Saturday, September 8, 2012

Burned alive in the American Melting Pot

You may be asking yourself, what America as a melting pot has to do with LGBT empowerment.  It is imperative that we evaluate the gay equality movement in a larger societal framework, and to begin a more honest discourse of the successes and failures of our journey to equal citizenship. Empowerment is not a linear concept.  It ebbs and flows, expands and contracts, yet it is often narrowly viewed as an individual notion.  It is my hope to help others see that the quest for equality is impacted by individual enlightenment, as well as a broader societal understanding of oppression and homogeny.
The 20th century notion that America as a melting pot is flawed and impractical.  The concept of America as a melting pot originates from a popular 1908 play called “The Melting Pot.”  The line from the play that inspired this way of thinking is "America is God's Crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and reforming... Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians - into the Crucible with you all! God is making the American."
The countries from which people arrive to the United States have changed, but the American attitude of assimilation and melding into our image of a homogenous society still remains.  The notion of melting together so that diverse individuals, cultures, races, sexualities, ages and abilities are indistinguishable and each element granted the same optimism of pursing the American dream just does not play out in the daily lives of those who call the United States “home.”
The majority of immigrants coming to America in the 21st century are not European, they are South and Central Americans, and Asians.  And, much like our history shows us, America is quick to push our neighbors into the great American Melting Pot in order to create a country in which everyone has the same values, speaks the same language, and pledge’s an undying allegiance to the Red, White and Blue.
For those of us who are gay American citizens we too are pushed into the molten ooze of homogeny, and like our immigrant counterparts, are left without a sense of identity, access to justice, and equality. All of America benefits from the contributions of its diverse population.  We are the doctors you turn to, we are the social workers you call for help when things are tough, we are your children’s teachers, your pharmacist, your garbage collectors… It’s an exhaustive list.   As LGBT citizens, we are expected to contribute like our straight siblings through responsible citizenship, and taxation.  However, when we question the fairness of the American political & legal systems, LGBT people are looked upon by our straight counterparts as “having a gay agenda” and our religious counterparts as a “drain on American values.”  I assure you, and certainly science and history proves there is no “gay” agenda.  Furthermore, we were raised with the same set of values imparted to our siblings, and friends.  Like immigrants, all the hundreds gay men and women I have met, not one ever expressed an interest in dismantling the American way of life, in contrast we have all been looking for a way to fulfill our own version of the American dream.
 
The pursuit for fairness and equality under the law is a human rights agenda.  For gay men and women, it’s a movement that seeks the coverage of 1,100 federally legislated marital rights now only granted to our straight family members.  It’s a movement that wants reciprocity among state laws for employment, housing, family, and protections.  It’s a movement that seeks to end needless violence against America’s youth.  It’s a movement that asks why the constitution applies to some, but not all.  We are asking why it is okay for one state to recognize the value of ALL its citizens gay or straight, yet their neighbors can decide to ignore us. 
The great American Melting Pot has a crack in it, and it’s called the Defense of Marriage Act.  We live under the United States Constitution which declares “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
All men are created equal.  This is not political ideology.  This is not propaganda to bring justice for the underdog.  It’s the truth.  I am as equal a human being as my brother, and sister… In America, the equality stops there.  I have personal stake in repealing laws that serve to discriminate against segments of a population that the constitution has deemed equal.  As a gay man, with a devoted and talented Colombian partner, I am especially aware of the securities afforded by lawful marriage.  If my brother were to meet, love, and feel completed by a woman from another country he could secure his future with her, and her citizenship through marriage.  Their marriage would be recognized in every state of the union.  If he needed to move from his home state for a new job, he would not fear their marriage would become void. 
It’s time for a more honest discourse in this country about equality and the pursuit of happiness.  It’s time for those in the minority to ask themselves what they can do to forward our movement, and it’s time for the majority to ask themselves why they get to decide what’s right for an entire country. 

 

 
 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Why do I screw up so damned much?


Empowerment is universal.  In my social work, and professional trainings I’ve come to embrace the values of empowerment and self-determination.  Regardless of our heritage, background, or minority status self-determination lives in each of us.
I see self-determination as humans' natural and innate predisposition to behave in effective and healthy ways even if these ways are against society’s moral code, or the expectations of our culture.  Regardless of what our circumstances are, or what oppression we are facing, self-determination can’t be removed from the human race.
I will never forget the story of Viktor Frankl and how he survived the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp.  In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Mr. Frankl discusses how, while in a concentration camp, he imagined himself teaching others how to survive devastating experiences.  He pictured himself lecturing, writing, and teaching.  He self-determined to physically survive, but also survive with a greater purpose.

