Sunday, February 17, 2013

Book Review: The Full Spectrum

I recently checked out the full spectrum: a new generation of writing about gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and other identities from the library. Like most books, I've devoured most of it within a day. It's made me laugh and cry, in happiness, sorrow, and hope.

Some stories stood out more for me than others. One author in particular, Kaitlyn Tierney Duggan, has a way of expressing her thoughts with such clarity and dignity, her words continue to ripple through my mind, the way a stone's effects on a pond remain long after it has sunk below the surface. Here are two excerpts:

"The inherent flaw of suicide is that it is not a true ending in any sense. Least of all to your problems. Consider pain to be a form of emotional energy that, like any other form of energy, can neither be created nor destroyed. The act of suicide, rather than acting as an end to that pain, instead acts as a conductor. The pain follows the path of least resistance to those who were closest to you at the time, like a bolt of lightning striking a tree during a storm."

"We can be neither created nor destroyed, or maybe those are the only two things we can ever be. It is constant, and we call it change."

Friday, October 29, 2010

It Will Get Better (My life is so much better than it was at my unattended birthday party.)

At first, I didn't think my experience was similar enough to others' to warrant sharing. After all, even if I was called a 'dyke' once or twice growing up, I didn't believe it was true, and so it didn't bother me. Try as I might, I can't recall who said it in what context. All I can remember is me thinking, "Whatever, they don't know me."

But I do have a story, and even if it's not similar to many that have already been told, maybe it's similar to someone who's struggling right now. I grew up in a large Catholic family in the South, where only 4 or 5 families in my entire school were Catholic. We were middle class, but some of my siblings were in college, so I wore hand-me-downs of generic-brand clothing. In kindergarten, I was made fun of by one girl because I wasn't wearing Osh Kosh B'gosh, though most people didn't care.

I was the only kid in my entire grade who went to the gifted school once a week. By third grade, I was a grade-wide outcast, one of the two kids that everyone else had free reign to pick on. One girl told me, "I only invited you to my birthday party because my mom made me; I threw your present away because you had touched it." Even though I invited all the girls of my class to my own birthday party, not a single person came.

I did have my siblings and a couple of friends in my neighborhood who went to different schools, and I tried to shrug it off -- I never let the bullies see me cry. I never even let myself cry about it alone. But after years of torment, I wondered whether there was something inherently wrong with me, if I was just unlikeable. When I moved at the beginning of sixth grade, I was scared that it would start all over again.

But it didn't. Somehow, in the wider world of middle school, I wasn't quite such an outcast. There were other gifted kids in the school, and normal kids who didn't care if I occasionally cracked a dorky joke. I joined a sports team, so I had my sports friends too.

By eighth grade, I even had the guts to stand up to a bully who was always putting down one or another of our mutual friends (usually the person who wasn't there). I told her that I didn't like the way she was always putting people down, and I didn't want to be around such a negative person, and I left our lunch table. It was a bit scary, but two friends followed me, and the next day, two more joined us at our new lunch table.

We had another confrontation in the locker room, where she tried to get physical with me, but I looked her right in the eye, firmly told her that she wasn't worth getting in trouble over, and then turned my back on her. Throughout the rest of that day, a number of other students thanked me for standing up to her; apparently she had quite a few victims.

I can't say I always managed to speak up when I saw someone being bullied. And sometimes the victims would laugh along with something I thought was cruel, and that made me think maybe they wouldn't want me to speak up for them. Laughing along or trying to ignore it won't make it stop. Bullies often don't feel good about themselves; they use putting you down to try to build themselves up. And many times others will pretend not to hear, or will even laugh along, because they're scared of becoming the new target.

But if you can try to show the bully that their methods reflect on them, not you, it might get them to stop. If it doesn't, talk to an adult. Ask for help. And keep asking until someone listens and helps. I never told an adult in elementary school; I was too embarrassed, too ashamed to admit I couldn't get along with my classmates. Bullies rely on that to keep going, so you have to be brave and speak up.

After hearing so many times that you're less than, you might start to believe it, but remind yourself that they're the one(s) with the problem, not you. And that you can prove that, once you're done having to be in the same place as them. Give yourself a chance to prove it.

Once you're an adult, you'll have a lot more freedom to choose who you spend your time around. You'll also be able to meet people with common interests, people who will love you just the way you are and appreciate all the unique qualities that make you you. It might take some time to find your place, but there really is a place for you. I know, because I have found my "place" -- several times, in fact, as I went to college, started work, went to grad school, and now as I'm about to start work again. And if dorky me who had not a single person show up to her birthday party in elementary school could find a place, anyone can.

Just a note: even if you're not the one being bullied, you can help stop bullying. Stand up to the bullies. It doesn't even have to be a direct confrontation; it can be as simple as rolling your eyes at your friend and saying "That's so dumb" or "That's not funny" and then talking about something else. This lets the victim know that not everyone thinks the way the bully does. Because when people watch silently, the victim is told that no one cares about them. But deep down, you do care, don't you? If you were to hear that something had happened to the victim, how would you feel? Don't let yourself wind up in that situation.

If even just commenting seems too scary, you can tell a trusted adult about the bullying. Most bullies time their attacks so that teachers remain unaware, and too often the victims are too intimidated to tell -- or even when they do tell, it becomes his word against the bully's. But as a witness, you can help the bullying to stop, and the bully need not know you were the one to tell. If you were the one being bullied, what would you want someone to do? Do that.

