Thursday, September 29, 2011

Happy Birthday GCG

HOLY MATZAH BALLS. Apparently I've managed to sustain this spewing-my-thoughts-on-the-internet malarkey for an entire orbit of the earth around the sun.

Knowing this, you might be tempted to go back and read some of the thoughts I first spewed here, back in the misty dawn of time. Don't do it. Seriously, those early posts stink.

(You're doing it, aren't you? *sigh* Take them with a pinch of salt, okay?)

What will, I think, be fun is to revisit some of the self-selected highlights of Gay Christian Geek's first year. First, though, don't you want to know some stats?

Five Most Popular Posts

Drinking Game Of Thrones

A Very Glee Blog Post

“Facebook-rape” No More!

The Theology of Broadway's The Book of Mormon Part Four – Jews, Christians, Mormons, & Everyone Else: “I Believe”

Disneyfail: Pocahontas vs The Princess and the Frog

Top Five Referring Sites

Feministe (hooray for Shameless Self-Promotion Sunday)

Google (cheating, I'm conflating .com and

The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense (thanks, Emily! FYI GleeKast is the main reason I'm still watching Glee, its brain-breaking terribleness notwithstanding)

Overthinking It (even unsolicited shameless self-promotion apparently works)

Shakesville (<3 <3 <3 <3 <3)

Proudest Blogging Moments

Being quoted at length in The Funny Feminist's review of The Book of Mormon (which she's actually seen).

Guest-posting at Canonball and Bitch Flicks.

Any time a friend has made it clear, during meat-conversation, that they do indeed read my spewings.

As vast an exercise in ego onanism (egonanism?) as this blogging enterprise is, the thing that elevates it above mere intellectual echo chamber is you, beloved reader. Thank you to everyone who's ever engaged with my ramblings, especially Sam and Shadsie. It's an honor to be read by you, and in GCG's second year I'll do my level best to be worthy of it. Upward and onward!

Five Things I Wrote That You Should Definitely (Re-)Read

Slow Down Your Neighbors: Universalism, Semiotics, and Rob Bell

The Theology of Broadway's The Book of Mormon (parts one, two, three, and four)


God of Speculative Fiction

Fictioneering #1: It Looked Like Spilt Milk

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Hell Of Self-Awareness

Leftist religionists like yours truly tend to place near-exclusive emphasis on God's Love, leaving the image of a judgey God to our fundamentalist cousins.

Well, this is why I believe in God's judgment.

In brief: cute little gay kid loves Lady Gaga, has posse of girl buddies, makes It Gets Better video, continues to be horribly bullied, takes own life. On the day of his wake, big sister attends school dance with her friends and his; when a Lady Gaga song is played, they start to cheer and chant his name – whereupon the bullies shout in response that they're glad he's dead.

People do evil stuff. People do evil stuff, and, so far from regretting it, they do more evil stuff. That can't be the end of the story.

If hell exists, it's self-awareness. It's having the conscience, maturity, and self-reflectiveness to comprehend just what a piece of shit you are. It's losing sleep to the roiling in your gut as you remember the time fifteen years ago when somebody made fun of the fat kid and you laughed. It's the agonizing remembrance of every cruel or thoughtless thing you ever said, knowing bone-deep how much it hurt the other person.

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.

It might happen when they grow up a little, or it might not happen in this lifetime; but one day the children who hounded and persecuted little Jamey Rodemeyer to death and beyond it will know what it feels like to truly love and truly be loved. When they do, the full magnitude of the evil they have done will hit them like burning coals on their heads. They will know themselves, and they will be in hell.

God's justice is God's love. God's love is the very judgment that sends evildoers to the hell of self-awareness.

This hell is a necessary step on the road to redemption. No matter what you've done, there is no true redemption without experiencing the hell of self-awareness. For their own sakes, I want Jamey Rodemeyer's tormentors to know hell.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Nerd Theology

I've said it before, but I loathe dualism. Dualism stems from essentialism, and essentialism is garbage.

