Category: bisexual

A Bisexual Response to Climate Change?

When a problem is complex, confusing, and overwhelming, I find that applying different lenses to it helps bring it into focus. Over on my radio show, Climate Stew, I constantly try to look at the tricky problem of global warming from a variety of perspectives, ones that people would not usually consider. Looking at queer responses to climate change has opened up my understanding of queer family values and our unique role in this time in history. Here is a short clip from the show (transcript below.) It is actually a broadcast from the future (150 years in the future to be exact). It looks at a series of events that led to one bisexual approach to climate change. There are plenty more that need to be discovered and explored. I’d love to hear some of your thoughts.

That Day in Climate History: Bisexual approach to climate change?

I am Timothy Meadows. It is Monday, October 14th in the year 2165 and time for That Day in Climate history. 150 years ago today groups of people, large and small gathered throughout North America for the People’s Climate Movement Day of Action. In addition to protests, teach-ins, demonstrations, and massive public art projects, many discussions took place that led to creative and powerful climate action.

What is a bisexual response to climate change

What is a bisexual response to climate change?

One such discussion occurred in the little town of Sunbury, Pennsylvania. A small gathering of friends and family spent the day discussing climate change. One question led to an idea that led to an organization that led to effective climate action.

Unable to attend the gathering, writer James Fenimore popped in via videoconferencing. He asked a strange and provocative question: What is a bisexual response to climate change? He explained that as someone attracted to people of all genders he did not view the world in simple binary terms. So much climate action falls on a binary—liberal /conservative, pro-business/anti-capitalism, etc. A bisexual approach to climate action might be not seeing solutions in terms of binary choices.

This question, What is a bisexual response to climate change? inspired Marin Toscano, one of the people present that day. She later wrote about it in an academic paper. A student in Tomsø Norway, Anna Jørgenson, read the paper, shared it with friends, and then founded the group Bifile for en bedre jord or Bisexuals for a Better World.

This group broke away from the notion of polar opposites and focused instead on shared values and shared experiences. Bifile for en bedre jord created a successful discussion model that they first used in Norway and then throughout Europe and North America. This discussion approach helped bridge the gaps between groups that struggled to work together. It assisted individuals and groups in breaking away from a set of presupposed beliefs based on identities to instead embrace more complex ways of viewing the world and climate action. Coalitions formed that worked towards justice-minded market-driven approaches to reducing pollution. Groups successfully lobbied governments to enact fact-based initiatives that operated on harm-reduction models when considering the many different types of energy available. Real changes occurred. We benefit from those changes today. A question asked of a small group in a rural village echoed around the world. It contributed to bringing about climate action. On this day in 2165, we remember that day in climate history.


Climate History is brought you by Monsanto, working together with indigenous community leaders to provide ancient grains for a modern world.

But Lord, when did you say you were bisexual…

I spent nearly 20 years deep in the bowels of the anti-gay, ex-gay movement, where they gave me weapons to my gayness and gender differences. A whole lot of bullying in Jesus’ name.

Then I came to my senses and came out gay. Ta-Daaa!

One immediate observation I noted in both the anti-gay religious world and the rainbow-clad gay community was that they both routinely invalidated bisexuals. The ex-gays didn’t believe there were bisexuals. In their eyes you were just a gay sinner gone astray needing to be lured back to the sacred safety of the heterosexual tribe lest you get crushed like a bug in this life and the next. And the gays? Well, they didn’t believe there were bisexuals either, just gays afraid to come out all the way. And they are both wrong.

Robyn Ochs

Robyn Ochs

The amazing bisexual activist, Robyn Ochs, writes:

DEFINITION OF BISEXUALITY: I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.



Sweet Lovely Bisexual Action. A visit with Robyn Ochs

This week my husband, Glen Retief, and I have the delicious pleasure of hosting Robyn Ochs, the bisexual activist and the very best group facilitator I have ever seen in my life (and I am not exaggerating.) Robyn will speak at nearby Bloomsburg University then head over to Sunbury, PA to spend the night with us.

