Being effeminate

Years ago, while living with my grandparents for a short time, my grandfather and I were driving home from work when he took the opportunity to bring up some things about me that he had issue with. As he drove, he lectured me about helping them out more financially before getting to the heart of what he really wanted to talk about.

He started by telling me I needed a hair cut. I had been letting my hair get sort of long. It wasn’t even shoulder length, but was several inches long on the top and sides. Although having short hair was a requirement for men in the Holiness faith, this wasn’t exactly the reason he brought it up. As he talked, he recalled a verse in the Bible about being effeminate.

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

Now we were getting to the root of his issue with my hair. It wasn’t just that it was longer than normal for men in our tradition, it was that he thought I was trying to look like a woman (I was really trying to look like Michael Jackson, but whatever).

Not sure how to respond, I brought up two highly-respected men in the Holiness community who were very effeminate. Both had soft voices, had never married or exhibited any interest in women, and were perfectly manicured. “No,” he said, “They are just different.”

I began to get angry, more at his refusal to admit these men fit the very definition of effeminate than at his insistence that I did. Surely he could see what I saw, but just refused to accept it because these men claimed to be holy. My anger took a more personal slant when he told me I was being a bad influence on the younger males in our church. I realized this talk we were having was more about his fear of me being gay than the length of my hair.

When I get mad, I usually clam up and stew in it. That means I have to find other ways of releasing my anger. When we arrived home and he finished belittling me, I decided to go for a walk. I removed the cap I normally wore to work and let the wind blow through my hair as I journeyed down the country road in front of our house. I always loved the feeling of having my hair in my face, so I enjoyed it as long as possible. Then I returned home, grabbed the clippers, and shaved my head in the bathroom. From my perspective, this was an act of rebellion. If I couldn’t have long hair, I would have barely any hair at all.

After showering and getting dressed for church, I walked into the kitchen. My rebellious act wasn’t seen as such, but was embraced as me having finally seen the light. Both of my grandparents exclaimed how much better I looked, but the damage was done. I knew I no longer wanted to live with them, and I moved out a few weeks later.

It is worth noting that a couple of years later while visiting a local gay bar, I bumped into one of the effeminate Holiness men that I had mentioned to my grandfather during our conversation. That was definitely an enjoyable moment for me.

The other man never married, but maintained a close relationship with a single Holiness preacher. Apparently they traveled around the country together and often slept in the same bed. Maybe they were in love, maybe they weren’t. It was a long time ago and doesn’t really matter anymore since they have both passed away.

So, what does that verse in Corinthians really mean? I don’t know. Some newer translations have changed it to “men who have sex with men,” but I think that’s a bit of a stretch. Perhaps the Apostle Paul just had a problem with women, and by extension, men who looked or acted like women.

Misogynistic, if you ask me.

Judge not

My cousin’s birthday is tomorrow. She won’t be around to celebrate it, because she died in a car accident in 2001 at the tender age of 25. Her father called my mother today and sobbed on the telephone as he remembered. Even 13 years later, the wounds haven’t healed.

I remember Tammy’s funeral. People wept and talked in hushed tones as expected, but this one felt much different from other memorials. Most were quite obvious in their belief that Tammy didn’t go to heaven. Some were so convinced of this they dared to say it out loud. You see, Tammy was reared in a strict Pentecostal home, and she wasn’t living according to those standards the morning she wrecked on an ice-covered road.

Years later another young person I knew passed away. Like Tammy, they had left the faith of their childhood and weren’t living what you might call a “righteous” life. This time, however, things were much different. The same people who judged Tammy clung to hope that this particular person had gotten right with God in the final moments of their life, and the funeral was filled with admonishments about letting God be the final judge. There’s nothing at all wrong with that line of thought, but I wonder why Tammy was treated so differently?

If God is truly love and if God truly loves us more than we can possibly love each other, why would he cast a young person into Hell before they even have a chance to figure things out? I can’t think of anyone who deserves an eternity of torment, nor can I reason what it would accomplish. Even the worst criminal is given a shot at redemption.