Throughout my life I have struggled to align who I am on the inside with how I live on the outside.  Each day I learn something new about myself, or am surprised at what I didn’t know about myself.  Aligning our internal world with how we live in the external world is a beautiful journey of self-love, awareness, and forgiveness.  If we take a lesson from Mr. Frankl, we can look at our struggles as a way to learn and teach others.  This gives us something productive to do with personal tragedies, something to look forward to when the storm passes, and a moment to affirm that we are strong, loved, and purposeful.
There will be moments that I slip out of “alignment”, and recognize that my internal life is not matching my exterior one.  It’s in these large and small moments that I forgive myself first, ask forgiveness of others, and determine what lesson I am repeating.  More often than not, I find that I have lost touch with how I am living, or I have veered from my core values. 
 
If you feel as if you are constantly at odds with the world, you might evaluate your internal life including your priorities, values, dreams, and higher purpose to determine if your actions represent them accurately.  If yes, you are living the best life you are capable of, if no, then you have revealed a conflict between your inner and outer lives.  The conflict neutral; it is neither good, nor bad.  It is a moment that you can invoke the lessons of others such as Victor Frankl and take a step forward. It is a moment that we can self-determine how to shift or actions into proper alignment with our values.

Monday, January 23, 2012

To be extraordinary we must do extraordinary things..

I'm constantly thinking about ways to become my most actualized self.  How do I become my most productive, powerful, successful, happy, disciplined and wealthy self.  The list goes on & on...  

I've discovered a definitive answer to my question, and it is at the same time profound and simple. 
Achieving goals.
That's it.  Goals.  If I don't know what I am working toward; if I don't know my goal how can I possibly determine how to obtain it. Without setting goals how can I see what I am doing to fail at reaching it?  I believe in goal setting, but what I've learned lately is that goals must come from my most true self.  And for any life changes to occur I must accomplish my goal.  

Think about it like this: If my goals are based on my principles they are more likely to be obtained.  If I don't really value something, or it goes against my principles I'm not as likely to do it.  If the goal I'm trying to reach is something I value and seems to align with my principles, won't it be easier for me to obtain?
It's extremely important to identify our goals and write them down.  From this point we can do several things with them.  We can determine the master life goal, develop a plan for accomplishing this and prioritize the rest.  It's important to recognize that as we progress, and accomplish goals our master life goal may change.  It could be the master goal of your life for one year, or 10 years.  
Once we have our goals set and identify our master life goal it is important to revisit these goals daily for several weeks to get them programmed into our everyday thought patterns. 
 

Brian Tracy, a leader in motivation, success and goal mastery says this: "Clarity means that you are absolutely clear about who you are, what you want, and where you're going. You write down your goals and you make plans to accomplish them. You set very careful priorities and you do something every day to move you toward your goals. And the more progress you make toward accomplishing things that are important to you, the greater self-confidence and self-belief you have, and the more convinced you become that there are no limits on what you can achieve."

So what is your master goal?  Does it align with what you think about most often?  Is it an extension of who you are, what you do, and what you love?

For example, you may desire to advance in your career, make more money, and get out of debt.  All of these are admirable goals, and ones that we should all set for ourselves.  But, which one is the master goal?  Perhaps an advance in career requires more education or a certification.  This could easily become the master goal for the next 6 months to 2 years.  I use an action plan that I learned as a student of social work.  It still works well for me.  Perhaps I want to change the direction of my career, but I’m not looking for a lateral move.  Most advances forward or upward in life require us to do something different than we are doing now.  After all, if we continue to do what we are doing now won’t we achieve the same results?

Master Goal: Change my career path.
Measurable Objective 1:  Become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and practice mental health therapy.
Measurable Objective 2: Apply for Certified Social Worker exam in January.
Measurable Objective 3: Prepare for and take exam in March.

Measurable Objective 4: Find a job that offers supervision
Measurable Objective 5: Obtain required number of supervised hours to take LCSW exam.

Finally, we have to talk about discipline and determination.  Without it we aren’t likely to make any changes in our life, or achieve the goals we set.  But, how does one become disciplined enough to accomplish something important.  To paraphrase Brian Tracy, disciplined people do what they know they have to do to meet a goal whether they feel like it, want to or not.  In the end, everyone has goals or dreams of some sort.  But, if everyone has them what keeps them from reaching them? To be extraordinary we must do extraordinary things.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Some homosexuals don't like other homosexuals..

