Sunday, October 29, 2006

Well, that does it...

...after 2 years, and after a year of stop-and-start coming out, I finally have stepped through the closet door on my other blog, the one I started after my seminary career ended.

To the best of my knowledge, everyone who reads it who I care about knows already. But it will be interesting to see how the straight Christians who I hung around with for years react - if they, in fact, care at all.

The good news is, I'm not nearly as much of an approval whore as I was two years ago, so it's not gonna matter nearly as much as it did 2 years ago. Or even six months ago.

For now, I'm going out to brunch, and then get into the rest of the day and listen to the Jason & deMarco CDs that arrived in yesterday's mail!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Heterosexual Agenda - finally documented!

If there weren't so much truth in this, it would be hysterical:

The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing The Myths
(A Parody With A Purpose)
–––– With ––––
How To Write An Anti-Gay Tract In Fifteen Easy Steps

While this particular article is definitely and clearly titled "A Parody With A Purpose," it points out the truth about just how basic a heterosexual outlook is to "how things are.

And there are an amazing number of supposedly anti-gay statistical studies here at The BoxTurtle Bulletin which merit review by the GLBTQ community. Now normally, I would rather bite down on tinfoil than read statistical studies most days, but in this case, there are some serious anti-gay myths debunked.

It's a worthy effort that I applaud, because as the old saying goes, "there are liars, damn liars, and statistics..."

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Great voices, great video

Courtesy of's GCN Radio, I recently heard about the "gay Christian pop duet" of Jason & deMarco. You can hear a great interview with them on the GCN Radio website (the link takes you directly to the broacast), or read a great review of them on the PlanetOut music site.

Or you can just go straight to the Logo Network site, and click on the second Click List Video entitled "This Is Love." Not only is it a pleasant song, it's a visually attractive video of two young men in love. The video has been in the top 10 on MTV's Logo network for 14 weeks!

Of course, it doesn't hurt that both the guys are particularly easy on the eyes, or that Jason Warner is a dead ringer for Randy Harrison (Justin on "Queer as Folk")...

It's so strange to hear them talking about touring, doing concerts in churches as an openly gay, openly Christian singing duo. Jason had been in the contemporary Christian scene in college, and when he came out to his band-mates, he was asked to leave the band and was basically dropped like a hot rock. He started doing a music ministry with the gay-welcoming Metropolitan Community Churches, and prayed for a partner who would affirm his ministry in the church.

Instead, Jason met a partner, deMarco DeCiccio, who joined him in his music, his ministry, and his life. (You can hear the rest of their early story in this podcast from GCN's first season in 2004.)

It's fascinating to hear them talk about their "cross-over" into more secular gay clubs and doing dance remixes of some of their songs (which have been dubbed "Spirit Pop," after their successful 2004 CD release). Unfortunately, it also raises my ire to hear that their supposed Christian following feels like they've been sold out when the boys do club/dance music, or talk about life, love and (gasp!) sex to gay magazines like The Advocate or Out.

Hellooo.....they're gay, partnered singers....what a surprise that they'd be talking about gay life, people...

It's the old story - you can be gay, you can even be "out" and gay. Just don't act gay in front of the straight might spook 'em...

Listen to the two podcasts (especially the 2004 one) the video. True love is cool.

Tonight, I'm headed out to the "Live & Let Live" group tonight - and this time, I am going out to J&G's Pizza, afterwards. The unpacking mess will be here when I get back...

Friday, October 20, 2006

Gifts of affirmation...

There were two other folks that I had wanted to come out to privately before I did my other-blog "outing," and amidst all the work-world frustration, I got those letters sent this last week. The responses were predictable, in one way, and yet brought tears of joy and affirmation in another.

From my dear high-school friend John:

I am not surprised - you mentioned to me years ago that if someone did not come along you might have to look the other way. Am I surprised - NO; will it change the way I feel for you, No. Ann and I both have cousins that are gay and although we do not like the life style we want them to be happy. You too deserve to be happy. No matter what you do you will always be one of my closest and dearest friends and will always be welcome to come and stay in our home. Just be careful, I do not want to hear of any social diseases! I know this is a difficult situation for you I know many of our friends would not understand.
From my friend and faith-brother Ed:
Regarding the gay thing... no problem. First off...makes little difference to us (will just tell Becca to stop trying to hook you up with a sister). We have several gay friends, so I guess we have a bit of a different perspective than some. Second: We all love you.
From Ed's wife, and my faith-sister Becca:
Just remember friend, I became your friend because you have an amazing heart...and I will always be your friend for that reason. You don't know how much you have changed my life over the years...and even though you aren't around as often now, I know that whenever we get together, I have a friend seated next to me. God Bless you.
The reason I share these is simple:

I lived in fear of rejection for years. I hid in the closet for years, afraid of something that so far has not happened.
In fifteen years, the only one who has ever rejected me because of my me.

Such a tragic, tragic waste. Thank you, God that the wasted time is ended. Thank you, God, for gifts such as you have given me. Thank you that my friends and family can know me - the real me - for the rest of my life. Amen.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Leaving the past, moving forward

I had great plans for a burst of blogging activity last week - intending for this beautiful coming-out post on my post-seminary-life blog for National Coming Out Day. And as part of this, I wanted to come out personally to three people who knew me from my old lives, including my former wife.

Unfortunately, the big "outing" post never got written last week. The work-world tanked early on in the week, and I got my 40 hours in by about noon Wednesday. Between that and doctor visits for myself and my sister, I got done with work about 7 PM Wednesday, and fell into bed at 8. My thoughts were, "It's waited for three decades - a few more days won't kill anyone." But before most of the raw-sewage broke loose in the work world, I did manage to send my coming-out email to my former spouse.

It was not well received, to put it mildly. I wasn't surprised, and yet I was. On the one hand, our life had been characterized by lies - about money, about my drinking, about illegal activity I'd been a part of. So coming out to her nearly 16 years later just added one more level of lying and betrayal, and ripped open wounds that I'd hoped would have been better healed after a decade and a half.

And, after all, she was at least partly right. What she, and several others in my life, will never understand is not that I was living a lie back then, but that I was desperately trying to be something that I was afraid I couldn't be. I had to believe in my heart of hearts that I could somehow "get past" my same-sex desires and be normal. Until I encountered the GLBT community in Hyde Park, and my "homo-mentors" Tom and Michael, I just couldn't get there.

I still remember, sitting Tom's living room, and saying the words, "Well, I can either be an overweight, under-endowed, greying, middle-aged gay man, and put myself in line for bashing and abuse, or I can be an overweight, under-endowed, greying, middle-aged straight man, and skip all the trouble. Either way, I'm going home alone." And Tom said, in his gentle but forceful way, that sexual orientation isn't about who you're sleeping with - it's about who you are. And it's about honesty. And that's when I "hit bottom" about my orientation.

Strangely enough, so many of the people I've come out to have basically said, "Yeah, well...duh, kidding..." So far, only my former wife and my former pastor from Kansas were in any way taken aback. For which I give thanks...

But there is good news, too.

As part of a couple of postings on, I've been in contact with gay Christians in the Toledo area, and we now have November 11th as a tentative date to get together. The very loose plans are to see the new Toledo Museum of Art Glass Pavillion and then to meet up with a few more folks for dinner.

I'm excited about that.

The other cool thing was getting to my first GLBT AA meeting, the Sunday night "Live and Let Live" group downtown. Unfortunately, as was the case in Chicago, the GLBT meetings are either near-downtown or on the north-side of Toledo. But the 16-mile drive in Toledo only took 25 minutes, and it was a breeze at 7:30 on a Sunday evening.

I actually brought the topic up - coming back to old haunts and old meetings (where I've been visiting, on and off, for 15 years) and talking about how and whether to "come out" in those situations. After all, I have no parter or boyfriend, so the pressures to be "out" are largely in my mind at this stage of the game. Folks shared some great experience - although I had to envy the fact that many who spoke were "out" before they got sober. But, as with so much of AA, there were definitely the folks with whom I identified completely, and almost everyone that I identified with in some way.

The other cool thing was that after the meeting, I was invited to go with the group up to Sylvania, to J&G's Pizza. Now, this was a little unusual, since the meeting was downtown, and Sylvania is the far northwest corner of the world. But "Toledo miles" just aren't the same as "Chicago miles," and it seemed perfectly acceptable to do this. Unfortunately, I'd left a whole mess of unpacking strewn all over my room in order to get to the meeting, so I begged off this week - but with a definite raincheck for next week.

It's a blast from the past - J&G's Pizza is kind of a hole-in-the-wall tradition in the Toledo area - we even had our high-school musical cast-parties there (well, they started there, anyway) back in the 70's. So it will be a fun gathering, and it seems like a fun group.

That's it for now - the work-day sirens are sounding...

Friday, October 06, 2006

Ceremonies for National Coming Out Day

My good friend and homo-mentor Michael forwarded two "Coming Out Day Ceremonies" for people in the religious communities from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) website. As National Coming Out Day is October 11th, I thought I'd pass along a sample of the ceremony, as well as the press release below.

