Saturday, January 31, 2015

Moment of Zen: Smile



I love to see a man smile.  It's such a turn-on.  I have a close friend who every day I have the supreme fortune to get to see his smile.  It doesn't matter what kind of mood he's in or how he's feeling, I get to see his smile.  It's one of the great joys of my life.  I don't always have many, but this week has been an exception.  On Monday, I wrote a post about being in the closet, because it was something on my mind.  On Tuesday, I elaborated on my situation for those who might not have understood.  It never occurred to me that I would get such a response out of those posts.  Not only did I receive quite a number of comments, but email after email has come in offering love, compassion, and support.  (I'm still trying to answer all of them.) Each one of those emails has made me smile, not something I find myself doing often enough these days.  People have said that they just felt the need to reach out, and for that I will be eternally grateful.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Today Will Be a Great Day



Honestly, I have no reason to believe that it will be, but this is how I'm going to start my day today.  I am going to tell myself that "Today will be a great day!"  First off, it's Friday.  Fridays are good.  Second, it's payday.  Paydays are good.  So with two things already going my way, I'm just going to believe they will continue to improve.

The Mayo Clinic says this about the power of positive thinking:
Negative thoughts can feed pessimism and create unnecessary stress. You can learn to turn negative thoughts into positive ones. The process is straightforward, although it's challenging, especially at first. Start by following one simple rule: Don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to anyone else. Throughout the day, stop and evaluate what you're thinking. If a negative thought enters your mind, evaluate it rationally and respond with affirmations of what is good about yourself.
I think I can take this advice.  When students begin to stress me, I will simply decide not to get angry but attempt to deal with the situation in a positive way.  Maybe turn it into a learning experience.  In fact, I did this the other day, and it worked out beautifully.  To give you an example, I have been teaching a unit on Ancient Chinese history, which includes the philosophies of Confucianism, Daoism, and Legalism.  Confucianism is all about respect and learning the order of relationships.  Daoism is the search for the natural balance in the world, but it is said that no one can truly understand the Dao (also translated as "The Way").  Daoists believe that those who speak of the way, do not know the way, and those who know the way, do not speak of the way.  Legalism teaches that human are naturally evil and must be beaten into submission with extremely harsh laws.  By the way, all of these are over-simplifications.

Earlier this week, I'd given my students an assignment to complete a study guide based on a list of terms I'd given them.  I would then go over the list of terms the next day for those who'd completed the study guide, showing them not just how to find definitions but more importantly how to determine the significance of each of the terms.  When I went around to check and see who had done the assignment, only six students out of twenty-five had completed the assignment.  So, I had those six com to the front of the room.  It turned out that three of the six had copied the study guide of one of the other students.  I told those four students to sit back down.  The two remaining who had completed the task would receive a 100 on the test without having to take it.

Then I explained to them my rationale.  You see, if they'd each followed Confucian beliefs, they would have respected me, i.e. their teacher, enough to complete the assignment and have it finished on time. Only the two who completed the task would have been allowed to take the test.  All others would fail.  Furthermore, if this were under a Legalist system, those who had not completed the task would face harsh corporal punishment while the four who cheated would be expelled from the school.  You see it was not fair for the students who did their work, to be rewarded with the correct answers and allow the other students to also receive the correct answers on the study guide, thus rewarding them for not completing the assignment.  Therefore, I needed to find a balance.

The two who had done what was asked of them, no more and no less, had in this instance found the way, the Dao, the balance.  Therefore, they alone should be rewarded.  Hose four who had cheated had done more than asked by taking the extra step of copying someone else's work, and thus had tipped the balance.  Those who had not completed the task, even if it was because they did not do "merely" two or three definitions, had not reached the balance of completing the assignment.  They too had failed to find the way.  If I did not go over the study guide, they'd surely fail, because my students are often too lazy, such as not finishing and waiting for the correct answer from me or by finding only the definition and not the significance of a term.

