The other day as I was driving my daughter to a doctor’s appointment, a woman pulled up alongside us, leaned over and held a book up to the passenger-side window. I gave her a friendly wave, because I’m always up for a good book recommendation. But she continued to hold it there, staring straight ahead, as we both edged forward in the traffic.

Gosh, I thought. She really likes this book. And seems to think that it’s just the book for me!

I took a closer look: the title was The Marketing of Evil, and on the cover was an apple being temptingly proffered. Later that day, I looked the book up online and read the description:

When I was in the UK last week, a waiter in Betty’s Tea Rooms said their little iced cakes, which picture William and Kate, have been selling in vast quantities. Well who wouldn’t devour the fairy tale dream of a prince and princess who live happily ever after? But as many Brits pour an extra cup of Typhoo while cooing at the bridal gown, the rest of us are down the pub with a nudge and a wink. Because we know the wedding night is seldom as white as the dress and that happily-ever-after is a pretty big ask – especially if you’re a royal.

How negative I am!

But seriously, consider: It seems to me that, in many ways, the English wedding ceremony was created to permit hanky-panky, thereby encouraging the birth of kids who would soon be baptized. On the wedding day, the bride’s white dress was the color of virginity and her veil represented her sealed hymen. (In fact, the hymen is often misunderstood – there’s no layer of skin that seals a woman’s vagina like cling film, just a corona or fringe of tissue that can sometimes tear). Yup, when the groom tenderly lifts the veil from his new wife’s face, though he may not be thinking about screwing, he still symbolizes it. Indeed, at an Elizabethan ceremony, the wedding night was on everyone’s minds – for example, if a new husband didn’t wave his blood-stained sheets out of the window next morning as proof that his new wife was a virgin, the town grew suspicious. Back then your wife was your property. What if she wasn’t “fresh produce,” hmm? Irony aside, Elizabethan women were at it left right and centre – and besides, not everyone bleeds when they first have sex – so in true porn-flick fashion, the faking of fluids ensued and the sheets were indeed bloodied. Bravo.

Let’s face it weddings can be pretty extreme affairs, especially where sex and flirtation are concerned. Carl Jung was one of the first to teach us that whatever we try to repress will only appear more strongly. Deny sex enough and you’ll suddenly find it’s everywhere. Lust, it would seem, is hard to bin. At some weddings the purity myth is so intense that everyone’s at it like bunnies – after all, what’s more exciting than breaking the rules? Yet society continues to thirst for the Disney fairy tale in which prince and princess are starry-eyed perfection. Castles in the sky apparently lack bedrooms, and if you know Sleeping Beauty was a minx in the sack, chances are you’ve been reading the Anne Rice version.

But unrealistic as a fairy-tale wedding might seem, we should all own the right to have one. Sadly this isn’t the case. If you fall in love with a same-sex partner in America, the castle doors often slam shut, depending on which state you’re in. Even in Britain, where gay marriage is legal, I can only imagine the hubbub if Prince William had wanted to marry a guy. “Aw,” folks croon, “but the royal family’s so lovely!” And yet, if you’re coming out as a gay prince I doubt it’s a barrel of laughs. See, the problem is that fairy tale castles arise from Victorian tales that are entirely hetero-centric, and if you think that doesn’t impinge on the heterosexual reader, think again. A society where one kind of love or way of being is held above another is a dangerous place. Last month, a transgender woman named Chrissy Polis was beaten by her coworkers while an eyewitness recorded the brutal event and posted it on the internet. Why did they attack her? Because their erroneous notion of gender as a binary construct was shattering in front of their eyes. In 2010 we saw many queer teenagers taking their lives because they couldn’t see a way to be both living and happy. Did anyone ever tell them a gay fairy tale? I hope so, but somehow I doubt it.

