Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Barbra Streisand

File this under the heading of "Things I Never Thought I'd Experience in My Lifetime."

On Monday, Chris and I went to the Barbra Streisand "Back to Brooklyn" concert.

For those of you who are HUGE Barbra fans, as Chris and I are, I'll let that resonate for a moment…

Think about it–a live Barbra Streisand concert.  The one-and-only, having never performed in Vancouver before, standing on that stage a few short feet from us, her beautiful vocal instrument filling the air.  As I type the words, I'm still shaking my head in disbelief.  

To put this into perspective, Barbra's performed LIVE on eighty-eight occasions–not in the past year… but since 1964, when she performed live for the first time.  She told the sold-out crowd at Rogers Arena on Monday evening that, as she performed in New York's Central Park on June 17, 1967 (later referred to as "A Happening in Central Park"), to a crowd of 135,000, in torrential rain, she forgot a few lyrics.

Ever the perfectionist (boy, do I understand that impulse), Barbra freaked out and didn't sing live again for twenty-seven years.  (In other places, it's been reported there had been threats on her life prior to that concert, as well.)  It wasn't until the early 1990s that she triumphantly returned to the concert stage.  

I remember reading about that eighteen-city, 1994 concert tour in North America and Europe, which sold out in one hour.  Chris and I were on a bus (this was long before we owned a car) on our way to Victoria, BC's provincial capital, for several days.  We had only been together for about a year.  

The Vanity Fair article went into detail about why Barbra hadn't performed in so long, and the preparations taking place for that first tour.  At one point, I remember turning to Chris and saying, "She doesn't have a right to do that–to prevent people from experiencing her live.  When you have a talent–a gift–like she does, you have an obligation to use it, to share it with the world, and nothing should stop you from doing that."

Of course, I've since moderated my opinion somewhat, having gone through anxiety and panic attacks, as well as agoraphobia, over the past two decades.  On a personal level, I understand now more than ever how Barbra could have freaked because of everything that happened (or could have happened) during that live performance in Central Park, how fear overcame her life, and how it could overcome any of ours, at any time (even if we think it couldn't).

I wonder how many of our lives are run by fear now, how many of our gifts have been silenced because of it.  Many gay and lesbian people, not yet out of the closet, live in fear constantly, of being found out, of loved ones discovering their secret, because they're just too damn frightened (notice the timely reference to Halloween) to be themselves in a world that's still not totally accepting of us.  It scares me to think about it.

I know for a fact I held myself back many years ago from choosing the career I really wanted to pursue, because I was filled with fear, because I felt the necessity to downplay my sexual orientation.  Through much of my young adult life, I attracted attention to myself for being gay, to the extent that I couldn't take it anymore, and I made the conscious choice not to be me.  Who knows where I'd be today if I'd had the courage to embrace my gayness back then, how the decisions I made would have been different.  

Don't let your voice be silenced.  To use gay vernacular, don't allow your flame to burn lower than it's intended to, or, God forbid, to burn out altogether.  Stop pretending to be something you're not.  Stop holding yourself back from being everything you were meant to be.

Perhaps that's why Barbra Streisand is such an icon to the gay community–because she's an inspiration; because she's a survivor, having overcome fear, proving we can all do the same; because her star has shone brightly for over fifty years, and her gifts continue to spread joy and magic.

The world needs your gifts too.  Don't be held back from offering them because you're too scared to be yourself.    

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Letter to "The Vancouver Sun" in Response to the Suicide Death of Amanda Todd, a Victim of Bullying

In many ways, I’ve waited nearly forty years to write this letter.

From about grade four to twelve, I was bullied relentlessly.  I was called names, physically abused in PE class, kicked, punched, tripped, my street clothes were soaked in the PE change room shower, I was shoved into my locker, sent chasing my school books down the hallway while everyone laughed at me–the list goes on and on.  Even as I walked down the runway at my high school graduation ceremony in 1977, diploma in hand, all of my classmates seated below on both sides, someone yelled out “Faggot” at me.  So I know a thing or two about bullying.

You are right.  It’s time to shame the bullies–to publicly identify who they are and make them accountable for what they do.

In the same way we have a national public registry for sex offenders, we need a national public registry for bullies.  Too severe?  Not when countless lives are ruined, and even lost, because of bullying.  A violation of privacy?  The right to privacy should be forfeited when you cross the line and become a bully.

