holiday

What’s Left to Argue


From my New Year’s column:

2013 should also be a time to explore more deeply the significance of marriage: Now that we have it (in 9 states and counting), what should we do with it? What does it mean to aspire to it? What does a healthy marriage culture look like, and how can LGBT people make a distinctive and valuable contribution to that culture?

Read the full column at PrideSource.com.

A Story of Comfort and Joy

First published at 365gay.com on December 18, 2009

Allow me to share a favorite holiday story.

It was late-November 1989, a year after I first came out. I had been dating a guy named Michael for over a month, which made him (in my mind, at least) my first “real” boyfriend. I was twenty and he was turning twenty-two, and we decided to drive into the city to celebrate his birthday.

“The city” was Manhattan. I was living with my parents on Long Island while going to college; Michael lived nearby. Together with his cousin and his cousin’s boyfriend, we piled into my 1985 Camry and made the trek west along the Long Island Expressway, crossing the Williamsburg Bridge into the Big Apple.

Dinner, then drinks, then dancing—or more accurately, sitting in the corner flirting while other people danced. It was the kind of young love (lust?) that makes one largely oblivious to one’s surroundings.

So perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised, upon exiting the club, to discover that it had been snowing for several hours—hard. No one had predicted a blizzard that night, and it wasn’t as if we could check the weather on our iPhones. (Remember, it was 1989.)

We rushed back to the car and headed slowly home. About a third of the way across the Williamsburg Bridge, traffic stopped.

We waited a minute, then five, then ten—and still no movement. The snow around us was blinding. Meanwhile, the cousin and his boyfriend were soundly asleep in the back seat.

So Michael and I did what any two young lovebirds would do in such a situation: we started making out in the car.

We kissed; we caressed; we cuddled. It felt like we were there for an hour, though again, we were largely oblivious to time and space. It was joyous.

Eventually the traffic flow resumed and we made it home okay.

Michael dumped me a few weeks later (Merry Christmas, indeed) and what remained of our relationship was more disastrous than that night’s weather. But two decades and numerous boyfriends later, I still count that bridge experience as one of the magical moments of my life.

It wasn’t just because it was new and exciting, or because of the Frank Capra setting (Snow on a bridge? Seriously?).

It was because, at a time in my life when I still struggled to make sense of being “different,” the experience sent a powerful, visceral message: Gay is good.

The message didn’t arrive by means of a philosophical argument or someone else’s testimony. It came through direct experience. Those once-scary feelings were suddenly a font of great beauty, and intimacy, and comfort. I had previously figured it out in my head. Finally, I knew it in my heart.

In this column I have often extolled the virtues of long-term relationships. I believe in those virtues—and am ever grateful for my eight-year partnership with Mark, the love of my life.

But I don’t believe that homosexuality has moral value ONLY in the context of long-term relationships—any more than heterosexuality does. That quick flirtatious glance across a crowded room; that awkward kiss with the cute stranger at the party—such moments make life joyful, and there is great moral value in joy.

And so, this holiday, I wish my readers joy.

It has been an incredible, fast-paced year on the gay-rights front. We gained marriage equality in several states only to lose it again in Maine; we had ballot victories in Washington State and Kalamazoo, MI; we elected a lesbian mayor in Houston and a gay City-Council President in Detroit.

There are reasons to be hopeful, and there is much work left to be done. We will keep fighting the good fight.

Yet let us also step back and enjoy the simple yet profound joy that is part and parcel of why we’re fighting. Kiss someone under the mistletoe, and remember that life is good.

Wishing you all the best in 2010.

It Was a Good Bad Year

First published January 6, 2005, in Between the Lines.

New Year’s is a time for looking at where we’ve been and where we’re going. It’s a time for resolutions, such as “I resolve not to eat so much and spend so much during next year’s holiday season.” (Yeah, sure.)

As a college professor, I tend to organize my life in terms of the academic calendar, not the regular calendar. Years begin in September and end in May, and June through August is “free time,” sort of. Actually, it bugs me when people tell me I have summers “off”: just because I’m not teaching doesn’t mean I’m not working, okay? Or do you think my articles and columns write themselves?

(Memo to self: resolve to be less defensive in 2005.)

So when New Year’s rolls around, the “year” I look back on has really been only four months long. And how has the last four months been?

Pretty lousy, actually.

Before reacting, do me a favor. Please do not tell me “Yes, I understand. That horrible election…”

I agree that the election was upsetting. But to give you some perspective, let me tell you about my life over the last few months:

Early September: I am harassed by a large, armed Texas state trooper who after seeing me kiss another guy tells me that “homosexual conduct is against the law.” Although I cite Lawrence v. Texas and point out that Texas state law never banned mere kissing, he maintains his position. I relent, he lets me go, and the following week I file a formal complaint. (More on that later.)

Late September: A close friend commits suicide. 32 years old, bright, attractive, talented. Now dead. Turns out that, among various other problems, he had become involved with crystal meth.

Early October: My grandmother dies. Certainly more expected than my friend’s death, but still a terrible blow. She was one of the first people I came out to, and she’s always been one of my great supporters. Grandma Tess, rest in peace.

Late October: One week after burying his mother, my father is fired from his job. He and my mother decide to leave New York and retire to Texas, close to my sister, where the cost of living is better. (Be sure to say hi to my favorite trooper!). I am briefly reminded that Dad, my hero, is not invincible.

