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March 9, 2005

on use of the term 'self loathing' & collective guilt

Last year when the gay marriage debate was at a fever pitch, I was discussing the issue with a straight female coworker in the car on the way to lunch. When I mentioned gay Republicans who work in the White House with President Bush, she blurted out - without me feeding her any terminology I swear to you I did not - "Isn't that a little self loathing?"

I've wanted to talk about the use of the term 'self loathing' for some time now. You hear it thrown around a lot amongst gay people, especially in reference to gay Republicans, the hypermasculine, and closet queens. I'm not sure exactly what the term means, because I think some gay Republicans love themselves very, very much, and have no ill-will towards themselves, their actions or their political stance. I think they are completely content with what they are doing, and see no wrong in working with those who seek to limit our freedoms. On a conscious level at least, I'm sure they are quite self-loving.

I am guessing the main use of the phrase in reference to gay Republicans is that they work against their own people, so the 'self' they loathe is us, all of the gay people. Am I correct in this assumption of the use of the term "self loathing"? The flaw in that use of the term is that such people don't actually percieve themselves as 'us'. Gays are the other which must be feared and despised. At one stage in my coming out, I clearly recall standing there in a bar saying to myself in my mind, "I'm not like these people." Well, no I'm not, but we are of the same species and have a lot of similarities. But I believe a lot of gay men get stuck in this phase and end up compartmentalizing themselves outside of any concept of gay community.

During the long drive to and from the ski slopes last week, there wasn't a whole lot of arguing or debate in our conversations, as the car was filled with three bleeding-heart liberal Democrats with similar outlooks. General agreement doesn't necessarily make for good conversation. Chip and Stefan are sweeties, but perhaps the drive may not have seemed so long when every issue we brought up resulted in a chorus of agreements, "yep"s and "uh-huh"s. A self-loathing gay conservative Republican may have spiced up the chatter a bit and made the drive seem shorter. >; ) Anyhow, I proposed a theory of mine that popped into my head one day regarding 9/11 and how America has seemed to freak out since then. (And I'd love it if you read the whole goddamn thing before commenting, instead of just the first line or paragraph. Thanks, Jimbo.)

I will concede that America is a Christian nation. We generally have a lot of Christian values and hang-ups, and most people here were raised in one Christian cult or another. Even the American atheist's moral base is grounded in a lot of Christian values, although most of them would deny it.

Along with our Christian values comes the requisite Christian guilt, which I'm happy to say I don't have much of. However, a lot of Americans carry a tremendous amount of guilt on their backs, and an elaborate toolkit of rationalizations to deal with the load.

Many of us believe that when bad things happen to us, we somehow deserved it. When I got sick as a child, I remember my mother saying to me, "You have a cold because you're running around too much!" In effect, she was saying that my cold was not the result of a viral infection, but because I somehow deserve it because of my actions. It's an example of poetic versus scientific realism. The rational versus the mystic.

Similarly, I think America is freaking out about morals, values and homos because we somehow believe we are guilty of something and were punished justly on 9/11. It sounds very irrational, but hey, look at the Presidential election results. This is not a rational, enlightened nation. We were struck a hard blow, perhaps an indirect backhand slap from the hand of God himself, and for some reason we deserved it. Someone is to blame for this punishment. It must be Janet Jackson and her boob, Howard Stern, and the homos. It is a collective feeling of guilt that seems to have fueled this country's need for a scapegoat. Wily politicians have sensed this feeling and have wielded it much to their advantage. Even some homos have jumped on the guilt bandwagon, joining the moral ragers despite their best interests. Deep down inside they too feel that we deserve what we got, and don't mind helping the religious nutbags hunt down those who brought this punishment upon us. Self loating on some level I guess, and an intense need to plod along with the herd.

I don't personally believe that we were punished on 9/11 or that gays deserve to be legislated into the dark ages, but I do believe that a good portion of Americans feel this way on some level, and it may help explain the hysteria that's been going on recently. 9/11 is proof in some people's minds (or in the backs of their minds) that we had it coming, and now we must hunt down and stop those immoral beings that brought down our country. Discuss.

Posted by jimbo at March 9, 2005 10:50 AM


Good points, Jimbo. I can't say I disagree with you.

I've always understood (and used) the term "self-loathing" to indicate the gay people who through their actions prove that, in some way, they hate the fact that they're gay. For most of us it's only a stage, but for too many it becomes a way of life.

Posted by: joe at March 9, 2005 1:47 PM

Hi Joe! Long time no hear!

You mean...you _read_ my blog entry - in its entirety?

Posted by: jimbo at March 9, 2005 3:11 PM

I don't agree that America is a Christian nation. Neither did George Washington - "The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion"

However, I think that many people want it to be. And it's sad to see many people beginning to concede that fiction.

Posted by: Jason at March 9, 2005 3:49 PM

I don't like it myself, but it seems to be true that we are a Christian nation judging by the legislation and debate that seems to dominate our political and cultural discourse. I don't think it's wise to discount that fact when trying to advance progressive gay, environmental or social issues.

However, I do think Americans also believe in what is fair and right, so we need to posit such positions with and emphasis on both an irrational/mystical approach and a focus on justice as well.

Posted by: jimbo at March 9, 2005 4:01 PM

OK. I see where you are coming from. However, I resist the idea that we are a Christian nation just because many (most) of us are Christians. Rather, we are a nation of Christians. To me there is a difference.

The fact that we have people legislating based on the bible is wrong. And it needs to stop. The problem is that we have judges, dare I say activist judges, that believe that it's ok to allow this as long as the majority wants it because 'we are a nation founded by Christians.'

I think if we showed more people that this isn't what the founding fathers intended then things would change. Right now, people believe that the founding fathers would not have a problem with what's going on.

