So That's What They're Afraid Of!

By Reverend Charles Bidwell

During the month from hell when the Supreme Court of Canada told Alberta to do the right thing and the religious fanatics cried impending calamity, I wondered what they were afraid of. I think understand a part of their (our?) fear now.

When the decision came down that non-heterosexually-oriented people must be protected from discrimination, a well-financed campaign in the media and by fax to Alberta churches proclaimed alarmist, fear-mongering statements. None of these statements were based on fact. All of them played on the cords of distrust and disdain that are strung in each of us, regardless of our sexual orientation. These statements and letters were calls of alarm that the slippery slope to dire social and personal consequences had been entered.

The family was under siege and needed defending, they shouted. Perverse sexual practice would become rampant, they screamed. They betrayed a moral and mortal fear. But why?

Similar legislation in other provinces had been emotionally fought over, and when implemented, those provinces had not suffered measurable dire consequences. What was the root of their fear?

We need to examine the source of fear because irrational fear (phobia) is harmful on two counts. Rational fear is protective: it makes us respect and protect ourselves from wild carnivores, life threatening viruses, and dangerous physical situations. Irrational fear builds barriers to acceptance of people who are different from us and thus blocks agape love. Irrational fear is also harmful because it leads to violence. Ignorance breeds fear (we naturally suspect and fear the unknown and the unfamiliar) and that fear leads us into the temptation of violence: bash the bugger, kill the queer; deck the dyke.

Where does this fear of difference come from? It comes from deep within each of us; deep within all of us is a stinking pile of shame. We deny its existence with major effort and it grows. In our society, erotic playful sexual activity is deemed shameful (it might be tolerated within the state of matrimony, but it is still suspect). Sexual behaviour is highly controlled by fear of censure, disgrace and shame. Many people pride themselves in being "good Christian people" and they shun any sexual thoughts, feelings, and actions which are not sanctioned or blessed by their church or someone's interpretation of the Bible's dictums. Many of us are taught to fear Eros, with the result that we shun and vilify any group of people who wantonly embrace their erotic nature. People who play sexually are suspect and censured or oppressed. Because some heterosexually oriented people are erotophobic, they project their shame and fear on those people who challenge or defy their values and dare to consider sexual behaviours as a form of play - recreative, rather than procreative.

What some heterosexually oriented people may secretly fantasize doing, many non-heterosexually oriented people do. Such deviance evokes envy and anger on the part of the restricted ones, because the liberated ones seem to thumb their noses at the constraints. There is a horizontal version of this homophobia, which makes some homosexually oriented folks show disdain and disapproval of flavours of sexual activity other than "vanilla" (such as Strawberry & Mocha, Banana & Date, Licorice).

Lesbians are a threat, because they refuse to play the role of compliant wives and submissive girl friends. Many heterosexually oriented men are threatened - the family is threatened because "My God, what will happen if all women refuse to be controlled by men!"

When an ignorant person writes that what I do sexually is repulsive, disease promoting, and ungodly, he does not know or care about my personal sexual behaviour (and he need never know for it will never impact his life). He writes from his imagination: his unsettling dark interior fantasies, his discomfort with his erotic body, and his emotional heritage of shame and revulsion at anything beyond his personal comfort level. There is an animal within him (and all of us) that he must cage and the thought, let alone the sight, of anyone releasing and playing with this animal is frightening to him.

When we are held captive by irrational fear, difference becomes a dangerous deviance. The challenge we all face in these, and all times is to reduce the volume of irrational fear and make room for releasing more love. Let us not fight back against the fanatical right with their tools, but let us relate to them with empathy, for we too have shunned and feared our brothers and sisters who express themselves in sexual behaviours different from ours. Let us learn how to embrace difference and overcome our phobias so that we will be better able to understand what we are asking others to do with regard to our differences.

We may well be a threat to their world view and value system. They may feel that their comfortable social structure is being challenged. They claim that homosexually-oriented people are well-organized (that idea betrays their ignorance) and that they have an "agenda (as if they don't and as if having an agenda is a reprehensible thing to have). I don't know what our agenda is other than to be treated with respect as an equal. If we have an agenda, it is not to oppress or restrict anyone else: it is not to spread fear and hatred; it is not to preserve privilege and exert power over others.

Having said that, I can understand some of their fear about losing control over sexual expression; I still do not appreciate why some of the heterosexual majority feel threatened and forced to build "fences" around legislation. They seem to fear that non-heterosexually oriented people will gain rights that so far are exclusively the privilege of heterosexually oriented people. But what will it cost them, beyond exclusivity? What will be lost if homosexually oriented people gain the right and respect to have their committed partnerships blessed and then gain same-sex spousal status equivalent to common-law couples? What will that do to the bonds (bondage) of marriage? Why does marriage need to be 'protected'? What does it need to be protected from? Homosexually oriented people come from families and often create their own families. What does "the family" need to be protected from? What form of family is to be protected?

There are fears that need to be faced by all of us. We need to examine our fears to determine which ones are rational and helpful and which are irrational and erode love and trust within our community. We are called to face the demon fears that live within our minds and spirits. We are also called to name these demons and evict them to make room for loving tenants. Happy spring house cleaning.

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