Those We Have Lost

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When I was a young gay kid, before I came out and understood what I was, I hadn’t had much connection with a LGBTQ community. Keep in mind that when I was a child that was late 1970s through the 1980s. The only LGBTQ people that I even knew were two women who lived together that were friends of my mother. Even with going to their houses often, I don’t think I ever understood the dynamic of their relationship. I remember hearing about the “gay cancer” and GRID when I was young and it was still distant to me. Those were dark times.

Millions of gay men were dying due to this illness and the President didn’t even use the term AIDS until 1985. It took the death of his personal long time friend Rock Hudson and the disease to start affecting the heterosexual community before those words were mentioned. It was in 1985 that the President had talked about children with AIDS being allowed or not allowed to continue public education. Reagan had even prevented the Surgeon General C. Everett Koop from speaking out about AIDS. In 1986n when he was pushed by many public officials to address the epidemic, he had expressed how he wanted it to be in line with conservative policies. However, Koop’s speech was more geared towards AIDS education.

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The point being that my experiences was limited prior to coming out. When I first started going to the bars near my hometown, it was an eye opener. And that was where I met Shawn, the first man I ever had a serious relationship with. He bought me a drink and had a waiter deliver it to me. It wasn’t until later than the waiter asked me if I wanted to meet the person that bought me the drink. When he walked me to meet Shawn and our eyes met, I was hooked. We left together later and went back to his place. Not once was I ever filled with apprehension. Until that very night, I had only fooled around with a few guys and would be considered a virgin by most standards. We talked for a long time at his place and had a few drinks. We both were getting very into one another when he said he had something to tell me that could change things.

He told me that he was HIV+ and had been since 1988, about seven years at the time. He looked at me with tear filled eyes as he told me this statement. He was sharing the very darkest parts of himself to someone he had just met in a bar and hoping against hope that they wouldn’t reject him. He looked at me with anticipation, where seconds were drawn out into lifetimes. I looked at him and smiled and said it doesn’t bother me. Shocked, he asked me if I understand what he had said to me. I said, “Yes, you told me that you were HIV+.” and that I understood that it meant he had an infection that very likely would take his life, but I still didn’t care. He asked me if the idea of sex with an HIV+ person was scary, I said it was a little. But we would be using protection and always being cognizant of the risks, so that would help. And sex always has risks; you never know whom you are meeting and what they may be infected with. At least he was being honest upfront. I told him I would be tested often to ensure I always knew my status. But ultimately, it did not change my feelings for him. We spend the first night together and it was magical for me. Not once did his status effect what I felt. The next morning he asked if I would come back that night after I got off work. I said yes.

When I got to his house, he had prepared a dinner for us. We talked more and then he said he had some more things he wanted to share with me. He put on the movie “It’s My Party” and rearranged some things on his coffee table. If you haven’t seen It’s My Party, the short version is that it is a movie set during the height of the AIDS epidemic and one man who decides to host a party to tell his friends and family his decision to not let AIDS ravage him, but instead take his own life. The movie showcases people helping other AIDS patients end their lives in a dignified fashion. The rearrangement of the coffee table was to showcase Chicken Soup for the Soul books about being HIV+ and assisted suicide. At the end of the movie we talked about the books and he asked me if I felt if I would ever be able to help someone pass. Honestly I didn’t know how to respond. I told him that in my heart I wasn’t sure that I could, but we could talk about it.

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We met February 14th 1996 and I moved in with him a month later. I knew this was the man I wanted to be with. I stayed with him until February 23th 2003, when he died of complications of pneumonia due to HIV. I was with him through the horrible AZT cocktail years. The night sweats and terrors, the lack of appetite and loss of weight. I watched him take handfuls of pills daily and he never lost his upbeat attitude. The seven years we were together were the most I had ever grown in my life, in a short amount of time. He taught me about LGBTQ history and to be proud of what I was.

His passing was the hardest thing I have yet to experience and it is still burned into my memory. We had moved to North Carolina the last few years of his life, he wanted to be where he felt most at home. The three years we were there I watched his health start to decline. What I did not know what that he had decided that he didn’t want to take his meds any longer. The newest cocktail that he was taking really made him feel horrible. He didn’t have energy, he didn’t want to get out of bed, and he had no interest in most things, sex included. He would go through bouts of depression and just didn’t want to deal with it any longer. After the first year living in North Carolina, I suspected he probably had stopped his meds. But he always told me that when he knew his body had enough, he would not fight it anymore. For most of those three years he was happy, we had our own place in the country with just about two acres of land. A woodlot surrounded us on all sides, so we didn’t even see our neighbors.