On the registry (available online for the everyone to see), the bully’s full name would appear, as well as his school picture.  If necessary, because his parents are part of the problem and not the solution, their names would also appear, as would their pictures (taken from the DMV).

When the bully transferred to a different school, the principal would check the registry and decide if he wanted to admit that student (and under what conditions).  When the bully applied to a college or university, the institution would refer to the registry and decide if it wanted that young adult on campus.  When the bully applied for a job, the employer would consult the registry and decide if he wanted that person on the payroll.

Do you think these consequences would get the attention of a bully in-the-making?  I believe so, especially if the bully knew his reputation and future could be affected.       

Could you get off the registry and clear your name?  Sure, but not before you meet face-to-face with the one you bullied and offer a sincere verbal and written apology.  Not before you attend mandatory sensitivity training classes.  Not before you speak in schools about the evils of bullying and the negative impact it’s had on the life of the one you bullied, and your own.  Not before you complete other community work intended to take your focus off you and give you the bigger picture, such as helping out at support groups for those who are bullied, working at crisis centres, and so on.

As part of any zero-tolerance policy for bullying, bullies must not remain anonymous.  As strange as this may sound, I’m tired of the bullied getting all the attention; it’s time to draw the bullies out of the dark and shine spotlights on them and what they do.  Bullies must know up front what the consequences for their behavior are, and the consequences must be severe enough to be a deterrent.  In extreme cases, bullies should be incarcerated for their unacceptable actions.

As a civilized society, we must send the clear message to all bullies that we’ve lost our patience with them.  The time for action is right now.    


For more information about Amanda Todd's senseless death, please click here.   

Postscript (October 29, 2012):

So by way of update, The Vancouver Sun opted not to publish the above letter.  You think it might have had anything to do with my extreme views about what should happen to bullies? No matter.  I knew my position was extreme as I wrote the letter, but there was good reason for that.    

Since then, I've had time to think about bullies, and, although I still have little sympathy for them (given what they put me through in grade school), I recognize there are reasons why bullies bully.  And if we're serious about tackling the issue of bullying, clearly, we need to address it at that level.

The only problem is, I don't believe it's possible.  How can anyone, government or otherwise, mandate how bullies are raised at home so they don't feel the compulsion to lash out at the weakest of those who walk down school hallways, just wanting to be left alone?  If anyone has an answer, I'd love to hear it.     

Friday, October 12, 2012

Thought for the Day, #54

And I think too often with gay writing people look at it and think it's not universal.  But when you look at it, at gay men writing love poems to one another, what's the difference? It's love, and isn't love a universal emotion?  Whether it's articulated in gay terms or straight terms, both types of love are on equal footing.

(Quote from poet John Barton in "Let Me Be Your Ice," written by Raziel, located in Xtra!, October 4, 2012, #499, p. 13)

Thought for the Day, #53

Butches, effeminate gay men and others who can be "read" automatically bravely provide a vanguard for the rest of us.  We owe them a debt of gratitude.

Confidence and self-esteem are hard for everyone to come by, and it's a process, rather than a destination.... 

(Both quotes are from "Out, Proud and Ashamed," Dr. Pega Ren, Xtra!, October 4, 2012, issue #499, p. 11)

Thought for the Day, #52

We understand that all oppression is interrelated: that the treatment accorded blacks, women, gay people, all derives from the same source, that until we are all free, none will be free.... 

(From On Being Different: What It Means to Be a Homosexual, Merle Miller, p. 38)

Coming Out Day, October 11, 2012

Yesterday, October 11, 2012, was Coming Out Day.  Congratulations to all of you who had the courage to finally come out then.

For those of you new to my blog, the entire month of October 2011 was Coming Out Month at "This Gay Relationship."  I wrote twenty-two posts on all aspects of coming out–everything from how do I know I'm ready to come out, to coming out dos and don'ts, to a sample coming out letter, to why bother coming out at all.  If you have yet to come out of the closet and think you could use any of this material, I urge you to take a look at it.  I sincerely believe it would be worth your while.

