Mattie Behrens

Software developer. Hopeless nerd. They/them.

Jesus at the Intersection of Fear and Disapproval

Content warning: religious hate of queer people, queer self-hatred.

Some of this has been a long time coming. Parts can be found in several drafts hiding out in my private notes. Until today, I've been too afraid to say what I need to say.

But something I came across gave me a nudge. This poem from Jay Hulme has been making the rounds. (Jay wrote about this, if you're interested in more.)

Jesus at the Gay Bar

He's here in the midst of it -
right at the centre of the dance floor,
robes hitched up to His knees
to make it easy to spin.

At some point in the evening
a boy will touch the hem of His robe
and beg to be healed, beg to be
anything other than this;

and He will reach His arms out,
sweat-damp, and weary from dance.
He'll cup this boy's face in His hand
and say,

                    my beautiful child
there is nothing in this heart of yours
that ever needs to be healed.

I read this the other day, and oof. It hit me hard.

I grew up not just in a Christian church, but also a community where, as the joke went, there were "more churches than people." We were all some form of Christian. Specifically, we were the form of Christian that presented a Jesus who strongly disapproved of queer people.

I will always remember the first exposure I had to queerness that really lodged in my head. A letter from Focus on the Family's James Dobson was in my family's kitchen, warning us in what I recall were apocalyptic terms about "Gay Day" at Walt Disney World.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately?), I can't actually locate a copy of that letter. But what I do remember is that I loved Disney World. That letter told us about how gay people were destroying something I loved. Poor children who just wanted to meet Mickey Mouse were exposed to unspeakable perversion.

Around the same time, I was also discovering I was bisexual. But the Jesus who I was introduced to was firmly behind Dobson and his dire warnings. And I didn't know "bisexual" even existed—I just thought I was broken inside.

Was I one of those terrible perverts? No, I couldn't be. I was Christian! I'd bury it all deep down, hating myself a little bit more every time I had any vaguely queer thought.

The Jesus I had been introduced to wanted me to beg forgiveness every time I had homosexual thoughts. I needed to work hard to not sin like this, or he would tell me he never knew me—an eternal death sentence.

The right-wing media diet I consumed at the time reinforced all of it. Gay people were out to corrupt and destroy good Christians. So, of course, I had to avoid it at all costs.

It took me some time and a lot of searching, but I was, thankfully, eventually able to let go of that Jesus.

Unfortunately, the indoctrination remained. I may have finally let go the Jesus they foisted on me, but I was still deeply afraid others would be disappointed in me if they found out my secret.

This was a key reason why I literally turned 40 and had to move away from the conservative communities I had been a part of before I was finally able to come out.

And coming out didn't solve everything. I had to cope with a string of people who thought they already knew everything about what I was trying to say about myself, thought they were entitled to my emotional labor so they didn't feel bad about themselves, thought I should conform to their idea of a "good" queer person—and usually some combination of the above.

Those people didn't know what being queer meant. They equated bisexuality with promiscuity, for example. Leaned into the requisite disapproval that brought. Argued with the idea that I should even be talking about any of this at all.

My fear of what people might think of me took the place of the stern-faced deity who had been disapproving of me for many years prior.

That Jesus was the embodiment of an idea that I'm still working to shake. The idea that there's something broken about me. The idea that someone was looking over my shoulder, evaluating whether they'd approve me or require me to beg for forgiveness.

And that's why the Jesus who was At the Gay Bar hit me so hard. Same name, but a completely different person and concept. Had I been introduced to that Jesus as a kid, would I also be able to love myself unconditionally today?

Uploading images for Listed with an Imgur iOS Shortcut

Please enjoy my first shot at embedding images in my Listed blog.

The complete set of LEGO Muppet minifigures

I did this using a iOS Shortcut I created, Upload to Imgur.

There are other Upload to Imgur Shortcuts, but this one is mine. And this one resizes the image width to 2048px before uploading.

I am not 100% convinced I want to stick with Imgur, but for now, it works out. And maybe I can get my headshot in there too.

