Thursday, January 17, 2008

A bit busy lately

But still had some time to browse through the week's news, choosing the worst of them all in Cameroon, another nation which has sentenced three guys to six years of hard labor just for being gay. That's fair justice and treatment, absolute equal rights. One wonders if heterosexuals would be given equal sentences in a gay-leaded country. And speaking of country leaders, from inside Spain it doesn't seem that next March 9th election will only depend on gay marriage, as Deutsche Welle puts it. No, even though the Roman Catholic hierarchy is actively fighting everything they deem as sin, some days ago the Popular Party leader, Mr. Rajoy, said that his party position on gay marriage is to let it be as is. It's of course not clear whether them, the right side of the political spectrum, would amend the gay marriage law if they could obtain Congress majority enough to govern alone.

On the northeastern side of Europe, Topix says that Lithuania is facing the Council of Europe censure over their position on homosexual rights. There must be something in advantage when your country belongs to the European Union, the Bill of Rights is common for all countries (except for Poland, but it'll change too). However, on Eastern Europe, "Metropolitan Kirill, Head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, has made a strong statement condemning societal acceptance of homosexuality and reaffirming the task of the Church to proclaim the truth". Of course, it's a religious thing, what else can they say?

Well, I guess it's been all for today. I promise I'll try to keep updating for the weekend, but forgive me if I'm sending scarce posts till after Carnival... A man also needs a bit of free time for himself. Cheers.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Pride and Prejudice - Straightly gay from China

Pride and prejudice
By Xie Fang
Updated: 2008-01-14 07:26

Two bold young men kiss each other during a kissing contest held by a Beijing department store on the Valentine's Day in 2006. Li Fangyu

Name: Tong Ge Age: 57 Occupation: Writer and independent researcher

Tong Ge was married to a woman for more than 20 years, and has raised a son.

But Tong is gay.

"If I could turn back time, I would never have married a woman," he sighs.

"Even though my wife has forgiven me, I cannot forgive myself, and feel guilty all the time."

Tong says he has been attracted to the same sex since he was a boy. The son of a rich family, Tong was sent to the countryside to learn from farmers during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76).

His best friend, a former classmate, was willing to follow him. No matter how tough the living conditions got, no matter how poor they were, they were always deeply attached to each other.

One day after both had been drinking, they had sex for the first time.

"It had never crossed our mind that we were gay, and also we had no idea how to define our behavior," Tong recalls.

Two years later, his friend was called to the city. It would be the darkest moment in Tong's life - having to say farewell to his first lover.

"It might sound silly nowadays," he says with a laugh. "But I have missed him a lot over the years."

At age 27, Tong went back to the city, where he was astonished to discover scores of secret places where gay men met at night, such as public parks and toilets.

According to Tong, the phenomenon emerged in the mid-1970s when the "cultural revolution" had yet to come to an end.

"The more you try to oppress sex, the more resistance will rise up," he explains.

He says that men rarely used condoms at the time. "They were not available in any shops. Only the birth control offices of Stated-owned companies had them, and of course it was impossible for us to ask," he says.

Tong declined to explain what drove him to tie the knot, except to say "in the past, it was right and proper to get married when people reached a certain age".

Tortured by his double life, Tong studied various medical books, trying to figure out what was wrong with him. Finding no answers, he decided that the only way he could live with himself was to confess to his wife.

"I thought she would be furious after I told her," he recalls. "However, she said that she had known it for a long time."

Tong was waiting for his wife to ask for a divorce, but she chose to stay with him. He says that despite their past difficulties, their relationship remains strong.

"A lot of Chinese gay men have had similar experiences," he says.

As an independent researcher, Tong has devoted himself to the academic study of homosexuality, not only from a social perspective, but also how to best combat AIDS.

"My goal is to make a general report on Chinese gay relationships," he says.

Name: Ruo Zhe

Age: 33

Occupation: Webmaster of the first gay website in China

Ruo Zhe used to think he was a monster, because of his attraction to the same sex. He even tried having a girlfriend at university, even though he knew that he felt nothing for her. "It's like your left hand touching your right hand," Ruo says.

The Beijing native decided to leave for Guangzhou after graduating from university, partly because there were job prospects and partly because he didn't want his parents to discover the truth. In 1997, he spent all his savings on a computer, which led him to a bigger world than he had ever imagined. "By visiting foreign websites, I realized that I was not the only gay man in the world," he says.

In order to meet other gay men, Ruo put his personal information both in English and Chinese on the Internet. A few months later, someone responded. Rather than feeling overjoyed, Ruo says that the prospect of meeting anyone face to face was terrifying. "I do care about being called a gay man in public, therefore emails are safer for me," he admits.

Eventually he met more men after being taken by a foreign friend to a local gay bar. "I was shocked to see so many people there. It seemed like a totally different world, where people all looked so relaxed, chatting and smiling," he says.

