Thursday, May 22, 2008

Commencement Speech, Univ of Phoenix, June 2005

ome people would be nervous, speaking to a group this large. But I am a University of Phoenix graduate. I know a thing or two about getting up and presenting before a group.

When presented with the opportunity to speak today, I started and discarded half a dozen different speeches. What can I say to all of you - my fellow graduates - that you don’t already know?

At traditional college commencements, speakers tell the graduating class to go out into the world and make their mark. As non-traditional students, though, we have already been out in the world. We have also been at the end of our rope, pushed to the limit, over the hill, on the edge and around the bend. No, we don’t need to be told about the real world. We are the real world.

So I can’t give the usual “the world is yours for the taking” speech. What I can do is take a moment to recognize what we have already accomplished. All of us, one and the same, taking this opportunity today to celebrate a major milestone in each of our lives. Finally, we can take a deep breath, raise our heads high, and enjoy the well-earned feeling of success.

I can also share with you a bit of my personal experience. When I left the Marine Corps, I was worried about going back to school. I remember telling my Grandmother that, if I did go to college, “I would be 30 years old before I got my degree.” She smiled and said, “Boy, you’re going to be 30, anyway.” Those words stuck with me through obstacles and challenges, ups and downs. And here I am at 38, a college graduate. And if all goes as planned, I will have a Masters Degree when I am 40.

So what exactly has the University of Phoenix done for me? My experience at UOP has helped me make improvements in three areas of my life: academically (of course), professionally, and even personally.

Academically, I am more than prepared to start Graduate School in September. The instructors I had believe in what they do. Teaching is more than just passing the time in front of the class, and I was fortunate to have instructors who inspired me to do more than just pass. They made me want to do my best. And here I am today, graduating with honors.

The University of Phoenix has a well-earned reputation for rigorous coursework, high standards, and a quick pace. To keep up, I developed great study habits, actively participated in learning teams, and made and kept my commitment to my education. These same traits will be my strengths as I pursue my Masters Degree in Adult Education.

Professionally, I have benefited already from my time at University of Phoenix. This school prides itself on providing “education that goes to work,” and I can attest to the truth of that. Be it Human Resources, Accounting, Project Management, Communication, or any of the other courses, nearly everything was immediately useful in the workplace. This school combines theory with real-world applications, drawing as much from each of our lives and experiences as from our textbooks. We were connected to the material, and it mattered to us. We listened because we understood that what we were discussing in class often mirrored what we were dealing with at work. I have learned – and retained – so much of the material at UOP, because I had an opportunity to use it in the real world.

And what impact did the school have on me personally? I learned what a fantastic support system I have in my life. Anyone graduating today knows the time and effort required to get to this moment. We spend hours at the computer creating and rehearsing PowerPoint presentations. We edit and finesse page after page of individual and team papers. We study textbooks and course material until our eyes cross. And of course, we meet in study groups to talk about current events, collectively daydream about a life after college, and occasionally discuss things about class.

All of these activities take time. Because we are busy with school, we miss a lot of what happens around us. Houses get cleaned, meals get cooked, dishes get washed, and lawns get mowed. For others, there are children to pick up from school, drive to and from sports and other activities, and watch over and care for. Life goes on at the same hectic pace it always has, but we are often sidelined by school work. If you are like me, though, you discover that no one goes to school alone.

For me, I had someone at home telling me over and over, “you go study and I’ll make dinner.” While I wrote papers, someone else vacuumed the house and folded the laundry. While I cursed and swore at my laptop over yet another project, I had someone willing to do whatever was necessary to help me. My support system was the difference between success and failure. Without all the help and assistance from my better half, I could never have made it to this day.

And I know we all had the same help. Hopefully, in all the excitement of this day, each of you will take a moment to share a bit of your success with those who helped you achieve it. In fact, on behalf of the entire graduating class, I say thank you to all of you who helped us make it to this day.

My fellow graduates, we have proven to ourselves and everyone else that we have what it takes to graduate from college. That’s a pretty cool thing. Everyday, we prove ourselves as valued and valuable members of our workplace teams. We contribute and we excel and we make a difference. Be proud of all that you do, because it is in your actions that you will discover who you really are.

For as long as we have worked for our degrees, we have been described as non-traditional. Well, I say we embrace that label. Be non-traditional in all that you do. Chase your next dream. Build a better mousetrap. Be a role model. Do things now that will make for great stories later. Be wild. Be brave. Heck, you are all invited to come skydiving tomorrow with me and my Mom.

The motto of the University of Phoenix is simple – “You Can Do This.” As we all move forward, I remind everyone of the power in that simple phrase.

Thank you for your time this morning, and again, congratulations.

An Evening with Janis Ian

(My interview with Janis Ian was the cover story of the Gay & Lesbian Times in Sep 1996.)

Singer, songwriter, Grammy Award winner, and now national columnist Janis Ian brought her “Revenge” Tour to 4th & “B” Thursday, September 29. In this exclusive interview held after her roof-raising performance, Ian talks with staff writer John L. Hulsey about her renewed career, her life in Nashville, and the woman affectionately known as “Mr. Lesbian.”

Janis Ian - So, how are you?

John Hulsey - I’m great. And you. . . that was some show.

ji - Thanks.

jh - Let me start by saying how much I enjoy your articles in The Advocate.

ji - Yeah, I’m really pleased, because my editor, Judy Weider, who really brought me onboard there, and talked me into, because I didn’t want to do it, has just been named Editor-In-Chief, and a lot of it is because the articles have been so successful. And in the articles, there is heavy and then there is light, and there’s room for both.

jh - My favorite, though, has to be the story of the camping trip.

ji - (laughing) Oh, yeah, everybody loves that. It’s really funny, because I faxed that to Pat (Mr. Lesbian) at school, and she said “I sound really stupid in this article!” And, you know, she never says that, she never comments, so I called her and I said “what do you mean, you sound stupid?” She said “but I sound like an idiot,” and I said, “but, so what? I mean, better you than me!” I thought it was quite funny.

jh - Reading the columns, and now tonight listening to the music, the thought that kept running through my head was, “she’s really enjoying this.”

ji - Oh, yeah. Damn straight. I’m forty-five, and I don’t need to be out there doing something I don’t enjoy.

jh - For many people, though, in our community, they seem to have lost that sense of fun. It’s almost as if everything has become so serious, we have lost our ability to simply enjoy.

ji - I think that’s not just the gay movement, though, I think that’s people in general. As a performer, a lot of what I see is people who are my friends, trying to reproduce what they do in videos on stage, and it’s not fun. It’s no fun to just do the same thing night after night after night. It’s very hard to breathe life into it, and audiences are so used to having things flung at them, that going out to a concert is becoming an unenjoyable experience. It should be fun, if you’re going to pay fifteen bucks, or thirty bucks, plus a baby-sitter and parking, go through the hassle of going to see somebody, you should be able to leave moved, and you should be able to leave happy, and you should feel like the person up there is not making this big sacrifice or doing you this big favor. I mean, to me, I make more money staying home and writing songs. My business people would be very happy if I did that, but I really like doing this. I like meeting people and signing stuff. Beyond the ego, Pat says I have a terminal interest in human beings. And I do.

jh - But, back to that ego. That’s not such a bad thing. When I write and I touch someone, my ego soars. And I have learned to stop apologizing for that. When did you learn to stop?

ji - (laughing) Probably about five years ago, when I realized I could never be a Picasso, but I could be a Cezanne. And I thought, well then, it’s okay to be that. And you know, growing up in the folk world, and in the jazz world, it’s very uncool to be interested in anything that satisfies the ego.

jh - In any sort of acclaim?

ji - Yeah, so I carried all that baggage with me for a long time. But, I think the South has taught me a lot, country music has taught me a lot about that, because it’s a gift to be able to do what I do. It’s something I was born with, but I work my butt off doing it, so I deserve what I get from doing it. And I’m real clear on that now.

jh - Now?

ji - Yeah, I was pretty clear on that in my twenties, because I went through “Society’s Child.” I never felt like I didn’t deserve to be well-paid, because I knew how much work went into it. And I never felt I didn’t deserve the accolades, but it was a little strange to me when people use a word like ‘genius,’ because for any artist, you are always measuring yourself against someone who is way beyond you.

jh - Like?

ji - Well, if I write songs, I think of Leonard Cohen or George Gershwin. If I write music, I think of Beethoven. If I write articles, I think of Faulkner.

jh - Very Southern.

ji - Yeah... Pat Conroy, too. I measure myself against the people I admire, and I find myself lacking. But, I’m not sure that that’s not just what it is to be an artist. To find yourself always lacking just enough that you struggle to get to the next step.

jh - It seems that there are a lot of other female vocalists who are writing their own music - Julia Fordham, Maria McKee. These are women whose lyrics, like yours, just hang with you, and I knew to expect that here tonight. What I didn’t expect, and what I was impressed by, is that you are such a musician.

ji - Yeah, and it’s fun, because I get asked, too. I just did a thing yesterday in L.A. for a friend’s record, and I was the guitarist, and it was great.

jh - So you are a writer, a songwriter, you play guitar and other instruments. Is there a particular media with which you are most comfortable?

