Monday, October 31, 2011

Coming Out Month: Wrap-Up


This officially concludes Coming Out Month at "This Gay Relationship."  What is a single day every October 11 (called National Coming Out Day) became an entire month here, because I suspected there was plenty to write about on the subject.  And so there was.

When I started Coming Out Month, my goal was to publish, on average, one post related to some aspect of coming out every weekday.  This year, October had twenty-one weekdays, and I managed to publish twenty-one posts on a myriad of subjects related to coming out.

By the middle of the month, I worried, given the few comments I'd received, that I'd made a mistake putting so much emphasis on coming out.  Then I recalled what one of my readers wrote in the past:  that she wouldn't leave a comment unless she had something to contribute.  So I took that into consideration and moved forward.      

In retrospect, I believe the idea to write primarily on the subject of coming out for a month was a good one.  Many of my readers are young and either in or partially out of the closet, and, having come out over twenty-five years ago, I knew I could write knowledgeably on the subject and hopefully help.  

Just because Coming Out Month is over, does that mean I won't write about coming out again? Not at all.  For every gay and lesbian person, coming out, in many ways, marks the beginning of their lives.  It's as critical an event as any I can think of.  If I have something relevant to say, I'll say it.

The tone of the pieces I wrote were uneven; that was done on purpose.  Sometimes, as I sat down to write, my thought was, "Why isn't everyone out yet?"  Other times, I recalled just how difficult it was for me to come out, and my understanding and patience returned.  (But I still wish everyone was out.)

Some posts captured thoughts and ideas.  Others were published with the intention of prying the closet door open a crack, so gay people could glimpse what lay beyond.  Still others provided specific resources and tools that I hoped would make the coming out process easier, to the extent that's possible.

I'm proud of what I achieved here over the past month.  In addition to accomplishing a personal writing goal, I provided a concentrated number of posts that, if reviewed in detail, give a good overview of what the coming out process is about, and what the outcome is likely to be.

Now, a request.  If you read some or all of the Coming Out Month posts, tell me what you thought of them.  If you're gay and still in the closet, tell me if you think what I presented will help you at some time in the future.  Conversely, tell me what I could have done differently so I can learn, too.

I leave you with the following advice from Steven Petrow in Steven Petrow's Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners for Every Occasion:

Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, also known as PFLAG, has been inviting moms and dads of gay kids to cry on its shoulders, find support, and become educated about their LGBT offspring for decades.  The organization now has more than 200,000 members in all 50 states [in the U.S.] and Canada.  "Support" is PFLAG's watchword.  Call up one of its more than 500 affiliates scattered around the United States, Canada, and many other countries, or visit www.pflag.org if you're planning to come out, if your child has just come out, or if you think your child is LGBT.  PFLAG families have walked the walk before and can talk you through the coming-out process or put you in touch with whatever facts or resources you need [p. 11].

In other words, you are not alone.  There is help out there.

And please don't forget, I'm available to help you in any way I can, too.  If you think of something I haven't covered in this series that you'd like my thoughts on, or if you have a question, please email me by clicking on Send Mail on the top righthand side of my blog.  I will support you in any way I can.

And if you just need someone to "talk" to or confide in, please email me.  I may not be able to solve all your problems from the table where I write this blog, but I'm a good listener, and I will respond to you in some way.  Sometimes, all we need is the chance to tell someone how we really feel.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Letter to the Editor (Denley/Bullying)

The following is a letter I submitted to The Vancouver Sun today, in response to an article that appeared yesterday titled "Good intentions can't protect our teens from bullies," written by Randall Denley.  You don't need to read Denley's opinion piece to understand what I wrote, but, just in case you want to see it, please click here.


I am furious.  Randall Denley’s position that bullying in schools will never go away, and the only option is to console the family after a teen suicide happens, then move on with life, outrages me.  All of you reading this should be outraged, too.     
Denley writes as if recent Ottawa suicide victim Jamie Hubley provoked the bullying that senselessly ended his young life by being openly gay.  Mr Denley, I wasn’t openly gay in the 1970s when I was in school, but do you think that stopped any of my bullies from physically, verbally, and emotionally assaulting me from elementary school to the very day of my high school graduation ceremony?  How dare you blame Jamie for what happened to him.  You have a lot of gall.  
Maybe you, Mr. Denley, have no clue when it comes to what we can do to counter bullying, but I can think of a few things.         
At Jamie’s school, the principal should haul every student into the auditorium, along with local law enforcement officers, and tell them what happened to their classmate is unacceptable, and, effective immediately, the school’s adopted a zero tolerance policy toward bullying, with swift and appropriate punishment for offenders, including expulsion.  Jamie’s bullies should be publicly identified, pictures of them enlarged and posted on a bulletin board in the hallway, with the word BULLY clearly written below them.  And they should be held accountable for contributing to Jamie’s death with the school making their parents aware of the role their children played in it, and stating clear expectations for their conduct going forward, as well as the repercussions if those expectations are not met.        
In every high school across the country, zero tolerance policies should be instituted with the consequences of violations clearly stated, including public identification and shaming.  All principals and teachers should immediately address bullying issues reported to them or witnessed firsthand, including contacting parents, and bringing the bullies, the bullied, and their parents together for a meeting to get to the bottom of the issue and put an end to it once and for all.  Gay/straight alliances should be implemented (enough of this crap about parents don’t want their precious children to know gay people exist).  And repeat offenders should be required to complete labour in and around the school to a specified standard, and attend sensitivity training classes as well.    
Idealistic?  You bet.  Unrealistic?  You decide.  But here’s what I know for sure.  The issue of bullying in our schools, where students of every single minority, including gays and lesbians, should feel safe in order to get the best education possible, must be hammered and hammered hard.  If an example must be made of one or two particularly offensive bullies, so be it.  Every student must know what will happen if he or she is in any way involved in bullying other students for whatever reason.      
One death due to bullying is one too many.  To say that nothing can be done about it, so we might as well give up and accept it, is, in my opinion, the same as saying nothing can be done about cancer, so why bother fund raising, conducting research, and working to find a cure.  Not good enough, Mr. Denley, not good enough at all.  You should be ashamed of your position.   
 

