Friday, September 08, 2006

Trembling before G-d

Just watched the movie Trembling Before G-d. Chris had posted on it before, and it's been on my list for a while because of its relevance to my personal situation. It's a movie about orthodox and Hasidic Jews who are homosexual.

It was... nice. I guess. I think I've maxed out on the whole religion vs. sexual orientation debate as an interesting novelty to explore, and that's what the movie seemed to depend on. As I watched I kept thinking, I've thought about that... yup, that's true... well, that's not how I think of it... that guy is smart... that guy is annoying... etc. The point is, I've already got opinions on pretty much all of it. There wasn't much new to chew on.

Having said that, I think the movie would be very new and shed lots of light on the issue for 99.9% of the population. Unfortunately, I think it's one of those biased presentations that ignores the minority of folks who are actually able to deal with the friction between their faith and their sexuality and don't have regrets about it. There were several married folks in the film who were living the orthodox life, but they seemed to hate it. And everyone seemed to feel like somehow they were being cheated. I don't feel that way, as anyone who reads here much would know. I now have a gay but faithful Muslim acquaintance (read: abstinent from gay sex) who feels the same way. Surely there are Jewish folks too?

I wonder if it's just easier to maximize the issue by milking the false dilemma. "I tried to change for years, my religious leaders told me how to do it, and it didn't work. What can I do now? Am I to live my life without a loving companion? Does God expect that of me? He can't! Not the loving God I believe in!" This reasoning is a lot more dramatic and heart pangy than saying, well, actually some people figure stuff out and although there's no magic recipe to make it work, it's not the hopeless futility it seems. And yes, God still loves you even when some of the realities of life seem harsh and unfair. But his love doesn't magically make those realities go away. There were subtle denials of any such possibility of middle ground in the movie. Various people would assert things like "celibacy is impossible" and spout anti-ex-gay sentiment without explanation. Labels like "marriage of convenience" are more amenable to the false dilemma than obnoxious notions like celibacy, happy mixed orientation marriages, or ex-gay.

One problem is most people can't deny the false dilemma without appearing homophobic. The shrieking starts, "How can you be so insensitive? How would you like it if... [insert heterosexual analogy of sexual denial here]? You have no idea what it's like."

Folks, I know what it's like, and I, for one, am irritated that people can't be allowed to form opinions on the issue that involve taking a tough position without being made out to be a homophobic ignoramus. It's the last resort trump card: "You're not gay, so you can't know what it's like."

I am gay. Your powers of trumpiness are thwarted! [Queue evil laughter.]


Anonymous said...

I’ve not seen it, but…

First, “gay” isn’t a license to advocate, with immunity, harming gays and their families, if that’s what “tough position” means. What exactly are you doing with your ability to “know what it’s like,” here? Gay or straight shouldn’t matter; a person could still be “insensitive”, and “homophobic”. It’s about what you do to others.

The gay “trump card” too seems faint (I don’t know what it’s like to be a kleptomaniac, but that doesn’t reduce my want to prosecute). But you’ve found it popular and effective?

Also, you know what it’s like to be gay for another, in the same way I do for you. Neither of us really has a view into the sort of attraction, or repulsion another may harbor; besides orientation, there’s a whole set of characteristics. We can’t know what their God wants of them, or if there really is your middle ground for them. Consider that many of such men may see your option as immoral (not to mention how many find mine down right abominable :-)), leaving them with much less of your acceptable middle ground.

I do understand that your family is unfairly insulted by the rhetoric. It’s a distressing similarity. Just think of the legal and social deference you get when the gays insult, and laugh all the way to your estate planner, or something :-).


-L- said...

Scot, you are so nice and diplomatic that I feel so guilty for my occasional bursts of crankiness. But I think you've over-read here or something. I don't think anyone (myself included) thinks their position, even when "tough", is harming gays and their families. The crux is a disagreement on what's best (for the most part). I consider what I "do" to others to be thoughtful and charitable in this regard, despite that some may preceive it as harmful.

