Monday, April 24, 2017

Process Of Elimination: How Do We Stop The Persecution Of Gay Men In Chechnya?

This piece originally appeared on HuffPost Queer Voices

We are born. We exist. We are not flaws in the grand design. We are perfect as we are. We will not be eliminated.

Chechnya. 2017. Gay men are being starved, beaten, murdered. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or have chosen to ignore this information, you’ve probably seen a headline or 20 come through your Facebook or Twitter feed regarding these torturous persecutions. It seems that Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the republic of Chechnya (a mostly Muslim region in Russia) wants to rid (RID!) his republic of all gay men by Ramadan, which begins May 26, 2017. 

Ramadan, in case you don’t know, is a period of fasting, a time in which religious followers of Islam are supposedly brought closer to God and reminded of those less fortunate. Any human being that a family, a community, a government, a religion, a sect wishes to be rid of seems nothing if not less fortunate in my opinion. So as Chechnya approaches this holy period its leader hopes to have less “unfortunate” people to worry about. Religion…sign me up!

I am heartbroken. I am disturbed. I am angry. 

I don’t know what I can do to help. I am one person. But my ache and desire for an intervention is real. What can we (the gay community, the American people) do? How can we help? From thousands of miles away, how do we help them? 

I'm terrified for people I don't even know. I'm in anguish that men who love other men (like I love other men) are being beaten and murdered. Murdered! For merely being born gay. For choosing to live the lives they were born to live.

Scream. Yell. Kick something. Break something. It helps to release the tension but only briefly. The world view of gay people has certainly changed for the better over the decades since the Mattachine Society met in secret, since the rioters at Stonewall rose up, since the marchers of Act Up chanted "Fight Back, Fight AIDS.” But the world is still filled with evil people who want to eradicate anything and everything they see as different. Religion often feeds that evil and helps it to grow. Phobias of all varieties are running rampant. And bigots seem more emboldened than ever. Progress certainly seems to bring out the worst in people

I am moved to tears every time I think about the gay men living (dying) in Chechnya. I feel like Shirley MacLaine's character in the film Terms of Endearment: frustrated, agitated, screaming, "Give my daughter the shot!!!" But in this scenario I'm the one frustrated, agitated, and angry, screaming: Leave us the fuck alone to live our lives in peace!! I have to say us because if we gay humans don't stand with other gay humans then who are we? These are our brothers that are being beaten and murdered. For nothing! Lives are being ended…for nothing! Innocence shattered. Persecution due to a belief that who one loves (or kisses, or holds hand with, or fucks) is wrong. 

It is not lost on me that I live in the United States of America. I know how blessed I am. Yet even while the hatred and homophobia exists here, I am free to live, love and marry. The pursuit of happiness is mine and I can grasp it. But even here at home (the land of the free and brave) we don’t seem to have a president who cares enough about us to fight for the human rights, the equal rights, of LGBTQ humans. And with all the alleged Russian interference and collusion, will America step in to help or watch this tragedy play out from the sidelines?

We are not a blight on our family’s name. We are not stains on the fabric of society to be rubbed out. We are beautiful people who deserve to live and love and pursue our dreams just like anyone else. No government, no religion, no family member has the right to rid the world of us, or even attempt to rid the world of us. Being born heterosexual does not entitle one to all the rights and privileges of a civilized society but being born should guarantee them. Then again, what is civilized about beating and murdering human beings because they are gay?

“United we stand, divided we fall.”

Friday, April 21, 2017

Memory & Faith

Memory and Faith are tricky things. One has to believe that both are real. As time goes by each becomes less easy to trust.

It was 1978. February if memory serves. I was six years old. What does a 45-year old man remember about the things that happened to him when he was six? It’s been nearly 40 years.

I was at Central Baptist Church.

What does a six year old know? I remember knowing the difference between right and wrong, fear and comfort, life and death, heaven and hell.

I don’t remember a burden being lifted when I stepped out of the pew and made my way toward the altar. 

I remember kneeling at the altar. I can almost see the color of the stained wood, the length of it across the front of the sanctuary. It hovers in my memory along with cloudy images of gum stuck underneath the pew in front of where mamaw sat that I would pick at when she would let me lie on the floor beneath it, or the image painted behind the baptistry.

I don’t remember the words that I said. What I do remember is that I was supposed to ask Christ into my heart so that my soul would be saved from an eternity in hell. Someone was there with me. Someone who asked me if I wanted to be saved. I responded yes. Was it a verbal “yes” or a simple nod of the head? I don’t know. I remember the person saying words aloud that I then repeated. I remember repeating the words with sincerity even though at six years old I probably didn’t quite understand sincerity but now recognize it to be innocence and trust. That is how I asked Christ to save me from hell. 

