Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Secret Scandalous World of Gay Jesuits

I just came across this superb expose of the secret world of gay Jesuits - written by former gay Jesuit, Ben Brenkert, who at the age of 35 left both the Jesuits and the Roman Catholic Church in protest against it's treatment of LGBTQ people. This is really powerful stuff and resonates so much with my own experience in the 80's, when I was doing theological studies at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. I was quite shocked at the time by the number of young gay Jesuits going over to San Francisco's Castro District on the weekends to 'pick up tricks'. There were also numerous affairs among the seminarians themselves and distinguished faculty members living openly with their partners with the full knowledge of their superiors. One of my closest gay Jesuit friends, a few months short of ordination, accepted a dinner invitation from his Provincial (of the California Province) to discuss his doubts about his vocation. The invite was at the Provincial's private apartment with spacious views of San Francisco Bay. After dinner, the provincial attempted to seduce my friend, which was a decisive moment of awakening for him. He left the order shortly thereafter. At the same time, I also put all aspirations for the Roman Catholic priesthood behind me and walked away. I just could not see myself living a double life of duplicity and deceit, just as  much as I knew I was not called to celibacy. Priesthood - in some fashion - yes, to that I had felt called all my life, but celibacy and a closeted existence - as the church demanded of all gay persons - this I felt was immoral. And so I walked and never looked back. The peace and joy of this refusal have been with me ever since.

What is most moving about Brenkert's expose is his heartfelt call to his fellow gay Jesuits to 'come out,' and to stop enjoying the comforts of a privileged existence in exchange for their silence and passive support for injustice. He also has some rather trenchant comments about the 'Francis defect', in contrast to the much touted 'Francis effect'. 

Read the full article and accompanying comments here at the Daily Beast.  Warning: Some of the comments below the article are profoundly ignorant and hate filled, just as some are warmly supportive. 

At every new stage of formation, I met more and more gay Jesuits who were happier sipping scotch, ordering cigars, opera tickets, and shoes, publishing books or holding secret masses with LGBTQ sympathizers (that followed unsanctioned liturgical rubrics) than publicly confronting the injustice experienced by members of their community. Their silence pained me. Why won’t these gay priests just come out?

I believe these gay Jesuits won’t come out because they live comfortable lives, with access to so many things, like the latest technology or villas abroad or tenured positions at universities, not to mention the unlimited gas cards that make domestic travel really easy.

Confessions of a Gay Jesuit: How I Was Forced To Leave My Church—And Calling
Ben Brenkert wanted to be a priest, but confronted by the hypocrisy and prejudice of the Catholic Church he had to quit. Here, in a powerful, heartfelt essay, he explains why.