It's fascinating, because in my Lutheran tradition, there is a religious ceremony for almost anything - from the dedication of a new home to commemoration of a stillborn infant. But mainline religious traditions neither see homosexuals as people of ceremony or ritual, not as people whose "coming-out" processes are bound-up in their journey of faith. So I found these two ceremonies a blessing.

As another mentor, Ted Menten, would say, I would not treat this as a "How-to" guide so much as a "how you might" guide. As the pamphlet itself says, these ceremonies were created by people whose faith and journey may be much different than my own. So do not let specific language or concepts in these ceremonies imprison or hinder you.

As a good friend says, "we are blessed to be a blessing..."
- - -
Litany of Blessing

A worship leader invites all to stand for the following litany of blessing:

One: Blessed be God who calls us all out of our tombs of fear, who bids us live in with yet more spirit, in yet more truth, who surely did not bring us this far to leave us!
Many: Blessed be God forever.
One: Holy One, as we bless your name, bless us. Sustain all those who risk speaking truth despite the risk, witnesses to Your love and hope and mercy.
Many: Blessed are those who “come out”!
One: Temper the hearts of those who receive “coming out” stories, that disappointment may become honor, that confusion and shame may become empathy
and support, all according to your great mercy!
Many: Blessed are those who have ears to hear, whose hearts are open, to those who “come out”!
One: Embrace those who cannot “come out” because jobs or housing might be lost, because of fear of rejection from those they hold dear, because of hostility and threats of violence, because they might lose family, children, security
or shelter!
Many: Blessed are those who cannot “come out”! May they one day be free!
One: Encourage those who are weary of “coming out,” stand by them, nourish their tired spirits, sustain them in the long journey toward truth and justice!
Many: Blessed are those who keep “coming out”!
One: Build up this community in acceptance, faithfulness, forbearance, solidarity and love, make us sisters and brothers, make us one Body, that we might serve neighbors, strangers— even our enemies— in your gracious name.

- - -
Coming Out Day Rituals Released

Celebrate Coming Out Day with Jewish and Christian Resources

To view the Jewish resource, visit here
To view the Christian resource, visit here

In preparation for Coming Out Day on October 11th, we offer two imaginative and scripturally-grounded Coming Out Rituals, one written from the Jewish tradition by Jay Michaelson and the other from the Christian tradition by Dr. Scott Haldeman. These rituals take seriously the religious and spiritual grace we give to ourselves, our families and our friends when we live full and authentic lives.

We hope you'll consider using these rituals for Coming Out Day or to pull together a service for someone you love. Please also consider using them throughout the year, as coming out is something that can be celebrated at any time. We also hope that if you are not Jewish or Christian these rituals will spark ideas for other coming out rituals. No matter how or when you use these rituals, please write us at to let us know how you put them to use. To live honestly and openly is a holy act, and these rituals honor the holiness in all of us and in our faith communites.

For other Coming Out Rituals please vistit RitualWell
and The Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation

For regular Scriptural Commentaries from an LGBT and straight-allied perspective please sign up for Out In Scripture
by visiting

For weekly Jewish commentaries on the Torah passages please see
Torah Queeries at

You can also order free copies of HRC's resource Living Openly
in Your Place of Worship by writing us at

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Is it that important?

BruceD from YBMT? posted this comment the other day that bears exploring:

Sometimes, I get the feeling that "being gay" is the most important thing in a gay person's life. Is it really that important?
I had to kinda smile, because when my friend Craig first came out to me, more than a dozen years ago, I had much the same reaction. And I think if the straight world and the GLBT world are ever going to understand each other, it's one of those questions that's worth talking about.

And I'll say publicly what I told Bruce in a brief email reply: the fact that my straight friends are reading, and questioning, and commenting means a great deal to me. So many times in my life, when I have come out, people have said, "Oh, you're gay," and immediately seemed to assume that they know what that meant because of what they've read or heard about "the lifestyle" (99% of which has no bearing on my life!). So Bruce, Penni, and others, the fact that you're reading, asking, and listening for answers, is a blessing.

As I wrote to Bruce, the short answer is that "being gay" is no more important to me than "being straight" is to him. The funny part about that, of course, is that sexuality, and how we relate to people in relationships, drives an awful lot of how we live - and so "being gay" or "being straight" is actually a fairly big part of our lives.

It's like the red thread in a Tartan-plaid fabric - if it wasn't there, you'd still have fabric, but it wouldn't be Tartan-plaid.

What a lot of straight folks don't see is that for homosexuals, the revelation that we are gay also puts us at odds with a significant portion of society - friends, family, church, social structures (though that percentage is diminishing every day). In that way, it's not the most important thing, but - at least to others - it can become "a" defining thing, if not "the" defining thing.

I can't tell you the number of heart-breaking stories that I have heard concerning people who were "sainted members of the church," or Eagle Scouts, or community leaders, who were discovered to be gay - and then shunned. Not because they were caught with their pants down, or discovered in some lewd and lascivious act. Either they came out to someone they trusted, or were seen in public doing something awful like holding hands with another man, and suddenly their world exploded. Thrown out of homes, shunned by family and friends. And so the fear of that, for many of us, makes "being gay" a big damn deal.

I think the heart of it for me, for many years, was the centrality of the question, "What would they do if they knew?" at the heart of every relationship. An example of this is my relationship with my boss, who is an African-American male and an active member of a Christian church. There is a tremendous prejudice against gays in those communities - to such an extent that many gay black men actually marry and live their gay lives "on the down-low" (about which you can read this brief but informative summary on Wikipedia).

So while I am "out" at the office, and don't hide my homosexuality from anyone, I don't find any reason to raise the issue around my boss, because I just don't want to deal with it. (Interestingly enough, the black women in the office found it quite the kick to tease brutha cool about the cute guys in the office....) But with the other 99% of my co-workers, it's no big deal.

So at least until one is both out and comfortable with it, a large part of "being gay" is finding "who is safe" and who ain't - and that does make "being gay" an important part of every relationship, whether the other person knows it or not.

I have to admit that coming back to my original "getting sober" AA community and coming-out to them held some dread at first. But in talking with other gay friends in AA, it's just a matter of mentioning it in passing, and not treating it as a big deal. (Especially in the recovery community, there is more of an emphasis on honesty rather than sexuality - so I don't anticipate much trouble there.)

There is also the issue of community. Every person I know likes to be with people like themselves, at least part of the time. A shared understanding, shared experiences, and common interests provide ways of bonding and making friends - and this is true regardless of culture or orientation or anything else. It's why there is such diversity in the Christian church - because you have people who gather together because of nationality, ethnic background, worship styles, you name it. People like to be with people like themselves....period.

So it's not surprising that GLBT folks seek out people who are GLBT. Especially when people have experienced significant rejection from their families, jobs, or communities, there is a sense of safety, acceptance and togetherness that comes from gay clubs, gay-friendly churches like the Metropolitan Community Church, and other organizations like it. It's one of the reasons I find such a blessing - there is a shared experience there that is a great blessing.

I'm not even going to try to address the old question, "Well, are you 'gay' first, or 'a Christian' first? Which is first, 'sex' or 'God'?" - because it's a dumb question. It's like asking, "When did you stop beating your wife?" It's not an either-or, or first-or-second question. You see, I am:
- white
- male
- Christian
- nearly 50
- divorced
- in recovery
- gay.
All those things are true, and none of them is "first." Any slice of me, in any direction, would find all of those ingredients.

And I'll say this, to wrap this up: the reason I'm coming out is not because I either have a boyfriend or a gay health problem. It's precisely because I want people to see that people can be "like Steve is," and be gay. People who love God, love life, and are solid members of a community and yet still live with inborn same-sex attraction. The more that gay people are "out," the more people will see what "gay" is, and not be so put-off by it. It's not wrong, it's just different.

So, that's a first shot, Bruce. I'm looking forward to my other gay readers chiming in and adding their own two cents (or more) worth. Thanks for asking, and again, thanks for listening.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Endings, and an interesting first step

I will be offline for a couple days - I am moving to Ohio, and the cable guys come today at noon to take the modem. So I will be more techno-deprived than I have been since I first came to Chicago, and waited for SBC to install my phone and DSL...

The lion's share of packing is ahead of me, and it will be two crazy days. ..

The interesting first step, though, came in an email from a fellow blogger. He had read that I was listening to the GCN Radio podcasts from, and noted that I had my address listed on my GCN profile as from the Toledo area. So he reached out by email and invited me to join a group of Toledo GCN members at a get-together tentatively planned for October.

That is very cool.

When I'd lived in Toledo previously, I'd always thought of it as a beer-&-a-shot autoworker's town, and never ever saw any signs of gay culture there. Sure, Columbus and Chicago had Gay Pride Parades, but never anything like that in Toledo. There were always the sly hints and slurs from other guys about this bar or that bar being "fag bars," but other than that, I had no idea.

