Category Archives: General Interest

Gay History: The Vatican’s Secret Life…

We all know that gay men & women exist in all areas of the religious life, and in all denominations and faiths. It’s one of those blatantly hypocritical “Don’t ask, don’t tell” situations, so easily instigated by churches, institutions and governments to dispel the “myth” that any gay people could possibly work or minister there! My encounters at boarding school, with the St. John of God brothers, with Catholic clergy in general suggests to me that the high statistical prevalence of gays, quoted in this article, is correct. My thoughts are that, due to societal rejection of gay people, especially up to 1990s, many men and women entered the religious life – both clerical and monastic – as a way to avoid persecution. Of course, it doesn’t quite work that way. Having a religious “calling” is not going to stop your natural sexual urges…but nice try! This article by Michael Joseph Gross, and published in “Vanity Fair” on November 15, 2013 shows the difficult balance between sexuality and the religious life, and how it is viewed within the walls of Vatican City, and amongst the Catholic hierarchy.

Despite headlines about a powerful “gay lobby” within the Vatican, and a new Pope promising reform, the Catholic Church’s gay cardinals, monks, and other clergy inhabit a hidden netherworld. In Rome, the author learns how they navigate the dangerous paradox of their lives.

Naked but for the towel around his waist, a man of a certain age sat by himself, bent slightly forward as if praying, in a corner of the sauna at a gym in central Rome. I had not met this man before, but as I entered the sauna, I thought I recognized him from photographs. He looked like a priest with whom I’d corresponded after mutual friends put us in touch, a man I had wanted to consult about gay clerics in the Vatican Curia. My friends told me that this priest was gay, politically savvy, and well connected to the gay Church hierarchy in Rome.

But this couldn’t be that priest. He had told me that he’d be away and couldn’t meet. Yet as I looked at the man more closely, I saw that it was definitely him. When we were alone, I spoke his name, telling him mine. “I thought you were out of the country,” I said. “How lucky for me: you’re here!” Startled, the priest talked fast. Yes, his plans had changed, he said, but he was leaving again the next day and would return only after I was gone.

During the previous few days, I had heard a lot about this man. I had heard that he is a gossip, a social operator whose calendar is a blur of drinks and dinners with cardinals and archbishops, principessas and personal trainers. Supposedly, he loves to dish male colleagues with campy female nicknames. But I would never have the experience firsthand. The priest was embarrassed: to have been chanced upon at this place; to have had his small evasions revealed. The encounter was awkward. No, he did not wish to discuss the subject I was interested in. No, he did not think the subject worthwhile. These things he made clear. We left the sauna and, after further conversation, civil but stilted, went our separate ways.

I could understand his discomfort. But in Rome these days the topic of gay priests in the upper reaches of the Holy See is hard to avoid. In February of this year, not long before the College of Cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel for the conclave to choose the 266th Pope, the largest Italian daily newspaper, La Repubblica, reported that a “gay lobby”—a more or less unified cabal of homosexual power brokers—might be operating inside the Vatican. According to the newspaper, the possible existence of this gay lobby was among the many secrets described in a two-volume, 300-page report bound in red and presented to Pope Benedict XVI by three cardinals he had appointed to investigate the affair known as “VatiLeaks.” That scandal, which raised fresh suspicions of endemic corruption within the Curia, had broken the previous year after Paolo Gabriele, the papal butler, made off with some of Benedict’s private papers and leaked them to the press.

The internal VatiLeaks report, according to La Repubblica, indicated that gay clerics in the Vatican were being blackmailed. The report was also said to document the alleged gay lobby’s social structure and customs. Yet details concerning gay priests’ gatherings added up to old news: the tales had been told in articles previously published by La Repubblica itself. Sensationally, the newspaper suggested that Benedict’s concern about the alleged gay lobby was one reason he had suddenly resigned the papacy.

Months later, another leak of confidential information brought the subject of a gay lobby back into the news. Someone took notes during what was meant to be a private meeting between Latin-American Church leaders and the new Pope, the former cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, now known as Francis. In June, those notes were published on a progressive Catholic Web site. Francis was quoted as saying, “The ‘gay lobby’ is mentioned, and it is true, it is there … We need to see what we can do.”

A Closet with No Door

Gay lobby? It depends on what you mean. The term could refer to a shadowy group like the Illuminati, whose members quietly exercise supreme power. This is the sort of idea that lights up the tinfoil hats of conspiracy theorists, and it doesn’t capture the slow, feudal, inefficient workings of the Vatican. “Gay lobby” is really shorthand for something else. At the Vatican, a significant number of gay prelates and other gay clerics are in positions of great authority. They may not act as a collective but are aware of one another’s existence. And they inhabit a secretive netherworld, because homosexuality is officially condemned. Though the number of gay priests in general, and specifically among the Curia in Rome, is unknown, the proportion is much higher than in the general population. Between 20 and 60 percent of all Catholic priests are gay, according to one estimate cited by Donald B. Cozzens in his well-regarded The Changing Face of the Priesthood. For gay clerics at the Vatican, one fundamental condition of their power, and of their priesthood, is silence, at least in public, about who they really are.

Clerics inhabit this silence in a variety of ways. A few keep their sexuality entirely private and adhere to the vow of celibacy. Many others quietly let themselves be known as gay to a limited degree, to some colleagues, or to some laypeople, or both; sometimes they remain celibate and sometimes they do not. A third way, perhaps the least common but certainly the most visible, involves living a double life. Occasionally such clerics are unmasked, usually by stories in the Italian press. In 2010, for the better part of a month, one straight journalist pretended to be the boyfriend of a gay man who acted as a “honeypot” and entrapped actual gay priests in various sexual situations. (The cardinal vicar of Rome was given the task of investigating. The priests’ fates are unknown.)

There are at least a few gay cardinals, including one whose long-term partner is a well-known minister in a Protestant denomination. There is the notorious monsignor nicknamed “Jessica,” who likes to visit a pontifical university and pass out his business card to 25-year-old novices. (Among the monsignor’s pickup lines: “Do you want to see the bed of John XXIII?”) There’s the supposedly straight man who has a secret life as a gay prostitute in Rome and posts photographs online of the innermost corridors of the Vatican. Whether he received this privileged access from some friend or family member, or from a client, is impossible to say; to see a known rent boy in black leather on a private Vatican balcony does raise an eyebrow.

The Vatican holds secrets so tightly that it can make Fort Meade look like a sloppy drunk. Yet dozens of interviews with current and former gay priests, gay monks, veteran Vatican journalists, Italian aristocrats, and gay men at Roman gyms, bars, nightclubs, sex clubs, and restaurants suggest that, riveting as the more graphic stories are, they convey a limited part of the reality of gay clerical life in Rome. To be gay in the Vatican is no guarantee of success, mark of belonging, or shortcut to erotic intrigue. Most basically it is a sentence of isolation. Gays in the Vatican are creatures of a cutthroat bureaucracy whose dogmatic worldview denies or denigrates their own existence. They live in a closet that has no door. Among recent Popes, Benedict made the most concerted effort to sharpen Church doctrine on homosexuality, which he once called “a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.” He tried to cull gays from clerical ranks, most notably in 2005, when men with known “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” were prohibited from being ordained, even if they were celibate.

Denunciation and exposure have made gay priests figures of fascination—though less as people than as symbols—especially to the secular far left and the religious far right. Both sides find these clerics to be politically useful. The left uses them to level charges of hypocrisy. The right sees them as a stain in need of removal. They all got a shock late last July when Francis made his first direct public statement about gay clerics since becoming Pope.

During an impromptu press conference aboard the papal jet, en route from Rio de Janeiro to Rome after his first overseas trip, Francis was asked about the so-called gay lobby. His response, delivered with casual humor and punctuated by shrugs and smiles, was as follows: “So much has been written about the gay lobby. I still haven’t run into anyone in the Vatican who has shown me an identity card with ‘gay’ on it.” He pantomimed holding up such a card in his left hand and then went on: “When you find yourself with a person like that, you have to distinguish between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of somebody forming a lobby. . . . If a person is gay and is searching for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge him?”

