Omar’s story and his journey to Canada as a refugee

Imagine living in a country where, if you were found out to be gay by ISIS, you would be thrown off the tallest building around, while your family and friends were forced to watch.

This is the story of Omar and two of the people who have been part of a very long process to bring him safely to Canada. As part of Omar’s application process for Rainbow Refugee, he wrote,

“My name is Omar. I’m from Iraq and I’m gay. I left my family in Iraq and fled to Turkey in July 2014 to avoid dying at the hands of ISIS.” – Omar’s letter to Rainbow Refugee

Last year, one of my closet friends, Ron Walker, asked if I would be one of Omar’s sponsor for him to come to Canada as a refugee, with the help of the Rainbow Refugee. Ron suggested that, as a gay coach, I would be an invaluable resource for Omar to begin his journey as a gay man in a place where he can actually pursue his true identity.

As we talk about the different parts of Omar’s life over the last five years it might seem like this was a quick and easy process. That is the furthest thing from the truth. Ron explains that the UNHCR process is long, arduous, and leaves the refugee as a non-person, without income or a way of supporting themselves in their temporary host-country.

Omar arrived in Canada as an official refugee on May 7th, 2019.

On Omar’s first weekend in Toronto, he celebrated his 31st birthday with many of the people who were instrumental in getting him out of Iraq and into Turkey, and eventually to Toronto, Canada. People came by airplane and car to greet Omar when he arrived at Toronto International Airport, and then to help him settle into his new life in Canada,

One of those individuals is Michael Failla who has made it one of his missions in life to help gay men safely escape countries like Iraq for being gay, as well as other lesbians and trans people who are persecuted and living in countries where they fear for their lives.

Omar’s story is a reminder of the freedoms and liberties we take for granted in North America, like for example the upcoming LGBTQ Pride in Toronto, which will be the very first Pride that Omar will attend. That’s worth celebrating!

Refugee Resources

About Ron Walker

Ron is a retired lawyer who for many years has worked with charitable and non-governmental organizations seeking to improve the situation of individuals in developing countries. Ron lives in Toronto, Canada. He can be reached at ronwalker223@gmail.com.

About Michael Failla

In 2012 academy award winning documentarian Eva Orner was at a party in Hollywood and heard about Michael’s refugee work. She accompanied him on a trip to the middle east and in conjunction with World of Wonder made the documentary, “Out of Iraq.” The movie is a love story about two Iraqi soldiers who fall in love during the invasion of Iraq, their immense commitment to each other and their struggle to escape Iraq and become resettled in a safe country. Theirs is a story of two of the many refugees Michael has assisted.

Michael is currently assisting several LGBTQI people in difficult situations who are seeking resettlement. Due to the changes in the US administration he has shifted his focus to Canada and is working in concert with Canadian LGBTQI Refugee organizations to get those he is helping into Canada’s private sponsorship resettlement program.

Michael lives with his husband, Gary Hamer in Seattle, WA. He can be reached at mfailla@aol.com.

Out of Iraq Trailer

Image credit: Patricia Barden

Living OUT Leadership

Today we are speaking with Antoine Elhashem, the founder of the annual Inspire Awards which honours the most inspiring people, youth, businesses and organizations in the LGBTQ community in the Greater Toronto Area.

Antoine is quite the Renaissance man! He is founder and president of INSPIRE Awards. He is very active in the community and has volunteered for and sat on the board of directors of a number of community organizations. Antoine is the president and publisher of LGBTQ community media INspired Media Inc, which publishes The Pink Pages Directory, theBUZZ, and PInkPlayMags. Antoine is also the host of community talk show, On the Couch which airs in 6 regions across Ontario.

Antoine and I re-connected about two months ago. When I found out what he was up to, I was so inspired by what he’s created that I decided to help out and volunteer by soliciting donations for the silent auction. The INSPIRE Awards are a perfect example of what I call Living OUT Leadership and Antoine is indeed an inspiring force to be reckoned with!

What are the INSPIRE Awards?