ji - No, I don’t think I feel safe in any medium, just because I measure myself against others. If I’m playing piano, I’m measuring myself against Chick Corea. As a guitarist, I’m a really good guitarist for what I do. In fact, I was playing a show with Chet Atkins and Michael Hedges a few months ago, and Chet was telling Michael what a great guitarist I was.

jh - What does a compliment like that do to you?

ji - Are you kidding? It scares the shit out of me. But then, Michael sat through my set on the side of the stage to see what he could steal. But then I realized that neither Chet, nor Michael, nor I could play the normal stuff that session musicians play. And that’s why we have become good guitarists, because we play the other stuff, our stuff. I can’t think of three more different guitarists, and we all play that because we can’t play the other stuff. So, it scares me to take a solo, because I have no idea where I am going. But, that’s a good scare, you know?

jh - Like tonight, when you said you had no idea how to get out of the solo?

ji - Oh yeah, I had no idea how to get out of it, so I just fumbled out of it. But, I figure, it is live music, and that’s the point. When I started doing solo stuff late last year, I said to my drummer at one point, because I was starting to step out and take the guitar solos, I said what do you do when you take a solo and you don’t know where you are going, and he said you just go. You just play. And I think that’s changed my whole attitude towards the stage, because I go up there now with a list of 30-35 songs, and I sort of know where my beginning and where my ending is, and the rest of it is just whatever happens. And there is a real cool thing about that, and it takes out the fear factor, because you’re not afraid of your talent, and that is really an important thing. And conversely, I don’t think any artist every feels safe anywhere, ultimately, because the only safety for any artists is in the act of creation, and in the art of creation you’re dying and being born again, so how can you be safe?

jh - Your show is the first show I had been to in a long time where I thought if someone yells out the right song, you would say “yeah, all right,” and do that number.

ji - Oh, yeah. The two things people yelled out tonight were both piano songs, though. I actually did a piano song, “Lover’s Lullaby,” which I hadn’t done since ‘78, and I just said “look, I don’t have any harmonies here and I don’t have a piano, so y’all better sing. And it was great. It was the Seattle Zoo, and there were about 4,00 people, and they all sang the harmonies, and it was great.

jh - It is interactive with you, isn’t it? You made a joke earlier about that, but it really is the truth.

ji - It is, it’s fun for me. You know, I worry about audiences. I worry that their attention span is lower every year. The amount of time I had, when I started, you could go 25-25 minutes without talking. Now, you have to talk every 15 minutes, because that’s their attention span. That’s when the commercials come in, every 14-15 minutes. You have to stop and give them something different, and that worries me. I see it not so much tonight where it was a real live crowd, but at Seattle or Albany where you get 3,000 people or so, they are hungry for reality. They’re hungry for an artist who is an artist, and there is precious little of that in their lives. You know, in the late 1800’s and the early part of this century, when you had the railroad trains going across (the country), and you had people like Lily Ponds, Gertrude Stein, and Marlene Dietrich, the most bizarre groups of people touring the lands, places like Pocoima, and people came out to see art. And then they went to Vaudeville to have a good time, and it was two distinctly different things, and people don’t get either, anymore. They don’t get to have a good time and they don’t get to be moved. So what is the point in going out?

jh - So you do know your audience?

ji - Oh, yeah. I think about it a lot. And I like them, and I think that makes a big difference, too. I think there are a lot of people out there who don’t necessarily like their audience. A lot of people are scared of their audience, a lot of people are worried. I don’t know what they’re worried about. But, I know that Chapin (Mary Chapin-Carpenter), for instance, is not scared of her audience, and it shows. Tina Turner is not scared of her audience. It shows. There is a difference in walking onstage and asking them if it’s okay, and walking onstage because you own it. I’m real clear that that’s my stage. I own that room. If you want to shout out shit, shout it out. But, if you irritate me, I’ll shut you up. Because it’s my show, you know, and people are paying for that. There’s something that happens to you when you get away from L.A. and New York, and you get into the middle, and you suddenly start realizing what $15 or $20 bucks means, and how hard people work for that. For example, tonight when we looked at the contract, and the contract called for me to go on at 10:30, and I just said you know, “I’ll get complaints for months from people.” I mean, if there is a couple - gay or straight - very often they’ll have kids, and they go out, and a lot of times they have to hire a baby-sitter, and even on a $15 ticket, that’s $30 bucks, and it’s another $30 for the baby-sitter, and it’s another $10 for the parking. That’s $70.00. And then you’re going to make them wait two and a half hours, so the baby-sitter goes into overtime.

jh - So you are very aware of that?

ji - Oh, sure. I think there is a lot to be said for living within other people’s means. It’s funny, but I think that going broke and not having that cushion. . . in a way there are a lot of my contemporaries that I would wish that on, because it really did wonderful things for me just in terms of smacking me in the face and saying “you want reality, here’s reality. You like going out to eat? Try Wendy’s.”

jh - And as a big deal, right? As an outing?

ji - Oh, yeah, as a major deal. Because Pat’s in law school right now, so it’s a thin stretch for us. And I work, but you know a second year law student, one salary, and I help my mom out as well, and I’ve got three nephews, and it’s a lot when there’s very little cushion. We’ve got a little bit of a cushion now, but we can’t afford a new car this year. We’re a one car family, and I just bought a bike. We all struggle, but I’m a lot better off than a lot of people I know, because I can go out to eat. We have a house rule now that Friday nights, because Pat drives up from Knoxville, where she’s in school, and it’s three hours, and she drives up and on Friday nights we go out to dinner. And that’s our thing, we go out to dinner. And maybe we go to the movies. That’s our big treat, you know? Yet, I think that most performers who are in better - well, different - positions than I am in have no clue.

jh - You hear a lot standing in the lines to the movies that you don’t hear if you just have a copy of the movie shipped to you for viewing in your home theater.

ji - Especially in Nashville. People have no hesitation to come right up to me and go “I saw you at the Ryman, and you know you’re not very country, are you?” And it’s great, and I just say “no ma’am, I’m not.” And it’s great. But you know, Nashville is a songwriter’s mecca.

jh - And I heard you saying “ma’am” earlier when you were signing autographs.

ji - Oh, it’s so automatic now. And I find it nice, you know? I was raised to call my aunts “Aunt So-and-so,” and I was never allowed to address an adult by their first name. I was taught that what an adult said, I did. . . which is good and bad. But, I think there is a lot to be said for it, and I like it, and when I come north I always shocked at how abrupt they are. You know, fifty thousand people moved to Nashville last year from the L.A. area, and the businesses have gone to shit.

jh - Because?

ji - Well, why bother giving service? Last week, Pat said “Honey, you have to get a grip.” I mean, we went to our favorite restaurant, Sperry’s, which is an upscale restaurant, for an anniversary dinner, and we had a bad steak. And the hostess, not the maitre ‘d, tried to take Pat’s food away, and I said “we’re waiting on my steak, we had a bad steak,” and she said, “ oh yeah. . . I heard,” and just kept going. (Laughing out loud now.) And I went home and I wrote this letter saying that apparently Nashville had changed in the three months that I had been away, so as to become completely unrecognizable.

jh - I am finding here in San Diego that it shocks people when you use “ma’am” and “sir.” I say it at the drive-through, and you get up to the window, and the people have a confused look like a deer in the headlights.

ji - Yeah, they don’t know what to do with you. Or they think you’re making fun of them. They’ll say something like “what, am I too old to address normally?” It’s real funny.

jh - Moving on, there was one thing I wanted to pass on to you. When I’ve mentioned to friends that I was going to see you in concert, invariably the response is a half-beat of silence, followed by a softly whispered “Oh.”

ji - Well, people can get strangely reverential, and I find that odd. It took me a while to get used to that, but it’s very nice.

jh - I think, though, that on hearing your name, there is a flash to a time and a connection to you and your music.

ji - It’s a weird thing, because I had stopped for so long, and it took me three or four years to figure out that I had been living with them for a long time, and they know me, and I don’t know anything about them, but to them I know everything about them.

jh - Because you’ve written it all down, and they feel that they have lived your words.

ji - And what a great thing, to be able to give voice to what other people can’t say. I mean, what a great gift. But then, that’s what makes you a writer, isn’t it?

jh - I write because I have to, because it’s who I am.

ji - And that’s what makes an artist.

Voices ‘96 Ring Out In San Diego

Monday marked the first official day of the Republican National Convention, and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Communities were on hand to meet the assembled delegates. A march and rally, sponsored by Voices ‘96 - Voters Organized In Coalition for the Elections, brought more than 2,000 community members together in protest.

The parade began at Pantoja Park downtown, and wound it’s way through the heart of the city enroute to the police-designated protest zone at the Fourth and K parking lot across from the convention center. There, under heavy security and with the world’s media watching, lesbian and gay leaders spoke passionately and emotionally to an enthusiastic crowd.

“We are here to tell the whole country that in 1996 we are still fighting for basic civil rights for gay and lesbian Americans. We are left out of the big tent, and tonight we are here to say that we want a federal government and we want a president that is inclusive and knows our issues, “ said San Diego City Councilmember Christine Kehoe. Introduced as the City of San Diego’s next mayor, Kehoe’s message was interrupted several times by the crowd chanting her name. “We have to let every American know, every time we speak, that civil rights for gays and lesbians are good for the whole country, ” said Kehoe.

