Monday, April 6, 2015

Look who's poking the bear.

S. Bear Bergman is a writer, activist, storyteller, and a publisher. He's celebrated for his creative efforts and living his life openly as a trans man. I've read some of his children's books and other writings, and I really enjoy his work. His writing can be funny and sweet, and it can also be edgy and irreverent. Bear wrote a lovely piece for HuffPo called, I Have Come to Indoctrinate Your Children Into My LGBTQ Agenda (And I'm Not a Bit Sorry). And unless you are a person devoid of humour and imagination, you know that title is a playful bait-and-switch, along the lines of Harvey Milk's I want to recruit you speeches. 

This is the indoctrination of which Bear wrote:
I am here to tell you: All that time I said I wasn't indoctrinating anyone with my beliefs about gay and lesbian and bi and trans and queer people? That was a lie. All 25 years of my career as an LGBTQ activist, since the very first time as a 16-year-old I went and stood shaking and breathless in front of eleven people to talk about My Story, I have been on a consistent campaign of trying to change people's minds about us. I want to make them like us. That is absolutely my goal. I want to make your children like people like me and my family, even if that goes against the way you have interpreted the teachings of your religion. I want to be present in their emotional landscapes as a perfectly nice dad and writer who is married to another guy. Who used to be a girl (kind of). Who is friendly and cheerful and not scary at all, no matter what anyone says.
He continues...
I would also like to know: Why are we so afraid of admitting this? I ask as a person who quailed before this accusation (and its slimy misguided undertones of pederasty) for more than two decades. That is our job: to encourage people, especially children, to think differently about a subject than they do now. To dispel the dim and dismal miasma of myths and stereotypes, and instead allow the light of truth and fairness to shine in. That's the deal, my friends. And if we have done it -- if we have come to a place where a kid has been struggling in the muck of ignorance and hatred, and helped them up and cleaned them off and sent them to play in a meadow of love or at least kindness -- then baby, we have done the thing well.
Thoughtful readers of the piece had a pretty good idea of where he was going with the article. The joy was in seeing how he got there. 

There was a hugely positive response on social media. And, inevitably there was some backlash, which Bear and his partner j wallace are quite used to. j's a colleague and acquaintance of mine, who offered a lot of support when my own activism and journalistic efforts were met with derision and scurrilous accusations online. So it came as no surprise to me -- nor to Bear or j, I'm sure -- when some local Toronto hardline religious bloggers ridiculed the piece.

Enter Tony Perkins, not the famous Psycho actor who died of ARC, but the Tony Perkins who presides over The Family Research Council in the USA, an organization whose sordid, hate-based activism is well-documented by the Southern Poverty Law Centre. Mr Perkins penned a piece about Bear's article for the alarmist and vitriolic BarbWire. Be advised, Mr Perkins indicates he's well-aware of Bear's gender identity and willfully chooses to misgender him. From Mr Perkins' article:

For years, activists wanted to keep the goal of ensnaring children into sexual confusion under wraps. Now, having hoodwinked most of the country on their agenda, these extremists no longer have to hide.
In fact, they are increasingly bold — almost boastful — about their real intentions. Although Bergman admits to wanting to “indoctrinate” and “recruit” children, her description of the LGBT agenda is far less honest. “I have been on a consistent campaign of trying to change people’s minds about us. I want to make them like us. That is absolutely my goal.” She assumes that people who criticize homosexuality do so because they do not “like” gay people.

That couldn’t be further from the truth! Some in fact are very nice people, they are friends, neighbors and even relatives. We care about them, we pray for them. That’s why we’re even more sad about the fact that in one area of their life, their sexuality, they choose to engage in conduct that the research shows is harmful. It’s not about “who they are” — in fact, we think too highly of them to identify their personhood on the basis of their sexual conduct.
Here's my point. Tony Perkins and people like him do not pray for us the way they pray for people they approve of or truly love -- if they even to do that at all. Perkins prays against us, around us and through us. He prays that he continues to be right, and that we continue to be wrong. He prays that he is never influenced by us. I'm sure he prays that there will continue to be a market for what he's selling.

His "research," linked above, is merely another of the crappy, debunked hate-screeds his agency churns out. Perkins and company cannot accuse entire groups of people of being pedophiles-in-the-making, and then profess to love us and call us friends and pray over us.

Religionist homophobes and transphobes love to say, "Oh, you don't understand. God loves the sinner, but hates the sin." Well, here on planet earth the sin doesn't feel that hatred; the person accused of it sure does. For queer youngsters, that can make the world a scary, dangerous place. For their cis and straight allies, it can be just as hard.

Bear's piece is very important to me because I find myself in a bit of a struggle sometimes, having researched and written a great deal about the efforts of hardline conservatives and religionists to thwart gains in equity by invoking their religious rights to be bigots. I've tried at times to be that conciliatory voice, offering tolerance and open ear where none is offered in return. I've tried to tell myself that, even as an atheist, I don't get to say who's a good Christian and who's a bad one. They don't understand, I tell myself.

Bear reminds me I don't have to prove to anyone that my fellow queers and I aren't vile awful people. I don't have to dance around the bigotry of others because it's been decorated with religion; any more than I would tolerate the cooked-up research of FRC, or NOM, or the Institute for Canadian Values. Indeed I insult people of faith I admire in so doing -- people like Brent Hawkes and Cheri DiNovo -- people who have never uttered a word of hatred in their ministries.

What Bear is really reminding me is to be brave and bold and myself. And I thank him for that.

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