Today, at 35, I am a gay seminarian who still needs human touch. For me the best place is the Episcopal Church. Some day I will be a priest, hopefully married with children. That’s what I’m looking for, love; it falls under the rubric of modern love. I am a modern gay Christian in search of love, one who still wants to become a priest.
From 2004 to 2014 I was a Jesuit, a member of the Society of Jesus in good standing, an order gone global by the election of Pope Francis I. I left the Jesuits because I left the Roman Catholic Church. I would not be an openly gay priest in a Church that fires LGBTQ employees and volunteers. I left in protest: How could I be an openly gay priest who fires LGBTQ employees and volunteers?
Here’s my story; it is an experiment with truth telling, as much as it is about justice for LGBTQ Christians and non-Christians, men, women and children who have been deeply affected by the millennia of anti-gay theology and hate speech espoused by the Roman Catholic Church. The effects of this violence linger today.
My story takes on closeted gay priests, Jesuits or not, and tells them to come out. My story ends by radically calling upon Pope Francis I and his brother Jesuits, indeed anyone who has fired an LGBTQ employee or volunteer, to reinstate them today.
Since I was a teenager, 15 years old, I longed to be a priest as seriously as others dream of a vocation or a career: to become a doctor, a teacher, a writer. Just because I was gay, I felt it was no reason for me not to pursue my dream.
I grew up in Valley Stream, a suburban village on Long Island, the son of an FDNY fire inspector and a mom that worked for Nassau Downs Off Track Betting. More than anything else we were a Roman Catholic family who ordered our lives around the life of the Church, as much as we did big Italian meals and Broadway shows.
Mine was a decent childhood, but at home I could never fully be myself, the Church’s teaching on homosexuality burdened any genuine relationship between my parents and me and my four siblings and me. This is still true today. 
In 2002, at 22, after seven years of happily discerning a call to become a Roman Catholic priest, I almost threw in the towel. I’d had enough dinner meetings with bishops and priests from the Diocese of Long Island and the Society of Mary (the Marists) to know that I could not be an openly gay man in their course of study. No one ever spoke to me about the subject of sex or sexuality: This drew enough red flags for me.
“I’ll never ever go back into the closet. I’ll never again be a scapegoat for anyone’s war with culture, not nature.”
Still desiring to be a priest, I prayed for guidance and remembered two Jesuit priests, Fathers Mateo Ricci and Walter Ciszek, members of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), members of what I would quickly learn was the largest, most progressive and gay-friendly religious order in the Church.
Both Frs. Ricci and Ciszek were missionaries who responded to God and served the Church in Asia; both were formed according to the spirituality of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the Basque nobleman who founded the order in 1540. Loyola set his men apart from other religious orders by giving them the tools to mix in with the upper classes at universities or in courts, but bound them also to serve the poor and least among us, children. In these men I saw myself.
As I discerned entry into the Jesuits, many close friends debated me about homosexuality and Catholicism, essentially questioning my calling. My friend Katie asked me how I could dedicate my life to an institution that labeled me as intrinsically disordered, one who saw gay sexual acts are evil.
But I saw homosexuality and Catholicism in the most holistic way, and I put my needs for self-preservation last because I wanted to make a difference in the life of LGBTQ youth. I thought I could change things from the inside, but to do this right I had to enter the Church’s most gay friendly order, an order with political and social connections that rivaled the Beltway.
Even then I knew it would take years and years to undo the damage done to the LGBTQ community by the Church, damage I hoped to help repair in my lifetime as a priest.
I too wanted to help people, especially gay people like myself, who belong to a church that doesn’t accept them. I knew Catholicism was anti-gay (just read the Catechism of the Catholic Church), but soon enough the gay Jesuits I’d meet rejected the prevailing ethos on that. But I was naïve, too idealistic and pious, sold a bill of goods when I didn’t realize how big the rock was that I’d be pushing up the mountain. I entered the Jesuits in 2005 at the age of 25.
In 2006, at 26, we Jesuit novices studied together in Denver. During this summer gay Jesuits met periodically, in secret to discuss the lack of hospitality and welcome by our straight brothers. Many spoke about how this led them into the dark night of the soul, to what some interpreted as an unhealthy uses of pornography, when what they really wanted was genuine human connection.
Of course, using porn contradicted one’s vow of chastity. One immature novice said that for him gay porn was but one means to keep his “gay self” alive and still connected to a community so often alienated by the Church; for me, he was erroneously projecting his own sense of isolation and alienation by the Church onto the gay porn industry.
In those secret meetings we discussed why it was OK for our straight brothers to make crude jokes about women during dinner while we could not discuss ex-boyfriends or what it meant to be healthy, chaste gay man. Our callings we opined were from God irrespective of our sexual orientation.
We discussed how often we succumb to our natural feelings through masturbation, which some of our novice directors tried to teach us to control. We felt we could live our vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience just as authentically as our straight brothers.
That summer E.S., a youngish, blue-eyed, piano-playing boy from Massachusetts and I had an affair that lasted several weeks. We never had sexual intercourse, but we did just about everything else. As I professed vows my voice quavered. What was I doing? Why was I, a healthy integrated gay man, choosing life in a hostile environment, self-selecting, and freely responding to a vocation in a church that practices “don’t ask, don’t tell” through the imprudent guise of hate the sin, love the sinner?
But God had called me, and before I knew it I was, at 27, on my way to St. Louis for further training. In St. Louis I learned firsthand about the secret, scandalous world of gay Jesuits.
While in St. Louis I met a fraternity of men just out of similar novitiates, whose newfound freedom led them to gay or straight bars, but also to “the 4th house” where we would all gather for libations and pizzas. I was shocked by how much drinking went on that first year. I was more shocked by the stories I’d hear of younger Jesuits fathering babies, and gay Jesuits fondling each other in vans on the way to retreats.
These men were gay Jesuits whom the Church and the Society of Jesus embraced, gay men who according to the church’s teaching were still objectively disordered, intrinsically deviant from the natural world and social order.
Was the Society of Jesus doing us, or the LGBTQ community, any favors by keeping us?
While in St. Louis I was told by my superiors not to write about LGBTQ issues, that such a commitment to social justice, while helpful, would draw red flags and possibly delay my ordination to the priesthood. Outside the classroom I had other things to worry about. I inherited the unhealthy sexual appetite of a young Jesuit who entered religious life right after high school.
M.B. was a strikingly attractive young Polish man from St. Louis whose sexual appetite was rapacious, and whose attraction to me never ceased. With time his advances grew more aggressive. We spent a weekend at a vacation home in Green Hills, when M.B. asked me to sleep with him. 
During that weekend M.B. told me about at least one affair with another Jesuit, M.P. Later, when M.B. suggested we have a threesome I knew that our own sexual intimacy in the basement of the “4th house” had stirred his addiction to sex, and to me.  
Before long we were skipping meals and paper writing and finding our usual spot on the campus of St. Louis University to embrace, and kiss and dry hump. He told me his nickname for his penis, “the Amazon.”
Once when I told my acting superior Fr. S. about M.B.’s advances he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Why resist? To him you’re so exotic.” I surmised that I was exotic because of my good looks and charm, but was that an excuse to break my vows and give in to M.B.’s aggressive advances?
