Sunday, November 9, 2008

What is the Shadow Inviting?

What the Outcome of Proposition 8 offers me as a Queer Man

On November 5, 2008 many American’s awoke to witness a mandate from the people regarding the future of our nation. At some particular level our nation has matured beyond the racial tensions that have so thwarted our ability to grow as a nation. Today our African American President Elect prepares to lead this nation. As a nation we are moving beyond a dark place in our history. In my work on a spiritual plane, I have come to value the power of the “shadow.” Shadow is often a reflection of some aspect of self that is difficult to acknowledge. Darkness can often prevail as a tool for enlightenment. This can be a difficult pill to swallow, but I am left feeling that the defeat of Proposition 8, for us in the queer community, can be a powerful tool to our own enlightenment.

California voters repealed its marriage laws to prevent same sex couples the right to marry, another state is rewriting its constitution to define marriage as one man and one woman. Another state outlawed gay people from adopting children. (All right with the Shadow piece already!)

It’s an overwhelming commentary of how far we still need to go regarding Civil Rights. This morning Queer people nationally are grieving their losses and asking what happened? Many are angry and hurt. As I write this, the lessons are perplexing, and at times painful.

The vote was so close in California that it clearly speaks to no one being a winner. Personally I don’t want to win by a narrow margin, I want a mandate, similar to what Obama achieved. In the circumstances of California its clear that no one won. Mormons won nothing; they compromised their polished Donny and Marie image; that image of being a loving, family religion, to one that will go to great measures, in the name of Jesus, to smear families across a religious divide. As one living in Utah the divisions have been painful on both sides. Did they win something? No clear winner, no clear looser. In this election issue it was about who held the financial power and could outspend to get their way. One would think that in the scope of issues around civil rights we would see a public mandate that says… “Equal rights for all”. Where is that voice for queer America? This country should understand by now the problems with a separate but equal policy. On some level, the feedback is against us. That message includes fear, misunderstandings and old thoughts of perversions, to mention a few. Many well meaning friends and associates still embrace the gay clichĂ©’s and media images are still full of stereotypical images. I am confused by the notion of our excitement to be mentioned in an acceptance speech, when it’s a calculated mention, so as to not offend the “right”. We are so careful, less we offend. We are encouraged to be friendly in our disagreements, present a “good” or “right” image, so to be heard. We are embarrassed by the “other” and consequently seek to blend, to be as good as the heterosexual norm.

Is this working?

What is the mandate to Queer America? What is the “shadow” inviting?

What is being communicated by 53% of the majority? What is the lesson of the shadow? Here are some thoughts to contemplate.

In many ways and for too long our community has attached itself to the roles of martyr and victim. In fact, its one way we define ourselves. Gay bashing, George Bush/ Karl Rove, legal issues, financial fairness, freedom of expression, definition of family; we tend to be on the loosing edge in these and many other issues. At a rally the other night the shout was “enough already!” We are the sissies being kicked around by the bullies. But how do we look at these circumstances in the eyes of one who works with Light and Spirit? What is the message of the Coyote and Heyoka (native American symbols of the “trickster”) in all of this?

Is it political unfairness we are fighting? Or we being mirrored aspects of ourselves that we struggle to respond too?

On one level I have to wonder if we as Gay Americans have manifested this outcome in some way? It’s interesting how many people I know who have actively demonstrated this election issue only to respond cynically… “It will make no difference” or “they will never change.” Really? It makes no difference? (Someone let Martin Luther King know it makes no difference). Why are we outraged and protesting?

I am reminded of Harry Hay suggestion that we need to get gay men together in circle and create consensus around the notions of who and what we are as a tribe and then to let society in general come to appreciate those gifts and talents (although Harry was speaking to a gay men’s crowd, I would suggest this is a statement to all us, GLBT). I often wonder how many of us are demanding civil rights but ultimately don’t intimately embrace that we should have them? We only have to examine how we interact with each other within our own community, our disillusionments that are often summarized as “that’s how gay people are”, how we prey on each other, how we examine societal maladies as a reflection of gay as opposed to the choices we make in our lives.

Although Harry Hay mentioned “consensus” in understanding who we are I would suggest that this would be an overbearing outcome. BUT, coming to know ourselves, in the context of community, feels vitally important. If you will, instead of a rebellion towards the “other” what happens when we rebel towards the limiting concepts of self that regulate us to second-class citizen, pervert or social outcast?

