Monday, July 28, 2014

The Bird Cage Still Relevant, 8 Years Later

Last week, I watched the hilarious “The Bird Cage” for the umpteenth time.  Based on the play, “La Cage Aux Folles,” it’s a screwball comedy of gay characters trying to pass as straight for a dinner meeting with an Ohio Senator who finds Billy Graham too liberal and is a Vice –President of the Coalition for Moral Order.

The Setting
Senator Keeley (Gene Hackman), his wife Louise (Diane Wiest) and daughter Barbara (Calista Flockhart) come to South Beach, Miami, Florida to divert the public at home from the news that another Ohio senator died in bed with an underage prostitute.  Keely believes that maybe meeting his new in-laws in Florida will appease his right wing constituents by promoting family values.  Little does he and his wife know that the in-laws Robin Williams(Armand Goldman) and Nathan Lane(Albert) are gay, live over and operate a popular drag nightclub in S. Miami Beach and have a Guatemalan shoeless housekeeper (Agador Spartacus) (Hank Azaria) who is flamboyantly gay. (My son finds the gay characters stereotypical and won’t watch the movie.  They are stereotypical, but their orientation advances the plot ).

For this meeting, the straight son, Val (Dan Futterman), is engaged to Barbara Keely. He is the son of Armand and Katherine Archer (Christine Baranski), now divorced, and wants his father to rid himself of all gay ambience in his home, including Armand’s partner Albert.  The house, within a day, goes from splashy with male fertility figures to monastic, complete with crucifix and austere furniture.

At this request, Armand and his lover of twenty years, the more dramatic and insecure of the two, Albert, are insulted.  Not only do they have to hide their belongings, but also their identity.  Williams does not ad-lib as much in this movie and is restrained, but nevertheless has the most poignant line in the whole movie that always brings a tear to my eye: “Yes, I wear foundation. Yes, I live with a man. I’m a middle-aged fag.  But I know who I am, Val.  It took me twenty years to get here, and I’m not gonna’ let some idiot senator destroy that.  F—k the senator, I don’t give a damn what he thinks.”

Albert wants to pretend he’s Val’s uncle, Uncle Al, but Armand quips: “What’s the point?  You’d be Val’s gay Uncle Al.”  Of course, Armand and Albert acquiesce and pretend to be straight to please Val.  Even Agador puts clothes  and shoes on for a change and asquerades as a cook in the house.
The Plot Thickens
Mayhem ensues as in Some Like It Hot when the identities that are trying to be under wraps are exposed. While the year of the movie is 1996 when President Clinton banned gays in the military and Albert, who is trying to pass himself off as Val’s mother, “the old-fashioned girl from Corners Grove” says to his dinner guests: “You know, I used to feel that way too until I found out that Alexander the Great was a fag.  Talk about gays in the military!”  Typical clever funny line brought to you by Mike Nicholas and Elaine May.
Issues Still Hot Today
While the comment about gays in the military may seem dated, the fact that some straight children are still embarrassed and teased about having gay parents still holds true today.  Armand even refers to the fact that he told Val’s kindergarten teacher that he had a different profession so Val wouldn’t be teased. 
Like any parent, Armand and Albert are concerned that Val is getting married too young, at age 20. 

Barbara knows her Republican parents so well and like Republicans under the age of 30, approves of same-sex marriage.  (The latest Pew Research Council poll, May 31, 2014, showed that 61% of Republicans under age 30 favored gay marriage while only 22% of Republicans over the age of 65, approved. )  So, Barbara Keeley who “gets it” and knows her audience (parents) says to her parents that the Coldeman’s (pronounced so not Jewish) South Beach residence is about 2 minutes from Fisher Island where Jeb Bush lives.” Senator Keeley, while portrayed a bit too right-wing is on target with his party’s stance.  Says Armand:  “Albert, these people are right-wing conservatives.  They don’t care if you’re a pig, they just care if you’re a fag.”

