Gay agism is the idea that life loses value for gay men over a certain age.
According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary agism is the American spelling while the British prefer ageism, and the definition is: “the unfair treatment of people because they are considered too old.” “Isms” are unfair because only certain characteristics are considered, typically ones that portray the people being targeted in a negative light, because those characteristics apply only to some people in the category, because other positive characteristics are ignored, because the people in question do not consider themselves in the same way and wish to be treated more respectfully, because people are being stereotyped so as to limit their opportunities, and because such categorization is based on erroneous, biased, partial and thoughtless responses that potentially endanger the people and impoverish the society in which they are being marginalized.
Gay agism is widespread.
I overheard a cute “twenty-something” gay Thai guy declare that his life would be over when he was forty. He went on, “I’d rather die than get old.” I found that initially sad, and then alarming. With that attitude he may abandon caution, which could bring about the early death he thinks he would prefer, not to mention the death of others due to his recklessness, and the loss of an era of his life richer than most twenty year-olds imagine.
At seventy-three I can attest that getting old is not for sissies, but most worries about the power of gravity are over-stated. Let me put it this way, important things still defy gravity as occasions occur.
That, in a devious way, brings me to another point.
Putting the best face on it, we do not have to be too careful in selecting gay magazines. There is a dependability about them. We can be sure 100% of the models are going to be beautiful specimen of male development. They will cause our … um … expectations to rise. On the other hand, where do we get any messages to counter the lad’s concern that life is over at forty? Where are our role-models for the second forty years?
I admit that a point comes when we look better clothed, and should avoid strong light when we have nothing on. Unlike younger brothers we probably should not assume that even maximum effort at preservation of our physical assets brings social advantages. But we can definitely perform certain functions in our later decades that were beyond our capacity when we were young and lusty. Life is not over yet.
It has often been said that we are fortunate to be in Thailand where being a gay man “beyond the peak” is not going to automatically sideline us. In fact, there are more young men “turned on” by father figures than may be the case in Caucasian cultures. Of course, there are trade-offs. A few years ago a gay colleague mentioned, “Well, Ajarn, you are getting to an age where you’ll have to pay for sex.” I knew he meant that in several ways, but I think I was right not to take it as a compliment. In other words, gay agism also operates here on and off the pages of metro-sexual magazines and quasi-gay periodicals like the Thai edition of Attitude.
First, please understand that I fully support the goals of those who want to demonstrate our disagreement with the homophobic and unconscionable laws and trends in Russia on the lead-up to the Winter Olympics in Sochi. We think Putin’s punitive laws and tacit backing of bullying and abuse should be exposed, and the Olympics should be targeted. Our question should be, “What strategy will bring the most beneficial change for our gay colleagues in Russia?”
The first idea is to get the Olympic Games moved out of Russia.
If that fails then go to plan B and shun the Olympics. So far there appears to be the widest agreement in the LGBT world on some form of boycott. The idea is to cause the Russians financial pain.
However, it always seems like a good idea to form a strategy to help somebody by at least asking their opinion. We have heard a lot of voices raising an uproar, but few of them were Russian.
So a few days ago I asked a Russian friend of mine what he thinks. He is gay and has been living in Thailand for a long time. His plan is to immigrate here, and in no case to go back to Mother Russia. He is very aware of how bad the situation is. Still, he said that he thinks the boycott could not hurt the Russian power players or help gay people in Russia the most. He believes the thing that Putin is afraid of is not that we will stay away, but that we will come. That madesense to me, in light of the recent announcements in Russia that rainbows and pink triangles would not be tolerated, nor would demonstrations of any kind. Those were defensive announcements. Imagine how Putin would have to deal withwhole delegations in rainbow colored overcoats in the opening ceremony on worldwide TV or rainbow bobsleds careening down the icy concourse, much less gay winners unfurling rainbow flags as national anthems are played. Arrests of gay advocates from overseas are not likely, despite rhetoric from certain Russian officials designed to scare us off. My friend concluded that what would give his gay friends the biggest thrill and help is for a great outpouring of unity and visible shows of support in front of the world’sviewing public. Not even the heavily intimidated media in Russia would be able to block that kind of news.
