Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Sex Tutor Adventure

As some of you may know, during the first half of the 1980's, I was the Student Assistant for the professor who taught the Human Sexuality class at San Francisco State University.  Some referred to me -- good-naturedly -- as the "sex tutor."

Now, as you can imagine, this class was very popular.  Each semester, it had the largest enrollment of any class on campus -- often between 300 and 400 students.  My job consisted mainly of administrative tasks, such as typing up exams, scoring them, keeping the grade book up-to-date, and helping to calculate final grades.

Once in a while, though, when the professor was out-of-town, I got to run the class.  I delivered a couple of lectures.  I took some heat for one of these lectures from a male student who took offense at my objection to the practice of female genital mutilation -- a practice that, tragically, still occurs in some parts of the world.  I got a little bit afraid that day... 

On a more positive note, each semester the professor would have a panel of lesbian, gay, and bisexual students come in to speak to the class.  They would talk about their experiences of realizing their sexual orientations, of admitting to them (both to themselves and to others), and of coming to accept themselves as they were.  They would also speak about their experiences in society as LGB individuals.  The professor would moderate these discussions, as they involved a lot of questions and answers between the class and the guests.  The idea was to promote understanding between people of good-will, and the discussions tended to be very upbeat.  The LGB students were quite open and good-humored about all the questions asked of them.

One semester, the professor was unable to be there for this particular class, so I had the privilege of moderating it.  It was a good experience for me.  The panel consisted of a gay man, a lesbian woman, and a bisexual woman.  I admired them.  They were obviously opening themselves up for abuse, as who knows what kinds of questions would be fired at them.  We didn't pre-screen the questions.  I just went around with the microphone to anybody who raised their hand.  And they were very kind and friendly to the obviously rather conservative girl who was in charge of the class that day. 

Here is an example of their very tolerant attitude towards those of us who had really never known too many LGB people (at least LGB people who were "out"):

I was about 19 or 20 at the time.  And I thought the gay man on the panel was kind of hot.  Because he was.  So, I asked him, "A lot of women might look at you and think, 'He's really attractive. What a waste!'  How would you respond to that?"  (What a total bone-headed question.  Right???  When I think of how I asked that question, I sort of want to go hide in a cave.)  Anyway, the hot gay man laughed REALLY hard and, with a mischievous gleam in his eye, replied, "Well, I could look at an attractive straight guy and say the same thing."  And then I laughed REALLY hard.  And so did the students.  And I thought  it was really nice of these people to come to this class in order to answer the bone-headed questions of people like me.

So, when I look at the "Culture War" raging all around me, I just think of these nice people who were willing to come and patiently answer questions about their personal lives for a bunch of strangers.

(P.S. -- Some of you may wonder why there were no trans people on the panel.  I really don't know.  You have to remember that this was a long time ago, and all of these things were just beginning to be discussed more openly.  I'm sure that, today, there would be a trans person included in the discussion.  I also hope I am using my terminology accurately.  I apologize if I am not.  Things are changing quickly, and I am having a hard time keeping up.  But, I will strive to learn.)


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Wedding Tale

This is a wedding tale from the 70's.  The early part of the 70's.  The "Hippie Era."

My parents were pretty traditional, conservative Catholics.  Yes, they had their differences with the Church hierarchy at times, but they tended to be reticent and respectful in their criticisms.  But, in the life they lived, they were pretty conservative folks.  And a lot of the ideas of the Sexual Revolution did not seem very "nice" to them.  That's how they would put it, too -- when hearing about "free love" and bralessness and living together without being married and inter-sex group showers and dudes who lived in VW vans with a harem.  They would say, "Well, that's just not very nice."  By and large, though, my parents were people who rolled with the punches.  They could be who they were and respect the ways of others, even if they didn't think those ways were "very nice."

And in the first part of the 70's, my dad and a friend started their own general contracting business.  It was just a very small enterprise.  My dad and his partner did most of the work themselves, although they did "sub out" certain tasks.

My dad's partner had a son and a daughter, who were young adults at the time, and who were -- there could be no arguing about this -- hippies.  

And this is where the wedding tale comes in.  None of this is meant to reflect badly on anybody.  This is just how things went during the "Hippie Era."

My dad would come home looking very concerned sometimes.  He would tell us that his partner's son was in a bad situation.  Apparently, the son had gotten himself a girlfriend.  This girlfriend was married and had two children.  She was estranged from her husband, but because of financial constraints, they were still living together.  But, the sleeping arrangements were interesting.  The estranged husband would sleep on the couch and my dad's partner's son would sleep in the bedroom with the lady.  The three young adults were apparently content with the situation.  My dad, though, would say, "That's just not very nice."