My solution therefore was to reward the two good students by not requiring them to take the test and automatically giving them a 100, whereas all of the other students would have to redo their study guides under my guidance, and then have to study for the test in order to pass it.  It was a rewarding teaching moment for me as I saw the understanding of these three philosophies truly click in their minds.  They are unlikely to forget them.  This may not have been a perfect lesson, I'm sure there were many flaws, but I did come up with this one on the SPIR of the moment, and it was not planned at all.  As any decent teacher learns to do, my students never knew I'd not planned this lesson from the beginning.

Will knowing the difference between Confucianism, Daoism, or Legalism help them in much more than possibly getting a question correct on Trivia Crack (a new iPhone game they are obsessed with, in case you're wondering)?  I doubt it, but what I do hope is that they will realize, in even a small way, that other belief systems are significant.  There is a greater world out there, and it's a world that we should understand better.

I really do have a passion for teaching.  I don't get moments like this very often, but on the rare occasions I do, it really does make it all worth it.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

My Love for You Will Always Be "Shiny!"



Will Lafferty and Kenny Scalia are both having sort of a day. Will gets fired for letting fifth graders read Harry Potter, and Kenny finds his boyfriend and his sex toys in bed with a complete stranger. When Will knocks over Kenny's trash can—and strews Kenny's personal business all over the street—it feels like the perfect craptastic climax to the sewage of suckage that has rained down on them both. 
But ever-friendly, ever-kind Will asks snarky Kenny out for a beer—God knows they both need one—and two amazing things occur: Kenny discovers talking to Will might be the best form of intercourse ever, and Will discovers he's gay. 
Their unlikely friendship seems like the perfect platonic match until Will reveals how very much more he’s been feeling for Kenny almost since the beginning. But Kenny’s worried. Will’s newfound sexuality is bright and glittery and shiny, but what happens when that wears off? Is Will's infatuation with Kenny strong enough to stay real?
If you've read many of my book reviews, then you know I am a tremendous fan of Amy Lane.  I love the emotions she brings out, though she is known by her monicker "Angst and Pain" Amy Lane,  her 2014 book Shiny! is one of her finest creations.  Not much angst and pain here, but a beautiful love story.  Lane has written romances about knitters, porn stars, and horse trainers, but underneath all of her greatest creations are the shy, awkward, and a bit geeky.  Two of my favorite characters, Shane Perkins and Evan Costa, are both closet geeks, while another favorite characters of mine, Wes "Whiskey" Keenan, is a teacher, professor actually.  Lane does a stunning job when she puts forth a character who is shy, awkward, and geeky, but in Shiny! she has outshone herself with a character I instantly fell in love with, Will Lafferty.  

Will is big and awkward, socially inept, loves science fiction and fantasy, and is a teacher, who has such a supreme passion for teaching, it makes my heart ache.  Lane is a former teacher, and the mind of an educator comes through so well in Shiny!, as Will shows what I can only believe was the enthusiasm that Lane showed as a teacher.  Those students who had Amy Lane as a teacher have to be some of the luckiest students in America.  Lane passion for education comes across in Will throughout the book, even though Will lost his job as a teacher in the first chapter.  When at the end of the book, Will explained why he'd let the students in the fundamentalist Christian school read Harry Potter, your heart leaps with joy for someone who can understand the supreme value of reading.

Don't get me wrong, I love the character of Kenny Scalia.  Kenny is full of worldly sass and really finds it difficult to trust and you just care so much for him.  He’s also fun and dorky and nice (though sometimes he forgets to be the friendliest of people, but it is unintentional).  Kenny is a fun character that serves as just enough of a contrast to make him the perfect fit for Will.  And it’s hard not to love him when he says things like this: 

“I was looking for sparkly.  I should have been looking for warm and real.”

Kenny finds warm and real in Will, but Will is the true star of this book for me.  He may not be as shiny as the outgoing Kenny, but he shines brighter than any character that I've ever been introduced to by Amy Lane.  Will's brilliance only shines brighter when in a nearly twenty-four hour period, he realizes that he is gay, when it took me nearly twenty-four years to realize.  With Will, it just all clicked into place.  However, Will, like I did, never thought it was a possible action to be gay.  For me, that was taught consciously, but for Will, it was just not something he is aware of.  Though it is a speedy coming out, which serves as a quick literary device, it mirrors my own coming out but mine was at a much slower pace.

