Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Time for Michigan Courts to Show Some Heart

Time for Michigan to join 18 other states and sanction same-sex marriages. It’s the right thing to do and here’s why.
              The position against gay marriage and same-sex adoption is essentially fueled by belief systems rooted in oppressive cultural traditions, habitual lifelong conditioning, and largely misinterpreted religious one-liners (the word “abomination” comes to mind).

              Currently in Michigan federal court, a judge is weighing a lawsuit that strikes at the heart of what it means to be a human being in love. Keep those words in mind: heart and love.

              The facts of the case are this: two lesbian nurses, Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer, seek to have the court overturn Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage. Not just because they love each other and want to marry, but also so they can adopt each other’s children.

              In Michigan it’s illegal for same-sex couples to adopt children.

              An inconvenient truth: there was a time when I thought “gay sex” when regarding gay people. That was it. Their full human richness boiled down to a single (ultimately irrelevant) dimension; what they might or might not be doing in the bedroom. You can’t imagine the shame I had when I became aware of my ignorant way of thinking. After all, I’ve always considered myself a good, open and affirming person.

              Time and friendships with gay persons, couples and their families changed my thinking.

              Being different in our society can be oppressive. So much so that among those who are different from the majority, it can lead to issues ranging from debilitating clinical depression to self-destructive behaviors as unthinkable as suicide.

              In the case of those who are intolerant to people who are different, it can foster everything from throwing up barriers of discriminating prejudice, all the way to physical acts of violence and bullying.

              Regarding the case, state attorney Kristin Heyses argued that not enough time has passed for there to be an accurate determination as to whether same-sex marriage works or produces well-adjusted kids. At one point during the trial, Texas pro-traditional marriage sociologist Mark Regnerus stated that, “…intellectually, it’s frustrating to see social science close off a debate by saying this is settled.”

              I liken Regnerus’ intellectual sentiment and Heyses’ rhetoric about ‘waiting’ to those made about waiting to give American women the vote, waiting to release Japanese Americans from war internment camps, waiting to free African American slaves, and waiting to create child labor laws.

              All that historical waiting was based on intellectual gobbledygook and bogus self-serving pseudo-science and research.

              Parents in families with difference who are raising thriving kids already know what the rest of us are only just now beginning to realize: it’s not the family structure that fosters resilience (that ability to cope with problems and setbacks in healthy, productive ways) in kids.  Nor is it the letter of the law or misguided belief systems. For that matter, it’s also not lots of money and material things.

              Currently, I’m in the process of adopting my wife’s wonderful daughter. My being married, male and straight gives me the right and privilege in Michigan to do this. Our daughter is thriving too, and not because she lives in a home where her parents happen to have coupled in the traditional male/female way.

              Instead it’s because of love. Love of a kind that has no gender. Love that is ageless and has no color or sexual orientation or citizenship or ethnicity. It’s also because of heart and qualities like patience and tolerance. Combined, it’s as nurturing and affirming as it is protective and comforting.

              Here’s hoping the court gets out of its head, stops all the waiting, and shows some heart.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Don’t Let Fear Control You

              Anyone who’s traveled with little ones can appreciate how the thought of flying cross-country with a two-year-old can be intimidating. How about the idea of adding a three-month old to the party? For some, the notion can be downright paralyzing. I speak from experience.

              Recently, my wife and kids escaped this year’s Michigan winter weather and headed west for balmier conditions in Los Angeles. Getting things together for our vacation in L.A. was a pleasure. Shorts, sunglasses, flip-flops, etc. A piece of cake.

              Gathering what we needed for the plane ride was another matter. The majority of the items were for the kids, and planning for the flight reminded me of watching the movies like “Apollo 13” and “Titanic.” That’s because no matter how well we prepared, I was convinced the outcome still would be a disaster. If I’d have been charged with creating a movie title for our little trip, it would have been something like the “Vomit Comet.”

              Now I love my kids, but I’m no super parent. You know, the kind of gifted caretaker who never gets rattled by what their kids do or are going to do. I’m talking about me, myself and I. Ordinary Joe. So it was with great anticipation (check that, terror) that we planned our plane ride with the kids to the Coast.

              To be fair, I reckon our infant/toddler tandem are as well-behaved as the next set; we have our share of ups and downs with them. But last year we took this same trip with only our oldest. She was maybe 18 months at the time and reflecting on the experience as we planned gave me pause. That bundle of joy at times demonstrated quite well her exquisite ability to project her voice, not to mention execute her accomplished talent for squirming from what daddy wrongly considered his vice-grip arms. ‘Slippery as an eel’ is the phrase that comes vividly to mind.

              Despite my claims of being an emotionally mature adult, I was brought to my knees no problem by a toddler who wanted to stroll the cabin aisle at the exact times the airplane’s captain illuminated the Fasten Seatbelts sign. On realistic reflection, that flight felt worse than it actually was. Still the memory of my anxiety on that trip was haunting.