I was going to talk about how scary it can be for a Christian (or anyone who's been taught that homosexuality is wrong) to think they might not be straight, but how that can actually instead be the beginning of an incredible faith journey... but I'll save that for my next post. I plan to add a resources page with references that might be useful. You can find some resources related to bullying (for victims and for people who care) in my "It Gets Better" post for Spirit Day.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Confession: I'm not normal -- or am I?

This is difficult for me to talk about, but I have a confession to make. There's something about me that's a little different from most people.

1) My "preference" is estimated to occur in 3 to 20% of the population, and it is more common in males than females.

2) In cultures across the globe, since ancient times, my "preference" has been viewed as evil and unnatural.

3) There are some people -- even psychologists -- who believe that my "preference" is a choice, born of an inherent rebelliousness against societal norms.

4) Throughout history, people with my "preference" have been forced to adapt to the dominant "preference." Signs of my "preference" have been met with corporal and verbal punishments.

5) Every day, I have to deal with aspects of society that are set up to benefit the dominant "preference," while people with my "preference" are left at a disadvantage.

6) I've often been told that I'm a minority, and so I shouldn't expect people to accommodate me; instead I should just adapt to society and have the dominant "preference."

7) People that I meet just assume that I have the dominant "preference." When it's discovered that I don't, people often make a big deal out of it and tell me of all the other people they know with my "preference."

8) When I meet others with my "preference," we often commiserate with each other and share our experiences of being different. Sometimes, we're accused of "conspiring" or being "exclusionary," or we're told that our "preference" is "nothing to be proud of."

9) For centuries, scientists have studied my "preference" to determine its cause and to attempt to link it with a variety of physical and mental traits and diseases.

10) Current scientific evidence suggests that my "preference" developed in the womb, before I was even born. One theory links it to prenatal testosterone exposure.

Today, I shall announce to the world that I am not ashamed. Yes, I am different from the majority, but I am still "normal." I am simply left-handed.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

To come out or not to come out (or "to wuss out or not to wuss out")

I ended my last post with a bit of a cliffhanger: after writing down what I'd like to say when I decide to come out to my brother, I contemplated sending it. Before I share whether I sent it or not, let me tell you a little about my brother and his coming-out story.

There were signs that Simon was gay while we were growing up -- many of those stereotypical signs that really have nothing to do with sexuality. Simon has always been a sensitive soul, and he was a bit of a crybaby as a kid. I'd play with his G.I. Joes and Lego, while he was happy to play house or Barbies. In high school, people would make fun of guys in drama, or on the color guard, or who listened to Canadian Brass, and I'd say, "Hey, my brother does those things, and he has a girlfriend."

But once he was in college, there were more concrete signs, like the poster of shirtless Jim Morrison on his dorm-room wall. Sure, straight guys might have Doors posters, but not naked Doors posters. Then there was the time he wanted to go clubbing with friends during winter break. My dad looked up the club to make sure it was in an okay part of town -- and discovered it was a gay club. My brother swore up and down that he hadn't known.

During the spring semester of his junior year, Simon increasingly mentioned his friend Steve. During spring break, Steve came up and met my parents because he and Simon were going to share a two-bedroom apartment for their last year of college.

On April 1st (note, kids: this is probably the one day a year you should never come out), Simon sent an e-mail to all of his siblings, letting us know that he and Steve were a couple (he'd come out to our parents the night before). I got the e-mail while I was at work. It wasn't a shock, really. I'd already picked up that Steve was special to Simon. But my reaction to Simon's confirmation shocked me.

I cried. Part of it was hurt that he'd felt he couldn't tell me sooner, and empathy for all the times he'd struggled and maybe not had anyone he felt he could talk to. I knew there was more to it than that, but I could never let myself figure out the real reason I had cried.

Of course I never told Simon any of this. I e-mailed back and told him I loved him, thanked him for sharing with me, and said I was happy that he'd found someone special. When I called him that night, we didn't really talk about it at all. Later, yes, but that night, we danced around it -- just had a normal conversation, as if nothing had changed. And really, nothing had -- except he could more openly talk about all aspects of his life with me.

So here I was on the other side of the fence. Over the past year or so, Simon had said things here and there that let me know he at least suspected I wasn't straight -- at one point, he talked about my "future husband," then paused and corrected himself "or partner or significant other." I'd actually switched to gender-neutral pronouns for myself (about 4 years ago, before I was even willing to entertain the possibility of dating women), but I just kind of skated around the issue when Simon did. After that, I stopped getting hints from him.

I have wanted to tell Simon for a while; I've come so close so many times, but found it impossible to get the words out. And there's always been so much I've wanted to make sure I say. There have been only two concerns holding me back (besides not knowing how to say it): 1) I wanted to be absolutely sure -- after all, this isn't something you can take back. 2) I felt a little guilty asking him to keep my secret from the rest of the family when he'd had to keep his own for so many years.

Writing down my thoughts really helped; I worded it as if it were a letter I were going to send. I prefaced it with my concern #2 -- telling him I wanted to share something with him but didn't want the rest of the family to know, so he should stop reading if he wasn't okay with that. Then I told him not to read it at work, but not to worry because it was good news.

After the jump, I started with what had precipitated my decision to come out to him; I told him that I had not gone to the Pride event to support him so much as I did it to get to know people in my local LGBT community. I thanked him for his courage to be out, and let him know that I would not have been able to accept my own sexuality had I not had his and Steve's example of what a loving, same-sex relationship could be like.

I apologized for not coming out sooner, and explained some of the reasons why I couldn't. I did let Simon know that I planned to come out to the rest of the family once I was in a relationship. I confessed that I had cried when I'd read his coming-out e-mail, and explained that I thought it was partly out of jealousy and fear that I would never be able to know his happiness, that I'd never be able to accept myself.

