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June 22nd, 2018

The Paradox Of Gay Visibility

This, from The Washington Blade, came across my newsfeed this morning…

EJ Johnson recalls crying with dad Magic Johnson after coming out

There’s a passage in it, where EJ’s mom relates how she figured it out…

“We went to Hawaii once and I’m sitting behind him and his friend,” Cookie says.”The girls go by in their bathing suits and the guys go by and when the guys go by, they were like, ‘Whoa! Hey!’ and then girls go by and nothing. So I was like, okay, we need to have a talk.”

This was something about me mom noticed all the time during my teen years. I did an episode about that in A Coming Out Story. But that was artistic license: we never had a talk about it when I was a teenager. We couldn’t. Not in the late 1960s and early 70s. After mom passed away I inherited her diaries and it was only then that I saw the extent to which she’d figured it out…and kept avoiding knowing what she’d figured out.

But there was a reason she didn’t get too alarmed about it either, back when I was a teenage boy, and even more so back when mom was a teenage girl. A fact which may escape most folks today. Back then, the trope in movies and TV, juvenile books and magazines, was boys didn’t have any interest in girls until they were almost adults. Then suddenly all their hormones activated and they started dating girls. But until that sudden change happened, a boy’s interests were in hanging out with the other boys. And your best friend was someone you stuck with through thick and thin, always stood up for, shoulder to shoulder…

“Teenage boys are wild about girls.When their hormones kick in at puberty, they can think of nothing else, and that”s the way it has always been– right? Wrong. Before World War II, only sissies liked girls. Masculine, red-blooded, all-American boys were supposed to ignore girls until they were 18 or 19. Instead, parents, teachers, psychiatrists, and especially the mass media encouraged them to form passionate, intense, romantic bonds with each other. This book explores romantic relationships between teenage boys as they were portrayed before, during, and immediately after World War II. The author takes the reader through a rich landscape of media — sci fi pulps, comics, adventure stories, tales of teen sleuths, boys’ serial novels, wartime bestsellers, and movies populated by many types of male adolescents: Boys Next Door, Adventure Boys, Jungle Boys, and Lost Boys. In Hollywood movies, Boys Next Door like Jackie Cooper, Ronald Sinclair, and Jimmy Lydon were constantly falling in love, but not with girls. In serial novels, Jungle Boys like Bomba, Sorak, and Og Son of Fire swung through the trees to rescue teenage boys, not teenage girls. In comic strips and on the radio, Adventure Boys like Don Study, Jack Armstrong, and Tim Tyler formed lasting romantic partnerships with other boys or men. Lost Boys like Frankie Darro, Leo Gorcey, and Billy Halop starred in dozens of movies about pairs of poor urban teenagers sticking together, with never a girl in sight…”

We Boys Together: Teenagers in Love Before Girl-Craziness, by Jeffery Dennis, 2007

That’s the boyhood I remember. And if you think all that is exaggerated, or a case of the author seeing homosexuality where there is none, what you have to remember about that period of time is that in the movies and TV sex simply didn’t exist, let alone homosexuals. Married couples slept in separate beds. When Lucy Ricardo got pregnant they couldn’t even say the word pregnant on TV. You got the feeling movie and TV characters had no genitals at all…especially in movies and TV shows created for kids and teenagers…and babies when they happened really were delivered by the stork to unsuspecting but very happy couples. Now how did that happen? And nobody saw anything out of place in two boys having a passionate friendship. In fact, it was thought to be good for them. Builds character. teaches the importance of trust and loyalty. The steadfast friends who always stick together through thick and thin. I watched those movies on the TV, and the old TV shows, read the sci fi pulps, and the comics, adventure stories, tales of teen sleuths, best friends forever, even as Hollywood was setting out to change all that, and recognize the existence of teenage hormones. At least, the heterosexual ones.  

