Category Archives: being out

Anderson Cooper! Anderson Cooper!

Hold your breath . . . sit down . . . this is big . . .

Anderson Cooper is gay.

Oh, you already knew that? (If not, know you do.)

But now he’s said so, publicly.  (Actually, he wrote an email to Andrew Sullivan and said it was OK to post online.

. . . while as a society we are moving toward greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible. There continue to be far too many incidences of bullying of young people, as well as discrimination and violence against people of all ages, based on their sexual orientation, and I believe there is value in making clear where I stand.

The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud.

Well said. Visibility has been and is crucial for social change.  For over 15 years, I’ve made it a point to be out at DePauw, so that LGBT students know there is an out gay faculty member (now there are quite a few), and straight students know they know a gay man, and that he’s not a stereotype.  (This is less and less of an issue.) More than one student has told me how much my visibility, or just knowing me, has impacted him or her–including students with as much or more internalized homophobia and self-loathing as I am recovering from.

So, Anderson, welcome to the cause of participating in changing the world by being out.  “This time, I know our side will win.”

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Now I REALLY Love New York (But Greencastle Is Lovely today)

So all these people who know me, and my propensity for brooding-Swede depression, are worried about my emotional health, being back in sleepy, small Greencastle, Indiana, where there are about 8,000 adult residents, just a few restaurants, and a Wal-Mart.  I loved living in New York so much.  And developed some great friendships.  Went to all those concerts.  And classes.  And presentations.  And plays.

What  am I going to do in Greencastle this summer (besides running a weekly concert series, playing on some concerts, cleaning out my mother’s house–and mine–and what not), they want to know.  A difficult case of New-York-withdrawl, return-to-Greencastle syndrome is, obviously, widely predicted.

Today of course, is a day I would love to be in New York: the legislature passed the same-sex marriage bill last night, and Governor Cuomo signed it. Gay marriage has been affirmatively legalized.  “Gay marriage”–that’s really a kind of bullshit term.  Civil Unions–those are a kind of second-class things, gay marriage that really isn’t.

What got passed in New York isn’t gay marriage;  it’s really marriage for everyone.  It’s the government acknowledging we all count.

When you grow up being harassed, called a faggot, believing that you’re a “faggot” and not a fully-human, “normal” person–well, it takes a lot of work to recover from that.  Really, for some of us the emotional scars are always there, something you learn to live with but that never disappear.

So when something like this happens–when through the political process, even Republicans vote for equality–it’s not just a well, finally sort of reaction.  Somewhere, deep inside, it feels like the State of New York saying, “Eric, you are equal.  You are really one of us.  You’re not a less-than-fully-human other.”  Parts of me always know this.  But there are parts I keep discovering that don’t.  So it makes a difference.  Not just to the thousands of couples who want to get married.  But to all of us who are healing from centuries of being treated like shit.  It’s great to be treated like a full human being with a full set of rights.  And imagine the difference it makes for young people.

I would have loved to have been at Sheridan Square last night, with the anti-riot, celebratory crowd outside the Stonewall Inn.  In late June of 1969, the harassed patrons of the Stonewall Inn fought back against police oppression and an energy was unleashed that is culminating in the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the clearly inevitable establishment of equal marriage rights.  Last night, late June of 2011, a big party, not a riot, outside the same bar, to celebrate a major accomplishment.  That I would loved to have been part of, not just read about.

Meanwhile, I’m sitting on my front porch in Greencastle. It’s beautiful. Sunny day, not too hot, birds making a wonderful sound collage, with distant lawn mowers in the background.

My next-door neighbor and I made coffee for each other this morning: she with her relatively new espresso machine from Italy, me with my amazing Aeropress. Later, I walked to the courthouse square, bought food at the Farmer’s Market, and greeted old friends. Talked about how great the New York marriage news is with a (straight) colleague, who is excited as I am.  Got invited to go to a basketball game in Indianapolis tonight, and am going with old friends and my son.

There’s a lot that’s wonderful here. Friends.  Family.  Soon, in August, students and engaging work.

I’m definitely OK.

And, on this Gay Pride weekend in New York, I more than kinda wish I was there to celebrate it in person.

Because today, more than ever, as beautiful and embracing and pretty and calm as Greencastle is, I really love New York.

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Filed under and everything, being out, gay issues, life in NY

How personal to get in a public blog?

