Menstuff® has compiled information and books on Gay, Bi, and Transgender issues. This section is Robert N. Minor's weekly column featured daily on our homepage. Robert is the author of Scared Straight: Why It's So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It's So Hard to Be Human and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society and Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He may be reached through www.fairnessproject.org or at E-Mail.

2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004

This Generation Gap Really Matters

The election returns are in. There are many ways to look back at them as we look forward to a new Congress characterized by even more Republican bullying.

For many of us, the country took a step backward. It looks like a real mess, at least in the short-run.

But there are clues for the long-term. Future success is possible for those of us who find the Tea Party and the old Republican solutions regressive, stale, and destructive.

The Democratic loss was affected by turnout. And the age of those who turned out speaks volumes about long-term issues.

In the 2008 presidential election, 18-to-29-year-olds made up 18% of the electorate while those 65 and over made up 16%. Young people actually outvoted those 65 and over in 2008, and that 18-29 age group was the only one where white voters preferred Obama.

This year, the 18-29 year-old vote was down to 11% of the electorate and seniors were up to 23%. Exit polls indicate that the 18-29 demographic was the only age group won by Democrats this year: 57% as opposed to 40% for Republicans.

The gender and racial breakdowns didn’t change as much, though the electorate was older and whiter than the presidential election. The GOP has clearly gone gray.

Put another way, almost 24 million 18-29 year-olds voted in 2008. 9 million showed up last month, a 15 million-vote difference. How, then, did this matter, given that the Republicans won by 5 million votes nationally?

There are all sorts of ideas about why this happened, some blaming young people. But if we want them to vote, older people scolding them won’t work. We’ve got to consider how to get them back in the mix by reinspiring that audacity of hope?

I’m absolutely convinced after thirty-five years of teaching, that young people want to know what someone really believes. And that they want to know that people really believe what they say, enough to fight for it convincingly.

The hero they voted for in 2008 might have done the best he could given the situation, but he and his party did not govern the way he ran -- as fighters who really believed.

From the beginning when Obama appointed old insiders as advisors and ignored the agents of change in his campaign, to the constant willingness to concede his position to get “something” done even before the fight, to the inability to communicate what he really believed were his ideals after being a great campaign communicator, the evidence as they saw it was that “change they could believe in” looked pretty cautious, insider, and stale.

Yes, yes, it might be that they should have understood some greater lesson, that they should have already learned to hang in there the way older generations were used to doing.

Okay. Who’s teaching them that?

These are young people from whom those older generations reap monetary dividends by distracting them with gadgets and stuff.

They’re also not taught a real people’s history about change but dead facts that are testable on standardized exams. They’re seldom given hope any more.

But there is also a huge difference in how the dominant Baby Boomer demographic and these younger people see reality. They care about different things, while most politics plays on what appeals to Boomers and their elders.

While the most vocal group of seniors is arguing about the government not fooling with their Medicare and Social Security, they’re also supporting politicians who want to curb both for younger generations. Those who are younger than these Boomers aren’t even sure there’s going to be anything left for them. They wonder whether they’ll even be able to pay off their huge college loans.

While pop culture more and more reflects the younger generation, the issues of their seniors seem backward, quaint, and even unexplainably bigoted.

Look at one of the most popular shows of younger generations, Glee. In a November episode, "Teenage Dream" a song originally released by Katy Perry (a straight woman whose first big hit was "I Kissed a Girl"), is sung as a serenade from one young high school boy to another boy.

And, guess what? Teenagers of all stripes loved the song so much that they led the charge to make it a #1 Hit Single. The old guard in the religious right seemed silent and unconcerned as they fought for the gray vote.

While quickly dismissed by some, pop culture tells us, in fact, what is extremely important for winning the long race. It’s a measure of what it means to young people who are not loaded down with the emotional baggage that we elders carry.

To hear from their TV, movies, and music that negative attitudes toward LGBT people are simply an out-dated product of past generations’ fear and ignorance is to realize that the fights the elders carry on are not young people’s at all.

Could the pressure from pop icon Lady Gaga's tweeting against “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” be what actually lead Harry Reid to consider voting on it?

Crazy is in full-bloom on our political landscape. And much of our politics seems to be a reaction to that crazy. It’s there that tired old white men and the people who are into them still rule.

But that’s not the future, no matter how it screws up the present. And it’s not what elected Barak Obama in the first place. It was those of all ages who believed that Obama wouldn’t look backward to the Clintons and the politics of past generations.

What keeps the darkness of the political landscape from overtaking the social landscape where most young people live -- the landscape we’ll need to travel in if we want change -- is the bright light of the cultural landscape where young people's influence is king.

The impact of the religious right and the old guard has no future there. In the long run, they have no future in politics either. And if a political party wants to win, it will need to understand that sooner, rather than later.

Why Obama Became the Religious Right-Wing’s Devil

Back in November 2008 we saw the perfect storm for the religiously addicted I described in When Religion Is an Addiction. Their “Christian” president who was dealing their high of being right was ending his eight-year term.

He hadn’t dealt the ultimate fix they’d needed. The economic and military conservatives who took advantage of these needy religious conservatives had no interest in doing any more than using them to further their corporate take-over of America.

Yet, the 20% of Americans who make up the addicted could not dump their dealer. Even at the lowest in Bush’s approval, that number always kept believing, no matter what he really dealt them.

The 2008 elections were their hope for a stronger fix. Then the Republicans nominated John McCain – far from the religious right-wing’s champion.

In January 2007, fundamentalist kingpin James Dobson said: "Speaking as a private individual, I would not vote for John McCain under any circumstances."

"I am convinced Sen. McCain is not a conservative and, in fact, has gone out of his way to stick his thumb in the eyes of those who are," Dobson emphasized in a statement read on Laura Ingraham's nationally syndicated radio show a year later. "He has at times sounded more like a member of the other party."

But their new savior arrived when McCain tapped Alaska governor, right-wing fundamentalist, Sarah Palin as his running mate. She was the one who would “energize the base,” that is, bring back their high. Thus, she would begin to threaten him.

No matter how ill-informed, no matter how wacky, they had to believe in her, just as they had in Bush. She was a “Christian” whom they could not believe would do them wrong.

Her election would be the living, emotional proof they were desperate for that there was a God who would vindicate them. She turned out the addicted in the way that McCain could never do.

What was riding on the 2008 presidential elections for them was so much more than the rest of us could imagine. It wasn’t just any election or a Republican win but the vindication of their own righteousness, of the truth of the cause they bet their lives on.

Believing fully by now that it was tied to government and political successes, rallies, political action, and election night victories were necessary to overcome their feelings of failure. Since Bush’s election, it was no longer sufficient for them to believe in the Divine – government had to ratify their righteousness.

The right-wing’s campaign against Barak Obama painted his election in apocalyptic terms. Though those outside the mindset couldn’t believe the rhetoric, for those inside, none of it was an exaggeration.

