The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense
By: Lori Heine
It has been almost ten years since I came out. Listening to many of my GLBT Christian friends agonize over how to talk to the straights in their lives about their sexuality, I realize that most of them go about it in the same ineffective way I did. They bring up the subject (more often it is brought up for them), and are promptly pummeled with the same, tired old arguments. We, as a community, are still being pushed around by the same bullies after all these years. It's time this ninety-pound weakling discovered Charles Atlas.
Those in power learn early how to exercise their dominion over those they wish to keep under control. By and large, they do so without ever consciously realizing it. Many of them mean well; they think they're simply concerned about truth, justice, morality and the American Way. But the black art of domination operates, however unconsciously, according to a logic all its own. Yes, boys and girls, we can beat them at their own game - but only if we understand exactly the game they're playing.
We're all being suckered - even those who feel themselves to be so comfortably in the right. The Great American Moral Noise Machine is a creature straight out of an Orwell novel. It exists not to provide moral leadership, but to distract us all from genuine morality. It wins the confidence of folks who sincerely desire to be good and godly people, loudly claiming itself to be a moral leader with a direct pipeline to God. Then, claiming a copyright on morality, it proceeds to keep us too busy thinking about the stuff that doesn't really matter to concentrate on what does.
It is human nature for people to be more comfortable talking about other people's morality than their own. And for them to prefer debating the rights of people other than themselves. They have become accustomed to hiding in the shadows and keeping the spotlight on those they wish to keep in line. It's high time we dragged them, kicking and screaming, into the spotlight with us.
I, for one, refuse to debate women's rights with a man. It's demeaning, and I won't submit to it. If he wants to debate human rights with me - including his own - then I'm all for that. We don't discuss women's rights more often than men's because we care so very much more about them, but because, unlike men's rights, the rights of women are considered fair game for debate. Men's rights are kept safely inside in the locked vault in the house, while women's are out on the garage-sale table to be picked, pawed and haggled over by all.
Another exercise in which I refuse to engage is debating the morality of gays. Again, gay rights and gay morality are spoken of so frequently not because anybody gives a royal rip about them but because they are up for grabs. Why does that lady from church feel free to express such sad-faced concern about your salvation, or mine? What about her own morality, and the state of her own soul? Can she really presume she's got an express ticket to Heaven that God has somehow denied to us?
The next time somebody expresses deep concern over your moral direction, just ask them how they feel about their own. Show them that you can be as selfless as they are. They want to save your soul, and you want to return the favor. Maybe - just maybe - it will lead to a more honest and constructive discussion and be beneficial to the both of you. Far more likely, it will shut the windbag up.
Am I being mean and unfair? They can't very well sell their Christian kindness to us as charitable love, then turn around and cry "foul" when what goes around comes around to them. If they are being sincere in the first place, they may even welcome your reciprocity. If they were "doing unto" us in anything less than a sincerely Christian spirit, maybe they'll learn a thing or two about Christ's Golden Rule. And if they regard with resentment other people's attempts to steer them aright, then maybe they aren't as genuinely brimming over with Gospel loving-kindness as they claim to be.
We must stop participating in our own oppression. Let's quit handing our persecutors the very cudgel they use to beat us senseless. We head for the slaughter as meekly as lambs. These bullies may have convinced themselves they've got some divine right to pass judgment on us, but that doesn't mean we've got to be convinced of it too. Especially since it gives every evidence of being a gargantuan fraud.
The super-religious say they care about morality. Well then, let's have a real conversation about it. A conversation goes two ways, and is a useful and constructive means of arriving at the truth - as opposed to the one-way, rigged-up, closed-minded monologue we've been hearing from those who think they've got a copyright on righteousness. Will they welcome a real conversation on the subject they claim is their very favorite? Or, when presented with a genuine, two-sided dialogue, will they scramble to change the subject, covering their ears and shouting "la-la-la?"
The superstar preachers and pundits of the Religious Right are in the pockets of the rich and powerful. They are their servants, bought and paid for. They keep up their never-ending clamor about morality precisely because they don't want anybody else to be talking about the subject but themselves.
Trying to change the subject, however uncomfortable it may be for us, is the very last thing we should do. Do you think they shed any tears when everyone else says, "Oh, shut up already…we don't want to hear any more about morality?" That is exactly what they want to hear. They don't want to hear about morality, either - at least, not the kind actually taught by Jesus Christ.
Let's talk about the morality Jesus taught us in the gospels. Yes, by all means, lets! And while we're at it, let's take a sober look at the real ramifications of our conduct toward others.
For the privilege of using twice as much oil as everybody else in the world, we've already murdered more than half a million people in the Middle East. We are mindlessly consuming far more than our fair share of the planet's resources, and those who profit from our mindless consumption have convinced us we can never be satisfied without gobbling up even more. To cite just one more example, because we've been convinced we must eat meat with every meal, literally billions are unable to purchase food for themselves. The grain that otherwise would feed them is being fed to fatten livestock for us. People more numerous than the grains of sand in the seas are dying like flies so that we can go on living like pigs.
As so many of our sterling, self-appointed moral leaders like to say, where's the outrage? These so-called leaders do their utmost to channel that outrage into the persecution of marginalized minorities like gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, undocumented workers and the poor. We can plainly see that something's very wrong with the world - the suffering of so many is too great to conceal. But it can't be the fault of those who actually profit from it, can it? Of course it's got to be the fault of all those lousy wetbacks, feminists and queers!
And we feel persecuted when these sterling characters strive to save us from hellfire. Where is our gratitude?!
Those who obsess over our moral conduct need to be told the truth: that keeping the spotlight on us, while they hide in the shadows, is cowardly and dishonest. Some of them may not have known that before, but they will when we tell them. And with knowledge comes responsibility. Of course, that by no means excuses us. We'll have that knowledge - and that responsibility - too.
Unlike the churches that reject us, most of which buy into the propaganda of the Noise Machine, those that accept us will transform us. They are concerned with the rights and the moral conduct of everybody, not merely a few conveniently-chosen scapegoats. Not everybody who comes to Jesus saying, "Lord, Lord," will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus Himself told us that. Those who belong to Him, He says, are those who do the will of God - the God who judges all on the same, fair standard and loves everybody as much as everybody else.
My friends, it's time we understood how injustice and artificial inequality are maintained. Before I learned the gentle art of verbal self-defense, lots and lots of people wanted to talk to me about my morals and my rights. Now I get very few takers. Maybe we weren't such scaly, two-headed monsters because such conversations made us so uncomfortable. Turns out not too many other people like 'em, either - or at least not when the spotlight is on them.
But seriously, we do need to have an honest conversation about morality in our society. Far from shrinking from the subject, we should make a point of bringing it up. We should thank those who want to talk to us about it. And they should thank us when we bring it up to them. Although, if we're waiting for them to offer us their heartfelt and profuse thanks for broaching their most-favorite-ever subject, I wouldn't hold my breath.
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