Monday, May 30, 2011

Thought for the Day, #19

"And he was right.  I had spent my life worshipping death, fearing it, obsessing over it, and living my life according to what a book says will happen when it comes.  I had functioned as a missionary of death for a dead church, praying to a dead man, and I came to understand that it's no way to live, and that living is all we have, and all we will ever have, and that it is not to be wasted.  That love is life.  That life isn't worth living without love.  And that the Catholic Church, filled with celibate men who have no experience with it, has no right telling other people how to love or who to love or what kind of love is right or wrong."

(From The Final Testament of the Holy Bible, by James Frey)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

"It Gets Better" in Every School and Library--Update

Some of you will recall I recently sent an email to the principal of the local high school, offering to donate a copy of Savage and Miller's book "It Gets Better," so students would have easy access to it.  Two weeks later, I still haven't received a response.  

For the past week or so, I've wondered how to follow-up on my offer in a way that feels right to me.  Today, I wrote and sent the email below.  We'll see if I receive a response this time.

Hi, Mr. _____. 

You might recall a couple of weeks ago, I sent you an email offering to donate a copy of Dan Savage and Terry's Miller's book "It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living" to the library at __________.  I wrote that the book is an offshoot of the "It Gets Better Program" on YouTube and would be an invaluable resource for any lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered (LGBT) student at your school.  To date, I haven't received a response from you, but, of course, I understand this is a busy time of the school year.  

Did you know that, despite the fact we live in the age of the Internet, thousands of Canadian school-aged children don't have access to it for one reason or another. What this means is that many LGBT students, unless they're able to get their hands on a copy of the "It Gets Better" book, may not hear the positive and inspiring message of the Program--a sorely needed counterpoint to the bullying a majority of them endure at the hands of some classmates.

Did you know one of the findings in a recent University of Winnipeg study of 3,700 Canadian high school students, surveyed between December 2007 and June 2009, is that "rampant homophobia stalks the hallways and classrooms of Canadian Schools"?  Further, that LGBT students report they "...are exposed to language that insults their dignity as part of their everyday school experiences"? And, finally, that "almost two out of three non-heterosexual students do not feel safe in their schools"?

Did you know that with a reported 2010/11 population of 950 students at _____, approximately 48 to 95 students, or 5 to 10%, don't identify themselves as heterosexual?  That these are the young people who feel isolated and alone because they're unable to find each other in the school population, or because they're unwilling to take the risk of hanging out with each other?  That they face all manner of verbal and physical abuse at the hands of their fellow students?  And that LGBT students are 5 to 7% more likely to commit suicide?

In 1977, I graduated from Kelowna Senior Secondary, after enduring years of endless bullying in the public school system, because classmates thought I was gay.  As it turns out, they were right.  I am gay.  I'll be 52 this year, I've been with my same-sex partner, in a committed, loving, and monogamous relationship for nineteen years, and I've turned out all right.  But I can't tell you the long and difficult journey I've been on over the past decades to overcome the effects of bullying and the resulting self-loathing--all because of my sexual orientation. 

I'm committed to help LGBT people, young and old, to restore their sense of self-worth, and to learn to accept and love themselves for who and what they are.  To this end, I've created a blog called "This Gay Relationship:  Together, Lifting the Experience of Being Gay," where I write about what being gay was and is like for me; where I share my life experiences with readers from around the world; and where I do my best to write something that will help LGBT people begin to look at themselves in a positive way.  I invite you to check it out.      

This will be my final communication to you because I'm not politically motivated or interested in stalking you.  That is not my intention.  I leave my offer in your hands.  If you're interested in receiving a copy of "It Gets Better" for your school library, or if I can be of any assistance to the LGBT students at your school--as a middle-aged, partnered, gay man and positive role model--I would be thrilled to hear from you.      

I assure you, Mr. _____, I only have the best interests of your students at heart.  

Thank you for your time.                 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Garden of This Gay Relationship

Update:

First, my sincere thanks to all readers who graciously left comments over the past number of days.  I'm sure you've noticed I haven't responded to them yet, and I apologize for that.  My plan is to complete all responses over the next few days.  In the meantime, know I've read your comments, and, as always, I appreciate your interest in my blog.

Post:

Spring is late coming to Vancouver this year.  According to the local newspaper, it's three to four weeks behind.  Today is again cloudy and cool, so much so the furnace is still coming on to heat the house.  The first year Chris and I moved back to Metro Vancouver, the furnace stopping coming on around the end of April, so we're looking for some warmer weather any day.  If it doesn't happen soon, I'm afraid we may not see summer this year.  I'm hopeful that doesn't happen.  We've earned it, after all the cold and rainy weather we had last winter.

In my mind, this past weekend was do-or-die in our garden.  Like many people here, we'd stayed away from the local nurseries because the weather was too cold and too wet.  Who can think about pushing a buggy up and down aisles at the nurseries, looking at all the tempting plants (every one of which Chris falls in love with), when you're dressed in layers of clothes and you can't get out into the garden to plant.   So, rain or shine, because Chris had four days off in a row last weekend, we got down to business.  It was about time.

Getting down to business included the following:

  1. Building two large wooden vegetable boxes and positioning them down the slope in our backyard.
  2. Buying way more soil than we needed (because who knows how much eight cubic yards is?).
  3. Buying a wheelbarrow, discovering the store gave us the wrong parts, and putting it together.
  4. Removing all the crappy clay/sand dirt from the boxes and replacing it with the soil we purchased.
  5. Removing grass and creating a new bedding area on the side of the house (to store extra soil, too).
  6. Planting all of the annuals we bought a week or so ago when we actually had a warm day.
  7. Finding a home in our backyard for three Chinese fan palms we've collected over time in pots.  
  8. Layering all of our bedding areas with several inches of the rich, dark soil we bought too much of.
  9. Raking moss from several areas, covering them with new soil, and readying them for grass seed.
  10. Completing various tasks throughout the yard to bring everything to an acceptable standard.  

I can't even begin to tell you how much pain Chris and I have been in the last three days from all of the work outlined above.  We used muscles we didn't know we had.  Even standing upright was difficult, let alone walking from one place to another.  With our sore shoulders, arms, necks, hands, wrists, legs, and feet, we were a mess, but I can say, without a doubt, our efforts were worth it.

So, I've included a few pictures of our front yard for you to take a look at.  I wish you could see it for real.  I love how beautiful and remarkable and varied and miraculous nature is, and I'm so happy to have a little piece of paradise right in our own yard.  Yes, it's an enormous amount of work, and it can be very painful when you're not used to it, but few things are more gratifying than working with nature?

Enjoy!





 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Tomorrow

What can you do if you are thirty and, turning the corner of your own street, you are overcome, suddenly, by a feeling of bliss--absolute bliss!--as though you'd suddenly swallowed a bright piece of that late afternoon sun and it burned in your bosom, sending out a little shower of sparks into every particle, into every finger and toe?...
                                                                  --Katherine Mansfield, "Bliss"

Yesterday was not good.  My sleep was cut short for no reason, I felt out of sorts, and I was overwhelmed with so many reasons to be unhappy.

