Photo: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Steve Prakope; some rights reserved.
Being "in the closet" is a standard metaphor for gay people living their lives so that their sexual orientation is hidden. The metaphor of closets is a more general one for that which we hide, but cannot deny.
Closets are dark places, and the darkness sometimes leads to strange behavior. In the middle of July the Florida chair of Republican senator John McCain's presidential campaign chair Florida State Representative Bob Allen was arrested in a public restroom for soliciting sex from a undercover policeman. Allen has defended himself in this way:
Allen, R-Merritt Island, told investigators he was just playing along when the undercover Titusville officer suggested oral sex and $20 because he was intimidated by the "stocky black guy," according to the statement.Rep. Allen's explanation seems ridiculous! But via the essential black looks blog a video, bell hooks on rap, race & representation of black female bodies makes some sense of it for me. The last segment of the 9 minute video--at about the 7 minute mark--hooks talks about consuming commodified blackness. She begins with a powerful observation which I hope I've transcribed accurately:
Allen, who is white, also said that there "was nothing but other black guys around in the park" and that he thought he was about to be robbed. At the time, Allen was unaware the other men also were undercover officers.
I believe that American culture is obsessed with transgression. And to the degree that blackness remains a primary sign of transgression, one could talk about a American culture, mainstream culture, as being obsessed with blackness. But it is blackness primarily as a commodified form that can be then possessed, owned, controlled and shaped by the consumer; and not with an engagement with black culture that might require one to be a participant and therefore to be in some way transformed by what you are consuming, as opposed to being merely a buyer.Rep. Allen is entitled to his day in court. The Village Voice links to a document showing that Florida's Christian Collation had given a 92.3 approval rating. Given the circumstances surrounding Allen's arrest, I'm dubious about his innocence.
The Diocese of Pittsburgh is extraordinarily politically conservative. The history of how it got to be that way is long. When we moved to Pittsburgh in my teens I was what they used to call a Jesus Freak, but even as a kid coming up from the American South with such religious fervor, the political conservatism of church pricked my heals. I haven't attended church except for family weddings and other obligatory occasions like that since my early college days, however the activities of the Episcopal Church still capture a bit of my attention.
In 1997 Robert Duncan was consecrated Bishop of Pittsburgh. Bishop Duncan has been instrumental in initiating a schism within the Episcopal Church, one particular rationale stems from the consecration of an openly gay V. Gene Robinson was consecrated as Bishop of New Hampshire.
A part of Bishop Duncan's strategy to rent the Episcopal Church of America asunder is a tactical arrangement with Anglican Bishops in Uganda. The first arrangement with Uganda Bishops got off to a rocky start when a priest working in Pittsburgh but under the authority of a Bishop in Uganda raped a minor in his charge. That hasn't deterred Bishop Duncan's expanded tactical cooperation with the Ugandan Bishops for schism in the Episcopal Church.
Tying together Rep. Allen's arrest and Episcopal Church politics is a strain of authoritarian politics, where power, especially power over others, has a price. Stirring up hatred against gay people plays a prominent role. Commodified blackness bell hook's surely seem to fit Rep. Allen's soliciting sex from a Black undercover policeman and his subsequent defense. It's not really such a stretch from pandering to prejudices against gay people for political power to paying a black man for sex.
It's rather culturally acceptable to question the sincerity of politicians, but not so accepted to question religious sincerity. So Bishop Duncan can get away with saying essentially that his stance vis a vis gay people in the church is "hate the sinner not the sin." But as an outsider I don't see that the distinction is so clear in practice. And when questioned in this interview about the role that wealthy corporatist place in his efforts he responded:
I can certainly say as a board member of the AAC, there's never been any quid pro quo with money. [AAC is the American Anglican Council]That sounds very much like something a politician would say. Even taking the bishop at his word, the nexus of political reactionaries and the funding of the cause of schism seems worth looking at with a cold-eye.
I really admire the writing of Ugandan blogger 27th comrade. Commenting on two pieces which appeared recently in Uganda's independent newspaper The Monitor, Why police are not arresting homos and and accompanying piece Gay testimonies: We are persecuted 27th comrade wrote:
Still ... I must tell you I have expressed, and still express, some level of distaste for male homosexuals. It borders on murderous hate. But I know that my hate for them is unjustified, and should be punished before homosexuality is punished. :o)Judging from some of the comments 27th comrade is very brave to brooch the subject at all. Wise as he is, 27th comrade knows there's plenty to be angry about. He makes a moral argument against his hatred of gay men. How infuriating then might be a white Bishop garnering power, fueled with the funds of wealthy political reactionaries, feed by the prejudice and hatred of Ugandans against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people?
Politicians and priests buy power at the expense of the lives of gay people. The closet becomes valuable to them in a way not so different from the commodified blackness bell hooks speaks in American media representations of black people: "not with an engagement with black culture that might require one to be a participant and therefore to be in some way transformed by what you are consuming, as opposed to being merely a buyer."
Making peace isn't a passive activity, in fact it always seems a rather messy process. Gay people stay closeted because it is so dangerous for them to be out. But when it comes to the issue of same gender loving people so many of us feel loathing drawn from dark closets of our imaginations. I'm pleased to see the conversation. The expression of hatred and death threats however have a frightening viral quality.
Sokari at the indispensable black looks published a press release by Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) "Let Us Live In Peace." Gay people bravely stepping out of the closet in turn allow others to open our closets too. Opening the closets allows the possibility for making peace because it enables engagement. And engagement takes bravery all around.