Saturday, May 28, 2005

Mr. Postman

Post Secret is a blog that, in the name of an art project, encourages people to send in a secret, anonymously, on a post card. Most of the secrets have a graphic representation of the secret. Some seem too incredible to be true, yet surely the perverse imagination of these people is telling and insightful nonetheless.

Interestingly, more secrets than not it seems deal with deception as opposed to sheer covertness. The sender has lied rather than merely failed to disclose or kept hidden information or an aspect of their life. Many represent some sense of failure in life, a sense of incompleteness, a lack of achievement or worth of being: a reminder that ultimately most people just want love and acceptance.

Not surprisingly, a few deal with gay or gay-related themes, both amusingly ("I had gay sex at church camp. Three times") and tragically ("I spread rumors about my gay classmate to see how people would react if they found out about me"). Some postcards such as "I used to write poems and dream of being I just do drag" leave one wondering if the sender has made peace with his/her status or mourns lost (or perceived lost) potential.

Several of the postcards are humorous and may share a secret one can relate with (no, I won't share which ones), gay or straight. A a few are even uplifting: "I believe I will achieve something truly great in this lifetime. I am going to be 53 tomorrow."

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Out on a Limb

When is it appropriate to "out" one's self, if self is so inclined to do such things? As part of my interests and profession, I do not infrequently give presentations. I also teach a class. And, despite being an out and proud gay man, I often find myself wondering if and when it is appropriate to disclose my sexuality.

I am a firm believer in my need to be an example and role model to any gay men who may not already be out: that is ok to be out and that you can lead a happy, productive, fulfilled life as an out man. I also want any gay men in my class or workshop to feel like he has someone to talk to or ask questions to, if he might be looking for somebody else to connect with who has shared his experience: you can't tell who is gay just by looking at them, so connecting with each other can be difficult.

I don't, as a matter of course, just blurt it out. My sexuality usually only arises when doing some type of personal disclosure icebreaker or when I'm teaching on diversity or leadership. In class, I like to disclose realitively early because I'm about to spend a long few months with these people and if my sexuality is going to be a problem for a student, I'd like to save us both some small amount of trouble. Also, it provides me some shorthand; I don't have to back up when the person asks me during a casual conversation, "did you just say your husband?"

Of course part of me feels like it isn't anybody's business and certainly they don't have a right to know this about me. Some people would argue that it is inappropriate to disclose my sexuality; after all, heterosexuals don't flaunt their sexuality in class. But of course they do. They can talk, without thought or hesistation, about their girl/boyfriend or husband/wife. I, on the other hand, frequently think about what kind of ramificiations talking about my husband will have on the situation at hand. Announcing that I am gay has actually helped prevent some awkward situations. Of course it creates some too, but then I'm prepared for that and the perverse side of me enjoys the controversy I've just caused.

A recent uncomfortable moment happened when I was talking with a college student who mentioned that he had recently earned his Eagle Award as a Boy Scout. I was congratulating him and mentioned that I had been a Cub Scout, never taking the initiative to be a Boy Scout, butthat my husband was an Eagle Scout too and so I knew how much work went into that. The previously engaging conversation went stone dead at that point. The student became noticeably uncomfortable and so did I; I admittably was trying to put out there the message that gays are Boy Scouts too, but I was trying to be casual about it. Instead, I got the sound of crickets and an atomic bomb at the same time.

Outing myself early can produce interesting results: More often than not, I receive words of support and encouragement; sometimes people tell me about parents, siblings, or other relatives that are gay or lesbian.

Opening avenues for discussion on several levels is good, but what doI lose, if anything? Does outing myself early cut me off from people who would otherwise hear my message? Am I forgoing a relationship that could truly change a person's perspective later on after mutual trust and respect has been established?

Obviously, no easy answer exists. Appropriateness, motive, safety, educational opportunites, and convenience all converge to create a puzzle that must be solved differently on an almost daily basis. Being out involves regularly stepping out on a limb, hoping that you make a higher connection with people without the branch snapping under your feet.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

To The Special Women in My Life

Congratulations to my sister, Lesley, for graduating college!

Lesley earned her BA in English, just like big brother. She looked dazzling in her new earrings and sassy in her cute shoes. Lesley was one of the first people I came out to and has been a wonderful support to me. She has also been an outspoken advocate for gay people in her college classes and with her peer group. She has gone beyond the call of simply being a loving sister and has acted as a true ally to me and my husband. Lesley was a great sister even before I came out and it's never been truer. She has a very bright future ahead of her as the loving, beautiful, and creative person that she is.

And I cannot forget Mom during the coming and passing of Mother's Day. Nobody could ask for a greater mother, truly. I remember during college commenting to a professor that my mother was probably an ISFJ (that's Myers-Briggs type if you don't know. You can go here to get something very much like it). My professor said that it was the perfect mom personality. That professor was right. I also hope that my sister and I take after our mom in the looks department; she's a vision of youth.

My deepest love to both of you.