Monday, December 20, 2010

From Hero to Coward: The Long, Sad Fall of the Maverick

I'm still a bit moist after this weekend's amazing vote by congress to repeal the Clinton travesty, Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Really though, I'm trying to savor every moment because this is one of the biggest advances for gay rights in my lifetime. When I was a gay teen, it was beyond my wildest dreams that I would have a lifetime partner, much less marry him. Being an "out" gay man in a professional setting would never happen and having the military become a place for lesbians and gay men to serve openly was unthinkable. It's sometimes hard, I think, even for my most loving and supportive straight friends and family to understand that hope just wasn't allowed then. Fear was the emotion I was most familiar with, constantly waiting to be exposed, humiliated, beaten or killed. I couldn't allow myself to wish for things to be better because I was too busy worrying about what could go wrong. Although I hear that some African Americans are insulted by the comparison to their struggles, I know about the pain of waiting for the day that good people wake up and realize that fear has kept them in denial about the ways that status and privilege can directly harm those without it. So, today, I celebrate the long journey that my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters have taken, both the living and the dead, to get us to a place of celebration and true hope. And yet, I cannot fully celebrate because there are people who still are afraid and are still fighting for exclusion and discrimination. Yes, I know there will always be idiots on the "far right" like that jerk who runs the Focus on the Family who will fight gay rights forever because it raises money and makes them feel superior. What I feel most puzzled about though is the way that John McCain has fought the repeal of DADT every step of the way. There was a time that I respected McCain because he at times chose to talk back to the Republican establishment, especially when reason called for it. Sure, he was a member of the "Keating Five" in the 80's, investigated for peddling political influence, but he was largely successful in promoting himself as a man of reason, principle and heroism, for his status as a prisoner of war during Vietnam. I've been fooled before however, by the public profiles that we've come to accept as true about celebrities and politicians. In McCain's case however, I honestly believed that what he went through in the war might have made him a true patriot and defender of American values. Once you have faced death, I imagine in my own little fantasy world, you would decide what's important to you and stand by it. Over the years however, I've watched McCain waffle, vascilate and just plain give in to the pressure from the right wing of his party, even as they toyed with him and abused him for their own gains. The right wing spread vicious rumors about McCain during the 2000 Republican primary race in South Carolina, in order to tip the vote in favor of their darling GW. McCain took it and later jumped on board with the Bush train, despite the fact that he was defeated with lies and innuendo. I was shocked that he didn't stand up and say more. Then, while running for President, he selected a stupid, inarticulate and unqualified Sarah Palin to be his running mate, in a cold and calculated attempt to win the votes of women, because of her gender rather than for what she could do for this country. A selfish move then that still sickens me today, every time she opens her ignorant, narcissistic mouth. In Arizona, facing a tough Tea Party opponent, McCain consciously chose to move away from his reasonable positions on immigration in order to win. And now, McCain has sunk to the lowest point of all- outright homophobia and discrimination. First, he says that he wants to wait to repeal DADT until a "readiness" study has been completed so that the troops won't be affected. This despite overwhelming evidence that other countries have successfully integrated openly gay and lesbian troops with absolutely no effect on military preparedness. So, when the internal study is finally complete, and again overwhelmingly supports the repeal without significant effects, McCain still resists repeal, with no legitimate rationale. His wife and daughter understand that DADT is discrimination. The majority of Americans understand that DADT is wrong. The Federal courts have rule that it is discrimation and should be stopped. And now, the majority of both houses of congress and the President have done the right thing. The military itself says it's ready and it's time. And despite all of this, John McCain, who once served this country with valor, now has become the Strom Thurmond of his time. He's a man who has lost his moral compass and has forgotten what he was fighting for- freedom and fairness. His congressional colleagues now see him as angry, explosive and petty little man. Sadly, John McCain has shown that he is truly a coward.

How the mighty have fallen.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Death of Reality TV

I have to admit that I was one of the first to jump on to the reality TV bandwagon back in the day of the original MTV's "Real World." The idea of watching real people living together under one roof and all the twists and turns of human relationships was just SOO appealing to me as a lover of observing people and the psyche.

Part of what attracted me to psychology as a field, was of course the helping people part of it, but I also truly enjoyed learning about social science research and I guess you could say, the highly scientific versions of watching how people dealt with controlled (or some would say "staged") circumstances.

The Milgram studies from the early 1960's, for example, were absolutely fascinating and controversial experiments about the power of authority figures to cause volunteer subjects to apply presumably painful electric shocks to confederate "subjects" when they missed answers to simple tasks. It was mind blowing to watch the old black and white films of these experiments and wonder just how far each subject would go, simply because they were told to do so.

