Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Sound of Music, Indiana and Republican Presidential Hopefuls

The recent uproar about Indiana's "religious freedom law" has reminded me of a scene from The Sound of Music. Let me explain.

Since coming out, I have had occasions when I am reminded of some dialogue in The Sound of Music. Kurt comes to deliver a telegram, hoping to see Liesl. Instead, he is confronted by Captain von Trapp. Nervous and taken off guard, Kurt salutes von Trapp with the Nazi salute, "Heil Hitler." Nazi Germany has not yet taken over Austria via a referendum, but it is looming on the horizon.

Max Detweiler and Baroness von Schrader (Elsa) are with von Trapp. It is strongly hinted in the movie that Max is both Jewish and gay (with regard to the latter, his flamboyance and acerbic wit are dead give aways). The Captain is incensed and tells Kurt to get out. The following dialogue then ensues:

(Elsa) "Oh Georg, he's just a boy." (Captain)" Yes, and I'm just an Austrian. (Max) "What's going to happen's going to happen. Just make sure it doesn't happen to you." (Captain, incensed) "Max, don't you ever say that again!" (Max) "You know I have no political convictions. Can I help it if other people do?" (Captain) "Oh yes you can help it. You must help it."

Max was naive. If he had been a real person instead of a fictional character, he likely would have been gassed during the war, either for being a Jew or a homosexual or both. If he was lucky, he would have survived a horrific concentration camp ordeal. (If you're interested, read The Pink Triangle. The Nazi War Against Homosexuals, or I, Pierre Seel, Deported Homosexual: A Memoir of Nazi Terror). It was in Max's best interest to have political convictions and not support a regime that meant death for him.

I have been puzzled over the last few years at how LGBT individuals could continue to support the Republican party. Granted, the GOP does not want to actually kill gays, though there are plenty of people on the Christian and Tea Party right who have publicly espoused this "final solution" to the gay problem. Google it.

Which brings me back to Indiana. Here's what a United States Senator and presidential hopeful (Ted Cruz) had to say about the controversy:
"Governor Pence is holding the line to protect religious liberty in the Hoosier State. Indiana is giving voice to millions of courageous conservatives across this country who are deeply concerned about the ongoing attacks upon our personal liberties. I’m proud to stand with Mike, and I urge Americans to do the same."
Apparently, when the personal liberties of an LGBT individual are attacked, it's ok.

Here's what the "moderate" "establishment" GOP presidential candidate (Jeb Bush) had to say:
"I think Gov. [Mike] Pence has done the right thing. I think once the facts are established, people aren’t going to see this as discriminatory at all.”

Senator Rand Paul, who is expected to announce his candidacy shortly, recently had this to say at a prayer breakfast:
“The First Amendment says keep government out of religion. It doesn’t say keep religion out of government.”
Again, hmmm. 

So again, I wonder: how can any LGBT person support the Republican Party or even passively ignore the party's stance toward our community?

"...  I have no political convictions. Can I help it if other people do?"

"Oh yes you can help it. You must help it."

Monday, March 23, 2015

Watching You Disappear, Slowly

I did a lot of thinking and reflecting this past weekend which - among other things - has prompted me to post part of an email that my younger sister, Martha (pictured above), sent to me shortly after I came out in the fall of 2010. She was my staunchest supporter during that difficult period, and she helped me to gain perspective on who I was and who I am.

I had written to Martha to ask her to tell me what she remembered of me before I converted to Mormonism. Her response was, well, stunning to me, and I have re-read these words a number of times since then, most recently this past weekend. Thank you, Martha ... again.

I feel as if I am rediscovering you, yet at the same time as if I am getting reacquainted with a brother I had lost touch with years ago. You know, this person is the one I've always held in my heart: you whom you are revealing is not anyone new to me.

I've always known who you are: your delicate and refined elegance and passion, your profound intelligence and wisdom, your deep admiration and appreciation of beauty. 

This is the brother I have always loved. It is the one I feared losing all those years ago when you wrote me a letter, telling me you had joined the LDS Church. I felt that I was going to lose you, but I never felt that I lost knowing who you truly were. You may have never known that deep sense of loss that I felt. I hope that this doesn't surprise or shock you.

After you joined the church, I felt as if I was watching you disappear, slowly ... with fragments of you disintegrating beyond my reach. You know the sensation of what you see in movies: when someone is falling and someone is reaching their hands to catch that person ... like off of a cliff and then the hands join, but the clutch weakens .... and the person above the great "vide" disappears. 