Take gender essentialism. A lot of classical theology revolves around the idea that Male and Female are discrete categories with a fundamental, essential, spiritual distinction. Reading Barth on this issue requires a strong stomach. He calls it a “natural dualism” (ah, the argument from nature, my ~favorite~! Tell me, if nature's so awesome, why do I have to dye my hair to make it blue, the most awesome color hair can be?) and declares that anyone who's not Monogamously Heterosexually Married is defective as a human being. Within a Monogamous Heterosexual Marriage framework, conveniently enough, women must be subordinate to men, and a “mature” woman understands and accepts that subjugation is actually equality, because, um, LOOK, QUEERS!

In one stroke, Barth dehumanizes not only all the women and all the queers but even the single non-queers, and it all stems from his gender essentialism. People who have built themselves a worldview of queer-hating, woman-subjugating, MHM-idealizing dualism are terrified of deconstructing gender, because if you take away that foundation then the whole house of cards comes tumbling down.

I don't believe in gender essentialism. I don't believe in gender. There is nothing about me that makes me somehow fundamentally and essentially female. Everything about me that could be called “female” is a social construct foisted on me, on the basis of the visible physiognomy of the meat-body in which this consciousness currently resides.

I am not a woman. I am not female. I am a human, socio-biologically constructed into the artifical category of “female”. Femaleness is no part of the essential Me (nor, need I say it, is maleness) – no more than the red hair I had yesterday or the blue hair I have today.

Too often, queer theorists become body essentialists. They ground the fulness of human experience within the physical reality of the human body: male, female, able, disabled, eating, running, breathing, touching. I say, Screw that. The physical reality of the human body is a limitation on human experience. True human experience is in the consciousness, the mind, the Me that does the thinking and feeling. My consciousness is like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, one stage removed from the physical world which I experience in the firing of synapses. The physical brain itself is a set of electrical pulses*. The I, the consciousness, is the sentient, sapient being that analyzes these electrical pulses.


There's no reason to confine humanness to the human body. With the growing expansion of biotechnology, the human body itself need not be what it once was. With the extension of neuroscience and artificial intelligence, the human consciousness need not be confined to even an altered human body. If a human consciousness could be downloaded into a different physical receptacle, would it somehow no longer be human?

I believe in the singularity. I believe in the New Jerusalem. I believe in a radically altered future form of human existence, one that deconstructs and transcends the arbitrary social categories into which we are foisted based on random genetic characteristics. I believe that one day there truly will be neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female.

I believe that, when all the deconstruction is done, there remains some substance that is the true person, apart from all sociocultural construction and life experience. If I didn't believe that, how could I believe that God loves every one of us passionately and equally?

I believe in science fiction, and I believe in God. I believe in humankind, and I believe in the future. I'm a nerd, and I'm a theologian. It makes perfect sense.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fall TV: 2011 Edition

So I'm a grad student now (preen, ponce, smug, big words). What I didn't know going in was that, unlike high school, undergrad, and being un- or underemployed, grad school involves rather a lot of hard graft. This means that my TV-watching time is drastically diminished. This fall I will only have time to follow The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, How I Met Your Mother, Raising Hope, Glee, Modern Family, Community, Parks & Recreation, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Archer, The Good Wife, Boardwalk Empire, and the last few episodes of Breaking Bad. Between reading approximately 487251 pages of academic articles per week, writing assignments, working in the campus kitchens, church, soccer, jam circle, game night, hiking group, and weekly karaoke, I just can't squeeze in any new shows.

Luckily, none of the new shows is worth the time it takes to type the title. I know this because my now legendary talent for judging the value of a new show has gotten so sensitive that I don't even need to see the pilot before evaluating it with pinpoint accuracy. Accordingly, I have not watched a single pilot this fall. (Well, except Up All Night, which seduced me with the wonderful Maya Rudolph. This time last year, Will Arnett would also have been a major draw, but I have not yet recovered from Running Wilde *shudder*).

So here it is: your handy, spectacularly ill-informed, print-out-and-keep guide to the Fall 2011 TV Season!

