Category: lesbian

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.

Gay Marriage in California!

I am sure most of you have heard the good news about the California Supreme Court ruling in favor of in favor of the marriage lawsuit jointly brought by Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), and his spouse, Phillip Ray De Blieck, along with MCC friend and LGBT activist Robin Tyler, and her partner, Diane Olson. (Read story here)

This is from the letter issued by Nancy Wilson, the current moderator of the MCC,

Equality for all people, including marriage equality, has been an integral part of Troy’s passion and ministry for almost 40 years. It’s worth remembering that in 1969, as the Stonewall Rebellion took place in New York City, Troy was already organizing the LGBT community in Southern California, had already established Metropolitan Community Churches — and had performed what Time Magazine has credited as the first public same-sex wedding in the United States. All before Stonewall — amazing!

And in January of 1970, Troy made history again when he filed the first-ever lawsuit in the United States seeking legal recognition of same-gender marriages. The court dismissed the case before it ever came to trial, but it accomplished something profound: It birthed the marriage equality movement, and with it, four decades of debate, activism, struggle, prayer and persistence.

May a new generation of activists rise up and continue Troy’s example of changing our world and working for an end to discrimination and injustice — until our brothers and sisters in Jamaica no longer are attacked and killed solely for their sexual orientation and gender variance, until LGBT people in Pakistan no longer face the threat of death if found to be lesbian or gay, until LGBT people in Moldova can freely march in the streets without being targets of mob violence, until LGBT people no longer are smeared and ridiculed by the tabloid press in Nigeria, until our brothers and sisters no longer experience rejection from churches and communities of faith, until teens and young adults no longer take their own lives because they believe God hates them.

And in celebration, I put on the new apron (or as Rufus calls it a “Put it On!”) created by Auntie Doris for her mum.
(hat tip to John Holm for giving me the good news)

Former Ex-Gay Leader Interviwed on GCN Radio

Gay Christian Network Radio offers program entitled: Formerly Ex-Gay

Ann Phillips was a leader in the ex-gay movement, heading up the women’s ministry at one of the most prominent ex-gay Christian ministries in the world. Her story of “becoming straight” has been used by many to “prove” that ex-gay therapy works, yet now she’s out of the movement and admits that she’s still gay (and Christian!) after all.

In the interview, she talks about her ex-gay experience and in particular how quickly became the head of Love in Action’s women’s ministry. She also shares about being a subject in the Spitzer Study and the blurred line between truth and fiction when it comes to ex-gay testimony.

Listen here.

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,
proclaiming,
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.

Refried Freud

Over at Beyond Ex-Gay, Christine Bakke wrote an excellent article (accompanied with original artwork) about how ex-gay programs take Freudian theories then mix them up with often bizarre and even dangerous practices.

I knew one women whose therapist gave her assignments to flirt with men. An ex-gay guy who went on several dates to try to learn how to be with a woman (without disclosing that he identified as ex-gay), on the recommendation of his therapist. A woman who was counseled by the leader of the ex-gay group that women should wear makeup (“need to put some paint on the side of the barn”). A man who changed his last name because his ex-gay therapy led him to believe that his parents were to blame for him being gay. A woman who insinuated that she had been abused because she felt like her story didn’t “fit” the ex-gay model without some kind of a root cause. A young man who said that after he got out of the ex-gay movement and was finished with reparative therapy, that’s when the real repairing began. He had to repair the relationships with his family after buying into the belief that they were distant from him and made him gay.

Writing about her own experiences, Christine shares,

I spent hours having deliverance work done, and I still can’t talk a whole lot about it to this day, some of it was so confusing, upsetting and at times, traumatic. I was counseled by at least four different pastors and wives over the years. I was also prayed for and discipled by numerous people in various churches, to whom I confessed so much and let them into so many areas of my life (which also unfortunately meant that they could do greater harm to me emotionally and mentally). I attended conferences and had so much healing prayer that if anyone should have been healed, one would think I would have at least been a good candidate.

Read all of Refried Freud.

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.

When Your Partner is an Ex-Gay Survivor

Over at Beyond Ex-Gay co-founder Christine Bakke and I receive many e-mails from ex-gay survivors sharing their stories, thanking us for the site and offering their suggestions for new features to add. We also routinely receive messages from people who never attended an ex-gay program or tried to change and suppress their sexual orientation or gender presentation, but they have become painfully aware of the harm of ex-gay experiences because their partner attempted a change process.

