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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Savage Wrong and Right

I suppose you fellas have already heard about the brouhaha over Dan Savage's remarks a couple weeks ago during the National High School Journalism convention in Seattle.  I've ignored it until today, but for the record, here is what Savage said to the assembled high-schoolers:

The thing is, as I may have said before in this blog, at his best Dan is a very intelligent and highly articulate advocate for gay rights.  At his worst, however, he can be a self-righteous prick, as bad as anyone on the right wing of the spectrum - and that goes for some other other gay speakers and bloggers whose names are familiar to you.  Being gay, being a minority, being oppressed - for whatever reason - does not make you infallible, does not mean you can never do anything wrong.

Nor, as my mama always said, do two wrongs ever make a right.

I was, then, pleasantly surpised to learn that Dan is not a total prick:  he has actually apologized in his blog for using the phrase "pansy-assed" - which he was indeed quite wrong in using, for several reasons.  In your Head Trucker's mind, he was also wrong to use "bullshit" to a captive audience of high-school kids.  This wasn't a nightclub, it wasn't even a college crowd.

When you are speaking in public, you must always consider your audience and your purpose for being there - not just saying whatever the hell first pops into your head.  On an occasion when Dan might have opened some young minds to a more insightful view of what it means to be gay in a world dominated by unreasonable prejudice, he may have closed some of those minds forever by being too quick-tongued and too potty-mouthed - which is, in fact, a form of arrogance, despising your hearers.  Whether they are right or wrong, smart or dumb, you have to start with people where they are, or you won't start with them at all, ever.

As a prime example, your Head Trucker is old enough, just barely, to remember when bigshot Mr. Kruschev came to the United Nations and told the West "We will bury you," all the while pounding the podium with his shoe. Yes, I'm not fucking kidding, youngsters - he really did, go look it up.

I'm sure he enjoyed the hell out of that little self-aggrandizing stunt at the moment he did it - the human creature is so perversely constituted that being a prick in public is quite thrilling, and I'm ashamed to say that I can testify to the fact - but what exactly did he accomplish for the good of his country and his fellow Soviets thereby?

Absolutely nothing. There he was, for one golden moment at the summit of the whole world's attention, and he had no more sense of how to use that rare opportunity for the good of the world, or at least for that of his own countrymen, than a dog pissing on a fire hydrant. How.Fucking.Sad.

And yes, your Head Trucker has a pretty damn dirty mouth himself when he gets wound up, but I'm just talking among us guys here.  There's a time and place for everything, ya know.

Here's Dan's own response to the uproar, after the jump:

I would like to apologize for describing that walk out as a pansy-assed move. I wasn't calling the handful of students who left pansies (2800+ students, most of them Christian, stayed and listened), just the walk-out itself. But that's a distinction without a difference—kinda like when religious conservatives tells their gay friends that they "love the sinner, hate the sin." They're often shocked when their gay friends get upset because, hey, they were making a distinction between the person (lovable!) and the person's actions (not so much!). But gay people feel insulted by "love the sinner, hate the sin" because it is insulting. Likewise, my use of "pansy-assed" was insulting, it was name-calling, and it was wrong. And I apologize for saying it. . . .

I didn't call anyone's religion bullshit. I did say that there is bullshit—"untrue words or ideas"—in the Bible. That is being spun as an attack on Christianity. Which is bullshhh… which is untrue. I was not attacking the faith in which I was raised. I was attacking the argument that gay people must be discriminated against—and anti-bullying programs that address anti-gay bullying should be blocked (or exceptions should be made for bullying "motivated by faith")—because it says right there in the Bible that being gay is wrong. Yet the same people who make that claim choose to ignore what the Bible has to say about a great deal else. I did not attack Christianity. I attacked hypocrisy. My remarks can only be read as an attack on all Christians if you believe that all Christians are hypocrites. Which I don't believe.