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The last year there, I watched him lose a lot of weight quickly. Shawn was never a big guy. When I first met him, he was 5’8 and maybe all of 110 lbs., if that. The last year of his life he weighed just about 90lbs. I knew the end was coming. I came home from work to find him struggling to breath and I immediately freaked out. Hysteria swept over me and I didn’t know how to respond. All I remember was begging him not to leave me. I dropped to my knees crying holding his hand. Our eyes met, he squeezed my hand as he took his last breaths and all I could think about was that I failed him in being able to help him die on his own terms. His eyes were somber; he squeezed my hand one more time as he took his last breath. I felt a shiver go through him and me I knew he was gone. I was distraught and didn’t know what to do. I grabbed the phone, dialed 911 to get them there, and explained he was HIV+. They arrived shortly after and tried to resuscitate him. He was gone.

Saturday December 1st is World AIDS Day. It is a day of remembering those we have lost to this horrible disease. It’s a day for raising awareness of AIDS to those of us around us. In this era where we have preventative measures, we often forget that this disease still claims many people each year. At this very moment there are 36.7 million people, worldwide, living with HIV or AIDS. Since 1984, over 35 million have died from HIV or AIDS, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history. Remember that the PREP drugs are not reason to have unprotected sex and still should be used in conjunction with condoms. Don’t put your life into a drug when you are dealing with a virus that has adapted to the majority of the treatments that have come along. Your life and the lives of those you come into contact with are too precious to take chances. Be smart.

For further information about World AIDS Day please check out their link WorldAIDSDay.org. Remember al the lives we have lost to this vicious disease, for their lives have given us the advances we have now. Remember them with pride, honor, and love.

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The Importance of Being Earnest…

Earnest is defined as resulting from or showing sincere and intense conviction. And a conviction is a firmly held belief. Are you being earnest in your everyday life? Do you struggle to be earnest? We all believe in things, we believe the sun will come up tomorrow, we believe that the sky is blue, and some of believe we are here for a much higher purpose. But to have conviction in your beliefs is so much more stronger and those things usually hold to very intrinsic values. Like the belief that all people should be treated equally, that there is something after this life, or that people are inherently good and will choose so. Being earnest carries them one step further. It is an ideal of living by your beliefs, expressing them without fear, and not backing down from what you truly believe.

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Now if you clicked this because you were expecting some review of the play by Oscar Wilde, well I am sorry to break it to you that will not be happening. Though I may draw a few parallels. So, if you have read the play, you realize it is a story about lies. Lies to make people fall for you and then pretending to be those lies to win them over. Only to find out in the end that they unravel before our eyes and we have to accept the truth of ourselves and learn the lesson. Growing up LGBTQ, we all learn quickly about hiding our true selves and creating a persona to show the world. Wd do it so we won’t be judged. We do it so we can fit in. In some cases we do it so we will not be physically harmed by others in our lives.

We put on this mask and present ourselves to the world. We stand in front of mirrors practicing what to say, how we stand, how we look, and how we dress. All of this to make sure there is no crack in the wall we put up. Every day and every moment we constantly run a check over this visage to ensure it is properly in place and adjusting as needed. Inside we only hope that someone will accept us for who we are, while at the same time fighting to be accepted for how we force ourselves to appear. It is a mentally tiring struggle to have to endure and yet so many still believe we choose to be LGBTQ. For some of us, we reach a point were we make an active decision to continue this struggle to accept who we are and try to start loving ourselves. For the many that continue with the wall they go on to develop new layers of bricks to help with maintaining it. Statements like “I don’t need to be out because no one needs to know with whom I am sleeping,” or “I am more than just being LGBTQ, it doesnt define who I am.” Even to the ideal that you may lose your job, family, or place you live if people found out who you are.

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The very act of maintaining these walls creates the very thing that you do not want to happen. Because you are presenting a false sense of self to the world, they now judge you based on that appearance. They now assume you are like they are, sleeping with the same kinds of people they do, enjoying the same things they partake of, and experiencing life in the same ways. The very act creates a lie and allows them to judge you for being someone you are not. You accept that it is ok to not be judged by who you really are but rather be judged by their perceptions. This, in fact, is exactly what they would have done had they known who you really are to being with. It is a strange irony that we accept one while negating the other.

If you believe that labels shouldn’t be used to define people and that is why you don’t come out, then you are right that labels shouldn’t be used as a means of segregation. However, if you don’t tell others about yourself, they apply their predetermined labels of who they see you as and still use them for segregation and separation.You give them the same power that you hoped they could not have. Look I get it, labels are bad, but they are necessary. They shouldn’t be used as a means of looking down on others. We will always have them as a means of identifying humanity. They will always be used to describe the difference between males and females, adults and children, young and old, and others like new and used. It is an easy way of describing with whom you are attracted to emotionally or sexually. It is not, however, acceptable to then use those differences as a means of persecuting those people.

