Anthem: Homunculus

My husband and I spent Sunday at the Austin Film Society with John Cameron Mitchell listening to every episode of the first season of his podcast, Anthem: Homunculus. My husband and I agreed, when we bought the tickets, we’d just stay for the first few episodes and leave during an intermission. We couldn’t imagine listening to a podcast for 7 hours! Once we were there, however, neither of us wanted to leave. We happily stayed through all 10 episodes. It was riveting! (Almost everyone in the audience stayed the entire 7 hours, too.)

Mitchell first wrote the Anthem as a sequel to “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”, but said it was too complicated (like trying to put a wig on a wig) so he changed the approach to thinking about what life might have been like had he never left Junction City, Kansas, the town where he grew up. (Mitchell was a military gypsy so it is only one of the small towns where he grew up, but it is where his family remained the longest.)

He and Bryan Weller wrote the first several episodes in the home of William Burroughs (they were invited by Burroughs partner, James Grauerholz), intending the story to be for television. Not surprisingly, it fell too far outside of the typical television genres to be picked up by anyone, so they decided to try a podcast.

Mitchell says that a lot of artists are using the podcast format to tell their stories because it doesn’t have the genre constraints of television. It is apparently a good format for creative works that are ahead of their time, even though it is reminiscent of old-time radio shows. The difference, I suppose, is that you can listen on any device, anywhere and whenever you want, including large movie theaters with lots of fellow listeners.

The story is about Ceann (played by Mitchell) who has a brain tumor. He can’t afford the medical costs to have it removed, so Ceann creates a podcast where he relays the complicated details of his upbringing and relationships while asking for donations. His friends and family are played by a large, impressive cast: Glenn Close, Marion Cotillard, Laurie Anderson, Patti LuPone, Cynthia Erivo among others… The story is accompanied by 31 songs written by Mitchell and Bryan Weller.

At the “Listening Party” on Sunday, I thought Mitchell would introduce the podcast, give a short performance with Weller and they’d be on their merry way, but I was wrong. Besides the introduction and beautiful performance, Mitchell sat through all 10 episodes with the audience. He introduced each episode before it started and provided concluding remarks at the end of each about how the fictional details coincided with his actual life. He was so gracious and so excited about his podcast that it felt like being with a personal friend who couldn’t wait to share his new creation. It is one of the most unusual (and unexpectedly enjoyable) events I have ever attended.

Mitchell and I are 4 months apart in age. Despite being a suburban housewife which is as far as you can get from the life Mitchell has lived, his stories of loss feel incredibly familiar. I could have sworn the characterization of his mother with Alzheimers was based on my mother! Also familiar: the loss of God after being zealously religious in my younger years, the loss of friends and lovers, and knowing the end of my own life isn’t terribly far off. There is such a strong experience of loss and decline as you get older, but there is also a greater capacity for acceptance and forgiveness which is oddly rejuvenating.

I highly recommend Anthem: Homunculus. It is available through Luminary Podcasts. The first two episodes are free and if you are hookeed, which you probably will be, the rest require a Premium Plan. There is a 7 day free trial and then the cost is $4.99 per month or $34.99 for the year. I know subscriptions are frustrating, but that’s a very reasonable price for originality, quality, excellent performances, and a wonderful, moving experience.

And proof that John Cameron Mitchell is perfectly capable of wearing wigs on wigs, here is Hedwig in her trailer home in Junction City, Kansas…

The Kids Are All Right

My daughter started school today.  I realize this isn’t a big deal, but bare in mind that she was previously a homeschooler with only 1 year of middle school under her belt and is re-entering as a sophomore in high school so it’s not exactly the same as simply going back to school. Thankfully, her day went well and she has friends in each of her classes.  She also got the theater teacher she was hoping for. The school has “A Days” and “B Days” so her classes will be different tomorrow. Hopefully her day, tomorrow, will go just as well as today.

Last night, to take her mind off of the first day of school, we went to see The Kids are Alright (directed by Lisa Cholodenko). It is an absolutely fantastic film! Annette Bening and Juliana Moore play a married lesbian couple with two children (played by Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson). Each woman gave birth to one child by using the same sperm donor. When their daughter turns 18, the younger brother talks his older sister into calling the sperm bank so they can meet their biological father, played by Mark Ruffalo.