The Twitter implosion and the pink lists

Content warning: violence against queer people in history.

Like many people, I've been watching the implosion of Twitter under Space Karen with a mixture of dark humor, relief (that I left when I did), and horror.

As time goes on and the likelihood that the company continues to be a going concern rapidly approach nil, the horror is growing.

Artwork of Elon Musk with "Karen hair"

https://twitter.com/Lynchian_Dream/status/1260614408071413760

I started looking around for a couple options to try to scrub history. (I probably should have been doing this regularly. But I wasn't.) That was when I discovered a couple things:

  • The Twitter API won't actually give you a full list of your tweets, only the last 3,200 or so that you made (and it won't roll further back after you delete those) so it's impossible to scrub from the API only.
  • "Deleting" direct messages doesn't. Thankfully, they're upfront about this fact as far as conversations with others go, telling you that other folks in the conversation will still have all the messages. But it makes me think.

The privacy of services like Twitter end at the line of a piece of software deciding whether to show something to a specific person—or not. The text of all you write is stored, completely readable, somewhere.

With modern technology, this can be used to infer quite a bit about you. Including exactly how queer you are. And we're in the middle of a Republican push to criminalize queerness.

And I can't help but think about Magnus Hirschfeld and the pink lists.

I learned about Magnus Hirschfeld a little while back, when I was busy making up for all the queer history that was hidden from me as I was I was growing up.

Hirschfeld ran the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sex Research) in the years before the Nazis rose to power in Germany. When they did, they attacked the institute and burned its books.

Nazi Party members at the Opernplatz book burning in Berlin, which included the institute's archives.

By Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-14597 / Georg Pahl / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, Link

But they also took the client list and used it in the compilation of the "pink lists"—used to round up homosexual Germans to send them to the concentration camps.

Hirschfeld compiled his client lists with the best of intentions in mind—literally, in support of queer people. But that information was taken and abused.

I don't think it's a huge logical leap to look at the direction we're headed in today and draw parallels. There is so much data out there that exposes queer people—some of it, voluntarily, but also a lot they're likely not even aware of.

And it's already not being held particularly safely, though the people who collect it may have even had good intentions. What happens when the Republicans who are currently labeling queer people "groomers" come to collect it?

It's not just Twitter. It's any product that isn't built with the express intention that wherever possible, people who the data about are the only people who can use it—and that means the product people can't use it either.

I know that isn't the ideal we reach every time. But we have to know the risks of not reaching for it.

A little more Listed customization

My last post introduced a few new things.

For starters: Listed does code highlighting. It doesn't make the greatest color choices, though, in dark mode. I wonder if this is something I can contribute fixes for.

I also wanted to use keycaps in that post. For this, I added my first bit of custom CSS:

---
metatype: css
---

kbd {
    border-style: outset;
    padding: 0em 0.25em;
    font-family: Roboto,sans-serif;
}

I based this on a little bit of fiddling in my browser's inspector, and also a hunch that I didn't actually have to copy-paste the entire wad of CSS in the support article.

I was right.

Edit your Zsh command line with vi

I have a bad habit of just kind of going with very slightly inconvenient things when developing, because I don't want to lose my focus.

One of those is when I need to edit something in the middle of a long command line. I'll just hold the arrow key until I get there.

When I used OpenBSD and ksh far more often, the solution to this was

set -o vi

stuck into my $HOME/.kshrc file, which transformed my shell into a little vi editor. Now I could hit Esc to hop out of normal mode and use all my favorite vi movement keys!

For some reason, I never tried to do this in my years using Bash when it was the default on macOS.

These days, the default is Zsh. And I still just kind of sucked it up whenever I needed to make a mid-line edit.

Guess how you add vi keys to Zsh? Well, in $HOME/.zshrc

set -o vi

There's more, though. In the years since I used to do a lot more work in OpenBSD shells, I've made quite a lot more use of the control+R and control+S history search keys. These work in the default bindings for ksh and Zsh, but once vi mode is on, both those keys get remapped elsewhere.