Last week I heard from Jayne, a lesbian in the Mid-West who wrote to us looking for answers regarding her relationship with Rachel, a woman who attended an ex-gay program previous to dating Jayne. As I mention in my article, Emotionally Dependent Relationships, many of these ex-gay programs trained us to distrust close emotional ties with people of the same-sex thus insulating us from intimacy and hindering healthy relating even years after the ex-gay experiences. The process of living in the closet in a hostile world didn’t help either.

Jayne graciously took up my invitation to write about her relationship with Rachel in hopes that others in similar situations will find comfort and support in their shared experiences. I also hope that a dialog will begin among partners of ex-gay survivors just as it has begun among the straight spouses of former ex-gays.

Jayne writes,

Loving Rachel is not hard to do at all. She is the most beautiful and generous person I have ever known, and I believe that our paths have brought us to this moment in time for a reason. In my opinion, that reason is to help her face the anguish and pain from her ex-gay experience and move forward as a healthy lesbian woman who can still have a close and loving relationship with God as well as nurture our connection to one another as two women.

snip

Her ex-gay experience has caused some difficult struggles for me and added some incredibly tough stress on our relationship. Some days are better than others, but the main struggle I have is how to be a supportive partner for her as I listen to her experiences, of which I have an immediate physical reaction to, but don’t voice that reaction because I don’t want her to feel judged or misunderstood. She has been through a very tough ordeal with the program she attended and continues to struggle with “right” or “wrong.” How do I give her the space she needs as well as prove to her that I’m committed to her and am not going to abandon her?

You can read all of Jayne’s article here.

Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are

On the road I meet loads of people who live partially out of the closet. They do have some queer friends, especially on-line. They may have someone in their lives “who knows” but they tell virtually no one on their job, in their family, or in their place of worship that they may be lesbian or gay or bisexual. (I don’t mention transgender people because I can understand many of the healthy reasons to be silent about the trans experience).

And I can see why many LGB folks silence themselves about their orientation. I get the e-mails and talk to folks who perceive that to come out would be mean loss–colossal loss of relationships, jobs, housing, financial support for college, and even expulsion from precious faith communities. In most states in the USA, one is not protected on the job in regards to sexual orientation (and it is worse for trans folks).

Then there is the physical danger. Even in parts of liberal NYC, to walk hand-in-hand with someone of the same sex provokes violence–verbal and physical.

So yes, we experience real impediments to coming out, some external, but for most of us the biggest obstacles remain internal. Through years of living under the weight of homophobia and in a society that insists that heterosexuality is the ideal norm, we build up storehouses of shame and fear and self-loathing. We may even express disgust at what we view as “the gay lifestyle” mirroring what our oppressors say about us.

The Coming Out process takes time. It takes courage. It takes building a network of safe people. It means that our lives may turn upside down, or even more surprising, that things won’t really change that much at all.

When we walk around with shame about who we are, we send out the message that it is okay to treat us shamefully. When we embrace the depth and beauty and uniqueness of who we are, even if people do not like us, they will treat us with respect.

People often remark to me that when I speak in public about my life, one of the things that sticks out for them is how comfortable I appear in my skin. They say it disarms people the way that I express my contentment with who I am as a gay man, as a Christian, as a Quaker, as a vegan, as ME. I don’t see it myself with all of the various insecurities I carry, but I do know that the coming out process for me has contained much more than simply announcing “I’m here, I’m queer, get over it!”

The process has become more than just coming out gay. Rather it has meant coming out as ME. In a world that claims to celebrate individuality and uniqueness, we experience tremendous pressures to conform, be it in the conservative church, the gay party boy culture, the Quaker meeting house, the lesbian drum circle or a thousand other groups that draw us.

The act of self-discovery, leading to a fearless willingness to truly be ourselves, creates conflicts and challenges for those around us. But with the potential difficulties, it also brings much needed wholeness and health.