So my goal had been to connect with the MCC church in Toledo (which, unfortunately, is all the way downtown, some 20-plus miles from where I will be) and see what gay life there might be either near the University of Toledo or near Bowling Green State University in nearby Bowling Green, Ohio. But those were pretty tenuous plans.

Now, at least, I have a name, and an email, of a real live fellow gay Christian. Wow.

So that's it, for now. I have "miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I leave," to steal a famous line. So I am off to laundry, and work, and packing galore. I should be back up and online late Sunday night from the cornfields surrounding the Glass City...

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The struggle between faith and religion

A significant portion of this blog is about my journey coming out of decades of homophobia - much of it instilled by the institutional church. So it's not surprising that I find myself struggling between "finding faith" and "losing my religion." For gay people of faith, it's an ongoing journey of conflict and resolution. For me, sites like and the online magazine Whosoever have been real blessings to me.

In a recent post, my straight-and-accepting blogging sister, Penni at martha, martha, sounded like she was going through a similar challenge. While her "coming out" and mine are vastly different, they are also amazingly similar. And my first thought was, "Ah, dear sister, welcome to the party...."

The thing that the commenters on her post make very clear is that "losing my religion" (in one way or another) is part of the Catholic journey. (It's not exclusively Catholic - not at all. But more on that later on...)

I know that Henri Nouwen - a spiritual brother of mine - struggled with the Church's teaching on the Eucharist. When he taught at Yale he celebrated open Eucharist in the chapel basement every day. In one of the better Nouwen biographies, Wounded Prophet, the author describes how Nouwen struggled repeatedly with this issue...and, in the end, chose to walk his own path. He lived consistent with his calling, and within the greater community of the Church, while annoying many a bishop over his lifetime.

I don't want to seem like a single-issue guy, or that all religion needs to be seen through this topic, but the issue of gay priests in the Catholic communities is a big deal where I was from, up until recently.

I lived in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, which contained five seminaries within walking distance of each other, including the Catholic Theological Union (CTU) and about 2 dozen Catholic religious residences. Living in Lutheran seminary housing, my front window looked across the street at an Augustinian friary (I think that's the word for it), and we were just down the street from one of the larger Catholic congregations in the city. In short, you could hardly throw a rock and not hit a Catholic religious community member, at least on the second bounce.

And there were (and are) a lot of gay and lesbian Catholic religious folk in the area. Not just a few; a lot. After all, if your faith calls you to be celibate because of your sexuality, and your heart calls you to service to God, what better synergy, eh?

Every one of them have been struggling, evoking in some way the prayer first written by Martin Luther, and given voice by The Clash:

Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

A very dear friend, and one of my "coming-out mentors," coordinated the RCIA rite for the parish served by CTU. His partner is a former Carmelite priest. You might find Tom's words interesting, even if they might deepen your struggle.

But this struggle between participating in "the church" and being authentic to one's faith and one's conscience is part of the wider Christian journey, too. My former ministry professor, Dr. Tex Sample, co-edited The Loyal Opposition: Struggling With The Church on Homosexuality. While he has held pro-gay beliefs all his life, he has been more vocal in the last several years, and it has cost him - in church consultations and speaking engagements, in friendships, in outright attacks on his worth as a Methodist minister. But he, and the many authors compiled in this volume, believe that there is a place for active resistance to the doctrines of the church, expressed out of love for the church.

For what it's worth, too, there is a distinctly Protestant concept known as adiaphora - things which are not central to one's core beliefs. For instance, the Lutheran seminary and the Presybterian seminary in Chicago shared facilities, worship space, and staff. They could do this because their respective ruling bodies affirmed that the ways in which the two groups agreed were deep and abiding, while our differences were on things which we did not hold to be at the core of our belief.

At my late stage in life, I find that every person whose faith goes beyond "Yes, Jesus loves me/the Bible tells me so" ends up having these struggles. I believe these struggles are at the heart of much of the emerging church activity - seeking relevance and authenticity while preserving (or building) community.

A good friend, Michael Housholder, pointed out that while the local church is frequently sinful, broken and both wounded and wounding, it is also the single best opportunity to be an instrument of God's grace in a given community. Even though I'm not a part of a church community right now, I want to be - and once I get moved, I hope to be. Because I miss the community, and I really think my friend Mike is right.

Forgive the (not-so-mini) mini-sermon, Penni. Know that you are not alone, and that "should I stay or should I go?" are just the two opposite extremes of a wide and rich rainbow of faithful participation and faithful resistance.

God's loving presence will continue to surround you, and your faith will uplift you, regardless how your relationship to "the religion" ends up. I believe that for you - because I believe it for me.

And my prayers will be rising up for you.

Friday, September 08, 2006

GCN Radio 1 - responding to stereotypes

"The Carpenters? Now that I get."

"You like the Carpenters....well, congratulations on your first OGT - 'obviously gay trait.' Mine are culinary skills, love of the Carpenters, and fear of all blood sports."
(Kevin to Dennis, in The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy)
On the website, there is a feature called GCN Radio. GCNR hosts Justin and Brian have been doing weekly internet broadcasts for several years, addressing issues for people who are both gay and Christian. About the last two years worth of their podcasts are available through iTunes, and more are available on their website.

I have a 45-minute commute from "the 'hood" (Chicago's Pullman neighborhood, at south 115th St. and the Dan Ryan Expressway) to the Evil Empire downtown by Union Station. So between going to and from work, and the 4 hours each way from Chicago to Toledo, I've found much to both smile about and reflect on from their broadcasts. It's not NPR or anything, but there's nuggets of fun and truth in each podcast. And as part of each broadcast, Justin and Brian ask a "question of the week" to encourage their listeners to reflect on a particular facet of gay life (especially gay Christian life).

Of course, I'm listening to these broadcasts in retrospect. So responding to the GCNR crew's questions-of-the-week a year or more later seems a wee bit stupid (or at least terminally behind-the-times). So I'm taking the time to respond to a variety of these topics over the next couple weeks here.

An interesting discussion on the November 11, 2005 GCN Radio podcast talks about a bunch of gay stereotypes. Their discussion barely more than breaks the surface - they start a list, which has a lot of the widely-discussed stereotypes:

- Music: of course, all gays love show tunes, Barbra Streisand, Madonna, Cher, Melissa Etheridge ...I'm sure you can add to the list
- Fashion: all gay men have a special gene that makes them fashionable, neat, organized and star hosts/hostesses - a' la the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy team
- Fitness - all gay men either are gym bunnies, or want to be
- Sex - promiscuity as the gay "gold standard;" all gay men are overly well endowed; all gay men in relationships want to be married; again, you can add to the list.

One of the references on the broadcast that made me snicker was the reference to lesbians and Home Depot - especially since more than one gay man has referred to that chain of stores as Homo Depot. I have to admit that if you're into "manly men," you can find them at Homo Depot - although I've never found anything yet to compare with the twink boi's of CDW (who share the building with the offices of The Evil Empire). A virtual sea of hotties...

Today, I had a personal "close encounter" with an old gay stereotype. I had worn a pink shirt - not because pink is "gay," but because I thought it looked good on me. (And, to be honest, it was clean, unwrinkled, and on top of the pile.) But one of my co-workers made a comment, basically saying, "Boy, Steve, you look good in pink - not that that makes you gay or anything." I smiled at her, and said, "Honey, I sure didn't need a shirt to tell me I was gay..."

I thought her jaw was going to hit the floor, bounce back and break a couple teeth. "YOU??" she all but yelled.

Yes, me, honey. It's not that big a deal...

Which gets me back to the topic. Let's face it - stereotypes are at least partially anchored in truth. That's how they get started. But an awful lot of all gay stereotypes are pure trash - and many of them really do a grave disservice to the gay community. An awful lot of gay stereotypes are fueled by traditional anti-gay fears and misinformation.

But so long as a significant portion of the gay community is hiding in the closet, what will endure in people's minds will be the stupidest of the gay stereotypes. There are some people (both straight and gay) who still really believe that I'm not gay - because I fit so few of the "traditional" stereotypes (being older, greying, heavy-set, definitely not overly-endowed or fashion-gifted in any way...). And, God help me, I bought into those same lies - that I couldn't be gay, because I didn't fit my own homophobic picture of what "gay" was...

That's really the central point of all this.

People won't know how far-off that the gay stereotypes are, and how fraudulent the idea of a "homosexual lifestyle" or "homosexual agenda" is, until we show them what gay life is like, by coming out and staying out and proud. Only when people see the truth - that we literally are all around them - will they stop believing in the old fantasies about gays and lesbians.

In this way, telling the truth really will set us free...

Thursday, August 31, 2006

A gift of hope from an extraordinary young man

On Thursday, I had a day from the bowels of hell at The Evil Empire, and it took the entire AA meeting, getting introduced to the mother of my sponsee's child, and a pralines-&-cream ice cream cone to detox from it. But I find that my Higher Power usually holds the best gifts for last, and tonight that gift was waiting for me in my Gmail inbox.

