Why do I love Fred Phelps?

For those who don’t know who Fred Phelps is, I envy you. Fred Phelps was a preacher and head of the Westboro Baptist Church. He was best known for his adamant views against homosexuality and protesting at the funerals of US soldiers. He and his followers would show up with signs that read “God Hates Fags”, “Thank God For Dead Soldiers”, “America is Doomed” and other incendiary statements about what he believed God felt. He died last Wednesday and outside of his followers, mostly members of his extended family, it is hard to imagine anyone will be mourning his loss.

By all accounts he was a truly despicable man. He exhibited no love or compassion towards anyone. He would beat his children. He celebrated the deaths of people who were killed by anti-gay violence, people who died from AIDS and soldiers who died in combat. He caused tremendous hurt to countless people already dealing with great sadness and grieving the loss of their loved-ones. He fuelled the hatred that has caused so many young people to take their own lives and for others to act out violently against their peers. While he never pulled the trigger himself he most certainly has blood on his hands.  Perhaps worst of all is that he involved children in his salacious acts and poisoned their minds with his hateful rhetoric.

So why do I love a man who is so diametrically opposed to everything I believe in? The simple answer is because I love everyone. Still, simple doesn’t always mean easy. When I made a commitment to love everyone I knew it would be hard. I knew that there would be cases like this that would test my resolve. It would be easier to simply dismiss him as a crackpot and just not care… but I do care. Fred Phelps thrust himself into my world, into the lives of people I care about, into the media spotlight and into the national consciousness.  I couldn’t simply ignore his existence. If I was going to love EVERYONE then I was going to have to find a way to love him as well.

His beliefs about God and homosexuality are certainly extreme but so is the belief of loving everyone. Fred Phelps and I may be polar opposites but when it comes to holding extreme beliefs we have something in common. While I don’t share his views I can’t help but admire his conviction. I don’t know I could ever believe anything that strongly.

It’s not like he invented hate. While his particular verbiage in interpreting the Bible is unique he was hardly alone in his position on what the Bible says about homosexuality. If you believe as Fred Phelps did that God is omnipotent and the ruler of everything then what other conclusion can be drawn from the 9-11 attacks and dead US soldiers other than God hates us. It’s got to be troubling for those who believe that God is on our side. Most people can find some other explanation or rationalization for these events but if you take certain parts of the bible or certain beliefs about God to their logical conclusion, you wind up with Fred Phelps.

One thing I can say about Fred Phelps is he forced people to take a stand. You were either with him, or against him. Thankfully most people decided that they were against him. It’s hard to say what effect Fred Phelps had on the gay rights movement but he certainly helped our cause more than he did his own. He made people think. He caused people who were perfectly comfortable hating gay people to become uncomfortable with their beliefs. For the longest time I suspected that he was a one man false flag operation. Like a good conspiracy nut, I became obsessed with trying to find evidence to support this theory, but in the end I came up empty-handed. Fred Phelps really was the man he portrayed himself to be.

Fred Phelps was also a champion for the First Amendment although I’m not sure he saw himself that way. He was vehemently opposed to the freedom of religion part but he sure embraced the freedom of speech part. At least one case made it all the way to the Supreme Court. I had my doubts as to whether the constitution was strong enough to endure such an hideous attack but even Fred Phelps could not cause us to abandon our values. As a result, the people responded with their own brand of free speech showing love and respect for the targets of his hate. Gangs of motorcycle riders would show up at military funerals to drown out the protesters. Even the threat that the Westboro Baptist Church would be protesting would cause people in support of the event to turn out in droves.

During his time on this planet, Fred Phelps made a difference. He was fueled by the worst in himself but he brought out the best in others. When I look at my country today, compared to how it was before Fred Phelps began his picket line crusade of hate, I see a stronger and more tolerant nation. Obviously, I don’t give him all of the credit, but overall I believe we are better for having known him. He set an example by the way he lived, in his case, it was a bad example. We all have a role to play and this was his.