Or the classic Stanford Prison experiment from 1971, where 26 male students were chosen to perform the roles of 'prisoner' and 'guard' to test how human beings conform to role expectations. The new movie "The Experiment" starring Adrian Brody and Forest Whitaker was inspired by a book about this real life study where the subjects go farther than imagined in their fake roles and situation.

So I guess when TV began tapping into reality setups, they tapped into my own curiosity about what makes us tick and how far will people go.

Among the first shows I became hooked on was the phenom American Idol and later the Amazing Race and of course Bravo's awesome Project Runway and Top Chef.

And I have to admit that I was tempted into the seedy side of it all with Tyra's America's Next Top Model and even, gulp, Big Brother for a few seasons.

I could overlook Tyra's over-the-top hysterics in each episode, just to watch the inevitable fight between the "plus-sized" token girl and the "I'm just too in love with myself" anorexic.

Who doesn't tune in to Survivor just to watch them wear less and less each week as they exploit a little flesh for instant celebrity?

But lately, I've been finding myself too often on the disgusted side of the aisle, screaming aloud that the judging was FIXED or fast forwarding through the increasingly obvious product placement in almost every reality show these days.

Who doesn't know for example that American Idol is sponsored by Ford and Coke. Or that Jenny-O turkey is apparently the only meat allowed on The Biggest Loser?

Again, I could overlook a lot of the constant selling selling selling, especially on my absolutely favorite shows because I thought they were of a higher quality, with actual ethics.

Project Runway used to be in that camp for me.

The first few seasons of PR had me so hooked, it was one of those few shows that I absolutely could not wait to watch every week. If I could, I would brave those damned commercials on live, non-DVR'd TV, just to be absolutely caught up. It just seemed that truly, from week to week, you never knew who was going to win the design challenge and that the judges absolutely tried to remain fair and unbiased.

I waited patiently with them through the long break when they were fighting it out with Bravo and trying to move to Lifetime. I even made it through the slightly boring (and a bit confusing) year in Los Angeles.

I breathed a sigh of relief when they moved back to New York and even when they brought back super-orange Michael Kors and slightly constipated Nina Garcia as regular judges again.

Yes, I vehemently disagreed from time to time with them.

I so disliked the neck-tatoo guy from season three that I railed at the TV and swore to stop watching (which I of course didn't as my senses gradually returned) because I actually did understand that his clothes were quite beautiful and exciting, even if I didn't think he, as a person deserved it.

This year however, was very different for me and there was something not right with this season.

Several times, the winners just didn't seem right to me. Michael C was one of the sweetest contestants in a while, but I never quite saw a consistent voice in his designs. He was so honest about it too because he never could quite explain himself, endearing me even more to him.

Gretchen's early wins were puzzling as well, especially the jumpsuit thingy selected for the cover of Marie Claire. Ok, I get that it's different and "edgy", but she never really brought that kind of edge again in my opinion.

And then those darned producers.

They absolutely played up the affected manner of Gretchen, every chance they got. Maybe she wasn't always so overly confident, critical or enunciating, but it sure seemed like it. And no amount of editing could excuse her constant talking out of both sides of her mouth about the other designers and about her own flaws in front of the judges.

Aside from her wretched persona on TV, nothing about her designs excited or interested me during the entire season so when she won, I felt different this year, even a bit betrayed.

I am willing to give credit where credit is due. An evil personality can create beautiful and exciting clothes. Jeffrey Sebelia as case in point.

In every other season, I understood early on, that the eventually winner had talent and was doing something new and interesting. I am not a designer, but I know what I respond to and in almost every other season, I responded at least a little in a positive way to the creativity or the skills or the choices of the ones who made it to the top.

This year, I felt nothing for Gretchen or her designs. I mean nada, zero, zilch.

Maybe it was just me, but when I logged on to the PR website and the PR Facebook page, I wasn't the only person shocked by the result or has such a negative and visceral reaction to her bland and monochromatic separates.

So it got me thinking.

Michael Kors and Nina seemed to dig their heels in during the "discussion" by the judges. Even Heidi, and fashion icon (just kidding) Jessica Simpson, could not convince them to change their minds.

I started to wonder if perhaps, the little disclaimer at the end of the show that states that

means that in effect, Gretchen was selected early on in the show and that what I am watching is less of a reality competition and more of an entertainment show.

I've watched the product placement so blatant in other shows slowly creep into PR over the seasons, from the Piperlime accessory wall to the Garnier Fructis hair products.

This season, of all others, has caused me to sit up and take note.

Maybe Michael Kors and Nina Garcia really don't have good taste. Or maybe they did but now their opinions and tastes are passe and it's time for new judges. I have to say that the two Michael Kors shirts that I own are among my least favorite, feeling rather cheaply made and showing signs of wear after just a few months of laundering.

But maybe, just maybe, PR has fallen into the pit of cash and ratings and this was the year to "shake things up" no matter how gross the result or how untalented the winner.