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Much of this stems from the fear we develop when we realize who we truly are and that it is different from those we grow up with. We hear all to often how you are either heterosexual or you are a sinner. We develop this mentality that our very nature is evil and wrong. We later try to rationalize that we hid it because we shouldn’t be judged by who with sleep with or love. This starts because we are forced to believe that being different is wrong. This is the very thing that needs to be changed. You will never be able to stop humanity from judging others, it is so deeply rooted into our very beings.

I can sit here and tell you that if you lose friends because of who you are, I will say you never know if the reason you lost them is because of who you truly are or what you lead them to believe. If they do leave your life because of who you truly are, then they were not friends to begin with. Friends accept you for your difference, even when others will not. I can even sit here and tell you that if your family leaves you for the same reason, you are better off. We have the ability of choosing our own family that is safe and loving for us. The only caveat I ever give on this is if you are in a situation where you are dependent on someone for your survival. If you are not legally and adult and can work to support yourself, then rethink when you choose to let those walls down, especially if you are in an abusive family.

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I do not judge anyone for choosing to not tell others who they truly are, do I think you are benefiting yourself by maintaining those walls? Absolutely not!!! Your life is your own, I cannot tell you how to live it. I can say that living a lie isn’t healthy. I can say that at some point your wall will crack and crumble and all you have hidden will be cast into the light and now you will be judged for the lies you have told as well as the truth you kept hidden. We are slowly moving into a world where basic human rights are being stripped from those that the greater masses consider less than worthy. Not standing up to fight this kind of tyranny only speeds it along. We are an easily overlooked minority, you can’t tell we are gay by the color of our skin or who we are descended from. We are perceived as a fewer amount because we are not easily identifiable, that is good because it can insulate us from harm and bad because it leads more to believe that it is a choice and there really aren’t enough of us that we should have our own rights.

Being LGBTQ is hard enough, for us to cause strife about being out is wrong. We should be lending support and love. Fostering the sense of we belong and we are as natural as rain. We can change the climate for the future, to ensure that they don’t have to build the same walls that we keep up to protect us from a cruel world. For those that still refuse to come out, I offer you my deepest love, respect, and will always listen to you. Your fight is as equally as hard as those that are out to the public. You suffer in silence and hiding, so know there are those of that will will always lend support and allow you to be as earnest as you can be.

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Are You Thankful?

The holiday season is upon us and for me one of my more favorites of them is Thanksgiving. That being said, in a moment we will also discuss why I very much dislike this holiday. This is the one holiday where friends and family come together to share a meal. A time to take stock of what has transpired and what is to come. It is an invented holiday, but one that has some pretty awesome food to eat. So, bear with me while I share a bit with you.

As I mentioned, this is my favorite holiday and it is primarily due to the sharing of good food. Sitting down with those that are important in your life and partaking of food is an amazing experience. It gives you time to share your lives, appreciate the finer nuances of life, and slow down to appreciate the small details of a thing. One can argue about Christmas and the veritable boundless days of feasting, but it is also caught up too much in commercialism. Children are even taught to appreciate receiving gifts more than enjoying the closeness of the season. But that is not the point of this article.

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Thanksgiving was always a “family” holiday in my family. We would go to the various grandparents’ houses where each person usually brought some side dish or dessert with them.  It was a time to go to my Meemaw’s house and it was looked forward too because we knew the food was going to be amazing. And we would get to watch the parades on TV. Meemaw or her sister Recie would cook the turkey till it was just dripping with juices and surrounding it was their version of dressing. Never did they stuff the bird. The dressing was savory with bits of raisins and apples to give it just a touch of sweetness. She was also famous for her corn pudding. I still have her recipe, but never have I been able to make the consistency or taste she could whip up.

Recie was famous for her biscuits. She did small batches at a time and always cooked them in pie tins. Their kitchen had a woodstove that she always seemed to precisely know the temperature of. They would come out of the over, perfectly golden brown and seven at a time. Piping hot with a pat of butter and a slice of tomato and it was utter perfection. For anyone from European countries reading this and wondering why we made biscuits in pie tins, an American biscuit is more akin to a scone. However, we make them savory as opposed to sweet. Recie was also known, at least for me, for her green beans. Whether it be Blue Lakes, Half Runners, or snap beans they were also delicious. They would cook for hours with fatback, which gave them the perfect flavor. Sunday dinners and holidays, I always knew I could count on green beans and biscuits.

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My mother always made amazing sweet potato casserole, if you ask me, no one can cook sweet potatoes like southern cooks. My mother was the baker for holidays. Friends and family alike sought the confections she could put together out. There were a few she made during the holidays that I always waited for and I think my all time favorite was her Applesauce cake. When I went to college, it wasn’t often that I could afford to come home for Thanksgiving and my mother made it a little better with that holiday care package that had an Applesauce cake in it. This thing can literally last weeks. Every bite would transport me to my youth sitting around Meemaw’s kitchen table, eating dinner with the family.