That is not meant to justify anything that he did. I still don’t believe that the ends ever justify the means. The means must be justifiable unto themselves and I don’t find anything to justify the means used by Fred Phelps; but they were not my means. It’s not up to me to justify them. Perhaps he will find his justification now that he is dead but I doubt it. From my perspective I see a lonely man who lived a life of anger, torment and fear. His actions caused him to become estranged from some of his own children, disbarred by the State of Kansas and later prevented by the federal court from practicing law altogether. Near the end of his life he was even excommunicated by the church that he founded.  It’s almost tempting to feel bad for the guy, but I don’t.

The only thing I can feel is love. There is no other emotion he can cause me to feel. He could not inspire me to feel hate, anger or disgust. He could only inspire me to shine light upon the darkness. The struggle to see his humanity has made me a more compassionate and forgiving person. For that, I do love him.

Advertisements

The times they are a changing

Fuck! It seems like weeks since I’ve written. Oh look, yup, it’s been two weeks. What could have happened in that time? Well a lot. I’ve been a busy boy but it’s all in the past now. This blog is about the moment… and about my mind and the fact is my mind has not really been in the moment lately. I am in a period of transition – just as much of the world is it seems. The past two weeks have been spent appreciating that fact and poising myself for what is to come.

I expected Pride to be different this year, what with same-sex marriage recognized both here in Minnesota and by the Supreme court. We have our first male player on a professional sports team to come out. These are major milestones in what continues to be a long struggle for equality. What I found different this year was just how “normal” being gay is (at least in Minneapolis). Pride really felt more like St. Patricks day only instead of wearing green and being Irish for a day everyone dressed in rainbows and was gay for a day. It was also a helluva lot bigger that St. Patty’s day but hey, June is a helluva lot better of a time that March to have a celebration. I don’t know how everyone else feels about gay being the new green but I’m pretty okay with it. We are all part of some minority group and we are all judged for it but if we have reached the level of acceptance enjoyed by the Irish – I can work with that. Pour me a Jamison, bitches!

But most of this “period of transition” that I have been processing is purely personal. A year ago, I was engaged to be married, had my son living with me and was seriously struggling after a suicide attempt. I wouldn’t say that my life is any less stressful now but the things I’m dealing with are quite different.

The biggest change, and the one that concerns me most, is that none of my support system over the past few years are still playing that role in my life. They have all either moved away, moved on or been kicked out. I’m not sure that is a bad thing. Much of who we are and what we do is effected by the people closest to us and I am clearly getting ready to do something different. I’m going to need some different people.

What concerns me is that none of the people that know me the best are currently keeping an eye on me. I think that I am heading in the right direction; I think that I am making good decisions; I think that things are getting better; but I could be wrong. Without anyone else around I am left to my own devices.

Perhaps that is what this blog is for. Perhaps for what comes next I am going to need all of you to be my reality check. If I’m truly to do something different I’m going to need as many different people in my life as I can find.

 

NOTE: the title of this post is an homage to Bob Dylan who is playing tonight in St. Paul.

Happy pride

I’m probably at one of the lowest, weakest points of the past many years but it’s Twin Cities LGBT Pride Weekend so it’s time to pick my chin up, sport some rainbows and celebrate!!! After spending the past 20 years of my life fighting for LGBT rights, we now have marriage equality in Minnesota and DOMA and Prop. 8 have been overturned by the US Supreme Court. This could be the happiest Pride event ever and I’m going to be there helping out, entertaining and spreading  joy with my pedicab.

Cue the horn section because I’m coming out!

Diana Ross – I’m Coming out

An honest mistake – part two

Before heading to the concert to celebrate the signing of the Freedom to Marry Act, my son and I stopped by my parents for a quick chat. This was the first time my son had seen his grandparents since he was home for spring break.

My mother asked me what I was going to do now that the fight for marriage equality appears to be over. As I mentioned before, I plan to focus on ending marijuana prohibition. My mother was surprised with this response but I have actually been thinking about it for quite some time. She thought that I would focus my efforts on economic and labor issues.

I’m actually very concerned about economic issues. I think our current system is fucked and certainly economic and labor issues will not be ignored by me. I’m not going to ignore environmental issues, agricultural issues, infrastructure issues or immigration issues either. They are just really complicated and are going to move pretty slowly. Also, they don’t sound as much fun as legalizing pot. If you want me to join your revolution, you gotta throw a pretty good party. Granted, no one does a better job than the gays but I’m willing to give the pot heads a shot.

