Youngest Son | All Soul’s Day

Today I make my first, brief (and probably only) foray into music journalism. To anyone who knows me, the idea of me as a music reviewer would be utterly laughable. I’m practically tone-deaf, can’t sing in tune to save my life, and even after a few years of piano lessons can barely play chopsticks. So take everything I say here was a generous pinch of salt; I am no expert.

BUT, that said, it is an absolute pleasure to share with you my thoughts on Steve Slagg’s musical project, Youngest Son, and his latest album All Soul’s Day. Those of you who have followed this tumblr and its twitter account for the past few years will know that I’m quite the fan-boy.

Steve’s music, his lyrics, the accompanying stories, and the artwork could be seen by some to fit an incredibly niche market - it is, after all, the production and expression of a young, angsty gay man and his thoughts on (predominantly) faith, grief, and death. To be honest, I’m not sure what anyone who doesn’t have anything invested in any of those things would make of his music, but I’d like to think that he does reach beyond them, and has wider appeal. Brent Bailey, noted precisely this, far more eloquently, over at his blog, Odd Man Out:

There’s a greedy part of me that wants to claim Steve exclusively for the gay Christian subculture; because as much as that subculture needs role models and advocates and bloggers, we also need musicians and artists and poets. Nevertheless, Steve’s music covers big, even universal, themes, and his honesty and courage should appeal to a wide spectrum of people for whom the Christian faith may be complicated. Consider this my exhortation for you to explore the work of Youngest Son—the music, of course, but also the affecting essays and gorgeous artwork that accompany the music on Youngest Son’s website.

I can’t do much better than echo his recommendations.

Right, so down to some of the details. If you’re unfamiliar with Steve’s work at all, I’d recommend that you listen to his three albums in order - they kinda work that way; and you can follow the different narratives and see how the stories develop.

One of the most arresting, is the story of Stephen’s suicide, reflected on in ‘Untitled Memory Song’. It was this story, through which I was first ‘introduced’ to Steve Slagg via his blog.

On All Soul’s Day, the stand out track for me, is his version of the hymn ‘We Rest on Thee’. I love the original hymn on which it is based, and his version is an adaptation, not too dissimilar from the way Page CXVI have experimented with other hymns. The first time I listened to it, my eyes became misty, and I felt a lump in my throat, especially at the dulcimer (I think?) musical interlude. The album also includes covers of previous songs of his. My other highlight, worthy-of-mention track, is the opening track of the album, ‘Blank Face’. As I’ve said before, Steve’s music has a soothing, healing-balm-like quality to it, it’s the kind of thing you want to play in a darkened room after a long, tiring, day, and ‘Blank Face’ is a classic Youngest Son track for this.

Over the last few years, there have been a few musical artists that I continually return to, artists like Perfume Genius and Sufjan Stevens. For me, Youngest Son is right up there with them.    

Gay Cinema and TV

Recently I’ve been having a sort of gay-themed movie marathon. Below is a list of some of the things I’ve seen recently and not so recently (in no specific order, except for number 1). If you’re someone who thinks that Will & Grace or that couple in Modern Family provide authentic representations of gay people, then maybe it’s time you watched some of these - that said, and this is a big disclaimer, gay cinema and TV in general, is much like Christian cinema and TV, and is notoriously bad. However, at least some of the films and TV shows on this list go some way in presenting more authentic narratives of gay life than either what Hollywood and the media or the Church would have you believe. I’ve put stars (*) next to the ones I think are must sees.

1. Brokeback Mountain - yes, it is the clichéd quintessential gay film, but to be perfectly honest, I think it’s one of the best films in cinematic history (gay or straight). The soundtrack is superb, and it really is worth watching even if only for the landscapes and vistas. If I had to recommend only one gay-related film, this would be it.*

2. Milk - the biopic of Harvey Milk, ‘the first opening gay person to be elected to public office in California’ (as Wikipedia relates).*

3. Blue Burning - a more recent (2012) film, that feels kinda made-for-TV-Hallmark-y. Trent Ford is great in this. It deals with pre-DADT material.

4. Geography Club - school/teen coming out comedy-drama.

5. Weekend - this British film about a weekend-long sexual relationship between two men was well-received. Personally, all though well executed, I found it a bit lacking, and if there was one film I’d happily leave off the list, this would be it.

6. Freier Fall - this German film is great. It has a similar aesthetic to Weekend, but feels more authentic - perhaps, also, just because of my love of all things German.

7. The Normal Heart - I cannot recommend this highly enough! Julia Robert is amazing (and her character provides a particularly interesting critique, whether intentionally or not, of the gay men’s lives within the film). It covers much of the same ground as the documentary How To Survive A Plague, and so watching them in tandem provides a nice complement. And if you need another reason to watch it, well… Matt Bomer.*

8. C. O. G. - this quirky (and quite difficult-to-watch-in-parts) film is based on a David Sedaris short story. It stars Jonathan Groff (of HBO’s Looking fame; see below), and has some truly cringe-worthy moments of hilarity, with a crazy Christian fundamentalist and the terrifying character “Curly” (I wont give any more away - but be prepared, there are some hectic bits) thrown into the mix. It does come across as slightly underdeveloped in a way.