As I left St. Louis, in 2010 at the age of 30, to work in our Jesuit prep school in New Jersey, I more and more decried my inability to work for LGBTQ justice and equality. To do so I had to talk about civil rights and the experience of African Americans at the expense of talking about issues relevant to the LGBTQ community.
I could talk about racism but not homophobia. I could mix in with African-American students, but be reprimanded when I worked too closely with Breaking Barriers, the school’s “gay-straight alliance.”
Every time I heard a prep student use the term “faggot,” or counseled a gay student bullied by his peers, I thought of James Baldwin’s essay, ‘Stranger In The Village,’ (PDF) where he writes, “The children who shout ‘Neger!’ have no way of knowing the echoes this sound raises in me.”
Recently, a married lesbian former colleague chided me, “Why didn’t you do more when you were with us?” My answer: to work from within I had to play the game. That answer was not sufficient: Was I a coward? No, I don’t think so. To do something I needed to be ordained, I wasn’t there yet. Over time I grew tired of waiting for ordination.
About the secret world of gay Jesuits: I could go on and on about gay Jesuits playing the piano in the West Village’s Duplex or about the nights I spent at NYC’s Splash Bar or Eagle Club. I could talk about how older gay Jesuits swam nude during summers at villa homes, about Jesuits who groped each other in hot tubs, or Jesuits who were gay in the order but who are now safely married. I could talk about gay Jesuits that had online Avatars and memberships to gay online dating sites. I could talk about failed Jesuit hook-ups, my own and others.
There were the gay Jesuits who were so closeted that they hid behind conservatism, leaving the Jesuits for formation programs in dioceses across the United States. There were gay Jesuits who were put in clerical prison for embracing undergrads too long, and others who attended Sexaholics Anonymous, or whose personal collection of pornography was mistakenly played during high school lectures. 
I myself was groomed for sex by several older Jesuits. I saw the vehement internalized homophobia of some Jesuits, and knew of certain gay pastors removed from jobs so that less out and more passable gay Jesuits replace them at gay-friendly parishes.
There were gay Jesuits who traveled the world to scuba dive or taste French wine. One gay Jesuit offered to marry me as I departed the Society of Jesus. I lament that these gay Jesuits remain silent while their gay or lesbian lay colleagues are fired from jobs and brought closer to poverty.
At 35, I continue to ponder the question: Why is it fair for the Church to ordain gay men who sneak out at night just to be with other men of their community, while the Church condemns gays who want to marry and to express their love?
One week ago at Posh, a popular New York City gay bar, a gay Catholic who worships at the Paulist Church near Fordham University’s Lincoln Center Campus told me not to be angry with the Church. He added that the Paulist Church does wonders for him and his peers because they identify the LGBTQ community in the bulletin and other public announcements. Is that a measure of victory for the LGBTQ community?
This gay man said that he had finally decided to move in with his partner of seven years, but that they would never marry. When I asked why, he said marriage is not the be-all and end-all of life for gay Catholics. This same man told me he’s spotted the Jesuit pastor of a local parish at Posh a number of times over the past year.
This conversation haunted me for the next few days. Here is a gay man who doesn’t want to receive a sacramental marriage or be recognized by his church community, himself observing a gay priest secretly frequenting a gay bar. These two men should meet: Maybe my new friend could help my Jesuit brother to come out of the closet.
At every new stage of formation, I met more and more gay Jesuits who were happier sipping scotch, ordering cigars, opera tickets, and shoes, publishing books or holding secret masses with LGBTQ sympathizers (that followed unsanctioned liturgical rubrics) than publicly confronting the injustice experienced by members of their community. Their silence pained me. Why won’t these gay priests just come out?
I believe these gay Jesuits won’t come out because they live comfortable lives, with access to so many things, like the latest technology or villas abroad or tenured positions at universities, not to mention the unlimited gas cards that make domestic travel really easy.
In other words, these gay Jesuits are living better lives than the estimated 320,000 to 400,000 homeless LGBTQ youth in America. Why they don’t speak up is beyond me. Which is why I left the Church in protest over its continued ill treatment of LGBTQ Christians and non-Christians.
My final coming out in the Jesuits came last spring; it was 2014, months after I learned about the firing of heroes like Nicholas Coppola and Colleen Simon from two of our Jesuit institutions. Coppola and Simon are married to partners of the same sex.
I contacted my superior, and other leaders of the Jesuits and started a conversation about justice and equality. I said, we have to do something, we must stand up publicly against the firing of LGBTQ employees and volunteers.
I realized nothing would be done, as such I penned an open letter to Pope Francis.
In it I asked him to help save my vocation by calling for an end to the firing of LGBTQ employees and volunteers. I questioned why he would allow the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to fire people, and bring them closer to poverty, some of whom make less than $15 an hour (without health care).
In July, I mailed Pope Francis and the Jesuit Superior General Fr. Adolfo Nicholas hard copies of the letter. They never responded. I thought: Wasn’t this the era of “Who am I to judge?”
But the pope who called so many others never called me. Of course, I wasn’t as naive as to think this problem would be solved in one phone call. But that’s the impression the pope gives—that any one statement ushered by him solves problems that have had negative consequences for millennia. To me, that is the Francis defect.
Employees and volunteers like Coppola and Simon were fired for who they are. Even as Pope Francis prepares to visit the United States, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is intolerantly strident in its opposition to Francis’s liberalism. Look at the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s recent proposal to implement morality clauses in employment contracts.
The pope and the Society of Jesus must reinstate men and women who have been fired from jobs (and volunteer activities). This is not some radical ideal. After all, this pope has changed the discourse about human nature, and while the tone is fresh and new the substance must match that spirit.
As I look into doctoral programs in theology, I practice clinical social work for a major nonprofit in the Bronx. I work with teenage boys who are bullied by the peers, negatively labeled as gay or called “faggots.”
“Why?” I often think about the Roman Catholic Church and her influence on secular society. I have no regrets about leaving the Jesuits. My family does, but their lamentations speak to their own discomfort with my sexuality and same-sex desire generally.
That’s not my battle anymore; I am a happy, confident, and grateful gay man. Like the Church, my family has their own skeletons to deal with, but I’ll never ever go back into the closet. I’ll never again be a scapegoat for anyone’s war with culture, not nature.
What do I desire? Well, I’m back on the market, dating, and using Apps like Tinder, to look for a man with whom I can share the joys and sorrows of life, a man with whom I can marry, and love, and raise children. I realize now it is love that is universal, not celibacy.
I continue to respond to God’s invitation to me to be a priest. For me, that could be in the Episcopal Church. At the Easter Vigil liturgy, I’ll be received into the Episcopal Church. I am happy to call St. Luke in the Fields in Greenwich Village my spiritual home.
While I’ll always be priestly, priesthood is less important for me than defeating social sin and structural evil, both of which have unnecessarily contributed to violence against the LGBTQ community, the community I deeply admire and deeply love. 
My story is an experiment with truth-telling in so much as it reveals the hypocrisy of an institution beholden to a rhetoric and a theology that is far from meeting people where they are.
That Jesus held his beloved disciple John close to his breast at the Last Supper tells me something about where the Church should be. It should hold those LGBTQ men, women, and children closer to her breast, and thank God that some of them still journey the communion line to say “Amen,” and not “Adieu.”

