Category Archives: LGBT

Coming out: or mountains beyond mountains

Last week Barry Manilow publicly acknowledged that he was gay. I saw a lot of responses along the lines of “oh, that’s last weeks news” to “what is the big deal?”. There was a nice piece on the Boston Globe that addressed some of the issues around this response. And then I went on a twitter rant, and then I posted it on Facebook. But I wanted to put this some place that would be easier to find – and share – because this is part of a larger and ongoing conversation, just like coming out.

Door to education

This piece addresses coming out as a lifelong process. Often when people ask “when did you come out?” they are referring to the moment when a person acknowledged or affirmed their identity to themselves. Because once we admit it to ourselves, telling other people happens for the rest of our lives – particularly if we do not visually fit into a stereotype. If you aren’t familiar with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s work The Epistemology of the Closet I highly recommend learning more. She challenges the notion of the binary, especially the idea of in and out when it comes to the “closet” (there’s also the phenomenon of bringing people IN to your closet …).

There are various calculations we make every time we reveal that we are LGBTQIA. Here are the questions I ask myself, before I decide whether I will say something: Is my personal safety at stake? Is my reputation? What about my livelihood, my housing, my access to health care? How much power does this person have? Now imagine doing that times 325 million. If you are fairly well known, there is the added onus of the pressure to be a spokesperson or representative once you come out. I consider these things every time I meet someone new. Do you?

I’m lucky I live in a state with protections against discrimination for LGBTQIA people. I’m white (or white-passing), cisgendered, femme, female and educated. I have a lot of advantages. I don’t worry about losing my job or housing. Even with protections, like any form of discrimination, it’s easy to cover homophobia/bigotry if an employer wants to. I live in a big city with a lot of openly LGBTQIA people. I have access to resources. My family accepts and loves me – and my partner. I have a huge buffer and safety net. That’s not the case for many people.

I’ve said this before: my sexuality doesn’t DEFINE me, but it informs me, my experiences, and how people respond/interact. So does yours. I was watching a silly movie and one of the characters comes out to his friend. The friend’s response, “How do you know you are gay?” It’s stuff like this – the microagressions, that wear a person down. Constantly being questioned, having to defend, or be prepared to defend, that exhausts someone. Trust that we know. Coming out to strangers also opens you up to all kinds of personally invasive questions. I’ve had at least two men ask me how I have sex. WTF? Why do people think that kind of question is acceptable? If I didn’t share that information with you, you can trust that you don’t need to know.

I could talk about erasure, absence of representation, and bystander effect, all of which contribute to isolation and confusion. And people wonder why mental health and substance abuse issues are higher in LGBTQIA populations. So the next time a celebrity comes out, look around and see what you can do to make the world safer – not just for the celebrity, but for everyone, including the people in your life, because we are there. And we are here.

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Writing Queer Characters

There have been a lot of conversations in the last few years about diversity, inclusion, and representation in fiction. I have followed along with a lot of interest, in part because I want to see pieces of myself reflected in stories – whether queer, Jewish, female, identical twin, femme, tea drinker, you get the idea, etc.

For the purpose of this essay, I’m going to focus on representing sexuality that is non-heteronormative. If nothing is explicitly stated or said in the text, the reader will assume the characters are straight. (And white. And cisgendered.) The question for many writers who want to represent these characters, then, is how to describe or show their characters are queer without it feeling artificial to the reader.

There are two points I want to make here:

1. How to show a character is LGBT
2. How their sexuality relates to the plot

glowing dahlia

Showing the character is LGBT

You might be tempted to just state it directly. A friend allowed me to use this example from their WIP. Your protagonist enters a room and catalogs the people. They see your gay character, who they also know is gay. They say, “Clearly, Juan and Bob are in a relationship,” without giving any additional information. It’s clear to that character, but it’s not clear to the reader. What is it about any couple that indicates they are in a relationship? How do you show that to the reader? What if they were in an opposite-sex relationship? Without having the characters engage in sex, here are a couple of ways I could think off the top of my head: they wear matching wedding bands, they are holding hands, they mention how they met/their first date/their anniversary/their wedding in conversation.

Also, where they stand in relation to one another will tell the reader a lot about their relationship and/or personalities – are they close in private but won’t stand within five feet in public? Are there societal things that make that kind of behavior normal, or is that just the personality of the characters (could be both).

Finally, the attitudes towards the queer characters will tell the reader a lot about the society in your book. Are all forms of sexual orientation equally valued? Are some accepted and others not? This will inform how your characters behave in public versus private, and an individual character’s opinion and judgment about those characters will tell the reader a lot about them.
Last weekend I went to a restaurant for lunch. It had a very long bar. I noticed two women sitting next to each other. The one to the right had her arms stretched out on either side of her, resting on the seatbacks of the chairs. It was a very possessive posture, and it let me know that the two women were a couple.

