It’s Not Where You Start: If I Could’ve Been

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was in the first grade, I had a really spectacular teacher named Mary Caiza. She exemplified everything you could ever want in a teacher. She was kind and caring and made every student feel like a superstar. She encouraged creativity and imagination, and modeled these traits by telling us stories of her playful dogs (named Jack and Jill) and bringing in photographs of her neighbor’s duck-shaped mailbox that changed outfits as often as Barbie.

One day, she gave us an assignment to write and illustrate a poem. I still remember my first-grade thought process. “Everyone else is going to write a rhyming poem, but I know that poems don’t have to rhyme. I’ll write a poem that doesn’t rhyme so that mine will stand out. I don’t know what to write a poem about, but I really like Where the Sidewalk Ends, so maybe I can rip that off.” Please note, I was envisioning pastiche, not plagiarism.

So I wrote a poem called “Where the Sea Ends” (oh, the cleverness of me!), and I drew a beach with some seagulls, and handed it in. I (thankfully) can’t remember the actual content of the poem (although I do still have it, in a box that will get unpacked as soon as I remember to borrow my parents’ scanner so I can preserve its contents). But I do remember Mrs. Caiza’s reaction. She enthused about my effort and encouraged me to keep writing. It was that moment that I decided I wanted to grow up to be a writer.

Of course, being me, I wouldn’t be happy unless I grew up to eclipse Shakespeare. In fact, my Harvard application essay was about this very notion. If you’re going to do something, why not aim to be the best at it?

When I was in high school, I got very involved in Judaism via USY, the youth group of the Conservative Movement which, contrary to its name, is one of the liberal streams of Judaism. My time as a USY leader shaped the man I grew up to be, probably more than any other experience in my youth. And one thing became clear to me as a teenager: when I grew up, I wanted to be an involved Jewish layperson. But I definitely did not want to be a Jewish communal professional.

Oops.

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It’s Not Where You Start: Sleepy Man

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

I have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a condition that prevents your air passages from staying open on their own while you sleep. For most people, your body deals with this situation by waking you up every time the passage collapses on itself, which in my case was close to 60 times a minute (that’s once a second!) when I try to sleep unassisted. When you wake up that often, you don’t necessarily feel conscious, but when you wake up “for real” in the morning, you feel as if you haven’t slept at all because, well, you haven’t.

There are generally two reasons why someone develops sleep apnea. Either they are massively obese — viewers of The Biggest Loser are familiar with the condition because it’s frequently listed among the reasons why being fat makes the contestants miserable — or their throats are just made that way. Sadly, I fall into the latter category. Each time I see my doctor, she begins a lecture about how I could lose a few pounds (and I know I could), but she stops herself short once she points her microscope at my throat, realizing that no matter what my weight, sleep apnea is my lot.

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It’s Not Where You Start: Not On Your Nellie

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

I don’t believe I have ever voted against a Democratic candidate for office, unless you count the primaries when we choose one over the other. For years I was registered to vote unaffiliated — in part because my parents brought me up to value maximizing my flexibility. In Massachusetts, where the Democratic candidates are often (but, alas, not always) assured victory, it can be strategic to vote in a Republican primary. But several years ago I decided to make my Democratic affiliation official. The party gets my support at the polls, they deserve to be able to count me in their membership rolls.

I did not vote for President Obama in the primaries, but once he became our candidate, I have supported him wholeheartedly. But that doesn’t mean I have supported him blindly. Continue reading

It’s Not Where You Start: The Day After That

Originally posted on It’s Not Where You Start.

I’ve been thinking about what it means to be an ally. With the recent surge in online awareness-raising around GLBT teen suicides, I’ve noticed many of my straight friends are hearing the word ally used in this sense for the first time. But I’m going to reflect on myself as an ally, specifically with regards to transgender inclusion and rights.