Have we in fact done our work and examined ourselves and the notions of who we are? Does the broader community reflect/mirror that ambivalence with their vote? (The message of Coyote) What they seem to be saying is “we like you, you dress nice, your good people, but ultimately I don’t understand you”. It’s an easier task to blame religious politics, but this leaves me dis-empowered, victimized. When I step into a place of Powerfully Creating the outcome of a situation, consciously embracing my essence, gifts, talents and rights to be, I become a powerful voice, an independent voice.

I have to wonder if we understand who we are and what we are and what we offer to mainstream society? Have we in fact done our own work or are we just demanding rights without that foundation or examination? How much more effective would our voice be if we collectively, in a nurturing way embraced OUR truth(s) as individuals as well as a collective?

Is this vote a message, a trickster in disguise? The Coyote is often seen as a bad omen, but in reality his gift is powerful, he provokes us to see ourselves in ways that we often do not want to acknowledge. One only has to tune into Manhunt to see where many gay men define themselves. Society sees us as sexual anomalies and we respond in like. When we determine that “gay” is only “one” aspect of who I am, perhaps I marginalize the value of being gay. When I generalize and respond that gay men are “just that way” I offer a clue to just how well I embrace my right to be accepted and valued.

These are difficult questions and yet I feel that once we embrace fully and without reservations the "who" and "what" we are and step into that story with PRIDE and conviction, society will respond. In fact, we generate the energy and spiritual fortitude to manifest that which we put our mind. Someday Pride celebrations will move beyond Beer Garden events to celebrations of cultural expressions. Offering to society our uniqueness that is often taken for granted.

My point is not to criticize how we (queer society) do things or where we as a culture place emphasis in our lives. In fact, many of those nuances are on some levels reflections of who we are. I for one offer complete rejection that we should somehow formulate our lives in the constraints of a heterosexual society; hell those constraints don’t work well for straight society let alone queer society. My invitation is to utilize our creativity to find avenues to this exploration. Exploring opportunities to dive deep into our stories and discover the magic of our existence. Sorting out within us and within our communities the richness and expressions that are uniquely OURS. Finding that voice offers liberation from domesticated notions of being queer, shifts shame into confidence and guilt into liberation. Therein we lay the foundation to civil rights, equality and self-respect.

Jerry Buie


Molly said...

Jerry, I think you are right on target.

Jerry Buie said...

Hi Jerry,

I am familiar with "the shadow" in Jungian archtypal thought - and maybe other teachings that go back to ancient wisdom.
I had to smile as my first thought about The Shadow was Lamont Cranston, the person who's alias was The Shadow in a radio suspense
program from the 1940's. And the radio shows motto, "who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men, the Shadow knows."

But maybe there is a dovetailing of both Jung and that radio play from the 1940's. The 1940's audience knew that there is a shadow self
that sees into the hidden places, dark thoughts, blind spots, where we do not do the things we would but do the things that are against our own best interests. In the radio play the criminal and their activities were known by the shadow - a kind of conscience. Fast forward to 2008 and California, Arkansas (or is it Arizona) and Florida rejections of same - gender marriage. Not living in any of those states I am somewhat removed from the way the campaigns played out. But I do understand that the Mormon church gave about 20 million of the over 75 million raised to fight for the ban in California. And it is easy for a campaign based on mobilizing people out of fear of the "other" and "the different" GBLT community, to find stereotypes and outrageous examples of behavior in the GBLT community to scandalize people at a viceral level - so that some people are voting out of fear of things that don't really have much to do with gay marriage.
Gay marriage is fundamentally about two people making public their intention to love each other and root that love in a shared life. Easy to miss that in the blizzard of attack ads and fearmongering pamphlets.

A question I found myself asking as I read your column was about the way that those of us in the queer community risk having dialogues with our friends and family members about the queer experience. I know that in my coming out years when I would tell anyone I could, that I helped "normalize" to set aside some fears about being gay (queer not being in use much back in the late 70's). Even basic stuff like my not being a child molester helped some people begin to distinguish that since they knew I didn't molest children, that not all gay men could be called child molesters.
I know. Really basic Queer 101 stuff. But I was dealing in the early 1980's with a lot of ignorance. And I know when I first came out I was afraid I would have to become a hairstylist. (After all what king of a job could a "fag" hold down? And I was clumsy with scissors!).