              So for our latest L.A. trip we planned. Exhaustively. Change of clothes? Check. Books? Check. Soft, noiseless toys? Check. Juice and milk? Check. Low sugar snacks? Check? Valium for daddy? Check. (True confession: we also had Baby Benadryl at the ready and I was fully prepared to deploy that ‘nuclear option’ on our two-year-old, if need be.)

              Still, anxiety was there and with it an ever-present fear that anything that might go wrong would go wrong. Blown out diapers, fall-out in the aisle tantrums, annoyed passengers, rattled parents, emergency landing in Kansas to banish the troublesome family of four – we were ready.

              We had prepared for the worst but hoped for the best. But a funny thing happened on the way to L.A. with the family: we made it incident free. Yeah, there were the occasional outbursts borne of confinement – the kids, not me; we shuttled each one to the lavatory two times each; an inflight magazine was shredded. But the world kept turning. No child- (or self-) medicating was needed. Mommy and I worked each problem as it arose, rotating babies, toys, books, bottles and goodies for four hours.

              Many times, fear can eclipse reality. It’s a lesson I continue to learn, forget and relearn. Try and keep that in mind next time an opportunity to try something new emerges. You might be surprised at just how pleasant everything turns out.  

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

“Coming Out” Ahead of the NFL Draft is Risky but Worth It

              Here’s to University of Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam. Last season he was selected as a first-team All-American. A few days ago, Sam stated publicly he’s gay. It wasn’t his first admission of this fact; just the biggest. That is to say, the 24-year-old was only repeating to a broader audience what he had shared with teammates at the start of football season.

              The move sets the stage for the gridiron standout to reportedly become the first openly gay player in the NFL's history who is actively playing. He’s not drafted yet but the outlook is favorable, controversy aside.

              Here we go again. Yet another athlete comes out. This time the sport is professional football, perhaps the biggest media stage in America for a sports figure. It’s a big deal too because the implications are huge. It’s especially so when, not if, he signs with an NFL team. And the walls keep tumbling down.

              On that day Sam will be, at least for a time, the biggest name in professional sports. And that’s a good thing. The six-foot-two, 255 pound 24-year-old from Hitchcock, Texas was voted 2013 co-defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference. That makes him a promising draft pick. And he’s knocking at the door of a venerable institution that has witnessed its share of barrier-breaching events, from a social justice perspective.

              I vividly recall a time in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when the NFL locker room started being invaded by intrepid female news reporters. For the longest time they were unwanted. Banned. Something about them “not belonging”, and it being “for their own good”. Now it’s commonplace. Most nobody blinks an eye. I’m ashamed to admit I was on the wrong side of history on that one back then and learned my lesson.

              But this column isn’t about sexism. It’s not about homophobia either. Instead, it’s about a human being’s dignity to work in a job for which he’s qualified and not be discriminated against because of who he might love. It’s also about a person’s unalienable right to be who he is and not be oppressed and pressured to hide his identity.

              “I don't think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet. In the coming decade or two, it's going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it's still a man's-man game,” said an anonymous NFL player personnel assistant to reporters at Sports Illustrated magazine.

              Anonymous, huh? Who’s in the closet now?

              Among the barriers related to the LGBTQ community, there are people who don’t understand and others who don’t want to understand. That’s tragic. Yet and still there are surely scores of closeted gay players already in the NFL and other sports, just as there are in churches and schools and other workplaces. They are “regular” folk who happen to be gay but hide it. Hide it for fear of persecution, ridicule or excommunication. Or termination – figuratively and literally.

              In a New York Times video interview, Sam said he came out when he did because a story was about to break and, as he put it, “I want to own my own truth.”

              It’s rather amazing when you think about it. For in coming out as he has, when he has – ahead of signing a contract and joining a team – he’s putting on the line his potential to live out the dream of playing professional football. He also is placing in jeopardy a whole lot of money and financial security. Yet something tells me Sam is a person willing to do just that. He is, to state it plainly, a man in full.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Beauty Pageants Show the Ugly Side of Humanity

