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Thursday, April 29, 2010

How I Lost a Gay Marriage Debate


The First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus has monthly debates on hot topics on Friday nights (or at least used to do this). In 2003, I was asked by the coordinator of these events if I would debate the issue of gay marriage with a minister from a local church. That sounded interesting enough, and the debate occurred. What was interesting about it was the very conflicted young minister I was debating. His church’s interpretation of the Bible clearly deemed homosexuality a sin, but he was personally concerned over condemning good people to hell simply because of whom they loved. In his arguments he kept flopping back and forth. I said my usual things. When the debate ended and we were shaking hands, I discombobulated the minister by remarking that I hadn’t been needed at all; he was debating himself admirably. Perhaps cruelly, I then further startled him by predicting that before he died he himself would officiate at a gay wedding.

When the UU coordinator called me the following year and asked me to do a similar debate, I agreed under the condition that it not be a minister. The reason: ministers of this stripe have only one argument: the Bible demands gay marriage be condemned. How can one argue with that? It’s either right or wrong, but not open to debate. The coordinator called back two days later and said he’d found an opponent who fit the bill: Dr. Patrick Johnston, a Zanesville physician who was the first witness to testify in the Ohio Legislature in favor of a constitutional amendment (which did pass) forbidding Ohio to recognize gay marriages. Just the man, I agreed. He then said that Dr. Johnston would like to speak to me on the phone ahead of time, and I again agreed.

Dr. Johnston’s phone call came the next evening. First he was bothered by the fact that the internet revealed my writings all were about law (this is before my novel, “Imaginary Friend”), and there was nothing about homosexuality. Why, he asked, was I suitable to debate this topic? I replied that I had quite a history with the gay rights movement in central Ohio, and was known as a spokesperson for that cause. Dr. Johnston then switched questions. “In most debates,” he said cautiously, “one party makes a statement, then the other does, and there is no give-and-take.” He wanted to add a segment where each debater could cross examine the other. “Like a Socratic dialogue?” I asked innocently. “YES!” Of course I then agreed to such a part of the debate [“Don’t throw me into that briar patch, Br’er Fox”---see "The Socratic Dialogue in Law Schools," my post of January 31].

That night I thought about how to trap Dr. Johnston. How far would he go? A traditional method of showing a weakness in an argument is to carry it to extremes, so at some point the person being questioned draws the line. That would do nicely here.

Comes the Friday night of the debate and I arrived at the church to find a huge display in the lobby about the debate, with large photos of the two debaters and many news clippings about gay marriage and the controversy it had caused. A number of friends of mine were UU members, including some gays who had turned up just to hear me. One of these is what movements call a “bomb thrower”: someone who has few limits and is willing to do outrageous things on behalf of the cause (useful if watched carefully). “Do you know who this man is?” he asked me. On confessing my ignorance, I was told all. Dr. Johnston was the same man who went into a local church during gay pride week the year before, waving his Bible and shouting as he disrupted an ecumenical service celebrating the religious beliefs of all people, no matter their sexual orientation. That depressed me; it was again going to be religion versus a practical evaluation of the issue, a non-winner as explained above. My bomb-throwing friend then added that the room contained around thirty of the “Minutemen,” a local Christian group who were attending, Bibles in hand, to support Dr. Johnston; they were taking up the first couple of rows of pews. Wonderful.

About five minutes before the debate began, I went into the men’s room to relieve myself, and, as I was about to exit, the door opened and Dr. Patrick Johnston himself entered (we both recognized each other from the large photos in the lobby). He was a man in his 30s, very genial, happy to meet me, and so we shook hands and I left him and went into the main (very lovely) room of the church where services were held. There was a good size crowd; already the air was buzzing. I don’t know if my entrance was the catalyst for what followed, or whether it was just coincidence, but one of the Minutemen jumped to his feet, Bible on high, and yelled, “The wages of sin is death!” Cheers and boos. At this the bomb-thrower leaped to his feet (courageously he was sitting in the front row with his enemies) and screamed back, “Keep your superstitious nonsense to yourself!” The coordinator, very upset, began pounding the lectern with his fist, demanding order. Great start, I thought, as I took my seat on one side of the platform, with Dr. Johnston, following and going to the other side.

The debate was just as predicted. We each had fifteen minutes. Dr. Johnston started first, and he was a one-note song. Unless you believed in his version of Jesus Christ (not all versions, just his), you had no moral basis for your decisions and were going to hell. My reply was a standard review of the need for gay marriage and a prediction that in 50 years the whole issue would seem as absurd as whether blacks should be allowed to vote.

Then came time for the Socratic dialogues. The doctor started, and his question was “What is your moral basis for making decisions?” I replied that I took my guidance from the Golden Rule and the idea of loving your neighbor, at which point one of the Minutemen jumped to his feet and loudly told me those concepts came from the Bible itself! Of course they did, was my response, and I added that they were the genius of Christianity and if we all followed them life would be much better, particularly for gays. Dr. Johnston followed up by asking how we answered those Biblical questions, and I said the history of civilization was the development of a universal consensus on what was fair and what was not. He thought that too wishy-washy.

