01 December 2013

It's Christmas, Mary

Each time I walk into a church building I feel like Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom. When will the boulder come careening my way? 

There's reason for this. Eighteen years ago, when I came out as a gay man, members of my church met in council and gave me an ultimatum. I was to repent of my homosexuality and attend a reparative therapy boot camp to set me straight. Otherwise, they would excommunicate me and turn my soul over to Satan. 

They meant well, I’m sure. But they engaged in a form of spiritual abuse.

I walked away shaken, sad, angry, resolute. Nowadays I smile to think I have it on official church stationary: I am going to hell. Nevertheless, this has not endeared me to the folks who this month celebrate the birth of one they tout as the ultimate example of love and goodwill. 

Once I was one of them. Growing up I believed my fellow church members and I had the inside track on salvation, VIP passes to heaven. We were the only ones who had our theology right. All other other religions, all other Protestant denominations, certainly all Catholics, could go to hell. Would go to hell. Were headed for eternal damnation unless they believed the same way we did. In this I bought my church's teaching hook, line and sinker. 

Surety of salvation helped me feel safe and certain, let me make sense of my world. When I was teased and bullied, I told myself I was suffering for my faith (not for being a sissy or an arrogant prick). I wasn't tempted to lust after girls; I was a good Christian. I was headed for heaven. I knew I therefore couldn't be Catholic, Communist or homosexual. I suppressed, repressed and denied any leanings towards liturgy, socially-engineered equality and Kevin Carlson's legs. I had no idea what went on in the Catholic church across town, but I could almost smell the sulphur the few times I passed their white clapboard building.

Soon after I turned 20, I made friends with a Catholic priest. This felt daring. He was 50, funny and a bit dangerous. (He openly admitted to being a Democrat.) Thirty-plus years later, he remains my link to organized religion. Not long ago he led a weekend retreat for about a dozen men. I was one of them. 

Sunday morning he celebrated mass with us, Catholics and non-Catholics alike. He kept up a running commentary on various components of the service. We watched as he poured wine into a chalice, then added water. "The poor never drink their wine straight," he said. "They can't afford it. The church honors the poor each time mass is said." 

He prayed over the communion wafers, then passed them around the circle. "This is the bread. It represents the blessings of the week, the blessings of life." One man after another took a sip from the goblet, then wiped its rim with a soft white cloth. "Let us pray for each one as he receives the wine, for this is a bitter cup,” the priest said. I appreciated the timing of his comment. The man then reaching for the goblet had told us he is reeling from a bitter divorce, serious physical ailments and job loss.

In lieu of a formal homily (that’s Catholic for “sermon”), we split into small groups and discussed our relationship with the church. I said I had reached out my hand to organized religion only to have it cut it off. My priest friend nodded. “You gave them a hand," he said. “I’d give them the finger.”

In that spirit, perhaps even with his blessing, let me wish you a merry effin' Christmas.

Photo credit: rubenshito,

01 November 2013

Maybe we are all we're cracked up to be

In the beginning (so the story goes), God rolled herself into an enormous disco ball, then hurled herself out of heaven and down into the known universe. Crash, smack, boom! (Call it the Big Bang if you will.) God broke into a gazillion pieces. “Let the dance begin,” she said, and it did. Some of the mirror shards became stars, some people, plants, mountains, mosquitoes. Others became lakes and oceans, trees and turnips.

In a world made of mirrors I often see myself reflected in others. Just now I catch sight of myself in a college-aged Narcissus. Little wisp of a thing, a handful of good intentions held together by a smile. Wide-eyed innocence pasted together of rose petals and dahlia blossoms. I judge him beautiful, naive and gay; I guess him unaware on all three counts. 

He sets my gaydar off. To clanging. Something about his soft  gentle physical presence screams “Y-M-C-A.” Never mind the willowy girlfriend clinging to his arm. Wishful thinking. I see in him my former self—my repressed, sublimated, clueless, closeted youthful self. You have a long road ahead of you, young man.

