Millenarian Visions and the Steady Slog of Change

Subject:

Overkill!

At the end of every year we hear that it is “the big year for gay rights” or “the year when homosexuals entered the mainstream,” or that old standby, “the Year of the Queer.”

So here I am reading a few 2003 “looking back” articles and they are saying the same thing once again. Is this year really all that different? If so, were they crying wolf before this? I’m starting to feel like we are just a sound bite and a marketing pitch now, like when they say, “It was a big year for Hollywood.” For Christ’s sake, every year is a big year for Hollywood!

Re: Overkill!

Well, yeah, every year is a big one for Hollywood—but then there are the years when they produce a “Gone With the Wind” or a “Titanic” or a “Lord of Rings: Return of the King,” which this year got the biggest Christmas box office ever in history.

But I get your point: I can remember when the late gay author and journalist Randy Shilts wrote an essay for the cover of the Advocate in 1991. The title? “The Year of the Queer.” I just did a Google search and found that “The Year of the Queer” is headline of a 2003 wrap-up story in The Boston Phoenix. Maybe we should just have called the 90s the Decade of the Queer, or maybe we should dub the 21st century the Century of the Queer. Or hey, how about Millennium of the Queer?

It’s true, as you say, that these pat phrases are all about sound bites and headlines, with media people looking for tag lines to grab onto. Yet, I would argue that the year 2003 was a major one. And no, they weren’t necessarily crying wolf before, as hokey as the phrasing may be. More so, since the visibility ushered in by AIDS in the late 80s and the massive exit from the closet, each year, more or less, becomes a bigger year for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people, so it makes sense that each time December 31 rolls around it seems like it’s been our year.

The two most significant things that happened in 2003—the Supreme Court sodomy decision and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s decree on same-sex marriage in that state—make 2003 an undeniably significant year. Couple that with the prime-time success of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” all the Democratic presidential candidates supporting some version of civil unions or even same-sex marriage, and the president talking about amending the constitution to ban gays from marriage, and you have a year when we were on just about everyone’s tongues more than at any other time in history.

But you’re absolutely right: It’s time to retire “Year of the Queer.” We’re past the point of having a particular moment, hour, year, decade, or century. From here on, we’re out there big time—all the time.

Subject:

Papal hair–splitting

I guess I’m crazy, but does it seem to you that maybe the Vatican is slightly—very slightly—moving forward on the issue of gay and lesbian rights? The pope’s statements this week seemed a bit softer and Cardinal George in Chicago seemed to accept the fact that the church is looking very harsh. He was responding to some priests who spoke in favor of gays. What are your ideas about this?

Re: Papal hair-splitting?

I’m sorry to say this but—yes, you are crazy!

Sometimes, however, you have to be just a little bit crazy, and far be it from me to predict anything with regard to the secretive machinations of the Vatican. I’m not exactly sure why you believe the pope came off “softer,” but perhaps it had to do with his saying this week that gays and lesbians have a misunderstanding about civil rights—rather than saying that we’re just plain “evil” and “objectively disordered,” as he usually does. I’m sure he still believes that though, and will say so again in the future.

“In our times, a misunderstood sense of rights has sometimes disturbed the nature of the family institution and conjugal bond itself,” the pope told pilgrims at the Vatican last Sunday. “It is necessary that at every level, the efforts of those who believe in the importance of the family based on matrimony unite.”

John Paul II added that marriage is a “divine” gift that must be defended.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of homosexuality, nor, in my book, does it show movement on gay rights. As for Cardinal Francis George, he did admit that the church appeared harsh—but then defended that harshness and called for conversion therapy of gays!

After a dozen Chicago priests called the Vatican’s anti-gay rhetoric “vile and toxic” in an open letter, George, the archbishop of Chicago, put out a statement last week: “The church speaks, in moral and doctrinal issues, a philosophical and theological language in a society that understands, at best, only psychological and political terms. Our language is exact, but it does not help us in welcoming men and women of homosexual orientation. It can seem lacking in respect. This is a pastoral problem and a source of anxiety for me as it is for you. It would be good to discuss together—and mediate the tension between welcoming people and calling them to change.”

Again, I don’t think that shows any sort of incremental change regarding the Catholic Church’s stance, but hey, maybe next millennium. Then we could truly call it the Millennium of the Queer.

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