GayTaylor

LGBT Alumni & Allies of Taylor University

Month: April, 2013

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Manleben, a blogger whose posts I follow recently nominated me for the Liebster Award, recognizing my blog as worthy of note. While tickled by the affirmation, I choose to respectfully decline the honor. It arrives the day after I decided I’m ducking out of this gig for the foreseeable future. At the present time, it’s […]

Picture this: Men in love pictured in this conservative Christian university’s alumni magazine.

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I about dropped my teeth when I spotted this photograph in the most recent issue of the alumni magazine of my alma mater, Taylor University. It’s traditional Alumni Notes fare: a photo taken at the wedding of recent graduates, including the array of alumni and alumnae who attended. I had to look twice to find the bride and groom (they’re not standing beside each other), but what really knocked my socks off was spotting the male couple in the back row, one who has his arms wrapped around the other in an embrace that looks like more than brotherly love.

Stunning. My conservative Protestant alma mater going so far as to publish in its own magazine evidence that same-sex love might exist in the world? Might be celebrated right along with heterosexual marriage?

Surely this photo got by the censors . . . or maybe hell really has frozen over.

Never thought I’d see the day.

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LGBT identity. Are we who we think we are?

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Who am I, really? The whole notion of identity, especially sexual identity, fascinates me. When I came out gay I kicked against using the gay label. Limiting, constraining and simplifying is what labels do. I wrestled for a long time with the question of what does it mean to be gay. Could I be gay, me who was anything but? And yet if I use it, people understand what I’m talking about . . . or do they?

I recently stumbled across Iris Rose’s rather lengthy academic article on citizenship and identity.  She examines the notion of citizenship in the USA and the ways in which the rules for who qualifies have changed and do change over time. “I assert that citizenship, like race, is used as a device to categorize individuals or groups resulting in an ‘us’ and ‘them’ dichotomy.”

Seems to me she could as well be writing about LGBT people and how they’ve been treated over time.

Traditionally, people who live in the USA have divided the world into us and them. Us-people are citizens, Them-people are not. Us have been white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant and male, Rose points out. Along comes presidential candidate Barack Obama who doesn’t look like an us. And what happens? His citizenship is challenged. In fact, such a furor is raised over his citizenship that the candidate feels obliged to publish his birth certificate.

Reminds me of how LGBT persons have been and still are denied standing afforded to people who fit the Us-people mode. LGBT persons are not yet embraced as worthy of full citizenship in our democracy. Thinks marriage equality. Think job and housing discrimination. Think legal roadblocks. The correspondences aren’t one-to-one, but the comparisons are illuminating.

“Citizenship, like race, is a social construct,” says Rose. “If citizenship is constructed socially, much like reality television stars construct their identities, is citizenship even real? I assert that citizenship is itself a simulacrum.”

Simulacrum? I had to look the word up. A simulacrum is a crummy simulation or substitute for the real thing. (Hot house tomatoes vs. ones fresh from your own garden. Reality TV vs. experiences of real life.)

So Rose is saying citizenship is itself a poor substitute—for what? For itself. The idea of citizenship has been separated out, peeled away from whatever basis in reality it once held. We toss it around nowadays without even being sure what we mean by it. (But we know it’s important, and something to be jealously, zealously guarded: look at the “Road to Citizenship” debate that’s currently getting a lot of media attention.

Reminds me of the arguments against gay marriage—can’t let anybody else in on this prized possession we have. LGBT people marrying each other will somehow threaten the fabric of society. Gotta guard what we got.)

“There is a distinction between the ideal of citizenship and how citizenship exists in reality,” says Rose. Says I, if citizenship has become a shadow of itself, maybe so, too, sexual identity. Maybe it’s taken on a life of its own and is no longer even quite what we thought we were fighting over.

Rose ends her piece saying that the definition of citizenship has always been a moving target and probably always will be.

Probably the same can be said for sexual identity. Which leaves me still wrestling with the question, “Who am I, really?” Guess I best get used to living with ambiguity, flux and change.

How intrinsic is LGBT label to your identity?

For action (or penance): Imagine yourself as not-LGBT. Who are you?

Note: I see Manleben in Life is wrestling with similar issues. Check out this post.