My husband Dave and I are serving as volunteer staff at a conference for students from my alma mater, a conservative evangelical Christian college that gives new meaning to the word “conservative.” Last fall, after 166 years of outlawing the practice, the university amended its rules to allow students to engage in social dancing—on a limited basis. The school is equally forward-thinking on LGBT matters. In my eight years there as student and later as staff member, I found zero tolerance and acceptance of LGBT people. I doubt they’ve changed their stance.

Dave engages Narcissus in conversation. I keep my distance, listen in as Dave asks him where he’s from, the name of the town. “What's your major?" 

"Christian Education," Narcissus says. He plans to go into the ministry. 

Gay, gay, gay.

I listen to them talk about Dave's career path. Dave doesn't at first reveal that he is an ordained minister of many years standing; instead, he says he graduated with a social work major, though never worked as a social worker. Dave attended a nearby sister school—small, very Christian—then seminary. 

"Oh, you went straight on through." 

“No,” Dave says. “I went into military service, then did some other things before enrolling in seminary.” He served in the Air Force, he says, his choice to avoid being drafted into the Army. Couldn't see himself killing Vietnamese people. He signed on as a medic and was put into data automation for two years, then another two in drug rehab for troops returning from the front with addiction issues. 

"I've thought about going into the military," says the earnest young man. "My father and grandfather were military men." 

Child, they would eat you alive.

It comes out that Dave pastored, then used his listening skills and other social work training in his role as chaplain with hospice for 25 years. They talk briefly about the role of listening. 

Dave offers priceless advice. I hope Narcissus can hear it. "When I was in the pastorate, I learned people didn't care about my theology, or all the book learning I had from seminary. They wanted someone to listen to them, to hear where they were at, what they were struggling with.”

Do you hear him, eager-sincere-clueless youth? When people are hurting they want you to be real, to give of your true self; they don’t care what you know, how closely you subscribe to doctrine. They want you to be the mirror of the divine, reflect their own divinity back to themselves. Look in the mirror, dear. See who you are. Know that what you have to offer others begins there.


Photo credit: 

01 October 2013

Life is a Movie, Not a Snapshot

film reel with caption Your Life

“No! Stop! Tom! Don’t sit down! Tom!”

The yells of my fellow audience members roused me from my reverie. Wedged against a wall, I’d drifted off whilst our speaker wrassled his computer and fritzing audiovisual equipment. More than 20 of us amateur genealogists had crowded into a small classroom to learn how to digitize old family photos and other media.

 Tom, a graybeard of ample girth, had begun his presentation in a booming authoritative voice. “Now, if any of you inherited the cache of family movies as I did, you know that not everyone adopted the 32 mm standard at the same time. Film comes in various sizes. Same is true of other media.”

 I wondered if he was going to suggest we run old family films through a scanner one frame at a time. (He didn’t.) He moved onto other subjects but soon instructional technology failed him. First to go was the overhead projector, then the scanner, then his computer. During the down time I pondered an analogy I’d heard long ago, how life is much more like a movie than an individual photograph.

 Movies, of course, consist of a series of single still-frame shots presented one after another in such rapid succession that boundaries blur and we see the disparate frames as a unified whole. Wander into a film half-way through and hit the pause button or isolate a given frame, snip it out with scissors and project it onto a screen, and you’ll have trouble making sense of what you see.

 Who are these people? What is their relationship? Where are they? What are they doing?

 Hard telling.

 And yet we do tell every day. I do, anyway. “Damn fool!” I shout after the reckless motorist who passes me on a hill. With two words I sum up his driving ability, regard for others, value to society, dim prospects for long life here and hereafter. Or I ascribe undeserved power to troubling life circumstances: “This is it. This is who I am," I mutter. "Nothing will ever change.”

 Yet I err when I take life out of context—mine or someone else’s—when I focus on a single frame and say, “this moment is the entire story.” Life is a movie. There's always more to consider, see, puzzle over. Every moment is part of a larger story. Not until it's over sometimes do I make sense of the play, movie, song, book, life. Not always then.