Those Republican operatives who knew better, needed the religiously addicted right-wing and so fanned the flames of the hell-fire predicted to come with a Democratic victory. The addicted had to be stoked to overcome possible letdown feelings of the Bush years.

Then the worst happened. Democratic control of the Congress and a President who, no matter who he was or what he did, was not them, succeeded before they could be raptured away from the tribulation. This triggered all the unhealed issues and fears they were trying to deny, from racism to sectarian religionism.

To the observer, it all looked crazy. And it was – the crazy reaction of the addict whose stash was threatened.

Liberals, including the new administration, felt that they could be addressed rationally, and that concrete proposals that would help the very people so reacting would provide evidence that would bring enlightenment to the addicted. It was an enabler’s fantasy.

Denial was rife. If we just reason, understand, be nice, accommodate, and compromise with the addicts, they’ll give up their search for a high and become clean and sober participants in our efforts.

The Republican Party knew how to take advantage of such liberal beliefs. Make Democrats compromise with us so that their accomplishments are watered down. Then don’t vote for the results so that the weakest bills won’t succeed publicly.

They also knew that the religious right-wing addicts saw the issues in black and white terms and so were loathe to stop them from doing so. Obama was other, and that meant evil.

Obama became the black face of all that was evil. Reid and Polosi were there too, but the demonic had manifest itself in Obama’s stimulus and “Obamacare.”

To the outsiders and enablers it got even crazier. To the corporate interests encouraging the “Tea Party” mobs, religious right-wingers and other authoritative personalities were useful to put Obama’s face on evil.

Addictions are progressive, remember. So, the old means of feeling righteous don’t work the way they did before.

So, it was necessary in order to keep the addiction in place to portray the President as the personification of everything evil. He had to be the devil, Hitler, a stereotype witch doctor, a Communist, a Socialist, a Fascist. Whatever was evil, his face was on it.

And the righteously indignant sought dealers from all over to run as Republicans. The old Republican leadership thought they could control it. But they, too, were not recognizing the depth of the addiction and were drug along to survive.

And here we are. Enablers still want to compromise with the addicts. They don’t want to do what it takes to intervene.

And the addicts get all the attention. They run the show while the clean and sober react.

But dealing with addicts is different than dealing with those who respond to rationality, compromise, and good will efforts.

It doesn’t mean being mean. It means taking a stand as a healthy, non-enabling human being.

There are compassionate ways to confront an addict and to prevent the addiction from damaging the rest of us further. That assumes we won’t remain in denial.

And there’s no space to discuss strategy here except to note that the last chapter of When Religion Is an Addiction, entitled “Toward an Intervention” is still relevant.

To Really Mainstream LGBT People

The National Black Justice Coalition, the National Stonewall Democrats, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and Pride at Work, the LGBT group within the AFL-CIO, are spearheading LGBT participation in the October 2nd, ”One Nation Working Together” rally for “jobs, justice, and education” in D.C.

That’s great news. To participate as players in the largest gathering of progressive activists in Washington in recent memory with major civil rights groups, such as the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza, and leading labor unions, including the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union, is an effective mainstreaming of the LGBT community.

Sure, LGBT people should be able to participate in all of the mainstream institutions of our society, no matter how sick. And our usual definitions of becoming an equal part of America have focused around doing so.

LGBT people too should be free from discrimination when they deal in hedge funds, derivatives, toxic mortgages, usury, and the business practices that have made bundles for the rich while destroying America’s middle class.

They too should be free to serve openly in a military that frightens the rest of the world, believes it can invade any nation it wants, bloats a national debt to be paid by our children, and pays handsome dividends for our defense industry.

They too should have all the benefits of marriage, including participating in all of the issues that cause marriage to fail at a rate of 50% while the successful 50% often hang in there unsatisfied. Divorce lawyers, be prepared.

These rights are, after all, fully a part of being an American. And the fight for them is often taken as the fight for allowing LGBT people to be like everyone else.

It’s how some conceive of fitting in. There are even those who think that the closer to these rights LGBT people get, the more they can be “post-gay.”

Don’t expect Log Cabin Republicans to go any further. They like their privileges.

But there’s another way to think of becoming mainstream that doesn’t involve affirming “Queer As Folk” or “Real Lesbians” fictions. It involves uniting with the majority of Americans who are hurting in this economy and left out by the influence of big money on government.

Since the majority of any movement that isn’t classist is working class people, it’s to recognize that most LGBT people struggle at a very different level than those who look down on working people as unsophisticated stiffs who don’t drink fine wine or attend the best socials. It’s to reject the media images of LGBT people as consumers who are so sophisticated they can advise about how to dress, drink, eat, and decorate to the ignorant masses.

There was nothing, after all, “queer” about TV’s “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” It was all about standard classism -- highly paid men being so consumer savvy that they could help other slobs while promoting the trope that doing so was something to be expected from gay men.

Joining the October 2nd march is a symbol of the reality that the corporate take-over of the country and the resulting loss of jobs, safety nets, and opportunities while expanding the profits of the top 5%, is at a crisis point for most LGBT people too. The statistics on poverty, homelessness, and unemployment are clear.

The March tells everyone that LGBT people are just like them in the sense that they need jobs, healthcare, educational opportunities, and a safety net. It tells everyone that LGBT people are willing to go beyond single-issue politics to actually affirm their unity with their fellow human beings.

It contradicts the stereotypes that all LGBT people are in the upper classes, white, and concerned only with their sexuality.

It’s another coming out -- by walking next to people who are likely to wonder if there is another way to know LGBT people than the images the right-wing and media feed them.

It’s an affirmation to each other that there are healthy working-class LGBT people all around.

And in these times when the Democratic Party has so disappointed many by it’s continual compromises with the well-off in its base, and the Republican Party has moved to embrace the wackiest elements of the right-wing, it’s an affirmation of a set of values that goes beyond party politics.

It’s a statement to politicians who don’t share our core values. Whichever party they are, they promote winning above all; but winning is not a value.

People often lose for their values. And that is often the real proof that they value something other than staying in power.

For the marchers it’s a strategy, a tool, used to promote what matters to the rest of us: “We all deserve a just and fair chance to achieve the American Dream. Our national identity is rooted in the ideal that all people – regardless of race, class, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, heritage or ability – should have the opportunity to fulfill their potential.”

And this means: putting people back to work, providing a safety net to those in need, ensuring that all people have access to affordable, quality education, and refocusing our nation’s fiscal priorities to emphasize people over profits.

Obama’s Rahm Emanuel was convinced that progressives and liberals could always be counted on to support his agenda because they had no place else to go. He was as wrong as ever – they could stay home. And they might.

But with a month left before mid-term elections, we’ve arrived at the eve of another November with one of those “most important elections in our lifetime.” Given political realities, now, they all will be that.

So, we can’t afford to stay home even if we want to punish the party who let us down. We’ve got to be mainstream and vote one more time.

And we can be proud that LGBT organizations like those above understand how high the stakes are, and chose to march in D.C. to show what it is to be mainstream

And Now We Boycott Target?