He spoke these words with a palpable warmth, unlike the embattled, wary tone that other Popes have adopted. This may well have been the first time in history that a Pope has publicly uttered the term “gay”—the word that most men who feel romantic love for other men use to describe themselves—instead of the pathologizing 19th-century medical term “homosexual.” Then, in a lengthy interview with a Jesuit journal, the Pope went further, stating that the Church’s ministry should not be “obsessed” with a few divisive moral issues such as abortion and gay marriage. “When God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?” the Pope asked rhetorically. “We must always consider the person.”

Every Man for Himself

Tales of gays in the Vatican have been told for more than a thousand years. Pope John XII, who reigned from 955 to 964, was accused of having sex with men and boys and turning the papal palace “into a whorehouse.” While trying to persuade a cobbler’s apprentice to have sex with him, Pope Boniface VIII, who reigned from 1294 to 1303, was said to have assured the boy that two men having sex was “no more a sin than rubbing your hands together.” After Paul II, who reigned from 1464 to 1471, died of a heart attack—while in flagrante delicto with a page, according to one rumor—he was succeeded by Sixtus IV, who kept a nephew as his lover (and made the nephew a cardinal at age 17). Some such stories are better substantiated than others. Even while their reliability is questionable, they demonstrate that playing the gay card (even if you yourself are gay) is an ancient Curial tactic. “There are closeted gay priests who are vipers,” observes the theologian Mark D. Jordan, the author of The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism. “They are really poisonous people, and they work out their own inner demonology by getting into positions in power and exercising it” against other gay men, women, and anyone whom they perceive to be a threat. “Alongside that are suffering priests who seem sincere all the way down, who are trying to be faithful to God, and also to take care of people and change the institution. They are the ones who are always forgotten, and read out of the story from both sides.”

The Catholic priesthood’s contemporary gay cultural memory begins in the middle of the last century. When Paul VI assumed the throne, in 1963, by one account he took his papal name not from any predecessor but from a former lover, a film actor. That at least was the contention of the provocative gay French writer Roger Peyrefitte, whose 1976 allegations about Paul VI caused such a stir that Paul took to the balcony of St. Peter’s to denounce the “horrible and slanderous” accusations. Paul looked a laughingstock, and the Curia learned a lesson: better to ignore such charges than to amplify them by denial.

Meanwhile, some gay clerics were outgrowing the “particular friendships” that had long been part of monastic life and joining the sexual revolution. By the 1970s, the center of gay life in Rome was a cruising area called Monte Caprino, on the Capitoline Hill. At a small party of gay monks and their friends in Rome last summer, conversation turned to recollections of that place. “It was like its own little city,” one monk remembered, “with hundreds of people—everyone from seminarians to bishops—and then there were, conveniently, bushes off to the side.” The fellow feeling at Monte Caprino was compromised by the air of secrecy around the place. The area was a target for muggers and thieves, who figured rightly that clerics would make ideal victims because they had much to lose by the public act of pressing charges. One gay former seminarian recalled a night when three men beat him up and stole his wallet while numerous men in the crowded park stood by. Left bloodied by the thieves, the seminarian hollered at the bystanders, “There’s three of them and 300 of us!”

He told me this story, with its echoes of the parable of the Good Samaritan—in which a traveler is robbed, beaten, and left by the side of the road, and pious men do nothing to help him—to illustrate the every-man-for-himself dynamic of Rome’s gay clerical culture. Gay clerics often fail to help one another, he says, for the same reason that no one tried to help him the night that he was robbed: solidarity entails the risk of being outed.

“La Maledetta”

Self-centeredness can breed a sense of entitlement. “A certain part of the clergy feels that no one will care what they do if they are discreet,” says Marco Politi, a prominent Italian journalist and longtime Vatican correspondent, and the author of several books about the papacy and the Church. In 2000, Politi published a book-length interview with an anonymous gay priest, entitled La Confessione, republished in 2006 as Io, Prete Gay (I, Gay Priest). “Rumors are O.K., but not scandal,” Politi observes.

There has been plenty of scandal, though. In 2007, Monsignor Tommaso Stenico met a young man in an online chat room and invited him to his Vatican office, where their conversation—in which Stenico denied that gay sex was a sin, touched the man’s leg, and said, “You’re so hot”—was secretly videotaped and then broadcast on Italian television. (Stenico tried to persuade Italian newspapers that he’d just been playing along in order “to study how priests are ensnared” into gay sex as part of “a diabolical plan by groups of Satanists.” He was suspended from his Vatican position.) In 2006 a priest in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State injured police officers and smashed into police cars during a high-speed chase through a district in Rome known for transsexuals and prostitutes. (The priest was acquitted on all charges after claiming that he fled because he feared he was being kidnapped.) In a 2010 investigation of contract fixing for construction projects, Italian police wiretaps happened to catch a papal usher and Gentleman of His Holiness, Angelo Balducci, allegedly hiring male prostitutes, some of whom may have been seminarians, through a Nigerian member of a Vatican choir. (The choir member was dismissed; Balducci was convicted on corruption charges.)

Pope Benedict was rumored to have ordered that prelates who were living double lives be retired or removed from Rome. Marco Politi speculates that perhaps as many as 30 were eased out. The most senior prelate to lose his job was Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh. A staunch opponent of gay marriage who had publicly called homosexuality a “moral degradation,” O’Brien was brought down in February by three priests and one ex-priest who accused him of “inappropriate contact” and predatory behavior when he was their bishop. The episodes recounted by the four men involved such consistent patterns over more than 30 years that some of O’Brien’s colleagues surely must have had their suspicions. When I asked one archbishop if he had known that O’Brien was gay, however, the archbishop said he had not. When I asked the archbishop who among the other cardinals were O’Brien’s closest friends, he coldly answered, “I don’t think he had any.” Every man for himself, indeed.

Even Benedict has been dogged by rumors that he is gay. Though no solid evidence has ever emerged, it is treated as common knowledge by many in Rome, who cite stereotypes galore, including his fussy fashion sense (his ruby-red slippers, his “Valentino red” capes); his crusade to nail down why “homosexual actions” are “intrinsically disordered” (many closeted gay men, from Roy Cohn to Cardinal O’Brien, have made the most extraordinary efforts to condemn homosexuality); and his bromance with Archbishop Georg Gänswein, his longtime personal secretary. (Nicknamed Bel Giorgio, or “Gorgeous George,” the rugged Gänswein skis, plays tennis, and pilots airplanes. He inspired Donatella Versace’s winter 2007 “clergyman collection.”) Perhaps the most vicious of Benedict’s nicknames is “La Maledetta.” The word means “cursed” in Italian, but the pun derives from the fact that the term means the exact opposite of Benedict’s own name in Italian, Benedetto, which means “blessed”—with a gender change achieved in the process.

Neither Benedict nor Gänswein has publicly responded to any of this. The chatter’s main consequence has been not to hurt them personally (though surely it must, at least a little) but to help lock down genuine conversation about the everyday lives of gay priests, whether celibate or not. It is more or less impossible for gay clerics to articulate their affections in any way that does not amount to what an Anglo-Saxon mind might see as hypocrisy. Yet such a dualistic existence is very much a part of Church tradition. “This is almost an aspect of the Catholic religion itself,” Colm Tóibín has written in an essay on gays and Catholicism, “this business of knowing and not knowing something all at the same time, keeping an illusion separate from the truth.” It is also typical of Italian sexuality in general, and Italian homosexuality in particular. This is the country that tolerated the sexual escapades and serial frauds of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi with scarcely a hint of protest from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. This is the country where countless married women ignore their husbands’ dalliances with men.

La Bella Figura

The culture of deception operates according to signals and conventions by which gay clerics navigate their lives. Camp is perhaps the most powerful and pervasive of these codes, though it can be difficult to define. Ironic, effeminate self-mockery—allowing priests to exercise some limited rebellion against their own isolation and invisibility—is one form of clerical camp. For fear of laughing out loud, priests sometimes try to avoid making eye contact with one another in church when hymns with titles like “Hail, Holy Queen” are sung. After Bergoglio became Pope Francis, YouTube clips of a sequence from Fellini’s Roma went viral among gay priests in Rome. It shows a plain-looking cardinal watching a runway show of over-the-top clerical attire—which ends when the departed Pope steals the show by appearing in the glorious garb of a Sun God.