Of course, such fairy tales do exist, often in the form of children’s books. And Tango Makes Three (by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell) for instance, is a gay fairy tale based on the true story of two gay, male penguins who cared for an orphaned egg and ended up raising their adopted chick together as fathers. Many homophobic parents flare up when kids have been taught such a tale in school – in fact, the book hit a record number of ban requests in 2006-7. But where there are stories, there’s hope. And hope is good.

What’s more, I’ll fight for it.

So when people say weddings have nothing to do with sex, I’ll continue to ask them why they think gay marriage is often forbidden, and when they tell me there’s no harm in traditional wedded bliss, I’ll agree, but only to a point. While the royal wedding certainly gives us a chance to feel proud, until marriage is an option for everyone – not just legally but socially too – such ceremonies will always be bittersweet, even when the couple seem as deeply in love as William and Kate. That’s why we must continue to harness the power of story by sharing tales of gay romances, weddings and lovemaking. Because happy endings shouldn’t be dependent on sexuality or gender. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m all about the love.

Photo on “Sex” main page – John Pannell

I recently got the chance to catch up with Thaddeus Russell, this year’s most talked about historian. Russell’s new book, A Renegade History of the United States, offers a view of the American past with an entirely new set of characters. Those names and events that have been kept out of school textbooks for too long are examined as America’s real history. Critics are comparing it to Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States –- a thrilling, controversial read with the potential to change the way we view history.

 

David S. Wills: A Renegade History of the United States seems to have generated quite a lot of interest already, with glowing reviews. Why are so many of them are using words like “controversial”?

Thaddeus Russell: The book is controversial for a number of reasons. First, it argues that the lowest, most “degenerate” inhabitants of American society actually produced many of the freedoms and pleasures that most of us now cherish. My chapters on slavery and race have been especially controversial (see below). The book also shows that the enemies of what I call “renegade freedoms” included not only the usual suspects — conservative politicians and business leaders — but also many of the heroes of the left-liberal history that is now dominant: abolitionists, feminists, civil rights leaders, progressive activists, and gay rights leaders. My chapter on the civil rights movement shows that Martin Luther King and other leaders of the movement led the call for African Americans to “reform” themselves, assimilate into white culture, and live up to deeply conservative “family values.” It has already caused quite a stir in academic circles, and led several prominent professors at Columbia to call for my firing from Barnard College, where the ideas for the book were developed. I was in fact let go from Barnard because of my ideas — but that also led me to consider writing A Renegade History, so it might have been a blessing in disguise.

 

SACRAMENTO, CA –

Early on in the battle against Proposition 8 here in California, I told one of my lesbian friends that I was fiercely opposed to the initiative, but that I felt like it wasn’t really my place to be angry since it wasn’t really my battle.

“Are you kidding? We need you and other straight people like you on our side. We won’t win this proposition without that support,” she told me then.

At the time I thought she was only humoring me. I didn’t realize how true those words were until now. Statistically, the LGBT community really did need us straight people to vote down that proposition. Only 1 in 10 Californians are part of the LGBT community, which means, of the votes cast on Nov. 4 in opposition to the now-infamous Prop. 8, more than 4 million of them came from heterosexuals in support of their gay neighbors, friends and family.

There were also plenty of religious people and clergy who voted against this proposition as well – the few who were able to look past the flurry of lies thought up by the proponents of this measure. This is important to note as the LGBT community continues fighting for equality in California and elsewhere. Churches all over California have been targets for protesters, including a church here in Sacramento that fully supported the No on 8 campaign, and even spoke at a rally here on Sunday. I understand the desire to blame somebody for this egregious error in Californian voters’ judgment, but not all churches took part and it’s not any more fair for us to put them all in the same boat (no matter how much I find myself doing the same thing most days) than it is for them to do so to us.