I saw Tammy in a dream a few years ago. She looked lovely, and we walked together for a while as I wept. It was probably just a meaningless creation in my sleeping mind, but I treasure it. I prefer to think of her happy and at peace. I just wish those who call themselves “Christian” would give her the same courtesy.

Happy Birthday, Tammy. I remember your lovely smile and your wonderful sense of humor. I remember the fun we had driving with the windows down and the music turned up loud. I hope I made you feel even half as loved as you always made me feel. Maybe I’ll get a chance to see you again one day. Until then I’ll see you in my dreams.

Stop it!

My maternal grandmother suffered a stroke yesterday morning – just over 12 years since another stroke left her with short-term memory loss. She was transported to a local hospital and given a drug that will hopefully lessen the effects of the stroke, but so far things aren’t looking very good. She is having a hard time communicating (sometimes not at all), and the right side of her body has been affected.

Yesterday afternoon, after sitting in two different hospitals all day, my nerves were frazzled. I was also starving, since the call came early in the morning before I had a chance to eat anything. Several family members were gathered in the CCU waiting room, and to say there was a wide range of individuals would be an understatement. There were young and old, Pentecostal and Baptist, black and white, married and divorced, straight and gay, smokers and nonsmokers.

Although things are always a little awkward around my extended family because of the whole religion/gay thing, you can imagine my surprise when one of the women I thought was the least judgmental struck up the following conversation with me after a brief group discussion about Obama.

Her: I am very conservative.

Me: No! You are probably the least conservative person in this room.

Her: No, really. I am very conservative.

Me: What makes you conservative?

Her: I don’t believe in abortion.

Me: I consider myself to be pro-choice, but I would never have one if I were female. However, I believe a woman should have access to a safe abortion if she wants one.

Her: I also don’t agree with all the gay marriage stuff.

Me: Why?

Her: Because I think we need to follow God’s plan.

Me: Do you think people are born gay?

Her: Yes.

Me: Then why shouldn’t they be allowed to marry if God made them that way?

Her: We are all born into sin. There are many different sins, but the Bible says men will leave the natural use of a woman and turn to other men.

Me: But I didn’t do that. I wasn’t attracted to women before I was gay, so I didn’t leave women and turn to men.

Her: I know, but the Bible also says he will turn people over to a reprobate mind in the end times. Brian, I believe that if you would truly get saved, Jesus would change your mind.

Me: You actually think I would become attracted to women?

Her: I believe Jesus would change your mind.

And with that, I simply stopped talking. I also declined her invitation to join several of them for dinner.

Many years ago, Maya Angelou gave some excellent advice for people who feel like they are being attacked. She said people who cut you down are trying to “kill” you by tearing you apart bit by bit. She recommends that whenever you encounter a person trying to tear you down, you simply look at them and say “Stop it.” I think there could be great power in that, and I intend to start putting it to use.

Words from Dad

My father posted this on Facebook a few days ago. I was deeply touched by his words and wanted to share them here.

This post is FYI to give you a little bit of insight on how I feel and why I avoid strong opinions on some issues..this is a subject I am very touchy on so if you chose to read on you might keep that in mind..I will ask God’s forgiveness in advance if these words are out of line..some of you know but many of you don’t..my Son, Brian, is gay..I was 18 when Brian was born..he was my baby boy..his mother and I had a rocky relationship and I was too young and immature to be a good husband or father..I didn’t spend as much time at home with my little family as I should have..I detected he was different early on and I would sometimes try to toughen him up and try to force him to be manly..to be honest..at that age I didn’t really know what it really meant or involved to be gay..(I actually didn’t but I found out soon enough to became the typical homophobe)..but I thought daddys were supposed to teach their sons to be manly and that is what I tried to do as years passed..this caused some distance to come between us as he was growing up..he was treated differently by some..a few students and adults along the way were a bit hard on him at times because of his “difference”..Brian was sweet, smart and fun..his friends loved him dearly..they still do..he’d scream like a girl if startled..he can dance like all get out and will do so with complete abandon at the drop of a hat.. and he has a voice as pure and sweet as any you will find on stage..he loves people young and old..he loves God..he loves deeply and completely..he cannot stand to see anyone mistreated..his word is pure gold and if I had a trunk full of gold I would trust him with it..I never could nor can I now detect any speck of dishonesty in his make up..one Sunday afternoon in the fall of 1994 (he was 18) I spoke harshly to him..He and my son-in-law had ridden up to the neighbor’s to look at some livestock and the old man had mistakenly thought he was a girl..he told me about it and for some reason I reacted harshly..much too harshly..some of you will say “some times tough love is required”..(we do not have the qualifications to exercise tough love..that is God’s business)..later on that evening he overdosed on some of his mom’s prescription meds..we were able to get him to the ER in time to save him..he was required to attend counseling and was able to find the courage to tell us a couple months later about his sexuality..I was deeply impacted..changed forever..if you have similar experience you know..if not then you don’t..if you don’t then you need to either choose your words carefully or keep them to yourself..I love Brian..I respect him as no other human..he is now 2 years older than I was when I found out he was gay..38..I never caught him in a lie..I never doubted his word..I never had a reason..I look up to him..he has taught me more than anyone..now just ponder this a moment..you say it is a choice..he says it is not..whom am I going to believe?..he is gay..you are not..and if you insist that it is a choice then you must tell me when you made your choice..and how did it go?..did you look at the menu and think..hmmm..same sex?..opposite sex?..tough choice..if you are truly honest and truly believe it is by choice then you must have had to make one yourself..hopefully that is all I will have to say on this subject..

