Missing the Train?

man in brown hoodie standing in front of train railway
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Pexels.com

If I were to run for office, I would speak openly and often about being gay.  This is not news.  I’m a fairly public ordained minister who talks, writes and preaches from the pulpit about being gay.  It is a habit for me to bring that part of myself with me wherever I go.  I do not do this because I want to invite people into my bedroom (its a pretty boring place.) Rather, I do it because I know that my speaking about sexuality as part of my lived experience opens up the conversation for others about how sexuality and gender play into our communities, our faith, our health, our politics, and our governed lives.  My sexuality history allows me to speak about access to health care, mental health services, housing, jobs and a host of areas in which I’ve experienced direct discrimination, marginalization and fear…as well as compassion, joy and hope and an intimate understanding of where a lack of clear policies and understanding created chaos.  My public and ongoing exploration of my own male gender expression has helped me to have a deeper understanding of women’s experience of their bodies and how they are politicized whether they are cisgender or transgender.  My public process has also helped me to find a great place of compassion for men who hold on to “traditional” concepts of masculinity and to recognize their needs as a legitimate part of a broader community, while helping them to steer away from patterns of harm based on their gender expression. My willingness to talk about my own sexuality and gender is an opening for others to consider theirs and an invitation for people to have greater understanding and less shame regardless of whether or not they are straight or gay.  My public sexuality is an incredible responsibility as well as a privilege of my gender, my education and my economic class.  I own all of it.

We are missing a moment right now in the discourse around Rush Limbaugh’s stupid attacks on Pete Buttigieg and the radio host’s supporters vile defense of him.  But Buttigieg is also missing a moment to put a strong stake in the ground as a public figure with a platform and a call to action.  In this world, no one “just happens to be black” just as no one “just happens to be gay.” As with Obama’s blackness, having a robust and nuanced response to attacks on being gay will not make Buttigieg a one issue candidate. It has the potential to humanize him and give him greater dimension, and help us all evolve.  The legion of activists, artists and politicians who came before him can attest to that.  I’ve personally spent a lifetime presenting my sexuality as only one facet of myself that is a point of pride.  And I’ve also lifted it up as a uniquely powerful point of insight and transformation.  Certainly, everyone is different, but it feels like a missed opportunity when someone like Limbaugh has a platform to spread hate while someone else who has a platform to counter that destructive narrative appears powerless to use it.

A Free Country

grim-reaper-2974959_1920I have been intentionally silent through the Impeachment Trial of Donald Trump.  I wanted to see how it would play out.  I was also exhausted.  Exhausted by the rhetoric, by the continual tossing of the fact salad and the micro splicing of reality by the Trump team.  I was also exhausted by Democrats presenting an unrelenting cascade of rational, reasonable realities and sounding a bit too much (and looking a bit as well) like the reincarnation of the last Unitarian to run for President, Adlai Stevenson.

And today we watch while the self declared “Grim Reaper” of the US Senate waves his scythe and strikes down his ultimate target: Democracy for all the people.

In my work I am also relentless.  As a preacher, I constantly drive home the message of how “relationships” must sit at the heart of community.  This seems like an obvious no-brainer, but in today’s world, it is incredibly easy to lose track of.  I often frame this in terms of a contrast between relational and transactional.  For me, ‘relational’ draws on first hand personal knowledge and (yes) feeling.  It draws on ideology and values and a sense of shared obligation.  Again, seems obvious…yet, it is clear by the current occupant of the White House that these simple goals have been devalued (like the Rush Limbaugh Prize…formerly the Medal of Freedom.)  I’ve written the following before: Donald Trump is not the problem, he is the symptom.  A society that has become dangerously transactional is the real problem.  Transactional so that health care is primarily about what you can afford, not what you need; transactional so that gun ownership is not about an actual threat but about possessing superiority over the perception of threat; transactional so that merely being an observer to the piling on of wealth for the 1% is framed and then received as a benefit for all; transactional so that womanhood is prioritized by its ability to fulfill male pleasure and male centered procreative ambition.

The demonic nature of the ‘Transactional States of America’ underlies the entire impetus behind an ad that aired for the Trump campaign during the superbowl.  This ad featured Alice Marie Johnson who’s prison sentence was commuted by Trump at the urging of Kim Kardashian.  This ad is meant to appeal to black voters.  I have no issue with Alice Marie Johnson, more black people out of prison is great.  And still, I have to weigh these facts: Kim Kardashian (who may be a perfectly decent human being) has a media presence that is built entirely upon appropriating and glomming on to blackness.  Kim Kardashian is not black…but her social media persona sure wants to be.   Next, Alice Marie Johnson being freed from prison is a good thing, but most black people aren’t in jail.  Although we recognize the very real greater threat of incarceration of black people (based on racist policies that are protected by the government)…it is not a top line black “kitchen table” issue; racism and systemic issues of objectification and disenfranchisement are what matter to most blacks on a day to day basis.  Finally, images of grateful, weepy black people have been used for a literal century to prop up the fragile white savior trope.  This is closely related to the same mentality that says things like “slaves didn’t have it so bad” and “blacks were better off on plantations.” All of this is 100% transactional.  There is no love lost in these relationships.  I guarantee you that given 6 black women of similar size and stature, I’m sure Trump couldn’t pick out Alice Marie Johnson.  She is only worth what he is able to get from her: enough black votes to win.

It is a free country.  People can vote for who they want.  Alice Marie Johnson and Kim Kardashian can be boosters for any candidate of any party they wish.  Yet, we all must remember that if we continue to prioritize transactions over relationships, all of us (academic elites, farmers, day laborers, corporate CEOs) will be reduced to only the value that can be extracted from us, which is the very same formula that drove plantations.

If this is a free country, why would we actively vote to be slaves?