 As I mulled these thoughts over I heard our presenter threaten to take his computer out to the sidewalk and drop it on end a few times. “It’s made me look like an ass,” he said. The scanner had stopped working the very moment he’d unveiled his pièce de résitance, an image his grandfather had captured on a Civil War-era glass plate negative. He’d meant to demonstrate how to scan such images. When he’d laid the rectangle of glass on the scanner bed he’d gotten no response from the machine. Gingerly, he removed the glass plate to his chair's seat cushion, then rattled scanner cables, pressed buttons, poked around. Next the computer quit on him. More invectives. At last he rebooted the demon and voilà, victory was his.

 Triumphant, he went to take his seat, begin anew. The room erupted in warning shouts.

 “Tom! Stop! No! Don’t sit down! Wait!”

 He froze midair, his ample buttocks three inches and a half-second from landing on the antique glass negative.

 A collective sigh of relief went up even as some wag broke the tension with a stage whisper, “that negative would have had one big crack on it.”

My crib notes from class: Watch the big picture. Don’t overlook the individual frame. Crack jokes.

01 September 2013

Everybody's Looking for Something

[August 2013]

My husband Dave and I were at a friend’s this last weekend for a pot-luck dinner. I was much taken by the paintings on his walls. Especially one fine art print of a gorgeous young man stretched out asleep along a riverbank. A water nymph stares at him, transfixed. I was staring, too, just as entranced. Hot men have that effect on me.

I learn his name is Hylas, a Greek youth famed for his beauty. For a striking face set off by locks of curly hair. The über-butch hero Heracles (or in Latin, Hercules) falls in love with him right off, asks him to go off and make a life with him. They set sail on the Argos for the adventure of their lives. The ship stops at Mysia. Hylas wanders off in search of a drink, a bath, a little R&R. But the water nymphs—the hidden powers of that place—catch sight of him, catch hold of him and never let him go. Hylas disappears without a trace.

Heracles is grief-stricken, angry, at wits end. He searches long and hard for his lover, but Hylas is nowhere to be found.

It's an old story. And one that's as current as today's news. 

Many of us in the LGBT community grow up in less-than-accepting, welcoming or nurturing surroundings. We're socialized to avoid contact with others like ourselves. Taught to run from rather than support and befriend one another. Anything that offers a sense of belonging, that eases the emptiness we feel inside can appear very compelling. And so crystal meth, crack, other drugs of choice,  alcohol abuse and other self-destructive behaviors become a way of life for many gay people.

How are we to respond?

Several years ago I received a phone call . A friend of mine worried about a friend of his, a young gay man running wild and headed for trouble. What could I do but listen. And write down the thoughts it stirred up.

This, then, from back then:

[September 2009]


From what I am told, I map the geography of his upper body. A faint trail leads southward from the oasis of navel. Northward, the ridge line runs through a ripple of abs to where well-defined pecs rise up, capped by 
salmon-brown peaks of aureole and nipple.

Strong neck, square jaw, stubbled chin. Lips full in the flower of youth. Dusting of mustache, unapologetic nose, blue blue eyes. Windblown bangs drift across his forehead. 

What in his upbringing could prepare him to fathom his own beauty?

He recently came out to himself after growing up in a conservative, homophobic religious tradition. His rugged good looks and generous endowment garner attention, praise, devotion. Heady stuff, I imagine, for one who spent years denigrating himself and his “sinful” desires.

He has thrown himself into the gay sexual scene with abandon. He supplements sensual exploration with heavy drug use. He regularly engages in barebacking and other unsafe sexual practices.

“I suppose I should get tested,” he says and laughs. His voice tone says he has no such intention. His behavior says he wants it all, wants it now, wants it no holds barred. No time to think, no time to consider. Take, taste, feel, feel, FEEL.

In his poem Syringe, Jim Wise describes

The stunning blond god,
His muscles straining against
The taut flesh of a body he
Was just learning to enjoy.

The godlike youth in Wise’s poem employs sex as a means of getting heroin into his system. He strips sex of its potential for celebration, emotional connection, a sense of being present to another human being. 
People make such choices. So do gods. I feel sad when I tot up the costs.

What the gay youth, so recently out, seeks in his headlong rush, I don’t know. To heighten sensation? Numb the pain of losses incurred in coming out? Blot out the confusion of so many new choices? I doubt that he knows himself.
I cannot condone his choices, yet I recognize the wild eruption of feeling, the recklessness, the sense that the shackles have been thrown off and anything goes. I felt a similar rush in my own coming out journey.

