Pride: A paradox

Pride, to me, is pleasure in one’s achievements, or pleasure in the achievement of another. Pride in a genetic gift, or from anything else one has no control over? That, to me, would be conceit or vanity.

I’m very intelligent. I’m not proud of that, nor am I ashamed of it. My intelligence was a gift from my parents and from God. I am proud of what I have done with my intelligence. I would be ashamed if I did not use it to the fullest.

My fiancée’s intelligence is formidable. I’m not proud – or ashamed – of her for it. I am proud of her formidable accomplishments with her intelligence.

Similarly, I’m not proud (or ashamed) of my (or my fiancée’s) body, although I do take some pride in keeping myself in shape. And I certainly take pleasure in my fiancée’s body (and in her pleasure in my body).


When I was young, I fought being a lesbian. When I became an adult, I buried it. But I have never been ashamed of being a lesbian. I just am a lesbian.

Now, I’m glad I’m a lesbian. If I had the choice, I would choose to be a lesbian.

I’m not proud that I’m a lesbian. I didn’t do anything to make myself a lesbian. I just am a lesbian.


My lesbianism hasn’t been heroic.

I grew up in the most conservative part of one of the most conservative states. A state constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage passed by a two-to-one majority – three-to-one in my county. When I lived there, I was deeply in the closet.

But I was never afraid, and I’m not afraid now that I am out of the closet. I’m not even afraid to walk down the main street of the tiny, rural town where I grew up, holding my fiancée’s hand.


Lesbianism has been heroic for many.

I am proud of the lesbians who have gone before me, whose lesbianism was heroic.


My ability to just be a lesbian – without shame or fear – owes everything to those who can justly take pride in being lesbians. To be slightly paradoxical about it, I am proud of them – and they should take pride in themselves – for my lack of pride.

 

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Choosing to be a lesbian

At my fiancée’s family cookout last month, someone asked me,

When did you become a lesbian?

I gave the stock answer:

I didn’t become a lesbian. I was born this way. Nobody would choose to become a lesbian.

And that’s true: Nobody would choose to be a closeted lesbian in a heterosexual world dominated by the intolerant. From my own history, I know that a teenage girl or high-school-educated woman in a remote farm or town would not be likely to choose to be a lesbian.

The firebrand conservatives say that’s a good thing. Decriminalization, social acceptance, legal equality – make it easier to be a homosexual, encourage the spread of homosexuality.


There’s a joke:

Two guys are out golfing. A bolt of lightning kills them. At the Pearly Gates, St Peter is befuddled: These two guys weren’t supposed to die today.

St Peter says he has to send them back. As compensation for their trouble, they get to choose who they want to go back as. The two guys huddle, then come back.

Two guys: We want to be lesbians.

St Peter: Lesbians? Why lesbians?

Two guys: We still want to have sex with women, but we want to use the ladies’ tees.


That joke gives me a warm smile.

Loving a woman is glorious. Absolutely, utterly glorious. I love everything about it, about her.


Of course, I love a woman because I was born this way. I never got the chance to choose to become a lesbian.

But, now, I am glad I was born this way.

I would choose to be a lesbian.

In that sense – and in the sense that I have chosen to come out, chosen to meet a woman and fall in love with her, chosen to ask her to marry me, chosen to accept her request that I marry her – I have chosen to be a lesbian.


There was a time, and there are places, where no one would choose to be a lesbian.

Not New York, of course.

Not back home, either – at least, not for my fiancée or me. Conservative Christians and Mormons may disapprove, may even tell me that I’m going to Hell. That doesn’t bother me. I’ve dealt with much worse disapproval and heard a lot worse things said about me – for things that I have chosen. There’s not much that they can do to us beyond tut-tut.

I can live happily and openly with the woman I love.

I choose to be what I am: A lesbian.

Mother bear and her cub

At the cookout, I saw my Mother looking beatific, a sure sign that she has done something that will embarrass me. [Two things about Mother: She is a devout Catholic, and she sometimes talks in italics.]

Me: Mother, what have you done now?

Mother (with a sly smile): That woman doesn’t approve of your lifestyle.

Me: Oh, God, Mother, what did you say to her?

Mother: Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, dear. I told her that you two have respectable lifestyles. You live in a little one-bedroom apartment, [fiancée] lives in a sublet and doesn’t even own the furniture, for goodness sake.

Me: I don’t think she meant that kind of lifestyle.

Mother: Of course she didn’t, the ignorant bigot. I told her you don’t go out to bars and you don’t party. You court each other by making dinner for each other. By the way, you both work too hard.