After writing the letter, I took a few deep breaths. Was I really ready for him to know? Was I sure? Would I ever want to take this back? What if, after finally finding a woman, I discovered that I prefer men, after all? But I know this won't happen. Even if things don't work out with a woman, that just means she's not the right woman. Or even if I do find that 1 in a million guy that I'm attracted to, Simon would be able to understand. It wouldn't stop me from being attracted to women.

I sent the letter (by e-mail) and then left for a class. When I got home, I had two messages from Simon -- one by voice mail, and the other by e-mail (in case I didn't get the voice mail). He thanked me for sharing, told me he loved me, and assured me that he would keep it a secret until I was ready. When I called him back, it was eerily like our conversation after he'd come out -- we danced around the topic; it was like nothing had changed.

But I know something has changed, and we'll be closer now that I don't have to worry about "slipping up" anymore. Since I've come out to Simon, I've felt an incredible lightness. I know I can't go back, but I don't want to go back. I'm coasting down this hill now, and I think I'm starting to see the rainbow from under the clouds.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It Gets Better: but does wearing purple really help it to?

Note: this is a "breaking news" post to address current events. Regular posts will continue on Thursday according to the new schedule.

On Wednesday October 20th, people will wear purple for Spirit Day. According to GLAAD, "Spirit Day honors the teenagers who had taken their own lives in recent weeks. But just as importantly, it's also a way to show the hundreds of thousands of LGBT youth who face the same pressures and bullying, that there is a vast community of people who support them."

According to one Facebook event page (and there are several others), at least 1.3 million people will be wearing purple Wednesday. In addition to Spirit Day, many people who were bullied in their youth have offered testimonials to tell LGBTQ youth that "It Gets Better" (heck, there's even a Broadway song). There has also been increased media attention for the Trevor Project, which provides assistance to LGBTQ youth via a 24-hour crisis hotline (1-866-488-7386), an on-line community, and advocacy and educational resources.

But are these campaigns really helping youth? According to the New York Times, the Trevor Project has experienced "a 'great increase' in calls in the last month," and troubled LGBTQ youth have reached out to people who have shared their stories in the "It Gets Better" project. On the other hand, media coverage of suicides has been correlated with an increased number of subsequent suicides among members of the same vulnerable population as the original suicide, in what is known as the Werther Effect.

While there is some controversy about whether the Werther Effect is real (or just an example of the media looking for the "big story," i.e., just an increase in publicized suicides rather than actual suicides), it is a serious enough issue that the media needs to be cognizant of its potential effect. And yet a Google news search of "Werther Effect" (and related terms) revealed only one English-language story about media coverage's effect on subsequent suicide rates in the past month, and it was not related to the recent LGBTQ suicides.

With that being said, the responses have seemed appropriate: remembering and mourning those lost, but making sure they did not die in vain by using this opportunity to raise awareness and effect change. The Trevor Project and the "It Gets Better" Project both have the potential to reach many of the most isolated teens, assuming they have access to a phone or computer that they can use safely and confidentially.

Bullying of all kinds has been increasing over the last decade, as has teen suicide. And the suicide rate among LGBTQ youth has been much higher than that of other teens for decades, due to bullying, family pressure, and lack of support. Sadly, the publicized suicides are just the tip of the iceberg. During these past few weeks, other LGBTQ youth have committed suicide, but their deaths have escaped the public consciousness. The difference is that these kids faced relentless bullying that precipitated their deaths, and their families have stood up and said, "Enough is enough."

Bullying of LGBTQ youth has risen dramatically lately; 85% have been harassed and 61% don't feel safe at school. I've read (conservative) articles that link this to the push for marriage equality, ENDA, and an end to DADT. To some extent, that's true. When some bigots feel like their backs are against the wall and others will finally be given equal rights, their hate turns into vitriolic attacks. And others who agree with them on the issues don't have the spine to stand up and say that their behavior is wrong.

This happened during the Civil Rights Era, when too many whites stood silently while a few terrorized activists' families. I've seen troubling wall posts on Facebook Spirit Day event pages: threats of violence against anyone who wears purple tomorrow, and others who "won't wear purple because I don't support homosexuals' choices." I find the latter just as disturbing as the former because they're giving tacit approval to the bullies; their message just as clearly states, "You aren't worthy of being treated like a human being."

LGBTQ youth are particularly vulnerable to bullying because many have an utter lack of support network. Sometimes they face verbal and physical abuse or even abandonment by their families. Many preachers, while maybe saying "Hate the sin; love the sinner" also spew bile every Sunday about "deviants" and "perverts," making the "love" part of their message seem like mere lip service. Too often, schools ignore bullying.

It's true that it will get better, and that in general, people are becoming more open-minded. But for the LGBTQ youth who are being bullied today, it's not enough to say "wait until you're out of school." We need to make sure our schools are safe places now.

I think that of the three campaigns, Spirit Day has the most potential to reach youth where they are, in their schools. Seeing peers and teachers wearing purple will indicate where they can go for help or advice or just to talk. But Spirit Day is just a single day; we need permanent changes in our schools.

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network provides resources to help schools create safe spaces for LGBTQ students. If you're a parent, a student, a teacher, an alumnus, speak up! Ask what the school is currently doing, and provide information on what else they can do. Volunteer your time; be part of the solution.

