Coming Out and Speaking Out

To prepare you for this year’s National Coming Out Day, I’m re-sharing My Coming Out Story. It is also included in Queer Blog Posts; the Kindle-compatible collection of selected blog posts which will be free to download from October 7th through 9th, 2014 (PT). If you take advantage of this offer, please do me the courtesy of posting a review on Amazon; I want to know what you think. May also be enjoyed on a Kindle app for smartphone or computer.

Queer Blog Posts contains most, but not all, blog entries posted in the LGBTITQQ2S category from 2009 to earlier this year. Some were written to submit to one or another college class while others were written in response to happenings in my own life or the world around me. These posts contain specifically gay content although arguably everything that I experience or feel is inherently processed through the filter of my being a queer man of a certain age.


I have a small CafePress Shop with buttons, magnets and cards so you can come out and speak out yourself.

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Grandma, Robin, Joan, AIDS and more

I’ve resisted writing this post because so many people have commented on
Robin Williams’ passing- what could I add? The passing of Joan Rivers,
a recent article about how we old-time gay folk should stop obsessing over
what we experienced in the 80s- when AIDS was first labeled GRID
(gay-related immune disease)- combined with my reading the book
Healing the Heart of Democracy reminded me that I must never stop speaking my truth.

Robin Williams, Lauren Bacall and now Joan Rivers. I’m beginning to understand what my paternal Grandmother went through. She was aging rapidly and stopped going out. A wise Doctor felt that some part of it was due to so many of her long-time friends passing (she had been very active in the church which had employed her late husband). It was suggested she move to Vancouver where her other son & family live. As I understand it, the move got her active with a new group of people: whether it gave her a longer life I can’t say but it improved the quality.

After losing so many young lives to AIDS (and fear and inaction) I moved here to Ohio and it was good. And some bad.. life’s like that.

But I’m not as resilient as once I was and I find the death of so many comics & actors & writers- whether influential in my youth or more recently- difficult to process. I know the rational responses: many lived a good life (or at least a long life), some contributed rather strongly to their own demise, every minute I’ve had since AIDS first swept across this continent is a gift denied many, etc.

That first group (stand-up comics and comedic performers) in particular touches on something that my brother said when eulogizing our Mum. He focused on three things she taught us; “the first has to do with respect for television comedy, the second with what I want to call ‘no taboos’ and the third with ‘no airs’.” Robin and Joan clearly fit the first two and stories seem to support the last aspect fitting each of them as well.

I can’t say I mourn every person’s passing or that I could function if I tried. But try as I might I’ve never been able to dismiss any person’s death as a trifle. To the extent I can not totally avoid judging someone, I feel that there are some things I can never be in a position to understand well enough to do so- the decision to end one’s life is one of them.

No matter what the Universe throws at me, I just can’t quit. (sounds like a C&W song in the making….) I used to think that I could never kill myself because I couldn’t do that to my family and friends. And that certainly is part of it; having been blessed with more than one circle of love I know what it’s like to have someone leave the bounds of this earthly coil too soon. I’ve seen what those left behind experience. But to stop there is to say that suicide is inherently a selfish act. And that is far too simplistic.

And even if that’s an accurate assessment in any particular situation, is it the sum total of the lesson?

I was a volunteer with ACT (the Aids Committee of Toronto) and sat with friends at Casey House (Hospice) or helped them in their homes. How dare anyone judge the life-ending decision of those who faced what those souls faced (and others face even now: see Physician Assisted Death ).

Slapping on the ‘selfish’ label is yet another approach that de-legitimizes the reality of mental illnesses. Many people are quick to parrot the expression ‘the mind is the most powerful weapon we have’ when it comes to ‘self improvement’ and yet would deny what damage it may do when turned inward – a mental ‘autoimmune disorder’ of sorts.

It will be said (if not done already: Hollywood Life and on CNN) that Joan Rivers contributed to her own demise by undergoing yet more elective surgery. Vanity, self-loathing (terms oft thrown at LBGT folk) career-enhancements at the expense of ‘natural beauty’ – we are quick to judge those who we demand so much from. Yes, that includes political and religious leaders as well as the cultural icons that often are followed and worshiped/hated to a greater degree than the first two.

Finally, the hypocrisy of such judgements from a society that seems bound and determined to place self-interest above all else is immense. The neo-con arguments of trickle-down economics and the supremacy of corporations are still far-too ingrained in the American psyche.