Comedienne Robin Tyler hosted the event, and her humor brought roars of laughter. Speaking of the Radical Right, Tyler said, “I hear that a lot of them are born again. Well, I don’t mind that they are born again, but why do they have to come back as themselves?” She saved her best for the leaders, though, saying “Ralph Reed is to Christianity what paint-by-numbers is to art,” and “Jack Kemp is proof that it’s okay for homosexuals to marry, as long as they marry a woman.”

An impassioned Melinda Paras, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. brought tears to the faces of many in the audience when she spoke of the infamous “Family Values” debate. “We have stood and sat on the deathbeds of our partners, our friends, our lovers, and our families, and they have died from AIDS, breast cancer, and lying sick from chronic disease, and we are a community that can teach the country something about compassion and family values,” said Paras. She also underscored the importance of the upcoming election, reminding the crowd that the next President will very likely appoint at least two Supreme Court justices, who will in turn rule on every major decision in the gay rights movement. “Tonight, they are selling the myth of the moderate Republican Party, and we are here to tell America that’s a sham and a lie, and they have advanced themselves on the platform of Pat Buchanan and the extremism of the Radical Right. They have sold their souls to the Christian Coalition, and in November they are going to try and take the White House and the congress, and we say no!”

Donna Redwing, national director for community affairs and national spokesperson for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), said that although the crowd physically numbered 2,000, they represented many times that number in spirit. “We are here not only for ourselves but for those who could not be here,” she said. “We are here for all of those people who came before us, those twilight lovers, those butches and femmes and fairies and queens. We are here for every kid in America who is beginning to identify as gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgendered. We are here tonight for everyone we have lost to this government’s genocidal response to AIDS. We are here for everyone of us who have been bashed or beaten or murdered in (the Radical Right’s) holy war against us. And we are here, I hope, for every young person, for every gay youth who has chosen a gun or a razor or a bridge overpass because death was easier to face than growing up queer in America. We are here because we know we have a right to be here, and we have a right to be heard.” Her words, echoing loudly and clearly off of the surrounding buildings and across to the convention center, summed up the sentiment of many. “I have a message tonight for that Grand Old Party, a message for that GOP leadership,” she quipped. “Citizen Dole, you are not in Kansas, anymore.” The responding cheers from the crowd were deafening.

Celebrated author and activist Urvashi Vaid spoke of the parallels between the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston and the 1996 Convention here in San Diego. She said that the anti-gay sentiments were still the accepted norm within the Republican Party. The only difference is that they had learned to mask them behind rhetoric of tolerance. “We stand here tonight on an urgent mission to challenge and reject leadership of a political party which has made a platform and a growth industry out of intolerance,” she said, adding that nearly a third of the delegates to the convention were members of the Christian Right. Her words were deliberate and here message emphatic. “This is not a symbolic protest, not a purile attempt at media attention, not our idea of a good time. This is a protest against the evil this party represents. We are here to challenge the evil of intolerance,” she said. Paraphrasing poet W.H. Auden, Vaid said that the assembled crowd was “a gathering of people bearing moral witness against evil with the evidence and goodness of our lives.”

The speaker receiving the warmest welcome from the crowd, as well as the most intense media coverage, was Human Rights Campaign Spokesperson Candace Gingrich, half-sister of Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Jokingly referring to the gathering as the first meeting of Republicans Anonymous, she introduced herself with “My name is Candace, and someone in my family is a Republican.” She told the crowd that her mother had admonished her to be nice to her brother when she spoke, and that she assured her mother that she would be as soon as he and his fellow Republicans were nice to immigrants, people of color, people with HIV/AIDS, women, gays and lesbians, the poor and homeless, and other groups disenfranchised by the party.

“The GOP claims to be a ‘Big Tent,’ even going so far as to state in their platform that they are tolerant of those with differing opinions,” said Gingrich. “ If they are so tolerant,” she asked, “then why does their platform also state that gays can’t serve in the military, that we aren’t deserving of protection against discrimination in the workplace, and that we should not have the freedom to marry? Sounds to me like they’re trying to change the definition of tolerance, doesn’t it?” A wide smile on her face, she said, “Big tent, my ass.” Her final words for the cheering crowd were as clear as the message on her T-shirt. It read “You have the power. Vote.”

Also present was Patricia Ireland, the president of the National Organization for Women. Criticized in the past for her reluctance to identify herself as lesbian or bisexual, Ireland was anything but vague. “I have to say this now,” she said. “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.” Then, in thinly disguised criticism of Republicans and Democrats alike, Ireland spoke of the need for sex education, not only in schools but in the congress. “Do you remember Senator Strom Thurmond - angrily, vehemently - maintaining that heterosexuals do not engage in sodomy? No wonder he looks so sour and unhappy.” She went on to say that members of houses on both sides of the aisle don’t seem to know where babies come from. “They think they come from welfare checks,” she joked. “Well, what do you expect,” she asked, “in a country where the U.S. Surgeon General got fired for admitting that people masturbate?” Her voice no longer joking, she said, “We are a majority. We’re going to defeat the deceptively named and worded (Proposition) 209 that would take away affirmative action here in California, we’re going to stop the p
olitics of hate and division, we’re going to turn the political momentum around in this country, and we will win.”

The Radical Right’s attacks on the gay community were also the focus of the message from the Human Rights Campaign’s executive director, Elizabeth Birch. “The gay community is the scapegoat when the right wants to raise money, when they want to whip up hysteria, when they want to put fear in our communities,” she said. “They want to win, and they want to do it on our backs.” Referring to the congressional debate regarding gay marriages, Birch said that the dialogue has been led by a bunch of hypocrites, philanderers, and divorcees, judging the morality of gay relationships. “Tell us, Mr. Bahr,” she asked, referring to Georgia Representative Bob Bahr, who has led the fight for passage of the Defense of Marriage Act, “which marriage are you defending. . . your first, your second, or your third? Given all that tears at our relationships, you should not consider them immoral. They are miracles.”

The protesters, most of whom had quieted down during the speeches, were suddenly energized at the sight of the Republican delegates leaving the convention. Without prompting from the speaker, the crowd moved quickly to the far fence and began chanting. Their angry voices loud and passionate, “GOP, go away, racist, sexist, anti-gay” rang out across the tracks and carried to the hall. Delegates paused, read the signs and heard the calls, then quickly left the convention center.

Later, as a diminished crowd gathered back in front of the stage, BiPol of San Diego head Karin Bauer quipped, “It’s not over till the bisexual speaks.” Though she looked forward to the day when the Bisexual community appeared first on the program, she was satisfied as always to have a public forum to speak on behalf of the community. “Never doubt our importance to the gay and lesbian community, because believe me, the enemy knows we exist,” she said, referring to the inclusion of bisexuals in the language of Colorado’s Amendment 2.

Other featured speakers included Tom Ammiano, San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Nicole Ramirez-Murray, vice-chair of the Mayor’s Advisory Board on Gay and Lesbian Issues, Russell Roybal and Alex Garner, Chicano Youth Activists and members, LBGT Voices ‘96 Steering Committee, Eric Rofes, Activist and author of Reviving the Tribe: Regenerating Gay Men’s Sexuality in the Ongoing Epidemic, Delores Dickerson, President of Trans-Action, Joe Zuniga, former Army Soldier of the Year and current Director of Public Affairs, AIDS Action Council, and Lorri Jean and Sky Johnson, representing the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center. Entertainment was provided by The Flirtations, and Brenda Schumacher and Tony Valenzuela served as event Co-Chairs.

Originally published in San Diego Gay and Lesbian Times, August 1996

Women and Men - Still So Far To Go

Tonight marks my first month here in San Diego, and so far I have to say I’m pretty impressed. Having just moved from Mobile, Alabama, I’m still overwhelmed by the incredible community presence here in Hillcrest. The rainbow flag flies over business after business, pink stickers proudly emblazon cars, and out gay men and women walk hand in hand in front of God and everybody. No, ma’am, this is not at all like Mobile.

Still, as much as I like all of this, there is one aspect of it that I definitely do not enjoy. You see, in a town like Mobile, there aren’t a whole lot of places for gay men and women to spend their time. Consequently, what places there are make certain that they are friendly and welcoming to all who choose to enter. What community exists is small enough that there is still a strong sense of inclusion.

Not so here in San Diego. When I mentioned to a friend that I wanted to wander into The Flame, I was told that Tuesday nights were Men’s Nights, and I should go somewhere else on a Thursday. He went on to say that men can go in if they really want to, but they should expect to be met with attitude and poor service. “Women here only have two bars, and they don’t want men in them,” he said, as if that cleared everything up.

To be fair, I did not go into The Flame that evening, nor any evening since, so I cannot say that he was right. Heck, the ladies there may be the nicest folks around, and my friend may just be an idiot. Still, it is clear to me that very few places here in San Diego actively seek a diverse group of customers. And, if the ladies in the city are protective of their two bars, could it be because the rest of the places don’t seem to want them around?