(Note:  As of November 9, my letter had not been selected for publication in The Vancouver Sun.)

I LOVE Rick Mercer


My thanks to Rural Gay for making me aware of this.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Coming Out Month: How Do You Know You're Ready to Come Out?


(This post is dedicated to Aries Boy in Indonesia, who, in a comment on a recent post, suggested the topic, and asked me what I did to prepare myself to come out, and what advice I have.)

The short answer to the question "How do you know you're ready to come out?" is, chances are, you don't.

I was not ready.  Not in terms of preparing anything.  While I might have gone over in my mind, time and again, the discussion I'd have with my mother, everything I'd imagined saying was hypothetical. Who knew what words would leave my mouth when I actually found myself in the situation?  I hadn't anticipated any questions she might ask, so I had no answers prepared or rehearsed. And I had no idea how she'd react, although I'd hoped it would be better than it was (goodness knows, without consciously intending to, I'd given my parents enough hints over the years that I was gay).  So, despite all that, how did I end up coming out on the evening of January 1, 1986?

Emotionally, I'd reached a breaking point.  I needed to be set free.  I did not come out until I was twenty-six, which I consider late.  Up to that point, I had the sense life was passing me by.  I had a job, supported myself, and lived on my own, but everything felt like I was going through the motions.  I had no personal life, and that frustrated the hell out of me.  More than anything, I wanted to be in a relationship.  I hated being alone, and I needed someone to love me (I never felt my family loved me, even though I'm sure they did).  Coming out for me, then, was more a case of running toward the wall and smacking into it, rather than stepping carefully forward and being prepared for what happened.

However I did it, it needed to be done.  As I approached my mid-twenties, I began to get a greater sense of myself than I'd had before (although it would still be years before I realized my true self-worth).  While I'd been filled with self-loathing for many of my school years and long after graduation, I began to get an inkling there was nothing wrong with me just because I was gay. This was a critical step for me.  Had I not begun to acknowledge, even at an elementary level, that I was just as good as everyone else (that is, those who weren't gay), I don't know if I would have felt the need to come out as strongly as I did, or if I would have found the courage to do it.

As I wrote before in "My Own Coming Out Story," seminal in my experience was attending a New Year's Eve dance on December 31, 1985, attended by gay and lesbian people in the community where I lived.  Through meeting many likeable and respectable people there, similar to me, I realized for the first time I no longer deserved the bad rap gay people had gotten over the decades.  Some may have maintained I was worthless because of my sexual orientation--and, to some extent, I still did, too--but a window had been opened.  And when I looked out that window, I saw that I no longer deserved to feel badly about myself, to hide in a closet, or to sacrifice my life to what everyone else thought of me.

As haphazard as the occasion of my coming out was, I believe I was better off for not over-thinking it.  On the day it actually happened, no, I hadn't forgotten all the fear I'd felt over the years about getting it done.  But, in addition to believing there was nothing wrong with me--that I was essentially good and decent--I found I had no choice: I needed to soar.  I did not obsess over the words I'd use, or how my mother would react.  The last thing I wanted was to hurt her, which is exactly what I did, but, in the end, she recovered.  Thus, I think the moral of this story is, don't over-think it, don't obsess about it, don't worry about what your family's reaction will be, just do what needs to be done.

I'm aware many people reading this come from different countries around the world, with different cultures, different mores, and different attitudes toward homosexuality.  So please take that into consideration when you read the following:  Coming out is about you.  It's about your life.  It's about your happiness.  It's about your completeness as a human being.  What it's not about is your parents.  That's right, it's not about your parents.  Somehow, the focus is always on the gay person's parents, how they'll be affected by their child's admission.  But, from my perspective, twenty-five years in, the focus must be on the gay person, and the fate he'll suffer if he never comes out.      

You can't live your life for your parents (although many children do).  As much as you may love your parents, respect them, want to make them happy, meet their expectations, and make them proud, the reality is, at some point, the effect they have on you and your life must be curtailed. That is part of the natural process of growing up: parents do their bit to raise you the best way they know how, and then you let go of them and their influence, and you make your own way in life.  That's called becoming an adult and taking responsibility for yourself.  It's about coming into your own. It's about being true to yourself and living authentically.  You are not your parents.  You are you. And you are gay.  

It's great to have the love and support of family, and I'm not suggesting you shouldn't want it or won't get it when you come out.  In fact, in all likelihood, you will; parents are incredibly resilient, and, in the end, the tremendous love they have for their child usually overcomes any challenge you experience together, including your sexual orientation.  But if the love and support you need from your them means you must be anything less than you were meant to be (that is, deny your sexual orientation, remain closeted, live a lie, be alone for the rest of your life), because you couldn't possibility hurt of upset them by admitting you're gay, then the price is too high.  The price is too high.  

If now is clearly not the right time to come out--because, for example, you're dependent on your parents, financially or otherwise, and you can't be sure they'll embrace you or throw you out onto the street--then you must keep your homosexuality to yourself until some future time.  But, take it from someone who is gay--who lived half his life in the closet and knows how stultifying that is, and the other half out, and has never been happier or more fulfilled--you must come out at some point.  You have one life to live, and, as the years go by, it passes faster than ever.  There is no time to waste in the closet.  You are called upon to live your life with gusto--fully, authentically, and passionately.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Coming Out Month: Do I or Don't I?


