29 May 2010

Dream Come True, Round Two

Disclaimer (you'd expect this from a lawyer's blog): This post is part of ongoing if intermittent efforts to keep from sounding like Johnny One Note and show that Scrum Central's author does have a somewhat balanced life outside the handful of subjects that tend to dominate discussion here. Said author actually hesitated to even mention the subject of this post, not wanting to give the wrong impression, but ultimately concluded that bona fide excitement over a special event and truthful sharing with friends could stand on their own merits.

OK, that's over. Now on to the fun stuff. The handful of you who've read this blog for more than a few weeks know how much I love big cathedrals and pipe organs. Some years ago when I was in Washington D.C. on business, I remembered a prior visit and question to the National Cathedral staff as to whether they ever allowed guest organists to play or practice on the cathedral organ. Sure, they said, if you have the right experience and make prior arrangements.

So before that trip I called them up and asked. And they said yes! So for 90 minutes that Saturday morning I had the National Cathedral all to myself and made the roof tiles shake. This is the 6th largest cathedral in the world, mind you, 83,000 square feet of space, with a nave over 450 feet long. And one of the world's biggest pipe organs. It was like being an experienced but humble private pilot used to maybe four seater planes suddenly being invited to fly a B-1 Bomber or a new 747. That experience made me immune to any lure of drugs or alcohol, since no chemical could equal the natural high of having that huge instrument at my command, making such incredible sound in such an incredible space.
Well guess what. The weekend before the 4th of July this year we will be back in Washington D.C. So I called up the National Cathedral again and asked again. A day later, the Cathedral Organist himself called back and said Sure, you'd be welcome, what time would work for you? I said You pick, you're going out of your way to accommodate me on a very busy pre-holiday weekend and I will take whatever time's most convenient. He called back later that day and said "The Cathedral organ is yours from 7 pm onward on Saturday 3rd July. Stay as long as you want, security is there 24/7. Enjoy!"

If you're a writer, this is like being invited to write for the New York Times. If you're an athlete, it's like being invited to play as a guest member of a pro team. If you're an artist, it's like having your work hung in the Louvre. As a musician, to have one of the world's most powerful instruments completely at my disposal, in such an incredibly beautiful place, is intoxicating. Literally a dream come true. I can't wait. So you'll understand my excitement and my wanting to share. BTW, that picture there isn't the whole organ. It's only about 1/4. There's another group of pipes just like that on the other side of the choir aisle just above the organ console--which has four keyboards--and another one at the far end of the cathedral nave, over the main entrance. And another at the head of the choir I think.

If you want a taste yourself, here's a clip of one of the pieces I'll be playing, done in the National Cathedral and on the same organ. So this is what I'll sound like. Though I'll play this piece a little faster. Nobody will enjoy this as much as I will, but I hope you like it even so!

25 May 2010

I'm Proud to Unveil Another Painting By Dan Embree

One of the great blessings of blogging is the chance to meet and learn to love so many friends you'd never encounter otherwise. A fellow blogger who's blessed my life immeasurably is the wonderfully talented artist Dan Embree.

Last year when I was filled with frustration at reading so many blogs and stories and such by gay guys who seemed to revel in their misery and indecision even after coming out, I "struck back" in a sense by asking Dan for a painting that would show some of the wonderful things about being gay. The result was "Community," which was unveiled in May 2009 at one of the best-attended parties ever given by Scott & Sarah Nicholson in Salt Lake. I think it may still hold the record for the most people ever crammed into their house at once. "Community" is a picture of hope, support, strength, and light. Though I'm lucky enough to own the original, you can get a print for yourself from Dan.

Not long afterward, I began talking with Dan about another picture. I wanted something more intimate this time, something intensely personal, something that would depict the kind of timeless love I think everyone hopes for. But particularly the kind that gay LDS boys hope for--and which so many in their church currently tell them they can never have. Personally I disagree, but that's a topic for another time.

And so today I'm pleased to present to the world Dan Embree's latest creation, which is everything I could have hoped for and more. LDS readers will see allusions to the temple and its eternal perspective, which is absolutely intentional here. But everyone will recognize, I think, the timelessness of the moment Dan has captured and the hope for the future to which such a moment might lead.

