Sam Smith has poked a very old bear with their performance at the Grammys last Sunday. And I think they knew exactly what they were doing.
Sam was leaning into all of the online hatred hurled at LGBTQ and gender nonconforming artists by conservative Christians. Sam was showing them what they think of them, and Sam also was showing the patriarchal gatekeepers they have no power over them.
And they took the bait! Why? Because there’s nothing privileged, powerful and patriarchal folks despise more than a flagrant disregard of being controlled and oppressed and shamed by their traditions and rules.
This harkens back to the many “Satanic” panics that have grabbed hold of us by its religiously insidious claws on many different points in history. From the Salem witch trials up to the McMartin (and other) preschool trials of the 1980s.
And what do all these “Satanic” panics have in common? Gender roles being upended or confronted or disregarded. In these moments of Satanic panic, there is always the desire to control or demonize gender, particularly when it’s either non-conforming or more female in nature. When women or feminine energy takes back their power, the patriarchal protectors are right there to take it back by any means necessary.
After all, who are the witches? The girls and women who were quick to accuse other oppressed women and girls. Men encouraged their misogyny and presided over these trials and executions, of course.
And who were those on trial during the Satanic panic of the 1980s with the preschools and day care centers? Women who ran them were punished along with a society that was allowing women to work outside the home, thus needing child care. Women working outside the home gaining access to financial independence and usurping the traditional homemaking roles? Nope. Not on their watch!
Also, much of the Satanic panic focused on the “welfare” of children that we have known in our lifetime comes directly from patriarchy being threatened. Statistically, we know children are most likely to be abused by a man in their family. And when women and children are empowered to tell these stories, a backlash happens. Faux boogeymen and smokescreen monsters are created. And everyone but the men (mostly straight men, statistics also tell us) who do these things are blamed.
And we’re seeing it again in much of the heavily patriarchal conservatism in power today. Controlling women’s and girl’s bodies. And punishing women, transgender and gender nonconforming folks. For not living in their prescribed binary box of patriarchy. WE. GET. PUNISHED.
“In order to keep control, we all must be afraid.”
After all, why are so many more afraid of drag shows than they are of the religious people and institutions that continue to allow children to be abused, women to be mistreated and/or to shield their former perpetrators? Statistically, the people in our society who have abused children are doctors, priests, teachers, pastors and community leaders. (Homeland Security recently did a sting operation in North Texas where they arrested nearly 50 men soliciting sex through sex trafficking fake ads, and none of them were drag queens!).
Again, why are we told to be afraid of drag queens?
It’s about the patriarchy being upheld. It’s about control. And in order to keep control, we all must be afraid. Very afraid.
And why are we afraid of transgender folks using the restroom?
Because some cisgender dude might pretend to be a trans woman and abuse someone? But doesn’t that mean we should be afraid of straight men? That seems like a straight, cisgender guy problem to me.
So why are we afraid of transgender folks?
It’s about straight men not being held accountable for their creepy and questionable behavior toward women. It’s about control and a lack of compassion. So rather than be curious, we are asked to be terrified.
“But they never ask us to be afraid of what is truly terrifying in this world: Abusive white men in power.”
But they never ask us to be afraid of what is truly terrifying in this world: Abusive white men in power. Abusive families who torture and kick out their LGBTQ kids. Abusive police officers. Abusive white women who use the police to punish Black folks. Unstable men with access to guns. Abusive religious leaders who speak of God as a tyrant who hates everyone they hate. Abusive institutions that oppress anyone deemed “other.”
The problem with this exercise in focused fear-mongering futility is that it distorts our understanding of evil or what is truly abhorrent to God. If you are more upset by an artist’s depiction of a clearly unbiblical version of Satan than you are by the ongoing murders of innocent Black folks at the hands of police in this country or the unbelievable amount of preventable mass shootings that target our most vulnerable … I don’t know what to tell you other than please read the Bible again.
Please. Read. Your. Bible. Again.
Evil doesn’t wear a bright red cloak and have horns. That is far too laughably easy. No, true evil is much more insidious and savage and horrible than that. Evil is the dehumanization of God’s good creation and God’s beloved children. It is seen in racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia that we have allowed to infect every part of our communities and institutions unchecked.
I implore all of us to reject the fear they are asking us to feel. Let us all be courageous in this moment instead.
There are things to fear. There are truly scary and terrible things happening in the world. Black people should be afraid when stopped by a police officer. LGBTQ folks should be afraid of how they might be treated by institutions and people meant to help them. Women should be afraid of unprovoked violence at the hands of men.
The things we do not need to be afraid of: Drag queens. LGBTQ and/or gender nonconforming folks, artistic expressions of a culturally charged moment.
Let’s take that energy and instead use it to:
- Smash the patriarchy
- Defend the oppressed
- Show kindness to our neighbor
- Seek equality under the law for our LGBTQ siblings
- Work toward being anti-racist
- Be more gracious to people different than us
- Dismantle the binary
And doing so, we will be standing up for the truth of God’s expansive and inclusive love for all. All means all, ya’ll.
Erin Wyma is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary.
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