Monthly Archives: October 2011

Self-Reliance

The high school English class that I teach has been learning about the transcendentalist movement.  Yesterday, we read excerpts from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance.”  This essay really spoke to me, and so I have included some excepts from the essay below.  When I first read this essay, I was not yet out of the closet, and it did not mean as much to me then as it does now.  Emerson may actually be speaking more directly to the GLBT community than we realize. There is some evidence that Ralph Waldo Emerson was bisexual. Emerson may have had erotic thoughts about at least one man. During his early years at Harvard, he said he was “strangely attracted” to a young man named Martin Gay, about whom he wrote sexual poetry. Nathaniel Hawthorne was also purportedly one of his infatuations.

Emerson is the seminal intellectual, philosophical voice of the nineteenth century in America. Although readers today may find his thought slightly facile, even unrealistic–times do change–his influence among his contemporaries and those who followed immediately after him was enormous. Emerson was the spokesman for the American Transcendentalists, a group of New England romantic writers, which included Thoreau, who believed that intuition was the means to truth, that god is revealed through intuition to each individual. They celebrated the independent individual and strongly supported democracy. The essay “Self-Reliance,” from which an excerpt is presented here, is the clearest, most memorable example of Emerson’s philosophy of individualism, an idea that is deeply embedded in American culture. His variety of individualism grows of the self’s intuitive connection with the Over-Soul and is not simply a matter of self-centered assertion or immature narcissism

Consider what Emerson says about the importance of non-conformity and independent beliefs and contrast this with the prevailing attitude in contemporary America.  With so much discussion of bullying in schools, this essay should be, and in most textbooks is, essential reading.  It teaches us that we should be ourselves, not the conforming sheep that bullies try to push us into.  Emerson is telling us to trust ourselves, because it is us alone that can overcome the bullies of the world.  With the rate of GLBT youth suicides and bullycide going on in American schools, we should realize that it will get better and that we should be proud to be ourselves.

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried. Not for nothing one face, one character, one fact, makes much impression on him, and another none. This sculpture in the memory is not without preëstablished harmony. The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it might testify of that particular ray. We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents. It may be safely trusted as proportionate and of good issues, so it be faithfully imparted, but God will not have his work made manifest by cowards. A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no hope.
Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark….
These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world.Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.
For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure. And therefore a man must know how to estimate a sour face. The by-standers look askance on him in the public street or in the friend’s parlour. If this aversation had its origin in contempt and resistance like his own, he might well go home with a sad countenance; but the sour faces of the multitude, like their sweet faces, have no deep cause, but are put on and off as the wind blows and a newspaper directs. Yet is the discontent of the multitude more formidable than that of the senate and the college. It is easy enough for a firm man who knows the world to brook the rage of the cultivated classes. Their rage is decorous and prudent, for they are timid as being very vulnerable themselves. But when to their feminine rage the indignation of the people is added, when the ignorant and the poor are aroused, when the unintelligent brute force that lies at the bottom of society is made to growl and mow, it needs the habit of magnanimity and religion to treat it godlike as a trifle of no concernment….
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.–‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’–Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.
I suppose no man can violate his nature. All the sallies of his will are rounded in by the law of his being, as the inequalities of Andes and Himmaleh are insignificant in the curve of the sphere. Nor does it matter how you gauge and try him. A character is like an acrostic or Alexandrian stanza;–read it forward, backward, or across, it still spells the same thing. In this pleasing, contrite wood-life which God allows me, let me record day by day my honest thought without prospect or retrospect, and, I cannot doubt, it will be found symmetrical, though I mean it not, and see it not. My book should smell of pines and resound with the hum of insects. The swallow over my window should interweave that thread or straw he carries in his bill into my web also. We pass for what we are. Character teaches above our wills. Men imagine that they communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions, and do not see that virtue or vice emit a breath every moment.
Let a man then know his worth, and keep things under his feet. Let him not peep or steal, or skulk up and down with the air of a charity-boy, a bastard, or an interloper, in the world which exists for him. But the man in the street, finding no worth in himself which corresponds to the force which built a tower or sculptured a marble god, feels poor when he looks on these. To him a palace, a statue, or a costly book have an alien and forbidding air, much like a gay equipage, and seem to say like that, ‘Who are you, Sir?’ Yet they all are his, suitors for his notice, petitioners to his faculties that they will come out and take possession. The picture waits for my verdict: it is not to command me, but I am to settle its claims to praise. That popular fable of the sot who was picked up dead drunk in the street, carried to the duke’s house, washed and dressed and laid in the duke’s bed, and, on his waking, treated with all obsequious ceremony like the duke, and assured that he had been insane, owes its popularity to the fact, that it symbolizes so well the state of man, who is in the world a sort of sot, but now and then wakes up, exercises his reason, and finds himself a true prince….
It is easy to see that a greater self-reliance must work a revolution in all the offices and relations of men; in their religion; in their education; in their pursuits; their modes of living; their association; in their property; in their speculative views.

Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” teaches us to trust ourselves. By ourselves, we have unique voices and opinions, which society shuts down as soon as we confront other people and the group. Society’s primary concern is creating wealth and status, while the individual’s concern is self-expression and fulfillment. We want to take life slow, savor every moment, express ourselves, and explore many talents and skills. Society wants us to be big shots, put all our education towards one career, weed out our competitors to become successful, and make more money than we could ever need. But since society’s goal’s are so ingrained inside us, we must learn to trust our own instincts as to what society tells us.

Emerson states that in solitude, individuals have voices, “which grow faint and inaudible as we enter the world.” Some of these thoughts and opinions that people come up with in solitude might cause fear when presented to society. Since society is such a delicate structure based on fear of chaos, any novel voice will make the person who spoke it become “the other.” Fear of alienation prevents voices from leaving solitude into the realm of society.

Emerson states that individuals who work hard and pursue fulfillment should not be proud of the possessions they acquired. He says, “a cultivated man becomes ashamed of his property, ashamed of what he has, out of respect for his own being,” meaning that acquiring property is just an accident. If you trust yourself and work towards the proper development of yourself by discovery of your innermost talents, then you should not accept society’s false reward of property. An ordinary person doing his best work is just as valuable as the “great” lives of kings and royalty. The greatest reward is knowing that you have found your own unique self, and fully trust it.

Fulfillment verses success, self expression verses conformity, and solitude verses the group are important factors to distinguish. Emerson in “Self-Reliance” is not advocating staying in solitude, because humans are social beings. Rather he wants us to discover ourselves away from society, and then confront society as our fulfilled and cultivated selfs. In reality, the wealth power structure of society is just a response to fear of our chaotic world, and if we just embrace this chaos, we might be more fulfilled, happy people. Trust yourself. Learn to let go.

Sources:


Acceptance

Acceptance
The guilt, the anguish, the torture and the pain
I’ve struggled with this demon, always knowing it was in vain
Once a free spirit, a picture of joy, 
but the mask I have worn, I now have to destroy.
The awful lies and continuous deception,
Destined to be ruined by my own self-destruction
But the time has come to face the truth of my soul
I won’t be consumed by the decay of this black hole.
Before you judge me please hold on to this thought:
I am still the same person; it was never your fault.
I have come to accept who I am today
Please do the same mother, father; I am gay.


LGBT History Month Icons Oct. 8th – 11th

Dan Choi – Saturday, October 8th
“Action and sacrifice speak much more loudly than the best crafted, eloquent speech.”

Dan Choi was the nation’s leading activist for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” More

Aaron Copland – Sunday, October 9th
“To stop the flow of music would be like the stopping of time itself, incredible and inconceivable.

Aaron Copland was a world-renowned composer, teacher, writer, and conductor. More

Alan Cumming – Monday, October 10th
“We need to do everything we can to counteract hatred and shame and we need to be strong in this fight.”

Alan Cumming is an award-winning film, television and Broadway actor. More

Rabbi Denise Eger – Tuesday, October 11th
“I believe God made me just as I am. That is all I need to know, that I am exactly who God created me to be!”

Rabbi Denise Eger is one of the first openly gay rabbis. More


Tomorrow Is Coming Out Day!

Whether you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or a straight ally, be proud of who you are and your support for LGBT equality this Coming Out Day!

In the Beginning, There Was a March

On Oct. 11, 1987, half a million people participated in the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. It was the second such demonstration in our nation’s capital and resulted in the founding of a number of LGBT organizations, including the National Latino/a Gay & Lesbian Organization (LLEGÓ) and AT&T’s LGBT employee group, LEAGUE. The momentum continued four months after this extraordinary march as more than 100 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists from around the country gathered in Manassas, Va., about 25 miles outside Washington, D.C. Recognizing that the LGBT community often reacted defensively to anti-gay actions, they came up with the idea of a national day to celebrate coming out and chose the anniversary of that second march on Washington to mark it. The originators of the idea were Rob Eichberg, a founder of the personal growth workshop, The Experience, and Jean O’Leary, then head of National Gay Rights Advocates. From this idea the National Coming Out Day was born.

To this day National Coming Out Day (NCOD) continues to promote a safe world for LGBT individuals to live truthfully and openly.