My friend who teaches at a rural high school in the South has been trying to start a Gay-Straight Alliance at his school for years. The principal has told him, "I just don't think this community is ready for that yet." My friend is frustrated because to him, that just shows how much a GSA is needed. My friend was himself harassed by students a few years ago. The administration handled it appropriately, but if students feel that they can harass a teacher in the classroom, how much bullying of students is going on in secret?

There are signs of progress at my friend's school, however. The school is participating in Spirit Day, though they are only calling it "Bullying Prevention Day." But in this digital age, I suspect students are aware of what the day really is about. And discussions are underway again about the GSA (there are students who are asking for one, too).

Opponents of LGBT rights are highly vocal and mobilized. Actual LGBT people are a minority. We need allies -- or even non-allies, just people who don't want to see kids bullied for any reason -- to speak up, and demand that schools step up and protect our kids.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

On a roll -- the Coming Out Snowball

In the past few weeks, I've managed to come out to several different people. I already talked about coming out to my on-line friend Kim here. Recently, I had a friend visiting from out of town, Rita, and she mentioned that she had no gaydar because even though she was open-minded, she just hadn't hung out with very many gay people so far. Right now, she's in medical school in the South, so there just aren't a lot of openly gay people in her town.

She told me how one of her classmates, when she asked for a ride home, said "Sure, but my boyfriend will be driving," and she replied, "That's cool; I didn't know you were seeing anyone," but inside she was thinking, "Man, how could I not have realized." Rita said she just never really thinks about others' sexuality because it's no big deal; it doesn't affect her, and she doesn't want to assume anything based on stereotypes -- but really, she just never even thinks about it enough to pick up on "stereotypes."

So a little while later in our conversation, she said "Well, you're straight..." (in preface to a comment about how people can be tolerant or something), and I somehow managed to pipe up "Actually, I'm not." She wasn't bluffing when she said it was no big deal to her -- she didn't even bat an eyelash as she said, "Okay, you're not," and went right on making her point.

Because my housemate was having a party that night, Rita and I shared my double bed (which we'd done in the past at hotels), and she didn't seem weirded out by that at all. If I'd had to predict her reaction, this is pretty much what I would have expected, though I was surprised she didn't have many gay friends.

The second person I came out to was Chris, a guy who had just joined the reading group I myself joined not too long ago (and attended a NOM counter-protest with members of). I had failed to come out to anyone at the counter-protest; I hadn't denied my sexuality, but I just hadn't found an opportunity to say one way or the other.

The reading group participated in a Pride event, so I went along, as did Chris. As the two of us walked back to our cars together, Chris asked me who in the group was gay, and then started listing the ones he knew. I told him I actually wasn't too sure -- I didn't assume someone was just because they had come to Pride or the counter-protest, so unless they mentioned their significant other, I really didn't know. But I did confirm the two couples that I knew. After a pause, I remembered to add, "and there's me."

Chris seemed a bit (a lot) surprised by my revelation. I guess it's not so important if gay guys and straight girls can't tell I'm gay, as long as lesbians can. Unfortunately, I suspect I don't cause a blip on anyone's gaydar (but that's a topic for another day).

Back on topic: to summarize, I have managed to come out to three different friends in as many weeks, in different ways. It does seem to get a bit easier each time. All three occurred before National Coming Out Day, and yet on NCOD, I was still beating myself up over not being ready to come out to my family, especially my brother.

My brother actually IM'ed me late in the evening on National Coming Out Day, and I really wanted to tell him, but I just couldn't work it into the conversation before he had to go. So yesterday I decided to write down everything I'd want to say to him, so maybe the next time I'd be more ready. Once it was written, I thought, "Well, why not just send it?"

I took a few deep breaths. Once you send something like that, it can never be taken back. Was I ready? Find out in my next post.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Coming out to a friend (follow-up to "Let me out of here already!")

I've heard that you'll know when the right time to come out to someone is. That if you want to, plan to, but fail to, you just weren't ready yet. The other night, I was chatting with my friends from an on-line forum, including Kim (whose view on homosexuality I talked about here).

Kim's been doing some on-line dating, and she's pretty good at converting a chat into a date. I've also been trying to meet people -- even just friends would be nice. So I was getting advice about this girl I was trying to chat up -- being very careful to leave out pronouns, or just say "someone." But as Kim asked me more questions, one of my responses used "her." I started to reword it, but after erasing it once, I rewrote it and sent. I just felt "to heck with this, why am I trying so hard to hide the truth?"

Kim replied, "By 'her' I hope you mean 'his'?" I replied, "Um, no." And she said, "Oh, didn't realize that." It got quiet for a bit, so I said, "Heh, I killed chat," but she reassured me that she was "just deciding how that changed things" (regarding the advice she was giving me).

The other two Christians were also in chat at the time. Jen (who already knew that I wasn't straight) shared a video that she'd been watching -- I'm not even sure she realized what I'd posted since she hadn't been participating in the conversation for a while. On the other hand, Beth had been taking part, but quickly posted that she'd been on Facebook, and then that she had to go for a while. As is common in chat, the conversation quickly changed directions after that, so I have no idea what Beth thinks about it.

Kim did private-message me, though, asking if I was bi or if she was misunderstanding things. I said, "Yeah, but leaning more towards women, actually; it's something I'm just starting to explore." Kim replied, "Pshaw, you were holding out on me!" so I explained a little about what I'd been through, and apologized for misleading her, saying "I didn't know how to bring it up when you assumed it was a guy."

She said, "It's all good, just caught me by surprise," and then she gave me some advice on the on-line dating thing (which totally didn't pan out because I'd already ruined it by putting myself in the "friend zone," as Kim called it, but next time I'll be able to avoid that thanks to her advice).

