Category Archives: gay issues

What Difference Does Marriage Make?

What difference does “marriage” make to same-sex couples? Here’s the difference it makes for me.

I was probably 21 or so.  My parents were horrified at my attraction to men, and my defiant embrace of a gay identity. We were arguing after dinner, tensions coming to a head, tempers fueled by too much alcohol.

I forget what awful, angry thing my dad had said. He seemed to be convinced that I had decided to be attracted to men, that that I was doing this despite warnings that it wasn’t good for me, or the family, etc.

Something snapped inside me.

But instead of screaming at him, instead of attacking him, instead of denouncing him yet again for being a homophone, I burst into tears. “How do you think I feel? What do you think it’s like for me knowing I can’t get married, knowing I can’t have children, that I can’t have a family?”

That changed the conversation.  I wasn’t rebelling against their values.  I was, they finally saw, to some extent anyway, that I was trying to figure out how to get by in a world where I excluded from embracing them.

It was a turning point for all of us.  I was shocked–I hadn’t realized that was there for me.  Eventually, it led to me getting married to a woman, despite both of us knowing I was attracted to men, and having a family.  As wonderful as our marriage was in many ways, as great as our children are, as much as I love my family, aspects of it were a living hell for both my wife and I.  Sometimes our sex was great–no kidding.  Other times, too many times, I had to fantasize about a man, and she knew I was.  That sucked. It was horrible, and it lacked integrity, and eventually we realized it.

To keep it going I kept telling myself that I was actually straight and that my attraction to men was a symptom of something else.  (After being out, I became a non-religious ex-gay, you might say. I can expand on that another time.)

The point is that at the height of my angry gay young man telling off his parents phase, underneath it all I wanted to be married and have children and have a family.

It just never occurred to me that I could do that with another man.

Well, now it has.  And it’s occurred to a lot of people.  Our society is finally getting it.  We’re people. We love. So many of us are called to love and commit to a spouse.  So many of us are called to love and raise children.

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Filed under gay issues, non-discrimination, Uncategorized

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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Filed under being out, gay issues, LGBT

James B. Stewart’s Coming Out Story: A Triumph of Love

Loves (usually) wins out, but sometimes it takes a while. James B. Stewart (DePauw ’73) illustrates this powerfully in the video below of yesterday’s DePauw University commencement address.

(The relevant portion begins at 8:30. I recommend watching the entire speech.)

Jim graduated from DePauw in 1973, and was not out to his parents.  In between then and yesterday’s speech, he became a lawyer, switched to journalism, won a Pulitzer Prize, edited Page One of the Wall Street Journal, wrote eleven best-selling books, was a founding editor of Smart Money magazine, and now writes for the New York Times.

He met a man, fell in love, and finally came out to his dad.

Who then firmly told Jim his partner would never be welcome in the home.  Who didn’t come to the commitment ceremony.

But Jim decided to keep loving his father, unconditionally. On his deathbed, his dad . . . well, watch the speech to find out what can happen when you just keep loving.

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Filed under DePauw, gay issues, love

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

Whose way?

“Would you please stop doing that?”

“Sure,” I said, kind of embarrassed. I put my iPhone back in my pocket.

It was about midnight.  The Grand Central 7 (subway) train platform.  He looked to be in his early sixties, ponytailed, jeans and long-sleeved shirt. Playing acoustic guitar, singing with a plaintive, gravelly voice that floated in the arched space, filling the silence, seeping into places in my body I hadn’t realized were there.

Some of the most affecting music in New York is in the subways.  Sure, some of it is awful.  But a surprising amount is incredible.  It can make you want to dance.  Or cry. It’s a miracle to me–the way music blossoms in unexpected places, like wild flowers.

I have this fantasy of making a short film, a montage of video clips, to remember it with when I go back to Indiana. So I usually carry around a small hi-def camera. When something’s great, I film it. That night all I had was my iPhone.

But he didn’t like that. Even though I’d sheepishly put it away, he didn’t resume the music.  He was pissed off.  Stood up, walked over to the tracks, and spit.  Mumbled something about “fucking assholes,” and went back to his seat.

I didn’t know what to do.  Apologize?  Tip him?  A dollar? Twenty?

All sorts of thoughts went through my head.  Hey!  He’s playing in a public space, why shouldn’t anyone be able to film him?  Why should I feel bad? But I know what it’s like to want your privacy, even in a public space. To feel violated, taken for granted.  To be turned into an object, something for a tourist’s Facebook page.

