My partner Dean has more than once called me a "Media Slut," and I lived up to that name today. First thing this morning: News and Observer (based in Raleigh but distributed throughout the state of NC), in the Faith section, "Gay, Christian, and a Parent," by Yonat Shimron, (www.newsobserver.com, go to Religion section). And I was the second segment on The State of Things on WUNC (www.wunc.org, go to archives for Nov. 30, 2007), our NPR station.
"You never had a gay dad!" said my son Parker. And he's right: I did not have a dad who self-identified as being "straight" as I have self-identified as a gay dad. Parker and I are growing up in different households, and I'm not sure what it looks or feels like from his perspective as a straight child.
Reality came crashing into our lives on Wednesday: in the News and Observer, in the Life, Etc., section, there was a publicity "blurb" about my talk at McIntyre's Bookstore in nearby Pittsboro. Either a young friend of Parker's or this young friend's parents read about the book reading and signing, and Parker's friend went to his high school and made fun of Parker for having a gay dad. While Parker did what we taught him to do--walk away from this kind of harassment--nonetheless, the words hurt. We have taught Parker that he does not have to be a victim of this abuse, nor does he need to be mad at us for living honestly and openly: the person with the problem is not Parker, and it isn't our family, but the child who harassed Parker.
We have alerted the Principal of Parker's high school that he was harassed, and we are slowly getting the details of what happened. And Parker told his mom that it happened on Thursday as well. "Stay tuned" is all I can say.
Nonetheless, for all the ways we claim to being "progressive people" in the liberal bastion of Chapel Hill-Carrboro, this is an over-generalization: bigotry against LGBT people is alive and well in our little part of the world, and we are on a course of always teaching people not tolerance, but respect for the differences that make us the unique people we are in this world.
But this is easy to say and write, and harder to live!
What every parent, guardian, grand-parent, foster parent, relative, friend (you get the idea) is told to do when our children are young is to read to our children...a lot!
What is fun is reading to our children when they are older, especially when it is from your very own book!
Here's the scenario: Dean and I picked up Adrianne from college yesterday, and we all woke up late this morning. Having shown Adrianne the publicity around the book, ON BEING A GAY PARENT, she was eager to see it in print. What was fun this morning was reading portions of the book with her story in it. It was a keen test of the writer as well, because she could tell if the stories were close to being the real "McCoy," or if I had gotten her voice and story wrong. After reading various passages of the book, she gave me the "O.K." that I was waiting to hear: "That's pretty good! How young was I when I said all that?" And we talked about her life story with two gay "dads."
On another note: our area's "Village Voice," known as the Independent Weekly, highlighted the book in its "Eight Days a Week" pages, highlighting the reading/signing at McIntyre's Fine Books this coming Tuesday, Nov. 27th. It was also highlighted as an "Indy Pick" among the many lectures and book readings in the area in the coming week! Go to the link:
Our friend Julia made tonight's reading and signing at Borders Bookstore in Apex, NC possible. While there was a small gathering of listeners, they were incredible, shall we say, "coincidences": one of the people who attended was Judy, a mom who attended a church in which I was the founding pastor in Cary, NC. She knew my former wife, knows my children, and met Dean tonight. Judy came to the store because of the poster that Julia put on the Borders Store window. The other person was Linda, who recently had a documentary she had filmed, following one of the cases by Sr. Helen Prejean pursued. Linda and I talked about the possibility of doing a sort-of Discovery Channel/Travel Channel series on pilgrimage!
And we met Peter tonight: Peter is a father of three who is trying to blend more "equally" the feminine and masculine side of his personality: he wore a leather jacket and a skirt. We had a fascinating conversation with him. While not a cross-dresser per se, nor transgender, he was exploring the various sides of his gender, which he understood as "male," but was interested in pursuing a "tom boy" feminine side he relates to as well.
My son Parker was sick today. He complained about a sore throat yesterday, and this morning it was still bothering him, with an early CRASH to bed.