One gay former priest, who still lives in Rome, describes clerical camp as “a natural way of expressing [gay identity] while celibate.” Socially, he says, it is “a key that unlocks a further element of trust.” There’s nothing earth-shattering about this—it’s what every institution does—but “the Church has a lot more experience and practice at protecting itself. As far as that goes,” he says, with a nod to Cole Porter, “they’re the tops.”

When this former priest began his education in Rome, a professor told him, “There shouldn’t be a subculture. We are all male here, so it’s inappropriate to say ‘her’ or to refer to other men with feminine pronouns.” The former priest says that “none of this instruction was about our behavior. It was about how we should appear.” He believes that such instruction illustrates a little-noted change in official thinking about Catholic identity, and what should be at its center. “The symbols of the Church should be the sacraments,” such as the Eucharist, he argues, but over time the people who administer the sacraments have come to displace them in prominence. In other words, “the priests become the symbols” that are deemed most important. Which in turn puts a premium on outward appearance and enforces conformity to a certain official ideal. The Church, therefore, is increasingly preoccupied with making sure its leaders are groomed from among “boys who look holy: playing dress-up at the American College and going down to Piazza Navona at nine P.M. to say their Breviaries.” Sacraments and liturgy, the former priest says, are “the kernel of what makes the Church important. This is what makes us powerful. Not the protection of medieval institutions.”

Yet in the Church, as in Italian society, it’s often the case that right appearance—la bella figura—is all. In every detail, parties celebrating appointment to the Vatican and other high Church offices can be lavish—“like a posh girl’s wedding”—with many clerics in attendance being “gay men wearing everything handmade, perfect, queer as it comes,” observes one prominent figure in the Roman art world. But la bella figura matters just as much at ordinary moments. Especially for clerics who break the vow of celibacy, it is crucial to keep up appearances in the normal course of life.

Gay saunas are good places to meet other gay priests and monks. The best times to find clerics at the saunas are late afternoon or evening on Thursdays (when pontifical universities have no classes) or Sundays (after Mass). Some gay celibate clerics use the saunas not for sex but to experience a sense of fellowship with others like themselves. One calls his sauna visits “something to confirm myself as I am.” (Rome has few gay bars, and John Moss, the American owner of the largest and oldest one, the Hangar, says that the rise of Internet cruising, combined with the Vatican’s crackdown on gay priests, has decimated his gay clerical clientele. “There used to be so many seminarians—such beautiful men—who came to the bar, and we would even get hired to take parties to them in some of the religious houses. Now there’s nobody.”)

Once you make a connection, it’s possible to use your monastery cell for sexual assignations, as long as you don’t make much noise. “You can sneak people in, no problem,” one gay monk says, “but try to avoid consistent patterns of movement.” In other words, don’t invite a guy over on the same day of the week, or at the same time of day, very often. That said, “no one has sex” with other residents of his own monastery, a former monk told me, “because it is like a Big Brother house. Everyone knows everything.”

The more senior the cleric, the more likely he may be to play loose with the rules. One leading Vatican reporter (who says that, among journalists on the beat, the two most common topics for gossip about Church officials are “who’s gay and who’s on the take”) describes the logic of such behavior. “Everything is permitted because you are a prince of the court,” he says. “If you are truly loyal and entrusted with the highest level of responsibility, there has to be an extra liberty attached in order to be able to pull it off.”

Vows of celibacy don’t say anything about eye candy. Some Curia officials are said to handpick extremely handsome men for menial jobs in order to make Vatican City more scenic. A layman I know whose job requires frequent trips to the Vatican used to enjoy flirting with a muscular go-go boy who danced on the bar at a gay nightclub in Rome. One day at the Vatican, this layman was amazed to see the dancer out of context, dressed in the uniform of a security guard. When he made to greet the man, the guard signaled him to stay back, raising a finger to his lips in a quiet “Shhhhh … ”

Where silence can’t strictly be kept, word games can compartmentalize the truth. In the Vatican office of a monsignor who I’d been told might have some firsthand knowledge concerning recent gay scandals in the Church, I asked, point-blank, “Are you gay?,” and he serenely answered, “No.” I replied, “I wonder, if a priest is homosexual—but does not participate in mainstream secular gay culture—could he say that he is not ‘gay’ and still think he’s telling the truth?” “What an interesting question,” the monsignor said, immediately standing up and gesturing me to the door. “I’m afraid I don’t have any more time to talk.” He insisted on personally walking me out of the building, and as we passed along a grand hallway I remarked upon its beauty. “I don’t see it,” he replied archly. “To me, other hallways are ‘beautiful.’ ” Was this an innocent remark, or a coded answer to my question? Sometimes talking to gay priests feels like reading stories by Borges.

For those who want it, organized networks can provide some grounding. A few small groups of gay Catholics in Rome operate publicly, but because anyone can come to their meetings, it can be risky for priests, especially Vatican officials, to be part of them. One private group of about 50 gay priests and laymen meets once a year, for a kind of retreat. A Vatican priest I met with—he actually invited me to stop by his office near St. Peter’s because he said he wanted “to show that this is no secret,” though it’s secret enough that he can’t be named—is involved with this group, as part of an unofficial ministry in addition to his official duties. He says that his superiors, including at least one very prominent Vatican official, have long known he is gay, and have even promoted him since learning that fact.

Yet gays in the Vatican, like spies in intelligence services, inhabit boxes within boxes. The priest who helps with the group of 50 raised his eyebrows when I repeated to him something an archbishop had told me. “I know a priest who ministers to people in the Curia in that situation,” the archbishop said, though “he is not assigned officially.”

“That is not me,” the priest said, amazed. “I wonder who it could be.”

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

As you would expect, the priest I met in the sauna looks rather different with vestments on. When I walked into church a few days later, for Sunday-morning Mass, he was the celebrant—even though, when we met, he had said he was about to leave town. Maybe his plans had changed again.

He was preaching a homily on the Gospel reading, the parable of the Good Samaritan. The priest told the congregation that this story was a challenge. A challenge to accept “risk in favor of compassion.” A challenge to “look more deeply at ‘Who is my neighbor?’ ” A challenge to be generous, unlike “the religious, spiritual person who did nothing to help.” Listening to these words, I could not help but wonder: where, in that parable, does this priest see himself?

From the day after the conclave ended—when Francis went back to his hotel and personally checked out, paid his bill, and picked up his suitcase—the new Pope has surprised people with his actions. During Holy Week, he went to a juvenile prison and washed the feet of inmates, including two girls and two Muslims. One morning, he reportedly made a sandwich for the Swiss Guard who had stood sentinel outside his room all night. He invited 200 homeless people for dinner in the Vatican gardens.

Francis has also said some things that, from a Pope’s mouth, seem extraordinary simply because they are so down to earth—like his choice to end one homily with the untraditional exhortation “Have a good lunch!” Yet the first time this Pope’s words, rather than his actions, made significant headlines was in connection with his comments about the “gay lobby.”

As noted, the phrase first gained currency before Francis came on the scene, but it returned to public discussion just as he got serious about what may be a hallmark of his papacy: a cleanup of Vatican corruption. The scope of his concern about abuse of power seems total. He is reforming everything from the Vatican bank’s bookkeeping to the contents of the papal wardrobe.

For a long time, gay priests have made for convenient scapegoats and handy pawns in Church power games. All of them, whether actively or passively, have helped create these roles for themselves, and they can hardly imagine a different reality—unless they were to emerge from the closet and get thrown out of the priesthood. One monk told me, “A lot of us will not condemn. But not speak out. We’re in a system that controls us. The longer you’re in it, the more it controls, the more you assume the clerical position.” They keep hope small, or snuff it entirely. They believe that nothing and no one could make the Church safe for them. Might this change? “Not in my lifetime,” they all say.