You may think it strange that my dad would tell us kids about this.  But, you must understand my family style.  My parents talked about anything and everything in front of us kids.  They thought that it would -- as my dad used to say -- "make us smart" about things.

Anyway, the three cohabiting young adults got their money problems figured out and the estranged husband got his own place.  And my dad's partner's son and the lady got engaged.  And we all got invited to the wedding.

Many conservative people of the day probably wouldn't have gone to that wedding, considering all of the interesting circumstances leading up to and surrounding it.  I mean, you had a divorced lady with two young children, a wife-stealing dude, "shacking up," lack of a traditional Christian ceremony, and on and on...  These were certainly not the kinds of circumstances in which my parents ever hoped to find their daughters.

But, my parents were gracious people.  They understood the value of kindness.  They understood the value of friendship.  They understood the definition of charity.  And they were wise enough to know that good people sometimes find themselves in difficult circumstances.  So, they were inclined to cut people a lot of slack and hope for the best.  And -- even though these concepts were not "in" at the time -- my parents knew how to "coexist" and "embrace diversity."  They just called it "having manners."

So, we went to the wedding.

It was lovely.  It was in somebody's home and the bride was wearing a long dress, made of pink chiffon.  I think it had those sheer full length sleeves, which were popular at the time.  She had pretty flowers in her hair.  And she and the groom were happy and smiling and apparently very pleased to have my family at their celebration.  After the wedding, the bride and groom and the two children were going to live in Germany (because the groom was in the Army).  The bride was telling me about this, and she kindly invited my sisters and I to go visit them there.  She made me feel so very welcome.  Of course, this was not to be as I think I was about 10 years old and unable to travel to Germany.  The thing is, I knew she meant it.  I thought she was rather kick-ass and very beautiful.  And my parents hugged and kissed and congratulated the young couple.  And I knew they were sincere in those congratulations.

After all this, did the bride and groom stay together?  Yes, they did.  In spite of all the rather unorthodox circumstances, they did.  And I have always been grateful for parents who tried to teach me to be gracious and to cut people a little slack.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Morality Clauses

I am thinking here, specifically, of those used by certain Catholic institutions.

Basically, you agree to abide by certain standards of conduct, if you are employed by one of those institutions -- standards of conduct which are approved by the Church -- or else you can be terminated from your job.

And, yeah, if you read my blog post from a couple of days ago, I guess this post is sort of related to that one.

Not all Catholic institutions require employees to sign morality clauses.  It seems to me -- and this is based on my own personal observations -- that they are a growing trend among those institutions that consider themselves more "orthodox" or "traditional" or "faithful."

When I first heard of morality clauses, they were presented to me as a way by which a Catholic institution could protect its mission and ensure that it was setting an example of "correct" Church teaching.  These contracts between an employer and employee were said to be a method by which a Catholic institution could avoid scandalizing the faithful.  I guess it is thought that if everybody in the Catholic institution -- like a college, for instance -- is "on the same page" morality-wise, then the students won't become confused about what "being a Catholic" really means.  Likewise, the surrounding community will also be clear as to what "being Catholic" truly entails, by observing the behavior of those at the Catholic institution. 

How did I feel about that?  Well, on the one hand, I could understand it.  There is obviously a lot of confusion in our culture and society about what Church teaching actually is.  So, I thought that if there was an institution dedicated to presenting it acurately -- both in word and example -- that it could be a positive thing.  On the other hand, it struck me as rather elitist.

How do I feel about morality clauses now?  I think they suck, basically.  Why?  Because schools -- and who knows what other kind of entities -- are firing people, not because they are poor employees, but because they do not conform to the "approved" morality.  And, in doing this, legalism is being allowed to trump mercy, compassion, and charity.  Also, in doing this, certain kinds of "sinners" are being singled out in a world where "all sin and fall short."  ALL sin and fall short.

Why is this bad?  Why is it bad to single out and fire certain kinds of sinners?  Well, this is my experience, based on certain social situations I have had to endure.  What happens is that the people who are left in the institutions -- the "pure" Catholics -- start to become rather prideful and self-congratulatory.  Oh, yes, they beat their breasts and call themselves sinners and go to confession and profess to love mercy and compassion.  But, when you hear them start talking to each other?  There is an awful lot of pride going around.  There is an awful lot of "let's pat each other on the backs because we're the 'good' Catholics" kind of attitude.  There are a lot of unkind words concerning "unfaithful" Catholics and the "Hollywood Liberals" who want to "destroy marriage" and the "pro-aborts." Are all conservative Catholics this way?  Of course not.  But, there are enough.  There are enough.  And it makes me ill.