Now my turn came to question him, and Socratic dialogue expert that I am I knew I’d have him flattened in no time. Not a chance. I never laid a glove on him. “Is it all right to discriminate against gays in housing?” Absolutely. “In employment?” Of course. “What, Doctor, fire perfectly good employees just because of their private life?” Yup. How about making homosexuality a crime? No problem for the good doctor; the Bible condemns such people to hell, so merely putting them in jail is quite appropriate. “How about slavery, Doctor?” I asked him. Also okay. “Slavery?” “Sure,” he replied easily. “We make prisoners work on chain gangs—what is that but institutionalized slavery?” How about death? “That would have to also be on the table,” was his statement, producing a gasp from the audience members who were not Minutemen. I followed up on that. “And by death, Doctor, I assume you would permit the sort of thing that’s currently going on in the Middle East: dropping walls on such people, tossing them off cliffs, beheading them, or, in at least one case, burying the offender up to his neck in the sand and stoning him to death.” He was nonplused by these possibilities, so I commented, wondering at it all, “You know, there’s simply no possible punishment worse than that: horrible death in this life and eternal damnation thereafter.” So?

In the question and answer session that followed, they took Dr. Johnston’s microphone away from him to use to pass around the audience, so he slid his chair over next to mine that we might share the remaining microphone. “Are you sure you want to be this close to me?” I asked, gleam in my eye. “After all I’m a known homosexual and we did meet in a men’s room.” He roared with laughter and in a subsequent forum when we casually met, he informed all those within hearing that we’d met in a men’s room. [At this same later event when he was asked by someone in the audience if it was true he approved of the death penalty for homosexuality, he denied ever saying that, at which point a mild-mannered looking woman in the audience leaped to her feet shouting, “I was there and I heard you say it!”]

After the debate, some friends came up and asked me if they could walk me to my car. That surprised me; I hadn’t thought I might be in any trouble in the dark parking lot of a church. Bothered, I took them up on this kindness, and my departure was uneventful.

Shortly thereafter Dr. Johnston described the debate on his website: http://www.rightremedy.org/, where you can order DVD of it for $25 (I have the DVD also, provided by UU). Here is his website commentary:

“On April 2, 2004, at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus, Dr. Patrick Johnston debated Professor Doug Whaley, award-winning Professor of Law at OSU's Mortitz School of Law and founder of Stonewall Columbus (one of the largest homosexual activist organizations in the midwest). Traditional marriage was defended, the wicked were reproved, the gainsayers were silenced, and Jesus Christ was glorified! The presuppositional method of defending the faith was employed and Biblical Christianity was set forth as exclusively true.”

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[Postscript:]
In August of 2014 Dr. Johnston attracted headlines in Ohio by claiming that allowing women to go topless ("public nudity") should be banned in the state, particularly at gay pride events where such women swelled the ranks of spectators, causing the Columbus Gay Pride March in 2014 to be one of the largest in the nation with 500,000 marchers.  See http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/08/18/ohio-anti-abortion-leader-ban-public-nudity-breastfeeding-because-boobs-promote-gay-pride/.
________________________________________
Related Posts:
"The Aging Gay Rights Activist," March 24, 2010
"Frightening the Horses," April 4, 2010
“Homosexuality: The Iceberg Theory,” April 25, 2010
“Straight Talk,” May 10, 2010
“Marijuana and Me,” July 11, 2010
“How To Tell if You’re Gay,” August 31, 2010
“The Thunderbolt,”September 3, 2010
“How To Change Gay People Into Straight People,” September 20, 2010
"How Many Homosexuals Are There in the World?" November 8, 2010
"Choose To Be Gay, Choose To Be Straight," January 25, 2011
"The Homosexual Agenda To Conquer the World," February 8, 2011
"Seducing Straight Men," March 3, 2011
"Coming Out: How To Tell People You're Gay," March 27, 2011
"The Legacy of Homophobia," August 2, 2011
"Going Undercover at an Ex-Gay Meeting," September 19, 2011
"The Presumption of Heterosexuality and the Invisible Homosexual," October 2, 2011
"Gay Bashers, Homophobes, and Me," January 27, 2012
"On Being a Gay Sports Fan," March 9, 2012
"Sexual Labels: Straight, Gay, Bi," April 15, 2012
"The History of Gay Rights in Columbus, Ohio," June 4, 2012
“I Support the Right of the Boy Scouts To Ban Gays,” July 24, 2012
“Straight People: Thanks From the LGBT Community,” November 20, 2012
“Gay Marriage, DOMA, Proposition 8 and the Mysterious Supreme Court,” January 15, 2013
“Gays Will Be Able To Marry in All States By July of 2016 (and Maybe 2015): A Prediction,” February 14, 2014

“A Gay Hoosier Lawyer Looks at Indiana’s RFRA: The Religious Bigot Protection Act,” March 30, 2015; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2015/03/a-gay-hoosier-lawyer-looks-at-indianas.html
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Homosexuality: The Iceberg Theory

Struggling as they must with the enormous societal pressures brought to bear against them, many homosexuals spend considerable time musing about the causation of homosexuality. The rest of society has a polite interest in the subject, but to homosexuals the question is of greater moment. On its solution hinge weighty matters: civil rights for gays, religious tolerance, relief of parental guilt, the strictures of the law, classification as a mental illness, self-acceptance, and much more.

If homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle, a “preference” open to whim, then it is easier for the fundamentalist preachers to justify the hatred they spit from their pulpits. Further, it is easier for those who have little interest in religion to remain undisturbed at the homophobia they or those around them distribute so casually. Most members of society have trouble fathoming why any sane individual would—frequently as a child—chose to become a “homosexual” with its attendant meanings of outlaw, leper, sinner, pervert (and here you can also insert the ugly names coming immediately to mind). Many heterosexuals, bewildered by this bizarre choice, simply wash their hands of the issue and leave such strange people to stew in a soup of their own making.

Let us begin by supposing that homosexuality is not a choice. If not, where does it come from?