Dan has entitled the picture "To Be Thirteen," and explains the title as follows:

"I was twenty one when he placed his hand next to mine, but I felt like I was thirteen as I tried to read his signals. Did he want to hold hands? Did he like me? Should I move my hand closer to his? Like a thirteen year old, I had never held hands with a boy that I liked. I grew up Mormon, which for a gay boy meant romance and attraction together were forbidden. Thirteen was robbed of flirtation. To touch a boy would lead to misery, they told me, so I kept my crushes, and my hands, to myself. At twenty one I was still too scared to hold his hand despite his obvious signals, but I was able to reach out my pinky finger and touch his. That single moment of restrained contact changed me forever. There was no sin or misery, just the thrill of touching someone I liked. It was exciting, beautiful, and satisfying--even spiritual. Once our fingers crossed, there was no going back. I reclaimed thirteen."

Thanks Dan for so perfectly capturing love and life and hope.

22 May 2010

If I Were A Drinker, I'd Start With Absolut

P.S. Extra props to the first commenter who can tell me how this validates something in Steel Magnolias!

19 May 2010

Why I Hate SGA

Drug dealers refer to their "product." Partial birth abortion advocates refer to "the fetus" rather than "the baby." American slave owners and segregationists had various names for African-Americans, but "citizens" and "people" usually weren't on the list. We tell a young child that grandma "went to be with God."

Why do people do this?

It's because some truths are more brutal than others, more difficult to face. And sometimes we want to shield ourselves from cold, hard reality, too. So we avoid driving through the ghetto. We skip the financial section if it seems to have bad news. And we use soft evasive words to mask reality. Few people like dealing with rough stuff. If we ignore it, maybe it'll just solve itself, or someone else will take care of it. That way we won't be responsible. We won't have to go through the hard work of wrestling with difficult questions that may not have easy answers.

"Gay," meet The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other Christian churches which have decided that you don't exist. You are but a temporary adjective masquerading as something real, an ephemeral affliction imposed or allowed by God for reasons unknown as a test (of what, God only knows) for some unfortunate people during mortality. You aren't a permanent condition, a true feature of someone's personality or spirit. Eventually you'll go away. So we're going to try to smother you if we can, you pesky noun. We must call you something else, like Same Gender Attracted. Brazen people who are really daring can actually say Same Sex Attracted if they want, we suppose, though most pious types would prefer to avoid that word.

How does the LDS Church know this specifically? Simple. Nouns have stability. Credibility. They are actual things. They imply permanence. Well, at least more than adjectives do. Compare "I am gay" with "I struggle with same-gender attraction." Which is more definitive, sounds more permanent, more confident, more intractable?

And that's the issue. LDS doctrine assumes that every man ever born will, should, must want at some point--if given the chance--to marry a woman for eternity and have lots of babies to make an eternal family. And that every woman ever born will, should, must want, at some point--if given the chance--nothing more than to be the wife to such a man and to be the mother of countless kids. The whole vast edifice of Mormon theology rests on this one unquestioned premise.

So when somebody comes along and says "That's not what I want, that's not who I'm attracted to, that's not what my soul resonates to, I'm a guy and I love guys and I want to be with one special guy forever, I have no interest in women and it's impossible for me to love them that way," Mormon theology is dumbfounded. Stunned into silence.

"But, but, but," it sputters, "you MUST! If you're a man, you can't possibly love another man that way and not want to love a woman! That's not real love, you must be mistaken. It must be temporary. You're just in lust, not love. God will fix you eventually. Meanwhile, you must be made to fit the system here and now! We can't allow anybody to think otherwise.

How do we do that?

Well, we learned our lesson when Kleenex brand tissues came out decades ago and it didn't take long before the name was generic, everybody called disposable paper hand tissues a Kleenex. Words are powerful things. They influence beliefs. So you guys who think you love guys, and you gals who think you love gals, we can't allow you to call yourselves what you want because you don't know what's best for you. We can't permit the use of any name that implies your aberration isn't . . . well, aberrational. You must conform to the system. And it requires that you be straight! If not now, then later. But you must do it.