Mrs. J

Several evenings ago, we cooked dinner and took it over to share with Mrs. J and her son. I am very thankful we did, because we had no idea how different things would be within a few days. We went back to visit her on Good Friday and were shocked to see the change that had taken place.

Mrs. J can no longer remembers basic things, like the number of grandchildren she has or that her siblings have passed away. She sits and rubs or smacks her head while trying to get her thoughts together. She keeps asking what she is supposed to be doing, getting up to go to another room and then sitting down again, and trying to pay us for coming to see her. It is heartbreaking to watch.

Mrs. J has always told us that she wants to die before going in a nursing home, so you can imagine what we felt when her son told us he had already been communicating with a local facility about taking her. Apparently Medicare will only kick in some money if she is placed in a home within a month of leaving the hospital, so she must be admitted by April 18th.

Honey was so devastated after our visit on Friday that he began asking if he could bring her to live with us. I didn’t know what to say, but knew he didn’t have a clue of what he would be getting himself into. After he talked it over with some of our other friends and we went for another visit with her yesterday, he began to realize a nursing home might be the best option at this point.

Mrs. J seemed normal enough when we arrived yesterday, probably because she had just gotten up from a nap. She quickly returned to a confused state, and wound up going back to bed before we left. It is obvious that her son is weary from worrying about what she is doing every minute of the day. He had to take over her medication several days ago, because he noticed she had incorrectly placed it in her pill organizer. She has even been asking about the handgun that she normally kept hidden under her mattress, but he has been unable to find it.

Although it is very painful to watch her decline, I know she has had a long, happy life. She is months away from her 94th birthday, and she has outlived her husband, all of her brothers and sisters, and many of her friends. We have done our best to make her elderly years as comfortable and enjoyable as possible, even though much of what happens to her is out of our control. Honey recently sat with her all night, every night while she was in the hospital for almost two weeks. I know he will cherish that time spent together for the rest of his life.

We have tried to make every birthday in recent years as special as possible, often taking her out for a meal at a restaurant and surrounding her with gifts, balloons, and friends. Her last birthday celebration was slightly more subdued, but we still had pizza, cake, and presents galore. We have spent many evenings with her over dinner, watching movies, or sitting in the emergency room while she gets checked out after a fall. During her nursing home stay after hip surgery a few years ago, we sat with her almost every evening for three months.

None of this is being recounted to make us appear like saints. We weren’t always happy to visit the nursing home with its various unpleasant smells and scenes. We didn’t enjoy checking her water meter every few weeks for a leak that never materialized. We might have even grumbled when we had to take her to the emergency room after a fall. But we did those things because it’s what you do when you love someone.

Mrs. J isn’t just a friend, she’s family. She always tells hospital staff that we are her grandsons. She often explains how she loves us so much that her real grandsons get a little jealous. She is more accepting and loving than many of my own relatives.