INSPIRE Award is a not-for-profit organization with the mission of facilitating the annual awards and inspiring the community. The original founders of the INSPIRE Awards vouched to “inspire the community and bring it together; we will celebrate our past and present heroes so we never forget the work it took and still takes to build a community, and the contributions many make for the betterment of our own community and the world around us at large, and we will encourage living an inspiring life by creating future programs to that effect.”

The Awards honours the LGBTQ community in the following categories:

  • Lifetime Achievement Awards (Two awarded annually)
  • LGBTQ Person of the Year
  • LGBTQ Youth of the Year
  • LGBTQ Positive Business of the Year
  • Inspiring Community Organization of the Year
  • LUX Award for the Arts
  • Charles Roy Award for Activism in HIV/AIDS
  • Accenture LGBTQ Innovator of the Year

Get Your Tickets to the INSPIRE Awards

If you live in or near the Greater Toronto Area, this is an event you don’t want to miss. Let me know if you’re coming because I’ll be there and would love to meet you!

General Admission INCLUDES Courtyard Cocktail Reception with hors d’oeuvres, Gala Awards Presentations and Afterparty $40.00.

VIP Package INCLUDES Patron Status, front row seating, VIP hors d’oeuvres service, 2 complimentary beverages, pre-show performer meet & greet, more. $100.00

Get details and purchase your tickets online for the 9th annual INSPIREawards.ca.

Take care of your community. Take care of one another. We don’t see eye-to-eye on everything always, but that should not be a reason not to care and love and protect one another.

Antoine Elhashem

About twice a month I write a newsletter to share and promote the queer thought leadership that’s published on my magazine, Th-Ink Queerly on Medium. The day after I published, Normate Gays, an LGBTQ Canadian Coin, and the Importance of Inconvenience I received a response to the newsletter. The offended party wrote:

“Take me off your mailing list please. I will not be called queer, it is offensive and disgusting. Besides half the weird shit I read from you makes me very very angry. You’ve absolutely lost the plot…you people make me not want to be gay… funny isn’t it, it’s the gay community that makes me feel like this.”

No one can make you feel the way you feel.

I cannot make you angry. A politician cannot make you angry. A friend or your partner cannot make you happy. Only you can choose your feelings based on behaviours and beliefs. Seeing the truth of this requires self-compassion and mindfulness.

When your partner strokes your hair looking into your eyes with love, you can ignore them and feel nothing, or you can melt slowly into their eyes, appreciating the experience of tenderness and intimacy.

When someone writes an angry tweet, post, or makes a negative comment, you can ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist. You can respond with probing questions in an attempt to dialogue. Or you can react with anger and shout back, or write expletives in retaliation.

It is our choice how we respond.

It is admittedly difficult to control our reactions that are based on unconscious behaviours learned and patterned over many years. Many of these behaviours are meant to protect us from harm. It is a mindfulness practice that helps us slip into the gap – that moment of no time and no thought – which allows us that meditative pause to override the ego’s need to defend or flee, and to choose a more tempered response.

You know you are making a difference when you people push back.

You know you’re disrupting the status quo to a large extent, that when someone is so “shook” out of their protective “box” they can’t click “unsubscribe”. Instead, they have to first lash out in an attempt to make you feel bad, to shame you for your ideas, to prove that you’re wrong.

It’s easier to close your eyes, cover your ears, and say nothing about what’s wrong in the world. It takes massive amounts of courage and an ever-thickening skin to risk offending – not for the sake of offence, but for the sake of disrupting people from out of the fog most of us live in.

This is not to sound trite, dismissive, or better than. I did not respond as effectively as I would have liked to the above person. I treated him with as much kindness as I could, but I also challenged him each time he came back at me with another jab, more bullying, and more shaming of my work. According to him, I alone am the one person in the world who is destroying the world for gays.

This person taught me a lesson. He showed me the man box culture at work, exactly as Mark Greene described it to me in our Living OUT Leadership interview. Thanks to this serendipity, I’m reminded that I’m on the right path.