So, if this unhappy result can happen to my cherished PR, you know that it's been happening to the other reality shows too. Only beautiful people seem to be selected more and more and if I see one more close up of a product label, I'm going to puke.

American Idol has lost it's glitter and the Bachelor is just a mess.

On the upside of the evidence, we have better scripted TV shows than we've had in a long time.

I never miss GLEE of course and Modern Family actually has decent writing!

So here's to you, reality TV, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

You Don't Have to Die

I read about the suicides this week of Tyler Clementi and Asher Brown in the SF Chronicle, but it took the Larry King Live show this week with Wanda Sykes, Kathy Griffin and Tim Gunn, for me to realize that there had actually been five altogether within a week.

Anytime I hear of a teen suicide, for whatever reason, something inside me rips a little. A girl who thinks she's too fat, or a boy who didn't make the baseball team, takes the final step to end their suffering and never has the chance to experience what could have been.

When I hear about a child who takes his or her own life because they thought that they could not face living as a queer youth, the rip is more like a shred.

Hearing about five similar stories in a short amount of time is beyond painful. Paying attention to each individual story is just too much to bear.

The sad truth however is that although we are fortunate to have a heightened awareness that lgbtq youth still suffer and are more likely to take their own lives because of it, there are thousands more stories that did not make the paper or the media and the real reasons behind the suicide were never explored.

When I was 13, I knew that I found other boys attractive.

One day as a hormone-driven early teen, while looking up any topic that related to sex in the family Encyclopedia Britannica, I found the word "homosexual" and my mind virtually exploded. As I carefully read the words explaining the term, it so deeply resonated that I literally shook. Before that moment, I had no idea that there was a word to describe what I felt.

More importantly though, in that instant, I knew there must be others like me out there.

I did, however, know that I had to hide this reality and that everyone in my little world at the time would view me as horrible and disgusting if they knew. How I knew this, I have no idea since I have no memory of any discussions about gay people prior to that moment.

So, I did what I could to hide this emerging part of me by acting like people wanted me to act. I pretended I liked girls. I attended the fundamentalist church of my parents and I said nothing to anyone. I prayed to God to take these feelings away and to make me "normal". I called my gay self "disgusting" and told him to "shut up" and I was afraid and lonely and frustrated.

Back then, there was no internet. There were no books about it in our local libraries. There were no TV characters or role models.

At 17, I met someone older who told me he loved me.

I fell fast and hard, and I finally understood what my straight friends were talking about when they talked about romance and tingling naughty parts and fireworks.

And then, my parents found out.

After four years of suppressing and hiding and emotionally self-mulitating, I could not hide it any longer so I admitted to them how I felt.

They were not happy. In fact, they were livid. They said things that parents should never say to a child. I remember them like they happened yesterday.

In small fundamentalist Southern towns in the late 1970's, gay people were not welcome. What I had been able to find out about homosexuals at the time was not good. They were mentally ill to many people and sinners to the others. For rednecks, they made good punching bags. For scientists, candidates for "treatment."

For months, my super-religious parents made my life hell. They took away my freedom, removing my driving and phone privileges and blasting me with Bible verses. Anita Bryant, anti-gay crusader of the moment, was on TV regularly, and my mother often turned up the volume loud enough for me to hear every hate-filled word. At breakfast, she would leave readings from her right wing religious propaganda on my plate for me to find when I arrived at the table.

I had no place to go, no one to talk to, and no other options, so I spent many hours locked in my room, so angry and lonely that I begged Jesus to take my life.

After several months, my parents arrived at a possible solution and I was given three choices, namely, to begin meeting with the fundamentalist preacher at the church, to see a mental health professional or to get out of their house.

Because I knew that praying had not been the answer thus far, and I had no resources with which to support myself if I left, I chose the shrink, who after two evaluation sessions, ended up telling my parents that I seemed to be a perfectly well-adjusted gay person. He went on to tell them that if they were having trouble accepting me, they should consider coming in for some sessions.

In the flash of that instant, my life changed.

For the first time in my life, an adult in a position of authority told me that I was ok and that society was the problem.

It was a moment that I will never forget.

Since then, I have spent much of my time trying to live authentically and sorting out the messages in our society that makes sense and those that are based on fear, hatred and evil.

I have learned that being gay does not make you unworthy of love.

Being gay is a normal part of life.

You love better when you love honestly.

The bad times will pass.

There are more of us out there who will understand you and love you and support you.

Do NOT listen to the hate messages from your family, your religious institution or your government. They are wrong and sad and corrupt.

Choose to live and be strong.

You have a choice and you have options.

There will be a day when you look back and be grateful that you survived. I never thought this day would come, but it did and now I am truly free and happy. You can be too.