Well, Dan dug himself into that mess, I'll let him dig himself out like the smart boy he is. But again for the record, he does have a serious point, a very serious and worthwhile point to make, which is underscored by this excerpt from Huffpo via Americablog Gay:
When the Bible refers to female slaves who do not "please" their masters, we're talking about the sexual use of slaves. Likewise when the Bible spells out the conditions for marrying a slave (see Exodus 21:7-11).

The occupations and experiences of slaves varied greatly. Many performed manual labor in horrid conditions, perhaps living only months after beginning their work. Some highly valued slaves attained wealth and status, a possibility reflected in Genesis' account of Joseph. Perhaps the story of the centurion who highly valued his slave connotes an erotic relationship, likely one-sided (Luke 7:1-10). In all cases the owners' right to use a slave as the owner sees fit, including the right to punish slaves severely, remain unquestioned.

How did people become slaves? Slavery did not accompany a particular racial status, as it eventually did in the United States, but the Hebrew Bible stipulates preferred treatment for Israelite slaves (see Exodus 21:1-11; 25:39-55; Deuteronomy 15:12-18). Crushing debt forced many into slavery, with some people selling themselves and others selling their children. Military conquest contributed greatly to the slave market as well.

The Bible does not attempt to hide the presence of slaves. Beware modern translations that use "servant" to cover up slave language. Slaves were ubiquitous in the ancient world. Imagine ancient Rome, where slaves made up between one-third and one-half of the inhabitants -- perhaps half a million people! The Senate once considered requiring slaves to wear identifying marks, but they stopped short in the face of a chilling realization: if slaves could recognize one another, what would prevent them from organizing and pillaging the entire city?

In the New Testament, Jesus frequently refers to slaves in his parables, the witty stories that marked his most distinctive teaching style. He never addresses slavery as an institution, though unfortunately one of the parables assumes that beating a slave is acceptable (Luke 12:47-48).

Along those lines, see also this NYT historical essay on "The South, the War, and 'Christian Slavery.'"

And again from Americablog Gay, the familiar quote from Leviticus that denies us all even the mere right to exist, in 15 different translations - probly most of you boys, like me, already know this one by heart, but it's really quite striking to see it listed out in print this way:
New International Version (1984)
"'If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.

New Living Translation (2007)
"If a man practices homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman, both men have committed a detestable act. They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offense.

English Standard Version (2001)
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.

New American Standard Bible (1995)
If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

God's Word Translation (1995)
When a man has sexual intercourse with another man as with a woman, both men are doing something disgusting and must be put to death. They deserve to die.

King James Bible
If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood [shall be] upon them.

American King James Version
If a man also lie with mankind, as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be on them.

American Standard Version
And if a man lie with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

Bible in Basic English
And if a man has sex relations with a man, the two of them have done a disgusting thing: let them be put to death; their blood will be on them.

Douay-Rheims Bible
If any one lie with a man as with a woman, both have committed an abomination, let them be put to death: their blood be upon them.

Darby Bible Translation
And if a man lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall certainly be put to death; their blood is upon them.

English Revised Version
And if a man lie with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

Webster's Bible Translation
If a man also shall lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

World English Bible
"'If a man lies with a male, as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

Young's Literal Translation
And a man who lieth with a male as one lieth with a woman; abomination both of them have done; they are certainly put to death; their blood is on them.

As Dan very correctly points out, the religious conservatives and fundamentalists and evangelicals have no problem at all ignoring and bending and rewriting the rules for themselves; it's only when it comes to us that the Bible - which was written by straight men for an audience of straight men - must be taken at face value.

So Dan was wrong to insult his audience and waste the priceless occasion he had to be a voice of enlightenment; but right in his essential points.

I just wish he would take a lesson from Mr. Kruschev, who ended up living alone and forgotten not too many years after he showed his ass so vividly, with the whole world watching.


Tim said...

I remember the Kruschev incident. He was a simple man, quite likeable in many ways, but poorly taught(not his fault)and put in a position of almost absolute power. He didn't have the experience and education to know how to behave on a world stage, and so used a "barnstorming" approach that worked well in rural Russia. As they say "You can take the pig out of the sty, but you can't take the pig out of the pig"

I don't know of Dan Savage, but you are absolutely right in your comments. The LBGT community needs to be much more careful in choosing its spokesmen.

