Heteronormativity of LGBTQ People

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The very core of who we are is implanted into us during our childhood. Sure, you may argue that education causes us to look out who we are, decide what is good/bad about it, and make needed changes to evolve, but keep in mind how we define those very structures is based on our upbringing, the very way our parents raised us. For LGBTQ youth, we grow up in a familial culture that doesn’t understand our very differences. Our parents teach us what they, in turn, learned from their parents. It is a perpetuated cycle of heteronormativity and most cases it’s so ingrained into us that we do not see it as anything else other than how we are raised. We are taught that we should be looking for someone of the opposite sex to get to know, settle down, marry, have kids, and start the whole cycle again. Our parents weren’t taught there was a difference, at least in a positive light, so it is seen as the only way to be and anything else is an aberration.

 

What is heteronormativity, Merriam Webster says this : heteronormative adj – of, relating to, or based on the attitude that heterosexuality is the only normal and natural expression of sexuality. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really speak to the very nature of heteronormativity. The Medium.com goes further with a definition from other scholarly sources that says:

Ranging from organizational to interpersonal spheres, the presumptions that there are only two sexes; that it is ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ for people of different sexes to be attracted to one another; that these attractions may be publicly displayed and celebrated; that social institutions such as marriage and the family are appropriately organized around different-sex pairings; that same-sex couples are (if not ‘deviant’) a ‘variation on’ or an ‘alternative to’ the heterosexual couple. Heteronormativity refers, in sum, to the myriad ways in which heterosexuality is produced as a natural, unproblematic, taken-for-granted, ordinary phenomenon.

One could argue then that this definition is very close to what most would perceive as homophobia and you wouldn’t be far from the truth. Homophobia is more like the sibling of heteronormativity but louder and in your face. Heteronormativity is the more day to day, subtle process that are so pervasive to our culture and much more akin to colonialism. Essentially it is the basic form of sexual expression and the very foundations on which societies are built. It states that the only normal expression is that of a man and a woman and anything else is deviant or less than normal.

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This can be seen by the laws of the communities all of us belong to, when you see countries that punish homosexuality by violent acts, jailing, or the extreme being killing. It only reinforces that heterosexuality is the only acceptable course of life. These are unacceptable and downright inhumane, and you think this can’t happen in our country because of laws that have started passing in the last fifty years. You are right in that assumption; however, it still exists here, and it done much more subtly. Sure, it can be argued that LGBTQ people are the minority and that as such the majorities mindset shouldn’t have to change to placate such a small group. The problem is this very mindset goes beyond affecting only LGBTQ people. Also, we have to realize that not challenging this social injustice is just morally ambivalent to the status of society and wanting to create and environment where everyone is treated equally and fairly.

The very nature of heteronormativity implies the fact that a relationship is based on a ‘masculine’ and a ‘feminine’ person, as such it teaches that the men are the providers and women are the child bearers. Basically, stating that men are the top of the structure and create what is considered normal or acceptable. It creates the power struggle that allows men to believe they are the control in the situation and allowed to subjugate those below his status. It goes further to create standards of what is perceived as the sexual male and female, from how they talk, how they stand, or how they dress. It does not allow for any deviation on those standards. It only allows for a sexual desire between the male of female sex and that only those who physically appear as men can be attracted to those who physically appear as women.

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So how has this affected the LGBTQ people? It pervades our very culture and has shaped it over time, whether we want to admit it or not. For gay men it has colored our sexual proclivities. Tops and bottoms, femme and butch are a good representation of it. We have shaped our ideas of how sex should be based on ideas that were taught to us by our parents, school, and environment we have grown up with and lesbians have much the same basis. It has also created the mindset lesbians and gays cannot be friends, old mindset but still happens today. It has given us the ability to persecute drag queens and our transgender brothers and sisters. It is also the very reason why many of us view bisexuals with such disdain. We were taught that sexual attraction can only fit an either-or situation, that anything outside of that isn’t right and should be judged.

 

There are still plenty gay men who believe that you can only be a top or a bottom. I can’t count how many times I have heard the phrase that versatile means a bottom in denial. Or if they say they are top versatile that they are pretending to be something they aren’t. It is a restatement of a masculine and a feminine role and that it cannot be anything other than that. They are the same ones who argue this is my preference and just how I am, when it is more of the fact that it is what has been taught to us since we were kids. As LGBTQ people, we fight against the molds that society places upon us, to show we are what we are and not a mistake. We fight for our differences while at the same time maintaining outdated modalities that shouldn’t apply to us.

