When former Congresswoman Bella Abzug (right) sang Marlena at a Leslie Gore concert in 1997, Sandy Rapp (left) brought flowers.
| Interview by Jack Nichols
Jack Nichols: Former Congresswoman Bella Abzug liked your book—God's Country-- and called it "a much-needed must". You felt close to Bella. You composed a wonderful song about Bella. Tell what made her a beloved one to you and to many women generally?
Sandy Rapp: I think Bella liked God's Country because she agreed that theocracy underlies much oppression. She was an attorney and respected documentation as well as polemics. A great link I had with Bella was music. We both believed, sixties-style, that music was for movements as well as romance. Did you know she played the mandolin? Her sister's a fine pianist as well. Of course Bella also sang the love songs with the best. I wrote two songs for her, not one. The political tribute is "Hats Off To Bella," and there's also the one about her Dietrich impression "When Bella Sings Marlene" But mostly, I admired Bella in that she was definitively integral. Therein lay both her strength and her beauty. She was a national resource. (See Gay Today Archive: Bella Abzug)
Jack Nichols: You must have a pretty close grip on the scientific dimensions in sex theory because Johns Hopkins' Dr. John Money, ---a person known as an intellectual giant with respect to our developing knowledge of sexual matters---says your book's an antidote for the poisons loosed with the steady advance of a narrowly-focused religious dictatorship in government. What other things does your book do?
Sandy Rapp: I was very honored to receive John Money's imprimatur. God's Country is basically a three-fold hand-book of arguments against the right wing's anti-gay, anti-woman agenda. It overviews the psychological, legislative, and theological fronts and presents arguments both in vernacular and in attributed (documented) passages. It's very simple, no footnotes, and it's short and sweet.
Jack Nichols: You seem to hold your own confidently around men. I think you may understand them better—sometimes--than they understand themselves. I was taken with your incisive, if short journeys into the gay male experience. What are the most important common needs, do you think, that gay men and lesbians have in common?
Sandy Rapp: The fellow, who served as the model for the gay-male vignette you mention, was pleased when I announced, shortly before his death, that the book was to be only 139 pages long. He said he thought most books were altogether too long.
The obvious commonality with women and gay men is privacy rights, i.e. freedom from interference (particularly from the government) to privately control one's own sexuality and reproductive facilities. I see gender roles as constructs and conventions, so I don't suppose I feel that distant from gay men. I think male/female conflicts in the community reflect these dueling constructs. Men are raised to pursue sex, so among men declining sex is rarer. Women are raised to withhold sex, so declining is less rare. This translates into very different patterns, but the patterns are outerwear.
Defying role expectations is a core commonality to lesbians and gay men. The universality of the gender-liberated underlies G, L, T and B. I think that the fallacy (phallacy if you like) of gender roles is beginning to be realized. That's why the dramatically transgendered are more visible.
Sandy Rapp: Patriarchy controls people by structuring their sexuality. When women control reproduction, pregnancy fears and childbirth don't hold females hostage. This frightens the horses of fundamentalism every bit as much as us lesbigays in the bushes.
Feminism is flawed to the degree that some feminists hold speech should be restricted under government sanction. Some speech is, of course, objectionable, and as you know by now I feel much religious speech is damaging to women and gay men. But I don't want to censor that or anything else. Let's keep the presses free to talk back, write back, etc.
The tool of restraint in the hands of government has, in the past, and will tomorrow silence minorities first. Also, such proposals further demonize sex and are often aimed at whatever is deemed "pornographic" in a given perspective. No one but the State is empowered through curtailing speech, whether in the civil or criminal arena.
I believe most of the young feminists and more than half of the old ones now favor free speech, although a good number use that speech to rave against pornography, which is their right. My criticism of them ends when they cease advocating legal sanction against speech. My latest CD We The People has a song on the subject with the following lyrics:
If the Truth Be Told
Oh, the Burnin' Times are long ago but close to home,
Back when Queers were Queens and mega-volts the therapy,
Jack Nichols: Your lyrics about Evelyn Hooker and Kinsey are right-on. Evelyn's one of my heroines too. The subtitle of your book warns of theocracy. What sort of chances to you give the theocrats, the fundies who'd take over our government if we don't stop them-- in the name of their psycho-dimwit conception of God?
Sandy Rapp: Theocracy (government by religion) dominates the world. Theocrats demonize sex to control whole populations, whether overtly or through more subtle protection rackets. I think it's a "critical mass" type situation. The more individuals transcend sex, and religion, and then go on to share this transcendence, the better the chances are of evolving out of theocracy and other forms of tyranny.