One other interesting observation. . . at least to me. Because there is only one country bar here in town, men and women can be found there. As I sat at the bar and watched groups of men and women dancing, drinking, and laughing together, I thought to myself that maybe this place would be the first of many bars in town where all of us felt welcome. If we can dance together here, why not everywhere else? I mean, it isn’t that far from a two-step at Kicker’s to the Macarena at Rich’s or the Flame, right?

Unfortunately, when I left the bar, I walked out through the restaurant. There, I still saw an almost even mix of men and women, but it wasn’t at all like it was inside. Outside, not a single table was occupied by a mixed group. I saw a table of women, then a table of men, a couple of men, then a couple of women, and so on. So much for coming together.

Perhaps it is the Southern Gentleman in me, but I truly do respect and appreciate women. I relish the spark and color of conversations with women, because we are so different. And, as part of the male gay community, I know that many of those who have worked so diligently in the battle against HIV/AIDS are women. Would we men have rallied so quickly and passionately if AIDS had hit the lesbians first? I would like to think so, but who knows?

My point, and I do have one - thank you Ellen - is that we all face enough discrimination and ignorance and attitude because we are gay or lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. What is the sense in facing more from each other?

I will go to The Flame this weekend, and to Club Bombay the weekend after, and I anticipate that I will be welcome there. And, I certainly hope I will see women at Shooterz and the Loft and every other bar in town, and when I do I will be the first to let them know they are appreciated. Until we learn to be there for each other, male and female, “Celebrate Diversity” will be just another stupid slogan.

One last thing. I had the incredible honor of meeting Urvashi Vaid during the Voices ‘96 rally. Is there a better example of someone seeing above and beyond all of the lines we draw between ourselves?

Originally published in San Diego Gay and Lesbian Times, 08.29.96

Sports, Gay Men, and a Real Padres Fever

If you enjoy reading this column every other week because it provides a positive message of inclusion and empowerment, you’re out of luck this time. At the moment, I don’t care about gay marriage, DOMA, right wing lunatics, the womyn’s movement, or the upcoming election. Right now, the only thing on my mind is the Padres. (One or two Padres in particular, but I’ll get to that in a minute.)

Having been fortunate enough to be in Atlanta last year when the Braves finally won the World Series, I am no stranger to pennant and playoff fever. Now, here in San Diego less than two months, I’m already obsessed with these plucky little friars. Heck, even as I write this, I’m still hoarse from cheering all weekend. My blood pressure went up last Thursday, and is just now returning to normal. Fat lot of good that will do me, though, since the team is back in action again this week. And, if I survive that, this weekend finds them playing the Dodgers again, or as a fellow fan likes to call it, battling the blue vermin.

This obsession of mine started innocently enough. I would watch a game or two each week, but I knew I could quit any time I wanted. Then I started paying more attention to the players, and that was when “a game or two” became “every game.” Is it just me, or is the San Diego team the sexiest bunch of guys in tights since Val Kilmer and Chris O’Donnell were dipped in liquid batsuits?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I really do love baseball for the game. This may be a slap in the face of the gay stereotype, but I have loved sports since I was a kid. I played Pop Warner football for a while, but switched to baseball when I realized the other kids were getting bigger and bigger and getting hit was hurting more and more. I wasn’t one of the greatest players to hit the ball field, but I did manage to make the all-star team a time or two. The point is, I love the game. So, the fact that the Padres just happen to have several players on the team who are very, very sexy is just one of those lucky benefits for me. But, oh, what a benefit it is.

If there is one drawback for me, though, it’s trying to find a group of people to watch the games with. We have tried sitting at home with beer and cable tv, but without the cheering crowds the game sort of loses something. I have tried having friends over, but they kept trying to tear my attention away from the game by engaging me in conversation. Please. And then they wondered why I made them go home?

Going to a straight sports bar is okay, but most people there get a weird expression when I call Ken Caminiti the “cute one with the big bat.” And, apparently I’m the only man who ever wondered out loud why the announcers don’t describe Steve Finley as having “pale, beautiful eyes like pools you could drown in.”

What about going to a gay bar to watch the game? Yeah, right. My experience has been that the game - if it’s on - is only showing on a little TV hidden behind a beer lamp, and the volume is turned down so the latest remix of “I Will Survive” can be heard in all its glory. And as if the music wasn’t bad enough, when Jody Reed steps up to the plate, who wants to hear the neighboring table of Gay Gap Groupies drown each other out with mythical tales of last night’s sexual exploits?

But, as we come to the most important time in the baseball season, I believe I have found the answer. I have found a straight sports bar in a gay neighborhood that seems (so far) to welcome everyone. They have TV’s (televisions, I mean) all over the bar, and if a game is on anywhere that cable TV can find, it’s showing on one of them. The beer is cheap, the draft is cold, and the staff is friendly. The crowd is pretty mixed, with one exception - they are all there to watch sports.

So, if it’s game night, you can find me parked in front of the big screen TV at the San Diego Sports Club on University. If you find yourself suffering from a little Padres fever this weekend, feel free to pull up a chair at my table and cheer alongside me. But, whatever you do, don’t try to talk to me unless a commercial is on.

Originally published in San Diego Gay and Lesbian Times, 9.26.96

More Than A Walk In The Park

On Sunday, October 6th, I proudly joined more than 14,000 men, women, and children who turned out for AIDS Walk ‘96, a 5-Kilometer fundraiser for local AIDS service organizations. By any measure, this year’s event - the Seventh Annual - was a tremendous success, with over half of a million dollars raised.

When I arrived at Balboa Park just after 9:00am, the crowds were already beginning to gather. Bright yellow signs served as guidons, and team members rallied together in preparation for the walk. I joined the team from AIDS Foundation San Diego - where I work as a bookkeeper - and we all laughed as the photographer made us move closer and closer “into the shot” as he took our team picture. At 10:00, the walk officially began, and for the next hour the park was a blur of matching shirts, water bottles, and colorful signs as AIDS Walk ‘96 completed its transformation from plans and arrangements to reality.

It happened just as I rounded the bend and headed towards the organ pavilion. I was laughing at something a friend had said, when I looked up to see a walker coming towards me. She had evidently been well ahead of me, because she was already on her way back. Her stride was swift and purposeful, and she wasn’t laughing. Instead, she appeared to be holding back tears, her energy focused on her steps so as not to allow for even a moment’s chance to cry. Above her head she held a sign with a picture of a smiling young man, and the caption under the photo read “For my brother, who no longer walks alone.”

Instantly, I stopped laughing, and my breath caught in my throat. The enormity of the day - thousands and thousands of walkers raising thousands and thousands of dollars - all meant little compared to the pain so indelibly etched on the face of this woman. She wasn’t dressed as part of a team, and I doubt she was among those of us laughing earlier as we jockeyed for the best position in our group pictures.

No, I imagine before the walk began she sat by herself somewhere, fighting a grief so consuming it threatened to strike her immobile. With a strength known only to those who have stood by and watched a part of themselves slip away forever, she willed her body to stand and to move. When the walk began, her passionate pace moved her quickly towards the front of the pack, but she was probably as oblivious of her place in the crowd as she was of the size of the crowd itself. She could have been walking alone.

It’s fairly easy to understand the pain she feels, even if I can’t know its depth. Less obvious to me is her reason for taking part in the AIDS Walk. Perhaps it was a last promise to her brother, a vow to be a voice for him and others after their own voices were silenced. Maybe it’s part of a deal with god, her actions a down payment of sorts for her brother’s new found peace. Hell, maybe she just decided to walk instead of crying her way through another morning.

Throughout the walk, my thoughts kept returning to this woman. I wondered about her brother, about what his life might have been like. For the millionth time in my own life, I wondered about the insanity of a child preceding his parents to the grave. I thought of my own family, and of friends gone too soon. With tears on my face, I thought of my own reasons for taking part in the AIDS Walk.

From the bottom of my heart, I am grateful to all who participated in AIDS Walk 96. For some the day was an opportunity to find support from a compassionate community. For others, it was a chance to raise money while sharing time with friends, families, and co-workers. For all of us, though - mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, children, friends and lovers - whether we wore a smile or fought back tears, Sunday was anything but just another day in the park.

Originally published in the San Diego Gay & Lesbian Times, October 1996

In Search of a Leader

Recently, during a question and answer session with the Unitarian Fellowship of Mobile, I was asked why we have no nationally known gay or lesbian leader. Surely in this era of sound bites, instant news coverage, and endless media opportunities there must be someone worthy of the role. Well, I believe there are people worthy of that role. Unfortunately, these are the same people too smart to put themselves in that position. Stepping up to speak for an entire class of men and women makes someone an instant and constant target for criticism and judgement. And, sadly, the greatest challenges and attacks they would have to face would come not from the Religious Right and conservative foes, but from our own gay community.

If you don't believe that we as a community delight in destroying our own, I offer an example or two. The new issue of Impact, New Orleans' self-described news magazine, offers a brief mention of the death of actress Elizabeth Montgomery. And, what of her life merits attention in this obit of sorts? Ms. Montgomery's lying about her age and cosmetic surgery. Where, I wonder, is the mention of her long-standing support for the gay community? Where in this column did we read that she served as Co-Grand Marshal in the Los Angeles Gay Pride Festival? In today's climate, where we can count on two hands the celebrities who publicly support gay and lesbian issues, where is the mention of Ms. Montgomery's refusal to let the network replace Agnes Moorehead on Bewitched when rumors of her lesbianism became public? If a gay publication doesn't mention her support, who will?

