Category: parents

Facing the Unimaginable

At first I could not comprehend that my mom was actually dying. None of us did. She was never sick before, always the strong one taking care of all of us. Some realities are too big to grasp. Once we did understand what was happening though, my father, my sisters, and I found inner reserves of strength, courage, creativity, and caring we did not know we possessed. We became her primary caregivers. It was difficult and painful, but also a great honor to do all that we could to help her when she needed us most.

From that time I learned lessons that I remembered six years later when our father was sick and dying. I recognized sooner this time the crisis that we faced, the seriousness of the situation, the reality that this illness might end in death. And sadly it did. I miss both my parents terribly everyday, but I feel grateful that my sisters and I were able to understand the diagnosis, and that we did not pretend. We accepted the reality that a great change was happening in our lives. Pretending everything will be fine or that it will just go away or that surely technology will fix it for us would have kept us aloof, unavailable, unengaged when our parents needed us to be most alert and active.

For the past year since my father’s death, I have been researching climate change and the rapid deterioration of the atmosphere and the oceans resulting in recurring severe weather events, drought, floods, the extinction and the threat of extinction to some animals and plants, and already the disruption of human lives and even loss of lives. These days I am drawing once again from those inner reserves I discovered during the times my parents were so ill. I have been looking at the diagnosis regarding the planet, and the prognosis is currently grim, not yet hopeless, but dire all the same.

Climate Change to me is very much like living with a seriously ill parent. The reality of a sick planet is almost too great to take in. The earth seems too big to fail. It’s easier to assume all will be okay and to escape into Facebook or the latest YouTube craze or Tweet my way to distraction. But right now I’m beginning to understand that my attention is required. While it is a difficult reality to grasp, I accept that the climate has already changed and will continue to change. As we face these facts, we will find the strength and the will to act. We will have the great honor to help when we are needed most.


The Need for a Straight Pride March & Other Myths.

Over at Facebook I have many different types of friends (like 2200 friends) and of course they have friends who represent many perspectives. Today on a friend’s wall posting about wearing purple in support of LGBT youth two straight folks raised objectives revealing that they felt “bullied” into showing support of gay kids. In frustration one of them said, “We need to have a Heterosexual Pride Parade.” The other agreedMr. & Mrs. Salt & Pepper.

Now I know a lot of straight people. Some of my best friends are heterosexual. In fact, I come from a distinctly heterosexual family that I love. I know that some straight folks feel put upon by all of the recent news about gay. lesbian and transgender suicides and bullying. “Why do we have to hear about THEM all the time?” Hmmmm. Welcome to my world where I constantly have to go out of my way to hear about anything other than straight lives.

Lately I have been thinking of the subtle powerful force of heterosexism, like high blood pressure, I consider it the “silent killer” insistent and constant in its messaging that heterosexuality is NORMAL, the idealized norm, what everyone is expected to be, an identity that is celebrated, rewarded and represented to the exclusion of all others.

Like a low-grade fever or undetected high blood pressure, non-straight, non-gender normative people live with a steady barrage of pro-heterosexual messages mixed in with anti-LGBT messages. Even in US states where they offer “gay marriage” everyone knows it is not the same as a straight marriage because of the federal protections granted to heterosexual couples and denied to all others. But beyond the legal protections or lack of protections in the household, on the job and elsewhere, we get a deluge of pro-straight messages in pop songs, commercials, movies, religious ceremonies, proms–shoot even salt and pepper shakers! I know that there is a growing movement to include LGBT lives and voices in the media and on the agenda of the board of education, but it’s spotty at best and is often drowned out by the heterosexism that exists in almost every encounter silly and sublime.

Here’s an example of straight pride & privilege.

Marueen says, “My husband Bill & I got together w/ our two daughters & their husbands to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary and Cindy & Todd’s first baby. At church the pastor said a blessing over the family & we recommitted our vows.”

And everyone says, “Oh, that is so nice.” And it is and there are gifts and cards and photos and public sharing on Facebook and beyond revealing pride and affirmation and celebration of Bill & Maureen’s successful heterosexuality.

Of course most don’t think of Maureen & Bill expressing “Heterosexual Pride.”

