Daily Archives: December 3, 2008

>Shake the Etch-a-Sketch

We all do it; follow that line we set up for ourselves. We plod a course, the straight and narrow some might say, and then walk that line toward a particular destination we’ve imagined we want. And every so often we twist the knobs, and set out on a course of curves and newness, moving in a direction we hadn’t thought of before, but it’s a slow curve, not dangerous, you can still see where you’re going. We might not like it, but we can always go back.

But what about shaking the Etch-a-Sketch? What about saying, screw that line, damn that curve. Let me hold on tight, both hands, and shake things up.

See, I was an Etch-a-Sketch person. I followed the line that I thought I was meant to follow. I didn’t stray too far off the path; who am I kidding, I never strayed off the path. But then it hit me, follow the path, that straight line or that gentle curve, and where are you going? Toward another straight line, one more gentle curve? What was that all about?

My first shake was telling my parents I was gay. That was a big shake at the time, although now it seems more of a ‘so what.’ But I thought it was a big deal because I didn’t have a real life reference point on what it meant to be gay. What were the rules? Was there a uniform? Did I have to pay dues? What was it? See, in my family there were no ‘funny uncles’ or ‘aunts in plaid’ that I could see; that I could say, “Hey, I’m like that, so it must be okay.” The only gay men I knew were the limp-wristed types on TV shows and in the movies. They wore ascots and paisley jackets, were sarcastic and alone. Terry-Thomas? No, not me. Uncle Arthur, I was not….at least I didn’t think so.

So I shook the Etch-a-Sketch and came out. No one died. No one fainted. My family didn’t disown me. I lost a few friends, but then I think they weren’t really friends to begin with if “I’m gay” causes them to disappear. I’m gay…..Poof…..you’re gone. It’s like a homo David Copperfield. Now, of course, I was gay and yet I still followed that straight line that had been set before me; I’ll save you the horror of joking about me following a ‘straight’ line. It’s been done.

Then about eight-and-a-half years ago, I gave the Etch-a-Sketch a gentle nudge. I got a computer…..yes, I was late to the game…one step behind. But I got a computer and then started looking around the Internet. I was on AOL and went into a chat room–Gay Lifestyles, I think it was called. It was a fun chatty room where you could be gay, where you could step off the line a bit because no one really knew you.

Then I met Carlos in that chat room. And we started to online chat. The lines jogged a bit off-course for me. We began to call one another; he was in Miami, I was in California. Then I bumped the Etch-a-Sketch and told Carlos I wanted to meet him . He was thrilled and plans were made for me to fly to Miami in July. JULY? IN MIAMI? Oy! What was I thinking?

But I bought the tickets and readied myself to take a sharp turn. I’ve split my life into Old Bob and New Bob. See, Old Bob would have bought the tickets to Miami, told everyone he was going, and got on the plane. But then when it made a stop in Houston, Old Bob would get off the plane, find a Motel 6, and spend the week there. Then he’d return home and tell everyone that Carlos was ‘okay.’ The trip was ‘fine.’ I’d ignore Carlos’ phone calls and stay off the computer. I’d go back to following that line.

But New Bob didn’t do that. New Bob flew to Miami and met Carlos and spent a wonderful week in Florida. New Bob fell in love with Carlos and cried at the airport when he had to go home. New Bob’s Etch-a-Sketch was shaking. And it was okay; twists and jogs in the oath weren’t anything to fear.

A month after I came home, Carlos came to California and we did Meet The Family. I was so happy to have him there; so happy that my family liked him; my friends, too. But then he was gone home again and I wondered what would happen next.

It wasn’t but a few weeks before I hurled the Etch-a-Sketch across the room and chose to follow the path I chose, not one that was arbitrarily set out for me. Carlos and I made plans for me to move to Miami. I sold a car, some furniture, some knickknacks; I got rid of my apartment and quit my job.

Every once in a while, you gotta Shake the Etch-a-Sketch.


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Filed under Carlos, Coming Out, Dad, Miami

>A Necessary Tension


Letter from a Birmingham Jail
We have waited for more than 350 years for our constitutional and God-given rights…We still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for the people who never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, ‘Wait.’ But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers…drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policeman curse, kick and kill your Black brothers and sisters; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking, ‘Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?’; when your first name becomes ‘Nigger.’ Then you will find it difficult to wait.

Violence begets violence, hatred breeds hostility, and cruelty generates brutality. But tension, as Martin Luther King spoke of in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, can create an atmosphere ripe for discussion and change. The non-violent actions that King suggested to combat segregation and racism in thew South were–and still are–the correct methods for achieving understanding between all races and genders and nations.
King spoke eloquently on the subject of gaining understanding, and of the non-violet means necessary to attain that acceptance, going so far as to literally spell out the “four basic steps [for any non-violent campaign].” King proceeded to explain how he and his followers used the steps to resolve their conflicts with the city of Birmingham, to put an end to the unjust laws of the South, to signify the African-American community’s refusal to go along with the status quo. In the words of Dr. King, the Negro of the sixties was a “victim of a broken promise” whose hopes and dreams of a uniquely ‘United’ States were dashed into oblivion by bigotry.
And yet Martin Luther King did not advocate violence or hatred or cruelty to end the 340 years of segregation and prejudice. King recommended creating an aura of tension in Birmingham. King felt that pressure would “help men rise from the dark depths of…racism.” King saw that stress, not violence, would open the door for fruitful discussion. King was a rare man who understood that when we are faced with violent images, we only see the violence, not the reasons behind it. He saw that tension could generate a dialogue out of the monologue that is hatred.
Hatred existed–exists–between the races because of unjust laws that the majority us to suppress the minority’ laws the majority does does make “binding on itself.” King pushed for demonstrations of unity and non-violence as a means to expose those injustices, to unmask the sore that is racism for all Americans. King taught that it is through the exposure that tension–unrest–brings that a focus can be places on the ills of society. And it is that exposure which leads to a cure for those selfsame ailments.
The sickness of racism that forced Martin Luther King to go to Birmingham, to be arrested and placed in a jail cell, thrives in this country today. Most Americans are so fearful of differences–be they skin color, faith, gender, age or sexual orientation–they continue to follow the status quo. They bury their heads in the sand and deny the problem, then express mock shock and anger when the problem is shoved in their faces. Tension brings the issues of racism and prejudice and bigotry to the forefront of our collective consciousness; tension makes us aware, forces us to confront our ugliness. It is a necessity. When we clear the air of tension with meaningful dialogue, when we accept and understand everyone and their differences, we can then call and men and women free–a truly united state.

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Filed under Letter From A Birmingham Jail, MLK, Racism, Separate But Equal