Robyn has been out there as a bi activist since 1985, a pioneer when bi folks identifying as lesbians and gays usually felt inhibited to come out as bisexual. She has been a brilliant organizer of community, bringing bisexual folks together in groups and conferences and bringing others in to learn and grow. Robyn has written a lot about bi issues through the years and about breaking out of all kinds of binaries. She is also a tireless speaker, so energetic and skilled. While giving a presentation, no matter if it is just 12 people or 200, she amazingly gets everyone involved. And lightbulbs go off left and right (and beyond the binary.)

Check out this video of Robyn talking about her work as a bi activist. You will get a glimpse of the warmth, wisdom, and passion she brings into every room she enters.

“In recent years I’ve come to realize that being a bi activist is not even just about being bisexual. It is about creating space for fluidity; It’s about creating space for complexity. It’s about creating space. It is about challenging binaries, and the more I realize the connections between different issues, the more I get excited about doing this work.

-Robyn Ochs

And check out this episode of Queer and Queerer when Zack Ford and I Interviewed Robyn.

Recognizing Bi People of Faith: Beyond Myth, Ignorance, and Individualism

I am happy to host this guest post by Keisha E. McKenzie, one of my team members, who serves as researcher and analyst. Keisha challenges my own assumptions and is a valued thought partner as we look at LGBTQ issues, environmental justice, race, faith, and much more.



Recognizing Bi People of Faith: Beyond Myth, Ignorance, and Individualism

Review by Keisha E. McKenzie

This week, the Religious Institute has launched a new guide, Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible in Faith Communities. Aiming at religious leaders in Christian, Hebrew, and Muslim spaces, but focused more on Christian texts and Reform Jewish statements, coauthors Marie Alford-Harkey and Rev. Debra W. Haffner developed the text from multifaith discussions of bisexuality, and are publishing it now to “help congregations understand bisexuality and to encourage faith communities to ‘make the invisible visible.'”

The Religious Institute is a US-based interfaith organization that promotes “sexually healthy” congregations, religious professionals, and conversations by conducting workshops, publishing guides, and presenting on faith and sexuality around the country. Alford-Harkey and Haffner have each spent decades working with Episcopalians, Unitarians, and other people of faith to make religious groups more welcoming for sexual and gender minorities. (It was not clear to me from the text how the authors themselves identify.) I learned about their work through Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International and the National Religious Leadership Roundtable, which is a program of the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce. [1]

What to Expect

The guide has three sections: Bisexuality Basics, the facts about human sexuality that religious people need; Sacred Texts and Religious Traditions, interpretations of Christian and Hebrew texts and short first-person reflections from (presumably) bi-identified religious leaders; and Creating a Bisexually Healthy Congregation, highly practical action steps readers can take locally in congregation, as clergy, during services, and in the wider world. Each section includes call-out quotes and short cases from bi people of faith on their experiences coming out as bisexual, navigating their religious community’s misconceptions, or providing support to other members.

For progressive Christian and Jewish congregations and fellowships in the United States, Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible in Faith Communities will be a good start. It encourages religious leaders to reflect on the state of knowledge about bisexuality, what they don’t already know, and how to improve their counseling and build respectful awareness. It challenges faith-full people to vocally support bisexual, fluid, and other non-monosexual people in their congregations based on their traditions’ values, scriptures, and policy structure. And it suggests highly practical ways that faith groups can signal welcome and integrate all people into the worship and social life of their religious community.

These are solid contributions and there’s no better time to share them with local religious leaders and lay change-makers.