So if you're still trying to decide whether now is the right time to come out, here's something you might want to try.

Whenever I have a tough, life-changing decision to make, I put together a list of pros and a list of cons.  That is, I write down on a sheet of paper (a critical step) all the reasons why I should do something and all the reasons why I shouldn't.

I populate the pros and cons lists by brainstorming.  I don't judge what I write down, or make decisions about whether each item should be included.  Rather, I record whatever comes to mind, good or bad, and reserve judgment until after I've finished.

The goal is to make your list of pros (reasons why you should do something) and cons (reasons why you shouldn't) as robust as possible.  So, to force yourself to think fast and generate lots of ideas, time yourself.  Take no more than ten, maximum fifteen, minutes to pour out everything that comes to mind, and capture it on paper.  Get it all down until you can't think of anything else, or until time runs out, whichever happens first.  (Timing yourself will focus your efforts, as well as prevent you from second guessing or judging what you come up with.)

Here's an example of how it works.  In mid-2000, I had the opportunity to apply for a position in Victoria, British Columbia's capital city sixty-five kilometres away, on an island, from where I lived.  I was happy at my job in Vancouver (if a little bored and unchallenged), but my boss urged me to put my name forward.  The problem was, the new job would be significantly different from the one I had, with a lot more responsibility; we'd have to move to Vancouver Island, which Chris was adamant about not doing; and he'd have to either transfer with his job, or find another one, because we needed both incomes.    

We talked about the job posting many times, and I vacillated between applying and not applying. The closing date was fast approaching, and I needed to make a decision.  Finally, I wrote down all the reasons why the job would be a good move for me and all the reasons why it wouldn't. (For those who don't know, I applied for and got it, Chris and I moved to Victoria in July 2000, and Chris got a transfer to the same ministry where he worked.  The move was one of the best decisions we ever made, and I remained in my position for seven years.  I don't believe I would have applied for the job if I hadn't put together pros and cons lists (and if Chris hadn't finally said he'd move with me.))

So now it's your turn.  Make a list of pros and cons about whether this is the right time for you to come out.  On a sheet of paper, draw a line down the middle, top to bottom.  At the top of the left side, write "Pros," and at the top of the right side, write "Cons," just like in the picture of the chalkboard below.

Give yourself only ten minutes to record everything you can think of, every reason to come out and not to come out.  Don't judge what you write.  Let the ideas flow freely.  Decide which ones belong in the pros column and which in the cons.  No point is too small or silly or unimportant.  If you thought of it, chances are it's something you should consider in your decision.    

Go ahead.  Put your lists together.  Come back to read the rest of this post when you're done.  I'll wait for you.


*

All right.  Have you completed your lists?  Have you recorded all the reasons why you think you should come out now, and all the reasons why you think you shouldn't?  Good job.  I'm proud of you.  You should be proud of yourself.  Now what?

Review your lists in detail.  If you want, you can give everything equal value and decide which side overall, pros or cons, is weighted more heavily--that is, which side far and away gives you a clear indication of the best course of action to take (come out now or wait until another time).

On the other hand, while you review your lists, you could eliminate anything that isn't significant enough to concern yourself with (put a line through it).  Now, take a look at what's left. Everything remaining on your lists should be the big hitter items--the most important reasons why you should or should not come out at this time.

As you review each item--reflecting on them, thinking them through, understanding what they would entail, what the results would or could be--which side, pros or cons, has more weight, gives a clearer indication of the decision you should make?

For many of you, taking your family's feelings into consideration--how you think they'll respond to your news--will weigh heavily on the side of not coming out.  But I hate to tell you this--those cons will always be there, whether you come out tomorrow or next year or in five years.  Unless, somehow, you  prepare your family ahead of time so you're certain they'll react favorably to your coming out (which there's no guarantee of, no matter how hard you try).  

So here's how you get around that:  Focus on the big picture--not on the hear-and-now but on the long term.  In the case of Chris and me moving to Victoria, I had to weigh the inconvenience of moving, learning a new job, and uprooting Chris (among other things), against having the chance to live in a city I loved, earn a higher income, and have the experience of a lifetime.  In the long-term, the benefits far outweighed the inconveniences and the risks, so we decided to do what made the most sense to us under the circumstances at the time.

This may be the case for you as well.  Sure, there will be short-term pain for long-term gain.  Yes, your family might be angry that you upset their apple cart by telling them you're gay.  Yes, they might be disappointed and make you feel rejected for a time.  But I believe this is one instance where you need to be focused on the future, six months or even a year down the road, and what the benefit to you will be.  Nothing is worth having if there's no work or risk involved.

Listen, if it sounds like I'm telling you to come out right now, I'm not.  I can't make that decision for you, only you can, based on your own particular circumstances.  I wouldn't want you to do anything that might jeopardize your safety and security.  With this post, all I've done is given you a tool, the pros and cons lists, which you can use to decide what's best for you at this time in your life.

Instead of obsessing about coming out, allowing all those thoughts to run around in your head and make you crazy, do something about it.  Turn your thoughts and obsessions into points on pros and cons lists.  Give yourself the opportunity to see everything you're thinking, everything going through your head, in black and white.  When it's all there in front of you, I'm confident one side will weigh heavier than the other, and you'll know what the right thing for you to do is, whether that's coming out now or waiting until a better time.