Those who favor the “nurture” side of the nature (born that way)/nurture (caused by environment) debate, would argue that one or more factors, typically supposed to occur in early life ("before age five” is the current phrase), conspire to send the toddler down the homosexual path never to return to the broader and better byway of heterosexuality. The problem here is that the data simply do not support this theory. Homosexuals seem to emerge from the same settings as heterosexuals, and recent studies all show this. If you’re heterosexual, consider this question seriously: how difficult would it be for you to change that orientation and become a homosexual if it were very important for you to do so? For that matter, think back—do you remember choosing between the two orientations?

This brings us to the biological solution: the possibility that homosexuality is genetically induced, a solution that founders on the rocks of a paradox. Genetic characteristics enhance survival and expansion of the species, but homosexual couplings do not result in offspring. How are we to explain a genetic characteristic that does not fulfill this basic function?

Some people have made valiant attempts. In his 1978 Pulitzer Prize-winning book ON HUMAN NATURE, Edward O. Wilson, the eminent sociobiologist, came up with his "kin selection" theory. According to Wilson, their freedom from child rearing duties permitted the early homosexual cave dwellers to concentrate on other matters essential to the survival of the tribe. These child-free activities of the gay clan members were so beneficial to everyone else that their siblings, who did produce children, passed on homosexual characteristics to some of their offspring so that the next generation could also benefit from the helpful homos.

Well, it's a nice try. And Wilson's book is otherwise so impressive that I wanted to believe it along with the rest. But a few things stuck in my craw. For one, there is more homosexuality around than the theory accounts for (elaborated on below). For another, the theory makes a typical heterosexual presumption: homosexuals do not have children. Since homosexuals do in fact have a lot of children (huge numbers of them marry the opposite sex and produce progeny), the theory rests on a faulty premise. Finally, the theory makes the usual mistake of thinking homosexual and heterosexual orientations make up discrete classification, which is simply wrong.

When I first came out to my father, we had a series of conversations on the topic of homosexuality over the course of a week, conversations that lasted until dawn. His parting thought was, “Well, Doug, whatever you say, homosexuality is just not normal.” I’ve spent much time thinking about that—thinking, reading, and amalgamating the ideas of others. I now present for your consideration my “Iceberg Theory.”

This theory postulates that homosexuality is normal; that homosexuality is a genetic characteristic shared by almost all people on the planet, being stronger in some than others. The persons that we now call “homosexuals” are simply those in whom the homosexual component far surpasses the heterosexual component (if any), leading us to believe that all homosexuality is present only at this level. But the visible, self-identified homosexuals are but the tip of an iceberg. The reality is that a far bigger mass of humanity is also subject to homosexual desires of varying degrees of strength, a homosexuality hidden deep in the complexities of every society on earth.

In the late forties and early fifties, Dr. Alfred Kinsey and associates at Indiana University published ground-breaking studies of human sexuality in the male and female. Kinsey's then-shocking statistics on homosexuality led to the conclusion that more or less ten percent of those interviewed (and many thousands of subjects were interviewed) were predominantly homosexual for at least three years of their adult life. Kinsey devised a scale by which to measure homosexual orientation; the scale goes from “zero” (totally heterosexual) to “six” (totally homosexual), with the numbers in between reflecting increasing homosexual desires. Someone who is truly bisexual would be a "three" on the Kinsey scale. The fives and sixes on Kinsey’s scale (predominantly and totally homosexual) total to around ten percent, which is where that oft-heard ten percent estimate of the number of homosexuals comes from. [This is only a rough description of Kinsey’s scale, which is actually more complicated than that, particularly for females, but it will do for this discussion.]

I think the Kinsey scale is right in that people have very different attractions to homosexual behavior, but I think Kinsey got the percentages all wrong. Kinsey himself recognized the difficulties that bother me.

The first is that Kinsey only interviewed volunteers who were willing to talk about the most intimate aspects of their sex life. Granted that Kinsey found many such people, but they can hardly be representative of the whole population, particularly where the subject is as alarming as is the topic of homosexuality. My father was a student at Indiana University when Kinsey took his survey and was in fact one of the people Kinsey interviewed. Had I been in his place and one of Kinsey's assistants had asked me if I, Douglas Whaley, would be willing to grant an anonymous interview about my most private sexual thoughts, I would have stiff-armed the assistant immediately and fled the scene in absolute terror. In my own college days I was still caught in the throes of societal homophobia, and I was not even talking to myself about homosexual urges. I dare say this is true of many, perhaps most people who later admit the truth and “come out.” Indeed, in the 1940s a large percentage of those aware of their homosexual desires must have been most unwilling to be interviewed by Kinsey and his crew.

Another difficulty with the Kinsey percentages lies in the definition of “homosexuality.” Even if Kinsey had a definition for the term (and he did), his subjects were not likely to appreciate it, and their own internalized homophobia would lead them so stretch everything they could into a heterosexual mold. My father, for example, believed that the excited recipient in an oral sexual encounter was not engaged in a homosexual act and could therefore truthfully answer “no” to the question of homosexual attractions. I hold that there are more people in the middle part of the Kinsey scale than anyone (even me) suspects. These people don't think of themselves as “homosexuals,” but they have some homosexual desires, and many of them on occasion act upon them. What they don't do is admit that this is happening. These people are the submerged portion of the iceberg.

If the iceberg theory were true something must be done about the genetic paradox mentioned above. If homosexuality doesn't encourage the production of offspring, how could nature select homosexuality as a genetic characteristic?

