What else should I be? All apologies
What else could I say? Everyone is gay
What else should I write? I don’t have the right
What else should I be? All apologies
–Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, “All Apologies”
A longtime friend recently responded to a blog I wrote about sentiment on the website RedRoom.com that she has been feeling increasingly sentimental about certain things in life. She’s always been one to try to appreciate friendships and has a deep respect for love and hope.
She dated a lot of younger men for the fun of it after her divorce. Now she’s in a second marriage that has lasted years with a man she labels “gorgeous.” I like how she says that word. Gorgeous. She really means it.
She also happens to still love her first husband and they remain close as friends. Life is what you make it, but life is also what it makes you.
My friend is not all apologies. Not for who she is, or who she was, or what she’s done in life. It turns out that being sentimental about love can actually be a practical, logical thing, a way to make things right in the long run. She’s turned her early loves into cherished experience. How much smarter or prescient can you be?
The experiences we gain from running or riding are much the same in the manner with which we fall in love with a sport. It’s just like you do with a woman or a man. The intensity of that love may change or mellow with time. We grow with that, looking back fondly on the experiences gained from our indulgences as well as our discoveries.
The really interesting convergence between relationships and running and riding is in the category of lust and obsession. In the book Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving, we find one of the main characters struggling with identity and motivation in life. His wrestling coach gives him advice meant to cross all categories of endeavor, and how to succeed. “You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed,” the coach tells his young wrestler.
Wrestling turns out to be an allegory for the manner in which we all wrestle with challenges in life. The same holds true for running and riding, and sex, and love, and identity. You really can’t know how good you are, or who you really are, until you’ve pushed yourself to the point where something in you actually starts to give out.
A young man I know once turned to me and said, “I feel like I’ve got a weight on my chest all the time. I don’t know why.” But deep down, he did know why. He was wrestling with his true sexual identity. He ultimately “came out” as gay, and the weight was removed. Imagine how life felt after removing that weight? The world opens up. You feel light again. Gay at heart in all the right ways.
The Long Run
We all wrestle with aspects of our identity. Some of us run and run and ride to find out who we really are. Is running and riding a part of our identity in the same way that sexual orientation manifests itself? Let’s examine the issue.
Perhaps you recall the character Forrest Gump? He developed a legion of followers that ran in his footsteps because his painful reticence and running dedication seemed like a search for deeper meaning. They were wrong.
One day, in the middle of a desert road, Forrest finally stopped, turned to the joggers trundling along behind him and said, “I think I’m gonna go home now.” And that was it. Forrest had reached a point where running, by itself, was no longer the answer to his search for identity. It certainly played a role in self-revelation. But it was not the only thing. Nothing ever is.
Jumping in and out
I know another friend whose competitive cycling career was quite impressive. He raced CAT 3 for more than 8 years, winning races at what amounts to one of the top tiers of the amateur cycling world. Then one day he had had enough and put his bikes away, bought a block of skydiving jumps and spent the next 6 years flying around the sky in as a parachute jumper. His identity had shifted from one thrill-seeking activity to another.
Identity and identification
Those choices are very different than the gender orientation of millions of individuals. Yet some cynically say that being gay is a “lifestyle choice” similar to participating in sports or any number of other obsessive activities we choose to occupy ourselves.
It is not the same thing. Our orientations are hard-wired into our personalities. We know this because the same thing holds true with the degree two which our sexual personalities are expressed. Some people with a heterosexual orientation can’t get enough sex no matter how they try, while others who are hetero could not really care less how often they have sex at all. Those differences are genetic, and hormonal and human. That’s all.
We also know that there are people whose genetic makeups are not clearly defined by orientation or by gender. Transsexuals are often forced to “make a choice” about their sexual identity because it is simply too difficult to function in society when your gender is not defined. The rules of identity don’t bend that easily, and it makes people uncomfortable.
So there is a keen difference between identity and identification. Our identities stem from how we are genetically defined, while our identifications are borne of choices we make to indulge and express ourselves.
The Bible is often used to confuse sexual identity with identification. We are now learning that the passages often used to ostracize gay people in society are not cut and dried condemnations of people who are gay. For example, the famous story of Sodom and Gomorrah has long been interpreted to castigate gays as the principle instigators of proposed abuse toward a band of visiting angels in those cities. But gays are actually only a component of the prodigiously exploitative and appetite driven nature of the town. That point is tellingly revealed in the passage where Lot offers up his own daughters in exchange for protection of the angels. See for yourself:
19 The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. 2 “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.”
“No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.”