I’m also not taking for granted that the fight for civil rights is over. The rights of women continue to be under attack. That really bothers me. Fucked up voter suppression shit is going on these days which try to disenfranchise minority groups. I’m sure that a segment of the population will continue to try and erode the gains made by the gay rights movement. I also care greatly about ending violence and promoting the rights and dignity of people who deal with mental illness and disability. I’m not abandoning any of these causes.

The prohibition of pot just needs to end and I think it can happen. I think that society is ready. The supporters of legalization just needs to learn from the gay rights movement and COME OUT!

I think even my dad realizes that there is no good argument for marijuana prohibition because his attempt to argue with me went straight to a red herring.

“What about cocaine?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’m not talking about cocaine, dad. I’m talking about pot. I don’t think that society is ready to take on legalizing cocaine.”

But I would probably support the legalization and regulation of all drugs. I think we have way too many laws in this country as it is. We are all responsible to obey all the laws but it is impossible for us to even know all of the laws. That is not a recipe for a functional society.

In my house, I made one rule for my kids… always tell the truth. I don’t even  think that they knew it was a rule. It was just the expectation that they were raised with. They didn’t have to memorize it, they just knew it. Actually, it wasn’t until I made it clear that it was my one rule that it even got violated.

Now would this work for a society? Could we have one law; always tell the truth? I don’t know. It’s not like people follow the laws as they are but lack of interest in honesty is probably the number one cause of crime. People are dishonest and think they can get away with doing shit they shouldn’t do through deception. Sure, some people break the law through of ignorance, accident or necessity, but dishonesty is the key component.

People who do drugs lie because doing drugs is illegal but drugs are illegal because people who do them lie. Take a lesson from the gay rights movement. When people stopped lying about being gay and came out of the closet, people were forced to face reality. Soon marriage equality will be the law of the land.

We all fuck up, we all make mistakes – as individuals and as a society. The first step to improvement is honesty.

What next

For twenty years I have been fighting for LGBT equality. In 1993 I marched on Washington and worked with the “It’s Time Minnesota” campaign to include Sexual Orientation in the state’s human rights act. The human rights protection  passed but in 1997 Minnesota passed it’s own version of The Defence of Marriage Act. Since then the fight has been for marriage equality.

The decision for me to get married in 1999 was a difficult one. To take advantage of a right that was denied to so many of my friends just seemed wrong. It felt like joining a country club that barred jews. How could I do that?  Both my partner and I were out and active members of the LGBT community. In the end it came down to putting our family first. Marriage was the best way to protect the health and security of our family. As an act of protest we applied for our marriage license as one man and one woman with me as the bride and my female partner as the groom. On February 22nd, 1999 I became her wife and she my husband and we vowed to continue the fight for marriage equality.

Today, April 14th, 2013 that fight officially comes to an end in Minnesota. At 5pm Governor Dayton will sign the Freedom to Marry Act into law making Minnesota the twelfth state in the union to legalize same-sex marriage. Granted, marriage among same-sex couples is still not recognized at the national level but it’s only a matter of time until it will. With cases currently being decided by the Supreme Court, it could be just a matter of months. Countries all around the world are embracing marriage equality. The tide has clearly turned. It has been a long and hard fought battle but the end is clearly in sight.

So what next? Obviously discrimination will continue. Not everyone is on board with acceptance of gay and lesbian people. To be honest, that doesn’t concern me. I support the freedom to hate as well. My concern is with laws that treat people unfairly and we still have lots of those. Personally, I think the next law that needs to be overturned in the prohibition on marijuana. I think it’s doable, I think it’s time and I think it will have great benefit for the nation as a whole.

Pride and Prejudice

I’ve obviously not been keeping up with my personal goal of posting everyday. It always sucks when I don’t meet my goals but I would rather fail at doing something than succeed at doing nothing. To me, the important thing is that I keep going, doing the best I can and not get too discouraged. My last post was written over the course of Sunday and Monday. It pretty much covered the highlights of Thursday through Saturday.

