Let’s Talk about Sex: 10 Common Misconceptions about Gay People, part 4

Three months ago, a very small percentage of the registered voters in North Carolina managed to pass an amendment to the state constitution that illegalized gay marriage. In the weeks leading up to the vote, I started a series of posts about some of the more common and frustrating myths about gay people. I got discouraged for a while and didn’t finish but I just got my second wind.

For those of you who missed the first 5 myths, here’s a quick recap:

1 – Being gay is a choice. Because somewhere between 2 and 10% of the general population so love being social pariahs, we’ve chosen to become lifelong targets of bigotry and hate.

2 – Lesbians want to be men. There are some people who are so enamored of their own exterior plumbing that they, and their followers, seem to believe that there are just 2 kinds of people in the world – men and the rest of us who are just sad that we don’t have a penis, too.

3 – Lesbians hate men. The rationale seems to go like this: Some women are so upset about not having a penis that they become angered with all men and sleep with women to spite the men. Or something like that. Bottom line is, women couldn’t possibly love other women. It must have something to do with the penis. (For the long version of the first 3 myths, see part 1 of this series, I Used to Be a Tomboy)

4 – Being gay is a mental illness. In spite the fact that the American Psychiatric Association defines homosexuality as a normal variant of human sexual behavior, there are a lot of people out there who just “know” that gay people are sick, just like they “know” the earth was created 6,000 years ago and all the fossils in the world are just an elaborate hoax and proof of a vast conspiracy against God-fearing, extremist Christians. (For the long version, see part 2, Who’s a Heretic?)

5- The Bible says that being gay is morally wrong or evil. To borrow a line from Shakespeare, “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose,” and it would appear that he does, every day, from the pulpits and altars of churches all over our country. (See part 3, The Bible Tells Me So)

So moving on. Here’s another of my favorite myths to hate:

6- Being gay is just about sex. Now doesn’t this seem a teensy bit like the pot calling the kettle black?One of the best ways to undermine an opponent, apart from demonizing them, is to minimize them, as this little myth tries to do. It separates sexuality and romantic, spiritual love. But only for gay people.

So when the subject is heterosexuality, sex and love are two sides of the same coin. And the fact that so many of straight people spend their single youth doing it like randy bunnies with anyone who will get into bed with them, that breaking faith with one’s wife or husband just to have sex with someone new is commonplace in our heterosexual culture, or that the huge pornography industry was built mostly on the desires of straight men – none of this refutes that notion that heterosexual sex is all about choosing and remaining dedicated to a spiritual soulmate? But being gay is just about sex. Gotcha.

7- Gay people are promiscuous. Yes we are. As a generalization, I accept this one. Now that I’ve just pissed off some of my fellow lesbians out there, let me explain why:  Because people in general are promiscuous. I know it. You know it. We all know it.

Really, Ted?! You’re talking to your children!

That’s why popular American culture is steeped in sex. That’s why these TV shows like Friends, Sex in the City, and Two and a Half Men were so popular. There’s even a popular show with the unabashed premise that the main character is telling his future children about the sexual exploits of he and his friends as a necessary preface to the story of how he fell in love with their mother. I’m not judging here. I loved Friends and I like How I Met Your Mother. (Well, except for that telling it to the kids part.)

But these shows aren’t really about friendship or love or family or the complexities of modern living. They’re about sex. (And call me a prude, but I can’t believe what they can say on prime time TV now.) Whatever else happens in each episode, sex is the tent pole that holds these shows up. (Who thinks that’s a phallic reference?) Without the pretty people having sex or talking about sex, the whole thing collapses.

Got to admit I love the irony of an actor who is gay and a committed family man playing a straight man whore.

My point is, human beings (especially young ones) are obsessed with sex. Our lives revolve around it. Except for maybe food, it seems to be the single most motivating force in our lives. And that makes sense. Nature designed it that way so we wouldn’t die off. But let’s get real here. Gay people are not any more (or less) promiscuous than straight people. We just prefer different partners.