So what did I do?  I stewed about it at first, scaring myself, until I remembered the best place to turn, as always, was my journal.  Recording everything I felt, including an itemized list of why I felt unhappy, allowed me to take a hard look at what was on my mind.  And, as usual, once it was all down on paper, I discovered it was "much ado about nothing"-- for the most part, anyway.

How different two days can be.      

While making entree salads for dinner late this afternoon, I cleaned and cut and chopped, while Chris worked in the yard under a cool, grey sky.  I looked up once in a while, glancing out the large kitchen window, into the backyard, and saw him repot several plants that didn't winter well.  He dumped the contents of the pots, preserved the essence of the plants, lovingly cleaned them up, and gave them new homes in new potting soil mix.  A simple task, really, but one filled with exquisite beauty, because Chris was doing it, and because he was in his glory doing it, and because I was in my glory watching him do it.  

Music playing in the background, our plates filling with the makings of salads, the love of my life just outside, tending to our garden, I felt that tingle run up my spine. You know the one.  Everyone feels it now and then.  All at once, it's there, unexpectedly, and you awaken, shiver, overcome with pure bliss.  And you know in your heart you're exactly where you want to be, doing exactly what you want to do, taking in all that is your life and acknowledging, without a doubt, it doesn't get any better than this. Your soul is utterly filled with the deepest satisfaction, with ultimate well-being, and the realization these are indeed the best days of your life.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Healed

Recently, I heard Dr. Harville Hendrix, internationally-known Clinical Pastoral Counsellor, say the following:    

"Early childhood experience where there's a wound has to be repaired in a relationship in adulthood similar to your parents."
                                      
Wow!  A moment to take that in.

It was as though Dr. Hendrix knew the specifics of my life and had prescribed exactly what I needed to heal.  Even though I realized he was talking about relationships in general, for all people, which made the truth of his statement even more remarkable.  After all, does everyone come out of childhood wounded in some way, because of how one or both parents raised him?  And do all of us, consciously or unconsciously, seek healing in adulthood, by somehow gravitating toward partners who are perfect for us in the ways they are similar to our mothers or fathers?  

Of my two parents, the one I've had most difficulty with is my father.  He was in his early twenties when I was born, and from what I can tell, I was a surprise, forcing him to be a parent before he was ready.  To his credit, he didn't abandon my mother, me, and later, my sister, like some fathers do.  Instead, he accepted his adult responsibility to provide for his family, always ensuring our everyday needs were met.

But food, clothing, and shelter do not necessarily a validated and loved child make.  My father tells me now he always loved me--and my aunt admits he often showed his love for me more than my mother did, especially when I was very young--but that's news to me.  I never saw or felt it, certainly not in a way that told me, without question, I was loved.

Rather, what I saw was a man who chose work, friends, and alcohol over his family.  What I saw was a man who invariably arrived home late after work, because he'd been out at the Legion drinking (how many meals had been ruined, waiting on the stove for him).  What I saw was a man who, when he was home, had no time or patience for my sister and me.  At best, we were a nuisance, an annoyance.

I remember my father sitting in his recliner, behind the newspaper, smoking his pipe, some news program on the TV, while my sister and I starved for his attention and love.  About the only time he spoke was to criticize us at the dinner table, or to holler because he couldn't hear the TV over our voices.  We learned early on the best way to avoid his wrath was to say as little as possible, to make ourselves small, so he wouldn't notice we were there.

My father was a disciplinarian, too.  He now admits he was overly hard on us, especially on me, and, if he could do it over again, he wouldn't be as verbally harsh or so quick with his hand.  When a parent never shows he loves you, and, in addition, thinks nothing of meting out punishment for no apparent reason, what you have is a recipe for fear.

And that's what I felt toward my father, what I've always felt toward him.  Fear. Being in the vicinity of him often felt terrorizing; I was infinitely more comfortable, and more myself, when he wasn't around.      

I don't remember my father touching me unless it was to hit.  Once, when I was fourteen years old, and my father put me on a Greyhound bus by myself, to travel overnight some eight hundred miles south to spend the summer with my maternal grandparents, I stepped toward him and hugged him.  I did it instinctively, perhaps because I was so grateful to get away from him.

His reaction?  He recoiled from me.  As I held on to him, I felt him pull away, hesitate, then loosely put his arms around me.  I never forgot this.  It felt like being rejected yet again.

On one other occasion do I remember my father touching me other than to punish, and that was when he'd had too much to drink.  His breath stinking of liquor, he put his left arm around me and drew me close to him.  That both scared the hell out of me and sickened me.

What I learned from that experience was my father couldn't show me human closeness or affection unless he'd been loosened up with alcohol first.  For years, I believed that was the only way people felt comfortable enough to show their love for each other.  And, if that was the case, I wanted no part of it.  

No surprise, then, I came out of childhood knowing little about love, but feeling something was missing.  From the books I read, the TV shows I watched, and the reactions I saw in other people as they responded to each other with affection, I knew love had somehow bypassed me.  I felt cold and distant toward other people.  I didn't understand something as simple as human warmth. Cynicism consumed me, and I rolled my eyes whenever I saw some form of love expressed between two people, because I couldn't relate to it.  It felt utterly unrealistic and foreign.

Add to that the fact I'd gone through years of being teased and taunted in school, suspected of being gay, and the only way I can describe myself then, having never experienced love in a tangible way, is to say I was lost and empty and scared.

And I had no way of knowing if my life would improve when I became an adult.  I worried love would forever elude me, that, because I'd had little previous experience with it, I'd live and die having never experienced what seemed so easy and effortless for others, what appeared to be their birthright–but not mine.  I thought, if that's all I had to look forward to, what was the point?    

My goal, then, when I came out at the age of twenty-six, was to be loved; that, for me, was the whole point of coming out.  While other young gay men, newly uncloseted, think of little else but having sex--confusing the physical drive with the need to feel love--I just wanted someone to wrap his arms around me; to need me in a way no one had needed me before; to make me feel I belonged somewhere, that I was special and important; to show me I was worthy of love, that I was loveable after all.  I may have been gay, but, surely, that didn't mean someone couldn't still love me, did it?

*

Fast forward years later, when I met Chris in 1992.  I feel sorry for the twenty-three-year-old young man he was then, because he had no idea what I'd been through, and, even worse, what my expectations were of any man I was in a relationship with.  Of course, I didn't dump everything on him all at once.  My gay friends had chastised me before, saying I was too intense, too needy, too desperate, and, if I was ever going to find a husband, I'd have to back off and stop scaring them away.  

So that's what I did.  Every time I met someone who showed the least interest in me, I tried not to appear too excited to be with him (although I'm certain many of them felt it anyway), or like so much was riding on it.  After all, I didn't want him to bugger off before he'd even had the chance to get to know me better (although I suspect he wouldn't have liked me any more after than before).