Yet, before he became Francis, Jorge Bergoglio was a Jesuit. As *National Catholic Reporter’*s John Allen, the dean of the American Vatican-watchers, told me, “There’s a kind of Catholic version of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ that the Jesuits would be particularly noted for. There are guys in the Jesuit world that everybody knows are gay, but they don’t go around making a big deal out of it.” While Pope Benedict’s Vatican attempted to make sure gays knew they were unwelcome in the priesthood, the Jesuits developed a reputation for tolerating and even protecting their gay brethren.

In the collegial Jesuit spirit, Francis appointed eight cardinals to serve as his core advisers on significant issues, and in the coming years, this group may have as much influence on the situation of gays in the priesthood as Francis himself. When I asked an archbishop how he thinks the cardinals’ conversation about their gay brothers will go, he answered with reference not to the Holy Spirit but to the god of Fortune. “Right now the surest thing I can say is that there’s change in the air,” he said. “If you could say what will happen, you could say who’d win the lottery.”

The next time I heard mention of a lottery was a few days later, at dinner with a gay monk who told me that he had recently fallen in love for the first time, with a man. “Am I a clerical hypocrite? I guess in one way I am,” he said, in the middle of a long and emotional narrative, before bringing the conversation to bedrock reality. “But I’m over 60. I have nothing financially. I can’t leave.” And then he said, “If I won the Powerball lotto, I would leave.”

Note: An alteration was made in the passage about Marco Politi’s La Confessione, republished as Io, Prete Gay, in order to give a more accurate description of the book.

Reference

Advertisements

We’re Queer and We’ve Been Here

This article has been reproduced from tricycle.org, and was written by Dr. Jay Michaelson, and published July 02, 2018. To me, this article encapsulates why myself, and many others, have deserted conventional beliefs – and in my case, both Catholicism & Atheism – to follow the path of The Buddha. Atheism gave me a stance, a soap box to denounce what is…and has been for centuries…the hypocrisy of conventional & fundamentalist religion. With its emphasis on bible bashing, “family values” – which is not inclusionist – xenophobia, misogyny, racism, homophobia, general prejudice & discrimination, stigma, and love of power, influence and money, has…well…totally gone against every precept and doctrine that was meant to make it great! Today, especially in light of the recent expose of sexual abuse, which has covered EVERY religion, and their associated charities and institutions, people are deserting churches, mosques and temples in hordes. As a gay man, conventional religion left me bereft of choice and hope decades ago. But like many, I still have this strange yearning for some form of spirituality, or belief or…if you like…enlightenment. Something that has a base in history, something unadulterated, something that isn’t based on ethereal deities, son’s of God, messengers of God, heavily adulterated books, myths and fantasies, something that doesn’t leave me feeling empty and dirty!For me, Buddhism has provided that spark. Not bogged down in doctrines, theologies, enforced beliefs, and lists of do’s and don’ts, it gives you choice. You enter into things voluntarily. If you transgress, you are answerable only to yourself. How deeply you travel down the road to enlightenment is up to you. Nothing is forced upon you! It provides a path that is rich and based in ancient culture. It is a path worthy of investigation.

Om mani padme hum 📿

Rediscovering Buddhism’s LGBT history of gay monks, homoerotic samurai, and gender-nonconforming practitioners and gods

It’s no secret that many LGBTQ people have found refuge in the dharma, and it’s easy to see why.  It helps us work with the wounds of homophobia, recognizing internalized self-hatred for the delusion and dukkha [suffering] that it is. Yet when queer people interact with the dharma, there is often something missing: visibility. It’s nice that Buddhism doesn’t say many bad things about us, but does it say anything good? Where are we among the Dogens and Milarepas and Buddhaghosas?

This is not, of course, a question limited to Buddhism. Everywhere, queers have been erased from history. Often we find ourselves only when we are being persecuted; we have to read in between the lines of our interlocutors, trying to reconstruct a lost past.  

But there is much to be gained from the effort. Finding ourselves in history, for better or for worse, reminds us that we have one. We can see the different ways in which gender and sexuality were understood across time and cultures, and we are reminded that sexual and gender diversity has always been a part of human nature.

The history of queer Buddhism does not always paint a rosy picture. We find a mixed tapestry that includes stories of acceptance and persecution as well as examples that are problematic or offensive to modern Western sensibilities. While books can be (and have been) written about this subject, here I will limit myself to four examples that demonstrate the breadth of queer experience throughout Buddhism.

1. MILD OFFENSES

First, and I think least interestingly, there are various levels of injunctions against male-male sexual behavior. What’s interesting here, apart from the mere visibility—yes, the monks were doing it with each other—is the minor nature of the offense. In the Theravadan monastic code, for example, sexual (mis)conduct between monks or novices was no more egregious than any other sexual misconduct, and did not warrant additional sanctions. The offense is similarly minor in Vajrayana monastic communities, leading both to consensual “thigh sex” (frottage) among monks, and, tragically, to many documented instances of sexual abuse.

Conflicting statements by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama have reflected this ambivalence. In 1994, he said that as long as there were no religious vows at issue, consensual same-sex intimacy “is OK.”  But in an interview published two years later, he said that only when “couples use organs intended for sexual intercourse” could sex be considered “proper.” After meeting with gay and lesbian activists in 1997, he noted that the same rules applied to straight and gay people alike, and that they were not part of the direct teachings of the Buddha and thus might evolve over time. In 2014, he reiterated the view that for Buddhists, homosexual acts are a subset of sexual misconduct, but that this was a matter of religious teaching and did not apply to people of another or no religion. Other rinpoches have disagreed and fully affirmed gay and lesbian lives.  There is no clear position. 

2. GENDER-NONCONFORMING ANCESTORS

Second, there are several instances of what today might be called gender-nonconforming people in Buddhist texts, now newly accessible thanks to historian Jose Cabezon’s recently published 600-plus page tome, Sexuality in Classical South Asian Buddhism. Many Theravada and Mahayana texts, for example, refer to the pandaka, a term which, Cabezon shows, has a wide variety of meanings, encompassing “effeminate” male homosexuals, intersex persons, and others who exhibited non-normative anatomical, gender, or sexuality traits. (The term pandaka is often translated “eunuch,” but insofar as a eunuch is someone who chooses to be castrated, this is an inaccurate translation. Because of the breadth of the term, Cabezon himself renders it “queer person.”)

By and large, the pandaka is not depicted positively. As Cabezon describes in great detail, the Theravadan monastic code prohibits the ordaining of a pandaka—“the doctrine and discipline does not grow in them,” it says. And a Mahayana sutra called A Teaching on the Three Vows says bodhisattvas should not befriend them. But to me, just the visibility of the pandaka is encouraging. Here we are! And if we have been stigmatized, well, as Cabezon notes, that is hardly comparable to how queer people have been treated in other religious traditions.

3. SEXUAL SAMURAI

Third, there is a fair amount of male-male homoeroticism in Buddhist textual history. The Jataka tales [parables from the Buddha’s past lives] include numerous homoerotic stories featuring the future Buddha and the future Ananda; in addition to the tales themselves apparently being told without a sense of scandalousness, these stories suggest an interesting appreciation of the homoerotics or at least homosociality of the teacher-disciple relationship. Like Batman and Robin, Achilles and Patroclus, and Frodo and Sam, the Buddha and Ananda are, emotionally speaking, more than just friends.

Japanese Buddhism probably had the most fully developed form of same-sex eroticism—nanshoku—that endured for hundreds of years, beginning in the 1100s and fading out only in the 19th century, under the influence of Christianity.  These relationships—sometimes called bi-do (the beautiful way) or wakashudo (the way of the youth)—were pederastic in nature, often between an adolescent boy (probably aged 12–14) and a young man (aged around 15–20), and thus not role models for contemporary LGBT people, but a queer love nonetheless.

As with Greek pederasty, these relationships combined a sexual relationship with a mentoring relationship. And as in the Greek model, there were clear rules and roles that needed to be followed; nanshoku was not hedonism but a homosexuality that was socially constructed.

