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.