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It goes further when you hear things like ‘straight acting’ or ‘masculine’ gay male, as if they very nature of someone who isn’t a perceived idea of what it is to be male is offensive. Why is feminine deemed unworthy of affection or desire? Heterosexism typically implies that being feminine is below being masculine and therefore subpar. Again, we follow a precept of a group that we try our hardest to distance ourselves from while at the same time cow tailing to that very same group for acceptance and justification in our equality. It is the very reason we strive for marriage equality, we feel it would give us the feeling of being normal and just like the happy married straight couple who deserves all the benefits that’s comes with being a married couple.

A challenge for you; Google the word couple and look at the images that populate. At least 90% of the images returned will be of heterosexual white couples. Out of the first page of results, you may see ten images that are LGBTQ and out of the ten one is of a transgender couple. It is a proof that the majority believes that marriage is about heterosexual couples and most focus on white heterosexual couples. Don’t believe me? Watch ten episodes of “Say Yes to The Dress” and count how many minority couples are on the show. This shows the mindset of the general populace and one that we need to actively work on changing.

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The T On All AX’S

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Friday February 15, 2019 was the first LGBTQ night after All AX’S had their grand opening as an LGBTQ inclusive bar two weeks before. I wanted to check it out to see the differences from that visit. The idea of having a LGBTQ bar destination on the east-side of town is still an amazing idea. While many people feel the decline of LGBTQ bars is no big deal, I feel that it is important is providing structure to a community especially in a part of town that doesn’t have a lot of LGBTQ options.

Billy Welker is the owner behind All AX’S and is committed to making this spot all inclusive. A few of us had reached out to give a few suggestions on how to get the word out to the local community. One easy one that I suggested was to get equality stickers or rainbow stickers so that anyone would be able to identify it as a safe place. Upon walking up to the bar, we noticed the stickers in the main windows. Not overly stated, but if you know what you are looking for, they are a nice reminder that this bar is welcoming. Just peeking into the bar, it was easy to notice that there were more people this time.

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You could hear the music from the outside and was a nice beat. I knew that it was going to be DJ Toni Freeze and her set is always good. Always a great combination of modern and classic dance beats. There was about 20 people in the bar and was a good turnout of only the second publicized night of it being a LGBTQ club. The vibe of the bar was warm and fun, all seemed to be enjoying the atmosphere. If you read the first review of the bar, I mentioned that it had a kitschy atmosphere that is truly inviting. The walls are covered with vinyl record album covers, strings of multicolored lights stretch between the columns of the bar, bright mirrors behind the liquor selection gives it a larger appearance.

The have a good selection of beers and liquor and the prices are really good. A few beers and couple mixed drinks definitely do not set you back as much as many of the places downtown. The drinks are mixed well and skew a bit more to the liquor side, rather than the mixer. Their beer selection offers a lot of local flavors, as well as plenty larger labels. Food menu is more to just bar foods. You can find shrimp baskets, burgers, wings and fries, plenty enough to help soak up the night of drinking. There is a patio out back and will be awesome once the weather warms up for enjoying it.

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Many people were saying how awesome it was or that they couldn’t believe there was a gay bar in Willoughby. So, the word is out, and people are reacting to it. The entire time I was there I only heard a couple people have anything to say that wasn’t tinged with excitement. There were a few heterosexual people who did ask if the people in the bar were gay. Once they answered, that was about it. Only one seemed to make any kind of joke about it. The bar stayed busy up until about midnight, when I left.

I talked with Ms. DJ Toni Freeze and she asked how we liked the music. I told her that it was a great mix of songs, current Top 40 and back to the 80s. She mentioned that she thought people were reacting well to what was being played and that she tried changing up the music depending on the people that were in the bar. We talked a bit more about her set and style of music and she was happy that Billy offered her a reoccurring gig at the bar. I feel that her style of music will be a good balance for all people that come to the bar and not alienate any particular group. DJ Freeze also has a website for being able to download music she has put together and you can download them here.

This Friday, All AX’S will be hosting a drag show starring Veranda L’NI and will host Kari Nickels, Aurora Thunder, and Natasshja Norielle. The show starts at 10:30 with no cover charge, I mean how can you beat that. This will be a good measure of how the success of the bar will be. If you are in the area you really need to come out and give your support to the bar and check out a good show. I have seen Veranda several times, since I have moved to Cleveland and she always puts on a great show and works the crowd well.

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Billy Welker is doing everything he can to make this a destination and it is going to take you guys coming out and supporting it. If you have ideas of things you would like to see at the bar, you can drop a line in the comments section or better yet, visit the bar and let the staff know. Show your support and interest. Let’s make it a fun place to be and make the bar a success.

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Dorothy Jean

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Eight years ago, this February 10, my mother passed away. It was a monumental milestone in my life because she was probably the one person who really knew me. The person that I never really had to tell them how I felt, she just knew. No matter where I was, if either of us needed to talk we instantly knew and would pick up the phone. She was an amazing person that shaped my life in many ways and some I didn’t fully understand until later in my life. I try to honor her daily and celebrate the good times of her life.

