Saturday, October 20, 2012

Building Bridges...Making Windows



There is something on my chest that I need to get it out.....and...I know that in expressing my opinion of this issue I may be completely wrong. that said, here we go...

This last weekend our family had the privilege of attending a showing of our movie "The Right To Love: An An American Family" at the LGBT Community Center in San Francisco. All in all I like going to these events because I always get to meet great people and because a movie may reach an audience that may not use YouTube. This particular showing was no exception as it was well attended and everyone we met were great people. In the Q and A portion of the event we all had a great discussion about how the movie can open conversations with our straight friends and family...and how important those conversations are to have. It was at that point that someone stood and and expressed how they felt that our family was a good bridge between the gay community and a conservative straight community because they felt  we were "just so normal".

I can't explain it but this just did not sit well with me. I felt like normalcy was actually being used to exclude others who didn't live up to some imagined standard. Now...I know that one of our stated goals with our YouTube channel is to show the world just how "normal and boring" our families(note the plural) are. And furthermore, that is the message that the gay community has to the world...that we are just the same as any one else. But the feeling I had, as I sat in the middle of a city that has so many types of gay people...each as worthy of the civil liberties we are all collectively fighting for is...who is defining that normal? Who are we leaving out in the cold when we establish that some of us are normal and some of us are not. Isn't that exactly the same kind of thinking that we are fighting against in endeavoring to achieve equal protections and opportunities as LGBT people in a world that has historically branded all gay people as "not normal"?

Bear with me and lets talk this out....


After the Q and A was over and everyone filtered out into the reception area, we continued to talk to individuals who continued to express versions of the same idea. "Thank you guys for being so normal!" To which I would smile and not as inside I was thinking, "Um...ok. What does that mean to you?" After hearing it once from the stage I could just laugh it off, but after a few more encounters with people I began to get concerned that we no longer putting a face and a name to an important issue....or helping people understand that their dreams of family are achievable.  Instead perhaps, people were taking our story as a statement that this is what acceptable "gay" is...and I don't hold with that.

For the record, I appreciate what everyone was trying to say and to a certain extent there is some truth in the fact that the movie was filmed and directed by a woman from an evangelical family and geared to reaching out to people who live in those same evangelical communities. It was meant to be a conversation starter and hopefully, an eyeopener that puts a human face on an issue for people who may not know a gay person or realize the impact that their votes can have on our lives and families.


As for our YouTube channel...we have tried to be more of a window than a bridge. Just a view into what it looks like in a day in the life of a gay family...and the only family who's story we can tell...our own. The hope we had when we started out was that other families would speak up and make just one video that showed the world another face and another flavor of what being an LGBT is. I guess that I had hoped that our first video would have sparked something like the "It Gets Better" video series. Then when people went to the voting booth for Prop 8 they would have been armed with the faces and names of the people for whom their vote was going to most effect. If they were going to support taking away the right of our family to be legally married....they should at least know who we are and that we are just like their families in almost every respect. They should have to remember my children's face as they cast their vote. I think that's only fair considering how that played out.

And just for myself alone...I was a person who went through a hell of a lot of bullying growing up. It is one of the reasons why I wrote my love letter post some time back. For most of my life I had been made to feel small, weird  and unwanted. I was small and very skinny, loved cartoons...Star Wars, And didn't like sports or girls...all of this adding up to the kiss of death for me. It was a very long road through those times and I hated myself from the inside out for many of those years. It took a while for my to understand that the qualities that made me feel different we also contained in others...that we each had something that made us outside of the norm, it was only that some people hid it better. I learned over time that what we embrace as normal, usually isn't and as a consequence, I learned to embrace my geekiness as a strength and not a liability. I was normally abnormal and that was alright. I guess that is a part of why those words made my heart ill at ease because I don't think there is only one right way to be, to be considered a valid and valuable human being.

We are only one family trying to put a face and a name on a topic that for many people in America is only about a "radical gay agenda."...whatever the hell that is. but as the word normal was being thrown about, I began to wonder if a transgendered person would fall under their definition of "normal" as they were presenting it....as an inroad to a community that normally has not accepted us. Would a gay person who never intends to marry or have kids fit under that definition....someone who does drag?....or all the oiled up boys and girls on pride floats?  There are so many different faces and stories in the LGBT community that are just as effected by discriminatory ballot measure as families like ours and just as much a part of the story we are trying to tell. And  the more I heard the same thing expressed, I began to wonder if our diversity was being forgotten. Because in my opinion, if it is what we are doing loses it's meaning. If they only reason people will vote for us is because they think we all live in suburban homes with picket fences, have 2.5 kids, and go to church on Sunday...then what have we really accomplished? Is that kind of an inroad really worth it?