Let us consider human beings in the early days when they were merely a primitive tribe. The genetic characteristics we now exhibit were developed many thousands of years ago by ice age peoples in a period of pre-history, pre-civilization. If homosexuality helped such a tribe survive, then it’s a good candidate for genetic selection. As mammals existing in the pre-agricultural past, human tribes consisted of a group of roughly fifty individuals. More than fifty people and the tribe could not sustain itself. But humans have the further problem of an unlimited supply of babies. Homo sapiens have a very strong sex drive. Human females face the possibility of becoming pregnant at each heterosexual coupling. In the days before the pill (etc.), birth control methods were of the crudest sort, the most typical choice being infanticide. Unwanted extra babies (particularly females, who if allowed to grow up would produce yet more babies) were simply exposed to the elements and left to die.

Infanticide is a cruel practice and could not have been popular even with our most brutish ancestors. Abstinence from heterosexual conduct is an alternative, but abstinence from all sex is impossible for normal human beings. In such a world, homosexuality is very explainable, very desirable, because it channels sexual activity into harmless outlets.

In fact, sociologists and historians will tell you that a common pattern for primitive tribes and early civilizations is to have a ritualized period of male homosexuality, a period in which young teenage boys are sodomized by older men. As the boys get older they are expected to mate with the females, produce the number of children necessary to the survival of the tribe, and, as they mature, slake their sexual appetite by consorting with the most recent crop of teenage boys. Similar female homosexual activity freed women from excessive maternities, though it was typically less ritualized for the usual sexist reasons.

In the ice age homosexuality was such a boon that members of the tribe were expected to engage in it. All but a few (the “zeros” on Kinsey's scale) did so. If a tribe member was so heterosexual in orientation that he could not participate in the expected homosexual couplings, and instead insisted on mating only with the opposite sex, producing unwanted babies, he was promptly booted out of the tribe, as were excessive trouble makers of any stripe. Thus homosexuality was the tribe's safety valve, and homosexual genes were passed on to most all tribe members.

Once agriculture developed however the rules, of necessity, changed. With a predictable supply of food, the tribe could grow, and indeed had to grow in order to compete with other burgeoning tribes. As this growth phenomenon occurred, the societal need for homosexuality disappeared. Homosexuality, limiting as it does the amount of heterosexual activity and thus depressing the size of the tribe, became a societal evil. Early religions—almost all of them—reflected this shift in attitude by removing homosexuality from a list of condoned practices and putting it close to the top of forbidden ones. In the 21st century it is difficult to appreciate just how important it was for early societies to grow as quickly as possible. But if the cave people over the mountain are increasing in numbers faster than your own tribe, a competition is underway and breeding has a top priority. Societal attitudes towards homosexuality would have shifted rather quickly from supportive to homophobic.

But genetic characteristics, once acquired, do not disappear simply because society no longer needs them. In modern times, as in the early cave days, most human beings still possess a genetically-programmed homosexual response, stronger in some than others. Those in whom it is so strong that they have little or no heterosexual component (the tip of the iceberg), we call “homosexuals”; those who can repress this trait or don’t have it at all, we call “heterosexuals.” Even in most of the latter, however, the trait is still there, ready to spring forth under the right (or the wrong) circumstances. As one of the characters in the play The Boys in the Band remarks, “With the right wine and the right music there're damn few that aren't curious.”

If true, a genetic theory like this explains much. During puberty many adolescents experiment with same sex fun; no one thinks much about this. Adults isolated from the opposite sex (in prison, or the military, etc.) will engage in what is called “situational homosexuality,” reverting to heterosexual behavior when it is again possible. This seems to surprise no one. If the iceberg theory is right there is a lot of hidden homosexual activity in the world and also a tremendous amount of suppressed homosexual desire. Those who can suppress this desire (or who hate themselves for their “sin” when they cannot) are certain to be antagonistic to humans who “flaunt” their homosexuality. This tension is at the very heart of homophobia. A gay rights movement is therefore struggling for more than merely societal tolerance of the gays at the tip of the iceberg. Whether gay activists know it or not, their efforts force almost all members of society to confront internalized homosexual desires. Gays asking for acceptance will meet incredibly homophobic responses as the rest of the iceberg displays its inability to accept its own homoerotic impulses, whether faint or strong. The “zeros” on the Kinsey scale are rarely remain homophobic once they’ve really thought about the issue.

Until the very end of the last century, society's response to homosexuality had been to try and lop off the top of the iceberg and classify “out” or obvious gays as sinners, criminals, or mental cases. The rest of the iceberg was ignored. Nonetheless, throughout history and all over the world, condemned as it has been and no matter what the punishment, homosexuality has never been eliminated, never even been stopped. Every society on the globe, primitive or advanced, ancient or current, has had to deal with homosexual behavior by its members. Genetics explains why. You cannot change a genetic trait merely by discouraging it for a few thousand years. Human beings are still very much the same creatures they were before the dawn of civilization. Efforts to stifle basic instincts by law, by medicine, by religion, will fail, and the instincts, though concealed, are present still. As attitudes toward homosexuality have varied throughout history, the tip of the iceberg has grown in periods of tolerance and, correspondingly, the berg has sunk low in the water during periods of inquisition. But whether floating high or low, the size of the berg has not changed.