In previous posts, I've shared about my history in a Masonic youth group called DeMolay, and how part of my struggles about coming out to a dear friend would be to put the kabosh on ever participating in DeMolay advisorship again. (And there's a hundred other good reasons not to do that - but it was still aggravating.)

The email was from a DeMolay advisor in Buffalo, NY - saying that he'd found my blog, and thought I'd be interested in an article in the Buffalo Evening News, an editoral written by his son.

His gay son. His gay DeMolay son.

The article is a little over 2,700 words, and ran in the August 31st edition of the paper. I got a copy of it from their archives, and would be glad to share it with you if you click on my email link or comment below. It describes his coming-out experience as a 15-year-old student at Grand Island High School in Grand Island, NY. He came out to two of his best friends, and they in turn encouraged him to come out to his parents, and then to his close circle of friends. Then a year ago, he came out to the entire school on National Coming Out Day 2005. It goes on to describe some of his fears, hopes, and experiences as an out gay teen.

I read that article, and my first reaction was, " What an incredible story..."

My second (and entirely self-centered) reaction was, "Damn... I wish I'd had a tenth of the courage this guy has when I was 18..." I was just completely blown away by this young man and his journey.

And yet - Abram Morgan and I, despite more than thirty years separating us, have much in common in our stories. He starting his "outing" with two good friends; mine began with my two dear friends in AA who were gay, with whom I have shared much that has been important over the last two years. And the first two straight people I told were also two friends whom I trusted deeply.

Like Abram's father, the people I was most worried about were the ones for whom my sexuality was no surprise (like my friends Eric or my other Kansas friends) or no big deal.

Like Abram, I am less afraid of other people's emotional reactions and more afraid of their physical reactions. My friend Tom would walk through Hyde Park with a black leather cowboy hat, a black leather bomber jacket, and an enormous bright purple scarf that pretty well screamed its message. But, as I've often teased him, it's a little easier to be that "screaming" when your a former Special Forces soldier. When you're an out-of-shape ball of confrontation avoidance (as I am), it's a little tougher to pull off the bravado...

But I am learning...slowly.

There are, however, a couple ways in which I envy Abram Morgan his life and his courage. I remember back to my own days as a 19 and 20 year old in DeMolay, and how two of the guys in my own "posse" got caught "in the act." It immediately fractured the gang into two almost evenly-divided groups. The homophobes were on one side, yelling "Fag!" and other niceties, while the "homo-lovers" (as we were called) gathered around our two buddies and did our best to buffer them from the hatred and invective. It was also tragic that while a couple of us did actually end up coming out ourselves, the majority of the "friendly" crew were (and are) straight. And accepting, and loving. (But none of the homophobes would believe that, of course...seems they never do. All gay-friendly folks just have to be fags....)

Ten years later, as an advisor, I listened to a young man tell how he was being driven out of the chapter by his friends - guys whom he had trusted and cared for. He wasn't gay - but he had admitted to them that he'd had some kinky sexual experimentation (with his girlfriend). But even that admission was too "gay" for a trio of his friends, who were deeply, deeply homophobic - and in the end, these morons drove the young man from the chapter, and he ended up utterly disappearing. I often think about him, and hope he found the ability to trust again.

I'm glad that Abram hasn't had to deal with crap like that.

But a comment by Tom on my earlier post is worth repeating here. His partner, Michael, had commented about a coming-out encounter that had gone well, and he'd ended by saying, "Not all stories turn out this way, of course. But it was a great treat for me!"

Tom's comment is insightful:

True enough, but freedom comes when the story turns out the other way -- when the person you come out to rejects you because you are gay -- and life goes on.

That's when the fear that you might be rejected goes away -- you realize that you will be rejected from time to time.

All three reactions -- acceptance, indifference, rejection -- are part of being gay, and all are positive in their own way.
Tom is, of course, absolutely right - true freedom is in having nothing to lose by others acceptance or rejection. It's a place I haven't quite reached - but the openness of people like Abram Morgan give me faith and hope to keep striving.

Thanks, Dad Morgan, for sharing your son's journey with us. And than you, Abe, for following an ancient instruction that we share from our common DeMolay background: Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16, NIV)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A backward weekend glance

It was a pretty darn good weekend - despite the fact that it started off with a trip to the dentist to fix a broken temporary crown. (Ick.) But once I got home, took a nap, got my poop in a group (so to speak), and got on the road, it was a good weekend.

The weekend had two worthy moments. I had brought along the movie of the musical Rent, because I hadn't gotten to see it at home for two weeks straight (so to speak). Saturday night, after getting my new glasses and having a nice dinner out, Sue asked what we should do for the evening. They talked about going out to a movie, but Jeff had to get up early, so I suggested watching Rent together.

Now I had no idea of the storyline - but you didn't have to watch for long to get the fact that there are a number of both straight and gay people living in a tenement city in New York, and almost all dealing with HIV/AIDS. And I have to tell you, it would have been really uncomfortable watching that if I were still closeted. I'm sure I would have been wondering, "What are they thinking about this? Do they suspect?..." About a third of the way through the movie (Jeff having gone to bed), I said to Sue, "Man - I had no idea this movie had all these themes wrapped up in it," and she said, "Yeah, and I probably never would have seen it if you hadn't suggested it..."

Side note - if you are one of the benighted ones (as I was) who haven't yet seen Rent, run (not walk) to the video store and rent it. Do it today.
Another VERY cool thing about the weekend was that my encounter with my DeMolay advisor friend went well. We had breakfast at a local diner, a place which could be nicknamed Breakfast at Hooters - truly beautiful young ladies serving breakfast and lunch.

And during breakfast (as I expected) he made an impassioned pitch for me to join him in his work with DeMolay. And later in the conversation, I let him know that, much as I might like to join him, I just wasn't qualified - and made it clear what "not qualified" meant. It was kind of funny - I think it took him by surprise, for a second or two.

But, in his typical direct style, he said, "Well, are you a pedophile?"


"Have you been arrested?"

"For what? Of course not! I've been celibate for more than a decade!"

"Then what's the problem??"

Well, we went back and forth, but in the end I told him that I felt it was just asking for trouble, and I didn't think it was a wise place to go. And I told him that I really had thought about doing the "don't ask, don't tell" thing - but it just wasn't worth it to continue the lies. So I wasn't going to go there - period.

And it sure seemed like it was OK, and we were OK.

I have to tell you: No one who has not had to "come out" (about anything) can ever know how wonderful those two letters are.

O-K. No big deal. No drama. Life goes on, and a silent prayer of thanks goes up.

A similar experience happened two days later. Tuesday, my young sponsee Matt was downtown and I took some time from the work insanity to have coffee with him. He got downtown a little early, so he was standing out on the plaza (which borders the Chicago River) when I came down to meet him.
Backstory: In the past, when we'd meet in Hyde Park for coffee, we would frequent the C-shop at the University of Chicago, and he would ogle the attractive young co-eds bouncing through there. It wasn't until after I came out that Matt put two and two together, and figured out that while he was watching the attractive young ladies, I was noticing the equally attractive college-aged young men. Neither one of us were exactly panting in heat, of course - for vastly different reasons - but it finally dawned on him that we might be having similar (if mirrored) experiences.
Anyway, The Employer's offices are in the same building with CDW, a firm which seems to have made "being an Abercrombie-model wannabe" a condition of employment. And a number of the attractive lads seem to enjoy taking breaks out in front of the building, by the river.

As I came out of the building, and spotted Matt, the plaza was populated by a fair number of "the CDW boys." And as I called out to Matt and walked up to him, he hugged me, smiled and said, "How do you make it down here with all these good-looking guys! If these were girls down here, I'd be in real trouble!"

Now, my young friend's orientation is not in question - not in the least. (In fact, to be fair, I had mentioned the "CDW boy" effect to him before, in passing, as one of the few perks of that particular office he knew a little what to expect.) But to me, it spoke volumes that a straight guy would even notice "the scenery" - and realize the effect it might have on his gay friend. And it also spoke volumes that he would be comfortable enough to bring it up - let alone joke about it.

It was just another measure of being "OK." And it felt really, really good.

It's at times like this that my despair for the straight world fades, ever so gently, and I think, "There is yet hope..."

Monday, August 14, 2006

An encounter I'm not looking forward to...

For years, my friend (who shall remain nameless) and I were advisors for the Order of DeMolay, a Masonic youth group. It was a great outlet for whatever paternal instincts I had - and, at that point, I just knew that being married and "living the life" would save me from my baser instincts. DeMolay had been a big part of my life as a teenager, so being an advisor just felt like giving back to those who had given to me. I took to it like a duck to water - and had a blast with it.

My friend and I were like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in "The Road to..." movies. Like twin sons of different mothers. Though he was a decade and a half older than me, the age difference never seemed to matter. Our wide-ranging interests and similarly-warped humor brightened many a journey together. We were always getting into scrapes, always ending up at odd places, and had 13 years of great, great memories and lasting friendships. Many of the young men I sponsored are now leaders and advisors in their own rights - one young man's son is leader of a chapter near our town right now.

