My mission statement is simple: represent the gay, atheist position, and provide atheist-focused writing for other gay atheists who want to be understood in the context of the person they are, rather than having to work around a theistic message.
I am not alone in attempting to formulate this kind of dialogue. Two prominent speakers on the subject are Dan Savage and John Corvino. Despite a commitment to reason and logic, their approaches sit at opposite ends of the spectrum. Savage uses as much diplomacy as suits his needs, and disregards it the rest of the time in favor of strongly-worded, brutal honesty, which pulls no punches. Corvino regards the subject as an opportunity for conversation, is noted for having debated with the most extreme of anti-homosexual bigots with civility, and uses diplomacy as a strength of his presentation.
I find there are times when I feel like raising hell at the world like Dan Savage, however, some people need the gentler hand of John Corvino's approach. But I can't intelligently speak on either subject without a genuine personal understanding of the matters at hand. I can draw lessons from their overall presentations, but effective arguments come from comprehension, not imitation.
To that end, I have been doing a lot of reading. Most of it is gay-focused. A lot of it is atheist-focused. But I am doing my best to stick with history, science, and contemporary commentary. There are exceptions; I enjoy a good fictional novel, or the occasional biography, but my goal with reading is to increase my understanding. So, I have decided to create this regular feature. You don't have to Take my Word for it will appear at least once a month, and cover something I have read recently which has broadened my horizons in some way. Incidentally, I reserve the right to post something that I simply enjoyed for what it was.
Merle Miller was a distinguished writer who, aside from writing his own novels, worked as an editor for Harper's and Time Magazine. After a particularly egregious and discriminatory article by Joseph Epstein appeared in Harper's in 1970, Miller felt compelled to respond. The result was an article published in New York Times Magazine in 1971, titled "What It Means to Be a Homosexual," and was reissued, extended, with a Foreword by Dan Savage, and Afterword by Charles Kaiser, in a Penguin Classics book.
There are few perspectives as valuable as one in its historical context told by someone contemporary to that history. I am not so confident in my knowledge of gay culture and history that I was in any way dismissive of this book prior to reading it, but the degree to which I was discomfited by reading his words, imagining his experiences, was surprising to me. Many of the positions of either indifference or outright hostility towards gays are not news to me. The extent to which they pervaded society in his era, however, was a bit dizzying to contemplate. Things have changed. Corporations and churches loudly and proudly send representatives to march in Gay Pride parades across the United States alongside the individuals and LGBT rights groups. The national dialogue is open, controversial, and louder than it ever has been before. People are coming out younger, and safely, in places where we never could have imagined. And state-level gay marriage rights are popping up in spurts around the country, bolstered now by Supreme Court rulings that struck down some of the most discriminatory parts of federal public policy.
To present the world we live in now as ideal is, of course, absurd. We still have plenty of hearts and minds to win. Plenty of battlegrounds on which to fight. Plenty of broken and wounded people to heal. But we must approach our cause with the memory and knowledge of a time when things were worse, lest we forget the progress that has been made, and become complacent. We are more widely accepted now. There is much good to be said about that fact. But that same Supreme Court demonstrated the greatest hazard of complacency by the majority: mistaking progress for victory. With the act of invalidating much of the Voting Rights Act on the false premise that racism is somehow no longer a hardship to be endured in America, a great deal of work has been undone, and can be seen in voter suppression laws now making headway in many states. The moment the majority feels they have done their due and paid the proper respect to us is the moment we can lose progress and have to fight old fights all over again. Merle Miller's words are here to tap you on the shoulder and remind you of how it once was, and how it can be again, if our vigilance falters.
One final note on this book: Sometimes, readers regard the Foreword and Afterword of a book as optional reading. I highly suggest you read them this time around.
Dan Savage is an advice columnist in The Stranger, Seattle's premier alternative weekly newspaper.
Charles Kaiser is a journalist and author.
Joseph Epstein's piece: Homo/Hetero: The Struggle for Sexual Identity