2 Broke Girls
Straight white people are boring
Letter Grade: Zzz

Pan Am
Straight white people are boring
Letter Grade: Zzz

The Playboy Club
Straight white people are boring
Letter Grade: Zzz

Straight white people are boring
Letter Grade: Zzz

I Hate My Teenage Daughter
Straight white people are boring
Letter Grade: Zzz

Straight white people are boring
Letter Grade: Zzz

Straight white people are boring
Letter Grade: Zzz

Up All Night
Straight white people are boring
Letter Grade: Zzz

Person of Interest
Straight white people are boring
Letter Grade: Zzz

The Secret Circle
Straight white people are boring
Letter Grade: Zzz

Straight white people are boring
Letter Grade: Zzz

New Girl
Straight white people are boring
Letter Grade: Zzz

A Gifted Man
Straight white people are boring
Letter Grade: Zzz

Last Man Standing / Man Up / How To Be A Gentleman
Are you fucking kidding me?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

God Is A Radical

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God...
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied...
But woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh...
But woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil... woe to you, when all people speak well of you.

I know that God is a God of reversals. God is a radical who always challenges the status quo. When I'm in pain, God comforts me; when I'm comfortable, God unsettles me. And God's big enough to do both at the same time.

At moments when I'm missing Sam so much it hurts, God is there to assure me that love transcends geographical barriers. Whenever I feel like I've got life all figured out, God is there to pull the rug out from under my feet.

The times when I feel like a worthless waste of space, God says, “You matter.” The times when I feel like I am doing everything right, God says, “Oh, honey, are you freakin' kidding me?”

I believe in reversal. I believe in a radical overhaul of our broken, unjust reality. I believe that one day the world will be changed, justice will win, and love will reign supreme.

Whenever that vision seems impossibly far-off and utopian, God reminds me that it's inevitable. And whenever its inevitability seems like an excuse for me to do nothing, God kicks my butt into gear – because, really, striving to overturn injustice and make the world a better place is more or less the point of being human.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

AlterNet's Ableist Language

Last week I sent AlterNet the following email:

I'm a big fan of Alternet and its sharp analysis of political issues. I really do appreciate the work you do here.

However, I'm troubled by the prevalence of ableist language on this website. Nearly ever article about the GOP seems to be headlined with the word "crazy", "lunatic", or equivalent. Conflating political extremism with mental illness is a trope that does a great disservice to people with mental illnesses, as well as failing to offer any meaningful critique of political extremists (who are often being irrational, greedy, mendacious, hate-mongering, and many other more accurate adjectives than "crazy"). Last year the (now sadly defunct) website FWD (feminists with disabilities) had a great post explaining this:

I hope you'll consider eliminating, or at least scaling back, your usage of ableist language in your headlines, because this is a great website but it really does bother me to see an otherwise progressive site perpetuate such a harmful and regressive trope.

Keep up the good work!

I was referring to headlines like Confessions of a GOP Operative Who Left “the Cult”: 3 Things Everyone Must Know About the Lunatic-Filled Republican Party and 6 Crazy, Unconstitutional Laws Right-Wingers Are Blowing Your Money On. Search AlterNet for terms like “crazy” and “lunatic” and you'll see they've been doing this for years. It upsets me, and I finally decided it was past time to bloody well call them out on it.

The only reply I got was a generic thanks-for-your-feedback auto-response, so I don't know if my email was read or taken on board... but the AlterNet front page does not currently bear a single headline using the words “crazy”, “lunatic”, or “insane”.

I intend to keep an eye on this, of course. I imagine others have called out AlterNet on the same issue, and I'll be extremely chuffed if they've changed their policy. If you do see another headline there using ableist language, I urge you to email them about it (feel free to copy-paste all or part of my email).

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Zombies: Better Than Sex

Dualism really gets on my tits. Black vs white, male vs female, gay vs straight – why do we still insist on framing everything as a binary opposition? It's the twenty-first century; can't we get beyond Thunderdome dualism?