The People of NCOD

The success of NCOD, which from inception quickly expanded to include participation from all 50 states and foreign countries, is because of the hard work of celebrities, volunteers and activists.

  • Rob Eichberg and Jean O’Leary were the originators of the idea of NCOD
  • Sean Strub and Keith Haring- In 1987, Activist Sean Strub got Haring to donate his now-famous image of a person fairly dancing out of a closet
  • Lynn Shepodd – In 1990, Shepodd, who later became a member of HRC’s Board of Governors, was hired as executive director and obtained tax-exempt status for the organization
  • Geraldo Rivera- In 1991, Geraldo Rivera hosted a coming out day TV program that featured Dick Sargent, a gay actor famous for playing Darren on Bewitched, openly gay California Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl and Eichberg.
  • Wes Combs in 1994 was named HRCF’s project director for National Coming Out Day
  • Candace Gingrich, half-sister of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, became a National Coming Out Project spokesperson and full-time activist in 1995
  • Dan Butler, who played the character Bulldog on NBC-TV’s Frasier, was NCOD spokeperson in 1995
  • Rock musician Melissa Etheridge did a radio public service announcement, reminding people that “Labels belong on records, not on people.”
  • Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., spoke at the “Come Out Voting” rally in Washington, D.C., Oct. 11, 1996.
  • Fashion photographer Don Flood in 1996 shot past spokespeople Bearse, Butler and Gingrich, along with Olympic diver Greg Louganis, actor Mitchell Anderson, newly minted gay activist Chastity Bono and Sean Sasser, who had appeared in MTV’s The Real World.
  • In 1996, actress Judith Light, pro golfer Muffin Spencer-Devlin and, in her first appearance at a gay rights event, Cher spoke at a Come Out Voting rally in Washington, DC
  • In September 1997 the project brought in its first straight spokesperson, Betty DeGeneres, mother of actress/comedian Ellen DeGeneres.
  • Patrick Bristow (formerly of the Ellen TV show), Dan Butler, San Francisco Supervisor Mark Leno, longtime activist Donna Red Wing, Betty DeGeneres, Gingrich and SF Mayor Willie Brown were featured in a 1998 NCOD event in San Francisco’s Delores Park
  • Chicago-native and founding member of the rock group Styx Chuck Panozzo celebrated a special homecoming in 2001 when he came out at the Human Rights Campaign annual Chicago dinner.
  • On National Coming Out Day, Oct. 11, 2002, a benefit CD featuring the songs of openly LGBT musicians and straight allies was released. Cyndi Lauper, Queen, k.d. lang, Jade Esteban Estrada and Sarah McLachlan are among the artists who donated songs to the album.
  • Etheridge’s name appears on a poster celebrating the 2002 theme along with 18 other openly LGBT artists, including Ani DiFranco, Michael Stipe, the Indigo Girls, RuPaul, Rufus Wainwright and The Butchies

Living Openly

However you identify, HRC and its Coming Out Project hope these guides help you meet the challenges and opportunities that living openly offers to each of us:

Find coming out guides and other resources

Are You a Straight Ally?

Check out A Straight Guide to LGBT Americans to learn about the emotional spectrum that people typically feel after someone comes out to them and find easy ways to learn more and demonstrate your support for LGBT Americans and equality.

Download the guide


What I Wanted To Do Today…

I’d love to have laid in bed all day today with a good book, and if someone happened to be lying beside me while I read, all the better. However, instead, I have been running around helping family members with a little bit of this and a little bit of that.  Sometimes, there is no rest for the weary.  What would have been your ideal day today?


Moment of Zen: Coffee


LGBT History Month Icons Oct. 5th – 7th

Icons for Wednesday, Oct. 5th – Friday, Oct. 7th

Dustin Lance Black – October 5th
“I heard the story of Harvey Milk and it gave me hope that I could live my life openly as who I am.”

Dustin Lance Black is a screenwriter, director and producer. He received an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for “Milk. More

Keith Boykin – October 6th
“I’m not on a show with a pink triangle or rainbow flag, which means that being gay is just a part of who I am.”

Keith Boykin is a political commentator, best-selling author, editor of The Daily Voice, and veteran of two presidential campaigns. More

Rita Mae Brown – October 7th
“Don’t ask to live in tranquil times. Literature doesn’t grow there.”

Rita Mae Brown is a novelist and screenwriter best known for her semi-autobiographical lesbian-themed book “Rubyfruit Jungle.” More


Undergraduate Majors in LGBT Studies

San Diego State University announced this week that it had received approval to offer an undergraduate major in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender studies, and would begin accepting students into the multidisciplinary program next spring.