I remember crying.

I believed that it happened. That must be the childlike faith I heard spoken of in so many church services. I was humbled, convicted as I remember it being termed. I wanted to step out of the pew. I wanted to go to the altar. I wanted to ask. And I wanted to accept. 

Again, I remember crying. 

I remember feeling a sense of relief. Was it that I felt lighter? Was it that I felt whole? Was it happiness? Was it that I felt I’d done something right, something pleasing? Was it because Jesus had taken up residence in my spiritual heart? I remember picturing Jesus living inside my chest. I was six. I thought Jesus was literally inside my heart.

I remember being lifted up to stand upon the altar by, I think, Harold Gardner. He may have been the person who led me. The image of the man’s face, the sound of his voice, is in that cloudy space along with the altar, the gum, and the baptistry image. Upon that altar I stood in front of a congregation of people who were staring back at me with smiles on their faces. I do remember that.

I don’t remember talking to you or mom that night. I don’t remember even seeing your faces. Or the faces of mamaw and papaw for that matter. 

If memory serves there was a handshake line for the congregation to welcome the newly saved into the flock. After that it’s blank.

It seems my 45-year old self remembers more than I thought.

Salvation is something that can never be taken away from me, something I can never lose. That's what I was always told. The redemption, the protection, is forever. I merely have to accept that that's the truth. Once upon a time I asked, once upon a time I received, and once upon that time I accepted. 

Nearly forty years later in my journey I strive to find my own relationship with God—the higher power—that works for me. A relationship that is my own. I'm no longer six years old and faith is a bigger undertaking than it was then. Humans (and their judgment) do not help. But humankind does not have a say in my relationship with God. It is mine and mine alone. 

Memory and Faith. There's often no proof of either. They are wisps of smoke that cannot be grasped. One just has to believe they are real.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The One About My Mom

In my mind she’s 40 or thereabouts. She’s frozen in time. I can’t pinpoint why 40 is the age. 

I remember her turning 30. I remember specifically that we had gotten new carpet in our house in Bardwell, Kentucky, just days prior to that milestone and that someone had spilled a beverage on the carpet in the living room. I remember her crying on her birthday as she told this information to her dad, my granddaddy. I now know that it wasn’t about the spill as much as it was about turning 30, having experienced that often anxiety-riddled birthday for myself. 

I remember when she turned 50. My sister and I threw a surprise party for her complete with high school friends she hadn’t seen in many years along with a secret arrival from New York by yours truly. She was lured to my sister’s church’s fellowship hall under the guise of helping sew Easter costumes. She was carrying her own sewing machine when she entered that room to the shock of “Surprise” and smiling faces. She cried. Holding that sewing machine, she cried. It makes me tear up as I write this remembering with joy that we had not only managed to surprise her, but that she was also truly happy.

The year she turned 40, I turned 22. Forty is another milestone birthday but I still can’t pinpoint what it is about that year, that age. She wanted a t-shirt that said, “It took me 40 years to look this good.” I got it for her. (When I turned 40 she asked me if I wanted one of my own. I declined that fashion statement straight out. We both laughed). 

As I said, I turned 22 the year she turned 40. That was the year I came out to my friends as gay. It was three months after her birthday and a mere 14 days after mine. Milestones reached for each of us back in 1993. The only way I would want to be 22 again would be if I could retain all the knowledge I have obtained since then, but I digress. When I picture her in my mind the image is often of her at this time in her life, our lives.

Christmas morning, 1972
I know she’s gotten older but it never ceases to shock me when I see her face after a prolonged absence. Her beauty endures. Her smile is still vibrant and alive. Her eyes are still twinkling pools of blue. She’s still the biggest kid on Christmas morning. She still believes in the magic of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and that I will always be her little boy no matter how old I get.

She will binge watch Downton Abbey with me and cry at all the right moments. She will play games into the night. She's my only Words With Friends opponent. She still looks and acts like my mom, just an older version. Her face is no longer as smooth as it once was, her hair no longer brown. But the reality of her age doesn’t line up with the suspended memory in my mind.

Time marches on. Mortality strums its thumb over the heartstrings.

She just turned a young 64. And I’m her “forever” little boy who has grown to be a man nearing 46. The relationship between mother and son has changed over the years. Because of what she calls a “mother’s love” I probably feel more at ease being myself around her than any other person in my immediate family. I don’t talk to her as much as I used to nor as much as I should. We text, yes. But hearing her voice can sometimes ease the pain that she doesn’t even know I’m feeling, calm the fears that she doesn’t even know are there.

