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Monday, October 12, 2009

A Metanoia for Matthew - and all our dear, brave fabulous LGBT friends


It's a difficult truth: Sometimes, some things - some people - some communities - have to be allowed to be broken before healing can be found.

The word is metanoia. In theological terms, this Greek word (compounded from the preposition μετά (after, with) and the verb νοέω (to perceive, to think, the result of perceiving or observing) is often translated "repent" - to 'turn around," - to change a thought or action to correct a wrong and gain forgiveness from a person who is wronged.

In religious contexts it usually refers a spiritual conversion - to confession to God (through a 'discrete and understanding priest"), and typically includes an admission of guilt, a promise or resolve not to repeat the offense; an attempt to make restitution for the wrong, or in some way to reverse the harmful effects of the wrong where possible.

Carl Jung, the preeminent psychologist, used the term 'metanoia' in a different way. In Jungian psychology, metanoia denotes a process of reforming the psyche as a form of self healing, a proposed explanation for the phenomenon of psychotic breakdown.

In this case, metanoia is viewed as a potentially productive process, and therefore patients' psychotic episodes are not necessarily always to be thwarted, which may restabilize the patients but without resolving the underlying issues causing their psychopathology.

Jung's concept of metanoia influenced R. D. Laing and the therapeutic community movement which aimed, ideally, to support people while they broke down and went through spontaneous healing, rather than thwarting such efforts at self-repair by strengthening their existing character defenses and thereby maintaining the underlying conflict.

Eleven years after the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, I've been reflecting on issues of repentance and forgiveness, confession and restitution.

I'm coming to believe that the death of Matthew Shepard is one of three major acts of sin, three ways in which the LGBT community have been the objects of hate and evil, three seminal events in the LGBT community which have broken open the prevailing cultural norm so that we may find healing from the sin and psychosis of homophobia.

Like any movement, there are small but none-the-less significant fires that spark the movement. One was lit in November 1950 when Robert Hull, Charles Dennison Rowland, Dale Jennings, Rudi Gernreich, and Harry Hay formed the Mattachine Society, which was successful in securing a deadlocked jury and dismissal of the case against Dale Jennings for “lewd and dissolute conduct.”

That may not seem like a significant victory, but it was the first of its kind AND, it was the first to break the public silence about homosexuality.

It did not launch a movement, per se. That would come later. It did launch the lesbian organization Daughters of Bilitis founded by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon in San Francisco in 1955.

Both organizations had national newsletters / magazines. The Mattachine Society had ONE. The DOB had THE LADDER. We now had a voice.

Separate and not exactly equal (it WAS the '50's!), but a voice. We were talking to each other in our own limited circles of gender, but at least we were talking.

In my mind and in my lifetime, there have been three major events which happened in the LGBT community, but there are other - unfortunately many, many other - smaller acts of sin and evil and psychosis which add fuel to the Hell Fire of homophobia.

This is just my perspective. You may have another. I'm not saying I'm right and you're wrong. I'm not saying I've covered it all. This is a blog post, not a book or exhaustive history.

I'm just saying this is how it looks from where I sit, 33 years after my own coming out.

These are the Three Moments of Metanoia of the LGBT Movement

The first, of course, was the Stonewall Riot in June of 1969. The Stonewall Bar was raided by the New York City Police Department because . . . well, because that's what cops did back then. And, in some parts of the country and the world, even now.

Routinely. Just for fun, I suppose. Round up the fagots and the dykes the Drag Queens. Load them up in the Paddy Wagon. Make it a Very Big Show. Assure the citizenry that all is well. No vice in this community. Nosireebob.

Except, this time, the Drag Queens stomped their pointy stiletto heels, held onto their fabulous wigs, allowed their mascara to smudge, and refused to be harassed. Gay historians report this as the turning point - the metanoia - which gave birth to the Gay Rights Movement.

