Monday, January 31, 2005

Down Inside I'm Bleeding

"Your Grandmother is so sweet!" people usually say after they've met her or talked to her on the phone. And normally I would agree. She has been exceedingly kind to me over the years, she has been exceedingly kind to almost everybody; and she has a very sweet smile and a very sweet voice. Just look at her picture there at the bottom of the left column... she is sweet.

Just don't ever try to convince her that her stupid, bigoted, archaic "beliefs" might possibly be wrong. She'll fuckin' cut you, man.


Let me back up a bit and start off with some background. See, yesterday, after church, Daddy and Grandmother were all of a dither about a controversial off-topic discussion that had broken out during their Bible class. I had been off at the mall buying Rampage dresses for 75% off, since I don't attend class, so I don't know how it got started; but according to Daddy, people started talking about why the church is declining and how that can be remedied.

(On a personal note, I think it's because Christianity has allowed itself to be hijacked by a fanatic cadre that has responded to changing society by becoming staunchly, loudly, and hatefully recidivist, demonizing and villainizing every weak scapegoat they can find to blame; moderate or enlightened Christians have allowed this hate, this demagoguery, this scapegoating, because they are in general tolerant and forgiving. But unless and until the progressive, tolerant, and forgiving Christians can stand forth and replace the hateful and all-too-visible pseudo-Christians in the eyes of this nation, and the world, Christianity will die. But to return to their discussion in class...)

From the question of Christian promotion and attraction, they got into this ancient Church of Christ controversy about allowing instrumental music in church services; the Church of Christ (not to be confused with United Churches of Christ nor with the Christian Church) has traditionally been dogmatic in its assertion that singing should be strictly a capella and that musical instruments have no place in worship services; but younger members are beginning to question this tradition. Apparently the Walnut Creek Church of Christ (where we attend) sent out a huge mailer inviting people to attend the church, and tracked those who responded; almost all who did respond attended once or twice but never came back... and, when surveyed, the most common response to why they didn't come back was "the music was boring."

So of course a lot of people want to start jazzing up the musical portion of the program in order to attract and retain new members; others holler that church isn't for entertainment but for worshipping God, and that a lot of musical folderol takes away from God; but how can you bring people into the church to worship God if there's nothing to draw them in? the first group will counter; We can't change the Word of God to please people with short attention spans... it's not the church that's wrong here, it's society! the second group will declare.

That part I did hear, as I was waiting out in the hallway for the class to end; I particularly heard a great deal from one of the elderly ladies of the congregation who was railing about how Society (which so many people seem to think is a controllable, correctible structure that governs our behavior) has become so anti-religious that school-children aren't allowed to wear t-shirts with Christian messages on them but can wear t-shirts with "all sorts of profanity."

(I think she may have been referring to a freedom-of-speech case that certain religious groups are riding right now, where a student was sent home for wearing anti-gay sentiments on his t-shirt during a day set aside for gay-issues awareness and education with the intent of fostering tolerance; the recidivism-in-religious-clothing folk are screaming about freedom of speech, but the school's dress-code is very clear about hate-speech and the wearing of t-shirts or other clothing likely to be controversial or inflammatory. But that's all on another topic).

So anyway... Grandmother is the olde-timey Church of Christ traditionalist, and has been having a rough time with all the changes that younger people have been insisting upon, such as allowing women to take part in serving communion and (just this week) leading the singing (even I had to admit that having the songs led by a soprano instead of a tenor was odd... pretty, but hard to follow); and, like many of the Church of Christ's old guard, Grandmother distrusts emotional responses to religion... if it isn't boring, how do you know it's righteous? about sums it up for her, I think.

Daddy is a little more progressive about everything, in general, but he isn't sure what to think about this topic because he never quite understood where in the Bible it says you're supposed to sing a capella and not use musical instruments (it doesn't... in fact I don't believe the New Testament says anything about congregational singing at all [correction: I looked up "singing" and then "hymns" at BibleGateway, my and Daddy's usual source for Biblical quotes, and I find references in Acts 16:25, Romans 15:9, Ephesians 5:19, and Colossians 3:16 that direct the congregation to sing hymns, but don't say anything about accompaniment either pro or con]); he wants to learn and to understand, but isn't sure what questions to ask or where to seek the answers.

So as they were hashing this out between themselves, I inadvertently got sucked into the discussion by asking how anybody could tell that one interpretation of a Biblical text was correct, since the Bible is written in such a way as to be peculiarly open to interpretation. Well, Grandmother thinks there is one correct interpretation of all texts (which is possible, I suppose, but how do you know which one it is?) and that the only reason people think there are different interpretations is because they want to make the Bible say something that they already believe (which is absolutely true, but again begs the question of how you know you're right in your interpretation, how do you know you're not engaged in skewing the text to your own purpose?)