It was something mom could tell herself as I kept getting older and older and still showing no signs of an interest in girls, even to the point of getting my heart broken over some other boy who broke up with me, or moved away. I remember crying my 8th grade heart out in when a friend I’d known since elementary school moved out of state, and I knew I’d never see him anymore, and mom just giving me that boys will be boys sigh. Looking back on it I can just picture her thinking to herself, just wait until it’s a girl that breaks your heart… 

So I was a little late with it. Some boys were. Not to worry…one of these days Bruce will discover girls and he’ll get with the program. Plus, we were Baptists and I wasn’t supposed to be having any sinful thoughts about girls until I was older and those thoughts could be directed toward marriage. Mom could feel good that I wasn’t tempted into sinful lust just yet.

Which meant I never had the pressure at home to start dating and questions weren’t asked about why I had no interest in girls until much, Much later. and by that time I’d made my peace with my sexual orientation, even if mom and I still couldn’t talk about it. I had a few years of breathing room. I don’t think gay kids these days have that. The paradox of gay visibility is it’s making the world safer for us, even as it exposes gay kids to pressure about their identity they might not be ready to face for a while. They can’t hide from themselves or their peers the way I could.

But at least the world they eventually come out to isn’t as hostile as mine was. Even in red state America they can at least think about taking the one that stole their heart to the prom…maybe even imagine marrying them. How I wish. If I knew then what I know now, I would have gladly traded that safe cocoon, and having The Talk with mom, for a boyfriend.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Paradox Of Gay Visibility

October 12th, 2015

Without Compromise

without compromise

“If we took just five minutes to recognize each other’s beauty instead of attacking each other for our differences—that’s not hard, it’s really an easier and better way to live. And ultimately, it saves lives. Then again, it can be the hardest thing—because loving other people starts with loving ourselves and accepting ourselves. And I know many of you have struggled with this, and I draw upon your strength and your support in ways that you will never know.

“And I am here today because I am gay. And because maybe I can make a difference to help others have an easier and more hopeful time. Regardless, for me, I feel a personal obligation and a social responsibility. I also do it selfishly, because I’m tired of hiding. And I’m tired of lying by omission. I suffered for years because I was scared to be out. My spirit suffered, my mental health suffered, and my relationships suffered. And I’m standing here today, with all of you, on the other side of that pain. And I am young, yes. But what I have learned is that love—the beauty of it, the joy of it, and yes, even the pain of it—is the most incredible gift to give and to receive as a human being. And we deserve to experience love fully, equally, without shame, and without compromise. There are too many kids out there suffering from bullying, rejection, or simply being mistreated because of who they are.

 

Full text of her speech at The Human Rights Foundation conference Here.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Without Compromise

July 24th, 2008

The Difference Between Helping Children And Kicking Them In The Face

PFOX, (Parents and Friends of eX-Gays), would have you believe it’s different from P-FLAG, (Parents and Friends of Gays), in that PFOX supports people who are "struggling with homosexuality" and P-FLAG does not.  But that’s not it. 

Here’s the difference:

Anti-Gay Distortions of Research

Take a look at this story at OneNewsNow, which begins:

Quoting a recent study, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX) is warning of the increased risk of suicide that is linked with young people who identify themselves as homosexuals before achieving full maturity — a process encouraged by many homosexual high school clubs.

The study in question, as it turns out, is a seventeen year old work published in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, back in June 1991.  Not exactly recent…but never mind.  What PFOX is saying there is that supporting gay teens as they come out to themselves puts them at risk of suicide.  Their solution?   

Schools should not be encouraging teens to self-identify as gays, bisexuals or transgendered persons before they have matured. Sexual attractions are fluid and do not take on permanence until early adulthood. Rather than affirming teenagers as ‘gay’ through self-labeling, educators should affirm them as people worthy of respect and encourage teens to wait until adulthood before making choices about their sexuality. If teens are encouraged to believe that they are permanently ‘gay’ before they have had a chance to reach adulthood, their life choices are severely restricted and can result in depression.

So says PFOX Executive Director Regina Griggs.  Note the doublespeak there about affirming them as "people worthy of respect".  But how much respect is it, to tell a kid gay kid they don’t have to be gay if they don’t want to?  Look again, at what came slyly out of the other side of her mouth there…

Sexual attractions are fluid and do not take on permanence until early adulthood.