My first blog, which I didn’t even know was a blog, was a series of essays that I sent to a list of friends and others who ended up on the list.  I started posting them on a website, putting the newest on the front page by hand, then creating an archive page for the previous one, with a link to it in a sidebar.  That enterprise came to an end when I started writing about my complicated relationship with my father.  A family friend, on the list, who was unaware of my father’s drinking problems and dark side, became quite upset with something I had posted about my feelings about him (which she had misinterpreted, anyway, in my view).  My father never figured out how to do email or surf the web, despite being extraordinarily intelligent, so I wasn’t worried he’d read it.  My mother wasn’t reading the essays, either.  Some people found the essays touching and inspiring (at least at times);  one wrote me that she thought I was too personally revelatory.  In any event, this lady, who only knew my father’s best, social, self, was upset, and worried that he would be upset if he read it.

While I was sure he’d never read it, the issue of the privacy of people in my life became a big one for me.  I started self-censoring and the creative flow was blocked, and that project came to an end.

Privacy–one’s own and those of others–is an issue for those who do personal blogging.  This site is a bit complicated, since it is both a personal blog and a professional website.  For a while, I had a blog and a separate Eric-the-cellist website.  How personal to be here is a question, especially when it comes to writing about experiences, including professional experiences, involving others.

Once I wrote a post about an incident that had happened in a class, where I’d chastised some students for using “that’s so gay” as a derogatory term, in front of a student I assumed was gay.  It had been unsettling to me.  I wondered how the student I thought was gay had felt about my handling of the situation, but I certainly wasn’t going to ask him (some students who are obviously gay aren’t out to themselves yet, and many years ago I learned the hard way not to make any assumptions).  In the post, I put the whole thing in the past tense, as if it had happened years before.

But the mother of another student read the post, called her child, best friend of the guy (whom I had neither named nor described in the post) I assumed was gay, and asked, “Is ____ gay?”  And then it became a big thing for some of the students.  The student whose mother had called wrote me to say that ____ (whom I hadn’t named) wasn’t gay, and was upset when people presumed he was.  But he didn’t want me to talk about it with him, at least according to his friend.  I felt awful that I triggered any pain or embarrassment for him, and took the post down. I regretted not being able to apologize.  (Now that it really is some years since that happened I feel safe in describing the incident.)

The answer, I suppose, is to put the most personal stuff, and stuff involving others, in an anonymous blog.  But there’s something about anonymous blogging that feels like hiding.  And after all those years in the closet, I hate hiding. I like being open.  I like sharing, including my inner life.  When we share our inner lives with each other, it can, sometimes, be of great help, to the writer, a reader, or both.

All this is a preamble to my next post, about my mother, who has dementia, and some recent experiences with her.  In a way, it will violate her privacy.  But it’s a story worth sharing, and I really think that my pre-dementia Mom would have given her blessing to me writing about post-dementia Mom.

[Edited slightly a few times, hopefully for clarity, perhaps just making the thing wordier.]

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Filed under being out, blogging, privacy

Quick Thoughts

What if I wrote a new post every day?  (This thought inspired by a recent viewing of Julie and Julia.)  Even if I didn’t have much to say?  Maybe I’d turn out to have something to say.

Quick thoughts:

State of the Union: watched 2 minutes and turned it off.  Actions speak louder than words and I haven’t seen much action when it comes to LGBT issues, and Obama and the Democrats haven’t been able to do anything about the absolutely ridiculous medical insurance issues in this country.  So I’m not interested in speeches.  Show me the gays in the military!  My son is considering a military career after he graduates from college.  I’m proud of him.  If we were gay, what the hell difference would it make?  He’s brilliant and speaks Chinese. Right now my feeling towards Obama is, well, unpritntable.  But I would vote for him over Sarah Palin no matter what.

The Future (?) of Classical Music: Greg Sandow’s having another go at his book.  This time it looks like he’s going to make it.  (“This time I know our side will win,” Henried to Bogart in Casablanca. Mainstream classical music institutions?  Not so sure.)  Absolutely fascinating stuff.  Read it.

My Big Gay Ears: Mine are big, but not as unabashedly gay, or hearing as much, as Jody Dalton’s.  His blog on LGBT musicians just came into my life.  It’s great.  Sometimes I’m tempted to degay my punlic presence a bit in case some prospective student or student’s parent is put off.  Really, though, I don’t give a fuck.  Have a problem with gay people?  Then you really should study with some0ne else.  I’ll be around once you come out.

I knew Jody slightly through a mutual friend years ago, and am delighted to have reconnected.  It’s been 20 years or so.