If you think you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans, and you are alone and afraid, take the first step by calling the Trevor Project at 866-488-7386.

There's a whole lot of love out there waiting for you.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Done with Politics for a While

Now that Don't Ask Don't Tell has failed to be repealed by the Democratic majority Senate, I have made a decision.

I'm done with politics for the time being. I'm not voting for Democratic candidates, or left leaning independents. I'm not voting for Obama again and I'm not going to help Jerry Brown or Barbara Boxer. Anyone who reads this knows that I won't vote Republican either.
I'm also not donating to political campaigns now as well.

Why? Because I'm tired of politics that don't work. I completely understand the frustration that the Tea Partiers have. They too are disappointed by their elected officials who seem paralyzed to do anything. I don't agree with their solutions, to elect whack jobs who speak loudly and make no specific promises, but equally despise the status quo, just because they can "relate" to them.

No, I'm sick of politicians. I'm really sick of the Democrats and Obama, who could have made this happen. They could have used the force of their influence to push Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, both Democrats, to vote for repealing this or face the weight of the Democratic machine helping oust them from important committees or in their next re-election fights.

Obama could have used the power of the bully pulpit instead of Lady Gaga doing it for him.

He could, with the stroke of a pen, order the military to stop enforcing DADT and when the next President comes into office, it would be virtually impossible to start enforcing it again once the military was integrated. He knows this and chooses not to do it.

Now, with mid-term elections happening and likely to go to the Republicans because of Democratic incompetence at getting "on message" or responding to Republican or Tea Party or Fox News distortion, the chance at legal repeal of DADT will be virtually nil. This was the opportunity, with a majority House, majority Senate and Democratic President. AND a recent federal judge declaring it unconstitutional. What better odds?

We have to wait for the issue to worm it's way up to a heavily biased U.S. Supreme Court to decide if gays are real Americans or just second class citizens. Imagine that a small group of people that you don't even know gets to decide if you deserve full equal rights in this country. People who were hand picked by Republicans, who will knowingly favor corporations over individuals, because they get money for favoring corporations over individuals.

Democrats, in my opinion, should have seen this coming and done whatever it took to stop the plan of replacing unbiased justices with highly biased ones. Yes, Ginsberg, Sotomayor, and Kagan have biases- they are humans- but at least they appear to try to interpret the U.S. Constitution in a way that favors American freedoms and not extend them to companies or restrict them from tax-paying, honorable citizens.

So Democrats, so long. Stop calling me for donations. Don't expect my vote for your hand-chosen successor. I left the Democratic party several years ago to become an independent, but like Bernie Sanders, I-VT, I voted for Democratic candidates or issues 95% of the time. Not anymore.

Until you repeal DADT and DOMA, I'm outta here.

And if that means America suffers because the nutjobs take over, then she will have to suffer.

Hello President Palin!!

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Week of Patience

This is a week that I've been dreading.

For more than a few months I find myself challenged, almost daily, by circumstances that are harsh and disorganized. It is hard at this point in my life to be treated so disrespectfully and so crudely. It's compounded by my health challenges that have been surprisingly gentler to handle.

Even though my head tells me that this chaos has little to do with me, because of my conditioning, my first response is always emotional and irrational. Because someone treats me poorly, the reflex is to believe that their treatment is justified. It's hard for me to believe sometimes how people make the decisions that they do, that ultimately are not in their best interests.

I guess what suprises me most is that for most of my career, I have listened to thousands of stories of people who have made choices that weren't in their best interests. And I of course, am also guilty of making choices that came back to bite me.

So, what I don't get is why someone who could use my help right now, chooses to insult me instead. It does not make sense.

I've certainly pondered all the reasons that could explain this scenario. None of them seem rational in the real world. I supposed the most understandable reason is self-preservation in a desperate situation- basic animal survival where you lose your moral compass, but you do what you have to do. There are less kind explanations of this behavior as well but that's not what I choose to think about today.

Today, I need to prepare myself for facing the challenges with grace and dignity. I need to reflect on my strengths and not my weaknesses.

I gained some perspective on recent events last week and although it doesn't change the situation, it did help me understand it better and oddly, give me confidence that I can handle whatever comes.

Writing helps me find my center- helps me find a new angle, perhaps one that reminds me of what is important and what is not.

My plan for the week:

I will focus on helping my clients this week, more than ever.

I will breathe, relax and meditate.

I will pray for the strength and flexibility of a deep-rooted tree in a strong wind.

I will ask for support from the people in my life who show me love.

I will remember the things I know to be true no matter what I hear from those who don't know me.

I will think of the wonderful things in my life and feel gratitude.

I will be patient with others even while they are impatient with me.

And I will rest when the week is done.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Single Man

Finally, after weeks of the new DVD release of Tom Ford's movie A Single Man arrived from Netflix, we finally had time to sit down and watch it last week.