I think that my husband is with me on this, but I am speaking largely from my own point of view. So I am owning this for myself and I know that I may be totally over blowing it all. However, it has something to do with why we foundationally do what we do. When we say that Gay Family Values...it isn't to present a false ideal. We chose that term to remind the world that LGBT people value love and family as much as the people who would use the term against us....not to present some unrealistic view of us as the gay  Cleavers. I don't think people get that.....Cause' June Cleaver I am not.

For all the reasons given above, I do not...nor have I ever considered myself "normal". I feel that is for good reason if it means I have to be something other than who I am in my most authentic self.....or that it means that people just like me are shut out of the conversation because their lives don't look just right to others. So often I have seen that word used to hurt. I grew up thinking that gay people were "not normal". I was taught they were scary and bad only to find out that I was one of those people. In the process of dealing with that was also discovering that those I had been brought up to fear where the same as me....just people trying to live their lives as best they could in a world that does not accept them. And so...we have all lived and built the best lives that we can with what we have been given...for all of us that result will be different.

so tell me what is normal because I don't believe in that word so much. I believe in putting our faces and names into the struggle for our rights because only then will people understand that we are their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, we are fathers and mothers with children of our own. Not some faceless entity with a scary agenda. We just want to live and love as equally as anyone else and it  has already been a hard and long road getting here to have this marriage equality struggle...and to have this opportunity for conversation and growth.

So there it is...for me, the only normal is that we are all of value in our similarities and our differences. When we try to portray only a narrow spectrum of LGBT life we are not actually building a lasting foundation for acceptance for us all. That people like the way we look on the outside is less important to me than the fact that they get to know a face and a name to hold in mind as they go to a voting booth and vote on the rights of people just like me(on my birthday no less). They should have our faces in mind as they mark their ballots and know what they are doing to other Americans and their families that are no less then theirs. I don't know if we are building a bridge in that regard...but I sure as hell hope that we are that window of understanding.

Until next time dear readers.....


22 comments:

  1. Mon Ami, Because you love your spouse and children as deeply as you do makes you "normal". The fact that you wake up every day, makes you normal. The fact that you put your pants on one leg at a time, makes you normal. We only ever get classified as wierd when we shoe a trait that that is so different, it makes people uncomfortable and shy away and we get labeled as wierd.

    We all have our odd moments, but as more of this world accepts the differences the make us the indivuals of the human race we become the "normal".

    DRS currently of Oakland.

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    1. "Mon Ami,my friend"...are you french

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    2. "Mon Ami" is a nick name I gave Bryan years ago back in high school. He knows why I keep a low profile online, but it's my way of letting him know that it's me -- even though I don't have a drop of French in me.

      I am abundantly happy for Bryan and the life that he has now. Especially the love that his husband and he share. He has almost everything I ever wanted in my life, but have yet to achieve.

      So, Mon Ami, here is a written hug and peck on the cheek. (One of each for Jay, too.) I'll call you later this week.

      -- Still earning street cred in Oakland....

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    3. Oh okay I was just wondering cause I mean used it ccorrectly you didnt say ma amie so yea I thought you were a french sppeaking person

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  2. I feel quite “normal” to myself with the exception of what my orientation is, but only as the result of ravings of vicious Bible banging Shiite Republicans. I find their inability to grasp that my orientation is just as biological as my eye and skin color to be “abnormal” on their part. That makes me much less inclined to conform to their conceptions of what normal is and more likely to just view them as an enemy to be vanquished rather than someone to win over per se. Fence-sitters? Yes, we should try to win those folks over. But the hardcore irretrievable bigots are a different matter. You just can’t do anything with that latter group of people. Other than not voting for them, all you can do is wait for their kind to just die off. And the sooner, the better. There are some exceptional cases where helping out the extinction process might be worth considering. As an example, JFK-styled brain splatter sure would look sharp on a President Santorum. Equally fashionable results for Michele Bachman or Rick Perry.

    That I would want to find someone just for me to love and be loved by, and develop something really deep and profound with that one guy as opposed to innumerable superficial encounters with strangers is purely a function of what I want for myself and NOT what the rightwing thinks I should have. I still would want the same things for myself even if the Right didn’t care or even applauded what I want. The things I seek are what feel normal FOR ME.