The legendary founder of the institution of nanshoku was the 12th-century monk Kukai, also called Kobo Daishi (“the great teacher who spread the dharma”), who was also credited with founding of the Shingon school of Japanese esoteric Buddhism, which incorporates tantric practice. Although there is not much historical evidence for this, it’s interesting that the institution of nanshoku became linked with tantra, which has its own polymorphous eroticism in the service of awakening.

This culture has left us the greatest collection of homoerotic Buddhist texts of which I am aware. Nanshoku Okagami (the Great Mirror of Male Love), published in 1687 and available in a fine translation by Paul Gordon Schalow, is a collection of love stories, some requited and others not, between samurai warriors and Buddhist monks, actors, and townspeople. Now available in multiple translations, the book is an almost unbelievable artifact of Edo-period hedonism, warrior love conventions that closely resemble the Mediterranean ones, and Romeo-and-Juliet-like stories of forbidden love, impossible love, and star-crossed lovers. If you can get past our cultures’ very different ethics regarding intergenerational sex, it’s an amazing queering of history.

4. GENDER FLUIDITY

Finally, the fluidity and play of gender within some Buddhist texts is often inspiring but also frequently problematic. Numerous Buddhist enlightenment stories feature women suddenly transforming into men, for example. On the one hand, that’s kind of awesome from a queer and trans point of view. On the other hand, it’s often a way of explaining how deserving women can become fully enlightened—by becoming men.  

That highlighting the role of a prominent female bodhisattva like Kuan Yin or a female deity like Tara has enabled many Western dharma centers to manifest their commitments to gender egalitarianism—awesome. That Kuan Yin is but one manifestation of the male bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara—less awesome. And yet, that a male bodhisattva occasionally manifests as a female figure—maybe more awesome.

So too the feminization of the principle of wisdom, prajnaparamita, and the Vajrayogini, who is female, erotic, and enlightened. These figures may be gender-essentialistic, gender-binaried, and heteronormative, but especially for Westerners, they productively queer the assumptions of what is masculine and feminine.

These examples of queerness in Buddhist text and history are just a sampling; there are many more. When queers look at these echoes in the past, we’re doing several things: We are finding ourselves in history and theology. We are claiming and acknowledging our existence, albeit in different forms from those we know today. And we are, hopefully, keeping our senses of irony and historicity intact. This isn’t gay-hunting or a naïve apologetics that siphons off the bad and leaves in only the good. We are, instead, searching for a usable past, not with a faux nostalgia or appropriative orientalism, but with a sophisticated relationship to what has gone before and what is present now.

Correction (7/5): An earlier version of this article translated Kobo Daishi as “the great master from Kobo.” A more accurate translation is “the great teacher who spread the dharma.” The article also identified Kukai as the founder of the Shingon school, which is disputed. 

Reference:

Gay History: Harvey Milk Debates Sen. John Briggs, September 1978.

Harvey Milk and Republican state Sen. John Briggs of Orange County met in September 1978 for a debate at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek over the Briggs Initiative, a proposition that would have made it mandatory for school boards to fire openly gay and lesbian teachers. The photos were recently found in The San Francisco Chronicle archive by pop culture critic Peter Hartlaub and published for the first time in decades. 📷: John Storey

Gay History: Buddhafield – A Dark Story of a Gay, Speedo Wearing Guru, and Exploitation!

In 1985, recent film-school graduate Will Allen found what appeared to be an exciting alternative community in Los Angeles. Always curious about the meaning of life, Allen was lured by a charismatic South American-born guru known as Michel, who seemed able to answers his questions. With little hesitation, he joined Buddhafield, a group where love and enlightenment flowed in abundance.

It wasn’t until 22 years later that Allen realized he belonged to a cult.

When Will Allen, then 22, was forced to leave home in 1985 after his mother learned he was gay, his sister invited him to join a local alternative community and meditation group in West Hollywood, California she had been attending for nine months.[9][10] The group, led by Michel Rostand, eventually grew to one hundred members and began calling itself Buddhafield.

The group leader, Michel Rostand—a well-tanned disciplinarian who rarely wore more than Speedos or tight gym shorts—claimed that he could put people directly in touch with god.

Before he became an enigmatic leader to a group of hippies, Rostand was searching for fame in Hollywood. His biggest role was as an extra in the Roman Polanski classic, and a handful of gay porn. He also fancied himself a dancer, and told people he performed in the ballet.

His accomplishments weren’t much, but to him they were monumental. To him, he was a star.

Rostand utilized his acting talent to create a powerful persona that would capture the minds of more than 100 vulnerable souls. He started by holding weekly yoga and meditation sessions at a studio in West Hollywood, and soon the group grew.

Attracted to Michel’s messages of healing and self-fulfillment, newcomers often gave themselves over to Buddhafield readily. Calling him “The Teacher,” they ditched functioning society and moved into one of Buddhafield’s several houses together. Rape survivors, for example, felt cleansed, and lost souls found salvation through Michel’s tutelage and their newfound family. In joining Buddhafield, some sought to escape society’s authoritative decrees or replace drug habits with spiritual highs. Others were tossed out of their homes or contending with trauma or battling disillusionment with their respective religions. Most maintained low-end jobs to pay rent, but they rarely communicated with people who were not part of the roughly 100-member organization. Life as they knew it ended. And for more than two decades, they loved it. 

“It somehow felt good to be elite,” Coquet said of his 25 years in the organization. “There was something about it.”

Allen, Coquet and Cheiffo realized that, once they took the plunge, nothing could be halfhearted. Michel, who is also a well-read ballet dancer trained in hypnotherapy, led activities on six nights of the week. If anyone said they’d rather not attend, a friend would question their devotion, insisting that person was stuck inside their own muddled headspace. Supposed enlightenment waited beyond every doubt.

“We all thought we were going to be with him until we died,” Coquet said.

Sometimes the guidelines were more specific. Michel would hand down dictums on an individual basis. His biggest hangups were sexual, as the group later discovered in a dark way. He banned most members from fornicating, citing the release of energy that comes with an orgasm as an inferior high. Often seen in nothing but a Speedo and Ray-Bans, Michel was particularly interested in recruiting attractive young men. Even better if they were virgins. (He was raised Catholic and probably feared the AIDS epidemic that was sweeping the country, Coquet pointed out.) In truth, “everybody was fucking everybody” surreptitiously, one ex-member says in the movie.

Buddhafielders told themselves lies about what was going on, and they fed lies to outsiders too. When the mob appeared in public together, they fibbed about their affiliations. At a movie theater, they would claim to be a “movie club.” While on hikes, they were an “ecological group.” They had T-shirts to prove it.

The rare times anyone conversed with strangers about their personal lives, Buddhafielders lied about where they resided, fearing potential exposure. “Society is not going to understand it, so just don’t even try,” Coquet said of the Buddhafield groupthink. 

Barring fleeting skepticism, no insiders questioned Michel’s rules. They’d found tranquility. “There was truth in all of it,” Coquet said. “There were lies and weird manipulations, but they were based on something we really believed in.”

And for a long time, no one would rather return to normal society, anyway.

“‘This [was] such a great way to live, to see life from this way,'” Allen said, describing their justification. 

When we think of cults, we picture murder and nutty religious practices. But in Buddhafield, positivity abounded, and they kept up with current events throughout. “There was a lot of humor in everything we did,” Allen recalled. “[Michel] was very funny, and we laughed and laughed and laughed a lot.” 

Everyone lived, cooked, did yoga, meditated and attended seminars (including acting and ballet lessons) together. Some worked together too. Allen, Coquet and Cheiffo said they were temporarily employed at an Indian restaurant whose clientele included Barbra Streisand, Ally Sheedy and Michael Jackson. A cultlike faction of Sikhs apparently hired the trio to pose on their behalf because “people in that cult were too spacey to be waiters.” They donned traditional Sikh turbans to appear authentic.