Yet behavior has consequences, understood or not. And desire exerts a powerful pull. The (gay) poet Cavafy observes (in this translation from the Greek)

He swears every now and then to begin a better life,
But when night comes with its own counsel,
Its own compromises and prospects—
When night comes with its own power
Of a body that needs and demands,
He goes back, lost, to the same fatal pleasure.

So what of the rest of us?

In coming out I encountered men who shepherded me, acted as mentors, offered sage advice, modeled appropriate behaviors. I also found men who stood ready to take advantage of my naiveté [ nigh – eve – eh – TAY ]. While I learned something from both sets of men, I have maintained friendships with only one group.

We do others a favor, and bless ourselves and our entire community, when we treat each other with respect and genuine regard. We can celebrate the body electric—the body erotic, the body taut with pleasure and discovery of its own sexiness—in a way that honors the sacredness of all life, affirms the expression of our sexual selves, and builds community at the same time. Genuine connection, genuine community is hard work. It doesn’t happen easily. And by god, is it ever worth it.

[August 2013]

Back to the present. My heart sank when I heard the news. 

The young gay man, the blond god I'd written about, died suddenly. Tragically. Recently.

A car accident. "Accident?" Wish fulfillment? Disregard for life?   Under the influence? So many questions. So much grief. Such a loss.

Hylas taken from us so soon, so suddenly. 

After his lover's death, Heracles went on to do—well—Herculean deeds: slaying monsters, winning fabled prizes, going to hell and back . . . tasks that make the long labor-intensive work of building community look somehow do-able. 

May we who survive each do our part to care for ourselves and those around us. May we reach out— and reach within—to find the strength required for keeping on. May we share that with each other.

01 August 2013

Ding-Dong! DOMA’s Dead (and I feel—well, butch)

Everywhere I turned this spring, opinions on gay marriage smacked me in the kisser—letters to the editor of our local paper, in the blogosphere, on the radio, at the water cooler, in line at the grocery. The possibility the Supreme Court would allow gay marriage nationwide set people talking, thinking, haranguing. The published ruling has done little to quell the fervor. 

While the high court did strike down a key provision of The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the justices punted on gay marriage, throwing the matter back to the states. Here in Indiana our governor supports legislative efforts to enshrine anti-marriage equality language in the constitution.

Nationally, the debate over gay marriage might well be a football game: opposing teams, all muscle and meanness, ready to knock the other down. The ball kicked around, thrown from one player to another. Points scored, ground gained and lost. How butch. Whole lot of shouting, impassioned emotions, media frenzy. Gives people something to talk about anyway. 

I’ve done more than run my mouth. My husband and I married in Ontario, Canada in 2005. I resent hearing our wedding referred to as “a so-called gay marriage.” I detest our relationship being treated as a plaything, an object of examination and discussion on the state and national stage, strangers setting themselves up as authorities on the merits of our loving, debating our worthiness, deciding whether or not we should be allowed to marry whom we love.

It rings all too familiar. My coming out in 1995 signaled the end of my marriage to a woman and the beginning of a long child custody battle. From a ringside seat in the courtroom, I listened as a parade of experts questioned my integrity and motives, testified gay people have no business being parents, warned of dire consequences were I to be granted prolonged contact with my children. 

No ruling by any court defines who I am on the inside. I knew this then as I do now. But as I have learned by experience, legal decisions pack a wallop. In my case, the county court restricted contact with my children, limited what I could say to them, where we could go, what we could do, whom they could meet. I appealed. The appellate court ruled the state had a compelling interest in protecting my children against the dangers I posed as an out gay father. 

I remained under court order not to use the word “gay” around my children, not to discuss sexuality with them. Other people in my sons’ lives operated under no such restriction. My children told me they listened to cassette tapes from a Religious Right organization vehemently opposed to gay persons. 

“Dad, what you are doing is not right,” my youngest son said. “You’re going to hell.”

Before long, my eldest (then age 10) refused to have anything to do with me. At 14, my twins sons told a judge they were distressed over my homosexuality. They obtained a restraining order preventing me from visiting. I haven’t seen them since. My children are now ages 25, 22 and 22. Talk about the long arm of the law.