3 But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. 4 Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. 5 They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”
6 Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him 7 and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. 8 Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.
See, the custom in some cities in ancient times was that strangers were fair game for abuse of all types if found out on the streets after dark. But God did not like that little tradition because it was a sin of power and dominance. Abusive customs also thwarted respect and equality (of souls) in the eyes of the Lord.
It’s obvious in reading this biblical excerpt there was not any particular sexuality in question. Otherwise why would Lot offer up his two female daughters for sport if the only sex in which the abusers were interested was homosexual?
Gay people became scapegoats in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah for a very common reason. People of heterosexual origins did not (or could not) imagine themselves as potentially complicit in the highly charged and sinful behaviors of Sodom and Gomorrah.
So they blamed gays for the whole lot.
The dynamic of scapegoats is the same manner in which Jews for centuries have been accused of killing Jesus. The editorial slant in scripture was positioned so that Jews as a race could be scapegoated in calling for Jesus to be crucified.
But anyone who reads the Bible with even a shred of awareness knows that the point of the Passion narrative is not that Jews killed Jesus, but that any group of people can be turned into an ignorant mob when religious power is in force. Technically it was the priests of the day who organized the death of Jesus. These were men so obsessed with their own legalistic power and authority they refused to acknowledge love as the final authority. Instead they sided with the advantages they conferred upon themselves, which constituted wealth and power. In assuming they were protecting God, they were actually protecting their earthly position in life.
That pattern of religious abuse remains today with many types of religious authorities. These include entire religious denominations as well as TV evangelists rolling around in the financial contributions sent in by their gullible viewers. It really is no coincidence that we hear from them the same sort of vehemence that drove religious leaders in the past to wield their authority against anyone they considered “the other” and “apart from God.” Pat Robertson and his ugly declarations that gays bring down the wrath of God on American with hurricanes and earthquakes is just one example.
It is the ultimate irony–some say in all of history– that the so-called “protectors of God” are often those farthest from the truth right in front of their eyes.
Yet there is hope. Most recently Pope Francis shocked the modern day Pharisees with this statement about gays: “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”
Now there’s a pope that Jesus could understand and respect.
Power and authority in the modern world
We’ve all seen people who can’t seem to tug themselves away from the flames of obsession and the power it often vests in them. Society tends to fascinated with anyone who seems able to stand in the flames of public adoration and not get burned.
A certain cyclist sporting a yellow wristband of his own device fluttered around the bright lights of the Tour de France for 7 full years while most of us looked on, transfixed by his apparent radiance. We lusted vicariously for his victories, turning him into an almost Christlike figure who could do no wrong.
But in the end, it turned out to be unsustainable. Now he’s supposedly banished and disgraced as a man and as an athlete, dismissed from the very sport that once defined itself by his accomplishments.
But what’s the real moral? Yes, Lance Armstrong was cheating to get what he wanted. That’s a basic fact. But so was the rest of the peloton. So rather than blame Lance for the entire enterprise of corruption and abuse, scapegoating him along the way as gays were scapegoated for the the lusts of Sodom and Gomorrah, perhaps it is time to step back and consider that Lance Armstrong was no more culpable than the rest of cycling. He just knocked on the door a little more loudly than the rest of us.
Cycling was a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah. Everyone was doing it. Lance was just doing it best, and we followed him all the way to the door of Lot before realizing there was deceit and corruption going on all around us.
It turns out much of the world is structured the same way. Our financial and political leaders are just as lustful and greedy as our former favorite son Lance Armstrong, whose character once represented the best of American motivations and turned out to be everything the French rightly hate about us. In a biblical sense, the French played the character of Lot, but we were cheering too loud to hear ourselves think, “Is there something wrong with this picture?”
Of character and national expression
Now the French have one of the top health care systems in the world, ranked Number One for health care quality by the World Health Organization. America for all its supposed exceptionalism and free market savvy languishes down around 37th overall.
It’s rather interesting that France, a country famously ridiculed by many Americans actually believes in taking care of its people while America is in a huge fight over a law called the Affordable Care Act passed by the House and Senate with all legal functions in place, now the center of “controversy” and hate.
Republicans have even shut down the United States government in protest over the health care refrom law, which does simple things like eliminate exclusions from health care based on pre-existing conditions.