But here's one thing I know for sure:  You can't not ever come out.  Staying in the closet isn't an option.  In the past, too many people compromised the only lives they'll ever get by never coming out.  Sooner or later, you'll have to do it, to whatever extent you're comfortable.  Not coming out at all would be like denying everything you were meant to be.  Would be like living only fifty percent of your life.  Would be like living half free and half imprisoned.  No one can live like that. No one should have to live like that.

For me, it's not a question of whether or not you'll come out.  It's a question of when.  And that should be the question you ask yourself, too.  

Coming Out Month: "Why Come Out"



On the subject of why gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people should come out, Steven Petrow in Steven Petrow's Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners For Every Occasion has the following to say:

As you contemplate coming out to the straight people in your life, you may wonder why it's necessary.  It's true that remaining in the closet is always an option: in previous generations many kept their sexuality private, and transgender people still often navigate a mixture of public and private identities.  However, the stress and toll of maintaining a secret life can be challenging, even damaging.

Coming out, on the other hand, makes you visible to other LGBT people who can connect you with new friends and a new community.  They can offer you moral support for this important step, plus avenues for finding work, leisure activities, and lovers.  

Additionally, each time someone comes out, he opens the minds of his loved ones by setting a positive example of an LGBT person they now know.  You can also serve as a role model--a resource--to others on their coming-out journeys.

I would also add that when people's minds are opened, and they no longer fear something they know nothing about, social attitudes change, too.  That, I believe, is how circumstances have improved for us over the years and decades, and how they will continue to improve.  The more people who come out, the more minds are opened, and the more positive change happens.      

(Quote is from p. 8.)

Coming Out Month: Thought for the Day, #40



...The experience of the closet can...lead those who stay in it, or return to it occasionally, into a Catch-22 situation.  Without a doubt, maintaining secrecy about one's homosexuality allows one to elude the many manifestations of homophobia, from the seemingly harmless to the explicitly violent.  But this veil of secrecy is a form of self-loathing, which only serves to exacerbate homophobic attitudes because the closeted person appears to agree that homosexuality is shameful and unmentionable.  Further, the effort required to keep the closet door tightly shut may lead one to stubbornly insist on maintaining a heterosexual facade and thus adopt behaviors that are openly hostile to gays and lesbians.  In these ways, the effects of homophobic oppression can be much harder on those who hide than it is on those who affirm their homosexuality.  

(From "The Closet," by Philippe Mangeot, from The Dictionary of Homophobia: A Global History of Gay & Lesbian Experience, edited by Louis-Georges Tin, p. 108)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Coming Out Month: 12% Equality



Last week, while Chris and I were on vacation in Whistler (pictures to follow), Sarah in Calgary forwarded to me an email she received from an organization called GetEQUAL.  The email contained an eye-opening video released in conjunction with National Coming Out Day, held every October 11, which I want to share with you.

The purpose of the video will become apparent as you watch it, but the message at it's conclusion is worth capturing here:

Despite recent progress, and 42 years after Stonewall [which initiated the gay rights movement], LGBT Americans remain only 12% equal to straight Americans when it comes to...
* Hate crimes legislation (passed)
* Marriage equality
* Freedom of gender expression
* Safe schools and youth safety
* Parental rights
* Healthcare equity    

I'm not sure where the figure of 12% comes from, but, whether the degree of inequity is 12 or 23 or 34% doesn't matter.  The point is, LGBT Americans do not have the same rights as straight Americans, and GetEQUAL is in place to raise awareness, which it does effectively with this video.




To access the GetEQUAL website, please click here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Chris and Rick's First Video (Updated)

Here I am as you've never seen me before.  Let me set this up.

Chris's niece, Jordan, and her fiance, Darcy, live in New Zealand and will be married there on November 11, 2011.  Jordan's mom, Connie, who lives in Metro Vancouver the same as us, thought it would be a good idea for anyone unable to fly to New Zealand for the wedding to send their wishes to the happy couple in a video.  So Chris and I set out to make a video.  And what a video.

First, I had no idea iMovie on my MacBook takes movies (don't ask).  Second, we tried to make a serious video, filled with sentiments befitting the occasion, but the harder we tried, the worse it got.  Between not knowing what the hell we were doing and me becoming as giddy and crazy, well, we created a video all right, but not the one we thought we would.      

What I love about this is you see Chris and me exactly as we are, and how we interact together--infinitely better than any picture of us I've published on my blog.  This was one of the best evenings we've ever spent together.  I don't remember the last time I had this much fun or laughed so hard snot ran from my nose.  Brace yourself.

video

(Afterward:  Many years ago, the person that I am in this video would have disgusted me.  I would have found nothing but fault with him.  But, today, I embrace everything that he is.  Today, I laugh with and not at him.  That's my journey.  That's progress.)

*
Update:  Connie, who's still in New Zealand at the time of this writing (Monday, November 14) sent the following email today regarding the reaction to Chris and my video at Jordan and Darcy's wedding reception:  'I was a bit worried about how the Kiwis would react to Chris and Rick's video clip.  But they were the hit of the show.  I kept hearing people behind us say, "WHO are those guys?"  People were wondering if they're comedians."

No, no comedians.  We're just a couple of fools who had no idea what the hell we were doing.

Thanks for the great feedback, Connie.  Chris and I are glad the folks in New Zealand enjoyed our video.

Coming Out Month: 14 Questions



Back to Coming Out Month at "This Gay Relationship" now, with a list of questions parents could ask (in one form or another) when their child tells them he's gay.  

Below each question, I've included a brief answer I'd give if I were coming out today, which I hope helps you arrive at your own answer (keeping in mind your specifics will be different).

(Of course, my perspective on coming out, since I actually came out in 1986 and am now 52 years old, will be different from yours. But I'm hopeful you'll find something in my answers that will guide you.)