Challenging people’s beliefs it’s not an easy path.

Sometimes I want to give up. Sometimes I think no one cares, or that no one is listening. That’s not because I need followers or want attention. I don’t want to win people over. To me, that’s competition and a numbers game.

Instead, I want to change minds. I want to help people think differently. I want to help my LGBTQ friends to use their difference to make a difference. I want people to engage in dialogue, even if that ends without an agreement, but with respect for each other’s value. That is where evolutionary change will happen – not through personal attacks, shaming, or bullying. Given how many people “communicate” in this way isn’t a reason to give up. I will continue to trudge through the obstacles in my way to get to the clearing of minds on the other side.

I push buttons. Not because I want to piss people off, but because I’m not afraid to. And that’s an important distinction.

Image credit: Jeremy Segrott, “Left or Right, but definitely not straight on.”

Mark Greene is an Emmy Winning animator, author, speaker, parent and Senior Editor at The Good Men Project.

He is the founder of Remaking Manhood, a Facebook community promoting a wider-ranging conversation about masculinity. Mark’s articles on masculinity have been shared half a million times on social media with 20 million page views. He has written and spoken about men’s issues at Salon, Shriver Report, Huffington Post, HLN, BBC, and the New York Times.

The Little #MeToo Book for Me

He’s the author of The Little #MeToo Book for Men and Remaking Manhood, and the co-author along with Dr. Saliha Bava, of The Relational Book for Parenting.

In this Living OUT Leadership Interview we cover a broad range of topics that relate to the problems of masculinity and man box culture, the patriarchy, bullying, silencing, and policing gender.

The Man Box and #MeToo for Men

Mark explains where the term, “man box” came from and how he defines “masculinity”. Men have been taught to suppress, deny and take for granted their masculine identities. Men are taught from an early age, as young boys, to think in a certain way, including to not show their emotions, to be a leader, aggressive, dominant, sexually active, care and talk about sports, and to be a real man.

“Wrongly gendering the universal capacity for human connection as feminine and then coaching boys to see feminine as less is how we block our sons from the trial and error process of growing their powerful relational capacities, leading to a lifetime of isolation.”

The challenge with man box culture is that it is brutally enforced between men.

It abuses boys and men to conform to restrictive ideas for decades over the course of men’s lives that has a traumatic impact on men’s emotional state, sense of identity, the performance of masculinity, and connection with others. These are all crucial aspect in whether men can or cannot form relationships at all, and is one of the reasons for the increase in social isolation and loneliness of men.

Bullying as a form of control and reinforcing the hierarchy

What are the effects of bullying on men – on the person being bullied, and the bully himself?

“In what is clearly representative of the isolating impact of man box culture, boys entering late adolescence are shamed and bullied into seeing their close authentic connection with their best friend as weak (feminine). Accordingly, they slowly disengage from their closest friendships. It is at this time that suicide rates for boys rise, becoming four times the rate for girls.”

The cruel fact of man box culture

Greene explains that we all knew the script. We were all taught the script. We had to denigrate women and LGBT people in order to be allowed to not be a target and to fit in. The kids and boys in our community who were awkward, with disabilities, or couldn’t pull off the appearance of masculinity became permanent targets. A culture of dominance, hierarchy and abuse needs a permanent population of targets, namely women, LGBT people, and boys who don’t fit in.

Empathy: Not the kind of courage men are taught to present

We beat out of young boys empathy, connecting across difference, and caregiving. Then we shame them if they exhibit those tendencies.

“The list of central relational capacities that man box culture suppresses includes empathy. The suppression of boys’ and men’s empathy is no accident. It is the suppression of empathy that makes a culture of ruthless competition, bullying and codified inequality possible. It is in the absence of empathy that men fail to see women’s equality and many other social issues for what they are: simple and easily enacted moral imperatives.”

Policing gender performance: LGBTQ

In the world of gay men, we often see self-identified, straight-acting gay men who may use terms on dating apps like, “Masc4masc, looking for other “dudes”, and “no femmes”. The word straight-acting is an ironic misnomer: those claiming it are in fact, acting! 