I've read the phrase "internalized homophobia" several times over the years, and the best analogy for this phenomenon is that as gay men and women we often react strongly when we see other gay people mirroring back to us the things we like least about ourselves. 

Have you ever been with a friend or family member when they make a comment about how much they dislike sloppy eaters as they chomp and slurp like a famished raccoon?  Pointing out in others the things we can't deal with in ourselves is a defense mechanism that somehow allows us to justify our behaviors by saying to ourselves "Well, at least I'm not that bad."  Among the many gay men I've known over the years this action is much more biting, catty and ultimately destructive.

I'm guilty of seeing my reflection in other men and disliking what I see, or feeling unable to accept gay men as they are.  This happens most when I am around guys that are flamboyant.  Perhaps I'm bothered that they are freely effeminate, and it reminds me of how much I have restricted my own self-expression.  Perhaps I find him perfectly delightful, but refrain from embracing him or expressing my attraction to him because he is SO obviously gay.   Regardless of his characteristics, through some honest self reflection I'm able to see what's going on inside of me to garner such a strong reaction.  But, the buck doesn't stop here.  I have to forge through and embrace my mirror image so that I can embrace my brother for who he is and affirm him.

For those who don't know what catty means, Webster's defines it as having or showing a desire to cause someone pain or suffering for the sheer enjoyment of it <a catty remark that served its only purpose: to make someone cry>

One of the best examples of this meanness came one winter when I had been out shopping for ornaments.  I ran into a rather handsome fella who looked overwhelmed by the giant isles of glittered glory.  I was totally in my element, and my confidence was high so I commented to him that he had an attractive assortment of ornaments and that I just saw the perfect ribbon for his tree.  Our conversation stuck primarily to Christmas trees, lights and decor for the next hour, but when I went in to seal the deal and asked for a drink date he was instantly aloof. 
I recounted this tale for some gay friends just later that week.  Instantly they knew who I was talking about, and commented that my new crush was actually a neighbor that lived with a long term partner.  Of course I dramatically lamented "What's wrong with guys?"  I talked to this guy for more than an hour about the holidays, trees and lighting.  He consistently used "I", "Mine", and "Me."  He never so much as indicated that he had a partner!!  UGH!  This still ANNOYS me.  But, that is for a different day... sigh.
The point is that I was disappointed that someone I was obviously flirting with and asked to see again wouldn't tell me he was unavailable!  One of the men standing in the kitchen listening to my lament commented "Oh you mean "John Doe"? I never thought he was cute. He's kind of elfish with his pointed ears."
Stunned silent.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Born This Way

I'm often asked by friends when I come out to them, "Do you believe you were born gay?"  The smart ass in me wants to ask them if they were born straight!  I withhold this.  Usually.  The other question I get occasionally is "When did you know you had to choose one way or the other?"  I'm much less gracious in responding to this question when I quip back with "When did you choose NOT to be gay?"

Perhaps they are treading the waters of challenging their own belief systems, or they are testing me to see just how steadfast I am in my identity.  Regardless of the motivation, I always welcome the opportunity to educate.

I knew from the earliest age that my inclinations were not like the men and other boys in my life.  I knew I was different, but didn't necessarily know that I was gay. 



It wasn't until I developed my first mega crush on a boy a year ahead of me in school that i knew romance was in the gaze of another boy.  I was completely fascinated by his wily blond hair, daring spirit, and any crumb of attention he gave me.  When he was near, I was mesmerized.  Our friendship lasted for many years, and I was very much smitten by him the entire time.  We met when I was entering the 3rd grade.

As for "born this way?" I answer with a hearty "YES!"  For a few years I worked with a conservative christian lady who was inquisitive, and spirited.  She was the very first one that ever said to me that she understood it wasn't a choice, and gave a compelling reason why.  She simply said, "Who would choose a life so hard."  She went on to build her argument to say that if sexuality was a choice, it would be much easier to choose to be straight because that is what most of the world believes in, and supports. 

I was forever altered by such direct insight. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Safe schools are a myth.

In a 2009 school climate survey conducted by the Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network, a gay student in the United States had an 85% chance of being verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation, and 72% heard remarks like "faggot" or "dyke."
 
These statistics are astounding.  This means a gay high school student who has the courage to come out of the closet can almost guarantee to be called names, and be verbally assaulted.  Nearly two-thirds of LGBT students felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation.