The Kinsey scale, for all its flaws, has been a useful tool for getting people to conceive sexual orientation as a spectrum rather than a binary (even if much of the mass media continues to frame it as an either/or). In order to paint a fuller picture of human sexual identity, though, it would be useful to plot a few more axes.

What if we considered a spectrum for the having of sexual attraction at all? Borrowing the numbers from Kinsey, 0 = no interest in partnered sex, 6 = partnered sex is of paramount importance.

What if we considered a spectrum for feelings of romantic attraction? 0 = no interest in a romantic partner, 6 = a romantic partner is of paramount importance.

Our culture frames “normal” as a 6 on both scales. Even as Teh Gays are slowly eking out a modicum of recognition from mainstream culture (people of sexualities other than gay or straight, not so much), acceptance is still framed as the almighty Monogamous Marriage. You find a sexual and romantic partner, who will be the most important person in your life. If you don't find that person, it's a tragedy, because obviously this is what everyone wants.

Our culture is still flummoxed by the idea that anyone might not be a 6 on both the Sexual Attraction and the Romantic Attraction scales.

I was reminded of this the other night, when playing Zombies!!! with some friends. Being a massive zombie enthusiast, I got somewhat overexcited, and may or may not have been yelling, “DIE, ZOMBIE SCUM!” in between dropping some mad zombie knowledge on my chums: did you know that zombies didn't eat brains before 1985's Return of the Living Dead? That human beings weren't their food at all before 1968's Night of the Living Dead? That in its earliest iteration, starting with 1932's White Zombie, zombie cinema was a fascinating (and incredibly racist) expression of white people's postcolonial fears about being enslaved by their erstwhile slaves?

I know all this because I spent my teens watching zombie movies, rather than having relationships, getting laid, etc. like many of those around me. I made a self-deprecating jest to this effect, and one friend hastened to reassure me that I didn't miss much because teenage sex is pretty crap. Then I said that it's actually a good thing, because zombie movies had a much greater influence on my personality than any hypothetical teenage sex would have done.

Wait a minute,” said D. “Did you just say that zombie movies are better than sex?”

At which everybody LOLs, grabs another fistful of cheese puffs, and rolls the dice to battle more ZOMBIE SCUM.

But now I have a chance to explain myself, so I will say:

Yes, D, I do think zombie movies are better than sex.

I could draw you up a list of things that I think are better than sex. It would include all-night MST3K marathons, books by China Miéville, frolicking in powerful ocean waves, having a hermeneutic revelation, breaking your fast at the end of Yom Kippur, playing a really great game of soccer...

What I'm saying is, I score really low on both the Sexual Attraction and the Romantic Attraction scales. I've been in relationships before, but friends and family members have always mattered much more to me, and at this point I feel I could happily go the rest of my life without having another romantic or sexual partner. For me, both partnered sex and relationships are a bit like skiing: yes, there are some thrilling moments, but those moments just aren't worth the expense, effort, specialized equipment, long lines, and risk of violent death. (N.B. Analogy may not be exact in every particular.)

Plenty of people love skiing. Good for them. Go for it, I say: ski to your heart's content, all day and all of the night, if that's what you want. Just don't assume that everybody else loves skiing as much as you do. Or even wants to do it ever. I'm bothered, not by skiers themselves, but by the culturally normalized expectation that everyone must think skiing is the apex of human existence (“the thing that makes us fully human” – thanks for the invalidation, favorite childhood author!), and that if you don't really care about skiing then there's something wrong with you.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

And What Did It Mean For You?

I was twelve years old when it happened. Living in Kenya at the time, so it was evening for us, I was at choir practice after school. The mothers used to wait for us in their cars, lined up outside, listening to the radio: they heard it unfold in real time.

Maybe the news report was too confused to make sense of, maybe she just couldn't process it and wanted to talk it over with Dad, maybe she wanted to preserve our innocent, excitable chatterings about the forthcoming choir trip to Europe a while longer; whatever her reasons, our mother didn't tell us until later that night. “Something's happened...”