Kindness and empathy seem to be in short supply these days.

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Book Review: Healing the Heart of Democracy

Healing the heart of democracy: the courage to create a politics worthy of the human spirit
by Parker J. Palmer
ISBN: 9780470590805
Two days ago I shared the following Status Update with my friends:
On break- just finished reading “Healing the Heart of Democracy” by Parker J Palmer. A slow read only because of work and my constantly pausing to write out a quote (no highlighting a library book!).
I say
This book is about so much more than just politics. To be expected I guess from the author of “A Hidden Wholeness” and other titles.

Far more than a riff on the suggestion that we must learn how to disagree without being disagreeable; although that is certainly a big part of it. Mr Palmer argues that we must take it farther; in order to build a society that most of us want to live in, we must learn empathy. That is “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions / the ability to share someone else’s feelingsSource. Of course it is better if we can also feel sympathy (“the feeling that you care about and are sorry about someone else’s trouble, grief, misfortune, etc. / a sympathetic feeling” from the same site). I will do my best to summarize this work without resorting to dropping in a dozen (or more) quotations from its 200 pages.

Palmer started writing it in 2004 and finished it over the following six years. During that time the troubling political landscape in the USA was, to some degree, mirroring “the diminishments that come with age” (page 1) that most of us who live past the age of 50 or so will experience. In the Prelude he discusses coming to terms with the losses and depression he experienced. He found great benefit in the book Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness

He argues we cannot live in a democratic society without conflict: learning “how to hold conflict inwardly in a manner that converts it into creativity” (page 15) being the foundation of moving forward to create and maintain a democracy that works as well as possible for as many people as possible.

As the title makes clear, he uses imagery of a heart throughout the book. “The heart is where we integrate the intellect with the rest of our facilities” (page 17). Most of us will, over time, experience heart break. And probably more than once. He proposes we must look at how a heart breaks; does it break apart into a thousand pieces or “break open into greater capacity to hold the complexities and contradictions of human experience“? (page 18) This is about as close as he gets to clearly Buddhist imagery; but the concept of balancing two (apparently) contradictory concepts is really the root of the book- of human existence I would say.

He is not unaware of the dangers of using heart imagery; “reduce the heart to feelings, and you get politics as a dangerous game of emotional manipulation that can in the long run lead to tyrannies of several sorts” (page 54). Indeed he realizes such politics is often being played even now. Already it has reduced the quality of our democracy while on-line distractions and economic troubles are distracting us from the greater risk: “we are so obsessed with our private lives that we are largely oblivious to our public diminishments” (page 102).

With perhaps the ‘Occupy’ movements in mind he asks “what power does a street demonstration have when no one is in the streets to see it?” (page 104) There was minimal (and rarely impartial or ‘balanced’) news coverage of OWS. Even the reporters attempting to provide full details of the recent citizenship activities in Ferguson MO were threatened with arrest if not outright physical harm. Note he is not calling for violence; that is the antithesis of this book. And he argues for more direct and personal action; something parallel to the way that many gay people are successful ‘activists’ by being themselves and interacting with the people in the various communities of their life. Fight the ‘fear of the unknown’ by becoming known. He reintroduces the concept of ‘Circles of Trust‘ – which he also discussed in “A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life“. That concept is also the foundation for The Center for Courage & Renewal which Palmer founded in Seattle.

Of course Palmer is aware that “good citizenship is not limited to how we engage with the world of institutional politics. We play the citizen role at every level of our lives” (page 163). And so he also addresses some of the issues that modern corporate structures inflict on our democracy; “when measurable, short-term outcomes become the only or primary standard for assessing our efforts, the upshot is as pathetic as it is predictable: we take on smaller and smaller tasks” (page 193) This, of course, will sound familiar to those who’ve read my recent blog post Corporate Fundamentalism.

I did not mean to give short-shrift to the second half of this great book, but this post has become quite long. I can not recommend this book strongly enough. Anyone who is or wants to be an active participant in their communities will benefit from it.

There is a companion Guide with .pdf files and short video clips available.
Parker J Palmer’s Facebook Page
** The Federal Trade Commission rules require bloggers to clearly identify when they have or will receive compensation. I will receive a small affiliate commission should you make a purchase after following any of the Amazon links in this post.

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