Archive for April, 2011

Government Shutdown: Here We Go Again?

Posted in LGBT Issues and Stuff, Uncategorized on April 8, 2011 by scottsteaux63

Well, it looks as though the government shutdown is going to happen.  We have been here before, when Newt “I-only-cheated-on-my-wives-because-I-loved-my-country-so-much” Gingrich, then House Speaker, managed to bring the wheels of government to a grinding halt back in the Nineties.  And then as now, under a Democratic President.

The issues?  Planned Parenthood, National Public Radio, and the Public Broadcasting System.  Yep, you read that correctly:  this is all about Planned Parenthood, NPR, and PBS.

They want to de-fund Planned Parenthood because they provide abortions.  The fact that they also screen both men and women for STDs and are instrumental in both treating and preventing these diseases does not enter the equation.  And it hardly costs the Federal Government anything:  if I remember correctly, it represents something like 4% of government spending.

As for NPR and PBS, they too are minuscule in terms of the amount of money they get from the government; most of their money comes from donations from individuals and foundations established by wealthy families.  The problem the Republicans have here is that neither NPR or PBS are afraid to call a moron a moron when it is necessary.  The fact that PBS has played a major and important role in educating America’s children for over forty years does not come into play either.

In short, the Republicans want to de-fund programs that are not costing all that much to begin with.  And how many guesses do you want as to who will get that money (hint:  three guesses and the first two don’t count, but they produce a substance without which you couldn’t run your car.  Never mind that they are already overpaid.)?

As for the shutdown itself, if you ask me the Republicans will completely torpedo their chances in 2012 if they do this thing.  Americans may not have the longest memories in the animal kingdom, but even the most absent-minded among us are unlikely to forget who caused the government to shut down when it comes time to go to the polls next November.

So I say let them have their shutdown:  it will come back to  bite them in the ass just as it did to Gingrich.

And while we’re on the subject, someone really ought to speak to John Boehner about his incessant crying.  I myself have two words for the man:  crocodile tears.

Republicans boggle the mind.  They weep incessantly and wring their hands over unborn fetuses, but they don’t give a shit about the living who are already here.  Especially if they happen to be poor, non-white, or women.   And MOST especially if they are all three.

Same-Sex Marriage: Why the Time is Ripe

Posted in Uncategorized on April 7, 2011 by scottsteaux63

There can be no doubt that one of the most hotly debated topics in the news these days is same-sex marriage, or to use a better term, marriage equality.  Whether it’s the mainstream media or independent outlets such as NPR, people are talking about it.  A lot.

As a Gay man, I want to weigh in on this subject, especially since to all intents and purposes I have been married twice.  Oh, I had my days of promiscuity when I was very young, but I have spent most of my adulthood in committed, monogamous relationships that were marriages in every respect except for the fact that they were not recognized by the State.

I was twenty years old when I met my first husband (I am going to use the correct terms, so pardon me if it makes anyone squeamish).  At that age, looks are so much more important than they are once we get some wisdom under our belts, and the fact that he was good-looking was certainly a huge factor in what brought us together.  And the sex was great.

Unfortunately there’s the crux of the situation:  if the sex hadn’t been so good, I doubt the relationship would have lasted as long as it did, because we were polar opposites and if I said something was black he would say it was white and vice versa.  I also discovered that he had a violent streak.  Which didn’t bother me as much as you might think since I had one of my own.

We were together, off and on, for fifteen years.  And for seven of those years, we were to all intents and purposes married.  As for the violent outbursts, they were rare; in the entire time we were together I think our fights turned physical maybe six times, and he was much too big for me to ever hurt him, though he hurt me once.  But it would be the violence that would end the marriage, and the way it happened illustrates the injustice that faces the LGBT community because marriage equality is denied us.

I won’t bother with the details of that last fight.  Suffice it to say it turned physical.  And Dennis took a step he had never taken before.  He went out, and several hours later came back with the police and a restraining order and threw me out into the street.  I had to stay with my brother until I found an apartment, during which time Dennis tossed all my belongings into garbage bags and that’s how the movers had to ship them.  Needless to say a lot of things got broken.

The problem was that I had been living all those year in Dennis’s house.  Even though we split all the bills right down the middle (this despite the fact that he made at least fifteen thousand dollars a year more than I did), my name was never on anything, and in the end he threw me out like the garbage.

Not that I didn’t try to get my name put on some things.  But he would not even open a joint checking account.  He kept his salary a secret; the only reason I knew it was that I stumbled across one of his pay stubs once.

Back then, before the whole thing fell apart, if anyone had asked, we would have said we considered ourselves married.  We took the attitude that we did not need a piece of paper to validate our relationship.  But if we had had that piece of paper, I would have had certain rights which he would not have been able to strip me of.  As it was, when the cops came around, as far as they were concerned we were strangers to each other under the law.

So I found myself single again after years of being part of a couple.  And I figured my days as part of a couple were over.  Three years went by, and then a friend of mine introduced me to John.

I was thirty-nine years old by this time, and the time when mere looks were enough to attract me was far in the past.  But the day I met John, I took one look in his baby-blue eyes, and I fell madly in love.  So much so, in fact, that it scared me to death:  it took me almost a month to work up the nerve to ask him out, and I have never been the shy type.

On our first date, we sat up all night talking, drunk on conversation without so much as a drop of liquor.  On our second date, he looked at me and said “I love you” and I found myself saying “I love you, too” without even hesitating.

On our third date, as we were sitting in his living room having our usual marathon conversation, I asked him to marry me.  Well, he about fell on the floor, because he was just about to ask me!

I was nearly forty, and John was forty-five, when this happened.  I had never asked anyone to marry me before, and here I was proposing to a man I had known less than two months.  But there were no doubts.  No fears.  We were not a couple of kids starting out; we were grown men on the brink of middle age, more than old enough to know our own minds.

That was nine years ago.  We were married at a Unitarian Church on December 21, 2002.  It was not legal in New Jersey then, and it is not legal in New York, where we are living now, at least not yet.  But as far as we are concerned it is just as real as the marriage of the nice young straight couple across the street.

All this is leading up to one thing.  John and I are not kids, and I am not in the best of health.  Not that I am in any danger, but we are definitely at a time of life when the issues of getting older become less abstract ideas and more concrete realities.

Last year, an elderly gay couple, Clay Greene and Harold Scull, who had been together for twenty-five years, were separated by the county and placed in different nursing homes.  Scull died alone not too much later; Greene was not at his side.  And the county seized all their assets and sold them.

While we have quite a few years to go before we reach the ages of Scull and Greene, John and I found that story terrifying.  The thought that we might be separated near the end of our time together, at a time when we will need each other more than ever, is an extremely disturbing prospect.

I won’t drag religion into this one, even though both John and I are committed Christians.  Despite what the opposition keeps shrieking, the government cannot and never will be able to “force” them to perform same-sex weddings; the Constitutional wall of separation between Church and State makes this impossible.  The marriage equality we are fighting for here is a completely civil matter; it has nothing to do with the church.

Every straight couple that gets married enters into a civil marriage, whether the ceremony takes place in a church in front of clergy or in the office of a justice of the peace.  That license they sign is the same whether they have a religious marriage or not.  Atheists get married all the time; if they want the benefits, they have to sign the papers.  And Wiccans, Buddhists, Pagans, all of them who choose to get married in our society, have to sign the same license.  And the person who officiates at the wedding, be it a court clerk, a minister, priest, or rabbi, or whoever, is acting not as an agent of the religion (s)he represents, but in signing the marriage license, (s)he is acting as an agent of the State.  This is how marriage works in this country.  It’s a civil matter in which the Church plays no role unless the participants want it to, despite all the shrieking from the wing nuts about “Biblical marriage,” a thing that if practiced today would land those involved in jail as likely as not.

The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is an important victory, but not being in the military, it isn’t one that hits very close to home for me.  Marriage equality is another matter entirely.  By denying us full equality, we do not have access to over 1,100 rights and responsibilities, both Federal and State, that any straight couple gets the second they sign that license.

It isn’t fair that in 2011 there are still American citizens who do not enjoy equal protection under the law, something which is guaranteed by the Constitution.

It’s time.  In fact, it’s long past time.

Another Year Older…

Posted in LGBT Issues and Stuff, Uncategorized on April 7, 2011 by scottsteaux63

I turned forty-eight years old today.  Not exactly what you’d call a “landmark birthday,” but it seemed like a good idea to share a few thoughts about it.  So here goes.

For some reason, I flashed on a line from the television movie “A Caribbean Mystery,” in which the late, great Helen Hayes played Agatha Christie’s indefatigable Miss Marple.  One of the characters makes the colossal gaffe of calling Miss Marple “elderly,” to which she responds, “Elderly?  I never think of myself as ‘elderly.’  I feel just the same as I did when I was seventeen.  Only then, of course, I pitied anyone over twenty, and now I don’t!”

In the film, Hayes threw the line away in that offhand manner which she did so well.  But think about it for a moment.  How many times have we heard kids refer to people over thirty as “real old?”  Hell, I’m practically old enough to be the FATHER of a thirty-year-old!

Anyway, growing older is only part of what is on my mind today.  Eleven years ago I became disabled; I’ve had HIV since 1989 and it became full-blown AIDS in 1994.  Medications have kept me in reasonably decent health, but I developed a long and unshakable case of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Fibromyalgia in January of 2000.  This on top of the Bipolar Disorder that I began suffering from three years earlier.  The combination of the two ended my ability to hold down a full-time job, so naturally I applied for Social Security Disability.  I had been paying into it for well over twenty-two years, but I never dreamed what a nightmare I was letting myself in for.

Social Security moves at about the pace of molasses traveling uphill in January against a prevailing headwind.  It took them six months to send me a terse note denying my claim.  That was just the beginning of the nightmare.

I first became ill in January of 2000.  At the time I had a good job, a beautiful apartment, a car that was less than two years old that I had bought new for cash, and not a penny in debts.  By Thanksgiving of the same year I had lost the job, the car, been evicted from my apartment, and was living in an SRO surrounded by drug addicts and petty criminals.  Sometimes not so petty; during my time at that motel there was a murder.

My Social Security caseworker assured me that they turned everyone down the first time.  Nevertheless, I decided it was time to get a lawyer.  Since Disability lawyers work on contingency fees and take no money up front, this was an easy enough thing to do, and it was a relief to know that I had someone in my corner.

To make a long story short, it would take my lawyer and me the next three years and three separate court appearances before my claim was finally approved.  The first two court appearances were before a sour-faced old judge whose contempt for me was written in bold all over his face and showed in every one of his questions.  He turned me down flat, and in both decisions he wrote that I was “not a credible witness.”

I met with my lawyer and told him that I wanted a different judge for the next court appearance.  He was hesitant to make such a request, since it has been known to backfire.  Judges are a clannish lot and if the old fart decided my request for a different judge was a slap in the face it could kill any chance of getting approved.  I told my lawyer that I didn’t think my chances could get much worse after two denials and that I flatly refused to appear before that miserable old bastard again.  So he really had no choice.

I guess it’s true that the third time is the charm.  Wonder of wonders, the judge at my third hearing had a handicap of his own:  he was blind.  But he took his own notes on a laptop computer and spoke to me more respectfully than anyone in my entire ordeal had done with the exception of my own attorney.

It was a great relief to finally be approved.  I was able to pay off all the debts I had accrued in the interim, and the four thousand dollars my lawyer got was not nearly enough for how hard he had worked for me.

Now, it seems certain Republicans in the government want to eliminate both Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid.  And for no other reason than to take away what little sustenance the elderly and disabled have left, so they can turn around and hand it to their rich friends.

Since the Republicans who are trying to do this are mostly of the Teabagger variety, I am hanging onto hope that there are still enough mainstream GOPers with horse sense who will see what they are doing for what it is.  All I can say is thank God we’ve still got a Democratic majority in the Senate plus the President’s veto power.

The richest country in the world also has the biggest gap between its richest citizens and its poorest.  And the gap is widening as the middle class rapidly disappears into a new class known as the “educated working poor.”

I’ve survived a lot of things in my life.  I’ve survived AIDS.  I’ve survived mental illness.  I’ve survived being homeless.  Please God give me the strength to survive the Republicans.

At forty-eight, I suppose I am what one would call “middle-aged.”  But who are we kidding?  I am most likely past the middle of my life.  All I really want is to be able to live decently with my husband for as long as we have together.

Is that really so unreasonable?

5:00 AM: Ramblings of a Non-Morning Person

Posted in LGBT Issues and Stuff, Uncategorized on April 5, 2011 by scottsteaux63

I hate Daylight Saving Time.  I mean, I REALLY hate Daylight Saving Time.  Here I sit, up before the birds for the second consecutive morning, and all because we have to change the clocks twice a year.

Okay, my initial statement was not quite accurate.  I don’t hate DST; it is very nice to have daylight well into the evening in summer.  What I do hate is having to change the clocks by an hour twice a year.

I am not a morning person.  I have never been a morning person.  And for the last fourteen years I have had Bipolar Disorder.  People with mood disorders are particularly prone to sleep disturbances.  Which means that every time we change the clocks, no matter whether forward or back, I always spend the next month or so waking up too early, waking in the middle of the night (a thing I normally never do), or having difficulty getting to sleep in the first place despite a considerable amount of medication that I take at bedtime.

Concerning the benefits and drawbacks of DST, Wikipedia has this to say:

“The practice has been both praised and criticized. Adding daylight to afternoons benefits retailing, sports, and other activities that exploit sunlight after working hours, but causes problems for farming, evening entertainment and other occupations tied to the sun.”

Translation:  Putting the clocks forward in the spring is primarily about profit.  And it also explains why the produce at the supermarket is so lousy.

Now I know that Wikipedia isn’t the be-all and end-all of reference sources, on or off the Internet, but when I read the whole article, it became clear to me that the primary reason we continue to change the clocks twice a year is habit.  It serves no useful purpose; in fact, it negatively impacts farmers, who already have more than their share of problems, all so a few sun worshipers can spend an extra hour on the beach (getting loaded, as likely as not).

If I had my choice, I would say keep DST year-round; it would be nice to have that extra hour of light at the end of the day in the winter when we really need it.  But after my little bit of research, it seems to me that a return to year-round Standard Time makes much more sense.  People who intend to spend money will do so whether it is light or dark outside, and some of us could use the sleep.

More Trials of a Liberal Gay Christian

Posted in LGBT Issues and Stuff, Uncategorized on April 4, 2011 by scottsteaux63

It is very early on a rainy morning, so I thought I’d visit my blog and air a few thoughts.  There probably isn’t much here that I haven’t already said, but perhaps my experiences will help someone else.

Twenty-seven years ago, while a junior in college studying theatre and music, I managed to land a teaching position at a local music school on Staten Island.  I would spend the next six years there teaching voice, piano, and music theory, and it was a great anchor job for an aspiring actor because it left me a good deal of free time to go on auditions.

But there was what you might call a dark side to the place that I was quite unprepared for.  The majority of the clientele were born-again Christians of one form or another:  Pentecostals, Charismatics, and the like.  The truth is that it was a rather cynical move on the part of the school’s owner to go trolling for business in their churches, but to give the bastard credit, it worked.

Now, I have been a Christian since the age of five.  I was brought up in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA for short), a denomination that in my childhood was beginning to lead the pack in the direction of liberalism, which was what attracted my parents to it (they had previously been Missouri Synod Lutherans, a much more conservative sect).  By the time I took the job at the music school, it must be admitted that I was no longer a regular churchgoer, though I still considered myself a Christian; I prayed, I still held to my beliefs, and I got to church when I could get my lazy ass out of bed.

Nothing, however, prepared me for the brand of Christianity that I encountered at my new job.  The first time a student asked me if I was a Christian, I answered “yes” readily enough even though I was shocked to the core by the question.  After all, my ability to teach her music would have been the same had I been Jewish, Muslim, Wiccan, Pagan, or a Druid.  But my “yes” apparently satisfied her, so at first I did not smell danger.

That came a bit later, and it struck one of my co-workers, not me.  Unlike the students, the staff was a mixed bag.  Most of us were professional musicians, and some of us professed no faith at all, but this being Staten Island NY in the late Eighties, a good many of my colleagues were Roman Catholic, and one day when one of them was asked if she were a Christian and she responded that she was a Catholic, she suddenly found herself pounced upon by a good half a dozen of these lunatics, “laying hands” on her and praying for her to “come out” of the Catholic Church.  At the time I had no experience of these people, so I was unaware of their rabid hatred of Roman Catholics, which was all the more pronounced on Staten Island because that borough has a very large RC population.

Needless to say, the young woman was furious.  And with good reason.  For myself, I was so shocked at what I had seen that I could only lend a sympathetic ear.  I hardly knew what to say, having had no experience with these people.

But at the end of the day, I was a musician who needed to put bread on the table, so I adapted.  Contemporary Christian music was really coming into its own back then, with major stars like Amy Grant, Sandy Patti, Michael Card, Michael W Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Steve Green, Michele Pillar, and many others getting tons of airplay on the local AM Christian station, a station that bore the rather ironic call letters WWDJ.

I even found myself getting into the music.  In terms of the idiom, it was as good as any of the secular stuff that was out there, and even the mainstream churches had begun to hold contemporary worship services, no doubt to draw more young people.  But then came the dark side, and when it hit, it hit hard and fast.

The boss hired a new teacher who happened to be one of “them.”  I use the term advisedly, because frankly, from the day she set foot in the door, her presence in the school was upsetting at best and downright disruptive at worst.  For starters, she wasted no time in telling us all that unless we were “born again” we were all going to burn in hell forever and ever.  And as if that weren’t bad enough, she always had her son in tow, a seven-or eight-year old spoiled brat that she was home schooling and whom nobody dared to so much as say “no” to because if we did we got a ration of shit from Camille.

Worst of all, part of the deal she had worked out with the boss included voice lessons for her, and out of the three voice teachers on staff, I found myself saddled with her.  Not that she couldn’t sing; in fact, she really wasn’t all that bad.  But she was unteachable.  Any time I tried to correct her phrasing, help her with her breathing, or stop her from singing off pitch, she either insisted that it was her style or deliberately took offense and the lesson usually ground to a screeching halt.

I had a lot of students like her over the next six years, both men and women, though the men tended to be somewhat less neurotic than the women (which in the circumstances is not saying much).  And some of them were really talented, so I couldn’t have cared less whether they sang Gospel or show tunes; they were a pleasure to teach despite our differing views (and in all fairness, I must admit that most did not try to evangelize me; they were paying to learn music and they were as determined as anyone to get their money’s worth).

Camille stayed around, though, and her presence continued to be a massive thorn in everyone’s side.  I really thought it was going to be the end of her when one of my other colleagues’s stepfather passed away.  The family was Catholic, and when Joanne came back from her bereavement leave, Camille, without so much as batting an eye, started carrying on about how her stepfather was in hell and that demons were clawing his eyes out, etc etc etc.

Now Joanne, whom I have not seen in many years, was one of the kindest, gentlest people I have ever known, and when Camille started spewing her vitriol, Joanne’s first reaction, naturally, was tears.  Then, rage.  And none of us blamed her.  In fact, I told Camille to her face that day that, Christian or no Christian, she was a woman without compassion.  That was the end of our lessons.  And good riddance.

She didn’t last much longer after that little fiasco, anyway.  One day, another co-worker, Jeff, was doing some of the housekeeping tasks that we all pitched in on:  he was cleaning all the glass surfaces in the place with Windex and paper towels.

I was not present for what happened, but as I understood it later, Camille’s brat wandered into the room and wanted to play with the bottle of Windex, a request that Jeff quite properly denied.  The kid was quick, however, and grabbed the bottle and managed to squeeze off a couple of squirts of the ammonia-based cleaner in the general direction of Jeff’s face.

Jeff lost his temper completely, wrenched the bottle out of the kid’s hands, and squirted him right between the eyes.  Twice.  I couldn’t blame him; none of us liked that spoiled brat, and most of us would probably have done the same thing in his shoes.

Well, naturally the brat went running to Mommy, who proceeded to throw a temper tantrum that made me realize where the kid learned it from, and she stormed out of the building.  And that, thank God, was the last we ever saw of Camille.

I can’t recall what happened to Jeff, but I don’t think he lost his job that day.  He did, however, move on not too long afterwards.

My days with the “born-agains” were far from over, however.  My boss called me into his office one day and told me that a Charismatic church not far from the school was looking for a Director of Music Ministry, and would I be interested in the job?  Well, I never said no to work back in those days, so I went to the church, was interviewed, and played one Sunday service as a sort of audition, which is customary.  I got the job, and would be there for the next three years, during which time my tenure at the music school would come to an end.

Now, perhaps I need to make one thing clear:  I came out at nineteen when I was a sophomore in college, and during this entire period I was engaged in an on-again, off-again relationship with a man I met the summer I turned twenty.  I was out to my family.  I was even what you might call “three-quarters out” at the music school, since the clientele was not exclusively of the Fundamentalist breed and my colleagues had all figured me out long before I said anything.

One more thing about Camille.  When I was offered the job at the church, she had not yet left the music school.  When she got wind of it, she went to the boss (of the school) and told him I had no business taking such a job because I was “a homosexual.”

Now, I have never denied that I am not exactly the most masculine creature God ever put on this green earth, but there was no way she could have known such a thing unless I had told her, and I would have cut out my tongue first.

So I confronted her.  I literally dragged her into my teaching studio and demanded to know why she was spreading rumors about me and who had told her what she had just told my boss.  She denied the charge of rumor-spreading on the grounds that she thought the allegation was true, and she flatly refused to say who had told her.  I had my suspicions about that one, but I was never able to confirm them (and at any rate, if the person I suspected was indeed the culprit, she probably let it slip without realizing the full implications; there was no malice in her).

So I told Camille that the next time she opened her big fat mouth she could expect to hear from my lawyer, and left it at that.  She wasn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but I think even she knew she was wading in treacherous waters, and if she turned out to be wrong, the consequences for her could be disastrous.

Anyway, the music school job came to an end not all that long after this.  No need to dwell on the reasons:  there was a salary dispute and the four highest-paid teachers (myself included) were forced out by a drastic cut in both pay and hours.  Frankly, I think we were all relieved.

Which brings me to the church job.  With the music school gone, I needed that money more than ever, so there was no question of quitting.  And I am no organist, so employment at another church was unlikely (this church had no organ and the music was provided by a piano-based band).

I realized before too much time had passed that I had been cast into a nightmare.  I did a choir rehearsal on Wednesday nights, and two services, one on Friday night and the other on Sunday morning.  No service was ever less than two hours long, and I soon discovered that one of Pastor’s favorite whipping boys (along with Catholics and politicians) was “homosexuals.”  And once he got started, the sermon alone could go on for an hour.

An hour of gay-bashing, twice a week, for three years, all because I needed the paycheck.

Long story short, by the end of the three years I was so sick of hearing his hateful rhetoric that just going into the building made me physically ill.  So one Thursday I scribbled a letter of resignation, left my music and my keys on the office desk, and went home.  The pastor called me twice and left messages, which I never returned.

And that was only two hours a week, and I was a self-sufficient adult who in the end could make the necessary choices to get myself out of there.  Imagine what it must be like for a kid in his or her first or second year of high school.  The bullying goes on all day long, and with the Internet in practically every home, it now has the ability to follow these kids to the one place that used to be safe.  And trust me, at that age, college and an independent life seem as far away as the moon, no matter how many times your parents may tell you that you are growing up.

I don’t know why I woke up this morning thinking of all this.  I haven’t thought of Camille in years, and while I am still in touch with a few of my former colleagues from the school, none of them are still working there (and good for them, I say).  As for the church, aside from those two phone messages I never heard a word from anyone from that place ever again.

I can only surmise that God put this on my heart to post, because there are still a lot of hurting LGBT kids out there, and the “It Gets Better” campaign is great but it can only go so far.

So here is my story, for what it is worth.  Navigating your way through the straight world isn’t always easy, but I learned a long time ago that, in most cases at least, it is much harder to live a lie than to live in truth.

The old Scripture is true:  “And the truth shall set you free.”