Members paid Michel $50 for weekly hypnotherapy sessions called “cleansings.” Coquet, in fact, was a licensed therapist himself. Michel hired him to give non-hypnotic counsel, while Michel oversaw the sessions oriented toward metaphysical growth. Working closely with Michel lent Coquet and Allen unprecedented access to their teacher.

For his finest act, Michel performed what he called “the knowing.” Promising the most intimate connection to God possible, only privileged disciples were granted “the knowing.” No one wanted to leave before they’d experienced it. Cheiffo, a self-described “punk-rocker” who was loyal for 27 years and received “the knowing” seven months after arriving, said some waited 18 years hoping they’d be selected. The documentary’s subjects liken “the knowing” to an LSD trip: colors swirl, trees sway and divinity presents itself. Today, Allen, Coquet and Cheiffo recognize the manipulativeness of the practice. Michel would employ an ancient Hindu technique, pressing his fingers to the recipients’ eyes in such a way that intense beams of light would form. Using the spiritual teachings they’d been fed, members fixed deep meanings to the experience, often calling it, at most, “God” or, at least, “intoxication.” If it was ineffective, Michel claimed that person wasn’t spiritually prepared to receive “the knowing.”

“When I was actually revealed ‘the knowing,’ I was screaming bloody murder,” Coquet said. “It was so painful to me, and everything in my being was saying, ‘Get out of this house. Leave now.’ And I did everything I could do to just stay there and stick with it. There were other times when it was just amazing. I would put my hands on my eyes and have there be a light show.”

The warning signs were always there, but the tribe’s bond both strengthened and splintered after the FBI raided a Texas cult led by David Koresh in 1993. The standoff ended in flames, killing 76 affiliates of the Branch Davidians sect. Michel panicked. He changed his name to Andreas, effectively creating a new character for himself. Fearing a similar fate, he relocated Buddhafield to Austin. Mutual support within the institution fortified, yet somewhere in that process, a shift occurred. For those who’d been around since the beginning, Andreas’   purpose went from imparting enlightenment to ensuring the group stayed afloat. He was convinced he was a Christlike figure, and history tells us that most Christlike figures are executed.

Members had to derive positivity among themselves. Many were at Andreas’ every beck and call. They got little sleep, yet they were expected to remain alert at all times. One guy made Andreas ornate fruit salads every morning — they were mostly thrown away, but he continued nonetheless. Allen, who lived with The Teacher for 18 of his 22 years in Buddhafield, was tantamount to a personal servant, reading to Andreas and tucking him in nightly, among other tasks. As if being worshiped weren’t enough (some members called him “my lord”), Andreas’ “Howard Hughes neurosis” — Allen’s words — was satisfied at all hours. 

Because his role as therapist provided unique access to the mysterious leader, Coquet learned things few did. According to Coquet, Andreas claimed a “persecution complex” as a result of being molested as a young boy. Members later learned that, despite his sex regulations, Andreas was manipulating male Buddhafielders into sleeping with him. Advised never to say no to their teacher, disciples — gay and straight — would receive spiritual awakenings during “cleansings” and then convince themselves to give their bodies to Andreas. They were effectively being raped, but it carried the guise of consent. 

No one talked about it. “You’re just a sack of meat to this person,” one man says in the movie. “That’s when I began to hate him.”

Through it all, no one outright confronted Andreas — at least not to Allen, Coquet and Cheiffo’s knowledge. When someone was tempted to raise concerns, another member would encourage them to return to their spiritual center. Those who actually left were forced to “disconnect” from the group, just like in Scientology. (Buddhafielders were sometimes ordered to maintain ostensible friendships with these people to keep tabs on them, should anyone choose to contact the authorities.) But in 2006, a nostalgic apostate returned to Buddhafield after a decade. Unlike some of the current insiders, he was able to spot the change in Michel/Andreas’ spirit. He wasn’t a teacher anymore — he was a master, and a fussy one at that. 

Then the returnee heard from his friends that Andreas was a sexual predator. This “character,” as Allen described him, barged into his wife’s cleansing session — a strict no-no — and accused Andreas of hurting his disciples. Andreas denied it and later blamed Cheiffo for not being there to “protect” him. But the damage was done: Before leaving again, the former member wrote an email to the group outlining all of the abuse allegations. More victims came forward. A steady implosion set in.

A few Buddhafielders had already planted seeds toward exiting. Allen, for example, who’d been a kept man, got a job in 2003 so he could save money in case he decided to leave. Most were facing an uphill battle if they chose to reboot their lives, so they didn’t jump ship immediately upon learning of Andreas’ wrongdoings. Even some who had suffered his advances didn’t quit right away. In fact, some victims refuted the allegations altogether, still hoping to protect The Teacher. Instead, Buddhafield saw a gradual wave of departures as people accepted that they belonged to a cult. Andreas left for Hawaii, starting a new clan. Certain loyalists followed him, and he rounded out his numbers with locals who are devoted to him today. Now charging $100 a pop for therapy sessions, Andreas still has all his financial and personal needs secured. “Holy Hell” shows Allen and other ex-Buddhafielders confronting him on a Hawaiian beach. 

“He used to say, ‘In the world, but not of it,'” Cheiffo recalled. “Now, when this thing was over, we were not in the world. My God, it’s been so hard to get back into life. I feel like I was in a frickin’ convent — or jail, really.”

With few marketable skills, minimal income and intense intimacy issues, displaced Buddhafielders have had to piece their lives together. Legal recourse is not easy, so Allen hopes “Holy Hell” will draw attention to the darker side of Andreas’ actions — if he can get the movie distributed in Hawaii. But Allen, Coquet and Cheiffo say people they introduced to the group are still following Andreas, which means attacking from the inside would be like harming their own family. Andreas covered enough of his tracks to eliminate a potential criminal case. That’s why he called his therapy sessions “cleansings” and ensured his sexual encounters had a semblance of consent. They could bring civil cases for harassment or duress, but is it worth the effort and money?

Allen, Coquet and Cheiffo were in their 50s when they were forced to hit that bitter “reboot” button. They felt like “gypsy” 20-somethings. They were building careers, exploring relationships and learning how to be self-sufficient adults — things that enlightenment alone cannot accomplish. The struggle was roughest for Cheiffo, whose partner left her when she quit Buddhafield. Her dear friend of 17 years, who is still one of Andreas’ pupils, will no longer speak to her. 

“Later, we had to use humor to heal this whole thing,” Allen said of their 10 years outside of the cult. “We said, ‘We were laughing then — why aren’t we laughing now? Let’s get through this one step at a time, one day at a time.’ There was a lot of crying, a lot of tears and frustration and confusion, but eventually, after that, you have to laugh. You have to. Otherwise, what? You’re going to be a victim your whole life? You’re always going to suffer. It is funny to step back and laugh at yourself and not take yourself so seriously because that’s a problem

CULT WARNINGS AFTER WATCHING “HOLY HELL” DOCUMENTARY

Imagine spending over twenty-two years of your life believing you are one of the select few who knows the secrets of the universe– only to discover the world that you live in is really a brainwashing cult. This is the story behind Holy Hell. Will Allen, the filmmaker who made this documentary from 20 years of recording cult activities, woke up and decided to expose his former guru.

Unfortunately for this story, the Buddhafield cult still operates. Relocated to Hawaii, Gomez continues to manipulate new and old followers under his new moniker Reyji (God-King). Though he reportedly often travels in disguise it appears his influence has reached many in the area who are involved in yoga and other new age pursuits. This documentary seeks to provide not only closure for those who helped make it, but also serves as a warning for those who may be exposed to the group.

After watching, I was very disturbed at the ending as it did not seem to me that the former members had done their recovery “homework” by making the effort to really learn about unethical hypnosis and mind control. I was left to wonder if ex-members are still allowing cult-programmed phobias against cult experts to keep them from getting the help they might need to truly heal from the years of mind control abuse.

I encourage anyone interested in how cults work to watch this documentary.

Tim Alderman 2019.

References

Today’s Whinge: Monday 25th February 2019

Dear Married At First Sight!