But soon after I met Chris, I began to apply the pressure.  I knew in my heart I had more of a chance for a relationship with him than I'd ever had with anyone.  And I couldn't let him get away.  The sooner I was able to secure a commitment from him--to get him to tell me he loved me--the more reassurance I'd have that what we had between us would last, and that I'd finally achieve what I'd been lacking and needed more than anything.  

The problem is, several weeks or months in, when I told Chris I loved him (even though I didn't know that for sure, since I didn't know what love was) and asked him if he loved me (if you have to ask, he probably doesn't), he closed up.  He told me he didn't know what love was, either.  He had no idea what he felt toward me, but, obviously, I had the feeling if I kept badgering him, we might never get to love.

So I left him alone about it.  I concerned myself with my own feelings toward him, which scared the hell out of me, because what if I fell fully for him but he never did for me (a risk each of us takes in any relationship).  I thought if we could just take things one day at a time, we'd become more incorporated into each other's lives, to the extent we couldn't do without each other.  He'd feel my growing love for him, and he'd be more comfortable sharing how he felt about me more openly.  In other words, I'd know, without any question or doubt, that he loved me, in the way I'd always needed to be loved,

Love has not been an easy thing for Chris, either.  I think he always knew his parents loved him, although, as was the case with my family, no one ever showed their affection in any demonstrative way.  And, to my knowledge, no one ever said I love you, either.  It was implied, which is the often the case in many families.

Plus, Chris had to deal with the break-up of his parents's marriage when he was in his early teens--in other words, with the dissolution of love--which I have no doubt scarred him, and set the tone for how he'd end up relating to anyone important in his life, whether me or someone else.  To this day, I believe Chris kept me at arm's-length for years, because he was frightened any relationship he was in would meet a fate similar to that of his mother's.

So there we were.  I needed love more than anything else in the world, and Chris, because of his own life experiences, especially maturing in a broken home, was unable to provide it.  For many of the first years Chris and I were together, even after we moved in with each other, I knew he felt something for me, but I don't believe it was love.  I believe it was respect.  I believe it was kindness.  I believe it was compassion.  But it wasn't the love I was so desperate to experience.

I began to see a parallel between Chris and my father, although, I hasten to add, as far as his personality is concerned, Chris is not at all like my father.  Rather, the parallel was their inability to openly express love toward someone, especially the person with whom they shared their lives, no doubt because of their bad experiences with love in relation to the people most important to them.        

For many years, Chris never drank any alcohol--unless we went out to a club, which became less and less frequent the longer we were together.  Perhaps not until we'd lived in Victoria a couple of years, about ten years into our relationship, did he begin to express an interest in wine, and he bought a beautiful wine stand in which to start a collection.

Chris is not an alcoholic by any stretch of the imagination.  He simply enjoys a single bottle of red wine each weekend, making it last two or three days.  I've never seen him drunk, but I've certainly seen him what-he-calls "feeling good," especially if we've been out to a dinner party, for example, where the host kept filling his glass, and Chris ended up indulging himself more than he usually would.

I began to realize how much more open Chris was on some of these occasions, when he seemed to be more affectionate, more forthcoming with his feelings, more willing to reveal how he felt about me.  And I can't say I liked it.  Because I was reminded of my father, having drunk too much, his breath smelling badly, the only time when he was able to reveal his true emotions.

And I resented it, too.  I felt as though I wasn't good enough, that nothing I was, or said, or did would ever be good enough to elicit his love, in the way I needed to see it and not through the filter of alcohol.  I hated that the only way I'd know he loved me was conditional upon how much he had to drink.  If that was the case, I told myself, however erroneously, I'd just as soon not know at all.      

Chris is not my father, make no mistake.  But, in their inability to express their feelings openly, including telling the important people in their lives that they love them, and in their willingness to be more open about how they feel when they've had something to drink, they are so similar it scares me, and I hate to look at Chris and see parts of my father.  Because of the way I feel about my father, I don't want to see Chris like that.  He deserves better.            

For many years, love from Chris felt conditional.  To this day, he still doesn't use the words to tell me he loves me.  Does that upset me?  More so in the past than now, because we're still together, and because I know I'm Chris's exclusive life partner, and because I'm a lot less insecure and filled with self-loathing than I was before.

And because I know in so many different ways, every single day, how Chris feels about me.  I've learned someone can tell you he loves you and not mean it.  And someone can never tell you he loves you and show it in a million little ways, by showing up in your relationship and by being engaged in it and you, day-in and day-out.    

What have I learned about how my father loved me from my relationship with Chris?  That, of course, is a different story.  Again, because there are so many significant differences between Chris and my father, I can't compare them.  I'd like to say I learned, through the way Chris shows me, rather than tells me, he loves me, that I know now my father always loved me, too, even though he never told me he did.  And that may well be the case, but too many other issues stand in the way of fully accepting this as the truth.

After having no contact with each other for nearly fifteen years, my father and I have exchanged emails sporadically for the past year and a half, and we continue to keep the lines of communication open between us.  But, to say the least, we have a long, long way to go before I'll believe he loves me, and that I was ever important in his life.

Being with Chris, a version of my father in some respects and not a version in so many others, healed me in ways I never expected.  Curiously, although nearly ten years younger than me, Chris has managed to re-parent me, to be the father I never had in some respects, by loving me in the way he knows how--which has, in the end, satisfied my needs--and by helping to validate my self-worth. Sometimes, love doesn't look the way we think it should, and maybe that's for the better.  It doesn't mean it's not love.  

Dr. Hendrix couldn't have been more accurate when he said a childhood "wound has to be repaired in a relationship in adulthood similar to your parents."  Finally, I can say after nineteen years of being with Chris, my childhood wound of never feeling love, or loveable, has been healed.  And that's just one of the many reasons why all of us should be open to the love of a significant other in our lives.              

Monday, May 16, 2011

May 17: International Day Against Homophobia

A Definition of Homophobia:

"It's all the negative attitudes that can lead to rejection and to direct or indirect discrimination towards gay men, lesbians, and bisexual, transexual or transgender people or toward anyone whose physical appearance or behavior does not fit masculine or feminine stereotypes."

(From www.homophobiaday.org)


Consequences of Homophobia:

'Self-hating homosexuals are in a state of emotional conflict.  Guilt plunges them into an "approach-avoidance" pattern, as psychologists call it.  As they approach a lover, get to know him, they are happy and hopeful.  But once the affair looks as though it might work, they back away and avoid the beloved, because the intimacy upsets them.  As they withdraw, they breathe a sigh of relief, glad to be rid of this latest entanglement...but then they are once again alone and miserable.  Loneliness drives them to attempt a new affair, with the same disastrous results.  These dynamics are seldom expressed at the conscious level of a person's life.  There's always something wrong with the new lover: He's lousy in bed; he's too young, too old, to extroverted or introverted.  But the real reason such a man rejects his lover is self-hate for not being the man his parents (and society) demanded that he be."

