Anal Chic It would be hard to think of a more fashionable hunk of real estate than the Place Vendôme in Paris, that center of haute couture and five-star hotels that doesn’t just follow but legislates good taste. So when a monumental sculpture by U.S. artist Paul McCarthy arrived for the holidays, it was welcomed as a festive addition to the great plaza. Pointedly named Tree, the eighty-foot-tall inflatable object appeared to exhibit the major design elements of a Christmas tree: green in color, check; shaped like an inverted cone, check… But before too long, as in the story about the Emperor’s new clothes, someone was brave or foolhardy enough to point out that the object might just have another meaning. (This being Paris, doubtless there was much talk about signifier and signified.) Suddenly everyone was aghast, the artist was condemned in the media, and the “tree” was deflated (though the authorities blamed vandals and vowed to reinflate). McCarthy himself admitted that his inspiration was indeed a butt plug—“I realized that it looked like a Christmas tree”—which was then reverse engineered, as it were. Given McCarthy’s taste for the avant-garde, perhaps the good people of Paris can be thankful that Tree didn’t arrive fully decorated according to its original function.
For the Worse It was in 1938 that Time magazine shocked the world by naming Adolph Hitler as its “Man of the Year,” explaining that their intent was to identify the person who had the biggest impact “for better or worse.” In that spirit, The Advocate has named Vladimir Putin as its “Person of the Year” for 2014, justifying the choice with reference to Time’s controversial pick and pointing out that Putin’s systematic persecution of gay Russians places him in some pretty nasty company. In any case, it’s the cover illustration that’s priceless, and no explanation is necessary. Finally, one can’t help noticing that the issue is dated December 2014/January 2015. Since when did the great and venerable Advocate, which was for so many years a biweekly newsmagazine, go bimonthly? (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)
Book versus Facebook The social network behemoth Facebook has canceled ads placed for The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision, a book with illustrations by Doug Blanchard that depict Jesus as a gay man in a modern city enduring the sorrows that ended with the crucifixion. When publisher Kittredge Cherry protested, Facebook replied that it doesn’t accept “images that are shocking,” offering as examples “accidents, car crashes, dead or dismembered bodies.” And yet, surely there’s nothing in the book that could qualify as “shocking” by these standards, Cherry fired back, pointing out that crucifixes appear in Facebook ads all the time. What’s interesting, in fact, is that in most of the book’s illustrations it’s not all that obvious that the central figure is even “gay,” except for the fact that Blanchard has drawn Jesus as young and cute (something to talk about at another time?). But then there’s that pesky subtitle, “A Gay Vision,” a juxtaposition that some people might complain about, which is clearly what Facebook was afraid of. Thus it’s not the visual images but the idea of Jesus as a gay man that’s being suppressed (though not “censored,” as Cherry claims). And that goes right to a syndrome that’s been identified by writers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens: the peculiar immunity of religious ideas from the free speech protections that apply to every other realm of life.
Abracadabra One of the country’s foremost leaders of the “ex-gay” movement—which is increasingly looking like the ex-“ex-gay” movement—has married his male partner, having long ago abandoned his dream of going straight. And the wedding of former Love In Action director John Smid to his partner Larry McQueen took place in Oklahoma! (For once the exclamation point seems justified.) More remarkable still, perhaps—though this appears to be the norm—Smid has not given up his faith but has instead launched a new Christian ministry, a fellowship called Grace Rivers designed for “those who call themselves gay and want to seek a relationship with God.” Of course, the whole premise of the ex-gay movement is that you can’t be both Christian and gay; one of them has to give. For Smid and many others, the sexual thing wouldn’t budge, so that left God—whose very nature had to be revised to accommodate the new reality. So it was out with the deity of eternal damnation and in with the God of universal love. Presto!
Swing Low That God has lightened up in His old age is underscored by a mini-movement of Christian swingers in Florida. They’re convinced that God wants them to be happy and physically fit—so they’re way into bodybuilding and exercise—and also that He’s totally okay with their swinging lifestyle. So Cristy and Dean Parave have started a ministry called Fitness Swingers that’s all about worshiping and praying together—and the workouts and spouse swapping, of course. Dean is confident that this is what God wants him to be doing. When a reporter from Barcroft Media asked him what this conviction was based upon, he didn’t exactly cite a biblical passage or even a preacher from the “gospel of prosperity” school: “So far today, God hasn’t told me, ‘Dean stop that, it’s a sin. I don’t want you to do that.’ Until he does that, I’m going to keep trying to help as many people as I can.” And why not? Verily when it comes to God, silence equals consent.
You raise an important point when you say that the Facebook suppression of our Passion book illustrates “the peculiar immunity of religious ideas from the free speech protections that apply to every other realm of life.” Traditional religious ideas do get enshrined and exempted from the usual rigors of public debate. But what about alternative religious ideas?
Far from receiving “peculiar immunity,” Christians like me who believe that Jesus may have been queer find our sincerely held religious idea is suppressed as “anti-Catholic,” “blasphemy,” “offensive” or even “hate speech.” The debate often gets framed as if our religion is nothing more than free speech that desecrates religion. Meanwhile OUR religious images and texts are deprived of customary protection granted to mainstream religions. Overtly LGBT-positive religious images and ideas tend to be silenced or ridiculed.
LGBT-affirming Christians have had to put up with garbage, and aren’t we religious too? A powerful example is included in this same issue of the Gay & Lesbian Review – the 1973 photo of Rev. Troy Perry in the rubble of the burnt-down Metropolitan Community Church where he dared to preach God’s love for all people, including sexual minorities. (See “The Revolution was Photographed” https://glreview.org/article/the-revolution-was-photographed/).
On the bright side, Facebook reversed its decision and “resurrected” the ads after pressure from the LGBT media and community.