Playful. Fierce. Free. by Rev. Anthony D. Makar
For the X-Men, all the suspicion, prejudice, and downright hate they encounter in the world is no excuse … to not dress fabulously.
How they roll in a harsh world is in skin tight costumes, blue and green and yellow and red colors blazing, gorgeous streaming hair, cool glasses, masks, capes….
It’s playful, X-men style.
And this playfulness immediately brings to mind what the LGBT community calls its “Gay Christmas”—Pride. Thousands and thousands of LGBT people openly owning their sexual and/or gender nonconformity—their queerness—and they/we know what too many people in the world think about that. The hostility out there. The shame in here, too, where you feel like something’s wrong with you….
But at Pride, the loud and proud playfulness is like a fire that melts away the fear and the shame. At Pride, we proclaim, loudly, “WE’RE HEEEERE!” and so will the onesies we wear, so will the tutus, the body paint, the knee high rainbow socks, the rainbow flags, the rainbow everything, the skin tight outfits, the lack of outfits, the outrageous floats, the outrageous colors, the blazing dance music, and on and on.
“Friends,” writes ministerial Intern Taryn Strauss in a Weekly Update article from several weeks back. “Friends, we are living in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous world. Storms have been brewing all around us. Do you know what this world needs right now? More glitter.”
Shame and fear melt away in the warmth of playfulness.
LGBT Editor for BuzzFeed News Shannon Keating calls it “queer joy.” “Queer joy,” she says, “has always had a radical role to play in the face of institutional violence and neglect. From the ballroom scene to the basements of dyke bars, queer people have carved out their own spaces for community-building and celebration in spite of a world that has refused to make room for them.”
Queer joy is about resilience in the face of violence and oppression.
Queer joy is an affirmation that, whatever traumas a person has experienced because they are just being themselves, those traumas are not the last word, never the last word, and we won’t be stuck in that box.
So bring on the glitter, the tutus, the dance party music, the rainbow socks, the rainbow flags, anything and everything that telegraphs queer joy!
Bring it on!
Although a question could be asked at this point. Has Pride become too much of a party? Too much playfulness, eclipsing its radical political roots?
The only way that Pride could be too much of a party is if it forgets its roots and if it is oblivious to the continuing struggle now.
48 years ago, something happened that was a watershed moment in the LGBT community. On June 28, 1969, police descended upon a gay club in downtown Manhattan called the Stonewall Inn. It wasn’t the first time they raided that club, or others like it. Homosexual behavior, cross dressing, and other expressions of gender nonconformity were treated as crimes, and every raid yielded a bumper crop of so-called “criminals.”
But on June 28, 1969, things were different. The police raided the club, and club patrons fought back. That fierceness had never happened before. The ensuing riots lasted days. And it was a spark. Soon afterwards, gay rights organizations sprung up around the country. And a year later, in remembrance of Stonewall, we saw the very first Pride Marches across the land.
Pride comes from fierceness.
The Pride event held in New York was called the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, and one first-person account of the event describes it as somber. There were no floats, no music, no boys in briefs. Marchers held signs and banners, and chanted:
“Say it clear, say it loud. Gay is good, gay is proud.”
“Say it clear, say it loud. Gay is good, gay is proud.”
While that was taking place in New York City, here in Atlanta, activists were handing out literature in Piedmont Park. No march was held. That would take place the following year, in 1971, and it was organized by GGLF (the Georgia Gay Liberation Front).
Pride had come to Atlanta.
And here we are, 46 years later.
And what does that mean?
Yes, over 46 years, there’s been lots of advances in civil rights for LGBT people. Many would say that the legalization of same-sex marriages in 2015 was yet another a watershed moment.
But then came the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, on June 12, 2016, and 49 people died. The one-year anniversary of that is weighing so heavily on our hearts right now.
And now, in 2017, we have seen one outrageous offence to civil rights after another.
On July 26, 2017, Lt. Commander Blake Dremann, a Navy supply corps officer who is transgender, turned on CNN only to discover that his job was in danger. That morning President Trump had tweeted his Executive Order banning all transgender people from serving the in military.
Then, on August 29, 2017, headlines were screaming about the “Nashville Statement.” 150 conservative evangelical Christian leaders came together, called themselves the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and issued a statement explicitly condemning all forms of sexual and gender nonconformity. Only heterosexuality is permitted. Whatever body you are born in, that defines your heart and your spirit—biology is your prison.