(From The New Joy of Gay Sex, Dr. Charles Silverstein and Felice Picano, p. 96)  

A World Overview of Homophobia

'...Quite often, living conditions for gays, lesbians, and transgenders in today's world remain very difficult.  Homosexuality seems to be discriminated against everywhere: in at least seventy nations, homosexual acts are still considered illegal (e.g.: Algeria, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Senegal) and in a good many of these, punishment can last more than ten years (India, Jamaica, Libya, Malaysia, Nigeria, and Syria).  Sometimes the law dictates life imprisonment (Guyana and Uganda), and, in a dozen or so nations, the death penalty may be applied (Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan).  In Africa, many nations' leaders have brutally reaffirmed their will to personally fight against the "scourge," which is, according to them, "anti-African."  Even in countries where homosexuality is not illegal, or explicitly named in the penal code, persecution is on the rise.  In Brazil, for example, death squads and skinheads spread terror: 1,900 homophobic murders have been officially reported during the last twenty years, without having prompted any real action from either police or legal authorities.  In such conditions, it is difficult to imagine that the world's "tolerance" of gays, lesbians, and transgenders has gained much ground, if at all. On the contrary, in the majority of these nations, homophobia appears to be more violent than ever.'

(From The Dictionary of Homophobia: A Global History of Gay & Lesbian Experience, Louis-Georges Tin, ed., copyright 2008, p. 11)

Our Straight Friends and Allies

Of course.  How could I not have seen this before?  Who knew straight people might just be our best friends and allies?

Actually, given my history, you can forgive me for not thinking straight people, in general, could ever be our best friends, especially if they suspect or know we're gay.  After all, most of the bullying I was subjected to--in school, on the job, on the street, wherever--was presumably at the hands of straight people (or, perhaps, of gay people, trying to pass themselves off as straight by demonstrating to themselves and others how against gay people they were by tormenting them, verbally and physically).    

But my eyes were opened last week when I began to put the pieces together.  

One of the pieces was from last Tuesday's episode of "Glee."  (All right, I know, "Glee" is hardly an indicator of the real world, but hear me out--there's some cornel of truth in it.)  There was poor Kurt, nominated prom queen at McKinley High, running out of the auditorium during the ceremony, sobbing, upset that the cause of gay recognition and respect had been dealt a deathblow.  After all, what male wants to be nominated prom queen, let alone face the embarrassment of accepting the supposed honor in front of his classmates?  

That said, Kurt, in his inimitable and dignified fashion, returned to the ceremony, accepted the nomination, the placing of the crown on his head, and was making his way to the dance floor with prom king Dave Karofsky (another interesting selection), until Karofsky dashed out of the auditorium, unable to dance cheek-to-cheek with a fellow gay man.  Fortunately, Blaine stepped in and all was well, as the cutest gay male couple on earth held each other and showed just how natural two men dancing together, and obviously affectionate toward each other, really is.

My point is this:  As soon as Kurt reappeared to take on the role of prom queen, his fellow classmates, albeit tentatively at first, applauded him, showing their support for him and his spirit.  Not a single person booed, demonstrating, perhaps, how, if we gay people give straight people a chance, not only will they come through for us, but they just might become our biggest supporters.  Kurt selected prom queen a mistake?  I think not.      

Here's another example:  On the Advocate.com website last week, I saw the following headline:  "100 Michigan Law Students Walk Out on Antigay Commencement Speaker."  According to the accompanying video, even before the speaker, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, opened his mouth, one hundred straight students, in support of gays and lesbians, "...walked out of their own graduation at the University of Michigan Law School on Saturday...."  The walkout was "...a message to antigay politicians that discrimination of any kind no longer has a place in American society."  (I realize they walked out of a once-in-a-lifetime ceremony, but think how proud they'll be when they tell their children and grandchildren how they stood up for gay and lesbian people when it wasn't popular to.)    

Another great example of straights supporting gays is right here on my own blog. Sarah S. from Calgary has been an avid reader and commenter since early this year.  Over the past five months, I've learned Sarah is a middle-aged mother of three mostly-grown children, none of whom is gay.  Yet, this hasn't stopped her from recognizing the challenges gays and lesbians experience on a daily basis; from frequenting my blog, and those of people like Dan Savage, to keep informed of issues facing the LGBTQ community; and from offering her support in a myriad of ways.  

On a more tangible level, this includes donating money to our causes and volunteering to help gay and lesbian youth in her home city.  Given some of Sarah's comments and personal emails she's sent me, you would think she was gay herself, or a family member or friend was, but this isn't the case.  She's just a compassionate and empathetic mother and citizen, who feels our particular pain as though it were her own, and who actively seeks ways to be a part of the solution.  I take my hat off to her.

Then, incredibly, I learned this morning famous British rugby player Ben Cohen just announced his retirement from the sport.  Cohen, who founded the Ben Cohen Standup Foundation, dedicated to tackling homophobia and bullying, admitted, at thirty-two, he still has several more good years of sports playing in him, but he's decided to become a gay rights activist.  Cohen isn't gay himself, nor, to my knowledge, is anyone in his family.  Rather, he sees the tragedy in young people killing themselves because of their sexual orientation, and he knows retiring to support this cause is the right thing to do for him at this time in his life.  (Cohen was a hero of mine before, but he's even more of one now.)  

Over the decades, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people have largely fought their own battles, to eliminate discrimination, to secure our human rights, to be taken seriously, and to earn the respect of society.  And we've had some success, without question.  But, despite our considerable efforts, we're not where we should be.  By ourselves, I think we've taken the fight as far as we can, although, until we are looked at no differently from anyone else, we will continue to wage the war on our own behalf.     

But I now believe the only way we're going to reach the tipping point is with the support of straight people--the crowds who aren't scared to applaud us, to stand up for what's right, and to support us in the many tangible ways we need it.  In many respects, straight people have credibility we don't.  Many straight people won't pay attention to gay people because they consider us less-than, unworthy of their attention and consideration simply because of our sexual orientation.  

But, when a straight person--like law students, Sarah, and Ben Cohen--stands up for us in front of another straight person, well, that's harder to ignore. It's no longer the case of a gay person trying to reason with a straight person; it's a straight person trying to reason with a straight person.  And what straight person wouldn't be given pause to re-examine outdated ways of thinking about fellow human beings, even those who are different from him, if he's shown he might just be wrong after all and could get left behind in the upcoming cultural shift?       

Friday, May 13, 2011

"It's Just a Picture"

And then, in my reading on other blogs, I found a post written by a forty-something, gay fellow, who recently glimpsed himself in a mirror and didn't like what he saw in the mid-region.  Particularly in comparison to past images he'd seen of Ryan Gosling, Kesler, and Reynolds.  Seems his stomach now protrudes beyond his pecs--and he doesn't even drink beer.  
The alarm continued when he saw the latest cover of Vanity Fair, the one with a shirtless--and, dare I admit, in shape--Rob Lowe on it.  Forty-seven years old, the blogger wrote of Lowe.  "The man needs a super-sized bag of Cheetos.  Every day. And a puppy that chews up his sneakers."  
Of course, I smiled when I read this, but a pang of recognition ran through me, too, because this blogger, Rural Gay Guy, speaks for me and countless other well-into-middle-aged men like me.  The fact is, we can no longer compete with the likes of Gosling, Kesler, and Reynolds--not that we ever could.  And Lowe?  Well, he's nothing short of an aberration.  (In all fairness, on a recent episode of "Oprah," featuring Lowe, he admitted how he looks on Vanity Fair is probably his final hurrah before age takes over.  At nearly fifty-two, I can vouch for that, Rob.)
What do the effects of aging on the male body, and some men's reactions to it, have to do with my blog, apart from the fact I read the above on a blog written by another gay man?  Because gay men, no matter what age--and, certainly, more so than most straight men, who probably can't claim to be straight if they took note of how great Rob Lowe looks on the Vanity Fair cover--are more concerned about their physical appearance, particularly if they are older and single. Always have been, and probably always will be.  If ever there was an issue affecting gay men, and how they see themselves, this is it.   