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Near Death and the Afterlife in Crime Novels

I recently posted a review at my other blogsite of a delightful crime novel entitled, First Grave on the Right, by author Darynda Jones. This book was the first in a series that numbers eight novels by now and still counting.

The central character is a young woman detective with psychic abilities named Charley, who can 'see dead people'. These are usually wandering souls who have recently suffered some grisly end and come to Charley to appeal to her to find and catch their killers - whom they usually know. It's quite a witty, entertaining plot device, but Ms. Jones has imbued this gimmick with a certain subliminal spiritual world view - which is why I liked the book and chose to review it. Imagine the convenience when the victims of a murder can tell you 'who dun it.' 

The review can be read here at Crime Scene Reviews/

Jones calls upon many of the insights gleaned from Near Death Experiences over the years, including a loving light that draws souls into its embrace. Her post-deathly friends, who come to her with various problems, are first attracted to Charley's own light, which is a reflection of the more Infinite Light that awaits them when their final tasks on this earthly plane have been completed. And it is Charley who helps them make the transition to the infinite beyond, to let go and surrender to the Light. It's a lovely spiritual world view and it's presented gently, unobtrusively and with a good deal of humor and romance thrown into the bargain. One can take this spiritual perspective or leave it, the author leaves you free. Wisely, she has made it non-sectarian. There are no angles or Sacred Hearts in sight - or iconography from any other known religion. But the sense of an unconditional love pervading the universe - breathing its presence just behind the terrible events of a violent and unjust world - gives a unique perspective to this crime novel. It is a vision of hope beyond suffering and despair, and though lightly done, it makes these crime novels a unique contribution to the genre. Suffering is not the end. Beyond all contradictions, there is the Light, lovingly calling us into its embrace. 

Don't judge these books by their lurid covers. They are more than empty 'chic-lit' romances. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

PRIDE DVD Straightwashed for US market

Two postings ago, I offered my brief review and recommendation of Pride, as the best gay film of the year. In fact, it won the British Independent Film award a month ago for best overall British film of the year.