January 2016
Phone calls always end with “I love you.” And I do love her. I’ll never be able to express adequately how much. It’s just not possible. She’s my mom…momma.

All of this has been written in preface to the shock of hearing that she was in the emergency room on Saturday night. She was out to dinner and talking to a friend when she felt pain in the left side of her jaw and then the left side of her face started to tingle and feel numb. Numb is how I felt upon reading those words in the text from my sister. Even when I read her words, “I think she is okay,” (my sister texting as a nurse as much as my sister), mortality showed itself. 

Her blood pressure was high. The doctor ordered a head CT, chest x-ray, and EKG. They all came back clear. However, I was not prepared to hear the word “stroke” as a possibility even if it did have the word “mini” in front of it. A mini donut is still a donut and sugar is sugar. My mom can’t be the age where people have a stroke. She just can’t be. Can she? 

As I said, everything came back clear. Her blood pressure is totally normal. Nothing confirmed conclusively that she had indeed had a mini stroke. But she was scared. I understand that. I too was scared. She stayed overnight in the hospital but was released on Sunday and went home. So back to life as usualShe’s a trooper who doesn’t even plan on missing a day of work. But me, I’m not ready, nor will I ever be, for words like “stroke” or “heart attack,” or anything else negative for that matter, to be in the same sentence when referring to her. She’s my mom. She’s always been in my corner. What would I do without her? 

I want to protect her from the havoc that the repercussions of the aforementioned words could/might/can wreak on her. I want to be in her corner, like the Crazy Healthy Dragon on the POM Wonderful commercial who fights off the free radicals.

She is no longer 40 and I am no longer 22. Time has marched on. It keeps marching. That’s a good thing because if it stopped then one of us wouldn’t be here to march with it. 

Andy Rooney said, “I didn’t get old on purpose, it just happened. If you’re lucky, it could happen to you.” 

She’s lucky. I’m lucky. Our luck continues.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Struggling To Transcend The Darkness

Yesterday was a dark day for me. Nothing in particular happened to cause the darkness. Unless, of course, you count the state of the country.

I woke up. I made coffee. I drank the coffee. I read Vogue. I was in a pretty good mood. I even decided to be bold with my eye make up: dark purpled-gray on the lids and a smudgy stroke underneath.

Without even knowing why, I just felt dark. I wore mostly black. And with the salt of white in my beard and the dark eyes, I had a vision of what it would all look like and it came together in reality with as much perfection.

The darkness of the outward soon seeped inward.

I asked a question and participated in a discussion about politics: Mr. Trump's Executive Orders, Senate confirmation hearings, Democrats stalling just to be vindictive or because they had legitimate concerns.

During the discussion I listened but couldn't help but feel like the kid sitting in Geometry class, not understanding, finally raising his hand to ask a question, and hearing the snickers of the students around him making him feel even more stupid because now they know he doesn't understand.

I know that these are my own self-imposed feelings of ignorance. I also know that my dread of each new move by the Trump Administration on the chess board that is our country's political game is real. I know that I shouldn't live in fear. But knowing and doing are two different things. I'm trying to understand. I'm trying to have faith. Both are equally difficult for me to do.

I couldn't shake the feelings of dimness that took hold of me yesterday. I tried to engage in other conversations. I felt the people around me working overtime to lift the mood in the room. I couldn't do it for myself, and they couldn't do it for me. I had spiraled down the rabbit hole where even Alice kept her distance. Too much darkness. I was alone. I finally realized the best course of action for me, and everyone around me, was to remove myself from the situation.

Later in the evening I took to Twitter. Searching what was trending led to a Trump related hashtag. I knew I shouldn't click on it but click on it I did. Three tweets in I saw the word "libtard." That's the word that I've noticed more and more from the Right since the election results knocked the air out the Left. It's a hateful word; demeaning.

I wasn't sure it was possible, but the darkness got even darker. I forced myself to close my Twitter app and then forced myself to delete the app from my iPhone.

We're living in a divided time right now. I am honestly trying to understand how the other side feels. I saw the progress that happened during the Obama Administration. However, I'm trying to understand how what I considered progress was not considered progress by Obama haters. It's so difficult to see another's point of view when that point of view at no point has even a hint of aligning with yours.

I can't understand why my being protected, as a gay man, causes so many such discomfort. I don't remember what I felt more of when the Supreme Court ruled on Equality in 2015. Was it relief? (I certainly was relieved. And shocked. I wept.) Or was superiority that people in a country so superiorly Christian would finally have to accept the Separation of Church and State? (I felt that too.) Of course, that ruling inevitably led to Religious Freedom bills being submitted over many parts of the country.