I guess, for me, the reason we are so close is the amount of time my mother spent beside my bed for various events in my life. That started at my birth when I was born blue due to oxygen deprivation, after which I spent the first few weeks of my life in an incubator due to other complications. Mom told me that it was rough the first few weeks and the doctors were watching my condition closely. From childhood, it was diagnosed that I was allergic to almost everything in the environment; dust, mold, pet dander, pollen, and bees, being the largest of those. Beestings were and are the worst for me, it turned out I had a very severe allergy to bees. There were three events of me being stung that I almost died, and Mom was there, in my ear, telling me to get myself together and stay with her. Once, my blood pressure and heart rate were so low that I remember the doctors telling her they would be shocked if I made it. Being the mother, she was, she simply whispered words of encouragement to me, reminding me that I was stronger than this.

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There were times when I was a child that I had some very dark thoughts. I had written her letters telling her how much of a freak I thought I was, that I should run away, or that I didn’t deserve to be alive. Parents today would freak out, my mother remained strong and simply talked to me about my issues. She listened to what I had to say, crying along with me. Her words of strength filled me with such light that I felt I could endure anything. She stood by me when I needed an ally and she kicked my ass when I needed motivation. She sat with me through school when I could not understand what I was being taught and showed me new ways of looking at problems and understanding, recounting stories of her adversity to show me that strength is more than physical prowess, it is the ability to adapt and overcome.

She gave me room to grow to become my own person and encouraged me to pursue my dreams. She took me to college and was there to help me when I came home. She never gave up on me, no matter how much I thought my world had ended. I had done the best I could, as a child, to hide that I was different. To now show that I was gay. At times I dated women, even if they were the wrong choice, to make my mother feel that I was the son I thought she wanted. In the summer of 1995, I knew I couldn’t hide myself any longer. My mother and I worked in the same mall and I would often go and have lunch with her. On one summer day in July, I decided I would finally tell her the truth. For the last year I had been going to the only LGBTQ in a two-hour distance and thought it was time to finally be free. While we were eating lunch, I told her that we needed to talk, not taking my eyes off the sandwich I was eating. She was working on the schedule for her job and only replied “Ok.”  And I started it like so many cliched movies by saying “You know how people are different, they do different things, try different things, and love different people?” She only replied “mmmhmm.” My nerves quickly kicked into overload and thought I was going to swallow my heart in telling her something that would destroy her. I fumbled back and forth over trying to explain it in a way that would make it seem the most natural thing in the world. My mother put down her pen and looked over the rim of her glasses and stated quite simply and elegantly, “I love you no matter what and I have known you were gay since you were a kid. Nothing has changed.” I choked on my own breath thinking how she could have known, I hid it so well. This can’t be. I waited for an explosion of anger that never came.

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It was seven months later that I told her about the man I met and how he made me felt. How I had never known love like I feel with him. She never judged nor sneered, she never said anything derogatory or hurtful. The only words she said was “As long as he treats you well and I meet him for my approval, it is fine.” Even when I went on further to explain to her that he was HIV+, her only concern was about us being safe. Looking back, I know that it must have terrified her to know that I was in love with someone that was HIV+, this was the mid 90s and HIV was still pretty much a death sentence. The stigma of being gay in our small town was bad and add that with HIV and you were almost a guaranteed outcast or worse. Two weeks later, I introduced her to Shawn and she instantly fell in love with him and became like a son to her.

When Shawn passed on February 28, 2003, she was the first person I called. She stayed on the phone with through all of my hysterical, sobbing fits, comforting me and calming me into some form of sanity. She and my sister sat beside me at his funeral while his family made a mockery of his life, never once even acknowledging that I was a part of it. Eight years we spent together, and they claimed he hated being gay, that he felt he had been led astray. All of which was not true, Shawn loved being a gay man and had an immense pride in the LGBTQ community. My mother sat beside me recalling seeing him do drag and how he often called her for strength. As they tore him down, she built him back up for me.

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It was five years later that my mother’s health started to decline. I moved back home to be near her, but I in no way had the strength she had shown me. It was hard going to the doctor visits with her and hearing how they could not explain the things she was going through. It weighed on me every time she went back into the hospital for more unexplained internal bleeding. I watched her very being change as I sat beside her and I constantly wondered how I was not as strong as she was with me during similar times. My fear often turned to anger because I knew the time was coming in which I would be without her and I was afraid of how I would deal with it. The person who had been my rock through my life needed me and I could only worry about not having her with me anymore. Why did I not have the strength that she so often showed me, why was I so weak. And when she passed February 10, 2011, I was angry at myself for not being more present with her. She was not gone from my life and I was left with the regrets of not being a rock for her.