So let me tell you a short story.  When I was a boy growing up in the late 1960s, I remember looking at a picture in a magazine.  I was so impressed by how great the person in the picture looked--male or female, I don't remember, but it was probably in Cosmopolitan, my mom's favorite magazine at the time--that I showed it to her and made a comment.  My mother took one look and said, in her typical dismissive way, "It's just a picture."  
And that, dear readers, is my point.  Anything we see in these magazines is "just a picture."  
Back in the day, they called it airbrushing or retouching. Today, we call it Photoshopping, the process by which photographs are manipulated, right to left, up and down, to turn them into anything we want.  Need your complexion smoother (think Adam Lambert on his CD cover)? Photoshop it.  Need your chest hair removed without shaving it, although I don't know why (think Matthew Morrison on the December 2010 issue of Details)? Photoshop it.  Need better defined abs (think any of the men's weight-lifting magazines)? Photoshop it.  
The fact is, folks, after the Photoshoppers get to these pictures, the subjects in them are no longer themselves; the real life people can no longer compete with their perfected images.  
Jamie Lee Curtis says it's all lies.  She's well-known for revealing the ways in which pictures of her were manipulated in the past, making her look younger, slimmer, fresher--whatever more desirable, and false, adjective you want to insert. She says she's done with that deception now, done with selling the public a false bill of goods that they can't live up to, and neither can she.      

So, what does all this have to do with the intent of my blog?  Well, first, on a personal level, I want to stop feeling badly about myself because I don't look like the hunky dudes in the pictures.  The message of this post is as much for me as it is for anyone else. Then, I want Rural Gay Guy to stop feeling badly about his physical appearance, too, especially in relation to men who are ten or more years younger. And, if you can relate to this at all, I want you to stop feeling badly about your appearance as well.  
Here's the thing:  As gay people, don't we have enough reasons to hate ourselves as it is, starting with how we've been made to feel about our sexual orientation?  Do we have to add the appearance of our bodies, and how they age naturally, to the list, too?  
About twenty-years ago, I started to work out in earnest.  What I've done in terms of exercise changed over time, depending on what fitness facilities were or weren't readily available to me--because, let's face it, sticking with a fitness regimen is as much about convenience than anything.  Now, I continue to watch what I eat (although I certainly have my treats), and I run outdoors three times per week, rain, snow, or shine.
I long ago learned, to my disappointment, that I'll never look like some of the muscles hunks I've been envious of most of my life.  It takes major dedication to look like that (not to mention photoshopped pictures that make you look even better than you really do).  You need a personal trainer to keep you on track, to feed you the six small meals per day consisting of all the right foods to build muscle tissue, and to teach you the tricks of how muscles respond to different types of resistance. For most of us, this would be another full-time job, and we already have one that saps us of all the energy we can muster.

Hell, even when you get it, you can't keep it. Not even sixty-three-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was a champion body builder decades ago, has managed to do that--to win the battle against time and aging, despite continuing to make working out and keeping fit a priority in his life.  If he can't get and keep the killer body as he grows older, how do the rest of us think we can?  Let's go easier on ourselves, everyone, and be more realistic.         
Here's my advice.  Focus on health.  Focus on being the best human being you can be, in every respect, and not a poor representation of someone you admire.  Get your head straight, and everything else will follow.  That is, work on how you feel about yourself, and, as you master that, you'll make the right decisions that serve you in ways you're not aware of now.  Stop comparing yourself to other people and unrealistic images of them in today's media.  

Embrace growing older and the changes in your body (man, do I need to hear this). Embrace the lines in the face, the crepe-paper complexion, rampant nose and ear hair (where there was none before), the lumps of fat in the abdomen area, the softening and changing shape of your body, the shoulder and back fur, the jelly belly, the protruding veins, the collapsing rear-end, the grey hair on your head--all common signs of aging.  Because, despite your best efforts, it ain't going to get any better.  In fact, it will get much worse, if you're lucky.  Put less emphasis on how you look and more on how you feel about yourself inside.  That's where your real beauty comes from.  

This is life.  Accepting we're not other people is part of it.  Accepting the aging process is part of it.  

Smarten up!  Yes, that's what I need to tell myself.  Smarten up!  

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Latest Findings Regarding Homophobia in Canadian Schools

Study finds startling new data on homophobia in Canadian classrooms
By Nick Martin, Winnipeg Free Press