Question #1:  How do you know you're gay?

I know I'm gay because I've always been attracted to men more than women.  Even when I was a little boy, I found male teachers and neighbors nicer to look at, as well as male actors, singers, and dancers on TV.  I've always considered men more interesting and appealing.  That's just the way I am.  

Question #2:  How long have you known you're gay?

I guess I've known for most of my life that I was different from other boys, but I'd say I didn't know I was gay until my late teens.  That's when I really became aware of a strong attraction toward men that wasn't there for women.    

Question #3:  Are you gay because of something I did or didn't do?

No, I understand you did everything you could to raise me the best way you knew how.  I believe I was born gay, as many other people do, so there's nothing you could have done that would have made me turn out straight.

Question #4:  How do you feel about being gay?  

I won't lie to you, it's been tough acknowledging my sexual orientation and accepting it.  It's taken a lot of years to come to terms with something society still doesn't approve of in many respects. But I realize now that being gay is just another part of me, like anything else, and I'm okay with it.

Question #5:  Why did you have to come out now?  

There's no good time to come out; whether I tell you now or later won't make a difference. Ultimately, I have to consider what's right for me, and I decided now was the best time to tell you so I can get on with living my life, including finding someone to love and to love me back.

Question #6:  Have you gotten any information about being gay?

Yes, as I tried over the years to understand what being gay would mean for me, I did a lot of research and reading on the subject.  And what I learned helped me in terms of breaking down the stereotypes and realizing every gay person is different, and I can be gay in whatever way works best for me.  

Question #7:  What does this mean for your future?

As I see it, my future is no different from that of someone who's straight.  Homosexuality, in general, is accepted by a lot more people than it was, and there's no reason why I can't live a happy, productive, and fulfilling life just like everyone else.  No need to worry about me; I'll get along fine.  

Question #8:  When do you plan to tell your father (or mother)?

Since I'm telling you now, I see no reason putting off telling him (or her).  I don't want to live with this secret any longer; the sooner he (or she) knows, the sooner I can get on with living my life the way I was meant to.  Plus, I don't want to put you in a position of keeping this from him (or her).

Question #9:  Does your brother (or sister) know?

No, I haven't told my sister yet.  You're the first person I wanted to tell, and, now that I've had this experience with you, I hope to find it a little easier telling the other important people in my life.  I understand every time I tell someone, the discussion will get a little easier.

Question #10:  What am I supposed to say to family members, friends, and neighbors?

Telling other people shouldn't be a concern of yours.  I'm the one who's gay, so it's up to me to tell the people who I think should know.  Anyone I choose not to tell doesn't need to know. Whether or not they know shouldn't make any difference to them.  

Question #11:  Do you know other gay people?

I've had difficulty meeting other gay people, but I've met some, and I consider them good friends. I don't want you to worry that because I'm gay, I'll never meet other people like me and end up alone.  There are lots of gay people, and I'm hopeful I won't have a problem meeting that special someone.    

Question #12:  What about what the bible says about homosexuality and your soul?

I'm not so sure what some people claim the bible says about homosexuality is entirely correct.  I think a lot of bible passages are open to interpretation, and some people use them in ways that serve their purposes, whatever those purposes may be.  And I consider my soul to be between me and God.        

Question #13:  Are you sexually active?

Obviously, discussing my sex life with you makes me a little uncomfortable, in the same way discussing the details of your sex life with me would make you uncomfortable.  But I will tell you I've had sex with other men.          

Question #14:  Do you practice safe sex?   

I appreciate your concern for my health and wellbeing.  If I feel comfortable enough with a partner to engage in sexual activities considered risky, I always practice safer sex. Everyone, gay or straight, should practice safer sex to protect ourselves and their partners.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"The Journey to Myself"--Guest Post

Some of you will recall, back in July, that Donna Smaldone of The You Evolution asked me to write a guest post for her blog.  It was the third in a series titled "When Being Gay Isn't Always Gay," and the first time a piece of my writing appeared somewhere other than my own blog.

I'm pleased to tell you that Donna recently invited me to contribute another guest post, this one about my journey to myself as a gay man, which she published today.  I encourage you to swing over to Donna's website, take a few moments to read it, and explore what Donna has to offer in more depth.

Thanks again, Donna, for this wonderful opportunity.  I sincerely appreciate your interest in what I have to say.

To read my post, please click here.

To access Donna's website, please click here.

Makes You Want to Holler

More tragic news about yet another teen suicide.

James Hubley was 15 years old.  He lived in Ottawa.  He was openly gay at A. Y. Jackson Secondary in Kanata, a suburb of Canada's capital city.  He was bullied.  He died on Saturday, October 15.

I want you to know a little about this young man, and what he went through.  The following excerpts are from "Gay Ottawa teen bared his emotional pain on blog," by Matthew Pearson, published in today's Vancouver Sun:

In his blog, James wrote:  "I wish I could be happy, I try, I try, I try....  I just want to feel special to someone."

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Canadians between the ages of 10 and 24 and disproportionately affects gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth.

...The sensitive boy was struggling with being out in high school and often felt the sting of verbal bullying.  ...All that Jamie wanted was what every teen wants, somebody to love.

His friend, Steph Wheeler said:  "I just remember him wanting a boyfriend so bad....  I think he wanted someone to love him for who he was...."

...He wrote of his sadness and despair, about being called a "fag."

James said:  ...Being gay in high school was so hard--a thousand times harder in real life than on the popular television show, Glee....

"I hate being the only open gay guy in school.  It fucking sucks, I really want it to end," he wrote.