On Sunday my son returned to college after spring break. I barely had anytime to myself for a week so when he left I felt a calm come over me. That calm that an introvert feels when they are alone and at peace. Most people think of me as an extrovert and quite often I am, but after a week of fairly intense interactions I become introverted. My plan was to go to a one year sobriety party for a friend but what I really needed was time to myself – so that’s what I did.

By the way, time to myself does not mean writing – at least not blog writing. I actually find this to be an intensely extroverted activity. As I’m sitting here writing I’m imagining all of you reading it. Sure, at this point that may only be six people but that is still a lot. That still takes a lot of extroverted chutzpah.

Monday night seemed like a good night to get wasted. I had a couple beers at the Bad Waitress the shared a couple pitchers with a friend at the CC Club. It was almost 10pm and I hadn’t finished my gift shopping for my bff so I headed to the liquor store before meeting her at the 19.

Tuesday I woke up on my friends couch and headed home so that I could pick up my daughter. I hung out with her after school and into the evening. I was pretty wiped by the time I got back from dropping her off at her mothers so I went to bed early.

Wednesday I worked all day delivering City Pages and RENT 411. After that I picked up Chinese food and heading to a depressed friend’s house to see if I could do some cheering up. This wasn’t just bad mood depression. This was real clinical depression but it still helps to have an understanding friend around.

Okay… now that we’ve got that out of the way, this is what I want to talk about:

I’m starting a new fucking job!

Since getting sick and going on Social Security back in 1999 it has been my life duty to get better and move forward, just as it would have been if I never got sick. In other words, I’m not trying to get back to where I was. That would be insane. That is what made me sick. Getting sick moved me from where I was and changed my trajectory but it never changed my goals.

I’m just trying to get better at what ever pace I can manage. I think that is the dream of anyone with a chronic illness or condition. I’m not talking about terminal illness. I don’t feel qualified to speak to that, although technically, we all have a terminal illness.

What Social Security has done for me is give me the time to explore what I can and cannot do without risking homelessness or starvation when I fail. It has allowed me to discover what I am good at so that I can be the best person I can be. I wouldn’t wish my “disabilities” on anyone, but fuck! I wish everyone got Social Security. In stead of a safety net, it should be a concrete floor which no one can drop below. Seriously, no one should be worse off financially than me no matter how stupid or unlucky they are. Stupid people are people too and we need crazy fucking risk takers if we are going to advance as species!

What really pisses me off are people who think that those on disability are lazy and milking the system. Really?!? You don’t think that people would seek a better life if they could? Living on Social Security sucks! Getting on Social Security sucks. I know a number of people who could qualify but struggle on without it because they don’t want to admit that their life sucks more than someone on disability! But hey, if you think that people on disability have it made and are jealous because you don’t qualify, let me know. I will gladly come poke your eyes or cut off your legs. Then you can live the high life too.

WOW… I really got off on a tangent there. It was an important tangent but I really wanted to talk about my new job.

So I’m going to be a pedicab driver. If you don’t know what that is, it’s a bicycle taxi. It’s like a rickshaw pulled by a bicycle. They are common in Asia but becoming more common in major cities in the United States. It’s not so much a transportation solution like a regular taxi, but part of the whole entertainment experience of a night on the town; part classy escort through the busy entertainment district, part tour guide. Yeah, totally up my fucking alley!

A few years back, when pedicabs started showing up in Minneapolis, I began wondering if it was something I could do. A big part of my recovery process has been getting back into biking but could I really do it as a job?

I determined that I could. I had been working as a newspaper delivery driver, as I still am, and really wanted to get out from behind the wheel and over the pedals. My big fear was the sales aspect, the dealing with the public part. I’ve done sales and I’ve been good at it. It was just a long time ago and I hated it. But then I realized, it’s not sales, it entertainment. I can do that! But entertaining fans from the stage is different than entertaining strangers who are standing on the sidewalk. That scared the shit out of me.

I wasn’t ready. But now I am. Almost. At least I’m ready to take the next step.