Sad, but true.  While the one-liners are great and the charade raucous, there is an undercurrent of truth that gay people are masking themselves, hiding their true sexual orientation to try to please the moral majority, who are in effect, trying to appear self-righteous.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Testing The Undereducated

  • CDC’s Recent  Sexual Orientation Survey Has Flaws

In the July 22 article in The New York Times entitled “Questions of Orientation,” http://New York Times/7/22/14/Questions of Orientation, Jan Hoffman writes about the inadequacies of gathering information about sexual orientation.  For the first time, respondents were asked about their sexual orientation while taking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s annual National Health Interview Survey. 

Findings of Survey

Out of 34, 557 adults ages 18 and older, the survey reported 1.6 percent said they were gay or lesbian.  These numbers are probably low, according to Gary J. Gates, of the Williams Institute of Law at UCLA that focuses on law and policy issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity.  The survey did not measure sexual identity, only sexual orientation.

Problems Inherent In Most Sexual Surveys

Most surveys, including Gallup polls are not truly reflective of the GLBTQ population because:
  • ·      The administrators of these tests don’t define what constitutes sex.  For example, are you still a virgin if you’ve had anal, but not vaginal,  sex? 
  • ·      If you are a guy who has had sex with another male, does that make you gay or were you just experimenting? Do you identify as heterosexual because you are now having sex with females?  Or does your sexual experience with both females and males render you bisexual?

  • ·      In the NHIS survey, slightly over 2 percent identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual. There was evidence that bisexuals perceive more stigma and discrimination than gay and lesbian people.  They reported high levels of psychological distress. ( In our society, some regard bisexuals as being promiscuous, having more partners as well as wishy-washy because they can’t decide if they are gay or straight)
  • ·      Young people under 30, six percent identify as LGBT.  They are more open about their sexuality. Older respondents, according to Gallup data, are three percent and less likely to disclose their orientation.

It is always difficult to obtain an accurate picture of sexual orientation when the interviewer doesn’t elaborate on definitions, and the respondent is willing to disclose his orientation and/or identity without feeling he/she is being judged.

Otherwise, the findings of the testings may as well be in the closet, as so many of the interviewees are.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Introducing Your Gay Partner To Your Straight Parents?

When Is A Good Time?
After a long, cold winter, it’s finally summer.  Time for long weekends or a week’s or two’s vacation at the beach with friends or the annual family reunion at the lake?
You want your significant other to share these times with you.  Being in the throes of the new relationship, you want to show off your boyfriend to everyone.  But when is the best time to introduce your folks to your lover. Here are some guidelines that may make the meeting less tense and more simpatico:

Considerations Before The Attempted Visit

  • ·      If you’re not OUT to your family, don’t expect your boyfriend to come out for you.  It would not only be presumptuous for him, but alienate your family.  It’s your job to communicate this important piece of your self.
  • ·      Consider what your parents’ reactions will be to your partner.  What will their behavior be like?  Will your boyfriend be uncomfortable and   ill at ease?  Is he OUT?  You don’t want to have a charade where you introduce him as your friend.
  • ·      If your parents have had a tough time digesting the fact that you are gay, this trip may be premature.  Give your parents time to get used to the fact that you are gay, accept your sexual orientation, before you introduce your boyfriend.
  • ·      It might be a good idea for you to introduce the idea that your partner is coming home with you first to gauge their reaction to the notion.
  • ·       Don’t introduce your date to your family too early. (This is true for heterosexuals as well). You’ll know within two or three months if this relationship is worth pursuing.

During the Visit

  • ·      Don’t spring a surprise meeting.  Arrive when you say you will.
  • ·      If the extended family is homophobic and is going to be at the reunion, consider another time to present your boyfriend – not Christmas with its frenetic pace, and attention to detail – but one-on-one with your folks.
  • ·      It may take time for your partner and your family to get comfortable with one another. Don’t rush it!
  • ·      If the initial meeting does not go well in your opinion, introduce your lover at another time that isn’t chock full of commitments and more relaxed. 

Hopefully, the slower, shoeless pace of summer will be more conducive to acquaint your parents to your partner.  Don’t expect miracles at the first meeting but try to schedule more time among you to increase familiarity and foster the kind of intimacy you are seeking.  