Of course it was all anyone could talk about at school for the next two days. Did you see the footage on the news? Will there be a war? Could we be collateral damage? (Checking atlases to map air routes from the US to the Middle East, figuring that other African nations to our north were likelier to take a hit...)

By the end of the week, the playground scuttlebutt had moved on to more immediate topics (never borrow a ruler from R; J once saw her using it to scratch her crotch!), but in my life there had been a quiet cataclysm. Before that day, I had never watched, read, or otherwise paid attention to the news; on the Wednesday, I instantly became the news and politics junkie I've been for the past decade.

Talking with some friends this week, I found that most of us had a similarly dramatic awakening to the news, usually at around the same age. Whether it was TWA Flight 800 or Columbine, some horrifying event had left a peculiarly indelible mark on our young consciousness, permanently altering our understanding of the world and our place in it.

Recently I found an old diary entry featuring my initial reaction to 9/11, a short paragraph in a shaky hand. It's an odd mixture of endearing childishness and white-hot fury: a naivete outraged and forever scarred by the realization that humans would actually do something like this to other humans, that atrocities are not the preserve of history class – not something we've as a species outgrown – but are something we still commit on one another.

(The 1998 bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi might have been the catalyst for my realizing this, had I been a little more precocious, but at nine I was still more concerned with Polly Pocket than with international terrorism.)

I don't think 9/11 was a direct cause of my seven years as an agnostic – the major impetus, aside from just reaching an age when my critical thinking skills had developed enough to start questioning the beliefs I grew up with, was my close friendship with a girl who had survived the car crash that killed her mother and little sister – but it must have been a contributing factor. When you suddenly live in a world where things like that can happen, all security is gone. A car could kill your family any day. A terrorist could kill you at any time. Can you trust in anything?

I'm indulging in this onanistic little response to the anniversary of a major world tragedy because I don't want to resort to the empty cliches that dog almost every attempt to analyze 9/11 on a national or international scale. No doubt I'm falling prey to cliches of a different sort: the navel-gazing explication of ~What 9/11 Means To Me~ that risks trivializing the tragedy by reducing it to a psychological input for some tedious privileged not-personally-affected westerner. But I'm a member of the 9/11 generation. 9/11, and its aftermath, shaped us and shaped the world we're inheriting. It's our touchstone, our point of contact with one another, our collective awakening to the ugliness humans are capable of: to a sense of our own mortality.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Disneyfail: Pocahontas vs The Princess and the Frog

When I look at Pixar movies, I envy today's kids. Imagine growing up with your earliest cinematic memories being of Wall-E and Up and Toy Story 3.

But then, I myself grew up in a pretty sweet age of children's cinema. I'm a child of the Disney Renaissance: I grew up with The Little Mermaid and Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, which are hardly to be sniffed at. Of course, if we're talking feminism, they leave something to be desired, but Pixar has its own problems in that regard.

People who are new to feminist, womanist, or otherwise SJ-oriented pop-culture criticism sometimes miss a crucial point: just 'cause I love something doesn't mean I give it a free pass on its isms. Conversely, of course, I can slate something for its genderfail, racefail, etc. and still love it. As Sparky puts it, “My most favourite of favourite things I love are sadly rife with stereotypes, erasure, damaging tropes and out right prejudiced portrayals.” To my thinking, being a responsible pop-culture consumer requires applying critical thinking even to your most beloved properties, and it doesn't necessarily mean you love them any less.

That said, some beloved childhood properties are just too toxic to be looked on with any degree of fondness once you're old enough to think about them critically.

Take Pocahontas. I was six years old when Pocahontas came out, and, with the undiscriminating consumption of young children, my brothers and I watched and rewatched the video. We played at being the characters (primarily the animal sidekicks, so much more interesting than the tedious leads), and we often listened to a cassette of the soundtrack on car journeys. As I grew older, I maintained that the film wasn't very good but the music was.