Jack Nichols: You've recently written about the Ex-Gay movement's Exodus and the assaults this religious-based counseling's scam is making on a few brainwashed males and females. What are some of the most significant points you've made about that movement?
Sandy Rapp: No major medical or scientific organizations hold that attempts to change orientation are either possible or called for. The desire to change which some lesbians and gay men feel is a function of the societal opprobrium. I think you have my "The Ex-Gay Files" column on you're site so let's just link to that so I needn't rant on again. ( The Ex-Gay Files: http://gaytoday.badpuppy.com/garchive/viewpoint/072098vi.htm)
Jack Nichols: The anti-abortion movement seems to be fizzling, possibly, I sometimes think, because folks are just plain tired of the anti-free choice traffic jams in the neighborhoods surrounding free choice clinics. That's how it is where I live, anyway. Operation Rescue's financial troubles are mounting, I hear, mostly because of effective court injunctions brought against that nutty group by the National Organization for Women. Does the horizon seem brighter now to you or do you see the fundies still hiding in the bushes and getting ready to launch more complicated attacks on the women's clinics?
And poorer women, denied Medicaid-funded abortion since 1977, are still dying of back-alley abortions, the only kind they can afford. The antis' biggest coup is that they've got the media calling them pro-life, as if mothers, dying in the streets to end pregnancies they neither want nor can afford, are anti-life.
The anti-abortion religionists have six or seven murders to their credit at present. I call them Orwellian. The Anti-Sex League of George Orwell's futuristic novel 1984 had as their emblem a red sash rather than the red rose. Otherwise there's no difference.
Jack Nichols: Don't you ever wonder why educational programs don't inoculate children—teaching them how to ask basic questions--so that dogmatic fundamentalist position-takers can't pop up so easily in every part of the globe and in every major world religion? In some ways isn't the reach for a theocratic state saying something about a mind-state that isn't confined to one geography only? What are some of this unnamable mind-state's qualities? One, for example, might be the need to feel assured that one is irredeemably right in one's views so that one's turbulent life has a stout-hearted meaning within a familiar context Or the mind-state keeps intact an inelastic approach to male/female roles for some obvious reasons. What are they?
Sandy Rapp: Have you noticed life comes without an owners' manual? This is what the fundamentalists think they have in that oddly self-contradictory compilation of misty legend and Pagan mythology that is the Bible. They think they've got an "owners' manual." and therein is their comfort. How could one inoculate against them when they run as "stealth" candidates in school boards to control text book selection? You know the publishers are more efficient if they print just one edition of a textbook for the whole county. So if one state, e.g. Texas, as often happens, decides against teaching evolution, decades of children go uninstructed in this basic premise of scientific thought.
Jack Nichols: You write about St. Paul in God's Country. Thomas Jefferson called him the first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus. What do you think of that?
Sandy Rapp: I think Thomas Jefferson is entirely correct. I think Jesus was a young Jewish mystic trying to communicate personal spiritual expansion. He apparently wished to make enlightenment accessible to more people, and to shift a focus (which he believed had become too dogmatic) to a simpler protocol of personal awakening. He never meant for there to be a new religion. He emphasized the inner aspects of his religion. I'd be surprised if anyone at all agrees with me but it wouldn't be the first time!
Paul, on the other hand, was something of a muddle. He explicitly exempted his anti-sexual pronouncements as being his own shtick and "not of the Lord," whom he probably never met. He had some sort of psychotic break that transformed him from a Himmler type, overseeing the murder of Christians, to an actual card-carrying Christian. Paul's particular anti-sex rubric was perhaps a reflection of contemporaneous Judaism's distancing itself from polytheistic and matriarchal Pagan predecessors. Many of these were rich in temple prostitutes and all manner of fertility rites. Somehow Paul's anti-sexual focus was seized upon by the Christian Church and perpetuated to the present day, where it informs the Roman Catholic priesthood and much fundamentalism.
Jack Nichols: What got you interested in the subject matter--like the ill-effects on everyday people of religious bigotry-- that's covered in your book? What religious development have you traversed yourself?
Sandy Rapp: I'm sort of androgynous psychologically and noticed early on that religion lay at the root of mandated gender roles. I'm not at all religious but I have a mystical bent.
