Ostrich Feathers and Harvey Milk

Ostriches don’t actually put their heads in the sand, but the idiom has been around in the English language long enough that the idea has a life of its own. The ostrich, so the myth goes, buries its head in the sand to avoid seeing upsetting things: if it can’t see the approaching lion, then death by lion is not a possibility. A real ostrich would kick the shit out of any lion foolish enough to attack, but that’s not the point, obviously.

The point is, I act a lot like that fictional ostrich. Denial is my favorite tool when faced with things I feel overwhelmed by. Americans will be voting in a few weeks, myself amongst them. Over the next few weeks I’ll be researching myriad California propositions and candidates for local and state offices, and I’ll vote. But I feel like it’s a bit like pissing into the wind.

I was deeply involved in the No on 8 campaign here in California two years ago, attempting to block passage of Proposition 8, which made same-sex marriage illegal under California’s constitution. When Prop 8 passed, I felt defeated. I’ve tried, since then, to recapture my sense that I can make a difference, that I can be a part of bringing about social change. But… I don’t believe it.

For every out and proud LGBTQ friend who is doing as martyred gay activist Harvey Milk exhorted: “Burst[ing] down those closet doors once and for all, and stand[ing] up and start to fight.”  — I know two who are still in the closet, too afraid to tell their parents, their friends, the people who matter to them most, the truth about who they are.

For every sermon preached from the pulpits of the world’s Metropolitan Community Churches, telling of the Creator’s love for all of us, there are ten sermons being preached by the likes of the Mormon Church’s Boyd K. Packer, that Queers are unnatural perversions who deserve no place in creation, and no place in society.

For every hand-holding queer couple in North America or Western Europe, there is another facing death for daring to love one another in Africa and the Middle East.

Young people here in the United States are killing themselves because that closet is so isolating, that message of hate so compelling. They are looking at their futures stretching out in front of them, and finding life as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, transsexual, queer individual so bleak that death is preferable.

And I feel powerless to do anything about it but weep. I hate my weakness. I hate myself for every appeal I get from the Human Rights Campaign that I ignore, because part of me feels there’s no point in trying anymore. I hate myself for being afraid of people wearing crosses, and for avoiding friends who are believers of those faiths that condemn Queers, for giving up trying to be friends with them.

I hate myself for playing ostrich, and turning my head away.

I’ve tried to live as if I could make a difference. I believed that by being out and being myself, being a good person, I could be a force for change. I believed that by being one of the few Queer people those friends from condemning faiths knew, I might change their opinions about us. I believed in Harvey Milk’s imperative: “I cannot prevent anyone from getting angry, or mad, or frustrated. I can only hope that they’ll turn that anger and frustration and madness into something positive, so that two, three, four, five hundred will step forward, so the gay doctors will come out, the gay lawyers, the gay judges, gay bankers, gay architects … I hope that every professional gay will say ‘enough’, come forward and tell everybody, wear a sign, let the world know. Maybe that will help.”

I still want to believe it. I want to believe that I can make a difference. I want to believe that the time I spent last night talking to a woman who is afraid to come out to her parents and friends might somehow give her the courage to be who she is. I want to believe that the hours I’ve spent crafting careful responses to in-the-closet bloggers’ posts about their isolation and fears have helped them open their closet doors. I want to believe that I’ve made a difference, that I’ve, if nothing else, sowed a little seed of doubt in the minds of those acquaintances I have whose churches are telling them Queers are abominations.

I want to believe that in my lifetime marriage equality will be a reality. That in my lifetime it will become as socially unacceptable to call someone a fagot as it is to call them a nigger. I want to believe that I will never again hear a roll call of names of LGBTQ teens who killed themselves in despair.

Monday, October 11 is National Coming Out Day, as good a time as any to take my head out of the sand. I’ll do my best to keep believing.

Let me leave you with one more Harvey Milk quote: “I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you… And you… And you… Gotta give em hope.”

If you’re Queer, and you’re not yet out: come out. Even if it’s just a little. Come out to one person. Come out, if to no one else, to yourself. And if you’re a Straight person who loves someone Queer, come out as a supporter. Tell someone you’re proud of your gay son, your transgendered sister, your bisexual friend. Tell your bigoted co-worker his jokes are offensive. Tell your congressional representative it’s time for discrimination to end.

And then tell me. Please tell me. Tell me and every other worn out, down-hearted Queer person you know, who despairs for the future. Because we need that hope, too.