As an example, I was once talking to a Catholic "apologist."  This person said that living on the Gulf Coast would be desirable.  I commented that there are a lot of hurricanes in that area of the country.  This person replied, "Well, at least you wouldn't have to worry about Steve and Steve living next door."  EXCUSE ME?!?!?!  I happen to have a so-called "Steve and Steve" as neighbors, and they are the best neighbors you could possibly have.  I am embarrassed to say that I didn't say anything to this person expressing my discomfort at this statement.  At the time -- because of my personal situation -- I was feeling like a rather bad Catholic who should just shut up and listen to the "respected" Catholics.  But, I have had a lot of time to think about and observe things since that time.

So, to bring this back to the issue of morality clauses:

Morality clauses -- because they keep certain "disapproved of" people out of places of employment -- cause the "approved of" people to have the "privilege" of not having to actually interact with these "marginalized" individuals.  The people living "in sin" become more of a theological/philosophical concept than actual human beings, in all their wondrous complexity.  A situation develops where the religious person may never have the necessity of forming a close, personal relationship with, for example, an LGBT person or a pro-choice person.  And even if there are such people in a religious person's life, there is created vast opportunity to -- on a day-to-day basis, in a Catholic institution -- to regularly criticize those types of people, without them being present or being part of the discussion.  To me, this is dangerous.  It creates an atmosphere of superiority and snobbery and isolationism.  It creates an atmosphere of fear.  And the "holy" people -- even though they profess to being sinners -- almost can't help but take on the attitude that these other types of "sinners" are far worse than they.  That has been my experience, at least.

As you may know, I homeschooled my kids.  And for a long time, our homeschool group had a "park day," where the moms would bring their kids on Friday afternoons for playtime and socialization.  My sister happened to be visiting one time, and accompanied my kids and I to "park day."  She watched the kids and chatted with the moms.  Later, though, she told me that one of the moms said to her that we, as a group, prayed for our homeschool community to remain composed of "pure" Catholics.  "Huh?" I remarked. "I was never aware of that.  That is not my intention."  I asked one of the other moms if she was aware of this praying for our group to remain "pure," and she told me that she had no knowledge of this, either.  That was a relief.  Maybe it was some quirky thing.  I don't know.  But, I have to say that it has been my experience -- based on many years of hanging around with more conservative Catholics -- that this rather elitist attitude does not seem uncommon.  And it seems to me that morality clauses -- and the fruits of those clauses -- only exacerbate these problematic attitudes among Catholics who consider themselves to be the "faithful" ones.

I am quite certain that a "logic" person could poke all kinds of holes in what I have just said here.  Whatever.  Somebody recently said to me, in a rather derogatory tone, "You just want everybody to feel good about themselves."  Whatever.  But, I just think about Jesus and how he acted towards the "sinners" versus how he acted toward the "teachers of the law."  And many of the "sinners" really loved him and wanted to hang out with him all the time.  So, obviously, he was not hitting them over the head with the Dead Sea Scrolls.  On the contrary, he showed them true compassion.  And compassion is a very powerful thing.  Perhaps more powerful than morality clauses in the teaching of the faith and in setting an example for our children and teens and young adults.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Being Shy

I am shy.

(Maybe you are laughing at that.  But, it's true.  I am really very shy.)

So, here's the thing.  Because I am shy, I'm going to talk about it a little bit.  Because, at times, it has held me back and kept me from doing things I really wanted to do and saying things I really wanted to say and meeting people I really wanted to meet.

When I examine my shyness, I think it stems from the following:

     1. being afraid of looking like an idiot in front of somebody I admire.
     2. being afraid of being judged -- by anybody and everybody -- including people I don't even admire all that much.
     3. and, when I was young and single, being afraid of looking like an idiot in front of hot guys.

I always realized that my shyness impacted me negatively.  So, once in a while, I would try to overcome it by "putting myself out there."  And when I was younger, admittedly, this often resulted in what we would call the "social faux pax."  (Hell.  That still happens sometimes.  But, much less often.)

Here is an example of me committing a "social faux pax."  When I was growing up, my Italian grandmother passed down to us various superstitions.  One of these lovely tales of folklore is that if you dream someone dies, it means that person will actually live longer.  Such good luck!  So, anyway, when my hubs and I were first married, there was a cute young couple who lived next door to us in our apartment building.  One night, I dreamed that the young man half of the couple died.  When I saw him the next morning, I really wanted to tell him about this dream.  I did, though, feel my natural shyness coming on.  But, choosing to be brave, I decided not to let this hold me back, and I cheerfully announced to him, "Hey!  I dreamed you died!"  And I truly did not understand it when he did not respond in a positive manner.  My husband had to patiently explain to me that not all people are raised on Italian superstitions.  (And I wasn't even homeschooled, either.)