The other day, while addressing the Polar Vortex-induced roof leak that had seeped through the bathroom ceiling, I took a break in front of the muted TV. It was silently airing the kind of lame infomercial I usually channel past. The remote was out of reach so I just kept watching. What I saw felt so revolting, it shook me to the core.
Although I couldn’t hear what was being said, it was a safe bet the sponsors were hawking beauty products since it showed a series of ‘before’ and ‘after’ images of women. At first I was struck by how all the women in the ‘before’ photos were already beautiful. The only difference in the ‘after’ images was that they wore more makeup. No big deal, initially.
Then the scene changed. Now the same women were clad in two-piece bathing suits and walking across a stage in front of an audience, apparently competing in a contest. Although the sound was down, I dismissed that this was some straight forward beauty pageant since their swimwear was rather modest, compared to racier swimsuits I’ve seen in my day.
...After. No wait! That's prince not princess.
Sitting in silence, I thought about what brand of pageant it might be. Some scholarship-based competition, I guessed. Perhaps of the sort where competitors demonstrate how well-rounded they are in order to win. It was then that I began regarding what I was watching as repulsive. And it wasn’t because of anything the women were doing.
Instead I was revolted by the implication that in order for a woman to compete and win a scholarship or whatever, they had to show off their body. Oh, I’m sure pageant organizers crafted some mumbo jumbo in the contest rules that explained the swimsuit category as a physical fitness segment or other fabrication. After all, there was also baton-twirling and the obligatory ‘world peace’ statement each contestant was also required to make.
Still, watching the beauty infomercial unfold, I gained a deeper awareness of the truth and it was like having a bucket of cold water thrown on me. That’s because reality has been right there in front of me all along to recognize – except for the meta brainwashing by the male-centered cultural conditioning (i.e., patriarchy) I’ve undergone since birth. And unfortunately continue to experience.
Watching in silence reminded me of the disturbing reality that accompanied the TV images and it wasn’t pretty: sex sells. Admission: it’s not as if in my younger days I didn’t know the real deal about why pageants like Miss America, Miss USA and Miss Universe conduct swimsuit segments; I just rarely went there in my mind. Back then it felt right to watch women be depicted in skimpy swimwear for my (and other males’) “benefit”. After all, it was just the natural order of things, right? Wrong.
Frankly, I almost give a pass to pageants like Miss Hawaiian Tropic, if it’s still even around. Almost. At least the sponsor made no bones that their exploitive contests was all about sexuality and bodies. Oh yeah, and suntan lotion. But compelling women to undress to win a college scholarship and then insist it’s merely about eating right and working out is disgustingly disingenuous.
Maybe I’m all bent out of shape about this because my oldest daughter turned 18 last month, she’s knee deep in popular culture (which encourages female exploitation), and is about to leave the nest. In any event, I got up from in front of the TV to go look at something that, if not as attractive as the images on the screen, was at least more honest: the water-stained sheetrock decomposing on my bathroom ceiling.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Learn to Enjoy the Ride, Even When You’re Stuck

Recently while waiting at the Baltimore airport to come home from a productive business meeting, I became aware of something disturbing. It was happening at the gate, continued on the plane and affects me to this day.
              It centered on the anxiety level of passengers and makes me wonder about the nature of people when we’re gathered in groups. Specifically, what is it that can drive us to be near our worst during times when we could instead be experiencing life at its best?
              My business colleagues and I were standing with others in a loosely organized clump, waiting our turn to line up and board the plane. There, I noticed a level of anxiety among passengers. It was mostly quiet, with the usual conversations going on – the game, the kids, the job. The wait. Typical stuff you’d expect to overhear when the line hasn’t started moving.
              Yet there also was a growing feeling of unease in a situation where it shouldn’t have been the case. After all, we had all passed security, held tickets and had assigned seats. There was some kind of delay though; short but measurable. Toward the front of the line was a small cluster of travelers from another country. I judged them to be tourists from their cameras and attire. They seemed not to understand English because of the way the gate person spoke to them.
              I think the trouble centered on loading zones. You know the drill: passengers with zone-one tickets board, then zone-two, etc. No big deal. Except the tourists probably didn’t understand the announcements and only saw passenger movement toward the gate.
              When in Rome, right? They were probably trying to board ahead of their zone assignments and didn’t understand why they were literally being pushed to the side.
              If I was gate agent, I would have went ahead and let them board. You know, be the welcoming American. Show world travelers we know how to treat visitors here. But that’s just me.
              Anyway, I finally get my turn. Which is to say, I handed off my ticket and stood in line again, this time along the jet way. Then again on the plane as folks stowed their luggage and found their seats.
              It was on the plane where I really noticed the anxiety, even among seated passengers. There was no apparent drama going on that I heard or observed. The atmosphere was thick with something and it wasn’t good will. I wasn’t the only one who sensed it; most faces I peered into betrayed uneasiness. And I’m fairly certain it wasn’t the way I looked or smelled.
              Kidding aside, I continued to regard fellow passengers, wondering if it was related to the plane’s cramped quarters. Or the tension associated with worry that there might not be enough room for luggage. Whatever the case, when the door closed and the jet pushed back, the mood of the cabin lightened up.
              It happened again though on the other end. After we landed and slowly approached the gate, a similar tension arose. It peaked when the plane came to a stop at the gate. People shot to their feet, as if a racing judge’s pistol had gone off. Except the track to the finish line was jam packed with people. No one could move.
              Sure, some folks may have been anxious to make their connecting flights but most just seemed wound up because of their hurry to exit the plane. It all seemed mob-like and irrational. It also felt Inhumane. Just to get off a plane. Instead of fretting a situation you have no control over, sometimes it might be better to simply sit back and enjoy the ride.