Aside from all that, hope you had a great Labor Day Russ. Partner, dog and I went into the mountains for a quiet picnic under snow capped mountains - how gay is that!

Russ Manley said...

Yes Kruschev was a bumpkin and buffoon, with perhaps some good intentions but as unfit to be leader of a great nation as some of our own backwoods politicians.

You never heard of Dan Savage? Well maybe my little blog is educational after all, to some extent. He's quite well known among gay folks in this country for his LGBT advocacy and his somewhat notorious sex-advice blog which, ironically, plenty of straight people write to for advice.

You last comment has me chuckling. Labor Day over here comes at the end of the summer. When I was in kindergarten, we used to do a maypole dance for May Day but I haven't seen or heard of anything like that for these fifty years now. Just another day here, but glad you and yours enjoyed a nice outing.

Tim said...

Of course (annoyed grunt), May Day/Labour day in Europe is a socialist(read communist) holiday! You wouldn't celebrate it. The UK only grudgingly accepted it as a labour holiday some 10? years back. Up to then we also had maypole dances until the 60's. I was the kid who got tied up in the ribbons, no co-ordination - then or now!

Up the workers! ;)

Muskox said...

Yes, Dan had a chance to offer a high-minded argument. He could have stated his message in less objectionable terms. But what he had to say was still very correct. I assure you that high school students hear language much worse than that every day, if not in school in their communities.

You may be right that his presentation allowed people to be offended and thereby ignore the entire message. However, this is a message that is being presented in a wide range of forums. People who have already ignored the message will continue to discount it. I also am well aware that the gay rights movement started with a riot, where the marginalized and detested stood up and said not just no, but FUCK NO! Sometimes that's what it takes to jolt people out of their narrow little complacency. Pointing out hypocrisy is always going to offend someone.

Dan Savage has done a lot in this world that is very laudable. Nobody seems to have mention that he started the "It Gets Better" campaign to tell young gays that the oppression and bullying they experience in high school is not the way the real world is. It's ugly and hard to deal with, but there's an end to it. It will get better after high school. For that alone, I'm very willing to give him a pass on a lapse in judgement.

Russ Manley said...

Well I've already stated my view, and you have yours. But tell me, even if you disagree with all I said in this post - exactly what good did Savage accomplish with this outburst?

Tim said...

A good speaker can still put passion into a logical and reasoned argument without resorting to cheap jibes and bad language. Sure the kids hear worse at school or elsewhere, but our concern should be about whether or not they understand a rationally constructed argument. If they don't then perhaps the jolt should be directed at complacent schooling.

Josh Thomas said...

The other problem with Savage's remarks is that they're based on far too glib an understanding of the ancient writings he cites. He wouldn't treat the Code of Hammurabi that way; only the Bible.

I might have walked out too.

His intent was to shock (it's how he makes his money), and he accomplished that. I'm not very impressed by his half-apology.

But I do note with some agreement the brief comment he makes along the lines of "homosexuality is the one thing in Leviticus that we can't get over." He doesn't focus on it very well but that is indeed the problem - and it's not just homosexuality, but sex roles in general and women's in particular. A serious writer or speaker would have explored that in more depth.

But no, Dan Savage was looking to make another splash, so that's what he did. There's a fine line between being a social critic and simply offending people, but he plowed right over it.

Russ Manley said...

I think you're quite right - he gets paid to be a smart-ass prick, and people lap that sort of thing up in this day and time. So he thinks quite a lot of himself, and more's the pity.

And yes, the one point they can't get over - which reveals a great deal about the true source of that point: the unenlightened straight male mind, which can't conceive of homosex as anything but rape and humiliation. It's very telling that there's no similar condemnation of lesbians, isn't it? But then - the straight boys get off on that kind of thing.

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