And then, on October 5, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered the Justice Department to take the position in court cases that transgender people are not protected by civil rights law that bans workplace discrimination based on sex.
Yes, Stonewall happened 48 years ago but we must not ever forget the fierceness that pervaded it.
When things like the Pulse shooting happen,
when there’s legalized discrimination against people who are transgender,
when Nashville Statements are issued, and beautiful people think God hates them, or they are worthy of hate.
When things like this happen, there must be fierceness.
Pride is playful … and Pride is also fierce.
“Fiction,” says the great writer Stephen King, “is the truth inside the lie.”
One of the lies that we find in the X-Men stories has to do with Charles Xavier, also known as Professor X. Professor X is a powerful mutant telepath who can control and read minds.
But even more important to know is that he is the founder of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters at a location commonly called the X-Mansion, which recruits mutants from around the world. Located in Westchester County, New York, the X-Mansion is the home and training site of the X-Men
And it’s absolutely essential, this school. This place that mutants can go to, to honor and understand themselves and to develop their mutant potentials. Teachers are necessary for this, and welcoming community, and a supportive environment.
You can’t fully become yourself all on your own.
No one can.
There’s a scene in the second X-Men movie, where a teenager comes out to his parents as a mutant. The mother responds, “Have you ever tried … not being a mutant?”
But he won’t ever get that at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, where the motto is Mutatis Mutandis (“changing [only] those things which need to be changed”).
What needs to be changed is not his mutant identity but the people surrounding him, and the words people say to him every day.
And it’s all a lie, yes. X-men aren’t real. Charles Xavier is a lie. The X-Mansion in Westchester County, New York is a lie.
But the truth inside the lie is that people are different, and prejudice IS real, and there needs to be a place where people can come together and they don’t have to check anything about themselves at the door. There needs to be a place where people are honored for who they are, however nonconforming, and the motto is: “changing [only] those things which need to be changed.”
Because that’s what freedom requires.
The right kind of community.
Freedom requires hearing, “Gay or straight, cis-gender or transgender, you are Loved by a Love larger than you can know.”
Freedom requires experiencing this deep acceptance, this deep welcome.
It can’t happen all by your single, solitary self.
Earlier we heard UUCA member Bill Kramer speak to this. We heard how, for the first 20 years of his life, he was closeted as a gay man but deeply religious in the Catholic tradition. And then, for the next 20 years, how he was openly gay but not religious. Until he found this place.
“This place,” he says, “has helped me be both gay and religious – something I did not believe was possible; something I believed incompatible.”
Nashville Statements of one kind or another insist on incompatibility. They insist that to get right with God, you must change your core identity. Pursue reparative therapy. Do something, except be what you know in your heart of hearts is yourself.
It breaks my heart because I know it does not have to be that way.
You can be L or G or B or T—and deeply faithfully religious too, in service to values that are just and fair and affirm life!
Why are we marching today?
Because we are playful, and we are fierce, and we believe in freedom.
This is our faith.
“Dear Friends,” says the very first ordained woman minister in all of American history, the Universalist Olympia Brown. “Dear friends, stand by this faith. Work for it and sacrifice for it. There is nothing in all the world so important to you as to be loyal to this faith which has placed before you the loftiest ideals, which has comforted you in sorrow, strengthened you for noble duty, and made the world beautiful for you. Do not demand immediate results but rejoice that you are worthy to be entrusted with this great message and that you are strong enough to work for a great true principle without counting the cost. Go on finding ever new applications of these truths and new enjoyments in their contemplation.”
What we do in our ARAOMC work, in standing up for LGBT people within and beyond these walls—both ourselves and others—is a new application of the truths that Olympia Brown names.
We are strong enough to work for a great true principle without counting the cost.
That great true principle is that all are worthy, not just some.
That great true principle is love fiercely opposing ignorance and hate.
Stand by this faith.
Move to the rhythm of this faith.
Let this faith lead you out the door and into the streets.
March in faith.
Let Atlanta know we are here, and no one needs to live a divided life like Bill did.
No one needs to live like that.
You come with me.
Bring your glitter.
Bring your tutu.
Know we march for freedom.
Stand by this faith!