A Rare Bird

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To be an LGBT person is to acknowledge that you will always be in the minority. This seems likely even taking into account all present and future advancements in reproductive science.

I long ago came to terms with this and I can’t say it’s entirely un-pleasurable. In fact, in my more philosophical and egotistical moments it makes me feel a bit more exotic – like something to be particularly appreciated because it is so extraordinarily unique.

Yeah, I know the quest is to be treated as equals but still there are moments when I wax nostalgic for comedian Sandra Bernhard’s tart comment in the nineties:

I thought one of the benefits of being gay is that you didn’t have to get married or be in the military?

I’m paraphrasing, of course. Nevertheless there was a moment in time when this was particularly appealing.

It has its perks!

Of course, I’m also Jewish, which makes me a double minority. Though I didn’t realize the latter right away despite how much they used to try to drum it into you in Hebrew School in the sixties:

Rabbi: Always remember, the Jews have been the most persecuted people in the history of the world. We must stick together. 

Me (to myself): Really? Somehow this doesn’t seem right. What about the Civil War and slaves? Oh, we were slaves? But still… And as for sticking together, I like my Italian friends very much. Not to mention they seem to have so much more fun around the holidays. I wish I could celebrate Christmas.

Yes, I really did think like that, though not always to myself. Though of course, I am once again paraphrasing.

After all, Ol' Irving was a member of the tribe.

After all, Ol’ Irving was a member of the tribe.

When I brought myself to Hollywood and fully felt comfortable to live as my double minority self I considered it a great personal victory. Though truth be told this didn’t fully happen until somewhere in the mid-eighties and all I could think about was:

Well, I’ll show ‘em now. I’m gonna make up for all the wasted time!

Then the weight of the whole truth hit me like a ton of bricks. A gay Jew in Hollywood who wanted to be a writer was about as unique as…nothing. You could open up a window and find one. Or ten hundred. Though that’s not entirely true. Because seldom do many of us even go outside, at least in the daytime. Allergies, ya know.

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Clearly, I’m marketing a bit in cliché. But what is a cliché at all if it doesn’t contain more than an ounce of truth. I mean, I have an All About Eve poster on my living room wall and I like Bette Midler and Judy Garland. So draw your own conclusions. But don’t also forget that I never totally got Sex and the City, am obsessed much more by politics than Ru Paul (though will fight to the death for her), hate massages, and was a die-hard New York Yankees fan as a wee lad. Okay, I couldn’t play for shit, but everything about the latter is an entirely different story and will no doubt one day be the subject of an entirely different post.

Though I'd never be caught wearing vertical stripes #notflattering

Though I’d never be caught wearing vertical stripes #notflattering

The point here is no one is ALL or NOTHING, especially when it comes to their own sexual, religious, ethnic or physically specific stereotypes. Are all blondes bubble-headed? Certainly not!! Though I have met (and dated) a few, though not all of them natural. On the same token, there are a few terrorists that are Muslim – though a speck among the one billion plus Muslims in the world. And yeah, another speck of them come from the Middle East.   So what is that you’re saying?????

Twenty plus people died when terrorists took over a popular restaurant in Bangladesh on Friday. Isis/Isel/Dash is taking credit for it and who knows, maybe it was them/they/it. Though clearly it was terrorism. Three college students were among the dead, one of them from UC Berkeley. (Note: Not that it matters where they’re from but somehow the latter does matter to us, doesn’t it?). Five of the terrorists are dead and one is captured or dead, depending on which reports you believe. Forty people were wounded in and around the area and thirty-five people were held hostage overnight and then some.

Of course, these are just the latest examples of hundreds upon hundreds of terrorist incidents and fatalities in the last several years worldwide. In Bangladesh in particular, this incident specifically follows the murder of the editor-in-chief of the country’s sole LGBT newspaper, along with his lover, by six fundamentalist men who broke into his ground floor apartment with machetes and guns and hacked the pair to death.

Yes, the flip side of being a rare, spectacular exotic bird is that you’re a perpetual target from all sides for your “difference.” Though these days it is often other minorities who are doing the shooting, hacking and blowing up.

Le sigh

Le sigh

Oh wait, can you say these terrorists are a minority when there are more than a billion Muslims in the world? Well, just like not all gays like Sex and the City or prefer Ru Paul to politics, not every Muslim is a crazed fundamentalist terrorist. In fact, I’d safely venture to say that percentage wise there are more Muslims who ARE NOT insane terrorists than there are LGBTs like me that are non-SATC fans with a penchant for too much MSNBC. No, I can’t prove it. It’s based on anecdotal evidence and a life well lived, though sometimes not. So you’ll just have to take my unique, non-objective word for it as we all do with far too many sources on so many various things.

Elie Wiesel, the great writer and Holocaust survivor who died on Saturday but did manage to teach the world to never give up yet always remember, once said:

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.