No one can quite capture geeky awkwardness like Amy Lane can. Shiny! is a perfect example.  As you know, I often listen to audiobooks on my drive back and forth from school.  This was no exception and one of the things that makes this book even more enjoyable is the narrator Tyler Stevens.  I cannot say it any better than Lisa did over on her blog "A Novel Approach" so I won't try:

[Tyler Stevens] gives Will a voice that builds in confidence. Will was very quick to describe himself in the beginning of the story as “a totally average, normal, Christian-looking dude!” Tyler Stevens was able to build Will’s voice. At the beginning of the tale he did sound like an average, normal dude. When he discovers his “gayness,” he sounds like a kid in a candy shop discovering all sorts of new things. In the end he sounds confident, mature and completely in love. That’s what keeps a listener engaged, in my opinion. Not only did the story have a beginning, middle, and end, the narration did too. It kept me engaged throughout.

On a final note, the discussion Kenny has with Will about the realities of teaching as an out gay man, really brought this story home to me.  If you've read my posts Monday and Tuesday, you know I can identify with this.  Will is so good-natured and caring that he would never have been satisfied with not being able to be open and honest about the love of his life.  If Will were forced to hide his true self, whether it be his love of Harry Potter or that he loves a man, he wouldn't have been complete.  When a teacher has to hide a part of himself, then he is not able to give his all for his students.  When I've taught college, I had no reason to have to hide my sexuality, and it helped me to be a lively and engaging lecturer, but when teaching high school, there are so many parts of myself that I must hide and thus my students don't get the real me.

Shiny! really is a must read. It is Amy Lane at her finest.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

I Thank You



Sonnet: I Thank You
By Henry Timrod

I thank you, kind and best beloved friend,
With the same thanks one murmurs to a sister,
When, for some gentle favor, he hath kissed her,
Less for the gifts than for the love you send,
Less for the flowers, than what the flowers convey;
If I, indeed, divine their meaning truly,
And not unto myself ascribe, unduly,
Things which you neither meant nor wished to say,
Oh! tell me, is the hope then all misplaced?
And am I flattered by my own affection?
But in your beauteous gift, methought I traced
Something above a short-lived predilection,
And which, for that I know no dearer name,
I designate as love, without love’s flame.

Source: The Collected Poems of Henry Timrod (1965)

Since Henry Timrod's output before the Civil War was limited to verse sufficient only for a single volume—published in December 1859—his literary reputation at the time was modest. The political activities surrounding the formation of a new nation and the impact of the war itself aroused Timrod's poetic imagination, however, and he quickly became widely known as the literary spokesman and eventually as the so-called poet laureate of the Confederacy, an unofficial title he has retained ever since. After the war, poor health associated with the complications of tuberculosis and abject poverty related to political and social conditions in South Carolina during Reconstruction made it impossible for Timrod to fulfill the promise or equal the achievement of his wartime performance, and he died in 1867, two months before his thirty-ninth birthday. 

As a southern man who love poetry, history, and lost causes, who better to give my heartfelt thanks than the poet laureate of the Confederacy, Henry Timrod.  When I wrote my post on Monday, I was not prepared for the response I received.  I had merely wanted to explain my situation, though it took an extra post and a lot of soul searching and gut wrenching realizations.  I agonized over both of those posts.  I wrote and revised Monday's post many times over the weekend, and revised and revised my post on Tuesday many times before I was satisfied with it.  Like I said, I was not prepared nor had I even expected the outpouring of comments and emails.  So many of you have been so encouraging and understanding of the position I find myself in currently.  You all have given me hope and renewed my spirit. Thank my friends for I "know no dearer name, I designate as love, without love’s flame."  For I will hold the flame of love close to my heart until it burns brightly for a man for whom I can share my life and passions.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Why I Went Back, Why I Stay...For Now


Since I began this blog, I have always posted a poem every Tuesday.  This week will be different.  I will post the poem that I had ready for today, tomorrow.  I'm doing this because I wanted to address a few things about my post yesterday.  I would have answered these things in a comment or two, but there was a lot I wanted to say, more than I wanted to leave in a comment.  I want to thank everyone for their comments and for reading what I wrote, but I think a few things were misunderstood.