It has taken me eight years to learn that she still teaches me things every day. The lesson I still struggle to learn is she probably had the same fears that I was going through as her health decline. The difference is that she showed the strength to not let them control her and she became the strength that I and others did not have. That is what made her a mother and it is the same strength that I hope to still have. While you may be gone from my life, Mom, you will never leave my heart. Thank you for building me up and providing the foundation to be a strong person. I Love You!cropped-img_0117

Are You A Friend of Dorothy?

Let’s be perfectly honest here, we all do this daily. We modify the words we say, the tone we speak, and our body postures based on the people we are communicating with. All of us. When you are at home with your loved ones you are more relaxed, and your affectations are looser, and you feel more at ease with yourself. If you are in public or at work, you worry more about what people may perceive you as, so you hold back on things you say or pay more attention to how you present yourself. Some of it, we are taught as children. This is how you act professionally, or this is what you say in polite conversation. For some of us, these are the very things that can keep us safe in mixed company or its things we say that only our friends understand. No matter what it is, it is call “Code Switching.”

 

 

Code Switching – the practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation. It typically refers to someone who speaks more than one language, but in modern times has come to also include types of language like body language, or elements that define a particular community. It is most often used as a means of fitting in. Think about it, when you are out with your friends, all sorts of topics come up and many of them aren’t things for polite conversation. Hell, the rest of society isn’t used to hearing us talk about our sexual proclivities, so we tone down some of the words and conversations we engage in. We all have varying levels of how we talk to one another, from truly Qween to pushing butch. It is all rooted from the same place, safety and acceptance, but the question is why?

 

When I was a younger gayby we would call it a nellyectomy. Basically, it would be used to describe someone in this way, “He is so butch at work, but when he walks into a gay bar it’s like he had a nellyectomy and flamed on like the human torch.” It is a good description of what code switching is like. We also used phrases like “are you a friend of Dorothy” as a means of identifying ourselves to one another. It of course refers to Judy Garland’s legendary role as Dorothy Gale in “The Wizard of Oz.” While not easily usable in “straight” conversation, it is a way to self-identify. Even saying something as simple as “I’m out” was a code-switching phrase. It’s one that can transcend the group you are with so that those in the know can pick up on you identifying as LGBTQ without others easily picking up on it. Well maybe not as true today as it was ten or twenty years ago.

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Most of the language that LGBTQ and specifically gay men use comes from the gay African American culture. A prime example of this would be the movie “Paris Is Burning.” This movie shows the ball culture of New York city’s African-American, Latino, gay, and transgender community. Many of the words that have become so popular in our culture have originated there and is also one of the ancestors of modern drag. To sum up why it is important, let’s look at “Gurl! On Code Switching When Your Black and Gay”  Madison Moore states “We all need to use language to survive, but code switching is about language used to create bonds and to convey secret information in plain sight.”

 

Prior to the Stonewall riots, LGBTQ people were much more conscious of modes of dress and terminology when they were looking for others of our kind. An example of code switching at this time would be dressing in a suit and tie to match your job and when you were heading out to pick up someone, you would switch to the “Castro Clone” mode of dress. This typically would be Levi’s jeans, white t-shirt, maybe a leather jacket, and some form of boots. This was a mode of dress common in the Castro from the mid-70s to the mid-80s. See the picture above or think Freddie Mercury from Queen. It was typically an over representation of the hetero culture. The other above picture shows a man in running shorts, white socks, and gym shoes, another example of “Castro Clone.”

 

“We’re looking at code-switching a little more broadly. Many of us subtly, reflexively change the way we express ourselves all the time. We’re hop-scotching between different cultural and linguistic spaces and different parts of our own identities — sometimes within a single interaction From NPR Codeswitch: Frontiers of Race, Culture and Ethnicity

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It becomes second nature, for the most part. It does for me, anyway. When I am at work my whole mannerisms change. While I don’t hide being gay, I do tend to “butch it up.” I’m the IT guy and I want the company I work for to take me seriously, so I butch up my vocabulary and drop my voice an octave or two. It seems to convey an impression of authority and knowledge. It doesn’t change my knowledge, but as LGBTQ we are taught that heteronormative society doesn’t relate well to us in any position of power or influence. My knowledge over the subject matter doesn’t change, but the tone in which I convey something to people can create a perception that I don’t know what I am trying to impress. Many people can’t see beyond a sexual preference when it comes to LGBTQ. It begins and stops with who we sleep with, for them.

 

“Several friends and I who identify as queer or somewhere on the transmasculine spectrum, have learned the ins and outs of shopping for clothes alongside cis men.  We’ve joked that men don’t take a lot of time perusing the options in the sock and underwear aisle.  They know their size, they don’t care much about the color.  You go in, grab a package of undershirts and boxer briefs and get out.” Many transgender men feel this way and is their approach to day to day shopping, according to the article “Queering the Line.” Things like this can make day to day normality a struggle for LGBTQ people.