Each of those women is responsible for me being able to cook today and I try to honor their memory by cooking dishes they did. Sometimes I am close and a great many others, I am simply left remembering amazing memories from my youth. Now that I live in the Cleveland area, I try to at least make one of the many dishes for my friends. More often than not it is the dressing and corn pudding. I have to admit, they are probably the hardest to pass up this time of year and sharing my family with them is pretty awesome, as well.

Thanksgiving is a created holiday, like I said. The actual idea and name came much later than the story that we were told in elementary school. We all remember it, how the cultured Pilgrims who came here to escape religious persecution invited the native savages to break bread in an act of friendship and solidarity and beginning of peaceful coexistence. Well just about all of it is a sham. First off, there was no last peace, as you can remember from history class. But specifically to that “famed” day, what he is taught is pretty different in every way from the truth. Pilgrims, themselves, were already outcasts. They wanted to overthrow the English government so they could practice their own beliefs. They left and came to this land as they outcasts they because and still thinking they were the “chosen ones.” This land was to be there “Holy Kingdom.” They waged war against anyone who didn’t agree with their purification interpretation of scripture. Even not opposed to using tactics like torture, war, and lies to achieve that end. They saw the native people as their divine right to make in their image.

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The Wampanoag were not the friendly tree hugging people that our history books make them out to be. They spent most of their time fighting for their lands and lives against the League of the Delaware or what would later be called the Iroquois Confederacy. They also had many meetings with white fisherman and slavers. Our “Indian hero” of the story, Squanto, had a very real love with a British explorer John Weymouth and he considered him a father. This all happened several years before the Pilgrims landed. Squanto was also the only educated and baptized Christians and as such, the Pilgrims saw him as a divine instrument they could use in converting the rest of his people.

At this point the native people held a much stronger advantage in the situation. They were familiar with the territory, knew how to plant crops that would grow in the soils there, where to hunt, and were much more stronger force than the few Pilgrims. In hopes of holding out for the greater force arriving in the next year, the Pilgrims tried to forge a peace with the Wampanoag. They called for a meeting with the motive of securing lands for the Pilgrim Plantation, under the guise of peace. The Wampanoag were people believed to never turn away people who asked for help with an outstretched hand probably brought most of the actual feast for this meeting.

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It was probably almost a generation later when the balance of power shifted and the King Philip’s War started and the very children of that feast were sat upon killing one another. This war decimated most of the New England natives and left them dead, refugees to Canada, or sold into slavery in the Carolinas. At this time the Puritans/Pilgrims had become fairly successful in the slave trade of native people. Not the peace loving, seeking our place to worship without fear of persecution types we were lead to believe in our school education.

There my kiddies, is a brief explanation of why I both love and dislike this holiday. What I hold onto is the sharing with family, a time to remember all past events that have gotten us to where we are now and be thankful for them. A time to look ahead and share in the very earthly delights of food and spirits. It’s the focus of small things that truly make living an ultimate experience. So slow down this holiday and eat, drink, and be merry. Enjoy the company and how it pairs with the amazing food you are eating.

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Through The Looking Glass

A wise Jedi once said, “Fear leads to Anger, Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to Suffering.” Fear causes all kinds of dilemmas and as LGBTQ people; it is an emotion that we learn at a very early age. Being found out for who we are causes an intense amount of fear and we typically push that down deep inside to hide it so we aren’t seen as any more weak than people already perceive us.  This suppression leads to internalizing our fear and hatred of being judge and oftentimes ends up manifesting in our relationships as adults. How can we change that from happening?

This fear leads to hiding ourselves from fear of reprisal. Afraid of being judged, loss of the love from our loved ones, and loss of family. We create a protective bubble around us to shield us from being judged or seen for who we are. This can lead to trauma to ourselves both spiritually and mentally. This disconnect carries on into our lives and who we interact with. We tell ourselves that this learned response is a means to get past the “this is just a phase” of who we are inside. This is especially true in the older generation and the lives they lived.

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In gay men, this often led to getting married and having a family, simply to hide the fact that we may have had feeling for other men. Any furtive encounters we may have had, we would never mention the words of love or talk of feelings. It was a quick convenience of physical pleasure to hold us until we could get back to our “real lives.” If we actually were in a position to start a relationship with a man, often times we would still not discuss love or our futures together. It is hard coming out to those in your life, which is why so many do not come out. Only being open about who they are when they are around other LGBTQ people.

Saying things like “I don’t need to wear rainbows and dance on Pride Parade floats to be gay.” “Just because I am gay doesn’t mean I am some raving, screaming Queen.” These kind of statements come from the internalized fear we all adopt for not being able to be our authentic selves. We adopt the negative stigmas and stereotypes that others judge us by as a means to judge our own selves by. Thereby perpetuating self-hatred and misery.