Where we need to go from here

Zoom out from the individual: The version of the guide published today emphasizes individual freedom, expression, and rights in progressive religion and in a society that offers more and more legal affirmation for individuals seeking access to one form of marriage and other middle-class markers of progress including individual labor and college education. But what of bi people of color who aren’t members of progressive religions or citizens of progressive nations, and who are consistently left off the mainstream LGBT float? Recent surveys suggest that in America, people of color are more likely to identify as LGBT, more likely to be poor and experience employment discrimination, and less likely to be married than Non-Hispanic White Americans. But mainstream LGBT activism consistently Others us. Could a follow-up to this guide help the bi religious community to challenge this pattern?

The Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing that opens the book is promising. The Declaration, developed by Rev. Haffner and endorsed by nearly 4,000 religious leaders in less than two years, appeals to “the goodness of creation, including our bodies and our sexuality” and asserts that abusing or exploiting that good creation is “sin.” It then zooms out from the isolated, individual body and names critical issues we must collectively resolve in order to achieve “sexual and spiritual wholeness in society.” These issues include HIV/AIDS, violence against women and LGBT people, and “unsustainable population growth and over-consumption.” These are all international well-being and sustainability issues that affect all humans regardless of orientation and require the active engagement of all people.

Based on that declaration, I expected the guidebook to keep its broader context in mind. I expected to read the writers’ or contributors’ thoughts on how faith communities and the wider human world benefited from nurturing free bisexual participation: how honoring bi wholeness gives religious groups an enhanced ability to address transpersonal issues critical to the entire human race, not just the LGBT community and not just local congregations of faith.

But the closing Social Action and Call to Action sections only briefly reference employment non-discrimination, marriage equality, reproductive healthcare, youth issues, immigration, and adoption as those policies that “affect bisexual people” and merit congregational attention. The authors ask readers “What other issues could include bisexual advocacy?” but do not revisit “unsustainable population growth and over-consumption” or discuss environmental issues like food justice and industrial pollution that intersect with the poverty that LGBT people of color experience. They quote Rev. Dr. Patrick Cheng on “interacting oppressions” and use the metaphor of identity “intersections” across the text, yet never once reference Prof. Kimberlé Crenshaw, the social theorist who introduced intersectionality to social justice studies in 1989, or others like Dr. Cathy J. Cohen who have expanded and refined the theory since then.

Ground change in core values, not in textual self-defense: The authors thrilled me when they listed creative diversity, abundance, individual conscience, human dignity, and the facts of sexual orientation as foundational to a healthy spiritual conversation about bisexuality and community. I don’t believe that the analysis of verses can inspire more leadership than reflecting on and acting from our most elevated religious values can: we need to pour far more energy into the development, discussion, and expression of our values than in counter-volleying anti-bi, anti-LGBT, and anti-sexual theology.

Immediately afterward their list, however, the authors devoted a significant section to recapitulating and responding to anti-LGBTI interpretations of Hebrew passages and Christian verses. In the middle of that section, I read this caution from Jewish chaplain Allison Kestenbaum:

“I feel ambivalent about wrestling with bisexuality largely through text. While the textual tradition offers infinite inspiration, exegesis detached from diverse lived experience can objectify bisexual people.”

This is a powerful thought! So it was unclear to me why the Theological Connections section defaulted to textual self-defense. Why didn’t this section expand on the values and principles that Alford-Harkey and Haffner named a page before, or reframe it all with Love and Justice? Why did the authors reify written words over us, the living words of creation, and the scriptures we write through the lives we live: the guide literally relegates all but five first-person reflections to short call-out boxes, while offering pages to “exegesis detached from diverse lived experience.” The authors also discussed intimacy and emotional connection using the “primary/secondary attachment” language of polyamory, but never affirmed poly life as a relational structure that is just as faithful in potential as monogamy—and even scriptural! Despite my own love of the scriptures, I was surprised to find this section one of the most alienating sections in the book.

Pass the mic to muted voices: The book also seems to mute the range of perspectives given voice amplified through the text. Both authors write from within White Protestant Christianity, and so much of the text responds to a text-centered Christianity. Other mentioned faiths, Islam, “the Black Church,” Judaism, the Presbyterian Church, and Roman Catholicism are represented by one essay each. Christian scriptures and statements are presented in detail, with fewer space given to Jewish texts, and no text space to Muslims except for one imam’s perspective.

Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible in Faith Communities has broken ground for those of us working in faith and sexuality spaces, expecting to live and serve as whole people, and building a world of resource and relationship that’s far more sustainable than the one we inherited. I will share it with my communities and encourage others to do the same. But we need many more perspectives to see our new world, and a much wider, deeper vision of the work to be done.

Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible in Faith Communities by Marie Alford-Harkey and Rev. Debra W. Haffner is available from the Religious Institute website and from $15

[1] SDA Kinship, an organization I work with, is listed in the guide as a welcoming group associated with a religious denomination.

Radom Thoughts Come Together

I warn you that none of this may make sense. (But I do have a butt/bum joke embedded in my little sermon below)

I’ve been reading the words of Jesus a lot lately (at least those recorded in five different Gospels–Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Thomas) in the shocking and lovely book Good As New: A Radical Retelling of the Scriptures. My reading mixed with conversations with folks in Malta on Guernsey and England has gotten me to think in a new direction (well new for me).

For weeks I have reflected and spoke about the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. (Auntie Doris heard this one over and over and over again) Here is one version of the story in Mark 8:1-10 (form Good as New version.)

It was during this visit abroad that Jesus again found himself with a large crowd of hungry people. Jesus called his friends together and said, “I’m concerned about all these people who’ve been with me for three days and haven’t eaten. If I send them away hungry some may collapse before they get home, because they’ve come a long way.” The friends asked, “How can we get enough bread to feed everyone, out here in the country?”

Jesus asked how many loaves there were and they told him “Seven.” Jesus told the crowd to sit down and took the seven loaves. He said “thank you” to God, broke the loaves and gave them to his friends to pass among the crowds. They also had a few small fish. Jesus thanked God for these and handed them on to be passed around. The crowd has as much to eat as they wanted and seven baskets of leftovers were collected. About four thousand people were fed before being sent home.

It’s a well-worn story that many people know. I have always seen it as one of those, “Jesus pulls a rabbit out of a hat” kind of tricks/miracles. Cool! Jesus can make bread miraculously appear! Now that can come in handy.

But I see another more challenging way that I can look at this story.

The disciples and the crowd are out in the countryside for three days. This is before the days of Subway Sandwich shops and Red Lobster restaurants or well-catered retreats. This is a people used to carrying food around when they travel. Jesus rightly discerns that some folks don’t have any food left and will need nourishment to get home. Wow, how thoughtful, how sweet, how unbelievably practical. I love this Jesus.

So he turns to his team, “What you got?” I love how even in the English you can hear the sarcasm and exasperation in the disciples’ response. But Jesus had a plan, a radical one that did not require any magic tricks, one that I believe serves as an even more impressive miracle.

Jesus sat everyone down. Then taking the scant offerings the disciples rustled up, he begins to serve the people. Now I don’t for a minute believe the disciples gave up all they had to Jesus. If they were like most of us, they probably squirreled away a secret stash for themselves for later in the day. In fact, in the John 6 version of the same or similar story, the disciples offer nothing of their own but instead take five loaves and two fish from a little boy (giving an entirely different meaning to “out of the mouth of babes.”)

Jesus provocatively begins to distribute the little he has to give. I imagine Jesus doing this very slowly, dramatically, taking his time with it. The disciples see the basket rapidly emptying. They dig into their hoards and pass some more food forward. The news spreads quickly and quietly through the crowd, first to those closest to the disciples then radiating out. A supply line forms as each one who has food passes it along through many hands to the disciples then to Jesus and then back to the people.

In the end EVERYONE eats, including those who had no longer had food as well as those who carried more than enough. The crowd had such vast resources of food among them that stacks of leftovers remain.