First, let me make it very clear that I was not attempting to have a pity party.  Yes, when I wrote that I was in a very depressive mood, and I was extremely worried about an event that had occurred and been on my mind.  I often deal with those issues by either talking them out, or writing about them.  This time, I chose to write about being in the closet on my blog.  It's my prerogative to be able to do so.  I apologize if it sounded like I was whining.  However, I wanted it to be in writing what it was like for me personally to be in the closet.  Many times I find that by writing about an aspect of my life, others can identify, and maybe for some it makes them feel better about their own situation to know that their own life is either better than someone else's, or to realize that they are not alone.  This blog is about all things gay, and it is my way of stating how I fit into that world and to put forth my knowledge of the gay world, however limited that might be.

Second, it was said that I was overly hyperbolic when I wrote, "Being in the closet is one of the most humiliating, degrading, and torturous things I can imagine."  First of all, I said "one of the most," I realize there are many other life circumstances that fall under that category.  However, I do believe that being forced to live a closeted life is a demeaning life.  People live closeted lives for many different reasons.  I have my own reasons, and while there are things I could do to change those circumstances, right now the cost would be too high.  Furthermore, before returning to Alabama, I lived an out and proud life.  I did not care who knew I was gay, nor did I care what they thought.  Those circumstances changed when I moved back.

Also, as it was pointed out, I'm a 37 year-old man who has never been married and loves poetry and literature.  My sexuality is an open secret.  Gay men who have lived in larger more metropolitan areas may not understand the full dynamics of what that means.  People may suspect, they may "know," but they can ignore it and merely snicker and gossip behind your back as long as they do not have proof.  Once they have proof, then they cannot ignore the facts, and they will decide to act and most will act negatively.

You might ask then, "Why the hell did you move back to Alabama?"  One word:  MONEY.  I was a graduate student, and I was at the limits of my finances.  I believed at the time that I had three choices.  I could continue working a meaningless job and continue to be non-productive with my dissertation; I could find a teaching job that would pay enough for me to finish my research; or I could move home with my parents, finish my dissertation, and save some money.  

The first option was not possible because my job did not pay enough for me to continue living over there and get a new apartment that I needed because my lease was up and my home was being rented to a family member of my landlord.  I worked extremely hard for the second option; however, after more than forty applications and several interviews, the economy bottomed out, and all but two of the jobs I applied for, cancelled their job searches.  In the case of one of those jobs I applied for, they had posted the wrong job description and when I was interviewed it became readily apparent that the job I'd applied for was no longer the job being offered.  That left me, with what I believed at the time to be my only choice: move home.

It was supposed to be for one year as I finished my dissertation and looked for a job.  Little did I realize that my graduate advisor would take a job elsewhere, and I would be stuck with a graduate advisor that neither believed in my research project nor believed in me.  He consistently did everything to hold back any progress on my degree.  My own bouts with depression over what I felt was my own failure in addition to living with my parents again, did not help the situation.  However, I continued to pursue jobs elsewhere, all while realizing (remembering) why I'd worked so hard to get away from home in the first place.  I do not get along with my father, not in the least, and my mother thinks I'm an abomination for being gay and pretends that conversation never existed.  I had thought we had each matured to an understanding that we could all live with.  I was wrong.  After application after application was sent through the local post office, the local postmaster stopped me one day to tell me that the local private school was hiring.  Unlike all of the other places I applied for, they were thrilled to have me, so I took the job.