My point in the post is that unfavorable opinions are frequently made to be straw men and dismissed outright with reference to the ignorance or lack of empathy of the opinion holder. That's accurate, certainly, in some cases, but it becomes the de facto response to even the rational opinions that are unpopular. Such dismissiveness is wrong.

I think it's understandable for folks to be defensive when someone claims to have "an answer" for their situation when they've looked so hard and found no answers for themselves. But it's wrong not to include as part of this supposedly thorough montage the folks who have happily reconciled their faith and their sexuality. The false dilemma is wrong. There may be no adequate solution for some individuals, but there may be hope for others, so the presentation that assumes categorical hopelessness is stupid.

The trump card is saying, "you're not gay so you don't get it." While there are plenty of reasons for which I may not get something, not being gay is not one of them.

Anonymous said...

While I'm sure you see the route you've taken as one equally deserving of respect and attention, the truth is that this isn't a false dilemma for 99% of the people out there. It is a true dilemma.

This middle ground of reconciliation between homosexuality and religion is so fraught by a history of deception, misinformation and false promises that I see no real reason against dismissing it, even it if irks the small minority of the small minority that have somehow made it work. In short, advocation of a viable middle ground harms more than it helps.

Your situation is so individualized, I think, that it makes no sense to include it in a documentary like "Trembling before God."

Of course, Mormon theology rejects the idea of individualized paths; there is one truth (and one Church) and the idea that what's right for you must also be right for a lot of other people understandably flavors your post.

-L- said...

Yes, the greater the minority, the less deserving the voice.

Are you serious?

Mormonism rejects subjective truth, not individualized paths. I do not suggest my situation is appropriate for others similarly conflicted, and have said so explicitly. But some solution exists for every person who cares to find it. At least, I'm not persuaded otherwise by this film or the rancorous insistence by folks like yourself.

Stenar said...

I am shocked to read that line "the folks who have happily reconciled their faith and their sexuality."

L, do you seriously believe that you have happily reconciled your faith and your sexuality?

Come on! Obviously, you have not. For one thing, if you were so happy with your situation, you wouldn't feel the need to blog about it incessantly and ruminate over it by reading all these books and watching movies, etc.

I've been reading your blog the past month or so, ever since that article in the Tribune and you come off as someone who clearly has not reconciled their situation with all this exploration into the topic.

Also, I wondered if you watched the extras on the DVD for "Trembling." There was a short film on the DVD of a discussion held in Park City during the Sundance Film Festival with gay Mormons. On it there is a married couple going on ad nauseum about how the husband is bisexual, but they are making their marriage work, etc.

I was at that discussion and then a few months later I met the husband again. He'd left his wife and was living with his boyfriend. He later "married" a friend of mine during the whole "illegal gay marriage" thing that went on in San Francisco which was supported by their mayor.

-L- said...

Stenar, I'm so delighted to have shocked you! ;-)

I am indeed happy and reconciled. Struggling, to be sure, but in a happy and reconciled way. While you will no doubt continue to post examples of people "just like" me who have failed miserably, I will just as persistently point out that they are not me nor are they the other folks who I've met on the blogging journey who have made it all work.

Anonymous said...

"… nice and diplomatic…"

Just wait for a bad day :-).

“I don't think anyone (myself included) thinks their position, even when "tough", is harming gays and their families.”

No they don’t think that. It’s back to the “tough love” vs. “hate” thing then. But there is harm, and it's clear, but followed by the promise that “it’s for your own good”. That remains to be seen ;-).

I don’t know what you, specifically or exactly, would advocate, save for what you’ve recently posted on the topic, which still could leave me wondering about the practical legal consequences.

“Such dismissiveness is wrong.”

I agree, and hope you call me on it if you see it.