We knew we wanted to see it when it was in theaters earlier this year, but I wasn't ready emotionally to watch someone going through a grieving process since my plate was pretty full dealing with the surgery and all the layers associated with it.

In a way then, feeling ready to take this movie on is a good sign. I felt strong enough, and I guess safe enough, to watch something that I knew from just the reviews would touch me at some level.

I'm confident given the press about the movie that I'm not being a "spoiler" in describing the basic story, which is essentially about a middle-aged gay man in the 60's who loses his long-time partner early in the film and we spend the rest of the film watching him deal (and not deal) with his deep loss. The film was adapted from the Christopher Isherwood novel by the same name.

Within ten minutes, I was bawling.

To be fair to the readers who haven't seen the movie, I'm going to try to resist the details, but instead I want to share what the movie meant to me in a global sense.

First, on an immediate level, the thought of ever losing Brad is so painful, it's beyond description. It's an ache in the chest that's both gripping and total, that it forces tears to my eyes that just run freely even without sobbing. Literally, like my eyes are spigots that have been turned on and are slowly leaking the pressure from my chest.

I have never seen love between two men expressed so beautifully on screen. The level of mourning he felt paralleled the intensity of the relationship. The lead character's grief has many layers, from the vivid details of intimate moments that symbolized his joy when they were together to the heaviness of getting through another day alone, revealed in his dreams of sinking under water, unable to breathe or escape.

Another theme I strongly related to was the era in which the movie was set. A time when no one recognized or validated gay relationships (or gay people for that matter). The loneliness he must have felt as his best friend in the world, a heterosexual woman, couldn't even fully understand that his love was better than any relationship she'd ever experienced, reminded me of the days from my childhood when I could talk to no one about being gay. I lived in a world, not far from the 60's, where homosexuals were considered mentally ill, deviants, and second class citizens incapable of love and trust and spirituality. I remember the isolation and the condemnation. It has always been in the back of my mind as I grew up and tried to overcome those messages as I reached out for real love and affection.

He is not allowed to grieve openly.

He does not have society's support which is virtually universal when one of a pair of lovers dies.

And as a middle aged man, I so strongly identified with his insecurity about his future.

We see him question the value of continuing. He is certain at first, that the best part of his life is over and that the happiness he's felt for 16 years could never happen again.

But despite the rawness of the emotion and the fears that it evoked, I did not find the movie depressing.

On the contrary, it was an experience that opened me up to gratitude.

We do live in a different era. I am not a little gay boy living in a fundamentalist (Tea Party) world of harsh judgement, anger and hatred.

At 41, as a middle aged gay man, burned out from incomplete relationships and self-doubts, I met someone who loved away my fears and defenses.

At almost 50, my faith in love is powerful and sustaining.

A Single Man has reminded me to be grateful and fully present. I don't want to miss a moment.

Friday, July 23, 2010

I'm Still Here

I have been thinking a lot about blogging.

Missing it...thinking of ideas...meditating on it.

But unfortunately, generally avoiding it.

It's kind of like when you have a really good friend who lives far away and you miss them dearly and really want to catch up, but you avoid calling them because the time is never "exactly right" or you don't want to call because you know you'll end up talking for a super long time.

I feel that way about blogging.

Sometimes I get inspired to write something meaningful based on current events.

Recently for example, I found myself shaking my head at Elizabeth Hasselbeck's disdain for Kathy Griffin and starting to wonder about what makes her type tick. You know, the humorless, ultra conservative, Sarah Palin types of women.

I'm being serious. I think the problem lies in my sort of starry-eyed vision of women being superior to men in many ways. I had this romantic notion of women from the 70's burning bras and marching for rights in order to change the bullshit that men had been putting them through for years. I envision the Gloria Steinems, the Bella Abzugs, Madeleine Albrights and the Hillary Clintons of the world as representative of the entire female population.

It confuses me when I see women who lobby against their own rights. Just like it confuses me to see a gay or African American person in the Republican Party. Let me clarify: an openly gay person in the Republican Party.

And it's more than just the political, it's the personal rage and bitterness that confuses me even more I think.

Yes, I also am confused by men (usually white men) who vote against their own interests out of some warped sense of patriotism or racism or classism or some other "ism".

I honestly do try to understand the anger that people feel and express when they join groups like the "Tea Party" (which doesn't really seem to be "for" anything, just against stuff that makes them upset).

It's not difficult to understand why people might be motivated by fear with an economy in crisis and two wars and terrorism everywhere it seems. I can even understand why watching the culture that you grew up with change might be threatening.

After all, if two men or two women can get married and live happy, productive lives, then maybe you have to question if you're really doing the right thing yourself if you married someone of the opposite sex when you were young because your parents said that's what you were supposed to do.