Me: I don’t think she meant that kind of lifestyle, either.

Mother: Of course she didn’t, the ignorant bigot. She said you didn’t have a Christian lifestyle. I told her that getting married and having kids is the best kind of Christian lifestyle, and you will make terrific parents.

Me (rolling eyes): Thanks, Mother.

Mother: Don’t roll your eyes at me, dear. It’s not ladylike or respectful. I told her you are good Christians, too. You go to church every Sunday. For goodness sake, [fiancée] is ordained or an elder or something, isn’t she?

Me: Yes, Mother. An ordained elder. But aren’t we a couple of Protestant heretics?

Mother: Of course you are, dear. That doesn’t mean you can’t be good Christians. So I told her, why don’t you stop beating around the bush, talking about lifestyle? Why not just say that you’re an ignorant bigot who doesn’t like homosexuals?

Me: Oh, God, Mother.

Mother: Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, dear. She told me I should read the Bible instead of going to one of those liberal churches where the gay agenda is more important than the Bible. I told her she’d have to take that up with the Pope. Ignorant bigot.

The Supreme Court and conflicted me

This was a hard, painful post to write.


I have a selfish interest in the Supreme Court cases on gay marriage.

I have a conflicting philosophical interest.


I don’t believe in natural rights (aka “fundamental human rights”). Natural rights are a matter of faith, not a matter of fact or logic. There’s nothing natural about natural rights.

I believe we have moral obligations to each other. Fear of damnation didn’t guide my conscience. I needed analytic moral philosophy to inform my moral compass. It’s the only thing besides Engineering that I studied systematically. (I have a half-drafted post on the topic.)

I also believe that our political organizations have moral obligations to us. As Machiavelli observed, political moral obligations – the obligation to do justice – are different from individual moral obligations.

Perhaps I’m just playing with words, making a semantic distinction. But I don’t think so. “Rights” are an invitation to argument by assertion, to sloppy thinking, to wishful thinking, to confirmation bias. Natural rights theory doesn’t tell me that Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao were evil. Moral philosophy and philosophy of justice, does.

Rights (other than those granted in law) are just assertions. Thomas Jefferson was a hypocrite and a fool. But in the most famous statement of natural rights, he baldly admits that they are nothing but assertion: “We hold these truths to be self-evident …” Self-evident. The Mommy Defense (“Because I’m your mommy”) is fine for infants, but it’s not a coherent political philosophy.

Much as I want to believe that I have a fundamental natural right to marry someone of my sex, it’s only personal preference. It has no more intrinsic validity than a belief that I have a right to a pony.


Natural rights – natural law – is particularly abhorrent to me as a lesbian.

Natural law is one of the pillars of Roman Catholic theology. And Roman Catholic natural law results in this:

[T]radition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

Start with the self-evident sexual complementarity: A man has a penis, a woman has a vagina, a penis fits in a vagina and it makes babies. Natural law leads ineluctably to homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.

Protestantism explicitly rejects natural law as an authoritative basis for theology. The quoted sentences, have no authority to a Protestant. But clearly many Protestants – as well as Moslems, Hindus, Jews and atheists – believe them anyway.

Of course, the argument is only valid if one accepts the premise of sexual complementarity and each of the intermediate premises.

There’s no point in disputing natural law, just as there’s no point in disputing religious faith. One either believes it – on faith – or one doesn’t. It’s not logical or empirical. It’s a belief system, not a moral or logical system. Any discussion is proselytizing, not persuasion.

Whether sexual complementarity is a valid premise for a natural law argument is beside the point. People believe it. As belief – not logic or empirical observation – it is impervious to logic and empiricism.

Similarly, arguing that we have a natural right to marry someone of the same sex – or even a natural right to love or make love to someone of the same sex – is just proselytizing. It has no more intrinsic truth than sexual complementarity or homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.


Even if I believed in natural rights, I don’t believe that nine old lawyers in Washington have any special ability to recognize their self-evidence. At least, they have no better ability than my fellow citizens.

If a right is fundamental, why isn’t it universally recognized? If it’s self-evident, it should be self-evident to everyone, no? Adopted by acclamation, no?

It’s no argument to say that people are blinded by bigotry or religious belief. It’s either self-evident, or it’s not.


I believe very strongly in democracy, as strongly as I believe in God.

What heartens me most about the Irish gay marriage referendum? It was adopted by popular vote. My Irish brothers and sisters made their case to their fellow-citizens.

I don’t want to be ruled by philosopher kings.

I want to be ruled by representatives elected by we, the people. I want to be able to throw the bastards out.