Nationally, in The Advocate, we find the new Sissy-of-the-Year is none other than Madonna. What has she done to merit this distinction? She reportedly told another magazine that she isn't a lesbian. The Advocate knows that she has slept with someone named Ingrid, so she must be a lesbian. Of course, this is the same Advocate that called former Playboy Playmate Rebekka Armstrong a lesbian on the cover, despite her clearly identifying herself as bisexual in the interview.

But, back to Madonna. Am I the only one annoyed by this self-righteous attack? Are we truly to believe that the biggest threat the gay and lesbian community faces right now is Madonna?

We seem to delight in building idols only to destroy them. Why should someone step up to the spotlight and become the Dr. King of the Gay Civil Rights issue? Who wants to go to sleep a hero only to wake to find they are now the villain? Who thinks it's worth it? Well, I do. Despite all the crap and rhetoric, I still believe that what we are doing as a group matters. We are making a difference, and we cannot let those in our own community tear us down. There will always be people whose sole contribution to a cause is destructive attacks upon it. We cannot make them go away, but we can refuse to give them attention. The next time you hear criticism of gay activists or speakers, try to see the intent behind it. Is it constructive, actually seeking to help the greater cause, or is it petty and hateful, serving no greater purpose than to give someone a reason to run their mouth?

I realize I sound on the attack myself, and I probably am. I'm just tired of people complaining about those in the community who are trying to help. If you don't like the way those "screaming fags" come across in television interviews, make yourself available for the next broadcast. If you don't like the way those "freaky dykes" represent you in the Pride Parade, make sure you are in the next one to represent yourself.

The solutions are obvious. Work together for a greater cause, and focus on ways to build the community up rather than tear it down. Any questions?

Originally published in Southern Forum, July 1995

The Trigger Effect

(Yes, the title of this column does refer to the new movie of the same name. But, if you haven’t seen it yet, don’t worry. . . I won’t give away any of the plot twists.)

The premise of the movie is the so-called trigger effect, in which one action inevitably leads to another, which leads to another, and on and on. Since seeing this movie last weekend, I have made a point of watching for this particular pattern of events, and it’s been rather interesting.

Personally, this past Saturday morning, when I tried to start my car, the battery was dead. Normally, I would have yelled and screamed, slammed the car door, marched back into the house and angrily called AAA to come and make everything right. Worse still, I would have then been in an ugly mood for the rest of the day. (“Ugly” being a southern description of a poor way to act, as in “there was no reason for her to be so ugly to me.”)

Instead of taking those actions, though, I decided to take another look at the situation. I made myself find something positive to focus on, to look for some bright spot. It turned out to be much easier than I thought. Yes, my car wouldn’t start. But, it was a beautiful day outside, so I wasn’t sitting there in the rain. Sure, the car was dead, but at least I was parked right in front of my own home. Just two nights earlier I had been downtown after midnight, and I would have been in a much worse spot if the car had decided to die then. Even better, it was a Saturday morning. It could have been a weekday, at which time I would have been counting on my car to get me to work on time. (Okay, so I usually walk to work. . . but you get the point.) Instead, I had a whole weekend to buy a new battery and get it put into the car. What could have been a horrible situation turned out to be nothing more than a minor inconvenience. And, by taking the time to put it into perspective, I didn’t waste a whole day in a rotten mood.

Of course, being human, I don’t always react like this. And, I can say with certainty that some petty little thing in the future will really irritate me, and I will blow it all out of proportion. But, I like to think that those types of things will happen less and less, and I will get better at remembering how fortunate I am. At the risk of sounding like some Tony Robbins sound-alike, I really am in control of how I react to what occurs around me.

The trigger effect. One person is rude to a cashier at a store. The cashier is short with the next woman in line. Angry, the woman backs her car out without looking and nearly hits a guy walking by. This guy then walks into another store, and still upset, bumps into a woman on her way out. On and on, the chain continues, until like a miracle someone somewhere doesn’t react with anger. Instead, they respond with a genuine “no problem” to whatever transgression has occurred. Just like that, the anger ends.

But, and this is the important part, only the anger ends. The chain does not. Now, though, because the woman said “no problem” and smiled, the man is no longer angry. When he checks out with the store clerk, he smiles broadly and says “thank you very much.” The clerk smiles back, then turns that same smile to the next customer. That gentleman then walks away smiling as well, and takes a moment to hold the door open for a woman and her son. On and on, a very different chain continues.

Whether it’s the way we deal with things that happen to us, or how we interact with others, there is a definite cause-and-effect relationship taking place. No, I don’t expect people to walk around like some goofy feel-good-zombies, smiling and laughing as the world brings one horrible calamity after another to their door. But we don’t have to treat every slight as a personal attack and every inconvenience as the end of civilization as we know it.

So, make a little wager with yourself. See if you can go a week without blowing up at yourself or others over small things. For the next seven days, make it a point to look directly at people when you say “thank you,” and make sure they know you mean it. Then, if you manage to maintain this attitude for a week, go crazy and reward yourself with a huge banana split, or a new CD, or a night on the town. Feel good about yourself, and know for certain that, at least for a moment, you were a bright spot in someone else’s day.

Originally published in the San Diego Gay and Lesbian Times, 9.12.96

Are We Being “Dragged” Down?

Another season of Pride has all but come and gone, and before the false eyelashes could hit the floor, the great debate began anew. Why do we have drag queens in our parades? Why are they everywhere, making our entire community look like a bunch of faggy men playing slumber party? The great majority of gay men and women are just average Joes and Janes, chasing the American dream like all the “normal” folks, so why is it that we continue to fall in the shadows of men dressing up and acting like women?

Historically, drag queens have always been on the front lines of community activism. The stories told have now become legends, from the riot at Stonewall to the marches on Castro. Few would dispute that the first tentative steps the gay community took towards liberation were on three inch heels.

But, that was more than a generation ago. Today’s gay and lesbian activists are no longer content to simply be left in peace. Now, we are staking a greater claim, seeking for ourselves the same rights and privileges given without hesitation to non-gay men and women. We want to know that our homes and our jobs are secure, that our loved ones are acknowledged and protected, and that our future holds promise. In light of this new-found activism, is there still room for the drag community in the larger scheme of things? For that matter, is there room for the leather community, Dykes on Bikes, and any of the other “fringe” elements?

The answer, of course, is yes. Not only is there room for these groups, they are at the very heart of who we are as a community. We are diverse, and when we are united we can be damn near invincible. “Normal” looking and acting gay men and women must accept that the answer to the public image problem is not the elimination of those who are radically different.

So, what is the solution to the image problem? In theory, it’s very simple. It is putting it into action that will be difficult. The solution is not for the “fringe” elements to step out of the spotlight. Rather, what is needed is for more of us mainstream Joes and Janes to step up alongside of the drag queens and show the world that we, too, are proud to be a part of the lesbian and gay community. What is required of us - accountants and bank tellers, lawyers and law clerks, doctors and nurses, chefs and busboys, and all the rest of us who walk through the non-gay community unnoticed as gay or lesbian - is to stand up and be counted. We need to step out from behind the protection of feather boas and dark bars and make our own place in the sun.

Finally, we need to accept and support all that is unique in our community. What are we saying to ourselves when we place ads that read “straight acting seeks same”? For me, the most telling part of an ad like that is “acting.” If you are gay and masculine, or lesbian and effeminate, more power to you. And, if you seek the same in a partner, I wish you all the best. But, why can’t the ads read “effeminate woman seeks same” or “butch man seeks same”?

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there is room in our community for everyone. But, there are also responsibilities that come with inclusion. We owe it to ourselves to support those of us whom we see as different and encourage those of us with whom we identify. Most importantly, though, we owe it to our community to take whatever our next step is towards our own place in the sun. We will get nowhere fast if we continue devoting our energies towards attacking ourselves.

Originally published in San Diego Gay and Lesbian Times, 8.15.96

The “Questions” Speech

Originally, I thought I would talk about the great harm, the damage, being done by the religious right in the name of Christianity, and the importance of accepting and respecting the spirituality of others. Last weekend, though, in St Augustine, I met the neatest woman, a psychic, actually, and we discussed my giving this talk. As I began to explain my intentions, she began shaking her head and raised her hand to stop me. She said she believed I was making a mistake speaking on religious intolerance. I wondered if it was some psychic impression, and she said "No, I am Unitarian. We already know about religious intolerance. If you'll allow the pun, it's like preaching to the choir." She told me instead to speak on what I know.

So, I am. All week I have been thinking of the irony of me speaking to a congregation. I'm the one who turned my back on the church long ago, right after I realized that Catholicism wasn't big enough for me and my homosexuality. Now I know different, because without gay men the Catholic Church would have a severe priest shortage. But growing up, I believed there was no place in a house of worship for someone like me. Sad, but in my time of greatest despair, the place I most needed to be felt like the place most off limits. Standing here today is a bit of coming full circle for me, and I thank you for this moment.