And now the Supreme Court has punted on gay marriage. But they gave proponents of marriage equality great field position. And from the sounds of it, the game is not over yet.

No matter how it plays out, this won't change: Gay or not, a person’s true worth, dignity and intrinsic value does not depend on any ruling by any court. Straight or gender variant, Muslim or Jew, diehard Southern Baptist or radical faerie, rich or poor, conventional or way out there—we are all human and deserve humane treatment. 

Will we get it? Will we give it? It's first and ten.

This essay appeared in the August issue of The Community Letter
illustration courtesy,

01 July 2013

A prayer to the god of new beginnings

True to its deep nature, again this spring the world burst into bloom all around the farmhouse where Dave and I live. A small woods borders our house on two sides. In drear months we see the houses north of us. Come spring, however, the trees begin to green. First, soft yellow-green fuzz and a smattering of sea foam on the woodland floor. Then we go to bed on one night and wake up to windows shuttered with leaves a hundred shades of green. Bye, bye, neighbors. See you in November.

Meanwhile, we feast our eyes on an ever-changing array of color. My retiree husband has a green thumb. (Mine’s flame orange; I manage to kill even cacti.) Dave has fashioned garden spots across our yard, filled each bed with perennials that bloom variously throughout the growing season. Something flowers from early spring to late fall. Weekdays, if the weather is decent, we lunch outside when I come home over the noon hour.

June 6 this year marked the thirtieth anniversary of my wedding a woman, and the start of a long chain of events set in motion by this decision. My mood was somber, my thoughts heavy that Thursday through the egg salad sandwiches, carrot and celery sticks, and chocolate cake Dave had prepared. Our shared meal over, I nosed the car onto the road. A moment later I braked, stopped waving goodbye and instead beckoned for Dave to come look. Smack dab in the middle of the road stood two newborn fawns. Little dinky things, no bigger than a minute. Brown and caramel-colored, their sides dotted with rows of white. Spindly legs, big eyes and ears. Their mother stood at attention on the other side of our farm gate, head held high, ears forward.

I watched a long while, then eased the car forward; I had to get back to work. The twin fawns ran toward the gate. One edged up alongside the fence; the other panicked and stopped in the clear, threw its legs akimbo and tried to bury its nose in the dirt. I slid by, marveling all the while. One can live long in such moments, witness to wonder.

So. When I went out to feed the chickens the other morning I found two sparrow hatchlings fluttering against a windowpane in the barn. Their parents had made a nest in the rafters near the poultry quarters. These young’ns had tried their wings, knew enough to want the blue freedom of sky, but hadn’t mastered the trick of flying up to the opening at the top of the window frame. I thought they might scatter at my approach, but they they stayed put. I raised the glass. One immediately flew out and perched on a low branch. The other beat against the pane even as it lifted. Exhausted, the little bird finally dropped to the sill, found open the way of escape. It landed on the ground in the tall grass. I listened to the two of them twittering.

I breathed a prayer to the god of headlong flight and new beginnings. “May you fare well,” I said aloud and thought of the dozen or more gay men whose coming out I have been privileged to witness. For me, there is no moment so holy, no movement so fraught with portent as when one is coming in/out to oneself, saying “yes” to what is, to life, to wholeness and being. Facing the unknown, answering a call deep within, no guarantee of success, but a decision nonetheless to live true, real.

May we all be so brave and responsive. May we all in season answer the call to burst forth, wobble, run, spread wings, perhaps even fly.

This essay appears in the July issue of The Community Letter
Photo credit:

01 June 2013

Pride Day in the Midwest: Absolutely divine

Getting to Pride this year took some doing for my husband Dave and me. A late-late-night drive home after a school reunion hours north on Friday, an early morning, then the hour-and-a-half drive south on Saturday. The parade had already kicked off when we arrived. We criss-crossed streets to head it off at the pass, catch as much as we could. 

What's the deal with Pride, anyway? Sure, I go because we are F-A-M-I-L-Y and this is our statewide reunion. And you betcha, I go to drool over the sexy men. But more, I go looking for God at Pride. Really. Or almost really.