It feels good not to have to censor myself in chat anymore, and to know that even though Kim may not agree with my "choices" regarding who I'm dating, she'll still be supportive and give me advice. After our last conversation about sexuality, I had been a bit nervous, but I'm so glad I took the risk to come out.

Monday, October 11, 2010

National Coming Out Day

Today is National Coming Out Day. A day to proudly stand up and be counted. But today, I don't feel proud. I feel guilty. Not because of my sexual orientation, but because I'm still hiding in the closet. And it's not even that I'm in the closet, so much as why I'm still in the closet, if I'm really honest with myself.

Some friends tagged me in some gay-rights photos on Facebook. Just me, holding up a sign. That's nothing to be ashamed of. But what if my fellow youth group volunteers saw, and I was asked to stop working with the group because of it? Or what if my siblings saw and questioned me? I don't want to lie, but I'm waiting to come out to the family until I'm in a long-term relationship.

After all, that's what my brother did. That's what's reasonable, because it's when some of my siblings want to know. Besides, if I never find someone, then there's no point in putting them through all those emotions, right? But as I make friends locally, as I start to date, it becomes riskier that someone could slip up and out me on Facebook. And I know that finding out from a stranger would really hurt my family members.

Today, all someone did was tag me in an innocuous photo. But I freaked and deleted the notification from my wall. My brother still managed to see the picture, however. And then he re-posted it to his wall -- noting how much he appreciates my support. And that's when the guilt started.

I didn't attend the event for him, so much as I did it for me -- to get closer to new LGBT friends, to become more comfortable being "out" in my local community, to see what kind of community it is. I want to tell my brother, "I'm not your ally; I'm one of you." Honestly, I thought he knew (or at least suspected), but it's been a while since he's made an ambiguous comment.

On a day like today, I want to stand up and be counted. I want to post a message on Facebook proclaiming my orientation to the world. But the fear of others' reactions, the fear of being judged, and the worry that I'll be treated differently afterward hold me back. It's not consideration for others' feelings. It's fear. And so right now, I'm taking advantage of being closeted to enjoy the privileges of a straight person -- while trying to enter my local LGBT community and take advantage of the opportunities for friendship, dating, and solidarity that it offers.

Would they want me? I know I wouldn't want a friend who denied they knew me. But I also know that each member of the community has had to struggle with coming out, so if anyone would understand my turmoil, they would. But I'm a grown woman. How much longer, really, am I going to hide who I am from the world?

It took over ten years, but I've accepted my orientation as a part of the person God made me, as something to celebrate -- at least to myself. So why can't I share that with the world? Today, I won't be making any posts about National Coming Out Day on Facebook -- not until I actually have the guts to participate. My hats off to those who did.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Coming out (or not) at a gay rights protest

I recently went to my first gay rights demonstration (which I talked about here); this post focuses on people coming out at the demonstration.

Since I'm not a big fan of the bar scene, I was somewhat hoping I might be able to meet some cool women at the rally. However, it seemed that most of the people I ended up talking to were straight -- and managed to work this fact into the conversation within a minute or two. If only I could learn from them!

I attended the rally with some people from a reading group my friend Emily had recently dragged me to (and which I guess I've now joined). Emily's a friend from church, but I did actually attempt to come out to her last Thanksgiving -- though I think she dismissed it as a joke.

Anyway, you'd think it'd be easy to come out to new, gay friends while attending a gay rights demonstration, right? Not if you're me! See, I have a very good friend who recently went to DC to get married. He lives in a Southern state that doesn't provide employment anti-discrimination protection for sexual orientation, and he's a teacher.

My friend had to use a personal day to get married, and he was warned by the principal to not even mention to his students that he'd gotten married. Now, my friend's not an idiot; he works in a rural county in the South, and he's never openly admitted his orientation to his students. He'd never go around saying "Hey guys, I married a man!" and the principal knows that. The warning was along the lines of "don't even mention you got married at all."

Maybe the principal was just trying to help my friend avoid any potential controversy, since the climate in his state has grown more hostile towards LGBT people over the past couple of years. Even if that's the case, though, to tell someone on what's supposed to be the happiest day of their life to not share their joy with their students infuriates and saddens me. My friend and his husband have been together for seven years; in that same state, they'd be married through common law were they not the same sex. If my friend were straight, would he have been given that same warning? I think not.

So I was still riled for my friend's sake at the protest (which was a counter-protest against a NOM rally against gay marriage), and mentioned it over the course of conversation with one of the members of the reading group. Then I noticed a couple of the other members eying me curiously as they overheard. I could almost see the wheels spinning: "Is she? Is she just an ally? Hmm..."

But none of them asked me, and I didn't know how to bring it up naturally. After all, I spent over a decade trying to play straight. A bit later, I did comment to the same girl, "It's kind of funny how all the straight people seem to make sure you know they're straight within a minute or two," to which she got kind of uncomfortable and said, "Well, I guess I do because I feel like this doesn't affect me directly, so I don't want to give people the wrong impression, since I was able to marry my husband." Oops.

I blushed and said, "Never mind. You just proved me wrong, since you haven't been saying it." And then I asked if her husband ever came to the reading group. So the conversation didn't quite go in the direction I wanted it to, though I did choose my words carefully: "straight" = "they." I'm not sure if she picked up on it, given her reaction.

So once again, I was a complete wuss and managed to not come out to people. If I can't come out to fellow gay people and allies at a gay rights demonstration, will I ever be able to come out to anyone at all? My only comfort is that I have come out to a few people: people in my hiking group who just assumed I was (which made it really easy), Emily (sort of), and even my old college roommate (which is a good story I might share later), just to name a few.