On Friday, Jamie made a final, heartbreaking post [on his blog].  He thanked his family and his friends, but wrote that he just couldn't take any more.

"It's just too hard," he wrote, later referencing It Gets Better, a popular online campaign in which millions of people have posted heartfelt messages directed at young people struggling with their sexuality and acceptance in the world.

"I don't want to wait three more years, this hurts too much.  How do you even know it will get better?"

As I sit here in front of my laptop, reflecting on everything above, I don't even know what to write anymore.

This young man, this precious soul, killed himself because he was gay.  Can there be any less a reason to kill yourself, especially since there's nothing wrong with being gay?  This isn't good enough, dear readers.  What can we do to get the message out that this isn't good enough?  That we're not going to accept this?  That this can't happen again?

Accountability.  I want someone held accountable for James's death.  James took the pills that ended his life, yes.  But he died at the hands of others.  They are responsible.  They have his blood on them.  They made life intolerable for him, put the gun to his head, and pulled the trigger.

Who is to blame?  Our culture?  James's parents?  The principal and teachers at the school he attended?  The bullies?  Religion?  Who?  I want to know.  You should want to know.  All of us should want--need--this to end.  

Because, you know what?  This could have been me.  This could easily have been me.  In the 1970s.  When the bullying I put up with for years was so harsh and bitter, I didn't know if I could take it.  How easy it would have been to find my mother's bottle of Valium and consume every pill.  I wanted my pain to end.  I would have done anything to make my pain end.  Except, thank God, commit suicide.  Somehow, I found the strength.  I don't know where, but I did.  

You bet I'm pissed off.  I'm angry as hell, and you should be, too.  We cannot accept this any longer.  None of us.  Our young people deserve better.  None of them deserve to die because they're gay.  This has to stop.

THIS MUST STOP!!!


(I encourage you to click here to check out Ian Capstick's terrific article "Coming Out Should Be Easier," published in the Ottawa Citizen on October 18, regarding the recent suicide of James Hubley, and what we can do to stop the insanity.  Thanks, Sarah, for bringing this to my attention so I can bring it to the attention of my readers.  I appreciate your thoughtfulness and support.)

Coming Out Month: Thought for the Day, #39




Burst down those closet doors once and for all, and stand up and start to fight.                                     
                                              -- Harvey Milk

Coming Out Month: Who is Coming Out About?



Here's a comment I received from a faithful reader in Calgary, to the post titled "Coming Out Don'ts."  I so appreciated what Sarah wrote that I needed to place it front and centre during Coming Out Month at "This Gay Relationship."

For me, Sarah, a straight mother of three, exactly captures the issues related to coming out, forcing us to ask the question, Who is coming out about anyway?  As you'll see from the comment, parents usually make it about themselves.      

Thanks for the words, Sarah.  I couldn't have said it better myself.


Seems to me a lot of the turmoil [related to coming out] comes from parents's expectations of their kids and the blind assumptions we make for them.  A bit like the football coach dad whose son wants to take ballet, there would come a time when the son had to have a challenging conversation, which would probably be really stressful, and might lead to the dad viewing the son in a different light.  Which, to me, means we have to allow our children to have the freedom to be whoever they want to be, not to follow our preconceived notions. 

...From what I've read, a lot of parents have trouble coming to terms with their kids being gay because all of their preconceived ideas fall away..."I won't be able to shop with my daughter-in-law, you won't have kids [why not?], what will I tell my friends?"  There's nothing in that conversation that has anything to do with the woman's son, but has everything to do with her, and maybe that's the problem. 

Parents should learn to live their own lives, and be happy for their children, regardless of how it will impact their own lives.  We raise them to be independent, right? 

Coming Out Month: Congratulations, Zachary Quinto


Every occasion when someone from the entertainment industry comes out of the closet is reason to rejoice and celebrate.

Among the latest is Zachary Quinto, who played Spock in the 2009 remake of "Star Trek," based on the 1960s TV series of the same name.  In an article titled "What's Up, Spock?", by Benjamin Wallace, which appeared in New York Magazine on October 16Quinto said the recent suicide death of bully victim Jamey Rodemeyer inspired him to come out publicly.  Quinto blogged: "...When I found out that Jamey Rodemeyer had made an "It Gets Better" video only months before taking his own life, I felt indescribable despair."   

Whenever I hear about a well-known man or woman coming out, I smile to myself and my heart is gladdened.  In my mind, I see a solitary human being bravely setting off from the safe mass on one side...to the other side, where only a few are gathered, and where the future appears uncertain. No worries, Zachary.  Welcome to our side--the side that stands for identity, authenticity, and freedom.  From those of us who've been here for a while, the future is good. You're going to be all right.

Every person who comes out, well-known or not, is a victory not only for him or her, but for all of us.  Our number is small, but it's made up of those with a lot of courage and a lot of heart.  More than ever, our ranks are growing. Everyday, people all over the world come out, to family and friends, fellow students and colleagues--each one inspiring someone else to come out, each one setting an example of what's possible, each one proving how alike gay and lesbian people are to everyone else.

But I, like them, eagerly await the day when coming out is no longer necessary, when we no longer have to be separate from everyone else to be ourselves, and when the mass that is humanity accommodates all of us, just as we are.  That day will come.  It's well on the way.


For the New York Magazine interview with Zachary Quinto, please click here.

For my blog post on Jamey Rodemeyer titled "Stop the Insanity," please click here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Men 50 and Over


Picture of Steve, 58, taken by Tommy Wu and Alan Reade
Today, I'm taking a short detour from Coming Out Month at "This Gay Relationship" (which, at the beginning of October, I suggested I might). Over the weekend, I saw a piece at Advocate.com that on first glance made me happy, on second made me unhappy, and I want to tell you about it.    