9. A Single Man - Tom Ford’s directorial début, based on the Christopher Isherwood novel. It feels like one, long fashion ad - and I’m saying that as a good thing. It’s almost too aesthetically pleasing. But for all that, the storyline holds up too.

10. Shelter - great, lesser known film about the the (b)romance that develops between two younger surfer types. Sincere and honest.*

11. Prayers for Bobby - I think this film actually was made for Hallmark. It deals with gay Christian whatnot. Some humorous bits for gay kids who’ve grown up in conservative Christian families. Based on a true story, which also makes it tragically sad.*

12. Hawaii - this Argentinian film is simply lovely. Watch it!*

13. The Broken Hearts Club - feels a bit dated now, but some funny and sad bits. 

14. Keep the Lights On - quite dark in parts.

15. Get Real - somewhat dated, but funny, British school comedy-drama.

16. The Way He Looks - lovely coming-of-age Brazilian gay drama about a young blind boy and his burgeoning love for a friend.* 

As far as TV series go, gays are less well catered for with anything decent.

HBO’s Looking - although lacking somewhat in plot, is carried by its slick presentation, good soundtrack, and Jonathan Groff (it feels a bit like an updated Queer as Folk, although without such self-conscious “gayness”; and the feel of extreme gay-subculture of the 80s/90s).

Very refreshing is the indie, Australian, Please Like Me, written by Josh Thomas, who also plays the protagonist. You start off finding him intensely annoying (at least I did), but he grows on you a few episodes in. The other characters are hilarious (I laughed for days over the scene in episode 1 where he attempt to change behind his bedroom door - watch it, it’ll make sense). It has a very Australian-middle-class, Napoleon Dynamite, self-produced, low budget feel, but it really is quite good. Also, the antipodean-Asian tension represented by Mae - Josh’s father’s girlfriend’s character - is great.

I’m sure I’m forgetting some gems, so I may update this list later. In the meantime, I’m always open to recommendations. 

I would like to start this post off by saying something like this: “Straight people often ask me what it’s like to be gay, so here are some of the things that come to mind…”

But the truth is, I think I remember being asked that question once, by a friend who I had prompted to ask it by sharing with them this wonderful piece by Misty Irons.

So instead, I’ll jump straight in with just one everyday, seemingly mundane, difficulty that I’ve faced.

I am the only non-straight, single sibling out of four. All the rest are straight and married (and most have kids). We all get on fairly well. And yet at family occasions, I am still the single one (most of them don’t know that I am gay, or at least if they suspect it, they haven’t said anything). So whether its family lunch, or Christmas Day, I’m the odd chair at the table.

Obviously also we’re all family, but for most of them, they have their “best friend” with them at the occasion - or at least someone very special, who at one stage wasn’t their family. I in turn do not. I don’t have that person with me to whom I whisper some secret comment about this or that, or whom I “deconstruct” the day with in the car ride home after.   

At the end of the day, it’s not the same as disagreeing over which soccer team played better, or more seriously, which political party is best and fit to rule a country. It is the difference between knowing that the people who you love and care about most in the world fully support your love or not. It is one thing for someone to be “tolerant” and “civil” and “friendly” towards you on the issues of gay marriage and love, but it is quite something else to know that in their heart of hearts the people that you love most would rather you were single and celibate. 

When people sit down to eat a hamburger, the last thing they want to be thinking about is two guys having sex" - Bryan Fischer, American Family Association.

It’s been a very long day. I’m super tired. I get home, switch on my computer and scroll through tumblr, and the quote above comes up. And you know what? I don’t need this.

Fuck this man. Fuck loving your enemies. I’m so tired of feeling like shit about myself. You know what I don’t want to have to think about while I’m eating my burger? I don’t want to have to think about whether or not I’ll find a home in the church. I don’t want to have to think about whether my best straight (Christian) friend would be happy for me if I ever got married to another guy - heck, or even if he’d agree to be my best man at all. I don’t want to have to think about why, when I came out to my mother, she told me to keep it a secret to myself and not tell others. I don’t want to have to think about kids committing suicide. I don’t want to have to think about the money I’ve spent on anti-depressants, or counselling. I don’t want to have to think about whether something I said or did sounds or looks “too gay”. I don’t want to have to think about whether or not I might have been a good dad or not. I don’t want to think about all the times I’m a third-wheel, or am treated as “less-than” because I am single. I don’t want to have to think about how being a minority sexuality has so negatively devastated my self-esteem and self-worth. And I don’t want to have to think about how I have to consciously - and everyday - teach my self that I do in fact have the capacity to give and receive love, and to not believe the lie that is implicit in Christian teaching that “gay” love is second class.    

