Sunday, January 11, 2015

The TLC controversy: Can we get a little more C with our T and L?

Whenever I see two groups expand the distance between them instead of come together, I can't help but feel discouraged.  I also can't help being fascinated at how our emotions and word choices, not our opinions and desires, are what drive the wedges.   

This is the case with so much of our politics and everyday lives, but the controversy surrounding the TLC special "My Husband's Not Gay" makes a nice little example as well.  

Them's fightin' words!

Among many other interests, it pits organizations like GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) and North Star International (a support group for Mormons with "same sex attraction").  These groups have lots more to say about the TV show, but I think the following brief comments from each organization illustrate the challenge:

"This show is downright irresponsible.  No one can change who they love, and more importantly, no one should have to.  By investing in this dangerous programming, TLC is putting countless LGBT people in harms way." 

"I’m thrilled that TLC is willing to profile the stories of one minority group that gets very little exposure in the pop cultural media because LGBT, Inc., is threatened by the fact that our very existence challenges its identity, its distorted socio-cultural narrative, and its socio-political agenda."  

The following are some observations that make me grin.  They are not funny per se, but they are ironic.

Talking to themselves

If they were in a room together, you would still say that each is essentially having an argument with themselves because neither are talking about the same things.  Sarah is decrying the "irresponsibility" of TLC and Ty is lambasting the "distortions" laid out by "LGBT, Inc.".  

Wouldn't it be neat if they picked a topic and had a single conversation about it?  If they did, they would almost certainly  learn they have much in common and could, with good conscience, support a large portion of each other's agendas.

Read their minds, not their words

Both Sarah and Ty seem to jump to conclusions with unsupported assertions that only make sense to people already steeped in each others' talking points.  

Sarah calls the show "irresponsible."  Why?  Because no one can, or should, change who they love.  But as far as I can tell, the show is not about changing who you love.  In fact, it's just the opposite.  It seems to be about a group of men who are are learning how to have successful relationships with women that they love.  I don't think Sarah would say she is in a position to judge whether or not these guys are happy, love their wives, or should break their families up.

Ty says that organizations like GLAAD feel threatened by the existence of mixed-orientation marriages.  Why?  I'm not sure since he doesn't say.  Later in his statement, he refers to their "social and political ends", but doesn't mention what they are or whether they have any merit.  His tone suggests they don't, but I'd be surprised if he didn't feel their efforts to combat bullying and discrimination have some value (e.g., publicizing Mathew Shepherd's murder, pressuring the Boy Scouts to change their policies, etc.).

They already have a common language

No, they aren't assigning the same meaning to the same words (e.g., gay vs. SSA), but the way they speak and write seems suspiciously familiar.  Take the following paragraph from Ty's statement.  After I swapped a few words (in italics), does it ring any bells?

I want to be clear that when I talk about The Church ”, I’m not talking about all or perhaps even most members of the LDS Church. There are many in the LDS community who are very respectful of the range of choices someone might make and support them in those choices as long as they’re made with a healthy level of self-awareness and self-determination. I have dear friends in the LDS community who have been very supportive of me and my personal choices. What I do mean by “The Church”, however, are the church hierarchy and religious activists who too often set the agenda, the tone, and the talking points around sexuality and identity that are often oversimplifications and distortions in order to attain social or political ends, and which demonize and bully anyone who disagrees with them or gets in their way—and there are problems when ordinary members of the LDS Church assume that those talking points, often nothing more than sheer propaganda, are “the truth” and adopt them in the way they talk about different perspectives or the people who hold them.

They both have good intentions

It's clear to me that both Sarah and Ty (and their organizations) have many good intentions.  I'm so confident, that I'm going to speak out for them:

Sarah is not out to ban all mixed orientation marriages (MoMs).  She is concerned that the success of a minor fraction of couples in such marriages will be wrongly used to promote MoMs for gay individuals for which it would be entirely inappropriate and lead to many more broken marriages and broken hearts.  Sarah doesn't want to see cultural expectations continue to be set in places so impossible for gay individuals that suicide appears to be the only logical alternative.

Ty knows that GLAAD is trying to protect more than their own organization's existence.  He just wants SSA individuals with strong, personal spiritual commitment to know that--for some--it's possible to love another of the opposite sex so deeply that it makes relationship challenges surmountable and worthwhile.  He wants others to respect the convictions and honest-to-goodness-real-life successful experiences of those, like himself and his wife, who feel their MoM is a success.

The only party here whose intentions I can't vouch for is TLC.  I won't say more except to say they should change their name from "The Learning Channel" to "The Exploitation Channel".

Thoughtfulness, Love, and Compassion

That would free up the acronym "TLC" for something more helpful.  When anyone is about to write up a statement or press release that they want to use as a weapon to combat the unjustice they see in the world, wouldn't it be great if they double-checked their words for the appropriate amounts of Thoughtfulness, Love, and Compassion?

Of the three, the one ingredient that is in most short supply is compassion, which the Cambridge Dictionary defines as "a strong feeling of sympathy and sadness for other people’s suffering or bad luck and a desire to help".  

Having compassion does not mean giving up our truths, values, and priorities.  Insead, it means that while we pursue specific truths, values, and priorities, we don't have to unconsciously sacrifice even greater truths, values, and priorities.  Like "charity", for instance. ("The greatest of all.")

Fear and compassion don't mix

Please don't confuse "compassion" with "passion", which is "a powerful emotion or its expression, esp. the emotion of love, anger, or hate".  In fact, passion is often something that we need less of, especially when the seed of our passion is fear.  I believe that is the case with GLAAD and North Star.  Both Sarah and Ty responded with fear of bad things happening rather than compassion for unique needs and common desires of their communities.

I react in fear all the time.  In fact, I wish I had less passion and more compassion in my previous post, where I responded strongly to "Blank Slate" about his MoM.  There was no expression of empathy or heart-felt consideration of his conflicting desires the difficulty he and his wife face.  I simply compared him to me, recalled my pain, and shouted in fear, "Run! Now!"  I'm pretty sure that wasn't helpful.

If you read this, Blank Slate, I apologize.

Oisin