Thursday, June 24, 2010

DISCO PURGATORIO: I have finally listened to all of Janelle Monáe's Metropolis: The Chase Suite, and I can tell you what I was pretty sure I'd tell you: You need this. Monáe is an opera-trained lady nerd who's created an amazing pop album centered on the story of an enslaved android who falls for a human, endangering both their lives.

"Many Moons" is still the standout, unstoppable song. You can get a taste of the song, with amazing video, here; the album version is actually better, believe it or not. But "Cybertronic Purgatory" is beautiful and haunting, and in general, Monáe's versatility of style makes this album a unique history of the past fifty years. ("Smile" I like mostly for the quick Elvis "thank yuh" at the end, but that gesture retroactively reshapes the whole song, makes it even sadder and even more obviously an attempt at reclamation of and reconciliation with the American past.)

"Mr. President" is a classic of retrofuturism, as if the 1970s had time-traveled into the Obama administration. I'm not sure it succeeds as a song, rather than a document, but Lord how it made me ache--and ache, also, for Obama himself, who is called upon to be "Moses" and who is generally treated, here, like a Shakespearean king and not an American president.

Anyway, I'm about to order the new album, "Archandroid," about which I've heard nothing but good. "Metropolis" is an amazing reinterpretation of more or less everything I love, Metropolis itself crossed with Invisible Man (the Ellison one) crossed with BET's Gospel programming. Philip K. Dick and Octavia Butler and Q107, Washington's Top 40!... and the black man at Union Station with the saxophone, playing "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms."
CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIAN MUSIC: In which I ramble about three adaptations of, respectively, "The Little Match Girl"; Revelation; and the Gospel of Luke.

First, a disclaimer which is actually an apology: I know nothing about this kind of music whatsoever. I have no vocabulary for it. I will be throwing out random analogies and metaphors and people who actually know what they're talking about here will probably laugh until they cry. On the other hand, that means that if you are also not well-versed in this kind of music (what is it even called? It comes up on iTunes as "classical" but that seems silly) maybe this post will give a sense of whether you might like these discs!

David Lang, The Little Match Girl Passion (and some other things). The difficulty with adapting this story, I think, is that when you're reading it in the solitude of your skull it's easy for the sublimity of the tale, the fever-dream intensity, to shiver into your consciousness. But music makes it somehow public and touchable in a way which my instinct says might emphasize the sentimentality which is also a real part of the story. I'm still not convinced that Lang works against the sentimentality enough (and there's one very on-the-nose use of bells which I found distracting), but a second listen convinced me that there's more cold rapture in this music than I'd thought at first.

Lang opens very strong, with a haunting chorus of overlapping voices calling, "Come, daughter," chilly and doomy. Then he begins to alternate between clipped, precise storytelling ("It was terribly cold and nearly dark on the last evening of the year") and a sort of penitents' chorus which offers aching soliloquies from the point of view of someone watching, or remembering watching, the little girl's suffering. I still think that some of the girl's visions and stations of the cross could be given a greater edge of hysteria, a greater sense of the music spiraling out of control. But overall this is a really memorable and poignant piece of music. I'd play it for kids who like Andersen as well as adults.

The other, short pieces on this disc (an adaptation of the Song of Songs, a Yiddish folk song, a riff on Genesis, and a sort of paraphrase of Ecclesiastes) didn't move me, but might work better for you. I still felt like there was too much control here, too much deliberate, intellectual, maybe even self-consciously poignant pacing.

Phil Kline, John the Revelator. It's wild to listen to this right after The Little Match Girl Passion, because the rhythm and emotion of the music is so different! We open with a terrific hymn or marching song--I really don't think it's just the "Glory, hallelujah!" chorus which put me in mind of Civil War songs--and from then on we alternate between relatively straightforward adaptations of the Mass in Latin, and deeply shaken, crisis-and-rapture songs in English. I loved "Alone" and "The Unnamable," and also the take on "What Wondrous Love Is This?" which closes the disc. This is a fierce, tough piece of work which offers its broken heart up on a platter.

