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Archive for the ‘family’ Category

Over at Facebook I have many different types of friends (like 2200 friends) and of course they have friends who represent many perspectives. Today on a friend’s wall posting about wearing purple in support of LGBT youth two straight folks raised objectives revealing that they felt “bullied” into showing support of gay kids. In frustration one of them said, “We need to have a Heterosexual Pride Parade.” The other agreedMr. & Mrs. Salt & Pepper.

Now I know a lot of straight people. Some of my best friends are heterosexual. In fact, I come from a distinctly heterosexual family that I love. I know that some straight folks feel put upon by all of the recent news about gay. lesbian and transgender suicides and bullying. “Why do we have to hear about THEM all the time?” Hmmmm. Welcome to my world where I constantly have to go out of my way to hear about anything other than straight lives.

Lately I have been thinking of the subtle powerful force of heterosexism, like high blood pressure, I consider it the “silent killer” insistent and constant in its messaging that heterosexuality is NORMAL, the idealized norm, what everyone is expected to be, an identity that is celebrated, rewarded and represented to the exclusion of all others.

Like a low-grade fever or undetected high blood pressure, non-straight, non-gender normative people live with a steady barrage of pro-heterosexual messages mixed in with anti-LGBT messages. Even in US states where they offer “gay marriage” everyone knows it is not the same as a straight marriage because of the federal protections granted to heterosexual couples and denied to all others. But beyond the legal protections or lack of protections in the household, on the job and elsewhere, we get a deluge of pro-straight messages in pop songs, commercials, movies, religious ceremonies, proms–shoot even salt and pepper shakers! I know that there is a growing movement to include LGBT lives and voices in the media and on the agenda of the board of education, but it’s spotty at best and is often drowned out by the heterosexism that exists in almost every encounter silly and sublime.

Here’s an example of straight pride & privilege.

Marueen says, “My husband Bill & I got together w/ our two daughters & their husbands to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary and Cindy & Todd’s first baby. At church the pastor said a blessing over the family & we recommitted our vows.”

And everyone says, “Oh, that is so nice.” And it is and there are gifts and cards and photos and public sharing on Facebook and beyond revealing pride and affirmation and celebration of Bill & Maureen’s successful heterosexuality.

Of course most don’t think of Maureen & Bill expressing “Heterosexual Pride.”

It’s just “normal.”

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The program leaders at Love in Action (LIA) and in all the other ex-gay programs I attended (along with the counselors I saw and authors of the ex-gay books I read) believed in a development model leading to homosexual desire and activity. Although each ex-gay therapist or minister used different and methods often contrary to each other, they universally agreed that boys became gay because of an “overbearing mother and an emotionally or physically absent dad.” In addition, they taught that sexual abuse contributed to same-sex attractions.

In LIA and elsewhere, the leadership made us create a mythology about ourselves based on the developmental template they placed before us. By mixing psycho-babble, scripture, and language from the AA 12-Step program, they constantly reinforced their authority over us. When any of us questioned the template they provided by stating our lives did not fit it, they insisted that we needed to look more deeply. They warned us, that as “addicts,” it was in our nature to deceive ourselves and minimize not only the consequences of our actions but also the causes.

Adhering to the belief that our parents failed us, the LIA program leaders then served as surrogate parents who attempted to undo the damage inflicted by our actual parents. During The Family and Friends Weekend, they not only confronted each participant with their development theories, they also pushed parents to admit that their child’s faulty development stemmed from a dysfunctional family structure.

The program buttressed the their teaching with the belief that everyone lives in a flawed sinful state. By being flawed and sinful parents, the program leaders reasoned that our folks ended up harming their own offspring. “Sin begets sin.” The staff then endeavored to lead the families in a corporate confession which included fathers of program participants confessing the ways they had ceded leadership to their wives. The Family and Friends Weekend thus operated under the notion that only by returning to the God-sanctioned patriarchy could the flawed son or daughter begin to experience success in divorcing themselves from homosexuality.

The Family and Friends Weekend created a climate of fear and shame, a toxic mix that made it difficult to think clearly. The environment placed us in a vulnerable state where we looked to the program leaders as authorities to lead us out of the mess stemming from our sinful nature and poor choices. When any parent or loved one questioned the teachings, program leaders responded with program jargon, scripture or pseudo-psychological language. The leaders stood as the final authority, almost as Gnostics who had come to the place of hidden knowledge. They then attempted to share that knowledge with those of us still darkened by ignorance and inner rebellion.