Here’s an exercise: go to a restaurant in your area. Watch the people and how they interact with each other. See if you can figure out who is in an intimate relationship. What are the cues they are giving? Is it different for same-sex couples than opposite-sex couples? Are there cues that a single person is sending that tells you what their sexuality might be?

Sexuality as a plot point

I have been having this conversation a lot, so I figured I would write it up. It’s very common to read a story or see a movie where the character’s sexuality moves the plot along. The one most people are probably familiar with is the coming out story, where the moment of reveal is the climax, and then the character is punished because of their sexuality.

The movie Carol defies this trope this incredibly well. It’s set in the ‘50s, when American society was less accepting and there were laws against being gay. The titular character, Carol, is married to a man, but has affairs with women. She meets a young woman and tries to run away with her, but her husband sends someone after her. She has a young daughter and is sued for divorce. There are consequences for her due to the cultural context, but the character herself isn’t punished for being queer. She doesn’t feel ashamed or sorry for her sexuality. It is an immutable fact of who she is, just as being blonde or 5’6” tall. This is not to say that everyone’s sexuality is fixed, just that it is for this character.

What I’m trying to get around to is this: your characters will be informed by their sexuality and their social/cultural contexts, but it shouldn’t define them.

I will try to see what resources I can pull together, including a recommended reading list of queer fiction, but that will be in a future post. In the meantime, check out these resources for finding and working with sensitivity readers: Write in the Margins, Writing the Other, and Mary Robinette Kowal’s advice on working with sensitivity readers.

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Art AIDS America at Tacoma Art Museum

In December I made the trek down to Tacoma with two friends to see the Art AIDS America exhibit. I expected it to be intense, but beyond that, I had no idea what it would be like. The week before I went down, a group protested in front of the museum to express their anger and sadness at the small number of artists in the show who were people of color, since 40% of people living with HIV/AIDS today are PoC.

The exhibit felt overwhelmingly white and focused on gay men. I have a few theories as to why, related to who had access to support, whose voices were and are being listened to, and how the early AIDS activism was fueled and driven by white gay men.

Altogether, there were over 100 pieces in the exhibit. Apparently I took pictures of about a quarter of them. There was a lot of staring death in the face, like Tino Rodriguez’s Eternal Lovers, which also took advantage of lack of gendered markers. Many of you know I love calaveras, and I loved the interpretation of this one.

Eternal Lovers

The Tale of 1000 Condoms/Geisha and Skeleton flirted with the macabre, again, staring death defiantly in the face.

Tale of 1000 Condoms/Geisha and Skeleton

Many of the pieces I saw engaged with death and dying, bodies wasting away, the corporeal husks that so many people turned their eyes from, but the gaze was unflinching and loving.

Some pieces invited us to interact:

In the sand

In the sand
write the names
of those you
loved and lost
to Aids

So I wrote “Jerry” the sweet doorman from the Timberline, and Mark, another doorman at the Timberline with his Tom Selleck mustache and gentle spirit, and Jim, my dad’s college roommate. After each name I swept my fingers through the sand and thought of Keats’ gravestone: Here lies one whose name was writ in water.

Glenn Ligon’s “I am not an invisible man” was particularly chilling after the protest:

Untitled (I am an invisible man)

I’m only going to talk about one more piece: Silence = Death:

Silence = Death

I had this on a button when I was in college. I wore it pinned on my backpack. During the summer of ’92 I traveled around Europe. I remember being at a hostel, I think in Switzerland, and someone saw the button and said to me, “Sometimes silence equals life.” I kept silent, but I wish I hadn’t, because now I understand in a way I never could have then, that the price of silence is the death of the soul.

I really encourage you to look at the entire album. I included a lot of the plaques that give a lot more explanation. Or you can read this write up from The Stranger that gives a lot more context and information. It was what made me want to see the exhibit.

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Podcasts I Love

In no particular order:

STORYTELLING

Risk Show

Hosted by Kevin Allison, the tag line is “true stories you thought you’d never dare to share.” While there are plenty of stories about sexual adventures, there are other stories that venture into darker/forbidden territory as well. Trevor Noah’s story about his mother is a recent one I recommend. I was also incredibly moved by Marcy Langlois’ story surrender, about recovering from tragedy.