Finally, in a post I wrote some time ago but can't locate now, I talked about what might happen if all of us who are still in the closet came out at the same time–how the world would have no choice but to sit up and take notice, how the world would literally change overnight.  Magnificent thought, isn't it?  No more closets.  Every one of us finally able to get on with the business of who we are and what we're intended to do, rather than waste yet more time and energy worrying about what might happen if our loved ones knew we're gay, and the possible (but unlikely) long-reaching ramifications of that.    
Merle Miller, 1919-1986

Then, in my reading last evening, I found the following quote in the footnotes from Merle Miller's "On Being Different: What It Means to Be a Homosexual," a classic essay written for The New York Times Magazine back in January 1971 and recently released by Penguin Classics.  In it, Miller, a well-known and respected writer, came out in the most public way, at a time when coming out was much riskier than it is for most of us now.  I share this quote with you below:

I sometimes wonder what would happen if we all announced it all at once, every one of us, the obscure and the famous and all those in between.  It would create quite a revolution; all by itself it would.  All those famous actors and singers and dancers and playwrights and novelists and songwriters and lawyers and CPAs and engineers.  And truck drivers and ditch diggers and grocers and butchers, you name the job and profession.  We're in all of them, not just in the business of selling divine Chippendale chairs to ladies who adore antiques.  And suppose all those tough, homosexual football and baseball players, instead of doing all those hair and shaving commercials, thus lining their pockets with gold, came out on television for homosexual rights.  And say they were joined by even a tenth of the movie and television stars who are homosexual?  A mind-twisting thought, isn't it?  [pp. 73-74]

I wish you godspeed in your journey to self-acceptance and eventual coming out.  It will be the best thing you've ever done.  It will be the beginning of your real life.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Thought for the Day, #51

Over the past several months, I've received emails from a number of young gay men wanting to know how to meet someone, fall in love, and begin a relationship.  I've given them the best advice I know, based on my experience being in a relationship with my partner, Chris, over the past twenty-plus years.  

But, in my recent reading, I found several quotes from Cheryl Strayed in Tiny Beautiful Things, which constitute about the best advice anyone could ever offer on the subject, whether you're gay or straight.  I share these with you below:

...Your best course is to do what everyone who is looking for love does: put your best self out there with as much transparency and sincerity and humor as possible.  [p. 199, ebook edition]

We have to be whole people to find whole love, even if we have to make it up for a while. [p. 275, ebook edition]

Honesty is a core value in any healthy and successful relationship.  [p. 340, ebook edition]

And, finally, the best advice of all, the piece that tells us meeting someone, falling in love, and sharing a life together is nothing less than magic:  

The question about who you will love and when you will love him is out of your hands.  It's a mystery that you can't solve.  [p. 153, ebook edition]


I cannot recommend Strayed's Tiny Beautiful Things more highly.  She is not your "Dear Abby" or your "Ann Landers" (for those of you who remember them as well-known advice columnists).  The readers's letters in Strayed's book, and her advice that can only be described as extraordinary, are as profound and as gritty as you'll ever read.

I believe this book will change you in ways you can't imagine.  Please read it.  I urge you.

Thought for the Day, #50

"I would never consider a person healthy unless he had overcome his prejudice against homosexuality."

(From "...George Weinberg, a straight therapist and author of a book on therapy called The Action Approach...," quoted in Merle Miller's On Being Different: What It Means to Be a Homosexual, p. 4.)

Thought for the Day, #49

I'd always been lonely, but self-hatred is worse than loneliness.

(From John Irving's In One Person, p. 165.)

Thought for the Day, #48

The screenplay [of the upcoming motion picture "Lincoln"], by playwright Tony Kushner (husband of EW columnist Mark Harris), excerpts only a portion of [Doris Kearns] Goodwin's book ["Team of Rivals"], focusing on the last four months of Lincoln's life and the political strategizing that helped push the Union to victory in the [U.S.] Civil War.

(The above quote is from the fall movie preview section of the August 17/24, 2012 issue of Entertainment Weekly, #1220/1221, p. 70.  I've bolded a brief section for emphasis.)

Not so long ago, the casual mention of Tony Kushner's married status to another man, Mark Harris, would never have appeared in an international magazine, like Entertainment Weekly.  For that matter, Kushner wouldn't have even been able to marry his life partner.

Today, these references appear more and more frequently–alongside those of heterosexuals's–each time legitimizing same-sex relationships, and proving what we share with our partners is no different from what straight people share with theirs.