Something Facebook kindly threw in my face this morning, because it loves me: how it was before the Crisis (or whatever it was, I’ve no idea, I was out of the loop…) Of Summer 2012, after which our conversations could no longer be private.
Mom often asked me growing up if I regretted not having siblings. I never doubted that she loved me, but she told me often about wanting four kids, two of each sex. It didn’t work out that way for her. I always told her I was fine being an only. It was the truth.
I speak often of my brother, who I love very much, but he’s actually my half brother on dad’s side. Mom and dad divorced when I was two, and dad remarried (that one didn’t work out either). So he had two boys by different wives, and we are both first borns, something only half brothers can be. But I chafe at the term half brother. I think of him as simply my brother, who I met once briefly when we were both teenagers, and reconnected with years later as adults. We get along very well, sympatico I would say even, as only two first borns can.
But deep in my core I know that I am temperamentally an only. There are a great many myths about us…that we are self centered and selfish and vain…that we don’t socialize very well…all that. Some of it is false, some of it true but not in the way people think. We’re not so much self centered as self motivated, because there was no sibling competition to deal with in the home. But vanity is something a parent either nurtures or arrests in a child. Having 100 percent of your parent’s attention is a double edged sword, especially in a Baptist household. I got unconditional love, and whenever something bad happened mom always knew who did it because there were no other suspects. We learn to socialize just a tad differently: I had to make friends outside the home just like anyone else. But I had a room of my own all my life. That only child indifference to the herd is often misinterpreted as misanthropy. We love company, but don’t instantly wilt without it. We onlies are almost preternaturally good at keeping ourselves company.
I’m telling you this by way of saying that the mechanizations of big families with lots of kids often mystify me. It’s a life I never had and I’ll be forever on the outside looking in at these families. I know this. And I know when there is trouble among them I need to keep out of it, even when, or especially when, a friend is involved. At the moment the family of a friend of mine is going through a rough patch. A parent is in very dire health, and the kids all love the parent, just not each other.
I know some of the specifics of the trouble between them, and I can’t blame some of them for feeling the way they do about the others. But I wish they could just love each other. And I guess they can’t.
I’m in my 60s now, and I’ve seen many different kinds of families, some that are amazingly tight and others like radioactive material that just doesn’t want to stay together. I understand it and I don’t. Life is short, the universe doesn’t care, we are all we have to care for each other. But humans aren’t very good at that in the aggregate. We evolved on the east African plains and we are a kind of pack/tribe animal deep down inside. But the rational mind needs it’s privacy to function too. We need space to think, and to calm down so we can think. Mom often asked me if I regretted not having siblings and I always said I was fine with being an only. Maybe that was stereotypically selfish of me. But I would absolutely have that life again. A room of your own isn’t only peace and quiet and sanity whenever you need it, I think it allows you to learn how to calm down and let go of it when people are making you angry.
Reparative therapy led me off course for many years, and it deepened my shame rather than alleviating it, but he was not intentionally cruel. I can blame Nicolosi for misdirecting people, but not for mistreating them.
His intention, however, does not excuse the damage reparative therapy has inflicted on so many LGBTQ people. Reparative and conversion therapies have caused gay people to feel fundamentally broken and irrecoverably sinful. This kind of therapy has shattered not only people’s self-worth but their spiritual connection to God. Those whose lost faith might call themselves lucky, for others lost even the will to live. These people took their own lives. And so we must ask ourselves: What good is a therapy that purports to save some lives if it takes others?
So many hearts this man destroyed. So much love that could have been, so many smiles that never were, because this man walked among us. One reason, not the main one but an important one, that I am not a Christian is I know what Jesus of Nazareth would tell me now, that I have to forgive him. And I can’t.
I do not bring forgiveness with me, nor forgetfulness. The only ones who can forgive are dead; the living have no right to forget. -Chaim Herzog
Nicolosi, 70, was a practitioner of conversion or reparative therapy, treatments intended to change a person’s sexual orientation that have been widely denounced by major medical associations—including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Psychological Association—and banned by legislation in five states…
Death only closes a man’s reputation and determines it as good or bad. -Joseph Addison.
I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it. -Mark Twain.