I wasn't aware at the time of posting that the DVD cover of the film for US markets had removed all references to 'gay' and 'gay activists' from both the cover and the write up blurb. Yet again another sign of just how backward parts of US culture remain. There were, of course, a number of attempted rationalizations - to the effect that if the gay references were left in, the film would be back shelved and out of reach. By cleansing the product, it makes it more accessible, ete etc. Here's the director trying to put a positive spin on it (He was clearly taken by surprise)

"Pride" is a film which plays incredibly well to a global mainstream audience of any political or sexual persuasion. It’s a film about two groups of people forming an unlikely alliance and fighting each others’ corners rather than just their own. It is probably one of the most political films ever to hit the mainstream and it is certainly one of the most loved films of the year (even by people who hate politics). I don’t consider it a "gay film" or a "straight film." I’m not interested in those labels. It is an honest film about compassion, tolerance, and courage.
Marketing "Pride" has proved an interesting challenge from day one, and there are many people in the mainstream who have yet to see the film. My guess is some of those people are imagining that the film is maybe "too political" for them, and some others are imagining it could possibly be "too gay." As it happens, these concerns completely evaporate in the presence of the movie itself, but they are important when attempting to manage potential audience perceptions through marketing. Since the day I first read the script I have felt passionately that this film, of all films, deserves to find a fully diverse audience from all walks of life. Indeed its very meaning and message is diminished the more "niche" it becomes. I look forward to living in a world where these kinds of marketing negotiations are neither valid nor necessary -- but we're not there yet. In a sense, that's why I made the film.
For these reasons I don’t automatically condemn any attempt to prevent the movie being misunderstood as an exclusively “gay film." I certainly don’t regard such attempts as homophobic.

Quite a difference, I must say, and a shameful one.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A World of Shadows: CITIZEN FOUR, Edward Snowden, and Charlie Hebdo

(These reflections were taken from previous posting, which was a little too long with too many themes.)

The world is not in a good state at the moment at this beginning of 2015, and I certainly don't wish to be a prophet of doom. I trust as always in the deeply hidden mystery of Divine Providence, ever there, ever watching, always guiding, always supporting - in the shadows, in the silences, in our doubts and fears - the loving face of the Divine leading us through darkness into the glorious light. 

I just watched Citizen Four, the extraordinary, chilling documentary about Edward Snowden by Loira Poitras.This one is also not to be missed. Scary and horrifying to see it all layed out there, the full extent of the surveillance machine aimed against us. The film helped me immeasurably to come to terms with the enigma of Edward Snowden, and as I feel about good Pope Francis, I continue to believe in Snowden's integrity and courage, despite some very alarming red flags! There are suspicions in some quarters that he was a CIA plant from the get go, dishing out carefully controlled and selected revelations as a way of protecting the truly damaging secrets. A disinformation agent engaging in 'controlled dissent.' Hard to believe, however, than any one human being would make such a sacrifice, forced to hide away in a foreign country, cut off from family and friends with little hope of returning home. Why has this radical point of view gained any credibility? Because of the strange linkage of journalist Glen Greenwald and documentary filmmaker, Laura Poitras with billionare owner of Ebay (and Pay Pal), Pierre Omidyar. This was all the more disturbing when it was revealed that Omidyar has close ties with the NSA, the very institution that Snowden was supposedly exposing. Furthermore, Omidyar was funding some of the same Ukrainian NGO's the US was funding in its (successful) attempt to overthrow  the pro Russian Ukrainian government. This has led to suspicions that he was funding on behalf of the US government and not simply acting independently.  Suspicious indeed. Now this billionaire business man with close ties to US intelligence, surveillance and government essentially owns the 'secrets of Edward Snowden'. Not a propitious ending to this story at all and it leaves a very sour taste in the mouth. The subsequent posturings and rationalizations of Greenwald have not helped the case either. The documentary, however,  takes us right into that famous Hong Kong hotel room two years ago when Greenwald and Poitras first met Snowden, recording history in the making. I felt the film revealed a genuine, honest, thoughtful idealist, who seemed truly pressured and in fear for his own safety.  This was not an acting performance we were treated to, the man seemed really under threat - no matter how the affair has ended up - and it is certainly not ended yet. But the mystery and enigma is shrouded in shadows. Who is the real Edward Snowden, living in exile in Moscow - with no uncertain future ahead of him, 'the most wanted man in the world'? Let the reader decide. 

Here's a worthwhile article asking the right questions:

Keeping Secrets: Pierre Omidyar, Glenn Greenwald and the privatization of Snowden’s leaks.

Edward Snowden has popularly been compared to major whistleblowers such as Daniel Ellsberg,Chelsea Manning and Jeffrey Wigand. However, there is an important difference in the Snowden files that has so far gone largely unnoticed. Whistleblowing has traditionally served the public interest. In this case, it is about to serve the interests of a billionaire starting a for-profit media business venture. This is truly unprecedented. Never before has such a vast trove of public secrets been sold wholesale to a single billionaire as the foundation of a for-profit company.

Here is FBI whistleblower, Sibel Edmonds, website, BOILING FROGS:, which contains the most searching critique of the Edward Snowden affair available online. Since Sibel is a noteworthy whistle blower herself, her criticism has considerable merit and deserves to be taken seriously. I just can't go quite as far as she does in dismissing Snowden as as a fake from the get go. Sorry, Sibel, he seems like the real thing to me (but then what do I know), but he handed over all controls and documents to Greenwald and Poitras. Are they the 'villains' in this story? 

In the interests of fairness, here is Laura Poitras explaining her own motivations and the many grave risks she took in making the documentary. It is stirring stuff.