Firstly – can we stop calling this a “social experiment”! IT’S NOT! The first two seasons, it was a social experiment. Do you remember that? Show went for about 4 weeks, they got “married”, had a reception, a honeymoon and that was about it. Those “marriages” actually had a chance of survival.

Since then, it has been nothing more than a cheap, ratings grabbing, melodrama, specifically manipulated to create situations that are so unrealistic that Dynasty would be proud to have aired! Relationship “experts”? What a bloody joke! I wouldn’t take my faltering relationship anywhere near them! There main role on this sad show is to match people to be mismatched, thus eliciting the maximum amount of drama out of each relationship. It’s a bit like marital exploitation, really!

And what a disgusting way to portray marriage! By creating the most unrealistic situations possible…things that would NEVER happen in a marriage in the real world…only in the television world. I’d really like to know how many people have group dinner parties with others married on the same day as them! How many have a weekly “commitment” ceremony! Committed to what! They are not even legally married! And how many want to be put through the torture of continuing to pretend a relationship can be worked out because one participant wants to “stay” for another week! I’d be telling the “experts” to fuck off, personally! Then just walk. Not as if you have to worry about a legal divorce! The group bucks and gens parties? Who the fuck does that! Exactly! No one!

How participants can allow themselves to be degraded and exploited by this show is beyond me! If you were sort of desperate, and just went with the flow to get a fuck…I could sort of understand it…but take it seriously…no way! The bitching, rumour-milling, and putting each other down is cringe-worthy. And while it all goes on, the so-called “experts” just sit back and let it happen, instead of stepping in and preventing some of this very damaging behaviour continue! If you weren’t marriage shy when you went into this show, you would be by the time you got out! Even in the heat of an “extra-marital”, there is a camera there, catching every word, every keystroke on a mobile phone, every dirty word muttered! Just like in real life…not!

The truth is – these relationships don’t stand a chance. They are set up for a fall. Contrived matching, contrived situations, forced situations that would never happen in a real marriage, massed bitch sessions disguised as dinner parties, and just a total pretended of marriage, with no grounding in what really happens within a marriage! It truly degrades and belittles the real institution of marriage. As a gay man who has spent decades fighting for the right to have same sex marriages recognised as legitimate relationships with all the benefits and privileges of straight marriages…I find this show totally offensive, as its banality and shallowness makes me wonder…if this is how straight marriage is portrayed, then why was our fight so hard! Why were we denied the opportunity to be as banal as straights?

This show just needs to stop…but we all know that as long as it sucks in a huge proportion of female viewers…who, by the way, are the only people who comment on it on the IG page…then, as a ratings grabber, it ain’t gonna happen.

One can only hope that the true institution of marriage can withstand this cheap onslaught of exploitative rubbish!

Tim Alderman ©️2019

Today’s Whinge: Friday 15th February 2019

Well, a number of whinges today!

  • So over scammers on Instagram! They are becoming more, and yet more, prolific! I’ve stopped using DM completely…and damned if I know…considering it’s obvious I’m GAY…why women send me messages! Can’t tell you how many American servicemen I’ve had protestations of love from…covering everywhere from America, to Afghanistan, to France. I played with one for three days before he hit me up for cash…only for him to get NOTHING! Because of this, I’ve also removed my “single” status from my profile. Might be old, but I’m not bloody silly! The latest scam is hunky guys sending links to supposedly more salubrious sites…but really just to harvest your credit card details! I’ve got pretty good at spotting the potential scammers now. Nearly always “New Profiles”, no info about them in the profile, many hundreds of “followers” and “following”, but no posts. A minimum of posts when they are there, usually posted around the same date. They suddenly like 5-6 of your posts, followed by an effort to send you a message a couple of minutes later. Also setting up fake accounts using photographs they have hijacked from elsewhere! PLEASE report these scammers, guys. I know we are not going to stop them, but it is going to make their lives that little bit more frustrating if dozens of their fake accounts are suddenly taken down! As far as I’m concerned…THEY GET NOTHING! Fucktards!
  • So dear Donald J. Trump – the so-called President of the United States, in case you haven’t heard of him – is going to declare a State of Emergency to get the funding for his ridiculous wall! I wonder what a real State of Emergency might look like in his tiny, addled brain! On the upside, it has to go through the court system to be enacted! On the downside…the court system is biased in his favour! We can only hope some judges can see the inanity of this declaration. He is such a bully! Hates not getting his way! I’ve seen children with more maturity than this joke! Let me guess where the money will come from if he does win…education, health and welfare…certainly not defence!
  • Can anyone tell me why Scott Morrison is reopening the Christmas Island detention centre? Oh…because his ludicrous legislation trying to stop the nedivac of asylum seekers on Manus Island to get medical care in Australia…failed! Your LNP is probably one of the most unsympathetic, unempathetic governments ever, when it comes to caring for other human beings! No Scott, the boats are not going to start up again! But, being the only election tactic that the LNP knows, it is not surprising. You resort to it every time! Just bring on the bloody election!
  • If I have to listen to that Clive Palmer “Palmer United Party” ad for much longer, I could be tempted to sue him myself for mental anguish! Such a disgusting waste of money, considering no one will be voting for him!
  • Why do I have to record SBS news every night, to find out what is actually happening in the world! There is so much going on in places like Venezuela, Yemen and Syria…not covered by the free-to-air news services. Talk about the dumbing down of the masses!

Tim Alderman ©️2019

Today’s Whinge: Tuesday 12th February 2019

Not so much a Whinge today as an interesting response by Nate White (a very erudite English writer) on Quora, giving his reasons why many British people don’t like Donald Trump. This pretty well echoes my own feelings on the question, and is certainly applicable to most people I know on the subject. I wish I had written this!

“A few things spring to mind.

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront.

Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.

And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist.

Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that.

He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.

He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully.

That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a bully’s snivelling sidekick instead.

There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority – perhaps a third – of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:

  1. Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.
  2. You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss.

After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.

God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.

He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart.

In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish:

‘My God… what… have… I… created?

If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.”

Tim Alderman 2019

Today’s Whinge: Saturday 9th February 2019

Ever wondered how the church came to stick its nose into our lives so much?

If so, read on! Religion & Sexuality 101…without mentioning the bible once!

“By the 11th century, Christianity was the dominant religion in the West, and basically ruled that world, and even rulers wouldn’t defy it if they wished to retain their thrones.

So at that point, the church decided some micro-management was needed…starting with marriage!

For the first 1,000 years, people did not get married in a church…marriage was a civil contract between the couple, and there was no church involvement. Verbal consent…and sex…was all that was needed to seal the deal.

In 1073, Gregory VII came to the Papal throne. He decided it was the Churches duty to take control of marriage for the good of society. At this great time of social change, landowners consolidated and hung onto property by passing it onto their eldest sons. However, there was often sibling rivalry over that position due to different birth mothers for different sons…so “God” was called in as referee…

That is, the church was the one who made the legitimacy of a son legal. This ensured the dynasty was safe!

For the first time in history, this deal between us and the clergy meant you had to be married by a priest. This in turn led to the church creating laws that told you who you could…or couldn’t…marry. They would only let you marry someone who was further down the line from your 7th cousin (that’s a long way), which consequently gave them veto to dictate marriages throughout all Christian lands. Funnily enough, due to this, just about every single marriage at that time was invalid. Only the church could give you a dispensation – naturally! – which in turn meant it generated great wealth for itself – naturally! For a hefty fee, the church would let you marry your choice of partner.

This all looks a bit stupid now, but at the time it meant the clergy could have a say in your marriage, thus they had a key means to control society…which is what the church has always been about! Didn’t matter if you were rich or poor…and this occurred right across Europe.

And so began its stranglehold on controlling sex, through it’s legal hold on people’s lives. By the 12th century, it had completed its hold on marriage by declaring it a “sacrament”, thus along with Baptism & holy communion, it was an “unbreakable contract with God”.