Fear and hate continue to be carefully taught. And they're thriving. They're thriving equally among the Right and the Left: two sides within the same country so divided that we can't even be civil with one another.

I continue to fight my fear and to try not to hate people who might hate me for the way I was born.

I know that I'm supported by some but don't feel that I'm supported by those from whom I'm longing to be held.

As I made my exit yesterday with Charlie Brown's rain cloud firmly secured above my head I said, "The next time I see you I'll try to be more pink."

Today I am trying to combat the darkness with pink. It's light-hearted. It's revitalizing. It lifts my spirits.

I can't watch the news. I can't read my Twitter feed. I don't even want to look at the headlines on Huffington Post. If I do any of those things the brightness will begin to drain from the pink. And if that happens all I'll be left with is the dingy brown of a watery puddle. And that's just one step away from the darkness, over which I'm struggling to transcend.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Fear, Shame, & Discrimination: It's Enough Already

Have you ever had fear of family rejection from doing nothing other than being born? I have. Maybe you've experienced the fear of your family’s reaction when you got your girlfriend pregnant, or wrecked your car, or got a DUI, or failed a class. But that’s different than fearing your family for the way you felt inside because of who you were attracted to. 

Have you ever felt completely isolated from everyone (your parents, your preacher, you teachers, your guidance counselor, your friends), unable to ask questions or talk about how you were feeling, because you feared their reaction? Well, guess what. I have. It was sad and terrifying and lonely. And I felt ashamed of myself for most of my life. That fear was caustic; it tried to destroy me.

I’m done with that! I’m done with it. I’m not going to apologize for being attracted to men, for enjoying kissing a man, for wanting to hold a man’s hand. I’m not going to apologize for enjoying makeup and a fantastic shoe. I won’t do it. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to let anyone condemn me as less than worthy of rights and protections because of how I feel, who I love, what I wear. I WON’T DO IT!

Too much time was wasted living with shame and fear. Too much time is still being wasted with the residual effects of those feelings. I am not a victim. I am a survivor: of my childhood, of high school, of religious men and women who would have me believe that Hell awaits me if I continue down my path. I could easily play the victim card, but that is unproductive. I am not a victim, but I am angry. I have risen up and I will continue to rise further.

Even the hint of a whiff, via Twitter today, that Mr. Trump might sign an executive order allowing for discrimination against LGBTQ humans has incensed me. It’s enough already. I stand proudly, a capital G, with my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. It is time to stop this nonsense. LGBTQ humans needing protections wouldn’t even be necessary if so many homophobic people, hiding behind religion, afraid of what they won’t or can’t understand would just get over themselves and realize that equality isn’t going to change their lives. It’s going to change the life of someone else. And by doing so will make life better for all. 

We could indeed make America great(er) if we all took a second to support, love, and help each other. We truly are stronger together. I just hope we haven’t destroyed each other by the time we figure that out.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Treading Water in a Sea of Anxiety

photo via Keeper's Blog
“We should be celebrating everyone as much as we can. There’s so much darkness that it’s hard to keep your head above water sometimes.” Christian Siriano

I struggle daily with anxiety from the impending Trump presidency. Impending is a word, for me, that is often followed by the word doom. Impending: imminently threatening or menacing. Doom: adverse fate; ruin; death. Impending Doom. Yep. Sounds about right. 

As a gay man who saw his courage grow by leaps and bounds in 2016 alone, the imminent changing of the guard from the Obama administration to the Trump administration is justifiably unnerving. Therefore: fear of impending doom. I’m treading water in a sea of anxiety. I know I’m not alone.

My anxiety derives from the recent past: Mr. Trump’s words, actions, and reactions on the campaign trail. It is nourished daily as I try to digest the information released of those he’s chosen to surround himself with in the White House — a barrage of anti-gay humans, many of whom seem to lack the qualifications necessary to do the job they’ve been appointed to do. It maintains its grip on me every time he takes to Twitter to tweet…about anything. 

I wish I could keep wearing my rose-colored glasses and pretend everything is ok. But I can't ignore what is happening in the world. I need to be informed, but I’m finding it more and more difficult every day to open my reputable news apps. I fear the headlines. I think to myself: What now? What’s next? I have to read the story because otherwise I won’t know what’s going on. Then, more often than not, my heart sinks into a despair that turns to frustration, then anger. The glasses are cracked. I've had to take them off. The resulting imagery is harsh. As the truth often is. 