My own intuitions are with Edward Snowden as a genuine hero for the age. 

I see I've babbled on enough in this posting about too many disparate subjects, but for any readers interesting in exploring the background investigations going on about the horrendous Paris shootings, here is the website of former secretary of the Treasury under President Ronald Reagan, Paul Craig Roberts (Paul Craig Roberts:Institute for Public Policy), who is now a fierce critic of US foreign policy. He frequently publishes updates from his French contacts on the Charlie Hebdo affair - and the number of alarming red flags surrounding it and the glaring holes in the official story. I kept my distance from all of the mass hysteria, the marching in the streets, the arms joined by some of the worst offenders of free speech in the political world. It just seemed too suspicious to me. However, I was moved by the solidarity of the 'masses' in the streets of Paris, joining hands across religious and ideological lines. Was this, indeed,  a false flag event, as many are suggesting? Circumstantial evidence seems to point as much in this direction, and to various security agencies (unnamed),  as it does towards the two (conveniently) assassinated radical Islamic brothers. Were they set up as patsies beforehand, with a trail of incriminating actions they might have been led into by double agents? Fodder for a great spy novel. I would say it's about 50/50 at the moment, but it does all have a very fishy smell. However,  this is food for a future posting. 

Not a very happy or uplifting way to end a new year posting, but then it has been a shocking beginning to 2015. So here is a great photo of our favorite, gay friendly Super Model, River Viiperi! Looking very sexy and sassy in white! 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Gay Culture and Films for the New Year

This stunning painting of gay love surviving in the shadows of a hostile world is by the wonderful artist, Doug Blanchard, who is responsible for the extraordinary gay stations of the Cross, The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision, with text by Kittredge Cherry! Check out her Jesus in Love site, devoted to LGBT spirituality. 

This painting captures so many dimensions which words cannot adequately express - the dingy hotel room with the cracked grey walls, the shattered window pane, the broken coffee cups. It looks very much like a refuge, a place of hiding and escape. The two men's bodies glow with a life giving warmth, but the look of yearning and sorrow on the young man's face is both passionate and mournful. Together at last, yet for how long, for only this brief moment? When will the shadows disperse and when can we be open and free.

On a similar note, I recently went through what are probably the three most noteworthy gay films of the past year, in order of my preferences:

The wonderfully heartwarming, Pride, nominated for a Golden Globe for best picture and for several Bafta's, including Best British Film of the Year, which I hope it wins - though the award will probably go to one of the biops The Imitation Game or The Theory of Everything. The film tells the story of "U.K. gay activists working to help miners during their lengthy strike of the National Union of Mineworkers in the summer of 1984." A deeply moving study of how tenacity and passion can eventually overcome the barriers of homophobia, the ending brings tears to the eyes. The largest contingent of marchers in the fledgling London's Gay Pride Parade of 1984 - was composed of seven tour buses of Welsh miners come to support their friends.  Their numbers were so great, they were put at the head of the parade, banners and all! In those long ago days, there were few communities more homophobic than the Welsh miners and their wives. The motley group of young gay activists, passionate and idealistic, broke through all barriers `and won the miners' hearts and respect, but not before suffering much misunderstanding, ridicule and rejection.  Deeply moving and powerfully political, and as one reviewer noted - and I paraphrase - "with no disrespect intended, this would make a great musical." The best gay film of the year in my humble opinion! Not to be missed. 

My second favorite film of the year was the tender, poignant and very timely love story, Love in Strange, the story of a gay teacher (Alfred Molina) who loses his position as choir director at a Catholic high school when he marries his partner (John Lithgow) of many years. This couldn't be more relevant, as numerous gay employees of Catholic institutions are fired right and left for marrying their partners or coming out as married in any public way.  We the viewers suffer with heartache as the couple in the film deals with the devastating consequences of the Church's intransigence - the loss of their security, their own apartment, health insurance = all the consequences of a deeply homophobic church, unable to face its own dark shadow or practice the virtues it preaches. Devastating. Molina and Lithgow deliver such tender, true performances, with all the wrinkles of such a relationship on display, warts and all. Yet what remains is the haunting image of their lasting love throughout it all -  including bouts of infidelity. Some gay reviewers at IMDB objected to the ending, the long lingering look at Lithgow's young teen nephew, riding his bike alongside his new girlfriend, a bittersweet, sad smile on his face as he thinks with affectionate nostalgia of the uncle he recently lost and whom he deeply misses. In the previous scene, we had seen him sobbing on the stairway, overcome with grief.  "See, he's not gay, thank god," was the cynical response of quite a few of these (younger) gay reviewers, incensed that this seemed to be a film for straight people, reassuring them that the younger boy would not turn out gay (whew! sigh of relief). I'm not sure what to make of that. A bit of truth to it, I suppose, a final note of reassurance for straight viewers that 'even' a gay uncle can have a loving, positive influence of a young male gay teen. "Thank god he was not a pedophile," seems to be the subliminal message some of these viewers read into the film. Yet I found the ending quite positive and affirming. After all, life goes on and what are the statistical chances of the young man being gay? Had he been gay, I would have found the story a bit contrived. Instead, we are presented with a picture of an average straight boy starting out in life, discovering love for himself - after his loving gay uncle gave him the necessary push in the right direction. The gay uncle understands the power of love and what the young man needs to do to find it. In the end sexual orientation matters not a wit. What matters is love and the power of affectionate commitment and loyalty to the end. A beautiful film, not to be missed. 