But wait – there’s a dilemma! Since the 5th century and the writings of St Augustine, we had been taught that all sex was sinful EVEN WITHIN MARRIAGE! Despite approving of marriage, marriage itself was tainted by sexual sin. The Sarum Rite (the Use of Salisbury) from the 13th century declared that marriages had to take place in the doorway of the church, and the bride & groom couldn’t enter the church until the ceremony was complete. In other words, it can’t quite handle the concept of marriage having a sexual and holy nature.

This, of course, raised questions amongst the laity…if marriage is a sacrament, why do we have to put up with being married outside the church door! Apart from its impracticality, with church porches being of various sizes, people spoke with their feet and moved it all inside.

These new church laws not only intruded on the private (sex) lives of the parishioners…but also on the sex lives of the clergy. Up until the 11th century, many clergy were happily married, and had families. Celibacy was represented by monks & nuns, but there was no formal requirement for clergy to be celibate. This concerned Gregory greatly, and he declared that “my great concern is that the holy church, the bride of Christ, Our Lady and mother, should return to her full glory and stand free, chaste, and Catholic!”. The pope now wanted all clergy to renounce sex, and bishops were made responsible for enforcing the campaign. The message was that God didn’t want married priests in his church as they polluted it! Married clergy were not just offensive to God, they and their offspring threatened to empty the church’s coffers. Married clergy had families, who had an inconvenient habit to give their children an inheritance..they were establishing dynasties, passing church wealth onto their heirs, instead of preserving it for the church. In 1139, a council of bishops in Rome declared that clerical marriages were universally unlawful and invalid. It ordered clergy to embrace the highest Christian ideal…celibacy! And we all know where that led!

This had a permanent impact on Western society, as from that point on, celibate clergy saw themselves as superior to everyone else. Their sexual restraint set them apart from those who indulged in the sin of sex…even if not all clergy lived up to this high ideal, the division was still established. Celibate clergy were superior to carnal laity! This made it easy for them to look down on others…especially women, who were considered “sexually unruly”, and not to be trusted. Women were a danger to holy places! In Durham cathedral, there is a line clearly marked at the doorway beyond which women could not pass.

By the 13th century, the church had taken control of marriage, stopped clergy marrying, and silenced women! It had boosted its power by intruding into people’s private lives in unprecedented ways.

Now, they snuck into the bedroom! Sexual desire, even in marriage, was something the church wasn’t happy about. It was thought that a man who loves his wife too much is an adulterer. All love for another mans wife is shameful, but so is excessive love for ones own wife! However, it would appear that a great many people ignored the church’s extreme teachings, and it would seem that there was a lot of sex going on…even outside marriage! Adultery was embraced with vigour…including same sex love. The middle ages were a golden period for gay poetry…most if it written by monks! Despite the church calling homosexuality the greatest of sin, the clergy were openly celebrating it! Sex! Sex! Sex! It was everywhere!

The church decided that if it couldn’t stop it, it would have to take it over! In the 13th century, they came up with an extraordinary solution…so all over Europe, church leaders started setting up, and licensing….brothels! On the south bank of the Thames, are the ruins of the great palace of the bishops of Winchester. Right next door are brothels…known as the stews…and they were managed by the church! Church leaders could now exercise tight controls over sex in the brothels…and make money at the same time. The bishop imposed strict rules upon the stews, he forbade prostitutes living on the site, and there were precise opening hours. Sex workers had to leave not only the brothel but the whole area on holy days between the hours of 6-11 in the morning, and between 1-6 in the afternoon. And when parliament was sitting, night time too, because the bishop would be in presence at the palace while attending the House of Lords.

The church had a monopoly on moral authority throughout Europe. The great reformation became a period of change in the 16th century! Protestantism declared that marriage was not a sacrament , and introduced divorce. They also declared celibate clergy to be a danger to society, and the cause of “other sins”…, and wanted all their clergy to be married.

But that is another, equally complicated story!”

Tim Alderman ©️2019

Today’s Whinge: Wednesday 6th February 2019

Outrage

  1. an act of wanton cruelty or violence; any gross violation of law or decency.

  2. anything that strongly offends, insults, or affronts the feelings.

  1. a powerful feeling of resentment or anger aroused by something perceived as an injury,insult, or injustice:

Outrage is the new black…or so it is beginning to feel to me after the vitriolic attacks on Liam Neeson, after his over-sharing remarks today. In his defence…he was relating a story, and mind you, a story from the 80s. What he stated was how he felt at that particular time, and if we all stopped being outraged about the comment, we might be honest enough to admit that most of us have felt that way about something, at some time!

Then we have “reality” television, another way for not just us to be outraged, but the participants in the show as well. It is almost as if, being television, it is validated. In last nights episode of “Married at First Sight” – a show I don’t watch, as it is an advert for everything a marriage shouldn’t be…but, of course, in the name of cross-promotion, I can’t escape it on morning television – one of the newly married couples had a dispute regarding some kite flying (not as in kid’s kites), an exercise the female partner did not want to indulge in! Her response, and temper tantrum, thrown at her partner was startling to watch…and was in fact, bullying. A good example of who doesn’t have a check on her emotions, and bullies her way to achieve her own ends. As one of the commentators on the Today show noted…if a man had responded in the same way to a woman, he would be howled down, and the clip shown on every social media platform, to over-the-top outrage comments! Interesting juxtaposition, isn’t it!

These days, everybody thinks they are an expert on everything, and being hidden away behind computer, phone and tablet screens, they think they are very clever at displaying their outrage over just about everything. We no longer look for positives, only negatives!

Wired Magazine in late 2017 made an interesting observation regarding the #MeToo movement, and its hijacking, and derailing, by social media.

“Three days into the #MeToo meme, my Facebook News Feed is teeming with posts. Female friends have shared heavy anecdotes about inappropriate events. Men have attempted to express solidarity, or concern, or surprise. Celebrities have run with the meme. A backlash has materialized, in which women voice concerns about those who are speaking up.

On its surface, #MeToo has the makings of an earnest and effective social movement. It’s galvanizing women and trans people everywhere to speak out about harassment and abuse. It’s causing everyone to weigh in on systemic sexism in our culture. In truth, however, #MeToo is a too-perfect meme. It harnesses social media’s mechanisms to drive users (that’s you and me) into escalating states of outrage while exhausting us to the point where we cannot meaningfully act. In other words, #MeToo—despite the best intentions of so many participating—is everything that’s wrong with social media.

Outrage is central to the design of most social media platforms—for very good reason. It’s an emotion that inspires sharing, which causes all of us to spend more time engaged with the platform. And that translates directly to revenue for the companies.”

This article (follow link in references) also brings to the fore how we are manipulated by social media. Back in the prehistoric days…before social media came along…if we were outraged by something, our only responses were to be outraged at home or at work, and if you really wanted to voice an opinion, you wrote a letter to a daily newspaper! This sort of kept it contained, and personal. And really, that is how it should be! I, for one, no longer overshare on social media, or get outraged over things. I do this because I loathe sitting there watching the vitriol pour in as people “vent”. I think the responses often outrage me more than the actual source of the comments.

We can be a vile species, and social media outrage is one of the more distasteful aspects of life in the media age. It demeans people, robs them of their voice, forces explanations from victims when they are often not needed. We twist, edit, misquote and deceive in order to provoke outrage. In severe instances, people can lose jobs or have careers destroyed by outrage…and those who cause it don’t even care!

I laugh when I hear people talking about privacy these days. There is NO privacy! That is a right we forfeited to live in this modern age. Social media has ensured it! Just look at our poor footballers. No longer can their Mad Monday antics, or indiscretions around flashing their bits about to a video camera be kept “in Club” anymore! There is always someone with a camera, and us with our outrage! Dylan Napa is paying the price right now! I have friends who have done Facebook rants when drunk, or have displayed perhaps too much raw emotion during periods of depression, and I think to myself…please…don’t put that here! It’s too public, too exposing. You are inviting outrage!

We need to check ourselves! We need to self-censor. Stop and think before you hit the “Post” button. Like me, keep in vanilla. Don’t give others the fuel to instigate outrage! It is only by self checking that the fires of outrage can be quenched!

Tim Alderman ©️2019

References