Have you noticed the photos that often accompany any article about Mr. Trump? They’re photos that often show him with an expression so self-righteous and smug it makes me think he couldn’t really care less about the people of the country he was just elected to represent. I know these photos are chosen on purpose — a manipulation — to show Mr. Trump at his worst. But I watched him on the campaign trail. I watched portions of the debates. And I’ve read his words. Self-righteous, smug, egotistical, self-important, oppressive, and dishonest are just some of the words I’d use to describe how he comes across. He doesn’t seem approachable and doesn’t seem as if he would take to heart any of the concerns of the people, even if he did take a moment to listen to those concerns. The image he has cultivated is not that of a nice person, and I think he likes it that way. 

I, like many others, never thought Mr. Trump had a chance of winning the election. But he did win. I don’t know how and I don’t know why. As TIME states on the cover of their “Person of the Year” issue, he is “President of the Divided States of America.” Remember the motto, “United we stand, divided we fall?” We are divided as a country. So divided. I can’t even imagine what the next four years will bring, and I don’t even want to think about the possibility of eight. I can’t think about it. I fear we’re on the precipice of a fall: momentous, hazardous, deadly. Every minority group in the "United" States of America has the potential to feel a terminating grip on its rights and freedoms during the Trump administration. All the courage must be gathered. All the voices must be raised. We'll all be stronger together.

So many bemoaned the suckocity of the year that was 2016. I concur (even if I did find a great deal more personal courage). There was terrorism at home and on foreign soil. There was shooting after shooting after shooting. There was hacking (Russia anyone?), and too much attention paid to emails that proved nothing. There was contaminated water and a pipeline. There was fake news shared and tweeted as real. Then there was the Presidential campaign and its subsequent election results. All led to anxiety inducing headlines with subsequent stories that did not alleviate the tension. Now 2016 has ended and the new and shiny year 2017 has begun. But I fear we have passed from the bleak into the ominous. The cold, gray, gloomy days of January are apropos. 

The new year hasn’t had a chance to get tarnished or genuinely fucked up yet. However, this new is not a renewal. It’s a continuation. It’s a year that will bring change to be sure. What that change will be no one knows. I’m guessing not even Mr. Trump. 

We’re hovering over an abyss of the unknown. The darkness is foreboding. I keep trying to shine my light but it’s arduous.

Is it any wonder my anxiety continues to flourish?

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Ruinous Lust

You look at him. He smiles. It’s that same smile he’s been smiling at you for years. That same smile he smiled at you back when he was still “straight.” You feel the flutter in your stomach. You thought those butterflies had flown away, or better yet, died years ago. You worked hard to coax them away; bury them. You tried to give them no nourishment so that they would have to leave you alone and find another place to live; find their way into someone else’s stomach through the hole in the heart left by Cupid’s arrow.

It seems that with the sensation you felt that day you realized they had merely fallen into a deep slumber. Your feelings are still there. You would go with him one more time if he would only ask. You're not in love with him but you love him. Lust is what you’re in with him. You’re in the deepest lust with him and you just want to feel him deep inside you.

He doesn’t care about you. You realize that, right? Yes. You realize it. You know it. He will be your friend but he will be nothing more. He used you once. That was about him and not you. Your feelings were collateral damage. You will never kiss him again. You will never feel his lips on yours or his hands on your body. You will never take him into your mouth again and he will never penetrate you in the way you yearn. Unless you consider the way his has penetrated your heart. But you have to heal that wound. It will do nothing but fester if you continue down this path of wishing and pretending.

He can still be beautiful in your eyes. You have to find the balance. He will never be yours and you will never find yourself comforted in his embrace. You will never fall asleep with your head on his chest.

He is not good for you. You know that. Yet your heart overrides your head every time you see him. You keep hoping, as you’ve been doing for too many years, that the right moment might arise and his eyes will be open and see you as the person he is missing in his life. That is never going to happen. He sees you and he wants nothing more from you than friendship.

That hole in your heart left by Cupid has merely crusted over. Propel the butterflies up and out. Make them break through the scab. Make them exit. Let that particular hole close. Cupid will hopefully provide you with another one day. 

He is the boy that was never meant to be yours and no amount of wishing is going to change that. He doesn’t want you. He never really did. You’ve been suffering, on and off, with your unrequited love of him for too long. 

It’s time you loved yourself more than you think you love him. It’s time to remove the infatuation cataracts from your eyes. Your lips, hands, and body deserve more than the desire to one more time have a chance to get it right and win his heart. 

Your heart is more important than his and some desires do nothing more than ruin a life. Don’t let his smile and your lust continue to affect your life. They’re a mad combination doing nothing more than conspiring against you.

There will be another He if you let there be.