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The reality is that these differences do not really matter in the day to day. How we choose to dress, words we use, and body posturing doesn’t change who we are or the things we know. Unfortunately, much of the public doesn’t see it that way, they see the differences. To them that means not the same and therefore less than they are. Inclusivity is important for understanding how to deal with someone and would help in getting over the code-switching issues. So, how do you code switch on a daily basis?

 

Were We Standing Still?

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Many times, it feels that we have let the LGBTQ movement pass us by. Are you wondering why I would say that, so do I. Coming through the 90s, as a young gay man, I had such high hopes about our future. At the time, the man I loved proposed to me and there was only one place you could legally marry. Even after that it wasn’t recognized anywhere, so it almost seemed a trivial act. Between my nights filled with drinking and sex, I thought about where we were headed and the hopes of being accepted as a gay man. I wouldn’t have to worry about some “good ole boy” cornering me and beating the shit out of me. I wouldn’t have to worry about getting kicked out of an apartment or losing a job, again, for being gay. I had dreams, like so many of us did. The problem is, we failed the movement. We let others dictate to us what is acceptable for us to be happy and somewhere along the way we swallowed that medicine with the spoonful of sugar they gave us.

Homogeneity: the quality or state of being all the same or all the same kind.  This is what we were tricked into accepting. We were convinced that we needed to be the same as our heteronormative counterparts, not celebrate the differences that make us who we are. On UC Press Blog (https://www.ucpress.edu/blog/36851/gay-pride-should-be-seen-as-an-aspiration-not-a-settled-accomplishment-martin-duberman/) is an excerpt from the author Martin Duberman who wrote the book “Has the Gay movement failed?” who states “As I’ve already itemized (the greater mutuality and satisfaction that characterize our coupled relationships, the fact that gay men exhibit greater empathy and altruism than do heterosexual men, etc.), there’s much to affirm and even celebrate about gay life.” What he is asserting is that none of us are the same, each and every person is “queer” in their own way, there is no normal. So, for LGBTQ to be pushing for normality is the very opposite of what it means for us to be ourselves. We seemed to have forgotten that we were fighting for acceptance of who we are, not to be harassed for our difference, and the ability to live our lives our way. We were duped into thinking it was better to be accepted as normal. We settled for “Gay is Good.”

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Duberman goes further to say “If the “source” of our isolation and depression lies in society’s lethal mistreatment of us—and it does—why don’t we, as they did in GLF (Gay Liberation Front), wake up politically, mobilize our collective strength and actively assail the engulfing walls of prejudice that enclose us—and which do show signs of weakening and decay. Controversial though the findings are regarding LGBTQ “mental health”, one conclusion is obvious: Gay Is Not Yet Good Enough. The suffering goes on, and at high levels—and Gay Pride should be seen as an aspiration, not a settled accomplishment. . .”

We have been convinced that we do not need our Gay neighborhoods, our bars, our own programming, community centers, and eventually our Pride celebrations. Too many times have I heard our LGBTQ brothers and sisters say that we don’t need these things, I challenge them with why the feel this way and their response is to talk of the progress we have made. Yes, thank the stars, we have made progress, but by no means is our fight over. This is the very time we need to circle the wagons and think about what is best for our forward movement. We need to rethink the grass roots involvements our communities give us. Don’t shy away from the gay bars, they are as instrumental to us now as they have been. I am not addressing or beginning to talk about the topics of substance abuse. We need to go back to the beginnings of what our Pride Parades were for, the activism. We need to support our Community Centers and our people.

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Many times, we say, “the young generation” and this is a misnomer, it implies ageism. What really is being said or even referred to are those that are new to accepting who they are and doesn’t matter their physical age. Though, younger LGBTQ people were not there to witness, even second hand, the trials and struggles of the earlier fights. You can be 50 and just accepting that you are LGBTQ and still be unaware of much of LGBTQ history. Each has its own disparities and not everyone will or wants to be an activist. They simply want to be and coming out to themselves was enough. That is your right, as it is for those who feel they need to push the limits and not just accept the status quo.

It can be hard to understand that we are not in a safe place, if you don’t have a history to compare it to. You see where we are now, and it is all that you know. We have the right to marry and many states do have laws in place that prevent us from losing our job or house because of our identity. These few gains do not make us safe or equal with anyone else, but many of us have come to believe that where we are is enough for them. But the slope we are on is very slippery. We have seen this year that the current administration has banned transgender from joining the military. But yet, many of us still cling to the idea that we need to be like out counterparts and not stand out. For me it is too much like going back into the closet. I prefer the accept and celebrate what makes LGBTQ people different from our heteronormative counterparts.