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Now before you take this the wrong way, let me clarify. No you should not judged by just by your sexuality, it is a very essential part of who you are, but it is not the only part. But you must accept who you are at the very core. This goes for gender identity as well as sexuality. Accepting yourself is always the first step; you cannot expect others to do so if you do not. You have to stop lying to yourself and others if you ever hope to be your true authentic self.

Scott Tsui, author of the article Authenticity: How To Be Real has a starting list of 5 Ways of Being Authentic With Yourself:

  1. Accept your true self and treat others with respect.
  2. Remain consistent with your core values. Match words with your behavior
  3. Embrace your true identity: accept who you are and be proud. Internalized homophobia and saying, “I’m gay,” can be difficult. Acknowledge it, find a way to heal and enable yourself to move forward.
  4. Because of the stress and internal battles, addictions and compulsiveness may result. Take courage and admit you need help.
  5. Be honest about your HIV status.

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Give up on the negative connotations that surround your sexuality. Focus on who you want to be and what you want out of life. I get it, there are a lot of stressors in the real world, familial obligations, living up to standards set on you by the media, your own feelings of self-doubt, and imperfections. But you deserve to feel pride and fulfillment in yourself, Work to give up those things, as they do not pertain to you. We aren’t perfect and we need to understand there is no other option than to live as who we are meant to be. I am not trying to sound preachy here, but life is worth more than constantly not being happy and lying to ourselves.

Scott Tsui also mentions some traps of not being authentic with others:

  1. Recognize story telling. Whether it’s an outright lie or exaggeration, pretending or falsifying creates living a lie and distortion of reality.
  2. There may be an incapacity to express inner emotions due to traumatic past experiences. This could be based around a lack of trust and/or an inability to verbalize true feelings, which can evolve into frustration or retreating within one’s self.
  3. Another trap is the inability to build intimacy, such as having fear of being seen as imperfect or getting emotionally hurt.
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There are plenty of thoughtless people out there who simply lie to get what they want out of you and life. Those are the ones we need to be aware of and if in a relationship with, get out of. It is sad that lack of courage, support, and confidence can lead us to using lies as a shield of protection. We see it as a strength to deflect the blows from a cruel world without realizing it becomes a crutch for us to get by on. Unfortunately, this usually ends up with being caught in a web of lies and ones that we often cannot see the truth through. From here it leads to more loneliness and anger.

Our own personal suffering always starts from fear. Fear of being who we are leads us to hiding our true selves away. This fear leads to anger for being different which leads to hating that we are different and wanting to change. That hatred leads to our own suffering and the suffering we cause others by the lies we have told. There are not quick roads to acceptance, it’s a long process of tearing down the webs we have spun and can be a struggle to change all that has transpired from the fear we first felt. But all journeys start with one small step. Isn’t it time that you take it?

 

 

Holiday Woes…

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I have mentioned in a previous post about a lesson my first boyfriend taught me, that as LGBTQ we have this amazing ability to choose our own family. That lesson is very important this time of year as the holidays approach. Many of us, especially our younger LGBTQ brothers and sisters, do not have their biological families for whatever reason. That is hard to get past and leaves lasting scars. It is to you and them that I say, do not be afraid to reach out to your community and become a family for someone who may need it.

Those of us who consider ourselves activists or advocate, in any way, talk about how visibility is important to acceptance of LGBTQ people. So let’s look at a staggering fact, it is reported that 34,000 people commit suicide each year, with LGBTQ people being four times as likely to commit suicide. Let that sink in, 34,000people. In three short years, that number would rise to just over 100,000 people. To put that into another perspective, my hometown is about 40,000 people, so that would mean that almost everyone in that town would disappear each year. 500,000 LGBTQ youth attempt suicide each year. The population of Cleveland, Ohio is 385,525 people, so almost twice the number of people in Cleveland attempt suicide each year. Combine those numbers with drug addiction and you quickly see the impact this has on our community. Looking for more information on this, check out DrugRehab.com for some of their substance abuse relating suicide statistics.

The Trevor Project  has some scary facts as well.

  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24
  • In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.
  • LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely t have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.
  • Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.

These are only a few statistics from their page and ones that really point towards familiar issues. Psychology Today stated that “5,000 LGBTQ youth now take their lives each year with the number believed to be significantly higher if deliberate auto accidents and other precipitated events are counted.” There has been correlation noted that as more laws were passed to create protection to our LGBTQ people, that these numbers started to lower.

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This is why family and a solid foundation are necessary for our community. Depression affects an estimated 17 million people in the US and a higher proportion being in the LGBTQ communities.  Holidays can be even rougher, as it is typically a time of togetherness. This creates a huge strain on those that are ostracized from their families for whatever reason. LGBTQ youth that have been kicked out of their homes may not know what services are available to them and end up on the street. This only adds to the feelings of being alone and thrown away. These feelings are not indicative of LGBTQ teens, many older LGBTQ people are also faced with feelings of isolation or not belonging for reason such as family loss, loss of relationship, or even feelings of rejection and lack of acceptance by the larger LGBTQ community

The holidays are when we, as LGBTQ people, should make an effort to spend more time around people and organizations that can help mitigate the levels of feeling isolated and rejected. Take a look at local LGBTQ organizations that put on  holiday events in your area that can help ease the stress of being alone or separated from family this time of year. Here in Cleveland, Ohio you can check the calendar at the LGBTQ Community Center of Greater Cleveland and see what they have going on. If you see someone that may be in need of some interaction, please reach out to him or her. You may never know the kind of impact you may have on that person.