Really, though, I just want to be out; I don't want to have to come out.

Irrational NOMbers (reflections on my first gay rights demonstration)

I recently went to my first gay rights demonstration. It was a positive, mostly silent counter-protest to a NOM "rally" (can it really be called a rally when your audience consists of maybe a dozen people?).

I've been to demonstrations for other causes, mostly in high school and college, and I'd forgotten the feeling of solidarity you get from them, the hope that stems from knowing that others care enough to stand out in the sweaty heat for hours.

I live in the South, in a state with no laws protecting against discrimination in housing or employment, no hate-crimes legislation, and a constitutional amendment banning recognition of any sort of same-sex relationship. So I was pleasantly surprised to see that we counter-protesters outnumbered the NOMbers by a significant margin (at least 20:1).

I might have chalked this up to the fact that the NOMbers already have everything they want, and people often don't go out and demonstrate to protect the status quo, except that the vast majority of people whom we passed on the street or who passed us in their cars indicated their support for us, not NOM. Also, many of the people I talked to at the counter-protest told me they were straight. This gives me hope that things really are rapidly changing in this country.

Since this was a counter-protest, we first had a rally a few blocks away, where couples, their parents, and their children talked about the impact of being allowed to marry -- and of not being allowed. It was beautiful and amazing; I'm so inspired by these couples that have been together for decades with very little support and people on all sides trying to tear them apart. True love is truly powerful, and I can only hope to find it one day.

We then assembled across from the NOM "rally." We lined the sidewalk, 6 deep, and the police were there to make sure we weren't infringing the right of way, but one female officer went out of her way to say, "I agree with you and applaud you for what you're doing, but we just have to make sure we keep the sidewalk clear." Yeah, she's one of us. So the police were cool.

Our point in the counter-protest was to show that we just want equal rights, so we were urged to respect NOM's right to demonstrate by not trying to shout them down, just to show them we disagree through our signs and our numbers. Keeping my mouth shut proved difficult once the NOMbers showed how irrational they were, so I resorted to talking quietly to the people around me.

The NOMbers started off by claiming that pro-gay marriage groups were shouting them down and giving them death threats at other stops on their national tour, and so obviously we didn't respect their "civil rights." I don't know if that's true or not; I just know we were certainly respecting their right to spew whatever nonsense they wanted, and I didn't hear a single threat.

"Civil rights" was the theme of the day -- their civil rights, which would be infringed upon if gay marriage passed. Because they have the right to define marriage, and our "redefining" of marriage would take that right away from them. And they have the right to keep their kids from learning that homosexuality exists; apparently their kid being told that their classmate has two mothers or two fathers is infringing on their civil liberties to pretend a biological fact just isn't so.

Yada yada yada, Bible, yada, Christian nation, yada yada, we love you but we want you to be miserable, yada yada, we'll be remembered in history as the preservers of civil rights, yada yada yada, better act now or it will be too late, yada yada, humans are at risk of extinction if the gays have their way, yada yada, erroneous, alarming statistics about crime committed by "children without a mom and a dad," yada blahblah, give us money, yada yada yawn. They were so hypocritical that I almost laughed in a couple of places, except that sadly, they're blind to their hypocrisy, and they do still have the majority in too many places in this country.

Towards the end, a Gospel singer sang a song called "Unity," which really was perfect... for gay marriage supporters. Not quite sure how it fit with their "us vs. them" mentality, but we started cheering and rocking to it, especially when she sang, "A house divided can never stand; come on and take my hand. We've got to build one another up, not tear one another down... We've got to show love to one another." The singer was getting agitated by the end, seeing us so energized by her song and her crowdlet just standing there.

All in all, it was a great day. I left feeling energized and hopeful about the prospects for gay marriage in this country. I was hoping to get to know some new friends a little better, which I did, though I somehow didn't manage to come out to them (which I explain in a later post). And I didn't really meet any single ladies around my age (though that wasn't the primary reason I went, of course). At any rate, I'd definitely attend another demonstration.

Monday, September 6, 2010

No, really, how do I get out of here?

I just recently moved, and I didn't find the new place until a few days before I had to move. I knew what I was looking for, and once I found it, I didn't want to risk not being accepted by one of the roommates. So I didn't bring up sexuality during the will-you-let-me-move-in discussion.

Of course, now I don't know how to bring it up. Yes, I've made it clear that I'm supportive of gay rights. That's very easy, since I often talk about my family, and when I mention my brother's husband, things flow from there. But when it comes to me, that's tougher. I'm not dating anyone right now, and I really don't know how to just casually slip it into the conversation.

One of my friends from the women-only hiking group helped me move, and we chatted for a bit afterward. It felt so great to be able to just talk without worrying about letting something slip and having to explain. I didn't even realize I'd been making such efforts with other people until I didn't have to!

I realize it's easier to come out sooner rather than later with new people. But how? I want it to happen naturally. Anyone have any suggestions?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Let Me Out of Here Already!

Sometimes it's so frustrating not being out already. And yet coming out is scary. I don't want people to judge me or challenge me. I'm not ready for that.

I have a few friends I met through an on-line forum; it's a small community and we chat via AIM several nights a week, so even though I've never met them, I feel like we know each other fairly well.

I've been using gender-neutral pronouns to describe dating prospects or my future hopes (I'm looking for "a person" who..., "they," what I'd like in a "spouse," etc.). They know I've joined a women-only hiking club -- and that said hiking club had a singles party... at a lesbian bar. And yet only one of them knows I'm not straight -- the rest simply assume I am.