Earth’s crammed with heaven, says the poet, and I suspect she’s right. You can run into the holy most anywhere. Some people claim to find the ineffable in church, others in nature, in an empty bottle, a hot body. A box. Many places.

Me, I see the divine at work in the union of opposites. In the allegedly impossible flight of the bumblebee. Every year in the turn of seasons—even as the world dies a wintry death, new life springs forth. In moments so beautiful, so perfect, they hurt. Times when love means everything and nothing at the same time. When what looks to be an ending proves a beginning. It’s an old old story. The god dies; the god lives; in dying the god lives forever. Blessed be.

Not knowing any different, I intuited my coming out gay as a holy moment, imagined I was standing on sacred ground. Looking back now, I think if ever I lived in the tension of paradox it was then. I was 34, 35 years old at the time, yet I was newborn. It was all over for me; it was only getting started. One day I was exuberant; the next, ready to kill myself. My life was falling apart around me even as it was at last coming together. It was nothing I had done, yet my wife, church, friends, parents, colleagues pointed (or flipped) the finger at me, said it was all my selfish fault.

It was a crazy mixed-up time. Nothing made sense, or if one thing did, it was that nothing does. I caught a glimpse of the big picture with all the clarity of one going over a cliff; what I saw was my feeble attempts at orchestrating life made the least sense of all. Says Annie Dillard, “we are most deeply asleep at the switch when we fancy we control any switches at all."

Oy. I so often reduce people, issues and situations to a series of toggle switches. On or off. This or that. Night or day. Male, female. Gay, straight. Yes, no; us, them; right, wrong. Hot, not. Every once in a while I wake up to what I’m doing and remember earth’s crammed with paradox. Life’s less an either/or proposition, more a both/and.

Both/And? Damn. If it were up to me, I’d have some moments last forever, others I’d squish between my fingers and rub out of existence. Same with people. To embrace the whole of life is to embrace both pleasure and pain, longing and fulfillment, love and loss. And who can do that?

Yet the mystery of life drags us in this very direction. All is one. Mitakuye oyasin. We’re all related, all one family, all one flesh, all one single metaphysical truth.

Across the globe this month, LGBT persons and their allies celebrate what it means to be gay at this present moment, honor those who have come before, look ahead to what is to come. They gather to march and demonstrate, party and celebrate. In a very public way. With joyous abandon. In over the top display.

Pride celebrations bring together people from across the LGBTIQ alphabet soup spectrum, uniting opposites and in-betweens in one glorious if all too short-lived spectacle. I took in the Pride festivities in our Midwest state capital this year and gaped slack-jawed at the creativity, daring and diversity of our community. I marveled at the sheer number of people present. Where do they come from? Where will they disappear to? Like me, many returned to small towns and regular jobs, to lives of quiet courage, to being themselves in a less-than-embracing world.

We are family, and for one full fabulous day this June I experienced it. I embraced the walking contradictions all around and within me. And in the paradox of their being one —our being one—I glimpsed the divine. Such sightings sustain. The flags furled, music silent, the crowds gone home, Dave and I were almost home. As we drove up our country road, ankle-high corn in the field to our left, beans popping up to our right, he turned to me and said, "you know, after spending the day at Pride, I feel less lonely."

Photo credit: Ryan Ready (rufin_ready at
A condensed version of this essay appeared in the June issue of The Community Letter