This proposition has brought out some ugly sentiments on both sides of the ticket, but I have to say I feel like the gays are more justified in their distaste for the Yes on 8 people than the other way around. The utter hypocrisy of the proponents of Prop. 8 is what really gets to me. Every day I read about someone calling the pending lawsuit “frivolous,” or someone saying boycotts against companies and churches that supported proposition 8 are “witch hunts,” as though they wouldn’t have taken the exact same measures if the proposition had failed. I’m sure they would have called for a boycott of Google and Apple (as though anybody could resist these corporate favorites). Even worse, they would have put the gay marriage ban back on the ballot for next year (just like Prop. 4 seems to appear every year even though the majority of Californians have voted against it three times now).

I think what really bothers the supporters of the gay marriage ban is that they didn’t think the gay community would come together and get organized so quickly after the election. Granted, it probably would have helped to be more organized before the election, but the point is they’ve come together now and they don’t show any signs of letting up. And I think it scares the anti-gay people even more than gay marriage did – especially because it seems to be working.

Just yesterday, the CEO for a local theater company here in Sacramento had to resign because a boycott was called against the theater company (which is largely staffed and supported by the gay community, I might add) when word got around that the CEO donated $1,000 to the Yes on 8 campaign. All this fuss is still making headlines more than a week later as gay rights activists put together daily rallies throughout the state.

More than 5,000 people showed up to the rally on Sunday, Nov. 9

More than 5,000 people were at the Sacramento rally on Sunday, Nov. 9

It’s exciting to see this movement gain momentum. And, I think, it’s also important to note that this isn’t just about gay marriage. For some reason, marriage and adoption rights have stolen the spotlight on gay rights issues – perhaps because these are issues whose consequences are felt immediately and effect the biggest LGBT population.

But there are a number of other equality issues where all of us should be standing up for the gay community: First, let’s talk about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Does it seem ludicrous to anyone else that you can be fired from the military for coming out as a gay or lesbian? These people have volunteered to fight for our country and we’re giving them walking papers because we don’t agree with their lifestyle? In a time of TWO wars?

Of course changing DADT might extend to the Employment Non-Disrimination Act – you know, the thing that keeps you from facing workplace discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, age and disability? The only thing not covered in that act: sexual orientation. In 31 states it’s still legal to refuse to hire someone – and be fired – because of sexual orientation. But hey, if DADT’s good enough for the U.S. Military it’s good enough for corporations right?

At the rally I attended this past Sunday, one of the speakers made a great point on just this topic. He was urging everyone at the rally to come out – not just to their family and friends, but also to their co-workers. I remember him saying that one of the strengths the community has right now is that they’ve been able to hide in the open for so long. They’ve been able to become doctors and lawyers and educators without anyone standing in their way – as long as they keep it secret. And he said now’s the time to show everyone that the LGBT community is just as normal as any other community in this nation, not something to be afraid of.

This was coming from Chris Cabaldon, the Sacramento region’s first openly gay elected official – the mayor of West Sacramento. And here’s a sad fact: Just as his community was re-electing him by 16 points, they supported the gay marriage ban by a 6-point margin. He said something to the effect of: “This community can trust me to run the city, but they can’t trust me with a marriage license?”

I know there are a lot of people out there who are “sick of” all the noise the gay community is making right now, but I say it’s for good reason. Same sex marriage probably wasn’t their first choice as a right to fight for, but it was made their issue when states throughout this country started banning their right before they even asked for it. We saw in Arkansas that the religious right doesn’t plan to stop at same sex marriage when they’re taking away rights from the LGBT community. Marriage was just the beginning. So, really, they’ve been given no choice but to fight. And I plan to stand right there with them. The minority always needs others to stand with them, and I sincerely hope those of you who have been waiting on the sidelines thinking it’s not your fight will decide to join us too.

SACRAMENTO, CA-

For a couple of months now I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts regarding the same-sex marriage issue, which is appearing AGAIN on the California ballot this November, despite anti-gay-marriage laws having been found illegal by the California Supreme Court in May.

And yes, I do realize that Californians showed their true colors back in 2000 by voting against gay marriage, so I understand why all of the fear-mongering has started up again regarding this issue. I’m sure they too thought they’d put this baby to bed when they won a 61 percent vote in support of marriage being between only a man and a woman. But here we are California, we’ve been given a second chance – and I think there’s a high probability that gay people will be able to rest easy about this issue (at least until next election season rolls around).