The film is not about a lesbian relationship. It’s about what it means to be married and especially what it means to be family.

This is one of the most enjoyable, intelligent movies I’ve seen in a long while and I watch a lot of movies!

Homosexuality and the Bible

It’s that time of the month when I become extra EXTRA obsessive compulsive and so I jumped in to a conversation about homosexuality, against my better judgment, with a fundamentalist Christian.  He seems like a really nice guy who means well. And of course it was like banging my head against a brick wall.  What else would it have been? 

The Christian movement was initially a liberation from the oppressive rules of Judaism and Rome, but once it became the only religion of Rome, it also became an oppressor.  And that’s just the way it is. So why do I get into arguments with fundamentalist Christians who, to this day, uphold the Roman hierarchical patriarchy?  I know better.  But like I said, it’s that time of the month so it’s the fault of my period, I swear!!

But I did end up learning a lot, afterward, because I obsessive-compulsively had to look everything up to make sure I wasn’t just talking out my ass.  And here is what I discovered…

Sexual orientation was not used as a social identifier in Ancient Greece and Rome like it has been used in Western cultures for the past 100 years or so. Stop and think what that means. Sexual orientation is the pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attraction to men, women, both genders, neither gender, same gender or different gender.  In modern Western society, this gives you a particular social identity – heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual…  In Ancient Greek and Roman societies, it did not.  There is no word in either Latin or Ancient Greek for what we think of today as homosexuality. It’s not that it didn’t exist, it was simply regarded completely differently than we regard it today. The ancients were relatively indifferent to the sex of one’s partner.  What mattered most was role, age and status.

In Ancient Greece, pederasty was common. This is categorized as a form of age-structured homosexuality.  Older mentor/student relations, etc.  While we typically lump pedophilia and pederasty together, the two were differentiated in Ancient Greek culture. Like today, pedophilia was considered grossly pathological carnal behavior by the Ancient Greeks. But pederasty was thought to be of a spiritual nature.  I didn’t dig deeply enough to find out what differentiates the two.

In the Early Roman Republic, pederasty was generally condemned.  It was thought to be a degenerate Greek practice.  Around 100 BC and into the time of Jesus and Paul, a new form of same-sex relations emerged.  It became acceptable for male masters to penetrate their male slaves, and slaves were considered legitimate male partners whether they wanted to be penetrated or not. The master was the penetrator, the slave (usually an adolescent slave, by the way) was the penetrated. So make sure you are getting this, because it’s important.  It wasn’t considered unnatural for a master to penetrate his slave.  But it was considered unnatural for a slave to penetrate his master.

After Christianity became the main religion of Rome, homosexuality became punishable by death (around 390 ACE).

Jesus never says a word about homosexuality. Not one thing.  Neither do any of the Jewish prophets.  There is hardly anything mentioned about it in the Bible at all. Just for grins, I went through the verses that Fundamentalists refer to the most and tried to sort them out:

  • Genesis 19: Story of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Ultimately God destroys Sodom because of greed, not because of homosexuality. 
  • Leviticus 18:22:  “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.”  Seems to be a pretty clear condemnation of homosexual activity between men, but Leviticus is part of the Mosaic Law.  There are laws for everything!  Don’t eat pork or shrimp but it’s ok to eat beetles and grasshoppers.  Males must be circumcised. Don’t sleep with women on their period (punishable by societal excommunication).   The cross-breeding of plants is forbidden, which means no GMOs or tangelos.  Don’t sell food for a profit.  Cancel debts every 7 years.  So if Leviticus 18:22 is so important, why aren’t fundamentalists insisting upon the cancellation of third world debts, demanding an end to the food industry, and shouting down GMOs?  But hypocrisy aside, to read this as being about homosexuality is probably taking it out of context.  The verses before it are about ritual worship of the Cannaan god Molech. The followers of Molech believed that by engaging in ritual sex, they would please Molech which would bring them fertility and prosperity.   Verse 21 forbids ritual sacrifice of children to Molech. So it follows that Verse 22 is specifically forbidding ritual sexual activity meant for Molech. It’s forbidding idolotry.  (I don’t know if this is true or not, because I don’t know anything about Ancient Hebrew and I’d have to research more reliable sources, but somewhere I read that “zimah” is the Hebrew term for something that is considered wrong, in and of itself.  In the original text, the term that is used for “detestable” is not “zimah” but is “toevah”, which refers to taboo/idolotry.)
  • Leviticus 20:13: “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”   Again, it seems pretty clear.   But just a few verses before this (20:9) it states that everyone who curses their mother or father will be put to death.  So again, it’s pretty hypocritical to use this verse to condemn homosexuality in today’s world.  This verse in its original form is very similar to 18:22.  So this is likely part of the purity code that the Israelites held to in order to differentiate themselves from the Canaanites. Jesus put an end to all of the purity laws, so both verses in Leviticus shouldn’t matter to fundamentalist Christians, anyway.
  • Romans 1:26-27:   This is the verse that gets thumped the most and it’s the trickiest:  “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.”  This is written by Paul.  Remember at the beginning of this post, I mentioned that it had become popular for masters to sleep with their adolescent male slaves, whether the slaves concurred or not?  Yet throughout his letters, Paul frequently tells slaves to obey their masters but never qualifies it by saying, “except when they want to penetrate you”.  And as was mentioned at the beginning of this post, in ancient Rome, what was considered natural in terms of sexual intercourse had very little to do with gender and far more to do with roles, age, and status.  It was unnatural for a master to be penetrated by a slave, but natural for the slave to be penetrated by the master.  So maybe that’s why Paul doesn’t add any qualifiers when he tells slaves to obey their masters.  If the verses in Leviticus do refer to ritual sexual activity (which was still quite common during Paul’s time), then I wonder if that might be what Paul is referring to here, as well?  Or, maybe he’s referring to specific kinds of sexual acts that were considered unnatural at the time?  There were major philosophical debates between what differentiates carnal sex and erotic/spiritual sex in Ancient Greece and these were not gender specific discussions.  Sex based on lust is a very different thing than sex shared by two people who love and cherish one another.  So maybe he is referring to ritual orgies.  Or maybe he is talking about exactly what it is we think he is talking about, but his point isn’t that these people should be singled out, but rather forgiven.  I mean look at all of the verses in that first chapter of Romans.  He’s pretty much condemning everyone to sin.  In 2:1, he then writes, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”  So whatever it is Paul means in Romans 1:26-27, it sure doesn’t seem that he is giving fundamentalists the right to judge homosexuals, does it?  Then later, in 3:21, he writes ” But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.”  What is this, if not Paul’s way of reminding us that Jesus has put an end to the purity code?  This is the verse people quote the most as proof that the Bible condemns homosexuality.  But what Romans seems to be saying is that God condemns those who judge others!  Jesus said this too, didn’t he?  “Judge not lest ye be judged?”  And one final point – what human beings consider natural is confined to space/time.  It changes within various cultures and generations.  So even if Paul is condemning homosexuality (which I’m not convinced he is – I think it’s very likely that he’s condemning ritualized sex performed for the favors of Pagan gods), that doesn’t meant he would condemn it if he lived in our day and age.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:9-10:  “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”  Again, written by Paul.  And since Ancient Greece did not have a term for “homosexual”, clearly, this NIV translation is somewhat faulty. The KJV reads, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”   Issues with what is effiminate would not necessarily be about homosexual behavior.  In the times of Paul, it was not considered effiminate to penetrate another male, but it was considered effimate to be penetrated. Roman males did not want to be effiminate because it was viewed as lacking verility or being “soft”.  So what acts are being discussed?   “Abusers of themselves with mankind” is translated from arsenokoitai.  But the meaning of this term has been lost so the best interpreters can do is guess and they guess different things.  Scholars have looked at other writings about homosexuality during Paul’s time and this term never comes up.  Many have concluded it means is one male raping another male, and that it probably has to do with child molestation.  I mentioned earlier that the Greeks engaged in pederasty but still viewed pedophilia as pathological, carnal behavior. If Paul had wanted to refer to homosexuality as practiced in his day, he would likely have used the term paiderasste.  But he doesn’t.  So again, fundamentalists have no right to use this passage against homosexuals because nobody really knows that it actually IS about homosexuals.
  • 1 Timothy 1:9-10:  “We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.”  This is the NIV translation, but in other translations, homosexuals is substituted for perverts.  Again the problem is that the term “arsenokoitai” is used.  And this probably refers to forced entry, not consensual sex.  What interests me is that the NIV is one of the more conservative translations, yet it does not use the term, “homosexuals”.
  • Jude 1:7:  “In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.”  Again – we encounter translation issues.  This is the NIV, but here is the King James Version:  “Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”   There is an ancient Jewish legend that some of the women of Sodom engaged in sexual relations with angels. If that’s the case, then this passage is about bestiality, not homosexuality.   The term “sodomize” came about because of a faulty translation of the story of Sodom and Gemorrah in Genesis 19 (see above).  So we automatically assume homosexuality in this verse, but that’s based on a modern bias.