So, it’s come to this in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Private corporations are so running our politics that we have to direct our political energy to boycotting and supporting large businesses in order to change anything.

Our national values are now promoted to elected leaders by multi-million-dollar, trans-national corporations, and our effort will be attempting to force them to dictate right values to our politicians. They’ve become the most influential go-betweens between our government and citizens.

To the extent that we like being defined primarily as consumers, I guess this makes total sense. This definition now affects how Americans think about life and their own lives.

In the USA, a good citizen is a good consumer -- we’d prefer to call them “wise” consumers. Our country is therefore built upon “consumer confidence” and faith in the retailing that that in fact supports.

Our media has as its goal to provide the consumers of any demographic most likely to buy products to its funders, the advertisers, anyway it can. Forget other demographics less likely to buy things.

Our healthcare system promotes buying drugs and procedures so it can continue to build all those additions you see on medical complexes. Pills and surgeries are, according to numerous analysts, over-sold and over-bought.

Our educational system is awash in the early and persistent branding of our children. And the businesses most likely to be in control of national policy are the ones that sell products to the richest among us (stocks, hedge funds, armaments, you name it).

There are, however, those big multi-national retailers profiting from common folk, like Target. Many of us want to believe that Target is somehow better than the big bad Wal-Mart. There’s even some prestige in “better” circles about shopping in one over the other.

Now we learn that Target is also helping dictate the future of the country by its political giving. Recently it came to light that the Minnesota-based retailer donated $150,000 to MN Forward, a right-wing political group that ran ads backing Minnesota’s conservative Republican gubernatorial candidate, Tom Emmer.

They weren’t alone, of course. Electronics retailer, Best Buy, for example, donated another $100,000. MN Forward was, after all, established by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

Among other things, Emmer opposes the marriage equality of LGBT people and supports a constitutional amendment to forbid it. He’s also for government interference in women’s reproduction, every National Rifle Association initiative, more tax cuts, and, well, you can guess the rest.

Oops. Caught. Damage control began with Target’s CEO, Gregg Steinhafel saying the company is “genuinely sorry,” though also declining to say whether it would withdraw the donation.

Then, so as not to lose a segment of its customers: "Target's support of the GLBT community is unwavering, and inclusiveness remains a core value of our company," Steinhafel said.

But the facts tell us of a company regularly giving to right-wing, anti-LGBT politicians. Probably the least offensive of those was George W. Bush.

Steinhafel himself personally donated money to extreme right-wing Rep. Michele Bachmann whose comments regularly become jokes of the left, while Target’s top corporate officers have funded anti-LGBT candidates throughout the country. And, in the last Minnesota senate race, Republican Norm Coleman received donations from Target executives while Al Franken received nothing.

So Target is now a target of boycotts beginning with that organized by MoveOn.org. A group, “Boycott Target Until They Cease Funding Anti-Gay Politics” has sprung up on Facebook.

In consumer-oriented, profit-driven societies, how we spend our money becomes the standard way to express our values. Just as the person who has the most and priciest things is to be the most admired, the person who shops in correct places is the most valued by activists on any side of an issue.

Where we shop and what we buy becomes more important than why we shop at all. The moral thing to do, as Bush said after 9/11, is to head to the Mall.

Shopping as therapy. Shopping to prove our worth. Shopping to entertain us when we’re bored or lonely. And the things we get to display as a result of shopping impress others. Buying is as easy as the click of a mouse.

But the current state of the economy won’t let this continue.

The old guard wants us to believe it’s just another economic “downturn” as if basic structures haven’t changed since the last one. It wants us to build our hope on moving corporate giants to support our agenda by buying their support.

But any “return” to the past won’t be the same. And we can’t be thinking the same way about our consumption and ourselves as we did before this collapse.

With a real unemployment rate between 20 and 30% and a growing gap between the haves and have-nots, with more and more economic similarities between the US and “third world” countries, with the shrinking of a “middle class,” more people will have to look elsewhere for all that consuming once provided. Things can’t go back.

The top 10% is doing fine and might not want the kind of recovery most of us need. But the rest of us are all in this together no matter what skin color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or other category now used to divide working people.

So, we’ll have to go beyond boycotts and directing corporate dollars. We need deeper change.

We cannot take care of ourselves alone or with single-issue thinking, and corporate America isn’t interested in taking care of us either. We’ll have to think in terms of working together by valuing community.

We must rethink our individual place in the world, but we must build coalitions that support each other. Going it alone is isolating and disempowering.

We have to do the inner work to examine our values. But that also means we’re going to have to be a part of ending what’s hurting most of us, and that takes working together.

Will the US Ever Like Educators?

Back in 1970, the AFL-CIO-affiliated American Federation of Teachers became the first major union to stand against discrimination against lesbians and gay men. In 1974, its larger national rival, the National Education Association added sexual orientation to its anti-discrimination policy.

Both unions have struggled with right-wing forces from within and without to maintain and expand these stands they took over a quarter of a century ago. In 1999 both joined nine other educational and psychological organizations to condemn the aggressive right-wing promotion of conversion “therapies,” as potentially harmful and ineffective, and to counter harassment of gay and lesbian youth.

Such advocacy has been a part of the professionalism that has contributed to the conservative criticism of public education in the US and its scapegoating of teachers’ unions for any problems it wants to lay on the public school system.

The final goal of economic conservatives is to privatize education so that children become lucrative moneymakers 24/7 for multinational corporations. For the religious and social conservatives, represented recently by the Texas Board of Education, its to guarantee that our kids conform to their right-wing, sectarian Christian agenda, not affirm LGBT people.

The major enemies of this sectarian and corporate agenda, who are motivated by the stake they have in education as well as the fact that most become educators out of their love of teaching, are the teachers’ unions – the organizations that represent the actual trained professionals who are really in the classroom with America’s kids.

In contrast, how long has it taken their bosses – the motley crew on elected school boards, the managers who are CEOs, and the scared school systems – to stand for “safe schools?”

It’s not as if the teachers are in it for the money. With their educational backgrounds they could make more working in front of computer screens or in some investment firm betting on people losing their homes.

Teachers are responsible for one of our nation’s important resources, our children. But their value to us is reflected in how they’re treated compared to our bankers, armament dealers, informational techs, and corporate executives.

We talk a good line about education in this country, but anyone can see what we really believe. When we talk about more funding for our schools you can hear people say: “You’re not going to throw more money at it and think that works, are you?” If it were the Pentagon, who can’t account for one-quarter of its expenditures, we’d call it allocation.

That little kid in the inner city school knows what it all really means to us. As he listens to our lines about how important an education is, he knows what his teacher makes, where she lives, and how she’s treated in the media. But he also knows how much those sports stars make, in what kinds of homes they live, and how people idolize them.

That little guy is too smart. He can see through all the American talk about the value of education to the truth good ole Jesus underlined: “Where your treasure is, there your heart is also.”