WINNIPEG—Rampant homophobia stalks the hallways and classrooms of Canadian schools, according to a key finding of a national study on homophobia in Canadian schools to be released Thursday evening at the University of Winnipeg.
According to the report, homophobic comments are a common and accepted part of school life, even uttered by some teachers. Almost two out of three non-heterosexual students do not feel safe in their schools.
“LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirited, queer, or questioning) students are exposed to language that insults their dignity as part of everyday school experiences, and youth with LGBTQ family members are constantly hearing their loved ones being denigrated,” says the study being released at the annual general meeting of Egale Canada, an anti-homophobia human rights organization.
The survey of 3,700 Canadian high school students between December 2007 and June 2009 was conducted by University of Winnipeg education professor Catherine Taylor and University of Manitoba sociology professor Tracey Peter.
While no one should be surprised that homophobia still exists in schools, the report highlights the extent of homophobia and its impact on young students, and discovered some surprising data.
Girls and young women are more likely than boys and young men to suffer verbal and physical harassment because of their sexual orientation.
That surprised the researchers, who said the popular misconception is that straight boys are more likely to be bullies, and have the opportunity to bully gay boys in gym locker rooms and washrooms where there is no adult supervision.
Aboriginal students are most likely to know a student who is ‘‘out,’’ and are most likely to see classroom discussions about sexual orientation as positive. All other visible minorities combined, whom the researchers described as students of colour, are least likely to know an ‘‘out’’ student or to see discussion of sexual orientation as a positive.
While many schools have well-developed human rights policies based on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, few specifically include LGBTQ people in those policies, the report says.
The report says teachers are not automatically allies and supportive adults of students suffering discrimination, nor do they always intervene: “Teachers often look the other way when they hear homophobic and transphobic comments, and some of them even make these kinds of comments themselves.”
The report found that close to 10% of straight students have experienced homophobic insults and physical harassment because of perceptions about their sexual orientation.
Almost three out of five straight students find homophobic comments upsetting, a finding that the researchers considered “striking.”
“There is a great deal of potential of solidarity for LGBTQ-inclusive education among heterosexual students,” said Taylor and Peter.
They recommend provinces and school divisions develop and implement specific anti-homophobia programs in the curriculum and in safe schools policies, and provide teachers with professional development on issues of sexual orientation.
The report strongly recommends that schools encourage students to start gay straight alliances, and that if students don’t come forward, that the school approach teachers to help start a GSA.
Major findings of Every Class in Every School, The Final Report of the First National Climate Survey on Homophobia in Canadian Schools, a survey of 3,700 Canadian high school students being released Thursday at the University of Winnipeg:
• 14% of students, close to one in seven, self-identified as not being exclusively heterosexual
• 70% of all participating students heard expressions such as “That’s so gay” in school on a daily basis, and 48% heard words such as “faggot,” “lezbo” and “dyke” every day in school.
• Almost 10% of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirited, queer or questioning) students heard homophobic comments from teachers daily or weekly
• 55% of sexual minority students were verbally harassed in school
• 21% of LGBTQ students were physically harassed or assaulted in school
• 64% of LGBTQ students feel unsafe at school, and by far, the least safe places are gym change rooms and the student washrooms
• Verbal and physical harassment are reported occurring significantly less frequently in schools with anti-homophobia policies, but there is no significant difference in LGBTQ students feeling unsafe in schools with such policies
• Students whose schools have gay straight alliances are more likely to be open with fellow students about their sexual orientation.
• “Students of colour” are less likely to know an “out’’ student than are white and aboriginal students, and are more likely to perceive an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum as negative. A higher percentage of aboriginal students know ‘‘out’’ students than do white students, and aboriginal students are most likely to see an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum as positive.
• Students with LGBTQ parents are far more likely to feel unsafe in school, and far more likely to perceive homophobic comments from fellow students and teachers
• 58% of straight students find homophobic comments upsetting.
• One in 12 straight students reported being verbally harassed about their perceived sexual orientation, and even more, close to 10%, of straight students were physically harassed or assaulted about their perceived sexual orientation.

From www.nationalpost.com on Thursday, May 12, 2011

*
When I published this on my blog earlier today, I included a comment from STAN2 that I thought demonstrated the battle gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people remain up against, even in 2011. Then, later, when I returned to the National Post website to read other comments, I was so struck by the amount of ignorance still out there, I decided to remove the comment.

Anyone interested in reading the comments, and bringing down their day, is welcome to access the website here.  I've had enough of this and have no intention of giving these folks a forum on my blog.

We're moving on!   


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"It Gets Better" In Every School and Library

Today, I received an email from Sarah in Calgary.  She made me aware of the opportunity all of us have to make a donation to the "It Gets Better" Project, to ensure a copy of the book version is placed in every school and library.  As far as I can tell, this applies to schools and libraries in the United States, but this got me thinking.  Why not contact schools in our own communities and offer to donate a copy of Dan Savage and Terry's Miller's It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living?


To this end, I accessed the website for the high school located just a few blocks from where Chris and I live, clicked on "Email the Principal," and wrote the following:
    

Hi, Mr. _______.  My name is Rick, and I'm a resident of ______________.
I'm not sure you've heard about the "It Gets Better" Project, but it was started last fall by American columnist Dan Savage and his partner, Terry Miller, following the suicides of numerous students because they were gay or suspected of being gay.  Savage and Miller created the first YouTube video, telling their story as gay men who were bullied in school, and urging today's youth to hang in there--that is, not to commit suicide--because life gets so much better for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered once their school years are over.  Their video turned into a movement, with thousands upon thousands of others (including gays, straights, and everyone in between) creating their own videos in support of LGBTQ youth.  (For more information, please check out www.itgetsbetter.org.)
Recognizing that many young people don't have access to the Internet, or to the support materials they might need during a difficult time in their lives, Savage and Miller transposed some of the messages from the videos (and included original essays) into a book titled "It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living."  The book contains articles from a wide variety of people, including U.S. President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; people well known in the media, such as Ellen DeGeneres, David Sedaris, and Suze Orman; and everyday people, telling their own personal stories of triumphing over being tormented in school.  I own a copy of "It Gets Better," I've read it in detail, and I know if I'd had access to its important and uplifting message of self-acceptance and hope when I was growing up in the 1970s, there's no telling how much easier my life would have been.  
The "It Gets Better" Project presents the opportunity for people to donate money so that copies of the book can be bought and sent to schools across the United States.  But I'd like to do one better than that and not only donate a copy to a school, but donate it to a Canadian school, in my own community, where I'm certain it would be an important resource for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students.  Of course, this school is _________________.  
If your school already has a copy of "It Gets Better," great.  I'd be thrilled to learn that.  I'd appreciate knowing so I could similarly contact other schools in the ______________ area to make enquiries of them.  
I hope you recognize how useful a tool the book "It Gets Better" could be to potentially at-risk students in your school.  Nothing would make me happier than walking over to your school, meeting you in person, and handing you a copy of Savage and Miller's book.    
I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
Sincerely,
Rick Modien


Anyone who's kept up with my blog recently knows how much I've thought of the book It Gets Better.  Against copyright laws, I've quoted from it readily and unabashedly, and I've used it as inspiration for several posts.  I can't speak highly enough of the simplicity and the importance of its message, and I'd be ecstatic if every Canadian school made this critical resource available to students across the country.

If you're a Canadian reader, and you'd like to follow my lead, by all means use the text of my letter above (if you want) to make contact with your local schools.

You've heard of "Adopt a Highway"?  Well, how about "Adopt a School"?  Let's make sure every gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or questioning student has access to It Gets Better.  We have a responsibility to support our youth in any way we can.

P.S.:  I'll let you know what response I receive from the local school principal.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Little Self-Loathing

Sometimes, my greatest writing inspiration comes from other blogs I read on a consistent basis, most of which are listed under "Favorite Sites," along the left-hand side.  

This past weekend, I read an uplifting and hopeful post about gay people, that gave me pause at the end.  It talked about young gays and lesbians being more self-confident than in the past, requiring fewer resources at a post-secondary institution, because the environment they grew up in was more accepting of them. (Unfortunately, for reasons that should be obvious, this hasn't been the case so much for those raised in rural areas.)

Then, to paraphrase, the blogger wrote that gay people appear to hate themselves only a little; "they have never hated themselves less in history than they do now."

I know what the blogger meant, and I was encouraged by his words and sentiments.  This, after all, is what my blog is about: trying to help gay and lesbian people move from a place of self-loathing to one of self-respect and self-love. And I've also seen changes in young people, who seem to be freer to be true to themselves than I was at their ages, which is most gratifying.  That's progress, and I applaud it.    