The Country Teacher (2008)

I appreciate any film that makes me think. The Country Teacher made me think.  Fantastic movie set in the rural countryside of the Czech Republic.


The teacher leaves Prague to teach in the country, apparently to get away from his homosexuality. Of course, this is impossible and he winds up having strong feelings for a boy whose age is undisclosed but is likely over 18 years of age because his girlfriend is in college.

The teacher’s homosexual ex-lover shows up in the country town and woos the boys girlfriend which greatly upsets both the teacher and the boy. The teacher is concerned for the emotional well-being of the boy, not himself and tells him to go after the girl which ends up in a humiliating scene.

Meanwhile, the teacher has been mentoring the boy in school with great success. Both celebrate a good grade on a test by getting drunk in the local bar. The boy is extremely drunk and passes out on the teachers bed. The teacher, who is likewise drunk, becomes overcome with what is played off as a tender, physical emotion for the boy and begins to stroke his penis. The boy wakes up appalled and leaves. Meanwhile, the teacher attempts suicide for his transgressions.

So here’s the deal…

…when the teacher felt up the boy, I was completely appalled. It made me angry!

But at the beginning of the film we are shown a scene where the boy’s mother, a much older woman, attempts to seduce the young teacher. That should have been equally appalling right? The teacher doesn’t want her advances, yet she is upset with him for turning away an older woman.

Everyone is the film is sexually active or has been sexually active. There aren’t any virgins and no hang ups about sex.   The teacher is probably just a few years older than the boy. Maybe four years older, if that.

Yet, I (and I assume most who watch the film) immediately forgive the older woman for her advances on the teacher while feeling disgust toward the teacher for his advances on her son.

The older woman was making advances toward a homosexual who didn’t want them any more than did the boy who received the homosexual’s advances. Yet, we have no sympathy whatsoever for the homosexual who forgets himself around a young man he has both mentored and genuinely cares about.

What the film brought home was that these prejudices are socially constructed and are not based on natural inclinations!!

The natural inclination of the older woman was to have sexual feelings toward the younger man. The natural inclination of the homosexual was to have sexual feelings toward a student he’s been mentoring. There’s really no difference at all!   Which is not to say people should go around making unwanted advances toward one another.  I don’t condone what the teacher did at all!!  But maybe there is good reason to sometimes question our psychological compulsion to be disgusted with some situations and not with others.

Definitely a thought provoking movie.

Milk (2008)

Milk is finally out in theaters and it is fantastic.  I’ve never seen an audience leave the theater so silent! Sean Penn is completely convincing.

Gay Rights is definitely the civil rights issue of our times. Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man to be appointed to public office, and that was just 30 years ago – back in the day when people around the U.S. were voting against the ability of gays to work in public positions. Could you imagine not being allowed to teach simply becaue you are gay?  We’ve come a long way. But who would have guessed Proposition 8 would have passed in California (of all places!) in 2008??  I guess we’ll know California’s Supreme Court ruling on lawsuits against Prop 8 soon so this movie is timely! I hope people go out to see it.

I was born in 1963, on the heals of the Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968), was a pre-adolescent through some of the Black Power Movement (1966-1975) and was a teenager by the end of the Second Wave Feminist Movement. I knew a lot about these movements and in retrospect realize I was heavily influenced by them. But I somehow managed to miss most of what was going on in the Gay Rights activist sphere.