It’s just “normal.”

Doin’ Time in Rochester

I landed in Rochester, NY after performing at College of Wooster near Cleveland, Ohio. I had a blast on the Wooster campus with a Quaker Friend, Emily who I met when she was a teen in the New England Yearly Meeting high school program (Young Friends).

After the performance in Wooster, one student shared with me a letter his mother wrote him when she suspected that he might be gay (Mom always knows first). The letter broke my heart. In it I read so much fear and concern and love and misinformation all jumbled up together. Apparently the mother spoke with someone from a church who pointed her towards Exodus saying that change is possible–help is at hand.

My own mother warned me not to judge parents too harshly, especially when they first find out their kid is queer. Parents grew up in a different time when the idea of a happy well-adjusted safe LGBT person did not exist (at least in the popular culture and in the mainstream). Parents need to get some new information, and sadly Exodus testimonies do not provide these. They simply reinforce stereotypes and speak to a particular unhealthy experience that does not come close to cover the range of people who are queer.

If the parent refuses to consult other sources (PFLAG is an excellent place to go), they may create a hostile atmosphere or a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy that ensures their child will grow more distant and private about their lives.

The adult child (and teen child) can do some things to help assuage a parent’s fears and concerns. Let your folks know that you live a responsible life. Have them meet your friends to see the sort of people who fill your life. Talk about your “lifestyle” including that yoga class you like so much, the hiking trip you took with friends, the concerns you have for the planet or the poor or for your split ends (We’re not all Joan of Arc.)

Speaking with family, especially parents, can be dicey. Lots of tension and false starts happen. Sometimes slowing it down with handwritten notes, (better than e-mail), can help, especially if we seek to be open, loving and trusting (even when we feel defensive, frightened and suspicious). We can appeal to the better part of our family’s nature. It won’t always go well. You may have to leave them to consider your words, but over time, as you live without shame about who you are and how you live, they may not like it, but they may very well grow to respect your honesty and comfort with yourself. The more comfortable we are about who we are, the more others will learn acceptance from us.

Not sure how I got on that riff, I was just really going to write about being back in the Eco House here in Rochester with a bunch of students who seriously want to change the world and do something positive about the environment, climate change and sustainability. (Speaking of which, has anyone seen the bizarre environmental TV ad starring the Reverends Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson? As they age, these two begins to look like a puppet of themselves. The two sit on a couch on the beach. No magic or chemistry between them at all. But hey, it is a good cause)

Last night, with a clear warm sky, we rode bikes downtown to hang out with friends at a neighborhood gay bar–sort of like a gay Cheers. Riding a big ole white low rider bike with handle bars about the same shape and width as the horns on a Texas Long Horn steer, I cruised through the streets of Rochester thinking to myself, “I must have the greatest job on the planet!”)

Tonight will likely be my very last performance of Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House—How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement! Well, I guess my penultimate performance. I have one in Narrowsburg, NY where I went to primary school and high school. I have been on a retirement tour of the piece since February, but I have committed to lay it down this spring (although my agent keeps asking, “But what if you got a request to do it say at the Kennedy Center of the Performing Arts or something like that? You would dust it off for that right?” Yeah right. She dreams for me)

I spoke with Morgan Fox and looks like we will have an initial run of 100 DVDs ready for my upcoming trip to Europe (England, N. Ireland and Spain!). Then we will do a larger run for the USA (but we must attend to the Old World first.)

Well, the day is lovely and in the words of my wise father, It would be a sin to be inside on a day like today. I’m going to break out that bike!

Parents & the Ex-Gay Movement

This weekend staff from Focus on the Family and Exodus International, two large and well-funded organizations, will speak to hundreds of parents about the “gay lifestyle” and will present testimonies claiming that “change is possible”. Parents will listen to folks who directly and indirectly pin the blame on parents for having a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender child. We know what they teach because some of us recently attended the Love Won Out Conference and and also listened to the recordings of all the presentations. See Jim Burroway’s detailed account.

My parents suffered under this message while I attended the Love in Action program in Memphis some years ago. Today I recorded this video relating the horrific Family and Friends Weekend and the effect Love in Action’s erroneous and cruel teachings had on my parents.