This always made a lot of sense to me. It’s quite easy to be angry and spew out venom towards heinous acts or events beyond one’s understanding. And surprisingly easy after while, and after so many, to go on with one’s life, or barely acknowledge or ignore them.

What’s exceedingly difficult is to keep fighting and loving in your own unique way.

... but I can still hate this person right???

… but I can still hate this person right???

Think of it like this – when I was a movie critic back in the day my peers and I would fully acknowledge it was a helluva lot easier to write a mean, nasty review than it ever was to douse a film in unmitigated purple prose of praise. And a helluva lot more fun.

Yes, I’m mixing metaphors and analogies that probably should never be co-mingled. But that doesn’t make the above statement any less true.

There’s a very powerful tribute video that just came out from producer Ryan Murphy and the Human Rights Campaign that brought me to tears. No, really. Celebs list each name of one of the 49 deceased, mostly LGBT people, at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, who were shot down by yet another gay-hating and, from what we know, perhaps sometimes himself same sex-attracted and Muslim – though the crazed radical kind – terrorist.

Whether he was or wasn’t any one of these things or who specifically he hated (or did not hate) is not the ultimate point. These kinds of things will happen alternately to any of us rare, exotic birds – which means pretty much all of us – and the people who love and/or hang out with us (which pretty much means the rest of us) if any of us manage to be in the right place at the wrong time.

The question remains: In our own ways – grand or small or somewhere in between –what can we do about it and how do we avoid indifference or hate? Since at some point, and given the wrong or right locale, we all, each us, will be in the minority.

 

That Ole’ Time Religion

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This will be brief.

Kim Davis, the county clerk from Kentucky who went to jail for contempt of court rather than to do what her job required her to do – issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples that bear her name and job title – was released from jail on Tuesday. To a big crowd of supporters waving large white crosses and chanting hymns. And in the presence of both her lawyer and the potential Republican presidential candidate and former AK Gov. Mike Huckabee. The latter could be seen standing behind Ms. Davis, lightly touching her shoulder periodically as she stood next to her attorney, lest anyone not be entirely sure of his unyielding support.

Oh, and this was all done as Eye of the Tiger played in the background.

What a world we live in.

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I watched this late Tuesday morning from the chair in my dentist’s office as he was preparing to finish doing a root canal on a badly infected tooth I came in with last week. My dentist, whose family is from the Middle East and who has a Muslim background, was too busy taking care of his two Jewish patients – myself and the woman who came in right after me – to notice what CNN was broadcasting. When I brought it to his attention he shook his head in disgust and said, you know this is all the same – Christians, Muslims, Jews all have these reactionary people who think they have the answer and have the right to dictate to everyone else.

I’ve heard my dentist’s thoughts uttered many times – by ME (not only a Jew but a gay Jew to boot). I have the sense that the straight Jewish woman in the next room – with whom I exchanged eyeglass stories with only minutes before – has also spoken similarly. As have numerous observant Christian friends of mine (Note: Imagine that, I actually have some observant Christian friends). Not to mention a few Conservative people I know and like who have gone out of their way to say this kind of stuff to me – lest I think even for a second they’re buying the nonsense Ms. Davis and Mr. Huckabee are peddling.

Can't fight the facts Ms. Davis

Can’t fight the facts Ms. Davis

This fight is not about religious freedom, try as they might to make it so. It is about an obstinate, publicity-seeking woman whose archaic point of view has been marginalized to the point of being irrelevant to the more inclusive changing tides of American society. This, of course, is being shrouded in knee-jerk reactionary rhetoric by Ms. Davis, her like-minded, dwindling minority of compatriots and political opportunists like Mr. Huckabee and current Texas senator and otherwise presidential candidate Ted Cruz. (Note: He was also at Ms. Davis’ rally but was iced out of her nuclear family photo-op circle by Mr. Huckabee’s advance team).

I know I’m on the winning side of a fight when I find that the views of myself and other liberals – which in this case are as mainstream as a Spielberg movie – coincide with yet a third potential Republican presidential candidate – the quite conservative Carly Fiorina.

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I actually contributed money some years ago to the senate race in California for Barbara Boxer just to ensure in my small way that there was no way she could lose to her challenger, Ms. Fiorina – a woman whose views on finance, labor and pretty much everything in the world at large I loathe. Still, anyone can surprise you at any moment and I certainly was surprised when I heard Ms. Fiorina say that Ms. Davis’ issue came down to whether or not she would do the job she was hired to do.

To paraphrase – and this is me taking the ball from Carly – Ms. Davis’ religious beliefs are irrelevant here. Her employer is the government and she was elected as county clerk to uphold government laws. The law of the land is that gays and lesbians are allowed to get married across the U.S., including in her state and district, and thus her office is in charge of issuing marriage licenses to them. These official licenses require the signature of the county clerk so Ms. Davis has two choices – to do her job or not to do her job. If she believes she is unable to fulfill the duties of her office then she needs to find another employer – not sue said employer for requiring her to do what she was hired to do.