A note for the romantics:  This generalized view of human promiscuity does not call attention to the inevitable exceptions. They’re called women. Okay, feminists, that was a joke. Kind of. I’m not trying to minimize the female libido. I’m sure there are plenty of randy women out there, too.

But there are still those of us who prefer the romantic notion that sex is just a part of the whole love thing. I am one of those. I was never promiscuous, am completely convinced that I’ve spent the last 12 years with my soulmate (a woman with whom I share much more than a sex life), and have no desire to sleep with anyone other than her for the rest of my life.

Mother 1966

It was 1966. Dr. Zhivago was raking it in at the box office, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass put 4 albums on Billboards top 10 and troll dolls were so popular that even the first lady, Lady Bird Johnson, claimed to own one. On a rainy afternoon of March of that year, a small woman stood in the middle of a dirt road in front of her house in Newport, Rhode Island, holding an egg in one hand and a pair of pliers in the other. She was almost 23, she was pregnant and she was stuck in the mud.

Anita looked down at the mud that held her boots firmly in place. She pulled her right leg slowly up until the boot began to slide off. Sighing, she stepped down again. It sank up to the ankle. She tried the same thing with her left foot and got the same results. She stepped down again, unwilling to walk barefoot through the cold mud. It began to rain again.

Looking over her shoulder, she saw her mother pass by the kitchen window inside her house. She was making the boys lunch. Anita had two young sons who excelled at mischief and mayhem. Normally, Anita did a pretty good job at keeping up with them, but now, in the last weeks of her pregnancy, it was a little harder. Her mother came to visit as often as she could get away to help her with the boys.

She passed by the kitchen window again. Anita waved the pliers. “Mother!” she called, though she knew her mother wouldn’t hear her through the closed windows. She didn’t. Anita sighed.

She looked ahead of her toward a small house across the street. An older couple, Irene and Al, lived there, the only neighbors she knew so far. They had been very kind to her since she had moved in.

She stared hard at the house willing someone to come out. And someone did! The front door opened. Al stepped out, whistling and jangling his keys, and strolled toward his car. He glanced her way, stopped and stared a moment. Anita smiled and tried to wave with the egg hand. Al started to wave back, shook his head and strode toward her. He stopped a few feet away, squinted at her boots and cleared his throat, covering what sounded suspiciously like a chuckle.

“Mornin,’ Anita,” he said.

“Good morning, Al,” she said smiling brightly. Al looked up at the leaden sky.

“Miserable weather we’re having,” he noted.

“Yes,” she agreed. “It is.” Al stared first at the egg and then the pliers. He raised an eyebrow. “I borrowed an egg from Irene yesterday,” she said. “And your pliers.” Al nodded and rubbed his chin. The corner of his mouth twitched.

“Thought they looked familiar,” he said and studied the mud covering her feet. “Looks like you got yourself in a spot, Anita,” he finally noted.

“It would seem so,” she said and smiled again, this time a little sheepishly.

“Well, alright then, let’s get you out of there.” He stepped behind her, gently hooking his arms under hers, and struggled to drag Anita out of the mud. She curled her feet to keep the boots from slipping off and finally came free with a squelch.

Al walked her back to her house, lecturing her on the way about why young pregnant women, whose husbands are at sea, should probably not go out in the rain to return an egg and a pair of pliers. She smiled and agreed. He left her at her front door with the assurance that if she needed anything, all she had to do was call and he or Irene would be there, and walked back to his own house, shaking his head and muttering to himself about crazy pregnant women all the way.

Mom, me and my brothers on Easter Sunday, 1967.

My mother told me this story the first time a few years ago, and I laughed until my eyes leaked. The mother I remember was just so confident, so supremely competent, I couldn’t imagine her getting herself in such a predicament. Until I realized that at the time she first told me the story, I was already several years older than she was then.

And now, here I am, exactly twice as old as she was then in 1966, the year I was born. I’ve spent the last 12 years as a stay-at-home parent to my partner’s three sons. I feel incredibly fortunate to have as a parenting partner the woman who gave birth to the children and nursed them and stayed at home taking care of them before she handed off to me and went back to work.

She knows exactly what it feels like to spend all day taking care of young children with no breaks and no help so when she’s home from work in the evenings and on weekends, she is completely present and an active, involved mom.

But even with my partner’s help and support, there are times when I have felt overwhelmed or lonely or inadequate. So I called my mother, who unfortunately lived several hundred miles away, but still always made me feel better. Because that’s what good mothers do. They raise their children with all the love and attention they need and then provide emotional support for their daughters (or daughters-in-law or friends or sisters or partners) when they have their own.

So this story is for my mom and for her mother, my Nana, who I still miss and wish had lived to see me become a parent. It’s for my partner, the mother of our children, who also taught me how to be a mom. It’s for my mother-not-in-law who raised 5 amazing daughters and all my partner’s sisters. It’s for and my sister-in-law, mother to my niece and nephew, and all our friends who have raised their children alongside ours and all the talks we’ve had and stories we’ve traded. And it’s for our childless friends who have also loved our kids and supported us emotionally and understood when we turned down invitations for years because of the kids and came to see us when we couldn’t get away.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Four generations of mothers in my family. I’m the little one
sitting on my mom’s lap. And that’s my grandmother and
great-grandmother.(Also my brothers in back
and Willy and Junior in front.)

Who’s a Heretic? 10 Common Misconceptions about Gay People, Part 2

My partner and I are very fortunate to have loving, supportive families and friends. But there are a lot of people out there who have some pretty outlandish ideas about who we are based solely on the fact that we are gay. So I thought I would try to clear some of these up. Here’s part two of my list of just a few of the myths and misapprehensions about gay people.

4- Being gay is a mental illness.– Almost 500 years ago, in 1543 (the year of his death), Nicolaus Copernicus did something no one had ever done before.

Picture of a small orrery
Picture of a small orrery – a mechanical device
 that shows the workings of a solar system based
 on a heliocentric model (via Wikipedia)
 

He presented the world with an astronomical model which placed the sun, not the earth as commonly believed, at the center of the universe. Heliocentrism was not a new idea but no one before had come up with a mathematical model that worked – that actually predicted the motions of the planets in the night sky. Copernicus’ did. Mostly.

There was one missing piece which Johannes Kepler provided the following century when he figured out the elliptical nature of the planet’s orbits and expanded on the Copernican model. Kepler’s contemporary, Galileo, now known as the “father of observational astronomy,” championed the improved Copernican model. As a result, in 1633, the Roman Inquisition put him on trial for heresy, forced him to recant his views, and placed him under house arrest for the rest of his life.

Uncensored versions of Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus orbium coelestium and Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems remained on the church’s Index of Forbidden Books until 1835. For 200 years, the immensely powerful church devoted its resources to preventing people from learning the truth. It wasn’t until 2000, almost 400 years after the trial of Galileo that the Church admitted any wrong-doing when Pope John Paul II issued a kind of general apology for all the wrongs of the church over its 2,000- year existence including Galileo’s persecution.

Like the Catholic Church, some people just don’t like to admit when they’re wrong even in the face of overwhelming evidence. And that’s why I think that this misguided notion that being gay is a mental illness is still out there, even though it has no basis in reality. Fortunately, the kind of control the Catholic Church had over information during the Renaissance is now impossible, because now we have the internet. Anywhere people can get to a computer with internet access, they can swim oceans of digitized information. In the U.S., even if you can’t afford a computer, anyone can go to a public library and get online. And you can read things like the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

The APA removed homosexuality from the DSM almost 40 years ago in 1973. One disorder that remains in the DSM is the source of some confusion. Gender Identity disorder (GID) is a diagnosis used to describe people who are discontent with their biological gender and/or the gender they were assigned at birth.

I believe the feelings transgendered individuals experience are legitimate and that they should have the right to live as they please and do with their bodies as they see fit, but this is a separate issue from homosexuality. Being gay has nothing to do with wanting to change your gender. As I wrote in part one, I am a lesbian because I love women, not because I want to be a man.

via zazzle.com

The stance of the APA today is that homosexuality is a normal variant of sexual behavior. If you go to the APA’s website, you can read this: “Lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientations are not disorders. Research has found no inherent association between any of these sexual orientations and psychopathology. Both heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality.” Yes, you read that correctly. It said “normal.” The APA also asserts to need to remove “the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated with lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientations.”

Stay tuned for part 3 of “10 Common Lies Misconceptions about Gay People

I Used to Be a Tomboy: 10 Common Misconceptions about Gay People

I have always been amazed at how remarkably interested perfect strangers seem to be in my sex life. That’s the problem with being gay. Not only do people choose to believe all sorts of pretty ridiculous things about you, they’re constantly trying to tell you what those things are.

And they go out of their way to do it. They drive by gay bars in pick-up trucks, chuck beer bottles at anyone walking in from the parking lot, shout various epithets, and speed off. They stand on sidewalks on college campuses clutching a Bible and shouting at passers-by about Sodom and Gomorrah. They stand for hours in the hot sun outside gay pride events toting hand-lettered signs expressing their interpretation of God’s particular tastes (i.e. “God hates queers”).  All of this because a few of us prefer partners of the same gender. When you think about it, you have to wonder what all the fuss is about.

So with the vote on Amendment One (which would make gay marriage in the state of North Carolina illegal twice over) fast approaching, I thought I would dispel a few of the misconceptions about gay folks like me.

1 – Being gay is a choice.  Gay people are demonized in churches and legislative houses. They are disowned by their families, fired from jobs, snubbed by neighbors, dishonored by the military, and generally victimized by bullies and haters of all kinds. There is often such a high cost for being openly gay that some people will stay closeted for their entire lives rather than pay it. Yet, still, there are people who insist that gay men and lesbians choose to be gay.

So let me ask all of you, would you choose it? The only choice a gay man or lesbian really has is whether to be true to our feelings and live as we are or to conform to society’s expectations, stuff what we feel, and live a lie regardless of the personal cost.

2 – Lesbians want to be men. When I was five years old, I wanted very much to be a Cub Scout like my big brothers. I was told only boys could be Cub Scouts. I was crushed. When I was old enough to join the girl scouts and be a Brownie, I happily signed up. But the Brownies weren’t like the Cub Scouts. They didn’t get those cool yellow kerchiefs and blue shirts and caps. They wore brown dresses and beanies. I was mortified.

But my mom said, give it a chance so I did, but not once did I get to make a balsa wood model racecar. My troop just sat around singing Kumbaya and playing stupid party games. I hated it. It was my first inkling that I wasn’t like the other girls. I grew up happily wearing my brothers’ hand-me-down dungarees and playing with their hand-me-down Matchbox cars. When I was 25, my mom was still telling people that I still hadn’t outgrown my tomboy stage. I’m 46 now, and I still haven’t.

Yes, that’s me about 15 years ago and yes,
that is a dinosaur footprint.

So I have to tell you. I have always coveted boys’ clothes and toys. To me, they are more comfortable and more fun. (From the first time I almost broke my ankle in high heels and nursed sore toes for a week after wearing the evil things for an evening, I knew that “girl” clothes would never be for me.) But a girl who wants to wear jeans and have a cool pocketknife is still a girl. Not once have I ever, and I think I would know, wanted a penis. So no, I have never wanted to be a man. But I did want very much to be a Cub Scout.

3 – Lesbians hate men. This one is kind of funny to me because of all my women friends, gay and straight, it is by far the straight women who trash men the most. (Sorry guys, but it’s true.)

As for me, well, I love women. And that has nothing to do with hating men. Actually, it has nothing to do with men at all – that’s kind of the point. And I think that pisses off some men. I don’t know why. Maybe they perceive lesbians as competition. (We’re not, you know. Well, except for the bisexual women. But I think true bisexuals are rare. So mostly, the women who dated me were never going to date you.) Or maybe the chest-beaters out there don’t like the idea that two women can be happy together without a man. Honestly, I think that’s it.

I can see now, that this is going to take more than one post. Stay tuned for part two of 10 Stupid Common Misconceptions about Gay People. (Don’t go away now. Tomorrow, we tackle Leviticus. Whee.)

And remember, if you live in North Carolina, the polls are open for early voting!

46 and Fogged

via Zazzle.com

Lately I’ve been losing my mind. It’s been a gradual process, but one I can’t deny anymore.

Take yesterday. I was in the middle of a full-blown house-cleaning frenzy when I glanced at the clock. It said 12:30. I felt a flutter at the back of my mind, like I was forgetting something important. I scrunched up my eyebrows (because I think better that way) and looked at the clock again. 12:31. My brain fluttered again. I turned off the vacuum and stared. Then it hit me. I had forgotten to pick up our youngest son from school.

There’s nothing worse than the feeling that you have forgotten your child. My stomach did a somersault, and I felt the weight of shame settle on me. Then I exploded into action. Dropping the vacuum hose, I descended the stairs like an avalanche of flailing middle-aged arms and legs (narrowly avoiding breaking one of them) and bounded down the hallway.

It was an early release day which meant that school let out 2 hours early. And in spite of the fact that my partner and my son had reminded me just that morning, it had still slipped my mind. The bell had rung 10 minutes ago. Now, our youngest son is not exactly a small child anymore. He’s fourteen, and not likely to be permanently damaged if I was a little late, but in my panic, I pictured him standing out in front of the school all alone, forlorn and forgotten, a sad little boy whose other-mom had abandoned him.

I snatched my keys and wallet from the kitchen table and dashed for the front door, sliding the last few feet – which really shouldn’t be possible in sneakers. I looked down. I wasn’t wearing my sneakers. I was wearing socks which of course explained the whole sliding down the tiled hallway thing. I quickly took stock of myself so as to ascertain if there were other problems I might want to correct before I went out in public. I was wearing ratty jeans and a bleach-stained t-shirt with no bra. I hadn’t yet showered. It would be generous to describe my hair as “tousled.”

Scrambling back up the stairs, I tripped over the vacuum cord, located shoes and a sweatshirt, tripped over the cord again, and lunged back down the stairs, wrestled open the front door, slammed it behind me, and ran for the car.

I was 25 minutes late. My son was not outside alone shivering in the chill as I imagined. He was standing in the sun, smiling, and talking with a friend. There was still a short car line and a surprising number of children still there. He smiled and waved when he saw me. I hugged him in front of his friends. Then I stopped at a gas station on the way home and bought him a soda and beef jerky.

“You should be late more often,” he said.

No, I really shouldn’t, I thought. The school is about 6 miles from our house. There are many traffic lights and the highest speed limit is 45, but I still made it there in about 12 minutes. My reflexes are getting to slow to drive like that. (And since I know you’re reading this, Mom, that was a joke.)

via pixar.wikia.com

My stuttering memory is no joke, though. I’ve always been a little absent-minded, but lately I’ve been a complete space cadet. My short-term memory is sputtering out like a neglected campfire. I feel like the forgetful little fish in Finding Nemo. (My favorite character until I became her.)

Lately, I have to proofread everything I write 14 times lately to avoid embarrassing myself by using the wrong words (like “half” instead of “have”). I mix up words when I’m talking, too, and often don’t realize until someone tells me. Like this typical exchange between my partner and me:

B:  “We used to live in Asheville, honey, not Austin.”

me:  “I know where we lived! You know I meant Austin.”

B:  “You mean Asheville?”

me:  “Shit.”

She’s really very patient, don’t you think?

And that’s not all. I have spent frantic minutes searching for my car keys only to discover them in my hand. My partner can text me to ask me to take some chicken out of the freezer to defrost for dinner, and if I don’t get up and do it right that minute, I will forget. I know it and she knows it. (That’s why she texts me again in five minutes. Did you take the chicken out of the freezer?) The other day, I almost ran out of gas because I forgot I was on empty. (Yes, I know the gas gauge was right in front of me. That’s kind of the point.)

As I’ve waded deeper into my forties, I’ve read more than a few articles on women’s health, and I know all the symptoms of my age.  But for some reason, I never really made the obvious connection with my mushrooming absent-mindedness. I just always thought I must be stressed or distracted, and then I jumped right to early onset Alzheimer’s in my imagination.

But not to worry. It’s just menopause. Yay. I’m not losing my mind. I’m just going to feel like it for the next few years.

 

note: Thanks to Mittens of Mittens and Boots and her excellent blog post on early menopause for the inspiration to write this and for cluing me in to the term “brain fog” which I just realized, I didn’t actually use except in the title, sort of. You can read her post at:

http://mittensandboots.wordpress.com/2012/04/13/mittens-menopause-forget-about-it/#comments

When “Well-behaved” Just Won’t Do

“Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

Cover of "Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make ...
Ulrich used her famous line as the title
 for her latest book.

You’ve probably seen it on a bumper sticker or a coffee mug, but do you know who said it? Do you know why? She’s Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, an historian, Harvard professor, and Pulitzer Prize winning author who once used the phrase in a paper she wrote as a graduate student.  As an historian who has spent a lifetime writing about the role of women in American history, I think she nailed it in one simple sentence.

I’ve noticed that the older I’ve gotten, the more well-behaved I’ve become. You’d think that would be a good thing, right? Most of us do, especially once we have children and become models for behavior. But there’s a difference between courtesy and complacence.

For years now, my partner and I have told ourselves that just living honestly and openly is the best way to advocate for our family (and other “nontraditional” families). We don’t “advertise” ourselves as a lesbian couple, but we don’t hide anything either. We hope that as people get to know us, even like us, they’ll find that we’re pretty much just like everyone else. We pay our taxes, love our children, honor our parents, help out our neighbors and our friends when we can. We’re nice people. And we don’t make waves. What’s to hate?

It’s just a yard sign, but
it’s a beginning.

On May 8, the voters of North Carolina will consider a proposed amendment to the state constitution to ensure “that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.” There’s already a law against gay marriage in North Carolina, but it seems some of our state legislators (of the Republican persuasion) felt that it wasn’t illegal enough. They want an actual amendment.

For years now, I’ve told myself, So what? What do I care if the state or the federal government tells me I can’t marry B? We love each other. We’re raising a family together and plan to spend the rest of our lives together. What do we care if we can’t legally marry? (Actually there are some very good reasons involving health insurance and my non-existent legal rights as her partner. But this essay isn’t about that.)

It’s about our kids. By telling us that we can’t marry, the state of NC is telling our sons that their family is not legitimate. And we just can’t have that.

State Senator Daniel Soucek, the Republican who sponsored the bill for Amendment One, warns us that the amendment is necessary to defend the existing law against “activist judges” who may not agree with the “majority” of the voters and overturn the law. So voters should have the last say. All the voters. I’m sure that was his intention when he and his fellow sponsors of the bill arranged to place it on the ballot on the same day as the Republican primary.

Recently, Soucek had this to say to the Huffington Post, “It’s not just the term ‘marriage.’ It’s all of the societal communal building blocks that make up traditional marriage. We think that’s the healthiest way to raise children.” And there it is. This isn’t just about marriage. It’s about our children.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard or read similar words from people with the power to do a lot of damage. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of being referred to as perverted, immoral, mentally ill, evil, unnatural, or maybe worst of all, unfit as a parent. I’m tired of trying to “nice” the bigots and the haters into their right minds. I’m tired of being well-behaved.

So I’m setting up my soap box on this blog for the next three weeks until the vote on May 8. Expect to see a lot about basic human rights, about ordinary people who happen to be gay, about family values and why the Republican version of that phrase is an oxymoron. It won’t be “nice.” It won’t be “well-behaved.” But it will be true.

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