So, yes.  Not only am I shy, but I have also spent a great deal of my life being rather socially inept.  I kind of view the two things as being intertwined.  Because I have always been naturally shy, I have also -- especially when I was younger -- tended to avoid social situations which made me feel uncomfortable.  Avoiding these situations resulted in me not learning what was expected of a person in social situations.  This led to other occurrences of the "faux pax" during those times when I was required to be in the company of others -- especially strangers.  That led to more avoidance of social situations.  And you get the idea.

Thankfully, I have always had a nice circle of very good friends.  I have never lived an isolated life.  There are at least five to ten people on earth, at any given time, who truly understand me.  Such a gift!

I am fifty years old now.  Almost 51.  And I do not suffer as I did in the past.  And most people would never realize that I am shy.  "How has that happened?" you may legitimately ask.

I think, most of all, because a person living a regular life -- as I have -- is necessarily required to be around people.  You can't really hide out all the time.  And this being around people was good schooling for me.  I paid attention to others who had excellent social skills -- I still do -- and I learned a great deal.  I also learned a lot about myself -- from paying attention to myself and acknowledging my actual personality and even coming to value that personality.  And my personality is kind of "offbeat"  I like to look at things from different angles.  I am rather non-conformist.  Sometimes, I enjoy making the "inappropriate" comment.  I am not too easily offended by things which many of my Catholic confreres probably wish I would be offended by.  Rules bug me.  It used to bother me that I was "different" in these ways from people who are more "socially acceptable."   And because it bothered me -- embarrassed me, even -- I tried to hide those parts of me.  And that just served to make me unhappy and even more socially awkward, because I wasn't valuing and using and shaping the personality God gave me into the very best form it could take.

Middle age has been good for me.  I have come to value my actual personality and ways of looking at things.  I can accept my "quirkiness."  And yet, I have had enough experiences and good examples to realize when I need to reign it in.  (Usually, anyway.  I still have some spectacular fails.)  I am also old enough to realize that I don't have to worry about what others think of me, as long as I can live with what I think of me.  I have had enough practice at conversing that I am no longer intimidated by talking with people -- even those I greatly admire.  And I am WAY too old to worry about whether or not anybody -- either men or women -- thinks I am "hot."  What a relief.

Do I still feel shy?  Sure.  Especially in new situations with unfamiliar people.

Does this still get the best of me?  Sure.  Sometimes, I don't interact with interesting people when it would be perfectly appropriate to do so.  But, I always kick myself afterwards for missing out on an opportunity.  And I resolve to do better the next time.

So, I try to be outgoing with people and in new situations, even though this can be very difficult for me.  I have found that it is worth it, over the long run.  It makes life better -- richer and fuller.  Is everybody welcoming?  No.  But, I have learned that "putting myself out there" can really pay off.  I have met wonderful people and gotten involved with some wonderful causes because I chose to risk being rejected.  And if I make a fool of myself once in a while?  Well, I just try to learn from it and move on.  Because -- basically -- I decided that I want this next part of my life to be interesting.  I want to be involved in things that mean something to me.  I enjoy the company of people who teach me and expose me to new ideas and situations.  And so -- both remembering lessons I've learned from those more socially skilled than I and valuing my own unique personality -- I go out on a limb once in a while.  Albeit, I try to choose one that is relatively sturdy. ;-)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Christianity Of Dot-Marie Jones

Who is Dot-Marie Jones?  She is an actress who plays one of my favorite characters on "Glee."  If you don't know what "Glee" is, then, "Google it, Boot."  She is also a lesbian, married to the lady she loves and has been with for a long time.

Is Dot-Marie Jones a "professed" Christian?  I have no idea.  But, what I do know is that she acts like one.

Here is a case in point.


To me, this is Christianity in action.  She is doing as Jesus instructs us.  She is doing to others what she would have them do to her.  She is turning the other cheek.  She is showing forgiveness.  She is showing charity to those who persecute her.

In the face of nasty attitudes and comments, Dot-Marie Jones could be justifiably angry and hurt.  And maybe she is.  I would be.  But, look at the example she sets for others.  She is a peacemaker.  And what does Jesus say about peacemakers???

