Sunday, December 06, 2009
No, she's not gay
The Rev'd Canon Mary Glasspool is not 'gay'.
Neither is Martina Navratilova.
Or, Ellen Degeneres.
Or, Meridith Baxter Birney.
Or, Chaz (formerly Chastity) Bono. She's a transgender man who is in a relationship with a woman, but that's another story and another challenge for another day.
For that matter, neither am I.
All the other women listed above are lesbians.
Men who love other men are 'gay'. Not lesbians.
Women who love other women are 'lesbians'. Not 'gay'.
So, let's get this 'straight', as it were. The Rev'd Cn. Mary Glasspool is not the 'second gay person to be elected to the office of bishop'.
She's the first lesbian woman to be elected to the office of bishop.
I know. Sounds tedious, right? Not to me. Sound absolutely right.
Indeed, those words sound right to most feminists - especially those who also happen to be lesbian.
I know. It's tedious to go through every letter of "The LGBT Alphabet of Community" - even for LGBT people, but every single one of those letters stands for a different and distinct way of being who we are.
Each and every single one of those letters also stands, symbolically, for the fact that, as LGBT people, we are not a monolithic community. We stand together against the oppression we experience, but like members of the Black / African American / Afro-American / People of Color / Afro-Caribbean / Afro-Asian / Afro-Hispanic / Afro-First Peoples Community, we are different in our views of the world, our politics, our religion, our spirituality, and how we understand who we are and how we relate to each other and the world.
And yes, LGBT people, like all other 'target groups' are different in how we understand human sexuality in general and our sexuality in particular.
You know. Just like White, so-called 'straight', people.
I will skip an elucidation on that point and proceed to a lesson in what I like to call "Anti-Oppression 101." Open your books and turn with me to Chapter I: Sexism.
Let's go back, let's go way on way back when, to the Garden. Eden, that is. There we will discover what I like to call the Original Sin of Sexism.
You're going to have to go Beyond the Apple to find it. Everything up until then was pretty cool. Yes, I know. Eve gets the rap for taking the first bite.
I like to think of her as being the first one to have the gonads to take the risk of intellectual curiosity.
The writers of that mythological story which has become our sacred text report, at the end of Chapter 3, that the first thing Adam did, after God issued the guilty verdict and sentenced them for their "crime," was to give a name to his partner, the woman that God had "given" him from the bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh.
"The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living."
And, men have been naming identity and reality for women ever since.
It ought not be a surprise to many, then, that the first thing women did, in the early 70s, was to take back the right to name their own identity.
Some of us insisted that we were no longer "Mrs." or "Miss." We would not be defined by our marital status, or lack thereof, as if that were the sum and substance of our identity.
"Ms" was the title of choice for feminist women.
Some of us insisted on keeping our own last name in marriage. Others hyphenated our names with our husband's name. Still others (like moi), who were not (or no longer) 'married', declined to be identified by their father or their husband's identity and took new surnames from their family tree.
No surprise, then, that lesbian women, who were also just finding our voices, declined to be identified as 'gay'. Rather, we took our identity from two sources:
(1) Lesbia, the literary pseudonym of the lover of Gaius Valerius Catullus, the ancient Roman poet, who lived 82-52 BCE.
(2) The famous circle of young girl lovers on Lesbos Island, who included the poet (not poetess, please) Sappho.
Truth be told, the name was not only an attempt to name our own identity, it was also a clear way to separate ourselves from the word 'gay'. It was a way to articulate that being a woman who loves other women comes with a different cost to women than the cost of being a man who loves other men.
Not only did we experience the on-going prejudice and oppression of being a woman in a society dominated by the social paradigm of patriarchy, we were also targets of bigotry - sometimes lewd - for being lesbian.
In those days, rape was widely considered as sure a cure for "lesbianism" as getting pregnant was considered a cure for menstrual cramps. Either way, you got the short end of the cruel stick of misogyny - whether you wanted it or not.
More than any of that, however, naming our own identity was important for lesbians because it defined how we understood our sexuality as being different from men.
Indeed, it represented, for many of us, the reason we were lesbians - beyond biological, and sociological and psychological explanations for this "aberration" in human sexuality.
For us, it wasn't so much about the sex as it was about relationships. About something that happens for us - in our hearts and souls and minds, as well as our bodies - in the company of women.
There is an old joke about lesbians:
Q: What do lesbians do on their second date?
A: Hire a U-Haul.
Get it? Well, the joke is a laugh about the essential, relational quality of being a lesbian, but it is also a joke at the soft-underbelly of that: co-dependency.
You'll find a fuller discussion of that in later chapters of the Anti-Oppression 101 educational texts. It's under "Internalized Oppression: Coping Mechanism."
However, many lesbian women had problems with the word 'gay' - which pointed to another different dynamic between being lesbian and being gay.
If you were 'gay' you were considered a feminized man - someone who was light, happy and carefree or bright and showy. Indeed, the term was used, well into the early 1920s - usually about children, music, poetry, a summer's day, or women - without any connotation to one's sexual orientation.
