Saturday, May 25, 2013

Kudos to the Boy Scouts....sort of...

So the Boy Scouts of America voted to allow openly gay scouts to be scouts but not troop leaders.  Baby steps have not been uncommon for the scouts when it comes to social change.  It wasn’t until 1974 that the scouts became fully integrated.  Jewish, Asian and African Americans were often forced into their own troops.  In fact at one point when African American scouts were forming troops there was a move to ban them from wearing the uniform.  Separate but unequal or just plain discriminatory was common in the scouts.  My mother didn’t let me join because the recruiter at my school told me I had to have a haircut.  That didn’t sit well with my mom born in 1935 Germany.   But the scouts should be praised for taking what I am sure is a chance on this change.  Let’s be clear, there have always been gay scouts, and gay scout leaders.  There always will be.  When a young boy joins the scouts in 1st grade he may not know his sexual orientation.  Most kids don’t.  Moving up through the years he may not encounter attraction until well within the high school years and by then with most scouts I have known it is just part of who they are, and a big part.  I have helped scouts attain Religious Badges for Judaism and have been to several Eagle Scout ceremonies over the years.  The scouts I encountered in that time have scouting in their blood.  Being gay hardly enters into the mix for them.  Just like being gay doesn’t have a huge impact on being a football player or swimmer. 
What I find amazing is the backlash that can only be described as bigotry.  People are melting down their scout medals and burning patches in protest.  They are disassociating themselves from scouting and spreading lies about sexual abuses that have been a problem for scouting being the result of gay scouts and leaders.  The sheer hate being spewed blinds them from the very essence of what a scout is suppose to be.  But leaving that all behind, they call this the end of scouting, while participating in its demise by not continuing their support.  Basically what has happened is that Boy Scouts of America will allow troops to enroll gay members and not kick out scouts who identify as gay, while maintaining that individual troops can still discriminate.  It is a move that inches toward full inclusion but actually just ends what was a defacto Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. 

But probably the most ridiculous of the comments I see on this is that somehow allowing gay scouts is sexualizing scouts.  This is not a new argument.  The very act of acknowledging gay people is seen by some as sexualizing the situation.  Recently I went to buy perfume with Dianne.  This has been a chore because we don’t seem to like the same things and my favorite perfume never really seemed right on her.  So we sprayed a few on various spots to test, I would lean in to smell or take the wrist to my nose.  When we settled on one she hugged me tight and gave me a big kiss.  Right there in front of God and everybody.  The woman selling to us smiled and made a comment about love.  I described a similar scenario only with two married men I know to someone who then asked me why they have to show their sexuality in public.  When straight people hug, kiss and hold hands in public it is a sign of love.  When gay people do it there are many who see it as sex.  That is not only a double standard it is frightening as to what those people think love is. 
Love, sexual attraction and sexual acts are not the same thing and can be mutually exclusive.  From a purely biological perspective, love is the result of interpreting the arousal you feel due to sexual and emotional attraction to a particular person or persons.  It is somewhat hard wired.  We see someone who we think is attractive; it causes a series of autonomic responses in our body due to chemical releases in the brain and endocrine system.  We approach that person and if they return any interest, those physical feelings continue and get interpreted in that context.  A deep attraction finds one thinking about getting that feeling back and contact with the object of that feeling brings it on.  As this continues and the two people involved share more about themselves, both physically and in their minds (likes, dreams, desires for future) those feelings move to be what we call love.  While some see this as a blending of souls it has been studied and while we can’t explain all the whys and wherefores we know that the initial response is not under the control of the person.  Attraction is not something you can decide.  That goes for gay people and straight people. 

Physical sex is a different thing entirely.  Sex is more the product of physical desire for release and the stimulation that gets you there.  Without getting too graphic, what stimulates and how is not about attraction, desire or orientation.  Many times people have had a sexual encounter with someone they have not found attractive.  In fact people will have same sex encounters given the right set of circumstances.  Prisons are often mentioned in this context.  Prison same-sex encounters are highly complicated because while some are simply for release others are about power and control over another prisoner.  Those that aren’t usually involve straight people who want a partner and there are few female opportunities.  In fact in some of these encounters in men’s prisons the more dominate prisoner will find was to feed the fantasy that the other prisoner is a woman with makeup, lipstick and hair dos.    But a clearer example is the large number of gay individuals who grew up hearing how horrible being gay is trying to build a straight life.  This often includes marriage and children, only to run out of patience and announce the truth or worse carry on affairs that can be dangerous for many reasons. 

Defining a person by who they are sexual attracted to is not only unfair it is ignorant and bigoted.  Gay people are no more likely in most settings to be overly sexual.  While it is true that in certain contexts gay men tend to flaunt sexuality.  But this is more a protest to a culture that never saw them as appropriate for public viewing at all.  I would argue that when gay couples are more normative, men in chaps and tight shorts will be LESS likely to be walking down 5th Avenue in a parade and the Castro district will be just another funky neighbor.  Anti-gay culture drove gay men underground and when they came out, some wanted to be in your face about it.  Many, many, many more just want to be able to be listed with their partners in company directories and obituaries of their parents without losing their jobs, positions in their community organizations or getting kicked out of scouting.  What the people who are so dead set against gays being treated as full humans tend not to understand that their double standards are slowly being lost to history.  But in the mean time the pace is still not fast enough.    


I am both amused and frightened by the growing anger of people who are anti-gay.  I hope for dialogue.  But until that is possible I applaud the Boy Scouts of America for their thoughtful approach and while half a loaf, it is on par with how they have historically expressed change.  Now if the Supreme Court does the right thing in the coming weeks we might all move into an era where gay people are seen as people.  Where the old couple holding hands is cute regardless of whether they are two men, two women or a man and woman, and that the marriage of two people of the same sex is celebrated in every college newspaper as much as a straight couple.  I can hope.  Join me, it is more fun than holding onto anger.   