When I came out in 1989, I promised myself that I would never put myself in a position where I had to lie about who I am. Four years in the Marine Corps will do that to a person, I guess. Since then, I have lived my life as an openly gay man. It has been easier in some places than others, but it is a decision I have never regretted. Being so open, though, I have found that I am the person acquaintances come to with "the questions."

What are "the questions?" They are the things non-gay people ask gays about their lives, and the questions are always the same. Sure, there are some variations on a theme, but for the most part, they are always the same. I joke about this, like I joke about everything, but I honestly respect the openness of the people who ask these questions. As silly as some of these sound, they are at least an attempt to understand, and that is never silly.

In celebration of June, which is Gay Pride Month all across America and the World, I will speak for my people and give "the answers." Those of you who are gay may feel free to hum along.

Q - When did you become gay?
A- I have always been gay. As a child, I knew I was different, I just didn't know what it meant. I felt all the same giggly crushes and feelings of puppy love as other kids, I just had to hide it. You don't just become gay, any more than you become right or left-handed. Sexual orientation is a part of who a person is, and though it can be denied or accepted, repressed or nurtured, it can never be changed. It just takes some people longer to understand that.

Q - Did your parents make you gay?
A - My mother is sitting right there, and she can probably answer this question as well as I can. No, my parents did not make me gay. My brother is straight, and no one asks my mother if she made him that way. For every gay man or woman that comes from a dysfunctional family, there are gay men and women that come from Ozzie and Harriet families.

Q - Why do you have to flaunt it? I don't run around telling everyone I'm straight.
A - I don't have to flaunt it, and yes you do. My secretary, after working for me a week, asked me this question. So, I asked her what exactly she knew about me. She said, "Well, I know you're gay." I said, "Really? Well, I know that you are straight, your husband's name is James, you have been married for several years, you have two children, Lindsey, 4, and the baby, 9 months, you are Pentecost, you sing at the church, you Mother does Missionary work each year in Indonesia, and you can't balance a checkbook to save your life." So, who's flaunting their lifestyle? Straight people wear wedding rings, place family pictures on their desks, and walk arm-in-arm in public and hold hands at restaurants. My partner and I holding hands at the local Krystal would not exactly go unnoticed. Coming out is a constant process. I bought a card at a Delchamps, and the cashier asked if it was for my girlfriend. Once again, the great debate over being out. Am I supposed to seize every opportunity to proclaim my sexuality? Am I copping out and hiding if I say nothing? These are all questions non-gay people never have to ask themselves.

Q - How can you define your life based solely on sex?
A - Hey, it works for Madonna. Seriously, being gay is not just about having sex with another man. I knew I was gay long before I was sexually active. And today, if for whatever reason I was no longer able to have sex, I would still be gay. For straight people who are married, I ask if something happened to your spouse and they were no longer able to perform sexually, would that be the end of your relationship? Is sex all you have? Yes, I am sexually attracted to men, but I am also emotionally attracted to men. Actually, one man in particular. But our relationship is about much more than just sex.

Q - Why should you have special rights?
A - Ah, yes, the great special rights debate. Newsflash, ladies and gentlemen, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness should not be given to gay men and women because they are gay, but because they are human, just like everybody else. I want the right to be hired for a job based on my qualifications, not because the boss thinks I'm straight. I want to be allowed to make medical decisions for my partner in an emergency, instead of being excluded because I am not "family." I want to be able to walk down the street with my partner without fear of being attacked by people "fag-bashing." Since gays and lesbians are the ones most likely to be victims of hate crimes, what good is a Hate Crimes Bill that doesn't mention them?

Q - Why can't other gays be like you? You don't act like them.
A - Please. Why is it that butch women and faggy men are the only image of gays most straight people have? Because we see what we want to see. We look for the stereotypes, never knowing that the beautiful, effeminate woman sitting next to us is lesbian. We see the wimpy, lisping villain in a movie, but we don't know that the tough hero is played by a gay actor. Wherever there are people, there are gay people. And whether they are ‘straight acting’ or not, they are human beings who deserve respect and love. Like everyone else, gay people are bad and good, some worthy of contempt and others worthy of praise, but all worthy of being seen as a person, not a label.

Q - Which one of you is the "man?"
A - (I love this one.) Well, my partner does the laundry, but he also fixes the car. I love to shop, but I also shoot pool and throw darts. In a gay relationship, we are automatically freed from the assumed roles of husband and wife. I mean, if we both sit around and wait for the dishes to be washed, it won't be long before we are eating on paper plates, you know? Every gay couple defines for themselves their roles in a relationship. I like to think that many of us have the best of all worlds, in that we live our lives in a way that feels comfortable, not common. Gay men and women are more than stereotypes.

Q - If you could change, would you? Would you want to be straight?
A - A tough question, and one that many answer differently. For me, though, the answer is definitely no, I would not change. The person I am is the sum total of everything about me, my sexuality and sexual orientation included. How much of my personality is tied to my being gay? I don't know for sure, and I wouldn't want to find out. I do know that being part of an invisible minority has made me more aware of the prejudice and hatred faced by those who cannot hide in a closet. I am involved with women's issues and racial issues as a direct result of being gay. No, I wo
uldn't change. There is something special about me, about all of us, and I know that being gay is a part of it. I heard a comedienne say that she didn't choose this lifestyle, "she was chosen."

Q - Okay, so now I'm open and enlightened. What exactly do I call your, you know, your, well. . .
A - Real good question. Personally, I call him my partner, but other people call them their lover, companion, spouse, husband, wife, lifemate, or soul mate. The only advice I can give here is ask someone what they call their significant other, than respect that term. (It may be difficult to do that if their term is something like love bunny, pumpkin or puddin', but make the effort.)

The most important thing I can say is open your hearts and your minds. In a world such as ours, where gay men and women are openly attacked as immoral, sinful, and perverse, an outstretched hand of acceptance is like a beacon of light.
Do not fear your gay and lesbian neighbors, for we are a threat to you only if you are intolerant, bigoted, and ignorant. (Like that narrows some neighborhoods down.) We are everywhere. We are your children, your brothers and sisters, your parents, your friends and co-workers. We want to live our lives, to love and be loved, to grow old and look back at a lifetime of happy memories. We are, in fact, not so different after all.

Thank you for listening, and hopefully for hearing. Gay men and women everywhere are waiting, watching for any sign of love. Be the one to give it them.

Originally presented to Unitarian Universalists, Mobile, June 1995

If I Had Only Known

There is a country song called, “If I Had Only Known,” in which a young woman laments actions not taken and words not spoken. Now, after her lover has slipped away forever, she is left with nothing but missed opportunities, could have beens instead of cherished memories, regrets instead of remembrances. Listening to this song the other night, I found myself haunted by one line - “oh, the love I would have shown, if I had only known.” What struck me was the fact that I do know. We all know. People come to and go from this world seemingly at random, our days numbered and checked off on some invisible calendar, with the balance unknown to any of us.

Knowing this, though, why do put off so much good until tomorrow, a tomorrow that may never come? Why do we allow ourselves to say things like “I should call Jerry this week and see how he is doing”? Why do we put off until sometime next week that thank you card we meant to mail last week? Most importantly, why don’t we say the things we feel to the people we care most about?

Anyone who knows me understands that I think my grandparents walk on water. They are to me the only proof I have that there might exist a higher power, for I have no other explanation of how I was blessed with them. And yet, I don’t know when I last said this directly to them. Oh sure, I have told everyone else, but have I told them? No, not recently. And they are the ones who should hear it first and hear it often.

Brenda, for more than half of my life you have been my confidant, my friend, my love. From a long-haired goofy little kid to the man I am today, you have been by my side through it all. Our friendship has survived college, marriage, divorce, the Marine Corps, the Go-Go’s breakup, the Reagan years, and too many years of too many miles. I love you.

Lisa and Craig, the first people who ever heard a very scared seventeen-year-old admit he was gay. So scared, in fact, that the words wouldn’t come out, resulting in an almost comedic game of twenty questions. It’s funny now, but at the time just saying the word was more than I could do. Your outstretched hands pulled me to safety more times than you know.

Christopher, who took an out of control young man and walked with him through what seemed an eternity of pain. Nights together in a land where we didn’t even speak the language, yet having you with me made me feel like I belonged. I never had a best friend before you, and I will never have another one like you.

Mike, a man of few expressions and fewer words, who still spent endless nights debating with me everything from Hendrix remakes (unnecessary) to the existence of God (probably necessary). When you told me you loved me, I knew it was true. Calling you my friend made me smile, and hearing you call me your friend made me cry.

Jerry and Tim, the buddies I always wanted, but didn’t know how to treat. In my confusion, I ended up taking you for granted, and I’ll spend the rest of my life wishing our days together had been more appreciated. I promise I will not make that same mistake with our future days.

Greg, never more than a thought away, yet in six years never closer than a thousand miles. I miss you, old friend. I thought you were what I wanted to be, but in truth you were what I needed to be near. Now we know.