Esther Rothblum, a professor of women’s studies and the LGBT-studies academic adviser at San Diego State, said in a news release that the four-year major would be the first in California and the second in the United States. The other institution offering such a major is Hobart and William Smith Colleges, in New York, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Ms. Rothblum said the degree would be applicable to a variety of careers, and an asset for students applying to professional programs in areas like business, law, or medicine.

Graduates of a Bachelor’s degree program will have an excellent foundation for careers in social work, family planning, counseling, medicine, law, the ministry/rabbinate, human resources, and K-12 teaching (where people are allowed to teach about LGBT issues) in various subjects, as well as for advanced academic study in disciplines such as literature, history, sociology, the arts, or theology, just to name some of the obvious ones. There are more than 1500 non-profit organizations related to LGBT issues across the country that would benefit from educated people on this topic. There are colleges running multicultural student centers and student clubs that need advisors, research roles in private and government organizations, and I can think of many other places where an education in LGBT studies could be useful.

I wish I had been out at the time I was in undergrad and would have been able to be a double major in history and LGBT studies. Most of my knowledge of LGBT issues and history has come largely from my own personal research and yearning for knowledge on the subject. Many schools are now offering minors in LGBT studies or minors in Human Rights. There have already been gender studies programs which focus on a wide range of gender issues including LGBT issues, but I think this is wonderful that there are programs now for a four year degree in LGBT studies.


Phallus Impudicus: The Shameless Phallus

With Gay American History, Jonathan Ned Katz published the first book of documents relating to homosexuality in American history. This fascinating and compendious source ranges from the sixteenth century up to present times; its texts include everything from denunciations of sodomy in colonial America to modern protests against homosexual persecution.  By demonstrating the important presence of same-sex desires, friendships, and sexual practices throughout Western history, this book was crucial in opening up new fields for investigation.

Jonathan Katz’s Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. uses this illustration drawn by Henry David Thoreau of “Phallus impudicus” (the shameless phallus), among excerpts from Thoreau’s letters about his reaction after reading Whitman’s Leaves of Grass: “It is as if the beasts spoke. I think that men have not been ashamed of themselves without reason.”

I would love to be able to see this document myself and analyze it’s content; however, this picture of the “Phallus impudicus” drawing is not clear enough to tell much about it. This same drawing does appear in Thoreau’s Garden by H. Peter Loewer. In this volume, we can learn more about ferns and berries, goldenrods and grasses. More relevant to this post, readers can even get a glimpse of the “disgusting … yet very suggestive” fungus (Phallus impudicus) that Thoreau railed about in October 1856, pondering “Pray, what was Nature thinking of when she made this? She almost puts herself on a level with those who draw in privies.” Loewer used as his reference the index in the Dover two-volume reprint of Thoreau’s Journals, which is somewhat incomplete.

The question I pose is this:  Is Thoreau chronicling the plants in his garden, or is he presenting a critique of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass?  It is a question I would love to ponder further along with the relevant documents.


Ode to Walt Whitman

Eakins was profoundly influenced by the ideas of Walt Whitman, with whom he became close friends, after painting his portrait in 1887-1888. Eakins’ carefully composed images of naked youths in arcadian landscape settings (such as The Swimming Hole, 1893-1895) constitute visual equivalents of Whitman’s poems, celebrating male beauty and comradeship. Eakins often painted scenes of all-male athletic activities, such as rowing (for example, The Biglin Brothers Turning the Stake, 1873) and boxing (for example, Counting Out, 1888).

Ode to Walt Whitman
by Federico Garcia Lorca

By the East River and the Bronx
boys were singing, exposing their waists
with the wheel, with oil, leather, and the hammer.
Ninety thousand miners taking silver from the rocks
and children drawing stairs and perspectives.

But none of them could sleep,
none of them wanted to be the river,
none of them loved the huge leaves
or the shoreline’s blue tongue.

By the East River and the Queensboro
boys were battling with industry
and the Jews sold to the river faun
the rose of circumcision,
and over bridges and rooftops, the mouth of the sky emptied
herds of bison driven by the wind.

But none of them paused,
none of them wanted to be a cloud,
none of them looked for ferns
or the yellow wheel of a tambourine.

As soon as the moon rises
the pulleys will spin to alter the sky;
a border of needles will besiege memory
and the coffins will bear away those who don’t work.

New York, mire,
New York, mire and death.
What angel is hidden in your cheek?
Whose perfect voice will sing the truths of wheat?
Who, the terrible dream of your stained anemones?