That said, let's be clear:  self-hate is still self-hate.  I don't think you can hate yourself a little and love yourself the rest.  It doesn't work that way.  It would be like saying, most of the time, I'm straight, but sometimes I'm gay.  Or, most of the time, I'm Catholic, but sometimes I'm Jewish.  There aren't degrees of being straight, gay, Catholic, or Jewish, any more than there are degrees of self-hatred. You either are or you aren't, do or you don't.  

But, for the sake or argument, let's say you could hate yourself a little.  A little self-hatred is still too much, because it's like a disease.  Sure, as a rule, you might feel great about yourself most of the time.  But, if there's even a little self-loathing inside, then it wouldn't take much to bring you down, to topple all those good feelings.

All somebody would have to do is look at you funny, or talk to the person next to him while looking at you, or make a passing comment you happen to overhear a few words of, and that lingering seed of self-hatred would sprout, growing into something big and ugly.  You don't want that.  None of us do.          

Yes, I understand, we're getting there.  I get that our young people, more than ever, have accepted themselves and are further ahead in their development, in terms of improving their self-esteem, than many of us from my generation.

But let's not lose sight of the goal:  To eliminate self-loathing, due to sexual orientation, in all of us.  Because, make no mistake, as long as we continue to hate ourselves, even a little bit, our potential will be compromised, our choices will be affected, and our lives will be less than what they were meant to be.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Help Fight Homophobia


Philosophy of the Event
Few minority groups have been as discriminated against as the gays and lesbians. But major breakthroughs have occurred, and homosexual people are stepping out of the shadows. From the outside, it could be construed that all problems have been solved. The media are sympathetic, public personalities come out, television shows feature lesbian and gay characters in scenes of everyday life. Nevertheless, the reality is quite different. Many individuals are unable to live their sexual orientation, encounter difficulties if they do, or end up role-playing to protect themselves.

Despite these dire situations, the implementation of the International Day Against Homophobia should not rest on a “victimization“ philosophy. In fact, the Day may be seen as a great opportunity to highlight positive aspects of homosexuality and celebrate the contribution of lesbians and gays to society.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Thought for the Day, #18

"Imagine what it's like to fear the bullies at school will find out your deepest, darkest secret--or what they'll do now that they know.  Imagine what it's like to go through adolescence knowing your parents believe you're sinful or sick or wicked. Imagine what it's like to have your church shun you or your entire family. I wish these were made-up situations from novels that took place in some faraway place, but they're not.  They're all stories from this book [about gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transexuals].  American stories."

(From Crisis:  40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing up Gay in America, Mitchell Gold, ed., with Mindy Drucker, p.p. 337-8.)

Thought for the Day, #17

'In our day new light is breaking forth from scripture, from science, and from our own spiritual experience. I think it is saying, "Let us do away with sexual orientation as a moral category.  Morality has to do with behavior, not wiring."'

(From Rev. Dr. H. Stephen Shoemaker, "Homosexuality, the Bible, and Us," Crisis:  40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America, Mitchell Gold, ed., with Mindy Drucker, p. 333.)

Thought for the Day, #16

"To label as sin a person's sexual orientation is an act of spiritual violence.  It defines the personal core, the very essence of a...person's identity, as sinful. Believing you are a sinner because you're lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender creates severe emotional and mental anguish, especially for young people.  Not knowing whom to trust or talk with about it, and feeling alone with the struggle to be who you are, creates a deeply personal crisis.  Low self-esteem, self-hatred, and fear of exposure often result in ruined lives, broken families, depression, and, much too often, suicide."

(From Jimmy Creech, "Homosexuality is Not a Sin," Crisis:  40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America, Mitchell Gold, ed., with Mindy Drucker, p. 322.)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Those Hours

I wish I could relive the evening Chris and I met.

Earlier this week, as he washed dishes and I dried, I watched Chris's profile and, for a moment, I was flashed back to June 13, 1992, when, after a few hours of flirting with each other, I finally walked up to him and asked, "Would you like to dance?"  It was a courageous, and uncharacteristic, overture that would change my life forever, but I had no way of knowing that at the time.  All I thought was, he's interested in me now, but it won't last.  He'll reject me like the others, and I'll end up being alone for the rest of my life after all.  

There was a lot of pressure on that initial introduction, although I tried to tell myself there wasn't.  Months had passed since my last attempt at connection with a potential partner--which was typical at that time in my life--and, having just gone through jaw surgery and a month off work to recuperate, I'd had time to think about myself and to accept there was a chance I'd always be single.  And, for the first time ever, I was fine with that.  I was in a good place.  I'd started a lot of the work on myself that I needed to do.  

So when Chris unexpectedly got my attention at the Odyssey, standing against a nearby column most of the night, drinking several beer, sneaking surreptitious glances at me from time to time, and we ended up dancing for much of the rest of the night, I got caught up in the drama that always played in my head under the same circumstances.  Did he think I was attractive?  Did he like the way I danced?  Did he like the clothes I was wearing?  Would this time turn into "the" time?  I had no reason to think it would.

We were at the club until the lights went up in the early morning, and everyone had the chance to see what the person next to him really looked like.  I liked what I saw, sort of.  Chris wasn't the type I'd ever imagined myself interested in. He was young and geeky, his body, beneath his loose clothing, was skinny and shapeless.  He was just a kid, really, not nearly the handsome man he would become.  Still, we left the Odyssey together, walked up several blocks of Davie, into the gay village, and decided to have something to eat at Hamburger Mary's, a greasy spoon diner.  Neither one of us wanted to let the other get away.

The magic of what was happening between us didn't catch up to me until we sat across from each other, eating our burgers and fries, talking about ourselves and our lives.  Conversation with Chris was unusually comfortable and natural, and I remember we laughed a lot.  He had a way of pursing his lips, that seemed old for someone who was twenty-three, whenever I said something he was skeptical about.  I loved the blue eyes behind his glasses, his cool, relaxed manner--and that he seemed interested in me.    

In a matter of hours, that first night together was over.  We left Hamburger Mary's some time after three in the morning, walked down Davie to the bottom of the hill, when he gave me a business card we somehow wrote his home number on. And, because I didn't want him to get the wrong idea by inviting him to stay the night, he went right on Nicola and I went left.  I arrived home safely a few minutes later, and I found out the following day he'd been mugged.  A group of young thugs had kicked him to the ground, stealing his wallet and cracking his lip. 

Thus began our life together.

When I think back on those five or so hours, I'm struck by how much I wasn't in the moment at all.  Sure, I was present as we danced, talked, and ate, enough to know what was going on and to respond appropriately to what he said.  But I wasn't really present.  I was too preoccupied with what he thought of me, whether I was as interested in him as I thought I was, and how long this one would last.  I gave it a few days, a week at most.  

I wish I'd known then we would stay together.  I wish I'd known then I'd love this man, more than I'd ever loved anyone.  I wish I'd known then we would be an old married couple nineteen years later and counting.  Because, then, I would have enjoyed every moment exactly for what it was.  I would have given up my nerves and fear, and been confident knowing everything would turn out all right after all. And I would have made a point of remembering all the little details that would make those few hours as vivid all these years later as it was then. 