Amanda, a better friend to me than I was to myself. If our relationship was summed up in a day, the Queen Mary bore witness to it. Never has so much been said without a single word. I hear your laugh when I laugh, and I see your smile when I look at new friends.

D, too long gone from a world not deserving of you. Did you know how much I respected you? The irony of watching Longtime Companion with you is still too much to think about without tears. God, I miss you so much it hurts. The All-American smile, now mine to see only in a memory.

Thank you, faithful Southern Forum readers, for indulging me this space, as I say in writing what has been too long unspoken. Perhaps these words will inspire a note of your own to someone else, a note of apology or forgiveness, a card of love or words of solace. Whatever is inside of you, open your heart and your mind and allow someone that warm feeling that comes with a compliment or a thank-you. Do not wait until all you can say is “if I had only known.”

(Originally presented in Southern Forum, August 1994)

Arc of A Diver

I was seventeen, struggling with being gay in a world of judgment and anger, and Greg Louganis was my idol. I grew up in Southern California, and the 1984 Olympic Games were the most exciting thing that I had ever experienced. Of course, I went into Los Angeles to walk around Olympic Village, hoping like crazy that I just might run into Greg as he walked around signing autographs. Right. Like several million other people in LA weren’t wandering the village for the very same reason?

My crush on Greg Louganis started long before the Olympics came to LA I remember seeing pictures of him taken during diving competitions, and I swear I felt my heart beat faster. Oh, the innocence of youth and the feeling of a real, honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned crush. In my bedroom I had pictures covering every blank space, from rock stars (a whole wall of Go-Go’s stuff alone!) to movie stars to professional athletes. But, I and I alone knew which pictures really mattered, and believe me, the ones of Greg really mattered!

I didn’t know why then, but I felt an overwhelming empathy with him. He was always so soft-spoken in interviews, and it seemed almost like he lived in a sad world all his own. Unlike so many other athletes who whine and yell and scream and blame everyone else for their bad performances, Greg always had an air of style about him. To a teenager head-over-heels in love, Greg Louganis was the epitome of class and dignity. The three meter board he stood on might just as well have been a twenty foot pedestal, for in my young eyes he could do no wrong.

Now, though, I am an adult, and my eyes have seen a lot in the last eleven years. I have seen lovers come and go, friends slip away, and one hero after another become what in truth they always were - regular human beings. My once idealistic standards have given way to a more realistic perspective. Sadly, there are no perfect heroes in this imperfect world. Still, at the jaded old age of twenty-eight, I must admit I still have a crush on Greg Louganis. In fact, I still have him up on that pedestal, carrying himself with that same sense of class. In a way, I guess I have even more respect for him now than ever before. Before, I thought he was perfect. And, at that point in my life, I needed something like that to look up to. Now, I realize he was never perfect. He had doubts about his ability, he had problems with a relationship, and his self-esteem was so low as to be virtually non-existent. It’s odd, but I guess we had more in common than I could have ever imagined.

And what of the news of his HIV status? What of the class act now? Well, I am happy to report that not all of my childish beliefs turned out to be untrue. Greg Louganis is living proof that there are heroes in this world. They may not be perfect, and the “S” on their capes may be a little frayed, but they are heroes nonetheless. In coming out both as a gay man and someone who is HIV positive, Louganis is again a role model. To the young men and women who are still struggling with their sexuality, he is the embodiment of a survivor. What he went through may have been more or less than what each of us have gone through in our lives, but Louganis did it all with millions of people watching. Some pressure, huh?

In talking openly about his HIV status, Greg Louganis is putting yet another face to what too many people would prefer to keep faceless and nameless. He is another voice, one that will be heard, calling for a strengthened commitment to AIDS research and treatment. In coming out like this, he is again a hero.

As for my crush, I am not ashamed to say it is even stronger now. He is every bit as handsome, every bit as charming, and ever bit as impressive. The difference is that I fell in love with an image of Greg Louganis when I was a child, but I am even more overwhelmed by the reality of the man now that I am an adult. Perhaps a little hero-worship is a good thing, after all.

P.S. Greg, if you happen to read this, how about lunch? I’m still hoping for that autograph.

(Originally published in Southern Forum, April 1995)

Storm Warning

Like a Gulf storm, he has come to my life suddenly and completely.
Will he leave the same way? Will I be here alone and empty?

Love for me has been like a southern storm,
Appearing without warning, catching me by surprise,
Emotion pouring out around me like a squall.
First the wind, then the rain, then it’s gone. And that’s all.

So here I am again, standing on the pier,
Watching the clouds forming,
Feeling, knowing, the storm is near.

What do I do now?
I could turn, run. It’s not too late.
Inside, the storm would pass me by,
Though I’d watch it, feeling alone but safe.

But I am still me,
The child who chased rainbows and believed in magic.
Not so innocent anymore, but still that child.

Let the rain come down, and the beads of water pour down my face and soak my body.
If this storm is to pass quickly, I want to enjoy every second of its glory.

But what is to be, of it, and of me,
Once this storm returns to the sea?

Shirly, No E

If anyone could read minds, Shirly could. She had a way of looking at you that said she already knew the truth, and you would want to keep that in mind as you opened your mouth to lie to her. Needless to say, you didn't bother trying to lie to her.

She was born in Waltham, Massachusetts in 1922. She married a man less than a week after meeting him, and she says the only reason she waited that long is so she could get married on her parents' anniversary. She was a small woman, four feet eleven inches tall if you asked her doctor, five feet tall if you asked her. She was an avid reader, devouring Harlequin romances and Janet Dailey novels at the rate of several a week. She also loved her soap operas, proud that she listened to As The World Turns way back when it was still a radio program.

She and her husband moved to California soon after they were married, but she never lost the part of her that was "Old Boston." She used words like persnickety and trollop with a straight face, but couldn't pronounce certificate or spaghetti. She was never more irate than when someone spelled her name with an "E." She was a walking contradiction, proud of her independent daughter while still believing that a real woman never walked around while she was smoking a cigarette. She was also a devoted fan of the 700 Club, until the day she heard Pat Robertson describe her grandson, and every other gay man and woman, as an evil that threatened the children of the world. That was the day she stopped believing in Pat Robertson, for he had crossed the one boundary she drew firmly and solidly in her life - he had attacked her children.

Oh, yes, that was the other item of note in Shirly's life. She and her husband were foster parents. Not foster parents in the sense of a child or two living in their home for a time, but FOSTER PARENTS. Over the years, more than one hundred boys and girls found a safe place in this world underneath the roof of Robert and Shirly. Some stayed for a few weeks, some for several years, and some until they were old enough to be on their own. When the family did anything, it was an event. One could hardly sneak into church or a movie unnoticed when there were twelve children walking in behind you. Trips to Disneyland or Knott's Berry Farm meant everyone wore matching bright red sweatshirts and counting off when getting in and out of the car. At times the family was large enough to field an entire little league team. There was true safety in numbers as well, for picking on one of the children meant incurring the wrath of the entire pack.

Somehow, though, in spite of the large numbers of children, Shirly made every child feel as if they were the truly special one. Children walked into her life scared, broken, and afraid, and she gave them love. She was a woman who spent her entire life giving to those in need, and she drew her strength from the sounds of children all around her. Many days money was tight, and hand-me-down clothes were a definite, but love was available in a seemingly endless supply.

Now, though, her tired hands are done with their tasks, and her time for work is finished. Once blind in one eye, she now sees perfectly. She often wished she could live closer to all of her grown children, and now she can be with them all every day.

The tears fall freely now, as I remember the love and devotion of my grandmother. She used to tell me that I was the light of her life, but the truth is she was the very foundation of mine. No matter what I tried, or said, or became, my grandmother always told me she was proud of me. She said that I was destined for great things, but nothing I ever do will matter as much as the love Shirly Patriquin gave to her children. She made me special, and I love her very much. I only wish she had told me how I was supposed to go on in this world without her.

I have my doubts about things spiritual, and my faith is questionable at best. But I know for certain that there are angels, for one lived among us for a time.

(Originally presented in Southern Forum, March 1995)

Straight Man's Burden

This is the story of a straight, Southern, good-hearted, just-this-side-of-Fundamentalist, proud-to-be-from-Alabama young man named Patrick. When I went to work at his company three years ago, he had no idea I was one of those “active homosexuals.” I never tried to hide it from anyone there at the company, nor did I do anything - in my opinion - to flaunt it. I just went about my business, did my job better than anyone ever had before, and quickly made myself all but indispensable to the company. Several months later, when Patrick finally asked me what the pink triangle on the bumper of my car was, I knew he was finally able to talk about it.

Throughout the years we spent working together, Patrick and I learned a great deal about each other. He shared with me the joy of he and his wife having a baby girl, and I spoke to him about my success in the Marine Corps and as an activist in the South. I grinned like an uncle when I looked at pictures of Kelsey, his beautiful baby, and Patrick would patiently read my column, giving advice or asking questions before I would send the piece over to the magazine in New Orleans. He was also the one I turned to when I lost yet another friend to AIDS, and he spoke to me of the pain of watching his granddaddy die a day at a time. We learned a lot from each other, he and I, and moving away from him this past summer felt like leaving behind a brother. (Of course, the fact that his parents were like family to me as well sure helped all that along.)