When it goes beyond appearances, we do everything to put our teachers down. We hold them suspect. We pile them with responsibilities way beyond their expertise and passion.

We place these professionals in a system run by people who have never been in a classroom. Imagine the standards of the medical or legal profession set by boards of people with no qualifications other than the fact that they got the most votes in an electoral system where most qualify as “low information voters.”

Then we hire superintendents and downtown office beaureaucrats who couldn’t run a classroom who think schools are businesses. Even our Secretaries of Education are managers, not educators.

In keeping with this business-model obsession, Obama’s Arne Duncan has never taught in a classroom. He’s a CEO who was appointed by a mayor to be chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools. No wonder his programs perpetuate the philosophy of the Bush administration that’s dictated by corporate America.

I’m surprised more teachers suffering through these people who think they know better, how to manage education like a factory, aren’t bitter and disheartened. What must it be like to be blamed so that the fault is always: you’re not a good teacher; and the solution is some sort of “merit pay” based on criteria set up by the non-professional corporatists and their hand-picked “consultants?”

Union busting is on the agenda of numerous superintendents around the country. But if it weren’t for our teachers’ unions, teachers, those professional educators, would have no voice at all in the way we teach and nurture the students they, not the policy makers, interact with every school day.

Teachers know what works. Teachers know why education isn’t always working in the US.

We know that smaller classrooms work. We know that the happier teachers are, the better they teach.

We know that education is not an assembly line where products can be measured by a single test. We know that students come from different places (family backgrounds, emotional needs, talents, motivations, and abilities), and that the measure of a good educator is a student’s progress from that individual place along a path, not their conformity to arbitrary standards such as those behind a No Child Left Behind law.

We know that, yes, throwing money at education will actually go a long way to solving our problems. How about 1/10th of what we can’t account for in Iraq as a start?

But we’ll also have to start thinking about teachers as a national resource. We’ll have to think of our schools and colleges as more than training institutions for some corporate agenda.

In Taiwan where education is highly successful, September 28th is not only Confucius’ Birthday. It’s a national holiday to honor teachers.

People there actually stop working to honor teachers.

In the US there’s a National Education Week, but I bet you don’t even know when.

That illustrates our real problem.

Is It Gay or European?

People used to ask about a man who didn’t fit the American image of manhood: “Is he gay or is he European?”

In an episode of Seinfeld, Jerry acquired a small bag to carry around everything that stuffed his pockets. When he forgot it, his companions said, “Hey, you left your purse.” “It’s not a purse,” Jerry shot back. “It’s European.”

American manhood has come to look down upon European models of masculinity. Since the early twentieth century, European versions became less patterned and, thus, suspect.

As the concept of the American male as rugged individualist and pioneer tamer of the wilderness became the standard, there was less respect for European “deviance” from this American machismo.

Militarily we had to help Europe win their wars, after all. What saved them, and still will with all of our troops still stationed in Europe today, was the Yanks.

Socially, they became “mommy states” with all their welfare, healthcare, and concern for the family lives of working people. Caring for their citizens – what bleeding hearts!

Our model was to tough it out. No pampering of the weak and needy for us. We loved to think of ourselves as different, and the U.S. as the world’s hero and only hope.

Any male in our culture who doesn’t fit this model isn’t fit to be called a man here. And the way to force men into the American male role is to pull out the gay slur.

When the kids say “That’s so gay,” they may not be thinking about their LGBT friends, but they are certainly thinking that whatever “gay” means, goes against American gender-training.

Among all of Europe, France came to bother us most of all. They were so wanting to be, well, French.

France just wouldn’t embrace America’s cowboy culture. They thought of themselves as distinct from our influence and were proud of their non-American ways in language, literature, and culture.

So, their men were seen as the most effeminate -- read un-American. Their objections to the US having its unchallenged way with the world rankled most in the breast of the American warrior.

“How many Frenchmen does it take to defend Paris?” the putdown of the French went. “No one knows. They’ve never tried.”

Then there was the name switch in the Congressional cafeteria – French fries would now be called “Freedom fries.” “Old Europe” just would’t fall in line with American exceptionalism when we headed for Iraq to rid it of non-existent WMDs.

Now the French have done it again. McDonald's of France just released a TV ad welcoming gay people to their restaurants. The spot, entitled "Come As You Are," shows a young gay man eating in McDonald's with his father, who doesn't know his son is gay.

Nathalie Legarlantezec, brand director of McDonald's France explained it as, well, French. "We wanted to take a look at how French society is today. We're very comfortable with the topic of homosexuality, there is obviously no problem with homosexuality in France today.”

Not being like those French, the protectors of American “values” mocked it. That icon of angry white American manhood, Bill O'Reilly, made it a talking point, asking if it caused people to crave burgers or fries. He ridiculed its slogan, "Come As You Are" by inquiring if McDonald's will be running an Al Qaeda ad as well.

In a June 13th article, McDonald's COO Don Thompson told the Chicago Tribune that the U.S. market would not replay the ad. Thompson said the company discusses how marketing that reflects cultural norms in one market can have “cultural implications” in markets elsewhere in the world.

Though the right-wing portrays this as part of that giant assault meant to destroy American values as they define them -- which, they believe, should be those of the whole world -- the French ad wasn’t some conspiracy to change anyone’s values.

It was marketing by a multi-national corporation to enhance its bottom line. It was a pure business decision – what will bring more French into what the French see as an icon of American encroachment: the local McDonald’s.

The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, which represents the interests of an estimated1.4 million LGBT-owned businesses in the United States, cut off any future relationship with McDonald's and its subsidiaries, after trying to work with them.

In a letter to the company, it expressed its "utter dismay at the blatant geographic pandering to the LGBT community in the recently released TV ad in France, while McDonald's has continued to distance itself from the LGBT segment in the United States."

The Chamber understood exactly what this was – a decision about making money by playing on the cultures in which it finds itself. It was not about freedom of speech, or being an accepting corporation, or reshaping moral values.

A boycott of McDonald’s might be appropriate business-wise. What more can we expect from a mammoth multi-national corporation than doing whatever it takes to increase its profits and stock values?

But what really needs to be cheered is the French for being, again, unlike us. What needs to be jeered is us.

The ad plays in France because of what the French have done, because of where they have come in terms of acceptance of diversity and rejection of American ideals about LGBT people and those well-worn ties of bigotry to American machismo. Because French culture is more accepting, McDonald’s could make the marketing decision that this ad would work there.

Likewise, McDonald’s also knows that there is still an issue about accepting everyone as they are, particularly LGBT people, in these United States that matters enough to its demographic. No matter how we might think they should treat us like France, McDonald’s as a profit-oriented company recognizes how far the US still has to come on the issue.

While Europe has gone in one direction socially with some countries legalizing marriage equality, America’s go-it-alone manhood brags about the fact that we haven’t gone there, we’re loners who are in no way “European.”

Our America on Our Mind

When I saw the oily executives from BP and its drilling partners, Transocean and Halliburton, testify before the Senate May 11, I was reminded of another confrontation of business with government.

