced to grow up out of old routines and claim your full humanity -- but it helps. It helps because it is when we face challenges in life, face the obligation to move beyond simple repetition, we end up realizing the simple truth that we are all profoundly human, no matter how different we each may be.
Whatever the mark that people use to try to separate you -- your race, your creed, your body, your size, your love or anything else -- it is when you embrace that difference that you can come to the essence of the truth about humanity. in the end, it is the love we hold for others and how we choose to act from that love that is all that counts. "And in the end, the love you make is equal to the love you take."
This is the pride that we claim today, the pride that we have decided not to swallow our hearts, swallow our love, but to follow our love. It is not pride in our gayness, bi-ness or any other "ness," but pride in boldly showing our love to the world, pride in giving and sharing love, pride in revealing and opening our hearts that each one of us claims here today.
What do we have to be proud about? We are proud of our humanity, proud of our choice to follow our own human voice, follow our own hearts. We have followed our love, shown it to the world, and that is something that anyone can be proud of. We stand here with all those who have decided to follow spirit, decided to celebrate diversity, those who are proud of who they are, rather than hiding to make others more comfortable in denying the reality of love.
We are proud of who we are, and proud of our brothers and sisters who stand with us, here and around the country, we are proud of simply being loving, simply being human.
We are proud to be who we are, who our creator made us. And that is enough
A Wound Wrapped in A Rationalization.
Callan Williams Copyright © 1998
The Japanese have a saying: "The nail that sticks up gets pounded down." As queers, we understand that saying quite well -- we were the nail that stuck out, and we felt the effect of society pounding us down to try to get into the box marked "normal." Each one of us faced the stigma about just being who we are, learned to use the wounds we got from that pounding to oppress ourselves, learned to use the fear of being pounded again to keep our nature hidden, at least some of the time. Our wounds, and the dread of being wounded again, are what we use to oppress ourselves and squeeze ourselves in closets.
As I was clicking around last night, I caught a few minutes of Caroline Myss on why people don't heal. She was speaking of how forgiveness is the key to moving on with life, to healing, but that most people refuse to forgive because that means letting go of their wounds and accepting change into their life, change that is much scarier than the fear they have learned to live with.
Myss talked of the five beliefs that are the root of refusing to forgive, refusing to heal.
1) I am my wounds. If I give up my wounds, I will lose my identity.
2) If I become healthy, I will be alone. I can't be vulnerable, open and healing at the same time.
3) Pain is my guardian, keeping me vigilant. We should all be in pain in order to live a full life.
4) All illness is caused by negativity, so any illness I have is caused by the negativity others have brought into my life, by my emotional wounds.
5) Real change is not possible. People can't really transform.
How do people who hold the rationalizations they bind their wounds with as more important than healing. Too many people prefer to strike out to defend their own illness rather than to face their own twists, expose their own wounds and start the healing process. They deny the forgiveness that starts healing to hold the pain that keeps them wounded.
Facing the challenges of life, of healing, believing in transformation requires a willingness to move past our wounds, being bold in simply facing life. To take on the challenges that make us more sure of who we are at the core requires a willingness to see beyond our own pain, to see a bigger world and our place in it.
One of the things that society fears is that people will see a bigger world and their place in it, rather than just following the constraints on society into an approved path.
How do we convince people that transformation is possible, that only by facing themselves can they heal? How do we tell them that attacking and trying to break the mirrors where they see themselves reflected in an unpleasant way does not do anything but keep them wounded?
I have a dream, a dream of a queer support group where people can stand up and claim their own healing rather than feeling obligated to honor the wounds of others. I imagine a group where, when someone stands and says "I finally got the promotion to vice president, so now I can buy the BMW!" people celebrate, rather than hissing "How can you be so insensitive? There are people here without jobs?" If it is true that the pain and injustice of one of us is the pain of us all, then isn't the success of one of us the success of us all?
How can we celebrate healing and not just wounds?
Callan Williams Copyright © 1998
What is pride? What are we saying here today when we stand up and declare ourselves proud?
What we are saying is what Aretha said so well so many years ago:
Find out what it means to me!