Thursday, May 23, 2013

When you Assume....

There is a story that I think is important to note this week  Wolf Blitzer interviewed a survivor of the devastating tornado in Moore, Okla.  "We're happy you're here. You guys did a great job," Blitzer said to Rebecca Vitsmun, who escaped from her house with her 19-month-old son right before the twister tore through it. "You've gotta thank the Lord, right? Do you thank the Lord for that split-second decision?"  Vitsmun stops  for a moment and smiles. "I -- I'm actually an atheist," she said, laughing off the awkward moment.  "You are. All right. But you made the right call," Blitzer said.
"We are here, and I don't blame anyone for thanking the Lord," Vitsmun said.  
Why is this important?  Well where do I begin.  First and foremost this is a prime example what most non-Christians at times and non-believers encounter a lot more than you expect.  People's default position in this country is that people believe in God and then in the Christian vision of God.  Even though people are becoming less religious and people have become more comfortable being publicly stating their atheism.  Not everyone you pass on the street believes in God and if they do they are likely to be envisioning God differently from you.  That is a fact and has been for a long time but we have been hiding from it to remain comfortable.  One of the biggest areas we see this come out is when certain religious people try to use the government to push through their vision of religious law as policy.  Currently it is happening in the gay marriage debate.  It is stunning to me that with the diverse vision of gay people both in and out of the religious community we still have people who are in government or running for office who say, out loud, in front of people, that gays are perverted and it is against American values.  Here is the thing, American values are what Americans decide American values are, and they are ever changing.  
And that brings me to the second point.  This little tete-a-tete became an internet sensation, in part because Wolf looked so deliciously like a fool.  But many many people posted it for the same reason I chose to write about it.  This woman who taught Wolf not to make assumption is actually been seen finally in the tapestry that is our country.   Think about it, suburban Oklahoma City would be a lot of people's image of middle America, and yet here we have a woman who comfortably address a reporter who assumed she prayed to God and received a miracle.  I think this is a turning point as much as electing an atheist to Congress like Peter Stark, former California Congressman and current member of Congress Kyrsten Sinema who was elected in November from Arizona.  Perhaps atheists will slowly move from the angry people who scream on television and who are more antitheists than atheists.  Because in the end I find here final statement so wonderful.  As she said she doesn't blame anyone for thanking God, pulling Wolf's foot out of his mouth, but showing that for her faith is not a problem.  
You see most atheists do not care if you believe in a God or Gods, as long as you don't force it on others or use government to promote your faith.  But this story, while hardly likely to be remembered as a watershed moment by many, it does create a way for us to continue to fill in the lines of what it means to be an American.  I hope we will look back on it and see that Rebecca Vitsmun was a pioneer.  She made us think, and frankly that is the highest honor anyone could have.  

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day Memories

Happy Mother's Day, my first without my mom.  It has been just over one month since she left us.  It is funny, I felt close to my mom but we hadn't lived in the same city since 1983.  We talked on the phone a lot and I liked to visit but she often reminded me how I never got her Mother's Day present to her on time.  But I do feel the empty space that exists.  I won't make the call tomorrow.  I won't tell my mom about the coming Confirmation service.  I won't hear about the doings in my home town, what the weather was like and who of my friends came home for their moms.

The one thing about my mom was that she was never not there.  I mean some times it took a few days to connect, if she didn't answer when I called she may call back when I couldn't answer.  We never left detailed messages because we always knew we would talk.  It was hard near the end when her memory started to fail, but we always had some great conversations.  We could speak about almost anything. and my mom only judged me when I needed to be judged.  She was the only person who could truly get away with it.  I really think I took that for granted.

As a kid I made all the cool things we would make for our parents at Mother's and Father's day. It was a big deal.   But the things I remember the most are coffee cups.  Not just regular coffee mugs, these were enormous and had funky sayings on them.  I can't remember how we bought them or if it was me and brother Bill or if we all did it..  But my dad and mom both had one, in fact I remember we replaced them a few years later when the original ones broke.  My mom drank coffee all day long.  She always had a cup ready and the pot was always on.  So everyday I got to see her using the gift. That always made me happy.  

It is funny, thinking back to the time as a child my mother was a majority of my life.  She made sure I had what I needed within her means, she made me feel proud of my accomplishments and pushed me when I got lazy.  One thing for sure is that she let me be  me growing up and I wish today I could give her something that she could use everyday.  I feel sad that I took her for granted many times in my life, but today I will think about all she did for me to make me who I am.

The Rabbis teach the hardest of the commandments in the Torah is to honor our parents.  One's personal interests often conflict with what our parents wish for us.  But we are still obligated to honor them and in the honoring we may learn to better understand what they did for us.  The main thing is giving us life.  How indebted would you feel if someone pulled you from a burning building saving your life, how much more so should you feel indebted to the parents who gave you that gift to be saved.

On this day, I will remember mom and it will be a blessing.  If you have a mom still living, enjoy the moments you will have.  If you lost your mom take a moment to tell a mom story.  Happy Mother's day to all the moms.  Birth moms, adopted moms, step-moms and all the moms that become moms through circumstances of marriage, work or friendship.

And to my friends who are celebrating their first mother's day I hope the day is special beyond special.



RIP Anthony Bourdain and We Must All Be More Aware

This morning I woke up with a little spring in my step.  It is Friday, Shabbat is almost here.  I can work outside this weekend for a bit a...