What was amazing is this: Parker was surrounded by three adults who were watching him throughout the day, even though we were all at work in our various jobs. His mom was teaching, but calling in often; Dean was engaged in a protest at work (the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill usually has a civil protest in the Pit at 12 noon/around lunch); and I was in Raleigh, calling in. Throughout the day, we probably kept Parker up and away from sleep by calling him, asking if he needed anything, when what he needed was sleep, along with plenty of fluids.
We have all come to appreciate the wider circle of love that our "family" offers him, and each of us, each and every day of life.
Ain't love grand?
p.s. On Friday afternoon, we dashed into the doctor's office to find out what the lingering sore throat was all about: :Parker had strep! Penicillin was the cure! All is on the mend.
While I am advocating gay- and lesbian-parenting on this blog, in a society where some people are challenged by this very notion, I realize that I also live in a world in which simply being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, are grounds for death. Iranian Parliament member MohsenYahyavi told the British press in May 2007 that "Homosexuals should be executed...they spread diseases. It is a severe crime that is against the laws of nature" (Ynet News Service, Nov. 13, 2007).
This is what we must also teach our children in our families: that we live in a world in which people are killed simply for being who they are created to be. And we must teach them that the work of acceptance for and of all people, amid the brilliant diversity of ways we were created to be in this world, is not to be simply tolerated, but respected, in all societies and cultures.
Early on in my "coming out to the children" phase, Dean and I "kind of" surrounded Parker and Adrianne with all kinds of images of gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgender images and impressions from the world's so-called "modern media outlets," a.k.a., "main stream media" or MSM. We watched and laughed through many episodes of "Will and Grace" in the evening; we watched "In and Out," rooting for Kevin Kline and Tom Selleck as they kissed; laughed, sang, and cried through parts of "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," to critiquing this season's new gay couple on "Desperate Housewives," and the transgender lover in ABC's "Dirty Sexy Money." Today, the children, now young adults and teenagers, can pick up on what is a campy stereotype to a sincere portrayal of life lived largely by those who are LGBT.
With Parker watching with one eye while "working" on the computer, we watched CBS on Sunday night, in which the latest couple on "The Amazing Race!" the Episcopalian Reverends Kate Lewis and Pat Hendrikson were told by Phil, the emcee, that they have been eliminated from the race in Amsterdam! They were the first lesbian couple on "The Amazing Race!" in its 12th season. And they were an "out" Christian couple! With all my writing and experiences of pilgrimage, this is where my vocation as teacher-pilgrim and being a gay dad cross: I enjoy the antics of this show as they run too quickly through foreign lands, especially watching the gay or lesbian people on this show! As has become customary on this show, like "Real World" on MTV, there seems to be either an obviously lesbian or gay person or couple (along with some interesting closet-cases, which my children and I figure out rather quickly). On this episode of "The Amazing Race," the couple who came in last were an amazing (in my judgment) couple who were both ministers and lesbians in a long term healthy, prayer-based relationship! Among all the couples on this season, they seemed to be, well, the most "normal" in terms of the lack of drama or becoming hysterically unglued at the slightest obstacle [read heterosexual couples...they can be such drama-queens:-)]. The couple took their loss in stride, saying that they would've liked to stayed a little longer on the journey since they had only just begun, pointed out where they should've chosen a different task (sorting out bicycles?) but they had also said they had already had great experiences to tell others about when they got home to Thousand Oaks, California. And their Episcopal bishop was behind them 100%, giving them permission to be on a race in which they were simply amazing!
So here's a toast (as I raise my coffee cup full of French Roast coffee this morning) to the most normal and less self-absorbed, Christian couple on "The Amazing Race" this season! To you other heterosexuals: this couple has set the bar for maturity in this wonderful race!
As anyone who reads this blogspot knows, ON BEING A GAY PARENT was delivered to my house on Nov. 1st! The book is now in bookstores near you!
And the reviews have started to come in! And the reviews are positive! Good! And sometimes "Very good!"