What got my attention was an article called "Men Over 50," featuring photographs of older men (I understand some gay, some not), between the ages of 50 and 67, all of whom have obviously taken good care of themselves over the years and have reason to be proud of their bodies.

That said, the preamble to the article states the following:

We hear that gay men are obsessed with youth.  Really?  Tommy Wu and Alan Reade have a different perspective in their photos of men living beautifully into the second half of the century.

Being over fifty myself, what initially appealed to me about this article was that Advocate.com published it at all.  In the gay male world, any man over thirty is old and no longer considered newsworthy, sexy, or desirable (what I call sexually viable).  And, since there's such an over-emphasis on sex in the gay male community--as well as a tendency to eschew relationships for the single life--remaining sexually viable, well into old age, remains critical, especially if you don't want to end up alone and lonely.

I understand what Wu and Reade are trying to do with this series of photographs, but several things are wrong with what I see here.

Contrary to dispelling the supposed myth that gay men are obsessed with youth, rather, the series reinforces it by featuring mostly shirtless older men who, without question, spend hard time at the gym.  Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with working out and being fit--I'd like to think older gay men do it more for the benefit of their health than to attract younger men, although I know I'm wrong--but I think what we see in these pictures is unrealistic and not representative of the demographic in question.      

Gay men, who aspire to continue turning heads, particularly those of men younger than themselves, might well be motivated to spend long hours running on treadmills and pumping weight, but the average man (read: straight) 50 and over couldn't care less about having a buff body.  To prove my point, take a look in any gym across North America, where there isn't a large gay male population, and you'll see older men are largely absent.

I'm not sure who made the decision that these men should be photographed shirtless, but it was an unfortunate error in judgement.  What's wrong with admiring the beauty of age in men with their shirts on?  Sure, men like Steve (in the picture above) have beautiful bodies, irrespective of their ages, and they're entitled to show them off, when the time is right.  But, clearly, the time isn't right in an article where the point is to disprove gay men are obsessed with youth.

A series such as this perpetuates the importance of physical appearance over factors related to being human and older that matter far more.  For example, accomplishment, contribution, and character.  Instead of making the true value of age a matter of a youthful body and sexual vitality, why not share with readers who these men are as individuals, what they achieved in their lives, what they learned about themselves and the world, what they can teach us to make our lives easier or better, etc.?        

Self-esteem in the gay male community has always been centered on facial beauty, muscular bodies, and desirability to other men, but all of that must change.  You'd think by the time we reach our 50s, we could focus on something else, something less stereotypical, something more consequential than proving we can still compete with, or attract, younger men.  As a community, when are we going to get that value as a human being, gay or otherwise, is not about physical appearance or looking hot?  


Here are some of the comments the article received from readers:

"Loved the article.  But not all of us are chiseled Gods and we manage to make a difference."  (Stephen Edwards)

"The pictures were nice to look at but only go so far.  I would have rather read about their inspirations, accomplishments, adversities, etc."  (Cory Crowther)

'"We hear gay men are obsessed with youth.  Really?"  If you really wanted to disprove this you would not have a collection of men who look as if they spend half their waking moments in the gym...which screams "youth obsessed" to me!'  (Paul Keckonen)

'Shouldn't the title be "Gym Bunnies Over 50"?'  (Michael B. Welch)

*

For the full article at Advocate.com, please click here.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Coming Out Month: A Coming Out Party (Reprise)



Some years ago, Chris and I went out for dinner with my first lover, Adrian, and his partner, and, on that occasion, Adrian told us how he'd come out to his family and friends years earlier.  You may find his method radical, but I can't think of a more efficient or effective way to do it.     

Once Adrian had accepted his sexual orientation--that is, when he refused to believe there was anything wrong with him because he was gay--he held a coming out party, of sorts.  He gathered all his relatives and friends together and told them he was gay.  The message came directly from him, and everyone heard the exact same words at the same time.

His big secret revealed, Adrian then told everyone it was up to them to deal with it and left.

No question, he took a bold position, both with his admission and how those he was closest to would be affected by it.  But he got it over with all at once, and he ensured everyone was in the company of others who would help them through the initial shock, if they needed support.        

Adrian never told us the outcome of what he did that day, but I believe the confidence he exhibited during his announcement, and the position he took that this is the way I am, take it or leave it, showed everyone he was okay with himself, and they should be, too.   

I give Adrian a lot of credit for the way he came out.  Unlike most of us, who put other people's feelings ahead of our own, he made his coming out about him.  Which, if you think about it, is the way it should be, since we're the ones most profoundly affected by our sexual orientation.  

If you're thinking of coming out anytime soon, you might want to consider this bungee-jumping alternative--if you dare.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Coming Out Month: Coming Out Don'ts


When coming out, here are a number of things you might not want to do:

(For the list of Coming Out Dos, please click here.)