My new job basically paid peanuts and my financial situation worsened considerably, especially after moving out of my parents' house.  For the first time in a year, I had some freedom.  Money continues to be what holds me back.  I cannot afford to quit my job, and I can barely afford to keep it. I realize now that I made a terrible mistake moving back to Alabama, but it's too late to change that now.  What is left is to attempt to escape again.  If you have ever been deeply in debt, barely treading water, and drowning little by little, then you may understand the depths of my despair.  It has been suggested that I just leave my job, move elsewhere, and force myself to land on my feet, but when circumstances keep going against me, and it seems like every decision I make is a bad one, there does not seem much hope at the end of the tunnel.  I am forced, for now, to keep my job and hope that as I continue to send in application after application to other places, one of those places might hire me.  Teaching jobs may be abundant in many places, but if you were to pay attention, the teaching positions in demand are not social studies or English positions.  So, I continue putting in applications.  I have applied to positions across the country and even some beyond, so geography is not an issue for me.  I will go where a job takes me.  Until one of those schools or colleges hires me, I feel trapped. And before anyone asks if I have considered non-teaching positions, be assured that I am looking for all avenues for which I am qualified, but teaching is my passion.

Furthermore, I do not blame my current circumstances on anyone but myself.  I am merely attempting to explain and not make excuses.  However, because I have a precarious situation, not all of which I am willing to outline on this blog, I do feel that my statement of "Being in the closet is one of the most humiliating, degrading, and torturous things I can imagine," is an accurate statement.  Maybe I should have said instead that being poor, drowning in debt, and in the closet after previously being out and open are a few of the most humiliating, degrading, and torturous things I can imagine, and I do live that everyday.  To at one time have my freedom and have it yanked out from under me due to a series of unfortunate events, some of which I was all too willing to do to myself, is very disheartening.  I made mistakes, and I am addressing those mistakes and making progress.  I will be the first to admit my mistakes and believe that we pay for those mistakes.  My job is currently my security, and trust me when I say that if I were out, I'd lose my job.  It might not be the reason they found for getting rid of me, but they would find a reason.

Finally, let me make it clear, I am not looking for your pity.  This is my fault.  I will find a way out of my current situation.  It will take time, but it will get better.  Of that, I have no doubt; God does have a plan for me and it does not include this current torture.  It's just a detour through the briar patches.  I may get a few scrapes and scratches, but I'll make it to the other side.  On that day, I will rejoice, but until then, I will trudge through using every resource available to me to overcome the obstacles in my way.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Closet



Being in the closet is one of the most humiliating, degrading, and torturous things I can imagine, and I live it everyday.  I hate it, but life circumstances have demanded it for now, hopefully, that will change someday soon.  Teaching at a small conservative private school, where gossip is a sport that ranks up there with football makes it even worse.  To explain, my students are taught by parents and pastors that being gay is disgusting and sinful.  They hear their parents constantly make racist and homophobic comments, and so words like faggot and nigger roll off their tongues like any other word.  My students learn quickly that any derogatory language will not be tolerated in my classroom or in my presence.

To give an example of the attitudes that I am trying to fight against and teach more tolerance to, let me tell you about teaching the Holocaust.  As I was describing the systematic murder of 11 million people, including 6 million Jews and 1.1 million children, my students were laughing, joking, and gossiping.  One had the gall to ask me to tell a holocaust joke, because they think it's funny.  I was beyond furious and frustrated.  If I could just make them understand that it is attitudes like these, the attitudes of hatred and indifference that led to the Holocaust in the first place, maybe they would take life more seriously, but as long as there is no support from parents and pastors, the role of teachers is diminished.

They do not understand the consequences of their actions, and a large part of that has to do with their parents who have always gotten them out of trouble and made them believe that there are no bad consequences.  I have a few students who find it one of their great joys to gossip about my sexuality.  They have tried in every way to out me, but yet they don't understand the consequences of their actions.  So I wanted to simply put in writing what some of those consequences would be.  First, I'd lose my job, publicly and humiliatingly.  There would be those who would fight for me to keep my job and those who would fight for me to lose it.  It would either become an ugly public battle in the community, or I'd leave quietly with my tail tucked between my legs not being given the chance to fight.  

Second, if I lost my job, in this economy, it could prove impossible to find another teaching job.  I love teaching, but there just aren't that many jobs available.  Yes, the economy may be getting better, but anyone who is familiar with the politics associated with education knows, education, especially higher education, takes the first budget cuts when there is economic turmoil, and it is education that is the last sector to see a recovery once the economy improves.  I may get frustrated with my students but I truly have a passion for teaching.  Anyone who knows me, knows how excited and passionate I get about new ways to teach subjects, spreading the knowledge I've accumulated over the years, and seeing someone have even a glimpse of interest in what I talk about.  Yes, I get frustrated with students, but the pros outweigh the cons.