The Valentine’s Day Broken Heart Countdown – Spoiler Alert…it didn’t end well…
SPOILER ALERT! That comic story I’ve been telling for the past decade or so…it didn’t end well.
You know how the game is played in grade school…right? First base, second base, et al. These days I think of it more along the lines of Kurt Vonnegut’s three strike rule. Well…he didn’t exactly call them strikes. What he said according to his daughter was…
“I think you’re allowed to be in love three times in your life.”
I’ve had my three strikes. Strike three was the boy I met in church. Strike two was when a very pleasant mutual closeness with a straight friend dropped me into a pit lots of gay kids probably find themselves in when they start crushing on a close but thoroughly straight friend. Decades later I’m still not ready to look back on that time.
Strike one was the boy I met in school…that other place which in a better world I might have hoped to find that magical first crush and first date and…dare I imagine it…going to the prom together and all that magical Disney-esq stuff boy and girl couples get promised as a part of growing up. He’s the Tyler (TK) Anderson in A Coming Out Story and no, that’s not his real name. I’ve changed all the names in that cartoon, in part because I don’t want to tell other people’s stories for them, but mostly because the story isn’t about him and it’s only tangentially about me: it’s about growing up gay in 1971-72 America, and what that did to a lot of us and why grownups need to give gay kids a break. I’m telling it with a sense of humor because I can still manage to look back on all that with a sense of humor, and because even after everything that’s happened to me, or not happened as the case may be, I still feel it deep down inside as a magical Disney-esq period in my life. The stars really did shine a little brighter, the sky was a little more blue, the birds really did sing a little more sweetly, I walked with a lighter step. Life was good…wonderful even. You’re allowed to believe it three times in your life.
My first time began as it had to with a couple gay kids, but with the added layer of us both being somewhat nerdish (me Way more than him). First comes a lot of stunned gawking at each other. Gawking turns to smiles, smiles turn to hellos, hellos become brief chats that turn to longer and longer ones. In our case it was the school library where we often met. Talking shyly turned to touching. First in safe pretense that it was accidental. Then it became a thing. The touch of hand to arm. Then meeting each other at the end of the day and walking together out the school door became a thing. From there we went our separate ways. We lived in different neighborhoods. One day on our walk together he put an arm around my shoulders, gave me a quick little squeeze, and before I could say anything rushed out the door with a see ya later. I swear I lifted off soared into the stratosphere right then. Later that evening I could finally admit to myself that I was in love, and oh by the way, gay.
Things developed from there in that thrilling and terrifying way it was for gay kids in 1972. It’s something I still have to think more about how to talk to in my cartoon. But I’ll give everyone a major spoiler now because, why not: It ended abruptly after I made plans with him to go on a camera hike at Great Falls.
I mean…come on… I’m old and single and that we didn’t become a Disney happily ever after couple can’t be much of a spoiler. No, it didn’t work out. But happy Disney endings were on short supply for gay kids in 1971-72. In some places here in America they’re still nearly impossible to find. In some places elsewhere you get thrown off a building or honor killed.
I’d talked him into a tentative interest in photography. Looking back on it if I’d had half a brain, which teenagers don’t, I’d have taking an interest in his interests. But he was into things like tennis and skiing and I am not the sporty type. One day he brought one of his father’s nice Leica cameras to school and I told him what I knew of how to use it. We agreed to go on a hike with our cameras the following Saturday along the towpath at Great Falls. I asked for his phone number so I could call to let him know I was coming. Then the plan was we’d take a drive to the Great Falls park and wander the towpath looking for some good shots. This would also allow us to be alone together for a while, and so I was hoping, get a bunch of stuff out in the open between us that by then was getting ridiculous not to openly acknowledge.
You need to understand…this was spring of 1972. The torrent of abuse gay people got from the world around us back then, from Every Direction, is probably hard for some of you to understand today. And what I didn’t appreciate enough was what would happen when his family found out. I…perhaps stupidly…never thought twice about bringing him home to mom because I just knew mom would have loved him. He was bright, hardworking, decent, the kind of guy I might have hoped to meet in church or in school in some other better world. And mom would have loved him too…right up to the point she found out what my interest in him actually was. What I probably didn’t appreciate enough until decades later was how what happened next may have saved me from that major heartbreak way too many gay kids know all too well: what happens when the parents find out.