Krzyzstof Penderecki, St. Luke Passion. This one might be the hardest for me to talk about, in part because the parts which strike me and how they strike me keep changing. (I've listened to it three times in the past two days.) One thing I really love is how it captures so intensely three of the sharply-contrasting moods of an actual Palm Sunday or Holy Week Mass: the matter-of-fact statements of what went down; the scuttling, hissing chatter of the crowd, who can only agree and come together when they're baying for Christ's blood; and the agony and isolation of Christ.

The first time I listened to this, I remember thinking somewhere around maybe "Deus meus" that Penderecki really does convey the hysteria, alienation, the horror of the Passion narrative. "This music sounds the way Carnival of Souls looks," I remember thinking. I haven't had quite that reaction the other two times, but each time I've found something else which worked. The pacing really helps here, as you're taken very naturally from one of the three moods to another, never quite allowed to settle in and get comfortable with any one way of relating to the music and story. And the setting of "Into your hands I commend my spirit" shakes me every time.

...And now, having exhausted the possibilities of the present, I'm listening to the Essential Tallis Scholars, which I cannot recommend highly enough!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

BY THEIR FRUITS YE SHALL KNOW THEM: A fascinating story of Islam, liquor stores, and getting fresh produce to "food deserts." Via Get Religion, from whose worthwhile comments box I stole the post title.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"THE END OF THE BEST FRIEND": I cannot possibly improve on Ratty's comment.

(Also, while I obviously support strong and not anti-love efforts to reduce bullying, aren't weird or socially-isolated children the ones who often rely most on their best friends rather than a large and intimidating social group? But mostly yeah, what she said.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

TOO MUCH IS NEVER ENOUGH. Here I am with Ann Althouse talking about gay Catholic whatnot and jurisprudence and my many random opinions. I babble like a really ridiculous brook and also you get lots of hilarious shots of my hair. I have a lot of hair. I was very grateful for the opportunity! but I feel duty-bound to note that I don't think I said anything I haven't said on the blog already.

Monday, June 14, 2010

ORDER FROM CONFUSION SPRUNG: As promised, some thoughts on the problems with the "intrinsically disordered" jargon the Church currently uses to describe homosexuality.

I want to open by saying that the Catholic Church speaks a lot of languages. I have a really hard time with natural-law talk, for example, and also with Carmelite spirituality, even though both of those are really different! Whereas I respond really strongly to "theology of the body" and, to a certain extent, Christian neo-Platonism. But the great thing about the Church is that you do not have to buy in to any one particular vocabulary.

The fact that the Church currently uses a certain way of talking about gay people (and, for that matter, the fact that "gay identity" as such is just over a century old--that doesn't make it fake, it just makes it one way among many of talking about same-sex desire) doesn't mean that you need to buy the vocabulary in order to live out the teaching. If the way the Church talks gets in the way of your chastity, ignore it. (Or I guess I should say, try to find and develop other ways of talking about gay life; but reworking the Church's language might not be part of your vocation, in which case I think ignoring the language while living by the teaching is the best way to operate.) Your chastity and your unstinting fidelity to Christ are so much bigger and more beautiful than any one theological framework. So yeah, don't have gay sex; but you can think about that sacrifice and challenge in a whole lot of different ways, including ways which might shock your local priest.

Having said that, here's my problem with the "intrinsically disordered" language: I think it relies on a mechanistic understanding of eros. If sexual desire can be easily tweezed away from nonsexual longing and love and adoration then yeah, sure, I guess I can see the point of calling homosexual desire "disordered." But that's not how eros actually works! My lesbianism is part of why I form the friendships I form. It's part of why I volunteer at a pregnancy center. Not because I'm attracted to the women I counsel, but because my connection to other women does have an adoring and erotic component, and I wanted to find a way to express that connection through works of mercy. My lesbianism is part of why I love the authors I love. It's inextricable from who I am and how I live in the world. Therefore I can't help but think it's inextricable from my vocation.