Whatever we do, boycott or demonstrate, it will be most effective if we have a united strategy. If we want to make a major impact there are two ways to go. Our plan will eitherbe to cause the Olympics to shut down or move. Or else, we should be working to get whole delegations to show gay solidarity in their dress, luggage, accessories, mascots and fans, or in the way they appear on camera. We can bend the news. What’s a human rights campaign if it doesn’t press the oppressors? If Putin reacts, we win big. If he doesn’t, we win anyway.
Rights and Wrongs
The flap-of-the-week is about religious rights versus gay rights. Of course, it is a phony dichotomy. There is no valid conflict. It is being made up as another attempt to reduce our visibility and make life more difficult for us now that some aspects of gay life are easing up. In the USA certain businesses provide services for weddings. They include photographers, caterers of food, shops printing invitations, and the like. Some of them have turned down gay weddings “on religious grounds”. What they say is that religions oppose gay marriages and the gay “lifestyle” and so they do not want to be supportive of anything that is wrong, sinful, or evil…as are gay couples. They would rather not have the business income than have anything to do with us. That is not an entirely religious decision on their part. It is homophobia.
Subsequently, a new fear has materialized, the fear of legal actions against those who refuse to provide services for gay weddings or other aspects of life for gay couples, solely and explicitly because of the gender of the persons seeking the services. A bakery recently made Facebook and news headlines by deciding to close their business rather than be required to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian wedding.
Some people cannot seem to understand what the issue is about. Why can’t a bakery decide not to sell its products to some people? Why can’t a pastor decide not to conduct a wedding for certain couples? Will the law step in and demand they do what they do not want to do?
This is where the issue becomes clearer.
Pastors, rabbis, priests and imams cannot be required to provide religious blessings for those who are not adherents and who do not meet the religion’s requirements. The religious body must be clear about what those requirements are, but once that is set forth those who do not meet the requirements can be excluded.
Bakers and photographers, as well as all others who propose to undertake commercial enterprises, however, are not providing religious services. They are providing cakes and pictures. They cannot decide to refuse to sell a cake to someone based on the color of their skin, their membership in an association, or their choice of a mate. The right to engage in a commercial enterprise is granted by the state (the body politic), which has the authority to decide such things as the legal age for buying liquor, but has not prevented selling cakes to people of any particular sexual orientation. If one wants to engage in business, one cannot discriminate between customers on the basis of one’s own phobias and prejudices.
One can, of course, decide to go out of business. But one is not a “victim” if one makes that decision.
Payap University where I am advisor to the president is a plaintiff in a legal action to have our name removed from the website of a university here in Thailand. We are listed as a co-host for a non-existent degree program in peace. We do have a PhD in peace-building, but not this program and not with them. Two prominent names are mentioned as administrators of the bogus program. One of them has nothing to do with it. The other one is overseas and can’t be reached. In fact, it turns out the entire university described on their website does not exist. The Commission on Higher Education of the Ministry of Education is taking action.
One of our emeritus deans is a defendant in a law suit brought by the Thai promoter of another spurious program offering theological degrees “based on life experience” and no course work or paper work. The degrees are being sold (for 50 or 100 thousand baht, I understand) and a few gullible pastors have forked over the money and actually had a very photogenic degree-granting ceremony in which they received the pieces of paper and fancy robes declaring they are now “honorary doctors of divinity”. When the pastors began to demand salary increases and changes in their titles our emeritus dean (and I) clicked on the website for the California-based “church” and read that for about $25 (750 baht) anyone could purchase documents declaring one’s ordination, doctoral status, or the establishment of a tax-exempt church, together with parking stickers entitling one to park in clergy spaces. The California church was very open-minded. Any theological opinion at all was fine with them. Getting special mention, just so we would be sure, were New Age, Wiccan (witchcraft) and atheist. Our colleague is being sued for defaming the character of the Thai promoter by quoting from this website in a major Thai church publication.