Many gay men do not know how to be men within the dominant culture, let alone within the culture of other gay men. In my Living OUT Interview with Jeffry Iovannone, we spoke about what Iovannone calls the “normate” gay:

“Gay culture, like the dominant culture, creates a hierarchy based on norms of masculinity. At the top are those who occupy the position of what we might call the “normate gay”: those who are thin, toned, muscular, white, cis, able-bodied, and express their gender in conventionally masculine ways. Despite pervasive stereotypes that gay men are improperly feminine in comparison to straight men, gay male culture often dictates that conventional masculinity is the most desirable. This hierarchy of gay masculinity also contributes to our inescapable culture of sexual violence. Part of masculinity is domination over those deemed feminine (not solely those who possess “female” bodies), so sexual violence functions as one way to reinforce what it means to be “masculine.”

Source

Normalization of identity to subjugate the feminine

When men don’t speak up about everything from locker-room talk to rape, they continue to reinforce silence and condone the behaviours of man box culture.

“Engaging in locker-room talk doesn’t make us predators, but it most certainly perpetuates a culture in which predators can hide.”

Greene references the recent Gillette advertising campaign that challenged man box behaviour and rilled up people like Piers Morgan and James Woods. The pushback against Gillette is what Greene refers to in his book as “suppressing fire”, a warfare term that is way to reinforce the “integrity bind” that controls men’s speaking “out of term”, to keep them from questioning man box culture and to remain silent, thus preserving the status quo.

We wrap up the interview with Greene’s thoughts on ending the gender binary, Kevin Spacey and the privilege of sex and power, the current “man box culture 101” president of the United States, the dangerous and extreme version of the patriarchy in fundamentalist religion, and finally some hope for the younger generation in terms of the expression of self in gender, sexuality, and politics.

Where to Find Mark Greene

For more information on Mark’s work, join his Remaking Manhood community on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @remakingmanhood.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from The Little #MeToo Book for Men.

When you don’t name LGBTQ people, we don’t exist.

We are not immune to populism, the rise of the right, and the far-right in Canada.

We are seeing spread in the prejudiced and hateful mindsets and discourse in Canadian opinion and politics. In the recent Alberta election, Jason Kenney and his United Conservative party (UCP) won, seemingly without any concern from his supporters that Kenney worked to overturn a spousal law that permitted gay men to visit their dying partners in the hospital during the AIDS epidemic while studying in San Francisco.

Those who support Kenney hide behind platitudes, making nonsensical, meaningless statements like, ‘the times have changed and so has Kenney’. Kenney has never apologized for his heinous actions, which (in his words) brought him closer to his church and his ‘god’. To me, this means he is still guilty of prejudice against LGBTQ people.

For a dirty laundry list of the anti-LGBTQ choices Kenney has made over the years, including his affiliations in prejudice, read, Jason Kenney is Alberta’s new premier. What does it mean for LGBTQ2 people?

Kenney’s election win of Alberta was probably fuelled by the hateful, prejudiced, and province-wide rape of Ontario’s health care and social welfare currently happening under the disdainful and draconian rule of Doug Ford and the Ontario Provincial Conservative party.

Ford has put in place a cabinet of Yes men (and a few Yes women) who are all white  – but for a token Asian male. A number of these ministers have little to no training in their posts, including little to no empathy for anyone who didn’t vote for them.

Privilege is not a licence for gender and sexual blindness.

In the Ontario Legislature on the International Day of Pink, April 10, 2019, “Ontario’s NDP LGBTQ+ critic Terence Kernaghan called on Minister of Education Lisa Thompson to speak about protecting queer and trans students.”

“The Day of Pink is the International Day against Bullying, Discrimination, Homophobia, Transphobia, and Transmisogyny across the world. We invite everyone to celebrate diversity by wearing a pink shirt and by organizing activities in their workplaces, schools and communities.”