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If you haven’t come out or may be introducing a new partner, this time of year can also increase the amount of stress and separation you are feeling. Returning to an environment where you are forced to hide a part of yourself because you are afraid of how your family will react can be very difficult. Being born and raised in a southern household with a father who carried many forms of prejudice, it is something I am all too familiar with. Constantly having to give extra thought to mannerisms or word choice because I may be judged is very stressful. My partner worrying about how he may be accepted and me being on guard over what may be said creates a toxic environment that tends to breed more problems. Many Thanksgiving dinners were fraught with worry the dreaded question of “are you seeing anyone?” or “when are you gonna bring a nice girl home?”

Interaction with people and events doesn’t always mean someone isn’t depressed. Going to holiday parties can lead to or further enable substance abuse as a means of a coping mechanism. This can give someone the appearance of being ok when in fact they are not. I am not here to educate you in watching for signs of substance abuse as a means of coping with depression, only to point out that it is one. So when you are inviting people to partake of social situations this time of year, make sure they are always just a party. If you are inviting someone to an event that may not be a part of your normal group, be sure to look out for them. If you are looking for events to attend, look for social gatherings as well as hitting your local bar. Keeps it varied and creates a closer sense of connection.

We get to choose our family as LGBTQ people, so we should make those choices carefully. Make sure we are surrounding ourselves with a community that fosters love and support. The holidays are about being with family and what better way to celebrate that with those very people who understand the struggles we face daily. Let’s use our scars as badges of healing and reach out to those who may not have a family to turn to.

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I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For Drag Queens.

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Whether you love them or not, you have to admit that drag has been a large part of the LGBTQ community. Many of the early activists were drag queens. They have offered social commentary, humor, unity, and escape from the lives we lead. Recent years has seen an increase in their popularity amongst all people. We have also seen increases in media focus, from TV shows to starring in movies. They have made an impact, but have you ever wondered where it started and why it’s such an integral part of our community?

It may be best to start with a definition and I will preface this and say that like many labels, the term drag queen can refer to many types of people. For the sake of this post we will talk about the female impersonation aspects, where men dress as women with the intent of performing in front of an audience. Many drag queens distance themselves from those who use hormones or reassignment surgery. In many drag competitions, those who use hormones and reassignment surgery are often banned, as a means of not playing fair. For instance the large negativity that surrounds RuPaul’s Drag Race for turning down transgender performers. So again, in the scope of this post we will be talking about men who use makeup clothing, padding, and tucking for their means of creating their illusions. This is for fact of simplicity and not a means of segregation. No offense is intended.

My first experience with drag queens came from the first man I dated. I mentioned him in other posts his name was Shawn. Shaw was a drag queen and went by Traci Richards in the last years of his performing. When we started dating he told me about his persona and made sure I was ok with it. My only question to him was why he did drag. His answer to me was it was a way he paid honor to the strong women that he admired in his life and it was his way of honoring that strength the provided. Many drag queens I have met have had similar feelings about their craft. They all share the thought that they put on “drag” to perform and then take it off to live their lives. To me, that is the fundamental difference between drag queens and transgender. They are men who identify with the sex they were born, but also use drag as a means to share an identity they have inside of them.

There is debate on when it actually started and yes there are people who actually research and have published theories and studies about drag queen culture. Many feel the origin comes from dressing in feminine attire for religious ceremonies and can be traced to Ancient Egypt. There is documentation of cross-dressing among Aztecs and Inca civilization and widely used in Japanese theater. In Japanese theater the use of drag divides the difference between Kabuki and Noh dramas. Noh is a folk dance associated with rice planting and fertility and used female actors wearing masks and followed stylized routines. Whereas Kabuki is known for female impersonators carefully made up, speak in falsetto voices and move to suggest femininity. Even in ancient Greece, men were used to play female roles in plays and wore masks to represent female deities and person.

What we know as drag didn’t take shape till about the 19th century with vaudeville performers. Joe E. Jefferys, a drag historian who teaches theater studies at NYU Tisch Drama, states that drag “was a popular act in the numerous vaudeville theaters across America from the turn of the 19th century until the late 1930s.” It was during this time that the mocking personas of the “wench” and the “primadonna” were birthed. Even still, the idea of drag queens were not inextricably linked to the LGBTQ community. This probably happened around the end of the 1930s and was largely due the growing field of sexology and its discussion of a “third sex.” During the 1930s more scientific conversations where working their way into popular culture and started linking drag with homosexuality. Due to these conversations we saw an end of “Straight men” dressing for theater and solely being associated with gay men. Jefferies goes on to say, “Until gay bars emerged, either clandestinely or legally, the drag queen was bounded by private parties, and even then police raids were possible.”