Surprisingly, I have come to understand that this book is one of the first--if not the first book--of its kind: an explicitly Christian book/perspective on gay- and lesbian-parenting! While other books may discuss "faith," "love," and "religion," along with the word "church" or "synagogue," and perhaps "mosque," this is the first book that embraces Christianity not as the antagonist or the Church as the "evil empire," (apologies to Ronald Reagan-fans), but as the very basis of who I, the author, am as a person, which shapes how I understand family, parenting, children, etc. While Dan Savage claims a background that was shaped by his Irish Catholic heritage, he does not write out of that context per se in their parenting. And while Andrew Sullivan is unapologetically a Christian shaped by his Catholic heritage, he is not a parent. In academic circles, theologians James Allison and Gene Rogers do not write about families. Among other Christian "activists," Mel White and Gene Robinson talk about their families, but their books are not on parenting or family-issues per se.
The Borders Bookstore in Chapel Hill was crowded with customers on this cloudy day. Many Carolina fans were watching the football against North Carolina State University (Carolina lost), while others were out shopping. In the middle of the cavernous store, near the Information/Customer Service center were several chairs set before a long table, with 25 copies of ON BEING A GAY PARENT prominently displayed. It was exciting to see so many copies of the book!
With a few friends in the audience (thank you all for coming), I began reading from the book, starting with the declaration, "This is not the book I thought I would ever write," and discussed the major topics of the book on being a gay parent, setting up the audience's expectation of what they would hear. Here was the curious thing: As I read from the book, I noticed that those in the audience were not the only ones listening to the stories I read: some people kept circling around the arranged chairs, listening carefully to what I read, while others "looked at books" at nearby shelves for over 30 minutes as I read aloud, leaning in when my voice dropped as I emphasized a point in the reading. A few people "winced" as I said "gay and lesbian," uncomfortable with the words. And after the readings and the time for questions, I watched as some people surreptitiously picked up a copy or two of the book after I finished autographing them.
When I was in the closet--or should I say closets--I was one of those who would "drop in" and listen quietly for my story to be read by someone else, hopeful yet knowing I was not the only "freak" the only "gay man" in the world. I wanted someone to tell me my story was all right, and that life was going to be O.K. as a gay man with children, even though I was hiding in a marriage. I wanted to absorb, but not get too close to, the truth of my life and who I was, and who God created me to be. And it was those other men and women, who I was once-hiding with in our circle of fear, that I watched hovering around the edges of the reading chairs yesterday. To look, glance, or engage their attention would make them run away. To invite to them to sit in a chair and rest their weary, exhausted bones, would have been too much, too soon. And so they quietly, easily, nonchalantly, hovered nearby, listening in, dropping by, desperate to hear their stories read, be validated, and thus giving them pause about what it would mean to live authentically and genuinely. "What happened if I did come out?" was never far from their mind.
The book tour is off and running! My story, and the stories of others gay and lesbian parents are now being read, in public, for free (unless you want to buy a book, but the price is good and the author will sign almost anything), for all to see, hear, and absorb.
Tomorrow, Nov. 10th, I have my first book reading and signing of ON BEING A GAY PARENT! Since the first time I talked openly, and publicly, about being a gay dad at the SOLO Conference at Kanuga Retreat Center (Labor Day Weekend 2007), a group largely composed of "non-coupled" women and men, I have had other opportunities to talk about being a gay dad. I'll call these other speaking engagements and opportunities, "warm-up acts." After all, I was a thespian in high school, and always will be in life.
But reading from the book ON BEING A GAY PARENT, in a context in which I have little to no control of who will be in the audience is a little bit more daunting, yet I am up for the challenge...and the ride on the roller coaster. The roller coaster is the "ups and downs" that I experience when no one is around me, wondering "What have I just done?" in writing the book and having it published for the world to read and know "our story" as a family. In my reading from various websites and blog sites, I have no illusions of how hostile some people will be in response to what I am promoting in this book: the normality of being a parent of two great children who just happens to be gay. These will be "down" moments. But I also have no illusions that there will be other interested, caring, and supportive folks who are glad to know that this book is finally out, and that I am finally "out" as a dad who happens to be gay. These will be the "up"moments.