Three of them are fervent Christians -- I think non-denominational, bordering on evangelical. Kim and I got into a discussion about what the Bible says on homosexuality when she asked me what I thought about my brother being gay. I shared with her some links I'd found about what the original Hebrew and Greek actually say, and how monogamous, consensual homosexual relationships aren't actually addressed in the Bible.

This happened months ago, and I'd pretty much forgotten about it. But Kim brought it up the other night, saying that she'd looked the links over, but they hadn't changed her mind, because homosexuality's "not normal." She talked about how rare it was, as if this proved it's not normal, so I countered with "It's just as rare as being left-handed, which also used to be viewed as evil, but it turns out lefties' brains are just wired differently, and it's the same for sexuality."

She then said it's different because being gay doesn't contribute to promulgation of the human species (like being left-handed does?). I pointed out that it's present in just about every species of animal and hasn't been eliminated, so it must provide some purpose, and that not every thing that had evolved in various species contributed to reproduction.

Kim's response shocked me. "Cancer and physical deformities also happen in nature, but no one would try to say they're normal. Nature's not perfect." Wow. Just what am I supposed to say to that? I actually didn't have a chance to respond because she had to go, and neither of us has brought it up since.

I don't know what she thinks gay people should do. Marry people they're not going to really love, just to have kids? Accept that they're "mistakes" and so live singly and not reproduce so they don't pass on their "abnormality"? Honestly, I don't want to know. One part of me wanted to scream, "You're talking about me, you know." But the rest of me worried, "How will she treat me once she figures it out? Will she stop talking to me as a friend?"

It's easy to say I shouldn't care, but the fact is I do care. I don't have many friends right now, and I don't want to lose one of the few I do have. Then again, if she can't accept me for who I am, is she really a friend?

Since I made this post, I have come out to Kim; you can read about what went down here.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Movie Review: Outing Riley

I'm privileged to have been on both sides of the coming-out-to-the-family scenario (or I will be once I actually come out myself). My brother came out in college. I'd had gay friends before, but it's completely different when it's someone you used to share the bathtub with.

I'll share more about his coming out in another post. However, I think having experienced both sides of the situation enabled me to have a richer appreciation for the movie Outing Riley (which I watched at Outing Riley is about a Chicago Irish Catholic man, Bobby, who decides to come out to his brothers after the death of their father.

A good part (a bit too much) of the movie is filled with Bobby trying to screw up his courage to tell his brothers, leaving the aftermath of the telling a bit rushed in places. The movie does an excellent job of portraying the dynamics of a large family and the different relationships that occur within.

The movie didn't overly saccharinize the large family as Seventh Heaven does; it really felt like I could have been watching my own family, with all its faults and squabbles but also the special closeness and in-jokes. The latter provided needed moments of levity; there were a couple of times I laughed hard enough I had to rewind to catch what I had missed. On other occasions, it felt like the jokes were trying too hard; they ventured on the sophomoric.

Outing Riley mostly avoids cliches. Bobby is the stereotypical beer-drinking, slightly overweight thirty-something Midwestern baseball fan -- more so than any of his brothers -- except he's gay. You can't have a movie about Irish Catholics without somebody having a substance abuse problem, although the brother in question seems to be mostly functioning, and it's a minor plot point.

The portrayal of priests, on the other hand, was all too typical of Hollywood. The priestly brother comes across as arrogant, preachy, and judgmental through much of the movie. And then there's a bizarre scene where another priest chastises Bobby for not blessing himself with holy water as he's leaving the church, obviously upset. Most parish priests I know have simply seen too much humanity to act as though they have all the answers. They became priests so they could serve, not to act as judges. The priests I know might have stopped Bobby, but only to ask if he was alright and needed someone to talk to. Again, though, these were minor points in the movie.

What made this movie truly remarkable to me was its portrayal of Bobby's brothers' reactions to his news. I've heard people say, "If they can't accept you when you come out, you don't need them in your life" as if acceptance is something that occurs instantaneously. But for many LGBT people, self-acceptance took years. Why should your family be able to process it in nanoseconds when you tell them that you're not who they always thought you were?

Outing Riley covers the whole gamut of emotions experienced when a family member comes out, from disbelief to anger and grief, through confusion and uncertainty, finally arriving at acceptance and celebration. Bobby's brothers are no saints; there are ugly moments, moments that made me cry, but the movie shows that love is a verb, and that as long as both sides of a relationship are willing to put in the effort, understanding can be achieved. Outing Riley ends on a note of redemption, the brothers drawn closer together. But the journey to that point feels very real.

The movie completely fails the Bechdel Test, with most female characters (the brothers' wives and even Bobby's lesbian beard) mere sketches. However, Outing Riley has one of my favorite female characters, Bobby's sister Maggie (played by the beautiful Julie Pearl), who's more pivotal to the story than any of his brothers or even his longtime boyfriend, Andy. If Maggie Riley were gay, she'd be my ideal woman. Maggie plays the role of mediator, which I often attempt in my own family, but she succeeds where I fail.

Maggie is no pushover. She is compassionate but firm in urging Bobby to come out to their brothers, and she skillfully negotiates behind people's backs to facilitate reconciliation. Despite her meddlesome ways, no one can get mad at her because she always has their best interests at heart. She's not perfect, however; her plan for finally getting Bobby to come out ends in disaster. But her warmth, exuberance, and gentle encouragement win the day.