The Moth

This is the first storytelling podcast I heard. So many fantastic voices and stories. I often replay them later for my girlfriend. Top hits include:

Strangers

Produced by Lea Thau, who was the first producer on The Moth. She interviews different people on the theme of what makes them feel a stranger. I always find these stories touching, even when the people’s experiences are so different from my own. For a start, try American Mormon-International Mr. Leather. Or start anywhere, really.

nigella pod

INTERVIEWS:

Nerdist. Chris Hardwick interviews people from the entertainment industry with a nerdy and/or comedy slant. Recent interviews I enjoyed: Cameron Esposito, Lily Tomlin, and Jon Ronson.

My mom just tipped me off to Crybabies, which is about the things that make people cry. Susan Orlean and Sarah Thyre are fabulous. I’ve only listened to a few, but Guy Branum’s ep was great. Notorious RBG. I say no more.

On Being is hosted by Krista Tippet. I don’t listen regularly, but she gets the most amazing people, like Mary Oliver. I did listen to her recent episode with Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, the Indigo Girls, who have been such a formative part of my own adulthood.

HISTORY:

State of the Re:union is no longer producing new episodes, but it is excellent. Al Letson explores different places across the country through a specific lens – often race, but not always. Pick a place you know, or one you don’t, and learn more amazing things about this country.

And a few more as I run out of steam for you.

DESIGN:

Design Matters with Debbie Millman
99 Percent Invisible with Roman Mars. Go listen to the episode about lawns. Also, Roman has the best voice to put in your ears.

SCIENCE:

Infinite Monkey Cage from the BBC
Sawbones: a marital tour of misguided medical history

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The Secret Sauce

I asked if anyone had any burning questions on Twitter for me. Miss Idgie sure did!

I’m sure John Gottman could give you specific and detailed instructions on what makes a relationship work. This is what I’ve figured out for myself.

Love bloom

  • Don’t compare your relationship to anyone else’s. You have to figure out what works for you. Your relationship is unique. If that other relationship falters, in some way that will then cause upset in your own.
  • Have fun!
  • Be honest with one another.
  • Have fun! This means doing things together that you both enjoy.
  • Don’t except the other person to fill all your needs.
  • Admit it and apologize when you are wrong.

I am in a relationship with an introvert. It’s taken me many years to hone my “care and feeding” of said creature. There are always balances to be struck and negotiations to be made. People time v. alone time. Outside/nature/physical activity time v. indoor/cultural/social time.

I think the other reason my relationship (to date) has been successful is because I see us as being a team. My girlfriend supports me and encourages me and challenges me and I hope, at my best, that I do that for her (I’m pretty sure I do, since she’s said things like this me).

I don’t believe there’s a secret sauce that makes relationships successful. Gottman says contempt is poison, but I have to wonder why you would be with anyone you felt contempt for, so respect is a given for me.

What do you feel makes your relationship successful?

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Queer as in Weird

floral dress topiary

Recently I was having a conversation with some people about identity and labeling – specifically around sexuality. One of my friends asked me what queer meant to me. He felt it was vague and unspecific, whereas for me, I feel it’s more meaningful and a better descriptor than the other options that are available.

Erika Moen drew a comic a couple of years ago that encapsulates fairly well how I feel, but yesterday after another friend asked me what queer meant to me, I realized it didn’t tell the whole story.

I came out as bisexual over twenty years ago, and I felt that identity/label fit for a long, long time. I was (and am) attracted to both men and women. But over the last several years, as I learned more about the gender spectrum, I felt constrained by this particular label. As the comments and discussions around Facebook’s decision to allow people to indicate a “custom” gender illustrate, there are far more than the two genders we’ve been led to believe.

But there are a few other components that Erika’s comic doesn’t touch on. Just as lesbians and gay men get a label that doesn’t have sexual in it, neither does queer. If you ask most people along the spectrum of gender and sexuality, I’d guess that while sexuality is a component of who they are, it’s not THE defining quality.

Finally, as I indicate in the title of this piece, I like queer for its OTHER and much OLDER meaning: odd, strange, or weird. I’ve always felt a little bit like an outsider, even within supposedly queer space. I’m too much this or not enough that. I like that queer is inclusive, broad and maybe a little slippery. It makes it that much harder for other people to define me, and that suits me just fine.

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52 Photos: Celebration

To be honest, I thought I had missed the deadline for the celebration prompt. I just wasn’t feeling it, as my friend Rebecca said so beautifully. But seeing her post gave me the tiniest glimmer that I might have a picture somewhere in my vast archive that captured a celebration. And then I found this treasure:

yippee - Catholic for Marriage Equality

Yippee! A Catholic for marriage equality!

This picture was taken almost a year ago, but the moment it was celebrating was the triumph at the polls on election night. For the first time, marriage equality measures were passed IN THREE STATES. BY A POPULAR VOTE. I like the symmetry, because today is election day. And the legislature in Illinois just passed a marriage equality bill. And Hawaii is on the cusp of passing marriage equality in their state as well.