We’d agreed I would call at 11 on Saturday. So all morning Saturday I was on pins and needles waiting for the appointed time. When the clock struck 11 I jumped on the phone and dialed. I got an answer, but it wasn’t him. It was an older male voice.
“Yes…is Tyler there”?
Tyler comes on the phone. First words out of his mouth are…and I’m not kidding: “Why are you calling me!?”
His voice was terse, irritated. For a second I didn’t know what to say. Like an idiot I began to remind him of our plans for a Saturday morning camera hike.
“I never agreed to that.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about”
“I never said I was going anywhere with you.”
…but…yes you did…
“I don’t know why you’re calling me.”
That was pretty much how it went.
If I’d had half a brain, which teenagers don’t, I’d have realized something was going on at his end and I just needed to play along…oh sorry…this has all been a terrible mistake, please accept my profuse apologies… But now in addition to the massive letdown I’m feeling I’m also getting a bit irritated at being called a liar and by him no less. So I stupidly pressed on…yeah we did…we were going to go to Great Falls..
“No…I never said anything of the sort..”
…with our cameras…
“I just don’t know why you’re calling me.”
Finally in desperation I said, “You gave me your phone number!”
And he says… “Well I didn’t think you’d use it!”
Which must have gone over well with whoever was at his end listening in.
After that, he kept me at arm’s length for the rest of the school year. I figured I would just wait it out, whatever it was, and eventually he’d start talking to me again. But it wasn’t long after that the family moved away, and for the next three decades I wondered what had happened, where he’d gone.
I moved on and yet I didn’t. Isn’t that how it goes? But straight kids had the possibility of getting a little closure afterward. Why did this happen? Why did I get dumped? Father doesn’t like you. Mother says you’re a bad influence. You’re from the wrong neighborhood. You have the wrong religion, color of skin, income level. Gay kids get reminded not just of how much their culture hates them, but also of how badly the need is to erase us from existence. The beloved gets hospitalized and the scared and terrified other gets told they don’t belong there with them and security escorts them out the door, while the family that hates them both is allowed the bedside. The beloved dies and the one left behind is denied a place at the funeral while the family that hates them both changes the locks on the doors to their home and removes their belongings to distribute amongst themselves. You have no rights. It isn’t just you don’t belong here. It’s you do not exist.
I kept searching for him. There were other guys, other attempts at just getting a date, strikes two and three came and went. I never stopped trying but I never stopped searching for him either. At first I just wanted to know what had happened and hoped against hope that we could begin again, and maybe this time it would go better. Then came AIDS. I visited the Names Project quilt the day it was first displayed on the Capital Mall, and for years afterward had nightmares of wandering among the panels and finding the one with his name on it. So I kept searching. I had to know.
I eventually found him. I’ll write about it someday. It’s not a happy Walt Disney ending. Those are for the happiest place on earth. But for your gay neighbors of a certain age, that ending is the rare and wonderful exception. We did not exist back in those days. Thank goodness you’re only allowed to learn that three times in your life. I don’t think I could handle a forth.
New York Times Magazine Publishes “What It Means To Be A Homosexual”: 1971. The Harper’s October 1970 cover screed by Joseph Epstein — the one where he called gay people “an affront to our rationality” and were “condemned to a state of permanent niggerdom among men” — generated an outpouring of anger in the gay community, which resulted in a protest inside the offices of Harper’s (see Oct 27). Gay activists demanded another article to give the gay community equal exposure, but the Harper’s refused the request. Its editors also refused to apologize. The outrageous insults in the piece become something of a second, lesser Stonewall in the way it brought out even more gays and lesbians who decided it was time to become more involved publicly.
Among them was Merle Miller, a former editor at Harper’s who was also a novelist and biographer…
You should go read the whole thing…Jim’s “Today In History” posts are worth reading every day. But this one always helps remind me of the times I grew up and passed through adolescence in.