"I’ve been healthy recently, but during the times when I am less convinced that it is right for me to love someone, this changes. In these times the shower becomes a place of confrontation between the reality that my body was designed to impregnate—to create life—and the reality that I cannot allow myself to do that in good conscience, not with a woman. I enter the shower and look down and see my useless body with parts I see as vestigial, accidents of existence; I become self-alienated and cry; I feel stupid for all of this. And a song flits into my mouth."

- here

Love, but which kind?

Another (recent) thought: 

The fact that English uses the term “love” to describe many different types of states of being / feelings etc. is in fact better than the (so-called) specificity of the Greek terms with divide up different types of “love”. For who can tell where one begins and another ends?

P.S. I say “so-called” because the Greek terms themselves, depending on author and context, are not used as exactly as people like C. S. Lewis would like to believe. Philia can be used, for example, of sexual love as well as eros (such as in Plato’s Lysis for example).   

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the many “celibate” partnerships I’ve seen and heard about among the Side B crowd. 

For those of you who don’t know, some of those who hold to the orthodox Christian view of marriage being between only a man and a women, and yet who also find themselves to be gay or lesbian, have decided to enter into partnerships of a sort. 

Now these partnerships come in all different shapes and sizes - and so it would be disingenuous to paint them all with the same brush - but some of them at least, are less than marriage only in terms of a piece of paper and and the regular (and not so regular) genital-related acts that accompany it.

The people involved often speak of their partner and relationships in terms that are usually only reserved for those dating or married. And it seems to me that these kinds of relationships - at their worst - are in danger of unravelling the whole Side B project. Because, by their very nature, they again place friendship on an unequal rung to other relationships - and they elevate again the kinds of relationships that by their nature are meant to be exclusive.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully support innovative ways of relating to one another. And I look forward to us developing these - and heck, I’m Side A-ish, so I don’t even have a problem with people being in any sort of relationship that they want! - this is just something I’ve been thinking about and thought I’d put down here - this blog is meant to be a space for musing about sexuality and faith after all - even if the musings are half-baked.     

Today’s news - that the synod of the Church of England voted to allow women bishops - made me wonder about the place of Christian tradition and Church practice in the formation of our doctrinal beliefs. There are many people within the Church that don’t support women priests, let alone women bishops, and there are many also that do. The current trajectory makes it seem like the latter will become the dominant (read “orthodox”) position of the Church. I then wonder, in 2000 years time what historians of Christianity will say. Will they acknowledge that for equal lengths of time “orthodox” Christian tradition has held two dissenting views?

This in turn makes me think of the gay “issue”. Within my lifetime I have seen major shifts within the Church towards a position of inclusion for gays - even among some of the most conservative evangelicals. Will we see gay marriage win out within the Church? Will we see it become the orthodox position in 10, 20, 100 years from now? What will happen then, when in another 2000 years of Christian tradition the blessing of homosexuality and gay marriage has been held and honoured as long as it previously wasn’t? Will we still appeal to Christian tradition for the views we hold?

OK, I’m going to push this into sci-fi overdrive (call it dystopian/utopian musings depending on your stance):

What if we endure for another million or two million years, and the internet crashes, and the people of that future have no recollection of history past - what tradition will they uphold? What will they use to interpret God’s word?

The current trajectory would seem to suggest to me that within my own lifetime I will see gay marriage and homosexuality blessed within the Church - and held out as the majority, “orthodox”, view. I guess only time will tell.

Great piece (via Wesley Hill):

"In the 1970′s, when AIDS first began killing off a generation of gay men, my parish provided free burials to anyone claimed by the disease. Gay people go to my church. They are regular attenders—people who have been practicing Christians since before I was born. They are also leaders. One hard part about being gay in a denomination that doesn’t really talk about homosexuality is the difficulty I had in finding role models—people who have wrestled with the questions I’m asking and who can provide insight and wisdom about how to live faithfully while holding those questions. Without such mentors it feels like you always need to be a trailblazer, which might sound exciting sometimes but really is just pretty exhausting and lonely.

Another difficulty I used to have, which I mentioned earlier, was getting stuck dwelling on things like the uncertainty of not knowing how people would treat me if they knew that I was gay (which only increased after I came out on this blog), trying not to say or do anything that might draw negative attention to myself, the persistent thoughts that—wrong though I knew them to be—kept popping up: that I’m different and obtrusive, that I need to retreat. At St. Paul’s I haven’t been so focused on myself and my sexuality because I know that no matter where I end up—in a relationship, with a family, called to celibacy, or just plain single—my church will be there to support me and celebrate life with me. And likewise, I will support the Church I love, not as a trailblazer, but as a servant, whether that be as a layperson, musician, member of the vestry, deacon, or priest.”

A line from Sarah Coakley’s God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’  which I’ve adapted into question that I’d like to think about more (I guess I’ll have to read the book): What is the final theological significance of sexual desire?

when I can take your hand
on any crowded street
and hold you close to me
with no hesitating

- All Waters, Perfume Genius.