I don't know this beyond anecdotal observations - but I hunch that part of the shadow in the queer community is that it is easier to give our attention to going clubbing, circuit parties, steambaths, keeping up on the latest TV, what Cher is doing, watching re-runs of Noah's Arc - a lot of FUN stuff.

But for many men - the civic side of what it means to be queer in a democracy in the 21st century is either overwhelming or boring or someone else's job.
There was a folk group from New England in the 1980's called The Washington Squares that had a line in one of their songs about how "every generation
has to take a stand..." The sense in that song was that the movements for social change, (even change we can believe in) need to be won over and over again. There is inertia. There is apathy. There is forgetfulness. We forget the story of who we are as a people. We get bored with Stonewall. We forget what Pride is. And sometimes as men we find it hard to listen to one another - the patterns of talking past each other to get our point across are not just what straight men do.

But the story of who we are as a queer people is one that I find facinating. And I think that taking an interest in the story of what we are learning about who we are becoming each year is as interesting (though different and has a distinct benefit) as going to a circuit party. For some queer people it is uncomforatble to be part of a movement that says we're here, we're queer. Easier to blend in and make no waves. I know that part of me. And I am not a big fan of conflict (at least not ongoing shouting matches). But I know that not letting my light shine gives other people permission to discount me, even smear the tribe I am apart of.

And so the folks who say "they will never change" and "it makes no difference" can be invited to be specific about what is preventing them from a more engaged life. Generalizations sometimes have specific experiences that need to be listened to for all of us to grow. And some generalizations are masks for vague despair or repressed anger in the face of real resistance from our own families of origin, workmates or neighbors.

Much of what I am writing is just a stream of consciousness using your column to jump in and write. But I find what you wrote refreshing. I thank you for taking the queer community seriously and inviting us into adult dialogue and reflection about what Prop 8 may mean for both US queers and for all in the world community who care for our queer brothers and sisters in America.


Luke said...

Thanks for this post... it helped me a lot in processing my reaction to Prop8. In partial response to it I wrote the following:

GrooveCowboy said...

I posted a fabulous comment and now it's gone, boo!

David said...


I read your post and found it disturbing. You said "On one level I have to wonder if we as Gay Americans have manifested this outcome in some way?" You further ask "Have we in fact done our own work or are we just demanding rights without that foundation or examination? How much more effective would our voice be if we collectively, in a nurturing way embraced OUR truth(s) as individuals as well as a collective?"

These questions sound like they come from a "blame the victim" construct. (Surprising, coming from someone who understands so very well the power dynamic between perpetrator and victim.) My reading of your post suggests that "we got what we deserved" and that until we as gay people reach enlightenment, we should not expect to be treated equally.

I believe civil rights should not be awarded based on merit or given only to those who "have done the work." This notion is as ridiculous as suggesting that someone who was raped is responsible for what happened to them because they haven't figured out "who they are." In fact, those who are least able to fight for their rights are the very ones who should be protected.

I take issue with your assertion that there were no losers. The elimination of a set of rights for a minority group is a significant loss. Further, the majority voted to take away these rights. I view that as a tragic and dangerous loss.

You go on to say that "...I feel that once we embrace fully and without reservations the "who" and "what" we are and step into that story with PRIDE and conviction, society will respond." Do you mean that we need to be better behaved if we want "society" to respond appropriately? If so, then what point is there to "offer complete rejection that we should somehow formulate our lives in the constraints of a heterosexual society..."

I agree with you that there are many lessons to learn from this defeat. And, if we as gay women and men are going to make any positive changes, we have to stop eating our own. That lesson has yet to be learned by many of us.

Kevin Packer said...

Jerry: Thank you for smacking me in the face with reality. Instead of buying into the victim mentality as David did I choose to see your comments as a wake up call. Our everyday lives effect the world around us and especially the world we have created for ourselves. What David didn't see (and I almost bought the same piece of cake) is that you aren't saying we must be better people to get our rights. As people we need to own our goodness and light and goodness and light will come into our lives. Everyday I see gay people who hate themselves. Whether it's on or Manhunt or at the clubs I see us acting out and using drugs and alcohol to hide shame and unworthiness. We feel we are less and we blame it on society. We are NOT less but it is our own feelings that make us that. If we could embrace our loveliness then we would BE loveliness.

Keep up the good work!

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