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  3. Thinking about it... You and your family arn't normal. Your a bridge between normal and abnormal. "normal" people see your family and see attributes of their life reflected in yours. Because they can see this they can accept the abnormal bit of your lives. What's that phrase about "there's more that unites us than devides us". What you do is stretch the boundaries of normal to include "gay". Your right in that it's no t acceptance of diversity, it's just a slight changing of what's normal. Your now accepted into the club of the normal people but while that club exists there will always be people who are not accepted. Problem is by accepting membership you strengthen the club, you validate it. "you're not like them other queers, your more like us normal folk. You can join our club". Maybe it's time to add another message besides "Look how normal we are", maybe it's time to add "we are different, we are diverse, accepting that diversity makes us stronger as a society".


    On the other hand. You do have great opportunity. As the acceptable face of "gay" you can do more to promote diversity than people who are more diverse. People will listen to you because people can see a commonality with you. Use the fact that you are normal to promote diversity.... Thinking about it, you have already done that, the blogs on transgenderism are promoting diversity.

    There should be a T shirt logo... "Diversity makes us the same"

    Holly

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  4. Like you, I am not a fan of the word Normal. How "normal" are any of us really? What constitutes "normal"? I am sure the definition is just as diverse as say the colors of the rainbow.

    Right now I am pondering this as I sit in my room at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where we are winding up our last night of the GRL retreat. (Gay Romantic Literature) One of the things that was really really wonderful about this gathering of 300+ people talking about gay romance, was how many shades of the rainbow were represented. The crowd was so diverse, and it was beautiful and wonderful to meet people from all walks of life, from all over the world, that were straight, gay, bi, trans, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers. What it comes down to is that we are human, and our similarities far outweigh our differences.

    You and your family are an inspiration and you are doing such wonderful things. Keep fighting the good fight! :)

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  5. Bryan, I don't see a lot of difference here from your concern about a campaign that has straight spokespeople for gay causes. Who your family is and what it represents now, today, this month, this year can perhaps be looked at as a path to understanding, leading to a highway of acceptance, opening up to a vista of embracing diversity. Our "cause" needs a smattering of Cleaverville (not so sure about the pearls) to open reluctant eyes and hearts. And when those eyes and hearts have been opened the colorful diversity of our community won't look quite so strange. When I was really young and coming out many older Gays still enjoyed their "closet community" and a lot fought very hard against those trying to open the doors. Fortunately for all of us, normal is a very flexible status. As always, your family continues to inspire.

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  6. i rejected 'normal' long ago. i have never fit in. while i share specific features with other family members, i dont look like any of them in the broad stroke. the only people who have had the same, in degree, experiences i have had are certified loons- i am not(despite any evidence to the contrary and any bouts with depression/major depressive episodes/suicide). we were not rich enough to be 'white'(food? that stuff we scrape from between the roaches you mean?) and mom did not speak enough spanish to be mexican(though even today she gets people come up to her thinking she'll understand), o and 'dad' was a cheating dress wearing homosexual layabout that couldnt keep a job (and everyone knew)(she has since transitioned and is in a much better internal place). since i was a teenager, i conscientiously reject all the trappings of self-righteous hypocrites that twist the words of love and deeper spiritual truths they simply cannot understand and embrace my seeking after truth paganism-with my piercings, long hair (i like the merlin look thank you very much) and tattoos- and i dont get into the drugs either so i was only ever on the fringe of that group too.

    so i agree with you here but i understand why 'they' say you are normal- despite the issues involved- you are, by shallow appearance anyway, wasps that are just a wee bit quirky and when that is what people are told to expect and embrace it, you kind of are mr cleaver in a very modern way.
    yeah, you are a nerd(or a geek-despite your attempts to reject that too), but this is the age of the nerd, we win and are socially acceptable at large, for the moment. youre a gaymer, we are popular though because we make sports games for the jocks. . . so that we can make our own games. as gay men, youre not extremely effeminate and jay is a hero by default as both a soldier and a cop- and thats hard for many a southerner to swallow even today.
    yeah its a bit jaded but that remains the truth there for all those sheeple out there. afraid to let go of the never existed cleaver family and that fictional idol of the ideal american family.

    speaking for myself, the window you have provided is to a loving, caring, committed home that i never really had, whether because of a have to situation or because of other issues mom was not there and neither was 'dad' and Dad was no angel either(though he was a Godsend). you showed me that, even if it doesnt happen for myself, someone who is at least somewhat similar to me has done for themselves exactly what i want for myself-ish in my paint by number fantasies. it is still a struggle but it appears my role as priest means i get to sacrifice those things but hey, i will live my life and be happy in it regardless of those grass is greener moments. (and i could be wrong, perhaps i will suddenly find myself in a similar situation to you guys- but im not holding my breath for it.)