Photo courtesy, Ahmad Hammoud Photography at flickr.com

Sure, you can call a duck a cow, but it ain’t agonna give milk

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Social dancing—that bane of Baptists and other religiously conservative denominations—has long been banned at my alma mater, Taylor University (along with drinking, smoking, gambling, homosexual activity and other diversions deemed verboten). The no-dancing policy been something of a joke, an anachronism, the school outlawing something that most of the rest of the world has long since made its peace with.

So it’s big news that the school will now permit a limited number of dances to be officially sponsored on campus. Big news. Major shift for someone stuck in 1873 to be stepping into 1974.
And how does the school announce it?
The most recent alumni magazine carries a story headlined (and I kid you not): “When a Dancing Policy is Not About Dancing.”

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The article notes the new change allowing a limited number of on-campus dances, but is very careful to point out that this policy is not at all about the university finally changing gears and finally sanctioning an activity long denied its students. Oh, no. Not at all. Instead, “this change provides new ways to place students in face-to-face activities that reach across gender, ethnic and residence hall lines. This change wasn’t a call to dance, but a call to community.”
Say whaaaaaaat?!?!?
I imagine that a hundred years from now, when in 2113 the university finally gets around to saying, “OK, we’re changing the policy to recognize that we have LGBT people in our midst and that they are in fact people, and that they should be treated in humane fashion,” the announcement will be titled, “When an Inclusion Policy is Not Really About Inclusion,” and end on the sentiment, “This change wasn’t a call to accept LGBT people, but a call to make allowances.”
I’d rather they call a spade a spade, and a duck—what else?—a duck.

What mental gymnastics have you used to accommodate yourself to change?

For action (or penance): Envision three people, objects, places or institutions. Call them to mind one by one. Speak aloud the true name of each one, whatever it is that describes for you the truest thing you know about them.

“The Boston bomber is hot.” Reason for outrage or a lesson to learn?

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No matter what Hollywood and Big Advertising would tell me, I learn (once again) that looks are no guarantee of character. I note some bloggers are expressing outrage that anyone say aloud she thinks the younger suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing is hot. Well, here’s a “he” saying he thinks Johar is cute. But as the hot man’s alleged actions indicate, looks aren’t everything. (Why is it my default reaction to think they are?) I learn again my grandmother’s teaching: “pretty is as pretty does.”

When was a recent time you judged a person on looks alone? How’d that work for you? When was a recent time you were judged on your appearance?

For action (or penance): Find the beauty in something ugly. Look at the dog crap on the sidewalk and think of its potential to foster growth. Or vice versa: look at a flower and see the dog crap that fertilized its beauty.

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(Photos compiled my me from our local paper. And yes, Johar is person “D”)

No fiddling around: You dance to our tune or we throw you off the roof

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Our nearby civic theatre had the fiddler seated on the roof, sensibly positioned down on a low dormer, not standing and straddling the ridgeline as she played. And play she did. No pretend air violin for her, no going through the motions while a member of the hidden orchestra made the music. She was the real deal. And like all the cast, she did a bang-up job. Broad representation by the community in this show—folks of all ages. I grow so accustomed to seeing every part played by college-age actors that it’s a treat to see aged babushkas with genuine wrinkles, not lines drawn with a black china marker; little boys who are just that, not diminutive coeds playing the role.

My husband and I saw the show this past Friday. (It finishes its run this coming Saturday.) It brought me back, it did. I was a last-semester senior at Taylor University when I was involved in a production of the hit Broadway musical. I worked on the set crew and played one of the village sons. The work and rehearsals helped me navigate a semester during which I was very depressed. Without knowing enough to call it what it was, I’d met and fallen in love with a man the summer previous. Our (chaste) relationship stirred up in me thoughts and feelings I was unwilling to acknowledge, unprepared to face. I kicked my repression and suppression into high-gear. I returned to college for my final year feeling very lonely and lost.