Ruo then launched the first Chinese website for gay people at the end of 1998, which aims to provide a platform for people to meet each other. The website offers news, health tips, entertainment listings and overviews of gay and lesbian communities in other countries.

Despite being the only full-time staff, Ruo says hundreds of people have offered to help out. The current registered membership has grown rapidly and now stands at 220,000. According to Ruo, most of these are young people aged between 20 and 30, up to 80 percent of whom are college educated.

Ruo has been living with his partner for six years. Even so, they seldom show their affections - such as holding hands - in public. "I know many gay men don't dare to do it either, because of social pressure," he says. "We have to wait till someday when we are accepted."

Ruo hopes to buy a car for his partner, dreaming of the day when they can drive wherever they want, listening to their favorite music.

Name: "Never give up", her online nickname

Age: 26

Occupation: Clinical doctor

For this 26-year-old, telling her parents that she is lesbian is the hardest thing she has ever done in her life. The young woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, says that her mother and father were simply not ready to hear what she had to tell them.

"No parent is able to accept such a fact. That's always been true in China," she says.

Since the young woman came out of the closet, she has hardly spoken to her parents. The young woman says that ever since she was a child she preferred to dress like a male, despite her parents' efforts to make her more feminine.

She loved casual clothes, shunned high-heels and was always playing with boys, even though she felt no sexual attraction towards them. While studying medicine at university in Shenyang, Liaoning province, the young woman actively started seeking female partners.

Oblivious to her sexual preferences, her parents were busy arranging men for her to date.

"The pressure to marry increased dramatically after I graduated from university. At the beginning, I had to obey my parents' wish to date the young men they chose for me," she says. "I would find any excuse to end the relationships."

But this didn't discourage her parents, who worked even harder to find the "right guy".

It was around this time that the young woman's charade began to weigh down on her.

"I didn't want to hurt anyone anymore," she says. So she decided to open up to her family.

"Both my parents believe that I have certain physiological problems," she says. "They claim that it is a natural law for a woman to get married and give birth to a baby. How can I be an exception?"

They even took her to a top clinic in Beijing to seek advice. But the parents were disappointed when the doctor said their daughter was perfectly normal.

"Understanding from your family is more important than that of the outside world, because you have to face them everyday," she says. "If they were willing to accept me, I would be less depressed."

The young woman now has a girlfriend, a former university classmate who has not told her parents about the relationship.

The pair hopes to live together one day but don't have enough money to buy an apartment.

She envies men as their incomes are generally higher, and more jobs are available for them.

What's more, she says that it is traditional for a Chinese family to pay for their son's wedding and first house.

However, money is only one stumbling block for the couple. "Even if we were rich enough to buy a house, would our parents allow us to live together?" she asks.

Yet despite the rift between her and her parents, the young woman says she doesn't regret her decision to be honest with them.

"It is my life, and it is my right to choose the lifestyle I want," she says.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Why Spain, Mr. Pope?

Pink News cuts short the recent events in Spain about the Roman Catholic church and the Government confronting. For the last three years, after securing a part of the nation's budget for their organization (something that no other officially registered religion, much less those non-registered, has achieved), Catholic hierarchy in Spain has been confronting the government either directly via their pastoral letters and speeches, or indirectly via the COPE Radio Broadcasting Network, which belongs to the Roman Catholic Church.

The last drop in this chain of events seems to have been a demonstration that Archbishops called to, held on December 30th, and to which Pink News makes wide reference. After such demonstration, officers of the government, as well as the prime minister himself, answered firmly, though not to the point of freezing the Church public budget. But, why Spain, precisely?

There may be two key reasons to stage some sort of war over power in Spain, from the Catholic Church standpoint: both intertwined and both dependant on each other. During the last decades, Catholic churches have been witnessing their own decay in Spain, which under Franco's dictatorship was one of the most Catholic nations of the world (practically, Sunday mass was sort of compulsory for every person). Even though key government and state officials still attend religious festivals, and the Royal Family keeps the tradition of marrying and baptizing their offspring inside the Roman Catholic Church, the majority of Spain's population is Catholic just namely, with little attendance to mass, and much less devotion. Though many people still want to marry in the church, a lot of persons have been dropping from weekly practice. Baptizing events, first communions, marriages are more a social event than anything religious. That perception, along with the promised educational budget which the Popular Party couldn't fulfill after being thrown out of the government in March 2004, and its consequent output of new, more secular education curricula for K-12 and High School, are putting the Catholic Church in a clear defensive position. They lose power every day.