Thats religious rightspeak for There Is No Such Thing As A Homosexual.  Don’t believe me?  Look again…

If teens are encouraged to believe that they are permanently ‘gay’ before they have had a chance to reach adulthood, their life choices are severely restricted and can result in depression

Permanently ‘gay’.  Note both the quotes around the word gay and the word permanently preceding it.  You don’t have to be gay if you don’t want to.  Change is possible.  This is what PFOX wants teachers to tell the gay kids that come out to them, and/or to their peers.  Griggs is sliding that under the radar their, in a cotton candy cloud of PFAUX respect.  But in today’s hostile school environment, where the word Gay has itself become a generic put-down among school kids, a kid who comes out, almost certainly already knows how impossible change actually is for them.

And that has consequences.

But leaving aside the fact that a 17 year old study was cited as "recent" and was cited as evidence against the existence of GSA clubs, which didn’t exist at the time of the study, this argument also makes a causal claim that can’t be justified by the study itself (see the full text of the study here).

First of all, they make no distinction at all between correlation and causation. If a higher percentage of those who self-identify as gay or bisexual early attempt suicide compared to those who self-identify later, is that a causal relationship or might both factors be effects of some other cause? Griggs makes no attempt to analyze this, it is enough for her that there is a correlation.

It never occurs to Griggs that those who attempt suicide soon after self-identifying as gay do so because that is when they first become aware that their identity is in such stark conflict with societal expectations. As any gay person can tell you, the initial coming out period is the most difficult because it often leads to serious conflicts with friends and family (and that was even more true in 1991 than it is today). She also ignores all of the other far more important risk factors that are obviously more likely to be causal. The study notes:

In 44% of cases, subjects attributed suicide attempts to "family problems," including conflict with family members and parents’ marital discord, divorce, or alcoholism. One third of attempts were related to personal or interpersonal turmoil regarding homosexuality. Almost one third of subjects made their first suicide attempt in the same year that they identified themselves as bisexual or homosexual. Overall, three fourths of all first attempts temporally followed self-labeling. Other common precipitants were depression (30%), conflict with peers (22%), problems in a romantic relationship (19%), and dysphoria associated with personal substance abuse (15%).

There are far more serious risk factors for suicide in the study, all of which are ignored by Griggs and PFOX. For instance, 61% of those who attempt suicide were sexually abused, while only 29% of those who did not attempt suicide were sexually abused. There’s an obvious causal factor. Those who attempted suicide also reported much higher rates of friendship loss due to being gay, drug use and having been arrested. Again, these are far more rationally viewed as causal factors in suicide than the age at which one self-identifies. Griggs ignores all of this because it doesn’t fit her ideological preferences.

But to call it ‘ideological’ ennobles it.  This isn’t ideology, it’s hate.  A hate so bottomless it will cheerfully let children kill themselves rather then allow them to have the support they need at that critical moment in their lives.  What Griggs is saying there to kids, stripped of its PFAUX respect, is that thinking you are gay will make you kill yourself.  That is, seriously, the message they want kids who are just coming into puberty and feeling same sex desire for the first time in their lives to hear, and internalize.  These feelings are going to make me kill myself.  And when they can’t stop themselves from having those feelings, feelings they’ve never had before, feelings that seem to come out of nowhere whenever an attractive classmate walks by, feelings that they have no control over whatsoever, what do you think is going to happen?

Here’s what: Griggs will cheerfully blame those of us who want gay kids to feel good about themselves when those kids take Griggs message, that thinking you are gay makes you want to kill yourself, to heart and actually do it. 

And there is the essential difference between P-FLAG and PFOX.  One group supports gay people.  The other, ex-gays.  And it doesn’t get any more ex then dead.

[Edited a tad for clarity…] 

by Bruce | Link | React! (6)

June 26th, 2008

To Everything Turn, Turn, Turn…

Peterson Toscano, links to an interesting page on the stages of coming out.  I’m not sure I agree with the implicit premise that everyone goes through the process the same way, but it got me thinking about my own journey, which I’ve been trying in fits and starts to tell in my cartoon series, A Coming Out Story

Coming out is a process that happens again and again; it is not just a one time deal and it does not follow a linear course. It occurs initially when one acknowledges to oneself (most important and difficult aspect of coming out) and to others that one is gay, lesbian or bisexual. One claims that orientation as his/her own and begins to be more or less public with it.