The annual Pride Parade is replaced with a Resist March as members of the LGBT community protest President Donald Trump in West Hollywood, California
The annual Pride Parade is replaced with a Resist March as members of the LGBT community protest President Donald Trump in West Hollywood, California, U.S. June 11, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

All too often we put our support behind groups that do not always shave our best interests at heart. In the years of the 70s and 80s, many gays backed the Advocate as the only magazine that supported the causes we were fighting for. What was found out was more that they only fought for those of a more privileged position and many times tried to pacify who LGBT were. HRC would be another that followed the same path. HRC was big for pushing for the right to marry and once it was achieved hasn’t really went much further to push the boundaries. All too often they seem to cater to the right or just skirt the ideas of safety as not to offend anyone and draw too much attention. As recent as 2014 HRC was still supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act which still gives more footing to “religious conscience” as a means for employers to discriminate against LGBTQ. All other LGBTQ groups, accept the Log Cabin Republicans, have pulled support for this Act. They are more concerned with offering praise to Republicans who on a few occasions stick their necks out, instead of supporting and pushing for more with the Democrats who have always lobbied for us.

It is left to the local radial LGBTQ groups to fight for our basic rights. These are the groups that are fighting how to cope with transgender violence, provide support for the homeless LGBTQ youth, and the inhumane judicial system. This is where the fights should be focused, however the larger groups aren’t there offering the support needed for them. This is history repeating itself. All of the strides we have made are from the small groups that became mobile and forward thinking. These were the ones that were of the people and understood that embracing what makes us different is why we should be fighting.

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Perhaps it is a time to rethink the LGBTQ movement and our priorities. Or is it that we need to call our leaders into check and make sure they are fighting for our best interests. Closer to the point is that we should be thinking of what is important to us and making that known to our leaders and those in our community. Going forward, will we continue to let me movement pass us by, or will we take hold and steer it where it should go.

 

Conversate on Conversion

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One of the things that causes me vexations is where I hear an LGBTQ person talk about how safe we are now. That we have achieved a sense of acceptance and that people are more welcoming of who we are. I am not discounting the progress we have made in the last 50 years, it is truly fantastic how far we have come from the lows we were at. Having to scuttle around in darkness and going to secret bars that were sketchy at best. Having to use code words to identify ourselves to others. It is truly a progressive time but remember that there are still plenty of people and things that we need to be know about. Our own administration is tirelessly working to remove the advances our forebears bled over.

As of January 2019, only 14 states, the District of Columbia, and a few municipalities have passed any form of legislation banning conversion therapy, so in 36 states conversion therapy camps are legal and used. Wait conversion therapy, isn’t that where you stop using one facial product for another? Or is that where you swing from one religion to another, like Madonna has done or even John Travolta? Who is John Travolta? Stated simply, conversion therapy “is the pseudoscientific practice of trying to change an individual’s sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual using psychological or spiritual interventions.” According to a definition for WikiLeaks.

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The map shown here shows states that offer some form of Conversion Camp, granted it is a bit out of date, but it is still a rough idea. These camps are not regulated by any medical standard, nor are they regulated by the federal government. The means of treatment ranges in type. There are Mormon groups that attach electroshock devices to the genitalia of kids they are “treating” and force them to watch arousing imagery. Any time the react to homoerotic imagery they are given an electroshock as a means of deterrence.  Many other Christian groups used mental tactics as a form of treatment instead. Their statements say that they use psychological and spiritual intervention to cure you of these sinful ways. If you have watched the movie “Boy Erased” you see many of the types of procedures that are used. From body posturing that appears to be more masculine to blaming it on repressed anger towards family members or blaming familial problems.

There are still two prominent groups that practice conversions therapy in the United States, People Can Change and Desert Streams. According to Tufts Independent Data Journal, People Can Change hosts three “experimental weekends” for their treatments and are divided based on the “condition” of the person entering the program. The first two weeks are for “men who want to resolve unwanted homosexual attractions.” The two programs are called Journey into Manhood and the Journey Beyond. “Journey into Manhood is a two-day retreat that uses a variety of methods to help men prevent their same-sex attractions, and Journey Beyond is for those who have graduated from this program.” They combine journaling, safe healing touch, visualization, intense emotional release work, and group sharing as a means of riding you of the unwanted attractions. They work from the premise that all non-heterosexual men are actually heterosexual and just have been affected in some way to create this attraction to other men. The course is defined to identify and work to overcome “reprogram” the desires to reawaken the heterosexuality. They claim no religious backing and solely work with people who volunteer for their program at $650 a person.

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Desert Stream work on the premise of establishing support groups in churches They run six programs, but only three focus directly with Christians who are dealing is sexuality issues. The programs are called Falling Forward: Men Seeking Purity, Crosscurrent, and Living Waters. They advertise that they are designed for Christians that are struggling with “sexual and relational problems.” Their means of cure are described as “biblical wisdom, godly support, and the power of prayer.” If a church decided to start a group, Desert Stream provided training for the church to handle the issues.