For example, at the Durham Art Guild opening reception for area artists a few weeks ago, Dean and I met another dad who is gay who, upon hearing about my book, smiled broadly and said, "I've been looking for this book for a long time! Where have you been?" As another dad who is gay with three "teenage" children, he has gone into bookstores and libraries, but has never found a book that speaks to what it means to be a dad who is gay, or a mom who is a lesbian, without it being a social scientific text book or fictionalized novel, in which the names have been changed to protect every one's identity.
In order to keep a sense of balance, this is what I am remembering: In a sense, with the publication of this book I am inviting other dads and moms who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, along with family and friends, as well as those who are curious and anxious about being out themselves, to come and talk and listen to each other's stories in a new venue!
Here's my hope, and will be my line constantly in all my readings: what I am promoting is not gay parenting, or lesbian, bisexual or transgender parenting over or against something I'll call "straight parenting": what I want to promote is good parenting, regardless of one's sexual orientation. While some people in society will get over-heated because of the "gay" part of the title of the book, they simply need to read on in the book and understand that I am simply promoting being a parent, to the best of our abilities--which changes constantly, depending on the circumstances, both ours and our children! Our being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender comes in "second" if not further back in the list of priorities when one is actively engaged in the art and act of parenting, which is our primary duty and joy as parents, no matter how young or old our children are. When one of our children are sick, in trouble, in over their heads with relationship "issues", feeling sad and depressed, needing a cheer-leader at a sports event, a happy audience member at a school play, consciousness of one's sexual orientation does not necessarily come to mind as a parent, but being a caring and proud parent does. Once they were born, I am, forever more, Adrianne and Parker's dad...and Dean is forever more their gay "nanny." And of this fact and truth, I am happy!
An open invitation: whether you are an enthusiastic supporter of this book and the author, or have some problems with the premise of the book, please come to one of the book readings and signings, and let's have a healthy conversation during the question and answer periods! I look forward to seeing you tomorrow, and the days, weeks, and months to come!
The first reading is tomorrow, at 2 P.M., at Border's in Chapel Hill, NC, just off of Hwy. 15-501! See you there and then!
Funny world we live in: it is expected that those of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender--and anyone else on this spectrum--"come out" and tell the world we are who we are. While the same is not expected of anyone who is straight (go figure), we, who are LGBT, dutifully "come out" of our self-imposed "closets," though there is no stated or planned ritual for such an affair.
As a son of the Church and a lover of rituals, I solved all this with my own "coming out" party!
On the evening of Saturday, November 3rd, I was joined by nine amazing, handsome men--all who say they are gay--for my first and last official coming out (aren't you already out?) gay party. While the descriptive title may seem over the top, so does the idea of "coming out." As many of you, dear readers, know, I've been gay "practically" all of my life. While I was "out" and gay everywhere in my life, busting out of closet doors during my tenure at Duke University, in reality, the last place where I was not totally "out" was in the Church per se, especially in my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA). While I had the joy of serving a fantastic congregation in Raleigh, I was never "out" to the entire congregation, though there were some members who knew, or thought they knew. Having now left that congregation, the party on Sat. night was the long anticipated "last plank, last board, last screw, last bolt, last lock" of the proverbial closet door coming off, and my coming out, with nowhere to hide anymore. In the Protestant and Catholic (and Orthodox) Churches unscripted yet hovering, shadowy, guilt-laden, shaming policy of "don't ask, don't tell," I am breathing freely, no longer constrained by this self-imposed last restraining order.
The party was marvelous: Wayne, our host, raised a glass and toasted the evening, acknowledging that I am finally out of the closet! In return, I thanked all the men for their gift of being a role model of sorts as they lived their lives free of the restraints of the "don't ask don't tell" world. We also celebrated the publication of my new book ON BEING A GAY PARENT (NYC: Seabury Press, 2007, www.churchpublishing.org), which I just received last week on All Saints/Souls day! Wayne and his friend Ken made a scrumptious dinner of chicken, rice, salad, and slices from several baguettes, with plenty of wine for one and all. Dessert was an apple pie (alamode) that fed all ten of us well. Vince and John brought beverages for the gathering (thanks, guys!).