Not for a moment, Walt Whitman, lovely old man,
have I failed to see your beard full of butterflies,
nor your corduroy shoulders frayed by the moon,
nor your thighs pure as Apollo’s,
nor your voice like a column of ash,
old man, beautiful as the mist,
you moaned like a bird
with its sex pierced by a needle.
Enemy of the satyr,
enemy of the vine,
and lover of bodies beneath rough cloth…

Not for a moment, virile beauty,
who among mountains of coal, billboards, and railroads,
dreamed of becoming a river and sleeping like a river
with that comrade who would place in your breast
the small ache of an ignorant leopard.

Not for a moment, Adam of blood, Macho,
man alone at sea, Walt Whitman, lovely old man,
because on penthouse roofs,
gathered at bars,
emerging in bunches from the sewers,
trembling between the legs of chauffeurs,
or spinning on dance floors wet with absinthe,
the faggots, Walt Whitman, point you out.

He’s one, too! That’s right! And they land
on your luminous chaste beard,
blonds from the north, blacks from the sands,
crowds of howls and gestures,
like cats or like snakes,
the faggots, Walt Whitman, the faggots,
clouded with tears, flesh for the whip,
the boot, or the teeth of the lion tamers.

He’s one, too! That’s right! Stained fingers
point to the shore of your dream
when a friend eats your apple
with a slight taste of gasoline
and the sun sings in the navels
of boys who play under bridges.

But you didn’t look for scratched eyes,
nor the darkest swamp where someone submerges children,
nor frozen saliva,
nor the curves slit open like a toad’s belly
that the faggots wear in cars and on terraces
while the moon lashes them on the street corners of terror.

You looked for a naked body like a river.
Bull and dream who would join wheel with seaweed,
father of your agony, camellia of your death,
who would groan in the blaze of your hidden equator.

Because it’s all right if a man doesn’t look for his delight
in tomorrow morning’s jungle of blood.
The sky has shores where life is avoided
and there are bodies that shouldn’t repeat themselves in the dawn.

Agony, agony, dream, ferment, and dream.
This is the world, my friend, agony, agony.
Bodies decompose beneath the city clocks,
war passes by in tears, followed by a million gray rats,
the rich give their mistresses
small illuminated dying things,
and life is neither noble, nor good, nor sacred.

Man is able, if he wishes, to guide his desire
through a vein of coral or a heavenly naked body.
Tomorrow, loves will become stones, and Time
a breeze that drowses in the branches.

That’s why I don’t raise my voice, old Walt Whitman,
against the little boy who writes
the name of a girl on his pillow,
nor against the boy who dresses as a bride
in the darkness of the wardrobe,
nor against the solitary men in casinos
who drink prostitution’s water with revulsion,
nor against the men with that green look in their eyes
who love other men and burn their lips in silence.

But yes against you, urban faggots,
tumescent flesh and unclean thoughts.
Mothers of mud. Harpies. Sleepless enemies
of the love that bestows crowns of joy.

Always against you, who give boys
drops of foul death with bitter poison.
Always against you,
Fairies of North America,
Pájaros of Havana,
Jotos of Mexico,
Sarasas of Cádiz,
Apios of Seville,
Cancos of Madrid,
Floras of Alicante,
Adelaidas of Portugal.

Faggots of the world, murderers of doves!
Slaves of women. Their bedroom bitches.
Opening in public squares like feverish fans
or ambushed in rigid hemlock landscapes.

No quarter given! Death
spills from your eyes
and gathers gray flowers at the mire’s edge.
No quarter given! Attention!
Let the confused, the pure,
the classical, the celebrated, the supplicants
close the doors of the bacchanal to you.

And you, lovely Walt Whitman, stay asleep on the Hudson’s banks
with your beard toward the pole, openhanded.
Soft clay or snow, your tongue calls for
comrades to keep watch over your unbodied gazelle.

Sleep on, nothing remains.
Dancing walls stir the prairies
and America drowns itself in machinery and lament.
I want the powerful air from the deepest night
to blow away flowers and inscriptions from the arch where you sleep,
and a black child to inform the gold-craving whites
that the kingdom of grain has arrived.

For more information and analysis of this poem, take a look at “Lorca’s Homographic Poetics of Nationalism” by Frederick Luis Aldama

Also see:

I would not consider this one of my favorite poems, but it is interesting in its own way. John K. Walsh speculates in his essay “Lorca’s Ode to Walt Whitman” that Lorca’s Cuban hiatus marked his “open passage into a homosexual mien, and the acknowledgment of his proclivities.”  As with most poetic coming outs, this is bold and expressive.