Tag Archive: gay men


Retreat Home

Conscious living. . .A buzz word in our modern, hyper-fast, race-to-the-finish-line society. People, by nature, seem to seek what they don’t already have, and we have romanticized the notion of slowing down to enjoy the view, lest life pass us by, but so few of us actually achieve a sense of conscious living.

I feel torn, several times a week, by differing value systems. Some gay men worship the body electric, and put all their focus, time, and energy into working out. That, indeed, is but a subset of the whole population, but I’m self-centered and vain enough to want other’s approval, even if it’s only for being in great shape. Then, there’s the value system of the small town, village really, in which I live. There, the greatest emphasis is placed on being a good person where you’re also encouraged to fit in and not make too many waves, and this can sometimes mean not being disagreeable–being liked. In this community, many diverse people are tolerated, but you certainly don’t want to stick out for being too progressive or controversial. Yet another group whose approval I court are the intellectuals and writers and the writing community at Northwestern as well as throughout the Chicagoland area. There’s a subtle sort of competition among my fellow MFA students to see who is the most talented and who has the most potential to go far.

Last, there is the Christian and Catholic community to which I have just come home on a visit, twenty years after I graduated. I went to a small, private, liberal arts Catholic school, St. John’s University, in upper Minnesota, about an hour and a half north of the Twin Cities. I am, in effect, on a retreat home, a retreat to my spiritual home.

I have, in the course of my life, wandered far from my spiritual roots, starting way back when I was a sophomore, and my former Resident Assistant, Chris Agnew, the student who oversaw our development and encouraged us to come to him with any questions, suffered an epileptic seizure and died in the shower early one morning. I really couldn’t reconcile the kind of God who would take away such a caring, loving young man so early in life. I couldn’t even make myself go to this funeral, held in the big abbey church where his life was celebrated. I didn’t want to celebrate his life; I wanted him still in my life. It was a real crisis in faith, compounded by my grappling with my sexual identity.

I have wandered far, over the years, from my roots, but now I am back for a vacation, and I get to look at the campus with new eyes. There is, indeed, an undeniable spiritual energy to the place, nestled among 2,700 acres and Lake Sagatagan, with a vibrant community of Benedictine monks and priests. St. Benedict was celebrated for the virtue of hospitality, and it is this openness and welcoming attitude that has brought me home, the long way around. I notice an innocence, a lack of jadedness, in the eyes of the summer students, and indeed, among the mentors on campus.

A simpler life is not necessarily a simple life, but this retreat has shown me that it’s okay to embrace a God of my understanding, even if it doesn’t fit the traditional Christian model, and still not be considered a cast out. I have spent so much time and energy trying to fit in among various communities, and now I sense is my chance to take two days to ask myself, who am I, where are my roots, where have I come from, and where am I going.

Much peace to you. I seem to be finding a missing sense of quiet serenity and gratitude up here.

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Legalize Love

Despite the superfluity of recent conversations, conflicts, and contentions, I had not intended to blog on the topic of gay marriage, but with the president stating his revised opinion, I felt I might as well weigh in with my thoughts.

My father, when I first came out as a gay man, worried about being shamed by my sexual orientation, and told me when I was nineteen, “Just don’t ever embarrass us.”  I think he had seen what he deemed radicals stumping for the cause of gay rights.

Homosexuality itself was included in the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual) of abnormalities until 1973.  Being gay used to be considered a mental disorder.  These disorders were traditionally diagnosed when symptoms substantially interfere with daily functioning.  This was eventually shown not to be the case for gay individuals.

After the Stonewall riots in 1969, gay rights activists focused on educating people that being gay is an orientation, not a “alternative lifestyle choice” made by “maladjusted individuals.”  These activists also put civil rights for gay men and women on the fast track to being afforded to all, not just heterosexuals.  I’m reminded of the Virginia Slim’s ad for cigarettes:  “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

My father has come a long way in not only accepting me, but also being proud of who I am.  Still, he supports civil unions, but not gay marriage.   Many heterosexuals balk at allowing the word marriage to refer to a union between a man and a man or a woman and woman.  To me, it is a matter of semantics, and I’m constantly amazed how one little word can inflame the passions of a fair number of heterosexuals.