The second event came in a far less dramatic way. On June 1, 1981, buried in a single paragraph on page five, the MMWR (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report - which contains data on specific diseases as reported by state and territorial health departments and reports on infectious and chronic diseases, environmental hazards, natural or human-generated disasters, occupational diseases and injuries, and intentional and unintentional injuries) reported the incidence of what was later called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)in the United States.

These were the Regan Years. We didn't say words like 'homosexual' publicly - rarely in political circles and never in polite company. Even if you were 'homosexual'.

We would soon discover that our invisibility and our silence were complicit with an administration that chose to ignore what was originally known as GRID = Gay Related Infectious Disease.

I mean, if the disease was gay-related, why bother? And so, no one did. No one in the government, that is.

And so, GRID became AIDS.

And AIDS became AFRAIDS (A fear of AIDS).

And the stage was set for AIDS to become an epidemic.

And, children, this is how an epidemic became a world-wide pandemic.

The LGBT community learned some very important lessons.

Ignorance = Fear.

Silence = Death.

And so, we, like the Mattachine Society, the DOB, and the Stonewall Drag Queens before us, learned to find our voices. This time, however, we weren't just talking to each other or the NYPD.

We learned to "just say no" to government apathy and institutionalized homophobia.

We learned to ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and organized protest marches, die-ins in front of the White House and State Houses and Governor's Mansions all around the country. It was "street theater" at its best - and, most effective.

We learned how to work with scientists and to 'fast track' the research on certain potentially life-saving drugs, and actually changed the traditional scientific method in the research process to suspend the two-track placebo vs. actual drug study on potentially life-saving drugs in the midst of an epidemic.

And, we vowed that we would no longer die silent, private, convenient, polite deaths - actual or societal or spiritual.

If the Stonewall Riots launched a political movement, AIDS helped us to find our voice - and our minds - our spirits - and, our souls.

We began to understand something about 'community' and 'collaboration' which some of us had learned from our work in the Civil Rights Movement.

We understood the value of "Each One Teach One."

We began to organize our communities, collaborating with other justice communities and organizations to bring about change.

Life-giving, mind altering change. We had experienced our second metanoia.

We made great strides in the next decade. Realizing that Audre Lorde was right, that our silence would not - could not protect us - more and more of us 'came out' publicly in the late '80s and early '90's.

And, for many of us, that was at great personal cost. I know my dues are marked "paid". We came to believe, however, that personal sacrifice was worth it, leading not only to our personal benefit, but that of the entire community - gay and straight.

And then, there was Matthew. Matthew Shepard. A young gay man. A college student. An Episcopalian, for God's sake. Battered and beaten to death by two young men who had sunk to the psychotic, dark depths of homophobia.

His senseless, brutal death was a serious wake-up call to the LGBT community, to this nation and to the world.

The death of Matthew Shepard galvanized and mobilized the Gay Rights Movement, which led us, a few months short of five years after Matthew's death, to witness the equivalent of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall for LGBT people.

Inch by inch. Brick by bloody brick.

In 1999, California became the first state to adopt a state-wide domestic partnership ordinance, which established a statewide domestic partnerships registry available to same-sex couples. The original policy granted hospital visitation rights and nothing else, but over time a number of benefits--added incrementally from 2001 to 2007--have strengthened the policy to the point where it offers most of the same state benefits available to married couples. Not exactly out of the Woods of Homophobia but on the path to Marriage Equality.

In the year 2000 Vermont became the first state in the country to legally recognize civil unions between gay or lesbian couples. The law states that these “couples would be entitled to the same benefits, privileges, and responsibilities as spouses.” It stops short of referring to same-sex unions as marriage, which the state defines as heterosexual.

V. Gene Robinson, once called 'the most dangerous man in the Anglican Communion', was elected Bishop of New Hampshire on June 7, 2003.

In November of 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that barring gays and lesbians from marrying violates the state constitution. The Massachusetts Chief Justice concluded that to “deny the protections, benefits, and obligations conferred by civil marriage” to gay couples was unconstitutional because it denied “the dignity and equality of all individuals” and made them “second-class citizens.” Strong opposition followed the ruling.