Last December, President Obama summoned the heads of the nation’s banks to the White House in a charade of toughness. Displaying their respect for the President of the United States, the executives of Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Citigroup didn’t think it important enough to show up.

In their minds, what’s the big deal? They’ve more important things to do than meet with just another president they assume they’ve bought.

It was the same on Capitol Hill last month. As the three CEOs were being treated to a congressional melodrama, they knew that little that really would affect their compensation would remain on stage when the curtain fell.

As oil continued to explode out of the Gulf floor and began to land on its shoreline, the leaders of companies responsible appeared because they had too. They shifted the blame to everyone else. But they knew who owned whom in that room.

Don’t you people realize, they could think, we own you. You people work for us. Do you know how we treat employees who don’t tow the company line we’ll feed you?

As if to rub their face in it, only five days after being “grilled” by its Senate servants, Transocean, the Swiss company that owned and operated the oilrig that sunk into the Gulf, announced it would shell out $1 billion in dividends to its shareholders. Now that’s cynicism.

In the same way, health insurer WellPoint could announce bald-facedly in the very middle of the debate for insurance reform back in February that it would raise rates in California as much as 39% on March 1st. It looked the government that was acting as if it would do something (one they believed they were paying for) square in the eye and said: “We dare you to do anything about it.”

The Congress did its song and dance and passed a watered-down bill that would deliver thousands of new customers to WellPoint paying any rate they could get away with. We were supposed to feel blessed.

The real America has been so taken over by corporations that there’s no shame, no need to hide the fact, any more. Companies used to have to appear patriotic, concerned about others.

No more. Now they’re convinced the American people will let them get away with anything.

The January rejection of corporate spending limits by the Supreme Court ensured even more of this. The Court went far beyond the case before it to overturn important precedents, building on the premise that corporations have the rights of people.

Obama was right. It was: “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”

The tea party crowd that corporate lobbying firms such as Freedom Works and Americans for Prosperity created will divert the anger anywhere but back at corporate bosses. The mainstream media, led by Fixed News, will cover tea party antics as if they are the most important movement in the history of the Republic.

This is America. It’s not the ideal that we hold in our minds, that we so desperately wish were so. It’s the real one out there.

If we knew our American history better, we’d see that it’s always been the real America. By 1886, when the Supreme Court did away with 230 state laws that had been passed to regulate corporations, it had already accepted the argument that corporations were “persons,” and their money was property protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, supposedly passed to protect the rights of African American people.

As Howard Zinn points out: “of the Fourteenth Amendment cases brought before the Supreme Court between 1890 and 1910, nineteen dealt with the Negro, 288 dealt with corporations.” (A People’s History of the United States)

This isn’t the America we are to have in our minds. We are to believe the meta-narrative repeated by every president and taught by the official histories that have always protected us from knowing our history. We want to believe this, and that makes it easy.

The recent amendments proposed by the Texas Board of Education are, again, merely more blatant about rewriting history in the name of an ideal America in official minds --blatant because they have the power to get away with it in public. In the past it looked less manipulative.

That meta-narrative says that America warmly accepted the tired and poor of the world to its shores. We’re not to notice the history of how groups were welcomed with suspect and derision so that even the Irish had to prove they were white folks to fit in.

The recent Arizona laws are just more blatant political ploys, diverting our attention from corporate greed into believing that our problems are brought on by these immigrants. There’s little talk of actual cases where someone’s job was taken away by these workers.

So the political narrative has shifted. We get scare tactics about how they are using up our services without paying for them in their blood, sweat, and minimal wages.

Recognizing that there are two Americas isn’t to get discouraged but to grow up. When those who prefer to see things as they aren’t criticize those who see the real America, they claim that these realists don’t really love their country.

But there are two kinds of love. One is that of a little child for its parents. The child believes they are perfect, know everything, and can do no wrong.

There’s another that’s grown-up. It sees its parents’ faults, foibles, and sins, but it loves them in a mature way.

It doesn’t need to cover up problems. It loves them enough to participate in the work of solving, healing, and bringing out the best in the object of its love.

Grown-up love motivates progressive activists.

Watching the Church Deal with Its Sex Problems

It's been haunting the church for decades. It's an issue the Roman Catholic Church is currently dealing with in the way any international corporation would.

What we're seeing in the current discussions of priestly abuse of their positions sexually and the standard institutional cover-up, is consistent with the long history of those not so strange bedfellows: religion and sex. There's no surprise here, except to those who have preferred denial.

This is more than just the Church's defenders arguing that it's the media in this case, not the Church, on a witch-hunt. But who is surprised that those who have so much stake in the Truth of the Church to which they've tethered themselves are lashing out at their accusers - even at times acting as if it's a valid argument to put down the cries of those abused because it's "old news?"

It's more than watching the Church's defenders invoke their biases by blaming homosexuality again. That's a trope that will find numerous defenders among those who blame LGBT people for everything from the problems with their own marriages to the fall of Rome.

It's more than just the realization that the Church's old argument that this is just an American matter is bogus as its victims surface all over Europe. Appearance of the universality of the phenomena was just a matter of time. Wait till we hear of it in Africa and Asia.

It's more than just priests abusing males. Female victims are abundant as a visit to the website of the Survivors' Network of Those Abused by Priests makes clear.

And it's more than just a dragging out of the usual defenses to protect Church leadership. As if following a manual for damage control of any large corporation's brand, it went from denial, to claiming it's just a few bad apples, to demonization of its critics, to defense of its CEOs, to well-guarded admissions.

All of this is tired because all of this is not new. It's not new for the Roman Catholic Church, and it's not new for the Protestant churches that are just thankful they're not in the news about sexual abuse and harassment.

There's a long history of problems with sexuality in Christian communities, and the evidence is that it's about the same percentage among non-Catholic as among Catholic clergy -- all Protestant fundamentalist, anti-Catholic finger-pointing aside.

A consistent obsession of religious leaders, East and West, is human sexuality. One of the most taboo-laden areas of human life in religions worldwide has been their lists of rules to control people's sex lives.

As Christian traditions developed, sex and the erotic were feared, used, controlled, suppressed, condemned, and punished. Historians have fully documented what at times they've labeled eroto-phobia.

There's nothing new in all of this history. Liberal Christians have been trying to dig themselves out of this legacy for generations now.

But what this underlines again, is that the Church as an institution is, and many other churches are, suffering from sexual addiction. This is not to excuse anything, as critics of the concept of sexual addiction maintain.

It's not to label sexual freedom or the varieties of sexual orientation as evidence of sexual addiction so as to control sex scientifically.

It's to understand how sexual addiction leads to religious addiction in those people who flee to religion and its feelings of righteousness to cover their unwillingness to deal in a healthy manner with how they use sex to feel better about damaged self-concepts.

Sexual orientation is not the issue except that the sexuality of LGBT people is likely to be further damaged by the oppressive culture around us. Sexual addiction is using sex to alter ones mood so that one does not confront, face, and heal the emotional and psychological issues that drive someone to any addiction, ingestive or process.