In fact, your condition is so dangerous it's contagious. So we cannot permit any admission that it isn't temporary. So you must use adjectives and euphemisms. Not nouns. You're not "gay," you simply struggle with a changeable condition that we can't explain right now. Eventually it'll go away.

What's that you say? You know your heart and mind better than we do? You've felt this all your life and it's not going away? You're happiest loving a man and miserable when you try anything else?

Impossible. You must be deceived. True, we admit we don't understand anything about your condition. True, we've subsidized tortuous junk science in the past that's tried to "cure" it and then refused to own up to the damage we did, much less apologize for it. But you must ignore all that and trust us, we know what's best for you because we speak for God. Never mind that we've said wildly inconsistent things in God's name. We know that what's best for you is to call your temporary condition SGA. Or SSA.

Just don't call yourself gay. Because that would mean that's the way God made you. "Gay" is a mistake and God doesn't make mistakes."

Shorn of all doctrinal dress-up, all soothing PR processing for palatability, that's the message.

In one sense, it's right. God doesn't make mistakes. And that's why I hate SGA. 'Cause it's a mistake, a mask to hide truth, a euphemism concocted and flogged by a group of people with an agenda that doesn't want to face reality. But the gay ain't changing. It ain't goin' away. Even the quacks who peddle "conversion" or "reparative" therapy now reluctantly concede that the best they can do is teach coping skills. But the orientation itself, like any other permanent God-given attribute, is just too stubborn to succumb to the snake oil.

Anybody who advocates "SGA" or "SSA" is averting their eyes from the truth. Like those who call heroin "the product" or our African brothers and sisters "the coloreds," they think soft words will make their discomfort go away. That may make them feel better, but they're avoiding reality. And I say with Emerson: "Give me truths, for I am weary of the surfaces."

Truth has a tendency to be stubborn, you know. So I'll tell the truth. I'm gay. And never happier than when I finally found the courage to shuck the euphemisms, stop pretending, hold my head high, face forward, smile, and say "Yeah, that's me. That's the truth. The truth sets us free, remember?"

17 May 2010

How Do I Resolve The Conflict?

Watch out folks, this is a long one.

The reader's question "with the conflict between religion and sexuality, why is your religion still the mainstay of your life" is pertinent and timely, especially as I read Andy's blog post in which he tells how a taste of "the gay lifestyle" sent him running back into the arms of the institutional LDS Church with new determination to marry a woman and have a family. I am qualified to speak to this issue and situation because I have been married and now I'm not. I've had what Andy and other gay Mormon "strugglers" say they want as their ultimate destination.

And now I'm free again to pursue guys if I so choose. Yet I haven't left the LDS Church, I still live basically as I always have, while I've seen others come out and take different paths. Why am I still where I am? Disclaimer: I have studied and thought and prayed long and hard about this whole subject for a very long time and my opinions are, I think, solidly grounded. They are also my opinions and I'm not so arrogant to think they are cosmic truth for all.

A couple of years ago I discovered Fowler's Stages of Faith and found it remarkably insightful. The theory is that most people with any religious faith go through a number of these stages in their life, though they may stop and stay at different ones. Stage 0 is birth to age 2, in which a child is conditioned to look at the world as either safe and trustworthy or unsafe and treacherous. Stage 1, ages 3 to 7, is when a child has first exposure to the great issues and questions. Stage 2, basically elementary school ages, is characterized by a growing sense of justice and reciprocity in the universe, with deities almost always conceived of as anthropomorphic. Stage 3, called the "synthetic-conventional faith" stage, usually arises in adolescence, and is characterized by general conformity to a particular religious system or church. It's common for adults to stay at this stage their entire lives. Stage 4 usually doesn't happen until mid-twenties at the earliest, if at all, and is characterized by loss of Stage 3 faith, angst and struggle, often precipitated by some significant personal crisis. At this stage a person begins to take much more personal responsibility for their feelings and beliefs and faith. Stage 5 finds resolution to the struggle, comes to peaceful terms with recognizing paradox in life and the universe, and the transcendent realities behind the symbols of inherited religious systems. A person at Stage 5 becomes fully and individually responsible for their own faith and, while they may respect and learn from them, no longer needs to rely on formal organizations for a strong faith to the same degree persons in Stage 3 might.