International Day of Pink

Thompson is not an ally or a friend of the LGBTQ community.

Here is part of the conversation that happened in the Legislature between Kernaghan and Thompson:

Kernaghan: Speaker, it would be nice to hear the minister be able to say the words “homophobia” and “transphobia” on this Day of Pink, because that is what this day is about.

Thompson: Actually, those words don’t exist in my vocabulary because it’s about the actions that really matter. I’m thinking of my friend Craig; I’m thinking of my friend Frank. I am thinking about my family members whom we embrace. We don’t classify and we don’t use terms to label. We embrace relationships. We embrace healthy relationships and that is what our curriculum is going to reflect when it’s released in September next year. 

DailyXtra

Thompson use of language is exclusive and excluding.

By refusing to name, to identify, and to label individuals who are oppressed and marginalized, she is seeking to oppress LGBTQ people by making us invisible and dismissing us as part of the human collective. By not naming us directly, Thompson is also setting up a politics to deny us our rights and to potentially modify or remove the rights we have worked so hard to achieve in both Ontario and Canada.

It’s important to remember that during the Ontario PC Party annual convention in November 2018, the Party passed the contentious “Policy Resolution R4  –  Education and Community Safety” which was a slap in the face for human rights in Ontario. Ironically, they did this during Trans Awareness month:

Be it resolved that an Ontario PC Party recognizes “gender identity theory” for what it is, namely, a highly controversial, and unscientific “liberal ideology”; and, as such, that an Ontario PC government will remove the teaching and promotion of “gender identity theory” from Ontario schools and its curriculum.

Source

Thompson DOES NOT have the right or the privilege to take away our identity or to “dis-label” us with the arrogant claim that, “those words don’t exist in my vocabulary”. The only people who get to name or reclaim labels ascribed to their identity are those who are so labelled. The only people who make statements like, “those words don’t exist in my vocabulary”, are the oppressor.

For example, I call myself queer, gay, and a fag because I have reclaimed those words. I recognize that queer and fag are contentious terms for some gay men. Yet the reclaiming of and the ownership of those labels are similar to the Black community’s use of the “N-word”. Only they are allowed to use that word (even though many within their community don’t appreciate it).

If Thompson had refused to identify a person of colour (POC) in a statement about something to do with the rights of POC, she’d have a PR nightmare that would have had her kicked out of caucus. I do not have to like Thompson or appreciate her politics, but I demand that she apologize for her abject and arrogant exclusion of LGBTQ people in her speech cited above. Her choice of words  –  her choice to EXCLUDE  –  is no different than a white person saying, “I don’t see colour” when referring to race.

Unless you are medically colour blind, saying you don’t see colour is white, privileged racism. You cannot deny what is right in front of you unless you chose not to see reality for what it is  –  a worrisome trend we are seeing more of with the rise of populism, the far-right, Evengelical Christians, and flat-earthers.

“Choosing our own comfort over difficult conversations about diversity and inclusion is the epitome of privilege. It erodes trust.”

Brene Brown

LGBTQ people exist and we are visible.

We are also bullied, beaten, locked up, denied visitation rights to our dying partners, tortured, murdered, and stoned to death for simply being human. This is why we still need our labels. If we are still prejudiced against, we need to remain visible until at such time we are loved and respected in the human collective for being who we are.

Resources


Originally published on Th-Ink Queerly. Cover image: Marco Fieber — “Enough is enough — Open your mouth!”, Demonstration against homophobia in Russia

Behold, these are the 10 Commandments of the Heteronormative Patriarchy for gay men who want to blend in, fit in, act like everyone else, and be respectable!

  1. Thou shalt judge other gays.
  2. Thou shalt hold your voice silent when others make homophobic comments.
  3. Thou shalt minimize talking about your sex or love life, if at all.
  4. Thou shalt control your mannerisms, never flamboyant or feminine.
  5. Thou shalt never make a straight man feel uncomfortable with your eyes.
  6. Thou shalt act like “one of the boys” and fit in.
  7. Thou shalt keep conversations safe and inclusive for straights.
  8. Thou shalt wear clothes that don’t make you stand out.
  9. Thou shalt keep silent when men degrade and objectify women.
  10. Thou shalt never break the rules.