“The first true drag queens rest in little remembered bars. Jose Sarria as San Francisco’s Black Cat in the 1950s is perhaps an early example if we go down this path… but they worked in front of largely heterosexual audiences and would take offense to being called drag queen. To them, this was a lower classification of the streets and bars and amateur compared to the female in personation they offered,” states Jefferies. Drag queens were the newer additions to the more gay friendly places that were starting to pop up during this time. This is where we see the transformation of drag that leads to its modern version. The female impersonation side was made more comedic and relegated to TV and movies. Take for example Some Like It Hot (1959), Tony Curtin and Jack Lemon wee two men posing as women through the film. Drag Queens were the ones now performing in bars and creating a rise amongst the LGBTQ community. There is controversy as to whether those behind the Stonewall Riots were drag queens or early part members of the transgender community, either way they spearheaded the modern civil rights movement for the LGBTQ community.

According to Jefferies, drag became a “powerful movement in NYC during the late 19802 and 1990s”. This was helped by the East Village performance scene and the rise of Wigstock. This was the era that gave birth to legends like Divine. Divine was most notable for her work with John Waters in movies like Pink Flamingos.Wigstock was the outdoor festival in New York that was focused on the drag community and was founded by Lady Bunny. She was notoriously known for the ability to make a fool of herself and invited her audience to laugh along with and at her. In an interview, Lady Bunny recounts her first performance at the Pyramid. “I was so inexperienced that the spot lights were blinding me, and I fell off stage. I somehow managed to get back up, wig askew and one shoe missing, and finished the number, which was a crowd pleaser, and I was a fixture at the Pyramid for the next six or seven years.” Celebrity Drag Sensation RuPaul also got her start at Wigstock.

The 1990 movie Paris Is Burningchronicles the Harlem drag balls. These balls were not just men in drag but also men performing in various kinds of “drag.” The Harlem balls gave rise to the fabulous Pepper LeBeija. This was also the place where the art forms of “Reading” and “Throwing Shade” started. In case you aren’t aware of how a “reading” works, you find a flaw in a person and exaggerate it and doing so in such a way that you don’t just come right out to point out the flaw. The 1990s also gave rise to drag focused movies, Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, Too Wong Foo. Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, and The Birdcagebeing the most notable.

Even during this time, drag queens were still largely popular only with the LGBTQ community. This started to change in 2009 with the appearance of RuPaul’s Drag Race. It was here that drag culture was pulled out of the dark and dank gay bars and thrust out like DDD tits into mainstream. No longer did hordes of heteros have to sneak to the red light district of their towns, take two hour trips, or find the only gay in the village to take them to a bar, all they had to do was pop their corn and huddle around the tub on their ratty old sofas. RuPaul’s show did search country wide to pull some of the best talents available to come on her show and judged for their fishyness. It also became a venue for the masses of would be drag queens to see talent and focus on making their own way into drag community. As many places are seeing a decline in LGBTQ bars, this may be the only place many baby drag queens get to experience a show and also gives them icons to look up to.

No matter your opinions of drag queens, they have been an integral part of our community. Over the years it has went from onstage productions to Reality TV Show. Gay men have used it as a means of expressions since the 1950s and an outlet for activism, as well as showpersonship. We cannot deny the impact that drag has had on our community and will continue to have. Even amidst the controversy, remember to show our drag sisters support as they so often show for our community.

LGBTTTQQIAA, WTF?

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Labels define our lives; they tell us who we are, they tell where we live, they decide what kind of services we are given, and who we are. Labels, whether we like them or not, shape our world and perceptions. We often impose more labels, upon others, and ourselves than are needed. Single, married, depressed, happy, poor, rich, heterosexual, homosexual, transsexual, young and old. Many of these give us an understanding of a person or thing and some only exist to define a box that we are in. I am not going to talk about the need of labels in this post, only help shed some light on the many labels that are used to define our community.

The longer you are out, the more you start to realize that the letters to define have changed. For instance, when I can out in the early 90s we were seeing the progression of LGBT to LGBTQ. In the 20 years since that time the initials have doubled to include LGBTTTQQIAA. As a means to level the playing field this stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Two Spirit, Queer, Questioning, Intersexed, Asexual, and Ally. This also doesn’t include the people who identify as Pansexual, Agender, Gender Queer, Bigender, Gender Variant, and Pangender. It truly can be confusing, even for us to understand the depths this covers. What does it all mean? Where do I fit in? Do all of these labels matter?