Coming out to themselves is one of the hardest steps in developing a positive gay/lesbian/bisexual identity for gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals. It involves much soul searching and introspection and a good healthy sense of self-appreciation and acceptance…

See…that’s not exactly the way it happened with me.  I fell in love, and once I realized it the self acceptance part just immediately happened.  I’d never felt anything so wonderful in my life.  Up until that moment, that instant (which I can still recall vividly to this day…it was on December 15th, 1971, at around 7PM.), I honestly thought I was straight.  I just loathed the idea of dating was all.  I’ll go to my grave angry that I wasn’t told before then that I guys could have boyfriends too and there was nothing wrong with that if that’s how you were.  I’d spent almost my entire adolescence hating the whole dating and mating scene and wishing I could go live somewhere where I didn’t have to deal with it.  But that was because of the pressure I felt to start dating girls. 

I just wanted to hang out with my friends.  My Male friends.  And one guy in particular who I still at that time hadn’t worked up the nerve to actually talk to, even though I was busy filling my sketchbooks and contact sheets with images of him.  Even though I would often take the long way to class in order to catch a glimpse of him walking down the hall.  If someone had told me that guys could fall in love with other guys I would have had an entirely different attitude toward this dating thing.  But what I was taught in my junior high school sex ed class, was that homosexuals were mentally ill, sociopathic monstrosities that raped children, hated themselves and usually killed the people they had sex with.  After mutilating their bodies.  I knew I wasn’t any of that, so I concluded I was not a homosexual. 

The moment I realized I was in love with that certain someone, all of the lies I was taught vanished in a puff of smoke.  I still knew I wasn’t any of the things I was taught that homosexuals were.  But I also knew then that all those racing heartbeats and sweaty palms I got at the sight of good looking guys, and especially at the sight of that certain someone, had been all that time a little more then just "going through a phase."  All the sex dreams I’d had about guys, and never about girls…yeah…that was telling me something all right. 

I was more stubborn then afraid.  Deep down inside I was conflicted over two mutually irreconcilable facts: that the sight of beautiful guys really made my day, and that being a homosexual meant I had to hate both them and myself…and I just couldn’t.  I would stare at them for hours, sketching them or photographing them…and in particular that certain someone.  And it didn’t feel awful when I did that.  It felt wonderful.  And so…ironically…it was on the basis of how good it felt to admire their beauty that I concluded I wasn’t homosexual.  The sex dreams that usually came later that night, I simply wrote off to "going through a phase"…whatever that meant.

So self acceptance came in a very odd and round about way to me, and I never hated myself.  But after that moment, did come the crystal clear understanding that I had to be careful, goddamned careful, who I told and how.  My peers all had the same sordid sex education concerning homosexuality.  I had a feeling I was going to freak out a lot of people if I just suddenly started being open about my sexual orientation.  So That process took a lot of time and a lot of soul searching.  Matter of fact…after the Bush re-selection I was still doing some pretty heavy soul searching over it.  But I guess a lot of other gay folks were then too.

Anyway…the page Peterson links to, got me thinking about that period in my life.  The first stage, so they say, is Identity Confusion…which I guess applied because I sure was confused.  In fact, for quite a long time before I entered high school, and first laid eyes on a certain someone, I was one confused little guy.  In retrospect, my feelings toward my male friends were always intense and full of a yearning that I never could quite understand.  When a friend would occasionally get mad at me I would be crushed.  When my best friend from grade school moved away I cried for weeks over it.  I remember that entire school year as being one of great sadness for me.

Why come out? It is a necessary part of developing a healthy and positive identity as a gay/lesbian/bisexual individual…

 

 

I am different from the others.
Why can’t I make friends like
the others can…?
I’m smart…
…so why do my teachers hate me?

