The world is full of ‘we.’ There is not them and us, there is only we. We create barriers, alliances, false fronts that divide us into warring camps. It is a disease older than civilization. It is a malady to which we too easily fall prey.
One of the barriers that we create is to confuse male with masculine, female with feminine and sex for gender. Sex revolves around plumbing- the sex organs that make us male and female- and these are actual physical differences. Masculine and feminine refer to gender and represent traits that we are taught belong to one sex or the other. I believe that males are more prone from birth to certain traits than are females and vice versa but that the sexes are inherently far more similar to one another than they are dissimilar.
Much of what we think of as feminine is a group of learned behaviors that females are taught to accept as norms. The same generalization is true for males and masculine. Boys and girls are born male and female but must learn what it means to be masculine or feminine.
Self identification of our sex is easy for most of us but accepting standards of conduct that are masculine or feminine can be far more restrictive. Men can be nurturing and emotive, traits that are considered ‘feminine,’ just as women can be assertive and posses great physical strength, traits that are deemed ‘masculine.’
Insisting that boys be masculine and girls feminine is a type of societal lunacy. I believe that each of us should be allowed to develop the characteristics that best complete us regardless of whether they are ‘gender appropriate’ or not. This can be a challenging standard for any parent to accept. Most of us are taught that boys should act certain ways and girls another and parents tend to feel anxious when a child strays too far from the social norm.
Of course not everyone feels comfortable identifying their gender with their sexuality. My friend Taylor is an example of this. I met Taylor when he was a fourteen year old girl named Calluna. Calluna was great friends with my son. They were in marching band together and both enjoyed playing video games.
Calluna was someone whom I trusted to do the right thing in trying circumstances. I trusted her so much that I allowed her to spend the night at my house and my son to spend the night at hers. When my son and Calluna were juniors in high school I asked my wife, “Do you think there’s anything going on between Max and Calluna?”
MY wife looked at me, smirked and said, “No. I don’t think so.”
Soon after graduation my son Max asked if I could start calling Calluna ‘Taylor’ and to use male pronouns when addressing him. Taylor came out pretty easily for me but changing from she to he and her to him was more difficult. I used Taylor’s name a lot when I first learned of his transitioning journey!
Calluna/Taylor and Max graduated from high school in June of 2009. Taylor’s girlfriend and Max were in a small community theatre production with me in the summer of 2010. Taylor would hang out at some of our rehearsals and one day the director, a friend of mine whom I love and respect, asked me, “What’s up with Taylor? He’s a little odd isn’t he?”
My honest answer of, “Taylor is transitioning from female to male. He used to be a girl,” received a response that sickened me.
My director friend merely crinkled up his nose and said, “Yuck.”
My personal ethics demand non-violence on my part. Violence is only appropriate when used in direct self defense. I had to remind myself of that at that moment. I felt like punching my adult friend in the nose!
Taylor was instrumental in personalizing the LGBT struggle for me. Calluna was a lovely if quirky young lady and Taylor is a lovely if quirky young man. I love Taylor and am proud to count him as a friend. When I asked if I could share a little of his story he told me he feels the need to stay closeted. When I heard this I again had to suppress the rage I had felt toward my director friend. I tend to be rather protective of my young friends and at 24 Taylor is still young enough to elicit a paternal response in me. I am proud to count him as a friend and I still count on him to do the right thing.
Taylor was hardly the first person I knew with gender identity issues and is far from being my first homosexual friend. (If one is transitioning from a female body to a male and is sexually attracted to women is that person homosexual? The important answer should be, “Who cares?”) I have come to the conclusion that unless I am planning to have sex with someone then that person’s sexual orientation should be largely irrelevant. I’m creeping up on 35 years of monogamy with my spouse and as I have no plans to break this streak of adherence to our marriage vows so whether someone is hetero or homosexual really shouldn’t change me perspective of him.
I met my wife when I was 19 and she had many tales to tell about her big sister, Selene. The stories I was told made Selen out to be a wild child who was interested in experiencing sybaritic pleasures. Selene had already been married and divorced when I met her and had received a reputation as the family black sheep- something that bonded me to her as I am the gray sheep in a family of otherwise upright, outstanding citizens! My first twinge of understanding that I had been mistaking ‘tolerant’ for ‘accepting’ was when my sister in law broke up with her second husband.
After many years of marriage and rearing their daughter to tweenhood Selene announced that she had found a new life partner. Selene’s latest love was different than previous because this time she had fallen head over heals for a woman.