These are only a couple of the MANY conversion therapy camps out there and appear, to the public, as the lightest in methods. I have known someone that is Mormon who underwent similar treatment and had been hooked up to an electroshock device. He was forced to sit in a room and watch images and if he had a reaction to any that were of a homoerotic nature, they would give him a shock. And to date, there is no substantial proof that any method of conversion therapy changes the sexual nature of a person. Often, as with recent media, those who underwent the therapy only lapse back into what they were originally. This can lead to depression of the individual and possible suicide. For a look into how it affected one person read this article “Went to church camp to ‘Pray the Gay Away'”  It is the experience of Thomas High going through a conversion therapy process.

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To keep in mind some of the horrors attributed to conversion therapy, let’s look at a few throughout the past few years. In 2009 the church Manifested Glory Ministries came under fire after posting a video to YouTube of a 16-year-old boy (seen above) undergoing an exorcism for being gay. They felt his condition was due to demonic possession and the video showed him writhing on the church floor as church members stood on his feet and hands to prevent him from moving. I have mentioned electroconvulsive therapy, but here is another event. Samuel Brinton grew up in rural Iowa as a gay boy. His family sent him to conversion therapy where they forced him to enter what was called the “Mouth of Hell.” Here they inserted tiny needles into his fingers and forced him to watch pictures of explicit acts between men and he would be electrocuted while viewing them. In June of 2011 in Hong Kong several companies hired a psychologist to give government sponsored training on conversion therapy. Some of the techniques prescribed were cold showers, prayer, and abstinence. Sure, when did forcing gay men not to have sex every cure them of being gay? Matthew Shurka underwent six years of conversion therapy and was subjected to a host of horrors, some of the more strange were not being allowed to see his mother and sisters as a means of curing the effeminate nature he had expressed. This did not work as he later went on to be the spokesperson for National Center for Lesbian Right’s anti-conversion therapy campaign. Even here closer to home Leelah Alcorn was forced onto Prozac and to attend conversion therapy churches to cure her of her transgender identity. This ultimately led to her death and for President Obama to stand up against conversion therapy. Then there are the groups like NARTH, National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, that still profess that homosexuality is a mental disorder. What’s even worse is when these treatments turn to sexual abuse, take Dr. Melvyn Iscove. In March 2018, while claiming that homosexuality was a disease that could be overcome it came to light that he was also engaging in sexual abuse of the patients he was supposed to be helping. Two male clients came forward to state that Iscove had engaged in inappropriate contact with them after they confessed of having homosexual thoughts.

Our current Vice President, Mike Pence is a staunch support of conversion therapy. Marc Lotter, a spokesman for the Vice President, said he was misinterpreted and never made any statement in support. However, looking at his record for anti-LGBTQ rights. Remember that while governor of Indiana he signed into legislation a bill that would allow any business to cite religious freedom as a means of refusing service to LGBTQ people. He also voted against employment non-discrimination against LGBTQ people. He has even publicly argued for federal funding of conversion therapy and the reassignment of federal dollars for HIV/AIDS research if they were to go to any group that celebrated or encouraged behaviors that lead to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

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There is no cure for LGBTQ people, no conversion camp can fix you because you are not broken. In most cases, conversion therapy does far more damage that it does in helping an individual. Minors, unfortunately, suffer far more in these cases. They are kicked out by the family and friends, forced to endure torture that constantly tells them they are wrong and if they start to buy into it suffer deep depression because they realize they still have the same desires. Just remember that you are perfect the way you are. It would do far better for our parents and people around us to go through education on what it means to be LGBTQ to gain a bit of understanding to who we are and how we are not that different. If you are a minor and are going through a situation in which you need help, please reach out for support. There are plenty of placed to turn to talk, contact www.TheTrevorProject.org. They have staff who understand and are sympathetic to what you are going through. Fellow Cleveland LGBTQ people, if you need help you can reach out to the lgbtcleveland.org, LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland for assistance. Also check out my resource page, there are sources you can turn to. If you need help, my email is gayinthecle@gmail.com. You have support, please reach out for assistance.

conversion-therapy

All Axs: A LGBTQ Night Review

Okay squirrel friends, I decided to get back to what this blog was to be about and review things from a gay man in Cleveland’s perspective. So today I bring you a review of a new bar in Willoughby, Ohio and their plans to make it more inclusive for our community. Bear with me as I share my feelings over this review.

