I was walking downtown recently and passed by Portland’s historic Benson Hotel.
The Benson was built in 1912 and opened in 1913. It was the Portland version of the swanky hotels of the big eastern cities, built by Simon Benson after he retired from his life as a lumber baron.
Side Note: One of his other retirement causes was to provide accessible hydration for the people of Portland and he invested $10,000 of his own money to create a network of street side water fountains downtown, now named for him and called Benson Bubblers.
One interesting factoid of the hotel itself is its history of paranormal activity – I know of five ghost sightings, ranging from Benson himself to Mitch Mitchell, who was a member of Jimi Hendrix’s band and died in the hotel back in 2008.
Benson had built the hotel and then turned it over to others to run, coming out of retirement six years later to take over the management of the hotel after seeing it run at a loss after opening. Succeeding in creating a hotel that turned a pre-Great Depression profit of $100,000 a year.
Not bad for a hotel that cost $1,000,000 to build.
Why do I mention this? Well, if only to demonstrate that the man was a shrewd and capable businessman.
Outside, as I walked by, Union Strikers were being supported by a sign that read “Shame On The Benson Hotel” yada-yada-yada.
Yeah, leaning on the sign.
Apparently protesting a labor or contract dispute with the hotel’s existing management. Well, good work ethic, guys…really showing the public what you’re worth with that display of boredom, apathy and laziness.
And it got me thinking about the phrasing of their sign.
Shame On The Benson Hotel…
The word itself makes me think about religion. It evokes the memories of embarrassment I experienced when my behaviors fell short of what was expected, either socially or at home. Growing up in a Catholic household and intermittently attending parochial and public schools, I suppose it’s easy enough to see where religion and shame become entangled for me.
And this was from growing up in the 70s and 80s. Shame was a matter then of not getting your family to church on time or having light pockets when the tithing tray was passed your way. In the more secular applications, shame was a matter of how I behaved in the grocery store with my siblings while mom shopped. Running amok was likely to make mom crazy and push the limits of her patience until we got to the car and she could privately express her exasperation at our behavior. And then send us to our rooms until dad got home and she relayed the behavior to him and he did his slow march up the stairs to “deal” with the bratty kids that his wife had been saddled with all day.
Because mom’s sense of shame perhaps came at the judgmental glances of other mothers, amplifying the frustration she felt at how her kids behaved in public. We ran around like heathens instead of properly behaved miniature humans. Er, Christians. Whatever.
My poor parents.
Especially mom because she literally had to deal with us whether we were angels or demons. No real choice, other than to encourage us to go outside and play. My thought if I were her would be, “Why don’t you kids (little assholes) go outside and play (forever)?” But my dad, too, because when he got home from work and traded welcome home kisses with mom he had no idea whether asking how her day was would result in a pleasant return to domesticity after a day of the man putting it to him or if he would end up making that slow trudge up the stairs to talk shit out with his kids and help them not ruin his future evenings by pushing his wife to her wit’s end.
Really, how he didn’t go Homer Simpson on us sometimes is pretty admirable.
Ok, so parenting aside, the religious pull of shame is still pretty strong in my psyche. Partially, because I am gay and the balancing act I had to do between the dogma and values I was raised with and homosexuality were presented in a fairly mutually exclusive manner by the church my family belonged to.
There’s an interesting thought exercise…”belonging” to a church.
Being gay was just one more behavior that they shunned and shamed. Luckily, there’s the whole venial versus mortal sins thing…although I want to call it a spectrum, I suspect the church views it a little more as a black and white manner. So, while my my beating off to the International Male catalog would earn me a front row seat in hell, at least mom and dad would be spared that fate simply for not always having bank to drop into the tithing basket. But, as I was raised in a time that was much less tolerant of diversity and definitely more ignorant of sexual identity – I mean, homosexuality was still listed as a mental disorder during my adolescence and for most of my young adult life – it was hard to rectify my emerging sexual identity with the church’s stance that homosexuality was a mortal sin.