Jack Nichols: You not only write--but sing with spirited gusto. Tell me about your singing career, about the gay and feminist rallies where you've sung. What feelings or spirit informs the words of that magic song of yours, The Rally. The person in your mind who goes to that rally experiences the carnivalesque, doesn't he or she?
Sandy Rapp: I'm a musician by trade. From college days I made my living singing at pubs, piano bars, wedding, bar mitzvahs. I had the house band in one Hamptons nightclub for TEN YEARS. Can you imagine, one gig for ten years? So I know my way around music. But writing politics into music came later, as did the feminist circuit. "The Rally" is about the hundredth monkey. When enough monkeys start washing their bananas on one island, the whole monkey population on all islands adopt banana washing behavior. So enough faggots and dykes transcend gender, perhaps they'll be bluebirds over the White Cliffs Of Dover?
I've played a lot of feminist events - National Women's Music Festival, Sister Spirit a few times (I wrote them a song), Autumnfest in Chicago, several National NOW Rallies and Conferences, a host of state NOW events in various states, many gay pride rallies around the country, plus some concerts in New York, Atlanta, etc.
Jack Nichols: Who are some of the people who've been inspirations to you along the way? And why?
Sandy Rapp: When Anita Bryant began her crusade I began mine. I stopped turning out silly love songs and began writing anti-fundamentalist exposes. Reagan was the clincher. I became an activist the day he announced his candidacy.
Jack Nichols: What about some of your favorite writers and which folks were your musical influences?
Sandy Rapp: I just finished re-reading Toni Morrison's Song Of Solomon. It's magic. I highly recommend Marcia Pally's Sex and Sensibility: The Vanity of Bonfires Ecco Press; Hopewell, NJ 1994, which compiles research specifically refuting the perspective on erotica as causal in violent crimes. Attorney Wendy Kaminer's A Fearful Freedom: Women's Flight from Equality Addison Wesley; NYC 1990 also provides an important analysis of what feminists lose when they opt for the false security of protectionism versus the empowerment born in equality.
My musical influences were Josh White, Nina Simone, Kurt Viel, Odetta and, believe it or not Ricky Nelson, of whom, I am told, I can still do a remarkable impression.
Jack Nichols: Odetta! I remember her well. What a voice! Nina Simone—a 60s goddess-- and Ricky Nelson? Ricky was a big favorite when my first lover, Tom, a sailor, whisked me off to live in the suburbs. I was nineteen then. What would you be most likely to say as advice to a young woman coming out in the nineties? I know you're not dogmatic, but there must be some things you'd like to see grow in today's youth.
Sandy Rapp: Keep the presses free and seek equality, not protection.
Jack Nichols: Do you think that getting married or the right to get married--such as Andrew Sullivan insists is the most important battle--will provide a panacea-program for the movement? Or do you feel the presence of more significant struggles?
Most important is to demolish the anti-sodomy laws still on the books in half these United States, and to reverse the US Supreme Court's ghastly 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick decision that upheld them. These laws, always selectively enforced against the men and women of the gay community, dignify anti-gay discrimination and anti-gay crime almost as much as do right-wing religions.
Jack Nichols: Who are some of the lesser-known, less obvious scary people we should watch out for, besides Jerry Falwell, I mean, or Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Beverly LaHae and the whole damn Southern Baptist anti-gay mission crews nationwide--not to mention the pissed off Pope on the international scene?
Sandy Rapp: The Starrgaters are the worst. I've been convinced from the beginning that this witch hunt into the President's sex life would eventually be known as Starrgate and be remembered as this country's second McCarthy era. These Inquisitors who dissect personal sex lies, then politic the criminalization of the politics they have criminalized, these are the real dangers. Who will run for office? Nuns? These foolish Republicans would limit government in every form except the capacity of sex police They are as anti-American a lot as ever there was.
Your list omitted a few of the usual suspects. The soft-spoken Ralph Reed and the prissy Gary Bauer are particularly odious. Then of course one should fear the Promise Keepers, lest they keep their terrifying, Talibanic promises.
Jack Nichols: What's the central message of God's Country?
Sandy Rapp: The message of God's Country is to argue freedom on all fronts, including theological ones. Americans, for some reason, think its "bad manners" to argue religion, which explains the pockets of fundamentalism which have grown up, completely unexamined, throughout the country. They were predicted by H. L. Mencken right after the Scopes trial, and some real theological dialogue ought to begin right now, parallel to the also important argument that Church/State separation is mandated by the United States Constitution.
Sandy Rapp's God's Country: A Case Against Theocracy is available at discount through Amazon.com