Of course, Chris and I live a wonderful life.  We get along better than best friends. We've bought three homes together, travelled to exotic locations, and made a full and satisfying life for ourselves.  Best of all, we have each other.  We're not still lost in the world, searching for the right people to quell the need for companionship.  And, over time, we taught each other what love is--not the stuff of infatuated teenagers, but the deeply-rooted, rock-solid, forever-after stuff.  I wouldn't exchange any of the incredible gifts I have now for anything.  

Except, perhaps, for another chance at those hours.  Another chance to be twenty years younger, at the very beginning of something incredibly innocent and special.  Another chance to really take in all that Chris was then--his self-assuredness, his openness, his beauty, inside and out.  Another chance to start again everything that has made us who we are today.  

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Bits and Pieces

It's the little things, really.  The little things that make a relationship rich and textured and real.

Here it is, the 4th of May already, and still our weather hasn't warmed up much. Someone needs to remind spring it isn't winter, because, with the amount of rain we've received and the number of cold days we've gotten, I'd swear it's still February.  Maybe I'm just eager to get on with summer.

Anyway, yesterday, as I was about to begin my writing session, my feet were freezing cold.  Yes, I had socks on, but they didn't help much.  Yes, I have slippers, but they're kind of loose and not particularly comfortable or warm. Besides, how much fun is wearing my own slippers?

So I walked into Chris's room, saw his slippers sitting by the door, and put my feet into them.  They felt immediately like home.  A little thing, really.  Like I wrote before. But the point is, not only did I know my feet would warm up, I also knew I'd be a little bit closer to Chris, while he was at work downtown, over an hour away.

Relationships are filled with little bits and pieces like that.  Chris's soft, green fleece I wear during the winter when I'm cold and working around the house. Sitting at Chris's new desk in his office to do my writing, when I have my own perfectly good table to write on in my own space.  Listening to a song I know Chris loves to hear as we're driving around on the weekend, doing our grocery shopping or whatever happens to be on our agenda.  

How better to be close to a cherished loved one who shares your life, when he's not physically present, when you want to feel him near you, when you seek a reminder there's someone in this world just for you?

"It Gets Better," The Book--Comments & Observations

Having just finished It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living, edited by Dan Savage and his partner of sixteen years, Terry Miller, I can make a few comments about what I read, a few observations that became apparent over the scope of the book.

1.

A lot of people endured a lot of pain and suffering as a result of being bullied in school.  This is apparent on every page of It Gets Better.  Incredibly, it doesn't seem to matter where you attended school--whether in any of the fifty United States, or in countries around the world, from Canada to Spain to Australia--bullying is a common denominator among virtually all gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning youth.  In one case, a contributor admitted she wasn't bullied by anyone at all...except herself, having learned early on that, because of how she was different, she was unacceptable.

Next door to Chris and me lives the sweetest, most innocent, most friendly and open little four-year-old boy you could ever meet.  As I've watched him play on his bicycle on the sidewalk in front of our house, one of his watchful parents always close at hand, I've wondered more than once what happens to children like him from the time they're born, when they have no prejudices against other people, to the time they attend school.  How do some children get along with most other children, no matter their differences, while others become monsters, not only ruining the academic experience, but also seriously damaging the self-esteem, of so many?

Equally curious is what happens between high school graduation and the first year of college, for many a period of no longer than two months?  As I wrote before, at my graduation ceremony, the final event of my twelve years in school, one of my male peers yelled out the word "faggot" at me as I walked by on the elevated platform, wearing suit and tie, diploma firmly in hand, feeling so proud of my accomplishment, so exhilarated by the occasion.  To the last minute, the bullies were unrelenting.  Yet, during the entire two years I spent in college--same town, some of the same bullies who tormented me--not once was a gay epithet directed at me.  Not one time.

How do we end bullying?  How do we harness all of the negative energy bullies put into bringing other people down and use it constructively.  If you have answers, I'd sure like to hear them.

2.

Religion messes up a lot of people.  A LOT of people.  (Did I just say religion messes up a lot of people?  That's because it does.)  From the Westboro Baptists, who give new meaning to the term lunacy, to the decades-long conflict in the Middle East, to the many prejudices levelled against untold millions over time immemorial--many, many things have been done throughout history, all in the name of God.  I take comfort in believing God Himself is looking down on us, shaking His head at our intolerance and hatred, and wondering if we'll ever figure out the real message of His word.

In story after story after story in It Gets Better, contributors write they were raised Catholic (although other religions are mentioned, too), and, through the teachings of the church, they learned their "deviant" sexual orientation was wrong, unacceptable, an abomination in the eyes of the Lord.  As a result, countless thousands of young people--most of whom had yet to experience love and sex, either with someone of the opposite or same gender--were led to believe they were little better than dirt, evil incarnate, doomed to burn in hell for all eternity if they followed through on becoming what they were.

Religion plays an enormous role in abusing gay and lesbian people, forcing them to hate themselves as a result.  Can it not be said, then, that religion is no better than the common school bully, contributing to the breaking of people's spirits, in effect dehumanizing them and potentially depriving them of a relationship with God?  In my opinion, formal religion, which is very much a human construct, doesn't have the right to do that.

Fortunately, gays and lesbians catch on to the religious conspiracy against them sooner or later.  And, in most cases, they reject churches of whatever denomination, adopting instead a form of personal spiritually, which is more loving, inclusive, and consistent with their understanding of God's word and what He really expects from us as human beings.  
        
3.

It's no surprise most contributors to Savage and Miller's book write life got better after they left high school.  In fact, a lot better.  Better than they could have ever imagined.  And for that reason, they consistently encourage LGBTQ youth not to commit suicide (the whole point of the book)--so they will be around to see all the great things life holds for them, so they'll find the vast number of people on this earth exactly like them, and so they'll have the opportunity to share their wonderful gifts with all of us.

A lot of emphasis is placed on all those things in the external environment that contribute to making life better for gay and lesbian people--from post secondary institutions, where a wider variety of people gather, not only to receive an education but also to meet other people like themselves; to large cities, where people from around the world, with wider diversity, more life experience, and a greater degree of tolerance for the differences in others, readily accept them, or, at the very least, ignore them, as they go about creating the lives they want for themselves.

But, in testimony after testimony, contributors admit one of the biggest reasons why life got better is because they learned to embrace what was different about themselves, and (no surprise!) turned their self-loathing into self-love.  It Gets Better is filled with dozens of references (some of which appear in this blog under the heading "Thought for the Day"), where gay and lesbian people write about the role self-acceptance played in restoring their self-esteem.  If I took one thing away from my experience with this book it's how responsible we are for making our own lives better, through learning how to love ourselves.    

I end with this quote from Tuan N'Gai in "How I Got Over" from It Gets Better: "What's going to keep you strong, and what's going to help you get through it, is learning how to love yourself.  Seeing yourself as good enough.  And sharing what makes you, you.  Falling in love with what makes you unique is going to help you get through this difficult time.  Trust me.  I've been there.  Thousands of other people have been there.  There are more people out there than you can imagine, and they share your story [p. 207]."