~ by Nezu on 9 October 2010.

29 Responses to “Ostrich Feathers and Harvey Milk”

  1. You do make a difference – you made one when your pupil came out the other day. And by being out, you don’t even know the differences you might be making, where you just don’t get feedback about it.

  2. Dang! Ignore the pupil remark, I totally got the blogger wrong. But the rest of it hold true. Oops.

  3. If you actually read President Packer’s talk from General Conference, I think you’ll find that he didn’t say what all the up-in-arms activists are claiming he did. His message is not that queers are “unnatural perversions who deserve no place in creation, and no place in society,” as you put it, but that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, those who truly desire to change can change. His actual words were: “Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn temptations toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Remember, God is our Heavenly Father.

    Paul promised that “God . . . will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” You can, if you will, break the habits and conquer an addiction and come away from that which is not worthy of any member of the Church.”

    He was not speaking specifically of homosexuality, but of any who is struggling to overcome “what they feel are inborn temptations toward the impure and unnatural.” A lot of people struggle with a lot of things–think of those who have attractions to children, for example, and fight not to act on them. It’s not their fault they have this attraction, and God didn’t give it to them as an essential part of their character. Rather, President Packer is saying, it’s a temptation to be conquered, just as we all have temptations and trials we need to overcome. No one is condemned to be a slave to his urges. For those who truly wish to change, repentance offers a way out.

    Please note, though, that he did not say that urges of any kind could be erased–only overcome. That may mean a lifetime of not acting on them. God doesn’t always take away our challenges, but he does make us able to bear them.

    • Lesbian and gay people, same-gender loving ADULT relationships are NOTHING like ADULTS who prey on Children – and the comparison is insulting. One gives life, the other takes it.

      • I apologize for awkwardly wording what I meant to say, which is that those who experience temptations of any kind which they believe are wrong and upon which they do not act may find comfort in President Packer’s words about resisting temptation.

    • I did read it, Ki, and it’s exactly that passage that drove my paraphrasing. That passage says that same-sex attraction is “impure and unnatural” and that it is “not worthy of any member of the Church.”

      And you equating adult same-sex attraction to pedophilia is perhaps the most hurtful thing you have ever said to me.

      It’s exactly that kind of thinking that I’m upset about. No one but the most debased would say that it is right for an adult to have sexual relations with a child, or that a child is capable of consent to such a thing. To equate my affection for a consenting adult partner of the same sex to the perversity of a pedophile’s attraction to his victim is a gross slander.

      Can’t you see how a queer teenager, listening to that rhetoric, might indeed turn to self-loathing and despair?

      (Also, I’ve fixed your previous comment to make your link work.)

      • Nezu, I didn’t mean for the pedophilia example to be equating. I meant that President Packer addressed his remarks to EVERYONE who struggled with a temptation they feel is “impure”, and that this group includes many more people than gays–people who recognize an attraction they believe is wrong and who fight not to act on it. Perhaps I did not choose the best example. I apologize for hurting you.

        However, I must stand by my belief that those who truly wish to resist what they believe are temptations can do so with God’s help. President Packer’s remarks were a call for those who struggle to not give up; to realize that they can control their actions, if not their desires; to have faith that God will support them in their trials. Can you see how a Mormon teenager struggling with same-sex attraction can find comfort in knowing that, with God’s help, he will be able to bear?

    • it’s discourteous, to come to a queer blog and talk the way you have. most queer bloggers show a lot of respect for peoples’ beliefs, whether or not they share those beliefs.

      • I came to the blog of a friend to try to explain the words of a man whom I believe to be a prophet of God. Since my attempts have apparently caused hurt instead of opening a discussion, I’ll refrain from commenting further.

    • Many lesbian and gay people have tried to ‘resist’ their natural same-sex attractions and as a rule it just doesn’t turn out very well. A lesbian or gay teen who is taught to deny their very being does not find comfort in these words, but a prison from which there is no escape except leaving the church, and since that would result in disassociation, they have a choice: suffer or suffer. That really is the choice. So, no, I don’t find it comforting.

      I understand the repentance principal, and I agree with it to a point – but, I don’t believe homosexuality is a sin, nor do I believe anyone has to repent from it. If you’re not a homosexual it’s a lot easier to condemn those who are.

    • Hey, Ki. I don’t want to leap all over you, because you are my friend too, but I feel there has been a basic miss-step of communication here.