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Filed under being out, Don't Tell (screw that), gay issues, Greg Sandow, Obama

I’m blown away

This guy is amazing. James Neiley, testifying on March 19, 2009 in Vermont. Maybe the best speech on marriage equality I’ve heard–from perhaps the most self-respecting and articulate 17-year-old one could ever encounter. Listening to him, the Paul Henreid line from Casablanca came to mind: “This time I know our side will win.”

more about “I’m blown away“, posted with vodpod

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“Come out, come out, wherever you are” . . . being an out professor when you’re not “obviously gay”

Via Andrew Sullivan, there’s a Newsweek poll out showing increased support for LGBT legal rights, including same-sex marriage, and a correlated rise in the number of people who say they know someone gay.

One reason that tolerance for gay marriage and civil unions may be on the rise is that a growing number of Americans say they know someone who’s gay. While in 1994, a NEWSWEEK Poll found that only 53 percent of those questioned knew a gay or lesbian person, that figure today is 78 percent. Drilling down a bit more, 38 percent of adults work with someone gay, 33 percent have a gay family member and 66 percent have a gay friend or acquaintance.

Back in the early 1990s, when I was in the process of coming out in the DePauw community, one friend used to mock me for thinking that the long-term key to increased respect and acceptance is, basically, for everyone just to come out, as openly as possible. “You think the answer for everything is for us to all come out,” she, semi-closeted, chastized me.

Well, yes.  I still believe this, and the Newsweek poll gives some validation.  Negative stereotypes are best dispelled by confrontation with positive realities. Straight allies are key; heterosexuals outnumber the rest of us by a huge proportion. Parents, siblings, and friends of those of us who are other than heterosexual have huge impact. Not just in politics, but also through their acceptance and love, which helps those of us who grew up with self-loathing heal from it, and for younger generations to grow up healthier and healthier.

DePauw has been committed for decades to diversifying its faculty. We used to be nearly all married white men. Forty or fifty years ago, single men were presumed to be heterosexual “bachelors,” so absorbed in their work that they didn’t have time to find a wife, or who just preferred be single. That was the cultural pretense, anyway; to be openly gay would have meant dismissal under a “morals” clause in faculty contracts;  to have openly suggested someone was gay would cause a scandal.

The faculty and student body are much more diverse these days. And the DePauw administration and Board of trustees are enormously gay-positive.

But there’s still that being out thing.  It’s easy for students to know who their women, Hispanic, African-American, African, Asian, etc., teachers and fellow students are. But the queer faculty?  Our LGBT-ness can be invisible if we don’t conform to stereotypes. Since I’m not particularly effeminate in my speech or mannerisms, and am divorced with two children, many students assume that I’m straight, unless I do something to make it clear that I’m not.

How to do it is the question.

I don’t have a partner I can occasionally refer to in the way that heterosexually-married people casually mention their spouses, or to put a picture of on my desk. I used to make little speeches on Coming Out Day, but that always felt awkward.  Long ago I wrote an article published in the student newspaper;  that cleared everything up for a few years, anyway.  A colleague told me I’d need to write one every four years.  But I haven’t felt like doing that (maybe I should!)

So just I make occasional comments reflecting the fact I’m gay. We were talking in a class about an upcoming on-campus recital by the famously handsome singer Nathan Gunn. A young women in the class mentioned one of her friends wants to marry him: I spontaneously and somewhat enthusiastically replied that I would, too, if only he wasn’t married to a a woman. We laughed; it took a few seconds.  Everyone then knew I was gay, and I hadn’t needed to make a big deal out of it.  I mentioned how important looks have become classical-music, especially opera careers, and how it seems to me that certain gay critics sometimes spend a lot of time reviewing Nathan Gunn’s pectorals when he does one of his shirtless roles.  All of which was relevant in a class that deals in part with career-building and publicity.

[12/17/08 edit:  I've removed the anecdote that followed here, as well as the comments relating to it.  When I wrote the post, I incorrectly assumed that hardly anyone actually reads the blog, and that none of my students do.  (No student of mine had mentioned the blog to me or posted a comment for  years, whether at its old location or this).  That turns out not to be the case, I've since learned.  In that context, the inclusion of that in-class anecdote is inappropriate.  Lesson learned on my part.  My apologies to those in the class who were upset. It wan't my intention. Feel free to contact me directly if you'd like a more personal apology.]

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Filed under Andrew Sullivan, being out, gay issues, LGBT