Societal laws are fluid and always changing. Presumably, so are we as human beings. This is the nature of life. If Ms. Davis finds this not to be in her nature, this does not make her a courageous warrior in the name of God. It makes her an intransigent, irresponsible bigot who refuses to live in reality and prefers to hold the rest of her state – and country – captive in the name of a false idol. Herself.

 

A Rainbow of Emotions

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In a moment where the nation reels in our own yin and yang versions of pain and pleasure – from the continued assassination of innocent Black people by White racists or the passage of marriage equality by the Supreme Court that ensures LGBT people can now legally tie the knot in all 50 states – it seems reductive to compare life to a Pixar movie. Yet it feels like no karmic coincidence that Disney has just released Inside Out – one of its most thoughtfully psychological animated films ever – not to mention one that in particular deals with how our upbeat innermost emotions must always co-exist with the ever present darker feelings not so way down deep in our soul.

Of course, none of us have the vivacious voice of Amy Poehler to personify our Joy (Note: Perhaps not even Amy herself) nor do we have the gleeful rantings of Lewis Black to substitute for our own virulent misdirected Anger at the world. Or even the pathetically depressing tones of Phyllis Smith, a former assistant casting director who we know as the frumpy, humdrum, monotone-voiced Phyllis on The Office, to so brilliantly express our own inner Sadness.

Lest we forget Mindy Kaling as Disgust and Bill Hader as Fear

Lest we forget Mindy Kaling as Disgust and Bill Hader as Fear

What we do have is real life – which is never as entertaining as the best or even very good Pixar movie. But it can be if we think about it just a little more than we indulge in our own pity or happiness parties (depending on our moods) without a thought to the karmic realities that comprise what we like to refer to as the rest of the/our worlds.

Full confession – I’m more guilty than most of not following the strategies I’m putting forth here for Living Your Best Life (Note: Trademark Oprah).

Say what now?

Say what now?

Not to be a giant buzz kill but on the day SCOTUS ruled on marriage equality most of what I thought about were gay friends who contributed to the struggle but didn’t live to see this day. This was due, in no small part, to the double whammy of the ruling coinciding with the nationally televised funeral for Clementa Pinckney, the senior pastor of Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston who was one of the nine assassinated last week by a 21 year-old White supremacist after the latter had spent the previous hour in a Bible study class praying with them in their own aforementioned house of worship.

Pres. Obama eulogized Pastor Pinckney, also a state senator representing Charleston, and led the mourners in his own very compelling acapella version of “Amazing Grace” – certainly a first in POTUS history. Previously he and others have talked about the idea of reaching a state of grace and spreading that out into the world to others. Presumably this includes the forgiveness of those who have done a person wrong and nowhere were those teachings more apparent than from the mouths of the next of kin of the recently slain who only days before faced the accused murderer of their loved ones. Without exception they all forgave him to his face, or at least chose not to dwell in the bile he had elicited by looking backwards at the loss of all their relative or forward to all the blessings that would never be in the future.

This idea of grace, the ongoing struggle, the bright future – no matter what has happened to you and where it lands on the fairness scale – it’s a wonderful and noble thought, one that is an undeniably positive and useful goal. But full confession: It works for me only some of the time, and even then barely. Part of my personal fight is also fueled by anger and the quest for fairness – the idea that one is not roused to action until one – okay, me – is more personally impacted by the issue at hand.

This was a reason to think about all of the dead of the LGBT community, most especially the thousands from the AIDS epidemic, when marriage equality was announced. For, and this is my own personal belief, the movement would not have gained the steam that it had if not, in great part, due to the AIDS epidemic. Certainly, it wasn’t the only motor but just as certainly it clearly sped things up.

What would Vito think of today?

What would Vito think of today?

To be clear: we would all trade marriage equality in a nanosecond if we could wipe away the Plague and bring back those that fell – meaning died – in its wake. Clearly, we can’t. But what we also can’t do is to deny that the fact that this awful pandemic forced gay people to make themselves publicly known, many times against our own will or perhaps choice, and this inadvertently contributed greatly to forcing people to know us – the real us – rather than the sanitized version groups usually choose to present (or not present) to society at large. And that – along with a lot of grass roots work – is primarily what accelerated change and led us to where we are today.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – or Aunt Ruth as I like to call her – said as much in an interview last week – and I immediately surmised, in a moment of total self-indulgence, that these thoughts must ‘run in the family.’ Though I (and perhaps she) have been thinking this for years it’s hardly an original idea. I heard the filmmaker/novelist Clive Barker say pretty much the same thing about gay rights five or 10 years ago on Bill Maher’s Real Time (or perhaps it was Politically Incorrect – who can remember which fabulous liberal spewfest it was) – and clearly he is no relative of mine. The hair, the body, the horror – not a Ginsberg in his gene pool, let’s be honest.