Even though there is still so much work to be done, we can pause and celebrate our victories, too. There are now 15 states that recognize the legality of same-sex couples’ love. Before the election last year, I think there were 10? Plus the District of Columbia. So here’s to love!

Love wins!
love wins with roses

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52 Photos Project – At the end of the day

I should first admit that I heard this phrase waaaay too much when I worked in corporate America, to the point where it felt like a cheese grater against my last nerve every time I heard it. I still have that reaction to it, so I wasn’t super excited about the prompt this week. And then I went to a wedding on Saturday that changed my mind.

My friends E & G got married on their 15th anniversary, 10 months after marriage equality arrived in Washington State and a mere three months after the Supreme Court overturned DOMA.

Bride wore diamonds on her shoes

We first met E & G through dance, and we loved to watch them, because their connection and adoration for each other shone on the floor, through every spin and turn as the music played. So it was only fitting that E bedazzle her dance boots to wear for their wedding. At the end of the day, what really matters is love. And this couple has that in spades.

Bride wore diamonds on her shoes

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Why I Am Skipping Ender’s Game

compass rose in Union Square

I must have been a teenager the first time I read Ender’s Game. It may have been the first book I read in one sitting. Once I started, I could NOT put it down. And then, of course, the ending came as an utter surprise. It was a brilliant little piece of fiction which I devoured. I knew nothing of the author and my own identities were nascent, so I had no problems in supporting his work and recommending it to others.

Skipping forward in time, I have known for quite a few years that Orson Scott Card was a gigantic and very active homophobe. He wrote The Hypocrites of Homosexuality in 1990 after Bowers v. Hardwick was decided (which upheld the criminalization of sodomy laws, even in the privacy of one’s home). In this piece, he will try to convince you that he is the victim, for speaking his mind. This tactic is becoming more and more common, where people who say mean, hateful things will defend themselves by saying, “You can’t attack me! I have a right to say this. Free speech! Free speech!”

I agree, he does have a right to say whatever he wants. But this does not make him immune from letting those who oppose him say what we have to say. Apparently he can dish it out, but he can’t take it. I will give him credit for putting deeds to his words. He has been on the board of NOM since 2009. NOM is the National Organization for Marriage, which was instrumental in getting Prop 8 passed in California and actively campaigns to create laws that restrict marriage to “one man, one woman.”

Earlier this year, press started coming out about the movie. The first thing I saw was Alyssa Rosen’s piece in ThinkProgress, An Ethical Guide to Consuming Content Created by Awful People like Orson Scott Card. I like that she offers options, from flat out boycotting the movie to giving “homophobic offset credits.” And above all else, she encourages everyone to talk about their decision.

Because I loved the story so much and so many of the actors in the upcoming movie, I liked the option to give a donation to an org working for LGBT rights. I felt torn, because people I respect were telling me they weren’t going because they didn’t want to give OSC another penny. And then, today, for some reason, a fresh round of arguments came out. Chuck Wending puts it succinctly in Tolerance for Intolerance. And then he said this:

… we’re not exactly lacking for brilliant art and powerful reading material. It’d be one thing if we had, like, ten good books or movies out there — but we have a wealth of beautiful and moving art available to us.

That, coupled with @cafenowhere’s comment to me on Twitter, “I don’t think of it as punishment. Just, I won’t give $ to that asshat. I will, & do, pay to see POC in other flicks,” pushed me further into the not seeing it category.

And then I saw that Summit, the studio making the movie, is distancing itself from OSC by not having him show up at Comic Con. The studio recognizes him as a liability. It’s only unfortunate they didn’t realize this sooner. I don’t know the details of Card’s contract with them, but he has ALREADY made money and it sounds like he may be getting a percentage of the profits (if there are any).

I am not telling you to Skip Ender’s Game, but I would be pleased if you joined me. As others have said, there are other artists and performers out there creating great works. These artists aren’t actively promoting hate and sending messages that we are awful sinners in need of saving. They celebrate diversity and acceptance. Whatever your decision, I encourage you to talk to your friends and family about it.

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Gay as in HAPPY

LOVE WINS RECEPTION

One of the things that annoys me is the dearth of happiness for gay couples in movies and books. I can’t really speak to television, since I don’t watch that much of it. At any rate, I asked my friends on Facebook and Twitter to help me compile a list of movies and books where the same-sex couple gets to stay together and be happy at the end. If there’s a movie based on a book, I’m going to list the book (unless they have different endings). Here’s what we came up with:

Books:

Movies:

Web series:

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