When my life fell apart, leading me to unemployment and eventually divorce, I left DeMolay completely. I remember having a somewhat tearful dinner with some of my young charges, and trying to tell them that my needing to leave was because of my own problems, and had nothing to do with them. I really loved working with them - the whole mentoring/teaching/nurturing thing just called out to me deeply.

I can honestly say that at the time, I had sublimated my sexuality at that point so deeply that the idea of "being inappropriate" with any of the guys was completely unthinkable. Did I envy a couple of them their good looks? You bet. Was I ever tempted to touch them in any way other than a very "brotherly" hug? Not once.

But my life took me in other directions. Though I joined the Masonic lodge out in a midwestern state, it just had very little appeal to me at that stage of the game. It probably didn't help that in those midwestern regions (and isolated instances elsewhere), there had been some instances of sexual abuse by advisors - and as a result, the adult organization had nothing I wanted. So I never got involved, and stayed involved with the church instead.

The impending move back to my hometown, on the surface, means having the opportunity to get back into advising in DeMolay again. My friend - who has never, ever indicated that he even suspects my true orientation - has invited me to go with him to a DeMolay ceremony this weekend when I am visiting. And though it sounds like fun, just to revisit for old time's sake - I' afraid I know what the real answer is.

You see, I am absolutely certain that "the boys" would be no temptation to me - that's just not ever been a turn-on to me, ever. But I also know that the organization has a "youth protection program," complete with a "comprehensive background investigation" - and the experience of several friends back in the Midwest shows pretty convincingly that there is no room in the ranks of advisors to teen-aged boys for homosexuals. Celibate or not, doesn't matter...if I am a self-identified gay man, my understanding is there's no room for me as a DeMolay advisor. Not even as a DeMolay visitor. Period. Paragraph.

And I'm definitely a self-identified gay man. No doubt there. I am what I am...

And I've already decided that I'm not going back in the closet for anybody. Not family, not friends, certainly not for God, and not for any organization. So the choice is clear.

I just hate the prospect of disappointing my old friend. Not that I think he'd be particularly disappointed that I'm gay - no one's waiting for grandkids from me, at this late stage of the game. I just hate knowing how much my buddy and friend would like me back - and in more than a couple ways, how much I'd like to go back.

But I'm pretty damn sure that road is closed, now and for a long, long time to come.

It will be an interesting discussion...

(Update: for some perverse reason, this post shows up as the #1 listing when searching for "DeMolay sexual abuse." For that reason, I've eliminated all references to my friend or the town. I thought about wiping the post entirely...but in a day or so, the history will be gone....I hope.)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Burning bridges with Biblical literalists

I was re-reading Jeffrey Siker's closing essay in his book Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate (see the post below for my long-winded review) while eating breakfast at Valois restaurant in Hyde Park this morning. Valois is what my ex-father-in-law used to call "just a joint:" a cafeteria with no real atmosphere but that serves good food cheap. It's frequented by everyone from college kids to elderly condo dwellers, but on Sunday morning there are a large number of black folks of all social strata who come there for a good cheap breakfast after church.

Near the end of my meal, I went to the restroom, and left the book on the table with the rest of my food. As I came back, this very-nicely dressed older black man at the next table touched me on the arm, pointed to the Siker book, and said in a gently chiding tone, "Son, don't you know that there aren't two sides to that debate? The Bible is clear about what God thinks about that topic."

I'm sure he was trying to be kind. I know, in my heart, it was a chance for witnessing. But I'd been reading on half-a-dozen blogs about how Biblical literalists have stomped all over gay folk, and I just wasn't ready to buy it.

I looked at him with what I'm sure was a shocked expression, and I just blurted out, "Yeah, well, that same Bible was used to justify keeping black people in slavery for more than a hundred years....talking about slaves submitting to their masters, if I remember right. Do you suppose the Bible was right about THAT, TOO?"

Well, about a dozen heads (mostly black) turned and stared - so I picked up the book, left the other half of my pancakes behind, and walked out. So much for building bridges between gays and biblical literalists...

Alcoholism, Homosexuality, and Gentile Inclusion

I know, I's been a month since I've posted on here. I'm trying...forgive the length of this post in advance...

This particular post has been percolating in my brain ever since I was in Kansas in February, and my former ministry parter and pastor tried to make a point about the analogy between alcoholism and homosexuality. At the time, I knew there were some big things wrong with it, but I just couldn't put voice to the ideas in my head. So there it sat for months...

But I've just found Some Guys Are Normal, and I've found great inspiration in Brady's writings. (Congratulations on the wedding, too, Brady - that's truly "absolutely fabulous.")

An earlier post of mine deals with the whole issue of the analogy between alcoholism and homosexuality - one that is gaining popularity in the more loving, caring parts of the "but it's still a sin" branches of the Christian Church. This monster post is basically a response to my Kansas friend, but also a response to Brady's post...

The very best discussion about this topic I've found is in Jeffrey Siker's The Church and The Homosexual: Both Sides of the Debate. I've mentioned this book before, because it's one of the most evenly-balanced books I've ever read from a straight author about homosexuality in the church. It gives voice to very disparate and passionate views on all sides of the homosexuality discussion. I think every pastor should own a copy (hint, hint for my former fellow seminarians...)

(late revision: the original essay that Siker wrote was available online for quite a while at "Theology Today." However, "Theology Today" has now become a subscription-only site, so while the essay is available online as a PDF file, it is only available to subscribers. Wish I had copied it off the web before that happened....)

In his concluding essay to the book, Siker addresses one huge question:
How does the church determine what is sinful or not sinful, what is inauthentic or authentic human existence before God? Similarly, how does the church recognize and accept the power of God's spirit at work, especially when such recognition and acceptance involves conflict with previous understandings of God's empowering Spirit? (p.181)
One of the struggles in answering this question is when the Church tries to reconcile its understanding of the Bible with the lived experience of gay Christians - people who have a valid and real faith in Christ, who are also seemingly unalterably homosexual in orientation.

That's where the idea that Christians should treat homosexuality like alcoholism comes in. While I don't agree with these arguments, I also can see how on the surface, it could make sense:
- Some people do have a predisposition to alcoholism - just as some have an innate same-sex orientation.

- While alcoholic orientation is tragic but not sinful, most churches believe that active alcoholism is considered sinful. A number of mainstream churches (but by far, not the majority) would similarly agree that homosexual orientation is not sinful, but same-gender sexual activity is sinful.

- An alcoholic predisposition is seen as a consequence of humanity's fall from grace. But the alcoholic must turn away from drinking, even if they cannot repent of their alcoholic orientation.

- An alcoholic - or a homosexual - will remain so for life, even if one abstains from their core activity.

- The church does not want to invite destructive behavior into the church. In the case of alcoholism, there are financial, social and family ramifications. In the case of homosexuality, the perception of many otherwise accepting denominations is that welcoming homosexuals into the church is the equivalent of inviting promiscuity, infidelity, and child sexual abuse into the church, and that it defies procreation as defined by God.

(Of course, we won't even address the mess of infidelity and promiscuity that straight people bring into the church. Watch VH1 or MTV anytime, and tell me how much promotion of promiscuity, infidelity, drug use and materialism is being promoted by the gay commmunity....)
However, Siker points out a number of ways that the alcoholic/homosexual analogy breaks down. He says, "These limitations are so serious that in my view they render the analogy not only useless but dangerous."  Siker notes:
- The damaging effects of active alcoholism are almost always obvious; this is just not true for a majority of the gays who engage in homosexual activity.
(Aside: I assume he means sexual activity, here, and not just the destructive homosexual activity of gay fashion, gay art, music and dance, not to mention the horrific effects on local neighborhoods of beautifully-decorated gay homes, tastefully-thrown gay dinner parties, committed gay partners involved in the lives of their adopted children, etc. ...:::here endeth the mini-rant - back to the sane discussion:::)
- the American Psychiatric Association recognizes alcoholism as a disease, but clearly does not do so for homosexuality - so we're comparing apples and oranges.

- Importantly, most gays do not see being gay as something from which they need to recover. It's true that the church sees both alcoholism and homosexuality in similar light (as sinful moral choices), but a significant majority of GLBT people do not. (Siker's book does contain an essay about "ego-dystonic homosexuals," gay people who truly believe that homosexuality is wrong, and choose to live celibate lives because of it. It's another worthy read, if only to understand that topic.)

- Alcoholism is based on the act of drinking - and most straight people who talk about gays focus on the act of gay sex. But while there are lots of people (straight and gay) who are just into sex for sex's sake, many gays (like many straight folk) see sex as only one small component of being in a committed relationship.

After all, to focus on "tab-A and slot-B" as the heart of being gay is like focusing on plain fornication as the only reason for men and women to be together. In both cases reducing sexuality to just "the act" just objectifies the participants and turns sex into idolatry.