Not a Ginsberg (but he's welcome anytime)

Not a Ginsberg (but he’s welcome anytime)

Still, that doesn’t mean it isn’t clear that brother Clive (who has been out and proud for years), Aunt Ruth, myself and perhaps many of you don’t share something. And that is the recognition that the world is very much about the good and the bad each informing the other – the yin and the yang. That just as it seems one’s world is going to end, and perhaps in some ways it does, it is simultaneously the birth of something else.

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‘nough said

One supposes this is just our mutual human condition – one of many aspects of humanness we have in common, though so often we don’t want that to be the case. Still, it’s important to remember when the next big civil rights issue arises – that civil rights of all kinds for all people are intertwined. Charleston, Stonewall, Israel, Iraq, and ad infinitum back and forth through time. How often one writes about this (or performs it or films it) and how even more frequently the message is ignored, the world goes on and we continue with our days as if it’s all new to us or, even worse, in that particular case it doesn’t really apply. Bitchy, twitchy, witchy, kitschy and all else in between.

It’s important to recall our collective history and our mass behavior when one is feeling down – or perhaps even too hopeful. Not in so much a fatalistic, sad way but an inevitably accepting, understanding and eventually life-affirming way. Dark and light, light and dark, dark and light – neither of them lasts – certainly not forever – nor would you probably want either of them to on their own. If you really think about it. The folks at Pixar obviously thought about it for the six years it took to bring Inside Out to the screen and simplified it so even a CHAIR could make sense of it and use it to understand the current events of the day.

Go figure.

Lawfully Wedded Chair

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Guess what? The Chair got married! After 28 years of being a “partner,” the Chair now takes on the title of “husband.” Below, both the Chair and the Chair’s husband explain why after all this time they made it official. Each wrote their blog entry in separate rooms without ANY INPUT OR EDITING from the other.  Judge for yourself whether these two people belong together. (Duh, of course they do!)

GAY MARRIED

Written by the Chair

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d get married. But like James Mason once told Judy Garland in A Star Is Born – and I’m paraphrasing here – the trouble with some dreams is that they’re not big enough.

Referencing a Judy Garland movie is not the only reason I got gay married after almost 28 years with the same guy.   Still, it certainly feels apt. Especially for someone like me who has truly always believed that among the benefits of being gay was the fact that you a. didn’t have to get married and b. weren’t required to join the military.

Well, clearly I’m a dinosaur.

After much talk over the last few years about what the heck we were going to do about the marriage thing, as we called it, my guy and I decided to make it legal on May 5 in the upstairs room of our house, overlooking the cloudy L.A. skyline, in front of two witnesses listening to words said by a friend we work with who marries people in his spare time. It literally took less than five minutes. (almost as fast as the slideshow below)

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We had planned various incarnations – some bigger and some much bigger – of this event. But it quickly became apparent to each of us that there was no way to keep it sort of smallish and the bigger it got the more anxious we both felt. Thanks to another good friend who years ago had a big wedding she and her husband paid for by themselves, we decided instead last year to blow our wedding money on a two-week trip to Italy and consider it our illegal honeymoon. All I can say about that is – cash REALLY well spent.

Yet here we are 12 months later, still dragging our feet on the legal front.

What pushed me over the edge was buying a house and the part where they ask you how you want your title – single, domestic partners, married, blah, blah, blah. That followed several prior medical experiences over the years where forms and people asked what is your relationship to your sick spouse and you find yourself realizing that legally, well, you have none. Not to mention the endless questions asked by others that boil down to phrases like: So, when? Or What are you waiting for?

Me to everyone for years

Me to everyone for years

Truth be known I really do HATE the government or any part of the public sector involved in my life in any legal sense, but most especially when it comes to my love life. Is it because my parents were divorced – well, maybe? Could it be because as a gay person I realize how crazy the U.S. government can be when dealing with our issues and I didn’t want to give them the privilege of legislating our love in any way, good or bad, at all – absolutely?! Would another reason be that I found the whole thing tedious, tiresome, sort of corny and didn’t want to be bothered with it –MOST CERTAINLY AND DEFINITELY, ABSOLUTELY!

Please know this is not a put down to any married person out there, especially since I am now one of you. It was just never one of my dreams. Of course, neither was living outside of New York City or getting my driver’s license but somehow I learned to love navigating a convertible through the windy canyons and gridlocked roads of L.A.   Well as John Huston told Jack Nicholson in Chinatown, You may think you know what you’re dealing with but believe me you don’t… OR as Jack Nicholson told the world in A Few Good Men, You can’t handle the truth!

I think my sister, who served as one of our two witnesses, summed it up best when she told me point blank on my wedding day: You just hate doing anything where you think people are giving you permission. It makes you feel like somehow they’re telling you what to do and you hate being told what to do. In fact, you’ll do the opposite just to show them.

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Wow, how did she get so smart?

Does it feel different? Slightly but not much. I mean, it’s awkward to suddenly call someone your husband. As if something has changed. Nothing has really changed in our relationship. And I had finally gotten used to the word partner.