But Ignacio Escolar points out another reason, much more important. The Vatican sees Spain as the key to Latin America, and if Spanish youth looses its religious commitment (Vatican means Catholic, of course), then it's quite likely that Latin American youth start demanding equal rights in the same way Spain implemented same sex marriage, abortion, divorce, and the like. That's why the battle for Spain is fierce. Not forgetting that in Latin America, Evangelical churches are gaining momentum.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The art of provocation

Times Online brings forth again a freedom of expression limits in the Netherlands. An Iranian artist has seemingly "photographed gay men wearing masks of the prophet Muhammad" and was "forced into hiding and her work removed from a museum exhibit." The journal says: "Speaking on the telephone from an unspecified location in the Netherlands last week, the artist, an Iranian exile who goes by the pseudonym of Sooreh Hera, said she had been threatened with “execution”. She accused the director of the municipal museum in The Hague of cowardice for caving in to Muslim extremists."

My opinion here is two-faceted. First of all, it looks exactly like any other art case involved with religion, no matter which religion: artists that, it appears to me, want to gain hype and recognition just by messing with, be it evangelicals, ultracatholics, islamists, or whatever other fundie religious group. That sort of publicity is free, and though we have in many cases advocated freedom of expression, I should say that, for all those cases and artists, it's a funny thing that you first go and choose your "art" subject then claim that you didn't intend to hurt no religious feeling. Of course you intended, Mr. and Mrs. Artist, and that's precisely where your possibilities of making the headline in The Times, the New York Times or whatever other respectable newspaper are. But you don't want to face the consequences of your action, huh?

Now in this case, there's a second lecture for us Muslims: just because someone claims that some given mask is that of Prophet Muhammad are we going to believe it? Where in the world is there any painting, drawing, or whatever, that accurately depicts which factions and appearance Prophet Muhammad had? Nowhere, right? So when any of these 15-minutes-of-fame-seekers claims that "the mask is that of the prophet Muhammad" how do they know? Because they had a revelation in a dream? Come on, brothers and sisters, if any of you is reading this: that's just provocation, and we'd better not respond to such gross intents. As for the "gay men" part, I didn't know till today that in the Netherlands, there was some sort of certificate that shows one's gay.

I could as well take a picture of someone wearing a mask of Daffy Duck and write over the photograph: "This is a gay man and the mask depicts prophet Elijah". And gain my 15 minutes of shame.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Take it like a man.

Around early September, 2006, ABC news said that four prison inmates in El Salvador were discovered with mobile phones inside their anal cavities, according to Slate (the original ABC link is no longer working). That prompted Slate to wonder (and answer too) how much stuff a person could handle up the anus. The writing is way too interesting and enlightening to leave it away, though found in a moment of procrastination. Since Slate tends to keep their old articles for quite a bit of months, here's the link. But the answer, for those who don't want to browse there to find out what you can and what you shouldn't stuff up your ass, is this:

In general, it takes a fair bit of training to conceal something that's more than a couple of inches in diameter. As a general rule, the medical literature on "retained colorectal foreign bodies" considers anything bigger a "large object."

For the full fun, of course, go to Slate and read the full article.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

HIV ads and censorship

Is this image too explicit? The French Association of Professionals for a Responsible Publicity thinks so.

Manifesto pro Family Diversity

Following the recent events in Spain, with the Catholic hierarchy mourning their times of power under the Franco dictatorship, a number of people launched a web/blog under the name Internautas por la Diversidad Familiar, whose manifesto aims, in brief, at promoting equality among all the different family models that coexist in our 21st century societies: monoparental, homoparental and heteroparental, not excluding or promoting any of those over the other, however rejecting the discriminating and excluding attitudes coming from the Catholic hierarchy (and we understand here, that, on extension, from any other excluding attitudes).

It's with joy that Party for the Rights joined the campaign and manifesto, and we will encourage from these pages to all Spain and Spanish speaking readers to go check the site, spread the word, and become more active against any bigotry.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Latest in 2007: Cuba and Nepal.

On a move that will surely add more fuel to the bonfires the worldwide Christian ultraconservative right lighted against same sex marriages, two nations of the so called Third World ended 2007 with awesome achievements in such a field. In Nepal, the High Court ruled that the government must create new laws to protect gay rights and change current ones that might be tantamount to discrimination. Until some days ago, Nepal was an almost feudal kingdom, but recently the nation has announced plans to transform itself into a republic in 2008 after the Constituent Assembly election, abolishing monarchy.

On the other side of the world, in that tiny green lizard island named Cuba,  Monica and Elizabeth (featured on the picture in the right) dressed in white and staged a marriage, though still with no legal validity. IPS News brings an extensive report of the ceremony, which was supported by government bodies and associations, since the country's preparing to take to parliament a legal reform advocated by CENESEX and the Cuban Women’s Federation calling for the recognition of de facto unions between same-sex couples and equal rights for heterosexual and homosexual couples, as well as eligibility to adopt children and, for women, access to assisted fertilization services.

The legal machinery is already rolling and the initiative may reach parliament in 2008, but no one can predict how long it will take to come to a vote. Meanwhile, CENESEX was advised by the ruling Communist Party to make efforts to prepare the public through a media campaign, says IPS News, but both women's ceremony wasn't intended as part of the media machinery.