Ah…adolescence… That magical, wonderful time when we are discovering what desire and love are all about and all that icky holding hands and dating stuff the big kids were always going on about was all about. Well it should have been the most magical, wonderful passage in our lives that is…but for some of us, condemned to a state of permanent niggerdom, it was deliberately made into a nightmare so that others could feel appropriately righteous. That was more the fact for others than for me, thankfully, or I might not even be here now to type all this. But the atmosphere of hatred and contempt I grew up within did its job on me too. In 1971, the year before I graduated from high school, the year I experienced my first crush and fell madly in love, Joseph Epstein wrote, “If I had the power to do so, I would wish homosexuality off the face of the earth.” He couldn’t of course, but there was always the next best thing. You could make sure whenever it was in your power to do so, that a gay kid never had that chance to know what it was to love, and be loved wholeheartedly in return.
Without a doubt Epstein did just that whenever he got the chance. His howl against the homosexual in that Harper’s article almost certainly became a dagger in the the hopes and dreams of young gay men and women back then, reassuring parents, teachers, clergy that it was no sin to put a knife in the hearts of teenagers in love, that if they were condemned to live their one life in loneliness and heartache that was merely the Curse Of Homosexuality, not their own bar stool arrogance and cheapshit prejudices that did it to them. Bobby and Johnny are getting just a little too friendly aren’t they…let’s pack them off to the psychiatrist quickly now…or to some nice church camp somewhere far away, where they can pray their unspeakable sin away…
Ah…Valentine’s Day…when all the lonely hearts ponder writing new songs about the one that did them wrong. I have a different thing in mind. How about stories of that which might have been, but for the cheapshit prejudices of the world we were thrown into.
I have a few stories of my own to tell. Pull up a chair. Sit a spell. Love is in the air. Let me pour you a drink. There is a box of Valentine’s Day candy over there on the table, pieces like the moon rattling hollowly inside…angry, angry candy…
by Bruce |
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February 8th, 2017
Valentine’s Day – All In All It’s Just Another Heart In The Wall…
If I were ever to write a book about my love life, reaching from that first teenage crush to tired old man despair, I’d be tempted to titled it A Series of Unfortunate Events, but Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler) has taken that one.
I’m on Facebook (aren’t we all!) and recently a certain postcard company has been tormenting me with advertisements for this…
You have to appreciate how something like this hits me. Or maybe you can’t because you had the love life, or at least a memory of having had one, that I don’t and never will. But I am nothing but not resilient (otherwise I’d probably be dead by now). I buy myself birthday cakes…why not valentine’s day cards and flowers too! So yesterday I went onto their web site to order up one for myself.
They were sold out.
And a more perfect celebration of Valentine’s day for Bruce I cannot even imagine. So this year I won’t be doing the Valentine’s Day Poster Contest again. I’m over it. I’ve moved on…
But I’ll be reposting the stories I’ve told previously on the lead up to previous Valentine’s Days, and maybe add one or two more, and not just because it gets it out of my system in the least self destructive way.
Maybe someday, maybe, give it some thought anyway, Valentine’s day will be a time when we all try to help the lonely find their other half, instead of merely congratulating ourselves for finding ours. How better to celebrate the joy of loving, and being loved, than by dedicating ourselves toward bringing more of that into this poor lonely angry world?
by Bruce |
Comments Off on A Coming Out Story – Episode 21: The Pause That Distresses
February 1st, 2017
No…The American Dream Will Not Go Silently Into The Night Mr. Bannon…
…it is bigger, richer, more urgently felt than you could ever know…
One thing I love about this ad is the open acknowledgement of how immigrants were treated even back then. It’s so refreshingly honest about our history compared to the rainbows and unicorns version I got back in early grade school. We were so proud of our little melting pot back then…back when we were competing with the Soviet Union for the hearts and minds of the rest of the world. Not so much anymore.
If a certain German someone and I were still on emailing terms I would have loved to share this with him. But now I’m not even sure he’d appreciate the sentiment in it. It’s one thing to be determined to follow your dreams. It’s another to be determined not to have any. But some of us still believe in our dreams…rough hewn and broken though they may be… Here’s to you Herr Busch. Here’s to you Herr Anheuser. Prost!
by Bruce |
Comments Off on Trust Us, This Doesn’t End Well
January 29th, 2017
I keep wanting to do a riff on those drawings that say “Heaven is where every (Dog/Cat/Pet) you ever loved comes to greet you”. But mine will say Heaven is where every car you ever loved lets you drive it again. And sign it with a nod to Seanan McGuire.
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