In the past year I have shared my family’s experience with several ex-gay leaders. Many expressed shock at what happened at Love in Action. But when I spoke with someone who is slated to speak at Love Won Out this weekend about all that happened with my mom and the years of doubt and torment she suffered, he shot back, “Healthy people ask for what they need.” I said, “Wait, what!?” He continued, “If your mom was having problems, she should have gotten some help.” But my mom had already been burnt by “experts,” and I know she didn’t want to expose herself to more hurt. But even if she could of or should of talked to someone to help her understand the issues better, what a pitiful response from this Christian leader.

This sort of thoughtless, insensitive, reactionary behavior needs to stop. Many ex-gay programs like Love in Action make mistakes. They do things on a trial and error basis sampling whatever teachings drop into their laps. (I know because in two years there, we ran through several teachings and practices). These program leaders, who claim they care about people and families, need to listen to the stories of the many people who can point to the harm they experienced at the hands of ex-gay minsters. These are not a few isolated stories. Just in the past 10 months dozens of people have come forward to share their stories publicly. These are not paid professional activists or lobbyist, but people who stand up to bear witness to what they have seen and heard and experienced.

For further information, see What About the Parents? as well as the ex-gay survivor narratives over at Beyond Ex-Gay.

Also, join us for Deconstructing the Ex-Gay Myth—A Weekend of Action & Art.

The Harm of Ex-Gay Minister–A Mother Speaks Out

Truth Wins Out posted three great new videos with individuals speaking about the ex-gay movement and their personal experiences. The one that moved me the most features Susan Stanskas, a parent of a gay man who,

discusses how ‘ex-gay’ organizations divide families – in the name of family values – and even cause some gay teenagers to commit suicide. In this video, she urges parents to accept their gay and lesbian children and warns about the harm done by rejecting them. “Would you rather have a gay child, or a dead child?” she poignantly asks.

Clint Trout, who spent 13 years as an ex-gay, shares some of the outrageous things he did in order to get “healed” from being gay and also talked about the teachings he received that blamed his parents for his same-sex attractions. He also talks about life post-ex-gay and the clearness and fullness he has found since he left Exodus ministries and embraced the reality of who he is.

Another Homeless Gay Teen

About once every six weeks I get an e-mail about a young person in Connecticut who needs a home because their parents no longer want them in the home because the teen is transgender or bisexual or lesbian or gay or even just questioning. Families are complicated, and no doubt other reasons come into play, but in almost every case the deciding factor to eject the child from the home is because they are too queer for mom or dad.

Robin McHaelen, the director of True Colors, sends out the requests via email. I just received one yesterday about a 16 year old lesbian who needed a home (and as a result of Robin’s efforts, the teen has found two homes to choose from!). I just received another request today.

This young man just turned 18. He is bright, responsible, caring and homeless. His mom listened in on the phone last week and heard him come out to someone. The mom’s response was to put him out. He has been staying with a friend since then, but can’t remain. We would love to find him a place in Windsor Locks or very close so he can finish school (He graduates later this month).

(If you live in Connecticut and are queer, you know how to contact Robin).

My mom spoke to me a few times about parents and how I need to be patient with them around LGBT issues. They grew up in different times when it was not imaginable to be a happy, healthy homosexual. And that most queers get the snot beat out of them every other day. This advice has helped me a great deal when speaking with worried parents who fear their children will end up lonely and unhappy and in trouble. These concerned parents often need to hear new stories to replace the assumptions they have.

But I cannot understand a parent who feels so strongly against same-sex attractions and gender differences that s/he would actually push their child onto the streets. Of course not all parents respond the same way. Some force their children onto the streets, others into ex-gay programs, and others keep their sons and daughters within reach.

A friend of mine in Boston has worked a lot with youth and is a licensed sex educator for the Boston Public School system. She said she noticed a pattern in responses by parents of LGBT children when the parent has a problem with having a queer child.