Unfortunately, this is a society where many people have trouble respecting the basic human dignity, grace and power that is born into every baby. This is a society where people are taught that it is OK to treat someone without respect for them if we disagree with them or with their choices.
We have some out there who sweep entire groups of people out of the possibility of being respected with one blow: "I can't respect anyone I see as a sinner." "I can't respect anyone who doesn't go to the same church I do." "I can't respect anyone who makes choices I wouldn't make for myself."
Most of us here today were taught that the messages our heart gave us, the messages of who we loved, of the calling we felt, those messages where inherently unworthy of respect. We were taught that the only way we could be respectable was to deny the way our creator made us and to be as other people wanted us to be.
Most of us tried to do that, to hide and kill off the parts of us that others saw as not respectable. To do that, though meant that we had to lose something very valuable, very key to who we are: we had to lose our own self-respect. The more we believed that our essence was unworthy of respect, the more we believed that we, as individuals, were unworthy of respect.
The pain of having to live with a heart that is not respectable, of having to hide in every moment, is a pain that can cripple a person, a pain that can cause a person to strike out at others and at themselves. We seek affirmation that we are good people, worthy of respect, but we cannot accept that affirmation when it comes, because in our minds we believe in the lessons of disrespect we have been taught.
Why are we here today, gathered together and proclaiming pride? We are here today to make a bold statement to the world: Each and every human is worthy of respect, dignity and basic human rights. The golden rule doesn't let us judge people before treating them as we would want to be treated, rather it calls for respecting your neighbor as yourself.
We gather together to demand the basic respect for how our creator made us. As long as we are not harming another person by our choices, then our choices are human and must be respected -- at least by people who want their choices to be respected.
There will be some out there who will say that respect must be earned. I agree. Yet, no one can earn the respect of someone who refuses to open their mind to the possibility of respecting people different than they are. We don't ask for special rights, unearned respect, but we ask for basic rights that allow us the possibility of sharing our gifts in the world in a way that can earn respect, without having to hide and be ashamed of the truth of our hearts.
Every human deserves the respect of at least having a chance to earn the respect of their community, the respect for a continuous common humanity that we all share. When we respect the diverse humanity we see in others, we respect the diverse humanity we hold in our heart, knowing that nothing human is foreign to me.
Today, we stand up and say that the right to be respected for who we are as our creator made us must be fundamental in a free and loving society. We stand in the sunlight to claim our own self respect, a respect that too many others have tried to take from us, telling us that we should be ashamed of who we are, resmorseful, and unworthy of respect unless we killed off our own heart.
It has been shown that humans can live without many things, but what they can't live without is respect, both the respect of their humanity by others who then give them a fair shake, and without the self-respect that empowers and ennobles us. I ask people out there to think about the respect they need in their own lives, how they want to be respected for who they are, not for being able to twist themselves into a pretzel to deny their own hearts.
Today is a day of respect, respect for ourselves and respect for others. This is a very basic lesson, one that is taught in schools, but for most of us here, we missed the day they taught respect for who we were in school, missed it because schools never taught us to respect the queerness that has always been a part of our spirit.
Why isn't there a heterosexual pride day? Because we live in a culture that respects the choices of heterosexuals, even the choices of heterosexuals to commit adultery and get divorces. These may be sins, but they are not worthy of denying basic human respect to a person.
Today is a make-up day for us, a day to make up the lessons we never learned in school -- like the lesson that I needed to learn that I can wear makeup and still be worthy of respect. Today is a day that we go back and try to heal some of the pain we felt when as children we were taught that we were shameful and horrible, and it is a day when by healing that pain, we help make the world a little better for the rainbow of children growing up today.
Find out what it means to me.
I am worthy of respect. You are worthy of respect. We are worthy of respect, no matter what anyone says, because we are humans, made by the same entity that created us all.
Don't disrespect us without giving us a chance. Accept our gifts, insights and hard work without demanding that we package it up without a trace of our hearts in it. We deserve the respect that you would want for yourself.
And if we have a chance to earn that respect, we will rise to the occasion, become vital and important parts of the world we all share, and that building of a better, more diverse and more open world, is something we all can be proud of.