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On January 26th, I received a post on Facebook regarding an invite to an event near me, in Willoughby, Ohio. Bill Hartman posted in the Gay Men in Cleveland group posted that there was going to be a “Grand Opening” for a possible East Side Cleveland location as a LGBTQ friendly bar. Of course, I was excited, being an Eastsider. I go to Willoughby often, on the outward, it appears to be a very welcoming town. It boasts a fantastic pagan shop called Enchanted Grove that is owned by someone I have known for the better part of 18 years. So, the very thought of there being a place that was inclusive of LGBTQ people really excited me. The bar that would host the event only recently opened in October of 2018 and is called All Axs.

Prior to the February 2nd event for LGBTQ, I stalked their Facebook page to learn as much about them as possible. From the page I could tell that it was a rock bar, obviously, because of the name All Axs. The owner of the bar is younger and has high hopes of the success of the bar. The location of the bar was previously a restaurant known for a great burger Willoughby. The owner had retired from the business a few years back and it had changed hands and became a bar that closed before this new iteration. According to the post on Gay Men in Cleveland it was an event to be billed as “A gay bar on the East side of Cleveland? A new adventure in the heart of the downtown Willoughby scene! Hopefully if all goes well, there will now be an East side option!” The time frame of the event was between 7pm and 2am on Friday February 2nd.

A friend of mine decided to head out with me to share in the experience of the prospect of an east side gay bar. We met for dinner at Nickleby’s in Willoughby and then head to the bar. Upon arrival it was a cute little old school rock bar. Walking in I was met with a riff from Lynyrd Skynyrd and quickly brought me back to my southern roots. Three older gentlemen at the corner of the bar welcomed us and said looked like I loved the kind of music playing over the speakers and not that rap crap. It gave me a slight chuckle. It was a small crowd, we were two of about nine people in the bar. This quickly told me that I may have either arrived too late or miscalculated the date. Once inside, we both order a Jack and Coke and I pull out my phone to check Facebook. There I notice that Bill and his crew had arrived about two hours earlier, which would have made it a bout 7pm. I responded that I had just got there and sorry that I missed him. He responded that they were also going to do an event on the next night, Saturday February 3rd, and have DJ Toni Freeze there. I decided to just enjoy the night and see how the bar feels and progresses.

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The crowd stayed small while we were there and to my dismay no another LGBTQ person came in. It was predominantly heteronormative couples complaining that the crowd was small. The bartender, Kat, mentioned that the crowd varied dramatically depending on the day. I headed to the restroom and noted that the decor of the restroom was one of the gayest things I had seen anywhere. There were album covers from the 60s to 80s that included Joan Baez to Pat Benatar. There was even a Steve Martin album cover of him in drag. It was kitschy and amazing all at once. I felt this would be a very cool spot for an LGBTQ inclusive bar.

Once I got back, I looked to my friend and mentioned that maybe I should ask about the turn out for the LGBTQ event that was supposed to have taken place earlier. I pulled up the event on my phone and asked Kat how the event went earlier. Her initial response was that it wasn’t tonight, it was another night. I showed her the date and said it was supposed to happen earlier tonight. Once we started talking about how the event went, Kat confided in me that she liked be bartender, but he was young and had weird ideas. Her opinion was that if it was going to continue that it should only be held once a month. She felt the clientele wouldn’t be receptive to it. She continued to say that if it was to happen that she would prefer it to be held in the other side of the bar and have their own DJ or whatever. Kat confided that the staff may not be as accepting as the owner would be, that he was young and had a lot of ideas.

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At this point, apparently, she didn’t know that I was gay. So, I decided to let her know the reason I came to the bar was because of the event. Her face changed at that point and she quickly said, “Oh by door swings both ways so I am not against it, but the town may not be as encouraging.” After I outed myself to her, she did to tell me how accepting she is of LGBTQ people, even in her own life. Like I said, Kat is an amazing bartender. Responsive to her guests, always has a quick turn of phrase, and makes you feel at ease. In my years of coming to Willoughby, I have never had a problem feeling, that being a gay man, that I wouldn’t be accepted. Like I mentioned earlier, I am friends with a shop owner in downtown Willoughby and she is very accepting of LGBTQ people and talked of how welcoming Willoughby is, so this was a bit of a shock to me.  

I have high hopes for the possibility of having a location on the east side of Cleveland where LGBTQ can go and feel accepted. Whether or not this is the bar for this to happen is a harder thing to discuss. It has only been open for about four months and it’s just starting to develop its character. Over all, the bar and the experience was fun. The people were down to earth and welcoming. Kat was an amazing bartender and that means a lot in a bar. The atmosphere was fun with its nod to classic rock, even over Pandora, and had a small but good selection of beer. The Jack and Coke that I had was well mixed and not watered down like in many bars. I hope there was enough turn out tonight and tomorrow that would warrant the owner to continue having LGBTQ events. I think having more of a dance club atmosphere and maybe even moving to performances could be an asset to the establishment, but it is hard to gauge from the outside. It’s early, but I hope for the best. It would be great to have a place on this side of town to go to and have fun.
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