Afterwards, we all had great fun as I opened gifts that were delicious and hysterical: a bottle of white wine and beautiful cork-screw from Michael, who is tempting me to be a white wine connoisseur instead of always drinking reds; new black high heels from Wayne; a travel book to gay places in the country from Ken; and a bra (purple), tiara, lipstick, Crisco (!), and hand sanitizer from Randy. Randy wanted me to "glam up." They all match perfectly with the heels. Mitchell and Joseph gave me a great pamphlet that helped me understand (tongue in cheek) what it means to be a gay man, and this pamphlet was tucked in a toy-closet that Dean, my partner, made, along with another tiara from Dean (who worked with Wayne on the party).
This was the first party at Wayne's new, beautiful house. I was honored to have this "coming out" party as his first inaugural party. I'll write down the ritual for this rite of passage soon in an article, so no one else needs to flop around in knowing what to do, or feel guilty, shamed, or sad about coming out. That is the gift of rituals: doing things decently and in order (as we Presbyterians say). We all celebrated, laughed, reflected, shared our "coming out" and "first gay kissing" stories, growing closer together in this time of hope, wonder, and love.
Thanks to the men and women who taught me the joys of being out. As they would tell me (often): come on out! The water is fine!
Swimming with joy in the delightful waters of being out,
On November 1st, 2007, known in the Christian Church as All Saints and All Souls Day, I received my advance copy of On Being a Gay Parent (Seabury Press, 2007). What a way to start off a festival, a holy day of the Church: by announcing to the world the very thing that many in the Church--save for God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and a few other saints and sinners--cannot stand to have in their midst.
This book is dedicated to my children: Adrianne, who is now a sophomore in college (how time flies!), and my son Parker, who is now a freshman in high school. When I told them that I was gay, Adrianne was around seven years old, and Parker was around four years old. Much has happened throughout the years, and we seem to have all "adjusted" just fine...even with a very gay dad.
My partner Dean has hung around for now almost 12 years. We are amazed when we start counting up the years. As I say in the dedication of the book, he has lived up to the children's title for him well, "the gay nanny."
This book began when my friend Richard Rodriguez suggested that the next book I write be about gay parenting! At the time I had other books I wanted to explore and write, but the themes of this book kept on coming back and nudging me to write. After finishing a few other writing projects, and with much procrastination, I quickly wrote this book. Actually, I lived this book for many years before ever writing anything about being a gay dad.
What was wonderfully awkward about writing this book was this: I started writing the book in third person, writing about "those gays and lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people." It was cumbersome writing. One day I simply started writing about "us" and "our", and no longer about "them" and "their." A break-through! And the writing never stopped.
Those who tune in and read this blog, enjoy! Comment away! Let's have a real and great dialogue/conversation going!
Chapel Hill and Carrboro, North Carolina, United States
I am a dad, who happens to be gay, with two amazing young adult children who have taught me, my partner, and their mom what grace, faith, hope, and love are all about. I am also an ordained clergyperson in the Presbyterian Church (USA), involved in congregational life, sometimes preaching here and there, and an oblate of St. Benedict's Monastery in St. Joseph, MN. I taught at Duke Divinity School at Duke University for over a decade, and I currently teach at North Carolina Central University in Durham, NC. I teach Ethics, World Religions, and English. And I am the Director of a religious non-profit, "School of the Pilgrim" (www.schoolofthepilgrim.com), in which I take people on actual pilgrimages to break out of the religion of rush hour in order to find their inner spiritual path. I am also glad to work with and be an advocate with people living with disabilities in faith communities, who teach me more about life in all its wonders and quirks. Enjoy the blog! And for more information about the book ON BEING A GAY PARENT, go to www.onbeingagayparent.com. Email contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, and phone is 919-444-9111