01 May 2013

An Open Letter to My Friend on His Being Outed

Dear one,
I grew up on the farm and was this unschooled: I didn’t know a post-pubescent boy needed to bathe every day in order to be welcomed in polite society. You pulled me aside and had a talk with me about the matter. You were kind, nonjudgmental, and to the point. “We must accommodate to our surroundings,” you said, and excused me to go take a shower. My face burned as I left. 
Although you taught me, mentored me, worked with me over the next few years, we never spoke of this incident again. We discussed many other subjects. I’d ask a question; you’d pause and take a breath as if the matter required oxygenated thought. Then you’d twist your mouth a little to the side and deliver a considered, witty, impassioned response with the kind of nervous energy that characterized everything you did. You were an odd duck. Bold wardrobe choices, fussy personality, fluttery hand movements. Mannerisms today I’d describe as “queeny.” 
Thing is, I think we were more alike than either one of us wanted to know. I think we were both striving mightily to remain unaware of our sexual orientation. I moved away, eventually married. You sent a gift when my first child arrived. We stayed in touch, saw each other every once in a while. I found reasons to ask your help on various projects.
Once, after telling me a good friend of yours is gay, you made a statement that struck me as peculiar: “Of course, I’m always very careful whenever I’m around him and we’re alone.” I gave it little thought at the time. Now it seems telling.
When I came out as a gay man, I was kicked out of my church, marriage, job. No place for me in polite society. You and many other former friends were conspicuous by your absence.
I have my own theory about why you were silent. I’d love for you to correct me if I’m wrong. Here’s my take on it: like me, you grew up in a society and religious milieu that taught gay persons were criminal, depraved, sinful creatures who’d crawled out of some black lagoon. Like me, you repressed and suppressed same-sex attractions. Like me, you turned to church and religion as salve and salvation. Like me, you kept it all out of sight, out of mind until the day you couldn’t do it any more. Like me, you took tentative steps toward learning more, leaning further into territory you’d always considered forbidden. 
And then you were found out. 
Way I heard it, you left incriminating images open on your office computer. The cleaning crew spotted them, reported you. You’d long worked for a church-related organization, very religious, very conservative, very small town. 
“We don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’re going to do something,” your employer said. This on a Friday. You had the weekend to think about it. You knew well enough what would happen—you’d lose your job, marriage, church, friends, your standing in the community. 
You didn’t show up for work on Monday.
They tell me there is a moment of euphoria as a person drowns, when all is bliss and joy. I hope you found it. I hope you experienced relief and release. I hope you relaxed into one long moment when all was well, you were acceptable, had nothing to hide, no one to hide from, no one to harm you. 
From a pew at your funeral,  I listened as the preacher said, “We don’t know why he chose to take his own life.” 
I wanted to stand up and shout, “The hell we don’t!” But I kept mum. _We must accommodate to our surroundings._
I used to believe the coming out process, though painful, ultimately liberates. Your fate is not my idea of freedom, your baptism not my preferred mode of salvation.

This letter appeared in the May issue of The Community Letter
photo credit: Ephemeral Scraps at

01 April 2013


Had you even turned 20, Andrew, before you took to heart your church’s teachings on same-sex attraction? Before you took the rope in hand, snaked it up and over the beam, slipped the knotted noose around your neck? What could you know of death, of life? 

Researchers say that for many people, five minutes or less pass between their making the decision to end it all and making the attempt. Was yours a snap decision, made when you learned your mother had discovered your secret? Or had you been toying with the idea of suicide all along? I can imagine you worrying it like a loose tooth, pushing it back and forth in your mind as I did, weighing its merits as a way of reconciling your being gay with your strongly held religious beliefs.

Seductive, the idea that death would end the pain and torment, free you from never being good enough, from knowing that who you were at the very deepest level was flawed, dirty, sick, beyond redemption. Not that you didn’t try. Not that you didn’t pray. Not that you didn’t fast and flagellate yourself and exercise all you knew of faith. But God did not answer your prayers, relieve your suffering or take away your persistent attractions. And you got the message in countless ways from parents and peers, church and society, that same-sex desire is wrong, shameful, depraved. 

You learned to make the hangman’s noose in Royal Ambassadors, the Southern Baptist knock-off of the Boy Scouts. Did you approach knot-tying with the same fervor you brought to religion? Did you do it well enough that yours was a quick death? From what I read, it’s easy to bungle hanging oneself. The resultant death by strangulation can be excruciating. Three months ago in Oregon an openly gay 15-year-old who'd complained of being bullied hung himself on the school playground. He died two weeks later, after being taken off life support. I can’t imagine his parents’ pain. Nor his. Nor yours.

I remember mine. Morning of my 35th birthday I wrote a suicide note to my wife and young sons. I had a plan. Had tested it. Knew it would work. I’d had all I could take. Believed my death would be best for my wife and children. Soon as they left for town, I was going to take my leave, as well. Like you, I could in no way reconcile my religious beliefs with who I had discovered myself to be.