The song “Little Chavaleh” captured my mood. It comes toward the end of the musical. Throughout, Teyve clings to tradition; it’s what allows him to maintain his balance in a world run amok. Father of five daughters, he sees one daughter after another challenge tradition in choosing for herself a man to marry rather than relying on the offices of the village matchmaker. But Hodel, his third daughter, pushes him too far when she falls in love with Fyedka, a gentile, a Christian and a Russian. When she runs away from home and marries her beloved, her father cuts her out of the family. His emotions stagger him. Tevye sings this lament. It begins with his pet name for his third daughter: “Little bird, little Chavaleh” and continues with a frank appraisal of where he is: “I don’t understand what’s happening today; everything seems all a blur.” There is deep sorrow here. The father grieving for his lost child. In his mind’s eye or in reality Hodel appears and begs his acceptance. He is torn. How can he turn his back on his own child? Yet how can he turn his back on his religious beliefs? He leans one way, then the other, finally comes down firmly on the side of religion, tradition and the beliefs of his forebears. He casts his daughter out, pushes her off the roof as it were.

I have a deep streak of melancholy in me and this song hits it on all cylinders. Here is the father turning away his own daughter. Here is the man being called as Moses before him to sacrifice his beloved child on the altar of God’s call. Here is the tormented soul recognizing the many ways in which life does not make sense.

Later this song was took on new meaning for me. When I came out to my parents as a gay man they found themselves sharing Tevye’s bewilderment and agonized choice-making. To their minds they had to decide whether to embrace their son or their Savior; they could not imagine holding both at once. In the end they chose church over child. I was disappointed, sad, angry—but not altogether surprised. After all, I could understand their dilemma. I had been in similar straits, unable to believe I was gay because I knew I was Christian. I’d bought hook, line and sinker the notion that these two states of being are mutually exclusive. My parents had taught me well.

I tried to teach them. I tried to communicate my newfound understanding of self, of human sexuality and sexual orientation. I thought with just a little education they’d come to see things the way I did, they’d realize being gay is no crime, no sin against nature, no sickness. Oy vey. What was I thinking? They threw me off the roof. No gay dancing on the ridgeline allowed. The fiddle is playing slow somber sacred music.

The wonder of it is I didn’t break my neck when I hit bottom. The wonder of it is I somehow found deep resources within that allowed me to keep going, even to dance.

A poem by our former poet laureate the late Stanley Kunitz comes to mind, An Old Cracked Tune. It’s the broken song of a traveling man who has known hard times and harder roads and who nonetheless sings for the joy of surviving. We could, all of us, do worse.

How have religious authorities tried to shove you off the roof?

For action (or penance): Sing a simple song—make one up!—to celebrate one way in which you are surviving.

Photo courtesy, the hills are alive at flickr.com, modifications by me

 

Love lands like snow in April

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We had snow on Palm Sunday this year, and on Monday and Tuesday of the week leading up to Easter. Mother Nature dropped more than a half-foot of the white stuff on Taylor’s campus.

Now again over this past weekend. A lighter dusting this time, and enough to make us sit up and take notice.

Live in Indiana long enough and you get use to changeable weather. The saying goes, “Don’t like the weather in Indiana? Wait 15 minutes.”

Me, I like snow. Like love, it covers a multitude of sins. It softens the landscape, points up the stark beauty of leafless trees.

Like love, snow can leave you out in the cold. Can be remorseless. Can complicate your life, even as it adds interest and beauty.

Can catch you by surprise. Can make you wince. Can put a smile on your face.

And there’s no explaining it. Snow happens, even in mid-April in Indiana. Sometimes later.

Gay love happens in Indiana, too. Even in mid-life, sometimes later. Sometimes when we least expect it. Happy are we who can see the beauty in it. Can celebrate its arrival, even as we refuse to grab it and hold it forever in our hot little hands.

Gay love–whether or not it exists in a category different from the garden variety–is to be celebrated, appreciated, noticed.

What unexpected aspect of lgbt love has caught you by surprise? Your neighbors?

For action (or penance): Find a way—right now—to say thank you for the love that has fallen into your life.

Photo: Lenten roses in our front yard this week

How can I be here now when I have to decide whether he’s hot/not, right/wrong, good/bad…? Here’s what the Quaklics say:

Resist me and I persist.

Resist me and I persist.

I spent a recent weekend at a nearby Catholic retreat center. They hosted a men’s retreat on mindfulness and I signed on.

Although I don’t experience the church as a safe place for a gay man, this specific retreat center has served as a haven for me in my coming out journey.

Throughout the retreat, much was made of the idea of practicing nonjudgment.