It would be easy to let this situation become overwhelming and depressing. I’m going to try to focus on the many wonderful memories we have accumulated over the past 15 years. How happy she was while working outside in her flowers. The awesome fried chicken she used to make. The smiles, the hugs, even the tears. The way she loves so fully and unconditionally.

Yes, life is cruel, but it can also be excruciatingly beautiful. Even as Mrs. J is robbed of her own memories, I will still look at her, remember that beautiful smile, and thank God for allowing our paths to meet.

Catching up

We have been very busy over the past month. It all started when our former neighbor, Mrs. J, went in the hospital a few weeks ago. We went to see her as soon as we found out, and Honey wound up spending the next 10 or 11 nights with her. No one else in her family was able or willing to do it, but he knew her well enough to know she couldn’t be left alone. She had to have constant help getting up to use the restroom, she was disoriented and didn’t know where she was, and she even yanked out her IV and tried to leave the room.

A few days before Mrs. J was dismissed from the hospital, my grandmother was admitted to a hospital about 20 minutes away. Her older brother was already in the same hospital recovering from a heart attack, so family members were able to visit both siblings quite easily. He passed away on the evening of the day she was allowed to go home.

My grandmother and her older sister are now the only living siblings. She lives near Indianapolis, IN, but was unable to get down here in time to see her brother before he died. My sister helped get her here for the funeral, then Honey and I drove her home this past weekend.

Great-Aunt Frances is such a hoot. A gentle, loving soul who never stops talking. I swear she talked for the entire trip home (several hours). She seemed most excited about her new accommodations – a assisted-living facility she moved into late last year. She had lived alone until falling, and her children decided she needed to be somewhere safer. She raved about the food, the building, the gardens, and the company. I think she probably likes having companionship and someone to talk to more than anything.

When we arrived to drop her off, she wanted us to come in so we could see her new living quarters. The place was quite beautiful, but had a depressing feeling about it. A nursing home was right next door, and she explained that residents of her facility are usually moved over there at some point. The beautiful main entrance was decorated with flowers from the funeral of a resident who had just passed away. Aunt Frances noticed them, but quickly ushered us into the elevator and onto the third floor to see her apartment.

Her apartment turned out to be more like a small hotel room. It had a kitchenette and a bathroom attached to a main sleeping area. Although she moved in this past November, she still doesn’t have a bed and has been sleeping on a sofa. It was quite depressing to see how all the contents of her home had been reduced down to what she could manage to fit into the small space. She has an overhead photo of her previous home hanging on the wall, which I am sure is a constant reminder of the happy years she spent there with her deceased husband. She also has a photo of herself looking like a Hollywood star when she was around 20 years old.

She wanted to take us out to dinner as thanks for bringing her home, but decided to introduce us to one of the other residents first. The lady we met was using a walker due to a recent fall, but quickly invited herself after finding out where we were going to eat. We got her in the car before figuring out her walker wouldn’t fit in the trunk, but she insisted she wouldn’t need it at the restaurant. She was wrong.

We had to walk on either side of her to and from the restaurant in order to keep her from falling, but there were a couple of times when she almost went over. We were tired and ready to start the return trip home, but realized how much simply getting out of the facility meant to these women. After taking them back to their home and saying our goodbyes, I tearfully realized it could be the last time I saw my aunt alive.

Aunt Frances is Catholic, even though most of her family is protestant. My grandmother’s mother died when the children were very young and their father died a few years later. The kids were passed around from family to family – often separated – until Aunt Frances wound up with a Catholic family that she adored. She decided to convert and has lived the rest of her life devoted to her faith.

Even though she is a devout member of a very conservative denomination and 82 years old, Aunt Frances never judges people. She is ordained and able to give communion during services, and she recounted how people who technically weren’t supposed to receive communion would choose to receive communion from her instead of the priest who was imparting the sacrament next to her. “Who am I to refuse those people?” she asked, “I don’t have the right to judge anyone.”

On the way to Indianapolis, as Honey slept in the back seat, she turned to me and asked how long we have been together.

“Seven years next month,” I said.

She smiled. “I told Tiny (Grandmama) you must really love that boy. And I know he loves you too.”