Renee Descartes revolutionized philosophical discourse (with a lot of help) with his reformation of the basic proposition of epistemology (the study of how we know). His dictum was Cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am.” That concise aphorism raises a host of possibilities for introspection.
Being young, gay and not at all philosophical, one guy I know insists, “I f---, therefore I am.” He has identified the focus of his nights, anyhow.
A mother of 3 young teenagers comments, “I drive, therefore I am.” She thinks her kids really only notice her when they need to go somewhere.
These days I would have to admit that “I write, therefore I am.” My septuagenarian days are divided unevenly between family-friends, lingering work for Payap University, and writing.
All this week I have been putting together a paper on “continuity,” which is a philosophical topic of importance to such issues as abortion and euthanasia, but also Christian-Jewish-Islamic relations, and Christian theology. I don’t expect to make an impact on these critical issues, because I have no prospects of getting the fruits of my labors before those who lead in these matters – if there are any leaders. I am not writing to make a difference, or even to sort out “continuity” for my own satisfaction and benefit.
I have been wondering, in fact, why I am so committed to this project, spending 8 to 10 hours a day on it, checking and rechecking facts (constantly grateful for the Internet since no library is close).
My best answer is that I write to exist, to be.
This writing I do doesn’t validate me (I am valid apart from what I do), nor legitimize me (I cannot display my writing to prove I am who I think I am – although that is closer), nor extend my existence (I am not, I think, searching for some form of immortality this way). I have come to realize that one thing that happens when I write is that I become involved, caught up, and mentally transported into a new context.
This same thing happens when I read “Harry Potter”, which is why I have read all 7 volumes several times. When I write I am living a fantasy life. But I don’t write to escape. I don’t need to “escape”, although “augment” would work for me to an extent. Many people my age and stage are doing things to fill in space in life that used to be full of some other configuration of work and relationships.
How would you fill in the blank, “I _________, therefore I am”?
There are a number of indicators that progress toward human rights for LGBT persons is not being made, despite momentum forward resulting from recent marriage equality resolutions in France, New Zealand and the United Kingdom as well as a few states in the USA. Overall, worldwide, we are slipping backward again.
The online journal IntLawGrrls on June 7 headlined: “The United Nations Human Rights Council’s Backwards Step on LGBT Rights”. The article reported that South Africa will not table a resolution, after all, on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights at the United Nation’s Human Rights Council’s 23rd session. Thanks to Paisan Likhitpreechakul for posting this article on Facebook.
“The majority of states across the world do not recognize sexual orientation and gender rights” the article complained. Most African and Islamic countries are strengthening their laws and policies that criminalize homosexual acts and even criminalize persons who offer support and comfort for homosexuals.
The UN Human Rights Council did pass Resolution 17/19 in June 2011 while many of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) representatives were unavailable for the vote, being distracted by the Arab Spring uprisings which began in Tunisia in December 2010 and toppled the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya and spread to almost every Islamic country over the next year.
As a result of Resolution 17/19 a Panel on Sexual Orientation took place in March 2012, by which time OIC members were back in their chairs, but then the whole OIC block walked out in protest, reportedly insisting that the panel (and by implication the whole issue of sexual rights) “has nothing to do with fundamental human rights.”
The crux of the matter before the UN is whether mechanics can be put into place to provide technical assistance to member states in sorting out how to provide and protect human rights for persons endangered by their sexual orientation and gender identity. It had been hoped, the IntLawGrrls article said, that a new resolution this year would create a Special Procedures mandate to mainstream the issue of LGBT rights as human rights. The decision by South Africa not to table a resolution is a step backward.
Respondents to the article, however, point out that a number of panels worldwide had been convened, including one in Oslo where the Special Procedures idea was debated. It happens that there was no consensus that the Special Procedures mandate would be the best approach, and that support for any particular idea was insufficient. This may have been the real reason why South Africa made its decision. Not all the blame should be laid on the OIC and the African block.
Meanwhile, in places as far apart as Uganda and Ukraine the chaos on human rights for LGBT persons threatens to deteriorate into mass violence. It can still be argued that overall, around the world, we are increasingly endangered rather than increasingly safer.
Instructions: follow the trail of your inclinations and see where it leads. If I were really clever I’d have made this interactive just for the fun of it. Another format would be a witty flow-chart. Being tech-challenged and a teacher for the past 50 years the best I could come up with was this old-fashioned form used by generations of opinion surveys.
Begin with question 1. Decide on which of the two options you most agree with and then go to either question 2 or question 7 as instructed. If you get lost or bored, just jump to question 15. Also if you wind up going around in religious circles coming back to question 1 again and again, jump to question 15.
No hero of the Middle Ages is better known than Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans, whose military leadership in one short year led to French victory in the One Hundred Years War between France and England, and placed Charles VII on the throne. Joan was captured, sold to the English, put on trial for heresy and executed at the stake. She was 19.
I’m going to risk being an iconoclast of gay heroes by not only insisting that the charges against her were trumped up but also that she was not a transsexual or lesbian as has been recently debated. She is sometimes listed as a gay hero along with Alexander the Great and Walt Whitman. She was convicted for lapsing into heresy by refusing to wear women’s apparel, even when not going into battle. And she slept with the girls!
As it happens, her trial records were extensively preserved and have been thoroughly studied. It seems clear: (1) She wore men’s clothes into war because she was a warrior. (2) She refused to untie the garments when she was in prison because they protected her from repeated sexual assaults. (3) She wore female attire between military campaigns when she was home. (4) She agreed to wear only female garments in a signed document she did not fully understand. (5) This willingness would have undermined the English prosecution’s heresy charge against her had she abided by it. (6) The English captors finally forced her to wear men’s garments, by taking away all others (a fact that was suppressed in court); when she appeared in men’s clothing again this amounted to a “relapse” into sin, which was the necessary legal basis for her being burned at the stake for relapsing into heresy.
In other words the English trial was a sham.
Less than twenty years after her death she was exonerated in a new trial, later canonized as a saint, and is counted as one of France’s major heroes.
Her personal life revolved around her exceptional piety, her chaste character, and her peasant background.
We would love for her to be “one of us” as Vita Sackville-West alleged in 1936 and as has been reasserted on various grounds since. There is insufficient evidence that Joan transgressed any laws, or infringed any mores, except to follow what she understood to be divine commands to undertake a traditional male role in a very public way. Other women warriors went into battle, but all did so covertly during the Middle Ages, dominated as the times were by paternalistic chivalry.
I will claim Joan of Arc as our saint too, on the basis that she broke society’s gender rules and lived her life “her way”. She is a role model fit for our times.
May 30 is Joan’s day in the Church calendar.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.