Alan Turning being arrested on charges of indecency.

The last film, The Imitation Game, chronicles the true life story of Cambridge mathematician, Alan Turning who successfully cracked the German Enigma spy code, helping to shorten the war by at least several years and saving several million lives in the process. He was of course, 'tortured' for his homosexuality when it was discovered in the 1950's (a tryst in a toilet with an undercover policeman). He was forced to undergo chemical therapy to inhibit his gay libidinous tendencies. He committed suicide a year after the treatment began. He was posthumously pardoned by the Queen on December 24th, 2013, a little over a year ago. It is a sad and shameful tale of an extraordinary  man, a hero by any accounts, who made an inestimable contribution to his community, but who was persecuted for his sexual orientation which he had to keep secret for most of his life. The film takes quite a close look at this dimension of his character, including his loving relationship with one of his female colleagues on the Enigma team (the lovely Kiera Knightley) who wants to marry him, sexual orientation be damned. "We can be companions,' she tells him. Benedict Cumberbatch is nominated for both an Oscar and a Bafta for his performance. Another unmissable film. 

Other news:

I Have been watching 'poor' Pope Francis stumble his way through the contraception, birth control debacle, trying to find his way out without compromising the reputation of his office and authority in general in the church - on the one hand, wanting to ensure more Catholic babies, on the other assuring us we don't need "to breed like rabbits." Poor man, trapped by his own preconceptions, priorities, intellectual and theological formation and the heavy pressures of his inflated office. I continue to like him as a sincere, spiritual man, and unlike the cynics, I do not think he is simply lying or playing a propaganda game. Yet it is difficult not to become cynical when - in the words of Jerry Slevin - we see the Pope kissing babies on the one hand, and hobnobbing with billionaire right wing extremists (heavy donors to the church) on the other He seems really and truly trapped by too many restrictions coming from too many directions, not least of which is the pressure from his fellow cardinals seeking to shore up their own authority and escape prosecution for crimes against children. The message I get from this - apart from the obvious one, that we need to stop relying upon authority figures to solve our problems for us or reform anything - is that even a good and spiritual man with the best intentions in the world can be compromised and even corrupted by this system of authority in the Church. It's too easy now to paint him as a hypocritical villain, slyly playing a double game, talking nicey nicey while dealing deviously behind the scenes, shoring up the financial pillars of the institution, protecting the criminals, propping up its tottering public image and authority by trying every which way to continue the contraception ban. I can't quite accept this scenario, though I might simply be naive myself. There seems to be  an authentic decency in the man, genuine and true, and therein lies the paradox. Decency is simply not enough these days! This is a much more subtle, complex picture of a human being than the simple caricature being parroted about here and there. One wonders if John Paul I, Albino Luciani, wouldn't have been somewhat the same.  Caring, decent, saintly - and yet also a man of the church who would have moved very slowly. But given his history of comments about birth control, one also suspects that on this one issue he would have been ahead of his successor + 2.

From The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision by Doub Blanchard (artist) and Kittredge Cherry (author). 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Outcasts of Christmas and the Winter Solstice

A Blessed Winter Solstice celebration for all you holy pagans out there, followers of Attis and Dionysus, both of Greece; Mithra of Persia; Salivahana of Bermuda; Odin of Scandinavia; Crite of Chaldez; Thammuz of Syria; Addad of Assyria, and Beddru of Japan. (All of these male deities celebrate their birthdays on December 25th).
For all of you Christian sinners out there (like me), Feliz Navidad! A blessed day in honor of the Crucified Savior, born in a shelter for animals outside the inn. 

To remind us that Jesu was born an outcast, here is a haunting photo of a Romany family being investigated by police in Romania. 

No room for Jesus in the Inn of respectable society. But the Roma would have taken Him in.

Today is a day to celebrate the inclusion of all outcasts in the warmth of our Divine Mother/Father's familial embrace. All are welcome. 

(thank you, Chris Mac, from The Scarecrow Blog)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Barracuda - a Young Gay Teen Novel

A significant contribution to gay teen literature, but not without its exasperating flaws.