Two thousand years or more of societal repression is tough to overcome. But the task, though difficult, is not impossible once understood. Homophobia itself, after all, is not a genetic characteristic (it is a choice), and through understanding and education it can dissipate. And while society has had no luck at all in stamping out homosexuality, a society that realistically confronts the issue (and, I might add, a society that certainly has no shortage of babies) should in time be able to accommodate not only the tip, but the entire berg. That accomplished, we can get on to things that really do matter.
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Related Posts:
"The Aging Gay Rights Activist," March 24, 2010
"Frightening the Horses," April 4, 2010
“How I Lost a Gay Marriage Debate,” April 29, 2010
“Straight Talk,” May 10, 2010
“Marijuana and Me,” July 11, 2010
“How To Tell if You’re Gay,” August 31, 2010
“The Thunderbolt,”September 3, 2010
“How To Change Gay People Into Straight People,” September 20, 2010
"How Many Homosexuals Are There in the World?" November 8, 2010
"Choose To Be Gay, Choose To Be Straight," January 25, 2011
"The Homosexual Agenda To Conquer the World," February 8, 2011
"Seducing Straight Men," March 3, 2011
"Coming Out: How To Tell People You're Gay," March 27, 2011
"Jumping the Broom: How 'Married' are Married Gay Couples?" July 17, 2011

"The Legacy of Homophobia," August 2, 2011
"Going Undercover at an Ex-Gay Meeting," September 19, 2011
"The Presumption of Heterosexuality and the Invisible Homosexual," October 2, 2011
"Gay Bashers, Homophobes, and Me," January 27, 2012
"On Being a Gay Sports Fan," March 9, 2012
"Sexual Labels: Straight, Gay, Bi," April 15, 2012
"The History of Gay Rights in Columbus, Ohio," June 4, 2012
“I Support the Right of the Boy Scouts To Ban Gays,” July 24, 2012
Straight People: Thanks From the LGBT Community,” November 20, 2012
"Disowning Your Gay Children," October 9, 2013
"Republican Politicians: Reluctant Homophobes?" November 26, 2013
“Gays Will Be Able To Marry in All States By July of 2016 (and Maybe 2015): A Prediction,”           February 14, 2014
“Is It Legal To Discriminate Against Gay People?” March 19, 2014
“Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality and Gay Marriage?” June 29, 2014
“Are Gays Really Just 1.6% of the U.S. Population?” July 22, 2014


“A Gay Hoosier Lawyer Looks at Indiana’s RFRA: The Religious Bigot Protection Act,” March 30, 2015; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2015/03/a-gay-hoosier-lawyer-looks-at-indianas.html “A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Boot Camp Fiasco


I have always written comic songs of a Tom Lehrer sort (and if you don’t know his brilliant work, investigate immediately and prepare to belly laugh). Indeed, in 1977 I put out an album called “Strange Songs,” which some people kindly deemed quite funny. My son Clayton and I wrote a variation of “Happy Birthday” entitled “Big Birthday,” to be sung by evil friends to someone celebrating any birthday ending in a zero (30th, 40th, etc.). It contains lines like “Every year, more people here are younger, friend, than you!” We’re currently working on a website to market it and make a vast fortune from the royalties. Even as a teenager I wrote such lyrics, with ideas pouring out of me more or less compulsively.

And that is what got me into so much trouble at Great Lakes Naval Training Center outside Chicago in the late summer of 1961, when, fresh from high school, I joined the Navy as an enlisted man and took a train from Virginia to Illinois.

Boot Camp was awful for many reasons, but I held my own and got through it. I made myself popular in my twenty man platoon by being funny, and, especially, by writing comic poems about events and people in or around camp. One night, for example, I wrote a verse about the Regimental Commander (I had never seen the man), who had the unfortunate last name of “Cockell.” That name, alas, mated easily in rhyme with many a bawdy companion. Far too many bawdy companions.

The trouble started in a classroom where we were enduring a lecture interspersed with 16 mm. movies called “Navy Driver 10” (which meant it was the tenth class on this subject: “How To Be a Safe Driver”). The movies were horrific: one bloody crash after another which involved dead sailors and others tangled in vehicular mayhem, and which kept my riveted attention through—say—Navy Driver 4. But by the class in question that day, all the students were bored silly. Since I can draw, for my own amusement I was doodling in my workbook when, to my astonishment, it was yanked from my hands by a large and beefy Chief Petty Officer, who also grabbed the notebook of the young man sitting next to me. “Doodlers!” he exclaimed loudly. This was obvious a bigger deal than I’d understood before being apprehended. We were promptly yanked from the class and hustled down to the administrative office and told to sit and wait. The Chief thumbed through our notebooks, and then came a really, really bad moment. He came upon the Cockell ditty and his mouth dropped. He jumped to his feet and ran over to where a young ensign was sitting and showed the offending page to him. The ensign grabbed a phone to call Regimental headquarters and ask for a meeting with Lieutenant Cockell at once. That was soon accomplished, and while I stood at rigid attention outside the Lieutenant’s open office door, I heard the ensign describe what had happened as he placed the offending notebook before the man who was its satirical subject.

There was a long pause. Then I heard Cockell explode with diabolical laughter, the sort of sound Satan might produce on greeting a new arrival in Hell. “Send him in!” he commanded. Trembling, I was shown into his office and became a statue in front of his desk. He was leafing through my notebook. “Great versification, Whaley,” he said calmly, not looking up. “Scans well, rhymes are perfect.” Then he looked me directly in the eye. “Not very flattering to me, is it?” I gulped and said nothing (nothing came to mind—my brain had shut down). “ABOUT FACE!” he commanded. I swiveled and was now facing the door; there was a large clock above it. “You have twenty minutes to fetch and lay your sea bag out for inspection in the hall outside my office. Dismissed.”

I sprinted back to my barracks. Others were just coming back from Navy Driver 10 ("What’s going on, Whaley?"). Frantically I threw my possessions in the sea bag, toted it over to Regimental Headquarters, and then spread a blanket and with strict attention to the prescribed rules, laid out my possessions on top before resuming standing at attention next to the display. A series of my superiors passed me on their way in to talk to Lt. Cockell, and I could sometimes overhear their conversations. Standing at attention for a long period is hard, and the enlisted man who was Cockell’s secretary (a kind person) would occasionally tell me to relax until he gave a hiss to indicate otherwise. Finally I heard Cockell discussing my situation with the young ensign who had dragged me in originally. The latter was pushing hard for a court martial, but Cockell pooh-poohed that, saying, “It would be one thing if this sailor knew me and then wrote the ditty, but he’s just a kid clowning around.” I was rooting for Cockell in this one! Finally he called me into his office. “I’ve been looking at your file, Whaley,” he said. “You’re set to graduate next week, and your father is a Colonel in the Air Force, right?” I said yes. “Is he coming to your graduation?” Yes, again. “And what will he think about your current difficulty.”