Siker says, "To focus on the sexual act is to miss the point of the larget context of the relationship. It is to dehumanize and depersonalize gays and lesbians, caricaturing them only interms of their sexual activities rather than seeing them as whole persons with lives that include more than sex."
Siker sees the answer in Peter's vision and encounter with Cornelius in Acts 10. Peter has a dream in which all the creatures of the field - even reptiles - are lowered down from Heaven in a sheet, and the voice of God says, "Kill and eat, Peter." Ol' Pete's horrified - that stuff is unclean in his Bible (what we call the Old Testament). The voice of God is pretty clear on this, too: "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean" (Acts 10:15). And just to make sure he hasn't misheard, it's repeated two more times.

Then Peter gets the word to come to Cornelius's house. He goes, and.... well, let's let Luke tell the story:
He said to them: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?" (Acts 10:28-29)
Cornelius says he got a message from God in a dream, saying to send for Peter and to listen to him (interestingly enough, the same commandment the disciples got from God: "This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!") So they listened, Peter preached, the souls were converted, and the Spirit of God fell on these unclean Gentiles. And boy, our buddy Pete caught merry hell from the church establishment when he got back to church headquarters.

Sound like a familiar story to you?
It does to me, too.

Associating with Gentiles was sinful; they were outside the Law, and outside the people of God. In the same way, gays and lesbians are seen as "abomination" under the Law (unless you read it right), but we are no more outside the love of God than the Gentiles were. Including us in the Kingdom of God can't be that much harder than it was for the Jewish Christ-followers to include the unclean Gentiles, can it?

At Fourth Presbyterian Church in downtown Chicago (one of the few things I will miss about this town), in 95% of the church activity, there is neither male nor female, Greek nor Jew, free nor slave, gay nor straight. There are condo dwellers and urban campers - sometimes in the same pew. The director of volunteer services for this 4,000 member congregation is also one of the founders of Fourth Forum, a fellowship of GLBT folks (and GLBT-friendly straight folks) - and he is seen for who he is - a gay man, a servant of God and a servant of the church. And not in that order...

May that day come quickly for the rest of your Church, Lord.

These words could have been written specifically to the GLBTQ community:
I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us
so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:14-21, NIV)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Lance Bass to People: "I'm Gay"

Gay community to People: "Well, duh..."

Welcome home, Lance. You only beat me out by 20 I can only welcome you. We all stay in until the cost of staying in gets too high. I'm glad your "bottom" (pardon the phrase) came sooner than mine did.

As the folks from Southwest Airlines say, "You are now free to move about the country" - out and "free at last."

Oh, and a personal note to People: could you have found any picture that made Lance look less mainstream and more "gay" than that one? Maybe one of Lance in a pink tutu?...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Yes, it's been a long, long time....

...and I will eventually share a summary of all that has gone on over the last two months. Right now, I'm just trying to "pull the nose up" and pull out of the flat spin I've been in for, oh, months.

But there is good news.

In blog-surfing, I discovered RocketKid's blog. A young gay man who is "out" at a Christian college. A guy who seems to have surmounted, at his tender age, all the BS I bought into for so many years. And a great vlogger (video-blogger, for those of us on the late-adopter end of the scale.)

He went to a wedding of a friend - a good friend. And yet the friend's family were of that conservative Christian ilk who see gays as the enemies of God, the enemies of marriage...just "the enemy." His friend's father was the officiating pastor at the wedding, and made sure to point out that the boy-n-girl were perpetuating God's will, while us fags were tearing it down, and so on.

And RocketKid was hurt. Again. By the church that he obviously wants to believe in.

I posted this on his blog, but I want to say it here, as well.

For a number of years, while I was waiting for God to "heal" me, I joined a bunch of men from my Promise Keepers conferences.


Why? Because I loved the worship, I loved the music, I got high on the energy. As a person in recovery, I understood the need for constant repentance and recommitment to a spiritual life, and that was consistent with the PK message. Back then I'd decided, somewhere along the way, that I wasn't going to be gay, but I was going to be gay-affirming - a "let your light so shine before others" kind of thing. So I just let the anti-gay sewage flow in one ear and out the other. But part of it still stuck in my head and my heart, like maple syrup on a spoon. Yeah, "we" are acceptable to God as sinful folks, but "those folks"...oh, there won't be a fire hot enough for THAT crowd.

And it hurt.

It still does.

The problem is that so many so-called Christian ministries seem to need an enemy, a devil to drive people to God. Everyone knows that nothing promotes unity like a common enemy. And the GLBT community has fulfilled that role for years. We have been the "them" to the Christian "us" for so long that most Christian folks believe it as part of the gospel.

A friend of mine pointed out that being gay is not everything in my life - but it's a part of everything in my life. It would be like trying to take the beef out of beef stew. Even if you tried to pull out all the beef, the flavor of the beef has soaked into the carrots and potatoes and all the other vegetables in the soup. No matter what you taste in the soup, you'll taste the beef there, too. (We'll leave any off-color jokes about "pulling meat out" aside, won't we?)

Another friend said it would be like pulling all the blue threads out of a tartan-plaid fabric. Without those threads, the fabric would fall apart.

Nevertheless, I bought that lie for years - that my same-sex attractions were something I could stuff, bury, hide away somewhere. I wasn't sexually active, and wasn't really at risk of it - so who cared?

I did. God did. God made me this way. To hide this part of my life is insane.

My friend Tom said it best, especially here. The world needs to see us - all of us. When I started the coming-out process about 18 months ago, I knew I wasn't doing it because I'd found some gay dreamboat. I was doing it to be more open and honest with others. My prayer was that when the question came up, people who knew me would be able to say, "Hey - they're talking about Steve. And that's not how I know Steve..."

There's a t-shirt at a store called GayMart here in Chicago that says it all:

"We are your sons, your daughters, your mothers, your fathers, your neighbors, your coworkers, your friends. We are here to love - and we are here to stay."


Friday, May 19, 2006

Stepping off the "great debate" train

Over here at Paradoxy, there is a fairly positive discussion of the infamous Levitical texts related to homosexuality. And part of me really wants to weigh in on that discussion, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. It's not that I don't think people should speak to these passages. It's just that I've grown a wee bit tired of discussing the same six or seven texts (depending on whose list you use), and whether and how they are meant to exclude gays and lesbians from heaven.

Part of the reason I've tired of the debate is because the religious right insist on cherry-picking the Biblical commandments they want to enforce. It's the same old discussion - which parts of the Holiness Code are you going to enforce? (In fact, I need to post that wonderful list of the 10 questions about the holiness code we should all ask the religious right...I'll do that in this post immediately below.)

Another part of the reason I don't want to ante up to the discussion is that in the end, it's mostly futile. First, homophobia is a phobia - by definition, it's an irrational fear. One of the wisest things I've heard about combating homophobia since I've been out is this gay truism: You will never be able to logically or rationally argue someone out of a belief or fear that is, by definition, illogical and irrational. A war of words won't transform 99.44% of anti-gay forces, because they aren't responding to words, they're responding to fears and boogeymen.

But even more important is this truth: in the end, both the homo-haters and the homo-supporters appeal to different parts of the same book to justify their attitudes. This is at the heart of a short but extremely useful book by one of the few sane ELCA voices in this discussion: Craig Nessan's Many Members, One Body: Committed Same-Gender Relationships and the Mission of the Church. Nessan is a pastor and theologian at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, IA, and he wrote this book (at least in part) to help inform the discussions concerning homosexuality and same-sex ordination at the ELCA national assembly in 2005 (and beyond, since nothing was decided in 2005...)

Nessan suggests that the Old Testament writers had no knowledge of sexual orientation, versus sexual preference - any more than they understood astrophysics when they wrote that the earth was the center of the universe. So the concept of a created, inborn desire for the same sex was impossible for Biblical writers to understand. And the concept of committed same-sex relationships was an impossibility in a world where property and the social order depended on siring male heirs.

You see, I will agree with Levitical writers and with Paul - from a "survival of the people of God" standpoint, hetero men jumping the tracks and having sex with men, back then, was a bad idea - for the same reason that risking eating improperly cooked pork was a bad idea. The "people of God" weren't gonna last long that way.

But what the religious right refuse to acknowledge is the fact that for a number of men and women, they have not "exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones" (Romans 1:26) because they never had those "natural" desires to begin with. Those men and women never "abandoned natural relations" with the opposite sex - for them, those desires were simply absent, from the beginning.

Trying to enforce those rules on homosexuals today makes no more sense than having church officials persecuting NASA employees for saying the earth revolves around the sun. We simply know better, now. And the conditions that threatened the survival of the nomadic tribes of Israel simply no longer apply.

The trouble, Nessan says, is that both sides of the debate are appealing to different parts of the Bible, and both hold the Bible in esteem (though certainly to different standards), what you have is two mutually-exclusive hermaneutics - two completely irreconcilable ways of understanding the Bible and "those passages" in particular. And so both sides stand on either side of the Biblical chasm, shouting at the other side, who could care less about what's being said.

Nessan suggests that that at the level of "love God, and love your neighbors," both sides are essentially "one body, with many members." He makes the pitch that, if we aren't going to split the church over caring for the poor, and we aren't going to split the church over abortion, just war, divorce, hospitality to strangers and/or any of a hundred other topics that Jesus felt were more central to following him, then why should we even consider splitting the Body of Christ over homosexuality? Why can't we simply agree to disagree, as we have with these other topics? Why aren't we spending our time pointing people to Jesus, rather than focusing on this relatively small segment of the population?