On June 26, 2003, the Supreme Court ruled on two cases, seventeen years apart (Bowers v. Hardwick - 1986, and Lawrence v. Texas - 2003) that sodomy laws are unconstitutional.

At that time, -Supreme Court Justice Kennedy wrote in the Majority Opinion
“Times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve to oppress. As the constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.”
I am convinced that these events - especially Stonewall, AIDS and Matthew - are not unconnected. I have come to know them as three major events of psychological and spiritual metanoia in our community.

We have come through a process of reforming the psyche of ourselves and our community as a form of self healing. Oh, we still have "issues" - our own pathology as individuals and as a community - to deal with.

But we have gone through 'the dark night of the soul', individually and collectively, and we have become stronger, smarter, and healthier - psychologically, physically, and spiritually - in the process.

Am I saying that these three awful events have to happen in order for us to be where we now are? No, I'm not saying that.

I'm saying that hindsight is always 20/20.

I'm saying that, in considering the Jungian understanding of metanoia, I'm trying to make sense of the sacrifices we've made, of the suffering we've endured, in order to be in this healthy place where now it sometimes seems that we have more straight allies than LGBT people.

Intolerance is now officially intolerable. The President of the United States gave a speech the other night at the Human Rights Campaign Dinner and said
". . . despite the real gains that we've made, there's still laws to change and there's still hearts to open. There are still fellow citizens, perhaps neighbors, even loved ones -- good and decent people -- who hold fast to outworn arguments and old attitudes; who fail to see your families like their families; who would deny you the rights most Americans take for granted. And that's painful and it's heartbreaking. And yet you continue, leading by the force of the arguments you make, and by the power of the example that you set in your own lives -- as parents and friends, as PTA members and church members, as advocates and leaders in your communities. And you're making a difference."
Yes, yes. Of course. We have many, many more miles to go before we sleep.

Which leads me to my final point.

I trust that the heroes and 'sheroes' who ignited the sparks that fired up the Gay Rights Movement are resting in peace.

I trust that Morty Manford, one of the Stonewall Drag Queens whose story was told by the President in that same speech at the HRC Dinner, is resting in peace.

I trust that all of our brothers and sisters who died of Bureaucratic Red Tape and Ignorance during the early days of the AIDS and AFRAIDS epidemic are resting in peace.

And, I trust Matthew Shepard is bathed in Light Eternal and is resting in peace.

Requiescat in pace, dear, brave, fabulous friends.

But not you. Not me. Not us.

I trust that we will follow the words of American Labor Organizer Mother Jones who famously said, "Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living."

I trust we will allow ourselves to feel our own religious metanoia and repent of our sin of silence and ignorance, which leads to complicity with injustice and oppression.

I trust we will participate in our own spiritual metanoia and experience true conversion of our lives into an integrated whole - body, mind and spirit - apart, if necessary, from the religious traditions which understand metanoia as a one-way street, with us converting our selves, our souls and minds and bodies - to fit into the prevailing heterosexist paradigm.

I trust that our spiritual metanoia will lead us to truth and honesty, integrity and authenticity - to become more and more the person God created us to be -  not to become the image others have of who they think we should be.

And, I trust we will engage in a Jungian, psychological metanoia, and allow the crazy-making insanity of homophobia to bring us to self healing and self love and hope, so that we may be vehicles of God's healing and love and hope.

I trust this because I see no other choice. No other option.

No more oppression.

No more injustice.

No more victims.

No more.

No more.

No more.

11 comments:

Bruce Garner said...

Perfectly captured and summarized my dear sister. Perhaps some more closet doors among our priests and our bishops will come flying open as they realize the damage they do to themselves and others when they remain silent and in the closet. Silence has always equalled death, regardless of the circumstances.

OldFatherWilliam said...