And what's funny is that even the defenders of the "intrinsically disordered" language are defending so little. Basically all of them say one of two things: either "everything you do which is influenced by your lesbianism is tainted," which is bleakly hilarious if you've ever nursed a sick woman through her illness in part because you loved and were attracted to her; or "it just means that your eros can never be acted on, whereas even wrongly-directed heterosexual eros might be in some hypothetical made-up world." Which is like... do we really want to be encouraging unhappily-married heteros to think, "I could totally act on this desire and it would be ordered!... you know, if the old ball-and-chain died, or we got an annulment"? I mean, at that point literally nothing is added by the "explanatory" language of disorder which wasn't already stated by the bare moral teaching: You don't get to have sex with ladies, case closed. I knew that already! What extra work is this jargon doing? It doesn't even make straight people feel superior, since none of them know or think about it unless their kids are gay.

I am a lot more tentative about proposing alternate ways of understanding Catholic moral teaching on sexuality, alternate vocabularies. I think this post, where I describe what lesbianism feels like to me, might be a starting point.

I genuinely believe that eros requires that the focus of our desire be Other in some important way. And so the process by which homosexual desire transforms members of one's own sex into Other--the process by which pretty girls become iconic women, and therefore available for me as focus points of my eros--is fascinating to me, and I think it's genuinely sublime. That said, I don't think it's too hard to do the math on "eros is directed toward the Other + sex difference, la difference, is the fundamental difference in human nature = homosexuality requires an alienation from self, from eros, or from the beloved, so that likeness can begin to seem Other when in fact it is not."

I'm not sure yet if that's how I want to talk about Catholic theology of sex. But I do think we can all try to work through what being gay feels like, and thereby come up with a vastly broader and better set of vocabularies than the ridiculously, painfully limited set the Church is working with right now.

One final note, which is maybe bitchy but I don't know a better way to do this: Please don't use the Church's current failures and lacunae and flinching uncourtesy as an excuse to wallow in self-pity. Yes, the "intrinsically disordered" language sucks and is a mark of privilege, the kind of thing you only say if you don't feel it yourself or don't care about the other people who feel it. But if you focus on the failures of the Church's language, not only do you lose the opportunity (which, again, may not be your vocation) to improve that language, but you also lose out on everything else the Church offers. Self-pity is I think the least Christian emotion in the history of ever, and it's worth thinking hard about whether and to what extent and where your problems with the Church are really problems with the way the Church hierarchs express themselves right now. In which case, prayers to Joan of Arc would seem to be in order.

And in general, if you have to entertain negative emotions toward the Church (and God knows I do), I highly recommend bitchy and bitter over self-pitying comfort. That's my considered aesthetic judgment and I'll stick to it until you pry my rosary out of my cold, dead hands.
"FIFTEEN TO LIFE": I see someone put my old Crisis magazine piece on fixing the criminal justice system online. This is really not the piece I would write today but I think there are still some good things in it....
But let us proclaim proudly that we are hypocrites, that we will stop at nothing, not even hypocrisy, in our struggle to take control of our lives.
--some manifesto or whatever

I am obviously always going to prefer surrendering control to taking it, and in general I don't think it will be hard for longtime readers to discern which bits of this manifesto I think are self-comforting relativism and which I think are necessary defenses of complicity (see here for a gnomic utterance!). But I liked this line a lot. Better a hypocrite than a heretic.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

"HOLDING YES AND NO TOGETHER IN ONE HAND": Here, have a long but (I think) really fruitful discussion between me and the awesome Jendi Reiter. It's about closets and complicity, and Catholics, and it's part of the reason I'm working on a post about why I think the "intrinsically disordered" language the Church currently uses is simplistic and mechanical. I hope to offer alternative ways of talking about and understanding same-sex desire from a faithful Catholic perspective.
“WHAT I LACK IN COMPASSION I MAKE UP FOR IN LACK OF COMPASSION”: So I killed the Rat's weekend by introducing her to Texts from Last Night (warning: addictive and definitely not family-friendly!) and at some point we got onto this thing of attributing some of the texts to well-known authors. (And Alcibiades.) These aren't all perfect matches, but they're fun enough that I'm sharing them.... And be forewarned, this post is no safer for work than the site itself. Cussin', fussin', and backslidin' follow.

i wanted to go smoke pot, so i told my mom i was getting tutored. she asked what time i would be back, i told her learning doesn't have a curfew

Jorge Luis Borges:
You got in a fight last night?
Yeah! Some dude in the bathroom...he was standing there and I notice he's got the same shirt as me on so I'm like...dude you should have called me, we look like idiots...he didn't say i got pissed and hit him...completely decimated and my hand was all bloody and covered with glass afterward...weird dude, never saw him again that night or since.
Um...Did this guy happen to look almost exactly like you?