Divorce and coming out pushed me out of Stage Three and into Stage Four. The implosion of everything I'd ever been taught I should want and be forced me to look at life and myself in completely new ways, asking lots of new questions and re-examining faith much more critically. It was a long process with many steps and countless hours of study, reflection, prayer and temple time.

It was also a time in which, after all those years of being carried along on the Mormon cultural current, I finally learned what it was to take full responsibility for my own faith and beliefs. Heretofore I had always just deferred to LDS leaders, assuming they were correct ex officio. In the course of my re-examination, I read David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism. It was a profound shock and a look into the inner workings of a church that functioned just like a multinational corporation, with all of the competing personal political agendas and jockeying for predominance that typifies any big company--even with respect to issues on which I knew the rank & file simply assumed their leaders' words were always inspired. Believe me, folks, it ain't necessarily so. Then I read Richard Bushman's Rough Stone Rolling, which many call the best biography of Joseph Smith ever written. It had a similar effect on the Disney-fied image of him I'd always been taught at church. And as I began to look with a more critical eye, I came to realize that much of what I'd always assumed was "the gospel"--and much of what most other Mormons around me also assumed was gospel--really wasn't at all. It was culture, or habit, or current administrative procedure. But it had no basis in scripture. So what duty did I have to follow it? And would my eternal destiny be imperiled if I disagreed?

Ultimately I had to ask "what is the gospel" and "what's just institutional overlay created by men." I pictured the Church and the gospel in my mind like a planet in space. At the core was the gospel. Surrounding it was all of the programs, the culture, the procedures, the institutional apparatus that had been built up over time. Where was the boundary? Where did the temporary, temporal organization and its trappings stop and the eternal, irreducible essence of the gospel start? The more I thought and studied and analyzed and investigated and prayed and examined, the more changes in Church teachings, fluctuations in policies, programs and procedures I saw which were implemented by mortal men clearly acting on their own opinions, the smaller that core became. The Book of Mormon says it contains "the fullness of the gospel" yet it says nothing about most of what the modern LDS Church focuses on. It harshly condemns polygamy which early LDS leaders taught was an essential requirement for exaltation--something they've now reversed course on. There are many more examples of such changes.

I know staunch defenders of the Church will say such fluctuations represent the hand of God guiding the organization by revelation. I believe the record--at least the one available to me--does not support that for the most part. One example should suffice. Most modern Mormons believe as eternal truth things about the temple garment that have no support in the historical record. Joseph F. Smith, sixth president of the Church, preached (despite a complete lack of justification) that the garment's design was revealed directly from heaven so it must never change, and was the first to require that all temple-going Mormons wear the garment 24/7. He even posted those instructions in all the temples. One of the first acts of his successor Heber J. Grant was to order all of President Smith's instructions on garment wearing taken down from their postings in the temples and burnt. He then authorized significant changes to the garment's design. Both men were sustained as prophets of God, and both could not possibly have been right about that issue. There are many more examples of such personal differences of opinion which ossified into "doctrine" on the strength of the office held by their proponents.

The history of the Church's wildly fluctuating understanding and treatment of its gay members has been well-documented elsewhere and is another example of my point. And when I heard Elder David Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve on Youtube claiming things about Proposition 8 that I'd already researched and knew to be false, and others had already publicly disproven, that was the tipping point. Never before had I heard a man I sustained as a prophet, seer and revelator actually lie. And about things he and the Church should have, must have known were not what he claimed. At that point the whole structure of what I'd always been taught to trust and believe came crashing down. If a sitting apostle could lie like that, what else could he or others lie about?

That's when I realized that from then on there were only two people I could trust with my faith: myself, and the Savior. The presumption had shifted permanently. I could no longer give the institutional LDS Church the benefit of any doubt. I would listen to what the Church and its leaders said and be glad when I found something spiritually nourishing, but my faith and my discipleship were now my sole responsibility. That core of what constituted the gospel had shrunk further. I was angry and felt betrayed for quite some time. I've calmed down mostly, though I still feel somewhat that way.