I well remember the rallying cry, "You cannot legislate morality," in the face of the school desegregation and open housing events many decades ago. Those judicial and legislative actions didin't legislate morality, but did legislate closeness and familiarity. The closeness and familiarity brought about the morality changes - or are bringing about the changes.

Every time a GLBT person comes out, some people close to him/her are presented with closeness to the "other" and have to ask, "I loved him/her yesterday when I didn't know, how can I not love him/her today when I do know?"

Along with individuals coming out, the effect of a strong "NO!" to Maine 1 and/or a judicial or electoral repeal of California 8 would permit a lot more closeness to do its work of changing minds.

I love what you say and do to encourage more coming out and more legislative and judicial acts of bringing people together, so they no longer fear the unknown and are freed from the fear of and the hatred of their own degree of same-sex sexual response, hating in others what they have always hated about themselves. -- And I am talking about persons who are heterosexual, who hate the part of themselves that does respond to others of the same sex, as well as to persons who have not yet accepted the fact that they are primarily same-sex oriented.

Thank you for your witness, which has helped me to take further steps from the assumptions I graduated from seminary with in 1954. Closeness has helped me change my mind.

Love,
Bill Fleener, Sr.
priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan, retired (HA!)
Gratefully approaching, in two days, the 48th anniversary of my marriage to Judy, a relationship in which we love each other more and more every day.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oh, Bruce, that is my prayer. That is my deepest, most heartfelt prayer.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Bill. What an honor to have you visit here and leave such a wonderful post.

I'm watching the news and see that a young gay man, living in Queens, NY, went out for a pack of cigarettes and got beaten. He's in a coma. Broken ribs. Collapsed lungs. Skull crushed.

We still have so far to go, but posts like yours give me hope.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oh, Bill, my love to your wonderful bride. Judy and you are living proof that, when two wonderful people love each other and love other people the way you do, they both "marry up".

Kirkepiscatoid said...

I was lucky enough to hear Judy Shepard come to little old Kirksville, MO to speak. Ain't no one able to prime that metanoia like Matt's mama.

Allyson said...

Oh Elizabeth- how loud the prophetic call in this post is. When I "snuck out" of ministry some years ago believing I could never return to either ministry or the church I never thought it would be from within the church that I heard a call to action for justice.

Thanks for reminding me that silence can be deadly and truth, while dangerous, is freeing.

Karen H. said...

Spot on. Right to the point. Amen & amen.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully conceived and written. Let us keep in mind, please, another two important aspects of the metanoia attached to Matthew Shepard: (1) we're finally on the cusp of seeing federal hate crimes legislation that includes victims of sexual orientation; (2) that bill, part of a military policy bill that passed the U.S. House last week and is now in the U.S. Senate, is named for both Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr., the black man in Texas you'll recall who was roped to a pick-up truck and dragged to his decapitation, and that happened, by the way, the same year as the attack on Mr. Shepard. I think the naming of the hate-crimes portion of this bill is significant because it shows that no single group can claim ownership of hate crimes -- that hate knows no confinement. -- Jerry Byrd.

KJ said...

Matthew's death was like a shot across the bow of my cloaked ship. Still deeply closeted, I knew those days were coming to an end, since to simply be quiet and invisible was no longer an option.

So, I mourned Matthew's death while longing for, and dreading, the journey that was ahead, but knew full-well, though I forgot it from time-to-time, resistance was quite futile.

Lee Shaw said...

Thank you Elizabeth for this beautifully and powerfully written reflection. I finally got around to reading it today.
As a personal aside, the day I learned Matthew had died, I began work on a memorial service. Within 12 hours I had started a network to get people there, with a lot of help from the ACLU, had worked with the cathedral and others to design a community service, and then co-officiated with a Unitarian minister in a candlelight service at St. Mark's Cathedral that filled the church. We were one of the first memorials for Matthew and were covered by all the local news organizations and some national.
It was a turning point for many in Utah. Thank you for bringing that to mind again.