I weighed options, confused. What to do?

The train came.

I got in, and rode away from the dilemma.

Earlier that evening:

We met at, well, I’m not going to say.

It was one of the many bar/restaurant/clubs in New York that present music–jazz groups, pop singers, an occasional classical group, etc.  I hadn’t been there before, and was glad to experience another “alternative” venue.  Alice, I’ll call her, a friend of a friend, had suggested the place and the performance. A young singer. “He does Sinatra!”  So my friend–I’ll call her Jane–arranged for the three of us to go to this show.

But Jane had to work late and couldn’t make it.  Since Jane had bought non-refundable tickets, Alice and I, after almost backing out, both showed up and met there for the first time.  Dave–another friend of Jane, and one I already knew–eventually joined us to use the highly resourceful and well-networked Jane’s ticket. She was not letting that thing go to waste.

The “does Sinatra” guy isn’t an imitator.  He’s had a good career singing songs Frank made popular–kind of like Harry Connick, Jr. when he got his big When Harry Met Sally career bump.  Quite successful, tours a lot, but hasn’t cracked the big time, especially in the U.S.  He’s playing New York, but it’s a small-venue, mid-week early show. Not at a place like Feinstein’s, but a downtown club.

Nothing wrong with that, of course.

“I don’t understand why he’s not as big as Michael Buble!” Alice shared, perplexed.

She’s a fan. She met him after a show a few years ago, and he told her that Fienstein’s is his goal.  (It’s like playing Carnegie Hall for a classical musician.)

Why isn’t he there?

After the show, Dave, who works in the entertainment business, and I went for coffee (Alice got in the autograph line).  We had each had the same answer.

Not-Frank (as I’ll call the singer) is slick and polished,  a tremendously skilled performer.  But his music making felt artificial and calculated.  Raw emotional connection, a sense of human authenticity, those qualities so strong in Sinatra’s singing?  Not there.

And how do I put this?  Not-Frank, while energetic and “masculine” in many ways, also was a touch effeminate.  Perfectly coiffed hair, a pink tie and breast handkerchief.  My gaydar went off big time as soon as he took the stage.  At first I was excited–maybe I was encountering the Rufus Wainright of pop/jazz singers.  But then he made too many jokes and comments about women, including innuendo about the one who opened for him and joined him for duets mid-set.

“Straight guys don’t make that many jokes about doing it with women,” Dave (who is straight) said, putting down his coffee.  “He was trying way too hard.” Whoever Not Frank is, the man he played on stage didn’t hold our attention; each of us had ended up checking email and texts during the show. “Michael Buble is totally himself,” Dave told me.  “This guy is calculated.”

I don’t care who he sleeps with (Google says his girlfriend), or wishes he could sleep with, or who I wish he slept with. I don’t mean the effeminacy thing as a criticism, either–that can be really hot in a guy.

He finished his set with “My Way.”

You can’t sing “My Way,” especially if you’re in your early thirties, and come off as anything other than a kid trying to do it someone else’s way. It’s an old man’s song.  It’s Frank’s song.  “And now the end is near”? Give me a break. Might as well find a way to change the lyrics to “I’m not Frank.”

The coffee place where Dave and I did our post-performance analysis is just across from my daughter’s East Village dorm. She was feeling under the weather and didn’t join us. We finished our coffee.  He went to pick up his wife from a work event, and I went across the street to give a tired and slightly sick girl some daddy time.

We cuddled.  We watched a couple episodes of The Office on Hulu.  I sang her silly songs.  Put her to bed.

On the way home, I changed trains at Grand Central.

Walked down the steps to the 7 platform, and heard that voice and guitar.  There were no trains, few people. The sound gradually enveloped me as I descended.  The ceiling is arched.  When it’s quiet, there’s great reverberation there.  It’s actually a wonderful space for music.

It was everything that Not Frank hadn’t been at the expensive show. Right there in the subway. The miracle, again.

And this guy, this artist, who stopped singing and called me a fucking asshole?

He was doing it his way.

I love New York.

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Filed under alternative venues, and everything, gay issues, life in NY, music in subways, New York life

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

Obama Impatience

Andrew Sullivan puts in to words the impatience many of us feel with President Obama, who has yet to match his pro-LGBT words with actions.  I donated a good bit of money to his campaign, especially in the primary season;  I’m starting to wonder if I’ve been ripped off.

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Filed under Andrew Sullivan, gay issues, 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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Filed under being out, gay issues, same-sex marriage, Uncategorized

“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