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  7. The concept of "normal" os a socially-mediated construct. What you guys do through the film, YouTube and this blog helps expand others' ideas of what "normal" means, by showing that a two-dad family is not (or shouldn't be considered to be) an abnormal thing.

    It's baby steps, and agonisingly slow (especially for genderqueer people like me) but it was the tortoise that won the race, not the hare.

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    1. I looked at a larger blowup of your picture, and you don’t look particularly gender-queer to me. You look more hippie-like generally and one who could audition for Ozric Tentacles (“Ozzie’s Testacles” for the hearing-impaired :-D :-D ). The Ozric’s are a modern exotic, all instrumental psychedelic / progressive from the UK. Check them out on YouTube, especially their live material. Awesome lightshow. Lots of acid gets dropped at European Ozric shows, and watching concert footage will make it plain why that happens. If you lose the glasses and grow your beard out more, you’ll even be scary enough to audition even for Pantera.

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  8. I think the definition of "normal" in our society is evolving and evolving very rapidly. Really..not all that long ago it was not "normal" for a woman to vote. And even in my lifetime it was not "normal" in some states for a black man and a white woman to legally marry. Even though it was not illegal years ago divorce was not "normal." Divorced people were often looked down upon in society as failures.
    I think gay rights are in a fast forward mode. Also in my lifetime being gay was not "normal." Back in the 1970's it was called a mental illness. We went from that 38 years ago to the current President of the United States coming out publicly to endorse marriage for gay people.
    Normalcy is fluid. It is constantly changing. I know at times we get frustrated because we want our rights and want "normal" to change more quickly but if you stand back and look at our society you realize that "normal" is rapidly changing..and changing in our favor.

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  9. Thanks for bringing this up, Brian. I was having a discussion about this the other day with an acquaintance of mine. She said that she was okay with me because I wasn't like other gay people. I asked her what she meant about that and she just made a "swishy" movement with her hand to indicate that I'm not all girly. Other than being a fairly big and broad shouldered man, I am by no means the picture of masculinity, but I some how convinced her that I was worthy of respect because I was manlier than other gay people. Of course, that is beside the point. I explained to her that if I had a lisp, a petite build, and pranced around the work place I would still be worthy of respect.

    What's worse is when I hear other gay people talk about how "those kind" are holding back the rights movement.

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    1. I don’t think I would necessarily go so far as say that lisping, emaciated, estrogen-farting pez dispensers are holding the rights movement back but, face it, that group is THE very first thing which comes to mind for homophobic bigots when they think of the gay community. In terms of ballot initiatives, that subgroup presents an image problem for us and featuring them in equality ads is a tactical blunder when it’s the hearts and minds of BIGOTS we unfortunately need to win over. If in their minds, gay = nauseating femininity = David Bromstad in drag = Pee Wee Herman jacking off in a movie theater, etc., DON’T evoke that imagery in ads or you’ve just set another “No” vote in concrete! Like it or not, in ads you need to use gay couples who look close enough to the general voting public’s concept of “normality” to not trigger their “yuck” gag reflex at the polls. So, in making casting decisions for such ads, people who look like Jay and Bryan would get the gig, and I would steer clear of people looking like RuPaul or Liberace. The average voter simply can’t be expected to keep lunch down if the image you feed him is one of a skinny, hairless gyrating raver in black spandex and pink fuzzy tennis shoes. :-D

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    2. I think Jim is right. Normal is fluid. But look at it as a group of concentric circles (er, well, a bullseye if you must) with a white mainstream male and female couple in the center circle. In every exterior circle you include yet one more variation of the center couple and slowly, over time, those exterior circles converge towards the center. The fringe, sometimes with agonizingly slow progress, moves towards the center and something even more interesting and diverse takes its place. It simply takes time. But I hesitate to caution that the strength of some of your adjectives, Dave, remind me of how the comfortable older crowd of gay men in the late 50s and early 60s used to talk about those of us who stuck our necks out and worked for gay rights. Even "we", maybe especially "we" have to be careful how we characterize our own fringe element. No?