Some of us in the queer world say “GLBT” out of habit all the time, when the truth is, we often only mean “gay,” or “gay & lesbian,” or somewhat less often, “gay, lesbian, and bisexual.” Gender-variant people — whether they identify as a gender other than the one that usually goes with their biological makeup, or they experience gender in a way that doesn’t fit neatly into the two boxes our society provides — have a lot in common with GLB people in terms of being second-class citizens. But the ways in which transgender, genderqueer, and other gender-variant people are threatened in our society are unique — and often exist within gay/lesbian/bisexual spaces as well.

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It’s Not Where You Start: By My Side

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, particularly online, for the various movements to stem the tide of GLBT-suicides and anti-GLBT bullying. From It Gets Better to Make It Better to Do Not Stand Idly By to Spirit Day, my Twitter, Facebook, and RSS feeds have been overwhelmed with friends, acquaintances, and strangers proclaiming their support.

In the past, I have generally been somewhat skeptical about these sorts of campaigns. What real impact do we make by proclaiming our support for something that most people who know us already assume we support?

But this time around, for me, it’s been difference. The recent string of gay teen suicides has really upset me. I’ve been involved in GLBT activism for years now, so the abhorrent statistics about GLBT teen suicides aren’t news to me. But the juxtaposition of these suicides against the news of the day — the battles around Don’t Ask / Don’t Tell, gay marriage, even the publication of gay wedding announcements!! — it was too much for me. It reminded me of the days in 2004 when we waited for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s decision about gay marriage. Although I felt the arc of history curving in the right direction, I had to stop reading the newspaper every morning. The pages were filled with quotes from the anti-marriage people filled with such hatred — how could I not take it personally?

What has sustained me through this current crisis has been the public support of so many friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Instead of taking the words of the haters personally, I have chosen to take the words of those expressing support personally.

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It’s Not Where You Start: Freedom

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

With all of the activism I’ve been doing over the past couple of weeks around GLBT visibility and rights, I’ve been thinking a lot about queer ethics. I spent high school figuring out what gay identity meant for myself and how that got negotiated in individual relationships. I was, generally speaking, in the closet.

And yet by the time I graduated I had a close circle of a dozen or so friends whom I had told, and another half-dozen or so guys with whom I had never had a conversation about gay identity, but I assure you they got the message.

I came out to my parents the day they dropped me off at college. A week later, as the period for choosing classes began, I discovered a freshman seminar on the subject of Homosexuality in American Literature and Culture since 18something something. Freshmen seminars were small classes of fifteen or fewer students with one professor. They were highly selective, with an application process that involved writing essays and having a one-on-one interview with the professor. And I knew I had to be in this class. Thus began stage two of my gay-identity formation: understanding who I was in relationship to a community and a history.
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It’s Not Where You Start: God Help the Outcasts

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

Today is National Coming Out Day.

Coming out is an ongoing process. The first time I told someone (out loud!) that I was gay was in 1993. It was New Year’s Eve, and for some reason I was home alone. TBS had a triple-feature of “sing-along” musicals — Grease, Viva Las Vegas, and West Side Story, each outfitted with lyrics & a bouncing ball to earn them the sing-along moniker — hosted by Tommy Tune. I watched the entire triple feature, and then some, while on the phone with my friend Amy, who was also spending the night at home, across town.

Why didn’t we just decide to meet somewhere? Neither of us drove yet, and I guess it didn’t occur to us to take a cab? Who knows. In some ways, the simultaneous intimacy and distance the phone provided was just what we needed. We were already at that point best friends. And we each had something we wanted to share with the other. So unfolded what we have come to refer to as our Epic 13-Hour Phone Call. (And yes, we called it that before epic became the most overused adjective of our generation.) I was so sure Amy was going to tell me she was gay. She didn’t. That didn’t come until many, many years later. She had a different revelation, but knowing that we each had something to share, something that made us worried and vulnerable, made it easier for me. Coming out is always a risk. Coming out the first time is terrifying. But knowing that we each were taking a risk equalized what is normally a treacherously uneven power dynamic. Of course, we both knew that we were devoted to each other and there was pretty much nothing either of us could have said that would have threatened our relationship. But that didn’t make it any less scary.  Continue reading