Sunday, July 6, 2014

National Blame Someone Else Day, July 13, 2014

 Don’t We Blame More Often?
Human nature seems to dictate that it is much easier to blame someone else than accept responsibility for your actions that may thwart or disappoint you.  Sunday, July 13, is supposedly “Blame Someone Else Day.”  I don’t know about you, but I can find myself blaming others for my shortcomings on a daily basis. Why do I need a special day for my actions?
However, as the mother of a gay child, now thirty-one, I learned not to blame my child for the disappointment I initially felt because his life would not be what we envisioned for him: no marriage, grandchildren, openness about whom he is dating.  Of course, nowadays (2014), it is possible for your child to have a same-sex marriage, albeit not in every state, and to parent a child through adoption or surrogacy.
Causes for Blame
As the parent of a LGBT child, you can not afford to blame your child for causing your initial unhappiness.   You may be annoyed that he/she, in your mind, has put you in a position where you feel guilty (what have I done to this child to cause him to be gay?), shameful (what do I tell my friends and how do I deal with the school he/she attends?), angry that your family now has a member who is affiliated with a minority group, that some people hate, through his sexual orientation.

Your child has probably already blamed himself for being attracted to the same sex. He/she probably wished he’d be straight so his life would be so much easier and he would be more readily accepted. But this lifestyle is not a choice.  If it were, many GLBT people would choose to be straight.  Wouldn’t it be simpler to not be a member of a minority group that the religious right condemn?

According to Kevin Jennings, MA,  founder of GLSEN (Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network), 2003, and author of Always, My Child (2003),” the fact that your child is LGBTQ is not a reflection of your lifestyle, your parenting skills or your masculinity or femininity.” You have not committed an unpardonable sin now visited on your child.

In short, your son or daughter should not be blaming you for what he perceives as a loss nor conversely should you blame him/her for stirring up a torrent of emotions that make you uncomfortable.
If blame is your modus operandi, you could 
  •        benefit from talking to someone who has an LGBT child and has gone through a similar experience when their child “came out.”  Or perhaps a gay-friendly therapist could help you work through your unsettling feeling.  
  •     A nearby chapter of PFLAG (Parents for Lesbians and Gays) has parents who’ve been there and can advise you.   
  •    Human Rights Campaign is just one organization that can refer you to websites and books that can educate you about parenting a gay child.

Although parenting is parenting, as the straight parent of a gay child, you have additional issues to contend with.  Your child looks to you for unconditional love and acceptance.  That’s hard to do when he is blaming himself and you are blaming the world!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

National Forgiveness Day - Not With a Bang but a Whimper

I’m sure most of you did not know that June 26, 2014 was Forgiveness Day.  It wasn’t recorded on your Smartphone, discussed in church or advertised as a Hallmark moment. The day went unnoticed.

Guilty Thoughts Plague
You have to sin in order to be forgiven.  Many straight parents when their children come out, feel as if they are to blame.  Along with a tempest of other typical  reactions such as denial, fear, shame, loss, anger, guilty thoughts can plague a parent:
·      If I were a good parent, he/she would have confided in me sooner.
·      I must have done something wrong as a parent.
·      I must have caused this.

Mea Culpa
Truth is you have done nothing to cause his/her sexual orientation. As Lady Gaga sings, you’re” Born This Way” (or so many think who are polled about the reasons for homosexuality).

 You can not force your child into therapy to “straighten” him out.  In fact, this sexual reorientation therapy so-called “conversion therapy” has been outlawed in California and New Jersey and according to the American Psychological Association has resulted in increased despair, guilt, shame on the LGBTQ individuals who attend the conversion camps. Nor is there evidence to suggest that early abuse causes homosexuality.

Although you, like most parents, probably have unconscious expectations for your child, your child is really not an extension of you.  In the fullness of time, you will let go and let your child be someone you didn’t envision him to be.

Guilt Works Both Ways

Similarly, your child, particularly in the early stages of his self-discovery, may feel guilty about his orientation.  He/she may internalize society’s homophobia and feel guilty that he may not be attracted to the opposite sex. He also may know he is disappointing you because he is not leading a life expected of him; consequently causing him despair and shame.

Both parent and child feel guilty about a life that is not chosen, but simply given. The role of the parent is to help your child become whole and authentic and the role of the child is to develop into that being.

You didn’t cause his gayness nor did he cause your guilty thoughts.  Both of you should be absolved of your self-shaming notions that don’t require forgiveness for you’re never sinned.