I launched into Grandmother about her assumption that she has the correct interpretation, when in fact she can't even remember where she learned most of the things she believes. I have in the past criticized her assumptions about contexts, her assertions of how one passage is literal and another passage is symbolic without even providing any argumentation, much less proof... I habitually dwell on her pet belief that women must remain silent in the church (a direct quote, I Corinthians 14:34), which I like to point out is preceded by another direct order in 11:6, "If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off"... and Grandmother doesn't cover her head in church, but can't say why she doesn't, except that it's not the fashion now and she doesn't like wearing hats.

But this is a petty side-street; the thrust of my argument is that if you aren't constantly questioning your own beliefs, your mind becomes static and you become a stranger to the Truth. If your argument is that you've already learned this thing, and have already arrived at the proper conclusion, then you have to be able to show the steps you took to reach that conclusion. Because how can you know you believe what you say you believe if you don't know how you arrived at that belief? And how can you discuss the veracity of one interpretation of a text over another when you can't even say where in the text to find a certain passage?

In an unusually clever tactic, Grandmother turned my argument around and demanded that I show the steps of how I arrived at my own belief that Jesus Christ was not the Son of God and that the Holy Bible is not the True Word of God.

Well, I blinked a bit, and tried to cast my mind back and summarize the steps. I told her that I had never believed any of it, even when I was only a child; I never believed that there was such a person as God, nor that there was any such creature as Jesus, nor that He would dwell in my heart if I asked Him... I didn't even grasp what the hell people were talking about; but I wanted to believe it. I believed in the Church, it was all the society I knew; and I believed it was a power for good and that if I pretended to believe in its precepts, I would be part of that good... and maybe, if I pretended long enough, Faith would come to me, Revelation would come to me, and it would all finally make sense.

But then when I discovered my sexuality, and at the same time discovered my church's stand on homosexuality (that it is sinful, period), I found myself at a crossroads: so I studied, and I prayed, but nothing came to tell me that I could be saved (for even if I never touched another man, the desire was in my heart, deeper than my will; and I knew that to sin in the heart or mind is the same as to sin in the flesh... so I was basically damned no matter what I did), so I had to leave the Church. I could not be part of something that was set against me, set to persecute me... I could not believe in a God who would make me as I am and then send me to Hell for it.

"God did not make you 'that way'" Grandmother cut in, practically hissing. There was hate in her eyes when she said, "Homosexuality is a sin!"

Well, my father jumped in at this point to keep us from bloodshed, furthering me along in my lecture by asking me to explain why I don't believe Jesus was divine, or God incarnate (though I do think he was a great teacher, I don't think it makes sense that God would intervene in human affairs to such a shocking extent, in such a small space and for a such short period of time, then withdraw entirely... it's a terribly inefficient way of making one's will known, and therefore doesn't match up with what I observe about God through nature, which is beautifully efficient).

I counted slowly to ten before I tried talking again, and I let Daddy sidetrack me into further explicating my own beliefs about evolution as God's tool of Creation, that the only sin is to harm another, using comparative religion and philosophy as a guide to Truth, and studying nature and one's own rational heart for the revelation of God's will. And I continued to argue about my beliefs and Daddy's beliefs and Grandmother's beliefs (I felt kind of sorry for the people at the next tables, since Grandmother and Daddy are both a little deaf and I was more than a little passionate about the topics) until our plates were taken away and we couldn't drink any more coffee.

But after we were done talking, after we got in the car and dropped Daddy off at his house and started back home — once, in short, I was alone with Grandmother again — all I could hear, echoing around in my brain, was that implacable hiss, God did not make you 'that way'; all I could see in my mind's eye was that hate on her face when she told me, not in so many words but nonetheless quite clearly, that even after all these years and all I've done to try to understand her and help her to understand me, she has never moved one iota from her ignorant, bigoted, small-minded conviction that homosexuals are psychological deviants, willful and unnatural sinners, and that I am going to go to Hell because of it.

I felt like I'd been kicked in the stomach.


And now, twenty-eight hours later, I still feel that bewildering hurt. The thing is, I had been thinking, for the last couple of years, that maybe I was underestimating Grandmother's ability to accept reality and to learn new things; I have been thinking that I might have done her and myself a disservice by allowing this "Let's Not Talk About It" rule to continue untested. I had thought that I've allowed an imagined reaction on Grandmother's part to dissuade me from dating, because I have limited my attentions to men to whom I was so strongly attracted that it seemd worth the risk of Grandmother being upset, an imagined reaction that perhaps Grandmother is not really going to have.