A “magic trick” Jesus is cool and convenient to have on hand. One that calls on me to contribute from my own stockpile so that another’s needs can be met, challenges me and the society in which I live.

One of the classic clobber texts that has been used to silence and shut out gays, lesbians and bisexuals from the church has been 1 Corthinians 6:9,10. (I imagine some use it to keep out transgender folks too).

Many scholars dispute the accuracy of using the word “homosexual” in the text. Other renderings include effeminate and soft (as in living a life of luxury and ease). I am sure you can find much about this dispute on-line. What I do find noteworthy about the list of those who will not “inherit the Kingdom of God” is that it includes people partaking in everyday activities that I rarely hear mentioned from the pulpits in North America.

Neither will any thief or greedy person or drunkard or anyone who curses and cheats others.

Many have used I Corinthians 6:9,10 to stake claims on who can and cannot go to Heaven. Ah, but does this passage actually speak about our eternal reward in some galaxy far far way? The writer of Romans, in a long discussion about the discomfort among some believers with the culinary choices and practices of others, defines the Kingdom of God this way,

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit…

Looking at the current credit crisis, I think many will agree that much of the trouble we get ourselves into in regards to debt has to do with living beyond our means–greed. Of course there are other reasons for getting in arrears, (tee hee) but if I am honest, I have to admit that buying those shoes on sale at Macy only felt like an emergency at the time.

Here is the formula that I see. When I am greedy, this can lead to stinginess and to debt. I then experience a lack of peace, joy and righteousness in my life. Makes sense. I mean instead of peace, I worry about how I will pay the bills. I feel depressed over the situation. I may also find myself tempted to be less than virtuous when someone at the checkout counter makes a mistake in my favor. (I may even ascribe the mistake to God’s justifying that it’s God’s way of looking out for me. The Lord is my accomplice; I shall not want!).

For years I thought God was mostly concerned with my sexuality. I spent nearly two decades and tons of time, prayer and money obsessing over the bits between my legs and what I should and should not do with them. Reading the words of Jesus, checking out how he operated, I begin to see that I lived distracted from reality.

I leave you with a video posted on my friend Mario’s blog. Wow, seems Disney and Barrack Obama, encourage us to consider the “least of these…”

God Help the Outcasts

hat tip to Mario at Gay, Christian & Campaigning

Blogging from Lambeth

Thanks to the expert driving skill of Auntie Doris I arrived safely at Lambeth Conference in Canterbury. Fortunately (or not) I have wi-fi in my dorm room on campus here at the University of Kent so I can blog some.

On the way to Canterbury we listened to LBC Radio (a talk radio station for the greater London area) and the show hosted Jeni Barnett. She offer topic after topic in a frenetic random order, but the one issue that caught my ear had to do with English people trying to change their accents to sound more like the Queen. She asked for callers who had also tried to change their accents.

I turned to Auntie, “Should I?” and with little more than a nod from her, I called. (Joe Gee, that fabulous podcaster, will be simultaneously proud of me and appalled by me). I explained that in the US I get much better customer service when I speak with a posh British accent. This accent is a perceived by many in the US to carry class and sophistication (and it may possibly be a bow to our former colonial masters :-p ). In fact, when I was quite young, I tried to emulate some of the British accents from films in order to alter what I considered my “gay accent.” I thought I might get people off the gay scent.

I then talked about the Ex-Gay Movement and how much of it has to do with gender including getting one’s voice to adhere to gender norms. Some ex-gay leaders taught me that proper men speak with a downward inflection and use less words than women. They also instructed me to drop to my lower register when I spoke. I wrapped up the brief radio segment by letting Jeni know that I was off to Lambeth (pointing towards Canterbury as I spoke on the phone in the car) to do a talk/performance/cabaret act about my time as an ex-gay and the process to integrate my sexuality and spirituality.

Joe Gee will no doubt call me a media whore. I often remind him that I am simply a press magnet. Auntie Doris wants to have a goal that every time I travel with her by car in England, I need to find a reason to call into one of these programs.