Unfortunately, once again, this is a rational approach to an irrational fear. And the religious right has built up those irrational fears through outright lies and half-truths, turning gay men into predatory monsters bent on overthrowing the social order of straight Christianity. They need an enemy, and they've targeted gays and lesbians as the focus of their ire.

So I'll encourage my friends to carry on the discussion - when they find the occasional Christian who really want to hear facts an understand, rather than just shout at the "homos" and "fags." For me, I will sign up with the author of this great quote:

The Church says that the Earth is flat. But I know that it is round, because I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the Church. (Ferdinand Magellan)

Ten questions for the religious right

1) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

2) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4) Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

5) I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

6) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an Abomination (Lev 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. (After all, have you seen what whole shellfish look like?) Can you settle this?

7) Lev 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

8) Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev 19:27. How should they die?

9) I know from Lev 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10) My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Lev 24:10-16) Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Getting back in the saddle

I can't believe it's been more than a month since I've posted here. Yeesh.

I dunno why I stopped posting here - it's not like the "journey out" has stopped or I have somehow decided to go back into the closet. Anything but, in fact.

I have been on quite the self-discovery time - lots of reading, lots of reflection, and yet lots of bouts of deep "what the hell does it matter if I'm out?" kinds of thoughts. There's probably lots to write about on that topic - but I think it's been part of a larger struggle with where my life is going, and what it will look like in the future. Certainly my work, and the enormous drain it has put on my life, was a big portion of that - and the good news is, I'm forcing myself to be more reasonable about the work-a-day portion of my life.

But I have to admit that there have been days - like today - when simply suiting up and showing up at the hallowed halls of The Job have been, well, a massive effort. I love the people, I love the challenge of some of what I do - but there is a sizeable component of my day-to-day work that I just really would rather not do. And when I get home, I don't want to do much of anything else. Cleaning, dishes, that kind of crap has been relegated to the "yeah, fine, who cares" region of my psyche.

I'm still struggling with that sense of depression - but having tried anti-depressants and found them desperately wanting (they work wonders for lots of folks, but did nothing for me) I have to believe the road out of my funk is going to be found in physical and spiritual therapy and healing.

I've found a whole bunch of new muses - and I started to write all about them, but realized quickly that this blog-post would turn into an epistle (about the size of the Biblical book of Romans), so that will have to wait. A quick snapshot of my reading list, though, shows the breadth of my blessings (and my expenditures with Amazon!):

-Wounded Prophet: A Portrait of Henri J.M. Nouwen by Michael Ford;
-Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate, edited by Jeffrey Siker;
three books by Chris Glaser:
-Uncommon Calling: A Gay Christian's Struggle to Serve the Church,
-Coming Out As Sacrament, and
-Coming Out To God: Prayers for Lesbians and Gay Men, Their Families and Friends;
-The Lord Is My Shepherd and He Knows I'm Gay, by Rev. Troy Perry (founder of the Metropolitan Community Churches);
-Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America by Mel White, former ghost-writer to many conservative Christians and now one of the directors of SoulForce; and
-Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? A Positive Christian Response, the classic 1978 text by Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott.

The preface to Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? is worth the cost of the book by itself. Letha Dawson Scanzoni is a straight woman, and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott is a lesbian, and the preface tells how the book grew out of the conflicted feelings each had when Mollenkott came out to Scanzoni while working on another book project.

Mollenkott "remembered the color draining from Letha's face in shock over the revelation, the news having been a total surprise" (remember, this book was first published in 1978, when being out was still pretty new stuff). Virginia mentioned her friend's expression in a letter, which Letha took exception to (thinking that Virginia felt rejected, when there had been no intention of it). Virginia's words in a letter back to Letha are instructive:
...for me it is a dreadful thing to know that I am a person who can cause such trauma to a good and decent and loving Christian person. I did not say, nor have I ever thought, that you went pale in condemnation of me. It is the fact that I have to turn you pale at all that is distressing to me...

...No matter WHY you went pale, to me it is awful to be the sort of person who has to deliver such psychic blows to another Christian in the process of being honest about who I am. I was talking about my identity, my wish that I could be acceptable without trauma to others...I was trying to express my inner agony at being a person who is not acceptable until after another person I admire has gone through all kinds of painful changes in order to be able to accept me without deserting their moral standards...I was saying that I wish I had been created acceptable. It isn't your fault I was not.
Those few words really crystallized my own internal struggles about coming-out. I've come to believe that I, by myself and by God's grace, am acceptable. But I've also come to the realization that more than a few of my friends (especially those in the church) probably had a similar reaction (though I haven't known, since many of my "outings" have been by mail or email). And I have to admit that I resent having to break down the barrier of inculturation and prejudice that has grown up thanks to the religious right and others, supposedly in the name of God.

[:::end mini-rant:::]

This weekend is going to be insane. Kind of as bookends are two events that my emplooyer is helpng to sponsor. One of the reasons I was drawn to The Job is that there is a considerable effort on the part of my employer to openly support GLBT causes. As a result, there is actually a workplace PrideAlliance employee group that has more than 200 members, and a co-worker said, "Why aren't you a PrideAlliance member?" So I got on the mailing list, and about 2 days later, we got two different invitations.

The Out&Equal 2006 Workplace Summit will be in Chicago in September, and my employer is one of the sponsors of the conference. There is a reception this coming Friday evening - at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, of all places - for the sponsors and organizers, and my employer has invited members of the PrideAlliance to attend. There will be boring speeches by folks from Da Mayor's office, but it should be fun nonetheless. My first gay social event!

And then on Sunday, The Employer is treating us to a fundraiser for the Center on Halsted, the gay community center that will open up in Boystown in early 2007. The fundraiser is a champagne brunch at Sidetrack, a gay video bar known for their Sunday afternoon show-tunes. We'll see what happens there...I know enough to stay away from the champagne, but as Tom & Damien pointed out to me, it will be a fabulous chance to mix and mingle and just see gay life away from the Queer As Folk stereotypes.I don't know any of the 8 folks who will attend (they're all from our Up North office) but it should be fun, nonetheless.

In between, the good/sad news is that Michael and Damien's move to Wisconsin Dells will finalize Saturday at noon. In a fit of insanity, I'm going to follow their rent-a-truck up to the Dells, just to help them with the last few big pieces of furniture, and to see their new place up in the Land of Ten Thousand WaterParks. But I'll have to scoot pretty early on Sunday AM in order to get back for the brunch.

Several people have questioned my sanity at a four-hour drive on each end of that trip in less than 24 hours. But I love to just get out and drive, at least once we get outside of the city of Chicago (especially since I got the iPod - listening to some of my music collection that has just been collecting dust). And I never have made it up to Tom's farm during the construction phase, so it seems right to get up there this weekend, even if it means I'll need a weekend to recover from the weekend (especially before Hell Week at The Job).

That's it...I've got to get to bed - trash day is just a few short hours away But I want, and need, to keep my thoughts flowing as I keep on going down this river of gay life. And this is a good start!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

An anniversary, and a remembrance

A disclaimer - this is not a fun or comfortable posting. If you're offended by hearing (even indirectly) about men having sex, this posting is not for you. Those few parts are not particularly graphic, but they are fairly central to the story.

If you're still with me, read on...

From the time that I moved to Ohio in 1973, Skip was my best friend. We were two semi-outcasts - he because of his lack of height, me because of my weight and my transfer-student status. Yet somehow we found each other, and we found our niche in high school together first in theatre, then in marching band and choir. We were what Dan Fogleberg would later call "twin sons of different mothers."

Skip and I double-dated a lot - he was always much more successful with women than I ever was - and we became best drinking buddies as well. After high-school, I started off to school (on what turned out to be an eight-year bachelor's degree) and he went off on an abortive career as a vacuum-sweeper salesman and various other kinds of scams. He married his high-school sweetheart in 1977, while I tried and failed a number of times to have successful relationships with females.

In late 1982, after an evening of highly-successful drinking, we ended up together at the home of friend where I was "house-sitting." Our inhibitions were already down, and we ended up in the same king-sized bed in the one heated bedroom in the house. One thing led to another, and we ended up exchanging oral sex. Neither of us were black-out drinkers - so the next morning, we both knew what had happened, but we tiptoed around the subject as if a rhinoceros was in the bedroom with us. We had breakfast, and he went back to his soon-to-be-ex-wife in Columbus.

Over the next year, we had maybe half-a-dozen more oral encounters, all under the influence of alcohol. Either one of us would initiate sex, so it was not one-sided in any way. And we both clearly enjoyed it - although it seemed that Skip was increasingly more uncomfortable about it when we were sober. When I met my soon-to-be wife, I'm pretty sure that our playtimes stopped (there might have been one more encounter before I got married, but I honestly can't remember for sure).