But then, I’ve been wrong before.

There are so many things that bother me about this issue. First, there’s the idea that lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people shouldn’t be treated as equals in this nation that pretends to put freedom and equality above all else.

Second, I’m seriously bothered by the religious right’s insistence that this is a case of the government forcing them to accept something against their beliefs, when in reality it’s vice versa. The California Supreme Court decision found that the state could not deny civil unions to same-sex couples. This means the state can now issue marriage licenses and will recognize those marriages. HOWEVER, the Supreme Court also said – and this is where my real confusion comes in when people try to say the government is forcing churches to perform gay marriages – that churches in California can still deny marriage to same-sex couples. It’s perfectly legal for them to say no to marrying a same-sex couple. They can keep their hatefulness and fear intact. No problem. Because – BECAUSE – we have a separation of church and state.

And what about those couples who have already said their vows? Are we going to send a government official around, knocking on their doors and asking them for their marriage licenses back? I bet the religious right would love the privilege to be the ones to rip up those “sacred” documents in front of those heathen. What an emotional up and down that will be for those couples. To finally be considered equal and then to have that right just yanked back from you. I can’t imagine something more painful.

Next on my list of qualms are the ads and the propaganda out there making it sound like legalizing gay marriage is akin to destroying all wholesome families and the sanctity of marriage. Can we just get one thing straight right now? The sanctity of marriage died a long, long time ago. The divorce rate in this country is well-above the halfway mark. Maybe the real fear is that the divorce rate will increase tenfold if we allow gays to get married AND divorced along with us straight folks. And wholesome families? I think those died out with Leave it to Beaver. Puh-lease. This, to me, is by far the biggest illusion the Yes on 8 people were able to dream up – well except, of course, the the idea that gays choose their gayness.

I don’t know about you all, but I sure wouldn’t choose a lifestyle that afforded me few rights – not even the right to be hired without discrimination, a law that currently covers race, ethnicity, gender and origin but NOT sexual preference – and seemingly gives others the right to hurl hateful, hurtful words at me as I go about my daily life.

Side story: One of my friends was walking out of a liquor store the other day and was stopped by a man who was explaining to his young son that this here (my friend) was a follower of Sodom. She said she was horrified by the confrontation and didn’t know how to react, especially considering she’s a lesbian and therefore doesn’t practice sodomy. Apparently that was lost on the man, who was so intent on teaching his son how to hate at a young age.

I don’t know, it just seems like a clear choice for me: easy street or tough love? Uh, I’m gonna go with easy street, thanks.

The only other thing I can think of that makes people so eager to constantly fight against gay rights is fear. I think that fear is what this all really comes down to. People are uncomfortable with things they don’t know much about, so instead of learning more or getting to know some LGBT people out there, they’d rather try to quell the supposed threat. I can’t think of any other “good” reason to be so opposed to gay rights.

And, although this post is geared toward Californians because of Proposition 8 on the upcoming ballot, this is a nationwide issue that needs to be addressed. I have questions about the legality and reasoning behind these laws, so I can only imagine how confused the LGBT community must be about all of this. I’m curious to hear the “valid” reasons out there (And please don’t argue God. God is only valid if I believe in your God, which I don’t.) for why we should continue this quest to keep gays down.

And, please, if you are in California pay close attention to the wording of each proposition on the ballot. I know the Obama/McCain spectacle has taken hold of most media outlets, but there are so many more things on your ballot. Be sure you know what you are voting for because that wording is confusing. Semantics could easily lead you astray – for instance, on Prop. 8 if you vote “Yes” you are actually voting against gay marriage, whereas the “No” vote legalizes same-sex marriages. See how they try to trick us? All I’m saying is pay attention.

And please, someone explain to me why this is still an issue in the 21st century.