I hope Dot-Marie Jones would not mind me making these comments.  I don't mean to imply that I think she should become a Christian, if she is not a Christian.  I hope I don't make her a target of more nastiness.  I don't wish to turn her into some kind of symbol for the "culture war."  It's just that I've seen a lot of terrible things said to and about LGTB individuals by Christians, even by those of my own faith, and it feels like a knife to my heart.  I think it is scandalous.

In fact, I am seeing a lot of things being said and done by Catholic individuals and institutions lately that disturb me.  The other day, for example, I read about a single woman who teaches at a Catholic school.  She is pregnant.  She got fired.  Because -- horror of horrors -- she had SEX.  WITHOUT BEING MARRIED.  Hello.  But, did I fall asleep and wake up in the Middle Ages!?!?

Yes.  The Catholic Church teaches that sex is for marriage.  But, you know, sex happens.  It can happen more easily than you think.  I mean, I don't know this lady's story.  Is she engaged?  Is she dating someone whom she loves?  Is she lonely?  Did she want to feel close to somebody, if even for a little while?  Did she encounter a hot man and lose control of herself momentarily?  Did she encounter a hot man and just decide, "I AM GOING TO HAVE THAT HOT MAN."  I mean, that could have happened.  Ovulation, you know.  And she was obviously ovulating.  Was she raped?  But, you know, whatever happened, IT DOES NOT FREAKING MATTER, AND IT IS NONE OF OUR FREAKING BUSINESS, BECAUSE SHE IS NOT OURS TO JUDGE." 

AND -- if a dude teacher from that same Catholic school went out to a bar on a Friday night and picked up a hot woman and had sex and got the hot woman pregnant, he could just keep it a secret and nobody would ever have to know and he could just keep his dandy reputation and his job and his health insurance and retirement benefits. 


ALSO -- This woman could have had an abortion.  Yes, she could have gotten fired for that, too.  But, it would have been much less likely, because it would have been very easy to keep it a secret.  A pregnancy, though?  And a wee little new baby?  Not so easy to hide, eh?  And if she had a secret abortion, she could have kept her sterling reputation and her job and her health insurance and retirement benefits. 

But, now?

The single pregnant mother-to-be has no job and no income.  Perhaps she is keeping her health benefits, because of COBRA.  But, COBRA is freaking expensive for a singe lady with no job.  Perhaps, the care of Obama will help her out.  Thank God for Mr. Obama.  Maybe she has family and friends who will come to her aid.  Maybe the daddy is around.  But -- the thing is -- this Catholic institution, all pro-life and moral and stuff like that, took away her means of supporting herself at a time when she is most vulnerable.  Fuck that.  "Well," you may be thinking to yourself, "she can just get another job."  But, HELLO, have you checked this economy lately?  And a single pregnant lady is not exactly the most appealing candidate for a prospective employer.  Personally?  I hope she sues that Catholic school and wins an absolute PILE of cash.

And why did this school feel justified in firing this lady?  Because, probably, in violating Church teaching, the Powers-That-Be decided that she had become a poor example to the kids.  I ask you, though, who is being the poor example here?  If my kids were in that school, I'd yank them out so fast that the principal's head would spin.

I look at this stuff, ya know?  The stuff that is being said and done in the name of keeping the Church and her institutions "pure" or whatever?   The stuff that is being done in order to "defend the 'truth'?"  And I am just ashamed.  I hear Jesus' words about the "scribes, pharisees, and hypocrites" echo in my mind. 

I guess there's one piece of news I feel better about.  At my son's college, they are building a special place for single moms to live while they undertake their studies.  I tip my hat to that.  Because that is what Christians do.  They take people, in whatever hurting situations they find themselves in, and lift them up.  They don't judge them.  They lift them up.

And the same goes for how we should treat the LGBT community.  My daughter follows the blog of a Catholic gay man.  This man is trying to live out the Church's teaching, and so is abstaining from sexual activity.  He seems to have chosen this for himself, freely.  He doesn't seem to feel that it has been imposed on him.  I will take him at his word.  But, one thing that he expresses quite beautifully is how DIFFICULT this choice is for him to live out.  It is painful.  And I wonder, if I were a lesbian, if I would make the same choice, or if I would choose to be with somebody.  Because I know myself.  And I know that an intimate relationship has always been important to me, almost like life-blood.  And I hope, that if I were a lesbian, and if I had a partner or a wife, that people would understand about that.  I would hope that people would still accept me and love me and not judge me.  And not fire me from my job.  Or slash my tires.  Because I know of at least one case where a married lesbian couple had their tires slashed by those who disapprove of them.

And if there is a Heaven, and if I somehow manage to get there, I guess I hope my company will be Dot-Marie Jones and the brave single mom, rather than the tire-slashers and the employers who are trying to keep their institutions "pure."