Follow the Rules of the Status Quo at Your Peril.

Keep yourself boxed in. Mind the door of your closet. So long as you don’t come too far out, you’ll have a place in privileged society and you won’t ruffle any feathers.

Stand Up, Speak Out, and Live Proud!

If you’re not visible, if your voice is silent and you’re not heard we can’t make progress and we won’t change hearts and minds. If you keep playing by the rules — the rules the status quo wants you to follow — nothing will every change and nothing will get better.


Originally published with video as, The 10 Commandments for Being a Respectable Gay Man.

Image credit: Kevin Trotman, Georgia Guidestones

Brene Brown is considered an expert in her research on vulnerability and shame. What she teaches in her program, The Power of Vulnerability provides a powerful foundation to how we, as gay men and LGBTQ people, can use our difference to make a difference. Vulnerability helps us deal with our own gay shame, and in the process lead others in society on how to cleanse shame.

In this episode, I bring together Brown’s insights on vulnerability with one of the 14 gay male gifts – as taught in Raymond Rigoglioso in Gay Men And The New Way Forward – namely, how gay men are “models of authenticity and courage, and cleansers of shame.

What is Shame?

Shame encompasses the emotions about who you are and how you feel about yourself when you have done something wrong, e.g. that you’re not good enough, that you’re a bad person, or that you’re broken. You can make yourself feel shame, and others can shame you (if you let them), diminishing your self-worth.

Guilt Is Preferable to Shame.

When you feel guilt, it’s an awareness in relation to your choices or behaviours, and not about who you are. When you feel shame you feel bad about yourself. With guilt, you recognize you made a bad choice, which you can correct or apologize for, but it has nothing to do with your self-worth.

Empathy Is the Opposite of Shame.

Empathy is the ability to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes”, to attempt to feel what they are feeling. And if you can’t do that exactly, you let them know that you don’t know what that feels like, but that you are here to listen and to help. Being open without trying to fix the person’s problem is vital to allowing them to work through their feelings of shame with love, respect, trust, and kindness.

Vulnerability Requires Trust Built Up Over Time.

Trust requires social support which is built up over time. The more you trust someone else, the more you feel free to be vulnerable with them. Trust also requires visibility, which is difficult when you are used to hiding your emotions, or if any part of who you are is still hidden in the closet.

The More Vulnerable You Are, the More You Experience Joy.

One of the best ways to experience more joy in your life is to practice “active gratitude”. Start a gratitude journal or simply write about what you are grateful for, at the start or the end of your day in your journal.

Resources

Image Last Ripples by rpphotos

Why be normal when you can be different?

How do you exist in the gay world that prioritizes the “normate gay” (white, cis-male, physically fit) when you are disabled? One way is to lead with humour. This is exactly what Ryan O’Connell does with his hilarious and powerful new show on Netflix, Special. O’Connell wrote the script and plays the main character based loosely on his own life, who is also called Ryan.

Show synopsis

Special, is a distinctive and uplifting new series about a gay man, Ryan with mild cerebral palsy who decides to rewrite his identity and finally go after the life he wants. After years of dead-end internships, working in his pajamas as a blogger and communicating mostly via text, Ryan eventually figured out how to take his life from bleak to chic and began limping towards adulthood. The offbeat comedy is based on series creator and star Ryan O’Connell’s memoir, “I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves.” O’Connell also serves as executive producer alongside Jim Parsons.

Netflix on YouTube

In the show, Ryan plays a character who is a virgin.

In one of the episodes, his best friend suggests that he hire a sex worker to fix this problem. What happens in the episode is a best-case scenario representation of empathy, respect, and a love of humanity.