      President Packer is saying, [pedophilia is] a temptation to be conquered, just as we all have temptations and trials we need to overcome. No one is condemned to be a slave to his urges. For those who truly wish to change, repentance offers a way out.

      As people have already pointed out, this was definitely not the most sensitive comparison to make, but I’d like to put that aside. My issue is with Packer’s basic message, which is that homosexuality is something wrong and sinful, a set of corrupt desires to be overcome, and something unholy to be battled against in order for the afflicted individual to make it to heaven.

      I don’t believe that. On so many levels, I don’t believe that.

      I don’t believe that I am unworthy of love because my basic nature leads me to love one gender over another. I don’t believe that I am any less deserving of rights — the right to marry, to have a family, to live a peaceful life — because I love women more than men. I don’t believe that I should be denied a place in God’s love because of who I love, and because I act on that love.

      I think that is wrong, unfair, and immoral.

      You suggested that gay Mormon teenagers could take some comfort from the idea that, with God’s help, they could endure a life of self-denial and, I would suggest, public persecution. But I don’t think there can be any kind of peace in the knowledge that your creator, the Lord that you love, finds some essential part of you entirely unlovable. And unforgivable.

      I don’t believe in a Christian God, but that thought makes my heart hurt. I cannot imagine how soul-rending it would be to someone born into that kind of faith.

  4. and, this Ki, is exactly the problem – faith that says people have to repent and resist their inborn sexualities, due to a misinterpretation and misunderstanding of scripture. It’s wrong. As wrong as when the church enforced right handedness, as wrong as when it saw blacks and whites as separate races meant to be separated, as wrong as wrong can be. Gay and Lesbian people are a part of the natural diversity of the world (just as same-gender loving animals are) .. it IS natural (for us).

    If you are reading and are an LGBT person tired of being BASHED by the bible, read about the interpretations yourself, at the websites of Metropolitan Community Churches or Soulforce. Don’t be afraid anymore. God loves and created us just the way we are.

  5. *hugs* Straight-but-not-narrow me says: I support you. I support my gay choirmaster and his spouse. And lots of other folks. I DO believe that gay marriage will be legal in our lifetimes.

    Hang in there, and heads up!

  6. I hear your call to share and I will do my best. Before I write that blog post however, there is one important thing that needs to be said. You have made a difference in one person’s life that has had a big impact on her and will continue to influence how she views life. And that person is my young daughter.

    She will never look at people the same way in her life as other children might who did not have friends like you. And for that wonderful experience I thank you from the depths of my heart. Teaching children to view the world with a wide open heart is how we create change in the world.

    • Thank you, anet. I’m so grateful to have you and your daughter in my life. You are both a blessing to me, in so many ways.

  7. Love you hon – my response is on DW, and I don’t have much to add here other than to add my voice to RevTJE’s.

    • Thank you, Lass. What you said there was beautiful, and I cherish it. Thank you for being another pastoral voice in this discussion, too. Your love means so much to me.

  8. Amazing how otherwise compassionate people can describe a whole section of people in a hurtful way and then get surprised when those people are hurt/angered by it.

    People don’t understand the history of civil rights at all 😦

    • So true, me. I’ve been so shocked and hurt by what my friend said, it’s been hard for me to hear the other voices here, but I am so very, very grateful for you and your support.

  9. Faith, by definition (and no matter how beautiful much of it might be) by definition contains blind spots. I don’t think your friend intends to be unkind, simply explain. But the faith/blind spot gets in the way.

  10. …Which is contrary to the tenets of any decent religion I.e. Love and compassion.

  11. […] homophobia, identity, labels, lesbian, lgbt, lgbtq, lgbtqi, moffie, queer 0 i commented on a butch blog the other day and it started me thinking a little further than my comments […]

  12. I can understand feeling dissolusioned with the fight. I think you are making a difference though and I hope you can continue to do so even as you feel so hurt and down.

    Reading your blog reminded me of what Dan Savage and his partner Terry are trying to do with the “It gets better project”. I watched his video and several others and found them rather inspiring and I’m a (mostly) straight but open minded person.

    perhaps you can find some encouragement yourself and consider making your own video here: http://www.youtube.com/user/itgetsbetterproject

  13. Something to keep in mind — when people see their entire way of living changing, and that change is scary, they fight back a million times harder. The outbursts of LGBTQ negativity are a good sign: it means like it or not, things are changing. And the homophobic people know it.


  14. […] a recent post, I upset a Mormon friend. She in turn upset me (and a few other readers of this blog) and it was […]

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