Well, actually that was a hard one to answer truthfully. Dad had always been annoyed that I too much the goody-two-shoes who stayed out of trouble from which he might then rescue me. In his own youth he had sowed many a wild oat, but I’d planted nary a one. So the truthful answer was that Dad would be delighted, but I couldn’t, of course, say that. “He would be very disappointed in me,” I solemly told Cockell.

At that he sentenced me to five hours of detention drill (a rifle exercise which was monotonous, but not a big deal), and let me go. That would mean that I would have an extra hour each day for the drill, with the only major drawback being that following the graduation ceremony I couldn’t go into Chicago with my parents and sister (a trip most graduates routinely made with their families). The next night I was sitting in the barracks after supper when a military official came in and ordered me to follow him, putting me in a jeep and driving off. Now what? I wondered. We arrived at a motel just off base, and my family was there. It turned out that Dad, ever the charmer, had called someone in authority and arranged this special treatment. As predicted, when he heard of my near brush with a court martial Dad was pleased that I was growing up and pushing life’s limits. Somehow his phone call had also gotten him invited to sit with the Naval officers in the reviewing stand at graduation.

The following afternoon that ceremony went off without problems, but as we sailors were marching from the building, I was yanked from the lines by some military aide, and taken into the fancy large room where the officers (in Navy white uniforms, gloves, swords, and all) were gathered to have a drink of punch and talk. I gulped. Dad saw me across the room and waved for me to come over where he was standing with my mother and sister, talking to an officer. “Doug,” he said, “let me introduce you to the Base Commander, Captain Soballe.” I gulped again, but gamely shook hands. The Captain (which is a high rank in the Navy) was very friendly. “Are you going into Chicago with your parents tonight?” he asked. I stammered that I had drill detention that prevented that, but that I had been with them the night before at their motel. “I see,” he said. Then he insisted that the Navy take a picture of father and graduating son (see photo above).

When I returned to the barracks, my puzzled squadron commander informed me that (mysteriously) I was excused from further detention, and therefore could join my family after all. Dad would never have asked Captain Soballe to cancel the detention (he’d have thought it fitting I serve it), but undoubtedly his presence had solved my boot camp problem. And while I didn’t like getting special treatment this way, somehow I lived with it.

Thank goodness there’s no easy and obvious rhyme for the name “Soballe” or I’d still be in the brig.
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Related Posts:
"Strange Songs, Inc.," September29, 2010
"The Evil Big Birthday Song," November 5, 2010
"'The Carolers': A Comic Christmas Song," December 7, 2010
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Catholicism and Me (Part Two)

Each person walks his/her own path to faith or non-faith. I respect that. I can only map my own journey. For Part One of that journey see the post of March 13th.

As I’ve said before on this blog, my lifetime goal has been to know what’s true and what’s not. When young, I particularly wanted there to be a God and also for Catholicism to be his one and only religion, but the more I investigated the less likely either seemed. Any reading of the history of the Church reveals horror after horror where millions died because of its unforgivable cruelty. Take the Crusades: the body count is somewhere between one and nine million dead (about half of them Christians, the others being either “heathens” or unlucky bystanders). The Inquisition produced a relatively smaller number of “only” 6,000 deaths (and some experts plump for a much higher figure). Consider also the millennia of witch burnings (“Thou shalt not allow a witch to live,” thunders the Bible). Such atrocities were accomplished not only by Catholic institutions but also by eager Protestants and civil authorities, with everyone devoutly slaying between 60,000 and 100,000 people, mostly women. These are the numbers for deaths, and say nothing about the many more millions who didn’t actually die but were “merely” tortured, persecuted, or abused. Popes from the 800s to the mid-sixteenth century were often outrageously immoral or even criminal. Consider Urban IV (1378–1389), who complained that he didn’t hear enough screaming when Cardinals who had conspired against him were being tortured. You may protest that such obvious villainy passed long ago, but the Church today continues practices that are hard to justify. I myself (and I’ll bet you too) believe in freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of personal choice (how large a family to have, for example—note that Mother Theresa would not permit birth control in INDIA!), equality for all people (including especially women), but the Catholic Church believes in none of these. Even the inquisition continues under the Vatican’s current name: “The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.” Pope Benedict himself was its head before his elevation. In 1986, then Cardinal Ratzinger, he signed his famous “Halloween” letter (so-called because it came out on October 31), explaining the Church’s position on homosexuality, which he called an “intrinsic moral evil,” adding that while no one could endorse gay-bashing, it's understandable how it happens given the natural revulsion of devout people to homosexuality. Google up the letter and read it for yourself. It outraged many Catholics, straight and gay, and more than a few of the latter left the church or, sadly, committed suicide in an agony of religious despair. The current misdeeds of the Church are headline stories, exposing decades of sexual abuse cover-ups all over the globe (such cover-ups themselves are criminal in many jurisdictions). The church’s most recent response is to blame homosexuality (of course).