After this encounter with Jeni, Auntie and I arrived at Lambeth. I had been invited by the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM). Richard Kirker of LGCM met me, sorted out my room at Darwin Hall and then pointed me towards the exhibitors hall.

Auntie Doris and I walked into the hall then froze with our mouths wide open. No, it was not a display of fine dark chocolates from around the world. What greeted us proved to be much richer and appealing. The most gorgeous, colorful, artful robes and stoles captured our attention. They hung draped on racks and hangers calling to us to wrap ourselves up in ecclesiastical prêt-à-porter. As a Quaker, I suddenly felt envy for these Anglicans and their brilliant plumage. As a gay man with a penchant for auspicious and flamboyant clothing, I felt right at home.

We walked around the stalls, and just like Auntie Doris’ uncle (an Anglican vicar) told us, several exhibitors expressed a strong pro-LGBT message. In fact, I counted at least four stalls set up with colorful posters and lots of literature all about the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The Zacchaeus Fellowship, a Canadian Anglican ex-gay type group, had a small stall set up with some literature, but they had no staff present when we passed by. They provided booklets with stories of four ex-gays and a hand-out with suggested books and links for “those struggling with homosexuality.” These included books by Andrew Comiskey, Joe Dallas, Leanne Payne, Mario Bergner and Joseph Nicolosi (A Parent’s Guide to Presenting Homosexuality). In their list of “Websites of Interest” they mention several groups including PFOX and NARTH, and Ex0dus Global Alliance. At the bottom of their list of resources they provide this disclaimer:

Please note: The above information is provided as a courtesy. The reader must determine the suitability of the contents found under these links for his or her purposes, interests and beliefs.

Speaking with two women at the Integrity/Changing Attitude stall we agreed that ex-gay promoters and providers would also offer warnings similar to those found on cigarette boxes here in the UK.

WARNING: Immersion in ex-gay theories and practices may harm you and those around you.

In offering ex-gay treatment (in whatever form they suggest) as an option, I do not often hear the fact that most people come to the conclusion that they do not need alter their orientation or submerge it or cut it out of themselves. In fact, in trying to do so many of us have actually experienced harm. Sure a handful of people say that such a change is possible and that they are happy no longer identifying as gay or lesbian, but from my experience of 25 years in and around around the ex-gay world, these folks represent a tiny majority of the many people who attempted it before them.

The good news is that I heard mostly positive messages today about LGBT people, especially in with the screening of a new film, Voice of Witness: Africa. Filmmakers Cynthia Black and Katie Sherrod traveled from the US to Africa to film LGBT people in Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria. They state:

It is an awesome responsibility, for just by talking to us these folks are risking more than any of us privileged people can begin to understand.

Among those we talked to is
* a transgendered [F to M] Nigerian
* a partnered lesbian activist in Uganda
* a transgendered [M to F] Ugandan
* one of a pair of gay 20-something twins in Kenya
* a gay Ugandan farmer whose dream is to own two acres of land to grow his sugarcane
* gay partners in Kenya who dream of having their union blessed
* a gay Nigerian who was beaten badly simply for being gay

I felt especially moved by the stories of the trans people in this 20 minute film. Apparently traans people face even more risks and dangers than lesbian, gay and bisexual people. All the stories moved me especially when they spoke of their faith. Then seeing the retired Ugandan bishop, Christopher Ssenyonjo, speak passionately about LGBT issues and even starting a Bible study for gay men floored me.

Afterwards I got to meet many LGBT and affirming people in the Anglican/Episcopal Church including:

At dinner I ran into William Crawley, who I first met in Belfast in May. He will do his BBC Radio Ulster Sunday Sequence from Lambeth this week. Do check it out. (No Joe Gee, I will not be on it).