Not that everyone is a closeted gay mind you (unless you're a GOP politician it seems), but there's probably just enough identity insecurity out there to make fuzzy boundaries seem like the gateway to hell.

Fear and confusion have to land somewhere I guess.

So you're afraid that you're going to lose your house. Your daughter's a lesbian. Your cholesterol is high and your blood sugars are out of control. What do you do?

You watch TV and wait for someone to identify with your insecurities.

Or you go to church where they don't make you actually THINK about these issues.

You just want someone to tell you what to do.

Progressives and most good hearted women and men wouldn't think of telling you what to do or think.

We've all learned that (a) it's not our place to tell someone else what to do and (b) we learned to respect others even if you don't understand them or agree with them (as long as they're not harming someone else). It's the American Way right?

On the other hand, there are plenty of people out there who have decided to ignore (a) and (b), tell others what they SHOULD think and do, and a few even have made a very successful living out of doing so.

Rush Limbaugh was one of the first to figure it out on a massive scale. Just say out loud what frightened, frustrated people are saying to themselves and they'll adore you.

Glen Beck has co-opted the conspiracy theories and invests them with the power of good acting.

Sarah Palin finally addresses the concerns of frightened/pissed off women (and a few horny frightened and pissed off men) who forgot about the Steinem and Abzugs or feel trapped and insecure as America changes.

Entire organizations, some political and some religious, are structured around boosting self-esteem by condemning others (i.e. "I'm better than you so I must be ok").

Some are sincere in their beliefs, not intending to harm others, but gullible enough to follow like sheep.

Others find a way to profit from this ignorant paranoia, stooping to saying almost anything if it raises the ratings or garners publicity.

Kathy Griffin does it when she screams "suck it".

Elizabeth Hasselbeck does it when she screams "scum".

Meg Whitman seems like an angry woman who will say anything to get elected.

I take a deep breath and remember the majority of powerful women in my life who are sane.

Thanks y'all.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Achieving the Here and Now

Although I've been an avid student of various theologies over the years, it was only about four years ago that Brad and I took a six week course together on mindfulness meditation at Sequoia Hospital.

Everything I knew about meditation and Buddhism came from my readings and discussion (and one gay Buddhist sangha meeting I attended 12 years ago).

There are so many things that are attractive about Buddhist thought to me from the emphasis on acceptance of things as they are to the active practice of detachment from things that may cause suffering.

I am especially drawn to the idea that loss is inevitable, and becoming excessively attached to our things, our ideas and even our self, will lead to more suffering. Walking the middle ground between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-punishment is a worthy goal achieved through the practice of nirodha, which is essentially learning to become dispassionate about things that lead to suffering. With much practice, Buddhists believe that you can ultimately achieve nirvana, which is a state of freedom from worry, troubles, ideas and fabrications.

Coming from a fundamentalist Christian background, it has not been easy for me to comprehend a world without right or wrong, judgment and penalty.

In my upbringing, there was an ultimate truth and there was no middle ground.

It was only when I left the household I grew up in, and made my way to college, was I exposed to other ways of thinking and believing.

This, of course, is the very reason that education and intellect is so frightening to evangelicals in my opinion. Maintaining control is much more difficult when you allow freedom of perspective.

In his extraordinary book, Man's Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl, a Jewish neurologist and psychiatrist described his internment at Theresienstadt and the development of his existential theories of mental health and suffering (called Logotherapy). One crucial concept that he vividly illustrated was his realization that no matter what the Nazis took from him- whether his belongings, his family or even his life- what they could not take from him was his ability to view the situation however he chose.

This was a powerful point for me, that I believe has underscored much of my own search for meaning in the events that occur in my life.

Dr. Frankl helped me see that I am in control of my suffering and my pain.

And meditation offers me a specific path to achieve less suffering with the caveat that I must practice.

Interestingly, my family would be quite threatened by my exploration of thinking that is outside of their box. Leaving the box would mean abandoning the safety that comes with having all the answers in black and white and facing the potentially frightening shades of gray that fall in between. Maybe it's just me, but I see more compatibility between the words and actions of Christ and Buddhist thinking than I do between the actual examples of Christ and modern day fundamentalist evangelism.

I realize that I have been avoiding meditation because at some level, I must be avoiding the gray areas too.

In my case, I think those gray areas include the feelings that I would rather not feel, which in all likelihood blossom from thoughts that I have become too attached to.

My anger/fears/sadness arise only from thoughts.

Living in the moment seems like a nice alternative.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Stillness is Hard

I find myself with more time than I can fill these days.

It is an odd place, not one that I am used to.

Even after my surgery, I filled my time with healing, or resting. And resting is doing something I realize because now, I'm not resting, nor do I need it.