But each person we tell – relatives, friends, acquaintances, business associates, even strangers we have just met where it comes up in conversation – are absolutely thrilled. Seriously, you should see the smiles on their faces. It’s as if to say – we love you, we support you, we don’t know you but want to support you because we think the fact that marriage equality is even a question is ridiculous and we want you and every friend you have who faces this same issue to know that. My god, the last time I saw this many people so happy about something I’ve said or done is, well….NEVER. Not even my bar-mitzvah came close because truly, what person at a mortgage company or doctor’s office would really care???

Everyone has suddenly become this Kristen Wiig character

Everyone has suddenly become this Kristen Wiig character

Well, there is one last thing worth including but I guess I’m, as we’re all so often taught to do, saving the best for last. I got married because, well, I love my husband. Not to mention, I think anyone who has had the perseverance to spend almost 28 years with me deserves something official. Which is also why community property exists and why he can have a divorce any time he sees fit and take half, if not more, of everything I own.

Oh, don’t groan – he’s used to this from me. He loves me both for it and in spite of it. Though no, he didn’t marry me for it. And yes, that’s from Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which the playwright has always said is NOT about a gay couple but well, may as well be and certainly will be at some point generations after Mr. Albee dies – if for no other reason than the normality of marriage equality. Which I guess is, in itself, reason enough to get hitched.

Yes, there are other reasons. Many, in fact. But those are between me and my guy. I mean…husband. Wow. Make that, double wow.

 

WHY I (THINK) I GOT MARRIED

Written by The Chair’s Husband

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Since the day back in August of 1978 when I realized I am gay (I think it was on a Saturday), I realized there were three things I would no longer have to worry about in my lifetime. While some gay men at the time thought of these as drawbacks to not being a member of the heterosexual majority, I always thought of them as advantages (let’s call them “perks”). My list of things “I don’t have to do” included:

  1. Serve in the military. When I had to register for the Selective Service in 1980 in order to receive my government-issued college loan, I wrote “Conscientious Objector” on the form. I wanted to write: “I’m gay, suckers.”
  2. Get married.
  3. Have children.

#1 is no longer an issue (yes, I did pay back my loans).

#3 would take an act of divine intervention, which means it’s NEVER going to happen.

As for #2, well, on Tuesday, May 5, 2015, at approximately 5:25 p.m. (PT) in a very private ceremony in our upstairs media room, I removed Get Married from my list and uttered, “I do” to the man I love.

Ever since San Francisco starting issuing marriage licenses in 2004, we were each asked separately and together, “So when are you getting married?”

Neither of us ever had a “straight” answer to that question, because we weren’t entirely sure if we actually wanted and/or needed to get married.

Oh is that not polite?

Oh is that not polite?

It’s not that I’m anti-marriage (some of my best friends are married), but I always thought no matter where you happen to fall on the Kinsey Scale, getting married should be a choice, and, if you decide to get married, it should be for the right reason(s).

I realized immediately after the moment I said “I do,” I was overthinking this whole thing. It’s actually quite simple. We got married because we love each other.

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I don’t need the State of California’s blessing. Or even a license from the City of Los Angeles (which took 30 minutes on a line to get to a window next to the window where you took care of unpaid parking tickets).

I think the fact I am married is really going to hit me the next time someone hands me a form to fill out and it asks me to check my marital status. Now I can check “married.” I am no longer a Conscientious Objector.

Brave New Bruce

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I spent several hours with Bruce Jenner in the eighties. It was on the patio of either his manager or publicist’s house in Beverly Hills and I was interviewing him about a new production company he was starting. Or well, maybe it was at his house. I can’t recall. And anyway, that’s not what was important.

What is important and what I do remember quite distinctly is that Bruce Jenner was in full tennis whites – shorts and a collared short sleeve shirt – and that he was beautiful. Not sexually beautiful necessarily – although perhaps he was – but physically attractive in a way that did not fit the binary we’ve established for gender identity.

Mr. Jenner had the floppy straight hair I had always coveted framing an oddly androgynous face that seemed not all male yet in no way female. He also (still) possessed the massive legs of an Olympic athlete. A decade before he had won a gold medal representing the US in the decathlon – a grueling 10 event sport that is routinely acknowledged to be one of the most physically demanding competitive events in all of sports. I remember thinking – this guy is big but just doesn’t seem strong enough to do that. Not to mention, there’s nothing hyper-masculine about him. Where was the physical verve, the testosterone, the veiny muscle definition of a guy guy? Oh well, maybe he just got tired of training. Also, he spoke in a gentle, caring manner that reminded me of a neighborhood librarian I once liked when I was a kid – not the person who only some years before was awarded the defacto title of jock of the world.

Yes, I really did want that hair (and still do, really)

Yes, I really did want that hair (and still do, really)

I remember thinking at the time, oh well, I must be stereotyping. I guess one of the joys of being a reporter is that if you do your job right, you learn something new on every story.