This is how I felt when I received your letter at school all those years ago.   I stood there shaking as I read your letter with tears running down my face ... it was if you had announced to me that you had died. I felt that I had lost you forever.  The letter was so serious and severe. You had gone from being so happy, smiling, understanding and LOVING to someone so cold, intolerant and always frowning ... At least that was what I perceived.

The memories I have of you from my childhood and youth are loving and fun ones:  walking with you in the snow with my hands in the muffler that you had bought for me. Looking up at you smiling and talking with me about I don't know what... but loving to be with you. I remember laughing, remember you smiling.

I remember riding in your chic car and singing, eating, talking and laughing.  Watching you laugh when I’d tell a joke.  Hanging out at your place when home from school, listening to music and dancing and you singing, or watching you read and just hanging out admiring your intelligence and zen-ness ... all so loving and peaceful

When I visited you in later years [i.e., after marriage and the arrival of children], I felt as if your life had been sucked out of you. You always looked unhappy. I remember saying something about this to my husband the last time we were there, which has now been some time.  

I felt that for someone supposedly so happy with church and family, you seemed so miserable.

In what had once been a joyous face full of laughter, I now saw Mom’s pout. Instead of the brother with whom I always was openly affectionate and loving, I now saw someone who couldn't sign letters or tell me that he loved me ... would simply give me a cold pat hug ... I was devastated. I hope you don't mind the sincerity in my words.

This is also healing for me because I honestly felt that you had died all those years ago when you joined the Church.

So, this brother I am reconnecting with today, who loves his body and is accepting of affection, who doubts and questions, who expresses his love and feelings, who expresses his creativity with pictures and words ... who weaves in humor and jokes .... this is my brother I saw disappearing … The one I’ve always held in my heart.

Photo: Mt. Washington, New Hampshire, summer 1977: Ruth (my step-mother), Me and Martha

Sunday, March 22, 2015

My Primal Catholic

Mark and I were sitting on the patio outside our room at our hotel in Palm Springs on Friday evening. We had come for the weekend for a wedding. Suddenly (or so I’m sure it seemed to him), I looked up from the book I was reading and turned to Mark and said, “There’s something about spring and the Easter season that awakens my primal Catholic.”

He looked up from writing in his journal and gave me a quizzical yet somehow knowing look, smiled endearingly, then unscrewed the top of his Mont Blanc pen and began writing again. He knew to leave it alone. 

The book I was reading is entitled The Fifth Gospel, by Ian Caldwell. Quickly climbing the New York Times (hardcover fiction) Bestseller list, the book is a mystery thriller that plays out amidst intrigues in the Vatican. A couple of weeks ago, I finished another Vatican-themed thriller, The Confessor by Dan Silva. I loved/am loving both.

At another time of the year, I might not be inclined to read such books, but this is spring and Easter is approaching, and my primal Catholic is stirring. I say “primal” because I left the Church when I was still in high school, and though I later (including within the past several years) flirted with it - and at one point even considered entering the priesthood – I did not and could not re-embrace it.

So what is it about this time of the year that stirs something deep within me? The simple answer is that I really don’t know. A more complicated answer would probably involve childhood memories of a time when Lent really meant something in our family. A time when the Latin mass was still said. A time when there were Palm Sunday processions around St. Theresa’s Church in Salem, Illinois where we lived. A time of Stations of the Cross. A time when the statues and altar crucifix were draped in black on Good Friday. A time of deep mystery and catharsis, much more mysterious and wondrous and primal than the Christmas season.

The answer would also surely include memories of a trip I took in the spring of 1982 to Europe. I joined a college friend in Paris. We attended Easter mass in Notre Dame Cathedral. The next day, we boarded an overnight train to Rome. When the sun came up, we were somewhere in northern Italy. Soon, we were snaking down the sun-basked peninsula with the Mediterranean on our right. Flowers were blooming. Trees were leafing out. When we pulled into Rome and in the days to come, I saw wisteria everywhere. That was the year I fell in love with spring. Up until that point, I had been strictly an autumn man, thinking that a love of one necessarily excluded love of the other.

I also fell in love with Rome. I wasn't a practicing Catholic, but I loved being in St. Peter's. It wasn't so much a spiritual thing as a historical/cultural thing. And it was spring, and the weather was nice, and life seemed lovely there in sun-kissed Rome.

It was also in spring – the following year – that I experienced a crisis in my life and found my primal Catholic again turning to “Mother Church.” In my confusion and need for some sense of direction and certainty, I turned to prayer and felt God was calling me into the priesthood. But after I shared my thoughts and feelings with my then-employer – a Mormon – she put on a full-court press to get me to join the Mormon Church, an effort in which she was spectacularly successful.