But gradually, I also found a new sense of peace, gratitude and adventure. I moved from the angst of Stage Four into Stage Five. I learned to look beyond the trappings and the symbols and to better discern the greater realities, I think. The world became so much more beautiful and fascinating and full of wonder once I stopped looking at it through what some have called "the magical Mormon world view". Ironically, I think the whole process ended up strengthening my faith in the things that really deserved it all along. It wasn't a loss, it was merely a course correction.

I can't drift along on the Mormon Cultural Current anymore. I can't see life through Mormon-colored glasses anymore either. I've been forced to actually walk the talk and decide whether I will follow Jesus Christ not because it was convenient and everyone around me was claiming to do it, but solely, exclusively, because I had faith in Him and trusted His teachings in the Scriptures.

Fortunately, I seem always to have been blessed with the gift of that kind of faith. It comes easily to me. I'm not sure why, but it does. I seem to have an innate sense of justice, karma, whatever you want to call it, that everything will be okay eventually. That there's a purpose for all of this, for all of us. That the two great commandments to love God and each other really are and should be the greatest of all, because of what they make possible. I know that I've been happiest not when sitting up front presiding over some Mormon church meeting (which I've done a lot) or busily racing about trying to keep up with everything the institution expects me to do, but rather when I am quietly, anonymously trying to do what I think the Savior would want me to do, showing love and encouragement and support to my kids, or reaching out to a friend who's troubled, or sharing whatever of my time or talents I can spare to help someone else. Giving a spontaneous compliment, or a hug of encouragement, or stopping to listen to someone in distress and helping if possible. I believe that what goes around comes around, and that if I try to be the Savior's hands when I can, someday when I need help it will come back to me. That's how it's supposed to work. To me, the explanation that makes the most sense for all of this is that there is indeed a loving God, father of us all, who sent His Son Jesus Christ to pay for our sins and teach us how to live so as to be happy and return to live with them again, along with all those we've loved here.

Those are my priorities. As to the issue of being gay and Mormon, my study of the church's and its leaders' statements and treatment of this topic have convinced me they are confused at best, they don't know what to do with it or how to explain it, and I can't look to them for reliable guidance. I have to look to the personal inspiration and revelation they say I'm entitled to when things aren't clear. I've sought it, and I believe I've received the answers for what's best for me. And it's not to marry a woman again. Quite the contrary, in fact.

I'm not so arrogant to think that I have all the answers or ever will. I know what I think is true, and I know what I think is the right path for me. I have opinions about others' paths and of course sometimes think they are making less than optimal choices. But I respect their right to choose. And I know that all our knowledge is subject to future revision. So it doesn't bother me if some of my friends are staunch orthodox Stage Three Mormons, and some are atheists. My faith is in a God and a Savior who know each heart intimately and will judge us as lovingly as possible. While theologically I haven't found anything that appeals to me more than the LDS version of Christian doctrine, I no longer believe all teachings, policies, procedures and practices of the institutional LDS Church are exactly congruent with the Savior's teachings, and whenever I see a conflict, I'll follow what I think the Savior would do and I will disregard the Church. My personal covenants are not with an earthly corporation, and to put it bluntly, I don't much care anymore what its leaders may think of me or my life or my choices. They've demonstrated that they are fallible, mortal men who make mistakes, sometimes even when they claim to be inspired. As I said, I will listen to them and give deference to their counsel when I believe it's good and will produce good fruit. But they're not the ultimate authority on anything. Far safer for me to simply follow the example of the One who I believe is the only perfect and truly wise person who ever lived. And when He judges me and looks at my mistakes, at least I can look Him in the eye and say "I did my very best to follow You, and I must rely on Your merits to make up the difference."

15 May 2010

My Life As a Disney Movie

I guess all the frenetic work and activity has caught up with me a bit. A couple days ago I woke with a headache and sore throat, which I almost never get since I have no tonsils. This is a sign that I need to slow down and get more rest. So that's what I'm doing today, spending Saturday on the sofa, guzzling overpriced orange juice and overdosing on videos with the twins. It's unseasonably cold and grey outside anyway, so our only outing today will be this morning's trip to our favorite beach front donut shop.