 

 

Then comes Identity ComparisonIdentity Tolerance

  
 

I’m not gay.
I wish everyone would stop wondering
when I’m going to start dating.
I hate the thought of dating.
I need to make prints of the pictures
I took of "TK" this afternoon…he’s
so beautiful…
I wish we could be friends…

 

Identity Acceptance
 

I’m gay.  It’s no big deal, really.
Except of course you could get your skull
bashed in if anyone finds out.
But I don’t care…"TK" likes me…!!!
…I think.  Life is wonderful!!!
…I think.

Identity Pride
 

I’m gay.  That’s fine.
There is nothing wrong with
being gay.
It’s no big deal, really.
Why do people have to make a
big political deal out of it?
What the fuck is wrong with
Anita Bryant???
And…Jerry Falwell…???
This is why I don’t go to church anymore…
Stuart isn’t gay…
Is Keith gay…?  Was he
coming onto me the other day?
He’s a really nice guy…
…maybe…
I wish I knew where "TK" was…
God…I miss him so much.
I was such an idiot…

  

 

Identity Synthesis

  
 

I’m gay.  I’m alone.
Am I going to be alone for the
rest of my life…?

  
 

To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven…

   
Somewhere back there…I got stuck.  I think it was at the part where I was supposed to start dating.  Maybe I shouldn’t have cursed the thought of it so much back then.  Back before I figured out that I could date guys too.  At least the other gay ones.  Now I’m 54, and I feel like I’m still back there…somewhere…still walking down the halls of my old high school…expecting any moment to be able to reach out and take my boyfriend’s hand into mine…except he still isn’t there…

  
 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on To Everything Turn, Turn, Turn…

October 19th, 2007

The Power Of Stories

Before the Internet opened up to commercial use, before home computers had powerful multi-tasking operating systems, back when 640k of system ram was considered more then most people would ever need or use, little computer bulletin board systems (BBS) ruled.  In the mid 1980s, some of them had banded together into an amateur network called FidoNet.

In the mid-1980s, I was on one local BBS system that had a gay Fidonet echomail board.  Called Gaylink, it had participating BBS systems on it all over the world.  Back in those days, I had an uncle who was a HAM radio operator, and was trying to interest me in taking up the hobby.  He kept trying to tell me about all the people all over the world he was able to communicate with via shortwave radio, and I kept trying to tell him about all the people all over the world I was communicating with via FidoNet.

Gaylink was mostly a social forum.  We chatted about this and that…a little politics, a little dishing.  It never really got very serious.  Then one day a message from a BSS in the Netherlands appeared. It was short and to the point: 

I’m 14 years old.  I think I might be gay but I’m not sure.  How did you know about yourself?  What was it like?

And from literally all over the world this kid got coming-out-to-self stories.  Some of them were painful to read.  Some were hopeful.  Some were amazingly nonchalant.  There were folks whose parents disowned them.  There were others whose parents completely accepted them.  Some people struggled for years with it.  Others seemed to have always known and accepted it.  There was romance.  There was heartbreak.  I sat down and for the first time ever, really thought about my own experience coming to terms with my sexual orientation, and wrote it down for this kid, and the whole world to see.  I could sense that something…wonderful…was happening.

It went on for two weeks.  We never heard a peep from the kid throughout that entire time.  And the stories, from all over the world, from people in all walks of life, just kept coming and coming.  We all began talking to each other, seeing common threads in our lives that we all had, which set us apart from the heterosexual majority.  Seeing those things that made each of us unique and at the same time those things we all seemed to share, no matter where we lived, no matter what culture we were raised in.  Then the kid spoke up one last time:

Thank you.  You’ve all given me a lot to think about. 

That was it.  We never heard another word from him.  Maybe we gave him what he needed to accept himself.  Maybe he was just confused about his own awakening sexuality, and what it meant to be homosexual.  At that age, who knows?  Maybe he wasn’t what he represented himself to be.  But as I watched that event unfold I realized that apart from this one Dutch teenager, there had to also be hundreds of others, all over the world, generation upon generation, watching that conversation, hungry for those same answers to that kid’s question.  And I saw then what this new technology could do for us as a people.  We no longer had to see ourselves through heterosexual eyes.