“But it's wrong not to include as part of this supposedly thorough montage the folks who have happily reconciled their faith and their sexuality.”

I agree, if they did find such folks. Orthodox Jew, gay, married to a woman, happily, and willing to go public may be prohibitively hard to find, and I’d worry about calling them biased for the omission without more information.

“The trump card is saying, "you're not gay so you don't get it."”

We agree the “trump card” isn’t so trump-y, but I don’t think it has as much to do with you being gay or straight. Do you have an instance of this in mind? I’d like to see the context in which it’s used (gay person using it, straight? In response to what exactly?).


Samantha said...

"...if you were so happy with your situation, you wouldn't feel the need to blog about it incessantly and ruminate over it by reading all these books and watching movies, etc..."

Actually, Stenar, people who ARE happy, and/or at peace, are usually the ones who feel comfortable delving into opinions and informational reviews available, and also who feel at ease presenting their own views for the perusal of others. It's like continuing to study scripture after being saved or gaining testimony. You continue to read and learn, and then you orate/testify in order to share that which you've learned.

" come off as someone who clearly has not reconciled their situation with all this exploration into the topic."

I wish you were able to find a good example of when -L- has presented evidence that his situation is unreconciled. To me, he just seems to be sharing firm conclusions of his faith and ideals, and exploring more possible ways to affirm those things he believes. The fact that he invites others to disagree with him simply reaffirms his desire to speak out and his resoluteness of purpose--you simply choose not to hear that which he has to say.

I'm still a little cloudy as to how a wishy-washy bisexual's life nullifies -L-'s wish to live as he chooses or is in some way prophetic of his future. Perhaps you could clarify that detail for me? Oh...sorry, I forgot for a moment who I was addressing. You can disregard that last request.

Stenar said...

The bisexual in question only seems "wishy-washy" to you in retrospective. At the time of the discussion, he was saying all the same kinds of things L says on his blog about how his marriage was working and he and his wife were going to stick together.

I didn't feel it was necessary to scour through L's blog looking for specific examples of when he seems unreconciled. It is obviously only my opinion that he seems unreconciled, but if you need literal examples, I can find them.

-L- said...

Scot: I’d worry about calling them biased for the omission without more information.

Well, it's a pretty speculative post all around. No strong accusation intended, but I have to wonder whether the effort was made at all.

The "you're not gay" trump card was kind of a non sequitur from the post, the whole process just reminded me of the fallacy. It probably doesn't happen overtly too often, although I personally have been told my opinion is invalid because I don't get what it's like to be gay. This was when I used my real-ish identity on a particular discussion board. Sorry, more info than that would be too much.

Samantha said...

Stenar: I have to say that most married people I encounter say "all the same kinds of things L says on his blog about how [their] marriage[s] work" and about "sticking together". It's a little unusual to find married people who are in love, who will say, "Yeah, we think our marriage sucks. Guess we'll be divorced in a few..." Just one of those little oddities of life...

I would love a literal example of your assumptions. If they are so prevalent, as you claim, scouring should not be necessary, and it will take but little of your time. However, if you're wouldn't hurt you to spend some time scouring, and it might improve your overall intelligence, as well.

Anonymous said...

No problem L.

Coincidentally, this was playing on LOGO last night. I caught the last half, and so only have half a picture. Don’t know what to say about it really :-).

I kind of feel as you express in the first half of this post. I think I learned far more about what it means to be an Orthodox Jew (which was appreciated) than gay in a religion that forbids gay intimate relationships.

Did you see bit in the news?

”NEW YORK -- A key Conservative Jewish leader is traveling the country to prepare synagogues for a potentially divisive change: The movement will roll back its ban on ordaining openly gay rabbis by year's end, he predicts, with confusion and discomfort to follow.”



Stenar said...

Insulting my intelligence says more about you, Samantha, than it does about me.

Samantha said...

You're right, Stenar--I sometimes have a problem with stating the obvious.