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    3. I’ll admit my adjectives are colorful, but I’m a colorful guy and a lengthy reputation for being that here. As colorful as my descriptions are, I DO think they accurately reflect how the heterosexual community looks at us. When they think gay, the image which comes to their minds is Brian from The New Normal. They feel the greatest degree of alienation from people looking like Brian, and ads featuring people with the ultra-fem-fabulous look of Brian will elicit the greatest negative response from those bigoted voters. Those voters will NOT be thinking of people who have a “regular” look to them, and certainly not more masculine subgroups of the gay community such as bears or leather men. I’m just saying equality ads need to be careful about the imagery they present to the public. Since gay people are the subject of such referendums, they need to be presented rather than just straights talking about them, but the gay folks featured in those ads need to have a relatively inoffensive look to the voting public. Lisping, limp-wristed fems will induce voter nausea more than any other gay subgroup, so featuring them in ads will backfire by creating more “no” votes than “yes” votes for equality. Likewise, featuring heavily-tattooed leather men probably will frighten voters and will create more “no” votes than “yes” ones for equality. As far as depicting lesbian couples, good marketing would call for using couples which seem to have so-called “normal” levels of femininity to them. Choosing an ultra-short haired butch couple wearing flannel sleeveless shirts who look like truckers or welders would elicit a negative response in voters similar to featuring feminine male couples. All I’m ultimately saying is don’t make equality ads which shoot you in the foot because you’ve made such poor casting decisions.

      I see what you look like and your activities as far as fighting for equality as separate issues. Anyone, regardless of their appearance, can step up and fight for equality. But, when it comes to equality ADS, you need to present imagery which does us more good than harm.

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  10. I don't know what normal is, normal is not only always changing but it is also very subjective too. I know that I have never been normal, I have never fit neatly into on group or another, and have always been something of an outsider for the most part in my life. I have also always been kind of "out there" with my thinking lots of the time which in some ways is good because I see things in different ways, but in other ways it makes me strange because I see things in such a different way. I am just learning that normal really dose not exist, as I thought that my life as "normal" ended when I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, instead it has just meant shaping a new normal. A normal that is making me over all a much happier more balanced me, something that I never thought I would be. It has also given me a view into another world of normal, that many would think is abnormal.

    I think that you guys are normal, more in the since that you guys have the same sorts of hopes and wishes out of life and feel the same sorts of emotions as every one else. It also dose not hurt that you also reflect an adjusted stereotypical Leave It To Beaver family.

    I would also like to think that if people got a chance to know any gay person, like they get a chance to know you guys, that they would see no matter what "type" of gay person they got to know that, that person was just a normal person. as for the most part once you get to know anyone they are just normal people.

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  11. I am a straight public high school teacher and I just watched "The Right To Love" which was loaned to me by one of my students who went to the screening in San Francisco. I thought it was wonderful. I totally agree with what you are saying about "normal," but I hope you know you are still doing a good thing with your videos. People have a long way to go to understanding sometimes. Sometimes they have to see a family that looks like yours--two committed spouses and two children who are middle class and religious and "boringly" normal--that is close enough to their reality for them to stretch their boundaries of acceptance a little. That's one step closer to them accepting a family with transgender parents, or bisexual parents, or a couple that doesn't want to have children, or whatever they view as a little less "normal." Thank you for taking the first step. We are slow as a society, but we will get there. I grew up being bullied for being weird...nothing to do with sexual orientation. Being constantly told I wasn't normal enough. I built a happy life as an adult, but now I see my students struggle with the same thing: because of their race, their background, their socioeconomic status, their abilities...they are told they are not normal. We are overmedicating, overschooling, overanalyzing our children in an effort to get them to meet some standard of normalcy. You know what I think we'll eventually realize? NONE of us are normal. We are all just different flavors of unusual, and both flawed and beautiful in our uniqueness. There can still be a common standard of right and wrong without forcing everyone to be alike or to agree. There can be equality without sameness. Good luck to your family and thank you for leading the way.

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  12. I am really appreciating the conversation that has taken place here and I feel some very wonderfull comments were made. I still do not...and due to my past, will I EVER....put myself in the "normal" category. To me, that would feel like a betrayal of having survived many years of being made to feel odd and outside. I have come to think of normal in the sense of a common humanity emotions, needs, and challenges and not the outward appearance of our lives. I own my wierd and while embracing it helps...I still sometimes feel that outsider status.

    But @Drago...this made me laugh:

    "you are, by shallow appearance anyway, wasps that are just a wee bit quirky."

    The family down the street thats "just a wee bit quirky" sounds like a description of the Adams Family to me....LOL. that totally made me laugh...thanks for that. :)

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    1. Bryan,

      I get what you say about thinking of normality coming from the commonality of emotions, needs and challenges anyone has, but I think had you grown up in a less churchy environment and hadn’t been pummeled nonstop with spiritual abuse, you would have a greater sense of external normality than you currently have. Except for my gayness, my humor being zanier than average and my musical tastes being freakier than average, I feel quite ordinary. And any sense of differentness from being gay comes solely from what Rightwing fanatics have to say about it and you know how quickly I dismiss and reject those nutjobs. I have the same needs and feelings as a straight guy does and a capacity to love that is the same as his if not greater, but the only difference is who those feelings are directly toward.

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