So now it's time for the first answer to questions from blog readers. If I could compare my life to a Disney movie, what would it be?

To answer this question I looked up a list of every Disney movie ever made. None of them was an exact match. But a few were candidates.

The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe: As Peter. I'm the oldest son, the one my dad said they "made all the mistakes on." Always the one saddled with all the responsibilities. Always the one expected to take the lead, be out front fighting the bad guys. I've lived with this sense of responsibility all my life. I never asked for it. Sometimes not completely happy about it, but I know it's inescapable, especially now that I'm a dad.

Tron: As Tron. Living for a long time in a closed environment that offered a lot yet also had the effect (unintended? perhaps not entirely) of shutting me off from all kinds of life possibilities and experiences and knowledge and adventures. Fighting to break out of it and see the world in lots of new ways.

The Sword in the Stone: As Wart. Not necessarily as Arthur. I've loved the Arthurian legends ever since I was a kid. And now that I have kids of my own I realize that the learning never stops, that you never "arrive," there's always more that someone else can teach you. Always more battles to fight, more wisdom to acquire, more swords to pull from stones.

Snow White: As Snow White so I could wake up to kisses from a prince that looks like that.

BTW, the twins read this post and pronounced it "very accurate."

12 May 2010

I Shout Out, You Shout Back

OK, call me Bill Gates for stealing somebody else's idea. But why should Scott have all the fun? That little Skribit widget looks pretty cool. And I've been pontificating enough here under my own power for a while now. So on the off chance that there's anybody out there who wants to ask a question, or wants me to write about something I haven't already tackled, now's your chance. It's over there on the left sidebar. Ask me a question if you want. I won't promise what I'll do with it. But you never know!

10 May 2010

Another Side Of Your Humble Correspondent

You know, I think this is pretty accurate!

My result for The 3 Variable Funny Test...

the Prankster

(24% dark, 38% spontaneous, 32% vulgar)

your humor style:

Your humor has an intellectual, even conceptual slant to it. You're not pretentious, but you're not into what some would call 'low humor' either. You'll laugh at a good dirty joke, but you definitely prefer something clever to something moist.

You probably like well-thought-out pranks and/or spoofs and it's highly likely you've tried one of these things yourself. In a lot of ways, yours is the most entertaining type of humor because it's smart without being mean-spirited.

PEOPLE LIKE YOU: Conan O'Brian - Ashton Kutcher


The 3-Variable Funny Test!
- it rules -

Take The 3 Variable Funny Test at OkCupid

09 May 2010

How DADT Could Have Killed The Country

The army was on the brink of total disaster.

They had lost every battle of the war. After suffering heavy casualties they'd been driven from the largest city in the country, watching from afar as the city was set aflame. Sickness soon spread and killed many. Their supplies were virtually gone and there was no prospect of more. Many of them didn't even have shoes. There was almost no food, and little shelter. And it was turning out to be one of the harshest winters in memory. They had no training, no discipline even in battle, let alone while bored in camp. And they faced the combined army and navy of the world's greatest military superpower: over 400 ships off their coast, and vastly outnumbered by the enemy's soldiers on land. Their commanding general had every reason to despair.

Then one freezing February day, Fred walked into camp. A friend of the general's knew of the appalling conditions in the army and thought Fred, who'd been in another army but lost his job there, might be able to help. After talking with him, the general agreed to take Fred on as a permanent member of the staff.

Fred's job? Whip the army into shape. Which he immediately started to do. He reorganized everything, from the arrangements of the tents in camp and location of kitchens & latrines to the training regimen. He insisted on organization and discipline but wasn't afraid to explain the reasons to the men, who'd been used to officers ruling chaotically by sheer intimidation. Fred was known for his foul mouth, and since he spoke several languages, he'd curse in all of them. He put that army through more hell than they were already going through, what with the winter and the starvation and disease and despair and the looming prospect of facing an enemy that could probably wipe them out completely.