Early November: the election. Yes, it’s bad. But by comparison with other things happening in my life, it seems like a minor blip.

Late November: my sister undergoes surgery. She’s fine, but Mom and Dad — who have had their share of challenges in the past month — are further drained emotionally.

Early December: I discover that I need a new roof on my house — soon. A very costly new roof. (Better not ask Dad for help.)

So, how am I doing?

Just fine, thank you.

Abraham Lincoln once said that most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. He was right.

This is not to say that we don’t face challenges that threaten our well being. But if we constantly dwell on the challenges, and never look at the “bright side,” we’re guaranteed to be miserable.

Admittedly, there is no “bright side” to a friend’s suicide. But I am thankful for my own health and well being. I’m thankful, too, that my sister is recovering well.

I’m thankful for 35 years of knowing a wonderful grandmother. Some people never know their grandparents. I knew all four (two still living) as well as five of my eight great-grandparents.

I’m thankful that my parents, who worked hard for many years, are able to retire comfortably. I’m thankful that, although I’ll have to tighten my belt in 2005, somehow I’m managing to pay for my new roof.

I’m thankful that I live in a country that holds regular elections. I’m thankful that my partner and I have a wonderful life together, even without recognition from the shortsighted Michigan voters who supported Proposal 2. I’m thankful we have the freedoms that we do.

And I’m thankful that the ignorant trooper who harassed me is being put on six months probation, was given a formal written reprimand, and will be required to take additional classes on Texas state law. Sometimes the system does work.
2004 wasn’t so bad after all. Resolve to be happy in 2005.

Homosexuality and Morality, Part 1: The Essential Question

First published at Between the Lines on November 22, 2002

THE HOLIDAY SEASON is upon us and with it come holiday dinners, which can be hazardous to your health. This is not because the dinners are fattening or because you might choke on the wishbone. It’s because holiday dinners mean extended family gatherings, and your family can drive you crazy.

This is true even under the best of circumstances. But holidays are especially fraught with danger. Maybe it’s the eggnog, or maybe it’s the fact that when people buy you gifts they feel entitled to “express themselves”. Whatever the reason, these occasions give your relatives the wacky notion that they ought to tell you precisely how they feel about your lifestyle: “It’s none of my business, really, but you’re going to hell. Now please pass the eggnog.”

“My lifestyle? Hello, I live in Michigan. Nobody here has a lifestyle.” But by this point Aunt Sally has moved on to the next offensive remark.

Never fear, dear reader: I’ve got your back. For over the next several weeks, I’m going to do a series of columns on homosexuality and morality. The point of these (aside from helping me to pay for my extravagant Christmas shopping) is to provide you with ammunition in the face of anti-gay attacks. The columns will be based on my lecture “What’s Morally Wrong With Homosexuality?” which I’ve developed and presented around the country for the last ten years.

Let’s begin with a thought experiment. Suppose I told you that reading the newspaper is morally wrong.

“Why?”, you might ask. “Does it corrupt the mind? Is it produced by child labor? Is newsprint environmentally unsound?”

“No,” I answer. “None of those things. It’s wrong because you might get ink on your fingers, and ink-stained fingers are an intrinsic moral evil.”

The above exchange might lead you to think I had been hitting the eggnog a bit early. My claim about the morality of newspaper reading makes no sense — for two reasons. First, moral claims are only as good as the reasons that back them up. Second, those reasons must have some genuine connection with human well-being: not just any reason is a moral reason.

And this fact bears repeating: morality has a point. That’s why the idea that ink-stained fingers are evil is just — well, stupid. Typically, ink on your fingers won’t hurt anybody. It won’t detract from your or your neighbors’ well-being. There’s no good reason to condemn it.

What about homosexuality? Most arguments against homosexuality fall into three broad categories: (1) the Bible condemns it; (2) it’s harmful; and (3) it’s unnatural. Over the next three columns I’ll address each of these in turn.

But before I turn to the arguments against homosexuality, I want to state a preliminary argument in favor of it: namely, that homosexual relationships make some people happy.

To say this is not to settle the matter. Some things that seem to make us happy at first glance (e.g. Aunt Sally’s pie) are better avoided in the long run. Whether homosexuality is one of those things depends on the success of the arguments in the next several columns.

Rather, to say that homosexual relationships make some people happy is to create a burden of proof for the other side. Most everyone recognizes that falling in love and expressing that love sexually are sublime human experiences. Romantic relationships can be an avenue of communication, of emotional growth, and of lasting interpersonal fulfillment. Anyone who would deny this opportunity to homosexual people had better have a good reason. Do they? Join me for the next several weeks as we explore this issue.

And as we do so, please remember: morality is not the exclusive domain of our opponents. Exhausted by the moralizing of Aunt Sally — not to mention Jerry Falwell, Dr. Laura, and their ilk — we might sometimes be tempted to reject the practice altogether. And then we start to believe the fallacy that “Morality is strictly a private matter.”

Nonsense. Morality is about how we treat one another — and that’s very much a matter for public concern. It’s about fairness and justice. It’s about what matters to us — not just as a personal preference, but as a standard for public behavior. We have as much right to espouse such standards as anyone else — indeed, even more right, insofar as reason is on our side. And that’s precisely what I’m going to argue over the next several weeks.

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