But now I see that I was right in the first place, that there will be no opening up, there will be no communion and mutual comprehension, that "Let's Not Talk About It" must remain. I see now that Grandmother will never listen to me, will never accept me, will never understand me... because she "knows" she's right and that I'm wrong, and from such assumption of knowledge there is no remedy. And that is so unbelievably depressing that it makes me want to cry.

No... that's not true... I never want to cry. But I have tears coming out of my eyes right now as I write about this, whether I want them or not.

It's so lonely to live with someone when you can't tell her two thirds of the things that are going on in your life. I can't talk to her about Gus and my dreams of finding love, just as I couldn't talk to her about Shiloh or about any other romantic interests that have blown up in my face; I haven't ever talked to her about the grim vision of being forever alone that has begun to haunt me; I can't tell her about my drag shows, can't talk about the wonderful fulfilment of my artisitic expressions, all the passions and excitements of my life as Marlénè, just as I can't talk to her about my novel or let her read any of my writing.

It's not so bad having to edit my speech for swear-words or salacious jokes or untoward gossip... but to have to edit out any reference to my romantic or artistic aspirations because those two facets of my life are inextricably tied to being gay, it becomes increasingly difficult as time goes by.

I don't understand how a person can hate part of a person and still think they love that person. I don't understand how anybody can claim that their God is a loving and compassionate God, and claim that they themselves are loving and compassionate, and still allow themselves to believe that God punishes people with eternal torment for accepting and acting on their natural built-in desires. I don't understand how anybody can watch someone grow up, to live with him as a teenager for five years and as an adult for thirteen years, and still have no basic understanding of that person's heart, his integrity, his inherent worth.

And I find myself questioning whether or not I can go on like this. If Grandmother refuses to ever change, that means that any detente between us will have to be of my doing, any sacrifice that is made for our domestic peace will be made by me. As it has always been. And the prospect of another five or ten years of "Let's Not Talk About It," lasting however much longer Grandmother lives, looks unbearably bleak.

But what are the options? I know I could afford to live on my own, if I were willing to either give up every luxury I enjoy, or else take on more work and give up all of the free time I love. Though I am the first to admit that I benefit greatly from our financial and domestic arrangements, I am no longer incapable of taking care of myself, as I once was. But she has become increasingly incapable of taking care of herself, she not only needs the company but needs someone to take her everywhere she goes, needs someone to do for her all the many things she can no longer do for herself (or never could do for herself). And considering how much she has done for me over the years, despite her peculiar ability to hate one big part of me while loving the other parts, requires some repayment from me... I still believe I must repay the years of care she has given me.

I don't know what to do. I am hurt, and bewildered, and afraid, and angry, and I don't like being any of those things.


Well, here I am again at the end of a long and depressing story with nothing uplifting to say about it. I guess that as I go along and explore my own psyche, as I mine my emotions and experiences for material and understanding, the vein of ore becomes more difficult, more sparse, and more work is required to bring it up, more time is required to polish it and put it to use.

In the meantime, a little prosaic updating: my cold has finally packed its bags and gone, I can once again breathe and talk and sing and sleep; I have taken my vitamins every day for a week, and I feel a lot better, and (aside from the emotional bleeding over the abovementioned) my depression is in check; and I went to the dentist today for a cleaning, which went remarkably well, though I'll have to go back next week to have a nasty cavity dealt with, most likely with a crown (yay!), and I have to buy a water-pick and use it twice a day for the next three months... and if that doesn't turn back the deterioration of my gums, I'll have to go to a periodontist (at grievous expense, it's such fun not having insurance).

At work tomorrow, the accountant is coming to the office to perform our internal audit for last fiscal year, so I've spent all of today going through my papers, printing up all the meeting minutes and publications from last year, and putting my files in order for inspection. I am way better prepared than I was at this time last year, having learned from last year's mistakes, but I nevertheless appear to be missing a number of bank statements and a couple of important invoices, so I shall spend the rest of today hunting them down.

And other than that, there's not much going on. I guess it's enough, though. I just wish I had something fun to talk about, some topic to explore on which I can be witty and charming and amusing. I like myself better when I'm witty and charming and amusing... so long as I am still telling the truth. Too bad the truth can't always supply me with material for wit, charm, and amusement. But, like they say in France, "that's the way the cookie crumbles."

I do hope you're having a happy day. I wish you joy, and love, and peace, and beauty.

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