Friday, December 11, 2009

A Smiling Monster

I had a dream last night about a monster who never stops smiling. I know what inspired the dream. Furthermore, I know the name of the monster. His name is Richard Cohen and he sat smiling when Rachel Maddow told him his words were being used to kill gay people in Uganda. He smiled, and corrected her, as if she was a child, suffering from a misunderstanding. As if comprehension was at the root of the problem, but make no mistake, this man knows what Uganda has done, and is doing. His tone was gentle and admonishing. He said he advocated love and understanding, but smiled when told he had blood on his hands.

Uganda is not the United States, you may say, and you would be right. Yet, discrimination still flourishes in our country, and the battle is being fought to bring equality to all. Currently our laws support inequality. We do not extend Civil Rights to all, we are still meting out Equality, as if it is earned, or granted, rather than a right.

"If you sit silent, you are complicit." The man in the dream was telling me, and I was terrified, locked into a horror-scape within my sleeping mind. I know that I was thrashing in bed from the state of my covers upon awaking, I was drenched in sweat when I awoke, too.

I will tell you honestly that I was eighteen-years-old before I found out that anyone thought there was anything wrong with being gay. I didn't realize I had been raised in a liberal version of the Episcopal church until I was older, but I had been. A young man I knew through some work I was doing in theater was talking to me about the girl he was dating, and I was astounded. I had been sure he was gay, and said as much:

"Oh! I thought you were gay!" I was laughing at my own misunderstanding. I didn't know then that anyone would try to hide that fact, or that it was a source of pain for anyone. Was I a bit naive? Absolutely, but I genuinely did not know I was saying anything that might hurt, or upset him.

"I'm not gay!" He said, rather ferociously. I was taken aback, he sounded angry. Beyond that he sounded, and looked frightened. I didn't understand why.

"I'm sorry! I was wrong." I was frightened in my own turn. What had I done wrong? I honestly didn't know, but from that day forward, I was very careful with what I said.

It will come as a surprise to no one that when I met that same man again, more than five years later, he was living openly as a gay man, and he introduced me to his partner. If he had any recollection of that moment between us, five years earlier, he gave no indication of it. I will tell you that he was no longer frightened, or angry. He was in love, and happy. He introduced me to his partner with ease, and a smile. I liked that man, by the way, I always had. I'd hated the moment when I had upset him, and I was very happy to find out that he'd gone on to a happier life than the one he was trying to live when I was in school with him.

Do you know, I can no longer remember his name? I remember his smile. He had the most gorgeous smile. It would flash across his face, and it was impossible to not smile in return. I didn't have a crush on him, as I said, I had known he was gay from the moment I met him, but I always thought he looked a bit like a Disney hero, only much shorter. It was no coincidence that he was often cast as the hero of the plays he was in. He was exceptionally handsome, and his smile was beautifully freeing for all who beheld it.

I've studied a lot of history. I know the true dangers of discrimination. I've studied a fair amount of the history of gender politics and know this to be true also: Where I was born in our time-line has greatly determined my rights as a citizen. That I can vote, own property, marry of my own free will, and end or continue a marriage based on my personal feelings, all of that was determined by a fight that went on before I was born.

This is not a political blog, it never has been, and is unlikely to be so going forward, but silence in the face of discrimination is akin to condoning it. At present Gay and Lesbian citizens of the United States cannot marry, have equal protection under the law, one of the basic laws under which I was born excludes people. As if they are not equal. As if they are somehow second-class citizens, unworthy of Civil Rights.

That's wrong, and it needs to change. Holding onto discrimination in any form puts us all in peril. If I sit silent in the face of discrimination, then I am participating in that discrimination. Long, long ago, when men sought to deny women the right to vote they called forth the bible as reference material. A woman's place was to be subservient to a man. Those that came before me, who fought before I was born, helped guarantee me rights that should never have been in question.

Equality that is parsed, or meted out, is not true equality. We are the ones living a lie when we do not fight for the equality, a basic right of our country, for all.