Coming Out Don’ts

Comments
Don’t be intoxicated. 
You might think a little liquid courage will give you the confidence to come out,  but I don't recommend it.  The words you use might not be the best ones, and you could make an already difficult situation worse.  Better to be completely sober and conscious when you tell someone you're gay.      
Don’t come out in the middle of a fight, argument, or confrontation.
Blurting out that you’re gay in the heat of the moment, when you’re having an argument or fight, might seem like the right thing to do at the time.  But, believe me, it isn’t, particularly if it's your intention to stick it to a loved one by admitting you're gay.  This one will backfire on you, so don't do it.  You'll wish you hadn't.  Wait until you're calm and steady and in control of your emotions and words.        
Don’t be surprised if some people already figured out you’re gay. 
It could be the person you’re coming out to already considered the possibility you’re gay and, even better, accepted that about you.  So much the better.  This will make your job easier.
On the other hand, don't be insulted if someone thought you're gay before you came out.  Don't question it.  It could make your job a lot easier.         
Don’t expect every reaction you receive to be positive. 
Depending on who you tell and what they think about homosexuality, people’s reactions will be different.  Be prepared for that.  Some people’s reactions may be negative, at least initially.  But, upon reflection, they’ll come around and support you, just as you’d hoped they would.  This is what typically happens for most gay and lesbian people.         
Don’t collapse or crumble under the stress of the moment. 
First, have the guts to stand up for yourself and finish the job you start.  And, if the reaction you receive isn’t good, respect yourself enough to walk away.  You’re gay, for goodness sake.  You didn’t kill anyone.  Keep everything in perspective.  
Don’t expect everything you say to be perfect, and don’t get frustrated at yourself if it isn't.    
Yes, you’ll be nervous.  Yes, you’ll probably stutter and stammer as you try to find the right words.  Even if you rehearsed in your mind what you intend to say, you might forget some of it in the moment.  That’s all right.  Remember to breathe and keep going.  You’ll get back on track.  Be patient with and don't judge yourself.     
Don’t mumble. 
You might think you can get away with mumbling a few words and out yourself, the person you're telling accepting you wholeheartedly, But it doesn't work that way.  Be sure the person hears you correctly so there's no confusion about what you said.  The only thing worse than having to come out once is having to come out a second time, to the same person, because you did a sloppy job the first time around.             
Don’t expect coming out to be over quickly.
At the time I came out to my mother, I hadn’t thought about the ball I'd gotten rolling--in other words, all the other people I'd have to come out to in addition.  Not only did I have the rest of my family, but also I had friends and co-workers.  And, because friends come and go and, in my case, because I worked in different locations, I continuously faced the task of coming out, as all gay and lesbian people do to some extent.      
Coming out is a continuous process that takes place over a lifetime, but, the more often you do it, the easier and more natural it becomes.  And the less you care about having to do it.  
Don’t get your sexuality wrong.
Some think telling loved ones they're bisexual is more palatable than admitting they're gay, but I suggest coming out only when you know for sure what your sexual orientation is.  By trying to soften the blow, all you do is create confusion, both for yourself and your loved ones.  Get it right the first time.  Own what you really are and move on.  
Don’t take bad reactions personally. 
Yes, you’re the person who’s gay, who’s sitting down with a family member or friend and admitting your sexual orientation.  So you might think you’re responsible when your family member or friend reacts badly.  But don’t take that on.  It’s not about you.  You are what you are; you can't help that.  Nor can you help your loved one's reaction.  They own that, not you.      
Don’t rush.    
You might want to say what you have to and escape as quickly as possible, leaving loved ones wondering what just happened, but I wouldn’t recommend that.  Unless you and the person you’ve told you’re gay need a cooling off period, in which case you can provide further details at a later date.  Otherwise, while planning to come out, give yourself lots of time to say what needs to be said and to answer any questions or address any concerns that come up. 
Don’t use the word “gay” if you’re not comfortable with it.
When I came out, the term “gay,” and all it stood for, was hard for me.  In fact, I hated the word.  That’s because, even though I’d begun to accept myself and realize being gay wasn’t so bad after all, it felt hard and final and confrontational.  And I didn’t think it described what I was, or how I felt about myself.      
So, instead of saying, “Mom, I’m gay,” try, “Mom, I’m not into girls like other guys are,” or, “Dad, I prefer the company of other guys.”  And go from there.      
Don’t come out in a car moving down the road. 
The first person I came out to, a good friend at the time named Judy, was when we were both in a car.  But the car was parked under the apartment building where I lived at the time.  Judy and I had enjoyed a night of dancing together, we’d gone out for something to eat, and we found ourselves watching the sun come up as we sat in my car, talking about everything, including my homosexuality. 
But I would never have come out to her, or to anyone for that matter, if we’d been in a moving car.  It’s not the time or place.  If you’re driving, and the reaction from the person you’re telling is bad, you could be significantly distracted.  And, if you’re not driving, you could impair the driver’s ability to keep focused on the road.  Either way, you could find yourself in a worse mess than coming out.   
Don’t come out on Facebook or online before your family knows. 
Young people today use websites like Facebook to tell the world everything about themselves.  But coming out online before you sit down with the people important to you is not the right or respectful route to go.  No mother or father should have to learn his or her son or daughter is gay by reading it on Facebook, or, worse, hearing it from someone who’s seen it on your profile or in a video.  There are much better, more effective, ways to come out.   
Don’t avoid talking about it again.
Once you’re out, you don’t have to be in the face of everyone you’ve told, bringing it up again and again.  Respect that each person will need a different length of time to process what you said.  
On the other hand, don’t avoid discussion of it altogether.  If you do, you might give family and friends the impression your coming out never happened.  And they could fall into a comfortable place of denial.  Be sure your loved ones know you’re happy to discuss your sexual orientation, and to answer any questions they may have, when they’re ready.   
Don’t assume people won’t change. 
When my mother reacted badly to learning I was gay, I believed I’d done irreparable damage to our relationship, and things between us would never again be the way they were before.  But I was wrong.  And I thought when my father found out (through my mother), he’d hold it against me for the rest of my life.  But I was wrong. 
People change.  People are resilient, even in the face of what they consider the most difficult and distressing news.  Give those you come out to the benefit of a doubt.  In other words, don’t write anyone off.  Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, people come around.  And you’ll find everything will get back to normal—only this time, you won’t be keeping a big secret, and you'll be able to get on with the life you were meant to live.