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WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

Let’s start with some definitions. Whether you are cisgender or transgender, it is pretty easy to say lesbian and gay refer to being attracted to members of the same gender. Whereas bisexual would mean being attracted to members of both genders. These are sexual and romantic attractions based on perceived genders or genders that are presented. From there it needs a bit more breakdown.  Sex refers to your biological sex. Meaning the reproductive anatomy and secondary sexual characteristics you were both with. Whereas gender is broken down to gender roles and gender identity. Gender roles are those that society places upon a person or even perceived by the person. Gender identity is what is your perceived gender based on an internal awareness.

This becomes more important when we look at the transgender and transsexuals. Bear with me as the next few definitions come from Medical Daily and are not my own. If any inconsistent information is provided I do apologize and will not be upset if I am corrected. Medicaldaily.com defines a transsexual as people who transition from one sex to another, if your birth certificate shows your sex as female and you later had surgery to become male. Transgender are people who whose identity, expression, behavior, or general sense of self does not conform to what is usually associated with the sex they were born in the place they were born. This making transgender a more multifaceted term that allows for many permutations of how one person lives and interacts with people.

Two Spirit is a more modern term being used to classify many people in the indigenous peoples. This term refers to having both a male and female spirit inside of them. From an outside point of view that may be harder to understand. In some traditional First Nations cultures there was what was called a third gender and has cultural and ceremonial significance to those people. It is not an interchangeable term for Native LGBT. Also the term “two spirit” is not in and of it self a native people term. It is a modern definition used as a broad term to cover many first nations cultures that may have had the sacred third gender. Many tribes did not have rigid binary definitions of gender and used the third gender as a means of defining someone that was more closely connected to the spiritual nature of their given tribe. Out of respect to the First Nations People, I will not attempt to describe it further.

Queer is used to describe sexual or gender minorities that are not heterosexual or cisgender. Up until the late 1980s it was used to describe anyone that had sexual desires towards the same sex. It soon became a term to describe anyone who rejected traditional gender identities and sought a broader and more ambiguous label. Questioning is used for anyone who is still exploring or refuses to accept modern conventions of labels towards gender identity and sexual attraction. Someone who questions their own gender identity or sexual identity and orientation.

Intersex is a variation in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, or genitals that do not allow an individual to be distinctly identified as male or female. It is a term that is used to describe a variation in sexual identity. It could include someone who appears as one sex on the outside while having different sexual characteristics on the inside. It may also be used to describe someone whose outward sexual characteristics do not fit in with how they appear. An example would be a boy born with a noticeably smaller penis and a scrotum that is divided and more similar to that of a labia. Or even someone born with mosaic genetics where some of their chromosomes are XX while others are XY. Asexual would be someone who has a lack of sexual attraction to any identity or gender or a low or absent interest in sexual activity. This would have no bearing on whether they identify as homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual. Ally is simply someone who considers themselves a friend of the LGBTQ+ community. Someone who stands up for their rights offers their friendship, and support when it is needed.

Pansexual is someone who has no set attraction to anyone specific gender or sex, whether it be sexual, romantic, or emotional. Often referring to themselves as gender blind, where their sexual attraction is not bound by one gender or identity. Agender is someone who does not classify himself or herself by any set gender role. Nor do they conform their identities to any traditional gender role. Gender Queer is a person whose identity is not exclusively masculine or feminine. Their identities are those that fall outside of gender binary or cisnormativity. Bigender is defined as someone who moves between masculine and feminine gender roles and behaviors. There are even some who exhibit two separate gender identities at once and identify as both simultaneously.

WHERE DO I FIT IN? And DO ALL OF THESE LABELS MATTER?

No one person can tell you who you are or what you should like. For many people it takes almost a lifetime of self-exploration to even begin to understand where they fit in. Then there are some who know from a very young age. You don’t have to conform to something doesn’t feel right to you. If you choose to explore one or all of these, that is your prerogative. There are no tests that will show you who you are or what you should be, however wouldn’t it be nice to be able to take a test to define who you are? Answer a couple of questions, look at a couple of pictures, and them BAM here are your results and congratulations! Instead you should think of life as more of a carnival, look at all the rides and booths it has to offer. See which appeals to you and give them a try. You can’t know what you life if you don’t try it out.

It is important to realize that labels are good for the broadest sense of defining who you are and where you may fit in. It helps instill a sense of community and belonging, a sense of pride. Just don’t let them be the only thing that makes you who you are. Don’t let modern conventions force you to feel shame for being your true self. A preconceived perception of what groups of people define as normal is what causes us to feel shame over being different. They do not live your life or understand the things that you feel. This is your journey to find where you may fit in the LGBTTTQQiAA spectrum. Do not be just another label.

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Information brought to you by OK@BEME (https://ok2bme.ca/resources/kids-teens/what-does-lgbtq-mean/) and Medical Daily (medicaldaily.com)