I also got to meet Christina Rees, chair of Women and the Church (WATCH) I’ll put a link but their site was down tonight. We had a great chat about gender and sexism in the Church and about how so much of the gay issue comes down to gender and an anti-fem attitude. (which goes back to the point above about how I changed my voice to sound more “masculine” as part of my de-gayification process). After Christina mentioned to me that about 70% of the Anglican Church attenders/members are women, I suggested she change her organization’s name to Women and Their Church.

So I guess this is the part of the blog entry when I share my first impressions and my current feelings. I feel happy to be here, honored in many ways. It also feels less of a big deal than I had imagined. I mean reading the press reports for the past few months, seeing the photos and such, I came with this big notion of LAMBETH. Having arrived, now I see people. Sure some dress in exquisite tailored frocks, but under their finery, I see people. People can connect. They can listen to each other. They can affect each other emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. The concept of LAMBETH intimated me. But people? I like people.

(Wed and Thur at 8:00 PM I will present here at Lambeth–The 70% Show, a talk/performance/whatever about my own spiritual journey as a Christian who happens to be gay and my nearly 20 years as an ex-gay. For more info see: LGCM site)

Lost2Found Art Exhibit Announced

Back in January I mentioned the Lost2Found website and art project. Started by a high school student near LA, it is a place where LGBT folks can share their experiences through art (both visual and written).

The big art exhibit will be Friday June 27 (a week away). If you can make it, please do so. It should be amazing. (and they may still be receiving art submissions!)

Homophobia—It’s Not Only About the Queers

I have the privilege of speaking in middle schools and high schools in various places in the US, the UK and Europe. When I meet with a group of high school students (ages 14+), I typically perform my play Queer 101—Now I Know My gAy,B,Cs. This one-person, multi-character comedy explores homophobia, identity and activism through the words and lives of lesbian and gay poets. In it I do the scene between my character Chad and the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. (See video here.) We also explore tems like gay, fag, queer, sissy, dyke, etc.

With younger students I do not present the whole play as some of it may be over their heads (more so because the complex historical background to some of the poems and less so about the sexual content). With middle school students (under age 14) we look at identity starting out with considering things about ourselves that we don’t like that we might like to change (hair color, height, abilities, etc). Next I do my Identity Monologue with the students snapping along as I change from character to character.

Regardless of the age the topic of bullying comes up including the use of the word “gay” as an insult.

Your shoes are so gay. This homework assignment is gay. Dr. Who is gay. (not the character but the show)

In nearly every instance the students do not mean that the thing they are bashing has a gay orientation. Rather “gay” is a way of saying stupid, bad, lame or uncool. (Interestingly enough I have never experienced the term “queer” as an insult. I know that for some the word has been used to bash them, but in my community growing up it was never used. For me the word “gay” brings up negative feelings in a way that queer never has).

I usually share a little of my story with these students about how unhappy I felt when I discovered that I was gay. I didn’t want to be perceived as stupid, bad, lame or uncool. The messages I received on the playground, from political leaders in the media, and from ministers and priest in the pulpit reinforced the shared misconception that anything or anyone “gay” had to be flawed, less-than, and even dangerous. I talk about how I tried desperately to change and the unexpected ways I did change—how I became depressed, discouraged and suicidal. (not at all an uncommon experience for queer and questioning teens).

We then go on to discuss how to make the school a safe place for people who may seem different from the mainstream, not just the gay, lesbian and bisexual or questioning students, but also anyone who falls outside of firmly policed gender roles and presentations.

Many straight people experience restrictions because of all this “that’s so gay” talk. The straight male footballer who wants to be in the school musical needs to fight through a lot of homophobia and gender-norm bullying in order to get on the stage. The cheerleader who wants to try her hand at rugby, has to fend off charges that she must be lesbian. Straight boys and girls need to carefully hold gay, lesbian and bisexual friends out at a distance lest they be assumed gay or lesbian (often in the form of a sharp accusation). The two straight girls who maintain a close friendship, who pal around a lot, have sleepovers and share non-erotic physical intimacy, may feel the need to pull away from each other to lessen the gossip about them being lesbian lovers.

