Range in a Homo Change of Mind

protest 02142008 cdb 19737Homo on the Range is more than a jarringly ironic name for a column about gay life in the Midwest. It’s larger than any one individual LGBT person living in Middle America. At its core, homo on the range is a frame of mind. It’s the notion that a person can be their true, authentic self anywhere.  It’s also the realization that progress can only happen with honest conversation.

Progress is, in fact, happening on the range! In 2005, Kansas’s voters were asked if they wanted to amend the state’s constitution to limit marriage and all of its legal benefits to only heterosexual couples. 70% said yes. According to a new Public Policy Polling survey, the number of Kansans who remain opposed to allowing gay marriage is down to 51%, with only 34% saying there should be no legal recognition of same-sex relationships. A majority support either marriage or civil unions. Given the conservative political dynamics of Kansas and nearby states, marriage equality isn’t coming to the heartland anytime soon. This poll underscores something more important, though: the power of dialogue.

The first time I truly felt “out” wasn’t when I was a pimply 15 year old, awkwardly confessing to my best friend that I’m attracted to boys. It was about 3 years later when I recalled that incident to a classroom full of strangers while speaking on a “gay panel”. In the early 2000’s, myself, along with several friends I met through PFLAG (Parents, Friends, and Families of Lesbians and Gays), would speak to groups of people about being gay. We’d talk to college sociology and human sexuality classes, social workers in training, would-be teachers in diversity programs, medical professionals, employers, and even sometimes members of the clergy. We’d share with them our personal stories—how we discovered that we are gay, how having a different sexual orientation has impacted our lives, and how political debates over our rights have very personal impacts.

I lost my gay-panel virginity at Butler Community College. I felt raw, naked, and exposed. I was sharing intimate, painful stories about peer rejection, suicidal thoughts, and emotional strife to a roomful of about 30 complete strangers. It wasn’t easy. But half way through speaking, I realized it was so worth it. Glares of disgust were turning into gazes of empathy. Heads turning horizontally started to vertically nod. There was a palpable energy shift in the room; people who walked in prejudiced to a certain way of thinking about gay people were reexamining their assumptions. I realized then that these panels were the single most effective way to create change. They humanized the issue and invited in conversation with our Q&As after each talk.

Since then, I’ve spoken on close to 100 other panels. My words aren’t why Kansan’s views are shifting on gay civil rights. But they are part of why. The other part—or rather other thousands of parts—are the many more people who have had similar conversations in even more intimate settings. It’s the collective dialogue that is nearing us to a tipping point. One day, we will live in a state where we not only have the same rights as everyone else, but we will also enjoy the same dignity as our peers.

Don’t let the conservative, Republican political climate scare you into thinking such machinations are impossible, either! Ohio Senator Rob Portman, who almost became Mitt Romney’s running mate, just announced that he now supports gay marriage. The first Senate Republican to change course did so for a simple reason: his son is gay. Kitchen table issues and gay issues are really one in the same when it comes to family. The more dialogue those of us who are gay have with people like Sen. Portman, the better it’s going to get.

So don’t be afraid to come out to your conservative parents or traditionalist peers.  Family values are a big deal here on the range. Over the last decade, more and more families have discovered that they have to value all of their children. Sometimes, that means changing some beliefs. An evolution of values based on bedrocks of love: that is very homo on the range.


Parents, The Kids Are All Right. Are You?

ImageThe advent of parenthood brings with it hopes and dreams for children’s futures. Wanting your child to have the happiest, fullest life possible seems to be a paternal instinct for most.  Anyone or anything that dares to present a roadblock to this becomes a quick target for disdain and removal. Perhaps that’s why so many parents have a hard time when their children come out of the closet.

Even the most progressive of parents sometimes find themselves caught off guard and unsure how to react when they hear the news that their kid is gay. It’s natural to want to protect your offspring from the woes of the world, and everyone knows that gay and lesbians are frequent targets of scorn and ridicule. Because of this, often the sexual orientation of the child, not the child’s would-be agitators, winds up in the protective cross-fires.