If one is to stay present to the moment and not get caught up in mental gymnastics and be drug away by chains of thought, it helps to be aware of the thoughts that arise, to greet them, and not get caught up in them . . . . Judging them or judging oneself for having them is a sure way to get entangled. As they say in recovery programs, “what you resist persists.” It takes energy to fight against thoughts and feelings, to label them as bad and arm wrestle them to submission each time they appear. This gives them pride of place and a stronger foothold.

I remember going to a gay reparative therapist and complaining of my same-sex attractions when I looked at attractive men. “Stop looking at them,” he said. “Stop thinking about them.”

This was less then helpful advice.

My experience says if I’m bothered by something, I’m better off increasing my awareness, finding out why I’m feeling bothered, discern what message is there for me. If I determine health lies in not becoming caught up in the situation, I can use the breathing-into-the-moment techniques I learned this past weekend to recognize the situation, accept that it’s there, let it be without judgment, let it go and return my awareness to the Now.

Manleben writes about growing up in a colour-blind world, then watching the tint of his skin become THE defining factor about him in some people’s minds. Jeez. How common a thing in the USA, and how off-base, how arrogant, how ignorant. Something similar happens with lgbt people. How is this thing of judging people based on their sexual identity helpful? Better we as a society could simply grow in awareness of our own feelings and reactions, notice these, embrace them in nonjudgmental fashion, and move on with the business of living our own lives.

What persons or issues bring up instantaneous judgments in me?

For action (or if your Catholic, for penance):

Take in a long slow breath. Bring to mind a person, topic or situation on which you stand ready to pronounce strong positive or negative judgment. As you exhale long and slow, imagine breathing out those feelings of judgment. In this moment, for an instant, practice what it is to let go of judgment.

Photo by David Shankbone at flick.com

I need you like a fence needs posts

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A recent weekend I spent with the Catholics. Or the “Quakliks,” as a fellow retreatant quipped, given that one of the co-leaders of the retreat was raised Quaker, the others Catholic, including a beloved priest of many years service. There’s a Catholic retreat center not far from Upland, and it has a long ecumenical tradition of welcoming all comers, all seekers, all searchers after truth. It’s become a home away from home for me, or better, a church away from church.

It was a men’s retreat on mindfulness. I was mindful that at minimum, two of the participants are gay. This helps me feel more safe when I am in a religious setting. Knowing I am not alone.

There’s a line in Annie Proulx’s short story “The Mud Below” (from her 1999 collection, Close Range: Wyoming Stories, same book in which Brokeback Mountain appears). The line: “…you can’t have a fence with only one post.”

I hear in this what I experienced at the retreat: there is in within me a need for community, a need for feeling safe and accepted, a need for being understood. A need for others, for another. If I am to build something useful of my life, I must do it in collaboration with others. I need the Catholics, too, and the Quaklics and the agnostics and the atheists, Buddhists, Muslims and more. I need to find ways to be in relation with my world. I can start with ways and places in which I feel safe and move from there.

When are you most aware of your need for community?

For action (or penance): Think of one small step you can take today to build community. Do it.

Photo courtesy, Mike Hiatt (mfhiatt at flickr.com)

I’m sorry, Johar.

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Not on 9-11 or 9-12 or 9-13 or 9-anything did my heart go to the terrorists. A talk by Thich Nhat Hanh offered shortly after the World trade Center bombings called me to awareness of the people on all sides involved in the incident.

With the Boston Marathon bombing I found my heart inclined to offer prayers for the victims who were killed and injured, also for the victim(s) (of what–rage? hatred? notions of defiance? revenge?) who set off the bombs.

Small step, then, to feel deep sadness at the news of a gravely wounded young(!) man bleeding, hiding in a covered boat in a suburban backyard, perhaps waiting to die, perhaps wanting to live, perhaps too far out of consciousness to be aware of anything.

It’s an old saw: violence blows up in everyone’s face. We all suffer; we are all wounded.

What touches off feelings of sadness in you for perpetrators of violence, directed toward lgbt persons or others?

For action (or penance): Close your eyes. Breathe into a recent time when you yourself acted or reacted in a way harmful to another. Breathe into sadness for yourself, acceptance and forgiveness.

Photo courtesy, [segle] at flickr.com