You can rebind those keys back again if you like:

bindkey ^R history-incremental-search-backward
bindkey ^S history-incremental-search-forward

Or, you can do what I'm going to try to get used to doing now, which is fully embrace the glorious vi-ness of my shell and use this workflow:

  1. Get out of insert mode with the trusty esc key.
  2. Type a search expression, starting with / (such as /^docker) and hit return.
  3. Move through the results with n (backward) and N (forward).

Beautiful, isn't it? I have this answer on vi Stack Overflow to thank for teaching me this.

What it's like writing on Listed

Okay, okay, but please, just let me get the meta out now? How can you have a blog without starting with meta?

Putting together yesterday's piece was a new experience for me. I've previously written in one of two modes:

  • in vi either directly on the OpenBSD server that also hosted the blog, or on my MacBook to be built with the ancient Felix Felicis and rsynced into place, or
  • in the massive, somewhat overwhelming environment of Atomic Spin's WordPress admin area

The latter part is interesting—I know a lot of my coworkers at Atomic Object don't write directly in the admin area, but rather use some other editor (generally something that does Markdown or one of its many derivatives) and bring their work over. I've always been more comfortable in the "text" tab—not the visual editor, but the one where I can hammer out all the markup as I write. I'm strange.

Listed is a different experience, and yet also familiar. I've been a Standard Notes user for a long time, using it for journals and other secret bits. Now, I'm writing Markdown right into the same interface, with the intent to publish.

What's really interesting about that is that I don't blog much differently than I journal. The singular difference is intended audience. But I have the same writing voice, and I think there might be something to how natural it is to just take on a blog post instead of a journal entry.

I also know my drafts are just as private as any journal entry I might write. I had a similar feel editing my personal blog with vi, minus the crypto, of course. But this doesn't require me to be SSH'd in—I'm writing either on the desktop app, or on the mobile app on my iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard. (I haven't picked at it on my phone, yet. We'll see.)

Once I'm ready, I just hit the Listed menu on my note and say "publish". Edits are made similarly—open the note, change, republish in place.

The remaining mechanics are somewhat interesting. Special notes with header sections can be used to set up pages and header links as well as custom CSS. It's a little strange, but it's also very much blog-infrastructure-as-code, if your code is entries in your Standard Notes account.

I like not having to think about the vagaries of the site, but I also realize I'm constrained a bit. For example—not yet sure if I can use this site as a verified link on my Queer Garden account. Maybe something to chat with support about.

Images are also gonna be a bit of a source of grief, I suspect. To get my header image in play, I went ahead and set up a public S3 bucket. I'll probably explore using that same bucket for images, because images just aren't part of this, as far as I can tell.

So that's where I am on day two. A couple days ago, I had briefly poked at Hugo with the intent of setting up A Whole New Blog Infrastructure, but really, when it came down to it—I just want to write, and Listed and Standard Notes were already there. So why not? I'm positive so far on where this can go.

Mister Rogers and François Clemmons

I promised a friend that I would go deeper into the story of François Clemmons. Said friend had posted the well-known story of the Mister Rogers character Officer Clemmons, who—well, I'll just crib Wikipedia:

For 25 years, Clemmons performed the role of Officer Clemmons, a friendly neighborhood policeman, in the "Neighborhood of Make-Believe" on the children's television show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. In the neighborhood itself, Clemmons ran a singing and dance studio located in the building diagonally across the street from Mister Rogers' house. He was one of the first African Americans to have a recurring role on a children's TV series, and his presentation—as both a beloved neighbor to Mister Rogers and as a respected authority figure—has been described as a ground-breaking message in race relations. For example, in 1969, when racially integrated community swimming pools were still controversial, Mr. Rogers invited Officer Clemmons to cool his feet with him in a small, plastic wading pool. Mr. Rogers lent Officer Clemmons a towel to dry his feet and then used the same towel to dry his own feet, breaking a well-known color barrier.

And that's a great story, to be sure. But there's more to François Clemmons.