Richard Cohen claims to have been cured of being homosexual. He claims that he promotes love, acceptance, tolerance, but his book claims that people can be cured of their sexual orientation as if he is referring to a disease. I think back to my friend, living his lie, the one foisted upon him by others, and I think of his smile the day he introduced me to the man he loved. Love is not a disease. Sexual orientation is part of who a person is, something with which we are born.

I knew that at eighteen. I know it at forty-two. I will know that until the day I die.

In my nightmare a huge screen loomed overhead. Richard Cohen's horrible, monstrous smile, belying his words was ever present. People were dying, all sorts of people. I was trapped in some terrible, dark factory of death and I was trying to flee. Everywhere I turned, there was Richard Cohen's terrible smile. The same one he pasted to his face as he denied that Uganda was using his book as proof for why it was acceptable to murder gay and lesbians.

In the dream I was running away, through twisted corridors. From where do dreams come? Our world around us. Our subconscious mind. In some cases, our conscience. In others, all of the aforementioned.

I went tearing around a corner in my dream, desperate for escape, and a man grabbed my arm. I turned, terrified, and saw the face of the man holding me fast. It was my friend from so long ago.

"If you sit silent, you are complicit." He told me, his tone admonishing. I know from where the voices in dreams come, they come from me. I know that to be true. If you see something you know to be wrong, and sit silent, you are participating in that wrong. If I am silent, I am participating in that wrong.

Freedom of Speech is another basic right. It can be a difficult one, it means we will have to afford the right to people with whom we vehemently disagree. It is part and parcel of that right. Richard Cohen both frightened and sickened me. Saying he promotes love and tolerance, but completely at peace with the fact that his words are being used to justify the murder of those he claims to love and tolerate. It is not in this land, but it is one of the inherent dangers of government sanctioned discrimination in any country.

I know why my sleeping mind selected the image of my long ago friend. I know that I put those words into his mouth, but I know something else. After he said those words to me, he smiled, and I woke up. Free of the monster in my dream, a man my sleeping brain did not create. A man who will claim love and tolerance, but is urging you to view Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered and Bisexual human beings as sick.

I know he is wrong, and the only way to fight him is to say so.

This is not my fight, you might say. My fight was fought by those who came before me, and now it is my responsibility to fight for equality for others, who need more voices. Who need my help, so that those born into this world will have guaranteed rights under the law, regardless of gender, regardless of race, regardless of sexual orientation.

If I sit silent, I am complicit.


The Bug said...

Wow! I want to share this post with everyone I know. Do you mind if I post a link to it on my blog & on Facebook? I have a lot of friends who would really appreciate it.

I've probably mentioned before that I joined the Episcopal Church when I moved to Ohio. My church was (& still is) definitely one of the liberal ones. We have representation from just about every group you can imagine there (gay, lesbian, transgendendered, straight, white, black, hispanic, well-off, homeless, white collar, blue collar, felon). It's a place to feel safe in a world that is so often UNsafe.

Land of shimp said...

Thanks, The Bug. Please, feel free to share anything you like :-) I think that's a lovely compliment, and greatly appreciated.

I seriously didn't know that anyone had a problem with people of other religions, or other sexual orientations growing up, because my church took our Sunday school class to every worship house in town, including Synagogues, so that we could learn about other faiths, in order to be able to honor and respect them properly.

I'm telling you, it was a huge shock to me to find out that was unusual.

I knew about racism (and clearly understood it to be wrong) but...whoa, was I ever astounded to find what the world could contain.

I'd be honored if you'd pass this on, is what I'm saying :-)

DUTA said...

Very powerful post!

I am against any form of discrimination and I do respect all faiths and ethnical or social groups.

I am aware, however, of the sad fact that it is deep in the human nature to dislike The Different. Laws and fighting don't seem to change much daily reality.

Hilary said...