Some parents dismiss their adolescent’s announcement by hoping their same-sex desires are merely a phase. Others shut down and prefer not to broach the subject, hoping that a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach will work better for their family than it has for the US military. Sometimes, parents get religious, citing Bible verses and hoping they can “pray away the gay”.  Sadly, it’s not uncommon for some mother or fathers to kick their children out of the house. These negative reactions, wherever they lie on the gamut, are inversions of the very instinct parents are trying to call upon. Sometimes to truly protect the one you love, you have to broaden your scope of understanding.

When I came out to my mom at the age of 16, she didn’t know a whole lot about sexual orientation, and she was rather surprised by my pronouncement. She did the one thing, though, that I tell every parent they need to do when they learn they have a gay kid—she educated herself. Whatever levels of uncomfortability she had with homosexuality, she never took her lack of understanding or knowledge out on me.  She dealt with it on her own by reading up on the topic. Because of this, I was able to be myself and always have someone in my corner as I ambled my way through the confusion of figuring out what it means to be gay. Her actions were the paternal protection I needed to save my life. Scared, depressed, and suicidal, I’m not sure I could have withstood a rejection from my mother.

If you ever have a kid tell you that they’re gay, you need to assume that your actions can have just as dire of consequences. No parent wants to see their child hurt themselves because of a rash rush to judgment. Don’t assume the “problem” will go away by ignoring it or trying to change it. If your kid has mustered up the courage to tell you this, they’ve already spent a great deal of time deliberating their feelings and desires. Love, acceptance, and support are what they need to get them through the barriers in life that lie ahead.

There’s no reason that a gay person can’t have a life full of happiness and fulfillment.  Hopes and dreams shouldn’t die just because your idea of who your kid was “supposed to be” doesn’t measure up with who they actually are. Ignorance is the only road block that stands in the way. And it’s a parent’s job to shoot it down!

An Alternative Lifestyle

Grindr isn't really a great marriage partner.

“Are you still living an alternative lifestyle?”

That was the baffling question I was asked during a recent, routine doctor’s visit. It was a sincere topical inquiry that came up as part of my yearly physical exam. There wasn’t a glimmer of hostility in the voice of my doctor; she is a caring, adept physician. Now and then, the most caring of people are in need of a little enlightenment, though. For the record, while I am gay, there’s nothing alternative about that particular part of my lifestyle. Just like heterosexual folks, my sexual orientation isn’t something that’s going to change.

This incident got me thinking about what IS an alternative lifestyle, though. It seems to me that for people who are gay, the alternative is to live a lifestyle built on lies. Sadly, this still happens today. It’s a lifestyle that begins when someone with feelings of same sex attraction can’t muster up the courage to accept some of the side effects of honesty. The fear of rejection by others sometimes overpowers truth that is intrinsic. Few people want to live life alone. For those who can’t accept their own truth, others are unknowingly drawn into a fake reality.

Brides waltz down the aisle unaware that their groom is checking out the best man. Husbands are bewildered when their brawny guns can’t satisfy their wives. Children are conceived with hopes that their joyful arrival will fix all of the problems. Happiness becomes secondary to keeping up appearances. Often times, homoerotic desires are acted out with clandestine encounters.  Double lives become the norm. Secrets eventually get discovered, though. Innocent lives get ruined. It’s this perversion of authenticity that is the true alternative lifestyle.

We in Kansas pride ourselves on being sincere people. Indeed, honesty and morality are among the strongest of Kansas values.  Some with certain religious beliefs may believe that homosexuality is incompatible with morality, though. I would reference them to the Ten Commandments. Not telling lies is a very clear directive from up above. Inherent in that is not lying to yourself. People who are gay didn’t choose their sexual orientation, and they can’t change it. They can only change what they do with it. The choice is to be yourself or bring other people down with your own uncomfortability. If you don’t believe me, go ask a woman who was once married to a gay man. I’m sure she’ll give you an earful about what a real alternative lifestyle is like!

To answer my doctor’s question, I never did live an alternative lifestyle. For me, living an honest life has always been more important than living a socially accepted life. Kansans are quite keen on spotting fakeness.  Sometimes the secrets we think we’re hiding so well are actually being worn on our sleeves. The only alternative we have is to be ourselves!