Saturday I went in to meet with the owner of Twin Town Pedicab. This is the closest thing that I’ve had to a job interview in next to… forever. I was a little bit terrified. I’ve been delivering papers for seven years. I suppose I had some sort of interview for that. I auditioned for All The Pretty Horses six years ago. That was a bit of an interview, but I knew I was awesome. Before that I worked cleaning houses for my best friend. Before that I did web design. I had two clients, both of whom were non-profits I worked with where I was in charge of hiring the IT. Don’t worry, I donated all of my income back to the organization.

My last real job interview was in 1996. I got the job, they put me in a monkey suit, I made a shitload of money and it nearly killed me.

But the meeting with the pedicab company wasn’t really a job interview. It still felt like one but really it was a sales pitch. Technically, I’m not their employee, I’m their customer.

I said, “Oh good, I’m a shitty employee.”

That didn’t go over so well. I was met with a suspicious, “What do you mean by that?”

I replied, quite confidently, “I just mean that I don’t believe in working for people, I believe in working with people.”

I guess I passed the audition.

Monday I went in for training on the pedicab. Driving a pedicab can be compared to riding a bicycle like driving a tour van is to driving a Ferrari.  That is to say, not at all! But within ten minutes I had it down and was out on the road. Apparently that was a bad idea. Until I have my pedicab licence driving on the road is totally illegal. Oops. Nothing bad happened but I’m sure I freaked out my trainer. With all the one way streets and dead-ends it took me twenty minutes to get back to the garage. Still, he was willing to get in the cab and let me take him for a spin around downtown Minneapolis. I think I did alright. I nicked a pothole and hit the brakes a little hard once but I’m still learning. I don’t think it will take me too long to get it down. I’m going to make mistakes but that is how I learn.

I still don’t know what they think of me though. I’m sure they have a lot of people who think they can do this but then quit. I’m sure that they are wondering who I am. Who is this weird, looking, weird dressing 46 year old and why does he want to be a pedicab driver? I’m sure they have their doubts. I’m sure they have their prejudices. Fuck, I have my own. I’m prejudging them by assuming that they have doubts about me.

Prejudice sucks, but it is also unavoidable. We all have it. In a way, we need it to make sense of this crazy complex world. It might be inaccurate but we have to start somewhere. I prefer to start with curiosity and intrigue but sometime that will get you killed. We need to be able to make uninformed judgments sometimes for the sake of safety. My problem is with intentional ignorance. I have a problem when someone’s prejudice prevents them from learning about another person. That just makes me sad.

What makes me angry is when someone allows their prejudice or ignorance to turn into hostility. When we take action based on these points of view we are discriminating. When our discrimination about a class of people causes harm it is wrong and unjust. Proposition 8 in California and DOMA at the federal level are wrong and unjust. I pray the Supreme Court of the United States will do their job of protecting the American people by striking down these unjust laws. Those who are being harmed by them cannot wait for people to overcome their prejudices. Human lives are at stake. Children’s lives are at stake. America has a horrible history of treating people unfairly but we can do better. I believe in this country. Please don’t let me down!

Birthday Suit

I woke up this morning to find myself lying naked on my friend’s couch. I thought to myself, “This seems like a perfect way to start my birthday!” You may be thinking that it’s the perfect bookend to a night of debauchery but last night was pretty tame. Tonight might get out of hand though. It’s my birthday so there is no telling what might happen. But last night I was just tired. By the time I got my friend home I could feel my brain starting to shut down. The drive back from Downtown St. Paul was really stressful, the roads were full of drunks after the Super Bowl, it was snowing and the road conditions were horrible. It just didn’t seem wise to attempt that again. The naked part I don’t know about. I was wearing pajamas when I went to bed. But it was really warm in her apartment and I’m not a fan of wearing any more clothes than necessary.

I did have some really crazy dreams however. One I want to share. I was in this town and it seemed like all the teen-age girls were coming-out as lesbian. I know that girls are coming-out at a much younger age these days but there was no way that all of these girls were actually lesbians. Then I realized that I was in a very conservative town and anti-gay sentiment was rampant. At least some of these girls were identifying as lesbian as a way to rebel against their parents. I don’t know how much that actually happens but I’m sure it does. I’m not offering this as hope for parents of gay kids who really want to deny who their kids are. That wouldn’t be helpful. If it is going on it is still caused by the nonacceptance of homosexuality. The only way to combat it is for people to get over their close-minded bigoted way of thinking and accept their children for who they are even if that doesn’t fit in with their perfect image of an idealized world. With any luck, this will be the last generation that will be able to use such a tactic to rebel against their parents.