Watch the trailer below, and enjoy my take on what happens in the episode and why O’Connell’s message is so important. If you want to watch a show that questions the status quo, is refreshing, intelligent, funny, and shines a bright light directly on belonging versus fitting in, block off two hours and binge watch Special, now!

Resources

Header image courtesy Netflix.

One truth I know about gay men is that many of us don’t know how to be men.

How can we live out our most authentic gay selves when we are faced with challenges like toxic masculinity, which attempts to regulate the feminine in all men?

In our own community, we face toxic gay masculinity that’s manifest in gay men who identify as straight-acting (who, for example, advertise as “masc seeking same” on dating apps). Nor do we live in the world of a simple binary anymore. We have trans men and women, and people who choose to identify in their own, unique ways that challenge social norms and rigid gender constructs.

In the end, we are all just people.

True equality depends on every one of us accepting and embracing others as human beings. No one is less than any other person or in any way less deserving of equality.

We also talk about miracles and why I don’t use the word. Listen in to find out how I describe the “truth about miracles.”

For those of you who don’t know, I wear many hats – but they are all gay! I’ve been the editor of TheGayGuideNetwork.com for about a year now. GGN is described as, “Your gay guide to the good life shares high-vibe conversations about true LGBT personal empowerment. Canada’s #1 LGBT digital magazine, online since 2002.” GGN is run by my friend and colleague Shaun Proulx, whose show on SiriusXM Canada is now in its sixth season!

Enjoy this special edition of the Living OUT Podcast, originally aired on April 13, 2019, as the Shaun Proulx ShowSiriusXM Canada 167.

Resources

Following the taping. which was just before Easter, I promptly found chocolate Easter eggs and made Miss Ellie earrings for the show’s guest picture with the host, Shaun.

Were Religions Invented to Control Fear of the Other?

Witnessing what is happening in the world – how angry, defensive, and fearful people are of “the other” – I have to wonder, did any form of ego-based prejudice exist against another person’s sexual or romantic expression before religions existed?

Consider the latest news out of Texas:

“The Texas Senate on Tuesday gave its initial OK to a bill that civil rights advocates say would give state-licensed workers — including doctors, child care providers and counselors — a free pass to discriminate, especially against people in the LGBTQ community. Senate Bill 17, filed by state Senator Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, would bar state agencies that issue occupational licenses from penalizing workers who refuse to provide services based on “a sincerely held religious belief.”” (Source)

How is it possible for “a sincerely held religious belief” to be used as an acceptable form of discrimination? The answer is simple. There are far too many powerful egos in power pandering to far too many fearful egos who scream the loudest and also throw the largest amount of cash and support behind any politician who helps them get their way.

To create a framework in order to address the core question, “Were religions invented to control the ego”, and to show how most religions are dangerous for society, let’s define the various meanings for both ego and religion.

The “ego” defined:

  • A person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.
  • In psychoanalysis, the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity. (Source)

Religion defined:

  • The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods. (Source)

The above definition of religion is incorrect. Religion is not a “belief” in and of itself. Religion is a system of teaching and ideologies organized by an individual or a group of people. Each religion espouses a particular “belief” and type of worship. The more fundamentalist a particular religion, the more dogmatic the “…set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true” (Source). The more dogmatic a religion, the more that the role of ego plays into the rigid, binary-based belief systems like right versus wrong; man or woman; good versus evil; straight versus “the other”; religion versus science, and so on.

Hello Ego My Old Friend…

When we are relaxed and comfortable with who we are, we are open to new experiences and people, and understanding of different values and opinions. When we are tense, upset, fearful, or angry, the ego flares up to protect and deflect us from everything external.

A fragile ego seeks to control, to possess, and fight for its existence. The ego alone can take care of itself, but when a single ego needs to coexist in a group of people, a tribe, a society, how can everyone function without chaos or anarchy? I wonder if religions became the simplest solution to manage and provide rules for multiple egos vying for attention and control.

Religion Makes Spiritual Practice Easy – But not Necessarily Authentic

Practicing meditation as a method to understand the nature of consciousness and how to coexist with other beings on this planet requires grace, dedication, openness, and a willingness to bear witness to one’s one truth; to one’s own ego, however fragile, defensive, or well managed it may be.