It's a great testament to your parents that you reached the age of 18 before ever realizing that there was such discrimination. This is a beautifully written post. It's incredibly sad that the U.S. is still so resistant to acceptance and support of its citizens. Another reason I'm proud to be Canadian.

Land of shimp said...

Thank you, DUTA. I agree with you, it is part of human nature to create a grouping of people deemed "lesser" in some form or fashion.

Thank you also, Hilary. It is a testament to one of my parents -- I grew up with my father, almost exclusively until he died shortly before I was sixteen. You raised an interesting subject for me. I rarely saw my mother, and even after I lived with her, I was very seldom around her. However, the same thing could be said of her, quite literally I never heard either of them use any kind of slur.

I do consider myself extremely fortunate to have simply not been exposed to systematic dislike, or belittling. This is sort of a long story, and I'll spare you most of it, but mostly it came from a lot of isolation as a child. To this day I can be something of a loner, because I spent a great deal of time just being by myself, and reading growing up.

The end result being that I thought a lot of things were dead concepts, when they were not. I'd study things from history, believe "Well, I'm so glad the world moved beyond that."

My dad subscribed to a theory that it was extremely important not to try and determine the opinions of children. So whereas I learned the "please and thank you" stuff, most of what I ended up believing about the world came from books. Or, at least, so I thought.

It's actually fairly funny, but I do remember the one and only time my father and I discussed homosexuality. I was eleven or so, and I had been given a Village People album. Thrilled to absolute pieces with it, I showed it to my dad, and very happily said, "Dad, they're all gay!" (which I barely had a clue what that meant) and he looked at me with a slight expression of worry (I think he was trying to figure out what I knew about sex, period) and said, "That's good, dear."

That's it. The entire extent of my discussion in the entire course of my life with my dad about the subject...which I think is sort of hilarious. My dad's form of parenting was an interesting one -- he bought me books. He gave me The Diary of Anne Frank when I was ten.

He never really told me many of his opinions, but looking back at the books he was constantly giving me, he was imparting messages (even though he believed it crucial to child rearing not to).

Sorry to blather on, Hilary. For a very long time, well into my twenties, I would say that I really had no true idea of my father's opinions on many matters. If I'd ask him something he'd reply with, "Tell me what YOU think about that." and "Don't let anyone tell you what to think, not even me."

It wasn't until I was older and realized that on every gift giving occasion of my childhood, my father gave me books that reflected his opinions. He taught history, and our house was huge, he used to rent rooms to students on the top floor -- and he rented to foreign students. We had a boarder from Palestine, another from Israel, another from an African Nation, and a theater director (who my mother tells me was gay).

He also bought a house right next to the one and only African-American church in the entire county.

So yeah, he didn't tell me much...but then again, I suppose he really, really did. It wasn't until long after he was dead that I realized that my father was an ultra-liberal for the time.

I used to say books pretty much raised me, and taught me my opinions. Then I realized my father had deeply absorbed, "Teach through action, not word."

Nancy said...

I have been using my right to send emails to the president with some frequency. Maybe we could send a message to Secretary of State Clinton regarding this terrible thing going on in Uganda. We must stand up and be heard.

Hilary said...

Shimp, your comment reply about your Dad is a wonderful blog post in itself. You might want to consider that... :)

Land of shimp said...

Nancy, I really think that is a very good idea. I write letters on a regular basis, to various officials/politicians because I really do think we have to participate more in our government. Let our voices be heard, that sort of thing.

Hilary, thank you :-) Again, that is greatly appreciated it. I will think about doing just that at some point in the future :-)

Amy said...

Alane, I'm just catching up, and, after reading this post, I looked up Richard Cohen on Wikipedia. This is one of the examples of the positive impact of blogging - if you have any curiosity at all you'll further investigate and learn all sorts of stuff. Evil does exist in our world, and this man seems to be consistently on the "sick" side of issues. For example,

"In August 2006, he wrote a column declaring that "Israel itself is a mistake"[13] in which he stated: "The greatest mistake Israel could make at the moment is to forget that Israel itself is a mistake. It is an honest mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable, but the idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century of warfare and terrorism of the sort we are seeing now."