Furthermore, my family would be humiliated.  Grant it, I think my family should love me no matter what and accept my sexuality for what it is, but that's a fantasy and not the reality.  They would face ridicule and gossip behind their backs and sometimes to their faces.  I've dealt with this all of my life, and it would devastate me to know that I was the cause of those I love facing the same torture.  They would suffer as much as I would, and even if they accepted my sexuality, they'd still be ridiculed and shamed.  All for something that I cannot change, and that God created as part of who I am.  I can no more change my sexuality than a black man can change his skin color or a leopard his spots.  I was born gay, I have always been gay, and I will always be gay.

I wish we lived in an ideal world where homophobes were the ones who were shamed, where racists were derided, and no one ever had to live in a closet.  Sadly, that world does not exist.  I hope it will some day, but it is a long way away.  What I would settle for now is that people understand the consequences of their actions.  Cruelty and gossip can have devastating consequences far beyond someone's understanding.  There is a snowball effect that can occur and slowly, deliberately, and effectively destroy someone's livelihood and life.  The life I live, I live because I have certain circumstances and obligations.  Because of that, my depression often worsens.  I hope one day I will not only be out completely, but I will also be out of this current situation.  Alabama is not the best place for me, at least not the part of Alabama where I currently live.

Alabama may have seen their gay marriage ban ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge, but Alabama hasn't changed much since the 1960s when federal judges declared one segregation law after another unconstitutional.  Just because something becomes law through the courts, does not mean that it will be accepted.  Discrimination will continue against the LGBT community, just as it did for the African-American community.  As Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, said when he was accepted last year into the Alabama Hall of Fame, Alabama and the nation "have a long way to go" before realizing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of equality (and I realize King's dream of equality did not reach to LGBT Americans).  Cook went on to say that Alabama was "too slow" to guarantee rights in the 1960s, Cook said, and "still too slow on equality for the LGBT community. Under the law, citizens of Alabama can still be fired based on their sexual orientation"  Cook went further and stated that "We can't change the past, but we can learn from it and we can create a different future."

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Equality in God's Eyes



A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
John 13:34-35

God does not show partiality or favoritism (Deuteronomy 10:17; Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9), and neither should we. James 2:4 describes those who discriminate as “judges with evil thoughts.” Instead, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (James 2:8). We should do our best to make people feel welcomed and loved.  One of the ways many of us discriminate and not realize it is through gossip.

Gossip is incredibly damaging. All people whose reputation or relationships have been damaged through gossip would have no trouble identifying it for the evil that it is. God’s Word speaks plainly about gossip. It hurts others: “The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body"  (Proverbs 18:8).

James, the half-brother of Christ, explains why gossip occurs: “For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison" (James 3:7-8). Sadly, it seems that everyone eventually finds himself or herself the recipient of gossip and tempted to gossip about others. The tendency to gossip is part of human nature, and taming the tongue requires God’s help.  When we gossip, we show contempt for others in a malicious way.  In my belief, that is another way in which we discriminate because we gossip about something that is different about another person.

Jesus commands us to love one another as He loves us (John 13:34). If God is impartial and loves us with impartiality, then we need to love others with that same high standard. Jesus teaches in Matthew 25 that whatever we do to the least of His brothers, we do to Him. If we treat a person with contempt, we are mistreating a person created in God’s image; we are hurting somebody whom God loves and for whom Jesus died.

Gossip and discrimination, in varying forms and to various degrees, has been a plague on humanity for thousands of years, but it doesn't make it right.  Victims of racism, homophobia, prejudice, and discrimination need to forgive. Ephesians 4:32 declares, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Homophobes may not deserve your forgiveness, but we deserved God’s forgiveness far less. Those who practice racism, homophobia, prejudice, and discrimination need to repent. “Present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Romans 6:13). May Galatians 3:28 be completely realized, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”