Archive for July, 2012|Monthly archive page

Feeling; gay rights; “Bad Religion”

In Posts on July 28, 2012 at 2:55 pm

I can’t stop listening to Channel ORANGE, the recently released album by the American R&B artist Frank Ocean. Perhaps my favorite track is “Bad Religion,” a ballad exploring Ocean’s unrequited love for another man. He recently performed it in what I think is a devastatingly beautiful live version. Besides just wishing that everyone within earshot would listen to the song (and the whole album), I’m writing about it because it subtly shifted my politics on gay rights.

I’ve always been for gay rights, of course: I have no reason not to be, and it’s consistent with my understanding of how society should be organized and what freedoms the people in it should enjoy. But I’ve also maintained a robust respect for opposition to homosexuality on principled (for example, religious) grounds, partly out of a sense of historical context. Homophobia has been the unquestioned norm for nearly all of history, including during much of many Americans’ lifetimes; even if those prejudices need changing now, what sense is there in demonizing people who are simply continuing to hold the beliefs with which they were raised? Gay rights will be as unquestioned in fifty years as women’s suffrage is today; why fill the intervening space with conflict and ill will?

This was before “Bad Religion,” performed live on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. What was missing, or at least absent, was the visceral feeling that gay people truly love each other in precisely the way that I feel love. That feeling makes it difficult to see opposition to homosexuality as anything but the unconscionable denial of gay people’s rights by individuals who may be well-intentioned—I haven’t forgotten that part—but whose opinions are plainly wrong and cause real and unnecessary harm. “Bad Religion” certainly isn’t a work of political art; but the truth and humanity of its exploration of unrequited love is maybe the most powerful kind of political statement. If you can listen to it and still dismiss gay love as somehow false or different, I simply don’t know what to tell you.