Miguel de Cervantes:
Assholes at mcdonalds drive through wouldn't serve us last night even though we said we were on small motorcycles that were to small for them to see and weren't heavy enough for the sensors. We made noises and everything.

Fyodor Dostoevsky: He was a controversial figure! I voted for this one:
I have two black x marks on my hands.
Yep you got cut off last night after a stripper bent over in front of you and you screamed very loudly 'I can see your soul from here'
damnit I wish I could remember that.

But Ratty said it wasn't quite right. She votes for this for The Idiot specifically:
why did your cousin post "out tonight" on facebook? doesn't he know it's only 1 in the afternoon?
shhh don't tell him. it's cloudy out and none of his clocks work

and notes that this one echoes a chilling moment from The Brothers Karamazov!:
i am high, trapped with a bunch of skaters and asians watching a cat on lsd on youtube, the girl on the couch next to me is getting fingered, and there is lady gaga playing. god has forgetten about me

more Dostoevsky:
I need to keep friends like you around just in case hell grades on a curve.

You know the commpass Jack Sparrow has? The one that just points at whatever you want? Thas pretty much my moral compass.

and especially
I want to tell you about my weekend in person so I can see your look of judgement and disgust.

(Ratty noted: “it's really no wonder we were so into Dostoevsky during our major drinking years”)

Stephen Fry
(or possibly Portnoy's Complaint):
just found my diary from when i was 14. i demand a drinking game of this.

This one isn't quite Heloise:
She tied me up with her honor cords...

(Heloise would have made Abelard tie her up with her honor cords.)

O. Henry:
So I went on a date with this girl...and whos our waitress? My girlfriend got a second job she didn't tell me about to afford my bday present.

Florence King (more in her When Sisterhood Was in Flower persona than her Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady one):
All I remember was yelling at him, "Its becasue of people like you that it took us so long to get to the moon!"

my desire to fuck abstract ideas (bravery, love, popsicls,,) increases by 8bajillion% when I'm high

This could be anybody! But both Ratty and I thought of Walker Percy first:
I'm not a real person
I'm sorry, everyone knows that

This one I had a hard time with. It's clearly someone, but neither Angela Carter nor Margaret Atwood are quite right, and I haven't read enough Marilynne Robinson to guess her. So I'm tentatively going with Tom Perrotta:
Id like to know where dora the explorers parents are when she goes on all these crazy ass adventures

The modern Cyrano:
I spent all night sexting your girlfriend for you because you were too drunk. You're welcome.

Philip Roth, The Counterlife:
how's this sound. You, me a box of pink franzia and a night full of possibilities in your basemen. I'll be me. You be you. And we'll see where it goes

and given his line in Sabbath's Theater about “what libraries are for”:
better yet, through the bookshelves. like an intellectual glory hole

and his sexual petulance in general:
And next time, don't pick a fight with me when you're naked. That's just not fair

Jonathan Swift (in the “Celia” poems):
Decided to write a book called "girls don't poop and other myths I wish I still believed in"

I could see Evelyn Waugh doing this in real life:
Hit a parked car with a "property of Jesus Christ" bumper sticker. Wrote out five hail mary's and left it on the windshield.

And this screams I Am Charlotte Simmons:
The girl next to me in class is taking notes on woman's suffrage with a girls gone wild pen.

And as an exercise for my readers: This one has to be someone! But who???
You tried to wear your Jesus costume into Family Christian stores and say it was a book signing.

Monday, June 07, 2010

COMING DISTRACTIONS: Later tonight I'll probably post a very long exchange about coming out, complicity, and resistance; plus also, famous authors' ill-advised text messages. Later this week I hope to have posts about what I mean by gay identity/"gay as a genre," and possibly more on sublimation vs. repression. And, you know, whatever else staggers over the threshold.