Obsession with sex, not just wanting to indulge, but obsession with controlling the sexuality of others, is a mark of the addiction. And, as Patrick Carnes argues, the cause of sexual addiction is often a sexual self-hatred.

The concept of sexual addiction isn't motivated by a puritanical desire to condemn sex, for the addiction is just as likely to manifest itself in just that. Hence the subtitle of one of Carnes' books: Sexual Anorexia: Overcoming Sexual Self-Hatred (1997).

"Sexual anorexia is an obsessive state in which the physical, mental, and emotional task of avoiding sex dominates one's life. Like self-starvation with food or compulsive debting or hoarding with money, deprivation with sex can make one feel powerful and defended against all hurts," Carnes writes.

"In this case, sex becomes the furtive enemy to be continually kept at bay, even at the price of annihilating a part of oneself." Carnes actually places much of the blame on our sex-negative culture reflected in that advice dished out by a number of churches: "Sex is dirty, save it for the one you love."

When a religious institution is sexually addicted, it bristles at statements such as M. Scott Peck's in his popular The Road Less Traveled: "I distrust any religious conversion which does not also involve an intensification of one's sexuality."

A popular way not to deal with sexual shame, desires, and self-hatred is to transfer the resulting sexual addiction to religion, as I've argued in When Religion Is an Addiction. The more one gets caught up in one's religious righteousness and its corresponding energetic, judgmental high, the more one can suppress feelings of self-hatred.

But this is to try to become comfortable with what Carnes identifies as the double-life of the addict, in which the real issues don't get discussed: "On the surface, a sex addict may appear to be living faithfully, but scratch through that veneer and we'll find he's maintaining a secret life."

The problem always surfaces. And addicts' responses are denial, defensiveness, and blaming.

This is what I see as I watch this on-going saga of the Church and what breaks out regularly among other churches. Sadly, the institutions won't deal with this.

They'll continue to major in all of the ways that an addict focuses attention off their addiction and onto others. Even the resignation of a pope won't fix this.

Lessons From an Assassination

On January 30, 1948, Mahatma Gandhi during his nightly walk in New Delhi was assassinated by Nathuram Godse. Godse was a right-wing, gun-toting religious believer with connections to a political party whose goals included making India a Hindu nation, rejecting the secularism that separated religion and state.

Almost every semester I’ve lectured on Gandhi and his advocacy of satyagraha, a term he coined which literally means “holding on to Truth.” You’ve seen it translated “non-violent resistance” and, like Mel White, “Soul Force.”

Gandhi never believed in compromising satyagraha. The very word he chose illustrates that.

He was not a relativist. Non-violence, for Gandhi is the only way to live in this world.

But this semester the class’ discussion of my lecture among its self-selected liberal students who were studying peace and conflict, was dominated by an assumption that was sure to enable the advocates of violence in our world to be winners – Gandhi couldn’t have thought it was true for everyone.

They didn’t want to believe – in spite of Gandhi’s fasts unto death, his Salt March across India, and his jail terms – that Gandhi thought his view was correct and others were wrong. These students had become what right-wingers in our culture wanted them to be.

The students wanted me to agree that Gandhi’s satyagraha was merely a personal position, that he wouldn’t believe it would be true for others. They wanted to like Gandhi, but couldn’t believe he was not fair and balanced. They wanted him to be a “postmodernist.”

No matter what their fantasies, Gandhi didn’t teach that sometimes it was okay to kill others. For him, violence was always wrong. His goal was to coerce others through every non-violent means possible to accept his position and reject violence.

But this doesn’t often represent “good” liberalism. Because others have held their beliefs strongly and absolutely, we are to be afraid of such things.

Relativism is much better, it says. All views have their truth. Sincerity trumps destructive views, and opinions are the same as facts.

The right-wing has been successful at portraying liberals and progressives to the public as “situation ethicists” who don’t really know what they stand for or who are blowing in the wind without a moral compass. Democratic movement toward the right-wing, which Democrats call compromise, only reinforces the belief that “liberals” don’t really stand for anything and will thus cave in to the other side.

What liberal relativists hoped was true worked better before the 1990’s Gingrich revolution, before the religious right-wing first tasted political blood, and before conservatives learned how easy it was to portray compromise as weakness, moral softness, insincerity, and the inability to lead. If things don’t change, it’s likely to end the current Democratic majority.

Of course, “Democrat” does not equal progressive. Many, probably including the current president, are corporate centrists. Their leaders aren’t working class people.

So, those of us who do believe that discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, and all the other human categories, is always wrong, have to say so. And we have to say that what we believe is right and that destroying others is wrong as if it really is.

This is not to be mean or unlistening toward others. Gandhi never was, for that was acting in violence. But he was always forceful and absolute. And he wouldn’t compromise with violence.

We have to be willing to face the fact that the right-wing lies. Yes, I said: lies.

They have learned that even when they have been caught lying, they can be effective by repeating the lie. Repeating it long enough will make it seem less untrue.

They know the mainstream media is fickle. It seldom has a long enough attention span to follow-up on a lie. Eventually, it’ll treat the lie as merely one opinion that has as much validity as the other with which it merely differs (the one with the data behind it.)

No matter how often the polls say otherwise, the conservative and Republican talking-point is that the public doesn’t want a health care plan with a public option. No matter what the legislative process is, the Republicans will say the Democrats rammed their legislation through.

No matter how the historical data says otherwise, Karl Rove and Dick Cheney will stick by their rewriting of history. No matter what right-wing religious leader is found to be a hypocrite, the right-wing won’t criticize them they way they will any lesser offenses “liberals” are accused of committing.

No matter how they control the media, it will always be labeled “liberal.” No matter how they disenfranchise working people, they’ll claim to be populists.

And they know that they can bully so-called liberals into caving -- whether it’s the President not defending his advisors when Glenn Beck targets them unfairly or a congressman’s misstatement turned into an apology. It’s frankly very easy.

They use liberals who don’t want to believe people lie. Put a right-wing justice before the Senate and he’ll say anything to get Democratic approval of his Supreme Court position.

Liberals don’t want to believe that when they’re seated they’ll do everything they said they wouldn’t. Supreme Court precedents? Sure, I’ll tell you that.

It fits your fantasy of the world. But don’t expect me to follow them if I don’t want to consider them.

They’re about gaining power. It’s little different than killing Gandhi or a women’s’ clinic doctor for what they consider a higher purpose.

It doesn’t take much more than knowing how to manipulate liberal guilt and meekness. Just learn from how Bush, Rove, Cheney, and Republicans since have done it.

When those of us who disagree can’t take a stand as if it is meaningful to us, we convince those who are watching that we’re not sincere. We lose their respect.

Even more so, we clear the path for those to rush in who do believe they’re right and others are wrong. We enable them to take over.

"Marriage. Where Could We Be?" Part 3

Marriage can’t bear the weight of our culture’s expectations for sex today. Sex as defined in America is ruining marriages.