Several states now allow gay marriage, including,  New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, the District of Columbia, and even Mitt Romney’s home state of Massachusetts.  In May, 2004, Massachusetts became the very first state to issue same-sex marriage licenses.  (Comment on that, Mitt, especially when you are accused of being out-of-touch with the will of the people since you don’t even support the will of your own state’s constituency).

Other states, including Illinois (my home state), now allow civil unions.  (I personally have never really figured out the qualitative difference between civil unions and gay marriage, but that’s only one aspect of the issue).  Romney has commented recently, saying, “My view is that marriage itself is a relationship between a man and a woman, and that’s my own preference.”

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg struck back in saying, “No American president has ever supported a major expansion of civil rights that has not ultimately been adopted by the American people, and I have no doubt that this will be no exception.”

Jesse Jackson also had his say:  “If the states had to vote on slavery, we would have lost the vote.  If we had to vote on the right (for black men and women) to vote, we would have lost that vote.”

Many black people distance themselves from the issue of gay rights and civil legislation to protect the rights of what can sometimes be considered “an invisible minority.”  They don’t seem to want comparisons between the rights of African-Americans and the rights of gay people, which makes it all that much more meaningful that Jesse Jackson stood up to be counted, making sure his voice was heard as a supporter of the inalienable rights of every individual.

Change comes slowly, incrementally.  If you don’t want gay marriage, don’t marry one of us.

In the meantime, let’s legalize love.

Amazing Grace at the DMV

Prejudice lurks in the most unlikely places.  I was at the Department of Motor Vehicles the other day, waiting in line to renew my driver’s license when a black woman audibly coached her three kids to stay away from the fag in line.  I’m not sure how she figured out that I’m gay.  At the time I was talking with my friend Ryan who needed to apply to have his license reinstated after a DUI.  We had gone to the DMV together.  I can only assume she heard my voice, and decided I have a “gay accent.”  I myself tend to look around wherever I am to determine who else might be gay, but that is more an issue of wanting to fit in and not feel like the only gay person in the room.

My cousin assures me that I’m not at all obvious and don’t have a discernable accent, but I often wonder what sort of things give me away–who knows, maybe my sense of style.  We all know that gay men are fashion-forward.  It’s one of those little markers that gay men tend to err on the side of being more fashionable than the average man, even as we age.

Earlier in life, however, many gay kids go through experimental periods, pushing the boundaries of fashion.  In some ways, gay kids go through a sort of delayed adolescence since we are generally not encouraged to come out of the closet, or practice dating during high school, unlike our fellow students.  I remember when I first announced that I am gay, I went through a period where I frosted my hair blond, and had my left ear pierced (hey, it was the 90’s).  Since then I’ve grown more conservative. 

You would think that since the woman at the DMV is African-American, she would understand about prejudice and people making all sorts of racist judgments about her, based on her skin color.  I’ve discovered that right-wing conservatives and fundamentalist religious persons feel free to treat gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people as second-class citizens.  I don’t know how many fundamentalists you know, but from my experience, whether the fundamentalist is Baptist, Mormon, or a Tea Party Republican, they can be extremely prejudice against people who don’t fit the mold.  It would be nice if religious people followed Christ’s example, “Love they neighbor as thyself,” and recognized that love is the ultimate commandment.

My friend Ryan, who is straight, overheard the woman’s comments about me, grabbed my hand as we left, singing, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, who saved a wretch like me.”  She scowled and turned away, but we walked right by her, swinging our arms.  In truth, all I wanted was to stand up and be counted.  Ryan made that possible.  I’m reminded of the little known adage:  as children of God, we do not grovel.  Bravo to all who take the road less travelled.