When I came out to myself in 1971, nearly everything I knew about homosexuals and homosexuality, I’d learned from heterosexuals.  In those days, before the Internet, before the World Wide Web, before Blogs and MySpace and Facebook, what you knew depended in large measure on what the popular media wanted to tell you.  Before cable TV, there were only three TV networks.  You had your local newspaper.  You had your local radio stations.  You had whatever books and magazines the local stores were selling.  And that was it basically.  I had to struggle, in a way most of you reading this now probably never had to, to dig up anything factual, anything at all, about homosexuality.  The image the popular media put forward of homosexuals was relentlessly negative.  We were perverts.  We were psychotic deviants.  We were dangerous, deranged sexual predators.  We raped children and then murdered them.  We skulked the shadows looking for unwitting victims.  Even we didn’t enjoy the sex we were having.  We were mentally ill, psychotic, perverted, sexual compulsives, unable to keep ourselves from engaging in horrible, vile, deviant sex acts that repulsed even us.  There is a film, The Detective, about a homosexual murder: watch the murderer’s tortured confession at the end to see what sick monsters the popular media viewed us as being back then.

Now, it seemed in the blink of an eye, all of that had been swept away.  Maybe not from the eyes of our heterosexual neighbors, but critically, finally, from our own.  We no longer had to see ourselves through heterosexual eyes.  You have to appreciate how revolutionary that was back then. 

And the revolution continues…

Internet project helps gay youth ‘come out’

For young gay people, just coming out to friends and family can be a difficult thing.

Now a new online project is encouraging people to tell the world about their sexuality by uploading video images.

Analysts in Australia say sites like YouTube and Facebook are prompting people to come out of the closet at a younger age than ever before.

One woman in a YouTube video describes her own journey in a message done alone in the privacy of a house, but now being broadcast to the world.

"I came out at 19 years old, when I kissed a woman for the first time," she says in the video.

"While kissing her, I distinctly remember thinking two things – one, this is awesome, and two, my mother can never know."

The online video is in response to a campaign being run by the American organization Human Rights Campaign.

As part of National Coming Out Day this month, it is asking people to post video messages online telling their story.

There are now dozens of online videos that are being posted on the website YouTube, and there are thousands of messages of support.

And every day more people add their voices…

Voices.  Peterson Toscano has been collecting a few over at his blog, and at Beyond Ex-Gay

Ex-Gay Survivor Vince Tells His Story

Vince Cervantes, an ex-gay survivor and one of the this year’s Soulforce Equality Riders (and an attender of this summer’s Ex-Gay Survivor Conference), has been sharing his experiences on his blog and through video. In the following two videos he goes into detail about the reasons he pursued a variety of ex-gay therapies and ministries. He really captures the mindset, the motivations and the conflicts that many us experienced when we lived ex-gay lives.

Now we can tell our stories via Internet TV.  While the corporate news media is still telling itself its comfortable lies about us, we can tell our own stories, in our own words, to each other, no matter where we live, no matter what our circumstances are.  And to anyone who wants to hear it from us, as opposed to heterosexuals talking to each other.  You want to know why the gay rights struggle has made so much progress, so quickly, this is why.  It isn’t the decline of civilization.  It isn’t falling moral standards.  It isn’t rampant godlessness.  Once upon a time the only image we had of ourselves was the mask heterosexuals made from their own sexual guilt and paranoia to make us wear.  Once upon a time they could make us hate ourselves.  If you understand nothing else about the gay rights struggle, understand this: those days are over. 

They were waning as it was, thanks to the changes brought about after world war II.  Jet air travel.  Interstate highways.  Greater mobility.  We could migrate to where it was safer for us to live.  There was already a critical mass developing in the major urban centers of America and the western world, to push for change.  Where we could live together in relative peace, we could see ourselves as we were, not as the scarecrows of other people’s sexual fears and self loathings.  But then the personal computer came along, and computer networks with them, and suddenly no matter where you lived, no matter how isolated you thought you were, you could reach out in an instant, in a heartbeat, and connect to a community of other gay people.  All over the country.  All over the world.  And what we saw when we did that, were not monsters, but people.  The first person you come out to is yourself.  The first eyes you open to the truth are yours.  Your own story is a part of that truth.  Every time you share it with another, you defeat hate.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Power Of Stories

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