The release of Won't You Be My Neighbor? in 2018 was the catalyst for a lot of interest in Mister Rogers. And then there was this article, which talked about how Fred Rogers had beocme "a bisexual icon", based on the book The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers:

In conversation with one of his friends, the openly gay Dr. William Hirsch, Fred Rogers himself concluded that if sexuality was measured on a scale of one to ten: “Well, you know, I must be right smack in the middle. Because I have found women attractive, and I have found men attractive.”

Of course, this quote got a lot of traction, but what I didn't see until I cracked the book was evidence that Fred Rogers could also have been what we might also call non-binary:

…as his longtime associate Eliot Daley put it: “Fred is one of the strongest people I have ever met in my life. So if they are saying he’s gay because . . . that’s a surrogate for saying he’s weak, that’s not right, because he’s incredibly strong.” He adds: “He wasn’t a very masculine person, he wasn’t a very feminine person; he was androgynous.”

Obviously, this was super interesting to nascent enby yours truly, and I hope to you too. But I promised more about the actor behind Officer Clemmons.

It's worth noting, right up front, that François Clemmons was actually a bit reluctant to take the role.

At first, Clemmons was reluctant to take the role as a police officer: “I grew up in the ghetto. I did not have a positive opinion of police officers. Policemen were siccing police dogs and water hoses on people. And I really had a hard time putting myself in that role. So I was not excited about being Officer Clemmons at all.”

But the famous scene with François cooling off his feet with Fred Rogers in a pool, which happened just after the first anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., touched him in a way he didn't expect.

“He invited me to come over and to rest my feet in the water with him,” Clemmons recalls. “The icon Fred Rogers not only was showing my brown skin in the tub with his white skin as two friends, but as I was getting out of that tub, he was helping me dry my feet."

The scene—which the two revisited in 1993 in their last episode together—touched Clemmons in a way he hadn’t expected: “I think he [Fred Rogers] was making a very strong statement. That was his way. I still was not convinced that Officer Clemmons could have a positive influence in the Neighborhood and in the real-world neighborhood, but I think I was proven wrong.”

François would later try to get Fred Rogers to cast an interracial couple on the show, something he never managed.

“Fred was never hostile [to the idea]. . . . He just never did it.” Clemmons assumed that Rogers was concerned about alienating socially conservative viewers.

There was something else, though, too: François Clemmons, though he was married when he started out on the show, later came out as gay—just not on the show.

The same Fred Rogers who never put an interracial couple on, though he never had any problem with his gay colleague, also

…apparently encouraged Clemmons to focus on his singing career; Rogers evidently believed Clemmons would tank his career should he come out as a gay man in the late 1960s.

But, as quoted in The Good Neighbor, Michael Long wrote in The Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers:

But—and this is a crucial point—Rogers later revised his counsel to his younger friend. As countless gays came out more publicly following the Stonewall uprising, Rogers even urged Clemmons to enter into a long-term, stable gay relationship. And he always warmly welcomed Clemmons’s gay friends whenever they visited the television set in Pittsburgh.

It's funny—at the time, I had recently come out myself (just bisexual; the non-binariness would follow), and I was utterly devouring everything I could find on queer history.

And then I went reading about Mister Rogers, and found that—indeed, we are everywhere.

Let's try this again

This is going to be a bit of an exercise in fighting perfectionism.

I've been a Standard Notes fan for, gosh, a very long time now. (I reviewed it for Atomic Spin back in 2018!) And they've had Listed for the entire time I've been a fan.

I tried it once, for a pseudonymous thought dumping ground. I found out I'm not really all that compatible with pseudonymity. I'm sort of an all-or-nothing type—I don't partition. So that went by the wayside. Just a couple entries left in my Standard Notes account.

I'm going to go ahead and put my name to these.

I have had a longer-running blog at zigg.com for some time, of course. For now, those can stay there, while I decide what to do with them. But writing there just took a lot of effort, really—it felt like a production.

I'm hoping this doesn't feel quite so much like a production. Here goes nothing.