I only learned years later that my parents experienced deep personal distress as a result of their first Family and Friends Weekend. My sister told me that for the first two weeks after they returned home, “there was something wrong with Mom and Dad.” They seemed depressed and spoke little. It even affected their appetite. She said it was like a light had gone out in them. She felt so concerned that she called the LIA office and demanded, “What did you do to my parents?” LIA never followed up.

Years later when I told one of the LIA leaders who had been part of that weekend about my parents’ distress and how it resulted in years of self-doubts and emotional upheaval, he responded with program jargon and put the blame back on my parents by stating, “Healthy people ask for what they need.” He suggested that since my parents were not healthy to begin with, they didn’t know how to seek the help they needed.

By constantly turning the blame around and pointing to the flawed nature in each one of us, the program leaders chronically avoid responsibility for the unethical and harmful practices and theories they promote and provide. I do not know if the current staff of Love in Action still forces parents and participants through the shameful and harmful steps of The Family and Friends Weekend. If they genuinely care for people and about pastoral care, I invite them to listen to some of our stories to reconsider their methods before they do more harm.

See a video about The Family & Friends Weekend.
Read an article at Beyond Ex-Gay.

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For the past few days I´ve been thinking about a funny moment in my childhood that I am trying to capture in words. In my poem I reference Necco wafers. This particular candy we ate a lot when we were little. According to Necco´s website, Necco Assorted Wafers come in

eight pastel colors and flavors–Chocolate, lemon, lime, orange, clove, wintergreen, cinnamon, licorice

I never actually knew what the falvors were until today. You can learn more here.

Now that you know a little about Necco Wafers, I can share my poem.

Jesus in the Backseat

The noxious incense from her cigarette,
Mixed with the sweet smoky puffs from his pipe,
Envelops us inside the
Airtight car.

We return from pilgrimage,
From the
Hawaiian Fountain,
Where we celebrated mass
Consumption around the flaming
Pu Pu Platter.

We three kids
Sit in the backseat,
Cautiously placing Necco Wafers
On each other´s tongue,
As one intones–
The body of Christ.
The body of Christ.

We feel the chalky disc dissolve.

With our tongues extended,
Cradling the candied Christ,
We stammer back,
Amen.
Amen.

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Although I was born in Stamford, CT, our family moved to the Sullivan County Catskills when I was in first grade. I attended Narrowsburg Central Rural School, which educated about 300 students at a time from grades K-12. I graduated in 1983 with one of the LARGEST classes in Narrowsburg history with a whopping 36 people. I can’t tell you how special it felt (and at times constraining) to have virtually all of the same classmates throughout primary, middle and high school.

Last night I performed Homo No Mo to a very interesting audience of mostly straight people with the average age about 60. Not my typical demographic. Although they did not laugh as loud or often as most of my audiences, I could tell they listened deeply. Some of you who perform may understand how you can sense how an audience responds even when they remain quiet. I knew I did not have to rush, and indeed when I got to the scene where Chad has his breakdown over the loss of his brother, I heard sobbing in the theater.

Tonight we expect a packed house! The title The Re-Education of George W. Bush—No President Left Behind! sells the show and has brought me a whole new range of audience members who I have not previously seen at my “gay” shows.

A reporter from the local weekly paper, The Sullivan County Democrat interviewed me a few weeks ago at the Narrowsburg Roasters cafe. He took some photos including some of my dad reading and one of me talking (not a rare shot :-p). Ted Waddell’s piece should come out next week.

One of the other local weeklies, The River Reporter, did a short piece about me and my two plays. One man, one stage and a bevy of personalities. The interview felt like one of those public TV face to face with the artist sort of affair where they try to unearth the artist’s earliest roots.

“Growing up in Lake Huntington, the bus ride to school was at least 40 minutes each way. In order to entertain myself and my fellow riders, I created ‘The Peter Pumpkin Show,’ a variety show of sorts with multiple characters all played by me,” Toscano said of his first calling as a performer. “Here I was, a fourth grader captivating a high school audience. What power! What fun!”

The reporter also asked why I use comedy and how I became a character actor.