Usually, I am a busy person. Except for two short periods of time, I'm worked fulltime, usually had at least something else on the side to do like teaching or writing. Before I met Brad, I was into training for marathons, playing softball on weekends and dating.

With my ex, at one point, I was working three jobs and writing my first book on chronic pain.

Now, it seems that the stars have aligned to give me pause.

As I begin to start my private practice, I find that I have large gaps of time in my day.

It is uncomfortable to be "not busy". I realize that I have had a motor inside that pushes me to go go go. Find something to do. Don't sit still. Sitting still is lazy. Idle hands are the devil's workshop.

But busy work for the sake of business doesn't interest me right now.

Organizing my closet would be productive, but ultimately not satisfying.

Surfing the net has lost it's glamour.

So I'm wondering if the natural next step is to try to be in the quiet.

I am curious and frightened by the silence, the unknown.

Will I like it? hate it? Can I get over the need to keep moving, challenging? Today, I spent a few seconds doing nothing. It was ok. It didn't kill me.

I have been saying that I will start meditating this year. I have been avoiding it for some reason.

Life is giving me this opportunity.

This week, I will give it a chance.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Me and the See

It's been an interesting couple of weeks in the news for the Vatican.

First, there was a question about how much the Pope's brother, Gerog Ratzinger, knew about the abuse of boys in the choir that he led for years. His first impuse was to deny and later Ratzinger eventually admitted to, and apologized for, slapping around a few boys.

Then there was the whole explosion of media attention around the sexual abuse of children that ran rampant in the Irish Catholic Church for years and then Benedict's letter of "apology", that condemned the abuse but dodged accepting responsibility.

And over the past week, we learned that the Pope himself apparently stopped the prosecution of U.S. priest who had systematically abused children over many years and was moved from diocese to diocese without consequence into positions that gave him continued access to children.

What seems surprising to me is the continued shock that people seem to have that (a) sexual abuse is rampant in the Catholic Church and (b) the hierarchy continues to deny that there was any organizational responsibility for these crimes despite losing huge court battles and paying out major settlements to victims The incredible, award-winning documentary, Deliver Us From Evil, does an amazing job of exposing the chilling callousness with which the case of a specific serial molester was handled by those in authority, even when he admitted his crimes and at some level wished for someone to stop him.

What I've really been thinking about however is less about the abuse itself, or even making judgment about the church's decision-making when these accusations arose, but more about the man himself, Joseph Ratzinger known now as Pope Benedict XVI.

He is a curious man, born in Germany in 1927 and as the official story goes, he was "forced" to join the Hitler Youth at 14, although he an "unenthusiastic member and refused to attend meetings" according to his Wikipedia bio. He had a long career in academia, as a professor of theology before working his way into higher and higher posts within the church until he reached the pinacle on April 19th, 2005, when he was elected to succede John Paul II.

He has spent much of his tenure fighting for conservative values and a return to the belief in absolute, rather than relative truth within the church, ironically paralleling the rigid dogma he supposedly was so opposed to in the Nazi era.

Here's where I have to admit what may already be clear: what I know of the man I do not like.

From my perspective, he has been irresponsible in the way that he speaks and teaches about homosexuality. His words have provided the foundation for hate crimes and violence against people who either are gay, or are perceived to be gay. It was Hitler's goal to dehumanize Jews. It is Ratzinger's goal to pathologize gays. His words and his actions speak for themselves.

I remember when things began coming out about the magnitude of the problem of sexual abuse within the U.S. church, the first public response (after finally being forced to admit that there was even a problem) was to blur the issue of pedophilia with homosexuality. I would like to believe that this strategy was just a vestige of ignorance about homosexuals within an aging hierarchy and not just a cynical, way to distract attention away from the failings of the church itself.

Of course raising the old "all homosexuals are pedophiles" slur goes way back. Although studies have shown that the majority of pedophiles identify as heterosexual and that pedophilia is a disorder separate from one's sexual identity, iit is still a favorite of right wing politicians, and others, who need to raise money or distract from the real issues.

In fact, one could explain the Pope's homophobia in three major ways.

First, he is deeply ignorant about the current and overwhelming scientific evidence about gay people that do not support his opinion that homosexuality in and of itself is a disorder. This however, is hard to believe, given his long tenure in the academic world, surrounded by scholars and scientists who have long recognized the errors of the church's teachings.

Second, if he is therefore aware of the disconnect between science and his tortured dogma regarding sexuality, then his homophobia may be symptomatic of his own deep-seated psychosexual confusion. As I have explored before in my posts, the same sad and irrational fears that drives the Larry Craigs of the world into denial may be responsible for the inept handling of sexuality by this Pope and on a larger scale the issue of sexuality within the priesthood.