Oh, and one last note before we change the subject — there was absolutely nothing SEXUAL about him. (And trust me, I was on the lookout for that at that time). Not a whit. Well, perhaps if I had been a woman. Which I most clearly wasn’t and, as it turns out, he most unclearly – was.

Hindsight may be 20/20 but none of these observations could have prepared me 30 years ago for what I heard several days ago on ABC’s 20/20 as I watched Mr. Jenner’s two hours of revelations about himself to Diane Sawyer. Proclaiming to the world that ‘I Am A Woman,’ he confirmed that, yes, he is transgender, yes, he wears women’s clothes at night and has sporadically donned dresses at various hours and in public for most of his life, and that most definitely yes, he is in the process of fully transitioning from male to the female he always felt he was inside. It was also announced simultaneously elsewhere that the E! Channel will in late July begin broadcasting an eight-part documentary series focusing on Mr. Jenner’s journey as a transgender woman which he very much hopes will be able to do some good in the world.

Followed by cameras on his own terms

Followed by cameras on his own terms

It is not at all lost on me that I never gave even a second thought over the years to any of my observations about Bruce Jenner after that one time I spent with him. Just as I am also positive that his recent announcements have in no way shaded, colored or in any way informed, influenced or twisted any of what I know I felt and/or experienced at the time in his presence all those years ago. I figured he never quite looked me in the eye and fidgeted a bit because he was more of a physical guy and not very articulate. The vagueness to his focus – well, perhaps he was being shoved into this interview and had other places he’d rather be. The fact that he didn’t seem terribly interested to engage in the usual give-and-take conversations I always seemed to get out of my interview subjects – hmm, it was probably just that I was too gay for an Olympic hero, or too east coast ethnic for this perfect specimen of mainstream Christian Americana, or even worse – just not worth the time for a guy they’d put on the cover of a Wheaties box.

As is often the case with such feelings – wrong, wrong and WRONG. My insecurities were ALL ABOUT ME. They had NOTHING to do with him – meaning, the other person. A good psychiatrist might call it projection. Even a mediocre one could figure it out and call it that.

But there is also something else going here. How we treat transgender people or those hiding in a closet or, in fact, ANYONE we think we know but don’t — or even that other someone we are meeting for the first time.

Sometimes you can't see everything in just one glance

Sometimes you can’t see everything in just one glance

We often have absolutely NO CLUE what their really story is.   At least not after one meeting. Oh sure, anyone can defy the odds with a lucky guess, or even an educated one. But the ugly truth is – we never entirely know what’s going on in someone else’s mind or life – and certainly not entirely what’s inside another person – even when they are as close as the very dearest person to you.

In other words – as George Eliot so wisely first wrote in 1860 in her novel The Mill and the Floss:

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

(Note: Yes, George Eliot was really a she – her real name was Mary Ann Evans – and No, I did not know she first coined the phrase off the top of my head (see above note) – I had to look it up.

Also good advice

Also good advice

I have taught three transgender students in the last 18 months – that I am AWARE of. Not a shocking number but still not NOTHING and more than the total number I’ve taught in my entire 10+ year teaching career. (Note: That is, I think). You might assume their presence would be unsurprising to a guy like me but indeed it was not. What I can also report back is that each one of them – every single one –were the BEST writers in their group. This is not to generalize and say that Bruce Jenner would be a great writer if I had taught him but only to mention that clearly this is a community of people filled with talent who have something to say. Which is no different than any subset of people we all encounter everywhere.

Therefore, it might be appropriate as Mr. Jenner goes through his transition and we all become more educated and aware of this new subset of human beings who have nevertheless existed for quite a while under our collective radar, to be a little nicer and a lot more understanding. I’m all for zero censorship in art, but could it hurt Conan, Jimmy Fallon, David Letterman and a ton of other talk show hosts/comics to desist with the Jenner jokes for awhile?

Let's take it down a notch, Ok?

Let’s take it down a notch, Ok?

That goes twelvefold for the tabloids, the paparazzi and the salacious infotainment shows. Yeah, I know he’s got his own docuseries on TV and is a public figure but really, it won’t kill anyone’s careers to lay off for a bit. And that goes for the rest of us at the office, through email or in the privacy of our own homes. There’s enough salaciousness to go around. How about following the Duggars to church and recording some of the public sermons they’re listening to – and then discuss, email or pass around social media? Or insert another Kim/Kanye reference somewhere, anywhere, and to anyone – Lord knows they won’t mind. At least, I don’t think they would. Though I guess I shouldn’t say for sure.

They didn't even mind when Amy Schumer threw herself in front of them... literally. #goAmy

They didn’t even mind when Amy Schumer threw herself in front of them… literally. #goAmy

The amount of bravery it takes to go on national television and speak your non-mainsteam truth to an international audience is, well, immeasurable. I don’t know about you but I find it challenging to be consistently real every minute of the day without the cameras rolling. Heck, Ben Affleck just lobbied a PBS series on family genealogy to OMIT the fact that one of his distant relatives from centuries ago was a slave owner from an episode they had already filmed about the actor. Imagine what lengths any movie star goes to in order to hide the real truth about any potentially controversial area in their contemporary lives for fear of reprisal? I don’t have to imagine, I’ve seen it happen time and time again over the years from a sometimes front row seat in the entertainment industry. What Mr. Jenner has told the world pales by comparison in the salaciousness department. And by a lot.