I’m pretty sure that’s the way the church views it…even while *some* of their own are doing it.
But fuck it, I could be wrong; once I decided the church’s rubric was bullshit in one way, shape or form I pretty much stopped taking it seriously. After all, one can only be condemned to hell so many times before it loses its effectiveness as a moral motivator. I am, however, glad to have been raised in an environment that expected my behavior to fall in line with their…let’s call them guidelines, though. I know it’s confusing to have me say that I decided they were bullshit, but that’s really just a judgment of how they executed and maintained their core values…using fear to ensure compliance isn’t my favorite tool. Those underlying values that the church taught about the life of Christ were helpful in my ability to develop my own moral code and live my life by a code of conduct that allows me to participate as a useful part of a larger society.
So, there I am, just another homo killing time before being relegated to an eternity in the afterlife of hell…where it seems all the cool kids will be hanging out, anyway. Making my way in the world as a gay man and trying to recover from an upbringing that certainly discouraged me from expressing my true self. While religion wasn’t a club that I wanted to be a part of, immersing myself in gay culture felt like stepping into a second family. As a matter of fact, one of my favorite authors – I think of him as both a role model and hero – is Armistead Maupin. If you haven’t read Tales of the City, I would strongly recommend you give it a read. At least watch the movies…anyway, in his books, one of his characters describes her family in two parts – biological and logical, the latter being the people you meet in your life that don’t share a blood relation but without whom your family is incomplete.
Surprisingly, this second cultural family was as flawed as the first. Sure, more fun…but seemingly without a code of conduct of any kind.
So, there I was, kind of where I wanted to be in my life but struggling again to find balance between the world I now lived in and the world I was raised in.
Maybe I still felt some shame about it because when my parents divorced in California in the early 90s, I chose not to move with my mother and siblings back to our home in Oregon.
I was home.
I just didn’t have that logical family yet.
But, eventually they showed up. When I met My GI and his friends – many of whom I am happy to be socially reconnected with thanks to Facebook after a couple of decades of bouncing around the country with my career – I began to find that logical family. People who embodied a balance between living an existence true to their whole selves as well as living a life that was accountable to a larger world than just their selfish selves like most of the gay community that I encountered.
And I’m afraid that selfish and unaccountable part of the gay community has only gotten larger and more visible in the ensuing decades. But, I am grateful that I have been able to collect a few more members of my logical family over that same timeframe in the many places I have lived.
Even with that personal growth victory, I fear that American society hasn’t gotten much better about its tendency toward sexual shame. As a matter of fact, I think it’s even more fragmented now that the visibility of a truer nature of human sexuality is emerging. But don’t think the religious complex has taken time off of their crusade to maintain the shame around sex for the sake of sex.
Man, watching the Reagan administration fail to secure the health and well-being of an entire generation of gay men – resulting in the culture of Lost Boys I live with today – was humiliating to me as a human being. Such recklessness toward our fellow humans, all in the name of not pissing off the Religious Right.
Thanks, GOP. That’s some solid leadership. Who needed icons like Rock Hudson, Keith Haring, Freddie Mercury and Robert Mapplethorpe anyway?
Let alone the countless children of your sexually repressed base who died essentially just to preserve votes.
I can’t tell you how quickly I would sign up for a potential life saver like PrEP if I were a young, sexually active human. The use of Truvada as a pre-exposure treatment to prevent the spread of HIV is nothing short of a scientific miracle.
No telling how many people I just pissed off by blending science and religion in the last two words of that previous paragraph.
But what happens instead?
Do we start talking about PrEP in Sex Ed classes? No. I doubt we’re even showing people how to use condoms yet.
Do we even have Sex Ed classes anymore?
But more disappointing than the usual confusion of allowing religion a credible and serious voice in the discussion of how a democracy based on the separation of church and state handles the sexual health of its population is how the gay community turned on itself in the face of this life-altering breakthrough.
Yeah, I’ll wait for you to re-read that…my head is spinning after typing it.