Third, and hopefully least likely, he has risen to the peak of authority within the hierarchy not because of random chance or divine inspiration, but through hard work and ambition, much like the CEO of any large organization or the President of a country. That means then, that to maintain your authority, sometimes you have to tow the line, talk the talk and protect the company. This is the most cynical of the three I realize, and may have components from the first two mixed in like some fancy cocktail.

But, for whatever reason, I want to dislike him as a person VERY, VERY much.

And then I realized that I do not know the person, I only know the image.

I know Joseph Ratzinger only through his words and his actions (and sometimes inaction as in the case of the Uganda situation), not from real life conversation or connection.

It hit me that by judging him, based only what I have read or heard, which most certainly could be biased, I am doing to him what he does to me.

The Pope does not know me.

He in fact, may not know any healthy gay people.

He may only know the closeted men in robes who also struggle with their secrets and who advise him from their own biased lives as well.

Like me, much of the time he probably avoids what he doesn't want to feel and focuses on what he believes is truth.

I'm imaging the pressure that he must be under to hold together a large organization that appears fractured to the core on the precipice of breaking apart.

Compassion for one's "enemies" is central to Christianity I've heard. I feel sorry for him, despite whatever wrong choices I believe he has made.

I wish Benedict would do the same for me.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Taking Time to Heal

I have truly missed blogging for these last few months although I have been keeping a private journal just for my own sanity I guess.

I owe it to my readers to 'splain.

About May of last year, with health insurance costs rising and services provided diminishing, I opted to switch my insurance to Kaiser. I was a healthy guy after all, in reasonable shape for my age and no history of smoking or abusing my body otherwise.

I made a special effort to find a gay-friendly physician within the network, whom I decided to see for a routine physical, as a way of getting to know him and setting a baseline.

I really like how Kaiser uses email and online communication to get you your results by the way. Love being able to email my doctors whenever I want and they personally respond, usually within 24 hours.

I see the doctor who does the typical exam, lab work, etc. and within a week, my cholesterol and electrolytes results were posted in my online account and everything looked just peachy keen.

So a week goes by, and I think it's all good, and as I'm walking in the door from work, the phone is ringing. It's my doc who says that one of my blood tests has come back with an elevation, the PSA. I'm a little embarrassed to say that I had no idea what a PSA test was and that I had even had one done. He explains that PSA stands for Prostate Specific Antigen test and can be elevated with benign prostate enlargement, a prostate infection, or it can indicate the presence of prostate cancer. He tells me not to worry because it would be unusual at my age (under 50) for it to be cancer, but that he's referring me to the urology department for followup exam.

Two weeks later, I see the urologist who does a manual exam and who also reassures me that she doesn't feel any abnormal growths or enlargement, but maybe just a little "firmness". When she hears that my mother had a fairly aggressive form of breast cancer, she prods me a little to go ahead with a biopsy in another couple of weeks. I agree, but I'm still thinking that this is all just a bunch of excitement over what will be nothing.

The biopsy, scheduled as a separate appointment is not pleasant but not horrible, basically involving an ultrasound and then a series of about 12 quick bee stings, which aren't too bad after the local anesthetic injection. All done and I go home. There is some mild discomfort and blood later, which goes away eventually.

I go about my life again, barely even thinking about what I've just been through.

A week later, my phone rings at work and it's the urologist. "We have the results" she says, "and they came back positive for cancer."

As is my pattern for facing big stressors, I go numb. I remember vaguely that she tries to reassure me that it "looks like it's very early stage" and "the cure rates are excellent". She tells me to take a few days to absorb it all, talk to Brad and then come in for a face to face appointment with her to discuss the options.

As we hang up, I pinch myself in my brain. "She just said I have cancer," I remember thinking, still stunned.

I call Brad and haltingly repeat what she said. He's quiet for a moment and just says, "I'm sorry honey, but we'll get through this." My rock.

Over the next few months, I visit five different specialists. I find out that I have a range of options, which is great. I can have external radiation everyday for two months, or radioactive "seeds" implanted once. Or, I can have the thing removed through open traditional surgery or with the newer robot-assisted surgery. After weeks of advice, research and discussion, I decide on the robotic prostatectomy and on the surgeon I like the most. The research suggests that surgeons with more experience have better outcomes and I find one that I like personally. He's done 150 of them and he has a sense of humor. I think I'll need that.

February 9th this year, I entered the hospital and on February 10th I leave the hospital, sans prostate and sans cancer.

I am at home now recovering. My body is healing. The postop report was excellent.

Removing the prostate is a little more complicated than say, removing the appendix. The nerves in the area serve multiple functions and in some people the nerves never return to normal again. I'm sending good thoughts to my nerves everyday.

Now I face the future and I wait and I try to be patient.

There has to be meaning in this experience and I want to discern it.

For now, there are deep breaths and taking one day at a time.