So say the Queen!

So say the Queen!

As a gay person, one’s journey to come out is among life’s most significant events. That’s because try as we might to be like everyone else, we’re in the minority and will probably always be. In turn, that means there will always be a portion of the accepted majority who will always see us as different, other or just plain sick and inferior.

As times change and being gay is now cool among most of the younger generation and even some of their elders – and certainly far less controversial to the mainstream than the young version of me could ever have imagined when I interviewed Bruce Jenner all those years before – it’s time for another group to stand up and take the heat: the transgender community.   They have an unexpected new public face – a 65 year old man who has been married three times, fathered six kids, is grandfather to many more and has raised even more than that. He was also once the most famous male athlete in the world with a gold medal to prove it. And now he’s telling us that he’s going to become…a woman?

Yeah, he is. Deal with it. He’s earned the right by living in his own skin. We have a Black president who is the product of an inter-racial marriage, genocide is now going on in Syria, the Holocaust really did happen and the Tooth Fairy doesn’t exist.   Now which one of those is the most shocking anyway?

The Pro-Ignorance Movement

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There is the pro-choice movement – meaning an organized effort in favor of a woman’s right to choose whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.

These days there is also the pro-ignorance movement – meaning a willful determination to stay uninformed on any subject one chooses while simultaneously speaking out about it.

Mr. Carson

Meet Mr. Know-it-all

Dr. Ben Carson, a world-renowned neurosurgeon– which means he operates on the one organ of the body responsible for thought – gave this explanation on CNN Wednesday morning when asked by Chris Cuomo about homosexuality:

CC: Do you think being gay is a choice?

Dr. C: Absolutely

CC: Why do you say that?

Dr. C: Because a lot of people who go into prison…go into prison straight and when they come out they’re gay. So did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question.

Ummmm.. what?!

Ummmm.. what?!

It’s unclear whether Dr. Carson is referring to prison rape turning the average inmate gay or whether it’s the temptation of solely being around so many people of the same sex so consistently over so long a period of time that causes the great change. If the latter, it certainly does cast a giant rainbow flag over the world of professional sports, not to mention the military. If the former then as an MD is he prescribing extended confinement and sexual relations with members of the opposite sex in order to turn a gay person straight? Or does it not work the other way around? One’s mind reels at any of the possibilities.

Before one writes off Dr. Carson as a right wing crazy, it is important to note he graduated with a psychology degree from Yale prior to attending medical school. He then became a pediatric neurosurgeon who in 1987 led a 70-member team that successfully separated conjoined Siamese twins; was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Pres. George W. Bush in 2008; and wrote six best selling books, the last of which, One Nation, was on the 2014 NY Times bestseller list for 20 consecutive weeks where it outsold Hilary Clinton’s Hard Choices. It is also relevant to report that last month he formed a well-financed exploratory committee to run for US president and was one of the most popular speakers at the recent CPAC Convention, the first great test for all emerging 2016 Republican Party presidential hopefuls.

I'm not even sure how to react to this

I’m not even sure how to react to this

The fact that Mr. Carson issued a long apology for his CNN interview that very night, admitting he can’t claim to know how every individual came to their sexual orientation, meant little because he never admitted the most crucial point under discussion – that his original statement was incorrect. There was no denial that going to prison or the right involuntary gay encounter behind bars could soon make said individual long for a voluntary one. There was only the pronouncement that he (Dr. Carson) was a supporter of gay rights (Note: Though only up to a point) and that he couldn’t possibly know what made EVERYONE gay.

For one to counter that rape is considered by almost every medical expert across the board as a crime not about sex but one of violence and control or to cite the overwhelming consensus from the AMA on down that sexual orientation is not a condition that can be changed is truly beside the point. What is more to the point is that Dr. Carson, who is certainly a learned man with at least an above average IQ, seems to have somehow been absent when the general subject of human sexuality was covered not only in medical school but out in the Zeitgeist over the last, oh, say 30 years.

So it's not this simple?

So it’s not this simple?

The truth is that as s a public speaker, writer and man about town with all of his five senses intact – not to mention his admitted lifelong almost superhuman hand-eye coordination – it is more than likely that Dr. Carson has heard a lot of the above scientific facts and anecdotal evidence about human sexuality during that time and has willfully chosen to ignore them. Either that or he has followed some sort of doctrine of alternate magical thinking that he has instead willfully chosen to believe in.