I loved Selene for the wild spirit that she was. (The world lost her beautiful soul when she succumbed to breast cancer over 15 years ago, may she rest in peace.) I saw her Bohemian lifestyle, though storm filled and full of tribulation, as engaging and romantic. Because of a long history of loving men I was surprised when she told us her news concerning her sexual preference but I loved Selene in a detached way that differed from her siblings’ and I took each caustic and back biting joke said about her as a personal affront. My conception about the difference between an intolerant ‘live and let live’ attitude as opposed to a loving embrace of individuality and diversity began with Selene. Sometimes the gestation from conception to birth is short and sometimes long. For me it latest over ten years.
I recently posted the following on Facebook:
Today I realized that my five and a half years of performing on stage have changed, enlightened and delighted me more than any other span of time save the first years following our children’s birth.
That includes meeting, wooing and marrying my beloved!
Thanks to everyone who has been part of this journey.
This blanket statement is rather all encompassing but certainly applies to my move from toleration of LGBT to championing equality. You know that old cliche about theatre having a high percentage of homosexuals? I find it to be true. I also find my community theatre friends to be some of the most creative, interesting, thought provoking and genuine folks I know and of course that means that a lot of the theatre people that I admire and love are also gay.
I didn’t know it at the time but my big transition from tolerant to accepting occurred in the fall of 2010 when I was cast in an English language adaptation of Luigi Pirandello’s, “Six Characters in search of an Author.” In this play I was put in a situation where I spent a lot of time with a young man who poses a great talent for rubbing me the wrong way. (If you read my fiction you will find I frequently have obnoxious characters named Zach in my stories. I am not saying that there is a correlation between my young nemesis from the play and the name Zach, simply that when I write Zach, Zac or Zachary always appear as unsympathetic, gauche villains.)
The young man and I did not get along and he was a bit militant in letting the world know that he was gay. La-te-da. I did not like the young man and his brutish behavior did nothing to endear me to ‘his kind.’ I also played along side David Morton and Brian Smith in the same production, two of the most pleasant and endearing men I know.
David is old and grizzled- he’s two and a half years my junior so I now it’s true! -while Brian is about a dozen years younger than I but retains that coveted youthful look. (Brian was cast as my son in a different play a few years back but had to drop out of the production; only fair as I should not have someone my brother’s age playing my son!)
My first chance to speak with David was at our audition callback. He was up for the lead role while Brian and I were being considered for smaller parts. I had only been doing stage work for a year and as I talked to David he listened and as we compared acting roles he was both charming and disarming. In our conversation I learned that I had seen him portray Heck Tate that summer in a production of, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” one of my all time favorite plays. In retrospect I find his interaction with me even more engaging than I did at the time. David, a man who has acted for decades, chose to treat me as an equal though I had been in fewer than six productions. This is indicative of his embracing nature.
Brian Smith was also in my first Theatre Cedar Rapids production. He is tall and handsome, suave and kind. It is hard not to feel happier in his presence. He has a lovely ability to balance a striving for excellence with an easy going demeanor and I took to him right away.
What I didn’t realize at the time is that both men are gay, and really that’s the point. I know that many in the LGBT community feel a well deserved need to shout their sexual preference from the rooftop because there is such terrible discrimination against ‘them.’ We fall prey to the trap of us and them and in this victimization often fall short of realizing that we are all we.
My latest leap from tolerance to friendship to championing the cause of equality was achieved with the help of my young friend Cameron Byrd. As I said David is in his fifties and looks, as I like to say, ‘like a guy.’ Normal, run of the mill, just a dude. Brian is a beautiful man with a winning personality but my next realization of how far I still need to travel was handed to me by Cameron, a man just two years older than my older son Max.
Cameron is just short of swish, and when he performs as Miss Nevae Love he is way beyond swish! Charismatic, caring and upbeat I was a little taken aback the first time Cameron and I shared a stage and I experienced his pre-performance ritual of kissing me and the rest of the cast members on the cheek before the start of each show.
I am not the most touchy-feely man in the world and my slight shock at his open sign of respect, love and affection was a wake up call to me concerning how uptight I am in accepting displays of affection from men, gay or straight. This is a change I’m still working on and I credit Cameron for showing me another area where I need to broaden my horizons and be more accepting.
Embracing diversity is not tepid tolerance, it is the realization that if we can only love mirror images of ourselves then we are by definition narcissists. There is a joke about the Rainbow Flag, that ‘they’ stole the whole damn visible light spectrum. It’s a good joke, but the fact remains that black and white is boring and that we need all colors to make a rainbow. We all need to know that not only is it possible to love people that are different from us, but that if we desire a world of beauty, strength and equality that it is necessary to embrace that which differs from self.
After all, rainbows are for everyone.