Recently at a presentation to middle school age students (11-13) I shared about my own experience of nearly doing harm to myself because of the conflict I felt after years of bullying. One young boy began to cry. One of his friends alerted a teacher who took the boy out of the room for a chat. Turns out that two years previously the boy had a friend, who after much bullying about being gay, ended his life. As the boy told this story to his teacher, he admitted that he had never talked to anyone about this before and just kept it all inside. What a burden for a pre-teen to bear.

In so many places where bullying of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and people who do not adhere to gender norms occur, non-queer folks also suffer from of all these negative attitudes. Many straight teens have loved-ones who are gay or lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex–sometimes even a parent or grandparent. Thoughtful discussion about orientation and gender can benefit all students. Getting beyond mere labels to the humans behind the labels and the slurs ultimately does a great service in helping students and school staff to create and maintain a safe and affirming world.

Half In / Half Out

Over the weekend I got to thinking about some people I know who are partially out as LGBT. They have a few on-line friends who know they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and maybe one or two non-net friends who know. Many of the most significant people in their lives do not know. Perhaps that is the best way for them right now, but I have found that living too long like that can drain us of life.

As I prayed about that I wrote the following poem.

We speak riddles to ourselves,
in whispers,
“I am OK”

But strapped to our backs
We bear a wardrobe,
the opposite of that portal to Narnia,
a closet that dumps us into a smaller world,
a cramped, musty place of shadows.

“I don’t want to upset my mother.”
“My brother will never understand.”
“No need to flaunt it.”
“It’s only a tiny
part of me.”

A part muffled in a velvet-lined padded valise,
Jammed in the back of a wardrobe,
besides dusty boxes of dreams and desires,
A place where we speak riddles to ourselves.

Oh, the Places You Will Find Us!

Before I forget, check out Horton Hears a Who. Amazing with a wonderful queer subplot if I ever saw one.

I remember when I first came out as gay. Filled with residual shame and still believing all the myths about LGBT people, I hated the idea of being part of the gay world which I assumed had at the center of its universe a bar (a smoky bar at that filled with catty drag queens and drug addicts.)

I have been fortunate though and have experienced all sorts of LGBT people throughout the US, Canada, Europe, West Africa and the Caribbean and have discovered that I need never enter a bar to meet up with brilliant, interesting and thoughtful LGBT people. But I can also meet amazing people at bars too. Also, some drag queens radiate the love of God and a stellar intellect and killer wit.

I can meet LGBT folks at book clubs and film festivals, in cafes and at poetry jams, gay bingo, and at community centers, in churches, choirs, theater productions, anti-war rallies, food pantries, orchid societies, gay soccer teams, softball and bowling leagues, conferences, colleges, hiking clubs, camps, resorts, cruises, and LGBT bookstores.

I find LGBT folks on the boards of LGBT (and other) organizations, at music concerts, and gay-owned restaurants. I meet LGBT folks on-line through wonderful social networking sites like the Gay Christian Network, and of course through blogging. I meet them at book signings and Pride Flag making events, art shows and Gospel concerts, political rallies, and fund raisers for LGBT youth groups.

I meet them in homes for game night or to watch the Super Bowl or NCAA Championships or to just hang out with them and their kids. We go to the beach, out on the lake for the day, for a cup of coffee or a prayer meeting or a music jam. We camp together at arts festivals. We worship at national or regional gatherings. We read together, share music and listen to many different LGBT comedians and storytellers. We work on causes, in gardens, on school projects and art projects or in cooking a meal.

In my LGBT world, I meet hundreds of well-adjusted, content folks living their lives, pursuing their dreams, contributing to their communities. Traveling has helped me to see beyond the myths and find our people in all sorts of wonderful nooks and crannies. None of us need to remain trapped in the shame and the myths.

Of course this is only a partial list. Please feel free to add to the lists in the comment section.