I was 15 years old when Harvey Milk was assassinated, and I remember hearing about his and Mayor Mescone’s assassinations. I knew Harvey Milk was gay and I knew a little bit about the gay rights issues, but I didn’t think much about them at all until 10 years later when I saw The Times of Harvey Milk.  I was a senior at Texas A&M which was a very conservative university and the only reason I knew about the documentary was because I was dating a guy whose roommate was struggling with his gender identity. He was an extremely good looking guy and was constantly surrounded by girls and slept around a lot but sex with females didn’t satisfy him no matter how much of it he got (which was a lot!) Despite his promiscuity, he was a fairly conservative Christian (always wore a cross) so the idea of being gay scared him to death, even though it was obvious to both me and my boyfriend that he was gay. Somehow, my boyfriend had heard about the documentary while he was in Austin, so the three of us took off to Austin to see it together. It wasn’t until I was 21 years old that I had my first real understanding of the gay struggle for rights. It was the first time I realized that their struggle was no less a struggle than the African-American struggle or the female rights struggle.

Americans have always used the Bible to condemn the rise of certain groups. Thankfully, Christians no longer use the Bible to prove that slavery is a God given right. But its biblical validity was used by Christians for decades to uphold their right to own slaves. As recently as the 1990s, the Southern Baptist Convention upheld the biblical view that women are to serve their husbands because husbands are the head of the household.  (Palin should be viewed as a Biblical abomination according to this Biblical understanding.)  It never ceases to surprise me that so many Americans still believe in the inerrancy of the Bible.   The Bible remains an incredibly powerful text. But by maintaining that it is inerrant, it becomes nothing more than magical words in a magical book. It becomes the stuff of fantasy rather than the epic of human struggle and man’s attempt to understand himself that it is.

Fall From Grace

I watched Fall From Grace which was produced in 2007 by K. Ryan Jones (currently a senior at the University of Kansas) about Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church. Very interesting film.

I first heard about Phelps from Michael Moore’s series The Awful Truth and the occasional news coverage here and there. According to "Fall from Grace", Phelps doesn’t really have a following except for his family members. He had 13 kids – 4 of which left the church and the family. The other 9 remained, got married, had children, and so there is a rather large extended family that is very active in the church and that regularly pickets against homosexuality (and more recently, against dead American soldiers who they claim God has killed because America has tolerated homosexuality for far too long). All of the picketing you see on the news is just Phelpses. The vast majority are Fred Phelps’ grandchildren and great grand children who were brainwashed with the characteristic Phelps anger from birth.

The film interviewed two of Fred Phelps’ children (a son and daughter) who left the church and the family and have had nothing to do with the family or the church for decades. Both said that Phelps was an extremely violent father who beat his children regularly. The daughter said he had the emotional maturity of a 4th grader, if that. The son said that Phelps had been heavily emotionally scarred.

Not only was Phelps violent with his children, he had been a lawyer and was violent with his witnesses which caused him to be debarred. Two of his children said he is addicted to anger and always has to have a war going on somewhere. As group after group quit putting up with his antics, he turned to the church where he could use God as a spokesperson for this anger.

His kids said that it’s no use trying to argue with the Phelps family picketers because they have been doing the picketing for a long time and know how to do it. They thrive on the anger and defenses of others so it is best to just walk away rather than try and engage them in debate.

A man interviewed at the very end of "Fall From Grace" agreed and said that what Fred Phelps really needs is our love even though he is the least deserving of it. The Awful Truth’s Gay Team, "those Gay Ambassadors of Love and their Sodom mobile full of buggery", prove just this!! Watching Phelps encounter "the dozen most determined, tactically trained and sensibly dressed gay men and lesbians" Moore could find is, sadly, absolutely hilarious!! Poor Phelps just doesn’t know what to do with all that love!

For the Bible Tells Me So

For the Bible Tells Me So is an excellent documentary!!

Did you know that every five hours an LGBT teen takes their own life? And for every teen that actually does take their own life, there are 20 more that try? The suicide hotline says that one of the top five reasons people claim they want to commit suicide is for religious reasons. These people claim there is no place for them and God. (My daughter recently had a friend “come out” to her. She said she had tried to tell her mother but that her mother freaked out so she immediately said she was joking.)

Historically, it has been extremely easy to get people to internalize judgment and condemnation. Also, when people are afraid, they have to find scape goats. If you can scape goat people who have internalized judgment and condemnation, you’ve got it made and it becomes very easy to use the Bible as an effective weapon. It becomes an excuse to hate.

It does make me wonder – maybe the Romans were right to say that only the few should interpret the Bible – that the Bible, in the hands of the wrong people, would become dangerous.