I became a born-again Evangelical, fundamentalist, conservative, Republican Christian at the age of 17 (even though I presented as a flaming homosexual without even trying). That is when I went to war with parts of myself. At the same time I began to suffer lower back problems with my back going out almost every six months, sometimes for as long as a week at a time. The problem continued and grew worse. It happened the week before I got married. I ultimately developed a herniated disc that hurt so much, I could only lie down or sit for 20 minutes at time before having to stand or walk to relieve the pain. I never got surgery for it and just endured the pain for six months until it began to heal.

Once I came out and worked through years of gunk I piled on myself, my back stopped going out. My body sent me a message all those years. Something is out of whack. My body mirrored the imbalance inside me. Today even with all the plane travel and the many different hotel beds, my back stays solid and has not gone out in over seven years.

Today is National Coming Out Day. At his blog Journeyman notes how dark the closet can be. Even if you can’t imagine fully coming out and you feel you must keep a foot in the closet (or more) turn on some light and invite someone into your life. As the 1980’s AIDS activists taught us Silence=Death. And we experience death in the closet in thousands of ways. Similarly waiting for us outside we will discover thousands of ways to live.

Lesbian Attacked in Jackson, TN

Jim Burroway over at BTB mentioned an attack on a lesbian in Tennessee.

A Jackson, Tennessee-area woman was left partially blind and possibly brain damaged from an attack at a club. The fight broke out when a patron thought she looked like a man and assumed she was gay when she started dancing with a male friend. When he told her to leave using a gay slur, she replied that she was a woman, but yes, she’s a lesbian. Her assailant then punched Amanda in the face and jabbed her in the left eye about four times with the bottom of a beer bottle before smashing the bottle over the back of her head.

So her attacker first went after her because he thought she was a gay man, and then when she identified as lesbian, he still went after her. I wonder what part of the attack had to do with her not being gender-normative. She looked like a man to the assailant. Since she didn’t fit the mold, it seems like he punished her.

I hope she has a speedy recovery and that this attack doesn’t affect her life too deeply. I hate that people can’t be safe simply because of how they look and how they are perceived and who they are.

Rainbow Mass in Sweden

I love Sweden, especially because of some very dear friends I have there. Courageous people who explore their lives, sexuality and faith in so many creative ways from Karaoke to Monster drawings.

Lots of folks think that Sweden is a gay paradise where EVERYONE is absolutely accepting and affirming. They do have progressive laws for gays and lesbians (although my state of Connecticut provide better legal protection for transgender people than Sweden’s current laws), but tensions, challenges and difficulties still exist.

Noa Resare (the other husband in the team of Alex and Noa) recently helped organize the Rainbow Mass up in Umeå. He shares a story of the event and the growth of one Lutheran priest in the process:

One of my responsibilities today was to arrange a Rainbow mass in the lutheran church at the center of our town. Finding a priest willing and able to step in and celebrate with us when the one we had asked had to cancel for medical reasons was more difficult than I had imagined. Finally, after having contacted 22 people that all said they couldn’t help me for various reasons I finally found someone reluctantly willing to celebrate with us.

His name was Erik, and he was a swedish lutheran piest of the old kind. He was someone that you would suspect was still using the old translation of the Lord’s prayer (the one obsoleted by the new official swedish Bible translation that we got in 1981), a suspicion that turned out to be correct.

I was happy that he agreed to do it, but when we had our mass today many little things was not as we had discussed. He didn’t specifically welcome the LGBT community as we had agreed, he refused to call themass “Rainbow mass” (that is sort of a trade mark for LGBT friendly services in Sweden), and he held rather long sermon about forgiveness starting out with Mt 18:21-22 (when Jesus says that we should forgive each other seventy-seven times). It started out kind of good, but then his focus shifted a little bit too much onto the notions of sinfulness and cleanness.

However, when we started to celebrate communion together (I helped people with the wine, he distributed the bread) I felt that this mass was a big moment for him. He did something that he hadn’t done before, and probably hadn’t even dreamed of doing. My feeling was that as he was administering the communion, seeing people coming forward to share communion that he had never seen in church before, some with rainbow colored clothing, some women with men’s clothes, a girl with a pink wig, he was changed. He was seeing new things, a new kind of diversity among the people sharing communion.

I was deeply touched by this, as I sat down listening to the organ music ending our service. Seeing someone’s eyes open, old and perhaps judgemental ideas just falling to the floor when challenged by reality, that was simply amazing.

Thank you Noa for organizing the Rainbow Mass and for giving me permission to share this account. Big hug!