She said among parents who are white, the response has typically been something like, “You might be gay (or lesbian, etc), but not in MY house!” Then they kick their kids out. The young people stay with friends for awhile, going from house to house, but in many cases they end up on the streets. Among Black parents the response is different: “You are not lesbian (or gay, etc) and you are going NOWHERE.” The son or daughter stays in the home, watched carefully and perhaps silenced, but not destitute.

Last week I received an e-mail from a FTM transgender friend of mine. He is still college-age and is only just coming out to his parents. When he shared with them that he is trans and that he hopes to transition, their immediate response was to withdraw all financial support.

Again I understand how a parent may have concerns or be confused or need educating, but to react by impoverishing your offspring troubles me. Is this what we learn from living in a capitalist society that teaches people can and should be manipulated by money? How about talking? How about spending time together trying to understand each others’ needs and concerns? Rather some seek to silence, contain and disenfranchise their loved ones..

I wrote about parents and their fears in my post, Can My Gay Child Change? The short answer is YES. If you treat them like dirt, if you disrespect them and push your agenda on them without opening your heart about your real fears and concerns and listening to theirs, your child will grow distant from you and even hostile. Then when they need you the most, (and you need them) you will have positioned yourself far far away.

What About the Parents?

When someone chooses to enter an ex-gay program like Love in Action (LIA), if they mean to or not, they often bring other people along with them–partners, friends, and in many cases, parents.

Ex-gay leaders have typically pointed to the parents as the probable cause for a homosexual child. How many of us have heard things like, “You’re mother was overbearing and your father was emotionally distant.”

The program leaders and ex-gay spokespeople pieced together the profile of what made us homosexual. They provided us with a template that insisted that serious dysfunction must have occurred in the home, and even when we insisted that things were fine at home, they questioned us further and suggested that we were in denial.

I have heard horror stories from lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people who have told me how program leaders targeted their parents, and in so doing, drove a wedge between parent and child. (see Jeff’s story in a previous post) In some cases the leaders misused their power and even coerced participants to confront parents about past events sometimes even hinting at unspoken abuses.

No one has perfect parents, and parents and their adult children need to talk about past hurts and family issues, but often without any trained counselors, after only a few days of group therapy, ex-gay program leaders have pushed parents and their sons and daughters into conflict and crisis. The “therapy” sessions have caused a deep rift in the relationships and have wounded the parents. The parents left feeling confused, condemned and brokenhearted.

On their web site Love in Action announces one of their newest programs,

We are excited to present a concentrated four-day course designed for parents with teens struggling with same-sex attraction, pornography, and/or promiscuity.

On a recent road trip with my dad I asked him what it was like when he and my mom came to Memphis for the Family and Friends Weekend at LIA, a concentrated family encounter. Here is some of what he said.

We went to the meeting and had no idea of what we were going into. We met a lot of parents in the same category. Lots of kids had no parents there.

Everything seemed to be on the up and up at first. Yeah, but we found out these things aren’t so. I said to them, “You can’t change a zebra’s stripes.” They didn’t go along with me, and they were very aggravated with me for saying so. Some people go through two colleges and they don’t have common sense. I hate when people keep things locked up.

They made me feel that I failed you. That’s how I felt after they got through with me. That’s how they made all the parents feel.

Years after I left LIA and I began to write my play, I interviewed my younger sister, Maria, about that time. What she told me broke my heart. She said that when our parents returned home from the Family and Friends Weekend, they were devastated. They didn’t eat right or look right. They acted sad and depressed. This went on for weeks. My sister felt so concerned that she actually called Love in Action and asked, “What did you do to my parents?!” She felt frustrated by the lack of concern or comprehension she encountered from the staff.

Before my mother died this past September, I apologized to her for my part in dragging her and my dad through the horror of that weekend at LIA and the subsequent ones. She appreciated hearing that, but even in her last letter to me, she still questioned herself as a parent, questions that I know arose in large part because of her time spent at LIA.

(photos of my parents, Pete and Anita Toscano and my sister, Nardina, I was in my mom’s belly in that photo)

After an e-mail from Jim Burroway, who will present at The Ex-Gay Survivor Conference, and his experience at the Focus on the Family Love Won Out Conference, I thought I would provide a link for parents to my post, Can My Gay Child Change?