As a young man, I was further dismayed when my investigations of other religions revealed they were no better at dealing with people outside their faiths. Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, the Protestant denominations, the religions of Asia and Africa, and the hundreds of thousands of other sects that have fought for spiritual domination through millennia, all have ugly histories fraught with deeds most definitely not taught to their adherents. What kind of God would allow all this evil to be done in his name? One wonders what Jesus himself would say if he toured the current Vatican and saw the ostentatious wealth proudly on display (it astonished me when, then a sailor, I visited Rome in 1962). It was all very depressing to contemplate.

Of course I knew that religions—Catholicism a leader among them—engage in many good works, and provide major comfort to their flocks in times of trouble and distress, a very valuable service. That’s praiseworthy, and I praise it. But do we excuse the bad things people do because these same people also have an admirable side?

When I was in college at the University of Maryland in the mid-1960s, my roommate, “Big Al” was a Catholic and we had major discussions about all this. In the spring of 1965 he persuaded me to make my “Easter Duty,” which meant going to confession and then taking communion at mass. It had been years, but I thought that I owed Catholicism another good faith attempt. So the night before I lay in bed and thought about my sins. What inexcusable personal conduct really troubled me? What was I doing that was truly wrong? There was nothing traditionally obvious: I didn’t, for example, steal or commit crimes, and (alas) I had no sex life at all (there’s a long story why not, which I’ll post one day). But the answer that did come to me was that I was being lazy and not devoting myself to my studies, thereby wasting my parents’ money and betraying their trust. I felt horribly guilty viewing my behavior this way; it was all too true. That night I tossed and turned, and couldn’t wait to get to confession and talk to the priest, hoping for guidance as how best to exculpate myself. I knelt down humbly in the confessional and said, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned; it’s been two years since my last confession,” and plunged into a detailed explanation of my transgression. When I was done there was a pause, and then the priest asked, “How often do you masturbate?” Without replying, I rose and left the booth.

When I was in law school, my most devout mother (who was always praying to St. Jude, patron saint of lost causes, about her wayward son) persuaded me to give confession one more try. Loving her much, I dutifully went down to the local church and entered the confessional. I told the very young priest who was hearing confessions that day of my past and much of what I’ve detailed above, and ended by saying, “Father, I’m afraid that not only have I lost my faith in Catholicism, but in God as well.” To my surprise he replied with vigor, “You know, the same thing happened to me when I was in the seminary!” Amazed, I asked, “What did you do to recover your faith?” He answered, “I prayed and prayed and prayed, and it worked! Eventually I believed again!” Sadly I told him that while I was grateful for his candor I was also certain that copious prayer was not part of my future. He graciously wished me well, and Catholicism and I parted company forever.
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Related Posts:
“Catholicism and Me (Part One),” March 13, 2010
“Superstitions,”March 21, 2010
“How To Become an Atheist,” May 16, 2010
“Imaginary Friend,” June 22, 2010
“I Don’t Do Science,” July 2, 2010
“Explosion at Ohio Stadium,” October 9, 2010 (Chapter 1 of my novel)
“When Atheists Die,” October 17, 2010
"Escape From Ohio Stadium," November 2, 2010 (Chapter 2)
"Open Mouth, Insert Foot," November 21, 2010 (Chapter 3)
"Rock Around the Sun," December 31, 2010
"Muslim Atheist," March 16, 2011
"An Atheist Interviews God," May 20, 2011
"A Mormon Loses His Faith," June 13, 2011
"Is Evolution True?" July 13, 2011
"Atheists, Christmas, and Public Prayers," December 9, 2011
" Urban Meyer and the Christian Buckeye Football Team," February 19, 2012
"Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Designer?", May 12, 2012
"My Atheist Thriller: Another Book Reading," May 17, 2012
"'The God Particle' and the Vanishing Role of God," July 5, 2012
“Update: Urban Meyer and the NON-Christian Buckeye Football Team,” August 24, 2012
“Atheists Visit the Creation Museum,” October 4, 2012
“Mitt Romney: A Mormon President?” October 17, 2012
“The End of the World: Mayans, Jesus, and Others,” December 17, 2012
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I Married a Hippy



In the fall of 1970 I was giving a lecture on how to take a law school exam to my first-year Contracts students at the Indiana Indianapolis Law School when one of them, Charleyne Adolay, decided she was going to marry me. I barely knew her name, but apparently that was unimportant. Suddenly she seemed to be around a lot, dropping by my office, saying hello in the hall, which I certainly didn’t mind. I thought she was good fun to talk (and a beautiful woman). Early in 1971, while the course, which lasted the entire school year, was still going on, she called me one afternoon and asked if she could stop by that evening with a question. When I said, “Sure,” I assumed it would be about the course, but instead it was, “Have you ever smoked marijuana?”

I had not, and I was shocked, and, well, intrigued. Before I could reply, she whipped out a pipe, some thin papers, matches, and a small bag of the stuff. She sat down at the piano and proceeded to try and roll a joint on the bench. Her efforts fell apart, so she tried again with no better result. Annoyed, and ever the control freak, I asked her if I might could try, and she handed over the task immediately. So the first joint I ever smoked I rolled myself.

And liked it a lot. Fortunately there were many more to come in the future (and, indeed, I didn’t quit until I was in my 50s). But grass was just the start of the things Charleyne wanted to introduce me to. She was a self-proclaimed hippy, feminist, and free thinker (having been thrown out of St. Mary’s College, sister school to Notre Dame, for being an anarchist—great story there). Charleyne was also in favor of free love, which she suggested not long after the joint was smoked, and was very disappointed when I recoiled in horror. SHE WAS ONE OF MY STUDENTS! In those were long-ago days it was not unheard-of for a teacher to have sex with a student, and no one seemed to care much as long as the student wasn’t currently under tutelage—no “A for a lay” was the saying. I huffily informed Charleyne that I couldn’t have any significant social contact with her until the course was over, and she replied she’d call me then.