I had to struggle to finish this book, but I persevered to the end because I respected the author's intentions and his deliberate efforts to integrate the gay sexuality of his central character into the narrative without making it a central issue. We are still in dire need of gay fictional treatments of the difficulties of coming out and dealing with homophobia and gay bashing - witness the continuing spate of young gay teen suicides or the most recent draconian legal attacks on gay people in Uganda. Nonetheless, there is a countervailing need to see gay characters integrated into quite  ordinary life stories, dealing with the commonplace conflicts and challenges of simply being human. Barracuda fits into this latter category. Never once is the sexuality of his central character made an issue in his ongoing struggles with profound shame, inferiority, humiliation and the concomitant explosions of rage and violence that result. This is a story of a young teen male struggling with a profound insecurity which he seeks to heal by striving to be an Olympic level swimmer. When he fails miserably at his attempts, his own inner world collapses, and he is filled with rage and fury, which he seeks to exorcise throughout the remainder of the book. I could never quite get a handle on the ultimate source of his profound emptiness - other than some sketches of his difficult relationship with his father, and his humiliation at being a wog (of  Greek ancestry) on scholarship among his upper class peers and the 'golden boys' of his school swimming team. Nonetheless, while it was refreshing that his sexuality was never made a central issue, this omission was very strange in a character dealing with profound humiliation and shame. Had it been another set of conflicts, it would have been understandable. But for this reader, it didn't quite work. It was a clever attempt, however, on the part of Christos Tsiolkas. Why not present a gay character who has deep conflicts of inferiority and shame quite unrelated to his 'alternative' sexuality - which he simply accepts as an unremarkable part of his nature and not a contributing factor to his psychic dilemma. There is one very refreshing, bold 'coming out' admission on the part of Christ to his cousin that is not a 'coming out' at all, simply an admission that, just as his cousin misses contacts with girls, Chris misses sexual contact with males. And that is that.

My problem with the book, which other readers share, is that the focus on Chris' inner turmoil is so relentless, repetitive and intense it eventually wears the reader down. It is simply repeated again and again and again, and the end result is to make the character - for much, but not all of the book - a very unattractive person to be with.

What I found to be a great narrative strength, however, is the alternating time spans - covering four phases in the young man's life, from the traumatic early teens, through young adulthood with a male partner. We are switched from one to another and back again, for no readily apparent reason, but this worked for me. Other readers have stated they would have preferred to have grown along with the character. But I couldn't have stood his constant raging and fuming without some respite and without the very clear insight the future flash forwards provide us of a young man who eventually through many painful trials manages to rescue himself from his debilitating neurosis. I thought it was a fascinating look at the way a character can, quite simply, grow up, and it added to the mystery of human development. There were also some remarkable surprises in these flash forwards (no spoilers here).

Lastly, the physicality of the character - which some more genteel readers found offensive - I found refreshing, because it grounded the character in the very real gritty experience of the average teenage boy, acutely conscious of the workings of his body, including pissing, shitting, farting, ejaculating. The incidents in which these bodily functions were described were very sparse and few and far between, just enough to give a believable sense of the sensitivities of an ordinary adolescent. This is a part of being human and part of the 'shame' all of us must come to accept about being ensconced in an animal body. Kudos to Tsiolkas for not shirking from it.

In the end, this is a tortuous, arduous journey of redemption, but I found the end result to be believable and true. I just wish it hadn't been so exhausting to get there.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Religion of the Gypsies

I am very pleased that my first book review at Crime Scene Reviews is the sweeping historical saga, Dosha, Flight of the Russian Gypsies, by Sonia Meyer (Author Interview here) which I’ve selected from Book Club Reading List. 
This deeply DoshaCover_Page_1moving account of the tragic plight of Russian Romany gypsies is an appropriate choice for this site because it deals with a horrific crime of state against a persecuted minority, the Romany. This event was all the more poignant because in the past Russia was the one European country that most welcomed, appreciated and loved its Gypsy communities. They were loved for their unique music and dance, their rich culture, the freedom of their lives, and their passionate loyalty to one another. Gypsies felt safe in Russia for centuries. Sadly, after 1956, this protective haven was destroyed and the Romany were forced to flee for their lives, including many who had fought for Russia as loyal partisans in World Word II. Those who could not escape were herded into starvation camps in Siberia and left to die.
In 1956 – one year after Dosha’s mother, Azra, daughter of the king of thousands of traveling Lovara, had died -the Red net began, without warning, to entrap nomadic Gypsies into the grinding mill of Soviet Standardization.
However, Sonia Meyer has not simply written an historical tract or a sociological essay. She has crafted a richly detailed, deeply moving fictional account of Gypsy life, both within the forests and plains of Russia and during their flight to freedom in the West.  She has personalized the tragedy of an entire people by taking us into the lived experience of a remarkable young Gypsy girl,  Dosha, granddaughter of Khantchi,  the King of her Lovara tribe.  We follow Dosha through a series of harrowing adventures as she seeks to escape to freedom in the West, together with her beloved stallion Rus. For Dosha is a highly gifted rider of horses, and through the training of her father, she is transformed into a master of the horse. This mastery, together with her magnificent stallion,  will catch the eye of Russian agents recruiting for the renowned Leningrad dressage team. Because of this fortuitous event, Dosha will discover her pathway to freedom, and map out a path of escape for the rest of her tribe.
Read the full review here at Crime Scene Reviews