If men who loved other men were happy to take on a name, an identity, that made fun of being more childlike or feminine or frivolous and non-essential, why on earth would women who loved women call themselves something that trivialized one of the many ways - one of the myriad of expressions - of being a woman?
However, there were - and continue to be - problems for some women (and men) with the word 'lesbian'. Some are uncomfortable with anything that separates us from - or seems as if we don't stand together in solidarity against - the oppressive forces of bigotry and prejudice.
For others, however, the word 'lesbian' - with its association to the Isle of Lesbos, that island in the Aegean Sea which was inhabited by young women lovers.
Too blatant. Too sexual. Too 'in your face', as it were.
I remember marching in the Chase-Brexton Clinic (an AIDS Clinic) contingent of the Baltimore Gay Pride parade in the early 80's. As anyone who has ever marched in any parade can tell you, there are moments when the parade has to catch up with itself. Various groups marching in the parade have to march in place, or sometimes, come to a standstill for up to 10 - 15 minutes or so.
At one of those points, my colleague, Sally Daniels, an old cheerleader, decided to lead us in a cheer. Mind you, this was back in the day before we added the 'B' to our alphabet soup of identity. The "T" was still more than a decade or two from coming into its own.
"Give me an 'l'," she shouted, and the crowd, not sure of where she was going with this, nevertheless enthusiastically roared back, "L!!!"
"Give me an 'e'," she shouted again. Hmmm, not 'i', not going for 'Liberty'? Okay, "E!!!"
"Give me an 's'," Sally's voice croaked. She was clearly many years out of high school practice but had lost none of her enthusiasm. You could see the unmistakable "Uh-oh" of recognition on some of the faces in the crowd.
By the time she got to 'b', the roar had substantially dwindled. "Oh. My. God. She's going to have us say THAT word."
Sally was completely undaunted. "Whadday got?" she ended, as some of us, delighted by what she was doing, shouted even louder to compensate for the crowd: "LESBIAN!!"
And, with that, she executed a perfect jumping-jack which rolled into a handstand which ended with a cartwheel flourish.
Clearly, it was a new day in the socio-political landscape of Baltimore. More importantly, a new day of empowerment had dawned in the hearts and minds of many lesbian women, gay men and our straight allies.
So, you will excuse me if I seem a little tedious about this. There's been too much baptismal water over the font for me not to get a little touchy about the subject.
Despite what you may have read or might have been told, Mary Glasspool is not the 'second gay priest' to be elected to the episcopacy.
Mary Glasspool is the first lesbian woman who is a priest - the first woman to be able to be open and honest about who and how she loves - to be elected to the episcopacy.
I, for one, will not allow that distinction to be taken from her or diminished and morphed into an identity that is clearly male.
Not that there's anything wrong with being 'gay'. It's just not who she is - or I am. Some women, some of them lesbian women, will disagree with me on this.
And, you know what? I delight in that. We all need to be able to name and claim our own identity. I don't want to be denied that opportunity. Why would I deny it to others?
If you have any doubt that sexism lingers in both blatant and subtle ways, ask yourself this: Why is it that the first woman to be elected to the office of the episcopacy was elected, not to the office of bishop diocesan, but bishop suffragan?
Probably for the same reason that the first lesbian woman to be elected to the office of the episcopacy was elected, not to the office of bishop diocesan, but bishop suffragan.
And, the same reason that Bonnie Perry lost in Minneapolis. And, Tracy Lind lost in Chicago.
Fighting against two forms of oppression is daunting. Always has been. Always will. Just ask any woman of color. Or, one who is a woman of color who is a lesbian.
Never mind. We can do it. Si se pueda! Somebody's gotta make the first move - have the first crack at the stained glass ceiling. Mary did that with grace and intelligence and an undeniable rock-solid, deep sense of her relationship with God.
Yes, yes, yes. And now, the tedium and controversy of the consent process will begin. I predict that Mary will get those consents, the homophobic rantings and warnings of the Archbishop of Canterbury notwithstanding, because everyone who sees her and knows her is convinced of her vocation.
Which is as it should be. She was elected from a slate of absolutely stellar candidates. Any one of them could have been elected and would have done a fine job - including my buddy John Kirkley, an amazing gay man and brother of my heart who is also one of the stellar priests in the church.
The Holy Spirit has spoken in the people of the Diocese of The City of Angels. Jesus warns us, in Matthew 12:31-32, that the only unforgivable sin is one against the Holy Spirit - "either in this age or the age to come."
Say it with me, children, "Mary Glasspool is the first lesbian woman in The Episcopal Church and the World Wide Anglican Communion to be elected to the office of the Episcopacy."
She's not the second gay priest to be elected to the episcopacy.
She's the first lesbian woman to be bishop.
Give me an 'L'!
UPDATE: It's Monday morning. I'm fresh from a good night's sleep, prayer, exercise and a nice hot shower. I've been thinking about some of the comments left here. I guess I'm more "old school" than I care to admit. Sigh!