The issue is much bigger than the health care law alone. There is hatred for Obama as vicious as anything in history .Short of yelling “Crucify Him!” the modern day Pharisees in Congress have rallied mobs with Tea Party slogans to the steps of the White House, however ironic that name may currently sound.
It’s no coincidence therefore that gays are still being scapegoated by conservative power-brokers who want to blame gay people for everything that’s wrong with America. It all fits with an attitude of control among people actually willing to take the whole country down in order to get their way on something they don’t like, which happens to constitute protection for people who get sick and can’t afford health insurance. So whose side are they on? They’re own, obviously, and the benefits construed upon them by those who contribute to their election.
Think about that: How on earth can we not recognize what’s going on here? The signs are all around us that zealots the world over, be they Muslim, Christian, Jewish or whatever, are waging a constant battle against the rest of us to fall in line with their legalistic worldviews that are exclusive, prejudiced and unloving toward us all.
If you get the drift of where this is going, we are all being made into scapegoats of one kind or another by zealots who can’t exist in this world without castigating people for their true identities by trying to force the rest of us to identify with their narrow and narrow-minded view of normalcy.
Everyone is gay
In that context, all of us are gay. Every one of us is gay in the sense that we are all being pushed to accept something that is not normal. The zealots want us to replace our very normal identities as people who are liberal, open and tolerant toward the rest of the human race with a worldview that is fearful, close-minded and selfish. It’s sick.
I am even willing to contend that all of us has some of that gay gene in us that is the subject of so much fierce debate. Some deny it with such vehemence that they are driven to persecute others in an attempt to suppress it in themselves. Some even postulate that St. Paul himself was gay, and that the “thorn in his side” of which he spoke was actually homosexual “tendencies.” His dichotomous early life and persecuting Christians only to become the ultimate provocateur in favor of Jesus suggest a highly conflicted man, but also one with great insight and sensitivity. It’s almost as if he were gay in a so-called good way. That’s not ironic.
It’s all nonsense if you think about it. Orientation is not a choice any more than being born is a choice. Life itself is a pre-existing condition. So whether you consider being gay a flaw or a disease, a lifestyle choice or a cause for celebration, what matters is that history has shown that gay people have always existed and will always exist. Being gay is as much a part of being human as breathing and eating.
Trying to erase gay people from the earth is the work of sociopaths like Adolf Hitler, who not coincidentally viewed being born as a Jew as a character flaw.
So who shall we believe and trust? Do we hold court with the Hitlers of the world and Christian conservatives who continue to persecute gay people with the same disturbing fervor, denying civil rights to gay people and protesting the idea that people of the same sex can get married? The same ugly arguments have been used against blacks in America. Choice words and prejudice drive these tendencies founded on a literalistic worldview that values law over love.
The real choice is clear: We either accept humanity all or nothing or we stand accused of false judgments. Who is capable of parsing out the right and wrong in an orientation. No one has that insight. Turning a few words of the Bible into a black and white condemnation does nothing but make the accuser a more angry, stupid and determined person. That is the ugly tarsnake of scriptural truth. A beautiful thing can be turned into hatred so easily. And for that there are no apologies sufficient to make up for the fact of persecution toward others.
Kurt Cobain was right in his song No Apologies. “What else can I say, Everyone is Gay…”
Run and ride to unanimity
The great thing runners and riders have to offer this world is unanimity. That is, agreement by all people involved; consensus.
All you have to do to experience unanimity in all its fine expressions is to attend a race or event as a spectator or a participant to see that people are at once created equal and also responsible for their own identity. We cannot discriminate by identity or by identification, by ability or by orientation. Humanity is unanimity.
Not everyone is the same type of runner or rider. Some excel at their chosen sport while others slug along, doing their best to go a little faster or a little longer.
But that’s not the real point. The real point of running and right is unanimity: an agreement by participation in society that all levels of accomplishment and identity are the real goals of human endeavor, especially among those who see beyond ideology and find the theology of human joy and gay feelings that come from knowing you are loved, accepted and redeemed by the grace of loving others. Of all orientations.
Now go out there and run and ride, with pride.
“But I felt certain that if the world would stop indulging wars and famines and other perils, it would be possible for human beings to embarrass each other to death. Our self-destruction might take a little longer that way, but I believe it would be no less complete.” —John Irving, Hotel New Hampshire