Posted by: Jason at March 9, 2005 4:21 PM

Of course I read the whole thing - though I almost knocked myself out when I dozed off towards the end. ;)

Jason, I see your points, but sadly, I think Jimbo's right with his assertion. America has become a Christian country, ruled by and for Christians - it hasn't always been so and we need to take it back - but it is very much Jesusland these days. We need to work with and through this if we expect anything to change during our lifetimes.

Posted by: joe at March 9, 2005 6:37 PM

I have to agree with Jimbo (for the most part) This country was founded by Christians. The majority of the people in this nation are Christian.
This country was also founded by the three Gs Glory, God and Gold.
The original intention by the "Founding Fathers" was not to have a state run religion or religion overpower/run the Government, as it was the case in Europe back then.

Their original intention was to allow the citizens worship or not worship as they pleased, nto because state law demanded it. Or the Government dictate which religion was official and how to worship. Which is why some colonies like Maryland allowed and tolerated other Christian sects to worship freely as well as allowing Jews to worship freely.

Sadly as always in human history. Those who were persecuted become the persecutors.
Regardless of race, religion etc. Once the persecuted have tasted power and are in control, they seem to forget that at one time they were the ones that were oppressed.

Now regarding the term "self loathing /Self Hating" Personally I think that term is thrown around way to much. Some folks out there are and do fit into that category. But to many times that term is used on people who do not "follow the Piper" so to speak.

Posted by: Dax at March 10, 2005 8:29 AM

I'm inclined to agree. For me, I think the big problem is most people can't cope with the fact that they think we as a nation somehow deserved to be "punished," so they have to blame it on someone else. And the people they choose to blame are the ones who are, in their eyes, morally inferior. I think the administration in power has encouraged this view, because it also distracts its citizens from scrutinizing the government's actions (or inactions) too closely.

Whether or not there's blame to be placed, everyone wants to blame someone other than themselves.

Posted by: Jeffrey at March 10, 2005 10:56 AM

I like your guilt theory. I'm not sure it's founded in just in Christian guilt, but probably also sourced in Judeism, and perhaps generally part of human nature. We're privileged people, as compared to the rest of humanity, so perhaps we feel a little guilty about it. I think your theory has a lot of merit, nonetheless.

As to whether this is a "Christian nation" or a "nation of Christians", that semantic argument sort of ignores that there is, and always has been, a significant minority of non-Christians here, too. What's really important is that this was country was not founded on Christianity, but on the principles of the Enlightenment. You can't understand the importance of the separation of church and state util you know the history of the church and how, after hundreds of years of oppressing religious freedom and taking lives with the state's authority, these folks finally got fed up and excised its power over the state. Even a casual reading of U.S. history demonstrates that these wise founders didn't want government legislating from the Bible. To do so now is an offront to the basis of the nation.

I would also argue that the impulses that compel the religious right and this horrible administration to act as they do are certainly not "Christian." I'm not a Christian, but I think I'd have no problem with the folks in power if they acted like REAL Christians (you know, "do unto others," "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are . . .", rich men and the eye of the needle and all that).

Posted by: OST at March 10, 2005 11:24 AM

Even more than us having guilt, it's America not wanting to accept its own guilt. We know why al Qaeda attacked us, generally speaking, yet we continue to do the same things that piss off ultra-religious types in the Middle East. Until we come to terms with these imperalistic attitudes and our overly consumptive actions, we'll be treated similarly.

I'm not arguing that we deserved it, but that we attacked individuals outside this country when we should have taken this opportunity to examine our relationship with that part of the world. SUV sales are through the roof, right? They're cutting more oil-efficient modes of transit like Amtrak, right? It's all related, but we don't want to accept it...instead we want to feel good by winning wars yet we still meddle in a part of the world that was destabilized, arguably, by our oil consumption.

Also, there's a line between being a Christian nation and respecting the role that Christianity plays in our society. Christmas trees in public can stay up, in my humble opinion (right next to the menorahs) just don't use your good book as the reason not to teach me scientific theories that the most talented minds in the world agree on, cool?

Posted by: Dunner at March 10, 2005 9:33 PM

As a quasi-practicing Christian, it enrages me the way so-called Christians think that when bad things happen to people, they somehow deserved it.

The "New Testament" is full of stories of people who had bad things happen to them when they didn't deserve it. Like, oh I don't know, JESUS?! It's so stupid. Bad things happen all of the time to everyone. In fact, in the "New Testament", bad things mostly happen to GOOD people. Think about the horrible fates that befell all of the apostles and martyrs. Suffering is a sign of blessedness!

God, the Christians in the country make me mad.

Posted by: Eric at March 10, 2005 10:11 PM

Wow, you're right! I guess al-Qaeda just threw a dart at a world map and it happened to hit the US. I can't think of any reason (even an unfair, "unreasonable" reason) why they might not like the US, or be displeased by any US actions towards Arabs or Muslims.

No one "deserves" something as terrible as 9-11, but it's pretty naive to think that we can antagonize and kill (perhaps with good intentions, perhaps not) and not expect a counter-reaction. No one is surprised when a military force is resisted by the opposing military force, and sometimes the other side doesn't "play fair" (i.e. guerilla warfare). Blowing up the WTC and Pentagon isn't playing fair either.

Europeans have a more realistic attitude towards (and experience with) terrorism in their societies. Some level of terrorist-type attacks are just the price you pay for pissing people off (even unreasonable, awful people) and having an open society that's vulnerable.

If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen - be Canada, and don't export your culture either. Since neither one of those things is going to (or probably should) happen, we shouldn't express such surprise when there's a reaction, sometimes violent. Grim resolve would be more dignified, and more intelligent.

Posted by: Clever Monkey at March 15, 2005 8:39 PM