A month later, when my mother came to Indianapolis for a visit, I wanted her to attend one of my classes, which she was eager to do, so I asked Charleyne and a friend of hers if they would sit with my mother during the period. That all went well (the Contracts students were interested in meeting my mother, about whom I had previously told a story or two—witness some in this blog).

I posted grades in early June and immediately went to Montreal on vacation. On arriving home, as I came through the door (and I swear this is no exaggeration) the phone was ringing. It was Charleyne. She’d gotten an “A” in the course (which I didn’t know, since grading was anonymous), and now she wondered if I would like to meet. I did. By the end of the month we were living together. We had—how shall I put this?—a wonderful time on many levels.

Innocent that I am, on Sunday, July 11 of that year I was talking with my mother on the phone, and when she coyly asked me how life was going now that Charleyne and I were a couple, I knew she really wanted to know whether this relationship was headed for marriage. “The nice thing about Charleyne,” I told her, “is that she doesn’t believe in marriage. What we have together is based solely on mutual consent.” “What an idiot you are,” my mother commented dryly. “Charleyne would marry you in an instant if you asked her.” I protested this was not so, but the conversation left me uneasy.

That night I sat Charleyne down at one end of a curving sofa in our living room, and sat at the other myself. “I’ve had a disturbing phone conversation with my mother,” I began, and then I related what had been said. Charleyne remained mute. I pressed on, certain how this would come out. “Well,” I continued, “is my mother right? Would you marry me if I asked you to?” She smiled. “Yes, Doug, of course I would.”

The floor dropped from under me. All afternoon I’d been asking myself if I wanted to propose marriage. We were in love, and I thought her the most wonderful person on the planet, so commitment wasn’t the issue, but I was sure Charleyne had no interest in marriage, and I didn’t want to sound like I was pressing for it. But now it was all too clear I hadn’t understood what was going on at all. I went silent, doing some quick calculations in my head. “All right,” I told her, “it will take three days to get a license, and this is Sunday, so to be safe let’s make the wedding Thursday.” It was her turn to be flummoxed. “Wow!” she said, eyes wide, “Up until that moment you had been following the script!” “THE SCRIPT!” I bellowed. “WHAT SCRIPT?” At this she confessed she’d been in love with me since the lecture on exam taking, and had decided to marry me before the class period ended. “I knew I would have to go slowly, but look how well it turned out!”

So we threw ourselves into each other’s arms, laughing and crying, and then sat back, spent with emotion, and began planning. Where to get married? Neither of us are religious (both being ex-Catholics), so we quickly selected the site where we had met: the law school. But where in the law school? The Assistant Dean was also a Justice of the Peace, and had performed a wedding earlier in the year inside the school’s moot courtroom. There? No; that room had nothing to do with us. We needed a spot that symbolized the entire school, and one of us suggested the flat gravel roof that covered the building and was accessible by staircase, and that was that. There were hurried preparations to be made; Charleyne, ever the hippy, didn’t own a single dress, and had to rush out and buy one and who knows what other accessories. The Associate Dean agreed to officiate, and I wrote the ceremony, which was primarily the signing of a contract (of course), and included each of us, as we signed the marriage agreement, separately reciting lines from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Sorcerer”: “I deliver it, I deliver it, as my act and deed.” Since I had to teach a class from 3 to 4 pm that day, we agreed that the wedding would take place at 4:15 p.m. Friends were invited, Charleyne’s family (who lived in Indianapolis—mine were in Texas where Dad was a prosecutor in Dallas) came, and I even told the class I was teaching what was about to happen, so that when the hour was up most of them trailed along to the roof to see this oddity for themselves. Somebody had called a local TV station, with the result that a reporter and a cameraman showed up to film the event for the local evening news (see photo). When the ceremony ended, Char and I shook hands with people, and then left for a brief honeymoon in Chicago.

Once married, Charleyne’s hippy days were over (though she’s a feminist still), and she began acquiring lots of dresses, etc., and buying new fancy furniture and much else. As she morphed into the Baroness Rothschild before my eyes, I found myself telling her, “You know, Charleyne, some people don’t buy things because they’re too expensive.” “Oh?” she said, feigning surprise.

After two more years in law school as both student and faculty spouse (our son Clayton was born in the middle of her last year), she graduated magnum cum laude and we moved to North Carolina where I was a Visiting Professor for a year at UNC. Then it was back to Indianapolis and some very good times too, including the two of us becoming tournament bridge players. Our marriage eventually came to an end, but not because we stopped loving each other. Its termination was inevitable once I finally admitted to myself that I was gay, which she handled very well considering the upheaval it caused [see the March 24th post “The Aging Gay Activist”]. More about all that some other time, but I end this post by noting that Charleyne and I are still very good friends. She’s now practicing bankruptcy law in Indianapolis (a three hour drive from Columbus, where I live), and she drove over six times in 2009 to spend the night and attend various functions with me and my chosen family (I directed a production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” for example, and then, of course, there was the heart transplant and my New Year’s Eve party where she ended up being one of the hosts; see the January 7th post “New Year’s Eve Party Without the Host”). Half kidding, but half not, Charleyne and I agreed a couple of years ago what when we both reach our 70s (she’s four years younger than I am), and assuming that by then neither has formed a relationship with someone else, we’ll sell our respective homes, buy a Winnebago, and live the good life moving around the country, playing in bridge tournaments.

And we might just do that.
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Related posts:
“Marijuana and Me," July 11, 2010
"Far Too High in Las Vegas," September 1, 2010
"Charleyne and the Giant Cookie," September 16, 2010
"Bowling With Charleyne," February 13, 2011
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013