And Wonkette awarded him "worst writer" award which makes perfect sense when you read some of his drivel.

So it's not just the Ugandan situation, it's much more. If you go to Wikipedia, you'll probably get more irate! Nancy has a good point - time to take some action. Unfortunately, I think this issue may be off the radar screen for most Americans (a sad statement in itself).

Have to agree with Hilary about your comment describing your relationship with your father. We are definitely the product of our parents' strengths and weaknesses. Unlike you, I was raised by two very flawed but generally good parents until I was 14. My mother passed away and my father turned to alcohol in a very big way and made some choices that took me decades to get over - no, nothing sexual, but definitely emotional abuse with very unrealistic expectations that I was in no way equipped to meet.

I rec'd a very good education, bookwise, that is; but, in the realm of living life in healthy ways, not so much. When my first daughter was born I relied heavily on books to get the "parenting" down. Books have always been a source of pleasure and help to me. A little side note: presently I'm trudging through Morris' first volume on T. Roosevelt. It's filling a void in my historical knowledge and perspective, but, wow, is it ever long!

Sorry to be so wordy, but this post as usual has prompted much thought - sincerely thank you! And I hope you will be able to enjoy the season despite the challenges you're facing right now.

Land of shimp said...

Amy, I'd looked into Cohen not long after seeing that clip of him on Maddow, and he's a piece of put it as mildly as I know how. He really is a tremendously evil man, because much of what he does is out of the desire to make money. I can't think of anything more inherently evil than being all right with people being murdered, as long as he continues to make his profit.

He is a monster, as far as I am concerned, and he is truly one of the worst writers in print.

You know Amy, my father had a great many difficulties in life that he didn't handle well, but in terms of who he was as a person, he had admirable qualities.

I lived with his mother, my grandmother, and my dad until I was twelve. She was a raging alcoholic, and had a habit of accidentally setting the house on fire...once when I was asleep in the same house. She died not long after that.

Just saying that in terms of how to approach the world, I had a lot of lofty ideals from which to choose, but my life was ...well, you know, I actually don't talk much about that any longer. It was bad at points, and my parents were exceptionally violent towards each other when they were married.

I'm just saying, I think you and I probably both understand this: I may treasure certain ideals introduced to me by my father, and I have a deep sense of gratitude for them...but I had to basically remake myself as an adult, and I was very fortunate that I was able to do so.

I took care of the house, etc. after my grandmother died, and among other things had an overly responsible childhood.

Again, I think we actually come from far more similar backgrounds than you might think.

Like everyone, my parents were a mixture of good and bad...and were a bit like the little girl, with the little curl :-)

I understand why this would make you think, and love the long comments. Thank you for kicking in, I always enjoying hearing from you.

Amy said...

Alane, One last comment (from me)- I agree with you that we share a mixed bag of sadness and dysfunction. One of the ways I struggled to come to terms with my father was to try to understand that given what he knew, how he was raised etc., he really did the best he could. In other words, his intentions were not faulty, just everything else he said, did, and represented seemed wrong at the time.

I'm sad to say he passed two months before our oldest daughter was born. He was so looking forward to being a grandparent. The loss was great; it's interesting that just last week I had a rare dream about him. He spoke to me - I know because I recognized his voice perfectly. I know that probably sounds rather weird, but every few years I seem to have a dream like that.

Anyway, now I can't wait to read your next post!

Jennifer D said...

Wonderful post. I am going to go read more about this guy right now. What a slime. I just can't believe it's soon to be 2010 and gay people still can't marry.

Land of shimp said...

Amy, I'm very glad that I sparked a thought pattern with this for you. I think what's amazing is how much people truly do have in common, things that perhaps are readily apparent.

Like you, as an adult I was able to consider both of my parents as full people. It was funny to realize that every good, confident thing I believed about myself going into my adulthood was something my dad had very purposefully fostered. We all do the best we can, I suppose. Actually, that's not true, but it tends to be true enough in most cases.