After pouring over redundant discussions about sex, monogamy, biology, evolutionary anthropology, and clinical studies, I’m not convinced that the difficulty is based in something inherent in humanity. There’s no reason why a human being cannot be monogamous if it’s their choice.

We’re not helpless creatures who are victims of our biology. We can, and often do, make choices; and we can, and do, live by them.

But sex is so patterned in our culture that no institution, relationship, or lifestyle (open or not) can provide for us what sex is supposed to give. Why we actually have sex and what sex is supposed to mean to us is a problem.

Sex Is Not a Natural Act, writes Lenore Tiefer in her book by that title (2nd revised edition, 2004). What sex is and should be is defined by our culture with rewards for researchers and therapists who promote the culture’s idea of what’s normal.

The authority that tells us where good sex resides is no longer religious institutions. It’s a “science” that receives its funding from industries that promote drugs and products that promise to get our sexual act together.

What is an “adequate” erection? What is a “healthy” female sexual response? How often is “normal” for having sex?

“The message of the new sexual health centers,” Tiefer points out, “really comes from the global pharmaceutical industry that bankrolls them: the proper sexual life consists in perfect, routine, regular desire for ‘normal’ sexual performance, i.e., intercourse and orgasm.”

We worry less about what is morally “good.” In the last century we became more likely to ask: What does science tell us is “normal.”

“The authority for interpreting deviations of behavior shifted almost imperceptibly, category by category, from the domain of sin and evil to that of disorder and abnormality,” she explains. “And once norms become clinical standards, it’s very difficult to identify those psychological problems that might not exist if social conformity weren’t so important.”

Sex continues to be some standard we were to live up to. And it isn’t just a “scientific” one. It’s also a fantasy that the media (both mainstream and pornographic) set before us that isn’t even the lived experience of the actors whose sex we are to idealize.

It’s a standard we are to be convinced we could attain. And marriage is the place where all that perfect sex will take place.

It isn’t realistic or human, but we are to believe that sex does all that the media portray it doing. And our feelings of failure can be exploited to sell us any product on the market.

So, there’s more to it than science’s dictation of how sex should be. Sex has become the bearer of a load of cultural messages that have little to do with actual sexual activity and everything to do with what it’s supposed to fix about us.

Instead of seeing sexual activity as a chosen expression to communicate to another, it’s become a place to prove something about ourselves, a basis for getting something. In sex we are to take something we need psychologically that isn’t about sex at all.

It’s a major substitute that’s engaged in with the expectation of fulfilling needs that would only be finally addressed in therapy or support groups, with listening friends, and through other expressions of intimacy. But at least for a few seconds, if not for minutes, it could feel has if these are addressed.

Sex now is something people engage in to -- prove they really are whatever a man is, feel that they are a woman, convince themselves they’re still attractive to others (in the face of all the cultural messages of what about us isn’t supposed to be attractive), get close to someone, forget their feelings of failure, perform their power over someone, convince themselves someone liked them, get attention, be special, feel wanted, feel less lonely, convince themselves and others they’re good lovers or sexers, prove they’re loveable, relieve boredom, fight fears about aging, have at least one pleasurable experience in life, feel I belong to a group, and on and on.

Whether one should engage in sex for any or all of these reasons is another question. But to the extent that these are to be accomplished through sex with someone, no relationship will last.

No one act can do this and, thus, no one relationship can be expected to endure this. Yet, somehow that has become expected.

And since it can’t, as long as we maintain these expectations, we’ll search for another lover who we fantasize will provide a sexual life that will do it. And then on and on unless we settle for what we consider is a disappointing status.

We can go back to that early Christian leader, Paul, whose insensitive recommendation as a counselor to the church at Corinth was to get married in order to take care of your sexual lusts -- “It’s better to marry than to burn.”

Of course, marriage wasn’t about love in those days anyway. A good marriage was an advantageous match between families, with the man thoroughly in the driver’s seat of marital sexuality.

But if we want relationships to matter, and even want to save marriage, the answer would not be to accept that sex is to do all the things therapy should address and then wonder why it’s failing.

Our country is acutely sick about sex. Getting comprehensive, accurate, and realistic sexual education to our school-age children has been a bust. Fighting messages we get from all over about how sex should be and what it should do is a constant battle against what we’ve internalized.

And convincing ourselves to define “normal, healthy” sex in our own way for ourselves, is to fight even a mainstream clinical practice that will lead us to pills, and techniques that promise to make us feel that our relationship is what others say it should be. And that’s not working well at all.

"Marriage. Where Could We Be?" Part 2

At a mainstream level, we seldom seriously examine some of the core expectations of those who actually do freely decide that marriage is for them. Too many of the counselors whom the popular media pushes write to “improve” those people who have already bought into marriage’s current definitions.

They don’t become popular by questioning the core assumptions that are guaranteed to keep the institution disappointing. Their books would be too challenging to get past a publisher’s marketing expert.

Yet, when one marries, one brings to the relationship all of the role expectations they’ve learned from our society. On top of these, another set of roles – marriage roles – are added.

We’ve been taught what a marriage looks like, how a marriage should work, and what two married people should feel, think, and do. Those roles are quite different from what a relationship would be without any more than the expectation that both people will bring their full humanity to the marriage.

The two participants, therefore, judge their normalcy, interactions, and success by standards that continue to chide them into certain ways of being, acting, thinking and feeling. Since most of those around us have bought into these standards, looking around at others only reinforces what keeps marriage a less than fifty-fifty roll of the dice.

But culturally installed expectations aren’t necessarily, or usually, based in what is healthy for human beings. They are only roles meant to keep a profit-oriented society expanding at an addictive pace.

Few will therefore be satisfied with their self-evaluations based on their ability to live up to these ideals. The relationship or the partner will become the scapegoat.

Unexamined, the result will be a searching for yet another relationship. “This time, this one” will fulfill the unfulfilable.

We start by bringing society’s male and female gender roles to marriages. Our culture’s already installed them.

No wonder marriage equality is said to be dangerous by the pushers of the status quo. To the extent that marriage is believed to be a living out of these gender roles, marriage equality threatens “traditional marriage.”

Two men or two women marrying can’t come to the institution with the standard expectations of who is the husband and who is the wife. Let’s hope they won’t be using “traditional,” straight-acting marriage as their model no matter how much those thinking only through these roles keep asking who plays the man, and who the woman.

If LGBT people do, then the kind of creative thinking needed to save heterosexual marriage itself will be difficult. Same-sex couples will have given up the chance to model a healthy lifestyle by rejecting dysfunctional straight-aping.

A revolutionary examination of what marriage is, needs to begin with affirming coupled love as a relationship between two human beings, not two gender roles. How would one human being (however you want to define human) relate to another?

It’s no longer assumed that because of ones anatomy or gender identity, we automatically know who will take out the garbage, mow a lawn, initiate sexual expression, nurture the other, wash the dishes, do any laundry, or take the car in for repairs. Everything is now and always up for negotiation.