Meanwhile, if you're in the DC area I recommend Woolly Mammoth's current show, "Gruesome Playground Injuries." It's very stylized and even gimmicky (it follows two best friends, at five-year intervals arranged out of chronological order, as they become progressively more injured and damaged) but I am always down for highly-stylized narratives as long as the emotions are resonant and real. This is a funny and wrenching play, and Tim Getman is especially good as the risk-taking, accident-prone Doug.
...I tried to escape when I could. I joined the art club (even though I don’t have an aesthetic bone in my body!) so that at least one day a week I wouldn’t have to take the bus home. I set up chairs for band practice during recess time so I wouldn’t have to go out with the other kids. I stayed inside whenever I could. When I had to be in public, I tried to make myself disappear, become invisible. I would hide behind the rest of my family when we went out together. I would run from the front door to the car when we left the house, and did the reverse when we came home. I begged to stay home from school at every possible opportunity (in my defense, I did feel genuinely ill all the time thanks to the bullying) and had my wish granted often enough that my report cards were full of complaints about my absenteeism.

But only so much physical escape was possible, so I had to complement it with mental escape. And while I’m embarrassed to be so dramatic, there’s only one way to put it: I died inside. Often days would go by without my ever opening my mouth to speak–I spoke so rarely that my voice felt rusty with disuse when I did. I stopped playing even solitary games. When I got home from school most days I would sit on the floor of my room and just stare into space, opening and closing my fists, hating myself, hating everybody, hating everything, and trying to numb out to get away from all that hatred. And I would do that for hours and hours on end, coming out only when summoned to eat dinner or do chores. ...

I think part of what made the antigay bullying so awful was the way it dovetailed with my family’s and my teachers’ attitudes.

DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN THE MAGAZINES? Here, have a list of things which are not true of me!

1. I am "asexual."
2. I have a "low sex drive."
3. I'm a virgin.
4. I was sexually abused, ever.
5. I was raised "without a moral compass."
6. I only like synth pop/disco/the Smiths, and have no time for hard rock or punk.

There. Does that help?
"SHE SHOULD JOIN A SILENT ORDER." My favorite response so far to the NYT article!
"You see, Prince, to be a philanthropist is nice, but not very."
--General Epanchin, in The Idiot

Saturday, June 05, 2010

READ MY BOOK FOR MONEY! The one thing I forgot to post last night, which I'd meant to put up once the NYT piece came out, is that I am seeking transgendered readers for a novel. The working title is New Wineskins; the protagonist is FTM, and since I'm not, I really want to make sure the portrayal is resonant and not cliched or harmful. I'm paying standard editing rates of $2/pp, which works out to about $218. I can afford to pay maybe two more readers, so if you or someone you know might be interested, PLEASE email me at and I will email you more details about the novel, as well as answering any questions you might have.

To get a sense of how I think about trans issues, the best place to start is probably my series of posts on Jay Prosser's Second Skins.

And please pass on the word if you think you know someone who might be down for this!
"Listen, Prince, I stayed here last night, first, out of particular respect for the French archbishop Bourdaloue (we kept the corks popping at Lebedev's till three in the morning), but second, and chiefly (I'll cross myself with all the crosses that I'm telling the real truth!), I stayed because I wanted, so to speak, by imparting to you my full, heartfelt confession, to contribute thereby to my own development; with that thought I fell asleep past three, bathed in tears. Now, if you'll believe the noblest of persons: at the very moment that I was falling asleep, sincerely filled with internal and, so to speak, external tears (because in the end I did weep, I remember that!), an infernal thought came to me: 'And finally, after the confession, why don't I borrow some money from him?' Thus I prepared my confession, so to speak, as a sort of 'finesherbes with tears,' to soften my path with these tears, so that you'd get mellow and count me out a hundred and fifty roubles. Isn't that mean, in your opinion?"
--Keller, in The Idiot

Friday, June 04, 2010

IN WHICH I AM PROFILED IN THE NEW YORK TIMES. If you came here from that article, please check out the posts below!
IF MY HEART WERE A HOUSE YOU'D BE HOME BY NOW: More welcome mats for new readers! If you're in the DC area, you might check out the Always Our Children group at St. Matthew's Cathedral. It's named after the US bishops' document for parents of gay children. We have support groups on the second Sunday of every month, from 3.30 to 5.15, usually in the conference room you reach by going down some steps on the left side of the cathedral (not the parking lot side).