But Fred did something else too. He turned that jumbled motley crew of disrespectful ignorant pseudo-soldiers into a trained fighting force. He equipped them with the tactical skills that would over and over again help make the difference between survival and death in later battles. It's now generally agreed that that winter, Fred saved that army from extinction.

And miracle of miracles, that trained fighting force created by Fred actually won the war. They beat back the invader, and the country was saved. Had Fred not showed up and cursed and swore and browbeat those conscripts into a real army, there's a very good chance their country would not have survived.

In the years that followed, cities and towns were named for Fred. Ships and schools and buildings too. Statues of him were put up. A national association to honor him was established. Parades are still held on a day that honors him. All of this is quite understandable, for while the general he worked for usually got most of the attention, fact is that without Fred that general wouldn't have had anything that could reasonably be called an army, and it's likely his record of total defeats would have continued to a disastrous end. Fred did as much as anyone ever had to save the country.

And yet today, Fred would not be allowed to serve in the very army he helped create, whose first training manual he wrote, whose officers still quote him and follow leadership principles he laid down.


Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Because, you see, Fred was homosexual. No, he wasn't promiscuous about it, and he had an officer's sense of discipline and decorum about his private life. He held to the same standards of military behavior he expected of those he trained. But in today's United States Army, that wouldn't make a difference: if Fred came out, he'd be kicked out. And he was already out when General George Washington hired him to save the army from disaster that winter at Valley Forge.

Fred was Baron Frederick von Steuben, the Prussian officer who'd had to leave Europe under less than optimal circumstances, caused in part by the fact that he was gay. As was his former employer, Frederick the Great. Still, once you lost the protection of a powerful patron like that, being gay was no easy thing in 18th Century Europe. So Fred made his way to Paris, where he ran into Ben Franklin, who realized Fred's skills could probably save the American army. Ben sent Fred on to George, and the rest is history.

But today, if Fred showed up at a recruiting office for the army he helped to create and which saved the country today's soldiers fight for, he'd be turned away as ineligible. You're out? Sorry, you're out.

Tell me why this makes sense. Anyone? Anyone? (BTW, that parade in Ferris Beuller where Ferris sings "Danke Schoen"? It's the annual Von Steuben Day celebration in Chicago) Don't Ask Don't Tell has cost the U.S. Army many millions of dollars to enforce, not to mention the lost investment in training the many thousands of dedicated servicemen and women who've been forced out by a self-defeating homophobic policy which, if in place way back when, would have kept the army from hiring the man who saved it from itself and thus saved the country. How many potential Baron von Steubens have been kicked out by this disastrous policy borne of nothing but irrational and baseless fear and prejudice, one which flies in the face of all experience from every other nation which allows gay servicemen and women to serve openly without discrimination? I shake my head in disbelief.

I'm glad that progress is being made, that today's military leadership realize DADT is stupid and self-defeating and they want to get rid of it. And I note with grim humor that, as in Fred's time, the problem isn't really the Army, it's Congress. The same Congress that failed miserably in its commitment to provide General Washington with the bare essentials for his army to simply stay alive at Valley Forge is now the reason DADT is in place and, apparently, the chief roadblock to getting rid of it. Secretary Gates is an honorable man and I'm willing to trust his judgment about needing a year to study the effects of repealing DADT. But the writing is on the wall. The policy has to go. It's an expensive, self-injuring exercise in futility.

And if it had been in place 240 years ago, it could have prevented the birth of the United States of America.

05 May 2010

Where've I Been?

Andy and others have wondered why there suddenly seems to be a dearth of blog posts. I can't speak for others, but I've had a flurry of other activities that have simply taken up all the time and mindshare. Plus, think about it. On the news, if it bleeds it leads. Everybody loves drama as long as it's not their own. And gay guys' lives often seem set permanently on Drama: High. We say we hate it but we seem to thrive on it too. Go figure.

And I just haven't had much high drama lately that's worth talking about. The extended family have all hit the mute button, as have I, and the peace & quiet have been very nice. They got the message they needed to hear, now we're at the stage where they have to digest and decide what they're going to do going forward. It's been nearly two months since I talked to any of them (except younger brother) and I gotta tell ya, it's been very relaxing after that rising torrent of resistance and invective.

