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Image may contain: 11 people, including Keith Kenel, Tim Coyle, Sean Malone, Dan Bain and Susie Schoeck Pratt, people smiling, people standing and wedding

My father fell just short of being an absolutist, just shy of believing that an action was either right or wrong. While Dad was no kind of situational ethicist, he understood that there could be a gray area, a no-man’s-land if you will, between right and wrong. Though Dad knew that an ethical no-man’s-land existed he was also certain that the gray area between right and wrong was exceedingly slim and decidedly not universal.

 Dad was born three decades before the Catholic church began its self-reform movement that came to be dubbed Vatican Two. Vatican Two, announced in 1959 and completed in 1965, made for a less didactic, more open church, and my father, a devout Catholic, shared Pope John XXIII’s vision of reform, reflection and renewal. Pop was pretty hip for a man born the same year as the stock-market crash that ushered in the Great Depression. Pretty progressive.

My how the times make the man.

Our expectations of ethical behavior are shaped by our early life experiences. We are indoctrinated into a culture that declares certain actions good, certain actions evil and declares what activities are acceptable for man, woman, boy and girl. The majority of people living in early Twentieth Century USA knew that men naturally had certain roles, women others and that it was the duty of family, church and society to dictate and enforce these natural roles and expectations.

Pre-1960’s Americans knew it was essential to emphasize and impart this knowledge on every living, breathing soul and that only by adhering to these standards could Western Society stand. Such responsibility dictates the education of infant boys and girls from cradle onward to ensure that these future men and women became right thinking, right acting and God fearing citizens. (MAGA, baby!)

A corollary certainty for most early Twentieth C Americans was absolute knowledge that homosexuality was against God’s plan. Homosexuality was known to be so evil that the police and courts had a responsibility to prevent people from engaging in sexual activity with others of the same sex. Remember my father’s ethical no-man’s-land, his gray area concerning right and wrong mentioned above? Completely irrelevant to any conversation regarding homosexuality. One. Simply. Did. Not. Engage. In. Gay. Sex. And. Remain. Righteous.

Hey, we’re all products of our time.

My progressive, college professor father was at least as aware of the arbitrary and counterproductive nature of rigid societal norms, of expectations that men must act in one way and women another, as I am. He rejected the idea that plumbing dictates what jobs a person should be eligible for, he rejected the idea that boys play only with trucks and girls solely dolls. He knew that many societal edicts are counterproductive but he was very protective of that baby in the bathwater. He deemed reform good, change necessary, but, as with most of us, only within the context of his moral and ethical principles. Dad was never an, “Anything goes!” kind of guy.

I don’t know how far into puberty I was before someone called me gay but I do know I was mortified. “Gay!? No way! I am not!” Being called gay was a heinous insult and challenge against a boy’s value. It was more insulting than being called an atheist, a devil worshiper, or commie. Them was fightin’ words!

I don’t know when the first time was but I know that I was also mortified when Allison Warner, an age mate whom I dated for a short time in my senior year, called me a “Ladies Man.” Unfamiliar with the term, I was aghast until MS Warner explained that I seemed far more interested in doing things with girls than with boys. Boy, did she have that right!

Five years later my friend Suzanne Gattuso was hip deep in earning her PsyD, a doctoral program in psychology. In need of Guinea Pigs she administered a Stanford-Binet (R) IQ test and a MMPI, a Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, among others. We determined that I was far less masculine than the Minnesota boys whose profiles formed the test’s norming group.  I learned to live with my “femininity,” secure in the knowledge that, feminine or not, I was not gay.

Still, I struggled. I had no desire to be macho, but I was as inculcated into the value structure, the cultural edicts of my time, as were less introspective and outside the norm folks. I was a tolerator of homosexuality, a man uncertain whether it belonged in the right category or in that narrow strip of gray area between right and wrong. Born in ’61 rather than ’29, I did not think homosexuality should be illegal but same sex attraction made me very uncomfortable. “Live and let live.” “Each to his own.” But really? I was as certain of the superiority of heterosexuality over homosexuality as I am Democracy over Theocracy. Ironic, huh?

Another overused cliché is, “Live and learn,” an edict which I try very hard to live up to. Though I was an Equal Rights supporter for gays from my teens my tepid tolerance over loving embrace continued through nearly half a century. What happened to turn my world view? I got involved in community theatre. Theatre has been a treasure trove of opportunity for me to live and learn and through theatre I have made wonderful friends who are diverse.

Are you laughing at me because it took me nearly fifty years to figure that out? Me too, but while I may be slow, I can be taught, I can learn and I can love. Like a racist bigot who falls head-over-heals in love with someone not of his “race” I learned to unthink my ingrained from childhood prejudices and fully accept that love is love and the absolute certainty that every soul on this planet is entitled to love whom they please, societal straight-jackets be damned. Being friends with and having warm loving relationships with folks who happen to be gay was, to misquote Mark Twain, “the best cure for prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

My transformation didn’t happen overnight, I didn’t lose my prejudice from a single friendship any more than Mark Twain became a world traveler with his first stop in a  foreign port. My change was progressive and one of the latest installments included being in a very Gay-centric production of William Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens. In Timon I met Naveed Moeed, a man who suffered immense psychic pain because of his father’s and society’s insistence that he be something he was not. His father, like my own, was a product of his time, culture and religious background. When Timon concluded I began rehearsing for Nancy Frick’s Four Weddings and an Elvis where I am cast as the fabulously gay Bryce Cannon .

The picture above is from the Cary Player’s production of Four Weddings and an Elvis. I’m the big handsome lug in the gray suit with the pink shirt and the white tie. In that picture I’m wearing a shirt given to me by my friend Naveed Moeed. On my sleeves are cuff links that belonged to my father. I love the juxtaposition between my loving and man-of-his-times father’s cuff links and Naveed’s beautiful pink shirt. The cuff links and the shirt get along wonderfully, as though they’re made for one another, something we should all be able to do because love is love, hate is hate and with a recognition that strength comes from diversity and a warm acceptance of those unlike us we can make America great.