This means the relationship will take more effort. It will challenge the belief that we’re supposed to be spending our time promoting business by working more, shopping more, and consuming more. Who has time for all this?

We’re not supposed to value sitting down together to discuss the “little” things of life. They’re a waste of time.

And what if in a few years we change our minds and want to change our roles? You mean we have to do this again?

Tough. Sacrifice. Bury your dissatisfaction.

It’s better for our economy that those things are settled and taken for granted. On to the “important” things that take the focus off of relationship disappointments.

And the male role, the role that’s supposed to define what marriage is by its dominance (Isn’t that why the man’s the boss?) isn’t supposed to think in terms of feelings, relationships, and all those little things anyway. Men only dwell on big issues, like finance, work, and sports.

On top of this, when one becomes someone’s spouse, there are further roles to add. What does it mean to be a husband or wife? What’s on the list of new expectations?

Few discuss these with their partner before they tie the knot to see if there’s agreement. Few reflect upon them at all.

But most have an unconscious list that one learns about after the fact. They appear when a partner hasn’t fulfilled the expectations of what a spouse it supposed to be.

This is part of what makes someone in a marriage conclude that they’re walking on a minefield. Boom! Gosh, I didn’t even know that was there.

They’re unexamined but related to the models provided by our own moms and dads as well as the images around us. Some of those models also provided exactly what we know we don’t want in a relationship.

We’ve looked on and watched people we know move from one relationship to another and conclude that they haven’t really left the previous one – just found another person like the former in terms of these expectations.

But what if there is no model of an ideal marriage? What if there is no normal, average, or okay standard?

What if each relationship, and each marriage, is a standard unto itself? What if each couple needs to stop looking around itself to compare how it’s doing?

What if we could give up the fear of what others think? What if we could look into each other’s eyes, listen to each other’s deep desires, and create the relationship or marriage that worked for us?

What if we could define for ourselves what Valentine’s Day is? What if we could give up the fear that how we relate to someone must be confined to straight roles?

"Marriage. Where Could We Be?" Part 1

Marriage is a mess now. The problem is it’s just too straight-acting.

Heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual people, and those who don’t identify as any of these, need to apply their best thinking and abilities to fantasize beyond what our culture’s taught us in order to transform marriage into a healing experience for those who choose to tie that knot.

LGBT people should be better at this. They’ve already challenged the straight role by admitting they don’t love according to its dominant model. They just have to put the freedom this gives them to good use to repair, not worship, a failing idol.

Then they’ll go further in challenging how straightness confines marriage to a consumer-driven, role-laden, patterned, often inhuman, interaction. And there are many heterosexual people who are anxious to join a movement for real improvement of their marriages.

To heal marriage we must, it seems, make marriage less desperate. We must no longer consider marriage a norm for human relationships, human fulfillment, and personal wholeness.

The straight role teaches that those who are married are straighter than those who grow old without interest in it -- What’s “wrong” with such people? Is it pathological?

Someone who doesn’t aspire to this “great,” “normal,” “natural,” “basic building block of society,” is just plain queer, the role says. Why, they’re anti-American.

Pressure from everywhere is overwhelming to make marriage a desperate need for feeling right and successful. The more desperate the need is felt, the more things can be sold to get the right partner, make it work, fix the problems involved, and keep retail flowing.

Politicians spend a lot of time proving they’re devoted to straight-acting marriage. Dick Cheney promotes it even with a lesbian daughter. Those most likely to punish others for not having their “values” use their straight-acting family members as a front to get elected while their real lives model hypocrisy toward the vote-getting ideal.

High paid sports figures, who for some reason are expected to be role models, must promote straight-acting marriage in their own lives as if they have the psychological credentials to model relationships. It’s part of their image, identified with the brand name for their business as a cult idol and product endorser.

Religions enforce straight-acting marriage with rewards here and in an afterlife. They demonize LGBT people for wanting in on the straight institution. They reward straightness in families constantly.

Singles in most religious institutions feel it. These institutions try to respond with “singles ministries,” an admission that their regular activities leave singles out. It’s one more missionary thrust to appeal to outsiders.

Religious words like “family” invoke a straight-acting model. When we hear “family values,” we are to picture automatically one where the man and the woman conform to gender roles -- a white family, at that.

No matter how bad things are, religions teach that “God will get you through.” I assume, till you’re relieved of the problems, and rewarded for any suffering, by making it to heaven.

What’s taught is that marriage is the really big solution to most emotional problems, problems more people around us have then we’d like to admit. So, don’t get therapy; get married.

Loneliness? If you don’t marry, you’ll end up alone in the world with no one really there for you, while everyone else has someone special.

Value? If you don’t marry, it’s proof that no one thinks you’re worth it. Everyone will look at you as someone who couldn’t get anyone.

Meaningfulness? Everyone knows that marriage and a family give a person meaning, right? All else is mere prelude. It’s the purpose of life.

Emptiness? I’m sure I’ll feel better when I have accomplished the goal of getting married. I’ll have someone with whom to share my life, dreams, and experiences.

Love? If you don’t marry, you’ll never have someone who sticks with you “for better or for worse, in sickness or in health,” who loves you for who you really are.

Happiness? What about all those studies that are hauled out claiming that married people are happier? Marriage will end your unhappiness. Look at all those happily married couples!

Manhood? Real men can get any woman, get a doll who’ll show what a jewel they can attract, and get a wife who’ll fulfill her role in bed and all around the house.

Womanhood? If you don’t marry, what kind of woman are you? No one wants you. You must instead live as half a person till a partner makes you whole, proves you’re attractive enough, and give you self-approval. Your biological clock is ticking, don’t you know. You could miss your second chance to be fulfilled by mothering his children.

Stop! This is too much weight for any relationship, any institution, to bear. But, more importantly, the messages that marriage is it make the need for everyone to marry desperate.

Instead of looking at alternative relationships such as good friendships, instead of improving those we have, we let them fall by the wayside while we travel the road to the marriage altar.

Instead of taking the time and gaining the wisdom needed to get to know people well enough to take or leave them, we jump at the chance of engagement as soon as it shows up.

Instead of leaving a potential partner before we go down the aisle when we should recognize the signs that this person isn’t the one who’ll support our passions in life, we ignore signs, and our friends’ advice (if they’re brave enough to give it), and plan the ceremony.

Instead of saying goodbye to a spouse because a mistake was made and the marriage isn’t a healing opportunity for both of us, in our desperation to be married we cling tighter because we’re too afraid to be alone or that we’ll never find another.

When we make the unmarried state -- with friends as valued as highly as spouses -- as enviable and rewarding as any married one is supposed to be, we’ll have taken the first step toward “saving” marriage.

© 2011 Robert N. Minor

Other Issues, Books, Resources

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Robert N. Minor is the author of Scared Straight: Why It's So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It's So Hard to Be Human and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society and Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He may be reached through www.fairnessproject.org

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