I think that's particularly on-point with this Cohen fellow. He's not doing the best he can, he's doing active damage, and he's doing it for money.

Jennifer, what I can't believe is that people can't recognize this as an issue of Civil Rights. I really do hope a change is brought about, and soon. We have to do what we can to make that happen.

Good luck reading about that man, he's hard to stomach, and I mean that pretty literally. The more I found out about him, the queasier I felt.

Cricket said...

Wow. That is a powerful post. My first thought was "who the hell is Richard Cohen?" After reading some of the comments, I think I have to read up on that. Thanks for putting this out there. Congratulations on POTW.

Land of shimp said...

Thank you Cricket, and please do read up on this man. His goal is profit, and he is completely untroubled about actual murders.

I very much appreciate the visit, and that Hilary chose to highlight this post.

I truly believe this is a very important subject.

Mental P Mama said...

Poor Richard Cohen. I, too, am a cradle Episcopalian, and I wouldn't have it any other way. We have a wonderful Parish where all are welcome. Thanks for your visit, and congrats on POTW.

Cabo said...

That was a FANTASTIC read. Fantastic! I am so very grateful for reading that. So very true!

Kathleen said...

What an extraordinary post, Shrimp. You might want to consider submitting it to the The Sun online magazine. What a fascinating man you had for a father. Congratulations of POTW!

Miss OverThinker said...

I agree with Kathleen, you should really submit this post for the Sun Online magazine or any other decent magazine for that matter. You are a truly gifted writer and get your point across so wonderfully. I feel so vain about my blog where all I whine about is my dating life!

The other day I was talking to a guy I met at a party - mid twenties guy, spent all his life in Canada, extremely successful in his career, well travelled as his parents are both foreign diplomats. The subject of gays and lesbians came up and you know what he said: that they don't exist! His rationale behind this nonsensical statement - that he hasn't met anyone personally who's gay, and given the fact that he's so well travelled and still does so because of his job, if gays existed he should have met someone by now!!! And when I asked him what about the celebrities that are openly gay? He somehow ignored the question and said that he'd like to meet someone who's gay first to believe that they do exist. How do you react to something like this?

Granted he didn't say anything hateful but his stance really infuriated me. To deny their existence is beyond insulting.. He asked me for my phone number at the end of the night, needless to say I made an excuse and walked away.

Land of shimp said...

I really want to feel pity and compassion for Richard Cohen, Mental Pause Mama. I haven't quite gotten there. I think he understands what he is doing and he's either just so filled with hate that he doesn't care, or his desire for money is so great that he doesn't care.

I feel sorry for him, but I feel far sorrier for the people he's hurting. It's not just the people of Uganda, Maddow read directly from his book and his theories about why people are gay -- well I won't belabor the point -- it's clear that he equates being gay with being deeply damaged and ill.

Thank you for your visit also, and I truly appreciate the comment.

Thank you very much, Cabo, truly. I also really enjoyed your stuff this week :-)

Thank you very much, Kathleen. I'm not familiar with The Sun, but I appreciate greatly the vote of confidence, and your taking the time to tell me your thoughts.

It is funny that when we grow up we get to see our parents as people in full.

Thank you, MOT. Good gracious, did you ever meet an oddball, and not a particularly pleasant form of oddball. What a strange, and willful form of denial he has embraced because clearly he has met and known gay people, he just hasn't known that about the individuals. Also, the weirdness of insisting that any difference must be physically present within his life to have any form of real world validity is just mind boggling.

Good call on not giving him your number. Want to take bets on how often that happens to that particular fellow? Something of a sucker bet, isn't it? "I have a firm policy of not dating the willfully delusional." and variations thereof is probably a constant in his life.

gaelikaa said...

Sexual orientation is a personal matter. No one should be judged on it.

gaelikaa said...

Sorry! Congrats on POTW mention.

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