The results of this study are significant in several ways. 1) Gay teens are coming out of the closet at an earlier age. 2) Gay Straight Alliances and resource centers  decrease the number of harassing incidents in schools. 3) We have a long way to go in the US before it's wrong to harass a kid for being or appearing to be gay.

According to famed psychologist Erik Erikson, the father of social development theory, our adolescent and young adult years are the most crucial in developing our adult identity and relationship skills.  Between the ages of 12 & 18, according to Erikson, our identity is mostly shaped by what we do.  It's through the development of friendships, and a certain freedom in experimentation that we develop our blueprint for life.  It's during these years that we struggle with social interactions, and moral issues.  An unsuccessful journey through these years will leave us with significant role confusion and upheaval.

Between the ages of 18 & 35, according to Erikson, we begin looking for significant relationships through a partner and our friendships.  It's in this early stage of adulthood that we experience emotional intimacy on a very deep level.  If we are not successful in this stage Erikson believed that isolation and distance from such intimacy would occur.

It is especially crucial for anyone working with teens, gay or not, to have an understanding of these basic ideas of development.  If young gay teens are somehow stifled in their adolescent exploration of their philosohpies, talents, and roles this lack of development can hinder the next stage.  I've believed it's this stifling that leads many young gay men and women to have a delayed adolescence in their 20's & early 30's.  It's during this delayed adolescence that we feel the freedom to explore, express ourselves, and begin developing friendships with other gay men and women.

Perhaps an unsuccessful mastery of these development stages sets the foundation for many of the struggles gay men, especially, face in adulthood.  While I recognize that many gay men have very successful relationships, there are many of us who have struggled to find deep and sustainable intimacy. 


The good news is that times are changing.  There are a number of national LGBT advocacy and research centers. LGBT resource centers and student groups are common place in most universities, and slowly we are seeing a more authentic representation of gay couples in the media like Cameron and Mitchell on ABC's Modern Family.

So long as we keep reading, learning, teaching and sharing our stories, it is my hope this progress will continue. And as long as we see a modicum of growth we have to celebrate it and appreciate it.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Tom boys are better than sissies

Beyond overcoming stifling shame, many of the authors I've been reading talk about integrating all of the different parts of oneself, or aligning our fractured sense of identity as a way to live whole and authentically.

Joe Kort, author of 10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do to Find Real Love, writes about integrity.  "Integrity is a lifestyle of congruency; it means being outwardly who you are on the inside.  Yet from childhood, we gay boys quickly learn that being out and open means ridicule, negative judgments, and lack of emotional and physical safety.  So we spend our most formative years learning to live out of integrity, even in relationship with ourselves.  For children of any orientation, integrating all the parts of oneself is impossible.  Family rules as well as socialization norms call for children to disown aspects of themselves. For gay children, an additional part gets disowned---our gayness."

As a child the messages we may often hear from adults are that "boys like girls" and "girls like boys," and anything outside of this law is wrong or even perverted. Furthermore, even in the most progressive of families, societal norms still play out.  One of the best examples of this comes from my own family and friends.  My oldest nephew was about 2 or 3 at the time a friend and I went to visit my family.  Still being very much a baby, my nephew was crying and asking for me to hold him and console him.  Much to my surprise, my friend said something along the lines of "that boy needs to toughen up."

It's little wonder, in our hyper-masculine world, that boys especially are ridiculed for showing any more sensitivity, creativity, or emotion than their cohort.  The reverse doesn't play out quite as concretely for girls.  We've even donned a very acceptable label for little girls who act like boys, tom-boy.  Unfortunately for boys we continue the stigmatizing label of sissy. Let's face it; we value masculinity far more than femininity in this country.

So, many gay boys grow up never embracing their childhood crush on the neighbor boy.  Many grow up without encouragement to bend the gender roles and play with their sisters' toys too.  Little gay boys learn from an early age to hide or villainize their feelings.

Joe Kort goes on to write, "Gay and straight alike, we must all come back into integrity---which is often what a midlife crisis is all about.  I prefer to call it a midlife awakening: finding out who you really are and moving toward it."

Consider all of your experiences, and all of your parts.  Recount your boyhood crushes, and embrace them.  Draw a picture in your mind of which boys at school you were attracted to and why.  How did they make you feel?  What type of friendship did they offer?  How were these boys alike?

Embrace these relationships wholly now, and celebrate them.  This is one of the most significant tools a gay man can use to integrate his experiences as young gay boy into his life as an adult gay man.  It will serve to remind us that as children we weren't wrong in feeling this way, and that all little boys and girls get crushes.  Our crushes were just as real as theirs.