The results of meditation are not immediate. It is a solo practice that takes time the acceptance that progress is subtle and qualitative. The ego-mind will do its best to play tricks, like telling you it’s fine to take a day off, or that you don’t need the practice anymore. Going within is private and personal practice. The ego will try and convince you that doing this alone is a lonely thing - ”Wouldn’t it be more fun to join a group and have someone else tell you what to do?”, says a soothing voice in your head.

Surely following a system, reciting chants and prayers, following rules that project an attainable outcome (salvation through dedication to the “one true path”) is so much easier for the monkey-mind to latch onto than trusting one’s own consciousness.

Religion Alleviates the Need for Patience and Tolerance.

Follow the rules, become born again, and you will be saved for eternity. “I’ve done my penance. Look at all those heathens suffering needlessly. I feel so sorry for them, knowing that I will be pitying them burning in the fires of damnation, while I am comfortable resting in heaven with the saved.”

“Look how good I am going to church and following the rules” – something I used to think when I was young and piously Catholic. But are you only mouthing the words, the hymns and the prayers, believing those “sacred words” will save you? Repetition of words without experiential knowing doesn’t lift the veil of ignorance or engender spiritual awareness.

Going into the darkness of your consciousness and being responsible and responsive to the inner light of your humanity and connection with the universe is what will truly “save you”. And by save, I mean, you will wake up within the limitless nature of your own consciousness, not someone else’s limited and dogmatic construct in the form of religion.

Religion supports tribalism and it’s human nature to band together for social security and safety. The ancient religions supported the base needs of human nature at a time when life was truly difficult and severe.

In this modern world, ancient religions show their weakness in the form of superstition, especially in light of what we know from science and the technologies we have created that alleviate the problems many religions attempted to once solve.

For tribalism to work, it needs a leader, thus the anthropomorphizing of the understanding and concept of “god” into a person. And every deity or god was given human characteristics, both good and bad. For example, Zeus was a power-hungry womanizer who would deceive, rape, and punish his own children (other gods) to get his way. The god of the Old Testament would punish, flood, and force people to sacrifice their own children to demonstrate their allegiance.

Believing in a Higher Power Represented as a Being Creates Ethical Quandaries

Those who believe in a god or gods as described above, or something similar, are creating fictions based on the problematic manifestations of their own unchecked egos. The belief in imaginary beings is a questionable moral jump to circumvent taking responsibility for one’s own actions, leading from a place based solely on mirroring humanity at its worst.

How often have you heard or read, “believe in god and you will be saved, healed, find love”, and so on? Today we have modern medicine, social systems, and dating apps. While the answers to all of our questions and problems, and “how to save the world”, will not be found in the religions of old, or the individual modern technologies and sciences, bearing witness to the nature of our individual consciousness on a mass scale will connect more of us that the internet ever has.

We Can Find Truth in Our Own Darkness

Today, we have the power and freedom to express ourselves, to learn more, to understand what once seemed mysterious, to revel in and laugh at our past ignorance. To deny what is obvious and right in front of us, that which can be easily proved (e.g. the earth is round; the earth was not created 5,000 years ago by an egotistical, maniacal god who placed dinosaur bones in the earth to trick humans) is not only sophistry, it’s a display of willful ignorance bordering on intellectual impediment.

We are no longer living in the dark ages of superstition. Holding onto ancient narratives of a vengeful god continues to feed the needs of weak egos to be right (power hungry; saved) and in control (tribalism; status quo). We don’t need god or a religion to be spiritual. We only need to look within ourselves to study the nature of consciousness and discover that we are all connected.

History has documented countless wars and crusades over millennia because of “sincerely held religious beliefs”. Translation: if you don’t believe my dogma, you’re dog meat.

Expand your consciousness – more about the ego:

Originally published on Th-Ink Queerly. Cover image: Dave MacFarlane