After all, I was intent on being a faithful husband - because that's what I believed "normal" men were supposed to do. I can't say that I stopped fantasizing about sex with Skip, and there were times when I wished we had just had the guts to speak the truth about how we felt about each other. Then, in my fantasy, we'd ditch our respective relationships, take things "all the way" to intercourse (which Skip had hinted at wanting to do) and just choose to be together with each other. By that time, he was divorced - but I was still married (and a coward), and that was that.

Flash forward six years. Both our lives were in the throes of end-stage alcoholism, though neither of us really believed that. Skip, I later found out, was also involved with cocaine and new age "spirit channeling," which was taking him down darker and darker roads. Both of us were in desperate financial straits, spending way more than we were earning, and trying to look "normal" while doing it.

Two weeks before Easter 1990, Skip showed up at my house with a bottle of Drambuie (a long-standing birthday tradition for us) and a really heavy heart. As we sat on the front steps of my recently-acquired house in West Toledo, he poured out his troubles - how his finances were falling apart, how he was having trouble performing at work, how his new girlfriend (another childhood sweetheart) was souring on him, and how his parents and grand-parents had completely rejected him (the girlfriend was black, and Skip's family was pure redneck).

Unfortunately, I had no experience, strength or hope to share with him. I told him, "Skip, I've got no answers for you. I'm probably about 8 months away from bankruptcy myself; my marriage is completely on the rocks; I've got a four-inch hole in my leg from a lesion that was at least partly caused by my drinking; and my family really doesn't care whether I live or die, right now."

I was so wrapped up in my own struggles and shame that I couldn't hear his desperation, couldn't see his despair. We sat on the front steps, side-by-side, and commiserated a while longer. Out of the blue, Skip said, "Yeah, things are so bad between [the girlfriend] and I that nothin's happenin' between us. Hell, she won't even give me a blowjob any more." (Not surprisingly, my own sexual activity had fallen off in similar fashion.)

So I poured a little more Drambuie into his glass, smiled at him, and said (at least half-jokingly), "Well, at least THAT'S something I could help you out with..."

The rest I remember in slow-motion - Skip leaping up off the step, turning and facing me with this look of horrified shame, his expression and body-language almost shouting, "How the fuck could you possibly have said that out loud?"

He stared at me a moment longer, then set his glass down on the step in silence, turned and walked to his van, got in and drove away without another word. As I watched his van roll down the street, I remember distinctly two sentiments: one, that I was so terribly sorry he had been offended by what I had said; and two, that part of me really wished he had taken me up on my offer.

I had no idea that he had gone home that night, packed up a dozen things he had of value, and spent a week traveling around Ohio, handing his treasures over to friends and family members. I had no idea how mentioning our shared sexual history was the absolute final straw for Skip, coming hours after his grandfather (whom he adored) told him that so long as he had "that niggah girlfriend," he would never be welcomed in their house again.

But a week later, he drove back into Toledo very, very drunk. And shortly before dawn on April 8, 1990 - Palm Sunday - he knelt down next to a tree beside a jogging path at the Wildwood Metropark in Toledo, pressed a .38 caliber pistol to his chest, and pulled the trigger.

The bullet did not pierce his heart, as several of his suicide notes said he planned to do. It severed his aorta, and (according to the police report) he spent several minutes thrashing around on the ground, drowning in his own blood, alone.

He was 33.

I had been up all night chaperoning a youth-group overnighter in South Toledo. I hadn't even known Skip had left town, and as I remember it, the first hint of trouble I got was when his girlfriend called my house to ask if I knew where Skip was. About an hour later, she called back, and asked me if I could drive her downtown. It seemed a jogger had discovered Skip, and they needed her to come down and identify the body. All the way downtown, we both hoped and prayed it was a case of mistaken identity.

It was no mistake.

It was even more devastating when I found out that his girlfriend, several of his friends, his ex-wife and each of his family members had received suicide letters, postmarked the day before he died. Because of everyone he knew closely, the only person who didn't get a letter was me.

I remember thinking at the time, "Well, evidently Skip believed I had all the information I would need about why he killed himself."

It took me several years before I could forgive him for that. But in fact, when my own life self-destructed in December 1990, the only reason I couldn't kill myself was because I knew that while it would take me out of any hope of a solution, it wouldn't clear up any of my problems. That simple knowledge, as painful as it was, was also a saving grace for me.

The first time I could find even a smidgeon of peace about Skip's death was at two years sober, being asked to be an AA sponsor by a 19-year-young man - and having him admit to me how often he felt shame over his own "close encounters with the same sex." And as he sat there, dejected, waiting for my judgement on him, I could share with him what happened as a result of my own same-sex encounters - and what they cost me. And out of our shared pain and shame came healing. A few months later, a fellow still in high-school and newly sober did the same thing - and a little more of the pain and shame went away.

It took several more years to admit how angry I had been at Skip for cutting off the chance for us to live together in sobriety. And it has only been in the last two years that I have been willing to admit how much I wished I'd had the chance to be honest with him about how I felt about him, emotionally and physically.

A little over a week ago was my first out "belly-button birthday." I've had the opportunity to tell this story several times in the last six months, and each time I've told it, I've found new strength and new healing.

So on this anniverary date, it seems appropriate to put this story out - if for no other reason than to tell anyone else who might have similar shame or pain about their sexuality this important truth:

No matter how far your life may seem to have disintegrated, no matter how many friends and family have rejected you because of your homosexuality, believe this: your life, your love and your story are valuable - both to God, to those who love you, and to others who need to hear your story.

The God of my misunderstanding was waiting for me with arms open wide, when I finally was willing to admit the truth about myself. And I trust that the same God will be there for you, as well.
If even one person hears that message, and chooses to go on living as a result, the pain of sharing this story will have been worth it.

So, all these years later, I need to say these things:

I love you, Skip....still. And I miss you, still. A lot of the hurt, and the anger, is gone - and I have to admit that there are sometimes multiple weeks that can go by without a thought of you. But I still wish you were here.

I'd loved you far more that a brother - even back then.

And I really,
really wish I'd had the balls to get honest with myself and with you, and tell you that out loud, before you died.

I wish you could have held on long enough to find out that there was hope, and sobriety, and healing, for the two of us - regardles whether we were together or apart. You'll never believe all the times that I'll hear a song, or have some experience and say, "Damn, I wish you were here for this..."

I still believe those hopes are valid and true for me, today. And I trust that there will be another man - or men - with whom I can share my heart and my body the way I wish I could have with you.

It's no longer about passing a test...

I saw the test (below) on several fellow coming-out-bloggers' sites, and thought it would be fun to take it.

Of course, I also took one of these online tests to see which Dr. Seuss character I was, too. I'm not sure that scale necessarily defined my character or personhood, either.

I'd not heard of the Klein scale before, so Tom's explanatory notes were helpful. Of course, he also said that "Simple-minded categories are for rabbits, in my opinion."
(He says a lot of things "are for rabbits," for that matter. In fact, he's always talking abou rabbits. I'll have to get him to explain the reference on that one. Are rabbits for gay men like gerbils, only bigger?... Inquiring minds want to know.)

I do agree that "fitting in" is (for me, at least) becoming less of a driving force - and I don't need some online test to tell me I'm gay. I know that for a fact. And taking the test was not an indication that I was seeking proof or acceptance by "scoring well" on someone's theoretical scale of fagitude. Thank God, I am well past that.

::::comic-strip sound-bite: "I yam what I yam, an' tha's all that I yam." ::::

Not a surprising score...

Well, this wasn't much of a surprise:

Klein Sexual Orientation Grid

I scored an average of 4.14

01 2 3 4 5 6


This result can also be related to the Kinsey Scale:

0 = exclusively heterosexual
1 = predominantly heterosexual, incidentally homosexual
2 = predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual
3 = equally heterosexual and homosexual
4 = predominantly homosexual, but more than incidentally heterosexual
5 = predominantly homosexual, incidentally heterosexual
6 = exclusively homosexual


The idea of this excercise is to understand exactly how dynamic a person's sexual orientation can be, as well as how fluid it can be over a person's lifespan. While a person's number of actual homo/heterosexual encounters may be easy to categorize, their actual orientation may be completely different. Simple labels like "homosexual", "heterosexual", and "bisexual" need not be the only three options available to us.

Take the quiz
Given the fact that I was married for more than six years, and deeply closeted for 30 years, it would be kinda tough (especially given the weight given in this test for the past) to score much higher, I'd guess.

I definitely feel more of a 5, though. After all, there are some disqualifying conditions which would forever prevent me from pinning the Gayometer (being fashion- and decor-impaired, and not being young, attractive, height-weight proportionate, or well-endowed enough). But there are some definitely OGT's _(obviously gay traits) [hat-tip to The Broken Hearts Club for the term]:

- Having videos from both Bel Ami and Falcon studios
- Knowing why they call Lukas Ridgeston "Lucky Lukas"
- Having a significant aversion to all team sports
- Owning more than 1 Barbara Streisand or Carpenters album

And, of course, being really turned on by attractive men....