James Randi is an 86-year-old retired illusionist, writer and professional debunker of magicians and charlatans who try to pass themselves off as clairvoyants and faith healers. I remember him as The Amazing Randi – a guy who was often featured on one of my favorite weekend TV programs of the 1960s, the kid’s show Wonderama – where he performed tricks I could believe in and escaped from the most seemingly inescapable boxes, ropes and otherwise confined spaces I’d ever seen.

Preach!

Preach!

Little did I know that in the 1980s Randi would do some of his most important work in the field of magic. As the founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) and recipient of a Macarthur Foundation genius grant he became a full time debunker (Note: He prefers the more polite term, investigator) and set his sights on televangelists such as Peter Popoff – a man who was making $4 million per year in a nationally syndicated show where the sick, the elderly and many young people who were either handicapped or suffering from terminal cancer diagnoses would attend tent-like revival meetings (albeit in an air-conditioned soundstage) where they came to him desperately hoping for a cure. As Mr. Popoff preached about the healing powers of The Lord and pranced from one side of the stage to the other he’d forcefully hit audience members on the forehead and pull away their crutches and walkers, banishing The Devil from their bodies and presumably restoring them to health.

As preposterous as this may sound, Mr. Popoff convincingly evoked Bible passages with the smoothness of a saint or, well, at least a would-be politician. He also made a fortune doing it and had audiences traveling from all over the world to his studio so he could save them from clutches of death.

Put down your purse!

Put down your purse!

It took The Amazing Randi’s sharp magician’s mind to quickly prove these people were not being saved by God but were instead being taken in by a phony. Attending one taping, he was able to pick up a high radio frequency and overheard Popoff being fed private information about each of his subjects that turned out to be transmitted via a small earpiece he wore that his wife was speaking to him through from backstage. The setup was that people had to fill out audience cards prior to the show with pertinent information about their maladies and the best TV ready ones were carefully chosen to be candidates for his – or as he would put it, The Lord’s – magical cure.

This might not be the same thing as Mr. Carson’s magical assumption of how a person might be turned gay but it is certainly follows just about the same type of creative, non-scientific logic. Oh, and side note: it turns out that James Randi himself is gay and recently married his partner of almost 30 years. Having grown up at a time when coming out was impossible in a career like his, he says he was inspired to finally give up that final illusion after seeing the 2008 film Milk, the biopic on slain San Francisco supervisor and early LGBT advocate Harvey Milk. (Note: This and a lot more is revealed in a new documentary about his life — An Honest Liar – now playing at a theatre near you).

The Amazing Randi today

The Amazing Randi today

As for Dr. Carson, he is a lifelong devout Christian and though I am not privy to his most deeply personal beliefs, he has frequently spoken and written about his close relationship with God, proclaiming to Sean Hannity on Feb. 8 that he will run for president If the Lord grabbed me by the collar and made me do it.

He has also spoken out in the last decade in favor of what he terms traditional marriage – until recently equating those who engage in homosexuality to individuals who practice bestiality or advocate the sexual unions of adults and children. At the very least this appears to be it’s own kind of magic thinking. At the worst, it’s insulting, vicious and dangerously guilty of inciting those far less educated and intelligent than him to more potent hate speech, not to mention hate crimes.

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Still, it’s a free country so the man can say what he wants. But what he cannot do is twist his words into a kind of poisonous pretzel logic and go unchallenged. In a speech on Friday, Vice-president Joe Biden began to address Dr. Carson’s views on the subject but at one point became frozen in his tracks:

Every ridiculous assertion — from Dr. Carson on…

Biden stops mid-sentence, laughs to himself, shakes his head incredulously, presumably at those assertions. 

I mean Jesus, God.

Silence as the veep thinks some more, then tries to stifle a guffaw. And continues.

I mean — oh, God. It’s kind of hard to fathom, isn’t it?

It is reassuring to have rational thought on this issue in the current White House when Oklahoma state lawmakers have just proposed the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2015 which would allow anyone, including religious and secular businesses, to discriminate against LGBT people as long as not doing so would violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.

where do I even begin?

where do I even begin?

To say nothing of the oral arguments next month scheduled before the US Supreme Court on whether states lawmakers can ban same-sex marriage in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee despite the shifting legal rulings and national tides to the contrary.

Dr. Carson has famously said in the past that in advocating same-sex marriage, its supporters are trying to tell him that two plus two equals five when everyone knows the correct answer is four. Well, he does have the correct answer to the mathematical problem but as comedian Russell Brand countered back to him in a YouTube vlog last July, you can’t compare a social and civil idea like sexuality to an objective system of signs like arithmetic.

Which begs the question of whether Dr. Carson has truly studied the issue or is just vamping in the public arena until God tells him what to do. I, for one, prefer to think of his situation this way – it’s a choice to remain ignorant in the age of Google – and a bad one. As a physician, Dr. Carson has made a lot of bold, life-saving decisions. But as a rational thinker on the world stage and as a potential policy maker, signing up to the pro-ignorance movement is the poorest choice of them all. And certainly not a good one for the next potential decider-in-chief. Or for, well, any of the rest of us.