I don’t care how wise, how benevolent, how tolerant philosopher kings are. I want to be able to throw the bastards out.

The history of philosopher kings does not inspire confidence. Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Mao – all philosopher kings. Each wanted to create a more perfect society.

I don’t want nine (five, really) old lawyers we can’t throw out dictating to bastards we can throw out.

Yes, some of our bastards are corrupt. Yes, some are stupid. Yes, they may sometimes  – often, perhaps – produce stupid, corrupt, bigoted results. Sometimes they are just bastards.

But they’re our bastards.


There are limits to my preference of bastards over lawyers.

We, the people, adopted a Constitution with rules guarantying that we, the people, can throw the bastards out – guarantying civil rights to African-Americans, guarantying the franchise to women and the poor; guarantying free speech and free conscience; guarantying due process before loss of liberty.

I’m happy with having the courts enforce those rules, where they are clear and have the purpose of guarantying a broad franchise and robust debate.

I’m also happy with having the courts enforce rules guarantying civil rights for African-Americans. Slavery, lynching, intimidation, serfdom, segregation, racism and discrimination are so frankly appalling that everyone must be charged to change it. And again, we, the people – our great-great-grandfathers – fought and died and changed the Constitution to keep the bastards in line.

Leaving aside the simple justice of those rights, the people of the United States explicitly and democratically enshrined them in the Constitution, and fought a Civil War to secure them.

The history of African-American civil rights since the Civil War should surely give pause to those who want to trust nine old lawyers in Washington. Within a few years of the Civil War, the Supreme Court turned the civil rights amendments and laws into a dead letter. A few years after that, the Court blessed comprehensive racial segregation. It was almost a century before the Court repented.


But I can’t applaud a court cutting off a democratic solution to other political issues, even for a cause that I love and personally want.

To be blunt, if we can’t convince enough of our fellow citizens to throw enough of the bastards out and establish a right, we don’t deserve to have five old lawyers do it for us.

Frankly, it’s infantile. We want agency, but we have to get our nanny to protect us from the meanies?

The history of abortion in this country should caution us that cutting off democracy perpetuates and entrenches division.


For 20 years, I’ve watched from deep inside a closet as the Jubilee approached.

We are moving rapidly toward acceptance not only of gay marriage but of a man loving a man or a woman loving a woman. I see it every day that I am at home, in a place where gays do not exist. In a state that voted by two to one, and in a county that voted three to one, to prohibit gay marriage.

This isn’t happening by some gay agenda, but by the shocking realization that we gays are, by and large, OK people. As a rule, we’re no better nor worse than straight people. Maybe what we do is icky, but that doesn’t make us icky – let alone evil.

The most important lesson of the Irish referendum is the power of an appeal to our common humanity. I staunchly believe that, while two-thirds of the citizens of my state may be ignorant about gays, no more than a handful hate gays.

I believe that unity can overcome estrangement. All I want is the ability to have the same hopes and fears and aspirations as a straight woman. I just want to marry the person I love, have children with her and see those children have a better life.

Is it irksome that I have to convince my fellow-citizens to let me have those hopes? Yes.

Not as irksome as having to convince five old lawyers in Washington.


Selfishly, I will celebrate if the Supreme Court finds a right to same-sex marriage.

But I will die, a little, inside.

The movement for acceptance and equality will die a little.

And democracy will die a little.

My Story: Coming out to mother

Please read my preceding post for necessary background.

I was completely in the closet until I was almost 35 years old. I never acted on – or even thought about acting on – my attraction to women. I told no one.

I love my family. My mother is a devout Catholic. She was hurt when I left the Church and became a Protestant, but accepted it. But I thought she would never accept that her daughter is a lesbian.

I didn’t fear my mother. But I did not want to destroy my family.


My decision to move to New York excited my family, but left them apprehensive. They were ambitious for the opportunity, but none of us had ever lived in a city, let alone New York City.

They wanted to meet the woman who was helping me with my New York venture.

When my Love was out West for a visit with her family, they invited her for afternoon coffee and cookies. To them, she was just a friend who had already been down that trail.


I was more nervous than I have ever been, even for the defense of my thesis.

My Love was, as always, beautiful and beautifully dressed. Her essential, sophisticated, understated, brilliant self. As easy as I was nervous.

She was utterly charming. Mixed an observant and honest gravity with a light humor I had rarely seen. Despite her genius, success and sophistication, she came to my parents as equals, never condescending or patronizing.