You directed your last prayer heavenward. “What did I do that was so wrong?” you cried in anguish, tears wetting your face. “Why can’t you love me?” Then you turned and took up the long white rope.

Although I didn't see you die, I did hear your mother's scream when she found your body. The entire theatre audience did. Many of us sat there in silence, stunned. Some of us wiped our eyes. We grieved your death—you who only ever lived in our imaginations. 

You’re a fictional character, Andrew. In a play. You die every time Dell Shore’s Southern Baptist Sissies is presented. Though you’re a work of fiction, you’re an all too real stand-in for LGBTQ youth across this country, across this world, who every day face disparaging messages from friends, family, religious systems and societal institutions.

Suicide isn’t the answer. Killing yourself resolves nothing. If it’s death we need, it’s the death of small thinking, entrenched prejudice, bigotry and hatred. And it’s happening all around us, due to quite natural causes. Even conservative pundit George Will sees it. “Quite literally, the opposition to gay marriage is dying,” he told ABC television’s “This Week.” “It’s old people.” 

Younger people support gay and lesbian equality in far greater numbers than do their elders. Change is coming, Andrew. A new wind is blowing. I wish you were here to experience it.

This essay appeared in the April issue of The Community Letter

01 March 2013


My dear woman,

You can't imagine the excitement with which your coming out letter was read aloud in our house. Or maybe you can, you who received the cheers of your church youth group when they got the news. We're excited. Not because there's strength in numbers (there is) and one more lgbtiq person has joined the family (you have), but because the benefits of your living out of self-awareness are many, and we’ll all feel them: you, your immediate family, these two uncles of yours, those in your circles of influence.

May you go far. I spent years flailing in repression and denial, trying to move forward through life. I might as well have been swimming the 100-meter breast stroke in mud. How much further and faster you’ll progress buoyed by self-awareness and self-knowledge, carried forward by a societal current moving towards inclusion. The impact of the decisions you'll make, of the support, advocacy, love and nurturing you'll offer the world will be amplified many times over. 

Holy ground, this coming out. Sacred space, the paths by which we come to know ourselves and share who we are—the stuff we are made of—with others.

Not that being aware, not that being out will free you from hardship, heartache, despair. Life will bring these your way no matter what. But you will be better prepared to meet the challenges head-on, with eyes open.

Your coming out reminds me how far we as a society have progressed and how far we have to go. I was 35 when I came out. In 1995, 22 states had laws on the book that made of us criminals, that defined our expressions of physical intimacy as illegal acts. Mainline religious bodies condemned us to hell. True, the American Psychological Association had removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses while I was in high school, yet my wife readily secured the services of a counselor with a reputation for turning gay men straight, and a medical practitioner who claimed to be able to do the same. Didn’t work.

Soon after I came out to my best friend, he approached the president of the small evangelical Christian liberal arts university where I was employed. “Did you know you have a gay man on your staff?” my friend asked.

“Stop right there,” said the college president. “I don’t want to hear any more.” I was grateful for his unwillingness to discuss the matter. 

Yet look who’s talking now.

Two days before your letter arrived in our mailbox, the president of these United States referenced the gay rights movement in his second inaugural address. He enfolded it into the larger American story of the struggle for human rights, referencing in one breath Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall. President Obama rattled some cages when he said, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law; for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

To hear our struggle given voice, our journey made visible, our lives accorded value, all from so elevated a platform—what a launching pad for your coming out. You’ll not be swimming in mud, girl.

All the same, you’ll face some people who will sling dirt your way. Last night, on a long drive home, your Uncle Dave flipped through radio channels. He listened in on a long harrangue about the evils of homosexuality and the subversive influence of gay people. Such voices still pepper our airwaves. May their words not lodge in your heart.

By countless acts of courage and resolve—undertaken in love, anger, sorrow and joy—lgbt pioneers made it possible for all of us who have followed to witness and work for an ever-rising tide of acceptance and appreciation, to continue to call for change. I’m so excited to cheer you on in this journey, to wonder what chapters you and your generation will add to this ongoing story. With your coming out letter you’ve turned the first page.

With love to you, from your

Uncle Bryn