So what have I been doing? Well, unbelievably, I'm still on the heavy travel schedule with that quirky company that makes all those uber-cool can't-live-without-'em electronic devices named after a fruit. Including the latest one which we've already sold over a million of. Pretty amazing.

What else? Well, spending time with the kids of course. And time with friends old and new. I'm so blessed in this regard I can hardly believe it. Near or far, wry or serious, trendy or rustic, you know who you are, and I love you all. I'm not just saying that, I really mean it. We have had delightful times together. You are proof to me that there's more than one kind of family, because some of you have been there for me when even my own bio-family wasn't. Surely God takes note of that.

Last Friday I went to the annual banquet of the Southern California chapter of the Association for Corporate Counsel, and ran into two friends with whom I'd worked closely at another company and whom I hadn't seen for a little while. We laughed and embraced and reminisced and shared updates and all agreed how lucky we'd been to work together as part of such a great team. It was more evidence that what goes around comes around, that if you do your best to help your friends when you can, they'll do the same for you.

At the same time, it was kinda weird being in that setting. It made me acutely aware of how lucky I've been in my life, how blessed. And how egalitarian I've become. Being fawned over by the wait staff really bothered me. I'm no better than them, no more valuable as a person. Yet I was the one seated with the badge on, being catered to, served, deferred to, surrounded by hundreds of high-priced lawyers in expensive suits and all the glitz and glamour and style of a major hotel's ballroom and the best its five-star chefs could offer. Except for the keynote speech by former Secretary of State Condi Rice and seeing my friends, I didn't like the rest of the event much at all. It just seemed so pretentious and artificial.

I had a much better time hanging out Monday night at Velma's, a working class bar in an industrial section of San Francisco, talking with Velma herself, a sixty-something African-American woman of serious street smarts and riotous sense of humor. A friend of mine is running for Supervisor in that district of San Francisco, and we met at Velma's after a campaign event which I'd also attended at St. James of the Shipwreck Catholic Church. The female Webmaster for Velma's Web site is named Missionary Pepper. How cool is that!

Walking through the halls of the school there, in a very ethnically mixed neighborhood, I saw a row of lockers, and it reminded me of the lockers at my 8th grade school. You know how lockers often have a little metal faceplate on them with the number and sometimes the name of the locker manufacturer? Well, when I was in 8th grade there was one locker--just one--that for some reason had a name on that faceplate--Worley--that was different than all the rest--Hallowell. It was #81. And guess who got it. That's right, my locker was unique in the whole school. To this day I don't know how to explain that name difference. Over the years I've come to think of it as a metaphor for how my life's turned out. Completely unique and almost unclassifiable in many ways. And I'm really glad. I was on the road to complete and utter boring a few years ago. Then events took a different turn, and a very good thing too.

If they hadn't, if I hadn't had the courage to come out, I would have stayed locked in the old complacency, outwardly compliant but inwardly more and more miserable. I never would have met my new virtual family of bloggers and bloggers' friends. I wouldn't have had the amazing professional adventures of the last few years. I certainly wouldn't have ended up at Velma's or met her friends and had an eye-opening look at their lives which are completely absolutely utterly foreign to those comfortably nestled in The Mormon Cultural Cocoon. Yet they too are children of God whom He loves and cares for just as much.

Life lesson: disasters can turn into unimagined blessings. Embrace new adventures. Question authority repeatedly. Examine your own life all the time. Don't live in fear, it's a life half-lived (says one of my favorite movies). Be confident and sure of yourself. Don't let others dissuade you from becoming what you need to be. Don't waste time dithering; decide what you want, what will help you grow and make you happy, and chase it. Like Steve Jobs said, listen to your heart, not other people's dogma, because your heart already knows what you want to become. The world is a wide and wonderful place with amazing possibilities and new adventures. I've been so entranced with it all lately that I haven't stopped much to blog about it. But even boring time on a plane can be valuable if you use it well. And so home I go to put on the Dad hat, enjoy the Mahler 2nd this weekend, and then it all starts again!