Religion is typically one of those things they tell you to avoid at dinner parties so it stands to reason it’s something you should tread lightly on when it comes to writing nonsense short stories. I don’t really do lightly, I do stupid. So, stories about religion. I have to use that degree for something after all, right?
Quam is, obviously, not really based on anything and mostly serves as my go-to made up religion whenever I want to talk about a more general religious subject. Just so you know. If I have recurring elements (and I suppose I do have some) it would be one of them.
[The meaning differs on interpretation, and ours is best]
Quite what the purpose of the gay supermarket was was unclear, though the intentions behind it were well-meaning. It operated much like any supermarket, containing a wide variety of products which those entering it could purchase with money. No boundaries were pushed here.
The only particularly notable thing about it was written into its corporate ethos, which expressed various themes about how adult human beings were basically free to love other adult human beings regardless of gender, and that was cool.
This did not touch on their business practises much, but was important to them so they felt compelled to mention it and drew some degree of attention to it on their premises. Pictures of two men holding hands as they purchased apples, for example, accompanied by a small timeline showing when legislation was passed allowing the two men pictured to actually get married should they so desire. Though oddly enough this picture and timeline was to found in the affordable clothing section, while the picture of the woman wearing the machine-washable suit was in the fresh produce section – this was likely a mistake.
Not many people begrudged them all this, and while most would have been happy to express their support their location was – sadly – just a bit out of the way for most people. This would likely soon see it close, which was a shame really. They’d meant well.
There was nothing stopping other, not-expressly-gay supermarkets from doing the exact same thing of course. Indeed, many already were – having similar sentiments expressed in their bland, boring inclusivity statements available on their websites – but hadn’t thought to call particular attention to it. Given the publicity received by the press release of the gay supermarket these others now felt a bit like they missed a trick, but it was far too late and was all water under the bridge anyway.
They – those who’d opened the gay supermarket (which looks worse the more times it’s repeated, it must be said) – toyed with the idea of calling it the Homotorium but this had been considered perhaps a little on the nose and maybe a little unnecessary. The name they had eventually settled on – Rainbowmart – was so generic and inoffensive it looped all the way back around to offensive by just how boring and risk-averse it was, but that was life.
The name was irrelevant to the members of the Best Church of Quam, who would have been protesting outside no matter what the place was called. It’s mere existence vexed them, and they felt the need to express this to anyone who cared to pay them attention. To this end they had converged outside the main entrance, bearing signs with such searing, inflammatory slogans such as:
“Gays are icky.”
“Ew, men kissing.”
“We don’t talk about lesbians because then we can’t talk about anal sex.”
“I don’t like this one bit.”
These signs were the cause of much consternation to those individuals going in and out of the supermarket, and children were encouraged to avert their eyes. Nearby, every single other person in town was standing there to voice their (loud) disapproval of the demonstration. Not that the Best Church of Quam minded much.
They’d been out picketing there for days now, occasionally popping into the supermarket itself to buy lunch and use the toilets but otherwise refusing to budge. As a group they presented a united front of stubborn, unyielding solidity. They would stay there as long as they felt was needed, the disapproval of every single other human being in a hundred-mile radius be damned!
Len, however, was flagging. He was not waving his sign with the same enthusiasm as the others and he couldn’t keep in time when they started singing their witty and insulting parodies of current popular songs. Eventually, it simply became too much.
“I’m sorry. Sorry guys I just can’t do this anymore,” he said, dumping the sign. The group gasped in shock but were quieted by William their leader who stepped forward.
“What’s the matter Len?” He asked. He did not stop waving the sign with his off-hand as he did this, as not a moment could be wasted when it came to waving signs in front of things he disliked.
“It just doesn’t seem like the sort of thing we should be doing, you know? I mean, is this really the sort of thing we should be spending our time on? This? Aren’t there more productive things we could be doing?” Len asked.
“We’re teaching people the error of their ways! And doing it in accordance with solid, clear-cut theology! We’ve all read the same book – passage fifty-three is very explicit!” William said, those around him nodding. He was mostly right, but also a little wrong.
Passage fifty-three was the go-to bit of the Book of Quam that was used time and again to justify the fact men shouldn’t really harbour feelings for other men. And you could get it to work for women too, if you read it a certain way (no word on bisexuals or anything but it was generally assumed that they were also bad, without the need to get into details). Almost all of them had read passage fifty-three but a good few had just taken the other’s word for what it said. It also wasn’t that explicit, which was part of Len’s problem.
“Yes but that passage was originally about the family ownership of cattle and the translation that’s popularly used now was only put into use two hundred years ago,” Len said. This was true, though not widely known. William’s eyes narrowed.
“Have you been looking into the historical context of the Book of Quam again?” He asked. Len, who for some reason had not expected to be rumbled quite so easily even after spouting a relatively obscure factoid, shifted uncomfortably in place and was unable to meet William’s harsh gaze.
“…maybe,” he said. William sighed.
“What have I told you about that, Len? You look into the context and you realise we’re wildly misusing the select bits of the books that conform to our already-existing prejudices and that just about any possible interpretation and justification is possible if you cherry-pick without consideration to the time in which the book was originally written and how subsequent translations have attempted to shape its meaning to fit what was desirable at the time! You know this!”
William accomplished this sentence in one breath. It was one of the many reasons why he was in charge. He could also hold nearly thirty marbles in his mouth. That was another reason.
“I know, I know…” Len said, shrinking further. William could see that a softer touch was needed to bring the boy back into the fold. He stopped glaring quite as much.
“Remember how the Book of Quam was used to justify slavery?” He asked.
“And remember how the Book of Quam was also instrumental in justifying the end of slavery?”
“Doesn’t that seem like two very different messages to be able to pull out of one book?”
“The minute you start poking and prodding around and trying to understand who wrote it and why and what their influences might have been you open a whole world of ambiguity, and what use is that to anyone? Who wants context and background when they need an answer to a question like ‘is it okay to shout at men holding hands’? That’s why we keep things simple! Every word in the book is true and where it contradicts itself the answer is whichever is closest to the one that means we have to change our view of the world least. Simple, see? I find the idea of men in love with other men disquieting, if I read the book a certain way it gives me a solid justification for my position beyond irrational dislike – everyone wins. See?” William asked. Len raised an eyebrow at quite how open he was being about all this.
“That’s a bit up-front, isn’t it?”
“You’re a smart boy Len, I don’t see the point in lying to you. It might seem cynical but it’s just something to make our lives easier. If we actually tried to parse the proper and intended meaning of the text with a full understand of the history behind it we’d realise that it means many things to many different people and having any one particular group enforce its idea over all the others – not to mention over people who don’t believe at all – is ludicrous and harmful, and then where would we be? Don’t think about it too hard, it’ll only make you upset. Come on Len, pick up the sign. It’s fun, we all know you enjoy it,” William said.
Len fidgeted, shuffled, licked his lips and considered. Then he sighed and stooped and picked his sign back up again, earning himself a hearty (and painful) slap on the back from William.
“That’s the spirit. Just relax, everything’ll go much more smoothly. Oh, and never, ever disagree with my position on the Book of Quam or I’ll turn everyone you have in your life against you and fill you with a deep and crushing self-loathing that’ll last for years even after you fully distance yourself from us and our movement, there’s a good lad,” William said before leading all of the group – Len included – in a rousing chorus of a deeply offensive, hurtful song.
Later they were driven away by poor weather which was blamed on The Gays, though without solid evidence to back this up.
The supermarket actually lasted longer than anyone expected.
Which was nice.