Not long ago a large university not far from Bangkok was closed for providing academic degrees in unaccredited programs and without requiring students to attend classes or take examinations. To avoid prison, the administrators had to return all the students’ tuition and fees and the students had to start over and actually work for their degrees in legitimate universities.
An applicant for an administrative position a few years ago was my introduction to academic fraud. He came with credentials from a well-known university in New York State. He had, by his own testimony, a remarkable track record in student recruitment, which was attractive to us. The president asked me to check his records. It was almost impossible to get anyone in New York to cooperate, but I finally managed to get a registrar to look at scanned copies of the guy’s transcript and diploma. The registrar cautiously responded that “we have no one in this office who can testify those records were issued by us,” and, most helpfully, “The diploma is not in the form our university uses.” The fellow chose not to argue and left within minutes.
Now, my point is this: I have heard that one or two of our gay ex-patriot colleagues with Thai partners are flirting with the idea of applying for jobs in teaching English, believing that nobody checks credentials or cares. That is not true. Others are frustrated that getting a visa based on a teaching job is hard because of all the paper that’s required. My response is that protecting the credibility of our educational system is important.
Gay marriage is a hot issue these days. It is possibly the hottest social and political issue in the USA. Here in Thailand there is agitation for gay civil rights, as well, including the chance to get married and be eligible for the same protections as heterosexuals.
It is not appropriate for a foreign guest in the country to presume to tell Thailand how to write its laws. So I am making suggestions about benefits any society might derive from adopting gay marriage.
The benefit most often mentioned is how gay couples can help preserve the institution of marriage by lowering the divorce rate and restoring the principles that underlie the family. I am referring to statistics that show that in countries with a gay marriage history, the rate of divorce is lower for gay couples than for heterosexual couples. Children of gay couples also rate higher on tests of socialization and language skills.
But the proposals I want to make are not about gay marriages that perfectly mirror the ideal heterosexual marriage in terms of monogamy, romantic power, and 1.7 children (the latest Thai figure for the number of children in families with children). I want to comment on how gay marriages might change and improve the standard marriage model.
The first contribution we might make would be new models of commitment. Let me put it this way, in gay marriages we may not promise everything but we mean what we promise. So our first contribution to reform the institution of marriage would be a specified commitment. Of course, this is anathema to those defending the old concept of marriage where everything is promised “until death do ye part,” but hardly anybody lives up to it. Even couples in lovely 60-year exclusive partnerships hold back on some things and shift over the years on others. Guilt is often the result, which has a corrosive effect on life. Let’s add a less guilt-ridden type of contextualized commitment. We who are in gay marriages swear to you this works well. Oh, come on, you straight couples are doing this anyhow. We’ll just help you legitimize it.
Sub-point A would be about monogamy. To be brief, just agree with me that monogamy is not a very ancient concept. If your marriage really would only survive if it were monogamous, well, go that way. But on the whole I will argue that most long-term gay marriages have more openness than that and the issues of commitment are about more important things.
I can hear the shrieks already. “That’s what we mean,” I hear. “Gay marriage is a sham because it isn’t a sexual prison.” (OK, those aren’t the words they use.) But making sex the measure of a committed relationship hasn’t really protected the institution of marriage very well. We can show you a better measure of commitment.
Our second contribution could be realigned patterns of relationship.
First of all, we can show you several different ways to get kids, including ways with heightened levels of intentionality, to put it in polysyllabic terms. Hey, with us there are no surprises or after-thoughts. Furthermore, our children are valued and cherished because we don’t just breed babies, we have to strategize.
Then we can introduce a new way of being family. It may not be for everybody. Some people are into blood lines for their livestock and themselves. For some people there’s nothing quite as thrilling as hosting a tea party for the Daughters of the Ancient Regime. But let’s say you’re not royal and succession to the throne is not a personal issue with you. You might be ready for a non-dynastic family, one composed of people with whom you have a lot in common and with whom you enjoy frequent contact. We gay sons and daughters can show you how to structure a really workable new relational pattern complete with a whole new type of kings and queens. We’ve worked it out. It’s how we have survived.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.