First, my Love put my parents’ minds at ease about their little girl in the big City. My Love talked about its safety, its culture, its sanitation, its distractions, its temptations, its energy, its diversity, its food. She talked about the subway, Central Park, Riverside Park, Times Square, Madison Avenue and her neighborhood on the Upper West Side. She admitted that she had never been in the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. She talked about the theater and the opera. About just walking around.

About how a girl from the end of the road outside of West Jerkwater could thrive on brains and guts and hard work. About opportunity and competition and promise. That nobody cares where you’re from or who your parents are or what you did yesterday. All they care about is what you can do for them today and tomorrow.

She sold them on the City. She let them know that she would be a friend I could call on for anything. She convinced them that I would thrive in the deep end of the biggest pond of all.

My parents told funny and sad stories about me and about our family. My Love told funny, self-deprecating and sad stories about herself and her family. We talked about the importance of family and friends and self-reliance, hard work and faith, honesty and dedication.

The hour stretched to dinner and into the evening. I loosened up enough to contribute.

My Love was comfortable and confident enough to engage my mother in a serious discussion of theology, the differences between Catholic and Protestant approaches to grace, tradition, authority and Scripture. She talked about her own conversion from atheism to Christianity.

The more my family grew to like my Love, the more relaxed I became. I began to believe that perhaps, maybe, someday, my mother might accept that I might love a woman, this woman.

As my Love was getting ready to leave, my mother took us aside from the rest of the family. She asked if we were more than friends.

My Love seized the nettle.


She said that she loved me and hoped, God willing, someday to marry me and have a family with me. For my whole life I had buried my attraction to women for my mother’s sake. My Love would not be a wedge to separate me from my family. My family meant too much to me, and therefore to her. While my Love did not expect my mother’s blessing, she hoped that at least my mother could tolerate us for the sake of my happiness.

She wouldn’t – couldn’t – ask my mother to reject her Church or compromise its tenets. After long and prayerful study, before my Love recognized that she was gay, she came to believe that homosexuality is not a sin. She would be happy to discuss her belief and its basis with my mother, but she would not ask my mother to accept that. All she asked was that my mother recognize that, if it is a sin for her daughter to love a woman, her Church recognizes that we are all sinners. Christ preferred the company of sinners to the company of the pious. If Christ could love sinners, perhaps my mother could still love a sinner, too.

My Love did not want to break my mother’s love for me. That was too precious. What my Love wanted most in the world was for my mother to continue to love me as she always had, to recognize that we are all sinners in need of God’s and each other’s grace. She would understand if my mother could not accept that. She hoped that my mother could accept it: It would otherwise break my Love’s heart, and she thought it would break mine as well.

My mother took it all in, quietly. Her face never changed from a stern fortitude. My Love stated her case and stopped. She didn’t babble on. I wanted to fill the ensuing silence, but my Love stopped me with a squeeze on my arm.

My mother finally spoke. Her Church says that homosexual acts are acts of grave depravity. But she would always love me. If my Love loved me, then my mother loved my Love, too. She didn’t think she could bless a wedding, or bring herself to attend a wedding, but she could – and did – bless both of us.

She said the most peculiar thing: That she could bless our love, too. She believed that God condemned homosexual acts, but she could not believe that God condemned love.


Had I been too afraid of my mother? Too ready to judge her? Too ready to believe that she would reject me? Too small minded to realize that her love would always envelop me?

Or had I always been right to fear her disapproval, but the reality of love opened her mind?

Or was she just happy that someone loves me, and that I love someone?

 

 

My story: Ministerial acts

I met with the minister of the church I attended. I was not a member of the church. I knew nothing about him, other than that he preached to the text and that his sermons were conservative, thoughtful and tolerant.

I jumped right in:

“I am a lesbian.”

I had his attention. I told him my story:

I knew when I was an adolescent. I never acted on it.

I fought it by having sex with men. It disgusted me. I do not find men physically, emotionally or sexually attractive.

I buried desire under study and work.

I needed to confront my self and my faith. I had the sense that I was wasting my humanity and betraying God’s image in me.

“I am not depressed or suicidal. But I am tired of struggling with myself.”

Of all the things I thought he might say, I wasn’t expecting what he did say:

“Do you think it would be a sin to act on it? Maybe we should look into that.”

I was nonplussed, and a little irritated:

“I won’t edit scripture to justify my inclinations.”

He was amused:

“I would never suggest that you – we – edit scripture. I suggest that we study scripture. Frankly, this has never come up in my ministry. You are the first person to walk in my office and say, ‘I am a homosexual.’ I have never seriously thought about it. I know what tradition says, but we Protestants reject the authority of tradition. I would be interested to know myself. Shall we find out together?”

So we did. And I was reconciled to my self and God.