Interestingly, my father also came to a point in his life when he seriously considered entering the priesthood. (Actually, I have come to realize that my life is strikingly similar to my dad's in some important ways.) He was raised Methodist, and there wasn't a Catholic in his family tree for hundreds of years. He converted when he was in college at the University of Illinois. He talked to the monsignor about seminary, and he counseled Dad to go home to the farm for the summer and think it over. In July, Dad met my mother on a blind date and married three months later after a long distance courtship (again the similarity to my life).

My mother was religiously raised as a Catholic by her German grandmother, whose father had been baptized in a church in Sasbach at the edge of the Black Forest, and whose mother - the daughter of immigrants from Lower Franconia near Frankfurt - was christened in St. Peter's Cathedral in Belleville, Illinois. Mark and I were in Germany in 2012, and the lead photo is of the interior of the church in Sasbach.

Four years ago, another spring saw me leaving Mormonism. My primal Catholic again stirred, but I couldn't see myself at that time going from one anti-gay church to another.

In the years since then, I have learned to live with my primal Catholic. Instead of trying to extinguish it or pretend it’s not there, I accept - even welcome - its presence. But I also know that one of the definitions of “primal” is “relating to an early stage in evolutionary development.” I have evolved since my childhood and youth, since that trip to Rome, since that flirtation with the priesthood, since leaving the Mormon Church; and I continue to evolve. But what is primal will remain, and I suspect I will always associate spring and Easter with my Catholic origins.

Meanwhile, I'm enjoying The Fifth Gospel.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Palm Springs: Me, My Dad and a Gay Wedding

We are in Palm Springs this weekend to celebrate the wedding of Chris and Jason, two dear friends. It will be the first gay wedding we have attended (other than our own), and we are looking forward to it. Meantime, however, we are enjoying simply being here.

This is Mark's first time. I was here over 30 years ago on a golfing trip with my dad and step-mother. Most of my memories of that trip involve the ridiculous places where I managed to hit a golf ball, including right in the middle of a swimming pool of a house bordering the fairway and into the clutches of one of those jaggedy things that grow out from a palm tree. I couldn't retrieve either ball - the first for obvious reasons, the second because it was about 20 feet up the trunk of the palm tree.

I have another memory, however: of me sitting on the edge of a bed in my parents' hotel room, sobbing. I can't remember what triggered this breakdown, but I know it was the closest I ever came to coming out to my dad. I was working for his company at the time and was, I suppose, feeling adrift and lonely. I had no friends, did no socializing. Some might put it this way: I really didn't "have a life."

I think Dad suspected that I might be gay. There had certainly been indications. Such as the time that I was working for him in the early summer of 1977. We were driving to lunch in New Concord, Ohio. The news was on the radio, describing Anita Bryant's efforts to repeal Miami's non-discrimination ordinance and her crusade against gay people. I distinctly remember turning to my dad and saying, "Why don't they leave those people alone? They have a right to live their lives like everybody else." I think my dad was so surprised by my comments that he simply nodded. I don't recall him actually saying anything, and the subject was never discussed again.

Dad in high school, holding his nephew

Back to the hotel room in Palm Springs. My dad tried to comfort me and shared a story from his youth that he had never told me before and never mentioned again. Given the context in which he shared it, I was given an insight into my dad. A secret one. One that could not be talked about, but only talked around. 

Dad told of an evening in his youth when he was coming home from the little village of Alma, Illinois to his parents' farm a half-mile or so out of town. As he crossed the railroad tracks, he was confronted by some "toughs" from the village. They apparently surrounded him, taunting him and perhaps smacking him around a little. My dad intimated that they were making fun of him, accusing him. The context of the story indicated that they may have been calling him things like "sissy" and "queer." My dad didn't go into that; it had been "put out there," however.

His point in telling the story was that those guys were still back in Alma or its environs and had not done anything with their lives. (He used a more graphic term.) He, however, had moved on with his life and left that behind. I could do the same. 

It was a curious episode, never again discussed. But it was a turning point of sorts in my life - one of those instances when I flirted with chucking the pretense and coming out, but ultimately decided not to.

So it is interesting that I am here now, 34 years later, an out gay man, attending a gay wedding with my husband ...

We arrived late morning yesterday and had several hours to kill before we could check into our room, so we decided to take in Palm Springs' most popular tourist attraction: a tram that climbs up to Mount San Jacinto and offers stunning views of the valley.

I'm pretty sure one would only this truck in an area with a relatively high gay population. Interestingly, Mark had asked me as we were packing whether he should wear a crew-neck T-shirt under his open-necked dress shirt at the wedding. I had replied with a definitive "no."