I did have other dreams but they were all pretty sexual and I’m going to keep them to myself.

I am realizing that there are some things in my life that I am not writing about. My last post ended with me on my way to pick up Jazz. I didn’t mention anything about the studio party which you would think was the highlight of my day, and it was. It just didn’t motivate me to write anything. There was no drama, no revaluations or inspirations. Everything went just as I expected. I’m not saying that I find that boring, just that it’s not anything I wanted to write about. Plus, I can’t write about everything. There simply wouldn’t be enough time. There are a couple of tidbits that I have deliberately left out. These have to do with people with whom I’m experiencing strains in our relationship. I am avoiding writing about those situations, at least for now, out of respect for them and not wanting to make matters worse. I guess that’s what my therapist is for.

—–

Yesterday I started my first article for this website which is to be titled Fear and Loathing in Minneapolis. I’m finding the articles much more difficult to write than these blog entries. Also, The Bad Waitress may not be the best place for me to get work done. I have a lot of distractions there. The best distraction was when my son showed up with two of his band mates and another friend to have dinner. He was in town to play a show in St. Paul. He goes to college three hours away so I haven’t seen him since Winter break.

Funny story… we were sitting there at the restaurant when this song came on internet radio:

My table of college students all look at each other with faces half stunned, half filled with glee. “Are they playing Peaches?” surprised that they would be playing such a song in a seemingly family-friendly establishment. “No, you’ve gotta watch this”, I reply having experienced this situation before. At that moment Kate, one of the baristas, runs out from behind the counter towards the jukebox, has to double back to grab the key from one of her co-workers in a great feat of teamwork. Luckily the song has a long opening because she skips to the next song just as we hear “Sucking on my…”. As Kate walks back in triumph we greet her with round of applause – makes me wonder how many of the other patrons where aware of what just happened.

So I only got about a third of the way through my article. I did manage to get some bills paid and still had a few bucks left over to register my domain name. You can now find this blog at: lefreakshow.com.  That was all I could do before getting distracted by The Puppy Bowl which was playing on the monitor about the bar. Seriously, too cute!

After that it was time to head to St. Paul to see my son play at Station 4. He was playing a benefit put together by an Anoka High-school student called Young Musicians for the Greater Good. I was really impressed with how well it was put on. I think they raised around $380 to support local homeless shelters which is quite an accomplishment. I do this kind of work with an organization called Rock The Cause and it’s not easy. To see what high school students are able to pull off gives me a lot of hope for the future.

My son’s new band is called 8-bit Johnson. The original name was 8-bit Dildo but when they realized that the band could actually go somewhere they decided to change the name to something a little more radio-friendly while still being no less profane. I guess I’ve done a good job teaching my son about the power of language.  I have not taught him much about being a musician or encouraged him to pursue that vocation in any way; at least not conciously. That he did on his own. And he’s doing amazing. I couldn’t be more proud. To see him on stage with such confidence and command of his presence; it makes me think of myself at that age, were I to have been more well-adjusted.

This being a Sunday night and an all-ages show they closed up early. My friend and I stuck around to finish our beers and swap stories about the bar with Renee, the bartender/general manager. I seem to spend a lot of time in bars after the doors have been locked. It wasn’t my first time doing it here. This bar has a multi-generational history of musicians who got their first bar gig now returning to see their children play. There are not many bars like it and every time I’m there I’m overcome with nostalgia. While it’s gone through many name changes and a few cosmetic improvements it still has that seedy rock club ambiance that I remember from my youth. Back then it was called Ryan’s and I remember by first time there; drinking beers at age 15 after seeing Van Halen on their 1984 tour. For years, my mother tried to get the place shut down while she was on the St. Paul City Counsel but you can’t kill this place. No matter what, they keep pushing on. Now with the light-rail coming in and stopping right out side their door I expect that they have an even brighter future. Times may have changed but I’m glad that they are still around, providing a venue for our youth, the next generation of rockers and freaks.

%d bloggers like this: