Gay Pride

This weekend was Gay Pride in Houston. I did not participate. Not because I am not proud of myself for standing up to homophobia and living as an out gay man. Not because I am not proud of the accomplishments of GLBT people. Not because I am not proud of my GLBT culture. In fact, I very much am proud of all that. But in Houston—I have found—Gay Pride is grounded in how mainstream we are. This actually feels more like shame to me than pride.

The parade here consists more of church and employee groups than independent gay organizations. The so-called “fringe” of the gay community does not seem to be particularly welcome as part of Gay Pride in Houston. In the 6 years I have been in Houston there has only once been a leather organization in the parade. The organization that was invited is primarily heterosexual. In order for leather to be in our parade, it too had to be mainstreamed by being largely straight-identified.

I am a gay leatherman. A large part of my gay identity is tied into the fact that I embrace an alternative sexuality, that I am specifically not mainstream. I intentionally sexualize my gay identity. I am proud to push the boundaries of what is acceptable sexuality—not just for GLBT people, but for all people.

In the 1970s when Gay Pride began, we were proud to be sexual outlaws. We were proud to be challenging the gender and sexual norms. I am still proud to be challenging social norms to be more flexible and more inclusive. In 1990 Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen published After the Ball, a book about how the GLBT community could gain acceptance through presenting a mainstream persona. In this After the Ball era, Gay Pride has taken on a role of trying to make our community look like it fits gender and sexual norms, rather than make a statement that an alternative to this was equally valid.

The GLF (Gay Liberation Front), the organization that formed the first Gay Pride celebrations, was adamantly opposed to gay marriage. They viewed gay marriage as the GLB community forsaking what made our culture great—our alternative views of sexuality and gender. As gays gain the right to marry today, I do not expect us to conform to the traditionally-defined monogamous version of marriage. I expect us to redefine what marriage means. Marriage is about commitment, but commitment as defined as an intention to be there for another—nothing about sexual exclusivity or sexual normalcy.

We are a community that has been oppressed based on our sexuality—an adult theme. The celebration of our community, culture, and accomplishments should not have to be “family-friendly.” The celebration of our sexuality should be radical to honor the radical nature of our sexuality and gender. Our community is unified by being sexual and gender outlaws, regardless of how mainstream we might individually live our lives. I have taken as my daily mission to teach the world that my radical sexuality—as non-family friendly as it might be—is as right (morally, psychologically, biologically, etc.) as mainstream or traditional sexuality. I hope more members of the GLBT community remember our roots and that if we are going to truly celebrate Gay Pride, then we need to celebrate the breadth of the community, not just the so-called “acceptable” parts of it.

Honor Thy Father

Being the day after Father’s Day I figured this might be a timely topic. A phenomenon that I see over and over again with my clients, primarily—but not exclusively—male clients, is living one’s life or making decisions based on what would make one’s father happy or proud. There is nobility in this quest, but I more often see the damage from the pursuit.

Whether we are Christian or not, the Commandment of “honor thy father” is pervasive (and unavoidable?) in American culture. It is incorporated into the cultural norm and ethos of American life and the definition of family. Frequently “honor” is translated in terms of “obey,” or even please, one’s father. Biblical scholars differ on the true interpretation of the commandment. Some have argued honor is simply to express gratitude.

I can see where all of these approaches to honoring one’s father are valid and worthy, though I am most inclined toward a gratitude approach. But I think there is an inherent assumption in the directive (whether Christian or American cultural) that gets tragically ignored, which is: if your father warrants honor. It is utterly nonsensical to honor a father that does not warrant honor (or even respect). Yet, these are frequently the very fathers that I see clients damaging themselves by trying to honor by trying to make them proud or happy. Sometimes the clients no longer even have contact with their fathers and still have an orientation toward trying to please them.

I have great dad. He is flawed, but he is actually a truly loving, caring and respectful man. We have had our differences—I severed all contact with my parents for three years over conflict I had with my parents, but having resolved those conflicts now I sincerely enjoy his company and admire him. My dad has a voracious appetite for historical non-fiction that I downright envy. He has a great sense of humor that I do not have to envy because I he passed that down to me. I feel that he genuinely wants to see me succeed, not just so that he can look at me as his success, but for my own happiness.

That last aspect is noteworthy. It was something that I had to learn about my father. My misunderstanding of this was also at the core of the conflict that drove me away many years ago. Either the misunderstanding of this for many of my clients, or the reality that my clients’ fathers want them to be a success for his vicarious sense of accomplishment is what I see as setting up many of my clients for failure in this pursuit. We cannot accomplish success for our fathers if it means that we are inauthentic—it will never be real and it will never be enough.

If you feel that you are astray, ask yourself to what degree are you making choices that don’t feel right because you are either trying to “honor” your father, or deliberately rejecting the demand to honor him. So much of the substance abuse that I have seen has been due to rejection of the path to a father’s honor that the person felt as impossible or inappropriate for the person himself or herself. The healthiest way to honor one’s father is to succeed at being authentic—living the life YOU can be proud of and experiencing your own happiness. This is a great gratitude-based way to honor your father for what he actually gave you (even if sometimes fathers don’t themselves recognize it).

I am fortunate that my father is proud of MY experience of success and that I have come to recognize that. I wish this for everyone—and if it is not real, live as if it is. Thanks dad!

The Miss Fizzy Phenomenon

My boyfriend used to have a cat named Miss Fizzy. As I understand the story, Miss Fizzy was a rescue cat and was very thin and starved when she came into the care of my boyfriend. In his household she had ready access to food. This, it seems, was a huge change for Miss Fizzy. In response to the presence of food, following a lifetime of scarcity of food, Miss Fizzy gorged herself on every occasion and became an obese cat.

My boyfriend and I moved to Houston about 6 years ago and struggled to gain an economic foothold. He does small project construction and has spent years slowly developing a steady stream of clients, scraping for work along the way; he was in a constant state of anxiety about from where his next job would come. Similarly, I opened my practice and spent the next 3 months sitting my office waiting for the phone to ring. My practice picked up and after about 3 years I was finally bringing in enough money to pay my bills most months. We spent the first 5½ years in Houston in our own version of starving.

Within the last 4 months my boyfriend has had steady work and is now scheduling clients about a month out. During February and March I started to have record weeks with regard to number of clients I was seeing each week. Suddenly after a Houston lifetime of scarcity of income, we find ourselves with ample opportunity for income. He has been engaging in 50 to 60-hour physical labor weeks and I have been scheduling more clients than was my goal to see in a week. So like Miss Fizzy, we appear to be gorging on income opportunities. In fact, it seems we could work ourselves into our own version of poor health if we are not careful.

The temptation for what has been absent is great. Part of the motivation comes from the fear that the opportunities will not last: How do I know that there will still be some later, so I had better grab all that I can now. A gluttonous period following famine is natural, but it can also be unhealthy—the body needs to gradually adjust to the change. Consequently, I have imposed limits on myself with regard to how many hours a week I will see clients. I know that I may need to even adjust that down once the sense of scarcity has faded in order to protect my health.

The Miss Fizzy Phenomenon can affect people in a number of ways. One of the ways to which my boyfriend and I are particularly sensitive is spending—suddenly having disposable income after 5 years is REALLY tempting. But another common version of this which I see with clients is sexually. When someone leaves a relationship or when someone changes their body (e.g. weight loss or body building) and can screw around, he or she can binge on sex or sexual novelty, which may have felt scarce during the relationship or when one did not find himself or herself attractive. Unfortunately, this type of sexual gorging often leaves someone feeling empty—and frequently increases his or her pursuit of sex. There are, of course, too many other ways in which one can gorge following deprivation to enumerate here.

I think many of us experience sudden access to something that previously felt scarce at some point in our lives. When this happens keep Miss Fizzy in mind. Be mindful of the gorging in which you engage. Attend to the effect on both your body and your mind and pace yourself.