The group is pretty awesome, guys. We have people from all points on the broad spectrum of views about Church teaching on sexuality, and we work hard to support one another and find common ground without glossing over differences. Parents (or other family members, or friends) who have questions or struggles around their children's sexual orientation are especially encouraged to come in, but we also do a brisk business in support and discussion and camaraderie for g/l Catholics and fellow travelers.
ASK ME, I WON'T SAY NO, HOW COULD I? Hi there! If you're here from that New York Times piece, you might be interested in my sidebar, where I have a section called "Sicut cervus: Resources on God and homosexuality." All the links there are recommended. I'll point especially to "Romoeroticism" (right on time for Corpus Christi this Sunday, and Pride the weekend after, since sadly they're not in synch this year) and my Commonweal exchange with Luke Timothy Johnson. Here's me vs. the ex-gay movement (and more). Here's me rabbiting on about eros and gay marriage and vocation and whether you'll be gay in Heaven and... other stuff.

I can also be emailed at . All emails are confidential unless and until you give me permission to post (with your name, anonymously, or with a pseudonym). I promise to reply to all my emails!

You might also try all the posts tagged "Gay Catholic Whatnot," "marriage," and "romoeroticism."

And here, have a taste of Alan Bray; and my review of his amazing book The Friend.

For more of the madness which is me, try my best-of lists from 2009 and 2008.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

FEAST OF ST. JUSTIN MARTYR, patron of philosophers.
AUTOMATIC INSURRECTION, or an online generator for the liner notes to every single album I liked in high school!

I also think "To those who deride the immanent ecstasy in a barricaded hallway or a moment of friendship, we propose nothing less than to reject their homogenous absence, at all costs," sounds like a prompt from a Bruno and Boots fanfiction challenge. Actually a lot of these lines sound like that.

Via WAW4.

ingredients: chickpea flour, water, herbs & spices (in this order: garam masala, cumin, cayenne, cinnamon, rosemary), fresh peas, butter, s&p.

how-to: Mix the flour and spices, then mix w/enough water to form a very thick batter. I initially used a whisk, but that was a mistake. Use a spoon. You should add salt at this point too, but I forgot and salted the fritters in the pan, which also worked. Mix in the peas.

Melt the butter in the pan. Use the spoon to drop globs of batter into the pan. The size and shape of the globs don't matter, but they should be about 1/2-inch thick and they shouldn't touch one another. Cook until the bottoms are golden-brown; the fritters should come away from the pan easily. Flip and cook the other side to the same doneness (or however you want it, obviously). Grind some pepper over the fritters and serve!

the verdict: Delicious. But more filling than I expected. This turned out to be a substantial lunch rather than a light snack.
"A company of us got together once, and we drank a bit, it's true, and suddenly somebody suggested that each of us, without leaving the table, tell something about himself, but something that he himself, in good conscience, considered the worst of all the bad things he'd done in the course of his whole life; and that it should be frank, above all, that it should be frank, no lying!"

"A strange notion!" said the general.

"Strange as could be, Your Excellency, but that's what was good about it."

"A ridiculous idea," said Totsky, "though understandable: a peculiar sort of boasting." ...

"And was it a success?" asked Nastasya Filippovna.

"The fact is that it wasn't, it turned out badly, people actually told all sorts of things, many told the truth, and, imagine, many even enjoyed the telling, but then they all felt ashamed, they couldn't stand it! On the whole, though, it was quite amusing--in its own way, that is."

"But that would be really nice!" observed Nastasya Filippovna, suddenly quite animated. "Really, why don't we try it, gentlemen! In fact, we're not very cheerful. If each of us agreed to tell something... of that sort... naturally, if one agrees, because it's totally voluntary, eh? Maybe we can stand it? At least it's terribly original...."

--Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot, tr. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volonkhosky

I note that playing the Dostoevsky Drinking Game with the scene which follows will get you so terrifically smashed that you can see into your own soul.