“Employing humor, as well as shape shifting to fit into different crowds, became a strategy to keep others from targeting me with insults or worse,” Toscano recalls. “Many oppressed minorities learn to take on multiple roles and characters in order to survive. Some of the finest one-person shows were created by people from oppressed groups, shows by Whoopi Goldberg, Lily Tomlin and John Leguizamo.”

For those of you who have seen Homo No Mo can only imagine how much fun it felt last night to perform the part of my dad with a room full of people who know and love him well, including my younger sister Maria, who saw the play for the first time last night. The charater of my dad proved to be the real crowd pleaser of the night. During the Q&A my dad even did his own stand up routine as he talked about his trip to the Homo No Mo Halfway House.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

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One of the number one key word searches that bring people to both my English and Spanish blogs has to do with questions from women who want/need to know what to do when they find out their husbands are gay. That or simply the question, How do I know if my husband is gay? Is my husband a homosexual?

I have a blog entry, My Gay Husband—A Spouse Speaks Out, (and a similar one in Spanish) which is my most visited entry. Women have added their own stories and questions in the comments section. Yesterday I received another comment that I want to share. Wives with similar experiences, feel free to offer whatever support you can over at the original thread. I feel at a loss as to what to say, but I have seen you comfort and support each other in marvelous ways.

Thank goodness I found this site. I have been married 38 years and I have asked my husband if he is gay or bi but he always said no. Two days ago I found out that he is and it explains so much. Of course I feel betrayed, that our marriage is a fraud and a sham. My sons are young adults now and I worry what they will think. At least I know the reason he always came to bed later and avoided any kind of affection and sex became non existent no matter how hard I tried. It seems that my whole adult life has crumbled into nothing. He was my first and only love..he promised to grow old with me, he gave me sons, the one person that I always trusted and thought never lied to me.

If you are currently living a lie like this with a woman, please, stop it now before you crush her completely. Do not let your selfishness hurt so many lives.

Just found out and words can’t express how devastated and alone I feel. There is no one that I can talk to as I do not want to tell our sons (he should do that) or his family, I do not want to hurt him by telling friends or coworkers. It is like a tsunami has come through my life without warning and destroyed my entire world.

One excellent resource is the Straight Spouse Network. I know some people have had problems getting a response from them, but I was told that they have since changed their protocol and say that they will respond to every e-mail they receive.

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Yesterday

Feeling weepy after reading Dan Savage’s column about his mom who died the other day, and then I saw a beautiful and heart wrenching movie called Yesterday.

Yesterday (Leleti Khumalo) lives in Rooihoek, a remote village in South Africa’s Zululand. Her everyday life is not easy—there’s little money, no modern conveniences, and her husband is away in Johannesburg working as a miner—but she possesses a sunny nature, and takes great joy in her seven-year-old daughter, Beauty (Lihle Mvelase).

The precarious balance of Yesterday’s life is suddenly threatened when she is diagnosed with AIDS and must journey afar to understand and confront her illness. Yesterday’s primary driving force is Beauty, who is a year away from starting school. Yesterday never had the chance to go to school and she sets her sights on a single goal: to be with Beauty on her first day of class, along with all the other proud mothers…

I am at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities and just happened upon the theater that happen to be showing the film for free to medical students and the general public. And now I am all weepy.

My mom was only nine when her mother died. She often said in her joking way, “You’ll only ever have one mother, so you’re going to have to put up with me.” It’s odd and wonderful how we carry the people we love with us. After my mother’s death in September 2006, I felt so much strength flow into me making me fearless. I miss her more than I can express, but I also feel close to her everyday.

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Over the weekend I got to thinking about some people I know who are partially out as LGBT. They have a few on-line friends who know they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and maybe one or two non-net friends who know. Many of the most significant people in their lives do not know. Perhaps that is the best way for them right now, but I have found that living too long like that can drain us of life.

As I prayed about that I wrote the following poem.

We speak riddles to ourselves,
proclaiming,
in whispers,
“I am OK”

But strapped to our backs
We bear a wardrobe,
the opposite of that portal to Narnia,
a closet that dumps us into a smaller world,
a cramped, musty place of shadows.

“I don’t want to upset my mother.”
“My brother will never understand.”
“No need to flaunt it.”
“It’s only a tiny
part of me.”

A part muffled in a velvet-lined padded valise,
Jammed in the back of a wardrobe,
besides dusty boxes of dreams and desires,
A place where we speak riddles to ourselves.

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