Outing Riley showed little interaction between Bobby and Andy, which was a good thing since they seemed to have little chemistry. At points, the movie ventures on the farcical; it doesn't take itself too seriously, and you shouldn't either. The film is less about a gay man and more about his family's reactions to his coming out, and in that, I think it does an incredible job. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in a comedy that will still make you think.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Those leaps are terrifying

Waiting for a ship to come, praying for strength to leap,
those leaps are terrifying; the small steps make us free.
-- "Eveline," Cathie Ryan

To me, admitting that I wasn't straight to anyone felt like jumping off a cliff high above the clouds. Once I took that step, there'd be no going back to the safety of what I had known, and I couldn't see what was below.

In college and after, I secretly hoped that some girl would figure it out without me having to do anything. In college, I wanted to kiss one of my friends, Tanya, but I certainly didn't have the guts to initiate anything, and as far as I know, she's 100% straight.

Among friends and family and on dating sites, I kept the ruse going that I was straight. But as I reached my late 20's and became increasingly dissatisfied with the men I kept trying to date, I gave myself permission to at least look at girls. Suddenly I found attractive people everywhere! And some of them, it turned out, were looking back!

For the next year or two, I was still too scared to do anything more than look (and occasionally smile). I'm an introvert, so trying to pick up somebody was unthinkable. What if they were straight and got offended? What if they knew someone I knew?

During this time, I kept reading about sexuality on the internet -- scientific studies, coming out stories, available resources, religious viewpoints, news stories, whatever I could find. I'd spend months ignoring it, then spend a whole day reading about it.

Finally, I found a support forum for women who are exploring their sexuality. It took a week to get the courage to join. "No one will know who I am. If I don't like it, I can disappear at any time." So I joined, and found that there are many women like me.

Sometimes I had wondered if I had missed the boat; most people in my generation came out in college or even high school. Was I too old? I learned from the forum that it's never too late. By seeing women struggling in marriages to men, I realized that I couldn't just date men and marry one without exploring my sexuality first. It wouldn't be fair to him, and I was not ready for a marriage to anyone until I learned to accept all parts of myself.

Some of the women had been on the forum for years, and they were still complaining about not having any experience, of not having a single lesbian or bi friend in real life. Others were in relationships with women across the world, whom they'd never even met. I realized I could continue hanging out at the top of the cliff with them, or I could start to work my way down. At least at this point, I knew I had to get down, somehow.

I still couldn't just jump. But it turns out it's not a sheer cliff, after all. There are many trails leading down, and you can pick the one that climbs down at a comfortable pace for you. This blog chronicles my journey to the land on the other side of the clouds, where I now believe I'll find a rainbow.

Monday, July 26, 2010

How did you know you're not straight? (or in my case, "How many times did you have to be hit over the head before it sunk in?")

I've always thought I was a pretty perceptive person. When it comes to others, I can be. When it comes to myself, though, I'm the Queen of Obliviousness. Looking back, it's been obvious since my childhood that I'm not straight. Here are some of the signs I missed:

The Princess Bride. Yes, like many little girls, I loved Westley. Taunting, cliff-climbing, swashbuckling, rescuing the princess, I wanted to do it all. Princess Buttercup was beautiful; I envied her flowing, shiny locks. But I didn't want to be her. I wanted to be Westley.

The brown-eyed girl. I can't even remember her name, but she was in my third grade class. I hung on her every word and stared at her stunning brown eyes and blond hair. I just thought I envied her, though I never did want brown eyes. But in fourth grade, my friend kept harassing me about what boy I liked. After a week of studying the boys in class, I finally settled on Jimmy, even though I really wasn't that attracted to him... except for his warm brown eyes.

The movie star. In seventh grade, I developed a mild obsession with a teen heartthrob. And yet it was the female lead I was really watching and rooting for. When Hunky Male took off his shirt, I was disappointed. But then Samantha Mathis took hers off, and my heart started thumping. I told myself girls just have better-looking back-views than guys (sadly, that's all they showed).

Sarah. In 10th grade math class, she sat diagonally in front of me, and somehow my eyes spent more time looking at her butt and waist in those tight little jeans than at the chalkboard. My conscious thoughts only reached the point of wondering if my body could ever have that shape. Still, forty-five minutes of staring out of envy?

Kissing and other stuff. Even up through high school, I never wanted to kiss a boy. Actually, the thought completely grossed me out. Even the guys I had crushes on. I never thought about kissing girls, either, though, so I just assumed I was a late bloomer. I "went out" with my first boyfriend in high school, and when he broke up with me the first time we met after we started going out, I was relieved I didn't have to kiss him!

Fantasies. In college, I finally started dating. Even kissed a boy or two, which wasn't always terrible. Yet when I started feeling urges and dreamed (or daydreamed), my thoughts were filled with other girls. At first I told myself it was because it was taboo. Then I told myself I was bisexual, because I liked guys too, obviously. Even though I was only attracted to 1 guy for every 10 girls... that was just because girls are more attractive on average. Everyone knows that.

Dating. I found a few guys interesting and tried to date them. But most of them got the cheek when they finally went in for a kiss. We always became friends after that. My longest relationship (where I didn't give him the cheek) lasted a little over a month. We were constantly arguing. He didn't want to let me pay or open the door for him. He didn't like when I tried to "act like a man." And I didn't like it when he didn't like me being me.

Despite all these signs, somehow I was 100% convinced I was straight until I was 18. And even then, I convinced myself I was a "little" bisexual until I was 26. Over the next few years, I admitted it was more than a little. Finally, at 30, I acknowledged that "lesbian" fits better than any other term. Yes, I am attracted to the very rare man, but I have no desire to be with one. And so my journey begins.