This assertion was based on fickle memory rather than recent experience, because it's been well over a decade since I either watched the movie or listened to the soundtrack – until the other day, when combined nostalgia and morbid curiosity led me to give the songs a spin.



I realize this movie came out in 1995, when commercialized internet was a brand-new thing, and that it would be a good fifteen years before fuck yeah cultural appropriation came along to succinctly and brilliantly call out this kind of crap, but Orientalism was published in 1978. Are you telling me no one working at Disney in the early nineties had even a passing familiarity with the general concept? Because ICK. I know I'm saying nothing new in pointing out how gross Disney's Pocahontas is, but what shocked me was how much my skin crawled at just the songs, not even the movie itself.

Every damn song is like “woo, the brown people are ~spiritual~ and ~in touch with the land~! The brown people ~understand nature~ and can magically learn foreign tongues by ~listening with their hearts~ and ~communing with the trees~! Fertile valleys, dewy grass, wind, and clear water...” UM WHAT. And in the song “Savages” there's a painful attempt to draw an equivalence between the invading British forces and the defending American Indians.

Leader of invading British colonialists: “They're different from us, which means they must be evil!

Leader of American Indians: “They're different from us, which means they can't be trusted.

Even as a small child, I recognized the pungent stench of BS in that false equivalence, though I couldn't have articulated why it bothered me so much. Well, now I can: the invading British forces actually can't be trusted. The tribal chief is RIGHT. The invaders want to kill him and his people and steal all their things! Don't give me this “there was wrong and misunderstanding on both sides” revisionist horsepuckey. I'm supposed to condemn the indigenous peoples for not just cheerfully handing over their land, resources, vaginas, etc. to the invading colonial forces? Fuck right off.

Up until Mulan (WHO WINS ALL THE THINGS, NATCH), the only Disney heroine I identified with at all was Belle, obviously. She liked reading a lot, she wanted much more than this provincial life, and everyone thought she was a bit weird: she's just like me! – provided we ignore the entire second half of the movie where she up and Stockholm-syndromes her way to a “happy ending”, as this fabulously ranty piece points out.

That same piece does an able job of describing everything that's wrong with The Princess and the Frog. I don't disagree with any of Ashley's points, but heck if I didn't enjoy the mucus out of that movie. I think it's because I saw the Tiana/Naveen/frog business as a humdrum, easily-ignored subplot. The movie isn't really about princesses, frogs, or any iteration thereof. The movie is about celebrating New Orleans culture: the food, the music, the accents, the color of the city. If you conceive New Orleans as the protagonist, and the actual storyline as stuff that's just happening in the background so we get to enjoy the milieu, it's a less frustrating film.

Tiana's character arc is certainly profoundly disappointing. [SPOILERS, but it's a Disney movie so you knew what was coming:] Apparently we've progressed to the point where a woman can have ambitions of her own, but mayn't realize them unless she has an all-important Man first because what really matters is MARRIAGE!

...Um, Disney? Can I ask you a question? Why do all your movies have romance in them anyway?

I mean, I get that some kids must like love stories. They must do, because it takes all sorts and whatnot. But... in my house, at least, romance plots were something to be suffered through so you could have the awesome songs, wacky sidekicks, magical enchantments, and goofy jokes. My brothers and I were not fans of “mushy stuff”, and surely millions of kids feel the same way. Why have romance in your kids' movies at all? Kids are kids! They're not interested in ~love~ and ~romance~ and ~special feelings~. Kids want stories of adventure and magic and fun and friendship, the things they seek out in their everyday lives. At one stage during The Princess and the Frog, I briefly entertained the notion that Tiana and Naveen might just realize they liked and valued each other as friends, and that would've been awesome. If I were writing a kids' film, the interpersonal relationships would all be friendships, because I think kids deserve to know that friends are more important than romantic partners. (YMMV, of course, but surely we can all agree that's true for six-year-olds!)

But, for all its faults, The Princess and the Frog does take unmitigated delight in Louisiana Creole culture, in a way that seems genuine and reasonably non-gross. I'll take that over Pocahontas any day.