What happened was a new twist on slut shaming that the press and gay community refer to as Truvada shaming.
Must we turn on our own brothers?
Of course we must.
America in this new millennium is not an easily navigable place. There’s no GPS for morality. The cost of slowly losing and politicizing our religion since the Summer of Love has been that we also lose the ability to actually accept – or even hear and understand – an opposing opinion.
It’s kind of all “our way or the highway” for any given group perspective. The tool we use to ensure compliance within those groups?
Think what you will of the church, but one thing is for sure, those fuckers can stay on message and have a 2000+ year track record to prove it.
Yup…good old fear.
While we should be educating ourselves and empowering ourselves – not just sexually, but with all manners of available education (looking at you, Climate Change Deniers and Intelligent Designers) – we’re reverting back to bullying each other to get what we want.
Specific to this situation, while we should be actively eradicating the Walk of Shame and celebrating the Stride of Pride, we’re reverting back to name calling in order to maintain a status quo.
What status quo?
The one where promiscuous people are bad. Even typing “promiscuous people” felt judgmental and wrong.
Who says they’re bad? Probably people not getting laid.
Why aren’t they getting laid? Probably because they themselves have been shamed into believing that they aren’t worthy for some reason or another. Fat, old, ugly (some of my own favorite self-descriptors), too fem, too vanilla, too in a fear based relationship…
And if they can’t get laid, that frustration manifests itself in the labeling and shaming of someone else. Is that being part of the problem or part of the solution?
Now, that’s shameful.
Let’s not forget, too, that while it’s important…it’s still just sex.
But, just to try and make this a more universal problem – so that you can decide whether your actions support the problem or the solution – than religion or homosexuality, let’s go back to those Benson Strikers and look at them versus the popular American culture.
They likely weren’t gay.
Maybe they were religious…hard to say, “shame” is so intertwined for me with religion, but let’s assume they weren’t religious.
Then let’s assume that it didn’t matter whether they were gay or religious anyway, for fuck’s sake.
Because it didn’t.
These were just a bunch of guys standing on a sidewalk putting zero effort into demonstrating that they weren’t getting what they wanted from their employer. What did they want? Better pay? Better benefits? I can’t say because they didn’t say. They were just there basically throwing a fit because they didn’t get whatever it is that they want.
Well, “throwing” might be too proactive a verb for this situation. They couldn’t even muster a good “complain” vibe.
They looked bored.
Typical of our something-for-nothing culture.
The effort they were putting into their so-called strike made their strike more of an indictment of the validity of what they wanted in the first place. Now, good old Simon Benson was a solid and successful business person. One who expected results in exchange for the wages he paid out. If you wanted compensation, you exchanged your time and skills for said compensation. If you thought whining about it was gonna get you somewhere with him, I would imagine that you would be right…I would further imagine that what if might get you was a close-up tour of the Shanghai Tunnels.
Take that sucker.
Realistically, in my book if you aren’t happy with your working conditions, you change the working conditions. Sure, negotiation can be a viable part of that change, but holding your employer hostage to your demands cannot. You’re also completely free to seek other employment if you feel your compensation is below the market average. Then again, you should also understand what an average is and know that in a job market, some people will make more than others and some less…that’s the nature of an average.
Hell, we live in a capitalist country that encourages free enterprise. Start your own business and do better.
But let’s leave the finger-pointing and tantrum-throwing where it belongs, in the school yards where there’s hopefully an adult around to help America’s offspring grow out of it by teaching them the value of discussion and acceptance and – for the love of gawd – some critical thinking.
Not in the street in front of a business that has survived longer than the cumulative ages of the protesters shaming them at their front door. (There was only three of them.)
And, seriously, can someone explain how this particular execution of one’s freedom of speech helps their situation? I simply don’t get the logic.
“You aren’t giving me what I want, so I’m going to make it harder for you to afford to deliver what I want by vaguely harming your business and reputation.”
Yeah…that’s being part of the problem, folks.