You can imagine, then, how excited I was when Patrick flew out to spend a working weekend here in San Diego this month. His days were busy, but we had planned to spend a couple of the evenings out on the town together. Thursday, we stopped by the Sports Club for a beer, then headed to Pizza Novo for dinner. There, at the Village Hillcrest, as we headed for the restaurant, Patrick saw a gay couple walking towards us. They had their arms wrapped around each other’s waists and were talking in that giggling-kissing-smooching chatter that makes single people want to smack them. For Patrick, though, you would have thought that they were a two-headed monster. In the little town of Citronelle, Alabama, gay men do not walk around arm-in-arm.

Once seated in the restaurant, I explained to him that we were in Hillcrest, and gay people here are like big hair in the South - everywhere and proudly displayed. Still disbelieving, he asked the waitress if it was true that everyone in the restaurant was “of the alternative lifestyle.” She being of quick mind, and picking up on his accent and my bemusement, told him that “of course everyone is Hillcrest was gay.” The look on his face was priceless. For him, the thought that he was a minority just wouldn’t quite sink in. Worse still, he couldn’t figure out a way to tell everyone that he was straight, short of standing on the table and shouting.

After dinner, we went to Kicker’s, where Patrick was able to experience what most women put up with when they go to a straight bar. You know what I’m talking about. . . someone wanting to buy you a drink but they won’t take no for an answer, someone standing right next to you and hoping you’ll take pity on them and dance a song or two. . . that kind of thing. Now, Patrick handled it all with courtesy and respect, and I appreciate that because I know he felt very uncomfortable.

The lesson to be learned from all of this (and Patrick hates that everything with me has to have a lesson), is that it is truly eye-opening to walk in someone else’s shoes. Gay people deal everyday with what he experienced for one night - feeling alone in a crowd, hating for people to assume your sexual orientation, wanting to be with your own kind. Perhaps he even learned a little more compassion for having experienced it.

To Patrick, I say thank you for again keeping your mind open. For a country boy, you manage to keep your heart in the right place. I am proud to have you as my friend.

To the rest of us, I don’t expect you to say “Big deal, so he accepts us. I don’t need some straight man’s acceptance to live my life.” Of course we don’t. But, let’s not forget to take the time to appreciate those who are trying to understand, those who are working to step out of their own comfort zones and reach out to the gay community. Maybe they aren’t radical liberals fighting tooth and nail for our community. Maybe instead they are just a bunch of regular Joe’s trying to be more caring and accepting. In my book, that ain’t so bad.

(Originally published in San Diego Gay and Lesbian Times, 10.24.96)

Goodnight and Goodbye

Saturday dawned like most other southern summer mornings. Outside on the porch swing, he was cool and comfortable, but he could feel the day already beginning to warm. By afternoon, he knew, the day would be hot and humid. As he sipped his coffee, he looked around for signs of neighbors stirring, but all was quiet. Soon, though, they would be opening their doors, moving slowly across their lawns as they searched for their morning papers. One of these days the paper boy was going to land each and every paper on their front porches just to confuse the whole neighborhood, but today was not to be that day.

He finished his coffee, took one last moment to enjoy the peace and calm of the morning, then went back inside his house. His answering machine blinked frantically, but he continued to ignore it. It had been flashing on and off since the day before, but he had neither the desire nor the strength to deal with anyone quite yet. Instead, he turned the stereo on - the morning quiet giving way to Vivaldi - and began to putter around the house. He worked for several hours, moving from room to room cleaning more and more intensely the longer he scrubbed and washed and scoured.

Suddenly realizing the time, he reluctantly finished up, then moved slowly to the bathroom. Once there, he turned the shower on and undressed, his dirty clothes settling into a pile on the floor. Stepping inside, he felt the warmth of the water upon his back. Turning, he looked up into the stream, allowing it to pour like rain down upon his face. Without warning, he began to cry. Feeling weak, he slumped to the bottom of the tub, the water still falling all around him. He lay there, alone, for a long time, until the warmth of the shower gave way to an icy cold. He reached up and turned the shower off, then pulled a towel from the nearby cabinet and wrapped himself into it.

After he dried himself off, he moved into his bedroom. Reaching into his closet, way in the back behind his Penn State sweatshirt and London Fog overcoat, he found what he was looking for. He pulled the black suit out and laid it down upon the bed, refusing to allow his mind to wander back to the last time he had worn it. If he thought about it, about how many times he had worn it in the last year, he knew he would be unable to even put it on.

Less than an hour later, he was sitting in his car, hands clenched tight upon the steering wheel. He had less than ten minutes before he would be missed, yet he could not summon the courage to open the door and get out. He felt afraid, weak at the thought of entering the building. A sudden knock on the window caused him to jump, his body pulling hard against the seat belt as he spun quickly towards the noise.

“Are you okay?” someone asked. He nodded, heart still beating fast, and turned the engine off. He removed his seat belt and opened the door into the hot afternoon. He walked quickly from the car, as if a moment’s hesitation on his part would paralyze him forever. The people he passed looked at him and attempted a greeting, but he saw only the door. There, finally, he opened it wide and forced himself to go in. Looking to the left, he saw several people waiting for him, their expressions of obvious relief at his appearance causing him a feeling of guilt for being the last to arrive.

Then, he felt himself go, as if he was no longer there. He watched the rest of the service almost as a spectator, not really a participant at all. He saw himself line up with the other pallbearers, walking into the church behind the family. He listened, but from afar, as the minister thanked them for coming and proceeded to summarize his friend in words far too few to be accurate. He saw the family and friends as they received communion, and heard their voices, his included, as they sang Amazing Grace and recited The Lord’s Prayer. He watched as he led the pallbearers out of the church, lining up on either side of the casket, then carrying it to the hearse.

He drove to the cemetery, though he really had no awareness of doing so. He watched then as he and his fellow pallbearers positioned themselves again alongside the casket bringing it finally to rest under the large awning. They stood along the backside of the casket, facing the family and friends now seated or standing on the other side. He heard the minister’s voice again, speaking of God and love, forgiveness and hope eternal. He watched as the American flag was removed from the casket, folded, and placed into the hands of the grieving parents. Finally, he watched himself, fighting back tears and hands shaking, as he removed his boutonniere and placed it upon the top of the casket. He watched, too, as the grandmother walked slowly to the casket, laid her hand upon the top, and rubbed the wood gently while saying a silent goodbye to her angel, her grandson, the man in whom she saw the future.

He saw himself leave then, backing away from the scene too painful to endure any longer. He felt the tears then, hot on his face, as he began to sob. He knew then that it was all real, and that he was a spectator no longer. He was here, and this was happening, and the enormity of it all threatened to overwhelm him. He forced himself to move, to flee, and he was quickly in his car and leaving the horrible scene behind him. Once home, he retreated to the privacy of the bedroom, curling up as small as he could and praying for sleep to allow him a brief respite from the pain.

Sunday also dawned like most other southern summer mornings. Outside on the porch swing, he was again cool and comfortable, but again he could feel the day already beginning to warm. In the air, though, was more than the threat of heat and humidity. He felt a presence, a physical touch almost, of the friend gone too soon. He realized then that the day may indeed be hot, but at least it would be, as would tomorrow and tomorrow after that. For those left behind, life does go on, and the gentle reminders of those loved and lost are everywhere around us, if we will only take the time to see them.

I miss you, George. I know you are gone, but something of you still cheers the air. Goodnight and goodbye, old friend, for now your place is with the angels.

(Originally published in Southern Forum, October 1994)

A writer writes.

Years ago, I struggled to define myself as a writer. I had a column in a local magazine, and I was working on a short story and a book, but I still felt like I was just playing around. I didn't feel like I was really a writer. When I shared these worries with a friend, her reply was simple and to the point.

A writer writes.

And that was it. As long as I keep writing - books, plays, short stories, essays - than I am a writer.

Getting back to writing...

I used to write. A lot. And then I just stopped. Not good.

Sometime later today, I plan to post several pieces that I wrote in the past. They are going to be my incentive to start writing again. Hopefully, they will do the trick.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

And the not good news...

Brooks left this morning for Iraq. He is slated for a six month deployment, give or take, so we will be looking for his safe return before the end of the year.


Here he is with Ric, checking in.






And here he is at the gate, confirming he is on the right flight.




Liz and Brooks, before the flight.




And all of us, just before he had to leave.




And I have to say how unbelievable United Airlines was. As soon as the ticket agent found out Brooks was military and heading for Iraq, he printed out security passes for the three of us so we could go to the gate and wait with him. Of all the things that made me feel like crying, that simple act of respect and courtesy was what pushed me over the edge. On the way out of the airport, I stopped and talked to one of the ticket agents directing folks about. She said United does that whenever possible, so deploying servicemen and women can spend as much time as they can with their family.



Thank you, United. You were an amazing bright spot in an otherwise sad morning.

The Good News

Jon and AJ returned last night from Iraq. More details later, but for now just know that they are home safe and sound.

Even better, Darkhorse 3/5 made it through this deployment without losing a single Marine. Every Marine came home, and that is a truly amazing thing.

God bless 'em. They're home!